The day has arrived. The sun was peeking through the curtains and the idea of having a ten days break from fluorescent light and dry noodle soups was overwhelming, I felt happiness washing over me.
After talking with a couple of friends who travelled to Tuscany on more than one occasion, I learnt that flights to Pisa, which is an hour-long train ride away from Florence, are often less expensive. Apart from The Leaning Tower, there are a few other sights to visit, including Keith Haring’s Wall Mural and (of course) gelateria La bottega del Gelato which serves delicious Italian ice-cream. I was fidgeting from excitement and impatience to begin the trip!
Two and a half hours at the London Stansted airport, the thrill of an adventure began to fade. Joe & The Juice cosy leather sofas and their alright coffee kept us going until the gate number finally replaced the word delayed. We were two and a half hours behind our schedule and the tension, that two hours we have left before the train to Florence might not be enough, started to creep in. Probably for the first time in months I was glad we spent days planning the trip to the slightest detail. We knew that outside the Arrivals hall buses are waiting to transport travellers to the centre of Pisa and that the bus stop can be recognized by the big blue sign City Bus. We were informed by a local that the bus company is Compagnia Pisana Trasporti and the bus line towards Pisa – LAM Rossa. She also said that we can buy tickets at the information desk or the blue ticket machine for one euro and twenty cents each and noted that tickets are valid for seventy minutes and can be validated by entering the bus. The bus leaves every ten minutes and the journey to the railway station Pisa Centrale takes only six minutes. If you have to be in the city centre, – she said, – you’d better remain seated until you reach the bus stop Torre-Ospedale S.Chiara. The journey time to the centre of Pisa is estimated at fourteen minutes. Therefore, when we landed there were no questions to ask (and no one around to answer even if we had any).
We landed on the most inconvenient days of all when the Catholics of the world celebrate the re-birth of the incarnation of God the Son and the awaited Messiah, in other words – Easter, and in probably the most religious European country – Italy. It goes without saying that the buses were delayed and at some point, we had doubts if it will ever arrive. Eventually it did.
If you are not in the rush take stroll via Corso Italia, Borgo Stretto and Ponte di Mezzo, the central pedestrian streets with many shops and cafes dotted around.
However, we did not have such luxury and being conscious of time race-walked to the Piazza del Duomo (also known as Piazza dei Miracoli) to see the four monuments: the Cathedral, the Tower, the Baptistery and the Camposanto, that according to The Opera della Primaziale Pisana, represent the allegory of human life. I presume the slightly tilted bellower, that attracted visitors from places all around the world since 1173, amongst other metaphors also symbolizes the irony. After all it is an extraordinary architectural miracle, a truly inspiring piece of art that encourages to create and not be afraid of failure.
Never did I see such a crowd posing for a photo in a manner of a bad 90s wedding photoshoot where a bride holds a groom in her palm, only here tourists were fighting for the best spot to catch the perfect angle making the image look as if the person is resting against the famous tower.
After a walk around loudly admiring each of the four architectural monuments, and a round of pictures for social media accounts, plus a few more sophisticated shots for a photo album we made a move towards the second main square of Pisa, Piazza dei Cavalieri, or the The Knights’ Square, previously a political centre, now a centre of education with the most prestigious universities in Italy, such as the Scuola Normale Superiore that accepts genius minds only.
I would suggest to design the route crossing all the sightseeing locations on a way to the Piazza del Duomo, otherwise the sense of disappointment will creep in unavoidably. Our eyes are used to be stimulated by extraordinary images and the visual attractiveness of Cathedral Square is irresistible, magical if I may.
Santa Maria della Spina, a small gothic church erected around 1230 on the shore of the Arno river, is a real treasure of the Pisan Gothic style. Richness of exterior should not keep you away from visiting the humble interior of the temple, where hides one of the masterpieces of Gothic sculpture Madonna of the Rose created by Italian sculptors Andrea and his son Nino Pisano. The art that brings you closer to God.
And talking about art and spirituality, quite a few centuries down the road, you will find Keith Haring’s Tuttomondo. I was not familiar with the American pop art artist, who became famous for his New York City subway graffiti back in 80s when the street culture was at its highest. His work addressed political issues and social themes and was/is recognised across the globe. He painted wall murals in Melbourne, Sydney, Rio, Paris, Amsterdam, as well as Berlin Wall across many others, including Pisa. Stop to appreciate one of his last works and immerse yourself in the world’s harmony, it is truly fascinating piece.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have the luxury of time to sit back and savour all the gorgeous masterpieces of Italian cuisine, but if you do, Numeroundici, located in via S. Martino, 47, is one of the local recommendations. They normally have delightful vino della casa, good food and make-you-feel-at-home atmosphere, and it’s also affordable, or even cheap.
Piazza delle Vettovaglie, or, as I read, Supply Square, is a food market dating back to 16th century. If you are not in a mood for your weekly grocery shopping, the square is surrounded by vineries, restaurants and pizzerias to please all the desires of city guests.
If none of the above excites you, visit La bottega del Gelato at Piazza Garibaldi, 11. Serving all the possible flavours you can come up with, there is no doubt they will skate the way into anyone’s heart.
Although we managed to fit most of the Pisa into two hours, I am sure there is plenty more to discover. Search Skyscanner for last minute deals and book your weekend break now (or later). If you are not convinced, the next stop is Florence.