18.11.2006 15 °C
I know the title of this journal is "Pisa" but my adventure starts in the Valencia, Spain airport where I met my daughter who was studying in Valencia for the Fall semester.
Descending to the Valencia, Spain airport, I noticed the countryside is truly beautiful. The orchards and fields are impeccably "groomed" and look like a patchwork quilt from the plane. Predominantly, vineyards, olive trees, orange groves and almond trees. And, long rows of windmills -- not the type you think of in Holland. But, the kind you would see out in California. Odd contrast with the farming and the little villages just "stuck" on the side of the mountains -- the old and the new.
After landing in Valencia and locating my temporarily "lost" luggage (seems lost luggage is the norm at the Valencia, Spain airport), I found Bri and her friends with their luggage in line at another airline counter to check in for the flight to Pisa. Yes, I was running on adrenaline. I had been up since 1:00 a.m. Wednesday morning (Eastern time) and it was now 3:30 p.m. (GMT) on Thursday so 9:30 a.m. Eastern time -- 32 hours of, for the most part, awake time. Little cat naps on the plane were a challenge. I felt ok, but I'll admit I didn't look too great. I left the U.S. with a horrible case of conjunctivitis in one eye and a prescription for both eyes. Talk about the red-eye flight!
Italy was comfortable for me. I was raised in a predominantly-Italian environment, surrounded with lots of Italian-speaking people and studied Italian for two years in high school. All contributed to a level of comfort and my ability to, for the most part, understand what was being said. Also, I have learned since then that the Tuscan region dialect did not "stray" from the Latin and was not influenced as much by other foreign languages. Hence, the most perfect Italian which is what I learned in high school. But, I didn't always feel comfortable responding! I was a bit nervous that I would sound like an American. Go figure!
Pisa and Florence are located in the Tuscany region which is one of 20 regions in Italy. The capital of Tuscany is Florence (Firenze) and there are 10 provinces (Arezzo, Pisa, Florence, Grosetto, Livorno, Lucca, Pistoia, Siena, Prato, Massa-Carrara). Tuscany is considered the most beautiful region in Italy and is the birthplace of the Renaissance. See how much I learned?!
After a heart-stopping cab ride at breakneck speeds along narrow, curving roads from the Pisa airport (Galileo Galilei which was also the name of Bri's dorm in Valencia Spain!) , we checked into the bed and breakfast and walked to La Regginella Ristorante (restaurant/deli) where we enjoyed a splendid dinner (10:30 at night). The Europeans eat dinner very late in the evening. The deli had many of the food items I remember seeing in my grandparents' home when I was little -- Torrone candy, mortadella, prosciutto, olives and mozzarella.
After ogling all the wonderful food in the deli case and then wiping the drool from our chins, we were seated and asked if we wanted "first plate". All the girls turned to me. I had to explain to the college crowd that "first plate" is antipasto. We were told we could custom-order our antipasto so the girls left it to me -- prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, olives, and tomatoes. The young waiter (about Bri's age) served us two kinds of bread and wine with our antipasto and then stood at the end of the table. Bri pointed out to me that my own mother does the same thing at big family meals. Must be that they like to watch others enjoy food and might also be a bit of a servant attitude. We all ordered some kind of a pasta dish. I noticed that the food was lighter -- no heavy sauces like American-style Italian food. Everything was perfectly seasoned. There was not one flavor that overpowered the others. We left the restaurant just past midnight! Can you imagine eating dinner that late every night? Then again, can you imagine taking a 3 hour siesta every day?! I'd be willing to give that lifestyle a try.
Friday morning started with a lovely breakfast in the dining room at the bed and breakfast where we were joined by an older couple from, I think, Germany. I couldn't quite grasp what language they were speaking. At one point, they seemed a bit overwhelmed with the vivacity and excitement of the five American ladies at the table! And, then we were off for our walk to the Campo dei Miracoli. The sun was shining brightly and the morning air was cool -- low 60s. We wore jackets and gloves! I LOVED the villas.They all had iron fences and gates, lovely and well-maintained gardens and those wonderful round-topped double doors with the handles in the middle of the door! After I had stopped at several villas to look more closely, Bri warned me that, if I didn't keep moving, the locals might think I'm a stalker and call the authorities! So, I moved along with a promise from her that she would take lots of pictures of the villas.
The streets and sidewalks in Pisa are cobblestone and not easy to navigate. Flat, comfortable shoes are a must. The streets were very quiet at 9:30 on a Friday morning compared to what we later saw in Florence, Valencia, Seville and Granada. There were, as expected, lots of scooters and what we would consider upper-end cars -- Mercedes, Peugeot, Volvo, BMW. Sidewalk cafes are common but there is a premium price for sitting outside.
Our main sightseeing goal for Pisa was the Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles) where the Leaning Tower, Duomo and Baptistery are located. The Leaning Tower is built on sand and really does tilt (although, won't tilt any further because of work that has been done to stop that process), and we DID take the obligatory "tourist" shots of us "pushing" the tower. Goofy Americans. Bri titled that shot "We suck at this" because it didn't really turn out well. The Leaning Tower is actually a campanile or free-standing bell tower for the Duomo or cathedral. We were quite surprised that it was not as tall as we thought. The Baptistry is the largest in Italy and is also built on sand. It leans like the Tower but not as much. Because the acoustics below the cupola in the Baptistry are perfect, there is a plan to hold concerts in the baptistry in the near future.
The area around the Campo is loaded with vendors in little kiosks and stalls selling everything from souvenirs to leather goods, clothing, food and jewelry. If you want a souvenir of the Tower, you'll find everything you could possible desire (if that is your desire) -- glasses, magnets, bookmarks, t-shirts, posters, statuettes, coasters, cards, calendars, aprons, hats, etc.). And these vendors are hard-core salesmen. They'll drag you off the sidewalk and into their "store" to get you to buy something! We also saw lots of Pinocchio souvenirs and marionettes. Pinocchio was written by Carlo Collodi and the setting of the story is in the Tuscany region of Italy.
After exploring the Campo, which is the main attraction in Pisa, we checked out of the bed and breakfast and took a train to Florence. It is true that mass transit in Europe is much better and cheaper than in the U.S. (train, subway and flights between the countries). However, the sights from the train weren't as lovely as I had hoped.
If I were to choose any place to live of all the places we visited, it would be Pisa. Of course, I would have to be able to find employment so I could afford one of those beautiful villas! Other than shops, restaurants, museums and cathedrals, I was hard-pressed to figure out WHERE they all work! Their lifestyle is much more laid back than ours yet, they don't lack the creature comforts we have either.
Next installment -- Florence. But don't hold your breath!