So, if you want to travel in Italy, all the trips can be done by train. Trenitalia has a good network and is cheap. For all the places you want to go, you can buy the ticket at the counter, in vending machines or online. We took the train from Firenze (Florence) to Pisa- a scenic train ride through Tuscany. It took a little more than an hour. Got off at Pisa Centrale train station.
Well, when you imagine Pisa, Italy, the first thing that comes to mind is of course the leaning tower. And as is a cliche in life "to tick off" the major sites, this was exactly my plan, until I bought a map of the city. It showed all the sites to visit clearly and I got my bearings for the city and now I had a plan. I had an entire day and it was a bit overcast, so me and my husband set out on our own pace.
Walked out of the station into Piazza Vittorio Emanuel, got a pic with the man himself. Since it was early morning, it was quiet, a few hawkers were lining up the pavements and arranging hats, sunglasses, umbrellas and all kinds of "leaning" souvenirs. We saw groups, actually hoards of youngsters with backpacks gathering around the square with the Polizia in the side lines. I could smell a rally of some sort.
Right around this area I was excited to find a mural made by a Pisan student and artist Keith Haring of New York. Keith has also designed a jacket worn by a pink-wigged Madonna for a performance of her song "Like a Virgin" for the TV dance program Solid Gold . This mural is titled "Tuttomondo" and what is really cool about it is the theme, which is that of peace and harmony in the world, which can be read through the links and divisions between the 30 figures which, like a puzzle, occupy 180 square meters of the south wall of the church of St. Anthony. It is easy to miss. Check it out in the pictures. It is an awesome piece of art by an artist who brought AIDS into public view through his street art style subway drawings.
The piazza leads into Corsa Italia, a chic street lined with boutiques, bakeries, art galleries, leather goods shops and cafe's and more.You can have your fill of shopping here. It's fun walking into each one of these unique stores for you have no idea what you may like and end up buying. Not a perfect analogy, but it's like listening to a radio, you don't know which is the next song to be played and it could be your favorite. The department store H+M had its ceiling painted a la Renaissance style. Along the way, as I love diving into alleyways in a quest not to miss anything interesting, we got happily lost and came out on a bridge on River Arno.
The river, slightly muddy, runs through Pisa. It has several bridges going over it and the view of the city running alongside it is beautiful. The yellow, red, orange, blue buildings reminded me of Venice. As the city was still waking up we walked towards a little church, Santo Sepalcro, a unique church which is octagonal in shape made with locally quarried stone and has slits for windows. It has a red pyramidal top sitting on the columns. Further down the river is another church Santa Maria della Spina, it owes it's name to spina ( thorn) from Christ's crown of thorns, one of which is housed here since 1333, or so the story goes. The exterior is beautiful, ornate with many sculptures.
Had a cup of coffee and proceeded on Via Santa Maria peeking into interesting shops and came to Piazza dei Cavalieri or Knight's Square. This is now a center of education.Three imposing monuments here are - Palazzo dell' Orologio, Palazzo della Carovana and Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri. This square was a popular gathering place where all discussions, protests and victories were conducted or celebrated. The Piazza della Caranova has a beautiful facade done in sgraffitti (technique of layering and then scratching the paint). It has six niches that have busts of grand dukes of Tuscany tucked in them.
With a little more legwork reached Piazza dei Miracoli. It had started to drizzle by now. In this piazza is the 'star' attraction of Pisa- the leaning tower called Torre di Pisa also called Campanile also called the bell tower. You will be surprised once you reach this place because you find more than you had expected. The leaning tower shares the space with a Duomo, a Baptistry, and Camposanto Monumentale.
As you take it all in, you realize that opposite to the massive cathedral with the Duomo, the leaning tower actually looks smaller than you think it is. Also, the tower looks very fresh, not aged, clean and almost fake, so does the very green grass surrounding these monuments. The tilt, however adds a unique dimension to the monument which resembles a wedding cake. The height of the tower from ground to the top is 55.86 meters on the tilted side and 56.70 meters on the higher side. The tower was leaning at an angle of 5.5 degrees and after the restoration work between 1990 and 2001 it is now leaning at about 3.99 degrees. When it was built in 1772, it started tilting because the foundation was unstable. Various attempts were made to fix the problem, but the city relies on the "tilt "as it is worth the tourism it brings.
The entire sensation of exploring the leaning tower was done and dusted in about an hour, unless you want to climb some 300 steps to the seventh floor of the tower for 18 € and ring the bell. I weighed the idea and decided more fun than doing this was watching tourists "pushing" the tower. Frozen in this pose for at least 10 minutes. Some were very serious and determined to get that perfect pic. Every body was trying to get the classic cheesy picture just right. You can make fun or join the fun, which I did and got my cheesy picture after a few retakes. We hovered around the tower a little more. Had a little picnic on the greener than green grass. I had packed some pesto and mozzarella sandwiches with some hot tea in a thermos. Perfect for the rainy day.
Then we proceeded on to check out the Baptistry . It is beautiful, very ornate and we probably took more pictures of it than the tower. We got out of the old walled gate into Piazza Mann and found ourselves in a bazaar. Got some souvenirs, some gifts and then walked on Via Roma towards the train station. It was around 3 p.m by now.
We passed through Oto Botanica, a garden which is part of the University of Pisa. Well, Pisa is a University town. There are 60,000 students out of the 100,000 inhabitants. The math and science department are considered very strong in this University. There is also an Institute of Anatomy and Museo Anatomia. Pisa is also the birth place of the famous Galileo Galilee- a mathematician, a physicist and an astronomer. I had no idea that the famous Medici family helped him complete his studies at the University of Pisa as he struggled through it.There is also a famous myth that he dropped two cannon balls from the leaning tower of Pisa to test mass vs. speed. But that is debatable as there is no evidence to support it.
Came back to along river Arno and walked past the Cittadella Vecchia, an area which was a shipyard in the 13th century. What is left of the monument are some brick arches.
By now with all the walking and sightseeing we had definitely worked up an appetite. So what do you eat in Pisa? Pizza, of course. Had dinner at a trip advisor recommended restaurant called "Dabbe". It was quite an experience I will remember every time I order a pizza. The waitress helped us understand the menu and recommended to try " a new kind of pizza", remember it's all about getting out of your comfort zone. So I got a pizza with anchovies. Well, I have to admit it didn't go well on my palate.
Walked back to the square Vittorio Emanuel. The huge gathering had certainly become a protest to legalize cannabis. We watched the protesters for some time.
By now we had recorded 16,715 walking steps on our Fitbit and my feet were begging for a break. Took a train back to Firenze. Had a very memorable trip.