If you follow on facebook, you’ll know that I have left the bike in Germany for now as my niece is joining me in one week to tour a little of Europe. Nerves got the best of me and the day I am supposed to go to Italy with the intent to arrive bright-eyed an bushy tailed, I am awake at 3 a.m. Three hours before the alarm is supposed to go off. This day, I ‘ll be leaving Germany and the company of my friends and flying off to Italy. Yup, that’s something I don’t get to say very often, “I’m flying off to Italy”. After a quick breakfast and a tearful goodbye at the train station, I am on my way to the airport. Take off was delayed by about 40 minutes but lucky for me there was a chatty American college kid behind me who was kind enough to let me know all the places I could get drunk in the cities I would be visiting. I’ll file that info away for later…
Arrival in Pisa! It took a few beats to realize: I WAS IN ITALY!! I was definitely a stranger in a strange land before I even left the airport. First challenge: How To Use The Toilet. As a grown woman, I’ve been using the potty all on my own for quite some time but this Italian Job almost got the best of me. I was fully loaded hauling a backpack the size of a toddler, purse, jacket, scarf while trying to work buttons and zippers. Then I discovered that the toilet seat was apparently spring loaded, each time I tried to lower the seat it would SPRING back up. Things worked themselves out and I survived, barely. I then set out for the hostel, about a mile and a half away and withing 30 minutes I was questioning the importance of every single item in that 200 pound freaking backpack however the sizeable load was not enough to distract me from the fact that I’M IN FREAKING ITALY! Strolling back alleys, Romanesque architecture, Gothic churches, and Renaissance Era Piazzas.
Along the way, I’m treated to a rainbow of colors and flavors in the many gelato shop windows, Italian leather handbags spill out onto sidewalk displays (swoon!). I pass an old aqueduct built in the 18th century to deliver water to the citizens of Pisa and now it primarily functions as eye candy. Melodic conversations are going on all around me. The Italian language is a BEAUTIFUL thing. I’ve figured out that when you are not distracted by WHAT people are saying, you can actually HEAR them. The lilt, the rise and fall of the emotion in the conversation and the ever present gesticulation! Incredible! They gesture when they are speaking in hushed and private tones, they gesture in normal conversations and especially when things sound a little heated or with increased volume. It really is like a dance of language.
Just as I began to get tired in the late afternoon heat, there it was: The Leaning Tower of Pisa. It rose just over the top of the magnificent stone wall that surrounds the Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles) and although it was just a glimpse it was THRILLING to me. Yes, it is high on every tourist list but for very good reason and I am no different, I can remember that other than Pompeii and the Colosseum, the Tower has ALWAYS been on MY list. Turns out, my hostel is just one street over from the tower and I can see it from my window! It will force myself to wait until tomorrow, strange as it may sound, I want it all to myself and not fighting 500 other tourists who are striking that ever popular hold-the-tower-up pose.
After dumping the backpack, the grocery was next on my list. Breakfast items were the only thing on my “to get” list but… I also found a loaf of dense and crusty rustic bread, cheese, prosciutto crudo, vine ripened pomodoro roma tomatoes that put our pale and flavorless California tomatoes to shame! I also found these AMAZING single serve packets containing a mix of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. INCREDIBLE! Sweet merciful heaven, I’m going to get FAT here! I had a little outdoor picnic in the hostel garden while dusk started to fall around me, had a shower and called it a night so I could get up early for the lady across the street and climb that tower! I’M IN ITALY!!
Wake up bright and early on day two about 6 a.m. Teeth, clothes, hair and HURRY UP about it already! Pisa is coming to life as I am trying to wake up completely and the now familiar sounds of bicycle bells ringing, scooters racing about with the occasional horn toot drift in through my window. A window shuttered with what looks like thick sun-worn leather is actually wood layered with coat upon coat of paint, the current color a warm honey brown. I tip toe around the room so as not to disturb my sleeping roommates and if the snoring coming from the Australian’s bed is any indication, I’m doing a good job. Slipping out into the sleepy Tuscan city and a short walk around the corner I am in the Piazza by 6:45. I have learned that early rising get you a wealth of private time in even the most busy city. Although the tower does not open until 9, I am free to roam the grounds mostly alone with the exception of the occasional jogger and cyclist. I am free to take my time with this old place, patiently waiting for the sun to creep further into the sky, chasing away the early morning shadows and grab my pictures. By the time I am ready to leave there are a few others that have appeared to take advantage of the still and quiet morning.
Working on getting lost and finding the perfect Cappuccino, I wander past still shuttered restaurants their small out door cafe spaces consisting of umbrella stands and bistro sets and are carved from the streets themselves. There are rows and rows of them waiting for the tourist onslaught soon to come. I find a small cramped cafe loaded with Italians and I’m not sure what they EAT for breakfast around here but I DO know that they are fueled by hot strong espressos served in minuscule mugs that are practically flying over the counter and just as quickly snatched up by waiting patrons. I take my coffee and my pastry to the corner and just sit and enjoy the show. The rest of the morning is spent wandering the streets, ducking into various shops and museums, people watching. Google Translate and I have become great friends and my attempts at Italian are, for the most part greeted with a smile right before they respond in English…
Except the man that just plopped into a seat at the table next to me. He speaks English and is also very chatty so much so that he makes me uncomfortable with his leering and attempts to draw me into conversation. I try to seem disinterested but in less than three minutes I already know that he is from Africa, has visited the US, has an uncle there who lives with his father but they don’t get along, that he’s lived in Italy for the last 5 years and is a musician. When he tells me he is from Nigeria and asks how long I’ll be in Italy, I am fully expecting the next sentence to be “I am actually a prince in my country and have inherited a fortune but it is stuck in a bank in Zurich. Would you be able to help me, I will reward you handsomely…” TIME TO GO. I tell him that I’m actually on my way out of the country and excuse myself, cutting my writing and lunch short I head inside the cafe to pay but he follows me in smiling and still talking. Luckily, he didn’t follow me any further than that.
SIDE NOTE: I’ve rented a Vespa for the rest of the week and will be motoring all over Tuscany. Mamma Mia! BONUS SIDE NOTE: I have heard ACTUAL ITALIANS use this phrase, I thought it was only in the movies!