We spent most of our time in Europe exploring different parts of Italy. We had one day to hit both Florence and Pisa…and what a day it turned out to be.
We decided to start with Pisa but getting there took some work. First, we took a shuttle to the bus station. We needed to take the bus to the train station but since it was Sunday the buses weren’t running as often as they normally do. People started getting fidgety when the bus wasn’t coming because they didn’t want to miss the train. Some people decided to walk to the station, some pooled their money and took a taxi, we decided to wait. The whole time we were standing there waiting I just kept thinking, “I’m standing in Italy, I’m standing in Italy.” I had dreamt of that moment for so long—it was incredible watching it unfold.
In good Italian time the bus rolled in and we actually ended up driving right by the people who decided to walk to the station–patience pays off, my friends :] We really didn’t know what was going on with tickets so we just told the crabby man behind the counter what we were trying to do and bought the tickets he gave us.
After that we had to figure out how to validate the tickets and find the right platform to wait for the train. We rushed around, asked lots of questions, consulted with other people who spoke English and were trying to do the same thing, and finally settled on where we needed to be. Once we were settled in they announced the train would actually be arriving at a different platform so we all rushed back into the station and started over. The good news is, we did get on the right train in time :]
The train ride into Pisa was about twenty minutes long and I enjoyed every minute. We rode through the Tuscan countryside and even though I was dead tired, I couldn’t close my eyes for one minute for fear of missing something. Riding the train was perfect. I didn’t take any pictures or worry about a thing. I just sat there and watched the hills and wheat fields roll by while a dream that has lived in my heart for so long slowly came true.
We were told Pisa was a little place overrun with pickpockets and nothing to see or do but stop by the Tower. I would have to disagree. The streets were perfect Italy–exactly what you would picture in a postcard. I wanted to stop at every alley and take a picture of just one more perfectly enchanting little street.
We didn’t really know how to get to the Tower and there weren’t very many signs pointing the way so we just kept wandering in whatever general direction other people seemed to be going. At one point we were sort of lost when I turned around to the Tower peeking up over the buildings and leaning right in our direction. That moment will live in my heart forever.
I have to admit, I didn’t really want to see the Tower. I thought it was too touristy and I wanted to spend the whole day in Florence. But I’m so glad we decided to go because Pisa and the Tower were so much more beautiful and inspiring than I ever imagined. I used to think if I had seen a picture of something, then I was good, I had seen it. The Tower of Pisa changed my mind about that.
After taking pictures at the Tower, we started making our way back to the train station. It started to pour and we huddled under an umbrella and wound through the streets. Walking the streets of Italy snuggled up under an umbrella with Darren is just about as close to perfect as I can imagine.
I swore I wasn’t going to bring any touristy little nick-knacks back with me but I have to admit, a little Leaning Tower of Pisa did make it onto my desk. It was just too cute to leave behind!
We wanted to try real Italian pizza so we grabbed a couple of slices to eat on the way to Florence. We sat on the curb at the station and ate up while we waited for the train. We had lots of pizza in Italy but the stuff we tried that first day in Pisa was the very best–soft and airy–almost pastry like. I sit around and dream about it now :]
The train ride to Florence was another hour and a half but equally beautiful. We wanted to see the Duomo and actually saw the top of it sticking up over the building as we pulled into the station. Well, that should be easy to find, right? Wrong. We walked out of the station and managed to get lost immediately. Unfortunately we had spent more time in Pisa than we intended and we only had a couple of hours left for Florence before we could catch the last train out. Getting lost was eating up our time and we were both a little frustrated.
We did learn something though, when all else fails, find a street buried in touristy nick-knacks and follow the crowd…this leads you to a landmark every time :] We went down a street full of shops and could see the Duomo poking up over the buildings in no time.
I had absolutely no idea how beautiful the Duomo would be. I know I keep saying that about everything, but you really can’t imagine what it looks like until you’re standing right there. It was incredible. I must have taken 100 pictures of it and none of them capture what it really looks like.
Of all the places we went, Florence is the one I wish we had left more time for. But I tell Darren this just means we have to come back someday :]
Our time was up as soon as it started and we begrudgingly made our way back to the station. We had been very careful to leave extra time so we wouldn’t miss our train but once we got to the station we couldn’t find it listed anywhere on the schedule. We asked someone working there if the train was still coming and she assured us it was. We waited right up until the train was supposed to be there and still nothing.
Darren decided to ask again and figured out the train we needed was actually listed under a different name…just in time for us to watch it pull away without us. Our only other option (save a very expensive taxi ride) was to take the train back to Pisa and then on to Livorno. We had just a couple of minutes to find the right platform before this train left too. We made it on breathless and worried about getting back before the buses and shuttles stopped running for the night. Not to mention we had no tickets for the train.
Honestly, that first day we had no idea what was going on. We told the attendant at the first station that we wanted a round-trip but realized later that he had only sold us a one-way ticket. So we rode the train all day not realizing that we could have been asked to get off or be fined had our tickets been checked. Fortunately, that day no one looked at our tickets like they did the rest of the time ;]
We didn’t make it back in time to catch any buses or shuttles but we weren’t the only ones. We met a couple our age from Istanbul who wanted to share the cost of a taxi with us. Normally we wouldn’t take a taxi with strangers but they seemed as tired and befuddled as we were so we agreed. On the way to the taxi stand we snagged another couple from Peru to help cut the cost even more.
All of us started talking about where we’re from and what we do. It came up that I grew up in Missouri and one of the guys wanted to know what part. I told him Kansas City and he told me he grew up in Missouri too…and his parents still live in Joplin. I was like, “What the heck, my parents live in Joplin too.” What are the odds of meeting someone in Italy whose parents live in the same little Midwest town as yours? I guess they aren’t kidding about that whole small world thing.
Anyway, that was our first exciting, stressful, exhausting, perfectly imperfect day in Italy. Sorry I didn’t have more pictures…it was so overcast and rainy, it was hard to get any good pictures 😦
Next up: ROME!
If you have missed the earlier posts in this serious about Europe, you can still check them out here: Barcelona, Spain and Marseilles, France