Without fail the one most compelling thought that accompanies any mention of Pisa is that of the leaning tower. Iconic in is relation to great Italian architecture and beauty, the tower also boasts of an experience quite uncommon whilst walking on land. The outlying structures of the basilica and museums are also beautifully built, with a grandeur and attention to minute detail that is unmatched in many other small Italian towns. The insides of these religious buildings are also very beautiful, and are much more affordable in terms of entrance fees. The town’s river views are not as compelling as those in Florence, but its smaller piazzas, quaint shops, and colonnaded walkways definitely lend to a sense of intimacy that Florence lacks. Now I’m no expert of Pisa. In fact this was my first time in this once great maritime hub, and I found my time there to be stress free and completely enjoyable. So for all you soon to be first timers, this rendition of my day trip is for you!
We arrived fairly early from Florence’s main station to Pisa around 10:30am. Of course the first thing any tourist arriving at Pisa wants to do is see the tower. There is a map directly outside the entrance that shows the main gist of how the city is laid out and what streets you can take to get to the tower. Naturally my friend and I managed to take the wrong street halfway through the town, but we found the tower just the same. Kind of hard to miss considering it is the tallest building in the surrounding area. The view of the tower was stunning once we got to the piazza. There really are no words to describe the bizarre beauty of the tower. The actual structure is a series of marble white levels with sublime columns that culminate to a bell tower at the top. Just looking at the tower from ground level isn’t enough, though. I ventured to the ticket area, like so many before me, curious to know if you actually feel the angle of the tower when climbing up it. The answer to that question is YES! If actual experience isn’t enough, the spiral stairs within the tower are a testament to the effect of the incline. Each stair has been smoothed to a shine where millions of tourists have swayed back and forth when climbing. Going up the inclined side is sure to make well toned calves feel the burn, while going down the other side makes you feel like you are slipping down while climbing upward! It is a very “Alice down the rabbit-hole” type feeling that you don’t get used to the whole time you are in the tower. Once at the very top, it is plain to see how the perfect circle of the tower is warped, making it look more like an oval. Not only is this a great opportunity for photos of the whole of Pisa, but it also really allows you to appreciate how Italian architecture, even when done incorrectly, still possesses an indescribable mystical beauty.
Now before you become too focused on the main attraction I must say that there are many other things to enjoy about Pisa. The main drag is lined by an assortment of ice cream colored buildings with columns and airy small restaurants. Therefore I very much encourage tourist to take the time to veer away from the cluster of restaurants that are directly in the vicinity of the tower. Not only do those restaurants have an inflated table charge, they also tend to offer substandard food for top dollar. My friend and I walked back the way we came so as to avoid the main road near the tower. We didn’t have to walk far before we stumbled upon Piazza dei Cavelieri (Piazza of the Knights). It is a wide oval shaped piazza with a large black and white mosaic etched building as its center of importance. There are also many such buildings in Florence, but this is a much less stressful photo opp. From there we ambled back onto the main drag for a bit before spotting a small alley to the right with a Heineken sign. Normally one might think this to be a tourist spot, but many such side alley pubs boast a regular local clientele, good food, and decent prices. We were not disappointed! I heard the subtle tones of the Pisan accent upon approaching the establishment, which only encouraged my idea that is was the place to stop for our lunch. The prices were like any I would find in my normal hangouts in Florence, and the place emitted a pizza doughy smell that is trademark to a good eating. We ordered a small foccacia, a pizza with vegetable topping, a soft drink and water for a decent total of 14 euro. We meandered away fat, happy, and refreshed. A quick jaunt down the shopping streets lead us straight back to the Pisa train station. Unfortunately it was a scorching day, and the sun was just relentless, so we were happy to end our time sitting in the shade at the station, enjoying a cafe zero (Italy’s ready-made version of a coffee frappe).
So quick wrap-up of things to take away from this post:
1. Pisa is a super easy city to get around in, so be a little adventurous!
2. Going into the tower is a bit expensive (15 euro), but very worth the experience. When will you ever be in Pisa again?
3. Go off the beaten path a little and find a small quaint restaurant with shady outside seating. Your taste buds and wallet will thank you.
4. Sit and enjoy the atmosphere! Don’t rush yourself around trying to fill every minute of your time with something. That is what Florence tends to be for!
Been to Pisa? Please share any advise or experiences you had! Still in anticipation for your trip and have a question? Leave me a comment and I will do my best to answer it!