Something Looks Crooked

Trip Start Jul 02, 2011
Trip End Aug 29, 2011

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Flag of Italy  , Tuscany,
Sunday, August 7, 2011

Waking up refreshed on a Sunday morning in the heart of Tuscany and having a relaxing breakfast at the hotel while the images of the Italian Riviera still linger in your mind…*pause*…sorry, just had to take in how romantic that sounds. But the sun was shining so it was going to be a good day.  Let me say that again…the sun was shining.  A glorious thing for this Arizona native that finally thawed out from the German cold.  The first thing on the agenda was Pisa.  It was definitely warm, and I was enjoying the warm sunny weather.  But for my cousins, four years of Germany had turned them into cold-lovers.  They struggled with the heat all day, finding shade whenever possible, needing drinks for refreshment, and telling me I'm insane for not minding walking around in the sun to get to all of the great places.  Funny how we grow so accustomed to the temperatures of our home.  Nevertheless, the weather was fabulous.

Just inside the old city walls of Pisa (ancient word meaning "delta"), was the Field of Miracles.  A beautiful green lawn stands before you with four white buildings on it that make up the Field of Miracles: the Baptistery, the Camposanto Cemetery, the cathedral, and its bell tower…maybe you’ve heard of it…the Leaning Tower.  They all have delicate columns and the style of these four buildings has become known as “Pisan Romanesque.”  These buildings sprung up as a result of Pisa’s great sea-trading wealth.  Hordes of tourists were swarming over the lawn and nearby tourist shops.

We didn’t pay to go inside any of them, but a few things about these grand monuments…the Baptistery is Italy’s biggest and leans almost 6 feet to the north (in contrast to the famous tower leaning 15 feet towards the south).  And you probably thought there was only one leaning building, didn’t you?  The Camposanto Cemetery was primarily built in the 14th century and the site has been a cemetery since ancient times.  The cathedral was started in 1063 and financed by a galley-load of booty ransacked that year from the Muslim-held capital of Palermo, Sicily.  In 1118, the architect Rainaldo added the main entrance facade…which also leans out a foot.

Then there’s the tower, the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa.  And well, it’s actually leaning.  It’s funny how a tower like that can grab your attention, but it actually didn’t disappoint.  It was leaning over quite a bit and really looks like it will fall over.  The famous image that we see representing Italy all over the globe stayed true to its many reproductions.  It’s almost 200 feet tall and 55 feet wide, but leans at a 5 degree angle…15 feet off of its vertical axis.  The outside of the tower is made of white marble that creates eight stories—a base, 6 floors of columns, and a belfry on top.  It took a couple hundred years to complete the tower’s construction, and each successive architect made an attempt at correcting the leaning problem.  The construction started in 1173, and within a few years, it was visibly leaning…thanks to the marshy ground.  Hey, is it just me, or is that building…naw…couldn’t be…  They continued anyways until they completed four stories.  In 1272, another architect picked up the project and built 3 more stories, with a little tilt backward…ya know, just to help fix the problem.  If it’s already leaning, why not just make it crooked too?  When the last architect put the belfry on top, he also gave it a lil backward tilt.  Over the years, attempts were made to stop the lean, and they surprisingly worked…that is until a bunch of groundwater was pumped out and the lean started again.  Finally in 1990, enough was enough and they spent a mere $30 million dollars of someone’s hard-earned money to fix the problem for good.  They ended up straightening the tower about 6 inches and stabilized it right where it is…15 feet off the axis…and they hope it stays just like that.  The funny-looking tower somehow dominates the Field of Miracles despite the huge cathedral right next to it.  Hundreds of tourists stand around, trying to get the very original and unique picture of them “pushing” the tower back up.  Yes, I may have become one of them.

After getting our fill of the Field of Miracles, and deciding that this perhaps wasn’t the day the tower would actually fall over, we walked through the rest of Pisa.  Down past the church of San Sisto and into the the Piazza dei Cavalieri that holds Pisa’s great university in the Scuola Normale.  It’s one of Europe’s oldest universities, starting as far back as the 11th century.  A few hundred years later, a guy named Galileo Galilei graced its halls as a professor while he continued to study the solar system.  Another name in more recent years you may know…Andrea Bocelli, who went to law school there before his big music career began.  Out of the piazza we walked, passing the statue of one of the great Medicis and past the palace.  We went as far as the Arno River which runs right through Pisa.  There we stopped for a kebap (can’t get enough of those in Europe) and went into the popular shop recommended by Rick Steves named La Bottega del Gelato…gelato on a warm day…mmm.
The kids were in need of some cooling off, so the next stop was the coastal city of Viareggio.  The beach there looked like it went on forever and it was swarming with people.  Hotels everywhere.  Beach umbrellas everywhere.  We walked up to the water, past the old men in their Speedos and the old women in their sporty little bikinis…awkwarddddd…After setting our stuff down at one of the beach umbrellas, we were quickly informed by the young Italian man patrolling the beach that we were not allowed to use that umbrella unless we paid for it.  He wouldn’t even tell us how much it would cost, only that we had to go buy a ticket for it.  Apparently, his only job was to kick people out and he wasn’t going to go beyond that.  Moving our stuff to the sand, he came running up again.  Dude, you’re like a hawk.  “You aren’t allowed to be here.  Must pay.  Free beach down…”  And he points to a beach far away in the distance that was free.  Ok, so we were on a private beach apparently.  Can’t even plop down in the sand.  Leroy took the kids far down the beach where they could hang out and not get pestered by the patrolling Italians while Sharon and I took a walk around Viareggio.  We wandered through a park where a bunch of old men were gathered around a big cage in which a game was going on inside…it looked like a mix between bocce ball and bowling.  It was adorable to see all the men gathered and intent on the game.  Small booths selling handmade items and game booths for the kids were set up along the other park walkways, and old Italian couples walked arm in arm through the park.  We wandered back to the beach and enjoyed some type of frozen coffee drink at the snack shop.  We sat outside under the umbrellas…didn’t get kicked out of these umbrellas…and just chatted.  It was so good to be able to just chat with my cousin and build a relationship that we haven’t had a chance to build previously due to the long distances.  Nearby, a bunch of kids were playing in the sand.  A group of girls looked like they were about 12 years old, and they all ran around topless, only the bikini bottoms on.  It was a little scary to think that they were running around like that…I’m hoping they start feeling self-conscious soon or get some parents with a little more of a brain…very soon…

We met back with the rest of the crew only to find out they had all been stung by jellyfish.  We encouraged them by telling them just how cool it was to have been stung by jellyfish in the Ligurian Sea!  Not everyone can say that.  Before the daylight ran out, we made a stop in Lucca, a city that Napoleon had given to his sister as a gift.  An old city wall 2.5 miles long encircles the center of the city.  There’s a nice biking and walking path with trees on top of it (made into a nice place by Napoleon’s widow with her feminine touch), and we were hoping to bike around it, but by the time we got to the bike shop, it had already closed and the sun was setting.  But to get to the bike shop, we had walked across a good portion of the city, and decided it was definitely an adorable city.  Narrow streets opening up into cute piazzas.  Yep, can’t go wrong with that.  We decided to walk on top of the wall instead of bike and we were able to see the fields that stretched out on one side and the city stretching out on the other.  After walking half of the wall, it was dark and a storm was coming so we went back through the city gate, leaving the town in which the great opera composer Giacomo Puccini had lived.  Then it was back to Montecatini Terme, out little temporary home of Tuscany.
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