A Day in Pisa, Tuscany, Italy

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This post was originally published on August 4, 2013, and updated on July 21, 2020.

I’ve reported to you a couple of things about my trip to Italy back at the end of May this year. the first was the post titled Tuscan Travel Tales, and the next was titled 50 Shades of Tuscan Cooking Class. This time I want to tell you about our day in Pisa.

First off, I’d be seriously remiss if I did not sing the praises of B&B Carla. If you go to Pisa, please, please stay there! You will thank me, I promise! I challenge you to find a bad review of this place; I don’t believe one exists!

I told you before that she and her husband Mario rescued us from the airport when we arrived after our no-GPS-having-dying-iPhone-using navigational fiasco late the first night. On the phone a few days before, Carla advised me to let them pick us up from the get-go, but I wouldn’t have it. Well, next time I’ll listen!

Ideally, they would pick you up at the airport on the night you arrive and take you to their wonderful house. Then, after a hearty breakfast the next morning, they’d give you a map and directions, drop you in the middle of Pisa, and you’d call them when you had finished your sightseeing. Only then would they pick you up and return you to the rental car place at the airport so you could get your car and be on your way.

After our first night, we followed the above plan exactly. But first, here’s a shot of our room (yes, it was a bit like staying at your grandma’s house with dolls, doilies and a fan collection on the shelf). And yeah, that’s my foot at the bottom – I was exhausted and lying on the bed!

Here’s a shot of the little side hallway right outside our room in the beautiful light the next morning:

Any serious photographer out there knows the pursuit of the “golden”, or “sweet”, light. Tuscany just has it in spades! Florida has a lot of it, but it ain’t got nuthin on Tuscany! But I digress…

Here’s a shot of the dining room with the living room just beyond the bar in the background. Here’s where we had our breakfast. Yeah, that’s a piano at left.

On the piano were ceramic roof tiles painted in Tuscan scenes. Turns out they were handpainted by the housekeeper. We each bought an item or two and had her sign them for us. Here’s Carmela having the artist sign the tile she bought for her father. It was perfect because her father worked in tile before he retired!

There had been a storm the night before. I managed this shot of Carla, who’s quite camera-shy, bustling around, sweeping up leaves and debris from the pavers. Again, the light!

Sez it all:

Our trusty non-GPS-having Fiat rental car with a trashcan lid and other debris from the storm:

Carmela and my husband James having coffee on the verandah, dahling!

Carla’s espresso pot:

After breakfast, Carla gave us a rundown of the history of Pisa and showed us a few pictures in a book so we would recognize our landmarks. Mario dropped us off near the Leaning Tower. I’d been to the Tower before back in 2008, but none of the others had seen it. It was my pleasure to watch them see it in person for the first time.

The whole plaza is really quite beautiful. The Tower sits near a baptistry, a cathedral and a cemetery. All the buildings are of beautiful white Mediterranean marble. Here’s a shot that shows how much the Tower leans; the Cathedral is in front of it here:

Carla had explained to us that the entire plaza, called Piazza of Miracles, is known locally as the circle of life. The Baptistry is where life begins, all of life’s important events are celebrated in the Cathedral, and you end up in the cemetery at the end. And, of course, the Tower stands for all of life’s ups and downs.

The city of Pisa itself dates from before 300 AD and was a self-contained, sovereign state with much wealth due to its location on a river that flows directly to the nearby Tyrrhenian Sea. Its trade and victories at sea made it very powerful.

The Piazza of Miracles was actually the town center in those days, though it’s on the outskirts today. Of course, the Cathedral was built in the town center beginning in 1064 AD. The Baptistry, a round, domed structure came along about a thousand years later in 1152. The Leaning Tower, really the bell tower for the Cathedral, was begun in 1173.

Here’s the Baptistry:

And the Cathedral:

Before they got three stories built, the Tower had begun to sink on one side because of the unstable ground underneath. Construction was halted for a few years while they tried to rectify the situation. When they resumed building without fixing the lean, you can see they tried to compensate by building the subsequent stories at an angle opposite the lean.

It’s just incredible to me that the Tower has leaned for almost 900 years without falling! Of course many things have been tried to stabilize the foundation, which continued to sink gradually for many centuries. I read online while researching this blog that the reconstructive measures taken in the 1990s seemed to have stopped the progression. Whew!

To see exactly how much it leans, here’s a shot of the bottom story of the tower. You can see that the right side is more or less ground level while the opposite side is a good five or six feet underground!

Another great thing about the Piazza of Miracles to me is is seeing everyone, but EVERYONE, take each other’s pictures from a perspective of making the person in the photo look as if he or she is holding up or pushing over the tower.

As in, here’s my husband holding up the Tower (yes, yours truly is guilty!):

I love to take pictures of people taking these pictures or take pictures of them without the benefit of the Tower in the right place in the photo. As in:

This is totally my favorite one!

I’ve heard – and this is hysterical! – that the latest thing is to go around and high-five everyone who is posing with their hand in the air to “hold up” the Tower. I’m truly disappointed I didn’t see anyone doing this!

The others decided to climb the Tower. You can do so for eight Euros, I believe. You get the tickets at a building along the side of the Piazza then you stand in line for a while. They take about 30 or so people every 15 minutes. You get a short overview from a guide once inside then you climb up the tower on a spiral staircase that winds around the inside. The weirdest thing to me was that the stone steps are worn and uneven and they tilt first one way on one side of the Tower and then another way on the other side. By the time you get to the top, you’re a little discombobulated. You come out on the next to top story, hang out there for a while, then head on up to the top.

Since I’d climbed it before, I stayed on the ground and positioned myself at a pre-agreed-upon spot so the others would know where I was. This was so they could wave at me and I could take their pictures on top the Tower.

On the lower level, Carmela’s in red, James is on the left and Ivan is taking my picture here on the right:

And here they are on the top level:

After they came down, we cruised past the dozens of souvenir stands lining the Piazza:

Then we followed Carla’s prescribed route, stopping along the way for lunch at a streetside bistro called Bar 62. Those of you on Facebook will recognize this photo of us, taken by our very friendly waiter:

Notice we are wearing jackets. It was quite chilly and windy that day. This is very unusual for Tuscany at this time of year. The cool spring lasted til about mid-July here in Europe.

The food was good at our bistro as was the wine. Here’s a shot of what I saw from my chair at the table:

Along this street we also saw a small grocery where you could buy actual Duff Beer – didn’t know that was possible!

Along the way and all over this area of Italy you will see the Medici family crest:

The Medici’s, of course, were the powerful, ruling family based in Florence and largely responsible for the Renaissance. They sponsored Michaelangelo and so much more.

They made their money in medicine, as in making pills for doctors and pharmacies. You can see this indicated on the crest – the six round objects in the middle are symbols of pills. And now you know where the word “medicine” comes from!

We passed the Arno River on our way to the train station where we would meet Mario for our ride back to the B&B. The Arno is the same river that flows through Florence farther inland:

We made it to the train station where I called Carla. Presently, Mario showed up to take us back to their beautiful home. We took a few minutes to regale Carla and Mario with our stories, pay them (a very cheap 65 Euros per room – a TOTAL steal!), thank them, and pile into our Fiat and be on our way to the agriturismo where we stayed the rest of our time in Tuscany.

So, just, go to Pisa. I can’t think of anything more to add! Thanks for reading!

Photo for No Apparent Reason:

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