Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Pisa Diaries: Day 1 - Tuesday 3 May 2011

Stepping off the plane, mid-morning in Pisa, and having left a very, very chilly morning behind, it's a welcome opportunity to remind ourselves what good weather is like.

The close proximity of Pisa airport to the city centre is a major selling point, and it's only minutes away. On the journey from the airport there are lots of terracotta-coloured buildings, dark green shutters and clothes hanging out on the balcony to dry. Welcome to Italy! And we're so happy to be here.

Pisa is split into two halves by the River Arno. North of the river is where it all happens - not only the obvious tourist attractions, but also lots of bars and restaurants competitively priced to attract the massive local student population. Pisa is a university city, and there are a number of university buildings in the various streets nearby. As a result, it's also a very young city.

One more thing - Pisa is compact and walkable, however the city planners seemed to have a bit of a disregard for pavements, which are very narrow, so you need to watch out for that scooter - owww! Yes it would appear that Pisa is living up to that Italian scooter-owning stereotype, but maybe one lesser known fact is that it could be the "Amsterdam of the South" - everyone seems to own a bicycle!

Surprisingly, finding somewhere to eat lunch is proving to be a tougher challenge than we thought, but this is more to do with not looking in the right places. Of course, as we discover Pisa over the next few days, there are no problems finding a place to eat, and many of the restaurants in the vicinity are all competing for tourists and offer some surprisingly affordable meal-deals. One of my misconceptions was that Italy would be unaffordable, but the price of a meal and drinks can actually be cheaper here than at home.

Later in the afternoon we make our way to the city's best known tourist attraction.

The first thing you notice about the Leaning Tower is doesn't lean at all. Only joking! But that's actually true if you approach the tower from a certain angle.

It's certainly a very stunning structure but it's not the only eye-opening piece of architecture in this massive square. The Duomo - the cathedral, is equally jaw-dropping...

....and the Baptistry is another design feast for the eyes.

Even at teatime, the square is buzzing with tourists. One must-do photo opportunity in Pisa is to put your hands in the air and pretend you are holding up the Leaning Tower. Easy? Wrong! It's actually a lot harder than it looks and after about 20 efforts I gave up as both photographer and subject :)

All the souvenir stalls are all in a row, along one side of the square, and of course there's plenty of top tourist tack - Leaning Towers big and small, leaning cups, leaning glasses, chefs hats and aprons, rude boxer shorts (!), football tops, Venetian masks etc. There are very few souvenir shops in the city centre so this is the place to go if you want to buy all your Pisa goodies.

There are lots of restaurants to choose from on Via Santa Maria, which runs all the way from the Piazza dei Miracoli down to the river. Before this holiday, which was booked at very short notice, I was worried about not knowing any of the Italian language. Happily, all menus seem to be in English too, and some Italian words seem more familiar than I first thought. Faithful travelling companion had actually made the effort to learn the language and, as usual, did very well.

Italian menus seem very different from those at home. Pasta is not a main meal, but it's primi piatti then you go on to the main course which is usually a meat or fish dish. One local treat is Tuscan bean soup, so this is a first night primi piatti must-have, and it doesn't disappoint.

After dinner we head in search of a bar and uncover a hidden treat. But that's for another instalment of the Pisa 2 coming soon!


Raquelita said...

Yum,the soup looks lovely :) Did you find that pretty much everything in Italy has so much more flavour than it does here?

Sorrento is full of rude boxer shorts too.

Laura (EuropeCrazy) said...

Oh it was very tasty - yes of course we loved the food, very high standard and a couple of the best pizzas I've ever tasted.

Nice to know there's a good choice of rude boxer shorts in Italia and not just the ones featuring a droopy Leaning Tower :))