June 4: Pisa
Originally, today we were going to go to visit the Cinque Terre. But, yesterday at the train station we noticed an announcement of today's sciopero, a train strike. So any plans to go anywhere today by train were off.
Instead, after consultation with Piero, one of the concierge's at the hotel, we decided to rent bikes and ride to Pisa, only about 20km away from Lucca.
We went to the TI to see where to rent bikes, only to find one of the waitresses from the restaurant last night answering questions. What an industrious woman!
We found a place to rent bikes near one of the ports to the city, and rented a couple of decent mountain bikes. We rode them back to our rooms, changed into our cycling clothing and put on our helmets and set off for Pisa. Piero was kind enough to lead us out of the city on his bike, and point us in the correct direction.
We rode out of the city on the superstrada towards Pisa. The road rose up slightly, a nice steady grade. We rode through a tunnel (lighted for a change!) and were greeted with a beautiful view of the countryside around Pisa when we emerged from the opposite end. After a nice switchbacky descent it was flat riding until we hit Pisa. The ride in total was about 20 km.
Pisa is, as you might expect, an incredibly touristy town, and we really had no interest in seeing anything other than the tower and accompanying cathedral.
So, as soon as we arrived, we headed right to the Piazza dei miracoli where the Torre Pendente is, along with the Duomo, the Battistero, and the Camposanto (cemetery). We bought a museum pass so we could go into the Duomo and the Battistero.
The tower is still not open to the public; they expect to open it in September of this year. The tower was fenced off and there were many workmen still working on it (see photos). It is still quite a sight to see though.
The tower was built over several centuries, starting in the 1100's. One interesting thing about the Leaning Tower is that the original architects, realizing it was leaning, built the top of the tower so that it would be vertical despite the cant of its base. So if you look closely at the tower, it does not go in a straight line.
After gazing at the tower for a little bit, we walked next door to the Duomo. The Duomo was begun in 1063 and completed in the middle of the 12th century. Beautiful bronze doors grace the outside of the building. Probably the most notable sight inside the Duomo is the beautiful carved pulpit by Pisano.
Next, we went to the Battistero, a circular building next to the Duomo that's almost as tall as the leaning tower. This building is fairly austere. We were able to climb to the top and get a nice view of the rest of the Piazza and of all of Pisa.
Our whole visit took about 2 hours (we skipped the Camposanto), which is I think about all the time one can spend in Pisa. (It was good we'd ridden our bikes!)
We hopped back on our bikes and had a nice ride back to Lucca the way we came. After returning our bikes, we stopped in at another bike shop next to the one where we rented bikes. Cicli Poli is a venerable shop that has sponsored a Luccan team for years. Of course, the fact that it's also called "Poli" was nice, so I had to buy another jersey.
After returning to the hotel, showering and changing, we had to go on a mission to buy shoes. The "walking" shoes I had taken with me were Tod's loafers that are really comfortable and fine for walking in the US on carpeted floors, but don't have enough support in the uppers or thickness in the soles for walking on uneven cobblestoned streets. Since tomorrow we are going to go to the Cinque Terre, I really needed some shoes that I could walk in.
Unfortunately, right now the current fashion in sports shoes in Italy is modeled after bowling shoes, and I refuse to wear bowling shoes. What I really wanted was a pair of Timberland shoes (Timberland is very big in Italy, but also very expensive). After looking in a couple of shops, we eventually found one that sold Ecco's (a Portugese brand). I bought a nice pair of fairly fashionable and practical lace-up shoes with nice thick soles.
We also went to a store to replenish our supply of detergent for washing clothing. In stores that sell household goods it's customary for you to tell the shopkeepers what you need and for them to retrieve it for you. This makes for very slow shopping! After a bit, we bought our bottle of soap and left to find something to eat.
After walking around a bit we found a pizzeria in one of the piazzas. Because it was fairly early the pizzeria was mostly empty. We ordered a pizza and watched as a young couple who had been sitting behind us went upstairs for a bit, and then came back down looking perhaps a little more disheveled. Hmmm...
Our pizza came, and without a doubt, it was the worst pizza we have eaten since coming here. One of the tricks for good pizza is to use a wood-fired oven, and this place did not have one (note to self: check this for next time). We finished as much as we could eat, and went to erase the bad taste with a good cone of gelato.
We returned to the hotel, did our laundry, checked on the Giro results and went to bed.