The main train station in Florence is within easy walking distance of our hotel but across a pretty busy street. They have this series of underground tunnels for getting around the district, with shops and such so you can stop and spend some money while going from Point A to Point B. And then just in case you might be going a little too fast and not have a chance to patronize all the merchants, they solved that problem by failing to put any signage down below so you have no idea which turn to take or which fork in the tunnel. The big "You Are Here" sign at the mouth of the tunnel only shows the surface streets, not the tunnel itself, so you sort of look at the sign and look at the tunnel, then plunge down underground and it's all dead reckoning from there. [flail] On our way over to the station we took a wrong turn or didn't go far enough or something and ended up on the far side of that one busy street I mentioned, but with another almost as busy street between us and the station. [headdesk] Rather than do two more flights of stairs, we took our lives in our hands and just headed straight across, and ended up on the other side in one piece, yay. :)
Jim had looked on the station's web site and decided to get us first class round trip tickets; the ride's a little over an hour and it didn't cost much more than regular fares. When we got there, though, the guy at the ticket counter said there was only second class on that train. I guess they hadn't updated their web site, or maybe it was because it was Sunday, or whatever, but we got our tickets, yay.
Unfortunately the track number isn't on the tickets so I'm looking at the Departures board and I don't see anything going to Pisa. Jim had looked on the station's web site and it had said the train to Pisa was supposed to leave at twenty-seven after the hour. I noticed that the very last item on the electronic board was for a train leaving at that time, so I figured if we just waited, a few things would scroll off the top and Pisa would show up. Well, it sounded like a good idea but unfortunately it didn't work. We wandered around, looking for another sign or a map of the system or something, but no luck. Finally I was looking up at the Departures board again and noticed that they had the destinations in NICE BIG LETTERS and then farther down they had secondary destinations in tinylittleletters... and there's Pisa, yay! Departing from Track 4.
So, Track 4, Track 4, where are you? The main part of the station starts at the high numbers and works down... to Track 6. Umm, OK. There's a likely-looking corridor off to the side and we take that one and wander down. Track 1, Track 2, Track 5... umm, wait. [blinkblink] Jim poked his head into the Disabled Assistance office and asked, and the nice lady there pointed farther down in that direction. And once you're actually heading the right way, there's a sign -- Tracks 3 and 4. Handy. [eyeroll] We've found that this happens a lot in Italy, where the signs aren't where you need them, but rather are down along the way you're already going if you don't need them. You have to know what to do in order to find the sign telling you what to do. They need to just uproot all their signs and back them up like twenty paces and then everything'd be perfect. [wry smile]
So we get on the train and even find a non-smoking car, which was cool. I spent the trip alternately looking out the window, while we were moving, and reading a guide book Jim had brought whenever we were stopped in a station. (And no, all these tiny little stations between Florence and Pisa had not been listed on the Departures board -- I guess you just had to know.) It was a pleasant ride, out of the historic city center and through the more modern outskirts and into the industrial and agricultural areas. There were a lot of small garden plots once we got outside the city proper, some near houses but also a lot of them grouped together in clumps. Jim read that Florentines love to garden and a lot of people who live in the city (which is pretty much paved over, moreso even than San Francisco or LA or Chicago -- there are no parkstrips with trees and plants between the buildings and the streets, and even the huge expanse of open land in front of the Pitti was paved rather than being a lawn, as it would've been back home) have garden plots just outside the city where they can grow vegetables and stuff. The family takes a trip on weekends to tend the garden, just 'cause they're into it. I have to admit, that's a lot more devotion than I've ever had to a garden, and I do like to grow things.
There were vineyards and olive groves and what looked like artichoke plants, although the artichokes were always in the smaller plots rather than being farmed commercially. And we passed some kind of stone quarry back in the hills -- it was probably a couple of miles away from the train at least, but it was huge and they've probably been taking granite or marble or whatever it was out of those hills for centuries, if not millenia.
A little over an hour later we pulled into Pisa PC. (If you ever travel on an Italian train, the signs are marked with the name of the city and then an abbreviation for the name of the train station. Pisa's station is Pisa Centrale, so "Pisa PC." Florence's sign says "Florence SMN," for Santa Maria Novella station.) There's a bus that goes from the station to the Tower and we'd decided to take it. It's also about a forty minute walk, but my feet were no way in hell up to it by this time -- maybe if this'd been our first outing in Italy but not on nearly the last day. So we're wandering around looking for the bus and ended up in front of this huge map with some other tourist types; I'm sure we all had word balloons hovering over our heads that said, "Duh!" on them in multiple languages, 'cause this little old man toddles up and says, "English?" in a very thick accent, and then proceeds to explain to us that this is the station [taptap] and the Tower is there [taptap] and you can get there by taking this street and it's a straight walk, no problem! [point, drag along route] Jim asked "Bus?" and he said, "Yes, yes!" and pointed off to were all these orange busses were sitting and said something like "To airport, to Tower," and "La, la!" which I guess means that you get on the bus to the airport and it stops at the Tower on the way, and "There, there!" Cool. Once we were all smiling and nodding and waving, the old man says, "Ticket to Florence, money?" and holds out his hand. OK, that's cool -- he did help us so Jim gave him a coin.
So we head over to the busses. On Italian busses, Jim had read, you should buy a ticket in advance. You can buy one on the bus but it costs more. So we head over to a likely looking machine and... it's been vandalized. Which Jim had also read was common. :P Well, OK, looks like we'll pay a bit extra, no big deal. Now, which bus? There were like ten or twelve bright orange busses. Jim's handy whatever-he'd-read had said it was bus number one that went to the tower, but none of the busses were number one. The sign near the bench said there were red, yellow and blue busses, and that the red ones went to the tower, but all the busses were orange. [headdesk]
We're hanging around and squinting at busses and getting frustrated and finally this bus pulls up that's yellow with some blue trim and it hits me that that's a "blue" bus. [eyeroll] OK, so we need a yellow bus with red trim and we'll be set. One pulls up a few minutes later and Jim asks the driver if he's going to the Tower. He says no and points to the other end of the semi-circular turnaround area where all the busses (most of them orange) are sitting and says, "La, la!" Umm, OK, thanks. [wave] So we wander over to the other side and there's another yellow bus with red trim but no driver. Fine, he's on a break, we can wait. A minute later we notice a yellow bus with red trim pulling up... across the street. Aha! We didn't go "la" enough! I'd be headdesking but I don't have time 'cause we're hurrying across to catch that bus and it actually did get us to the Tower, yay!
(Once we were on the bus, no one offered to sell us a ticket, nor did anyone ask to see our ticket, so we rode for free. We didn't mean to -- it just happened. They need to repair their ticket machines. :P )
Pisa, like most old European cities, has a wall around the oldest part and the bus drops us off right ouside an opening in this huuuuuge wall. I sure wouldn't have wanted to assault it with medieval or even Renaissance seige technology. You can get into the area for free and right there, in the distance to the left, are the Baptistry, the Duomo and the Tower. And lawn! LOL! Seriously, this huge lawn was the first chunk of grass we'd seen inside a city the whole time we'd been in Italy! :) There's a street running straight ahead from the gateless gate with a row of vendors on the right and the grass on the left. The Baptistry and Duomo here are spectacular and don't get nearly as much press as they deserve because the tower hogs it all but they're really beautiful. I'll have pics later; right now they're still in my camera, which is sitting in my tote bag with dead batteries. [sigh]
We strolled across the grass, gaping and taking pictures. They're allowing people up into the Tower again but we didn't go, neither of us being up to a lot of stairs. Instead we got a ticket (in the bright orange-yellow building on the far left) for the Duomo and the museum where, as with the Florence Duomo, a lot of the real stuff has been taken out of the original buildings and put on display.
The Duomo is beautiful inside, with wonderfully complex architecture -- arches and galleries and coffered ceilings and colorful columns and huuuge paintings and a really wonderfully carved pulpit which looks sort of like a greek temple, not the big, bank-like rectangular ones but the little round ones, you know? There were a lot of carved figures as well as the columns, and an ornate staircase up the back. And lots of benches, yay! We left just as this throng-like tour group was entering, so that was good timing.
Then we went to the museum and there was a lot of massively cool stuff in there -- moreso I think than in the Duomo museum in Florence, which was about half statues and other carvings off the walls and such and had a smaller collection overall. The Pisa museum had a lot of carvings and statues, yes, but also a large collection of other things -- paintings and reliquaries and chalices and platters and other silver and gold pieces; a huge collection of vestments, all embroidered in silk and gold and quite a few studded with fingertip-size gems as well; a whole room of medieval music books, with a huge scroll (several meters long) on display in this weird roller-thing that displayed the back of the scroll for some reason; a collection of Roman carvings and one of Egyptian pieces. This was a gorgeous collection and I'd have loved to get a catalog book with photos and descriptions but the museum didn't seem to have a bookstore, and the bookstore on the corner across the street seemed to be primarily religious.
We had lunch in a trattoria a couple of doors down from the bookstore and this was the first mediocre food we had in Italy. It wasn't bad but it wasn't great, either. We had a special -- a full meal, most restaurants working a la carte here -- and it was a nice amount of food for a low price, but it was disappointing. The spaghetti Bolognese was good but not great. The salad I got was OK but nothing to babble about, just lettuce and tomatoes and a lot of shredded carrot and some cheese, and the same with Jim's french fries. I got chicken and Jim got fish and both were dry, as though they'd been frozen and then cooked too long. Dessert was a fruit cup which both the menu and the waiter said was fresh fruit, but if so it'd been sitting made-up in a bowl since early morning getting more and more mushy and watery, or maybe they were both lying and it was canned. The cappucino was good, anyway, and the whole thing was a lot cheaper than ZaZa's; this was like fifteen Euros each for a full meal and soft drinks plus cappucino, whereas ZaZa's was like sixty Euros for two courses, soft drinks and dessert. You get what you pay for, as always, and I guess this place is the Italian equivalent of fast food for the tourists.
My feet were dying again so we took a taxi back to the station; there's a taxi stand right outside the main gate and it only took a few minutes to catch a cab. We just missed a train but there was another one in about half an hour. We poked around the newsstand and I found a craft magazine with several cutwork pieces. The vocabulary in such things is specialized enough that it's not too hard to translate it and it's impossible to find this sort of thing in the US so I grabbed it. I never did find a needlework shop, though, and in a way this just made it more frustrating; the fact that you can find cutwork pieces in a general craft mag that sells at a train station newsstand means that cutwork has to be quite popular in Italy, which means there have to be needlework stores around. :/ I just never ran across one. One more thing for next time.
It got dark on the way back to Florence. Heading out of the station we saw the train station entrance to the underground tunnels -- the one we should've come up out of on our way over that morning. We went down and... got lost again. [headdesk] We came up on the wrong side of the busy street we'd taken the tunnel to avoid earlier and went a couple of blocks out of our way to find a crosswalk with actual lights and such. That's another thing to do for next time -- find a map of that tunnel system online and print it out before we go. [bemused smile]