Peezing down in Pisa!!

Trip Start Mar 15, 2015
1
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Trip End Apr 04, 2015


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Flag of Italy  , Tuscany,
Saturday, April 4, 2015

Total distance travelled from Santos:  6345 nautical miles

Total distance travelled from Genoa: 98 linear miles!!

It's taken me a week to think of the title for this final chapter of this blog but to be honest by the time you’ve finished reading this I bet you’ll be thinking you would rather have watched Ant and Decs Saturday Takeaway or At Home with the Kardashians!! I suppose there is always Catchup TV!!

Our tale has now taken us to a rainy Genoa. After disembarkation we needed to head for Genova Principe, the main railway station that serves Genoa. Today is Easter Saturday and there are no flights to the UK. There are flights to Gatwick tomorrow, but it means taking the Gatwick Express to Waterloo, getting across London to Euston and then the journey home. No, it’s more convenient and cost effective to take a 1 ½ hour train ride to Pisa, stay overnight and take an early evening flight to Manchester. I had left the car at Manchester airport anyway!!

Breakfast on the morning of disembarkation is always chaos with pushing and shoving, trying to grab the last piece of French toast but as this has been the case for most of the trip, this morning was no different to any other morning!!

We were aiming to catch the 9:47 train. The station is only a 15 minute walk from the cruise terminal and we had walked it a few times before. However, in the rain it had to be a taxi, unfortunately!! The taxi journey is probably no longer than 4 minutes and I knew I wouldn’t get any change from a €20 note.

'€20, fixed rate,’ the taxi driver said as we pulled up in front of the train station main entrance. It’s funny how it cost Stephen and Emilia €16 to a hotel at least 4 times further. Anyway, I wasn’t in the mood to argue. I should have seen the signs when I got in the taxi and saw the meter switched off!

The time was 9:10. Plenty of time to get our tickets and find the platform. Buying train tickets in Italy is so easy as the automatic machines speak English! (Metaphorically speaking) 1. Select station – Pisa Centrale. That’s as far as we got. A list of all the trains travelling to Pisa Centrale appeared on the screen. Next train 09:47. Scroll along….SOLD OUT. ‘Oh! You’re having a laugh’, is all Roisin could muster. ‘Even the 1st class?’

‘Even the 1st class. It’s all sold out Roisin!’ I said.

The only people happy with this development were the hotel as we texted them to advise that our arrival will be a few hours later than originally anticipated. The next train was at 12:12. Only 3 hours and 2 minutes to wait!!!

We wandered in to the old town of Genoa. I have never made a cup of coffee last so long but the 3 hours soon passed.

The journey to Pisa followed the Ligurian Coast. On one side the glistening branch of the Mediterranean, the Ligurian Sea and the other side lush countryside broken up by steep hills, some rolling some rugged. Or it would have been if it wasn’t pissing down so hard the low clouds were starting to look a little dehydrated!! The scenery became flatter as we headed into the Italian Province of Tuscany and 1hr 45mins later the train was pulling in to Pisa Centrale.

The train doors opened and Roisin climbed down the 3 rather high and rather steep steps on to the platform. I handed her down her case, a very modest 16kg. Next I had to haul my case, a very BIG case, down the train steps. Now, whether it was the pressure of passengers behind me or the fact that I didn’t think my case was as heavy as it actually was, I lifted the 23kg one handed and proceeded to climb down the train steps. Climbing down 2 steps and holding on to my case, I tried to swing the case down from the train so it cleared the step and would come to land on the platform. The weight of the case and gravity got the better of me and the case came down with a smack on the first step of the train. ‘Ping!’ and one of the wheels of my case went skidding along the platform. I immediately retrieved it and stuffed it in my pocket. Luckily I still had three good wheels so we were good to go! ‘Three wheels on my suitcase and I’m still rolling along!!’ (ref: New Christy Minstrels!!)

We took a taxi to the Hotel Gallileo. €10 including tip. Even if the taxi driver touched the meter after we had arrived and the fare jumped from €7.40 to €8.60!!

The Hotel, as many privately owned establishments, is set in an old historic building with large oak front doors that were designed, when opened to accommodate a horse and carriage in to the forecourt. Being an old historic building there was no lift and the hotel was not on the ground floor. We climbed the 36 or so worn, stone steps and opened a door, huffing and puffing, which led directly in to the reception area. It was a welcome relief to be told all the rooms are on the same level as the reception. The staff were very pleasant and were happy to explain the map of Pisa, where all the attractions are and how long it takes to walk to each of them. Francesca, who checked us in kept saying (in an almost apologetic tone), ‘Pisa is a very small city!’

The room was small but comfortable. The centrepiece on the ceiling was an ornate chandelier that when lit must have been powered by all of 3 watts of electricity. Switching both bedside lamps on increased the luminescence to 4 ½ watts max!! The room looked out on to a small street no wider than an alley and overlooked a patisserie with which the hotel had a special deal. As the Hotel Galileo doesn’t provide breakfast, they have negotiated with this particular patisserie that patrons of the enjoy can enjoy breakfast for €2.50

It was still raining outside (not too sure why I stipulated ‘outside’ – where else would you expect it to rain??) Raining as hard as it had at any time during the day. Pisa can wait. Time to catch up with some sleep.

4 hours later, the rain had subsided and we were ready to face the delights of Pisa. As we have a full day tomorrow, there was no hurry in rushing to the ‘star’ attraction so we headed off in a different direction, exploring some of the back streets.

Leaving the hotel we immediately headed down the narrow passage that runs along the side of the hotel, passed our potential breakfast ‘station’ and in to a small square called Piazza Dante. This square is named after Dante Alighieri who wrote, what is seen as one of the greatest works of world literature, the epic poem, The Devine Comedy. It was written between 1308-1320 (that’s year – not time!!) The poem describes Dante’s travel through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven. Comedy? It sounds a laugh a minute!!!

A short walk further on through Via Tavoleria and we hit one of the main streets in the old town, Via G

Carducci, lined with numerous cafes and restaurants, boutique shops as well as several shops selling the usual array of ‘tat’. Turning right at San Giuseppe we stumbled across a compact but very characteristic church of Santa Catarina. The façade (completed in 1326, six years after Dante had finished his masterpiece!!) has a pointed shape with white and grey marble, with, in the upper section, two small Gothic verandas and a central rose window. 

We had only been strolling for about 25 minutes, Roisin was right when she declared: ‘You have no idea where we’re going, do you?!’ Pisa was only a small city. It’s just not possible to get lost. By this time we were outside the old town wall and walking along the rather busy Via Contessa Matilde.

Unexpectedly, as we rounded the next corner, there it was, peeking over the roof tops and less than 150m away. Started in 1173, the Tower of Pisa, as it was known back then or The ‘Leaning’ Tower of Pisa as it’s known today, took 199 years to complete. The tower is the campanile, or freestanding bell tower, of the adjacent Cathedral. There are some modern wonders in this world of ours that we have seen and when face to face are truly overwhelming. Likewise, there are some sights we have seen on our travels that have had so much hype that in the cold light of day are just so underwhelming. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is neither of these. It’s just,,well,,,’whelming’!! It’s only when you approach the Tower you can start to appreciate the craftsmanship and the intricacies that went in to the building of this medieval bell tower. Those involved with the construction should be very proud of this achievement and my hat goes off to all those builders and engineers (well, except for the bloke who laid the foundations!!)

We hadn’t planned on visiting the Tower until tomorrow but as we were here it would be rude not to have a look around. The light by now had started to fade. It had also start to rain again. There seemed to be more African street hawkers than tourists roaming around trying to push their Dolce & Gabana sun glasses, umbrellas (tempted!) or selfie sticks for a very reasonable price. Every time a selfie stick was pushed under my nose, I would just hold up my Canon 70D EOS SLR camera and declare ‘Io Vinco’ (I win) which usually brought a wry smile and a nod of approval to the seller!!

The day of our flight. It wasn’t until 8pm and only about 2km from our location (I wonder how much that’s going to cost in a taxi??!) We had a full day to explore Pisa. (more so than yesterday which was just a recce!!) Check out was at 11am. We were told by reception that we could leave our luggage at the hotel until we needed it. We were even offered to keep hold of the front door keys until we came back to pick up our belongings. That way we could let ourselves in as no one from the hotel would be available between 1pm and 4pm. We didn’t take up the hotels offer of the €2.50 breakfast from the ‘patisserie in the alley’ as we bought food and snacks from a nearby supermarket.

After we got our ‘monkeys and parrots’ together, we headed straight back to Piazza dei Miracoli by the shorter route, Via Santa Maria.

It was about 11:25am and the crowds were already mingling between the Leaning Tower and the other two building that probably aren’t as well-known as their tilting neighbour but are equally of historic importance and value; The Duomo (the cathedral) and the Baptistery.The cathedral’s construction began in 1064 and set the model for the distinctive Pisan Romanesque style of architecture. The façade, of grey marble and white stone set with discs of coloured marble, was built by a master named Rainaldo, as indicated by an inscription above the middle door: Rainaldus prudens operator.

The baptistery was built a little later in 1153 and is the largest in Italy. It is a fine example of the transition from the Romanesque to the Gothic design with the lower section in the Romanesque style, with rounded arches, while the upper sections are in the Gothic style, with pointed arches.

Looking around at the swarm of tourists, many were aiming for the ultimate photo shot. The large area of lawns in the Piazza are out of bounds governed by the chains circumferencing the grassed areas. Clumps of happy snappers were lining the perimeter of the lawns, some posing with arms sticking out, hands pointing up, palms out, one slightly above the other in a Marcel Marceau ‘I’m feeling my way around an invisible box’ moment. ‘Wow..’, their friends will say as the image is uploaded to Facebook and Instagram. ‘…it really looks like you’re holding the tower up!!’ and those who couldn’t be bothered to comment will at least click ‘Like’!! Other more imaginative poseurs were trying to give the illusion of wrapping their arms around and giving the tower an imaginary kiss. ‘In for a penny’, I thought as I took off my back pack and handed Roisin my camera!!!

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is a renowned tourist trap as it is now possible to climb the 294 steps to the observation deck at a premium of €18 for the privilege. I thought that this may be an interesting experience as the tilt to the tower could give the same sensation as one of those fun houses that can be found in fairgrounds. I walked over to the ticket office and joined the queue. Whilst in the queue I opened my wallet and counted out €18. It didn’t take long before I entered the ticket office only to be confronted by a TV screen with the time of the next tour. The next available session was at 17:30!! It was just after 12 noon. Apparently only a finite number of people are admitted at one time so a time slot is provided when you buy the ticket. As we had to be at the airport by 5pm money went back in wallet and wallet went back in to hibernation!!!

Photos done, not much more to do than to move on. The next major square in Pisa next to Piazza dei Miracoli is Piazza dei Cavalieri (Knights’ Square). Within the confines of the city walls, this is the central piazza from which the roads that reach all corners or the city stem from. The square was the political centre in medieval Pisa. It is only a short 10 minute walk from the Leaning Tower (et al) and dominated by the Palazzo della Carovana originally built in 1562 as the headquarters for the Knights of St. Stephen. It is presently used to house a faculty of the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, a public higher learning establishment. The other main Palazzo spanning one of the entrances in the Square is the Palazzo dell'Orologio. Unfortunately I know nothing about this building as when I google it, I just get Italian web sites!!

We headed down to the riverside. The River Arno runs through Pisa though it is quite an uninspiring view! There are no fancy bridges such as the Rialto in Venice or the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. The vista up and down stream was like any other small Italian city; old buildings, towers, statues, narrow streets leading to Plaza and piazzas and churches some with free standing bell towers, some without!

Whilst loitering around the riverside wall, Roisin noticed a bus stop with a route that terminates at the airport. The bus stop was only a 10 minutes’ walk (with suitcases) from the Hotel Galileo and the journey cost €2 each (€1.60 if you buy the bus ticket in advance from a tobacconist!!) As a bus was due, we waited until the bus arrived to ensure we had understood the timetable (with it being a national holiday and all)

Even with my three wheel suitcase, we managed to take the local bus to the airport. The final image as you enter the Departure terminal is a sculpture of a figure bearing both arse cheeks in our general direction. It’s as if there should be a sarcastic inscription (in six different languages, of course!) that translates as ‘Arrivederci Pisa. Y’all hurry back, now’!!) 
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Comments

Ragnhild on

Hope to see you in Cambridge on the 4th of July.
Please write to my mail: Ragnhild.s@telia.com and I can give you more details.
Love,
Rags

Chris G on

Another fabulous trip & very entertaining blog. Don't know how you do it!

chris-roisin
chris-roisin on

Thanks Chris, Good to hear from you. Neither do we know how we do it sometimes!!!

Claire B on

Chris i'd have paid good money to see the train/suitcase debacle: its like a comedy sketch!

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