Tuesday, July 3, 2012

I lean toward liking Pisa a lot…

Does this really need a caption? This is as close as you can drive to the Leaning Tower of Pisa

We’ve done a lot of driving on this ocean-going cruise and I am learning that most motorcyclists seem to have a death wish. They pass on blind curves, they speed by at breath-taking speeds on straightaways, and they seem to believe they have a god-given right to any part of the road that they want. I’ll probably hear from some law-abiding motorcyclists, but they haven’t motorcycled in Europe! It’s certainly understandable why they are called “donor-cycles” in ER-nurse lingo. I have certainly seen enough in emergency rooms to NEVER want to get on one and absolutely not in traffic!

Today was a private tour that had the best of everything: we got to do exactly what we wanted (including a stop for Gellato in Florence) and when we wanted; there were only eight of us and we all knew each other very well; the guide—with the so-Italian name of David and he kind of looked like a David—was knowledgeable but didn’t talk our ears off. In short, it was a great day.

From the really, really ugly port of Livorno where we were picked up, he suggested we go to Pisa early, before most of the tourists got there. Great idea! And it was cooler! (Have I mentioned that the daytime temperatures, while not often in the 90s or above, have been quite hot and humid since we left Sydney—but not as hot as the guides have told us!) Our first glimpse of the Leaning Tower almost literally took my breath away. I wasn’t expecting to be in a car about 100 meters away when I saw it. I sort of thought we’d have to park and push through thousands of tourists to get even a far-away look at it. No! You can walk right up to it, there were hardly any people there (maybe a couple of hundred) and IT REALLY DOES LEAN! A LOT! I don’t know why I was surprised to see how much it leans—after all I’ve seen thousands of photos and videos of it. But, IT REALLY, REALLY LEANS A LOT! I kept wanting to tap people on the shoulder and say, Did you know it leaned this much? It was so great to see! And it wasn’t even one of my bucket list things. But it should have been and if you haven’t seen it, come over here right now! I also didn’t know that almost everything big in Pisa leans. They’ve built these old buildings on soft ground so stuff just wants to lean.

But the day wasn’t getting any longer and in the back of all cruiser’s minds is, 'The ship leaves at _____, I sure hope we get back on time (or, preferably, early)  so they don’t leave us behind!' On the shed-ule was Florence and it’s splendors but David asked if we wanted to do anything before we got to Florence. Almost in unison we said, Wine tasting! He found a delightful winery (he knew the owner, big surprise), San Michele a Torri, with a beautiful wine-maker or cellar-master or sales person—oh, who cares what her job was, she made us feel wonderfully comfortable, even Kathy, a self-proclaimed ‘ peasant’ who only liked sweet wines—until today.

We tasted two reds (for the wine aficionados: San Giovanni Novantasette, Reserva 2008 and a lot more verbiage on the label and a Murtas 2007 CabSav blend which was featured in Wine Spectator and received a 93), and a sweet white. It was a delight to see the look on Kathy’s face when she tasted a red, not-sweet wine and she LIKED it! And her giggles when she tasted the sweet white desert wine were wonderful. The winery was also selling several salami products and cheeses; Randy bought a cheese and I still (two days later) don’t know what he bought. He’s saving it for a party. Where else but a private tour can you get an unscheduled stop for wine? And really good wines!

After the winery it was on to Florence itself and the area downtown around the Duomo (Basilica di Santa Maria del Fior officially) and it has the largest brick dome ever constructed. Which we climbed. And climbed. And climbed. My altimeter said we climbed 350 feet; it seemed more like 1050 feet. Up and up and up with only a few wide spots in the steps where you could rest while others could still get by. Since we only had an hour we took advantage of the Italian system of Preferred Ticketing; for 15€ instead of 8€ we got in immediately.

The view across Florence was magnificent. We looked over Giottos bell tower (a campanile) and the rest of the city on a superb and clear day. Although I was practically wiped out by the climb, I’m so glad we did it!

After the group re-grouped, David or maybe it was Randy, Kathy, Fred, Julie, Ann, Narelle, or Kim suggested we stop for a gellato. Yum! By then we were pooped, drove by the Piti Palace and headed home, satisfied after a wonderful day.
A not go good picture of Flat Stanley holding up the Tower of Pisa

Up close, it looks to be leaning even more!
Just a closeup of another of the Basilicas in Pisa
The leaning tower is just to the right of this big basilica
Our "host," Randy, Narelle and Kim at the wine tasting
The name of the winery and farm

Our host

More winetasting

Kathy learning she likes red wines too.

Translation: Everything in one place

Looking over the vineyard and olive trees
Overlooking Florence

No comment

Just couldn't resist a picture of this Japanese groom and bride

Ponte Vecchio

Closeup of some of the houses on the Ponte Vecchio

Church in Florence; note the Jewish star just below the cross on the top

We had lunch here

This is for my daughter, the horse-mad person

Another church
Giottos bell tower

I think they were just preparing for the heat and the possible collapses; several departed with sirens blaring while we were in the square

The Golden Door

Inside the Duomo just before we started up (at 140 feet elevation)
We're going up, up, up to that hole in the ceiling of the Duomo

Looking down into the cathedral from the walkway about halfway up

There are those ambulances again. We made it up without needing them!
Remember Giottos bell tower? Here it is from above (450 feet elevation)

Looking down the stairs

The best gellato in Florence (we were told)
Cherry gellato and Randy

Randy & Fred and Cherry gellato

Randy, Kim, Fred, Narelle, an American visiting Florence, and David, our guide
The Piti Palace drive-by

More of the houses on the Ponte Vecchio

And more; I really liked those houses

Street scene on the Ponte Vecchio


  1. Wasn't the tower in Pisa just beautiful... I remember thinking WOW when I first saw it... I was expecting it to look well aged on the outside like most sites in rome... not a crumbling in site.... just gorgeous

  2. I commented on the Cannes post about my whirlwind tour of Florence before I read this post. Looks like you took the same tour we did! :-) But we didn't climb the Duomo - wish we did now that I've seen your photos.

    ps - Thanks for thinking of me when you see horses! Always smile when I see the photos. xoxoxo

  3. It looks so wonderful, envious of the wine tour ! Oh and the gelato ! The old buildings really are so grand ! Cheers mate see you soon !

  4. I would have been very disappointed if you didn't hit a winery in Italy.