Monday, May 18, 2009

Italy Vacation (Day 3) – May 9, 2009

It was my intent to get up early enough to go down to the beach and maybe catch a quick swim in the Ligurian Sea before I checked out. And in fact, I did wake up in plenty of time. However, due to the fact that I could barely move, I ended up laying in bed cracking and stretching every joint and muscle in my body. I eventually tried to stand up but my feet, calves, and shins were very mad at me. I hobbled around the apartment for about a half hour, eventually shaved and hopped in the shower. There was no way I was swimming anywhere. Got my things packed (slowly) and paid for the room. I assured them I would return. I walked (slowly) to the train station – thankfully it’s mostly flat the entire way. I bought a train ticket t Pisa to hunt for the tower. I was flying out of Pisa to Catania, Sicily, to meet my grad school friend, MO.

The last time I was in Pisa, I had a quick layover on a train. I tried to find the tower during that time, but it eluded me. I’m convinced they had moved it that weekend for cleaning. People kept sending us into the shady parts of town and it got a little disconcerting. So this time, I was my mission to find this elusive tower. I had a Rick Steves guidebook and map to help me. However, sitting on a train for over an hour only allowed my calves to completely seize up. I only fell down once on the train when I tried to stand up.

Once on the train platform, I walked really slowly until I could pick up speed and work the kinks out. I followed my map and ended up walking in totally unfamiliar areas of Pisa. This is how I knew I was on the right track. Ha ha ha. Pisa felt much less seedy this time around. 35-40 minutes later, I rounded the corner and saw the tower and the rest of the buildings on the campus of miracles – the duomo and the baptistery.

I walked around the campus a bit and took some photos, but mainly laughed at the hundreds of people posing their children and wives to make it appear they were holding up the tower.

Many people were lying on the ground shouting orders to the posers. If I had gotten on the ground, I would not have gotten back up that day. The tower is much cooler than I thought it would be. I know they’ve done some restoration and stabilization, but it’s seriously waaaay leaning. I’ve only seen it in photos and pizza boxes. Very cool and I’m glad I found it. I quick e-mailed a photo to Belcher to prove I found it this time.

I needed food, so I headed back in the direction of the train station and found one of the sandwich shops recommended by Rick Steves – Panetteria Antiche Tradizione. I got as close to a bacon and cheese sandwich as you’ll find in Europe on some super crunchy bread. It was a pretty big sandwich as well. Grabbed a table outside and watched traffic and hilarious tourists.

I worked up the courage to move again and headed back to the station to catch a train to the airport. But not before stopping at La Bottega del Gelato for some melone, fragola, and mango gelato. I sat in a piazza and watched people for about an hour since I had time to kill. I watched a dad helping his son with his bike helmet. The father’s grip slipped as he was trying to forcefully flip the helmet over and cracked the kid in the head enough to make him stagger. He was too dazed to cry. The dad started cracking up and said something in Italian – I’m assuming the equivalent of “I should get you a helmet to protect you from this helmet.” Hilarious. I’m also amazed at the number of kids riding on their dad’s shoulders who were on bicycles. It seemed scary, but then again, I was raised standing up in the front seat of a car and drinking whole milk from a baby bottle and I lived.

Walked back to the train station and bought a ticket to the airport. Platform 14. Stairs leading down seemed normal until I ran out of platform numbers at 7. I walked up the stairs in an attempt to figure it out. Was it like Harry Potter and track 7¾ ? I walked the length of the platform and then noticed a tiny staircase at the end. At the bottom was a passage under the tracks to platform 14 – all by itself in the middle of nowhere. I made it to the airport.

The Pisa airport is kind of like the train station. They announce where to check in two hours before the flight and everyone runs to get in line. Then they still have to wait in the security line. I was glad I got there early. I grabbed a quick nap in front of one of the monitors (I didn’t have a choice – my eyes told me I was done). When my eyes popped open, I saw them flash up the check in line number and I hopped up waaay too fast and forgot about my incapacitated legs. I’m sure it looked hysterical. I ended up third in line. 30 seconds later, I was 3rd out of 75. Wow. No problems with security. I boarded the plane and promptly fell right to sleep.

I met MO at the arrival area and she still looked the same as she did in Grad school. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen her in 10 years. A couple of days before I left for Italy, she e-mailed me and said she stepped in a hole and tore some ligaments. She would be using crutches and moving slow. This worked out VERY well for my condition. We hobbled slowly out to her car and headed for the Navy base where her husband is stationed. I had to get a visitor pass, since it’s a pretty secure area, so I had to surrender my driver’s license. No problem – I’d get it back when I checked out a couple days later.

I walked into their house on the Navy base and this is the first thing I saw.

Apparently they’re serious about security here on the base. (It’s actually a plastic gun, but the red tip blended in with the red trim on the basket. Still shocking though. And hilarious. MO and her husband have two awesome dogs - Sarah and Taylor. Sarah is a beagle and Taylor is what MO refers to as a "small headed dog". I'm not sure if it's because she (Taylor) looks like a cute baby seal or because of her (Taylor's) mental capacity. ha ha.

I assured MO I wasn’t up for any gallivanting, so she made dinner for us. Bow-tie pasta with wild fennel sauce, sausage and two kinds of eggplant (mint and garlic). She assured me it was a traditional Sicilian meal. It was fantastic. Seriously, it was not spaghetti and meatballs – it was awesome. And we put back a couple bottles of Sardinian wine which was really fantastic. We started up the fire pit and talk about school and what we’ve done since then, who we still talk to, famous libraries we’ve been to, countries we’ve visited, etc. It was fun getting caught up. We talked about plans for the following day, but neither of us knew how our legs would be feeling, so we just decided to play it by ear.

We went back inside and had some gelato (not as good out of the freezer, but still better than US ice cream). And of course, another bottle of wine. We talked more about where we would try to go tomorrow, but I don’t remember much about the conversation. It was way later than I thought, mostly because Sicilian meals kill about 3 hours. Ha Ha ha.

Top 5 things about Day 3
1. Catching up with MO
2. Seeing the Leaning Tower of Pisa - finally
3. Homemade pasta dinner
4. Lots of wine
5. Watching that kid get smacked in the head with his own helmet

Bottom 5 things
1. Gerd would have loved seeing the tower, meeting MO, talking libraries, and eating the awesome food
2. Calves locking up
3. Incessant napping
4. Didn’t get to swim in the Ligurian Sea
5. Elusive Platform 14

No comments: