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[Entry 19] Pisa

19 December 201009:12AMepic-triptravel

_There are two entries in a row today. Just so's you know. _

The great thing about travelling by train is that you have no obligations or responsibilities. No car to park, no tour group to keep up with, and there's more than one train per day (unlike planes) so you can, for example, get of the train in Pisa, look around for a few hours, then get back on another train. Brilliant stuff.

Train stations, on the other hand, are terrible places, where you get lost trying to find the baggage deposit and people charge you 2.50 Euros for a tiny map when you can get an A3 size one in the tourist office just down the street. Not that either of those things happaned to us...

Pisa is an interesting city. It's a bit like Cairo in that 99% of the tourists head straight for the leaning tower, have their photo taken like they're holding it up, maybe climb up and down again, and then walk straight back down the street that runs from the station to the tower and leave. The surrounds of the tower would even fit in in Cairo, with hawkers and overpriced tourist restaurants, though neither anywhere near as bad as Egypt, of course. Outside of the tower, Pisa is actually a pretty nice and non-touristy city, where people actually live rather than leech of tourism, which is surprising for the home of the most recognisable Italian monument outside of the Coliseum.

We, of course, didn't run straight through- more by accident than design. I'm starting to doubt whether Dad has an amazing sense of direction at all and doesn't just get lucky while vaguely wandering in the right direction. Then again, I guess that's the definition of a sense of direction, since I don't even know what vaguely the right direction is, whereas he seems to.

The tower hardly dominates the skyline, which actually makes it more impressive in a way. I was taking photos of the city wall (Pisa was once a walled city and the walls are still extant and in pretty good condition) when I walked around a corner and saw the tower, like so.

Hardly a stellar first impression.

Once you get over the slight shock of seeing a famous monument pretty much appear in front of you and actually walk around it, it's not really that tall. The only really impressive thing about it is how much it's leaning. It really is aptly named- I'm surprised it's still standing. The climb to the top is interesting. The stairs are worn on the edges where people walk ('solid marble' and 'eroded by people walking on it' aren't really two thoughts which occur often together, but there you go) and you can feel the direction of gravity change slightly as you walk up but otherwise it's not actually that hard a climb. The Americans behind us didn't think so though- they were panting and complaining and making a melodrama about passing out of exhaustion when they reached the top- don't they have stairs in America?

The view from the top.

I know it's dorky... but you have to do it!

So outside of the tower Pisa is actually a fairly interesting city to walk around, especially if you follow the city walls for a bit. There's an old fortress thing which we walked through (we think) and didn't even realise because it's got a city park running alongside and through it. I really like the concept of city walls, even though they don't serve much purpose any more. Probably for the same reason I like the idea of 'city-states'. Maybe it traces back to living somewhere like Perth with no clearly defined boundaries, the idea of saying 'this is the city, and outside isn't' is novel or something. It certainly gives a place a different character to a modern urban sprawl.

That's me under the arch. SO WHO WAS PHOTO?

One other thing we saw which seemed interesting. Along the banks of the river there's this little church. It's similar in style to places like the Duomo, but much, much smaller. You could probably fit only a couple of dozen people in there. Tiny. What's more, it's the only thing which is on the bank of the river directly- all the other houses are separated from the river by a road. It looks a bit out of place, as if someone left it there by accident or it fell off the back of a truck or something.

Dad's very good at taking photos of me nonchalantly walking past things.

So that was Pisa. I'm on the train again- another advantage of trains is that they're quieter and (this one anyway) less crowded than planes, so it's easier to write. We're going to be in La Spezia tonight, walk the Cinque Terre trail (or part of it) tomorrow, and then probably head up the Italian coast on a slow train into the south of France the day after.

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