I’m trying to figure out how to operate the parking meter but my Italian isn’t good enough to understand the instructions. A young African street vendor comes up to me to try and help. I instinctively raise my hand to stop him. It makes me nervous when a stranger offers unsolicited help; I can’t help but think they’re going to rob me. I feel guilty as soon as he turns his back. A middle aged woman tells me, in English, that I need to enter the number plate.
I want to win the war on prejudice but I sometimes lose battles.
We walk toward the Campo dei Miracoli, the Field of Miracles, to see the famous leaning tower. The neighbourhood is rather touristy, with hotels, restaurants and tourist tat. I’m not sure I like Pisa. It’s small and squat (the Leaning Tower can be seen from the autostrada and it’s only 17 feet tall.) The outskirts are definitely ugly. Ugly buildings, houses, shops, signs, streets. To my mind, the place lacks the gilded glamour La Dolce Vita.
The sun sets over the Campo, the brisk breeze blows away the last of the clouds. There are quite a lot of people around, walking, looking around, chatting, photo bombing. A few have their photos taken trying to “prop up” the tower. I think I’ll pass, thank you very much.
We stay long enough to visit the Duomo and sit down for coffee and delicious orange cream cannoli. This is the Italy I came for!
You need a ticket to visit each of the historic places: the cathedral, the cemetery, the baptistery and the tower. For some unknown reason, admission is free today. I’m not going to complain. The Duomo is imposing; however, I find that the interior is not quite so awe-inspiring except for the altar and apse. They are beautiful.
Later, we buy stamps from a newsagents and mail postcards to our families. In this day and age when everything is virtual and electronic, it’s nice to go old school and send handwritten postcards. The older generation of my family certainly appreciates this and it’s good to show the young’uns how people used to communicate.
- Construction of the tower began in 1173. Due to sandy subsoil and shallow foundations, it started to lean as early as the third story was built. Nonetheless, it was finished in 1350. It is called il Campanile, Italian for belfry.
- The cathedral is clad in Carrara marble (the quarries are close by) and has Moorish and Lombard decorative elements.
- The guy at the ticket office was in a foul mood (sucks to be him nah nah nah nah) . Be prepared to be ill-treated.