Pisa….oh….that will just be a post about leaning towers and the Battistero and package touristy stuff.
NO, IT IS NOT, because this is me and…
I am writing about what occurred when I travelled on a short break to Pisa… You see I am not trying to sell you a cheap holiday and I am not sponsored by an airline…. (although I am open to offers!). This is just me recalling and passing on one of my own travel adventures.
Now, where to start…on the flight, a low cost brightly coloured airline. Not my general choice when traveling, but Pisa is only a few hours’ flight from an airport not too far from my home. So, this time it seemed stupid not to take advantage of the low prices on offer.
Because it was a budget airline, we were to fly into Florence, from where we would make our own way to Pisa, to the villa where we would be staying for the four or five days we would be in the city.
The flight landed, only slightly behind schedule… in Milan.
Due to the ‘budget principle‘ (a pseudo-scientific term I have just made up), the space and time continuum was altered in a way which was ‘beyond the airlines control’ and changed reality to such an extent we arrived in Milan, over 175 miles to the north of our intended destination.
I shall not divulge the way many passengers displayed their ‘disappointment’ of being 282km away from where they wanted, even needed to be. All I will say is that the passengers faced a minimum of a three-and-a-half-hour drive along the Autostrada. (That’s motorway in English and highway to Americans).
Soon, my wife and I were sitting in a taxi, along with a punk rocker-emo teenager; whom, I am certain was actually lost, mentally, physically, as well as geographically, and a very nice, Italian/American lady (who had arranged and negotiated this taxi ride) and was visiting family ‘back in the old country’. (A hint of Mafioso, I wondered. Maybe this helped in negotiating the ride in the taxi? I guess we shall never know, but it is wonderful food for an author like myself).
We did not need to share a cab all the way to Pisa, we could have stood around for hours, being herded like sheep from one location to another, while the airline and airport staff argued over where to keep so many disgruntled passengers, about 200 or so, until they could organise coaches or busses to transfer the entire flight to somewhere else. The airline said they would be transferring everybody to Florence, as that was the original destination airport, but most of passengers were demanding Pisa!
No, no, no. This was not for me, sorry. (It is one reason I travel independently in the majority of circumstances)
So, with the likeminded, mafioso lady and a lost soul we grabbed that cab!
I must say it was an extremely comfortable, which made for a pleasant drive. One stop for Coffee and soon(ish) we arrived at our destination. The ‘we’ at this point of the journey was simply my wife and I, as we were travelling furthest.
The Mafia women being collected by a large black limousine, at an unremarkable and unmemorable road junction. The emo-teenager I think faded away in his seat to nothing more than a grubby stain. Probably we stopped somewhere to let him out, but he was so entertaining I forget when that happened or when he left our company.
By the time we arrived at the villa in Pisa my priorities were: Some hot food, a hotter bath and a long sleep.
This next bit may surprise you?
I was not disappointed or angry about the journey, or landing so far from where we were supposed to land. It had happened and there was nothing we could do to change that fact.
Do not get me wrong. I was prepared to fight for justifiable compensation from the airline; but that is another thing altogether.
That entails putting ones’ ‘practical’ head on, rather than shouting and ranting at some junior staff member without the wherewithal or authority to do anything constructive on your behalf. Complaining could wait until I returned home.
I was not going to allow anything so mundane as a travel disruption to interfere with our enjoyment of this short brake.
I have said in previous posts, I am a seasoned independent traveller, which means inconveniences, such as landing 175 miles from where you want to be, simply becomes a minor part of the overall journey, one which travellers should accept as probable, rather than vaguely possible.
The following morning, after a wonderful breakfast in our room, we ventured out. My wife had selected the location of our accommodation perfectly. It was a five-minute walk from our villa to the archway leading to the Piazza dei Miracoli, the square in which the Tower of Pisa, the Duomo and The Baptistery are located.
We wandered around the outside of the buildings, marvelling at the architecture. Before wandering off into the narrow streets of Pisa.
One thing I like about this city, is the cosmopolitan atmosphere; primarily because of the large student population attending the universities here. The ‘knock-on’ effect of this is every available inch, or should I say centimetre, of space has been turned into an outlet serving coffee!
An empty garage today is a busy café tomorrow. If it is not a café it is a delicatessen; huge joints of Parma ham, prosciutto and Pancetta hang from ceilings, dangling above counters of fresh pasta and shelves of bread, still warm from the baker’s oven.
Pizzerias, trattorias, ice cream-ias, in fact anything you sell-‘ias’ abound on every street and down every tiny, narrow side alley. Wonderful!
One must do as the students of Pisa do, (I was going to write “when in Rome” but that is the wrong part of Italy), have a great wedge of pizza and a take away coffee constantly clasped in your hands. Now, where better to sit, relax and eat it than in the Universities botanical gardens? Which, by-the-by, were the first ever botanical gardens anywhere in the entire world. (Yet another reason to do so.)
The gardens are a short walk, no more than a five-minute stroll, from the leaning tower. It costs a small Ꞓ2.50 entrance fee, (at the time of writing) but it is well worth such a nominal charge.
That night we ventured out for food and to explore a little more of the city. We did not wish to venture too far from our hotel/the tower area, (the longer than planned journey to get here was quiet tiring). We wandered through the ‘Square of Miracles’. The buildings look fantastic flood-lit at night.
There are plenty of eateries of one sort or another scattered on almost every street surrounding the square. I am not normally one to do the regular ‘tourist’ eateries. Generally, I find the food bland at best, inedible and life threatening at worst. But that night I found myself seated in one such place. On a corner, a few meters from the leaning tower itself. We sat outside, at a pavement table, so we could watch the world go past. I drank cold beer and hot coffee.
I must say I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food, the bruschetta was one of the best I have eaten in Italy, with some succulent, fleshy and naturally sweet, tasty tomatoes. I also liked the fact I could see into the kitchen, through a small window facing the street and watch as the chef prepared my food. All without moving from my ‘al fresco’ seat.
The following day was spent exploring more of Pisa, crossing the river back and forth, visiting many of the small piazza’s, each with their own bustling markets, fresh vegetables and pungent porcine mushrooms in one, cheap clothing and shoes in another, electronics, radios, phones and such in another. Each square, semi-hidden away from the main streets. Streets lined with shops, divided with bars and cafes, although which was a designated a bar and which was a café is hard to distinguish if you have an uninitiated eye.
Pisa is a relaxed city, it exudes an amazing, happy, relaxed atmosphere. Go if you get a chance. It is great for a short break, a few days interchange or part of a multi-stop vacation. I would not stay for a length of time, unless I was using it as a base to explore further afield.
I shall share one last experience with you for now.
That evening we booked a table at a restaurant we chose from the many tourist guides. (I spent a good part of the late afternoon/early evening scouring the hotels leaflet and pamphlet collection), while my wife made use of the Jacuzzi!
The restaurant I selected was located in a very old area of the town.
We found the restaurant, eventually. After wandering down small, twisty, badly lit streets. (There were plenty of other people wandering around. At no time, did we feel uncomfortable, let alone threatened in any way).
The meal was excellent. The wine, which my wife chose from the locked selection of special reserves, you know the bottles, the ones the vineyards and vintners number by hand…yes. The wine (per bottle), cost more than the entire three course mean for two. BUT… I must say it was bloody lovely wine!
However, during the meal many of the other guests kept looking at us. One or two took a photograph openly and unabashedly. Other diners took snaps too, but a little more surreptitiously.
I was wondering if they mistook my wife or I for someone in the public eye. If I were mistaken, for instance, for some male sex symbol or the latest James Bond? I could, of course understand if that were the case!
My wife and I do not do hurried dining. When the night drew to a close and the time came to order a cab and settle the bill, we were the last, but one, table in the restaurant. We told the maître’d of our concern about people looking intently at us.
He laughed at us. “No, no” he said, pointing to the table where we sat.
“Look” he said, patting the thick stone column which our table was butted up against. “This is the oldest remaining Roman pillar in all of Pisa”. He said this with a large proud smile plastered across his face.
Now, we were embarrassed as it dawned upon us. No one had been looking at us. No one thought I was James Bond. (shame). They had simply been inspecting and taking photographs of an ancient Roman stone column.
Oh, how we laughed… Mmmmm?!!
Enjoy your day, Paul.