Jet-lagged in Pisa

Everyone will tell you not to go to Pisa. There's nothing but an underwhelming tilted bell tower packed in with tourists and trinket carts bent on selling yet another leaning-tower key chain (which, as it turns out, you can purchase at any other city or tourist trap throughout all of Italy). While there is some truth to this, and there are far more impressive sights in nearby Florence and the Cinque Terre, do not cross Pisa off your list just yet. No, do not overlook this under-appreciated city nestled between its far more glamorous neighbors. In fact, a brief visit to Pisa might be just what you need.

Pisa is like the training wheels of Italy; it's the perfect city to get oriented to the culture, comfortable with the maps, and most importantly - to recover from jet lag.

If you're anything like us, you'll fly across the pond from the U.S. with too much excitement for your upcoming adventure to get a wink of sleep. (It doesn't help when you're flying first class for the first time!)

You'll touch down at 7 a.m. Pisa time, which will feel like the middle of the night to your eyes. After a quick outfit change and brush up in the bathroom, you'll strap on your money belt, pull out your trusty Rick Steve's travel book, and head outside into the morning light. Since Pisa is a relatively small city, it is quite navigable on foot. If you were arriving during the night you'd probably hail a cab for safety reasons, but walking through the streets in the morning might just be the best way to shake off that it's-the-middle-of-the-night-why-am-I-not-asleep" feeling.

Have you ever arrived in a city at daybreak? If you land in Pisa at 7 a.m. and decide to walk through the streets, you will notice that your rolling suitcase is the loudest sound around. Women will open their green shutters (which you'll soon learn is the color of 99 percent of all shutters in Italy), sweep off their patios, and go back inside to drink their espresso (or so you assume). Cats catch the morning sun on old stone walls and recycling bins sit next to garbage cans on every street corner, because Europeans are organized like that.

If you arrive in Pisa at 7 a.m., you will discover that the best way to get to know a place is to watch it wake up.

As you get closer to the center of town (although you aren't quite sure since your map lacks details and the streets are winding), the occasional scooter will buzz by to remind you that you're in Europe, in case you forgot. Shops begin to open, and you'll learn important idiosyncrasies of Italian living, like that Farmacia (pharmacy) shops don't necessarily sell "pharmacy" items, like razor blades - you must head to the Tabacchi (tobacco) shops for those items, which can be found everywhere, even in the train station.

Following the general direction of traffic sounds like a good plan because you don't really know where you're going. But there's no hurry. Because even though it's 7 a.m. on a Monday morning and people are hopping on buses and heading to work, your agenda for the day is simply to stay awake and see how the day unfolds.

If you arrive in Pisa at daybreak, you'll likely need to check your bags for the day. We opted to stay at an Airbnb rental (here, to be precise), with check-in sometime in the afternoon. Bag check at the train station is reasonably priced, so after you drop your bags, you'll use your newly freed arms and burst of energy to commence a Rick Steve's historic walking tour. You'll quickly discover who is the natural tour guide and who is the wanderer/photographer. Assume those roles, and don't fight over the maps.

If you are fortunate to spend a day in Pisa and wander outside the touristy tower arena, you will likely find yourself amongst backpacks and class-bound students at the University of Pisa. A chatty student on lunch break might practice his English by filling you in on all sorts of information, most notably that the student population of 57,000 makes up for about 60 percent of the city and was home to the famous Galileo Galilei. Tourist destination? Try advanced education institution. Your new student friend will then try and learn the English word for the little army of critters carrying sandwich crumbs up the tree (it's "ant") before jumping on his bike and leaving you to ponder the significance of a university that dates back to the 12th Century. Makes our Princeton and Harvard universities seem new! 

If you arrive in Pisa at 7 a.m. you will be quite tired by the time you venture to the Leaning Tower. But you'll find some shade, learn about Romanesque architecture (trademarks: marble, arches, decorative arcading, symmetrical, etc) - which contrasts to the Gothic architecture that came later, decide not to climb the tower (quite pricey and you don't get very high), observe the hordes of people lined up for "leaning" photos, and then decide to join in yourself - because why not? 

When it's time to check in at your Airbnb, you will be delighted to find your bed is circular, and since you arrived in Pisa at daybreak and have been on your feet ever since, you may grab the quickest mini nap just to make it until real bedtime. But then you're on to the next adventure ...

Because the best thing about Pisa? It's within a short train ride of the medieval city of Lucca

Wondering how we flew standby to Italy? Read about Evan's job at the airport here.

Summer 2013 Destinations:
NYC Day Trip
New Jersey, Part 2
North Carolina

Fall 2013 Destinations:
St. Louis, Part 2
New Jersey, Part 3

Reflections on Travel:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for joining in the conversation!

Follow @ Instagram

Back to Top