Wednesday, 16 September 2015


5th Sept 2015

Naff....but it had to be done
I met Adrian in the bar at our hotel before the concert the night before and mentioned that I would like to go up the Leaning Tower at Pisa. He said he had been there several times with tours but had never been up it. If I was getting a ticket he would like one also. Apparently you have to book 'on-line' to do this, preferably with the official website ( Due to the vagaries of the website and erratic internet connection, it took ages to fix, but I managed somehow. So, at 18 Euros a throw, he and I were ticketed for the following day.

After breakfast and the the daily "buongiorno" ceremony and briefing we set off by train, firstly to Lucca about 50 miles west. We were down to 24 now as someone had twisted their ankle the day before and was confined to barracks.

The ancient bit of Lucca was occupied (as were several Etruscan towns) by the Romans and fortified by a very large wide, well restored, wall, 2 miles in circumference, with 10 bastions at regular intervals (as per left). It is now a popular tourist trap. The wall is wide enough on top for a road and footpath and has various market stalls along it's length. 
One can hire a bicycle (3 Euros per hour) which I did, and a jolly good bike it was too. Six gears and in good nick.

I spent a happy few hours pedalling around the wall and diving down into the town at various points, normally at the bastions. It was indeed busy with tourists but a charming little 'town' nevertheless designed on a grid system of narrow streets, although even equipped with a street map it was easy to get lost. Or at least I did.

Several 'entertainers' were in evidence in the many piazzas such as this lady (right) who played her violin remarkably well. So well I stayed to listen for quite a time. Perhaps she should audition for the St. Petersburg Northern Sinfonietta...maybe she was in it already and doing a bit of freelancing.

The main piazza (left), with many cafés and bars, was called Piazza Anfiteatro and was indeed the old Roman amphitheatre. That's my bike in the foreground...with Waitrose shopping bag in the basket. A good pit stop for a refreshing glass of beer.

Several churches in evidence, all having the mandatory campanile/bell tower. 

Apparently, when medieval wealth came to Lucca, there was prestige in owning the tallest house in town. This resulted in fierce competition to see who could outdo the rest. The town council then put a stop to it and limited the height of buildings. One crafty owner then got one up on his neighbours by planting oak trees on the top and claiming it the highest. It still stands, with the trees, but I didn't find it.

There were, perhaps unsurprisingly, many prestigious and expensive 'designer' shops amongst the otherwise ancient buildings. I noticed that those infamous old Romans Signores Armani and Prada had outlets here.

The town was the home of the composer Giacomo Puccini of Madame Butterfy, Tosca, La Boheme etc. fame.

His house, in Piazza Cittadella, is now a museum. It is the red one to the right of his statue (left). I paid it a visit. Lots of old documents and artefacts on display and presumably of great interest to an opera buff.

Right: One of his original musical scribblings of....can't remember.

Left: Puccini's study...with magnificent gramophone.

Anyway, it was a pleasant and relaxing way to spend the morning before boarding another train.....

.......and on 40 miles south-west to Pisa and it's famous Leaning (used to be 5.5º now 4º) Bell Tower.
Pisa is a university town of no particular interest (to tourists) other than the Piazza dei Miracoli, or Duomo, which contains a baptistry, walled cemetery, cathedral and it's aforementioned wonky erection (right).

We had a lady guide here, Sara, who gave us the low-down on the place. She was most pleasant and informative but admitted that when off-duty she didn't much like tourists. In brief, Pisa was another Roman town which was, initially, on the coast at the mouth of the river Arno, hence it's importance as a trading centre and staging post from sea to river traffic down to Florence. Due to the silting up of the river over the centuries the town is now 6 miles from the coast.

The cemetery, baptistry and grand cathedral (from left to right in pic) were built in the 12th century and surrounded by a rather hastily thrown up fortified wall. Construction of the bell tower was started in 1173 on soggy ground, but not completed until 1372 (199 years later). They must have realised the problems with the terrain and storeys were added cautiously. "Ay Luigi, you theenka we reeska one more?". As you are no doubt aware the whole edifice was slightly straightened and stabilised in the 1990s.

While the main group of our dwindling party were being given a gentle escorted tour of the cathedral (with it's famous echos apparently), self and Adrian climbed the tower.....amongst lots of others of course.

Right: Looking up the inside of the tower. The spiral staircase was between the inner and outer walls. 264 steps and it felt a bit disconcerting leaning one way and then t'other on the way up.

Left: Adrian's legs protruding from one of the bells. I think he was examining it's donger.

Right: The rest of the bells....which are definitely not for ringing. Any such vibrations could be catastrophic. 

Left: The view from the top over the cathedral and baptistry. There is a museum to the left which we didn't visit.

Back to Montecatini for a 'group dinner'. Other tour groups were also present; some of which must have paid more money than us because they were served before us and got gallons of free wine. Talking of wine, we were in the Chianti region. A drinkable bottle of the stuff cost 3 Euros in the local supermarket, but sold for 18 Euros in the hotel. There were several birthdays raucously celebrated involving cakes, firework candles and singing. It was all very jolly.

Off to Venice tomorrow...........

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