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Pisa, Italy

…and a quick trip to Florence and to Livorno

Pisa was a lovely contrast to Rome.  The pace was slower, there were fewer people and there were still great sites to explore.  Of course, we took in the Torre di Pisa (the Leaning Tower of Pisa) as well as the Cattedrale di Pisa, the Baptistry and the Camposanto that are all located in the Piazza del Duomo. 

The tower is straighter than it used to be due to restoration efforts.  Originally it was leaning 15 feet from the perpendicular, but they have managed to reduce that to 13.5 feet.  It crazy to see and you can climb to the top for great views of Pisa.  You have to watch your step as the lean is quite noticeable on the stairs, but it was an interesting experience.  The stairs actually have a wear pattern depending on which side of the tower you’re on.  The Cathedral and the Baptistry were impressive, and they have a museum dedicated to the Camposanto frescoes. 

One of my favourite things that we did in Pisa was actually the Mura di Pisa.  There is a 3-kilometer section of the city wall that has been restored and is open to the public.  We started at the far end and walked all the way to the Piazza del Duomo.  It was a great way to see the city and a really unique perspective. 

We also went to the Museo dell Navi Antiche di Pisa which walks you through the history of Pisa and showcases the remains of ancient Roman ships.  It’s also housed in an incredible old building that was once a barn.  Several of the displays are located in repurposed stalls.  I loved the use of space and the fact that they worked around what was there instead of demolishing the original structure to create space.

In general, Pisa is just a great city to walk around.  It’s small enough to not be overwhelming, but it’s full of old-world charm and amazing architecture.  We spent several days just walking around town.  We stayed in an apartment behind the central train station in a very residential neighbourhood.  It was quiet and we felt very safe coming and going even late in the evening.  There were far less people and we had easy access to the train station. 

Firenze (Florence), Italy

Mike decided we couldn’t come all the way to Italy and not see Michelangelo’s David, so we hopped a train to Florence for the day. 

First, we visited the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella which might just be my favourite basilica so far.  It is incredibly ornate on the outside, but the interior is understated elegance.  It was beautiful without being ostentatious.  The basilica is also home to the largest brick and mortar dome in the world.

We then headed for the square where Michelangelo’s David originally stood; the Piazza della Signoria.  The original David was moved into the Galleria Dell’Accademia and a replica was placed in the square.  It turns out we aren’t that into art and didn’t feel like paying to get into the Galleria, so we just settled for the replica.  It was still very impressive. 

Afterwards we crossed the Arno River and trekked up to the Piazzale Michelangelo for epic views of Florence and a bronze replica of David.  The terraced fountains leading up to the Piazzale were pretty amazing as well. 

On the way back to the other side of the river we stopped for our first official Italian gelato at a small shop called the Cantina del Gelato…it was worth the wait.  Finally, we crossed back along the Ponte Vecchio which is a medieval stone bridge that is home to several jewelry shops.

Florence was amazing and chaotic.  A day trip was the perfect sweet spot for us.  We hit all the highlights and then headed back to Pisa.  It was definitely worth the excursion.

Livorno, Italy

For our last day we hopped a train over to the neighbouring town of Livorno, a port city just down the coast.  We had butter chicken at Ristorante India Gate and then headed over to check out the 2 fortresses in Livorno. 

Fortezza Nuova is surrounded by a canal and hosts music and entertainment in the summer months.  There is a massive garden on the estate; unfortunately, they were doing work in the area, so there wasn’t much to see.

I found Livorno to be a little run down and in need of some restoration, but Fortezza Vecchia made the trip worth it.  The fortress is free to tour and is absolutely stunning.  You can walk through the lower levels as well as the main interior and you can walk sections of the bastion walls.  It was incredible to wander around and we were the only ones there.  If nothing else, this made the trip to Livorno worthwhile.

We followed the canals back to the train station and we did encounter some interesting piazzas.  I feel like I might be selling Livorno short because we didn’t do much research and we only spent the afternoon wandering around.  If you have the time though it might be worth a stop.

We had a fantastic time in Pisa, Florence, and Livorno. We have one more stop in Italy and then we'll be moving on to our 11th country.


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