Getting The Best Out Of Viareggio And Pisa

We took the train from Rome Central Station to Viareggio, a city in northern Tuscany, on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea  – home to the famous Viareggio carnival. My cousin Thelma lives here in a cute apartment which has a fabulous view of the snow-capped Apuan Alps. She picked us up from the quaint little train station and drove through the city. We were surrounded by oldish buildings with Venetian facades. The promenade is a lovely walk – filled with surfers, swimmers and fishermen. It was cold (at least for us tropical people) but they looked perfectly at ease in their swimwear! Little shops dot the place – nothing cheap though. So we just had a look-see and bought some chips to munch on.

Photo courtesy: author Mavis Smith

Thelma drove us to Pisa, which is at the junction of two rivers – the Arno and Serchio, to see the “must-see and knock off bucket list” leaning tower in the pouring rain. Our pictures are all under umbrellas! We didn’t get to climb the stairs of this famed tower (good for my aching feet anyway). So we stood outside, tried not to get too drenched and looked at this magnificent piece of history.


The Leaning Tower of Pisa or Torre pendente di Pisa is the free-standing bell tower of the cathedral in the city of Pisa. It is situated in the Piazza del Duomo, also known as Piazza dei Miracoli. The tower’s famous tilt is a result of construction taking place of soft ground that couldn’t adequately take in the foundation on one side to give the desired support. In the decades before it reached completion, the tilt increased until the structure was stabilized. As we are able to witness today the tilt could only be corrected partially.

The height of the tower is 183.27 feet from the ground on the low side and 185.93 feet on the high side. The width of the walls at the base is 8 ft 0.06 in. Its weight is estimated at 14,500 metric tons – phew! There are 294 steps in the tower; the staircase facing North apparently has two fewer steps. The tower initially leaned at 5.5-degree angle. But between 1990 and 2001, restoration work was in process, following which the tower now leans 3.99-degree angle. Prior to restoration work performed between 1990 and 2001, the tower leaned at an angle of 5.5 degrees, but the tower now leans at about 3.99 degrees. Due to this, the structure is no longer vertically perfect like it was meant to be, as the top of the tower is horizontally displaced at about 12 feet 10 inches.

Leaning Tower of Pisa, photo courtesy: author Mavis Smith

The Piazza also houses the Duomo (the Cathedral), the Baptistry and the Campo Santo (the monumental cemetery). Amazing architecture – the buildings never cease to amaze me. I hate the modern ones really.

We headed back home, cold and wet to have steaming cups of cappuccino. For dinner, we had a 5-course meal – aperitif, antipasto, primo, secondo and dolce – cold cuts, pasta, lasagne and about 5 different desserts including Tiramisu, cakes, strawberries with cream, etc. washed down with some Red wine and then some liqueur.  I know for a fact that if I live in Italy for more than a month, I will be named Blimp of the Year!

Next day saw us going for typical Italian fare to a little café which is very famous in the area. The Brioche just sort of explodes in your mouth with the warm and not very sweet custard spilling out to assail taste buds with sheer yumminess! We also had some other varieties of light and fluffy bread and doughnuts. Topped off with creamy cappuccinos, we were set to conquer the day.

We drove around the beach area, through the marketplace and main street. We stopped over for a bit to see the place by the lake where Puccini composed. Madam Butterfly came to mind whilst we took pictures alongside his statue. Left humming Volare!

Photo courtesy: author Mavis Smith

Then it was onward ho to Pietrasanta – a town on the coast close to Viareggio. We visited the famous Cathedral Square which houses a café Michelangelo. It is said that he learnt to sculpt in this very place. The Church of St Agostino is an imposing building in the piazza. We witnessed a very nice wedding – the bride seemed to be having some kind of a panic attack as she was puffing away furiously on a cigarette after the ceremony! Modern sculptures abound this place and a converted Church in the back of the piazza serves as a museum of sorts to house these.

We enjoyed ourselves for more reasons than one. We’d been on the road for a long time so we got to do some much-needed laundry. We spent time with my much-loved cousin which was great. She gave us so much of insight into the lives of Italians in these small laid-back places. So much to assimilate and so much to learn. Sure was nice!


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