Sometime, somewhere I read or heard that Pisa was not very interesting. Someone, somewhere wrote or said that the only thing worth seeing in Pisa was the tower. That the city was not worth more than a short day trip from Florence or another closer more interesting city. So when I planned my trip to Italy mere weeks after quitting my job, I didn’t allot any specific or substantial time to adequately spend there. Suffice it to say after spending less than 5 hours there I can proudly say that that was a bad idea. And that person, whoever they were, was wrong. Very wrong.
After my too short day in Pisa, I reasoned that it was possible that the Pisa basher may have been from Florence. For those who don’t know, the two cities are historical rivals. And perhaps this random Florentine citizen wanted to permanently elevate their hometown by permanently tarnishing the reputation of her rival city. The truth, it seems, the world will never know.
I, myself, came to Pisa on a day trip from Florence. I had just finished my online English classes for the day and was racing to get to to the tower before sunset. This by no means was a simple task. While the train ride was less than an hour long, my classes didn’t end until mid afternoon, which means that I had less than 2 hours to make it there before sunset.
Me being me, I didn’t bother to bring a map or anything that would help me to get to the tower. Why? Well seeing as it was one of the most famous travel sites in the world, I assumed that there would be plenty of signs, tour guides, and free maps at the other end of the train station. But as I exited the train station I realized that I would have no such luck. So after walking around aimlessly for a while, I decided to follow the crowd into the city center, hoping that they would lead me to my desired destination.
It was first sunny day in after a week of what felt like monsoon weather. As such, it appeared that any and everyone had come out to enjoy the sunshine and warm Spring air. And I was happy to be counted among them. As I meandered over the river, through the streets and seemingly into the heart of the old city, I couldn’t get over the beauty of the architecture in the pastel colored façades.
But further in I walked, the more the crowds began to thin out. When I made it to a park at the edge of the city center, I started to worry a bit. The sun was getting closer and closer to the horizon, yet, there was no sign of the tower. It didn’t seem like the kind of thing that would be easy to miss, so I knew that it must be much farther away than I thought. It was then that panic began to set in. At that point I decided that it would be better to go back to the train station and start again.
So I hightailed it to McDonald’s at the train station and opened up Google Maps. Along with the directions, I noticed that there was a schedule for the tower. And written next to the listing for the tower in tiny green letters were the words “closing soon.” I was in equal parts shocked, and disappointed. And confused. How could the Leaning Tower of Pisa be closing? To me it was like the Eiffel Tower was off limits. The only explanation seemed to me that the tower was inside some sort of park that had clear visiting hours and I had in my wanderings missed the window. For the first time in a long time, tears sprang to my eyes. I chastised myself for being so disorganized and potentially missing out on the opportunity of a lifetime.
Still, my stubbornness overcame my insecurity. The idea that I had made it to the town of Pisa, but wouldn’t be able to make it to the tower was more than I could bear. So, I pulled myself together and vowed that I would run if I had to. So, I packed up my stuff and took off.
As I power walked through the winding streets I had to remind myself that the tower had not been built to appease the throngs of foreign tourists that now visited daily. That was why the tower was so far from the train station and there were was practically no signage directing people there. When the the tower was built, no one had any idea that it would gain global infamy for defying the laws of physics.
I crossed the Arno again, twisted and turned down back alleys before I finally saw it. Peering out behind the rooftop of a restaurant, I saw it. In that moment, all my sadness and anxiety turned to joy. I picked up the pace and hightailed it to the Square of Miracles to see it before I closed. But as I walked through into the piazza, I saw no ropes, gate or anything else that would prevent someone from viewing the tower. Once I got closer, I realized that the hours were for going inside the tower—something I had no intention of doing in the first place.
And so there I was—finally standing among one of the great wonders of the medieval world. A gorgeous white marble tower that leaned farther than it appears in person. And in the golden hour as the sun rays finally began their slow descent, I could feel nothing but gratitude. Gratitude that I had made it, gratitude that I could bear witness to it, and gratitude that I hadn’t listened to that person who had said that Pisa wasn’t that great. That there was nothing of note really to see. Because having spent time there, if I ever saw that big mouth in person, I’d argue back, “Pisa, boring? Please!”