Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

This is: Shanghaied in Tuscany!

More than just a leaning tower

I got up at the quite horrendous (and probably unnecessarily early) hour of 0530, once again managing the uncanny trick of waking out of a deep sleep just minutes prior to the alarm going off. I'd been especially careful to leave everything in a well organised state the previous evening and now I was able to collect the dividend, being ready to depart by 0550, despite taking the time for a short, and I suppose very British, tea break. The shuttle bus transfer back to the North Terminal was again very easy and, on arrival there, I had no problem at all dropping my bag off at BA's premium check-in area. Security was remarkably busy for this early hour and, as I listened to some people fretting endlessly over what they were and were not meant to do, I realised how easy it is to forget that it can all be quite an intimidating experience for infrequent travellers. Once airside, I had to make a slight diversion to Boots to buy a toothbrush, as I'd discovered the previous evening that I'd forgotten to pack one. Oh dear - was I losing my touch, or perhaps becoming a bit too blasé about it all, I wondered.

The simple errand completed, I was soon in the safe haven of the F lounge and having a light first breakfast to tide me over until I got aboard. I noticed that my flight was showing as departing from Gate 45F, which I instantly recognised as one of the dreaded bus gates. I made my all-too-familiar way there with plenty of time to spare.

(Link to flight log in side panel)

Arrival at Pisa seemed straightforward enough at first, but this was spoiled by the quite ridiculous length of time taken for the checked baggage to make an appearance on the carousel. This apparently simple task finally accomplished, the pace picked up again and I was soon aboard a taxi - thankfully metered - and bound for my hotel, winding through some narrow and somewhat chaotic streets. The good news continued on arrival, as my room was ready and waiting, even though it was still forenoon. After a short stop to get used to my new accommodation, I was ready to hit the streets. My first objective was - no great surprise here! - the world-famous Piazza dei Miracoli.

"Eh?" - or possibly "huh?" - I hear you say. Well, I have to admit that I'd been to Pisa on one previous occasion, as long ago as 1984, and I knew that the celebrated leaning tower was one component of a trio of spectacular ecclesiastical buildings, all occupying the aforementioned piazza. A glance at the map showed that I was less than five minutes away. Despite having experienced it before, my first reaction on seeing the tower again was incredulity and some alarm at just how far removed from the vertical it really is. It's actually quite shocking and, had I not known how much effort has gone into strengthening it over the last few years, I wouldn't have gone anywhere near it! I remembered climbing the tower in 1984 and about hearing of its closure some time thereafter. It speaks volumes about the preservation work that it's now open to reasonably fit tourists once again.

I spent some time photographing the Baptistry, Cathedral and (leaning) Bell Tower before buying tickets to visit all three. I had immediate access to the Baptistry and the Cathedral, but tower visits operate on a controlled basis and my 'slot' wasn't until 3:20. This gave me time to take a walk down to the River Arno and back via the attractive Piazza dei Cavalieri. Before heading back to the tower, I took the opportunity to pop back into my hotel room and change into shorts. I'd deliberately not done so earlier, remembering how strict Italians usually are about dress standards inside churches, only to find that lots of other people were showing a bit of leg and not causing offence to anybody. Now badly over-heated, I resolved not to make that mistake again. Clearly times have changed - for the better, in this instance.

When the appointed time came, I made my ascent of the leaning tower. It's such a strange experience - depending on where you are relative to the inclination, the steps either seem to be working against you or making it easy for you. One big change from last time, hardly surprising in view of modern safety standards, is that the formerly open galleries - yes, that's 'open' as in no guard rail - are now secured by barriers. It's a strenuous climb and, even with the new barriers, is still definitely not for anyone subject to vertigo.

Back at base, I decided I really needed to lie down for a couple of minutes after all the walking. You guessed it - with that early start at Gatwick and the various subsequent exertions, I fell fast asleep! I awoke with my phone ringing at five o'clock. It was the receptionist inviting me down for complimentary afternoon tea. I took a few minutes to come around properly, then went downstairs for a nice pot of Earl Grey. How very civilised! Later, after freshening up properly, I had an excellent dinner in the hotel's courtyard restaurant. Not for the first time, I marvelled at what a difference a few hundred miles makes. Here I was sitting outdoors, after sundown in October, quite comfortable in a short-sleeved shirt. Service was on the leisurely side and, apart from a quick update of this diary, I didn't have time for much else afterwards. Time to catch up properly on my sleep after a most successful and enjoyable day!  

Piazza dei Miracoli

Other Pisa sights