The International Writers
on a Sunday morning (a brave, if not heroic) start, we stepped
out on a route of exploration of Pisa. "We" - my 18-old
son Alex who was keen to get some travel experience prior to his
gap-year project in Romania, and myself - keenly assisting him.
Italy is full
of wonders every minute spent here is treasure filled with
discoveries at every step. Each place can be linked to a famous
historic event or a person
We arrived in Pisa from Bournemouth late on Saturday afternoon.
Even though the airport was just twenty minutes bus drive to our
hotel, and this a further twenty minutes walk to the Tower, we
did not get to see much of the city that night because of the
short February evenings.
8am in the morning
was the time at which we expected to see Pisa in its full beauty yet free
from tourist crowds heading towards the famous Leaning Bell Tower, which
Italians proudly call one of the Seven Wonders of the World. In an attempt
to save our elbows from working hard though masses of pilgrims, we have
chosen a quiet route alongside the River Arno. Believed to be founded
by the mystical Greek King Elope, Pisa has been a famous heroic megapolis
throughout the spiral of its history: Etruscan settlement (5th century
BC), Roman municipium Portus Pisanus (2nd century BC), a medieval manufacturing
centre, the Marine Republic which became one of the most important naval
powers of the Mediterranean in 11-12th century, a magnificent noble city
in the 17th century, an ancient University city now. Can one be happier
other than being in the city like that?.. Even at 8am-sh Sunday morning
On our way to the river we got overtaken by an organised group of bicyclists.
By the time we crossed the river we met three joggers, two canoeists and
one fisherman. What a lot of sporting activity for a Sunday morning in
Pisa! - very impressive. Also, obviously the river promenade looked popular
with the dog owners and their dogs. We did not happen to see any of them
but their presence was evident on the pavement revealing the size of each
dog (hope not the owners..) while there seem to be no signs threatening
with fines for non pooper scooping.
Despite obviously being inhabited, the city somehow did not create an
impression of being a big busy place. Obviously February is not the pick
of the tourist season here.
Reality is not always quite as you picture it.
From the second glance, the city looked somehow.. shabby .. if I may say..
On our way to the Tower we walked through some tired looking streets where
old frescoes on walls neighbouring with graffiti (which might make some
dramatic photo shots though). We even saw one partly destroyed but inhabited
house. Somehow this chaotic look of the city intrigued: is it because
a lack of government funding or a deliberate attempt to extend the list
of Worlds Wonders, or
This makes one wonder if the famous inclination of the Tower is a monument
to someones carelessness never bothered to put it right.... and
the Tower is still up only due to tourists joint efforts of holding
it up while posing for pictures
At one time it was thought that the Tower was designed to lean for the
worlds amusement. However, the truth is that the inclination of
the Tower started shortly after construction began in 1173 and was due
to the marshy soil of coastal Tuscany. The first recorded measurement
of inclination was made in 1248 by Pisano. The tilt now is 10%, and works
on sustaining it never stop. The last work to secure the foundation was
undertaken in 1992. Scientists believe the Tower will survive for another
400 years to adorn the main historic square Piazza del Duomo.
The Piazza strikes the visitor with its wealth and beauty. The whole complex
consisting of the Cathedral, the Baptistery, the Campanile (Bell Tower)
and the Cemetery seems to be like another world on its own separated from
the rest of Pisa by a lush green lawn and the old city wall. Some even
compare it with St Marcos square in Venice. The Cathedral is outstanding
and is famous for its magnificent pulpit which took Pisano ten years to
design and build.
The Piazza is one of the "must see" places in Italy. "Must
do" - is a climb up stairs to the top of the Tower to take
pictures and to put things into perspective. Tickets can be bought on
the premises but places are limited. It is even recommended to buy tickets
in advance on-line.
So many people walked up these stairs, including one Galileo Galilee on
his way to performing his gravity experiments to prove that : "Eppur
si muove ("And yet it does move"). What was he thinking about
at that time? Climbing up, I thought that the Tower seemed unexpectedly
straight from the inside. An amazing piece of engineering - such a cleverly
designed place does deserve to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World!
On our way back to the hotel we stopped at a little café situated
just opposite the Piazza, offering a great view onto the Tower and the
cathedral. The atmosphere in it was quiet and slow like in a temple of
food appreciation and meditation on a drop of aromatic espresso. The food
was ala Tuscany very nice and simple without any obvious
risk of causing obesity since portions were sensibly small. Alex was very
happy with his cheesy pizza. The waiter was singing while trying to attract
more visitors. He became extremely lively to announce us that no service
charge was included in the bill, which was already more that I expected
Oh well, I paid and left with a confused feeling of having been cheated
but satisfied myself with the fact that we are not going to dine here
again. The waiter probably knew this for definite. Surely every year they
see millions of passers by through the city.
When we walked back to the station it was pouring with rain which did
not add much colour to anyway greyish streets. Pisa somehow did not create
an impression of a place where tourists take long breaks. Having finished
exploration of the historic Piazza at 1pm we thought it was time to move
out of Pisa. To our disappointment there was no way out due to a strike
of trains and busses.
Shopping also said to me: "No" because shops are apparently
shut on Sundays, as well as Mondays. One can imagine my frustration at
being unable to get a taste of Italian fashion because we had to go back
to Bournemouth the next Tuesday!
8 am on Monday morning we left Pisa for Florence which was very
easy - just a 10.40 Euro return ticket and a 1 hour train journey. In
terms of transportation means Pisa is situated perfectly as a connection
point with many major Italian cities like Genoa, Milan, Rome. Overall
transport is good and very much affordable, car hire might give more flexibility
Having previously travelled around Europe with my husband, I never paid
much attention to the necessity of stamping a ticket prior to getting
on a train. Its so easy in England you buy a ticket, you
get on a train, you travel. In Italy, as well as everywhere else in Europe,
apparently it is compulsory to validate a ticket, failure to do so could
result in a fine of double the price of the ticket (!) "It is the
law" said the train conductor, half way to Florence, and threatened
to call the police. This took me by surprise. In our case it was quite
clear that we had no intention to cheat the Italian law, having bought
a ticket ten minutes before getting on the train and due to leaving the
country the very next morning no spare time to re-use the ticket
if remained unstamped.
Oh, yes - this is important to learn simple rules of the country before
the travel, now I know! This was a good pre-Romania travel lesson to Alex
In Florence I recapped with the conductor the situation again and promised
to always stamp (validate) my tickets in the future. We parted wishing
each other a good day.
The French writer Stenghal
was so dazzled by the magnificence of the Basilica de Santa Croche that
he barely was able to walk for faintness. This is a common phenomenon
of Stenghalliness (or Stendhal Syndrome) when people are nearly to faint
of the greatness on the city. One can definitely faint of exhaustion and
excitement all together in Florence. It is packed with sights which are
close to each other. One-day trip was just enough for visiting main squares,
photo taking and ticking up a box in the list of "I have seen this".
day in Florence was splendid. Sunshine at last (hope this was not
because Florence is generally sunnier than Pisa because it is bigger
and more beautiful).
Florence cant be described in a word or two its beauty
is out of this world, it is full of wonders and a home to Michelangelos
David and Botticellis Primavera.
Museums are usually shut on Mondays anyway.
Florence was very different to Pisa.
Europe amuses every time I pay it a visit - every place is very different
despite being united into the EU. The Union brings integration in terms
of economy and prosperity but cultural difference emerge sharply. Each
country has its unique historic and cultural heritage and traditions.
Even some facilities are different. I got into a few confusing situations
in Pisa, mainly in the toilets
. In one restaurant I pulled an alarm
string thinking it was a light lead and drawn loads of attention from
the restaurant staff, security and fellow customers. At another place
I kept touching the water tube and waiving my hands in all directions
in front of it imagining it was sensor designed, instead there was a pump
pedal under the sink might be even Romans design still in
If not the differences full of adventures and discoveries we would have
just stayed at home nicely tacked in our beds at 8sh am Sundays mornings.
© Natalya Popova April 2007
ferganavalley at hotmail.com
See also Schipoladventure
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