July 9, 2010
Today started really well. We got up after a bit of a lie in, had our breakfast in bed once again and packed up our stuff. Then it started going downhill, but only a little. The hotel was having problems with the hot water and so the showers weren’t working. Thankfully, just after 11 the usual receptionist came in and managed to fix it for long enough for us both to get cleaned up and dressed. That was the low point of the morning and despite being annoyed at the time, it is now almost forgotten due to later occurrences.
As a result of the train strike, hardly anything was running today – regional and inter-city trains, suburban trains, metro or even most buses. We were told that we should try to go to the station to confirm our train was running this evening. Given the lack of any transport, we had to walk there and about 50 minutes later we arrived to be told our train would still be in service. Another 50 minutes later, dripping in sweat and rendering our showers useless, we were back where we started and ready for some lunch.
We went to Mamma Olivia again as it was convenient and we had no way of getting into the city other than walking. It wouldn’t be difficult to say that the pasta with ricotta and pesto was the high point of the day but it was actually very good. At this point, we were ready and raring to go and happy our train was running. A brief stop at the supermarket for dinner provisions was all we needed before heading to the station.
It was around 3pm and our train wasn’t until 6pm but given how hot we were and how the station seemed to have a cool breeze, we reckoned that hanging out there was our best option. Now, here is where things start descending before we reach the full scale plummet. The taxi to the station cost us 18 Euros and we couldn’t believe that it was so much. Had the metro been running it would’ve been 2 Euros. That’s a fair bit of difference!
After getting to the station, cooling off and hanging out, our day went into freefall. Exactly on time, our train arrived at the Rogoredo station on the edge of Milan. Unfortunately, it arrived full. I don’t just mean “hardly any room”, I mean jam-packed with just about every bit of space taken up. Despite running from one end of the train to the other there was not a single bit of room for anyone and we had no option but to give up and head to the ticket office.
At the ticket office we were told to go to the Garibaldi station and there would be another train leaving there soon and we would get on that one before it reached Rogoredo this time. What the idiot failed to tell us was that the train we had to take to get to Garibaldi wouldn’t actually get there on time. Not only that, but it was the last train of the day direct to Pisa. If we’d stayed at Rogoredo, we’d have at least stood a chance of seeing the train come in and trying to get on it but due to his amazing advice, we were denied that chance. We’d run, chased and sweated half way across the city and we still weren’t getting any way. Our final hope was to get to Centrale station but even that was a chore with the metro being shut. We managed to get a suburban train close and then walked the last 10 minutes. At Centrale, we found the station ticket office staff had gone on strike, too and so we couldn’t change our ticket and would have to risk using what we had to get us, well, somewhere.
We were down to our last two options for the night – an 8.15pm train to Florence and hope we make the connection to Pisa or a 9.15pm to Genoa and ditto the connection. While waiting for the Florence train, we noticed an earlier train which was going there so we thought we’d take our chances on that and try to increase our odds for the connection. This train had been due to leave at 7.15pm but was firstly 40 minutes late, then 50 and finally 70. When they announced 70 minutes we got off and headed towards the 8;15 train we’d planned on. By this point my shirt was not just sweaty, it was literally dripping. We’d chased trains around all day and we were still in Milan. One plus about trains compared to planes is that I at least had my bag with me so I could change my top!
Finally aboard the 8.15 train, that was announced to be delayed, too. It was supposed to be 20 or 30 minutes (my small Italian vocabulary managed to work that out!) and I was almost shocked when we finally left 25 minutes later. It was almost a relief that we were on our way. A relief that was, until the train conductor came around.
We obviously had the wrong ticket and due to all the ticket offices being closed we weren’t able to change it. We’d tried twice to get on trains and twice failed and all the strike was doing was costing us both time and money. Rather than use the common sense he might’ve been born with, the conductor told us our ticket would need to be upgraded as we were on a different train. Yes, no shit Sherlock. After trying to explain to him that his co-workers idiotic strike was the reason we were heading to Florence and not Pisa we eventually had no choice but to pay up the difference. Our original tickets cost 55 Euros and we were now being asked to pay an additional 49 Euros just to get to Florence – we weren’t even covered on our “new” ticket as far as our attempted destination. The total cost in time and money was quickly mounting and we weren’t even sure we could get to Pisa tonight. To say this is the worst day we’ve had of travelling mishaps would be an understatement of similar proportions to saying “England had a bad World Cup”. We’ve been through a whole host of developing and developed countries and within a week of being back in Europe we have had to deal with this sort of incompetence and idiocy. I keep using the term idiot but I can’t think of another word to describe these cretins. Oh, there you go – cretins!
We got to Florence around 10pm and were grateful to see that there was a train going to Pisa just after 11pm. This left a little late but considering the previous problems, this was nothing! We got into Pisa station around 12.30am, eventually got a taxi (having missed the last bus) and got checked into our beds. We were both out like a light after that!
July 10, 2010
Although we only had one day in Pisa, we decided to have a lie in to recover from yesterday’s events. We didn’t have a whole lot we wanted to do here, the main being to see the Leaning Tower. When we eventually headed out around midday that was where we went. It was really close to our hotel and we got a nice view of the very top as we walked towards it. From the angle we saw it wasn’t leaning a lot but as we came into the main square the lean was more than apparent and much more than I’d expected. The tower was also smaller than I’d imagined, too, but it was very impressive.
In the square were also the Duomo and some other buildings which really set off the Leaning Tower and gave it a grand setting. It was really busy in the square and we quickly decided to get some pictures and find some lunch, deciding to return this evening when the area would be quieter and it would be cooler, too. Italy has been baking hot wherever we’ve been and air-con seems a good 20 years away here!
We stopped at a little café for lunch and enjoyed a good calzone before heading off through some of the other squares and tiny little alleyways around the city. It is a really picturesque city and would be pleasant to walk through if it was about 20C cooler! Down at the river we got some breeze and some views of a funky looking little church. We decided that some lemon ice cream was needed to cool us down but that solution proved pretty temporary! We also stopped by a small shop which sold cards, pictures and journals. Inside we found some really neat postcards and decided to get ourselves one of Pisa and one of a town called San Gimignano, where we were going tomorrow (hopefully!).
Having walked around, seen the tower and had lunch, we decided to head back to our hotel to make use of the small pool they have. The pool was refreshing if a little hazardous – the ladder in kept collapsing under the slightest bit of weight and we had some tricky moments getting in and out!
Back in the square, we got some twilight pictures of the tower, still amazed by how much it leans and how it fights gravity to stay upright! We also found a lovely restaurant which did some amazingly good, cheap food. We decided to treat ourselves after the excesses of yesterday so a big carafe of wine and dessert followed our tasty pasta dishes. I wanted tiramisu but they had run out so we both had pannacotta. Yummy!
We headed back to the square one final time and I got some nighttime pictures of the tower. It wasn’t lit as much as I’d expected but the surrounding lights still gave a good effect. Elizabeth got a bit bored of my playing around with the tripod so she had a longer browse around the entire square!
Back in the room we were glad to find the air-con was on (the one place we’ve actually had it!) and the room was cool. Unfortunately, the girl in our dorm room from Singapore was on her laptop until nearly 4am and her constant tapping and mouse-clicking kept me awake until I eventually asked her to turn it off and go to bed! We had to be up early in the morning and I had some driving to do!