Monday, April 12:  Pisa, Lucca

Giovanni appeared to be in charge of breakfast this morning. Carafes of orange juice, salami, ham and cheese, the usual plate of four pastries and then he brought us a plate of “traditional” cake. Yumm. We set out by car, and finally found an open gasoline station, though it was unattended. I optimistically stuffed a 50 euro note into the machine, and with no prompts in English managed to coax out a near fill-up of unleaded. Off to Pisa on the autostrada. Rick advised against driving. But if you did, he said exit at “Pisa nord” and follow the signs to the Duomo (cathedral) or Campo di Miracilo (“Field of Miracles”). The exit was labeled “Pisa nord est” so we continued on by it, forcing us to eventually backtrack. That maneuver completed, we drove by feel, and finally found the old city walls with the help of only a single directional sign along the way. Clearly Rick’s team takes his advice and arrives only by train. We found a parking space by a grocery store, since today is a holiday (“Easter Monday”), so there was nobody shopping anyway. But I think we were parked in a tow-away zone all the same, and there was barely room in the lane for other cars to scape by.

A short walk through souvenir stands, the ubiquitous Africans selling umbrellas and watches, and the mass of tourists and their umbrellas, finally brought us to the site of the Baptistry, Cathedral and Tower, all surrounded by green lawns. Despite the rain, it was an impressive site. And the lean of the tower is quite remarkable, and is not caught accurately by photographs. The marble plaza ringing the base sits down in a shallow well, and there is a further demonstration of the lean. We had some photographic fun making it appear we were pushing, grabbing or head-butting (Robert!) the tower into its lean. Rick sent us to the near-hidden ticket office for our entry to the Cathedral (kids were free) and we went inside. Between our David reservations and the ticket line today, I think we paid for another guidebook. (Photo 25)

In the Cathedral, we saw the tomb of the German King and Roman Emperor Henry VII and Pisano’s elaborately sculpted pulpit. The incense burner near the pulpit is said to be the one Galileo observed as a teenager and from this deduced the period of a pendulum being independent of the central angle of the arc, and so used this property to time his other experiments. So a physics lesson was in order.

Departing Pisa, it was lunchtime and David had listed “Pizza in Pisa” on his pre-trip Top 10 list (along with a “Bath in Bath”), so we stopped for low-quality pizza at tourist-trap prices just outside the entrance. Then on to Lucca, a town recommended by the Holts. (Photo 26)

The recommendation was a good one, at least to the adult eye. Three miles of city walls, surmounted by a wide asphalt path and trees planted at the orders of Napoleon’s sister. Perfect territory for a fixed-gear, or any other bicycle for that matter. Uncrowded, pedestrian-only plazas, ringed with cafes and well-kept buildings. A cathedral and tower as ornate as Pisa’s though not as grand. And at first it seemed relatively free of tourists, until we happened on the retail district. An empty, convenient parking lot right outside the city gates. The only drawback was a lack of directional signs from the road into town. We had dessert crepes (the boys had Nutella and coconut), which I ordered entirely in Italian, as a warm-up exercise for France. Viewed the Cathedral from outside, visited the plaza formed from the mold of the now missing Roman ampitheater. The ride home was accomplished directly with good assistance from the co-pilot, and our exit from the autostrada coincidentally was immediately prior to the start of a big jam-up due to an accident ahead. (Photo 33)

Dinner Report: It was Pat’s birthday, and I had let Chiara know a bit in advance, so hang on. . . Small glasses of champagne appeared immediately, though I think this was standard for everybody tonight. Pat waved off antipasti but asked for “some vegetables.” A plate of fried zuchinni (“a new item”), a plate of four portions of a dish that looked like lasagna without noodles, but Pat said it was a grilled vegetable flan, a plate of mozzarella from water buffalo and ricotta from sheep’s milk. We all had pasta, but Pat had just a half-order, so she had room for the fillet mignon she’d order next. After she had finished her meat (“best steak I ever had”) I noticed the waiters and waitresses congregating in the kitchen, and peering though the glass in the door. All the lights went out throughout the restaurant, and a cake with candles appeared. Nobody was quite sure what language to sing in, but eventually it happened in English. The cake went back into the kitchen and four plates came back -- moist orange cake with gelato, a rice cream dish with raspberry sauce, the original cake (white with berry filling between the layers) and chocolate cake with coffee frosting. Each got split four ways. Then Giovanni sent over a fresh bottle of muscato wine -- it and the desserts were his birthday present to Pat. In an extraordinary bending of the house rules, the boys were allowed a small taste of the muscato, and we manged to finish off about 80% of the bottle ourselves. Another memorable meal, to top the previous ones.

Photo 25  Robert Head-Butts Pisa
Photo 26  Pizza in Pisa

Photo 27  Rob Pushes Pisa
Photo 28  David Pushes Pisa