Italy, June 2015

Greetings from stinking hot Pisa, where today’s projected high is 32C (90F) and it is 26C (79F) at 11 a.m. On the positive side (if, like me, you find 32C/90F a negative), it is beautifully sunny and we can see the Leaning Tower from our hotel room window, so really, if we wanted, we could stay inside all day.

view from our window at duomo

I had to lean out the window to the right get this picture of the Leaning Tower and the Duomo from our Pisa hotel room, but that seems fitting, don’t you think?

view out other direction of window

The view looking left out the window of our Pisa hotel room

view from outside, looking into room from window

The view inside our Pisa hotel room

We arrived yesterday to similar temperatures, and were so exhausted that we broke our “fight jet lag by getting out and doing something as soon as you land in a foreign country” rule and collapsed in our blissfully air-conditioned room for nearly three hours.

It wasn’t just the flights here (Edmonton-Toronto, Toronto-Munich, Munich-Pisa) that did us in (Dave slept maybe four hours during the 16-hour (including layovers) journey. I slept less than three), it was the harrowing drive from the airport to the Hotel Grand Duomo, which was more exhausting than the plane trip.

Usually when Dave spends a night in Pisa en route to a conference, he stays at the Royal Victoria Hotel, near the Arno River, about a mile from the touristy Tower area.

Sadly, that hotel was booked, so we wound up here, in the heart of tourist-land, which means it is farther from the airport and deeper into the center of the city, a city whose roads are slightly wider than the sidewalk in front of our house in Edmonton. Plus, various roads are always closed for some reason or another, so the GPS gets completely befuddled.

The 4 km ride from the airport took about a half hour and required extensive improvising on Dave’s part (I drove; he had to augment the GPS directions). Eventually we wound up in an alley so narrow I could stand in the center and touch the buildings on either side.

This experience was made more nerve-wracking when the delivery truck that was blocking our passage decided to back up, forcing me to do the same. At around the point where I was about to back up around a curve, the truck driver changed his mind and raced forward, leaving me shaking behind the wheel.

Meanwhile, Dave studied the GPS and decided that the hotel was nearby and the garage was probably in the alley. I refused to drive any further until he confirmed his hunch, so he went off in search of the hotel which, it turned out, was literally steps away.

When he came back, I drove up the alley to the garage. However, because the alley was so narrow and there was a car parked directly across from the garage entrance, I could not for the life of me get the car in without damaging it.

Mr. Hotel Man, our garage guide, was patient, but after I failed three times to get into the garage, he used sign language (there being a barrier as I speak no Italian, nor he English) to signal that it was his turn to try.

Confident that he had far more experience and was therefore more competent than I, I exited the vehicle and he climbed into the driver seat. Then he began pulling forward, nearly removing the passenger-side rear-view mirror in the process. I’m not sure how, but somehow he had failed to notice how close I’d been to that side of the garage.

Dave and I yelled, “STOP!”

Thank heavens that is a universal word. When the car came to a halt, we folded the mirror in, and Mr. Hotel Man finished his task without incident. I pray that whoever inspects our vehicle when we return it won’t notice the scratch on the side of the mirror.

As for the garage, let me say, “garage” is a generous and not entirely accurate word to describe where we had to leave our vehicle last night. The Hotel Grand Duomo contains no traditional parking stalls: instead, there are two lanes. Picture a very short (40 yards or cm long, tops) highway during a traffic jam. That is what the “garage” looked like to me. We had to leave our key in case someone at the front of the traffic jam (garage) needed to get out.

Each time I woke up last night, I was plagued by visions of Mr. Hotel Man taking our rented Leon (yes, that’s the name of the car)  for a joyride down a Pisa alley and scratching it up even more. Needless to say, I’ve slept better.

grand duomo hotel garage

Turns out I didn’t have to lose any sleep. Not only was the car not scratched in the morning,, the garage was considerably emptier than it had been the day before (Maybe Mr. Hotel Man was still out joy-riding?). Even better: someone had kindly turned our car so I could drive out instead of having to back out! (Nobody else’s car had received that treatment, leading me to believe the hotel administrators probably have a file on me: “unable to cope with our garage.” It is likely right next to Mr. Hotel Man’s file, which may well say the same thing.)

To be fair, this is a much nicer hotel than TripAdvisor kvetches would have you believe: it’s clean, quiet, in a great location (unless you have to drive here, which I never will again), and there’s a lot of variety at the free breakfast buffet. Also, there’s a rooftop patio with terrific views of the Tower and the rest of the city.


View of Tower and Duomo from the terrace on top of the Hotel Grand Duomo in Pisa

Elizabeth’s plane arrives from England in just under an hour! So we’re going to head out and fetch her, because based on yesterday’s experience I don’t think it’s going to be easy finding our way back to the airport.

Stay tuned for more adventures!


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