We left Florence early at 7:30, dragging our luggage behind us. The reason…we had advanced tickets for the Leaning Tower of Pisa. No advanced tickets means waiting in long lines. We took a train from the Flornce S.M.N. station to the Pisa Centrale station, then had to go through the whole routine of figuring out which bus to catch, where to catch it, how to purchase the tickets, and where to get off.
The public transportation in Europe is great, with train service to nearly every city, and bus connections to even the most remote places. Several observations, though:
- Catching trains is easy. Go to the station, look at the departure board for the train you want and go to correct platform at the correct time. Show a Eurail pass and it’s even easier. Train schedules are online, and there’s also an offline app for the iPad or iPhone.
- The local transportation (buses and subways/trams) is a bit trickier. Sometimes the Eurail pass is valid, other times it’s not and you have to buy tickets. In one instance, we boarded the Jungfrau Railway and showed our pass to the fare inspector. “Not valid here,” he bellowed. Apparently he could have fined us €75 for boarding without a valid ticket. We played dumb and bought the tickets on board. Another time, we spent 15 minutes with an automated bus ticket machine at the Zurich airport trying to figure out how to buy 2 tickets, one way to Embrach. In frustration, we gave up, played dumb, and bought them on board from the driver with no fuss. Later we found out that our Eurail pass was good on the bus line. The next morning we flashed our pass and the driver said, “OK!” Some places you have to buy on board, other places they can fine you if you board without a ticket.
- The Paris Metro is expansive, has dozens of lines, and is very crowded, dirty, hot, and smelly.
- The Rome Metro has only two lines. Also very crowded, not as dirty or smelly. They could stand to get a few more lines.
- The London tube is my favorite so far. Not very crowded, easy to navigate, and generally clean. Everything is English helps, too.
After we got on the right bus, we eventually found ourselves at the Leaning Tower. Everyone has to check their bags because the tower’s staircase is so cramped. We had two big backpacks, a suitcase, a toiletry bag, and camera bag! Having advanced tickets let us go right in. After a 5 minute introduction, we climbed the 294 steps to the top.
The tower leans because it is built on soil that can’t sustain it’s full weight. The builders realized the problem after construction had started, and they tried various ways of correcting…or more like cheating, the problem. One trick was to use longer columns on one side and shorter columns on the other. That put a curve in the tower and made it less drastic, but never fixed the problem. There’s more details on various online sites you can check out if you are curious. Rumor has it that Galileo dropped cannon balls over the edge to determine the acceleration of gravity, and also proved that neglecting air resistance, all object accelerate uniformly due to gravity.
We parked ourselves at the bus stop at 10:55 am. The schedule said the next one was due at 11:03. None came. The next one was 11:18. None came. I asked a local if this is where the bus to the Estazione (train station) is. Si, she replied. “When?” I asked. She shrugged her shoulders. We had to catch the 11:49 train in order to make our connection in Florence with reserved seats to Rome. After 45 minutes and no bus, we tried to hail a taxi. They were all reserved, or off duty, of course. Finally we got one, and 8 Euros and 10 minutes later we were on the train to Florence and ultimately Rome.
Taking the wrong exit out of the Rome train station led us on a 15-block tour of the area surrounding the train station…on foot…with luggage in tow. We checked in to our hostel/hotel, which is pretty nice and has really good free Wi-Fi, which is why I’ve been able to post much lately. After relaxing for a while, we went out to explore, finding the Piazza del Popolo, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Monumento a Vittorio Emmanuele II, and the Roman Forum. Some pizza and gelato, and it was time to call it a night. Friday…the Vatican!