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Pisa. Feeling the need, the need for speed
I am staying at a camp site that is ,wait for it ..... 400metres from the leaning tower !!! How great is that ! I booked it through hostelworld.com and for 20 euros a night I am in a shared two person tiny mobile home. It has just a bedroom and shower room with walls as thin as paper. Each unit is jammed up against each other but outside they have a little covered terrace with kitchen equipment and table and chairs.
I go to the bar and buy marmalade filled croissants and coffee, sit by the pool and plan my day, no sorry that was a joke, the planning my day bit. I have no idea what I am gonna do.
So another breakfast another guy from New Zealand. He has been touring around Europe for three months busking as a Romeo petrificado. He tells me about his “act”. When people give him money he reads a bit of poetry, Dante but in English. He thinks he should perhaps have some Spanish, German and Italian poems too but he can't speak any other languages. I spent my previous professional life giving people advice they didn't want and I can't stop doing it now. I suggest he gets some cheap plastic roses bulk buy on e bay and hands one out to “the ladies” or tucks it behind their ear when they pose for their friends to take their photo with him. He does a good impression of thinking this seems like a good idea. He says he is working in Pisa today and I say I will come by and applaud him enthusiastically.
Somewhere between having this conversation and going back to my dorm I change my mind. Today is the 1st of October and I guess summer is sadly over, but I am in the mood for one last hurrah or “brava”. The hours left of my trip are ticking by at break neck speed. I don't want the travelling to be over, I am not yet ready to come to a standstill, I feel like I want to keep exploring, go to new places and meet new people. Walking the 400 metres to the Leaning Tower just doesn't seem to cut it. I need something else. I decide to hire a Vespa and drive to the Ligurian coast and a village called Cinque Terre.
This doesn't prove as easy as I thought it would be, but I seem to mange to track down the only Vespa for hire in the region. It is out at the airport so I jump on the bus for the half an hour ride out there. It is as buses always are laden with old ladies who all chat and greet each other like girlhood friends. It is very busy and everyone is standing and hanging on, it lurches round a corner violently and I hear my first “mamma mia “ since I got here. At one stop a woman with a buggy laden with washing tries to get on through the middle doors. She doesn't fold up the buggy and it won't fit, the whole bus is looking at her, she is shouted at from the front by the driver to fold it up, she tries but can't. Other women on the bus remonstrate with her in Italiano rapido, eventually the bus driver opens the doors gets out and stands on the pavement shouting and waving his arms about wildly, he says something that includes “en Italia”, I think the woman is East European. He is clearly telling her to get off. Grudgingly she hurls her bags of laundry back onto the pavement and drags her buggy off the bus, hurling vicious insults at the other women on the bus that I think include wishing their husbands dead. It's all very exciting in Italy, it must be all those antioxidants they eat. Considering that I am spitting distance to the greatest art collection in the world it is kind of odd that on the grass in front of Pisa airport they have chosen to put a7 foot sculpture of ........a pigeon !
I had a little motorbike when I was in the sixth form. I think my Father bought it for me hoping that as well as his demanding job in London he would no longer have to moonlight as an unpaid taxi driver as well. What actually happened was he swapped taxi driver for roving petrol pump and RAC breakdown service .
Anyway....it's been a few years since I have been anything other than a backseat passenger on The Beard's BMW, so what makes me think I can ride one now I do not know, but I'm “giving it a go”
I am imagining iconic matt black and shiny chrome that will project me, “go straight to cool and collect £200”.
What I actually get is very red and very scratched with a mirror that swivels round uselessly. Despite this I still feel like Arnie as I don my open face black helmet and shades. A one o'clock lunch “al mare” here we come. I have no map but ask for directions at the petrol station. They look at me and my bike incredulously and say “But that's in Liguria” as if I had said I wanted to go to the moon. So I swiftly change and head for Florence, it's bound to be well signposted. So now I'm aiming for lunch at 2pm with a view of the Arno.
I sit on the Vespa in my cut off jeans and trainers and sun top, do 70 kph at full throttle on the flat and try to dodge potholes.
I arrive in Florence and it feels like a homecoming .There are fleets of my kind here and they rule the road. I am transformed from nervous newbie into a “bat out of hell”. I run with the pack and it's sooo cool. I lean into corners and overtake on the inside. I try not to squeal and giggle but to fix my face with the look of indifferent boredom as worn by the Vespa riders who race over the cobbles ahead of me.
I get to the Uffizi art gallery and park up in a spot overlooking the Arno river and the Ponte Vecchio. But my kind are still zipping by. I hear their call, and the instinct to follow the herd gets the better of me,why walk when you whizz? I jump back on and follow at full throttle along the Arno leaving no gap between cars or failed opportunity to pass.
Not for the first time, eventually I realise I have no idea where I am. I spot a vegetarian restaurant, there aren't many of those in Italy, so I stop. It is hidden behind a health food shop and as I enter the noise of chattering Italians is almost deafening. I have salty polenta, aubergines, courgettes and pinenuts it tastes so good it silences my inner thoughts and there is not another tourist in sight.
Then I dive into a hairdressers for a quick fringe trim so that I can see where I'm going.
In a “pasticceria” opposite the vast wedding cake “duomo” I buy some lovely little marzipan, honey and pinenut pastries and a deep wedge of panforte dredged in icing sugar. They are the cherubs of the cake world, cute, pudgey and heavenly. I plan to score a bottle of sweet white wine at the camp site shop and I will be all set for a little last night party.
I get back into Pisa just as the last pink is fading from the sky to night time. Pisa is quite big, and just as I fear I am going to be unendingly lost, I find the Tower. I jump off the bike and admire the surreal looking smooth whiteness of the tower,cathedral and baptistry. The white marble facades glow rather eerily like ghost buildings in the night.
I get back to my dorm and find there is a new arrival . Amanda is American, she is 28 and recently divorced she decided to give herself a little “me time” by selling up and booking a one way ticket to Paris !!! I can't think of anything better to do and I like her instantly. This is her first day in Europe since leaving Rhode Island the day before and it feels kind of appropriate to share my last day and her first together. So I open the wine and as easily as you can get addicted to hard drugs I get her hooked on Italian pastries. She is lovely. We talk about all the places she plans to go and all the places I have been. I ceremoniously bequeath some of my precious possessions to her, a bottle of mosquito repellent, they were worse in Pisa than anywhere, even Scotland. A map of Barcelona with loads of good touristy recommendations marked on it and some unused mini sized shower gel. [ I did shower on my trip but this was just extra !!] It feels strange to give away these things that I have guarded so preciously but I know they are going to a good home.
We chat and giggle until the small hours, just as we are thinking of calling it a night another American girl arrives carrying a guitar, it's Avril Lavigne ! She has just come back from Cinque Terre and says it was spoilt by being “full of 60 year old Americans. I am glad I went to Florence then.
By now it hardly seems worth going to sleep before I have to get up for my flight home in the morning. We swap e mail addresses and say goodbye. I'm amazed, not for the first time how quickly you can become good friends with someone when you are travelling. I am very sorry to say good bye and wish I was going with them, but I have abandoned The Beard and his little prodigy, Fuzzy Lip for too long and it is time to go home ............................. for a while.
The next day I was the first to check in at the airport for my flight home, and the flight left on time, but I wasn't on it !!!
Let me know if you want to know what happened.
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