Leaning into it
After not very much sleep, our plane touched down in London. We de-boarded the plane with eyes like four burnt holes in two blankets wondering how we were going to stay awake for the few hours until our next flight to Pisa. Our first tactic was to eat breakfast – the porridge was okay but the coffee was so putrid we feared in may cause our systems to shut down completely. We next tried the liberal application of copious amounts of expensive moisturises in the duty free shops – whilst our skin felt rejuvenated, the rest of us was still flagging. Our final play was to go to the pub… for peppermint tea. By the time we finished up, we’d managed to kill enough time to crawl to our boarding gate.
Mum and I both assumed we’d sleep through the entire flight but no sooner were we at altitude than we were enlivened by the retracing of the route of our last trip together over France on the onscreen flightpath map. No sooner had the thrill of that passed than we looked out the window to see the Swiss Alps spread out below us so close and so clear it was as though it was a purpose built tour! The Swiss Alps morphed into the Italian Alps and before we knew it, we were commencing our descent into Pisa.
It’s just over 18 months since I was last in Pisa on a very different adventure. I was relieved in my exhaustion to find the airport so familiar so I could turn my mind to practicalities while Mum revelled in the thrill of the new. Left to my own devices I would have been wrangling with maps and asking directions but one of the very many great bonuses of traveling with Mum is that I (and my Dad and sisters) insist on a higher level of travel and comfort for her so rather than walk or bus to our hotel, we jumped in a taxi and were there in moments.
Hotel Alessandro della Spina was the first hotel I booked of the whole trip for its high rating on Trip Advisor and relative affordability. I had a certain expectation of a decent but fairly bland hotel so was very pleasantly surprised to find it so elegant and full of personal touches. We were greeted warmly and furnished with maps and directions to anywhere we wanted to go which at that point was up the stairs, down the hall and into bed!
But no! This is where Holiday Boot Camp begins! No lying down on the job! It was Mum who taught me the phrase “you can sleep when you’re dead” and now it was time to throw it back in her sleepy face!!! I’m no monster, I let her have a shower but I advised strongly against sitting, or worse, laying down while I had mine! I came out to find her practically propping her eyelids open with toothpicks but we’d discussed and agreed that we just had to push on a little more to get the trip started on the right track.
I don’t wish to undermine the many splendours of Pisa but there was really just one thing we wanted to see – the Leaning Tower – and if we didn’t do it this afternoon, we’d lose the whole next day just to see one site at the expense of the many awaiting us. Apparently, it was a very pleasant 20 minute walk from the hotel, through the historical heart of Pisa to the Tower. Again, I was grateful for the opportunity to put Mum’s needs before my own and just get a taxi instead.
It dropped us off around the corner. The Leaning Tower was so close, we couldn’t see it until we rounded the corner and there it was – leaning and gleaming in the chilly afternoon sun! As I said, it’s only 18 months since I last saw it so I was more thrilled by the look on Mum’s face as she took it in. I felt a swell of silly, child-like pride at being able to present my mother something that looms so large in grandeur and reputation as though I had everything to do with its actual construction – “Isn’t it amazing?! Isn’t it clean?! Isn’t it … amazing!!!” (I was tired, my words were a little evasive).
We went for a stroll around the rest of the Duomo Piazza (Cathedral Square) more commonly known as the Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles) to take in the magnificence of the lesser celebrated buildings – the Cathedral, the Baptistry and the Campo Santo all apparently in a state of repair. Although it was all so familiar, the scene was so very different to my last visit in the height of a carefree summer. I smiled at the memory of laying on the vast green lawn, basking under a bright blue sky. Considering the heat I’ve just left however, I wasn’t sorry for today’s much cooler clime and with the sun quickly setting, there was no time to reminisce – we had a tower to comedically prop up with the help of the other off-season tourists!
Obligatory photos taken, we backtracked to the taxi rank and just beyond to a restaurant our driver had recommended. It was 6pm which is no sort of time to be eating in Italy but we simply couldn’t muster the energy to care. We ordered – Mum had steak, I had gnocchi – both were delicious especially when washed down with a sampling of local vino and followed by our first true Italian Tiramisu and local specialty – Vin Santo con Cantucci (a traditional Tuscan dessert wine with biscuits). With that, we were done like our dinner!
We may have saved the tower from falling over for another day but it was time for us to collapse. Taxi! Hotel. Bed by 8pm. Zzzzzzzzzzz
Patches McMum: On our way to Pisa we flew over snow covered alps – amazing! We arrived at our beautiful hotel – beautifully appointed and very Italian in its decoration. What impressed me most was the ‘key pigeon hole’ behind the reception desk – in its previous life, it was a pasta storage unit in a grocery shop!
After a refreshing shower, we taxied to see the Leaning Tower. Alighting from the taxi, we turned the corner and there was this amazing leaning tower so beautiful against the blue sky. People of all shapes, sizes and nationalities trying to either push or pull the tower for their photographs! Just watching people is always interesting. The surrounding buildings are of similar age but not so well kept as the tower. So beautiful against the blue sky, setting sun and green grass.
We wined and dined at a local restaurant, taxied home and collapsed! A very happy day.