Woke up this morning with a sore back from the uncomfortable bed and that kind of put me in a bit of a mood. Serves me right for not paying proper attention and booking a hostel instead of a hotel. Still, it meant I was up and out pretty early.
Thank all the deities, real or imagined, for satnav/GPS. It would be an absolute nightmare trying to drive around Italian towns unaided. TimTamTom makes it easy - it knows all the one way streets, the dead ends, the bizarre forks in the road. An absolute essential piece of equipment!
What it can't do though, is find an empty parking space. Shame about that. I did find a spot though, about 5 or 10 minutes walk from the Piazza dei Miracoli, the Square of Miracles, where the Leaning Tower is. I turned the other way first and had a look at the river, the Arno. Like the Seine and the Tiber in Rome, it's a sludgy greyish green colour. I don't know if it's pollution or minerals leaching from the stone walls that line these rivers, or what, but they all look pretty murky. Not at all like the pristine Yarra, hahahaha!
From there I headed back to the piazza. I wandered down the street, came round a slight bend and, bang, there's the cathedral right at the end of the road. In that short walk I was offered at least a dozen "Rolex" watches by various hopefuls. Umbrellas in Rome, Rolexes in Pisa. I wonder what's on offer in Florence!
The whole Piazza dei Miracoli is a wonder. From where I stood the Baptistry was on the left, the cathedral in the centre and the bell tower on the right. A pretty amazing sight. All three are built from marble, with white stone also in the cathedral. Construction began way back in the 1060s. And they're still standing, although only just in the case of the bell tower.
It costs 6 euros to get into both the baptistry and the cathedral. The tower is 15 euros but I passed on that. I knew I wasn't going to climb all those stairs.
I visited the Baptistry first. Inside is pretty plain; a huge baptismal font, an altar and some chairs. There are some small stained glass windows and huge arches holding up the domed roof. The acoustics inside are remarkable though. The place generates a long sustained sort of echo. Apparently you can sing in harmony with yourself if you get the timing right. Pretty embarrassing if you have to blow your nose though.
The cathedral is more impressive inside. Very little stained glass but the walls are lined with huge paintings depicting various religious stories. These are late Renaissance works and are replacements for the original Medieval works that were, sadly, destroyed in a fire in the 1590s. Above the altar is a huge fresco of John the Baptist. It fills the cupola ceiling and is the original work.
The Campanile, the bell tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is interesting. It's taller than I was expecting. Subsidence underground has caused it to sink on one side, thus giving it the lean. From some angles it looks almost straight but from others the lean is quite pronounced - especially when you have something straight to compare it with. It looked quite twisted at times - the bottom has sunk one way but the top seemed to lean the opposite way towards the cathedral. For a while the tower was closed to the public as the engineers worked to stop it falling over completely. They seem to have stabilised it and people can, once again, make the trek to the top.
After that I decided I'd had enough of Pisa. The town itself is quite shabby and there's graffiti everywhere. Most of it seems directed against the neighbouring town of Livorno - don't know why, possibly football related maybe? It's just scrappy scrawly stuff and really diminishes the overall look and feel of Pisa.
So, I got back in the little Fiat Box-on-wheels and drove to Florence (Firenze). Took just over an hour so nothing too strenuous. I passed some nice photo opportunities along the way - little towns on hills, farmsteads, castles on hills, etc. However, it's been a very hazy day so wouldn't make for good shots. There'll be plenty more such chances.
The B&B I'm in is a little way from the city centre but there's a bus stop just around the corner. A 15 minute ride apparently. The room is like a little studio: bathroom, kitchenette, couch, table downstairs; beds and TV upstairs. Marilyn and James Dean on the walls. I'm here till Wednesday. Gives me enough time to check out some wonders in town. I think I'll pre-book a ticket for the Uffizi and go on a later day as the queue, I've heard, can be 5 hours long.
Dammit, I forgot to put in the photos. They're over on flickr if you're interested. Sorry.
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