Monday, June 22, 2009

Pisa and Spezia

Pisa, once a huge sea-trading power (around 1000-1300 AD), has now become, as far as I can tell, an official tourist trap. Rick Steves doesn't suggest much more than walking around the world famous Campo dei Miracoli, the "Field of Miracles" that boasts the Duomo, the Baptistery, and of course, the Leaning Tower. There is also a large university that still holds some world renown somewhere in the city, though we didn't find it. The field is boasted as the greatest lawn in Italy, and so far we have no reason to argue it. It is a wide open expanse--sort of, it has those three buildings at its center--of lush green that is chained off with "Do not walk on the grass" signs every few yards. People walk all over the grass. I'm not sure if they even think enforcing the signs is worth a feeble attempt. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

We looked up the train schedule ahead of time and found a 3:30 train to Pisa, so we headed there around 3 to get tickets. I told the lady at the counter we were heading to Cinque Terre but stopping in Pisa, so she gave us a ticket to Spezia Centrale via Pisa Centrale. She never spoke a word. We found our train about five minutes before it was due to leave and got comfortable. The ride was about an hour or so. We almost had to pay a 40 Euro fine each for forgetting to validate our ticket, but the attendant was very nice and we played the dumb American card to a "T." We watched three Italians try to dodge him and get the fine for not having tickets at all. Along the way, the terrain changed from urban to rural to mountainous and beautiful. The name of the mountain range is proving harder to find than I expected, but it is an extension of the Alps of northern Italy.

Rick Steves recommended busing it to the Tower, rather than taking the 45 minute walk through Pisa's heart. We declined to take his advice and walked it instead. No regrets at all. The walk due north took us through one long street market that was bustling with people--locals walking their dogs, tourists shopping, restaurants, street vendors, you name it--and the architecture was very pretty. It looked exactly like Florence, really. We even had to cross the Arno River here, as it cuts through both cities identically.

Once past the market, we came upon some ruins that I now know are the remains of the old city walls. Our first glimpse of the Tower was exciting, though it was criss-crossed with power lines. As we rounded the corner and entered the Campo dei Miracoli, we were offered a much nicer view.

The sky was a perfect mix of bright blue and fluffy white clouds, for the most part. The sun was somewhat low in the sky directly over the Duomo, which gave it a sort of spiritual aura as we approached, which you can see in the picture above.

We headed clockwise around the field and saw a fashion model photo shoot for wedding gowns going on that had attracted a large crowd. We stood and watched that for a little while. The models seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Then we hopped the 10" chain link that was supposed to keep people off the lawn--everyone was doing it--and set up shop about 100 yards west of the tower to eat our packed lunch. We brought peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and apples. (Strange aside: Peanut butter does not exist in France. We were told it is too unhealthy mixing the peanuts and the butter. Instead, they use Nutella. Get it?)

The sandwich and apple weren't nearly enough, but we exercised a little discipline and decided to wait until we got to Monterosso and Cinque Terre to get a quality dinner. So we took some more photos, opted out of doing the whole 'holding up the tower' picture, and started the scenic walk back to the train station - Pisa Centrale.

As it turns out, Spezia Centrale was not the train station in Cinque Terre we thought we were getting to. It is more of a hub, and we needed to get an additional ticket to get up to Monterosso, the northern most land of Cinque Terre. It was about 8pm when we got to Spezia, and fortunately the ticket window was open for another 25 minutes. We were confused at first, but between the ticket window and the informazione guy, we got it straightened out. Our train didn't leave for another hour so we decided to get dinner in Spezia.

A short walk led us to a piazza with a large Red Cross festival going on. There were EMTs and medical personnel everywhere, with lots of people eating and some live music blasting. We did not really know what the deal with the food was there, so we pressed on and found a little pizzeria across the street where we could still hear the music. At one point, they played the theme song to The Last of the Mohicans, which may be one of the greatest movie compositions of all time.

We got pizza and had some Peroni. The woman running the pizza shop was really nice, but her English was not really nice, so we had a little trouble getting organized there. The pizza was good, a little burnt, and the beer was cold and delicious. We ate our fill and headed back to the train station to wait for our delayed train to Monterosso.

We arrived in Monterosso around 9:30 or so with the plan of finding a bar, making some friends, and then sleeping on the beautiful beaches of Monterosso al Mare. We would wake up to the rising sun and hop back on the train down to Riomaggiore to begin the famous trek up Cinque Terre's majestic coastline.

That story will be for another post, as it is full of excitement, suspense, intrigue, hilarity, and a little pain and suffering, but it was all worth it.

1 comment:

Julie said...

hooray for delicious food pictures!!