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Tourist malfunction

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Oct. 27th, 2010 | 10:06 pm

Today was full of little mishaps.

Took the 10 a.m. train to Pisa, got there at 11:30, wandered around a bit trying to find Tourist Info office. Signage in Italy is pretty much terrible. A sign will crop up and point you somewhere, but then there will be no further sign and you're left high and dry, and either go too far or not far enough. In the tourist office I started off "Por favor -- " and the young man said, "That's Spanish." "Oh God it is, sorry," I said. I didn't bother to tell him that it's taken me this long to stop saying "S'il vous plait". Spanish represents progress. We continued in English, he gave me a map and told me what bus to take to the Tower.

Once I got to the Tower complex, I was hungry, and again wandered around hoping there would be something other than horrible tourist traps, but there wasn't, so I ended up paying almost 16 euros for a plate of spaghetti and a bottle of water. (Next door there was a Hong Kong Cafe, which was full of Chinese people. I don't know why this seemed out of place to me, really, it shouldn't. But it did.)

The Piazza dei Miracole, as they call the sort of "campus" where the tower, duomo, baptistry, and surrounding museums/outbuildings are, is entirely thronged with awful souvenir stands. Rows upon rows of them, outside the walls, and more awfully, inside. The beauty of the buildings just somehow didn't hold up to the circus-like atmosphere of the souvenir hawkers and the visitors. Maybe I was tired. No, definitely I was tired. But Pisa bored me.That leaning tower

Japanese bridal party before the tower in PisaThe most interesting thing there was this Japanese couple who were having their wedding photos taken. (The groom is standing all the way off to the left.)

I bought a combo ticket to see all the sights, but when I got up to the ticket seller, I couldn't think how to ask for what I wanted, so just gave him a 10 euro note (that was the amount for that ticket), which he proceeded to put in his pocket. "This must be for me," he said, "because you don't tell me what it's for." We then had a little exchange in which I tried to speak Italian and he spoke English and was rather testy with me, but I know I had no business expecting him to read my mind. I really was kind of drowsy and in general I am making zero headway with wrapping my head around Italian. I even keep forgetting how to say thank you, and have to rummage past "prego" and a couple of other phrases in my mind every time I need to find it. But it wasn't a good start to the expedition.

Pisa Duomo My what a big Christ you have. This is the inside of the duomo. Eh. The baptistry interior was entirely underwhelming too.

Teachers' college in PisaI was more charmed by the facade of this teacher training college and church on a piazza that I passed as I was returning to the train station.

Frankly I couldn't get out of Pisa fast enough. Somehow it just rubbed me the wrong way, though I did have some delicious banana gelato on the piazza Garibaldi. Then in the train station, I bought my return ticket from the machine, put in 20 euros, and got a little slip of paper saying there was no change! At first I thought I'd been ripped off, but on closer inspection, realized this slip entitled me to a refund, but I'd have to wait on line and talk to a human. I decided to take the sooner train and so when I got back to the Florence I had to wait 20 minutes on a line to exchange this slip with a clerk for my 14.10 euros. I needed that 20 minutes to figure out with the phrase book how to say "Will you help me please with a refund?" in Italian, which I did, though it was probably unnecessary as handing in the little printed slip that said I was owed 14.10 was self-explanatory and the ticket clerk didn't blink at it. In fact, she was chatting and laughing with her colleagues, all of whom were having a marvelous time, and didn't look at or speak to me at all while she did our transaction.

Pisa trainI really should not have photographed this man on the train, nor should I put his picture on the internet. Yet here I am doing so.

By then it was 4 and I thought it would be nice to go to Fiesole and see the sun set. On the train I was reading about Lucy Honeychurch's outing to Fiesole, and while I wasn't expecting violets and kisses, Rick Steves says it's a good place to be at the end of the afternoon as the light is fading, and that the #7 bus from the train terminal goes straight there. Except that, as it turns out, it no longer does, and one must take a #17 bus to San Marco, the piazza I was in yesterday -- or the day before -- and change. I did that, and got the best seat on the Fiesole bus, which took some half hour to wend its way through increasingly posh residential areas and up and up and up, because Fiesole is in the steep hills with great views down into the valley of the Arno and the city.

Val D'Arno from bus window 2

Val D'Arno from bus window
This gives you some scanty idea of the sort of scenery. I was more and more thrilled as the bus climbed. Finally it reached what looked like it ought to be the central square, and I got off, and a huge number of people got on, and I glanced around and suddenly thought, No, I think the bus is going to climb higher, this isn't the end of the trip, and jumped back on. D'oh! Of course then all the seats were taken, and the bus immediately circled around and started back down, and I had no choice but to bid goodbye to Fiesole after only being there for 20 seconds. (No, there was no chance to get off -- the road immediately dips down sharply, there's no bus stop for quite a way, I'd missed my chance, the end.)

So, rather annoyed with myself, I rode back down, standing up in a very crowded bus, to San Marco, where I attempted to change back to the 17 to return to the train terminal which is steps from my hotel. Except after looking at the various bus stop offerings on the piazza, and by now too tired to even attempt to ask for help, I just found the sign that said 17 and got on the bus, and soon realized that, hello, we were not going towards the center but back out to the residential areas. I was stuck riding that bus for an hour before it finally circled back to San Marco, where I saw that the bus stop I should've used was up a little way from the piazza itself, and then from there it was another 10 minutes to the train station. By time I flung myself off the bus I'd been riding around for over 2 hours without really getting anywhere, though I had a nice sunset tour of the posh parts of Florence, which look a lot like Paris. (And the buses in Florence apparently just do endless loops, so unlike what would've happened to me in NY, I didn't have to get off the bus and wait for another when we reached the end of the line. Thank God for small favors.)

I then went into the 3rd restaurant I saw (the first was McDonald's, the second was Chinese) and ate an indifferent pizza and drank a class of pinot grigio.

So, it was a silly day. I'll be able to go to Fiesole properly on Friday afternoon, after the Accademia and the Museo San Marco. Now I know all about how to get that bus!

Morning view from hotel room, Florence Finally, Dadself asked for a more atmospheric shadowy pic of the view from my hotel room window. Took this one when I got out of bed this morning.

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