Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Mind Your Pisan Cues: Gastronomy, Gus and Gary Baldy

Pisa, Italy (Pisa, Italia)
October 2015
Strolling along the Arno running through Pisa, the ornate riverside piazzas could fool you into believing that you were in Florence.
The old town seems small compared to many other great Italian cities, but its beautiful architecture and sculpture is far from scarce.
To start our statue tour, we have Garibaldi in a dashing neckerchief in front of a delicate pink-and-white facade. WHO DAT? Well, Giuseppe Garibaldi was a general and politician who fought to unify Italy in the 1800's. With courageous exploits in Europe and abroad, he has been referred to as "the only wholly admirable figure in modern history". What a guy.
Next we have Ferdinando I di Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. The son of Cosimo I and Eleanora di Toledo, he proved to be a productive leader himself by improving transport systems along the Arno to expedite trade between Pisa and Florence.
He is not to be confused with Ferdinando di Medici, Grand Prince of Tuscany, an avid collector of musical instruments who funded the invention of the piano around 1700. (Wow. Those Medici, huh?)
What better way to end our statue tour than to exalt the great Cosimo I de Medici? (He is heartlessly stepping on a dolphin, but we'll give him the benefit of the doubt and say that the sculptor took artistic licenses.)

This fine work can be found in the Knight's Square, which was the political heart of Pisa in the Middle Ages. The building behind Cosimo is the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, which is one of three universities in the city and was founded by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1810. Pisa had a real student town feel, which clashed somewhat with the rampant tourist trade.
At the other edge of the square was this wonderful building, topped with a little bell. As you can hopefully see from the photo, the angles were a bit skewiff, but that just added to the charm. It appeared that they had tried to preserve some of the original frescoes. 
Following in the tradition we took from Siena, we found a panineria and munched away on salami sandwiches at Il Cuido. Slightly more sophistocated than your average Italian deli, you could actually choose fillings like rocket and different sauces!
At €6.50 a sandwich, it was a tasty and reasonably priced meal (especially considering it was such a large panino that we shared it between us), unlike the cappuccinos we acquired sometime later at an outrageous cafe for €5 apiece. Ridiculous. I appreciate that your cafe has free wifi and available plugs for us to charge our devices that connect us to the modern world, but that's too high a mark-up for coffee! (Fun fact: a typical cappuccino from a non-ridiculous cafe should set you back around €1.20.) Of course, it wouldn't be a proper European trip without being price gouged for drinks at least once. 
And as with any respectable Italian city, there's a grungier side. Or perhaps it's more accurate to say that grunginess lies everywhere, behind the extravagant palazzos and gleaming squares. Laundry hanging from window sills, pigeons ruffling their feathers atop a restaurant's extractor fan, and paint peeling from the shutters. These streets are some of my most enjoyed, as unlike the grandiose constructions, this is where the people live. Not in palaces, but in tiny apartments with smoke-filled stairwells and that ever ringing phone on the third floor. 
We saw an SUV pulled up outside a shop with the boot left open to give the dog some air. I have no idea why you would want to, but the sign above him reads "do not touch the dog". He looks like a Grumpy Gus. 
As Pisa is the last destination of the Chocolate Valley (or the beginning depending on how you go about it), we stopped at De Bondt for a sampling of cioccolato. (This was after we gorged ourselves on gelato, in case you were wondering.)
Finally we got some chocolate!
We neglected to snap a photo in the daytime, so instead I tried to light it with two different illuminatory objects in our tent that night. I know what you're thinking. We could have waited until the next morning, but we wanted to eat it all! And it was great.