Tuscany Driving, Part II

Our first destination today is Pisa, where I have the chance to revisit its famous leaning tower.  Soon after arriving, the sky opens up and it starts to pour.  We avoid some of the rain in shops and some more with a cafe dopio.  It does eventually begin to clear and the sun even shows itself.  The area around the tower, duomo and chuch is a zoo– the zoo’s animals beings tourists and the cages being ropes.  Although not long after my last visit just a couple weeks ago, being back in Pisa feels a little like walking around my college campus well after graduation.  I am there in a new context, with new people, with new goals, and places with attached memories seem changed.  I enjoy being back, but everything seems strangely familiar.  After all, I was only there for 24 hours the time before.  Pisa is our main stop of the day, but we still have more of Tuscany to see before returning to Lucca.

The Arno in Pisa

Our next stop is the Marina di Pisa, a small town on the water that is logically close to Pisa.  The town feels like it used to be a hotter vacation spot than it is today, and in fact, the town was mostly built in the late 1800’s and then more in the 1930’s.  That said, our quick visit is not the best judge of Marina di Pisa’s popularity because the wind is strong, the sky is still cloudy, and the temperature isn’t warm.  People may be hiding from the elements.  After Pisa, we do a drive through of Tirrenia and a gelato stop in San Giuliano Terme.  San Giuliano Terme, according to Frommer’s, is a reminder of the 18th and 19th century golden age, when its hot springs were renowned throughout Europe and drew some famous visitors.  Today’s drive features more windy mountain roads, more tunnels, and more bridges, picturesque enough to encourage me to try to snap a couple photos from behind the wheel.

San Giuliano Terme

More From Pisa

Despite popular tourist opinion, there is a lot more to see and experience in Pisa beyond its leaning tower. Pisa is a university town through and through. The University of Pisa has about 60,000 students in a city of only 100,000 inhabitants. When we walked through the town at night there were students congregated in several of the plazas, and they were all talking, having fun, and of course eating gelato. In addition, Pisa is home to the Scuola Normale Superiore, a highly selective university that can boast many accomplished alumni. It is the best in all of Italy, and probably one of the best in all of Europe. The college feel so prevalent around the town made us feel very welcome as we walked around with gelato in hand.

Scuola in Pisa

For our short stay in Pisa, the three of us enjoyed our accommodations at Michele Guest House on Via Amerigo Vespucci 103. Michele was very welcoming, full of information, and always high energy. He shared some of his photographs with us, including some hidden photos that he had mounted on tiles and placed throughout the bread and breakfast. Although he was a bit of character, his friendliness and valuable recommendations of where to eat and what to see while in Pisa made this the perfect spot to spend our one night.

The Leaning Tower

Similar to the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa begs for perspective photos, and this time the temptation was too much to resist. So after a delicious pizza dinner topped off with creamy gelato, the three of us make our way across the entire town (which luckily is very small) to its famous tower. The much anticipated landmark did not disappoint. It is beautifully lit up at night so that it starkly contrasts with the night sky.

Without even realizing what we are doing, the three of us start the typical photo shoot of leaning against the tower, holding up the tower, etc. And as if we needed more encouragement, behind us gathered a small group of tourists who were overly impressed by the outcomes of these photos. Our 24 hours in Pisa starts off very well.

Tower of Pisa 1

Tower of Pisa 2

Tower of Pisa 3