I was in a pretty bad mood standing in the sun during my transfer at Aversa. Not only was my train to Pisa late, but the bathrooms were locked and there was no café open (To be fair, it was a Sunday. Still, it meant that I wasn’t going to have dinner that night…). An announcement to stand behind the yellow lines on the platform (a high speed Frecciarossa train was going to pass) was forgettable until I took a glance sideways after it zipped by. A few steps down stood a little boy, maybe five or six, with his toes set firmly on the line but the rest of his body leaned forward to catch a last glimpse of the speeding train. Seeing the huge grin on his face was almost enough to calm me down. However, all was forgiven when TrenItalia decided to hand out refreshments on my train (conveniently after it sat still for an hour for mechanical issues). While some may argue that such small gestures are worthless, I was very content to eat my (huge) pack of vanilla wafers and enjoy my book. It would have been nicer if I didn’t spend 18 hours traveling that day though.
While I chose Pisa for its cheap, well-reviewed places to stay (as opposed to Florence or Ravenna), it is actually a wonderful place to visit and walk around in. The part I enjoyed most, after seeing the famous tower in person, was the Camposanto Monumentale (Monumental Cemetery). Some of the tennis court-sized frescoes, particularly the Last Judgment, really impressed me with their creativity.
Florence—what a gem. Yes, things are more expensive than other Italian cities (my hostel was more than double the price of the one in Naples) but it is absolutely worth it. Don’t try to cheap out or skip the lines, either. (An aside: I waited two hours to see the Academia but it flew by because I was having fun chatting with Sheena, an exercise science student from Singapore, and Nicole, an Australian photographer.) Sure, there’s a copy of David in Palazzo Vecchio (where there’s also a fountain that dispenses sparkling water!) but turning a corner in the Academia and seeing the real sculpture down the hall, perfectly lit and a brilliantly white, was enough to stop me in my tracks. Besides, there are worthwhile things to see besides the major pieces. I don’t love music the way some people do but I loved examining all of the strange instruments on display in the Academia. Be sure to see Casa Buonarroti (Michelangelo’s house) since there aren’t too many opportunities to see his work in a quiet setting. Even his rough test pieces (made from everything from wood to plaster) are emotional!