I left Madrid about 2 and half hours later than scheduled because there was a bad storm passing through Pisa. Because it was Ryan Air, instead of letting us get off the plane and then get back on, they had us sit in the hot and stuffy plane for the entire duration of the delay. We finally left Madrid behind and enjoyed a rather turbulent flight to Pisa. At least Pisa is a small enough city that Ryan Air hasn’t’ gone off and created their own separate airport somewhere outside the city.
IT only took about 10 minutes by train to get to Pisa Centrale Station. At Pisa Centrale, I left me big green backpacking bag at the checked luggage counter, then headed out to see the highly popular Leaning Tower in the Piazza dei Miracoli. I grabbed a map at the station and walked to the Plaza dei Miracoli in less than half an hour. I started to see the tower and the Duomo from a short distance away and was shocked at their size. They seem so much larger in pictures, but in fact are not that huge. Additionally, the area is highly touristic. Restaurants and cafes off of the plaza cater almost exclusively to tourists. Hundred of shops and street peddlers assault you as you near the square.
The Piazza dei Miracoli generates so much tourism that the price to get into each of the buildings is ridiculously expensive. I opted to only pay to see the Cathedral (Duomo) and the Baptistery since I did not want to pay 15 Euros just to climb the tower. Climbing the Dome of St. Peter’s in Rome was cheaper than that! And I’m pretty sure that is has a much better view. I headed over to the baptistery first since it was almost 6:30 and every 30 minutes; the staff demonstrates the “Miracle of the Echo” inside. The baptistery is a large circular building directly across from the main entrance to the church, The idea is that once new believers get baptized, they can make the short walk across to the main Cathedral building The Baptistery is very simple, with the main focus and function being, of course, baptism. The demonstration of the echoes was really neat, though. I think that the extensive echo would make almost anyone sound good singing. In fact, after the staff finished, another tourist tried singing a note but was quickly silenced by the staff.
After seeing and hearing the inside of the Baptistery, I walked across the way to the Cathedral. The Cathedral had a ceiling covered with gold flowers and paintings were by the altar as well as over the dome. Although certainly not the most impressive cathedral I’ve ever seen, I enjoyed the impressive ceiling and the animated sculptures by famous Italian sculptors such as Bernini. There were so many touristy things in the cathedral like “tourist phones”; which you pay 2 Euros to activate and then they tell you about the sculpture of painting of interest. Back outside, there were hundreds of tourist posing for their “Leaning Tower” shots. The whole thing was a bit too much for me so I took a few ore pictures then turned to go having only spent under 2 hours at Pisa’s most famous attraction.
I walked around for a while until I was able to find a café by the train station that had free wifi and cheap Panini as well as a decent cannoli. I only had about 3 hours in Pisa because my flight was so late. At 8:30pm, I got on my train to La Spezia. I had previously looked up all of the train timetables from Pisa to La Spezia and La Spezia to Manarola. But when I got to the station in La Spezia, the train to Manarola had been cancelled and the next one wasn’t for another 2 hours. While I had read that the rail service was dodgy, I had not read about how sketchy the La Spezia train station was. There were a number of questionable men and homeless people unpacking for the night. I decided to splurge a little bit in order to make it to Manarola safely.
Since the towns of the Cinque Terre are in a protected national land, the taxi couldn’t enter the town. Instead, the driver dropped me off by the gate in the dark and told me to walk 300 meters. 15 minutes later I was feeling lost and consulting a street sign when a super nice local girl around my age offered to help. She grabbed my smaller blue bag and helped me to get up the hill to Billy’s Tratatoria so my mom and Laura could see me from their terrace. IT was a really long travel day and my head was pounding so I went to sleep really fast!