I spent a week in Pisa and Rome last European Summer. A week I’ll never forget. And yes, I managed to straighten the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Flying into Pisa from a couple of days in beautiful Amsterdam and surprise, surprise there were sniffer dogs scouring myself and fellow passengers as we made our way into the Terminal from the scorching hot tarmac. I checked into my Hotel mid afternoon then quickly made my way via Cab to the Town and quite possibly Italy’s most famous Attraction, the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Like most tourists, you see pictures and footage on TV growing up of this strange structure, yet it is such a surreal experience laying eyes on it for the first time. Although as solid as a rock, you can’t help but think that someone stuffed up when it was built and sent to the gallows as punishment. Yet this ancient engineering glitch is what has made the tower one of the World’s most unique attractions and a bucket list favourite.
Apart from the surreal and awe inspiring sight, is the even more humourous sight of 100’s of people attempting to do the “holding the tower up” photo in a variety of poses. Yet it appears to be more like a giant Tai Chi session on the lush green and manicured lawns. By this stage I’d have worn out the high fiving photobombing response to this field full of posers.
As I mentioned, I managed to straighten the tower with my own, cheeky (or some would say crass) pose. It was much more comfortable laying back on the soft grass, rather than wasting minutes looking like a Vogue Model in an attempt to stop the tower from falling.
After the tower escapades, I decided to walk around, which I find is the best way to see new places in Europe. There is so much you miss out on if you stick to the pre-booked tours. Armed with very basic Italian and a highly tuned sense of curiosity, I set off around lane ways and cobbled streets, observing the locals in their day to day life.
After walking around for a while, the hunger pains were starting to bite. I found a small, unassuming restaurant, grabbed a table outside and ordered a Pizza and a Moretti. 10 mins later I was tucking into one of the best Pizzas I’d ever had. Basic ingredients of a homemade tomato sauce, mozzarella, capers, anchovies and olives. Simple, delicious and all for just 8 Euros.
The next day was mainly spent on a train for 3 or so hours, getting to Rome. Instead of staying in a hotel or hostel, I was staying with locals. Dinner that night, homemade pasta with ingredients hand picked from the garden.
We spent the next few days exploring what I consider to be the World’s biggest open air Museum, Rome. Walking around the city with locals is a bonus as they know the history of every building, monument and street throughout the City. A history that absolutely towers over my home town of Melbourne! I’d be embarrassed to show someone from Rome around Melbourne and say, “This is Flinders Street Station. It’s only about 130 years old, is where the hobos come to piss on the steps and as you can see, is in dire need of a paint job”.
I woke up every morning back at the house for a Roman Breakfast. Freshly brewed coffee in a Mocha and a Cigarette. Most Roman’s will drop by an Espresso Bar on their way to work, hand over a Euro, stand at the bar, down their short black then be on their way. The Piazzas in Rome come alive at night, bounded by cafes, bars and restaurants, people mingling around fountains and statues, creating a glowing buzz of good times and full bellies.
My final night in Rome was the most memorable of my whole trip. The friend I was staying with, her younger brother was a mad Lazio Supporter. He managed to get me a ticket to see Lazio vs Juventus in the Italian Super Cup at the Stadio Olympico, sitting with the Lazio Ultras in the Curva Nord end of the stadium.
We gathered at a bar with other Lazio supporters 3 hours before kick off, getting very lagered up. Italian passion is in full flight at the most extreme levels here. I took the below video before kick off.
Throughout the match, my friend was doing a wonderful job at translating the chants, with my favourite being about a former Lazio player who now plays for Juventus and his mother being a female dog. Although Lazio were smashed 4-0, the passion of these supporters was unwavering throughout the whole match. I’d never witnessed anything like it. Forza Lazio Ale! I am now a lifelong Lazio supporter and keep in contact with my Lazio brothers back in Rome.
After the match, I had organised to get a tattoo (the week before, not when I’d had a few beers!). I jumped on the back of my friends scooter and was petrified and wondering if my travel insurance would cover this if we had crashed at a top speed of 107km/h.
Arriving at the Tattoo shop, which the owner had specifically opened for me, late on a Sunday night, the tatt covered owner told me to wait in the shop as he was going down the street and would be back in 5 mins. I waited patiently and nervously. When he arrived back, he was carrying a bottle of Jamison Irish Whiskey, which he continually swigged out of the whole time I was there.
The design I chose, I had in mind for at least a couple of years and what a coincidence that it is a symbol widely worshiped by Lazio supporters, an Eagle. Now, a word of advice. If you choose to get a tattoo, make sure your first one is not on your ribs like I chose. It was complete and utter pain for an hour and 20 mins. Like a really hot needle being buried and scratched through your skin.
After the torture, the owner went down to the shops again to fetch me some pain killers, in the form of cigarettes. We chilled for a bit outside then took off home at 4am to finish one of the most interesting and memorable nights I’d ever had travelling. A genuine experience, exploring interesting parts of a culture that I have come to envy in many ways.
As I flew to London the next day to meet my English nephew for the first time, I made it very clear that I would be back. What an amazing Country. The food and drink is amazing, the culture is steeped in history and the people are so friendly and interesting. My Italian story has ignited a passion in me for great food, coffee and funnily enough, Tattoos!
Oh and one final thing, Roma Merda! Forza Lazio!