Probably the first thing that comes to mind at the mention of Pisa is the iconic leaning tower. At Carnival Vista’s port stop in Liverno, Italy we decided to go to nearby Pisa to see it. Florence and Pisa are both accessible by train from Liverno, and the shuttle from the port drops people at the train station. Of course excursions are another option whether booked through the ship or privately.
One advantage excursions have over do-it-yourself travel is if you book through the ship it has to wait if your excursion returns late. Another advantage of excursions is pickpocket-free transportation. Watch out for them when taking busses or trains. Once off the tour bus you may run into them along the streets though so even on excursions make sure your valuables are safely stowed where pickpockets don’t have easy access. One more advantage of excursions is the option to leave bulky items on the bus. You can’t take backpacks or bags up the tower stairs should you choose to climb it so don’t bring anything large with you. Cameras, phones, and small camera cases are allowed.
You can’t just randomly walk into the tower and climb the stairs. You have to buy a ticket for that in advance and go at your assigned time so it doesn’t get too crowded, again something taken care of by the excursion people when taking one that includes tower entry.
We hadn’t made prior plans to visit Pisa before our cruise. Taking the shuttle (which isn’t free) from the ship into Liverno and then a ride on the canal boats there sounded good, but once on the ship we decided to go to Pisa instead. We booked the ship’s excursion that included tower entry. On excursion day we went to the meeting point on the ship with what we thought was time to spare, but by the time we got through the very long line to the table where they handed out bus numbers it was a bit past the time we were supposed to be there. We got the last bus for our excursion along with the rest of the stragglers. It was only about half full so at least we had a smaller group.
The bus parking area in Pisa is a bit of a walk from the tower. Initially we walked past it with just a bit of a stop for quick outside photos before moving on to a café/gift shop at the end of the street that had free bathrooms for cruise ship passengers – no doubt in hopes that they buy something. There are restrooms near the tower, but they aren’t free.
Once everyone got through the line we took a scenic detour back to the tower through some other streets rather than going straight back. On the way we stopped in a square with an old school and church. Pretty much all the buildings were old.
Back at the tower we first went into the cathedral and then the baptistery. One of our friends said when she visited there on her own a few weeks earlier a guard came in and sang the entire Halleluiah chorus, with the echos filling in all the parts not currently actually being sung, which she said was pretty awesome to listen to.
During our visit the baptistery singer just sang a few notes, which was not enough to get an echo going. That was a bit of a disappointment after our friend’s description of her visit there. The baptistery exists because back when the cathedral was built nobody could enter it unless they had been baptized first. The round shape and domed roof provides perfect acoustics, which is why they have the singing there.
Just after the singing our time came for climbing the tower. We were told it had 290 stairs. Before we went there I walked from deck 0 to deck 15 on the ship and counted 238, after which I thought the tower would be quite the climb since it had even more stairs than the ship. The tower stairs are wider and flatter than what the ship has though, and are actually pretty easy to walk up. Much easier than the cruise ship’s stairs.
The tower also has lots of alcoves along the way where people can step aside to rest and enjoy the view or take photos through the openings at those places. The stairs are just wide enough for two people going the opposite way to pass by one another.
In spite of being made from stone, the center of each stair has a dip from centuries of feet walking there. The main stairway ends at a platform circling around the tower with great views and an obvious slope due to the lean of the tower. A small semi-hidden alcove opens into another stairway up to a higher level.
This level is open at the top and has large bells built into the walls. So apparently the purpose of the leaning tower is a bell tower. You can look down the inside of the tower from the top and up the inside of the tower from the bottom. There’s nothing inside, the entire thing is hollow. Climbing the tower was the highlight of this excursion. If you go to Pisa, try and make the arrangements for the tower climb. It’s well worth seeing.
We were given a time to meet back at the restaurant at the end of the street. The meeting time came and went and one couple never showed up. After waiting quite some time the guide called her boss and then we left. On the walk back to the bus she loudly called out a warning that there were pickpockets on that street, which besides making everyone hyper aware of protecting their valuables probably also let the pickpockets know they would have no luck as everyone had been alerted to their presence. She did say at the start of the tour that she knew how to spot them. They tend to work in pairs or groups. These particular ones were a pair of women, but they can be men, couples, mothers with children, or anyone else who can sneak, corner, con, or distract people into parting with their belongings. Unfortunately a lot of touristy areas of Europe are full of them. Someone else on the ship who had ventured out on their own said they thought they were safe with one of the purses with cut proof straps, but that did not stop thieves from taking the entire purse.
Back on the bus the guide said the lost couple had been found and would return to the ship on a different bus. Quite a few tours went to the tower so luckily for them we were not the last to leave. She turned the things they left on the bus over to people from the ship so they could have them back once they got onboard. We finally got a good guide on this tour, quite a relief after the ones we had in Herculaneum and Rome.