If you’re staying in or near Pisa, it goes without saying that you should visit the city itself. The Leaning Tower – the cathedral’s campanile, or bell-tower, to be exact – is of course the stand-out attraction.
If you’re looking to get good photos, visit first thing in the morning both to benefit from the soft light of sunrise and to avoid the crowds, which are huge in the summer. Most visitors seem to be overtaken by the urge to pose for a photo, pretending to hold the tower up, which makes for amusing people-watching. Sunset doesn’t work quite so well for the tower because the adjacent cathedral casts a large shadow shadow in the evening; conversely, it is very good for shots of the west front of the cathedral and nearby baptistry.
Getting into the town from our hotel, the San Ranieri, was easy: the no. 13 departs from a stop nearby every 20 minutes, took about 20 minutes and cost just a couple of Euros each way. We alighted at the railway station and then walked north through the city centre; the streets you take, Corso Italia and then the Via Goisuè Carducci, have been pedestrianised nearly all of the way to the Leaning Tower.
Climbing the Leaning Tower costs €18/person; perhaps the strange sensation of climbing a building that is listing heavily is worth it but, arguably, the view of it is far better than the view from it. The real secret is the cathedral which, thanks presumably to the revenues raised from tourists who queue to climb the tower, is free to enter. Entry is timed but, since there were only two of us, we were allowed in immediately when I explaind that we were flying home later in the day and couldn’t visit later.
Unlike in Siena Cathedral, with its ornate mosaic tiled floor, ugly and very utilitarian blue plastic seats filled the central aisle of the nave. Look up and around, though, and there is an ornate gilded ceiling, a higly ornate octagonal pulpit by Nicolà Pisano and his son Giovanni, huge paintings and a flamboyant mosaic of Christ flanked by the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist in the apse behind the high altar.
The views along the river are very picturesque and would would make a great dusk cityscape but it’s probably no coincidence that the main pedestrian street from the station leads directly to the tower: my impression is that there’s not so much else in the city to inspire the culture-seeking visitor.
Florence is of course the mecca for Tuscan tourism; my wife and I are saving it for a future trip.