Sunday, July 4, 2010



Someone said there's a leaning tower here. Oddly, we had a hard time finding it.

Suggested Stay:

A half day, unless you want to immerse yourself in the power of Pisa.

Getting To Pisa:

Leaving our home base stay in Monterosso, we arrived to Pisa via car from the A12 Autostrada Azzurra which snakes it's way alongside the Mediterranean (specifically the Ligurian Sea).

Must See & Do:

The Cathedral Square ~

While the leaning tower power is the best known part of Pisa, I found the entire grounds of The Cathedral Square inspiring... probably because I later discovered that I was standing in the Piazza dei Miracoil (the "Square of Miracles"). Of course I had to pretend there weren't swarms of tourists engaged in a flurry of "forced perspective" photo taking.

Regardless, visiting the complex will not disappoint. In fact in 1987 the entire square made its way onto the UNESCO World Heritage list. From oldest to newest, it's comprised of:
  • Duomo di Santa Maria Assunta (Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption) ~ With origins dating to 1064, this church is a fine example of Pisan Romanesque architecture. While the duomo is less of an icon than its backyard bell tower, it's quite impressively made of gray marble and white stone majestically resting on a wide, open lawn of grass. Welcome, y'all!

    Make sure and pass through the church's massive bronze main doors to see an amazing coffer ceiling, an unforgettable Italian-Gothic pulpit and nine panels depicting scenes from the New Testament carved from white marble. Dramatic. The largest known Islamic metal scupture; a griffin, is housed in the nearby Museo dell' Opera del Duomo.
  • Battistero di San Giovanni (the Baptistry of St. John) ~ The largest baptistry in Italy, this magnificent marbled structure is honored for sporting a transition from Romanesque to Gothic style. Dueling styles aside, the 180 foot tall building is be-
    autiful; it re-
    minded me of a white domed hat the pope might wear.
  • Torre di Pisa (Torre Pendente di Pisa) ~ This is the famed free-standing bell tower or "campanile" that is about 8 stories tall. Despite it's awe-inducing tilt, you can still climb the 296 steps to the top. Inside there is a bell chamber that houses seven unique bells - each representing a note in the musical scale (think: Do-Re-Me-Fa-So-La-Ti). The bells? Collectively they weigh over 23,000 pounds. Probably doesn't help the tilt any.

    Just like many Texas roadways, the bell tower has numerous names; "Torre di Pisa" (Tower of Pisa), Torre Pendente di Pisa (leaning tower of Pisa) and "Campanil Torto" (the crooked bell tower) to name a few.
  • Camposanto Monumentale (the Monumental Cemetery) ~ At the northern edge of The Cathedral Square is this walled cemetery that means "holy field." The cemetery is said to have been built on a shipload of sacred soil brought from Golgotha (Jerusalem) and is arguably the most beautiful cemetery in the world. 43 blind arches. 2 doorways. 1 place you've gotta see.
Why not strap yourself in your chair and go on this amazing 360° panoramic tour of the Square of Miracles!

Also in Pisa...

Santa Maria della Spina

Fancy Gothic? You'll want to check out this inspiring church dating back to 1230. If you've enjoyed some vino and squint, this quaint church may look like a miniature kissing-cousin of Milan's Duomo di Milano.

Useful Tips:

1. Airport Travel.

Ahhh... Pisa... and the Galileo Galilei International Airport (PSA).

This was the airport I learned perhaps the most costly lesson when touring internationally : travel light.

Although I was leaving with the same bag I brought to Italy, it appears my Texas-sized eyes for souvenirs meant my efficiently-packed bag (as did my travel partner's) exceeded Delta's weight expectation.

$400 in heavy bag fees later, our lighter wallets and bruised egos were headed back to the US via JFK Airport. We were traveling on the Fourth of July... and I remember that we were able to watch fireworks displays from the outskirts of Planet Earth all the way from NYC traveling west to Dallas. A Fourth I'll never forget.

So while I've since made stateside peace with the over-inflated bag fee, there are a couple of tips to note:

  • 2 > 1. Traveling with a 2nd bag (vs. 1 heavy bag) may be cheaper. I found out after returning home that Delta would have only charged $50 for the second bag vs. $200 for my slightly-heavier one;
  • Not sure what's heavy? Why not invest in a travel scale? They cost about $10 and can save you a lot of worry... and last-minute surprises. And make sure and read up on the airline's weight restrictions before your trip;
  • "When in doubt, ship it out." Shipping some of your larger, heavier items back is always an option. In fact, many Italian store clerks can pack and mail on your behalf.
2. Finding the Tower...

I knew better than to try and find the tower *on the way to the airport* the day of our departure from PSA; I assumed that the tower would be easy as pie to find. But at just 8 stories, the leaning wonder didn't project from the Pisa skyline as I had envisioned. After 30 frantic minutes of driving the streets of Pisa later, we finally found it, but our untimely arrival meant "pinched time" spent at The Cathedral Square.

Regardless, "A little slice of Pisa goes a long, long way!"

Our Next Adventure:
The calendar page turned to 2011 and our Texas toes landed us in Northern Italy.

Our first stop? Magnificent Milan.
for the love of : italy

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