Thanks for the wonderful feedback. It’s always so nice to hear from fellow travellers. Just FYI this trip took six months of planning – critiquing numerous guide books, lots of visits to the library and haunting the forums. It may seem like I answer a lot of questions but that’s only specific to the area I know well. I don’t know Tuscany or Venice at all and received stacks of help about my plans for which I am very grateful.
We knew this was going to be a big day. I had researched what to do via these forums, so felt relaxed and fore-armed. I had booked tickets for the Leaning Tower and Baptistry via the website
And had a timeslot for 4.30pm, so looking forward to going to Lucca first, having a nice leisurely bike ride around the walls and lunch, then off to Pisa to climb the tower (which I did way back in 1984 before it was closed for ten years’ worth of restoration).
Well, you know the old saying about the best laid plans? First glitch was the trains. We rocked up to Santa Maria Novella at around 9am – and the next direct train to Lucca wasn’t leaving until 11am. Okay – Plan B – go to Pisa and change. No problems, that was easy. Train from Florence to Pisa was fast and took around an hour or so. We then had to wait 40 minutes for the connection to Lucca using the same ticket as they are valid for six hours. Ho-hum – what to do while we waited. Well, Sam was hungry, there was a McDonalds at Pisa station – so yes – we ate McDonalds and it was nice – some kind of spicy chicken sandwich thing they don’t sell in Australia. So if you have a bit of a layover, don’t feel guilty, have some McDonalds! Also, if you need to use the bathroom at Pisa station you need 50 cents.
(NOTE: if you don’t want to do battle with the ticket machines at Santa Maria Novella, buy your ticket from the newsagent on the concourse – it’s about half way along – he’ll sell you a couple of paper tickets for a 100km radius and you validate them in the green machines before you board).
Second glitch was the weather. It was cloudy and looked a little threatening but we didn’t take our rain jackets as the forecast was for ‘light showers’. Hmmmmm. By the time the train got to Lucca, the light showers were torrential, blowing sideways, cats and dogs, buckets of water…it was like the tropics. If you’ve ever been stuck in the rain in SE Asia, India or Bali you’ll know what I mean. Sam and I stood at the exit to the tiny station in Lucca staring through the downpour at the city walls – which were only about 300 metres away – and would you believe NONE of those raincoat sellers were around. I would have gladly bought one (as I had to in Pompeii later in the trip). Anyway, we made a run for it, got soaked in the process, but were hopeful the weather would lift.
It didn’t. We spent most of our time in Lucca inside the cathedral, then huddled under the brolly taking a walk trying to avoid the rivers running around the streets and finally took cover in a bar with a strong espresso and a gelato while the rain continued to BUCKET down. The only time we saw the city walls was making a mad dash across it to get out of the wild weather. Needless to say, we didn’t ride bikes, go to lunch or do anything much. The upside? We were the only tourists in Lucca that day – or the only ones mad enough to venture outdoors. See the Cathedral and the city walls are enormous and would be great for walking or bike riding – just not on a rainy day.
Anyway, we took our sodden selves back on the train to Pisa and by the time we got there – the weather had lifted, the sun was out and we dried off.
To get from Pisa station down to the Field of Miracles where the Leaning Tower is located, you buy a bus ticket for 1.25 euro and take the red LAM bus across the street from the piazza in front of the station. If you’re not sure where to go, just ask someone – they were all helpful as I was waiting at the wrong stop but was guided to the right one buy a nice local person. The bus interchange area at Pisa station is very small so you won’t get lost.
The bus takes about 10 minutes to get there (validate your ticket in the machine inside the bus) and drops you at the far end of the Field, so you’ll get a great view of the Leaning Tower from a distance. Of course, as you walk towards the tower you will be stopped about 50 times by people asking can you take their photo, and then you also need to dodge the people doing the ‘pinch the tower’, ‘hug the tower’, ‘prop up the tower’ poses. It’s all so funny. What I didn’t expect was everyone to be so cheerful, laughing and helping each other out with their cameras. There is something about taking silly, cheesy shots that brings out the good humour in people. Naturally, we took our own. You just have to!
Our timeslot was for 4.30 to climb the tower so we went to the Baptistry first. It’s under restoration so lots of scaffold on the inside but it is beautiful and a very calm place to sit and rest for a while. You can climb some stairs and see it from above but we didn’t do that, just preferring to enjoy the beauty of the light coming in the stained glass windows.
The Leaning Tower required us to check bags – and that means everything including purses/handbags. You then go line up beside the tower and wait for your entry time. People were being turned back to the ticket office as they hadn’t checked everything, believing that handbags were exempt – no. The walk from the bag check to the line is only a few minutes – about 200 metres. When you go inside the tower, a guide gives you a little briefing and history and then away you go. It doesn’t take long to reach the top but it can be an odd experience as you’re walking uphill and then downhill with the lean of the tower. We got to the top and of course were marvelling at the view of Pisa – then the bells rang (it is a bell tower after all) so we were lucky enough to hear that as well. I gotta fess up and say I had really bad vertigo up there, especially the part of the viewing area that leans down. Sam was having a ball but his mumma was having a borderline panic attack, so I went over to the ‘up’ side and tried to calm down. In all seriousness, if you have a fear of heights or suffer vertigo, the ‘down’ part of the viewing platform is probably not for you.
You get about half an hour up there before you’re ushered down. It’s all very orderly and it’s not at all crowded as numbers are limited via the ticketing system. We went down the stairs, took a few more photos and got the bus back to Pisa station and on to Florence. Buses back to Pisa station leave to the left of the tower opposite the souvenir stands. Buy a ticket on board. By the time we got back to Florence, it was dark so we went to dinner at Trattoria Nerone and fell asleep at the table (no I joke – but we felt like it). This restaurant has a great wood fired pizza oven and makes really good risotto. It’s cheap too – and was only minutes from our dive hotel so for us, a good choice.
Next day we were heading for Naples but…not before we climbed the cupola of the Florence duomo. We were determined to be first up so bought our ticket from the ticket office opposite the Bapistry (there are ticket machines inside which take credit cards). We then lined up for the 8.30am opening time, the doors opened, we scanned our ticket and then RAN up the stairs. Lucky for me I run 5km every day so my fitness is pretty good but it was still a challenging climb but SO WORTH IT as we were the first ones up and got to see Florence spread out below us. We felt like birds. It was just perfect.
So, that was our Florence trip – three nights and two and a half days. Not really a lot of time but enough to give my son a taste of the Renaissance and a sample of the beauty of the Tuscan countryside. No wonder it’s always on people’s lists for Italian travel. It really is as beautiful as the photos.
COMING UP: Final trip report – Positano - aka heaven on earth.Edited: 07 December 2013, 22:58