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Pisa is known for the leaning tower and not much else. In truth, there isn’t much else special in Pisa. Which is why I only spent less than a day there.
I arrived in the town a little after lunch on Friday, jumping off the train a station before the final terminal when I saw I was only a couple blocks away from the tower (tip for future travelers taking a Regionale train from the north). I spent a couple hours weaving my way through the throng of tourists, taking plenty of photos (no selfies holding the tower up), rejecting the €18 to climb to the top of the tower and enjoying the warm, sunny day.
I suppose I could end the post there, but some other fun things did happen that day.
First, I had to get lunch. I used TripAdvisor.com to find a good sandwich shop. The #1-rated restaurant in town, L’Ostellino, happened to be one, so I went there. A little hole in the wall with hardly room to sit, but the sandwiches were fantastic. Big enough to fully satisfy me and once again only €5, which seems to be the going price for all good sandwiches in Italy. I got the special and while I don’t remember exactly what was in it, it certainly was delicious! All I remember is that it had meats particular to Tuscany, in which Pisa is situated, and some really good soft cheese.
After that I went in search of good gelato. What I found literally blew me away. I found a gelateria on the River Arno, just a block away from the Piazza del Pozzetto. Gelateria De’ Coltelli. When I first walked in, I could tell it would be different. First of all, the gelato was not on display. Instead, each flavor was in a recessed canister in the counter with a lid. The flavors were also more unique. Licorice, ginger, pear and several others I hadn’t seen before. I purchased pistachio, chocolate and nougat and then spent 3 hours talking with the owner and clerk, getting all kinds of data on how the gelato is made, how it differs from ice cream, etc. In a nutshell, their gelato is completely natural with all organic ingredients, fresh whole milk, no preservatives, no artificial flavoring or coloring and only fruits that are in season. The gelato is covered because without preservatives and with the natural ingredients, open air and even light will affect the flavor and quality. The result is better than anything I’ve ever had. Creamy doesn’t even begin to describe it. the flavors are richer than I’ve ever had, but incredibly natural at the same time. They even make new flavors all the time in their “lab” in the back, and some of what they make is fantastic. If I haven’t got you drooling all over the carpet by now, also know that three scoops was only €3! One tip I do must give is go early in the day, on off season or on a weekday. I walked by the place a few hours later and the line had several dozen people in it! Guess I’m not the only one who considers them the best gelato in Italy, as I said in my TripAdvisor review.
My three hours weren’t without additional excitement. The morning had started out beautiful and clear, and it was still so when I went into the shop. Shortly after the clouds moved in and within minutes it was thunderstorming. I was a kid in the candy shop (literally) enjoying my gelato and watching the lightning crackle down every few seconds, with thunderous booms loud enough to shake the building and set the clerk cringing behind the counter. Just wish I could take photos of the lightning with my camera. Then it started hailing. Hard. But all good things must come to an end. As I finished up my gelato and conversation with the owner, the clear sky came back and I continued my walk around town.
I was fascinated to find that I was actually walking around in 2016. Yep! Along with Florence, Pisa celebrates another New Year’s Day on March 25. I missed most of the festivities, but hey, I’ve been to the future! I didn’t get all the facts on the celebrations, but you can see them all here.
I continued to walk around town until my couch surfing host finished work. I saw the many churches, palaces and plazas around town. Nothing particularly special. The duomo, or central church which every Italian city has, was located next to the leaning tower, so I had already seen that. Pisa is not a big town and mostly residential or university oriented. It didn’t take me long to see most everything of interest. Finally I met up with my host and we grabbed a bite to eat and went home to her incredible house right in the center of town. Tip: if you are trying to couch surf in Pisa, you’ll be lucky to stay with her. She is located halfway between the main train station and the tower, and has a wonderful, large house. She also replied to my request immediately with almost no advance notice!
I got a good night sleep and got up early to grab my train to Rome. I would have loved to spend another day in Pisa, not because there was anything more to see, but rather something I would have really liked to do. Turns out they had a “Selfie Run” the day I was leaving, which went through a dozen landmarks through the city at which you had to take a selfie, and ended on the river for a New Year’s fireworks display (on Saturday since the actual day was midweek). But Rome was calling for me, so that was my day in Pisa.