Pisa (via Livorno)
Livorno is Italy’s third largest shipping port serving as a gateway to Pisa and Florence. Despite its diminutive size, Pisa was once the capital of a commercial republic and once challenged Venice and Genoa in the 11th century for Mediterranean trade and played an important role in the First Crusade.
Florence is arguably Italy’s artistic center and the jewel of the Renaissance, filled with majestic piazzas, sculptures and cathedrals. After spending three days in Rome exploring similar sights, we felt that we would not be able to spend as much time as we would need to in order to fully explore Florence so we opted to spend our day in Pisa and vowed to return to Florence for a longer stay on another trip to Italy.
We arrived at the Port of Livorno before breakfast and were looking forward to exploring our destination for the day – The Field of Miracles and its most famous monument, the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The Field of Miracles is the most popular attraction in Pisa and one of the most famous places in the world.
Most cruise lines offer an air conditioned shuttle bus to the town center. We paid 8 Euros (return) each on Princess and although the price seemed a little steep for the 15 minute ride, there is no other option as the port is very large and walking to the exit is not permitted. As we sat on the bus, I did a little math calculation…assuming that 2/3 of the passengers leave the ship for the day, that’s roughly 2,000 people each paying 8 Euros, that’s over 16,000 Euros in revenue for one day of shuttle buses – hmmm…we briefly contemplated moving to Livorno and setting up a shuttle bus business!
We were taken to a common bus drop off area (there were three other cruise ships in Livorno that day and they all had the bus companies stop in the same place) with an information booth visible immediately as you get off the bus. The information booth will be able to provide you with a very good map of Livorno.
We had read that there were a tremendous amount of pickpockets at the cruise docks in Livorno. The shuttle bus transfer to the town centre eliminated anyone entering the port area and the only nuisance in Livorno and Pisa were the street vendors selling their knock off purses and watches. My advice is to just say no and keep walking. Honestly, it wasn’t a bother and we never felt intimidated or unsafe at all in either city.
Finally living up to our IgoUgo alias - Two For The Road, we elected to walk to the train station instead of taking a public bus from downtown Livorno. Pisa and the Field of Miracles can easily be seen in a few hours and we welcomed a leisurely stroll to the train station. We also wanted to experience a different side of Italy that we felt would simply be impossible to experience if we were driving by in a bus or taxi.
Piazza Grande is only a block away from the information booth and would serve as the starting point for our 30 minute walk to the Stazione Centrale where we would catch the train to Pisa. The Piazza Grande is bordered by via Grande – the largest street in downtown Livorno. To get to the train station we simply followed it in a straight line all the way there. This is the main retail area of Livorno where you will find larger department stores and major retail clothing stores. The walk along via Grande will take approximately 5-7 minutes before you reach a large piazza. This is Piazza Della Repubblica. Here, you will need to cross the piazza to the right and continue along another street running in the same direction as you came (Viale G. Carducci) but this was fairly easy to navigate with our Livorno map. There are also signs pointing the way to the train station along the bordering streets of this piazza.
After passing through the main retail shopping area along via Grande, the shops changed from major retail stores to small bicycle and eclectic giftware shops. There was a distinct residential flair about Livorno that was refreshing to us after spending so much time in downtown Rome. The walkway to the train station was split into two wide pathways for pedestrians and cyclists. Both pathways were shaded most of the way, making our walk very comfortable.
The trains to Pisa from Livorno leave every 20-25 minutes and our fare for the train was only 7.20 Euros each for the return ticket. Validating our ticket which is a must in Italy wasn’t easy as none of the validation machines appeared to be working and we needed to try several of them before we found one that was operational.
Pisa is approximately a 20 minute train ride from Livorno with only a few stops along the way. The train stations in Livorno and Pisa announce the arrival of the trains in both Italian and English. There are also monitors at every track to make navigation easy.
The leaning tower is situated in the Field of Miracles and is another twenty minute walk through the charming town of Pisa. To get there, simply walk in a straight line as you exit the main entrance of the train station in Pisa. Within a few minutes you will be walking through the main shopping in Pisa. The shops here are smaller and the staff very friendly and willing to chat about life in Pisa and the news of the day. You will also notice more cafes then you saw in Livorno, each with a casual charm that is as inviting as the menus they have posted. Pisa is a small quiet city however, its lack of urban sprawl often creates a love it or hate it reaction from its many visitors. For the record, we loved Pisa’s quaint streets and residential atmosphere.
Entrance to the Field of Miracles is free. This will provide you with access to great pictures of the Leaning Tower, The Cathedral, and the Baptistery. The Field of Miracles is a large area and despite the numerous people there, it never felt crowed at all. You are able to enter each sight for a small fee however climbing the 293 steps of Leaning Tower is only available on a limited basis due to the size of the stairway itself, so if this is a "must do" for you, I would encourage you to arrive before 11:00 am. as the times available to make this climb fill up quickly. Some people we spoke to were able to book in advance on the Go Italy website for approximately 20 Euros. Please be aware that your tickets are for a specific time and if you are late, you will lose your time and walk away without a new time or a refund.
The tower was built between 1173 and the end of the 14th century. The tower began to lean once the third floor was completed. Over the next century attempts to correct the lean were made by re-shaping the new construction. The final result is a tower that leans at the bottom and bends slightly upward as the attempts to straighten it and prevent its fall were made.
I would recommend that you take some time to walk around the tower. Different vantage points will give you a different perspective on the lean. The grass area at the Field of Miracles is a nice place to sit and enjoy a picnic lunch if you wanted to stop in Pisa and grab a panini to go.
We retraced our steps back from the train station in Livorno to the shuttle bus pick up location. The heat of the day caused us to appreciate our shaded walk even more. As we approached Piazza Grande we stopped for a Gelato at a Gelateria that was on the right hand side of via Grande near the Zara store. This little hole-in-the-wall café turned out to have the best gelato we experienced in Italy and the most affordable too at 1.50 Euro for a double scoop.
We were back on board our ship before 4:30 pm and took advantage of a tranquil pool area for a late afternoon swim. Later, as we sat in the hot tub, we heard the daily announcement as the ship made a vain attempt to page the three passengers that were about to miss our departure sailing to Naples.
Next stop – Naples!