The Tuscan city of Pisa is basically only known as being home to a poorly built tower, but it turns out there’s more to it than that. The leaning tower itself is quite small, and the stairs to the top can be climbed for a horribly high price (for a long time it was so structurally unsound that you could not even approach it). More entertaining, however, was standing back from the crowds of tourists and watching while people climbed and maneuvered to get the perfect ‘leaning tower’ pose.
Pisa, it turns out, is a university town filled with expensive boutiques and young people who mainly are involved in cultural studies. It holds the 19th oldest university in the world, and despite its small size is full of churches and piazzas as beautiful as any others we had seen.
We had a long lunch of wine and pizza and found a huge mural tucked away on a side street which is the only permanent work of the artist Keith Haring.
After decent pizza and silly pictures, we drove to the posh beach town of Viareggio. A free night at the five star Best Western awaited us, and the weather was perfect for a walk on the beach.
Viareggio holds an annual carnival and many prestigious events, and the wealth of the city was very evident. Our hotel was pure luxury and directly across from a white sand beach where we enjoyed a perfect sunset before (yet another) pizza dinner.
The following day was our final driving day in Italy, and it was set to be a long one. The hotel had an extravagant breakfast and we headed onto the road early. Lucca, a city very nearby Viareggio, was our first stop. There was little to see other than the piazza, but we took the opportunity to explore the side streets knowing we had a long drive ahead.
Hours in the car on side roads to avoid tolls brought us to the city of Bologna, famous for the typical cuisine of Tuscany and a halfway point to Venice, our final stop. We arrived in the afternoon hoping to find the abundance of meat shops and markets we had come across elsewhere, but the tight streets were mostly filled with expensive restaurants and clothing shops. There were dozens of delis selling charcuterie platters and wine, but the parma ham, parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar were priced for tourists and we weren’t able to find exactly what we were looking for. Bologna was exceptionally busy and seemed more expensive than anywhere we had visited so far, but i’m sure it would be different if we had spent more time in the city itself.
The sun was starting to set, rain clouds were gathering in the sky and we knew we had a long way to travel in order to reach Venice by nightfall. When we finally arrived at Venice airport to return our rental car, the rain was pounding down and the air was freezing cold for the first time in almost two weeks. We took a ridiculously expensive bus ride into the town of Mestre (the mainland city beside Venice) and tried to find our hotel in the pouring rain wearing summer clothes at nearly 10pm. Mestre, what a lovely city! I recommend never going there unless you are absolutely forced to. Our hotel appeared closed from the outside, and once we were ushered into our room we had to avoid loose floor tiles and do a deep bedbug check before falling asleep, wet and exhausted (this was one of the worst places we had stayed in during our year of travels, the cheapest hotel in the vicinity of Venice, and also the hotel we paid the most for). It had been far too long of a day, but tomorrow we would be in Venice!
The bus into Venice was quick and easy, and our hotel was a two minute walk (over bridges, of course) from the bus station. We were able to enjoy one last free night of luxury in the Best Western Hotel Olimpia, directly on the canals in the center of Venice. The sun was shining, and we were able to check in early. You know your hotel is fancy when everything is gold and the wallpaper is made of fabric!
Venice is a city impossible not to fall in love with. It is everything you imagine, from every book, movie and love story. The canals are filled with gondolas and the streets hold shops selling Venitian glass and carnival masks. There are an unbelievable amount of tourists there during the day (mainly from the much despised cruise ships), but once the sun sets everyone goes back to their cruise cabins and horror hotels in cheaper Mestre, and the city belongs to the locals and those wealthy enough to afford the fancy hotels.
Twice in one day we walked across the city to a fast food fresh pasta restaurant I had found online called Dal Moro’s, which served the best pasta I’ve ever had. We sat beside the canal and ate our hot pasta while watching the world go by for 6€ each, better than any touristy restaurant! The owner spent the day working the till and became a quick friend, and we visited on the second day as well. If you’re ever in Venice, eat here!
Thankfully Venice was our last stop in Italy and one of our last stops on this year of travel, otherwise I would be coming home with a full suitcase of leather, olive oil, glass and clothing. I had no idea Italy was such a wonderful and cheap place to shop, and ended up with hundreds of photos of couture clothing that I’ll dream about until we go back and I have shopping money.
Staying in downtown Venice allowed us to go out in the evening, and though most things were closed, we spent hours getting lost in the narrow streets and having a picnic of pasta and wine at St. Mark’s Basilica. I was able to Skype with my dad as we walked along the canals, and we slept in the next morning in our fancy hotel. We visited our pasta shop one more time before leaving and after sunset, made our way to the Mestre bus station to catch our 12 hour ride back to Frankfurt.
Italy was amazing, and though it strained our budget much more than we thought it would (so expensive!), it was absolutely worth it. I can understand why almost 50 million tourists visit every year.
Back to Germany, and then off to sunny Cuba!
-Ben & Chelsea
We have taken 10 ferries, 1 cruise ship, 4 boat rides, 19 airplanes, 43 busses, 9 long distance trains, 11 motorbikes, 1 rental car, uncountable subways, tuk tuks, songtheows, city busses and car rides. We have travelled approximately 65,250 km in 326 days and have been to 18 countries (including stopovers). We have stayed in 59 hotels, hostels, Air B&Bs and guesthouses (plus a lot of couchsurfing).