Straighten Up

Trip Start Aug 14, 2007
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Trip End May 23, 2008


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Saturday, September 1, 2007

Pisa, Tuscany, Italy
GMT +1:00 hour

Alternate Route
Next stop Pisa, a short 1 hour train ride west from Florence and somewhere we had decided to drop in on before continuing onto Rome. The beauty of going to Rome from Pisa is that we'll be travelling down the coast to Rome which has to be more picturesque than the inland route, right. Yep, we hoped so.

Timber
Anyway, Pisa. Do we really have to tell you why we came here? Probably not, but we're going to anyway. Since the beginning of tourism, the town has been known for just one thing, its Leaning Tower. It really is a crazy sight, especially when viewed from the positions that show the full extent of the lean, a view that makes you wonder exactly how it is managing to stay standing.

Acme School of Engineering
The Tower is the Campanile (bell tower) of Pisa Cathedral. Construction began in 1173, during a golden age period for Pisa, a time when the city rivaled Genoa and Venice as a maritime power. Construction continued in 3 phases, taking a total of 173 years to complete. However, issues surfaced early in the construction and the tower began to tilt after only 3 of the 7 tiers were completed. While it doesn't seem like the guys building the thing knew what they were doing, neither did the so-called engineers of the day who tried to compensate for the tilt. Some genius came up with the idea to build higher floors with one side taller than the other, but all this succeeded in doing was tilting the tower in the other direction, meaning it's slightly curved. Despite these, and other dubious must-stop-the-tilt efforts, the tower continued to drift at a rate of about 1mm a year... by 1990 it had reached 5.5 degrees off vertical, a fraction of a degree beyond the critical point at which computer models predicted the tower would fall (computers, eh?). Well, it hadn't fallen by 1998, at which time future stability was assured (and with it the Pisa tourist trade) by a combination of soil drilling and biased weighting, meaning the tower should stay at its present position of 4.1 meters off perpendicular.

Still very much on the trail
There's really not much to report from our visit to Pisa (more time was spent creating this entry than we spent in the vicinity of the tower). We got off the train, left our bags with train station left luggage, walked to the tower, hung around it for an hour or so and headed back to the station for the train to Rome. What, we didn't venture up the tower? Nope, our feet stayed firmly on solid ground. You are allowed to climb it but it's an extortionate €15 per person to do so and with only 30 suckers allowed up at any one moment we could only imagine how long the queue would have been. Yep, the hordes are here too... make no mistake, we're still firmly on the tourist trail. After Venice, Florence and now Pisa we're already yearning for the day when we get to visit a location not besieged with fellow tourists, the majority of which seem quite happy to 'see' Italy on one big 'you-go-where-we-say-you-go' guided tour. They are content to spend their days wearing earpieces, following the silly lofted sign of their mic-wearing tour guide and ooooing & ahhing at the same time as the other 20-30 lemmings with them. Don't these people know what a guidebook is? I doubt we'll escape them in Rome and, if anything, it'll get worse. But maybe Rome will be big enough to absorb us all sufficiently so I don't have to sound like a jerk giving out about them? Time will tell.

Day 18 Observations (August 31st 2007)

Look around
There was a supermarket right beside (and we mean RIGHT beside) our hostel in Florence and for the 3 nights we spent there we never saw it until we had our bags on our backs walking to get the train to Pisa. The town was to the left as we left our hostel, the supermarket to the right. It's only worth commenting on here because we practically spent the three days in the city looking for one without success!

Armageddon
It rained on the way to Pisa. Yep, we haven't seen rain since Dijon in France and it came as quite a shock to see it falling from the sky this morning. We got over it however and I'm sure we're all the stronger for the experience.

Who needs soil drilling and biased weighting?
It's really quite amazing how the tower is tilting at all when you consider how many tourists, on a daily basis, do that silly "look!, I'm holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa" pose for pictures. Some folks even help push it up with their feet, and some in tandem.

Nice, in parts
The Tuscany coastline is quite nice and scenic. It's filled with vineyards, olive trees and rolling hills and we got to see a lot of it on the way to Rome as we took the coastal route on the train. Of course, it had its areas of dull, industrial and arid looking landscape but we were rarely out of sight of the sea which made a nice change of view if the industrialism got too much.

Over the counter
Chemists sell everything - beyond shampoo, moisturiser and Dr Scholl's foot powder, over the counter. We know this because of the almost constant need to replenish Meg's cold/sinus tablets. It does lead us to another observation however, that being that ...

Modesty
Italians are very modest when speaking English. "Do you speak English" always brings a rye smile with a modest response of "a little". Of course, they can speak it quite well and we've had no issues thus far in the country communicating with the locals. Btw, the ability to speak English in Italy grants you certain privileges (don't know what they are though) and puts you higher in the social pecking order. But that's the same in any non-English speaking country, right?

Not much fun
It's not much fun travelling with someone who is feeling a bit off, and when it lasts for over a week it's really no fun at all. And because of that I have my duties, duties I would have as a travel partner, not just a husband... I carry the toilet paper, sinus pills, Tylenol, hand sanitizer, water and orange juice. I also have to listen to nose blowing, the reports as to what colour it is today (!) and the updates as to the pain level of the latest headache. Trying to seem like one is not enjoying oneself too much sometimes is even more of a challenge. But don't worry guys... Meg is fine - just not 100%, feeling-on-top-of-the-world fine... yet.
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