Friday, June 20, 2008

Cruise Day #8, Pisa and (Not) Lucca

After my exuberant blog post of the morning, we hit a minor snag on the changing of trains in Pisa for Lucca. According to Rick Steves (and I quote) speaking of the frequency of train connections between Pisa and Lucca, expect “roughly 2/hr.” That is to say “roughly” two trains per hour. The unfortunate part is that “roughly” means there are NO trains to Lucca between 10:20 and 12:20 in the morning. We arrived in Pisa at 10:27. How’s that for timing?

Such are the joys of independent travel. Given the return train schedule, distance to major sights in Pisa, and the somewhat circuitous route to get back to the ship (especially from Lucca), we concluded that changing the order of Pisa and Lucca wasn’t viable. So, we had to opt for one or the other and given that we didn’t want to spend nearly two hours waiting for a train, we opted to spend the day focused on Pisa. In the end, this worked out very well (one of those happy accidents of travel). Could Pisa and Lucca be done in the same day (during a cruise stop)? Yes. Would you do them both justice? No, I don’t think so.

As I believe I’ve mentioned, Libby and I have visited the major cities in Italy on previous vacations (Rome, Florence, Milan, and Venice), but our schedules have never really allowed us to visit the smaller cities, such as Pisa (or any number of other wonderful localities). As a child, Libby did make a brief visit to Pisa. However, it was very short, and she was (to use her own phrase) “ignorant at the time of the artistically significant artifacts in Pisa.” Now that she’s older and more knowledgeable, she really appreciated the treasures of today: Cimabue’s mosaic and Pisano’s pulpit in the Duomo (itself a unique architectural contribution in the “Pisan Romanesque” versus plain old vanilla (I suppose) “Romanesque” style), as well as Pisano’s pulpit in the Baptistery (which is of huge importance as perhaps the first example of Renaissance sculpture). Interestingly, the baptistery also has amazing acoustics, demonstrated by the guard who also sings for about a minute every 30 minutes. You see, this is the type of thing that gets missed when rushing through a city. Because we had the time to explore, we also visited the Church of San Sisto (a very simple, classically Romanesque structure) that served as a useful reference point before visiting the Duomo. Amazingly, it’s only a few blocks from the Campo dei Miracoli, but we were the sole visitors exploring it during our visit! We also had a chance to explore the historic core in more detail, visit the University of Pisa (founded in the early 1300s), and do some window shopping.

Indeed, our leisurely window shopping led us to another of Libby’s favorite destinations in Italia: Furla, the one of handbag fame. While both Libby and I are far from fluent in Italian, she’s remarkably good at communicating in this retail environment… managing to clearly say “I’d like the large red one, please.” Yet, somehow I manage to mangle my gelato orders even when I can point to the flavor that I’d like. Non capisco! :-) Actually, as a tip for those of you who like purses, Furla (and some other European brands) really are cheaper in Europe than in the States (even after accounting for the exchange rate). Libby’s purchase today (you didn’t really think she wouldn’t bring home another purse did you?), was a good 50% off the price one would have to pay at home.

After spending lovely day in Pisa, we arrived back at the ship by 4:00. We relaxed for a while and then went to an early dinner in the Grand Pacific Dining Room. We thought my meal was better than Libby’s. I guess that I ordered the “right” things tonight. Interestingly, NCL features items from the magazine “Cooking Light” onboard their ships. While this might seem counterintuitive (or just downright unbelievable), these items are actually very good in terms of both quality and quantity. I recommend them. If for no other reason, you might not feel so guilty when you wander up to the late night buffet for a second dessert. :-)

Tomorrow, we visit Roma once again!

P.S. I forget to mention that we had the NCL Gem, RCI Independence of the Seas, Crystal (something), and Regent (something else – note my attention to detail) all in port with us today. Nevertheless, the trains and public transport worked smoothly. Kudos to the city of Livorno for effective management of the port operations and public transport!

Editorial note: After we return, I’ll post detailed instructions regarding the train to Pisa and Florence (including pictures). I also plan to start answer some of your questions during our upcoming sea day on Sunday.


Dick said...

Sorry you didn't make it to Lucca, but you can add it to the list of places to see on another trip. My Mount Dora friends stayed in Lucca before the villa and really enjoyed it. I had hopped to go there this trip, but the train scheduled messed me up too.

Paul said...

See... I think it is a conspiracy! :-)

Debra Manning said...

Dear Paul and Libby,
I have so enjoyed reading about your wonderful trip "by sea." This reader will continue to live vicariously through all your adventures. Just the food descriptions alone have had me riveted. Take care and I cannot wait to see the pictures.(I had to research the Barbary apes.)
Best wishes