Thursday 11 July 2013 arrived and sadly it was time to leave beautiful Venice. A smooth train ride via Padova, Bologna and Firenze (gosh there are a lot of tunnels between Bologna and Firenze!) and there I was in Pisa. Why? You may ask, when I could have stayed in Venice which I love so much? Well…. it was all because of Andrea Bocelli.
While still at home I bought a ticket (the big gift to myself) to see Bocelli in his open-air theatre in his home village of Lajatico, situated about 45kms out of Pisa. He only performs there once a year and it was on that weekend! So, it was time to slow it down a bit, have a look around Pisa, go to the concert and perhaps catch up on some writing, the only challenge was where to next? I was hoping to catch up with a friend in Milan but she and her husband were down south sailing around islands somewhere, so the first lot of thinking was do I go to Paris via San Remo or Uppsala via Budapest? Decisions, decisions! But first, Pisa.
It was a little warm in the hotel La Pace room and the air conditioning was weird, I had no idea what temperature it was set at but no matter what I did it only turned on for about 5 seconds at a time, I think round about when it felt like 30 degrees Centigrade in there. Anyway, I wasn’t about to complain, I had my wish, a real, proper bathroom with a proper shower where I could stand up, have lots of beautiful hot water flowing over me and have both hands free – yay! AND it had a door! A real shower recess. Sometimes it’s the small things that get me excited! Not having those sure made me appreciate our system back home. Whoever thought it was comfortable and convenient to sit in a bath with a hand held shower was wrong, or to have no rim around the shower so water flowed into the bedroom area, or to stand holding the shower in one hand was oh, so wrong! That said my first night was impressive, I went to the bar for a couple of beers to take back to my room and got a bowl of free pistachios, rather decent I thought.
First day in Pisa and first success was finding my way through the Pisan postal system, and although I did ask for clues at hotel reception (which they happily provided and listened while I practised), and the system is the same as our banks and shopfronts (ie take a ticket and wait for your number to be called) and the lovely lady spoke reasonable English (after she let me test out my limited Italian) I was still pretty proud of myself.
The centre of Pisa is much like many European towns with a central pedestrian shopping plaza (Corso Italia) which you walk along to get to almost anywhere. It stretches from the Piazza Vittorio Emanuelle II (not far from the railway station) to the river Arno with shops on both sides and streets leading off it. On the way to the Post Office I came across an interesting sight, two men in orange robes obviously meditating and doing something that appeared to be impossible. How does one person hold a pole in one hand with another man sitting on top of it? The photo says it all, I’m still incredulous.
Then it was off on the first leg of my Pisan Hop on Hop Off experience in the heat of the Tuscan Summer sun. Yes, the bell tower leans! I think it wanted to have a better look at the Baptistry and couldn’t straighten up again. Quite an interesting history around that building. There are all sorts of explanations about the lean. In all of them only the Tower is mentioned. On the bus the guide said that many buildings in Pisa lean a little, even the Baptistry in the Campo dei Miracoli, but not as much as the tower. Apparently it has something to do with the amount of water in the soil, however there are a lot of sites on line which discuss the whole engineering of the Tower and don’t mention any other buildings in Pisa, so who knows what the true story is, and after all, guides are known to make stuff up sometimes (‘Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story’ perhaps?). The tower had the worst lean and apparently they have now straightened it a little and after stabilisation it’s back to the lean it had 200 years ago (again according to the guide, that is not necessarily what is said on line). After all you can’t straighten it completely, nobody would come to visit the ‘Previously Leaning Tower of Pisa’.
I was quite surprised by the open green area where the tower leans. I guess we only ever hear about the tower and there are many photos of it alone. However, there is also the Duomo (cathedral) the Baptistry and the Camposanto (cemetery). All the buildings are stunningly beautiful and the surrounding bright green grass of the ‘field’ seems to accentuate their ‘whiteness’. The surrounding ancient wall seems to add a feeling of security. Of course there are huge amounts of tourists and many souvenir stalls catering to their needs.
There appeared to be much more to Pisa than the Leaning Tower, for example the ancient university. It is an Italian public research university founded in 1343 by an edict of Pope Clement VI. It is the 19th oldest surviving university in the world and the 10th oldest in Italy. Not only is it one of the top universities in Italy but it also houses Europe’s oldest academic botanical garden, founded in 1544. There are also many ancient churches and other interesting buildings to see not to mention the river, bridges and surrounds. So I thought I would check a bit more out on my last day, of course I couldn’t do it all, I should have read up on the place, but then I was only really going there for one thing as well as a bit of a break from excessive sight seeing. I was beginning to feel a little weary and heat affected. Now that I know so much more about Pisa and have had a taste, I think a re-visit is in order.
The day of the concert dawned (13 July 2013) and I was starting to feel much more with it. One downside to staying in hotels (as compared to hostels), is that if you’ve had too much sun and fun and would like to just lie around all day relaxing before a big night out, you need to put the ‘do not disturb’ sign up. Unfortunately then your room doesn’t get done. So off I went into the town all the time hoping that the room would be attended to while I was out and about so I could relax upon my return and be ready for the night.
Successfully negotiating the buying of a rail ticket to Rome in Italian at the station felt wonderful. The next challenge was to walk to the supermarket for supplies for the concert and some lunch. Firstly though, prevention of my possible reaction to being overheated for too long 1 salt tablet followed by 2 litres of water, I’ve lived in this body a long time and know exactly what would happen if I didn’t pay attention.
The supermarket yielded 2 very healthy and yummy peaches followed by a block of Milka chocolate (coming across things that I hadn’t seen or eaten for a while is always a delight, who cares if some of it isn’t exactly ‘healthy’ at least it was balanced). According to the official Milka site, the name is derived from combining Milch and Kakao, which are the German words for milk and cocoa, chocolate’s main ingredients. However, Croatians claim that the name of the purple wrapped chocolate is a tribute to Carl Russ-Suchard’s love of Milka Ternina (1863–1941), a famous soprano of the time. We’ll probably never know the real story, however I prefer the romantic one.
A little lie down as I knew it would be a long night, (yes the room had been cleaned in my absence) and I thought I was organised. Then panic! I received an email that my booking for the coach was too late and there were no seats after all. What to do? I had visions of missing the concert, the whole reason for being there. As this was one of the few hotels I’ve stayed in where reception was very helpful and fun, I rushed to the front desk to see what their advice might be. I knew whatever the solution it would cost mega bucks, but I wasn’t prepared to miss the concert. Yes they had a solution and yes it would cost mega bucks but there was nothing for it, it was either take the cab they could arrange or miss the concert. They did say that if they could find more passengers of course the fare would be cheaper. We did find more passengers but it didn’t make the fare very much cheaper.
The cab turned up and off we went, we were just getting to the edge of town when a call came through that there were more passengers so back to town to pick them up.
The passengers turned out to be a father and son from California, the father had given this trip to his son as a 50th birthday present, what a fantastic gift.
To get to the concert you drive 45 kms out of Pisa, there is no public transport hence the cab (or a coach if you remember to book one). You get dropped off about 500mtrs or a bit more away from the entrance at the bottom of a Tuscan knoll. You walk up the hill and then down the other side. Walking up the hill was fine but then we came to a complete stop and stood around waiting for an hour (to this day I don’t know exactly why, they never explained but there were rumours about security not being sure whether to check bags or not). A few older people began feeling the heat, I was so glad I’d had the sense to take my precautions. Finally they started letting us in and it was a shuffle for the last about 100 metres until we got through the entrance and into the field of the theatre. The view when we got to the theatre was tremendous, the beautiful golden rolling knolls of Tuscany all around with the higher green/blue hills in the distance.
The stage was set with 2 massive statues of naked men, one crouching at the front the other a torso looking like he was about to hop over a wall. During the concert they were lit in different coloured lights and became very effective. Then there was the massive amount of equipment and structures that later became stages for dancers and singers.
As fate would have it I sat next to a young Indonesian guy who had lived in Switzerland for 12 months and who is a mad Bocelli fan, so we had some nice conversations and laughed that 2 people from a similar area of the world would end up sitting next to each other in Tuscany. I don’t know how many thousands of people there were in the audience but there were a lot of people from all over the world!
As the sun set over those golden knolls and the crescent moon rose, the music started. The atmosphere was electric, sometimes a hush over the crowd and other times the applause was deafening. The music was stupendous and of course it wasn’t just Andrea Bocelli it was his friends as well. The first half began with a reading of Andrea Bocelli’s poem Borgo Natio (My Native Village) read by the Italian actor Giorgio Albertazzi. The first half was of course classical, mainly Verdi, with arias from Aida, La Traviatta and Il Trovatore. The second half was lighter music so everyone got a bit of everything. The second half started with a reading of another Bocelli poem Al Crepuscolo un Angelo Mi Parla (At Dusk an Angel Speaks to Me a poem about his daughter).
Here are just three verses from the middle of that beautiful poem which touched me (as translated in the program).
In vain I have meditated, in vain have sought
along the streets of the whole world,
to live love, to run, to create,
and to the game of one lone second give us all!
Oh vain cruel worm inside my thoughts
that on the threshold of mystery will fall
All of a sudden a sound then catches me:
where does it come from? And if to listen to it
I dread and fear,
the moment after I am glad to hear,
a soft noise, a crawling, that comes near
I recognise it, and yet it seems unreal.
Then from afar I hear a voice,
just speaking to my heart confused
and fills that infinite void, to which
my shivering being bows ,
it is my child, and she has found me
and something has wakened deep inside me.
The second half of the program included Anema e Coure, Love me Tender, My Way, La Vie en Rose (they very cleverly inserted a film clip of Edith Piaf) and so much more. The guest musicians, singers and dancers provided terrific entertainment. There were names like Lindsay Kemp, Francesca Malacarne, Ricardo Cocciante, Simona Molinari, Paoletta Marrocu amongst many others and of course the choir of the Theatre of Silence. (Why is it called the Theatre of silence? Because Andrea Bocelli only performs one concert there in July each year, the rest of the time there is silence) The choirs rendition of O Fortuna was incredible. The dancers, the choir, all the soloists were amazing and then of course Bocelli himself! What can I say other than WOW! and BRAVO! Even now, as I write this, more than a year later, and look through my photos and souvenir program my spine tingles and eyes mist.
I found myself sitting there and every now and again it would hit me ‘I am in Lajatico, under the Tuscan sky listening and watching Andrea Bocelli live!’ I mean really, how awesome is that! The whole concert was brilliant and of course the encores brought the house down (if there were a house to bring down) Time to Say Goodbye and Nessun Dorma oh my! accompanied by a mass of fireworks. So there it is folks, awesome night and I am so thrilled I gave myself this gift, even though it cost an arm and a leg.
The photos unfortunately aren’t fantastic, although I had great seats they were just a little far away even for my long lens. But it’s better than not having any photos at all. I suggest you all go one day, while the concerts are still happening.
And so suddenly the evening was over and the crowd started walking back to the coaches and cabs. At one point I could see the lights of the traffic as it wound its way back towards Pisa. I found the cab and my fellow passengers and off we went, joining the snaking traffic line.
I have come across some very negative reviews online of this concert complaining about the price of tickets, that there was not enough of Andrea himself on stage, that there was too much dancing, that Andrea wore his sun glasses the entire time, that the creative director ‘should hang his head in shame’ etc etc etc. Some people are never happy. No, the tickets weren’t excessively expensive given who was performing. What difference does it make if a blind singer wears his sunglasses in the concert? Andrea likes to introduce other singers and performers to his stage and seriously I thought he was on stage a lot. I’m no fan of creative dance but I’m sure there are plenty of people who are and who appreciated Lindsay Kemps interpretations. All I can say is ‘get over it’ and count your blessings that you have an opportunity to see such an amazing singer in his home town in the open, along with others for whom he has artistic respect.After that spectacular night there was only one day left to finish exploring Pisa before moving on. I would have liked to see more of Tuscany and the coast but there is one downfall travelling solo if you don’t drive left hand drive cars. It’s hard to get around to the smaller villages or go on country trips. I wasn’t prepared to risk driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road so had to be content with seeing what I could without a car. Had I been staying longer I would have figured out how to get places by bus or train, however, that will need to be another trip.
The orange guys were still there, still sitting on a stick, I wondered if they ever went home because no matter when I walked past they were there, both day and night. If I hadn’t seen some one of them swallow, once, I’d have believed they were statues.
The visit to the supermarket this time yielded the best find yet – coffee yoghurt! My coffee fetish was definitely a theme on this grand tour and it drew me to itself on a daily basis in its many forms.
There are some lovely art works, statues and buildings in Pisa. I came across Keith Harings Tuttomondo, an acrylic created in 1989. The statue of Vittorio Emanuelle, 1st president of unified Italy, stands significantly in a piazza just before the entrance to the Corso. The paving around the railway station is almost a work of art on it’s own and the airport building is quite different with all it’s greenery. The river Arno with bridges separating the two sides of the town is beautiful and the ancient city wall is apparently one of the most complete surviving walls in Europe.
There were a few obligatory beggars and gypsies to contend with as the hotel was only half a block away from the railway station and the entrance was in an alley, but all in all they were pretty well behaved and didn’t harass anyone too much, perhaps because the police came around often enough and the hotel staff seemed to deal with them nicely. In fact the area around the railway station was the cleanest and best I had seen. I didn’t come across any beggars in the other parts of town, unlike other cities in Europe where they are in almost every doorway. Pisa appeared to be a reasonably quiet place, outside of the tourist area it was just a pretty city with many cultures. One day I’ll get back there and allow more time to explore the area properly.
Time to say Goodbye
Why is it that the night before travelling I don’t sleep very well, leaving me tired and having to think harder to make sure I don’t mess anything up! My next step, was farewell to Pisa, to Bocelli and the tower and hello again to Belgrade.
I caught the train to Rome then an Alitalia flight to Belgrade. I could not find any way to check my luggage in online, the website said I had to check luggage at the airport, well, that cost a small fortune, 75 Euros for one bag! Right there and then I decided I’ll never fly that airline again. Luckily the lovely guard on the train to Rome didn’t fine me for forgetting to validate my ticket, so that money went towards Alitalia instead.
Always, remember to validate your train ticket, it can get expensive if you don’t.
Yes I’d been to Belgrade with my son Ginski in May, tracking down my Mother’s schools, I described that trip in my blog on Serbia (Golden Oldie and First Born Take Off to Serbia). So why back to Belgrade? I still needed a rest from sight seeing (although there were a couple of things we didn’t get to do there the first time) and I still had more research to do on my parents, especially my mother. I needed to get the additional chapter/s to Mum’s memoirs done. I thought perhaps the place where she lived for a while and spent a year in University studying medicine before she got married and the war broke out (no I don’t think her marriage caused the war) might give me some inspiration to get on with the job and get it finished. I’d been avoiding re-reading her book which I had to do in order to be able to fill in a few gaps as well as take it up to the end of her life. This was the major emotional challenge of the trip.
So, farewell Pisa, I do want to re-visit and see more of your surrounds.