Rather than stay in Parma another night as we’d planned, we headed straight from the food tour to Pisa. We’d not intended to stay in Pisa, but having packed up Charlie that morning to get to the tour, it made more sense to get the driving out of the way and not have such an early start the next day (haha!). We’d also heard great things about Lucca, which is close to Pisa, so this gave us a base to explore from.
Lucca is a lovely old town and one of few that still has the entirety of its city walls intact. The wall is just 4km around, so the first thing we did was walk the circumference to take in the surroundings. You can also hire bikes to get you around, but we thought it was too easy to miss things that way. The vantage point certainly gave us some nice views of the town as well as a better idea of where the cathedral and various other sites were. Having completed the circle, we headed in and wandered along the cobbled streets, visited the churches and found the charming round piazza we’d spotted in some postcards earlier.
After some lunch, we headed back to the train station and Pisa. Karen has been to Pisa before and had assured Marcello that you didn’t need much more than an hour or so there. The town wasn’t actually as bad as Karen had remembered and we’re sure there was probably more on offer than given credit for, but a quick visit was certainly all that was needed. You can’t take away from how impressive the main square is though – the leaning tower, cathedral and baptistry are all stunning and definitely worth going to see. We didn’t pay to go inside any of the sites (cheapskates eh?!), so can’t comment on the inside or views from the now-open tower, but we’re sure they don’t disappoint. One thing that is always amusing on visiting Pisa is watching the lines of people willing to let their inhibitions go and stand posing for those ever-popular perspective photos in front of the tower – you know, pretending to hold it up and guys pretending they’re, shall we say, well endowed. As you will see from the photos we kept our dignity intact (well, on this occasion anyway) and just took a momento of those going for it.
Keeping things going at full pace, the next day we drove to Florence. Here we stayed in a campsite just along from the Piazza Michelangelo and about 15 minutes walk from the Ponte Vecchio. As you can imagine, the views were fantastic! Florence is a beautiful city, so to have a panoramic view of it on our doorstep with an easy opportunity to admire it at different times of the day, was great.
There’s a lot to do in Florence, especially if you’re an art lover. Actually, you don’t have to be an art lover to appreciate the opportunity to see sculptures and paintings you’ve seen on posters, the TV, in books etc. However it’s also a great city to just wander around, take in the architecture, people watch and enjoy the atmosphere, and this is mostly what we did in our time there. We happened to be there on a Sunday as well, so we took the opportunity to attend Mass at the Duomo. It was nice to be a part of it for its main purpose and not just as part of a throng of tourists. Being the first mass of the day, it was also a quiet service and afterwards gave us the opportunity to admire the interior, including the impressive painting inside the dome.
Our final stop in the area was Siena, yet another example of the pretty towns that Tuscany has to offer. To get there we took some of the back roads to admire the countryside, with its many vines and olive trees. On visiting the town itself, we have to admit to being a bit fatigued of sightseeing and in need of a day of doing very little (tough life, we know!). However on arriving at the basilica, we couldn’t help but be in awe. The clarity and vibrant colours of the stained glass windows and the structure of the wooden roof were two things of particular note – and made this basilica stand out from some of the others we’ve visited. We also went to the Piazza di Campo, where twice a year there’s a huge horserace held – one of which we are missing by just over a week – as well as the cathedral, another impressive piece of architecture.
It’s hard to put into words (at least for us) how beautiful these cities/towns are – the mixture of gothic styles with the white, green and reds of the marble churches never fail to impress. The description of our stay in the region doesn’t even come close to capturing what it’s like and we only really touched the surface of what it has to offer. Hopefully the photos, as in the saying, will be worth a thousand words.
As a side-note, and a bit of a British touch here, but we really should mention the weather. Basically it’s been hot. Damn hot! We’ve had the odd downpour, but essentially every day has been sunny and very warm (sorry). Although, as is often the case, no one can ever be completely satisfied and we have found ourselves moaning about the humidity and tempers fraying – particularly around Pisa and Florence – and we were very relieved when it got a bit cooler in Siena. To try and put this into context, we’re talking about it being hot and sticky until at least 4.30am, only for the furnace to be stoked again at about 6am. Feeling sorry for us? No, didn’t think so. And we soon gave ourselves a telling off – especially when we saw it had been hailing in the UK!
Next stop, Sorrento.