Misty rainy day accompanied me while I rode TRENITALIA, the regional train, to Pisa. The words “trundle” or “plugs along” seem to fit these trains as they lurch along. The conductor hole punched my ticket, all the while leaning on a chair seat for balance. The seats are smaller than the French trains as are the steps to board. God help you if you have a large piece of luggage, because from the station platform to the first step on the train makes you want to discard any unnecessary items and start doing lunges at the gym to build up those thigh muscles for that initial “umph”.
There is so much more to this town that just the Tower. One can see the town in a day, but there are museums, churches, a pretty park, great river walk, good restaurants, a 30 minute train ride to Lucca, a one and half hour ride to Florence. So, Pisa can be a less expensive base to see the surrounding area. I was surprised, because all I have ever heard was “don’t bother” & “not much there”. They had a Miró exhibit in a gallery, also, that I missed! So, it isn’t just the Tower!
Remember reading about and seeing pictures of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in the 5th grade? I do, and when I saw it, it was a “I truly cannot believe that I am here” moment. Next to the Tower, was a gorgeous cathedral that received little publicity and was spectacular – have to say, it is becoming sort of the norm now – gold leaf, huge paintings, carved statues, marble alters, fresco painted ceilings, mosaic floors and of course, HUGE.
Art students sat on the grass in groups sketching, vendors of every Italian kitschy item ever produced in Asia selling their wares, and tourists from all over the world with local guides giving the spiel, all gave the area a theme park feeling. Several people told me “pass on Pisa”.. well, I am glad I did not take their advice– it was worth that one moment of “wow”. It is an old old town, well, aren’t they all, but.. this one really felt old in parts. 55% of Pisa was bombed during WWII and maybe it was the stark contrast between new and 11 & 12th century buildings with 12th century religious icons preserved in small provincial museums and little churches trying to raise funds to help w/restoration – a feeling of “don’t forget the rest of the town – we are worthwhile, also.”
The museums and churches filled with relics and religious icons were beautiful, but, the thing that really made Pisa worthwhile was lunch at a 10 table indoor restaurant. My pasta with olive oil and fresh herbs NEVER turned out like that, and the thinly sliced beef with just a smidgen of balsamic vinegar reduction sauce required minimal mastication because it was so tender that it essentially dissolved in my mouth. And, then the desert — semi-orgasmic experience! It was chocolate cake, and of course NO FLOUR, with thinly sliced cooked pears baked on top, drizzled with hot chocolate sauce –just a little to compliment it and not overwhelm it. Fork in hand, cutting off a bit, one feels guilty if this cake is bitten because you might hurt it. But, that decision was already made because as soon as the piece of cake descended upon my tongue — it automatically started to melt, the chocolate and fruit flavor slowly seeped into the roof of the mouth, the flavors started percolating in the most wonderful sense my body had at that moment – taste. All the cathedrals just took a back seat – that was my religious experience. That cake with the cappuccino gave me incentive to always be good for the rest of my life, so I too, could join all those good people in heaven!!! Lordy, Lordy!
ok.. back to reality — before I left Pisa, stopped at MacDonalds’s at the train station and had a big MAC — what can I say.
And off to a very small village 2 hours south of Pisa … to do a volunteer/work exchange – modern-day indentured servant clad in “culture exchange” – work for food & accommodation – at a German woman’s house. She moved to Italy many years ago and worked at a high-end hotel. German TV on, German friends, German paper — just seem to transfer life from the home country to another place. Would I do the same? And, if so, to what degree? I don’t know. But, another glimpse into ex-pat life abroad. The Exchange didn’t work out for us — it was one of those instances when it was an instantaneous “Nope, this isn’t going to work..” and it didn’t– we live and learn — and life goes on — so — and back to the train station, once again …on the train and push the re-play button back to Pisa!
Oh, BTW, the regional trains cost zippo – 2.50 € to 6.50€ seems to be the average — of course, the train ride isn’t exactly high-speed air lifting Asian technology, and one has to wonder when you hear the conductors saying frantically to the train engineers “move, move, the next train is coming” and everyone backs up a bit – not that it would do you any good if two trains collide, but.. details…
It is all good…how can it not be when the scene is this at 4:00pm…
Heading to Cinque Terre, Turin, Milan…