Ever had one of those travel moments when everything your entire itinerary falls to pieces because you realise you booked the one thing that held it all together on the wrong day?? On the back of a very busy summer in which I’d been to England, Hungary, Croatia, Czech Republic, Ireland and Oktoberfest, I had organised everything perfectly with the only major stuff-up being our terrible decision not to hire a GPS system while we attempted to drive across the Irish countryside. So, on the back of all these wonderful travels, as my mum prepared to come and visit Europe I made plans to take her to Italy and France, with the latter country setting the scene for our national football team to play in a friendly. Both myself and my mother are massive sports nuts so it was perfect timing for her visit to Germany.
While we were packing for the trip I texted a friend about meeting up on the Saturday before the game. She responded, ‘but the game is on Friday?’ and then it all started to fall apart. Mum was desperate to see a football match in Europe and we were arriving in Paris on Saturday morning after three nights in Pisa, Italy. Suddenly I was calling Ryanair and hoping that a flight might be available to get us from one place to the other earlier, changing accommodation in both places and hoping it would all work out. Luckily it did and we would have to squeeze what I had planned in Pisa over three full days down to just 1, with our flight leaving on Friday at 6am.
We arrived at our apartment thanks to a lift from the owners at around 9pm on the Wednesday night. While they were lovely, their English was limited and they explained it was probably better to have hired a car in this area with a 20 minute walk on the side of the road to the nearest bus. We didn’t have time to learn to drive on the opposite side of the road, let alone deal with Italian drivers, so we agreed for them to give us a lift into town at 8am the next day.
We made it to the leaning tower early on and although there were tourists around it wasn’t as packed as I remembered from my first trip there. The rain was threatening and the cafes nearby were almost empty so we found a lovely little restaurant to have some breakfast – pizza and prosecco – then we had our obligatory pictures with the tower and looked around the area. Considering many call it a tourist trap, I feel like I’ve been to a lot worse places than Pisa in that respect (Paris being one) – the locals are so lovely and the buildings are fantastic to look at even if they are swarmed by said tourists.
So after breakfast and our stroll around the area we headed for the train station to take us to Florence. Buying tickets and finding the right train was easy enough and within just over an hour we were in one of Italy’s most historical and artistic cities.
A walk around the town with a tourist map was all we needed to keep us busy for hours – the winding streets full of markets and interesting shops, as well as the beautiful churches and historical buildings gave us lots to see and do. When we eventually got hungry and the clouds gave out with rain, we headed for a small restaurant off the beaten track with mussels and spaghetti – one of my favourite dishes in the whole world – and lots, and lots of Prosecco. Two hours in, the restaurant had closed and the owner started talking to us about where we were from and our plans for the day. When I mentioned I wanted to go to the Accademia Gallery to see Michelangelo’s David she insisted on taking us through the back door as she knew the security worker. When we saw the line out the front we couldn’t believe our luck! And she refused to accept any tips for having helped us.
This was something I noticed often around this part of Italy – how nice everyone was and they were simply doing it out of the kindness of their hearts. You get a lot of horror stories from the touristy parts of Italy like Rome and Milan, and I still remember having to pay a tip and a waitress fee for every meal in the Amalfi Coast because of small print in the menu that was impossible to find without assistance. But in this corner of the country it was a different story completely, and a good reminder of how we should all be with people visiting our own parts of the world. After seeing David and the many wonderful artworks in the gallery we made our way back to Pisa, just in time to visit a small restaurant for dinner with a big sign out the front insisting it had no touristy food (i.e. no spaghetti! in big letters). We had lasagne but not like I’ve ever tasted it before – the main ingredients were pasta, different types of mushroom and beans with some cheese sprinkled on top. It was absolutely delicious.
We got a taxi home and on the back of a brilliant day in which we covered two Italian cities, we packed our bags and got ready for Paris. It might not have been the way I planned it, but 24 hours in this country had been grand and we were both rather proud of how we fitted everything in.
Of course just 12 hours after arriving in Paris we got to got to the football match we had changed all our plans for, to see Australia lose to France 6-0. :)