48 hours in one city is never enough to get into all its nooks and crannies. So how well did I manage squeezing Florence and Pisa into just 48 hours?
These two places are only one and a half hours apart by train so instead of just doing one or the other, do both and you’ll be surprised at how much you can see in just 48 hours.
Did you know Pisa was the last place where artist Keith Haring did his last public wall mural before his premature death? It is named ‘Tuttomondo’ and was painted in 1989 on the exterior wall of the Church of Sant’Antonio. As serendipity would have it, the mural was born out of a chance meeting between a young student from Pisa and Keith Haring. Shortly after this meeting Haring had the idea to paint the mural and asked several students from Pisa to help paint in the figures. I am by no means qualified to give you an art historian’s commentary on this work; I just love this image because of the vibrant colours and close composition of the figures, which to me, represent unity and community.
Have you ever been to a world famous landmark and been rather underwhelmed? As that’s happened to me on several occasions (pssssst, Statue of Liberty and Sydney Opera House). But I certainly wasn’t underwhelmed when I first clasps my eyes on the Leaning Tower of Pisa! I definitely recommend going inside (cost approx. 30 Euros) because not only is it one of the world’s most iconic buildings, it also gives you the best views of Pisa, and once you’ve climbed to the top you can find the huge bell that once used to operate. The Leaning Tower is just one of several architectural masterpieces within an enclosed area called Piazza del Duomo and together they were inducted into the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1987. I didn’t have time to go inside each one, but just to see them from the outside, and lay down on the grass was the perfect way to enjoy the good whether surrounded my some of Italy’s most famous buildings.
And where’s the best place to relax in Pisa? Definitely the Garden of Scotto, this public garden used to be the fortress of Pisa so it combines the best of the city’s history and charm. I could easily spend hours here lapping up the sun and the small quirks of this romantic backdrop that includes a turret, trench, palm trees, flowers and bridges.
A day to discover Florence is impossible, but there are definitely crucial places not to miss. I had two things on my list: 1) Go inside the Uffizi and 2) Go inside the Florence cathedral, but alas I didn’t manage to do either of them because queues for both were horrendous! However, even if I had time to queue I probably wouldn’t have because I hate queuing, especially in heat and when you know you can do a thousand and one other things.
Even though I didn’t go inside the Florence cathedral I have a feeling the best part is viewing it from outside along with Giotto’s Campanile (the bell tower) and the Baptistery. These three buildings are the most revered architectural pieces of the main square, Piazza del Duomo, which is one of the most visited squares in the world. When you first view it, you’ll want to rub your eyes in disbelieve because it looks painstakingly impossible that mankind could create this kind of beauty on such large scale proportions. It’s no surprise that Florence’s collection of architecture is considered the height of Renaissance, and like the Duomo in Pisa, it was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981.
You’re probably getting hungry now, and I know the perfect place for you to satisfy your penchant for bruschetta and prosciutto. Head over to Mercato Centrale for any antipasto you can think of, and why not wash it down with a glass of Processo?!
When I think of all the gardens I’ve been to, Boboli Gardens is top of the list. With panoramic views of Florence, rose gardens, pavilions, and 16th century statues, this garden epitomises the image of a romantic garden dating back from the High Renaissance period. Highlights include Neptune’s Fountain, the “Little Bacchus” Fountain, and a sculpture of a giant head by contemporary Polish sculpture Igor Mitoraj.
If you find that you don’t have time to visit the Uffizi, fear not! As there is the Palazzo Vecchio, a palace with lavish interior that makes a decent alternative. The interior has had some rather dramatic yet comical losses over the centuries that include lost work by Michelangelo and Di Vinci (in the process of experimenting with different mediums Di Vinci’s painting melted!). The Palazzo Vecchio is also perfect if you’re looking for things to do in the evening – I saw Damian Hirst’s exhibition For the Love of God at around 9pm. The whole experience was a little surreal because I was ushered into a dark black room, it was tiny – maybe 5 x 5 metres and the only thing that gave light was the diamond encrusted skull which shone inside a glass box. I stared at it, and then stared at the guards, looked down at their guns, stared back at the skull, and left. That was the exhibition – just one diamond encrust skull and three armed guards. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I definitely expected to see more of Hirst’s work minus the guns. But despite feeling a little robbed, the rest of the gallery completely made up for it!
So what’s the best thing you can do when you only have a day or two in one city?
When you’re fighting against time then research, research and more research is the best thing you can do. It seems really obvious to say research is half of the battle when lost for time, but sometimes it’s easier said than done, especially if you have a natural aversion to planning, and a natural inclination to whim. Chances are you’ll have fun in Pisa and Florence with only a small amount of research to go by, but in a city like Florence where there is so much to see, you’ll feel disappointed if you come home and realise all the things you missed. I’ve had that feeling after nearly every trip I’ve taken before starting this travel blog during the summer (that’s one of the best things about having this blog – it makes me research and push to find the well known, as well as the off-beat charms of a city).
The boring part of research
Research just doesn’t involve a list of things you want to see and do, it involves looking at a map and finding the location of everywhere, and the most efficient routes to take so you don’t have to go back on yourself. I’m not suggesting that you need to be so regimented with all your trips, but it’s advisable when time is tick-tocking away!