When I returned to the United States for Christmas I was met with a million questions from friends and family about life abroad. What was your favorite place to visit? Can you speak Italian now? Did you love the gelato? What did you miss most about the U.S.? (Answers: London. No. Yes. Target.)
The one question I didn’t expect from everyone was, “Did you see the leaning tower?” (the “of Pisa” is implied). Every time a friend or family member asked this, I just shrugged my shoulders and said I never had the time to get around to it. This always seemed like a flimsy excuse seeing that I took a ten-hour night bus to Copenhagen while Pisa is less than an hour away from Florence by train.
I guess the real reason I never ventured out to Pisa was because it was too easy. Last semester I had this idea in my mind that every weekend I needed a true “adventure”- rickety bus rides through Spain, boat tours along the river Seine, Belgian Waffle cooking classes in Brussels. As Pisa was practically in my backyard, it didn’t seem as exciting or appealing.
But as I mentioned in my last post, I came back to Florence this January determined to see as much of Italy as possible before my final departure in May. So a couple of weeks ago, I texted one of my friends “Hey! Want to go to Pisa tomorrow?” and in under an hour we’d booked our train tickets. After some research, we found that the charming Tuscan town Lucca is only a twenty-minute train ride from Pisa, so we tacked that onto our itinerary as well.
The next day- Friday- we hopped on the 9 a.m. train and arrived in Pisa shortly before 10. Only a five-minute walk from the train station, we arrived at the tower to be greeted by a mass of tourists. Coming from Florence, I felt like I’d become immune to the annoyances of tourist attractions; but Pisa is on an entirely different level. Kiosks selling t-shirts, snow globes, and post cards crowded the streets, with places like “The Leaning Tower Café” and “Pisa Tower Gelato” lining the sidewalks.
My friend and I spent nearly an hour taking pictures, attempting to recreate that iconic pose where you try to make it look like you’re holding up the tower.
We wandered around the streets of Pisa for awhile to find that the city center itself is relatively small. The stores and restaurants immediately surrounded the leaning tower give way within a few blocks to residential apartments. After a couple of hours, we headed back to the train station for our twenty-minute ride to Lucca.
After spending two hours in Pisa, Lucca came as a shock. The city is the opposite of a tourist attraction. Throughout our three hours in the town, we didn’t come across a single tourist kiosk, souvenir shop, or anyone else who spoke English.
The utter lack of tourists became all the more surprising as we explored the town and discovered its charms. The ancient marble churches and buildings were breathtaking, and the sweet air constantly held traces of freshly warmed bread and pastries (there seemed to be a bakery on every street).
We wandered the streets for hours, ducking into some local pasticerria and gelato shops every so often. My friend and I agreed that of all of our travels in Italy, Lucca felt as though it had the most authentic Italian feel. The day came to a close quickly, and we were back in Florence by 5 p.m.
Looking back on this day, I marvel at what a truly remarkable position I’m in at the moment. Taking a spontaneous day trip to two beautiful Tuscan towns within the span of seven hours feels surreal . When in my life will I ever again be able to say “Oh I wasn’t really doing anything, so I went to Pisa for the morning”? It’s impossible to believe my last semester in Florence is already halfway over, and I'm going to try to take advantage of as many more of these magical moments as I can find.