Open the photo gallery >>

Kas got up customarily early and went for a plod round the town. like she does. She got back in time for us to have a leisurely breakfast before setting off again. The breakfast here was the first of the trip that I’d describe as “average” rather than “good” – there was nothing particularly wrong with it, it just wasn’t as good as the two “business” hotels we’d stayed in up to this point.

When we’d done we packed up and got out of the hotel for around 10am. Our target for the day was to the most ridiculously touristy thing possible in Italy, which is to visit Pisa and get a photo of yourself pretending to hold up the Leaning Tower.

To get there from La Spezia you have to drive along the motorway through the provinces of Massa and Carrara and Lucca. Despite extensive research, neither of these has any geocaches acceptably close to the motorway, so we decided to skip them. I don’t mind doing them if they’re easy and by the roadside, but when each one is going to involve a 30 minute detour (or more) then I’m not so bothered.

So straight to Pisa we went, and after following signs for the town centre we found ourselves quite literally in the town centre. There’s a car park about 200m from the Piazza dei Miracoli, and that’s where we ended up parking. I expected it would be frighteningly expensive in there, but it wasn’t too bad. We arrived in town at about 11am, not really knowing the form at all, but suspecting that it involved some tickets.

The ticket office was close by and surprisingly had same-day tickets available for all of the attractions. The rather complex arrangement is that the baptistery, cemetery, cathedral and tower are all separately priced, but if you buy an entry to the cemetery or baptistery you get free entry to the cathedral too. The ticket agent advised to get the cemetery rather than the baptistery because the best bit of the baptistery is the outside, and that part is free. The earliest entry available into the tower was at 1:30, so we had oodles of time to walk around photographing everything and visiting the cathedral. We left ourselves time also to buy souvenirs and take the bags back to the car (because you can’t take them up the tower). And there was still further time to fail to find a geocache in the outer wall (we’d done others though, so we’d coloured in the Province of Pisa. The cathedral was impressive.

For the tower you have to queue up for your timed slot. If you are too early they ask you to go away and come back again later. The reason is basically that the stairs up the tower are narrow, so they let in a batch of people, who then climb to the top all at the same time, and then gradually make their way down again. I guess that both regulates the number of people at the top and ensures that everyone on the stairs is going in the same direction. There’s a very impressive collection of bells at the top, which I’d guess you’d expect, what with it being a bell tower and all, and you can get right up close to them. The stairs up and down are a bit of a death trap if you’re wearing the wrong shoes, because they are made of shiny marble and they lean all over the place. Ami had the wrong kind of shoes on, because someone has to. The view from the top of the tower is pretty good though.

After the tower we took an ice cream break and made our way round to the cemetery, which is not at all what you’d expect. It’s a covered walkway around a garden quadrangle, and all of the long-term occupants are buried beneath marked gravestones flat in the floor. One side seemed entirely to contain former Bishops of Pisa, in chronological order, which made me wonder what will happen when there’s no room left on that side.

When we’d finished here it was deep into the afternoon. What I’d thought might be a two-hour stopover (because we hadn’t pre-purchased any tickets) actually took us over 5 hours. It was time well spent though. It was busy, but not overly oppressive, and the monuments in the Piazza are well worth a visit.

We were spending the night in Florence, so still had a bit of a drive to do. There are two main roads running between Pisa and Florence. Violet took us to the slower one, which is the rather excessively named Strada di grande comunicazione Firenze-Pisa-Livorno. It’s not really a motorway. It’s an upgraded dual carriageway that has a speed limit of 110km/hr on some parts and 90km/hr on others. It felt rather slow to drive on.

Violet managed to find our hotel fairly easily – the Hotel Mirage. I picked this one specifically because it’s not in the centre of town but is close to a bus route, and hence seemingly ideal for leaving the car where it was. You can’t take cars into the historic centre of Florence without a resident’s permit anyway. We arrived at the hotel at exactly the same time as two bus loads of (I think) Chinese tourists. Thankfully we managed to get to the desk while they were still all farting around getting bags of their buses. After we’d checked in and walked back out to grab our bags from the car, the two buses had turned into four.

We got settled into our relatively large room and then went downstairs for a quick drink before getting ready to go out for dinner. We chose the nearby Restaurant Aloisius, and it turned out to be pretty good, especially the free “silly” liqueurs that arrived halfway through pudding.

All-in-all, that turned out to be a pretty decent day.