Is there a statutory limit on posting blog entries? If so, this entry is well out of the limit. A little nudge from a dear friend about arm chair traveling and I have arrived here again with full intentions of catching up during this winters hibernation. There is nothing new I can add to the thousands, if not tens of thousands of pages devoted in the cyber world about my visit to this UNESCO site. So here is a humble view through my cameras lens; as a slight detour from Firenze to San Gimignano.
The road from Florence to San Gimignano is short and straight forward but since none of us had been to Pisa before, how can we leave this beautiful land without being true tourists? After checking out of our hotel in Florence, we took a taxi to the airport to rent our car and drive to Pisa. An endless wait and not so great directions by Angela, our GPS guide, we still managed to make it to the highway. Merrily driving along, I noticed a weird beep every so often on the GPS…it took me more than a few miles to realize that it was warning me of an approaching speed camera. I was now fully prepared to come back to America and find speeding tickets galore waiting for me. But this was just the start of our vacation and we were not going to let those beeps get in the way.
Nothing, no amount of videos, photos, books..nothing… quite prepares you for the lean in the leaning tower of Pisa. Every where we looked we saw people trying to straighten it back, old and young, tall and short, thin and not so thin. I could have just watched the whole show for hours on end. But we only had a few short hours to catch the requisite sites before our allocated time slot to climb to the top.
The whole piazza is worth exploring in full detail. Let me begin with the Baptistry. When you first enter the Bapitstry you are struck by the sheer size of it. Unlike other Baptistries in Tuscany this one is of rather grand proportion. The inside is not as ornate as Florence’s but it offers something most others don’t, a climb to the top. As you circle up, stop by every window to see the 360 views. My favorite was this view of the Duomo and the Tower from the Baptistry.
Heading out of the Baptistry, take a moment to stop (on the side off course otherwise you will be trampled over by the boatload of tourists coming through) and marvel at the four distinct balconies of this exquisite medieval church built in early 11th century. What seemed like pure white marble from afar showed up to be every hue of gray and brown with wonderful details. This is my favorite Duomo of all I have seen to date, from the coffered ceilings to the marble columns to the tiny 13th century Di Sotto Di Organi, Melanese’ Virgin with Child.
It was now time for us to head over to the little museum and pick up our tickets for the 20 minute allocated time slot to the top of the tower. The three Indian gals (yes that includes me too!) were grouped with a coach bus full of Japanese tourists. We queued up somewhere in the middle of the pack with the elderly behind us. It made perfect sense since the rest of us would be climbing up quickly (at least that was the intention). The climb is not for the faint of heart, the steps are worn by years of use and quite slippery (you can either save yourself or the expensive camera slinging on your neck if you fall). I certainly felt the tilt of the tower as we climbed up. You may not feel it so much, but the Carousel at our local Six Flags is out of my league, so you get the drift. As we come out at the first landing, we had to circle around to the second entrance to get to the top. A quarter of the way into it, we are now at the lower end of the tilt and the railing is just two steps away from the ledge where we walked. Not only that, the railing is an open structure…..and this is where my story ends…I parked myself on the steps and let the Japanese seniors walk around me. Once I calmed my anxiety, I opened my eyes long enough to capture the images below.
Coming down? well that was easy enough as long as i kept the anxiety of walking on the platform at Bay. Ms. Angela to was requested to guide us to our Hotel, a modern chain located at the outskirts. Instead, she navigated us to a residential section prohibited to non residential drivers. It took us 20 minutes to figure our way out of the town. After checking into our hotel, we drove back to the town center and parked ourselves in plastic chairs in the Piazza and enjoyed Italy play in the World Cup..surrounded by the locals…what a treat. We left Pisa with a lot of memories including a $400 traffic violation…not for speeding..but driving in (violation one) and out (violation two) out of that prohibited residential area.
The next morning began our adventure towards a weeklong stay at a farmhouse in San Gimignano. We decided to detour via Voltera, the place where New Moon was filmed and are so glad to have done so. Voltera is a beautiful walled city like many others in Tuscany with an added bonus of Roman theater ruins. It is well known for its pottery, particularly Alabaster Pottery , but I personally loved the glass works too. It was an afternoon well spent walking the alleyways and the Piazza dei Priori, going up to the fort and a leisurely lunch.
And we walked away with….rest a bit, explore the world with what is in the palm of your hand..slow down.