Province of Pisa Part I
If you read our London post, you would know that our impromptu trip to Pisa was the result of a 6 hour delay at the Pisa airport on the way to London. To make the most out of our situation, we took the city bus from the airport and were deposited in the Piazza del Duomo where Pisa’s major sights are surrounded by large, ancient walls. It was eerily quiet since the Leaning Tower was not yet open, but we could not deny that is was truly an extraordinary sight. The pictures you see on postcards do not do the Leaning Tower justice. It actually feels like you are looking at an optical illusion. The only sight that was open was the walled cemetery Campo Santo, whose walls were destroyed during WWII, but the ornate floor stones remained intact with family crests, tombstones and biblical art. We were the only ones in this huge structure at this hour, allowing us to appreciate its immensity in a refreshing silence.
By the time we emerged, the a Piazza del Duomo was packed. Apparently at 10 AM all of the tour buses hoard in for the afternoon and hundreds of people flooded the Leaning Tower, fighting for the best picture angle. Luckily, we had already bought tickets for the first time to climb the tower, so we were immediately let in. Although the tower is not as high as others I have climbed in Europe, the tilted angle did make you feel a bit off balance the entire time.
After snapping a few photos of the city at the top, we quickly hopped into the cathedral next to the Leaning Tower.
We then walked briefly through the streets next to the Leaning Tower, realizing the area was not that big. It actually appeared to us that most people visit Pisa for the day rather than staying there overnight, as evidenced by the lack of hotels. We had a quick bite at a quaint panini restaurant (truffle with prosciutto and pecorino on focaccia bread), and headed back to the airport where we took off for London an hour later.
Province of Pisa Part II
Since our first visit to Pisa only lasted a few hours, I did not feel as if I gave an honest tribute to what the city has to offer. My second trip took place during my friend, Lauren’s visit. Instead of just focusing on the Square of Miracles, where the Leaning Tower was situated, we made an effort to walk through the city from a different entrance, which provided a whole new perspective to this Tuscan city.
We started our trip near the train station and had a quick coffee in the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, home to many of the city’s administrative buildings. It also houses a famous Keith Haring mural, “Murale Tuttomondo” which was one of his last before his death.
We then headed north towards the river, where you can obtain an unrivaled view of the Pisan landscape. Directly overlooking the river is the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina, a tiny and exquisite church.
We spent some time in the Palazzo Blu, a 14th century building boasting over the top 19th century interior decoration and the Foundation Pisa’s art collection.
Crossing over the Arno River on the Ponte di Mezzo, we entered into Piazza Garibaldi and its subsequent alleys and streets. This area of Pisa was much more charming than I recalled, and representative of Pisan life. Minus the scattering of a few tourist restaurants, the stores were refreshingly local. Before heading to the Square of Miracles, we had time to admire the site of the Pisa Baths and old wall of Pisa.
Thankfully, when we entered the Square of Miracles, it was surprisingly empty. The weather was on the rainy side, so it must have deterred many tourists. Thankfully for Lauren, there were no lines, and I recommended she enter the Camposanto and Church while I waited for JoJo outside.
Before heading out, we walked through the university area of Pisa, which was filled with small fast food restaurants. We had a light lunch at an adorable trattoria in the university area. My only regret is that we did not get to see the botanical gardens. Until next time!
Province of Pisa Part III
The Province of Pisa is not just characterized by its major city, but is also home to beautiful Tuscan countryside just west of the Chianti region. It was an area we had not yet explored, until we were invited by Gualtiero’s New Year’s Eve party that he was co-hosting with Andrea Bocelli. Yes- Andrea Bocelli not only lives in Forte dei Marmi, a mere 15 minutes from our home in Strettoia, but has another residence in Lajatico where his family. He also happens to be great friends with Gualtiero, the owner of the marble business that Ryan’s company has partnered with. So we were invited, along with our friends Dave and Karen that were visiting us for the week.
Of course everyone was nervous – What do we wear? Who is going to be there?Initially Ryan had been told it was “Hollywood themed,” so Karen and I were prepared to wear long gowns (one I had just bought and gotten altered already!). Then two days before we get an email saying that women were NOT supposed to wear long dresses. Thankfully Karen had brought a little black dress as a back-up, but I literally did not have anything with me in Italy that I could wear to the party that I would feel comfortable in.
Thus, the morning we left for Parma, we stopped at the mall in Massa and I made a quick dash to find a New Year’s dress without having to take up too much of our time. Fortunately, the mall was full of New Year’s Eve attire and I picked up a red dress, shoes, and clutch all under $100. In the U.S., this outfit could have easily been double but Italian brands are unbelievably inexpensive.
Gualtiero’s assistant booked us in a bed and breakfast about 2 miles from the party. It was located on top of a hill surrounded by open countryside. The owner was delighted to have us and even knew the Bocelli’s personally because they ride their horses around the bed and breakfast. The rooms were located in an old villa, and we had the entire third floor consisting of 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, and a communal living room to get ready.
Upon arriving to the Bocelli’s, were were escorted into their living room where a few guests were standing around Andrea singing and playing the piano. I think Dave and Karen were star-struck at that moment! The crowd then moved into the party space, which was converted from a warehouse used to keep farming equipment just for New Year’s. The inside was stunning. There were 15 or so tables adorned with towering candle and fern centerpieces. The ceiling was a frenzy of neon and gold stars and comets. The front part of the space was converted into a dance floor and instrumentals for the band. Flanking the area between the dance floors and tables were “casino tables” with matching fake coins for the occasion.
After a half hour of meeting and greeting, we all felt comfortable. It was less like being at a celebrity holiday party and more like an elegant affair or wedding. Plus everyone was so welcoming and kind to us! We could not have asked for a better start.
We then proceeded to sit down for the dinner, which was four courses in Italian fashion. It started with a creamy risotto, then moved on to a pasta with a delicious olive oil flavor. The main course was a pork roast surrounded by a pastry crust and creamed vegetables. Dessert was my favorite- a rich panna cotta which I ate within minutes. We were amazed at the quality of the food for over 100 guests, but also not surprised considering this was Italy where food is of utmost priority!
Then the party got started. Andrea sang several songs, including a duet with his wife. The band of the night then took over the stage, rocking to a combination of American classics and modern hits. The line-up of music was what you would expect from a great wedding band, but in a good way compared to blaring DJs that are the forefront of American New Year’s Eve parties.
After several hours of dancing, the party was moved outside for a magnificent display of fireworks. It was a glamorous and memorable ending to the night. We arrived back to the bed and breakfast at 3 am, falling asleep with a smile on our faces.
The next morning, we were served a gourmet breakfast by the bed and breakfast owner and were able to admire the villa’s views and grounds. I could definitely see why people rented it our for weddings on a fine spring or summer day.
As we left the villa and packed up our cars, we knew this would be a story that would last a lifetime.