I watched the patchwork gold and green Tuscan countryside scroll beneath the aircraft as we make our approach for Florence. Now I worry that a Star Wars aficionado whose spelling is sketchy and got here accidentally might see the word Tuscan and begin hyperventilating. So to clarify, this is Florence, Italy and not Florence, Tatooine. No Tusken raiders here! We don’t need to see your ID. You can go about your business. Move along! Move along!
The landing was uneventful and Florence airport is a much smaller airport than I anticipated. Looking out the window after we stopped, I noticed a couple of guys rolling what looked like an antique set of airstairs from movies in the 50’s across the tarmac towards us. Wow! Florence really is historic, maybe in every sense! Perhaps my friend Steve the Translator was picking us up in a 1929 Hupmobile! I would have thought by now that we’d at least have portable Air-escalators given the current millennium.
I didn’t mind the fact there was no jet-bridge because there’s something to be said for taking that first big breath of air absorbing the sights, sounds and smells of a place you’ve never been unfiltered through airport air conditioning.
Despite the fact the sun was covered in a cirrus veil, the heat smacked me in the face as we crossed the tarmac to the terminal. I had to stop to take a couple of pictures of our surroundings. What struck me immediately was the airport sign said Firenze. Firenze? Wasn’t that a model of car? Didn’t Ford make a Firenze in the 80’s? The Ford Firenze, I was sure of it. I tucked away a mental note to ask my brother in law Bill about that next time I saw him. He knows everything there is to know about cars. Like Mona Lisa Vito in My Cousin Vinny except he’s old, and a guy, and you don’t want to see him in a leotard. I just hoped Florence wasn’t far away.
We had decided on backpacks rather than suitcases as we had done in the past. We were taking over gifts for Steve the Translator and his family and so we were taking an additional duffle bag as a carry on along with extra… stuff. As became the fashion for much of the trip, we were immediately confused. I thought we had to check out bags through customs here as well and after chasing an official around I learned this wasn’t the case. We picked up our bags and off we went in search of Steve The Translator.
Next Stop Pisa
After our meet n greet at the airport, Steve asked if we’d like to see Pisa which was about an hour and a half away and only 10 minutes from his home in Lucca. Lack of sleep mattered not at this point and we readily agreed. We hopped in the car, pulled out of our parking space and stood stock still for 10 minutes in our first skirmish in the great campaign of the great war that is Italian traffic. It appears there are no personal vehicular space bubbles in Italy in urban environments, rather everyone is trying to nose into gaps in a barnyard suckling fashion.
We pulled off the road and into a… I want to say parking lot, but it was a twisty, narrow lane with parallel parking on both sides. It felt like we had wandered into the Monte Carlo of go cart tracks given the surroundings. In the moment it was still kind of magical like a Disney ride despite being somewhat overwhelming given the involvement of sleep deprivation and a deep hunger hangover. Once inside the trattoria the smells and sights were agonizingly intoxicating. Steve taught me to order in a rudimentary fashion and the lady behind the counter was a sweetheart, nodding encouragingly at my mangled Italian the way a waitress might nod at and smile at a toddler whose indulgent parents are allowing them to order in the restaurant for the first time. Then she and Steve had a polite exchange and we took our authentic Italian pizza to the seating area outside to eat. I imagine their Italian conversation went something like this in English:
Steve the Translator: Yeah, about this guy. They’re in Italy for the first time and he’s just trying to learn a little Italian. He had no idea he was offending your family and your ancestors when he said he wanted to eat your cousin’s liver with fava beans and a nice Chianti.
The Unknown Waitress: No problem! I realized the situation when he wanted his muffler clamps extra soggy.
The Pizza was incredible. The burrata cheese used was unctuous, a brilliant white with a beautiful texture and that deep tomato sauce with notes of basil. PLUS MEAT! BONUS!!! Now this may seem strange, but I do not like Italian food. Pizza, sure, but I’m just not a big pasta eater. But being in ITALY and eating AUTHENTIC ITALIAN FOOD??? Nope. Sorry, nothing changed. I still don’t like pasta as a general rule, but this pizza was delicious.
While we were eating I was shocked when a bullet train blew by on the rail overpass across the street with a hurricane roar and then was gone before I could close my mouth. Incredibly fast… I’d never seen a bullet train before and hadn’t anticipated that velocity this close to a populated area. We had a Global Eurail Pass so I knew we’d be experiencing the high speed train soon enough and taking the train in a foreign land for the first time was an unknown stress yet to be endured.
When we arrived and being this is the first time I get to stand in front of an actual, ancient, historic, European monument in glowing white marble in the flesh, the first thing which strikes me is the selfie-stick salesman to tourist ratio seems pretty high, but they pretty much leave you alone which is nice.
Construction of the Tower of Pisa was started in 1173 and was finished 199 years later in 1372. You think they’d have slow walked it that last year just for the sake of symmetry… although I suppose this is more appropriate. Especially given it started leaning by the time they’d gotten to the second floor due to “unstable subsoil” on one side. At that point they couldn’t just pick it up and move it over 50 meters to the left, so they stopped building to rethink the situation and fight wars and stuff. Nearly 100 years later Giovanni di Simone comes along and figures it’s a good idea to keep going. They’ll just build the sinking side taller than the stable side to compensate! Work stopped in 1184 due to some battle only people who care about history or live near the Islet of Meloria remember. They added the seventh floor and in 1372 added the belfry because, well, you may as well just finish it up, eh.
Wow. This already this reminds me of when I used to work for the federal government.
From then on, It just kept tipping further and further until 1964 when the Italian government decided to act before it toppled. They promptly studied the problem for a further two decades until another tower collapsed in Pavia in 1989 killing four people which pressed the issue. Look, I know Italy is the seat of the Catholic Church but I’m going out on a limb and say that despite the clashes with science over the centuries the Vatican accepted the law of gravity by the time 1989 rolled around. Although… it wasn’t until 1992 when the Vatican reprieved Galileo. Anyway, I would expected the government to be ahead of the church in respect to the science curve but I guess not.
After Parvia the tower situation was getting ridiculous so the government finally closed the tower for renovations in 1990 and reopened to the public in 2008. The manufacturer’s warranty is good for a year but they opted for the extended warranty for another 200 years. Somewhere in the three year period from 1589-92 Galileo is said to have conducted his gravity experiment. But more on Galileo when we reach Florence.
What is incredibly striking when standing in front of these iconic structures is the intense brilliant white of the marble. It’s not a polished marble, but it almost shimmers nonetheless and draws the eye wherever you are in the plaza. We walk around the area for the next hour or so but don’t enter the tower due to the lineups. There’s no need to wonder about the history because Steve the Translator has a lock on that and I’m being transported listening to his stories on what happened here in the past.
After an hour or so I just have to go for the gag forced perspective photo of Jo with her finger on the top of the tower and after a couple of abortive attempts we abandon the effort as fatigue takes its toll. After a gelato from one of the many vendors dotting the perimeter of the grounds we head back to the car. It’s a short but scenic drive 10 minute drive back to Lucca and we hit our last, very welcome stop of the day when we arrive at Steve the Translator’s in Lucca in mid-afternoon and have a nap to recharge.
You can find the other 17 best Pisa forced perspective gags here.
Next time on TTWTH: Lucca Both Ways Before You Cross the Cobblestone Part I
Previously on TTWTH: Europe: Stampede of Unicorns