The Swiss Family Carlson go to Pisa!

Yay! Italy!  And I get to check another country off my list!

At the beginning of the summer Mark came home and said, “Hey! I had a paper accepted to a conference in Pisa!”

I looked up from my iPad and said, “When are we going?”

Events were set for the beginning of September and we decided to take an additional two days to go to a beach. In America we usually take a week and rent a house at Long Beach Island, NJ. (Another fantastic place to visit for sure. I highly recommend it and it’s an easy 5 hour drive from DC.)  We weren’t able to go last year before we moved to Basel and so we definitely needed to have some beach time this summer.

Traveling there was going to be quite an event all on its own.  We needed to fly into Florence, take a taxi from the Florence airport through herds of Italian drivers who are all demonstrating that driving “laws” are really more driving “suggestions” to the Florence train station, so we can then hurry for a train that is supposed to leave in 2 minutes, but in actuality doesn’t even arrive until fully 10 minutes later causing child #1 to say, “this would never happen in Switzerland.”  Once we were finished in Pisa we would need to take another train up the coast to a town called Viareggio and a taxi up to Lido di Camaiore, where we were staying.

But first PISA!  Everyone has heard of Pisa. Home to the famous Leaning Tower in the Piazza dei Miracoli!  Birthplace of Galileo Galilei, Antonio Pisano, and Leonardo Fibonacci, father of the incredibly cool Fibonacci number sequence! (Seriously, it is cool. Check out this youtube video.)

Pisa is an incredibly old city.  Virgil in the Aeneid makes references to Pisa that imply the city is not only established, but is important. Virgil was still working on the Aeneid when he died in 19BC.  So, Pisa was a large and important city before the time of Christ. That is one ancient city, people.

That look on E's face is, "There is pizza everywhere!"
That look on E’s face is, “There is pizza everywhere!”

We were staying in The Hotel Leonardo, a deceptively posh sounding place about 500 meters to the south of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It was one of the hotels the conference had reserved for their speakers around the Old Town section and not too far from the conference site.

It sounded fine, but I found the room slightly stale smelling and the beds hard. I was game to stay though. After all, I’d been camping before when I was a teenager and the beds weren’t any harder than the ground. By the middle of the second night I remembered why I don’t camp anymore.  The breakfast wasn’t much to speak of either. A bare-bones affair of bread, hard croissants, provolone cheese and bologna meat, and various condiments with a coffee machine that extruded instant coffee from somewhere inside its works.

The inside of the restaurant we ate in that first night. It was perfect.
The inside of the restaurant we ate in that first night. It was perfect.

Thankfully, there were restaurants galore right nearby. Our first night we tried a little hole-in-the-wall pizza and pasta place and were blown away. The food was delicious and fresh and plentiful. The next night we ate within view of the Tower at sunset and had the most amazing pasta ever. Mark had a tagliatelle with a wild boar ragu while I had tagliatelle in a traditional bolognese.

Our final night we once again couldn’t resist the pull of the Tower and found a place just around the corner from it. I had pappardelle with a wild hare ragu while Mark went the more traditional route with a tortellini covered in a light marinara. Every meal was the best pasta meal we’d ever had and this die hard spaghetti girl has a whole new appreciation for wider noodles.

Pisa is a city for people who like to wander. Wander this way and you’ll find a cute open air market.

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Wander that way and you’ll stumble into a 12th century church!

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This is Saint Pietro in Vinculis. It kind of ambushes you once you walk beyond the cafe next door.

IMG_2561San Pietro was built between the years of 1072-1118 and was run by the Augustinian order.

IMG_2556   The frescoes and other art is from the 13th century and there is even Roman sarcophagus! IMG_2559

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IMG_2563 I was confused about this guy. The full name of the church means "St. Peter in Chains," however this guy isn't in chains and doesn't really look like St. Peter. A closer look and the ability to read the brass plaque tells me that this is St. Stanislaus Kostka. I am still confused.
I was confused about this guy. The full name of the church means “St. Peter in Chains,” however this guy isn’t in chains and doesn’t really look like St. Peter. A closer look and the ability to read the brass plaque tells me that this is St. Stanislaus Kostka. I am still confused.

We wandered out of the church and down the block until we got to this bridge over the River Arno. Doesn’t it just scream “Italy!”?

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This side of the river feels a little more “artsy.” A little more “Left Bank of Paris.” IMG_2567

Street cafes are just about every 40 feet. The buildings are just right for a movie and I’m sure a few have been shot around here.IMG_2569

There are statues of famous children of Pisa in just about every square. IMG_2571

IMG_2564In fact, I think they expanded the definition of “piazza” just so they could say that the statue of Niccola Pisano is in a piazza.IMG_2574 At the end of the walk we decided to sit down at a cafe, me for a spot of tea and the boys for donuts.  Donuts are not popular in Switzerland. You have your jelly berliner, but it’s not quite a donut.  My boys want them risen, not filled, and covered with a chocolate glaze.  Lo and behold they spotted what looked like “real” donuts at a cafe right off a huge piazza.  So, what else could I do but buy them each a donut and a milk.

His first donut in over a year.
His first donut in over a year.

After a long and lovely break at the donut cafe we walked back up towards the river and the Palazzo Blu.

IMG_2577The Palazzo Blu is an old house right on the River Arno that has been turned into a weird combination of art and history museum.  The basement has some archaeology exhibits that highlight old Pisa.

These are two of the maps on display along with some amazing pottery samples that they uncovered nearby.

The second and third floors are interiors exhibits.  I swear the dining room looks just like Mark’s parents, but larger.

Then on the top floor is art! When we went they had an exhibit on Paladino and it featured his illustrations of the Iliad and the Odyssey.

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And then there were …. Roman coins? Shouldn’t those be in the basement with the archaeology?IMG_2590 IMG_2589Pisa is great for a day of slow wandering and drinking all things Italy. You look and watch and figure out what it means to you. Then you stop and sip coffee.  And after you wandered around for the whole day to stop again for one of the most delicious dinners you’ll ever have.

And, yes, a few places did look at us odd when we only ordered one thing and not an antipasto, primo, secondo, and dolci, but they got over it and we enjoyed ourselves. By the end of our stay I did cave and started ordering an antipasti of melon with prosciutto. It turned out to be H’s favorite thing to eat!  E succeeded in eating pizza for all except 1 meal (excluding breakfast), so there was success all around.

And before you think I forgot to go to The Leaning Tower of Pisa, we did go.  The whole thing was just too much for this post.  Really the Piazza dei Miracoli where the Leaning Tower lives deserves its own post. (Which I promise will be posted later in the week.)

But just to tide you over….


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