The Final Countdown: Europe, North America travel blog

Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square), Pisa. Also known as the Piazza dei...

Yep, she's leaning!

... and now we know why!

It's ok, I have got it.

You can see the kink in the tower where they have tried...

After leaving Pisa we travelled through the alps. We thought the white...

Pisa to Menton (France)

The Italians built a toll road of tunnels and viaducts.

It took us three hours to get to the French border. We...

Bon jour. We are in France

Tony and Nick had a burger and a beer (or two) while...

Moonlight over the Mediterranean on the French Riviera, Menton

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Sorrento, Capri, Florence, Pisa


Day 12 Pisa and the French Riviera, 450km

Breakfast at the hotel was similar to the other fare offered, and we have come to accept that every morning is an early start, but it is getting tiring. We have little energy left at the end of the day to see the sights at night. Those that do go out sleep on the bus, and miss more of the trip, a bit of a no win situation.

We arrive in Pisa shortly after 10.30am, this will be a short visit, and once again there is no direction on what to see, not even a map is handed out. We are offered a Noddy train ride into town, EUR2.50 return, or take public transport. Here we were thinking all that was covered, we obviously got that bit wrong. We are led through the maze of market stalls to the main square, given a short introduction and left alone to our own devices. We have just over an hour to look around before we have to be back at the bus.

Pisa is an old city, with archaeological remains from the 5th century BC confirming the existence of a city at the sea, now some 10km away. Pisa is known worldwide for its’ leaning tower (the 56m freestanding bell tower of the city's cathedral). Soft ground on one side, and inadequate foundations, failed to properly support the tower, causing the tilt. Over the decades of construction, and subsequent years, the tilt gradually increased until the tower was stabilised (and the tilt partially corrected) by efforts in recent times. Building began in 1173, and the tower began to sink some five years later with the construction of the second floor. Construction stopped for nearly a century during a period of unrest, and this allowed the soil to settle some. When construction resumed in 1272 engineers built upper floors with one side taller than the other, in an effort to compensate for the tilt. This resulted in a visible curve in the tower, something we had not noticed until now.

Within a few years construction was again halted by wars, and the seventh floor was completed in 1319, with a bell chamber added in 1372.

There is a queue to go up the tower, and they only allow twentyseven people up at any one time. We wait in the line a while, then we remember we are in Italy, we have to queue to buy a ticket first and there is a wait for that. We decide we don’t have time for that and walk around the town looking for the Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles). We had been told not to miss seeing it, but the signposts ran out and we never did find it. Actually that is not quite correct, we were there all the time, and just didn’t know it! The Square is also known as Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square), however we were too busy looking for something else to properly take in the beauty of the area. This was our lunch stop too, but we just had time for a quick coffee before heading back to the bus.

As we leave the square we notice that the local McDonalds is not like the other flashy stores, and is in keeping with the area, even their golden M has been changed to better fit with the local image.

Back at the noddy train we are missing Barbara, it is not like her to be late at all, and we figure she got lost. She hasn’t got her phone on her either, so a couple of people so to the end of each street in the hope she is there. Mariella goes with Barbara’s daughter, Jo, to the market place in case she is that area still. Eventually she is found, highly embarrassed to have gotten herself lost in the market, but it was easy to do.

We head off in the direction of France, the roads are amazing through the alps, and Mariella says there is a prize for the person who tells her how many tunnels there are between Pisa and the French boarder. We thought maybe twenty or thirty, and Tony starts marking them off on his hand, but soon runs out of room and the markings continue up his arm! These are all toll roads, and in the space of three hours we go through 167 tunnels, yes, nearly one a minute, and just as many viaducts. The driving is a bit of a worry though, Ciro seems sleepy and we are often too close to traffic in front. Later we find out that one of the passengers caught Ciro near asleep at the wheel, and had words with Mariella about it.

Tonight we are staying just over the border in Menton at Hotel Quality Mediterranee, a very nice hotel and we have free internet but it cuts out every twenty minutes and you have to log on again, very frustrating.

As well as being close to the Italian boarder we are close to Monaco, and the Monte Carlo casino. Cynthea is keen to do the optional casino tour, but at EUR55 each Tony decides he is not that interested. Nick is also not bothered, and as they are the only ones to stay behind, they arrange to meet in the lobby when the others leave. They head down to the shore and have a great meal as the sunsets, and get teased about their romantic “date” later. A feed of burger and chips with a couple beers cost EUR24 ea.

The gamblers return around midnight, not at all happy with the excursion. The meal was nice, but at the end of it they are told to be back on the bus at 11.10pm, they have just 10 minutes to gamble at the casino! The whole excursion was promoted as a chance to have a flutter, and people are not impressed. They are told they can get a cab back to Menton, over half an hour away, but Ciro has to have a minimum break between shifts, so much finish by midnight.

Cynthea returns to the hotel while Tony is attempting to book Cardiff accommodation and the Doctor Who experience for when we are back in the UK. There are hassles with the internet, as it resets every twenty minutes, and you have to go through the whole process again. Accommodation is available at a few places, but we decided to go back to Nosda, even though it is a bit dearer at £20 each for the night. We know where it is, the staff are great, and it is close to the bus and train station, and the rental car company. Bus tickets are booked from London to Cardiff, £16.50 for the two of us.

The rental car is proving impossible to book as well, so he gives that a miss for now and works on the Doctor Who tour instead. There is not nice language as he finds out the tour does not run every day, it is closed on Tuesdays, and we were arriving the Monday night. The tour is booked for the Wednesday (£29) and then another nights’ accommodation is booked at Nosda. Bugger, we wanted to be on the road Tuesday afternoon, and head to the farm. Tony sends a quick email to Catherine saying they will not be there until Wednesday night now, and will only stay two nights. Another email goes to Adam as he is working near the area and will come over for a night too. It is very late by the time we finally get to bed.

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