October 16, 2015
The next day we drove to Pisa. We went to the leaning tower first but since it was only 4 PM, it was still very busy with tour busses on the piazza dei Miracoli. So after a short refreshment we decided to have dinner in the centre first. We took our car, and while trying to park close he the old city centre accidentally got lost with our car in the pedestrian zone (TLZ zone). If you can avoid it do so, the streets are awfully narrow, and it took us quite some time yo get out, all the while praying we would not encounter a policeman. We eventually parked close to the old Ponte di Mezzo, the bridge that connects de shopping street on both sides of the river Arno.
We walked through the busy university city centre and ate a pizza on the square behind the university faculty of law where students were celebrating their graduation. (Pizzeria on piazza Dante Alighieri, but I forgot the name of the small snack bar!)
We then drove back to piazza dei Miracoli around 8 PM. It was still quite full with people, but a lot less than before. Seeing the piazza I realized that the leaning tower did not stand alone, but on a square with other impressive buildings. Up to that day, I had always seen pictures of people with only the leaning tower in the background. And you see everybody taking exactly these pictures with only the leaning tower in the background. But on the piazza also stands the cathedral di Santa Maria Assunta with its battistero, and two museums, one in a former Benedict cloister from the 13th century. Against the city walls lies the gothic burial place Camposante Monumentale.
The construction of the leaning tower started in 1173, but was halted after the first three floors where finished, because the ground was unstable and the tower started to sink with a risk of collapse. In 1275 they continued constructing anyway. The slope of the tower is 10%, and in 1990 they had to close the tower and start restorations trying to lessen the slope of the tower. The tower is open again since 2004, and should be fine for the next three centuries to come. Everybody takes the characteristic picture with the tower, leaning against it, embracing it, supporting it…. I advise visiting the tower just before sunset, taking pictures in the beautiful light of the setting sun. Do not forget to admire the other buildings too!
On our last day in Tuscany we decided to drive out to Arezzo, a beautiful medieval town, less than an hour from Figline Valdarno. This town served as the backdrop for scenes from the film “Life is Beautiful”, and when you come here, you see why.
The historic center of Arezzo is lovely and unspoiled. Its tranquillity belies in a powerful past that includes being one of the 12 Etruscan capitals and being a wealthy independent republic in the Middle Ages. Now it is home to nearly 100,000 and it is a hot spot for art and culture lovers.
Visit the beautiful Piazza Grande, the main square in Arezzo, with around it the Logge de Vasari, the Pieve church and the Palazzo Della Fraternita dei Laici, with an antique clock from 1552, that not only tells time, but also shows the cycle of the moon. We cooled down with a drink in one of the cafes of the square.
Walk uphill for beautiful vistas of the countryside and the town’s Duomo.
Arezzo has a lot to offer with Arezzo’s Church of San Francesco that boasts a great cycle of frescoes by 15th-century master Piero della Francesca and the Casa Vasari house museum that depicts an artist’s life journey (Vasari’s frescoes). If you want to visit Saint Francis basilica you need to reserve your tickets in advance though. It is a pity that the church has therefore very little visitors.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that Petrarch, the “father of humanism,” was born here in 1304. There is an Archaeological Museum that displays numerous ancient finds next to the remains of a Roman amfitheatre, of which very little remains.
For dinner we continued to Cortona, a beautiful medieval town high op on a hill with spectacular views of Val di Chianti and Monte Amiata, on the border between Tuscany and Umbria. Like Arezzo, Cortona was also one of the 12 Etruscan capitals.
After Frances Mayes wrote about living here in “Under the Tuscan Sun”, Cortona, home to some 22,000, wound up indelibly on the tourist map. That means day-trippers aplenty. Still, we think this town, located smack in the middle of Italy, remains well worth a stop for a day or an afternoon. The views alone are gorgeous, spreading from this dramatic hilltop town over the rolling countryside and Lake Trasimeno. And there are lots of worthwhile sites, like the Museo dell’Accademia Etrusca, chock-full of ancient Etruscan gems from the nearby area. The town attracts the ‘chic’ traveler, and has a mondain feel about it, the streets lined with shops selling chic stuff. We wanted our last ice-cream in Italy and preferred gelateria Ti Amo above the on tripadvisor popular Snoopy. It was a good choice, our last ice cream tasted as “our last one for a long time” (at least a week before I dare to eat ice-cream again!)
We chose restaurant Tempero for our last dinner that serves Tuscan specialties like grilled meat, veal stew, homemade pasta with meat sauce, gnocchi’s… with a very good Aperol Spritz before and a good Cortona red wine with the dinner. We closed of our holiday with a very good Illy coffee in caffe Tuscher. (If the weather is bad, it has beautiful interiors and free Wifi).