I wasn’t sure what to expect from Pisa: staying for only one night, I’d imagined a day whipping around the obvious sites, grabbing a picture of me pushing up the Leaning Tower, and then heading off the next day for Florence. I was worried, away from the tourist scrum, that the city might be a little disappointing.
Our brief 24 hours there, however, turned out to be one of my favourite days on my Tuscan trip. Pisa, a busy University city, has plenty to offer aside from selfie sticks and a wonky tower!
Before moving on to how I spent my 24 hours, the first thing I should mention is that driving in Pisa, whilst not knowing where you’re going and navigating a strict one-way system, is stressful. There was swearing, sweating and threats of abandoning the car and running off. Getting to the city car-free is probably much easier, with the airport only ten minutes out of town!
After arriving at our hotel and vowing never to trust the sat nav again, we made some plans on how to spend the day. Aware that the city deserved more than just a quick dash to the tower, we began our day in Pisa with a lovely, if a little sweaty, walk along the Arno river. The river was busy with university rowing teams out for practice and people lazing on the walls of the bank with gelatos and wine. Beats a rainy Saturday in the UK!
After a lazy lunch in the shade to cool down, we began to prepare for our pilgrimage to Piazza dei Miracoli, where Torre Pendente (the Leaning Tower) lives. I was ready to face the selfie sticks, kids having meltdowns and being bashed round the head by tour guides’ umbrellas. Yet two things stuck me as I cautiously rounded the corner into the Piazza. Firstly, compared to other major Italian tourist spots, the Piazza was strangely chilled. People were lolling in the grass, reading books or playing with their dogs. Yes, there were the groups of selfie stickers, but I’ve survived far worse!
The second thing was just how leaning Torre Pendente actually is! Ironic I know, but it’s actually really wonky, standing at a whole 3.9 degrees off! Entering the ground floor of the tower, you’re immediately thrown off balance – I walked off sideways before finding a spot to sit down! What I liked about this particular tower (after climbing up eight different towers over the course of a week) is that the trips up are staggered every fifteen minutes, so you don’t have hoards of people crushing you on the way up or once you’re at the top. Walking up the tower is equally as disorientating, dependent on whether you’re on the leaning side or not!
Once I’d made my way up the 294 steps, the views from the top of Pisa were enjoyable (or so I understand from people who don’t suffer from vertigo). I spent most of my time staring at the inside of a wall, convinced the very prominent lean up the tower was going to result in my tumbling off at any moment. I did attempt to move around half of the tower but froze next to a Japanese tourist, who kindly escorted me back to the stairs so I could make my escape. The piazza is also home to Pisa’s Duomo (free entry but you still need to buy a ticket) and the baptistry, where Galileo Galilei was baptised!
My favourite thing about the trip to this famous Piazza was not the monument itself, but all of the silly human beings (myself included) scattered around trying to get ‘that’ photo. Watching people stagger around, pushing against air or pointing at absolutely nothing is comedy gold.
After getting our fix of the leaning tower and taking an inconceivable amount of photos of us propping it up, we decided to escape the crowds and go on another wander.
Ambling along, scurrying into any shade we could find, we unexpectedly came across an amazing piece of street art: the Keith Haring Mural ‘Tuttomondo’ – the last public work by the artist in 1989 before his death. This colourful mural is packed with different characters, which in the main are there to represent harmony and peace in the world. Pisa, being a University town, is filled with street art and I loved spotting subtle graffiti hearts on street corners. It definitely gives the city an edgier and younger feel compared to other cities in Tuscany, such as Florence.
After a long afternoon nap (we had got up at the unearthly hour of 3.45am to catch our flight) we headed out to enjoy Pisa by night. Another great benefit of Pisa being home to such an elite University and young crowd is that there’s plenty of affordable bars and restaurants. It has a more genuine and local feel to it, rather than a tourist spot, and is another aspect to Pisa that was pleasantly surprising! We ate in a lovely, quiet Piazza with the smell of Jasmine and roses wafting on the summer breeze (I know, cheesy but it really was) and I treated myself to my first plate of pasta (one of many on this trip). The perfect end to our 24 hours in Pisa was grabbing some gelato and taking one final stroll down the Arno river to enjoy the twinkling city by night.
Pisa, was a genuine delight and is a city I’m sure I’ve barely scratched the surface of. I’ll be back!