Sunday, July 7, 2013

Pisa, Italy → Barcelona, Spain

Did I mention that it was hot in Pisa? It was so hot. Really, supremely, ridiculously hot. Carrying the backpack again created a nice little oven on my back too, which made it even more fun. Luckily, the cab ride was quick, the train station had a lovely left luggage area, and we dumped our belongings and started back in the direction of the Piazza dei Miracoli.

Pretty little cathedral next to the River Arno.


My thought was that Pisa was nice, but it was a one time kinda deal. I didn't feel a draw there, and I'm not really sure I'll end up back there again. So, I wanted to go up the leaning tower. Yes, it was filled with tourists, and it was mildly expensive, but when would I be back here again? So I bought my ticket. They sell the tickets by time slot, and I had almost two hours to kill until mine, so we lounged in the grass by the Romulus/Remus statue, enjoying the shade from the cathedral. The cathedral was also free, so we decided to wander around inside and escape the glaring sun for a little while.
Another daydream of mine about visiting Europe was just walking into every church I saw, which is pretty much what I did. I don't generally go into churches in my own country, but the architecture and the art and the stillness of the churches in Europe just draw me in, and this one was incredible. And the artwork! As Noah put it, "Italians really know their frescoes." I found that I didn't take pictures in many of the churches - it seemed disrespectful - but this one was a little noisier and more crowded than any I'd visited so far on the trip. The pictures don't do it justice though. Nor do they capture sufficiently the soaring height of the ceiling and all its arches and details. I had read before leaving home that most churches (especially in Italy) require that your shoulders be covered, and some won't even allow you to enter if you're wearing shorts. I came prepared with a scarf, which I wrapped around my shoulders as we walked in (the woman immediately explained this to me in Italian, and I blinked at her stupidly until she switched to English. Why did she assume I spoke Italian??). For everyone else, they were handing out shapeless green sacks with neckholes to drape over yourself and cover your shoulders.

Taking pictures of tourists taking pictures with the tower. Just before I took this they were all standing with their arms out at different angles trying to push it over. It was fantastic.

(He had to do it, too).

When it was finally time to go up the tower, we were all herded in to the bottom floor. The thing is totally hollow in the middle, and standing at the bottom, you can just look straight up through to the very top. And it very obviously leans. It's extremely strange just how much you feel it even as soon as you walk in. It feels like you're walking funny, and you can tell you're leaning one way or another as you walk up the stairs. The stairs are marble (of course) and have been worn completely smooth from years of people walking up and down them, in weird footprint shapes. They warn you as you're heading up that they're slippery, and they aren't kidding; I almost slid out a few times on the way down, scaring the hell out of the poor woman ahead of me.
There are two levels - one near the top, and up a narrow stairway, the top level with the bells, and the view is gorgeous, unsurprisingly. It was totally worth it just for the view.

So much Italy!

The Plaza
Having fulfilled my need to climb to the top of things for the day, we decided to wander to all the interesting points on the map we had, since there were still six or so hours until we needed to head to the airport. But first, food! Just away from the square, with a lovely view of the tower, was a little restaurant with what seemed to be real vegetables on the menu, which was really all I required. The host/tourist wrangler standing out front walked up to us reading the menu, and smiled at us hugely and began speaking Spanish, asking what we'd like. I answered him in Spanish, and we had a nice little conversation about whether or not they had anything I could eat, and I agreed to a table. He sat us, and called for the waiter who spoke Spanish, handing us Spanish menus. We sit down and both start laughing. I love not being taken for an American immediately.

 Noah got a pizza the size of his torso, and I ended up with a block of iceberg lettuce, which was decidedly unexciting. And some bread (of course).
Back on the road, we attempted to navigate the map, running into both a juice place (yay!) and a bunch of cars on the Rust2Rome trail, a car race from Edinburgh to Rome. The city was a bit of a maze, and we ended up covering a lot of ground twice, or three times, so we got to see a lot of the immediate area surrounding the river and the Piazza. There was something on the map marked 'citadel', so I decided that needed to be the first stop. It wasn't that exciting, but there was a decidedly awesome/creepy/atrophied statue of Galileo. We tried (without success) to find Galileo's house while we were there too, but apparently were too distracted while we were wandering the shopping district. We spent so much time wandering around Pisa, I feel like I took more pictures here than anywhere else!
Adorable little fondant creatures in a bakery window.

Galileo bein' creepy.

He looks like an evil wizard.

Yay, more castles! Or half of one, anyway.

Fat pigeon!

Another 13.

Bicis en todos lugares.

 We wound up lounging around the leaning tower for hours, resting our tired legs and commenting on how strange it was to just be hanging out by the leaning tower of Pisa all day. With only a few hours left to go, we headed back toward the train station on foot, to catch the train to the airport, and a plane to Spain.

We arrived too early - all our experiences with airports in Europe thus far had been us arriving (like Americans) with 2 hours til check-in, and then sitting around for an hour and a half because the check in area wasn't even open yet. Then, twenty minutes before the flight, someone would show up, look at our passports, and wave us along to the plane. Pisa was no exception. We sat and watched some tour group of French speaking children run amok until someone showed up at our airline ticketing booth, and then wandered over to check in. The airport was small, everything was closing and we were (surprise!) hungry. We sat grumpily waiting at the gate until some flight attendants led us out onto the runway and up the stairs onto the plane. It was a short flight, I managed to sleep through most of it, and we arrived in Spain just before 1am. The hostel had a shuttle car, so we headed upstairs to wait for it. When they arrived, the woman asked me in halting English if we were who we were supposed to be, and I answered in some very sleepy Spanish. Amazingly, I was able to hold a conversation with her and the other hostel worker who had come with her, completely in Spanish, although I was completely half asleep. It was a pretty long drive to the hostel, and I was extremely glad I had shelled out the extra money for the shuttle, rather than attempting to deal with taxis or public transit so late at night. They were really friendly, pointed out landmarks, spoke about Catalan, and answered all my questions about beaches and hikes and whatnot.
The hostel was The Hostel Box, which turned out to be quite an awesome place. Luigi at the front desk was ridiculously friendly and way too enthusiastic for 2 in the morning. He started speaking to me in Spanish and switched to English when he realized Noah couldn't understand us. We said something about being from Hawaii and he exclaims, excitedly, 'Your friend is here!'
I laugh, realizing Dylan has arrived before us. Dylan had been in the air force and stationed in Germany for the last four years. The original plan had been for my family to come up at roughly the same time and stay with him in Germany, and from there we'd venture out to see the rest of the continent. But he got out early, and had been traveling himself for over a month already. We had planned to meet him in Spain, and he had thought we'd be getting in the night before. He'd spent the day here, and apparently made lots of friends. 'Dylan!' Luigi's still yelling, 'he is here!'
He gets us all checked in, and as we're walking toward the room with him, a girl at one of the tables out front asks if we're from the states. 'Do you know Dylan?' she asks. Apparently he's popular.
Luigi takes us into the room, which sleeps sixteen people and is packed, and noisy with snoring, and very dark. Whispering now, he shows us our bunks, and then points at a dark blob on the bed across from ours and says, 'And your friend!' I promptly punch Dylan in the arm. He wakes up and gets up to join us in the commons room so we can catch up. I haven't seen him since my sister's wedding, a few years ago. Before that it was in Washington, just after we moved up to Oregon. And now we're together in Spain. So very strange.
 Although we're exhausted, we stay up much too long talking. I'm really excited to be here, and to get to speak Spanish in Spain, and I want it to be daytime so we can start exploring. Fortunately, we all manage to conk out for a few hours. In the morning, showered and clean and mostly rested, we head out for Las Ramblas, and breakfast.

Just off Las Ramblas is this giant indoor market. They have starfruit (!!), more heirloom tomatoes than you can shake a stick at, and fresh juice at every stand. I'm reminded of Mexico, except the juices would be the equivalent of 30 cents and in styrofoam cups the size of your head. They're all fresh and delicious though, and we each buy two while we walk around and inspect the stands. All I want is a baguette, an avocado, and an heirloom tomato and I will be happy. I get a starfruit too, just for good measure.
Filled with juice, we wander out again, and end up near the Gaudí museum, in this big square. The buildings were amazing, and tall enough to darken the alleyways and pedestrian walkways throughout the city.

More bikes, of course.

There was an entire store of these creepy Pinocchios. After we left Spain, I saw more than a few people carrying around miniature versions of this guy. The doll, not Dylan.

To be continued.

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