Touring beyond the Tower in Pisa, Italy
When you think of Pisa, you may have images of some horribly Disney-fied version of Italy, all plastic pomp and no substance. Your Weekend Duchess considered it far too touristy and out of the way to merit a visit on her first five or so trips to Italy, but it finally proved a convenient spot to spend a few days as part of a three-week trek around the country. While certainly lacking the charm or authenticity of the more cinematic bella Italia, Pisa is an interesting town full of contrasts.
Let’s get it out of the way—the Leaning Tower is impressive. Yes, it leans, yes, you can climb it, and it is an amusing sensation to be climbing a spiral staircase in a tilted building. I recommend scheduling your tour so that you can catch the sunset over the piazza from the top—if you’re not impressed by that view, I don’t need to know you.
And, especially for Italy, the whole system is surprisingly well-organized. This may be where the Disneyfication comes in, but you purchase a ticket for a timed entry, you climb with a group, and there are several package tickets involving the other sites in the piazza. It does feel more like a theme park than the relaxed chaos of the rest of the country, but it works well, given the amount of tourists. Of course, your Duchess had to be a bit of a rebel and broke in with an earlier tour group with a wink to the guard, but in general people seem to play by the rules.
So, yes, the Piazza dei Miracoli is aptly named, and each building there is a stunning, delicate masterpiece. As squares go, it’s an impressive one. Along one wall of the square is also perhaps the longest line of tourist nonsense stalls you will find in Europe. Again, it’s cheesey and Disney-esque, but if you’re looking for a pair of boxers with the crotch of David or a coffee mug featuring British popstar Robbie Williams, you’ll be a happy tourist. There will be some souvenir there to amuse your friends back home, even if it’s likely made in China.
Many visitors to Pisa probably hit the square, see the sights, eat at one of the less-than-inspiring restaurants nearby, and head back to the bus or train, but there is more to the city. Romantic poets Byron and Shelley lived further in town, on either side of the Arno, and it was one of their happiest homes in Italy. The town today is very much a real working town, complete with cafes, record stores, and enough character to please even the most hardened New York hipster.
Walking along the river in the morning, you will feel like you’re not even in the same country as the fantastic plastic of the tower square. You might, however, feel like you’re in Italy.1 comment