(18 to 19 (Pisa) by train; bus between 19 and 20 (Lucca))
I’d been to Pisa before but not overnight, and at that time (2007) the Tower of Pisa was being cleaned and had scaffolding all over it. The cleaning had finished this year just before I arrived! So I was anxious to see it again plus explore more of Pisa beyond the ultra-touristy “Field of Miracles.” In 2007, during a day trip from Florence, I hopped off the bus back from the Field to the train station as we were about to cross the Arno River, as the sun was setting, and I was inspired after that to return and spend more time exploring this area. I wound up staying two nights in Pisa at two different places around the corner from each other: the B&B Le Donzelle di Vettovaglie and the famous Royal Victoria Hotel, both very close to this spot where I’d hopped off the bus in 2007. (The B&B had only one night available and the Royal Victoria had the room at a good price the next night.)
I arrived this time in Pisa early enough to shoot the sunset and some night pics,
but first I had to check in to my B&B. I had emailed them to let them know my arrival time, but when I arrived at the place the sign on the door said, “We are not here – call this number.” Without a working cell phone in Italy (I thought), I didn’t have an easy way to call them. So I went over to the Royal Victoria and asked them to call for me. Turns out the guy WAS up at the B&B (waiting for me). I guess the sign was meant for when you ring the bell and no one answers!
The B&B entrance was dirty at street level; upstairs it was much nicer. It felt a bit like a monastery inside but it was clean and comfortable. Behind the B&B is a popular square, Girabaldi Square, a lively place with eateries and bars open late (college kids), so I had an easy place to eat and no noise bothered me.
The next day I checked in around the corner at the Royal Victoria and took a morning walk over to the Tower of Pisa. Clean and beautiful!
I also got to explore more of the town itself. Then, I took a bus on to Lucca for a day trip.
I’d heard that Lucca is REALLY the place you want to stay overnight and not Pisa. I can understand where people are coming from: Lucca is a nice walled town, very appealing whereas Pisa is a bit more “real” (loud and dirty in parts). But unlike many others, I really didn’t enjoy Lucca that much. There seemed to be too many tourists, and as a landscape photographer, I found photo ops frustrating inside the walled city. My feet were so beat by now that it was a struggle to try to find some ideal vantage point down into the town, so I didn’t spend a lot of time on it – and probably didn’t give Lucca a fair shake.
Pisa is probably not the kind of place a first-time tourist to Italy might enjoy (other than a day trip to the Field of Miracles and the Tower). It’s just a bit noisy and dirty and not that “quaint.” But I found it very authentic and not touristy at all away from the Field. Plus, the Arno River buildings are very photogenic. I’m glad I returned for an overnight visit.
The Royal Victoria Hotel itself was a gem in a sense: it’s a faded old relic of an earlier era when hotels had big public spaces, pianos, marble staircases, etc. The place was like a museum that was badly in need of a renovation. Unfortunately, my room itself was small (shared bathroom – shower upstairs). And the hot water didn’t work! Oh, well, I enjoyed the hotel itself – even if you don’t stay there, it’s worth walking into the lobby and checking the place out.