Dec 21

Tuscany 2011 – Pisa

Category: Italy,Travel

Rachel and I went to Tuscany in the winter and had a great time.  In these posts, I’m keeping notes for myself, as well as telling a story for my friends and family to see.

We flew from Phoenix, transferring in Salt Lake City and Paris, landing in Pisa.  I have been around the world and have seen a lot of airports, but had never been through Charles de Gaulle airport before.  I was amazed; it seemed like the largest airport I’ve ever seen, although statistically, I’ve been in busier airports – but gauging by appearances alone, I was impressed.  It seemed to go on and on; our enormous 767 aircraft taxied past multiple gates, each large enough to be an airport all by itself.  We were herded through EU customs, then flew the last leg to Pisa, arriving at dinnertime after an exhausting 19 or so hours of travel.  Pisa is a small airport, like Flagstaff or Panama City, FL.

We checked into the excellent Hotel Bologna (90 Euros, wifi, excellent free breakfast, evening snacks, bar, and in a charming old part of the city near restaurants – plus, they have a complementary shuttle to/from the airport or train station). Then, we had dinner and walked around a little.

The next day, we walked across the river Arno in the daylight on our way to the leaning tower.

Along the way we passed the street market.  Let the bargaining begin!  Later, we found that Florence and Siena had better markets, and this one (the daily one) was mostly tourist fare (plenty of cool stuff though).

The Piazza dei Miracoli, which is the complex housing the leaning tower, is surrounded by a crenelated wall, and also has a cathedral, a baptistry that looks like a giant chocolate truffle, and the Camposanto, which is a “monumental Cemetery” filled with medieval sculpture and frescoes.  It was badly damaged during WW II, and the restoration continues to this day.  The Camposanto was something I’d wanted to see for a long time.

We were walking around, looking for the tower, consulting the map… and then looked up and said “Oh!”

First, the tower: That thing has some serious lean to it. If you stand at the base of it and touch it with your forehead, your feet will be a foot away from it.  It really looks like it’s going to fall over; and yet, a few years ago, the Italians made the lean less radical to save the building.  I can’t imagine what it looked like before they adjusted it.

Then, back down the narrow and winding stairway, traveled by countless people since they started building it before 1200.

Having limited time – isn’t that always the case – we had to decide between the Camposanto and the other buildings.  So, we didn’t see the cathedral or baptistry.  Next time.

In the Camposanto, there is a hushed atmosphere appropriate for a cemetery, which is what it is.  Inside, you can stand around on graves from the 1200s.  Once, People with names like Gallitus and Damiana lived and worked their lives in this city; now I can tread upon their graves for my idle amusement.

The beautiful frescoes were almost completely destroyed during WWII, when the US bombed German positions in Pisa.  It’s amazing that there’s anything left at all, once you’ve seen pictures of the wreckage.

Here are the tortured souls in the lake of fire, or something like that.  Reminds me of some jobs I’ve had. Note the pitchforks poking the people on the left side; they must have been having too much fun.

Someone’s bones in an ossuary.

The cathedral, and in the foreground, the baptistry.

Rachel stands at the foot of the cathedral.  Note the writing on the granite column behind her; the builders reclaimed that handy Roman marble lying around.



A note about Gate 1 travel: I’ll use them again.  The trip was exactly as advertised, the price was excellent, was customizable, and we were very happy with it.

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