Monday, February 11, 2013

Pizza In Pisa - Italy

Italy. Just thinking of the name Italy conjures visions of giant bowls of steaming pasta, crumbling old cathedrals, vineyards stretching for miles, a golden sun setting over rolling Tuscan hills. Gelato, pizza, friendly faces, olive trees. All these things filled my head as we drove the nine hours from Heidelberg to Pisa. When we got there, all my illusions were shattered. It was nothing like I had thought. It was so much better.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa was on Aidan's list of must see destinations so we thought Thanksgiving break would be a great time to head down to Italy. We hadn't had any snow yet in Heidelberg, but it was definitely cold and we hadn't seen the sun in weeks. The western coast of Italy sounded mighty tempting. 

We drove straight down through Germany and into Basel, Switzerland. Switzerland was a wonder of mountains and lakes and pristine towns. After several hours of driving through the Alps, Italy was in sight. As soon as we crossed the border we noticed a complete difference. Where Switzerland was clean with well repaired roads and actual toilets in restrooms, Italy was dirty, rundown and had holes in the ground with hand rails on the side. My kids looked at the holes and said, " Are you kidding me?" Oh, Italy. 

The first day in Italy we went to Pisa. To see the leaning tower of course. 

This is the Piazza del Duomo or Pisa's Cathedral Square. Since Thanksgiving isn't a holiday in Europe it wasn't very crowded. Of course, not crowded based on European standards is usually crowded in America. Everyone was taking silly pictures of themselves holding up the tower or pushing over the tower. We joined in.

Ashlenne! Stop pushing that over!

Aidan! Hurry and catch it!

We tired of those poses and moved on to other ones.

Fill in your own caption here:                                                 . I was thinking of 'Man, that Pisa wine sure is good!' or 'Mom, please don't make me ride the merry-go-round another time!'

I can't really tell you why my kids are leaning, but I can tell you why the tower is. Construction began in 1173. It began to sink on one side in 1178 after construction only reached the second tier due to a small, inadequate foundation built in weak, unstable soil. They stopped building immediately. It began again in 1272. In order to compensate for the tilt the new tiers were actually built with one side taller than the other. By 1319 the seventh tier was finished and work began on the belfry. Bells were finally added in 1372. Big ones. 

After construction was finished, the tower continued to slowly drift more to the side. In 1990 studies proved that the tower was reaching the point of complete destabilization. It was almost ready to tip over! The bells were removed, apartments in its path were evacuated and cables were attached to the tower to anchor it. After 10 years of clearing soil out from the raised side so that it could settle more, the tower was straightened by 45 centimeters and finally reopened. In 2008 they removed more dirt and it was reported that the tower had stopped moving for the first time in its history. Go Italians! 

Other than the tower, there really isn't too much else to see in Pisa.

Here is an aerial shot from the top of the leaning tower. 

Here is a look at the square across from the tower. This is pretty much it. That's Pisa.

Our son Andre had one goal while were in Pisa. To see a "Luigi" car from the movie Cars. In other words, a Fiat 500 from the 50's or 60's. 


The other three had more gastronomical goals. To eat pizza in view of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

That's check, check, and check. (Yes, I know Alexander has his eyes closed and Matt looks like he was bitten by a zombie an hour before. They were tired.)

What you can't see in this picture though is the complete fear that we would come back to our very nice, new Volvo (see Where Are All The Swedish Fish? - Sweden) and have all the windows busted out. Italy has a very high theft rate. In fact, the military warns you before you travel down there, and the military that lives down there usually have bars on the windows of their homes. Those Italians have some sticky fingers it would seem. We were told not to leave any valuables in our car. Okay, we can do that, but then we were told it might not matter because when an Italian sees a car with a German, Swiss or Austrian plate they think one thing. Money! The scenario was driven home to us last month when some neighbors of ours traveled down to Italy and returned to their car minus one window and missing a cell phone, an iPad, credit cards, and military ID's. Oh, Italy.

After a filling lunch of pizza in Pisa we drove down the coast to the beach town of Livorno. Got our first views of the Mediterranean  Sea. 

The sun came out. The breeze stilled. We looked behind us at the mountains blanketed with clouds.

And we sighed. It was at this point that I really felt Italy seep into me. Italy is good.

It was sunny and warm, at least warmer than Germany but still not ideal beach weather. On to the interior of Tuscany!

Our next stop was the medieval town of Lucca. What makes Lucca special are the completely intact Renaissance-Era walls that surround the city. 

Lucca was at one time a commune that was completely self-sufficient. Once the walls were no longer needed for military or defense purposes, they paved them and they became a walk way that encircles the city.

The city of Lucca.

"We love Italy!"

An interesting fact here, Dante spent some of his exile here and wrote part of the Divine Comedy in Lucca. No works of political satire or literary genius came from us here though. We only ate gelato.

We licked and admired the San Michele in Foro which is a Catholic church that was built in 795. That's pretty old, and it hasn't even started to lean yet.

As we ate our gelato my kids asked how they got all the buildings to look old and worn. "Centuries of neglect, my son," I answered.

My son's question made me take a good look around. Italy did look really run down. Compared to Germany and Switzerland it was practically a ghetto. Around the touristy places the areas were somewhat clean, but the second you got off the beaten track there was trash everywhere. The square around the tower in Pisa was immaculate. Fifty feet away there were piles of garbage that people were kicking out of their way to walk down the street. When we drove along the highways through industrial parts of towns, a good 30% of the buildings were abandoned. In the rural areas farms and homesteads were crumbling and in need of a good repair or even a razing. Oh, Italy.

After a long day of walking, oohing, ah-hing, eating, and maneuvering our car through tiny streets we were ready to go back to the hotel. Italy had one last treat for us though. 

No matter how crumby or rundown or dirty Italy was, this view was worth it. 

 Stay tuned for Itay, Part Due - Tuscany.


  1. How was the Gelato? Which is better Italian Ice in Germany or what you had in Italy?

  2. Oh, Italy... Classic photos of The Leaning Tower of Pisa!


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