Today was always likely going to be a rest day and our resting was taken seriously! We slept in until 8:00am, had a slow, casual breakfast and caught up with news of the day. Trump, huh? By 10:00am, we had walked down to the train station and boarded a train for a half-hour ride (3.50€) to Pisa with a few stops on the way. The train station was about a 1.4km walk away but we managed it anyway.
If you have seen our other blogs, you may recall that Melanie and I have had issues figuring out train systems in Europe. Several times we have gotten onto trains without buying tickets because we couldn’t figure out how to buy them, with cash in hand, waiting for a conductor who never showed up. Other times, we have bought tickets and realised later that – if we were dishonest – we didn’t need them because no one checks and there are no barriers to access or leave the train / platform. Well, today, we took one step in the right direction. We figured out the ticket machine in seconds and quickly had our passes. When the conductor showed up on the train, we were surprised but I proudly produced two tickets for our transport. My chest was all puffed out and I wore my best smug look for having successfully and finally gotten it all right. That is, all right, until the conductor started wagging his finger at us and shaming us for not having “validated” the tickets. He pointed to a sign that said we were subject to a large fine. After unpuffing my chest and feigning tears, I begged ignorance. He showed me a picture of a machine that we have to use to punch a hole in our ticket before we can board the train. The tiny machines can be found easily – if you search for them AND know that you need to search for them – in the stations. Now we get it. He let us off with a warning.
On a different subject, last night, we tried to get through the glass doors to a bank’s ATM machine to withdraw cash. The doors just would not open despite the signs saying they would. We gave up and went to dinner but later we saw an Italian man trying to get into the same bank. He too had troubles and gave up. Just before he got on his bike, he noticed us watching him so I told him we had tried and failed earlier too. He shrugged his shoulders and just commented – as if explaining why the doors wouldn’t open, “This is Italy.” We had a good laugh because “This is Indonesia”, or “TII”, has been in our vocabulary for a few years to explain why things often don’t work there either.
For those following us, one comment about cash. Either bring euros or an ATM card to withdraw cash. Finding a money changer is nearly impossible and, once we finally did find one, the exchange rates and fees were ridiculous. We never expected to find money changers in small towns but in Milan, Pavia, Piacenza, Sarzana, Lucca, etc.? We never found one. We came with a decent supply of euros for a few weeks but we also had US dollars to change. Finally we found a money changer in Pisa, a true tourist town. In true tourist trap fashion, the exchange rate was not only 5% above market but there was a 3% commission to be paid on top of that. It would have been cheaper to change the dollars to Singapore dollars, then to euros in Singapore!
I won’t go into detail about Pisa or Lucca sightseeing but both places are worth the day off. When we asked the concierge for the best way to get to Pisa, he rolled his eyes in disdain but directed us to the train station. The eye-roll clearly told us what many other Italians have stated “You are in the most beautiful city in Italy and possibly in all of Europe and you want to go see a tower that is falling over?” It’s okay, we managed to enjoy both places over the time we have here. The tower was cool because we could climb it without breaking a sweat while many others needed rest breaks or gave up. The baptistery is pretty awesome too as is the cathedral. We have not been overly impressed with churches in Italy so far because either the outside or the inside, or sometimes both of them, are somewhat drab – at least by Spanish standards. In Pisa and San Martino’s, you get to see the full glory of the cathedrals.
Melanie asked me to mention that in the Camposanto, we saw the statue of one of Pisa’s most famous natives and one of our favorite mathematicians, ie., Leonardo Fibonacci. We love him for a whole series of things. (Laugh if you get it).
Finally, if I haven’t mentioned the gelato breaks we have had, I should have. The ice cream here is outstanding. It not only beats Hampden’s Charmery but it’s better than Magnolia in Singapore. Okay, everything is better than Magnolia but that’s all I could think of for my Singaporean friends.
Off to dinner and back on the trail tomorrow… Peace y’all.
Outside Lucca’s wall. (we’re pretending we are Mexicans outside Trump’s wall)