This is part of a series of posts about my family’s two week cruise in the Mediterranean in July, 2012. New posts will pop up every couple of days, or as they’re written, which as you might be able to tell, is a pretty slow manner.
The next day landed us in Livorno, Italy. That’s the port closest to Pisa and Florence. After a long day in Monaco and a huge day coming up in Rome, we chose to take a slightly shorter trip here. We did not go to Florence, which was a 90 minute drive, and instead stayed closer to the port in Pisa alone. We weren’t going to miss Pisa anyway, and we chose a half day there.
The drive in took about 20-30 minutes and was partially on the Aurelia Highway, one of the Roman Roads. The thought behind the Roman Roads was that there would be major thoroughfares throughout the empire to travel, but all of them would lead directly to Rome itself, or out of it, depending on your perspective. The roads are also very well-designed. One characteristic is that they are tree-lined on both sides, which was meant to shade the armies and traders that moved along them. Considering that we have no such standard, this made the Roman Roads seem very nice and pretty.
Our guide on this day was Laila (pronounced like Lila, but I choose to add the A since that’s how it popped into my head when she said it), and she was without a doubt the best tour guide we had on the entire trip. Laila knew her stuff and was outstanding in explaining all of the things we would see in Pisa. It has been too long to recall all of the details, but I remember thinking that she really understood the history, even if a lot of the people on the tour didn’t care. She also told us where to get cheap wine (Cafe il Tourista, despite the name, sold local wine for €5 per half liter—compare that to the day before—which also began the development of a theme) Laila also knew her audience (Americans). She told a joke at one point that, at the time, seemed really funny. “Why don’t the French play hide and seek? Because no one will care to look for them.”
The bus parked in a lot for buses about a half mile, maybe more, away from the Piazza del Duomo. We walked in from there. Just outside the plaza there are carts set up selling things. The city wall surrounds it, and you really have no idea that it’s just on the other side of that if it’s your first trip there. The carts and shops tend to grab your attention, along with the fear that you’ll be pick-pocketed at ANY MOMENT, so noticing that you’re about to enter what seems like a different world is lost on you. Then, you come to the gate and you see the plaza.
It’s an awesome view.
Especially since this, to me at least, is one of the most legendary of structures in Italy. The Leaning Tower holds this weird legendary power over me, so it was something I absolutely had to see. Is it all that spectacular? Not really. But it is something I wouldn’t have been able to not see while there. The part in all of this legend that was missing is that the other buildings are just as cool. The cathedral and the baptismal are beautiful, and the Camposanto is very interesting.
After walking around with the tour, we were released to explore on our own. We could buy tickets to go up to the top of the tower, or visit any or all of the other buildings. We had already decided that going into the tower wasn’t important. That was confirmed when the next available time to go up was after we were scheduled to leave. So we went into the cathedral and the Camposanto.
Compared to Monaco, this cathedral was a bit bigger. And there was a dead guy in it. Not a buried dead guy, either. So that was interesting. Conclusion on the cathedral: another really nice church.
The Camposanto struck me in a couple of ways. First, it was big. It was a rectangle with a courtyard in the middle. The short end was probably about 60-70 meters long. The long sides were a good 200 meters long. The copper roof had been bombed during World War II and the metal melted and royally screwed up some of the frescos on the wall. They were continuing to restore the frescoes even today, but some were completely destroyed. Frescoes are a thing that gets a lot of play in Italy, by the way. Also, many of hte graves inside the Camposanto are inscribed with a symbol that reads “OPA.” The OPA, according to Laila, is the group that oversees the entire Piazza and has for several hundred years. The whole thing has a very “secret Masons” feel (Think National Treasure) because I can’t seem to find any information on them. This might also mean Laila was lying to us, which would immediately move her from first to last in the tour guide rankings.
We wandered as slowly as we could through the Camposanto, but knew we didn’t have time. It was getting close to the departure and we still had to get some of that wine Laila had told us about. It was worth it to get there quickly.
Ryan Jerz is an all-around good guy who shoots photos and video, builds websites, and works at the University of Nevada. Ryan formerly taught digital production at Nevada's Reynolds School of Journalism.