I am sure you have seen countless images of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Maybe you have even placed it on your bucket list to visit it one day and take one of those silly photos of you holding up the tower. I bet you had an image in your head about how it looks like, right now, as you are reading this. But you have to know this in advance: it looks nothing like you expect, and everything you expect all at the same time. Confused? Let me expound.
We both know it’s iconic, right? So it must be something to look at, right? Yes. Yes all around. But to say that it’s something to look at is such an understatement of how beautiful the tower is. To emphasize this point, let me tell you the story of how the Leaning Tower was spared by American soldiers during the Second World War, Pisa is made up of marshy lands, the soil softened by the two rivers running parallel it. During the 2nd world war, it was the only high point in the flat lands thereby making it a strategic vantage point for the German soldiers who were occupying the region that time. It was near the end of the war, unbeknownst to both side, and the Americans were moving in to destroy all German resources in the country. A 23-year-old American soldier was sent to spy on the tower, with explicit instructions to call on a volley of fire to decimate the area if even a shadow moved. With a telescope, he surveyed the tower in the dark, from the top down. Now, he was no artist, but even a former supplies clerk like him saw the exquisite detail of the tower. He started to think, yeah, blast it to smithereens anyway, but he was hypnotized by the beauty of the cathedral, the baptistery and tower in a field of green. All he had to say was, “This is Able George One. Fire.” And yet, he never did. The soldiers moved on, leaving the tower intact and allowing generations more to appreciate its wonder. With grace and blessings, my family and I got to see it too and I have to confirm that its beauty is otherworldly.
Maybe it’s all that green grass surrounding it. Maybe it’s the triangulation of the Cathedral, Baptistry and Tower. Maybe it’s all that stark whiteness in the midst of what is mostly red rooftops and red brick houses. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is just simply put --- arresting.
It’s not even that tall! The Eiffel Tower is tall. The Big Ben is tall. But this ---- this is the shortest iconic tall structure I have seen, but it still awed me. The marble structure, the pureness of it stopped me on my tracks. It was even more eerily beautiful at night when tourist crowds have all gone and the only sound you hear is the chirping of crickets in the field. Yes, we were lucky enough to find accommodations so close I could step out the front door and see the tower inside the compound. It was almost too exciting to have such a beautiful sight so accessibly near. You betcha we took advantage and strolled around at the strangest hours. The compound is open 24 hours so you could just go anytime you want. I strongly suggest to find accommodations as near as ours (0.2km from the actual tower) to enjoy this privilege as well.
A caveat though, if you have even the weakest 6th sense, be prepared to feel a little bit creeped out. Call me crazy, I’m fine with that. But I have learned to accept that sensitivity runs in my family, and even though mine is really weak, it still works. There was just a presence, or a massive one composed of many, that permeated the place. Not just the Tower compound, but the whole of Pisa. It was also a little weird how Pisa becomes a ghost town at night. Most tourists choose to visit Pisa as a day trip coming from Florence or Siena, so the barrage of humans are ceaseless while the sun still shines. But when the sun goes down, the population goes down as well. Taking a cab was challenging, so as a tourist staying in town for the night, you end up just going round and round the center of Pisa --- meaning the tower and the tourist shops nearby. The farther you get from the tower, the less attractive the streets get. But no matter how weird Pisa is, I still preferred it more to Florence (which I will explain in my next post).
We stayed at Hotel Pisa Tower. Apparently, this hotel has a number of structures with varying distance from the Tower compound. But we booked the Quadruple Room found on the first floor of the Annex --- a win because of its proximity to the landmark. It was a darling room, big enough for four adults, and a little crib for the bambino. It opens to a beautifully landscaped green space --- small, but with a nice outdoor lounge that just encourages you to chill.
The only downside is that breakfast is served at the main hotel, which is about 400 meters away. That’s quite some exercise to get your breakfast, but the walk is worth it. They have very good breakfast buffet fare, and I particularly developed a fondness for the fresh orange juice. But in case you’re too hungry to walk that far, a McDonald’s is just across the hotel annex too. If you don’t like crowds, it may be wiser to get a room at the main hotel. The annex is nearest to the tower, and in front of it is a slew of shops selling knick-knacks and souvenirs. Our room was facing the backyard so it was quiet. I am not so sure for the rooms upstairs facing the plaza.
That building to the left is the hotel.
All in all, our handful of days spent in Pisa didn’t feel as it was enough to really soak everything in. I would have wanted 2 more extra days to visit Siena and Assisi, maybe take a Tuscan cooking class in a farm in the middle of an orchard. That’s the dream. But then, I am praying there will be a next time, and more days to luxuriate in the beautiful sun-drenched beauty of Tuscany.
Smell ya later,