Sunday, March 16, 2008

Pietro: Pisa

Piazza del Duomo, Pisa

A rare sight in Italy: large family with lots of children. Piazza in S. Gimignano.

Thursday March 13, 2008

After sleeping in until 11AM, Giuseppe and I grabbed breakfast at a small café where I had a brioche crème and a café latte. Afterwards we met Gashwin before walking down to the Duomo of Pisa (the cathedral). At the Piazza di Duomo, one can find the Baptistry, the Cathedral, the cemetery and of course the famous Leaning Tower (really the bell tower – campanile – for the Cathedral). We took the obvious tourist photos of the Leaning Tower and then bought tickets to enter the Duomo. There is a legend that if you are a student and climb to the top of tower then you will not earn your degree. Paul claims that he has lived in Pisa for 16 years and has never climbed to the top.

In addition to the famous Leaning Tower, Pisa also has a large baptistery well known for its echo inside. In addition is a walled cemetery that contains several giant frescos. One of which depicts the last judgment where Christ is selecting those that may enter. The devil is depicted as a large dragon and those in hell are placed into boiling cauldrons. The cemetery is several centuries old, but during WWII was directly hit by a bomb and had to be restored. A large amount of damage had occurred to the frescoes so they are now maintained in a separate room.

In addition to the cemetery and baptistery is the main cathedral. Within the cathedral is a giant brass lamp which is said to have been used by Galileo to determine how a pendulum works (Galileo was born in Pisa). In addition the cathedral has a giant pulpit made of marble that towers over the people. It is well over ten feet tall and accessed using a staircase. After walking around until 1:30 or so we left and grabbed lunch at the Bar Roma. We wanted to go to an Indian restaurant that had a rickshaw outside, but it unfortunately was closed.

At Bar Roma, I ate their Penne all’arrabiata, a spicy tomato pasta sauce. While eating at the restaurant (we ate outside), an old man was riding his bike trying to carry a large number of boxes. He resembled Christopher Lloyd from Back to the Future. He was wearing a white lab coat and had gray frizzy hair. It was rather amusing as we watched him try to navigate down the road. Of course he dropped the boxes, not once but twice. Apparently he was a delivery man for the grocery store across the street, but we really believe that he is a mad scientist who will one day accidently destroy the Leaning Tower. (If this happens, then Paul would be the only lawyer crazy enough to defend him).

Soon enough Paul joined us and unknown to him parked illegally directly in front of the grocery store. Fortunately the old man never tried to leave while we were there. After paying, Paul took us to the town of San Gimingnano, which is also called the Medieval Manhattan for its many ancient towers. San Gimingnano is approximately 80 km from Pisa and took over an hour and a half to get there. Giuseppe and I were stuck in the back seat of Paul’s snazzy new Volvo hatchback, and quite crammed for the entire ride; however it was filled with wonderful views. Both Pisa and San Gimingnano are in Tuscany, which is filled with beautiful rolling hills. More than once we had to make Paul slow down so that we could take some photographs. The drive was amazing and my favorite point on the road was as we passed Volterra which is a large city on the top of a very tall hill. Just before San Gimingnano we passed a prison, which would definitely have some beautiful views.

Entering San Gimingnano is similar to entering a medieval castle as the entire town is walled and there is only one main gate. All of the buildings in the town were stone and were very close together. The walk was filled with beautiful stores that sold everything from sausage to scarves. We walked around the town until sunset and grabbed gelato before leaving. On the return home we saw a pheasant as it crossed the road as well as some mountain sheep. At the top of one of the hills, we stopped and took several pictures of the sunset which was beautiful over the mountains. We then returned to Pisa.

Back in Pisa we stopped at Paolo’s church which was vibrant and alive. The soccer team was out practicing on the fields behind the church while several younger men were preparing dinner. The place reminded me of our Newman Club back home, only a Newman club filled with guys. We waited a good while before Paolo’s priest returned. He was a very warm and young priest. He and Gashwin talked for a bit before we returned to Pisa.

Apparently dinner time in Pisa is close to 10 pm. We walked through the town of Pisa and entered three restaurants before finally settling on Numero Undici. For dinner, Paul’s friend Francis had joined us. Francis works in Pisa but his wife lives in Germany. Every weekend he flies back to Germany to see his wife. He was a very interesting guy who knew a lot about Pisa. He told us that the restaurant was formerly a laundromat that had been converted to a restaurant. The upper floor was removed to add character to the place. I would definitely recommend this restaurant to anyone visiting Pisa. Everyone had steak, while Gashwin settled for fish. The restaurant was more of a self service but the food was absolutely delightful. Following dinner we went to the train station to buy our tickets to Ravenna.

On the way to the station, I called my girlfriend who lives in the states. It was nice hearing her voice and a good reminder of the place back home that I get to return to. At the station Paul, Giuseppe and Gashwin went to buy tickets while I stayed on the phone. After 10 minutes or so I found them and they had still not bought the tickets. Apparently the machine was giving trouble, but it was a good thing as when I got there I noted that one of the legs on the journey they were about to buy involved traveling on a bus. No way! Finally we bought our tickets and paid cash. It was relatively cheap and would put us in Ravenna around 2:30pm. Once we were done we Giuseppe and I returned to the Hotel while Gashwin returned to Paul’s. Yet another great day in Italy was done.


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