We ended the day in Rome and started our way north along the west coast of Italy, hoping to make Pisa by day’s end. It was quite a long day in Rome, so we drove as close to Pisa as we could traveling the coast through Livorno, then just a bit north before getting a hotel. Arriving late at night and we were pretty tired. We’d found a nice hotel and hit the sack, excited to get up early and head in to see that famed leaning tower.
Another day of clear and sunny weather and we’re off early to head into Pisa. The drive, unlike Rome, was pretty straightforward and we made our way in quickly. We hadn’t had breakfast, so before going into see the tower we had a bite to eat in a small cafe just outside the Piazza Del Duomo.
Pisa is a very, very old city and the origins of where it got its name are unknown. It was considered an old city even in ancient times and, because it is located near lies at the junction of two rivers, the Arno and the Serchio, and didn’t suffer the effects of the decline of the Roman Empire as much as other areas, probably because of the maritime connection.
This would be the shortest of our trips; we had about a half a day to take in the sites, so we’d be limited to walking the grounds of the Piazza del Duomo, the square that contains four important medieval monuments. They were constructed between the 11th and 14th centuries. Obviously the most famous being the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Outside of it leaning, I am a little mixed on which is my favorite.
The monuments are:
- The cathedral, with massive bronze doors, mosaics and stunning statues.
- The Baptistry, a round Romanesque building.
- The Campanile (the ‘famous Leaning Tower’).
- and lastly, the Walled Cemetery Campo Santo with its Frescoes.
Galileo was a Pisa native and created his theory about the movement of a pendulum by watching the swinging of an incense lamp hanging from the ceiling of the nave of Pisa’s cathedral. He also dropped objects from the Leaning Tower to show that their time of descent had nothing to do with their mass.
So although I had little time to spend here, I was able to get one or two history lessons in. But outside of history, the views, again, are simply amazing from nearly any vantage point. Although the most popular vantage point seemed to be the one where no one was supposed to be: On the Campo dei Miracoli or, Field of Miracles – aptly named. The park attendants are very tolerant however, and so masses of people would collect on the lawn, taking the classic “holding up the tower” photos and, every half hour the attendant would get out his whistle and whisk people off the lawn. Five minutes later it would be crowded again.
And of course I had to take the cliche shot. I too, have now held up the leaning tower (along with thousands of others that day). I’m not exactly one to follow trends, but, as they say, “when in Rome…”
I got a chance to see each of the monuments and because we were on the ever present on the move mission of getting to the next place, we did a little bit of souvenir shopping, looking at all of the interesting things that is inside the park. I picked up a few things for family (and myself) and we started the walk back to the car. Time to get ready for many more hours of seat time to cross the country to get to Venice–the same day. I think a jet would have been soooo much easier. Back to the car and on the road we went.
We arrived late in the day in Venice and wasted no time in getting from town to the tourist part of Venice, which is divided into six areas: Cannaregio, San Polo, Dorsoduro , Santa Croce, San Marco and Castello. We knew that we wouldn’t get in much time that evening, but just had to get in an evening stroll, get a bite to eat and watch a few boats go by.
We were staying in the city of Venice and took public transportation in. The cost was really reasonable and took you there as quickly as any other form of transportation. You can’t drive there, or if you can, I think you are only allowed to drive right to one area and park the car, with huge parking fees. The bus it was.
We got to Venice at sunset. Perfect and very picturesque, although in this city, it is nearly impossible to turn your head and not see something that you want to take a picture of. More beautiful architecture, markets, churches and scenery. We hopped off the bus and headed to a restaurant on the water. A perfect way to end the day of a long road trip. We had a nice meal, took a stroll around a few of the streets catching some evening glimpses of Venice. It was really laid back; people sitting on the steps of a bridge talking, a man looking out his open air second floor window smoking and watching the water taxis lull by. I had a nice plate of pasta as the sun set.
We took a little walk to work off the great meal. If there is a place I’ve travelled to that is a walking mecca, Venice is it. There are no vehicles allowed, so it’s all water taxi or walking. We didn’t venture far that evening, but the walk was enjoyable and serene. After so many days in the hot Italian sun, a cool evening breeze from the water was awesome.
The shops that were open were full of souvenirs and very interesting. Particularly those classic Venetian carnival masks! I understand that approximately 3 million visitors come for the carnivals each year, and one of the major events is a contest for the best mask. They are everywhere and in so many varieties that if you are looking for one to bring home, you will have endless choices!
After a little browsing, we headed home to catch some shut eye and be ready for a full day of walking and exploring. Back on the bus for a quick ride home, then some serious snooze time for me. It was a long day; we’d started the day in Pisa and ended it in Venice with a drive in between, so I was really ready to hit the sack. And that I did.
Did I mention it is sunny in Italy? I don’t recall if I ever saw a cloud in the sky while there, and this was no exception. We got up early and headed back into Venice, which was very busy already. Not your regular traffic jams there. The only traffic you are going to be challenged with is the walking and floating variety. And it the crowds can get pretty thick in the narrow passageways, with the shops, restaurants and tourists enjoying the city. Even though it was early, the water taxis were ferrying people up and down the canals and the gondolas were taking on passengers.
As the morning turned to afternoon, Venice was full of people… Everywhere. The streets and canals were loaded. A popular vantage point for many was the bridges that traversed the canals; the views are so great that getting a prime spot after something like 10am can be a bit of a challenge, but I found a couple of choice spots to watch the canal traffic.
Such a great time just enjoying the city and the different way of getting around in Venice. Gondolas abound, although there are many modern water taxis too. Later that day I was able to take a ride on a gondola, thoroughly enjoying the ride; we took a ride through some of the quiet, back canals after a quick trip in one of the main thoroughfares. The gondolier was funny, spoke english, and was happy to talk about some of the buildings and sites along the way. He knew the territory, talking to other gondoliers and the locals as we drifted in the back “streets.” It was a short ride, probably around 45 minutes, during the late afternoon, so the glow of the later afternoon sun warmed us as we pulled up to the dock.. Our day in Venice was finished and we headed back to the car, for the next stop on the European tour: Paris.