Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Oh the angst!  Can one be angst ridden?  Or feeling angst-ish?  Because that is a perfect description of my state of mind at the moment.  Since I try not to wallow in those kinds of feelings,  rather than spending the day sulking like I wanted, on Friday we went to Pisa.

One of the joys of living in Italy is that you can get up in the morning and say, "let's go to Pisa" and actually do it without having to make plane reservations.  We hopped on the train at Stazione Brignole and two hours later were walking the streets of Pisa after a pleasant, uneventful ride.

For those of you unfamiliar with Italian geography, Pisa is about 85 miles southeast of here in the region of Tuscany.  Now the best thing about going to Tuscany is the lack of Ligurian food.  Here I must apologize to all my Genovese friends and family, but the delicate food of Genova just doesn't do it for me.  I prefer the bolder flavors of central and southern Italy, so part of my mission to Pisa was to get something to eat that was neither pesto nor fish.

Our trip to Pisa was the first step in our exploration of potential new homes.  Not that we ever considered living in Pisa, but it is time to start looking around with an eye to what we like and what we don't like about other places, and Pisa was as good a place to start as any...and it has the Campo dei Miracoli.

The Baptistry with the Duomo and the Campanile in the background.
There are so many fabulous places to explore in Pisa, but these buildings are so stunning it's hard to drag yourself away from them. It's harder still to get pictures of them without a hundred tourists posing as if they're holding up the tower.  Why do people do that?  It's very odd.

The entrance to the duomo
The rear of the duomo with just a few of the bazillion tourists there.

The baptistry
The campanile, better known as the Leaning Tower
I could happily spend days photographing this thing.
detail of the campanile
More detail
It is impossible to describe how shocking it is when you first see this tower.  It is both larger than I expected and the angle even greater.  Although visitors are once again allowed to climb the tower, I respectfully declined.  Between a fear of heights and a fear of buildings falling over, better judgment kept me on the ground. 

The Arno and Pisa looking strangely similar to Florence.

Palazzo di Cavalieri
details of the grafitti on Palazzo di Cavalieri
Our impressions of Pisa?  Nice, typical Tuscan town, pretty medieval centro, and not like Genova at all!!  It was like being in a different country!  The first thing you notice is the smell.  Where's the sea?  It can't be that far from here.  After all, Pisa was one of the Maritime Republics until Genova smashed it like a bug in 1284.  Well, as it turns out, the city of Pisa is 8 miles from the Marina of Pisa.  The furthest inland part of Genova isn't 8 miles from the Ligurian Sea!  I mean, rivers are nice and all, and the Arno is a good size river, unfortunately with a propensity to flood, but the sea is just, well...bigger.  The sea has a presence if you will.  And then there's the lack of mountains.

The Sea of Liguria with Genova in the background.
 Pisa is also a town clearly dedicated to tourism.  I have no objection to tourism, I'm often a tourist myself, but I really don't want to live in the middle of swarms of them.  After a day of being surrounded by every language but Italian, we came to the agreement that Pisa wasn't going to be for us.  We got a little more insight into our likes and dislikes, ate at a very nice little restaurant in via San Frediano, but were happy to head for the train station.

After a day full of sightseeing and being sated with good Tuscan food, the Eurostar swooped us up for a somewhat more eventful ride than this morning's.  Here I want to provide a word of caution to visitors to Italy.  Trains are the absolute best way to see this country.  They go almost everywhere you want to go, are fast, comfortable, reasonably priced and you don't have to find a place to park them.  But, they are not free from petty criminals.  Case in point...on our way home we rode in a largely empty car, large enough for the few people riding to spread out and take a nap.  One young woman placed her backpack on the seat facing her and went to sleep.  As we were about to stop in Chiavari, the conductor came into our car to check tickets and found a small group of men riding without tickets.  As they were ushered off the train, one of them grabbed the backpack and got off.  Fortunately, the young woman woke up in time to realize the backpack was gone and warned the conductor who recovered it and the thief.  So, it turned out to be a happy ending for everyone but him.  Lesson: Come ride our trains, but keep one eye open.

What surprised us most about our trip occurred when we arrived back in Genova.  As we got off the train, we both said in unison "it's good to be home"!  Has Genova become home?  Did we choose the perfect place the first time?  It's too early to know for sure, and we have lots of exploring yet to do, but it was quite an eyeopener.


  1. Lovely pictures of the tower!! I was seriously expecting it to be bigger than it was and I was surprised at how pleasant the town is too away from THAT Piazza... I would never have to learn Italian to live there though I don't think and that is one thing I'm proud of, that I speak a bit of Italian!

  2. Oh Mum, I think of Genova as my home away from home already...but I haven't been anywhere else (except San Remo and wasn't that boring?!), so perhaps there is an even more perfect city in Italia for us. Buona fortuna!

  3. Your pictures make Pisa look better than I remember it!

  4. I think one of the problems with Pisa is that it is virtually overrun with tourists and students, none of whom feel any obligation to keep the city clean. It is clearly a much nicer and more comfortable place away from "that" piazza, with it's shabby little trinket stands and hordes of people.

  5. Dear Mary,
    I am a high school student back in the states (colorado), and I have been interested in Italy ever since my older sister studied abroad in Italy for four months. She visited for four months and visited several cities. I hope to study abroad also, as I finish up high school and enter college. In my World lit class, my teacher has assigned us to find out more about a country, learn about it, and such. And I thought I should kill two birds with one stone.

    What makes trains the best way of travel? Is it being able to see more of the country while visiting places? How do you adjust to the complete culture shock? such as language, food, pace of life, etc? Also what makes their architecture so special and unique, is it the history behind it? What kind of literature do you find is best? And also what are the national epics of Italy? Is the Divine Comedy the main epic? Or is there more that you enjoy, or know of?