Pisa is a city that comes alive after dark. Most of the tourists have left. They’ve seen the tower, perhaps climbed its 296 stairs, checked it off their list and moved on. Now is the time for Pisa’s residents and those of us who have stayed.
Like the rest of Italy we have seen so far, Pisa is a city of stucco over brick or stone, with little greenery. The buildings retain the heat of the day, so people escape to the open spaces at night, like the Piazza delle Vettovaglie near the Arno River. Crowds gather around street musicians, especially if they are good like the guy belting out a soulful Dylan number; no synthetic accompaniment, just his powerful voice and his guitar. Bob would approve.
It’s mostly a younger night crowd; the city boasts a university of 60K students. Couples promenade along the river and kiss along the wall, people walk their dogs, and kids gather at the gelaterias. But older couples and families with strollers also enjoy the river. They are also eating their 10 pm supper at the open-air tables of the restaurants that front the piazza.
This restaurant must be used to Americans because they served the starter, first course and second course dishes we ordered, all together. We shared crepes with goat cheese and asparagus, noodles with wild boar sauce and boar, and crispy duck with carmelized orange slices.
The food was fantastic, all the more enjoyable because we were eating in an interior garden, complete with a half dozen resident turtles that rapidly made a beeline for us when we sat down. (I’ve never seen turtles move that fast!) They nibbled on my daughter’s pinky toe, so we gently shooed them away. Luckily an Irish family with children showed up, and I pointed them to the turtles. They occupied each other for the duration of our visit; their parents seemed to enjoy the reprieve as well.
While mopping up the final morsels of our meal, we planned the next day. I emphatically tell the girls that I will not be climbing the famous tower. We already have 34 stairs to climb to get to our flat, and I have another 12 to reach the loft where I am sleeping. The girls called the lower level beds first.
The five-room flat has sky-windows (“if you open them, be sure to shut in case of rain!”), a tiled bathtub, and a marble kitchen sink original to when the flat was made. The building itself was constructed in the twelve hundreds!
And the best part is that this is Galileo’s birthplace. I feel I am tangibly reaching back in time to touch one of the greats, Medieval plumbing and all.
The next morning, we went to the Piazza del Duomo, site of the tower and other famous buildings, to get a (free) ticket to enter the Cathedral. It’s funny to come upon the tower from the streets behind it. It looked Photoshopped into the scene.
As for the Cathedral, if I had to choose one word to describe it, that would be the Hawaiian word for spiritual power – this place has mana.
The height of the ceiling was staggering. The first- floor was reserved for men, so women stood in the balconies. Consecrated in 1118, the people of Pisa raised the money for the church by pillaging Palermo in 1063. Isn’t history fun?
Then back to the flat. We had to meet our host to discuss the hot water situation – actually the fact that there was none last night. Luckily I choose to make lemonade when life hands me lemons: cold showers helped us cool off before trying to sleep. Our host was able to fix it, so tonight will be better. Buena Notte, Galileo.
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Other essays on the Trip to Italy:
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