Trivia Question: Which famous historical figure was born in Pisa? (Answer at the end of the story). Hint: He was famous for looking at the sky through a telescope.
By the time our train was speeding away from Florence , I realized that our travel itinerary was a little too ambitious. We were so smitten with Florence that we weren’t quite ready to leave, but nevertheless we were off to Lerici, just south of the Cinque Terre on the Ligurian Sea. Our fearless and overzealous travel agent (me) had really packed in the cities. Pisa lies right smack dab between Florence and Lerici, so of course we couldn’t just stand up the Learning Tower, literally.
We conveniently stored our luggage at the station’s deposito bagagli, which is oddly translated at the station as “left luggage.” We decided to forgo a taxi or bus ride and walk the 20-30 minutes to the tower because we wanted
the exercise to melt.
On our way to the Piazza dei Miracoli where the Torre Pendente (Leaning Tower) is located, we crossed the Arno, which is the same river that flows through Florence.
The Torre Pendente (Leaning Tower) is actually an unattached bell tower for the cathedral in front of it. The round domed building in the foreground is the baptistery, which is where baptisms were held.
By time we got to the Piazza dei Miracoli, we were SO HOT and sweaty and on the verge of crabbiness, particularly me because I had a sore throat, that all we could do is lounge in the shade of the baptistery. A lot of the loungers seemed to be Italian high school students, so I felt very cool and “local.” But then I had to blow it with the cheesy (but obligatory) tourist pose…
I’ve always wondered why the leaning tower leans. I had always assumed that it started leaning after it was built, but apparently the tower started to lean while still under construction! Allegedly the tower sat there incomplete for nearly 100 years until another architect came along and continued to build in such a way to compensate for the lean. Amazingly it’s still standing even though things they’ve done over the years in attempt to make it tilt less have actually made it lean even more–fortunately for Pisa. This place was packed with tourists.
We decided that there was no way we were going to jam ourselves into that tower with all those other tourists and climb up all those stairs in the intense heat (on top of being dehydrated), so we ended up meandering around and came upon a gift shop/info center and there it was: Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck’s scooter from the movie Roman Holiday! Not sure what the connection to Pisa is… but Audrey touched that scooter! She is my absolute favorite actress and the epitome of feminine elegance that I aspire to.
By time we got back to the train station I had developed a heat rash all over my chest and felt ready to pass out. Just having survived 3 years in Texas heat and humidity, I thought that I was bulletproof. But the big difference is the AC. Americans blast the AC until it feels like a freezer inside and a boiler outside. In Italy, there is NO relief from the heat (at least in Pisa no AC was to be found). I couldn’t wait to get to the coast where it would undoubtedly be cooler, but we still had to
get through survive an hour train ride and a 20 minute taxi ride. Traveling is not always as glamorous as it seems.
Train stations are known for attracting unsavory characters that linger around hoping to snatch a few coins (or more) from unsuspecting tourists, or even beg overtly. The first thing that the ticket machine actually says is “watch out for pick pockets!” I clutched my purse as I swiped my card to purchase our tickets. Just as it was printing the tickets, the screen went black. The only pickpocket here was the machine!
I tried to remain composed and look at it as a chance to practice my Italian. The woman at the ticket desk spoke a little English, but she was so disinterested in my sob story because they had nothing to do with the machines. She sent me off to customer service where unfortunately the woman didn’t speak a lick of English. In Florence I was annoyed that everyone would respond to me in English even when I spoke Italian, but now that I needed someone to speak English I was stuck with my caveman Italian. I tried to mime my way through an explanation of how the machine ate my money all while stumbling over my words with my heat baked brain. Again, I was informed that they too have nothing to do with the machines.
Defeated, I decided I had no choice but to try another machine. I was feeling very un-Audrey-like and not at all sophisticated or composed due to the ticket hassle. Suddenly, a life sized Raggedy Ann (except with orange hair) was in my face demanding money. I had no interest in entertaining her aggressive pleas, so I ignored her. She became more insistent and although she was attempting to sound tough I could hear the undertone of a desperate whine (the drugs talking). One look at her eyes and it was obvious that she was in another reality. Finally my mom, who is usually so polite, pointed her finger and said sternly, “Go away or I’m calling the police.” With that she gave up, and we got out of town.
Trivia Answer: Pisa is the Birthplace of Galileo Galilei!