Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Piazza, Pizza, Pisa.

Well now the recapping is getting a bit ridiculous because it's been, what, 3 weeks since we got home? It's a personal goal to crank this one out quickly so that I can mow the lawn and sweep the walk before yoga class: it's National Night Out and we don't want to look like messy, unwelcoming neighbors, do we? I also need to take some pictures of Alice, my new vintage dress form, modeling some of the dresses I can't possibly squeeze into so that I can list them in my shop and hopefully get them out of the house.

Anyway, before I recap England, there's one bit of Italy left to describe: Pisa.

Leaning tower.

All of Italy was an adventure, but Pisa was an extra adventure because of the train strike, because of traveling without an Italian speaker, and because we had like 8 hours to kill until we needed to find our way to the airport. We paid 6 Euro to check our backpacks at the train station--well, well worth it--and just walked into the city instead of getting on the bus. It's not like it's a huge metropolis. You basically point yourself in the direction of the Piazza dei Miracoli and go.

The Arno, one of Italy's major rivers, runs through Pisa.

It was Sunday afternoon and everything was extremely closed and quiet as we walked through town. Of course, once we got close to the Torre, there was the explosion of tourist activity you might expect: hordes of digital photographers, acres of tent stalls hawking cheap plastic tower paraphernalia, scads of cafe-bars happy to charge you extra to sit outside with your $8 beer. Still, we were pleasantly surprised at how photogenic Pisa was, and how much there was to see. You probably don't need more than a day there, and you'd be hard pressed to find good food, but if the weather is perfect, you can just walk and walk and feast your eyes. I especially enjoyed the bicycle porn. I don't mean that there was a lot of really sweet equipment rolling around the streets of Pisa. I mean that people ride ratty, sturdy, rusty steeds with chainguards and skirt guards and big baskets, not a bike helmet in sight.

Bike p0rn.

More Italian city bike action.


So. We ate some truly mediocre food, walked over to the tower, bought tickets to go inside the Duomo and Baptistry, and took a crapload of pictures. The coolest thing about all the buildings in that piazza, as far as I'm concerned, was the evidence of old-school recycling in the construction of the Duomo:

If you zoom, you can see all the repurposed blocks.

If you look closely, you can see a bunch of repurposed ancient blocks: some ornate, some inscribed, lots of different sizes all cobbled together. The Duomo itself was probably also my favorite church that we visited, and we visited a lot of them. You kind of can't help it in Italy, and you very quickly max out on multicolored marble and gold leaf.

Duomo facade.

This was also, incidentally, the most grass we saw anywhere in Italy. Italians seem to like their piazzas paved and their decorative gardens equally paved and contained. There's not a big impulse toward public green space. I'm not a huge fan of grass myself (or, at least, lawn culture), but we happily stretched out in the grass next to the Duomo to chillax.

The only significance here is that I like the colors, and paid 30 cents to use the bathroom in the orange building.

Trying to get to the airport was the most confusing part of the day--you would think there'd be a big ass sign that says "this bus goes to the airport" or lots of taxis vying for your custom during a train strike, but no. Still, we found our way there without too much trouble and had another uneventful flight on Ryanair. I'm glad I went into those flights expecting the worst. If you fly Ryanair, remember two things: 1. It is totally worth it to pay the 3 quid or Euro for priority boarding, because a surprisingly small number of people bother with this. 2. They open the back doors of the plane as well, at least for boarding, so zip to the back door and avoid the big line at the front. Also, wear earplugs. The sales announcements are ongoing throughout the flight, and loud.

Santa Maria della Spina.
Santa Maria della Spina.

I think I want to go to Switzerland next. I mean, I haven't been many places in Europe, so really I'll be happy to go anywhere, but I saw a travel show about Brienz and Interlaken and getting from place to place via cable car (might have to sedate the Brit for that), and I made a little note of it. Watch out, Europe: we're totally getting neutral on your ass.


  1. All these photos are super stunning and make me wistful for Europe. I was also in Italy during a train strike, and found that if you're on vacay and in an agile state of mind, it can actually feel charming.

    As for the land of holey cheese: the Swiss people have a rep for being aloof and unfriendly, but man, the landscape more than makes up for it.

  2. I'm really enjoying these recaps.

    There's something wistful and very moving about those repurposed ancient blocks too.

  3. Consider me your source of former-resident Switzerland travel tips.

  4. Interlaken was really beautiful and has some great adventure sports there!