With the portends of a slightly cooler day, we arose when the sun greeted us by shining though our east-facing hotel room windows. The room we stayed in was pretty spacious with a wood plank floor and 19th-century wardrobe closets that had real skeleton keys to keep them locked.
Leah was fascinated and it was fun to see her delighted inner child peek out. We enjoyed another simple, but delicious breakfast before setting off for Pisa. As I mentioned earlier in my record, our tour director, Emma, is Scottish and has the hair (fiery red and very curly – think Merida from Disney’s “Brave”) to go with the accent, ruddy complexion, and sunny disposition. I got a kick out of how she would pronounce different names along the way and her verbal formation of Pisa always came out like, “Peeeezza.” I liked how it made me smile.
Anyway, as we made our way the 90 or so minutes there, Emma gave us a thorough orientation of the square, the buildings, and what to avoid, namely the persist immigrant street vendors that would try and entice us to purchase any number of goods, from umbrellas, knockoff Gucci or Louis Vuitton bags, or fake Rolex watches to paintings or cheap jewelry. We were grateful for that information later when we had to face them lying in wait as we got off the bus.
Pisa was one of the Maritime provinces of Italy in the Middle Ages, well before its national unification in the 1800s because of its proximity to the Mediterranean Sea. In its heyday, Pisa did fairly well and with some of its riches decided to build their grand bell tower to go with its magnificent church. After designing a beautiful tower and beginning construction, the first three courses began to lean. Despite the efforts of the best engineering minds of the day, no resolution was found, so they just left it alone hoping that time and gravity would settle the foundation and straighten the project. As it turned out, neither of those things happened, so after a few years, the city fathers decided to just keep building and try and straighten the tower in subsequent levels. Today, you can see where levels four and five have more material on one side than the other, which gives the structure a warped look when seeing the tower from the correct angle.
The most dramatic evidence of the leaning tower’s lean is at its base. One side is just one stone level below the ground and the leaning side is more than five. At its top, the leaning tower of Pisa is out of plumber by more than 3 degrees, which translates to more than 17 feet 6 inches from vertical. The crazy thing about the entire thing is that the builders decided to use on a shallow 10 foot stone foundation to anchor this large, marble tower. In other words, the Leaning Tower of Pisa leans because it doesn’t have a firm foundation upon which to stand.
Emma challenged us to a contest to see who could take the most original picture showing the subject interacting in some fashion with the tower. The three of us had some fun trying different poses and submitted several for consideration later in the week. As the day wore on, the crowds grew and we were glad to leave with a gelato each and some fun pictures to share. Back on the coach, it was on to Florence and the wonders that awaited us there.
Between Pisa and Florence, we passed through the Apennine Mountains. Not over, but through since there were probably a dozen or more tunnels we went through, some of which were very long, much longer than the Eisenhower tunnel on I-70 in Colorado. We pulled into Florence in the late afternoon and went directly to the hotel to get settled before leaving quickly for our evening excursion to a “Be My Guest” dinner with a local family at their authentic Florentine villa high above the city perched in the Tuscan hills.
When we arrived, our hostess for the evening, Giada was her name, greeted us and welcomed us to her home that has been in her family for over 9 generations. The house itself is very large with 35 rooms that sit on 160 acres of forest, olive orchards, and grape vineyards. Since I imagine the cost to maintain such a large house and expanse of land is very costly, Giada and her husband use their place as a Tuscan B&B for paying guests and for other special occasions. After our dinner, she mentioned that they were in the midst of preparing for a destination wedding over the next three days and were very busy but grateful we were able to come. These sorts of experiences have become more common these days and even has a name, it’s called “AgroTourism” and it has become the savior of many of these old, family homes as property taxes and other costs have risen.
We had a short tour of the original areas of the house before sitting down to a scrumptious Italian home-cooked meal. We enjoyed an appetizer of a delicious pesto frittata and some bread. Then came the antipasti, which was a very wide linguini pasta and traditional meat sauce with a tomato base, which was AMAZING. Then came a salad course and the main course of roasted, bone-in chicken, roasted potatoes that had been seasoned with what I am sure was some secret Italian magic of some sort because they were delicious as well. We finished with a dessert course of a lightly sweetened lemon pudding cake. The entire meal was very good and the conversation and company at our table made the evening very nice. I really wanted to get some pictures of the house and grounds without people in them, so I exited the room quickly and buy, was I rewarded. The property was lovely and the view was spectacular. When it was time to go, we all felt a great sense of gratitude for being invited to visit which a lovely place and enjoy such good food.
On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at the Michelangelo Plaza situated above the city of Florence to watch the city lights come on and the sun to set. It was a lovely spot that could have been much better without the 10,000 other people who also had the idea to see the sunset over the city. We managed though and left inspired by the views of the Duomo of St. Mary of the Flowers and the other church towers that rise high above Florence. Upon returning to the hotel, the three of us decided to walk beside the river to the Ponte Vecchio and perhaps the Duomo before turning in for the night. Emma had estimated the walk would take 10 minutes, but in reality, it took closer to 20 to get down there. We forgot our sore feet by enjoying another gelato as we explored the Ponte Vecchio or Old Bridge’ which is the only bridge in Florence that the Nazis didn’t bomb when the British and American troops pushed them out in the winter of 1944. It had been built in the 1300s and is still much in use today. As it was approaching 10:00 pm, we walked quickly back to the hotel and turned in for the night after another lovely day in Tuscany.