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Our third stop of the 2009 Barcelona Cruise was at the port of Livorno which is just up the coast from Civitavecchia, the port used to reach Rome.

Historically speaking, there are winners and losers.  Pisa is one of the hard luck stories.  Pisa was once one of the leading ports in the entire Mediterranean.  Over the centuries, Pisa fought battles for control of the trade routes with its northern enemy Genoa and its eastern enemy Venice.  Pisa also fought battles with Florence, a powerful inland foe just down the road a bit, winning some, losing some. 

The decline of Pisa began on 6 August 1284.  On this date the numerically superior fleet of Pisa was defeated by the brilliant tactics of the Genoese fleet in the dramatic naval Battle of Meloria.  This defeat ended the maritime power of Pisa.  The town never fully recovered.  Six year later, in 1290 the Genoese destroyed forever the Porto Pisano (Port of Pisa), and covered it with salt.

The final blow came in the next century when the Arno River started to change course.  Pisa is located somewhat inland.  The river shift created made the river more shallow.  This prevented the sea galleys from reaching the city's port via the river any longer.  It seems also that area became swampy which was soon infested with malaria.  No outsider wanted anything to do with this port any longer.  Soon the nearby town of Livorno began to replace Pisa as one of the major ports along the western coast of Italy.


The final blow to the dignity of the Pisans came from the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa.  This beautiful freestanding bell tower was obviously intended to stand vertical, but the tower began leaning soon after the onset of construction in 1173.  The cause was a poorly laid foundation as well as a loose substrata that allowed the foundation to shift direction.  

Ever since then, the Leaning Tower of Pisa has become the world's biggest laughingstock.   The Leaning Tower is quite literally the world's leading symbol for bad architecture. It is sad in a way to see such an ignoble end come to such an impressive structure. 
What makes the Tower so interesting, however, is that it doesn't fall.  There are plenty of other examples of bad architecture.  For example, Europe has a dozen cathedrals that fell down, but we don't hear about them because they all got rebuilt.  Not the Leaning Tower.  Nine centuries have passed and the darn thing is still standing. 

The tower began to sink after construction had progressed to the third floor in 1178. This was due to a mere three-meter foundation, set in weak, unstable subsoil, a design that was flawed from the beginning. Construction was subsequently halted for almost a century, because the Pisans were almost continually engaged in battles with Genoa, Lucca and Florence. This allowed time for the underlying soil to settle. Otherwise, the tower would almost certainly have toppled.

In 1272, construction resumed under Giovanni di Simone. In an effort to compensate for the tilt, the engineers built upper floors with one side taller than the other. This made the tower begin to lean in the other direction!  Because of this, the tower is actually curved.  Construction was halted again in 1284, when the Pisans were defeated by the Genoans in the ill-fated Battle of Meloria.

Since the Battle of Meloria was basically the beginning of the end for Pisa, the sad fate of the tower seems to oddly parallel the sad fate of the city.  Even the famous story of native son Galileo using the tower to demonstrate the powers of gravity turned out to be nonsensical folklore.  That event never happened.  However, I imagine today's populace probably doesn't mind the jokes.  The lemon makes lemonade.  Without their famous Leaning Tower, Pisa would have become another obscure Italian cathedral town long forgotten in the world's eye. 

In the late twentieth century, an alarm was raised that the Tower was in great danger of actually toppling over.  The tower leaned at the precarious angle of 5.5 degrees and the problem was getting worse.  Restoration work performed between 1990 and 2001 corrected the lean to about 4 degrees.  Today, thanks to the determined work of thousands of tourists like Marla who show up daily to help hold it up, the Tower seems ready to survive for some time to come.


Florence is famous for its marvelous art museums.  Most art historians consider Florence to be the epicenter of the Renaissance Era.  Many important works of art are housed right here in Florence. For example, David, the marvelous Michelangelo sculpture, resides at Galleria dell'Accademia Naturally the chance to visit Florence was a definite highlight for many people in our group.

For our day in Florence, Marla arranged a private tour for our group with a company that offers shore excursions.  This was an experiment on Marla's part.  Marla figured if enough people were interested in going together, she could beat the cruise line's price for the same trip.  Marla was right.  She was able to negotiate a price that beat the same tour offered by the cruise line for $180 less per person.  This was another wonderful example of the advantages of having a large group. 

Nevertheless, Marla was worried.  She was taking a gamble.  The cruise tour had two major advantages over Marla's tour... one, the ship promised to wait for the bus if it was late... two, they had experienced tour guides who could deliver the goods.  Marla's price, on the other hand, was hard to beat.  In addition, the thought of having a tour strictly for our own group was very attractive.  Thanks to the good price and the exclusivity, Marla had a large group of forty people sign up. 

Marla's gamble was by and large a success story, but there was definitely room for improvement.  The first headache was that our promised trip to the important Uffizi Museum was left off the itinerary.  The company had guaranteed this visit as part of the package, but Marco, the tour guide, had not been told (or so he said). Marla had no way of knowing whom to blame for the mix-up, but she wasn't going to back down.  Once Marla presented the document from the company proving their promise to deliver Uffizi, Marco's wife phoned ahead and got us reservations at the Uffizi Museum.

The problem was that the entrance price was 10 euros per person.  Marla and I had to ask people to contribute their own money in order to raise the necessary cash.  It was was awkward, but it all worked out.  One month after the trip was completed, the tour agency refunded Marla the money, then Marla passed on the refund to each individual who had loaned us money that afternoon. 

Our next problem was caused by a weak guide.  Marco felt that a group of forty people was unmanageable in the museum.  Marco invited a buddy to meet us and help him conduct the tour.  Marco split us up into two groups.  I don't remember the name of the other guide since I wasn't in his group, but I do know he wasn't very well received.  The man was long-winded plus he wasted a lot of valuable time on side trips that his group wasn't interested in.  In other words, he didn't listen.  Marla caught some flak from several unhappy members of our group. 

The other problem was that our time at the Uffizi Museum was rushed.  Thanks to the mix-up, some of our limited time had been wasted in Pisa and could not be completely salvaged.  We ended up giving up our lunch hour to go see this museum but it still wasn't enough.  I was heart-broken to see our time at the museum cut so short.  This  wonderful art gallery possessed some truly remarkable paintings.  I could have spent all day here and been completely happy. 

However, there were many other things in Florence to see so I decided to be a good sport about it and not raise a fuss.  In addition to the Galleria dell'Accademia and the Uffizi Museum, we visited the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral,  a giant structure which is the fourth largest church in Europe. We also saw the Ponte Vecchio, the famous bridge which spans the Arno River.

Another highlight of our day was visiting the amazing Piazza della Signoria, a huge town square which is the focal point of Florence.  The Piazza della Signoria contains perfect outdoor replicas of many famous statues, including David as well as the Rape of the Sabine Women (see picture below).

Visiting the amazing museums and seeing the sculptures in this historic town square made it quite clear to me why people consider Florence to be the cradle of the Renaissance. 

The Piazza della Signoria contains perfect replicas of many famous statues, including David as well as the Rape of the Sabine Women


The Birth of Venus, by Botticelli,
as seen at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence

I love this painting. 
I could have stood there staring at it all day if they let.


Primavera, by Botticelli,
as seen at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

Another one of my favorites.


The famous Ponte Vecchio bridge that spans the Arno River

The Statue of Neptune in the Piazza della Signoria


This picture has about 30 of our 40 group members.  That is Marco in the white shirt with his wife Annamicah (red purse) down in front.


I do remember Marla was very stressed throughout the day.  For starters, she was worried that the guide and the bus wouldn't even show up. 

Then Marla nearly had a heart attack when she found out we weren't going to see the Uffizi Museum.  She had promised everyone we were going there!  Fortunately we were able to rescue that situation, but it still took quite a toll on Marla's nerves.  She knew people were depending on her to organize this trip well, so every little complaint cut deep into her psyche.

Marla was also worried that the guide would turn out to be boring.  Unfortunately, she was half-right on this fear.  It was a shame that one of our tour guides was mediocre.  Getting poor tour guides happens more often than some people realize.  For example, some people in our group who chose to book their excursion through the ship weren't totally pleased with their tour guides either.  We expect all tour guides to be excellent.  However, now that I think about it, in all my trips over the years I can only recall a few people who were truly remarkable. 

We had one lady walk us through the Borghese Museum in Rome back in 2008 who was very good.  However the jerk who did the Colosseum Tour in the same afternoon was awful.  We had a very knowledgeable man walk us through a waterfall tour on the Big Island during our 2007 Hawaii Trip.  However, the guy who took us to the Lava Fields the previous day wasted hours taking us on side trips so his cronies could make money off of us.  I also remember a highly-entertaining maniac who delighted in getting us soaking wet in Bay of Fundy during our 2006 New England Trip.  However, a day later on our trip to the White Mountains in New Hampshire, our tour guide wouldn't even stop the bus to let us take pictures of the magnificent scenery.  So there's a lot of bad mixed in with the good.  

After sixteen different cruise trips, most of the guides I have come across have either been average or much worse.  So maybe we should count our blessings that at least one of guides today, Marco, was pretty good.  Of course that is no consolation to the twenty people who got stuck with Marco's buddy for a couple hours.  Once they saw the difference in the two leaders, several people snuck back into Marco's group.  If Marla and I learned one thing, it would be to insist on getting what our group wanted to do, not what the guides preferred to have us do.

I can't speak for everyone, but I loved our trip to Florence.  The chance to see David as well as the statues in the square and my favorite Botticelli paintings made the entire day worthwhile to me.  By and large, our trip to Pisa and Florence went well. 

Perseus holding Medusa's Head, by Cellini, another famous replica
that can be seen in the Piazza della Signoria




Barcelona 2009 Home Barcelona Day One Barcelona Day Two Isle of Capri Day Three Evil Map of Rome Day Four
Florence and Pisa Day Five Nice and Eze Day Six Marseilles Day Seven Who Went Formal Pictures
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