During our 4-day trip to Florence, we took a day to make a side trip to Pisa.

We took the train from Florence and it was just over an hour each way to get there.

While we were standing at the automated ticket machine in the train station trying to figure out our travel options, this very nice but very insistent little man came up to help us make our purchase.  Our two one-way tickets came out to just over 15 Euro, so Sean put a 20 Euro bill in the machine.  As the change was being dispensed in coins, the nice but insistent little man very helpfully scooped it out for us and kept a couple of Euro for himself as a “tip”.  Sure, ok, whatever dude.  We just let him have it and ran to catch our train that was leaving in about 60 seconds.

There was a group of about 10 American college “semester abroad” students in the seats behind us on the train, and as much as I wanted to put on my headphones and listen to music, I was finding their conversation much too amusing not to eavesdrop.  College students can be very entertaining without meaning to be.

One of the amusing things I overheard was that they got assistance from and “tipped” the same nice but insistent little man who helped us buy our tickets.  One of the college guys actually had a very nice take on it because his opinion was he would rather give the guy a Euro or two for the ticket-buying service than to see the guy just begging for change in the train station.

Another amusing thing I overheard was a conversation they had about beaches in New York.  I gathered that one of the girls was from Long island and she was saying that some people from New York City think they have real beaches too.  “Like what?  Coney ISLAND?  I don’t THINK so.” This is actually what she said.  I had to bite my tongue both to keep from laughing and to keep from turning around and correcting her.  First of all, the beach at Coney Island is about 3 miles long and has sand, water, a boardwalk and a world-famous amusement park. Not to mention the original Nathan’s Famous hot dog restaurant, one of the best people-watching spots in New York City with the best fast-food French fries ever.  How is that not a beach?  Second of all, I’m from Rockaway Beach in New York City, not far from Coney Island. It’s the largest urban beach in the entire United States so how is that not a real beach?  Girl, please.

OK, on to the actual city of Pisa.

If you walk straight down the street after leaving the train station and then veer left just a little after a few blocks, you will see a wall mural created by the American artist Keith Haring in 1989.

It’s called Tuttomondo, which means “the whole world” in Italian. It is comprised of 30 figures representing peace and harmony in the world. 

It was absolutely raining buckets when we left the train station in Pisa.  Sean even had to buy an umbrella from the guys selling them outside the train station.  He had already bought a cheap one in Florence but it didn’t last more than two days.  The guy in Pisa wanted him to pay 5 Euro for another cheap umbrella and I said no way, we paid only 3 Euro in Florence and he said ok, 3 Euro then.  It pays to bargain.  And yes, they spoke English. My cheap pink umbrella that I’d gotten in Florence was still holding up, luckily.

We passed a little marketplace that was covered overhead so we decided to duck in and hope for the rain to let up.  There was some kind of chocolate-themed market going on – what luck!  We bought these hot chocolate drinks to take the chill off. 

 

As you can see, we got one white chocolate and one dark chocolate.  It was like drinking warm pudding and they were both delicious. 

When it became apparent that the rain really wasn’t going to let up any time soon, we figured what the hell, we’re soaked anyway (the umbrellas were really no help) and soldiered on.

Here’s a photo taken from the bridge called the Ponte di Mezzo.

This bridge crosses the Arno river, the same one that the Ponte Vecchio bridge in Florence crosses.  There have been several bridges on this spot, including one built by the Romans and another one that was destroyed by bombs in World War II.

This square is called Piazza Garibaldi.

You can probably guess that the statue there is of General Garibaldi himself.  You may remember him and his famous “red shirts” from your history lessons.  Garibaldi was instrumental in unifying Italy in the 19thcentury.

Here you see the Piazza delle Vettovaglie.

Our Rick Steves guide book says this piazza (square) is “lively day and night”.  I’ll let you be the judge of that.

We were wondering if this is where the Commies shop.

This is an area that was destroyed by bombs during World War II.

Rick Steves describes it as “horrible 1960s reconstruction” but I didn’t think it was THAT bad.  I’ve certainly seen worse reconstruction. 


Here you see the Piazza dei Cavalieri.

The buildings at this piazza are now  part of the University of Pisa.  We heard lots of American English being spoken in Pisa by what appeared to be both students and professors.

 
At one time, Florence had conquered Pisa.  This statue shows Cosimi I of Florence’s ruling family.  His foot on the dolphin represents Florence’s control of the sea. 

We noticed a lot of dolphin-themed statues during our visit to both cities.

This is the Church of San Sisto.

Notice all the different stones and bricks used in this church.  You can see at least 3 different types in the front wall, as well as at least 2 different types in the tower topped with red brick. 

The rain let up just a little as we arrived at the Leaning Tower.  We got a kick out of all the tourists lined up along this path trying to get that perfect photo of themselves appearing to hold up the tower.

Before I get to the actual tower, I wanted to point out that there are actually five other sights in the “Field of Miracles” area that most tourists overlook.  They are the Baptistery, the Duomo (cathedral), a cemetery and two museums.

Here you see the Baptistery, which we visited.

If you’re planning a visit to Pisa, I’d recommend seeing at least the Baptistery and the Duomo in addition to the tower.  You can go into the Duomo for free, but you still have to go to the ticket office and get an entry ticket.  If you want to go to any of the other sights, you purchase tickets for those at the same ticket office.  We paid 5 Euro each to see the Baptistery and picked up our free Duomo tickets at the same time.  If you want to climb the Leaning Tower (we didn’t), you will pay extra for that and as of now it’s almost 20 Euro per person.  Plus, you need to hope the tower is open for climbing when you visit.  While we were there, they chased everyone off the viewing platform during the heavy rains and didn’t let anyone back up until the rain had stopped.

Just as we walked out of the ticket office, the skies opened up again.  Unfortunately the doors we exited through were locked from the inside and we couldn’t get back in that way.  Luckily, though, the doors were covered so we were sheltered from the worst of the downpour.

Here’s what happens when you are in Pisa and it’s pouring rain.

You can get a photo of the tower in the middle of the afternoon with no tourists in it.  We were both surprised at how small the tower is and by how it looks from different angles.  When viewed from certain areas it doesn’t look like it’s leaning at all.

Inside the Baptistery, you can see the baptismal font to the right that dates from 1246.

 
To the left is the pulpit, carved by the artist Nicola Pisano.

By the way, the Baptistery also leans as do all the other buildings in the area due to the soil.  It leans about half as much as the tower does and is not really noticeable from the outside. Or from the inside, for that matter. 

You can climb about 75 steps to get to a gallery where you can look down to where the font and pulpit are.

 
We were lucky enough to be there for the performance of the security guard who sings every 30 minutes.  The acoustics in the Baptistery cause sounds to echo for about 10 seconds. You should check out this video that someone (not me) posted on YouTube to hear what it sounds like.
 
What you hear in the video is only one person singing notes, but the echo almost makes it sound like a choir.

After leaving the Baptistery, we went across to the Duomo.

That pulpit was carved in the 13th century by the artist Giovanni Pisano.  He is the son of Nicola, who carved the pulpit you saw above in the Baptistery.

Here you can see the beautiful altar and ceiling mosaic, created around the year 1300.

And here you see the casket containing the mummified remains of Pisa’s patron saint, St. Ranieri.

Back outside on the Field of Miracles, Sean and I were both in need of a restroom.  Luckily they have nice, clean facilities for you to use after you pay 50 cents Euro to an attendant and get a receipt as proof of payment.

I always chuckle at the explanatory signs we see at tourist sights.

When I see things like this I just wonder who it is that would look at the hand dryer and wonder what it is and how to use it and have to actually read the sign to figure it out.

OK, yeah, after using the restroom we had to do the touristy thing like everyone else.

Whew, thank goodness Sean was there to keep the tower from falling over!

The Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square) in Pisa is a Unesco World Heritage Site.

 

On our walk back to the train station, we ducked into a restaurant for a bite to eat.

I often say to Sean that I should hire myself out as a translator for English menus in foreign countries and here’s a perfect example of why.

This is what the English menu at this restaurant said: “And you are welcome to ‘XXXXX’ where you spend little and you eat pretty well, here every customer is KING and QUEEN of the ladies are a magical kingdom that was born in our kitchens. Who then would boldness and courage he is very spicy to try, many sauces, fried oils stan there for everyone. Certainly need of being tough because some are strong, but we are always sure that our customers are tough.  A note of paccante makes everything brighter, it will be a coincidence, but to ‘XXXXX’ was always cheerful up in the morning and in the evening it goes away brings with it all melancholy.”

I’m not sure what that all means but they are clearly in desperate need of a decent translation.  Despite that, the food was good and sitting in the restaurant gave us a chance to rest and dry off and warm up a bit. 

They had an interesting chandelier too.

On our way back to the train station, we stopped at a place called La Bottega del Gelato on Piazza Garibaldi. 

I have to say it was the best gelato we had the whole weekend and it was about a third of the price of the gelato in Florence.

I’m glad we took a day to do this side trip and if you find yourself in Pisa, please do me a favor and take the time to see more than the Leaning Tower.  You won’t be sorry that you listened to me!
 

About the author: Trish

 

Website: http://travelsandtipples.com