Pisa

Wednesday morning was a slow start for Emily and me. The Palace Hotel was not within walking distance of the conference venue. Majella had found out that she could take the bus for 1 euro a day and rose early enough to have breakfast and catch the bus to the conference. I was up and working on web pages but Emily slept on until close to 9:00 when I got her out and she and I went to breakfast. We had arranged to meet Majella at the conference venue shortly after she broke for lunch at 12:00. She had checked the program and decided that she could spare that afternoon to visit Pisa. Emily napped and I worked on the web site until about 10:30 when we headed into the Internet point to check email and upload the first pages of this web site.

About 12:00 Emily and I finished up with the Internet and went to find Majella for our excursion to Pisa. Before leaving we had to arrange for Majella to practise using the laptop with the projector in the room where she was scheduled to present on Thursday. That was a simple enough process and we were soon on our way. I had thought it might be interesting to get away from the autostrada and the tolls for a change, so we set off to follow the local roads to Pistoia, next stop on the road from Prato to Pisa. That was nowhere near as easy as I thought it should be. Roads on the map out of Prato seemed to be clearly marked but in reality were often one-way and circuitous. We did eventually find a main road to Pistoia and followed it that far but by that time we had decided that our best, possibly only, way to Pisa was on the autostrada. Near Pistoia we came across an area that seemed devoted to plant nurseries growing all manner of topiary ornamental plants. We saw substantial plots of plants shaped in interesting ways. The most spectacular was a whole plot of plants trimmed as flying birds although the most interesting individual plant was a large dinosaur. It was impossible to stop along the road and photographs were a matter of luck rather than any sort of judgement as it was never possible to predict what might be coming up or what roadside bushes might intrude.

Once back on the autostrada we made it into Pisa in good time and without difficulty. We found a parking lot and headed into the Duomo precinct to see the leaning tower and other sights. We had barely crossed the road from the parking lot when we hit the first wave of stalls and wandering peddlers selling but we managed to make it into the precinct and view the impressive buildings before succumbing to the temptation to buy. We even took some of the conventional tourist photographs of Emily and Majella trying to the push the tower back up to the vertical. Eventually the lure of the stalls became too strong and they just had to buy some souvenirs and gifts.

It wasn’t long before two eager shoppers had cleaned out whatever little cash they had and mine as well. I checked with one of the cambios and was not excited about the fee they wanted to cash a traveller cheque so I decided to look further afield in the hope of finding a bank. I left Majella and Emily to cruise the stalls with what cash was left while I checked out the local area. I saw parts of Pisa, mostly the university campus, that most tourists probably don’t see but I didn’t find a bank. I found my way back to the Duomo and cashed the cheque. Majella and Emily continued shopping.

Once the shoppers had run their course we headed out of the precinct, stopping along the way for gelati which seemed reasonably priced until we copped the 1 euro per scoop fee for sitting in the outdoor area of the cafe to eat them. We made the most of our sitting fees and then headed back to the car and out of town. Without a local map we were not sure about directions but knew that Lucca, which we had passed on the way from Prato to Pisa, was on the route so we followed the signs pointing to Lucca. Some of those also pointed to the autostrada but we didn’t find it until we were at Lucca. Ironically, for once we found some Italian country roads that went somewhere and passed through some of the most pleasant country we had found off the autostrada.

Back in Prato we decided not to drive into the old town for dinner. Instead we walked a few blocks up the major street outside our hotel and found a ristorante. It was much more peaceful than the crowds of Pisa. I’d forgotten to bring the phrase book so we had to rely on our very limited Italian and the better, but still limited, English of the waiter to interpret the menu. We did OK with some pasta dishes for Majella and me washed down by a beer and some red wine. Emily put away a large pizza and managed to come back for dessert. We passed on that.