A Travellerspoint blog

Pisa and its Leaning Tower

The unappreciated gem of Italy

-17 °C

Following the earlier train escapades, we were all able to uneventfully board the train to Pisa at 4:30 am and arrive in Pisa at 6 am. Being the frugal\poor travelers that we are, we again opted to hike through town to the tower. This was not a horribly long walk but was exacerbated by the fact that we had all our gear with us.

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Pisa is quite terrifying... or maybe she was scared at how awful we looked... we hadn't slept in a few days.

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Pisa Fortress

After a short stop-over at an old fortress, we arrived to the tower. Let me tell you, the tower is not a disappointment, it really is leaning quite drastically and it, and the surrounding cathedral and baptistry are very impressive.

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The tower, which is leaning at an angle of about 5.5 degrees, differs in height by about 3 feet from the highest to lowest points respectively. In 1990, the tower had to be closed as it was increasingly sinking\tilting at an alarming rate. 10 years and many man hours and dollars later, the tower was deemed to safe to re-enter and still had its original tilt.

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Keeping with tradition, we opted again to climb the 294 steps to the bell tower. Climbing the tower was fabulous, as you could really feel the slant. Also, once at the top of the tower, the view was fabulous, which was accentuated by the fact that their was nearly no barricades obstructing the view.

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Atop the Tower

After climbing the tower and exploring around the other buildings, we decided to stay in Pisa for the night, instead of jetting back straightaway to Florence. This may have been the best choice we made during our entire stay in Italy. We found a great hotel, and at only €25 each located less than two blocks from the tower, was a killer deal. Once checked in to our room, we headed out for a relaxing day the beach. The beaches we found were fabulous, with incredibly soft sand and perfect water. I found it amusing that people were attempting to surf the two foot waves, but hey, they can try right?

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Waiting for the bus, after spending a marvelous day on the Mediterranean in Pisa.

A refreshing two hour nap later left us happy, tanner than before and ready to eat. Returning to the tower, we found a nice restaurant where we enjoyed another (and pointably cheaper than Rome) Italian meal.

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Brooke snuck the water bottle back to the fountain so we wouldn't have to pay the ridiculous prices for more water at dinner. Slightly sketchy? Maybe, cost effective? Definitely.

All in all, Pisa was my favorite stop in Rome. It is cheaper and has marvelous beaches, oh, and did I mention how cool the leaning tower is?

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Posted by court_7 05:31 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Friday the 13th

Who says nothing crazy happens...

-17 °C

For those who say nothing crazy ever happens on Friday the 13th, I have a counter example. After a packed day in Rome, we got on a 9 pm train for a 2.5 hour ride to Florence. Arriving in Florence very late, we opted to, instead of getting a hostel for 5 hours, sleep (or nap rather) in the train station and catch the 4:30 am train to Pisa the following morning. We walked around the station, staking out our preferred sleeping spots and layed down for what we thought would be the evening. Little did we know our night was just beginning.
About 45 minutes into our 'naps', a security guard came to tell us the train station was closing in 5 minutes, and we had to get out before the 'polizia' came and arrested us. At this point it was 12:35 am and we were slightly disoriented from our albeit short naps.

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Right before the chaos began...

At this point things began to get crazy. The last train for Pisa left at 12:37 am... two minutes to go. The other girls grabbed all our stuff while I ran to the ticket machine to buy all 4 tickets to Pisa. Time 12:36 am. Having a slight issue with the ticket machine I grabbed the tickets and began sprinting to the train deck, just in time to see the train pulling out from the station. So there I was, stranded in Florence, with only my wallet and my pajamas (I had been napping remember, and they grabbed my stuff). This was a fun predicament, and because the police were coming, I and the rest of the backpacking bums were forced to leave the station. I decided to make the best of my unfortunate situation and began staking out a new piece of concrete real estate. I chose a prime location just outside of the station, across from some girls from Norway and a group of girls from Spain.

I was preparing myself for a long night when the police came out to tell us all to 'not fall asleep' as people would rob us if we did (like I had anything to take seriously, all my stuff was on a train to Pisa). Luckily for me, after the police left, one of the girls from Spain came up to me, inviting me to sit with them, as she had overheard my unfortunate experience of being left by my traveling companions. I was very grateful, and soon settled in between the Spaniards (from Bilboa by the way) and began playing cards when what to my wondering eyes did appear, but my long lost traveling companions.

It turned out that after I had missed the train, they had all been so concerned about my well being (mainly due to the fact that they had my bag, and all I was wearing were shorts and a t-shirt and it was cold) that they got off the train at the next stop and then proceeded to hike back for over an hour to the station in Florence. The hike was made even more exciting as it was in the dark, they did not have a map AND they had to carry my pack as well (which Nicole did like a champ). Needless to say, by the time they made it back to Florence they were quite exhausted and were excited to pull up a comfy piece of concrete and take a nap until the next train left in 2.5 hours... leaning tower here we come.

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The fateful camping spot, where we waited once we were kicked out of the train station.

Posted by court_7 05:30 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

More Roman Escapades

-17 °C

Our second day in Rome began with an early start and exploration of the Vatican Museums and Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel (not before however we waited in line for 1.5 hours and witnessed a moped-er crash into an unsuspecting tourist).

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Seriously, the line was insane!

The Vatican Museums were filled with all sorts of relics, paintings and sculptures. The highlight of the museums was definitely Michelangelo's ceiling of the Sistine chapel. The ceiling is absolutely gorgeous and huge and took Michelangelo three years to complete. The ceiling depicts nine books of Genesis, and most notably God's Creation of the World. A very famous portion, showing God reaching out and giving life to Adam is one I tried to capture (semi-illegally) in the photo below.

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Too bad the only one that wasn't fuzzy has my face in it... ah well, Murphy's law.

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The ceilings in the Vatican Museums were phenomenal.

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The lonely nun, the only one I saw in the Vatican.

After exploring the Vatican Museums we continued on our whirlwind tour of Roman sites (not before I was left however... I fell asleep in the museum and got ditched... but don't worry, I found an internet cafe and met up with everyone in a few hours... which turned out to be a general theme for the trip).

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One last shot of St. Peter's Basilica

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Where are all the people, pigeons, markets... as dead as you will ever see St. Peter's square.

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First up was the Spanish Steps. Apparently these are the widest and longest staircase in Europe and we had planned to get lunch and eat on the steps, the blazing sun however, deterred our desires to eat on the steps and instead we enjoyed lunch and gelato in the shade followed by some fun in the fountain.

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Our next stop was to see the Trevi Fountain, the largest fountain in Rome. Legend says that if you throw a coin into the fountain, you will return to Rome. In order to ensure our speedy return, we all fully supported the tradition and threw good money into the fountain. On a side note, apparently throwing two coins means a marriage will occur soon, and three coins means divorce, sorry mom, I only threw one coin in. A cool fact is the 3,000 Euros thrown daily into the fountain are collected each night and used for Rome's needy.

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Following the fountain, we headed to the Pantheon. The Pantheon was built in 125 AD and is remarkably well preserved. It was originally created as a building for all of the Greek God's, but is currently used as a Christian church. The Pantheon is huge and is the largest non-reinforced concrete dome in the history of architecture. Originally, the Pantheon's ceiling was covered with bronze, but as with the Colesseum, it too was melted down to create St. Peter's basilica. Along with being a church, the Pantheon is also the burying place for many famous people, including Raphael (of course I am generally only interested in where the TMNT are buried). Of interest to me, was the Pantheon's draining system. Because of the hole in the ceiling (which allows for better air circulation) there are many small holes in the floor allowing for water drainage.

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After asking various souvenir vendors for food recommendations, we headed to grab a quick dinner in Rome. Per recommendation, we found a great place, slightly outside the city centre and enjoyed a great family style Italian dinner which proved to be a great finale to our Rome experience.

Posted by court_7 05:29 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

When in Rome

...Run like crazy to see all the sights!

-17 °C

When we first arrived in Rome two things became unmistakably clear, first, I do not speak any Italian, and getting around Italy without being able to communicate was going to be an interesting experience. I was actually quite ashamed of myself, here I was in a country that does not speak English, and I couldn't speak their language and was expecting they could speak mine (here I go, being a typical annoying American) and second, pay phones in Italy were extremely confusing, and many Euro coins were expended in vain attempts to phone a friend in Rome.

After a few unsuccessful attempts to use the phones and find transport into Rome, including a group of cabbies trying to trick us into taking a taxi all the way into the city (crazy expensive), Nicole and I were able to find and get the last two seats on the bus into the city center. Once inside Rome another thing became clear, Italian drivers are crazy! Lanes at intersections are completely arbitrary and if you feel like the person in front of you is going to slow, you simply pull up to the side of them, creating your own lane and wiz by them at frighteningly fast speeds when the lights turn green.

Even with the alarming driving procedures, Rome is a fabulous city with many things to see.
Our first morning Nicole and I headed out to explore Vatican City and in particular, St Peter's Basilica. A huge church, the basilica covers almost 6 acres, and is considered to be the burial site of Saint Peter (particularly, tradition holds that Peter's tomb is below the baldachin and altar).

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Along with housing the apparent remains of the apostle Peter, the basilica also holds the tombs of many Popes and other prominent Catholic figures, including the most recent Pope, Pope John Paul II. In the main hall of the basilica there are many statues and monuments to various Popes and other important Catholic figures.

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In the middle of the basilica, is the statue of St. Peter Enthroned. It is Catholic tradition to visit the basilica and kiss\touch the right foot of the statue, and because of this the foot is almost completely eroded away. In fact, the left foot is now beginning to be worn down as well due to so many people visiting the basilica each day.

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Near this statue and directly beneath the main dome of the basilica, is a huge monument, covering the supposed grave\remains of Peter. The monument is huge (30 m tall) and is covered with bronze, supposedly taken from the Panthenon.

After we explored the interior of the basilica, we, keeping with the pay to climb tradition of Europe, opted to climb the dome, or cupola 120 m (394 ft) to the top. We, being adventurous, and more importantly cheap, opted for the without lift option and trudged to the top.

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The view from the top was fabulous, as you could see much of Rome and all of Vatican City.

After decending the stairs, we met up with Brooke and her mother and headed to see the Roman Colosseum. This was really fabulous, and included my favorite subway stop in Rome, because when you came up from the subway, the Colosseum was huge and the first thing you saw.

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The Colosseum was created between 70 and 80 AD and was the host for gladiator fights and other public events. To me, it was phenomenal that a building of this size and architectural complexity was created so long ago, and for the most part is still well intact today, nearly 200 years later. Even more impressive was the amount of thought and planning that went into this ampetheatre.

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The Colosseum had a seating capacity of 50,000 but due to the effectiveness of the planning, all spectators could be evacuated from one of the 80 doors within a manner of minutes. Seating worked by rank, with the most important people (Kings, Popes, senators etc) sitting in the first level all the way to commoners, slaves and women sitting in the highest level. Originally, the seats were covered\created with marble and went nearly to the top (with the top level being standing room only) but the marble was all stripped by the Pope when St Peter's Basilica was created.

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Yes, I was calling Jack Bauer, the Colosseum was under attack by crazies!

Another interesting thing about the Colosseum was the intense underground labyrinth that housed the animals and gladiators. Traditionally, the gladiators were Roman prisoners and if they won their battles they would be granted their freedom, that is if they could survive.

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Apparently we didn't make it out...

After the Colosseum, we went on to explore the Roman Forum. This was the center of old Rome, and is still in large part well preserved.

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The Roman Forum was fabulous, lots of old ruins from when Rome was first inhabited, Brenda and Nicole paid for a walking tour, Brooke and I however, decided to just wander about.

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My favorite spot was the Palantine hill. It was so beautiful.

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Taking a breather in the Museum on Palantine hill.

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I cannot even express how much I wanted to be the head and hands behind this statue. My efforts were thwarted however by a crazy guard who was giving me the evil eye.

After the Forum, Nicole and I were so exhausted that not even our insatiable hunger could steer us from going to bed.

Posted by court_7 15:28 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

An end to England

Our final adventures London

-17 °C

As we had only 3 full days to spend in London, and the first was clouded with my jet lag, we had a lot of ground to cover in the next two days. On Sunday, we got a relatively early start and decided to see London and Tower Bridges before going to church later in the afternoon.

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Much to my relief, London Bridge was not, as I had been so told in my youth, falling down, and is still fully assembled in London. Contrary to popular belief, the London Bridge, other than being the London Bridge is not that cool. Other than being a place from which to look at Tower Bridge and relive child horrors of a bridge falling down, it is pretty much a normal, nonaesthetically pleasing bridge. The lack of beauty however, did not detir our picture taking spirits however.

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Following our walk across London Bridge we made our way down to the Thames river bank in attempts to walk up to see the more aesthetically pleasing Tower Bridge. We however, were of course side tracked by a huge cathedral and enormous doric tower that beckoned us to come climb it.

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The tower was built after the fires of London in attempts to beautify the city. For only £2 we were able to trudge up the 311 steps of the winding staircase to get a fabulous view over looking London.

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In case you were wondering, 311 is a lot of stairs

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Of course, not before we snapped a few photos of our beautiful selves.

This tower is not for the faint of heart... or legs, the 311 stairs up the spiral staircase is intense... I could definitly feel the burn. The view in the end however, was worth it, and we could see most of London.

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Our last full day in London started early, with another stop at Westminster Abbey so I could experience the sundial. While we had seen it earlier, the clouds, and obscene amounts of Tour de France fans inhibited my opportunity to fully see the dial in action.

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Pic of dial. This photo was taken at 10:13 am... apparently it does not take into account daylight savings time, but other than that, it works fairly well. It works by standing on the line closest to the current date. An as always, I am interested in sciencey things...

After the sun dial I made my way to the changing of the guards. This was a drawn out ordeal, involving the queens guards dressed in fabulous attire, walking back and forth, and the band playng prodominantly American tunes, with such ditties as Staying Alive, the Pirates theme and Copa Cobana.

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I'm pretty sure here the band was playing the National Anthem... only shortly after the Copa Cobana.

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Their hats were definitly the best part here...

After the gaurd change, Nicole and I enjoyed a leisurely walk through the parks surrounding Buckingham palace.

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We took this picture right before some guy came and tried to make us pay to sit in the chairs... nothing is ever free, especially in London.

Also a plus about the gardens (or minus depending on your view), was the many pelicans walking around and swimming in the lakes. I found it particularly amusing that they had signs discouraging the feeding of the pelicans, as aposed to the ever popular don't feed the pigeons signs.

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Me and Buckingham palace in the background. Not to shabby of a house for the Queen eh?

Following our jaunt around the palace, we headed to the London Eye, a huge enclosed ferris wheel allowing tourists to see nearly all of London from a bird's eye view, as the line was horrendous we opted to do the Eye first thing in the morning, before we flew out to Rome and instead happened upon a brilliant fountain.

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This is me, inside the fountain, it is really fun, we had a few close calls, but luckily, no one got to soaked. There were however, a few sopping children running around... hmmm, the fact that I am amused by the same things as are small children... what does that say about me?

Continuing in our super mature nature, following the fountain, we found a skate park. It was nestled under a bridge, with only a few skaters there, so I didn't feel to bad showing my moves.

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What do you think? Quit my day job right?

Continuing in the 'run yourself into the ground' while traveling Europe trip motto, next we headed to Tower Bridge. This bridge, which is much more elaborate than London Bridge (which in all honesty isn't saying much) looks like it was stolen from Disneyland. The spires are great and I love the blue accents.

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Disneyland right? The castle, white and blue trim, I was expecting to see Sleeping Beauty walk out at any moment.

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Here I am, wearing the bridge as a crown, do I look regal or what?

After the bridge, we rushed to St. Paul's Cathedral, where we attended a service (key word here, FREE to the public... great way to get into cathedrals by the way) for the beneficiary's of St. Paul's. St. Paul's was goregous, very elaborate, and the service was very nice as well, complete with a boys choir that was very enjoyable.

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After the service, in a seemingly vain attempt, we hurried to Shakespere's Globe theatre, in hopes that we could buy standing room tickets for the evening show. Of course, since we went 1 hour from show time, the tickets were completely sold out, but as we had not much else to see and were feeling lucky, we decided to wait in the cancellation line in case people canceled. While it did not look promising, we were eventually able to conjure up 1 standing room ticket (for free even, thank goodness for flakey high school students who don't show). Because we had been running around all day, and were exhausted to say the least, this was not a bad thing, as I watched the first half of the show, and Nicole watched the second half.

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Photo of the layout within the Globe theatre

All in all, the Globe was marvelous, while not Shakespeare's original theatre, it is an exact replica, and the standing room tickets are great, you can easily get right up to the front of the stage without much trouble and as long as you can bear standing for 3 hours, are a steal at only £5 (sadly, this is cheaper than a one day underground ticket for this ridiculously priced, but fabulous city).

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Potentially copyright-infringing picture of the stage, close huh?

As is expected, once the show was completed we were completely exhausted. I have taken Bree's place of falling asleep in random places, as I mastered the art of sleeping in subways during my stint in NYC. I happily napped the entire ride home and fell to sleep almost as quickly.

The next morning, before our flight to Rome, Nicole and I enjoyed the London Eye. While potentially another opportunity for London to rob poor tourists, this was a rad way to see London. With a bird's eye view we could easily see all the places we visited, and got a good feel for the layout of the city.

Following the eye we made one last stopover in Trafalgar Square, to get pictures with the lions. The park nazi did her best to keep us away from the statues, but to no avail, we foiled her attempts and got pictures anyways! (which are not on my camera and will be loaded later)

Our last stop in London was to Portobello road. We had hoped to find the riches of ages, but were unfortunate to find that the main markets ran only on Saturdays (it was Tuesday). Instead, we meandered through the open markets (still quite a few) and ate yummy falafal pitas. Seriously, one of my favorite foods right now, if you've never had one, you should get one.

Posted by court_7 23:52 Archived in England Comments (0)

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