06 June 2013

Day 3: La Spezia: Pisa

5 June 2013

After yesterday’s high-intensity day of sightseeing in Nice and Monaco, we decided to take things a bit easier today.  We previously had signed up for a 11.5 hour day consisting of guided tours of Florence and Pisa starting at 7:45 a.m., but instead switched to a 5.0 hour visit to only Pisa leaving at 8:30 a.m.  The extra 45 minutes in the morning was a big improvement, allowing us to enjoy a nice breakfast in the Parrot Cay restaurant before taking off.

The bus ride to Pisa through the Tuscan countryside was beautiful, with numerous views of mountains, farms, and pine trees.  However, still recovering from the day before, we slept through most of the ride!  Pisa itself is a fairly small, attractive city where nearly all of the buildings are old Tuscan architecture (colorful facades and shutters).  After arriving at Pisa, we were loaded onto a little train (or “tschoof tschoof”), really a tram that shuttled us to the old city.  High walls surround the old city, and located in the middle is a square where the leaning tower stands, along with the cathedral and separate baptistery.  All of these buildings are quite beautiful and elaborate – the facades are covered with intricate carvings and other details.  

Some interesting facts we learned about the leaning tower of Pisa:  

The leaning tower is really just the bell tower for the cathedral, so while it is the most famous of the buildings today, it was much less important in prior centuries.
The leaning tower is not the only leaning building in Pisa.  The cathedral and baptistery, as well as several other buildings we noted, also are leaning (though not to such an impressive extent).  The buildings lean because, when they were built long ago, Pisa used to be located by the sea where all of the soil was quite soft, resulting in numerous leaning buildings.
The square served all religious needs from life until death, starting with the baptistery, then to the cathedral, then to the hospital on one side, and finally to the above-ground graveyard on the other side.
Lots of stories about Galileo we previously learned by watching Empires:  The Medici before coming here.

After listening to our local tour guide “explain you everything” about the tower and other buildings (in great detail), we wandered around the nearby shops and restaurants.  Unfortunately, most of the shops were tourist-oriented (selling little leaning tower statutes) or local-resident oriented (selling batteries and wrenches), rather than the types of shops we might be interested in.  Another downside of Pisa – there werenumerous highly aggressive vendors wandering the streets attempting to cajole people into buying watches, umbrellas, jewelry and other stuff.  Perhaps we are hardened by living in the DC area, but we were way better at giving off the “back the heck off” vibe needed to deter the vendors from bothering us.  Other tourists got repeatedly and aggressively bothered though.

After returning to the ship from Pisa, we ordered room service and took a break while Gwen struggled with her hair (if not mentioned already, Gwen got a terrible haircut before the trip that makes it virtually impossible to put up her hair).  After feeding, we set out for La Spezia, the town where our ship had made port. We had good shopping success here, bringing back a nice bottle of wine to share with our dinner friends, green pants for Gwen (who has been searching for them for a while), and some other souvenirs.

We got back from La Spezia in time to change, start a couple loads of laundry in the machines on our deck, and get to dinner.  As usual, dinner was lots of fun, as our dinner friends this time around are very easy to talk to.

Last for the day, we finished up our laundry, which took a while due to a backlog of people looking to use the dryers, and got ready for a busy day in Rome tomorrow.

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