Saturday, July 6, 2013

vacation 6: Pisa

The next day, we drove about 9 hours along the French Riviera. There's not a lot of competition or choice for food at the tollway rest stops, so we ate granola bars, paprika Pringles, and Nutella and jam sandwiches from food we bought a few days ago. We saw nothing of France until the tunnels around Monaco. Then, it rained--so no point in getting off the tollway in that mess.

The mountain tunnels and bridges of Italy never ended, and there was a new town in each valley. (see example to left, with Mediterranean in background.) Genoa was a wedding cake of tunnels. Seeing this gorgeous mountain scenery reminded us of Pennsylvania times ten. However, (and this sounds harsh) Italy from this vantage point looked poor. Even new buildings looked like they had been decaying since the seventies.
We finally reached Pisa minutes from nightfall. The area around the tower is ancient, walled city with big signs that say no entrance. We decided to head to the hotel. When we hit that button, the GPS told us there was no route. You can't get there from here! I had Tammy follow the river while I worked out the coordinates for the nearest cross street by the hotel. It turns out that just across the street, it's another town, not Pisa, plus the hotel had a dirt parking lot we had to cross to get to the front desk--hence the GPS confusion. The neighborhood wasn't the best and the hotel courtyard is gated, dark, and locked. When we arrive, the man at the front gate complained that admissions were closed at 7pm. He's allowed to go home after that. Since it was now 8, it was within his rights to just take all our money. I played up how tired the kids were, how long the drive way, and showed him the voucher that said "Clients will arrive after 8" with his email address. He eventually lets us in, but not the car. So we have to carry all seven bags plus food and electronics into our triple locked room--complete with thick steel door and alarm system. The car whimpered to be left alone. Keep in mind that every car rental place makes you buy extra insurance for Italy. At this point, we're thinking that Voltarra (the vampire city from Twilight) a few miles away would have been safer and more hospitable.

The next morning, we made it to Pisa by 8, and nothing was open yet. GREAT! This is the way to see the city. We parked for free on the street (instead of the city parking lot for several Euros) and had all our photos by 8:15. My favorite (above) has us all leaning the same direction as the tower to make it look normal. All in all, a must miss.

On the way out of town, we wanted to go by scenic coastal roads to Rome. Can't get there from here. So much for all roads freaking leading to Rome. You must travel by the tollway via Florence to Rome. At least Italian tollways take credit. Be careful, the exit to Rome isn't marked well in foot-tall green signs like everywhere else, and a block later, we ended up in a traffic circle jam for twenty minutes. In short, if at all possible, skip Pisa.

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