Better a death in the family than a Pisan at your doorstep. Yup. That’s a saying in Italy!
Apparently Pisans are not universally loved in Italy. But we didn’t care! We were just happy to arrive in the city famous for its leaning tower with all our stuff, on the right day.
We almost ended up in Pisa two days earlier when we took a train from Riomagiorre in Cinque Terre to La Spezia where we were staying. We needed to get to the second station in La Spezia, not the central station where most people get off.
This naturally involved switching trains, as the central station is the end of the line for local trains from Cinque Terre. When we couldn’t figure out which train would take us to the second station, we asked the tourist office located in the station.
We were told that the next Pisa-bound train would stop at our station before heading out of town. We hopped on board, and confirmed with another passenger (albeit the second conversation was in Italian, which none of us speak), but she emphatically said, “Si, si!”
Turns out some trains stop at the second station, but not all. When we flew past our station, Al and I looked at each other wide-eyed thinking, “OMG. We’re going to Pisa two days early.”
Luckily the next stop was only two kilometres outside La Spezia – at a train station so dead that we saw two different driving schools teaching new drivers how to parallel park.
With no taxis in site, we hoofed it back to the station where our car was parked. I was so proud of the girls for not whining (even though I was, heavily, using my inside voice). The extra 2 km was after a long day of hiking in Cinque Terre.
We ended up going to Pisa on the right day (yesterday) with our car and all of our stuff. We climbed up the famous tower and learned how the tower began tilting just five years after construction started. The base was only three metres deep and had been built on extremely marshy soil.
How to fix the situation? Just build the upper floors with one side taller than the others. So if you look closely, the tower is actually curved.
War interrupted the building of the tower several times, so it took 199 years to build. It took another two years from 1999 to 2001 to correct the tilt so that it wouldn’t wind up on the ground. They also added a safety fence that wasn’t there when I climbed it in 1989.
We walked up the tower and took in the view from the top. The girls were impressed with the tilt of the tower (not Al) and spent some time looking at the bells that encircle the top.
We drove to Florence later that day, and then spent today wandering its streets. We saw the Basilica di San Lorenzo and also had a view of the church and the city from Michelangelo’s Square. We also went to see the Pont de Vecchio and the Statue of David (absolutely no questions about body parts this time as the girls have seen it all through Asia and Africa).
We also saw many statues of famous explorers, scientists, artists and of course, Cosmo Medici. We gave the girls the Coles notes of Renaissance history, and told them to remember Florence. In a couple of years, they will be reading about all these people in a Social Studies textbook.
We also bumped into a family that travelled the globe for 15 months five years ago when the kids were the same age as our girls. We asked them about school on the road, and the Dad said he aimed for two days a week, three hours at a time.
When we asked him if he had made his target, he laughed and said absolutely not. But he also said that his kids learned so much travelling that they never had any issues with school. Guess we just need to relax!