Thursday, March 18, 2010

Heading Out - Pisa

We signed up for an optional bus trip that took us out into the Tuscan countryside, where despite the gloomy weather, the fields had already turned emerald green, and spring cool weather vegetables were sprouting in people's gardens.  The excursion made for a full day, a visit to a vineyard, and to two important Tuscan cities, Pisa and Siena.  I'll concentrate on Pisa.

The bus wasn't allowed near the old part of Pisa, where the cathedral, baptistry and famous leaning bell tower are, so we parted in a remote lot and took a shutter bus to the site.  Outside the old walls of the city there is a gauntlet of souvenir stands, African immigrants hawking umbrellas, and even a McDonalds, but inside the walls was fascinating.  Our guide gave us a good overview of the city's history, and also lots of information about the buildings you see behind her in this photo.  The leaning tower is interesting on its own, but we were also interested in the mosaics, sculptures and alabaster windows in the cathedral, and the wonderful acoustics in the baptistry.

Details of gargoyle on the cathedral exterior, and tiled mosaics inside.

Dick, before he decided to climb up into the leaning tower.  Its pricey to do this, 20 Euros, so I felt OK about shopping for a souvenir Pinocchio while he was occupied. The author of the famous children's book lived nearby.

We had some time to find lunch, and this is the little trattoria where we warmed up and ordered a pizza.  It was delicious, prepared in a wood-burning oven.  What was interesting to me was that the ingredients were not all mixed together, but the olives, ham, and mushrooms were arranged separately in a design on the top of the pie.

A final comment on traveling, eating and drinking in Italy.  Our experience was that public toilets are few and far between.  When they are available, they are staffed by a matron who expects a tip.  This means that the only reliable way to find facilities is to go into a trattoria, pay for food or drink, and then use theirs.  This may account for why people drink tiny cups of espresso.  There's lots of kick and not too much liquid.

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