Popping Over to Pisa

At breakfast this morning there was a new treat.  It looked like a lemon square (could I be so lucky?) but when I asked Verusca, she said, “riso”, with  finger to cheek adding “buono”.  Ah, rice…I’ll try.  It was good and subtly sweet.  I asked Verusca to write the name of it in my book.  She thought for a moment and then said, “Ah…Torta di Riso”.  Cake of Rice…ya don’t say.  Finger to the eye here in a sarcastic way.

Today, I am heading over to Pisa.  I was trying to decide whether to take a day from Lucca to do this or use one of my many days in Florence to make the journey?  Lucca is a wonderful town, no doubt, but as far as things to do and see…so I chose to go today.

First let me say that Pisa seems to have a bad reputation.  Florentines really don’t care for Pisa.  When I told Massimo that I would be visiting Lucca,  he was happy, gave it his stamp of approval.  But when I mentioned a day in Pisa, his face contorted and his voice changed.  “Aaooo…Peeezzzaaa.”  Some hand gestures underscored his opinion.

Ma, I’m less that 30 minutes away, I need to see for myself.

I ask Verusca to call me a taxi.  I am going to need one tomorrow to go to the stazione and I want to get a feel for the price, plus I don’t want to start my journey hot and sweaty.  She calls, I wait.imageWell…I learned that taxis are expensive in Lucca.  When he arrived, there was already a 5.30 charge on the meter.  I questioned this a bit and then the 10 euro bill when we made it to the stazione.  The driver pulled out his laminated price sheet and tried to explain all the different charges to me.  I know I will be walking home from the stazione this evening.

While at the stazione, I decide to buy a 2nd ticket to Santa Marie Novella Firenze for tomorrow.  The original one I purchased from home home isn’t to depart until late in the afternoon, not arriving in Firenze until after 22:00.  It is worth the 5.40 euro to be settled in my last place well before then.

I also learned, at least I think this is correct, that the stazione at Lucca does not have validation machines on the individual tracks.  Because the ticket I purchased can be used on this route for 30 days, you must validate before you board.  I was rushing to get to the treno that had just arrived on the track, thought I would validate there and could not find one.  So…turn around, run down two flights, through the tunnel, up two flights, around the corner to the validation machine.  THEN back the same route, trying to get there before that treno leaves.  I will say my legs started to give out a bit, and I kept having to tug at my “undergarments” (washing with no dryer, they are growing a bit…you probably don’t want to hear that, but it’s Life on the Road). All this made me chuckle between heavy breaths.  In situations like this I just play like I am a contestant in The Amazing Race” and I will make my son proud if I make it to the next check point.

During the short ride to Pisa I catch my breath as we pass fields and fields of sunflowers.  Che bella!imageI am seated near 2 english couples.  I know they are also headed to the Leaning Tower because it is ALL one of the women can talk about.  She sounds just like Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady…before her transformation.  I wish I could mimic it through text, but I just can’t.  Entertaining though.

I had read the Tower et al was closest to Pisa’s smaller stazione, so the 5 of us exit there.  I have no mappa and no clue where to head, but with comfort in numbers…I silently follow the voice.image

When we turn a corner and the Tower comes into view, I can’t help but announce to the woman, “There it is.  You wanted to see it and there it is.”  Just like with seeing any iconic building for the first time…it is pretty cool.image

As I approach The Field of Miracles, I join the masses and head for a ticket booth.  I knew the tickets to climb the tower were timed and I wanted to get one as early as possible.  I buy a ticket to see all 4 of the main buildings here; the Duomo, the Baptistry, Camposanto and The Leaning Tower…certo.

With an hour before my Tower Time, I head to the baptistry then the duomo. The medieval cathedral is named Santa Maria Assunta.  Its construction began in 1064.  The mosaics inside show a strong Byzantine influence.  These tend to be my favorite depictions of Christ.  I do not think I  have seen any mosaics more beautiful than these.imageimage

My third stop, and the real reason I came, was Camposanto.  I first learned about Camposanto when Mom and Dad shared the movie The Rape of Europa with me.  Since then, I show it every year to my Art II students.  It is a wonderful documentary detailing the fate of Europe’s Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War.  If you have not seen it, I highly suggest it.   imageCamposanto, or Holy Field, was constructed in 1278 around sacred dirt brought back from Golgotha during the Crusades.  In 1278, one of the architects of the Leaning Tower designed a marble cloister to enclose the holy ground.  Frescoes by Taddeo Gaddi, Spinello Aretino, Benozzo Gozzoli, Andrea Bonaiuti, Antonio Veneziano and Piero di Pucci decorated its walls.  Tragically, the frescoes were almost completely destroyed by an American bombing raid during WWII.  The wooden roof caught fire, its lead panels melted and the hot metal ran down the frescoes. Camposanto was the burial place of the Pisan upper class for centuries.

Below is a photo of Camposanto showing the destruction of the air raid.imageHere I stand in the same place the above photo was taken.imageimageThe fresco below is shown in the documentary and when I first saw it, I was taken with it. In my opinion, it is so contemporary for the period created.  I love this piece.  It was very moving to me to turn a corner and see the original.  I have researched a bit and cannot locate a name or artist.  I was also disappointed to not find a postcard of the piece.  Oh well, I guess a photo taken by me is better than a postcard anyway.  You can see that I am off center a bit.  There is a pillar obstructing the perfect angle.imageOK…now onto what most would consider the Main Event.  Walking around The Field of Miracles is quite commincal.  Almost EVERYONE is striking a pose attempting to get a shot of them keeping the tower from falling.  The dialogue between taker and poser is also very funny to listen to. “A little right, no… move a bit, wait…no…come forward, no…ok…no…” And when the poser goes to look at the “original” photo of them and the tower, NOT A ONE is happy with their photographer.  NOT A ONE.  “You held the camera crooked.  Now the tower looks straight.”  “You are a horrible photographer.”  “I’m not even touching the tower!”  My favorites were the ones that would strain their faces for the photos.  Funny, Funny, Funny.imageAbout 20 mintues before my scheduled time, I go take my borsa to the locker room.  They will not let you carry any bags up the tower.  I did take my wallet out and brought my cameras, certo.

I will not waste your time on my dissertation on the lack of line respect and etiquette in Italia…and it is usually NOT by Italians by the way.

Once inside the center of the tower, the effect is very strange.  It is like being in one of those Fun Houses at a carnival.  Add to the mix that the stone is slippery and I’m wearing leather bottomed sandals…After a brief history of the Tower, we are allowed to begin our climb. image

You can see we are not the first to ascend.image

Andiamo…only 294 more to go.

The view from the top, although obstructed by wire barricades, is lovely.  As many writers note, the green of the grass against the white of the marble is striking.imageOnce down, my day in Pisa is pretty much complete.imageAlthough I arrived in the lesser Pisa stazione, I decided to make the longer walk and depart from Pisa Centrale.  My sole reason is to be able to see and share Tuttomondo (The Whole World) painted by Keith Haring.  Much of what I read states this was Haring’s last mural before his death in 1990.  In Art III this year, my students chose a Haring piece to replicate for a photo op at the studio602 Art Show.  So I walked this extra mile or so for them!image

imageWhen I arrive back in Lucca, I am starving, sticky and hot.  On the way to rectify some of those things, I pass this window again.  I had passed it my first day and then that night, those fish were in my dreams.  I couldn’t stop thinking about them.  So I bought due.  Their purpose is to remove the yolk from an egg…I’m sure I’ll use it for that but bottom line, I thought they were cute.imageIn the evening before dinner, I make good on my promise to Antonio and go for one last spin around the ramparts.  Tonight the wall is full of runners, kids playing, people rehearsing for a play, and friends relaxing after their day.  A heated discussion is going on here, obviously about some aspect of their game.  I feel like the wall is Lucca’s crown.  It is a place that sets them apart and holds them together.image

For dinner tonight, I turn to Rick Steves.  He highly recommends Trattoria da Leo.  I seek it out and as he suggests, I arrive early.  Steve says it is a “mom & pop” kind of a place serving traditional Tuscan/Lucchese dishes.  I am the first seated, then blink and all the tables are full, disappointed people being turned away.  Grazie Steve!imageAt my waiter’s recommendation, I chose the Tortelli al Ragu di Carne.  Blaine and Dalton would have love it.  With that, I had a basket of bread (they lost money on me there), a bicchiere di vino rosso locale and acqua frizzante.  I ate it very slowly so I could enjoy the comings and goings of others.imageHere is another dining tip I would like to share with you…when asked what you would like for dolce, linger a bit over due choices.  Convey with sounds and body language that you cannot decide between two,  in this case Tiramisu and torta al cioccolato.  If you’re lucky, your waiter might begin a sentence with, “Eeeefffa you-a would-a like-a,” …I’m thinking, “come on”…  He continues, “I could-a take-a you-a half-a and half-a so you-a could-a try-a.”  Oh, what a great idea!  That would be molto bene, grazie!  In the end I joined Team Torta al Cioccolato with my waiter.

imageHappy and full, I stroll through the streets comfortable with the way back to my room.  When I approached the Felice pizza shop I went to my first evening, I find the street blocked with wood, men and the lady that is usually behind the counter.  I begin to turn around and then I decide I want a photo of this.  I walk up and say, “per le pizze?”  She nods “si” as she sweeps up behind them.  I love these little glimpses of their real lives.imageAll is quiet at the piazza tonight.imageI open my window and am lulled by the clinking of glasses and plates and the low hum of conversation.  Buonanotte.image

2 thoughts on “Popping Over to Pisa

  1. Hi Paige,
    Loved finding your blog again this summer! I was at Leo’s last October, and when I couldn’t make up my mind on the dolce, the cute server brought me slivers of all FiVE torte, even the veggie one he thought was awful.
    Ruth

    • Ruth, So happy you joined me again this year. It has been a wonderful trip. The highlight has definitely been spending time with locals. I highly recommend it! I found my contact in The Florentine.

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