43. Pisa // Lucca // Italy

We said goodbye to beautiful Siena as we trudged along with our backpacks to the local train station. Next stop was Pisa and I was quite excited as I’d heard about this leaning tower as a little girl and could not believe I was actually going to see it! Our train journey was humorous as we watched a lady in front of us try and take photo after photo of the country side on a moving train. We’ve seen this quite a few times and just don’t understand why people try and try again to get that perfect snapshot whilst moving. Obviously its going to be blurry!! I couldn’t help but smile as she kept trying, and became increasingly frustrated with herself for not getting that postcard perfect shot!!

Pisa is a relatively small town on the right of Central Italy with the River Arno running  in between. It is home to just over 88 000 residents, and has more than 20 historic sites that were mostly financed from its history as one of the Italian Maritime Republics. We had just booked one night here, as we were really only here to see the leaning tower in all its glory, and honestly, even thought this was too much time. If we didn’t have our 40kg backpacks to work with, we’d have been happy to visit the tower for a couple of hours and then move on. After dumping our said backpacks at our accommodation for the night (not too close to the train station this time) we made a quick stop at a local supermarket and picked up some supplies for a picnic lunch by the tower. The tower complex is much larger then I originally thought and the learning tower is part of the Piazza del Duomo which also houses the cathedral, the Baptistry and the Cemetery. But everyone was really only here to see the tower, and so we found a little spot on the grass, and watched all the tourists try and do the token Pisa photo while we feasted on fresh bread, roasted chicken and sundried tomatoes.  This is one of those locations in the world which draws everyone and, following AFL Grand Final day, it wasn’t long before we saw a dad and a son kicking a Hawks footy back and forth across the grass.

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After spending our time at the tower and completing our own obligatory Pisa shot, we decided to in fact have a walk around the town of Pisa. We had been told that this was a university town and so were expecting the university vibe of other cities we had been to which usually resulted in lots of art, cheap drinks, cheap eats and general fun. I don’t know if all the university students were actually in class but all we could find were some overpriced beers in some stale looking restaurants. We dropped by the supermarket to get some supplies for dinner and were surprised by the homelessness problem that seems to exist in Pisa, and in particular close to the supermarket. We observed a group of homeless people go in, buy a goon bag and then fill up there now empty coke bottle and sit close to the supermarket yelling profanities at passers-by. We saw many beggars dotted around the city, with many just drinking and lying around with nothing to do.

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We headed back to Pisa at night time, and enjoyed the views of the lit up tower without the hoards of tour buses from the day.  Clinton, much to my amusement, spent some time posing in front of a rubbish bin with Pisa in the background, to which I found incredibly funny and laughed for hours. I indulged in my new found love for cheese and fruit gelato whilst strolling along the Arno and discussing the highlights of our trip so far.

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The next morning we raced out of our accommodation and made the walk to the train station to get to our next destination Lucca. Unfortunately though, we had missed the train and the next wasn’t for over an hour. We made the walk back towards town and stopped for a Cappuccino and cake at a local deli. I had been wanting to try the Panforte in Siena but had not been able to find one that met my expectations. Within this local family run establishment, I found a homemade Panforte that I was very interested to try. Much like a very dense Christmas cake at home, this panaforte was filled with a variety of nuts, spice and candied fruit. Interesting to try, however I don’t think I’d voluntarily try this one again. Especially when we got up to pay the bill and this small piece of cake had somehow cost 10 Euro on its own. It’s the one thing that has really annoyed me about being in Italy. You think you are going somewhere with a little bit of family history, a quaint establishment away from the tourist crowd, and then they get you!! It’s the western version of a spruiker and you just don’t expect it. So disgruntled, and with Clint a little mad at spending 15 Aus on a piece of fruit cake, we made our way back to the train station and onto Lucca.

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Lucca is a small town only about an hour from Pisa. We had decided to spend a night here to check out another small town and eat some more Tuscan food before heading onwards to Bologna. Perhaps our expectations were too high after spending time in Siena but Lucca kind of looked like the poor estranged sister of the Tuscan region. Although the city walls are still intact of this small town, it really is about the only drawcard. Bikes seemed to be the big thing here, allowing you to ride right around the walls, however we could not really find anywhere to rent a bike. It was a lovely sunny day while we were there, and we spent a little bit of time looking around a very expensive, very tourist driven market before calling it quits in search of a drink. This seemed to cause a further problem, as either most of the restaurants were closed for an afternoon nap, or there generally were no corner stores to buy anything. Hungry and thirsty, we walked out of the city walls and into the district of Lucca in order to find some refreshments. This was met with no success. So we walked back into the city walls and settled for a piece of terrible pizza and a beer at the only place that seemed to be open. After eating pizza just days before in Naples this was disappointing to say the least! I went into blog world and tried to find us somewhere half decent for dinner. Unfortunately, this failed as well. We had probably the worst meal of our Tuscan adventure and finished it off with a terrible tiramisu. Luckily, the limoncello was not too bad. It seems the city of Lucca although may have its city walls in tact, does not use this old town for its real trade, and perhaps the old town is left for the tourists. In any way, we booked a train for early the next morning to get outta there and head to the food capital of Italy, Bologna!!!

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