One night in Pisa – is it enough?

One night in Pisa – is it enough to see everything and eat all that pasta?

hotel

Back in May, while solo tripping through the south of France and the north of Spain, I booked a flight to Pisa as a grand finale of what would be my last solo trip as a twenty-something girl, before entering a new decade where society expects me to be a responsible adult (yeah, right).

Eating thousands and thousands of calories in one day and drinking glass after glass of red wine all by myself – all while drooling over sexy Italian men (even though I have a partner waiting for me at home) might not be something a responsible adult would do (yeah, right).

So I went to Italy, and I did exactly that.

My Ryanair flight landed twenty minutes ahead of schedule, which gave me even more time to explore, eat, relax, eat, and explore some more.

From the moment I got in the taxi, I was already starving and just couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into some firm, tasty pasta al dente from the best restaurant I’d be able to find in the neighborhood. Just thinking about it made my stomach growl like crazy.

I stayed at a surprisingly cheap 5 star hotel (Hotel Relais dell’Orologio) in the city center, only a five minute walk from the famous leaning tower. With its very mixed reviews -anything ranging from “it’s dated and dirty”  to “it’s romantic and clean” – I wasn’t sure whether to expect luxury or mediocrity? Cleanliness or dirt?

Well, to my pleasant surprise, it was clean and charming. Old fashioned indeed, but still kind of charming.

hotelroom

The receptionist was ditsy and gave me little to no information about the room and the facilities. Considering I’m quite ditsy myself, I forgot to ask for the WiFi code and check-out time, and ended up returning not just once – but twice – to the reception to ask different questions. Despite returning to the reception twice to have my questions answered, I did forget to ask about the breakfast. Which I’d already paid for.

As the receptionist hadn’t really given me any information about anything at all, she didn’t say anything about any breakfast buffet either. I did, however, find an in-room breakfast menu on my nightstand, so I filled in the form and hung it on the back of my door. I just assumed they didn’t have a buffet and I’d have to get the food delivered directly to the room.

Thinking about breakfast made me even more hungry and ready for lunch, and I simply just couldn’t wait any longer. Before seeing the leaning tower, before doing anything else, I had to feed my belly with a whole lot of carbs. As soon as I possibly could.

This was my first time in Italy. My first time eating real Italian pasta made in Italy with real Italian ingredients, using real Italian recipes, made by real Italians.

I asked my dear friend Mr. Google to help me find a hidden little restaurant with good reviews and not too much to choose from on the menu. Based on personal experience, the smaller the menu, the higher the quality.

And boy did I sure find a good spot for my first ever meal in Italy!

tagliolini

La Sosta dei Cavalieri served me a plate of delicious freshly made tagliolini with pioppini mushrooms accompanied by a glass of Chianti (Tuscan wine). I wanted to burst out a “Oh my God” while joyfully stuffing my face with the best pasta I had ever tasted in my life.

The couple sitting next to me kept staring at me as if I had arrived from another planet. Especially the girl. She gave me an evil stare, and I’m not quite sure why. Even more so when I opened my camera bag and started photographing my meal before eating it.

Once I’d emptied my plate and filled my stomach, all I wanted was a cup of coffee. With milk. Because I don’t like black coffee and I don’t like to add sugar.

Turns out, asking for a cappuccino in the afternoon in Italy, is just as bad as swearing in church. Maybe even worse. Everyone looked at me as if I was Satan in person, and the server told me he did not have cappuccino so I’d have to drink something else.

Fine, then. Espresso with milk and sugar would have to make do.

My full stomach and I, left the restaurant feeling happy and ready for adventures. Slightly tired and bloated, but as ready as someone who’s eaten way too much pasta, could possibly be.

The leaning tower was obviously my main target while in Pisa, but that didn’t stop me from checking out other things on my way.

pisa square

I stopped and took a moment to admire Piazza dei Cavalieri, a Renaissance square where the magnificent Palazzo della Carovana is located. This late 16th-century palace and university, houses fine art and sculptures. I didn’t enter the building, but I sure took a lot of photos of the beautiful facade.

pisa italy

Before going to Pisa, I didn’t know there was a botanical garden in the city. Turns out, there is. And it’s gorgeous.

pisa garden

Orto Botanico di Pisa was established in 1544, and is part of the legacy left behind by Cosimo I de’ Medici (the first Grand Duke of Tuscany). The garden is operated by the University of Pisa.

botanical garden

Lose yourself in the art and science of botany, take a stroll with or without your romantic interest, or come to the gardens to let your creativity unfold. I photographed the beautiful flowers, the facade of the Botanical School and the old institute building.

botanic school

I got lost trying to find the exit, and spent maybe twenty minutes wandering around in circles. You may wonder how that’s even possible. Believe me, so do I.

gardens

Once I found the exit, I made my way to the main reason for Pisa being on millions of bucket lists worldwide; the leaning tower.

leaning tower

The tower is not the only fascinating piece of architecture located on Piazza dei Miracoli (formerly known as Piazza del Duomo), as it’s situated next to the amazing Cattedrale di Pisa (cathedral), which again is right next to the Palazzo dell’Opera (palace).

tourist attractions

The translation of Piazza dei Miracoli may be “the square of miracles”, but before anything else it’s the square of tourist traps. Beware of pickpockets and people trying to aggressively sell you things you don’t want or sign petitions you don’t wanna sign!

pisa horse and carriage

And those restaurants that offer a special menu called “tourist menu”, which is basically just lasagna, Carbonara and Bolognese – maybe even a burger and a couple of pizzas – well, avoid them. Unless you wanna spend a lot of money on industrial food served with a large dose of bullshit.

I asked a random guy to take a picture of me in front of the leaning tower, as all my selfies were just bad and made it look like the tower was sticking out of my head or growing on top of it. The guy I asked had a professional camera and was busy photographing his friends, so I figured he’d do a better job than I did.

pisa fail

I’m not too sure about that, anymore.

Even if I hadn’t had time to become hungry again yet, I wanted more pasta. I needed it.

Ristoro Pecorino was the next restaurant of choice.

pastadish

The man who took my order, whom I believe is the owner of the restaurant, was one of the happiest people I’ve ever met. He was laughing, joking and had the biggest smile on his face at all times.

Once again, I felt like I’d just tasted the most amazing pasta in my entire life. Once again, my plate was empty and my stomach was full. Now more so than ever.

That night, I went to bed feeling as full as one would be after a Christmas meal or an eating contest. Just how I always say “I’m never drinking again” when I’m hungover, I wanted to say “I’m never eating again” as I crawled into bed, feeling like my stomach was about to explode.

The following morning was a bit of a drastic change (at first), and I already regretted thinking I’d never ever want to eat anything again ever.

My room service breakfast never arrived. I waited for one complete hour before going to the reception to ask if they offered any kind of breakfast buffet, and informed them about my room service situation. The receptionist apologized and pointed me in the direction of the breakfast buffet, which, did in fact exist.

The buffet ended up being the highlight of my stay at the hotel. The amount of things to choose from was overwhelming. I loved it. Placed on the table, was anything from different kinds of cured ham to pastries to fruits to different kinds of bread to all kinds of cheese. I tried each and every pastry, every sort of cheese, a lot of ham and some fruit – just to add a little bit of vitamins to the mix.

Once again, I said to myself, “I’m never eating again”.

Satisfied with everything I’d seen, done and eaten, I got in a taxi and waved goodbye to the city known for its leaning tower and the country known for its delicious food.

One night in Pisa was all it took for me to fall in love with Italy. So, where do I go next?

red dress

restaurantsitaliaflowers

pisa italia

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

30 before 30 – The deadline and the unexpected events

To fully understand what this post is all about, I suggest you read part 1 (when I made the decision to challenge myself and why) and part 2 (when I was halfway into the challenge and already starting to mess things up). I know I said I was gonna publish this post on my actual birthday – which I didn’t do. There’s also a whole bunch of things on that bucket list of mine, that I didn’t do. Some of them because of unexpected, and very unfortunate events. Others because, well, I guess I just forgot about them while being busy traveling solo and two days after returning home I was already on the road again – this time to the Netherlands – with my boyfriend. 

Well, that’s a lame excuse, I know. But I never said I was perfect.

Before sharing the fun stories about everything I managed to complete during the second month of the challenge, I’d like to tell you the shitty story of the day Murphy’s law punched me in the face and made it impossible for me to complete some of the things I’d been excited to check off the list.

On May 11th, I was ready to embark on my last solo trip as a twenty-something (before my last non-solo trip as a twenty-something). I was ready to jump on a train from Paris (home) to Toulouse and do a lot of research on the city my partner and I are planning to relocate to (for business purposes). I was also ready to visit beautiful Narbonne, drink wine and enjoy the ambiance of the south. I was ready to train-travel from France to Spain and visit the flower festival in Girona. I was ready to fly from Girona to Pisa to see the leaning tower and eat pasta all day long. I was ready for one week of soul-searching and living out my bucket list.

AirBrush_20170512000132

But then I got robbed. While still in the peaceful suburbs in the south of Paris, I bought a train ticket at Bourg la Reine, my local RER station. It was eight fifteen in the morning and people were rushing to work and school. On my back, I had a little black backpack carrying my laptop, my camera equipment, the current book I was reading, my tickets and reservations and some cheese and crackers packed in aluminium foil. In my hand I carried a black suitcase, and worn over my shoulder was my cross-body bag containing my wallet, passport and smartphone.

“Shit, my train is already on the platform”, I thought to myself as I ran as fast as I could and hoped there’d be an available seat on the train, to avoid standing like sardines in a can, while balancing all my belongings and my clumsy body all at once.

Sadly, there wasn’t. And to make matters even worse, three huge dudes barged onto the train and squeezed themselves into the already crowded space. The three surrounded me and one started asking bizarre questions while the others were being rude and pushing everyone around them. I tried to hold onto my belongings, but it wasn’t easy, as I could barely even move. The three rude guys got off on the next stop, and that’s when it hit me; I had been robbed.

My passport was still there and so was my phone. My wallet, on the other hand, was gone. And I hadn’t even made it to Paris yet. I had been a victim of a crime in a neighborhood where I was supposed to feel safe. Where mainly families and other peaceful suburbans live. I called my bank and I had my card cancelled. I went to the police and filed a report. I cried. I called my boyfriend. I called my parents. I borrowed money. I missed my train. I was forced to buy a new expensive ticket despite the fact that I showed SNCF (the train company) the documents from the police to prove that I missed my train for a valid reason. I cried again.

Finally, I made it to Toulouse – and all the other places on my list. My budget was drastically cut, but I made it. I later found out that the men who robbed me had targeted me already from the moment I bought a train ticket from the self-service machine at the RER station. The machine was probably bugged and the men managed to steal 1200 euros from my account before my card got canceled. As soon as I found out, I cried again. By then, I looked like a red puffer fish, from all the sobbing.

Because of this unfortunate event, I was unable to do 22. Splurge on something I wouldn’t normally spend money on as I had to prioritize my money on, well, food and accommodation. Which means I also scrapped 23. Unusual Spa treatment and 2. Go to a concert (alone). Being traumatized and all, lead me to comfort-eating pretty much anything that looked somewhat tasty and made it too hard to get started on a strictly vegan diet for a week (27. Be 100% vegan for a week). I’ll try again – maybe even for multiple weeks – on a later occasion. Maybe I’ll even sign up for some sort of a spiritual retreat where I can 3. learn to play an instrument (bongo drums or something?), 11. take a class outside of my comfort zone or 8. take a cooking class (vegan or raw food?), 13. learn to meditate and 14. become “one with nature”. Are those retreats even a thing or am I just assuming things based on stereotypes? 

Now, let’s move on to the things I DID manage to check off my list.

19. Do something that scares me

location: Toulouse, Narbonne, Portbou, Girona, Pisa

So, getting my stuff stolen really sucked, but there was still one positive outcome of the situation. I chose to go on with my one week solo travel, even without the financial security I’m so used to having. I knew I could risk ending up broke by the end of the trip, but I still went ahead with my plans. Although I couldn’t afford to visit museums, go shopping, have spa treatments or anything like that, I did have a great time just wandering, observing, photographing, reading – and eating a lot.

IMG_20170529_103415.jpg

5. Eat whatever I want – and eat A LOT

location: Toulouse, Narbonne, Girona, Pisa

French pastries, Spanish tapas and Italian pasta. Did you really think I’d be able to resist any of that? Of course not! Did you really think I’m someone who cares about dieting? Nah, life’s too short to spend it avoiding all the good stuff. Macarons, eclairs and religieuse’s are simply just too amazing. So are cheese-filled croquettes, manchego cheese, bread, olives, deli meats. And let’s not forget about all the delicious pasta dishes in Italy. And their tiramisu! Yum!

IMG_20170529_173321.jpg

17. See something I’ve never seen before

location: the Netherlands

Amsterdam had been on my bucket list for many, many years – and right before my thirtieth birthday, I got to explore not only Amsterdam, but several other beautiful places in the Netherlands. I fell in love with the charming little cities Delft and Gouda. Honestly, I fell in love with EVERY place we went to while roadtripping through the land of windmills, bicycles and canals. The Flemish architecture, the friendly locals, the picturesque streets and bridges. How could anyone not fall in love with that?

I had never seen real windmills before and I was totally amazed by the ones in Kinderdijk and Zaanse Schans!

IMG_20170520_220627.jpg

21. Explore somewhere new for a day – no map, no plan

location: Portbou, Spain

Portbou is a nice little town on the French-Spanish border (on the east-coast). The local train station is mainly used as a transit-station for people traveling between France and Spain and I’m not sure if that many tourists visit Portbou for any other reason than just to kill time while waiting for their next train? I had three hours to spend visiting the town, before catching my train to Girona – so I decided to just  wander around aimlessly, maybe take some pictures and enjoy the view of the sea from a terrace bar. Besides that, no plan. And it worked. I enjoyed just walking around on my own, with no check-list, no guidebook, no tips or ideas – in a place I knew absolutely nothing about.

IMG_20170529_103831.jpg

26. Visit a really weird museum or gallery

location: Amsterdam and Paris

In my previous post, I expressed how disappointed I was with Centre Pompidou being closed on the very same day I had taken myself out on a date, specifically to go there. Well, not long before I embarked on my solo trip, my partner and I went there with some friends of ours. My partner is not into art at all and is probably the least creative type imaginable (engineers, huh?). Me, on the other hand, I love art. However, there’s a lot of modern, abstract art I simply don’t like. As much as I try to understand what the artist is trying to express with a displayed urinal or a mono-colored painting with no patterns, nothing, I just don’t get it.

In Amsterdam, my partner and I, put our cultural hats back on and visited a couple of museums. I wanted to visit the Anne Frank house, he didn’t. I wanted to visit the Rijksmuseum, but I didn’t even bother asking if he wanted to go there. We did, however, visit the extremely weird Sexmuseum and the surprisingly interesting Red Light Secrets – the Museum of Prostitution.

6. Attend a major sports event

location: Paris, France

The 2017 Men’s Ice Hockey World Championship was held in Paris this year, and my boyfriend had tickets to three different games. One of them was my home country, Norway, against Switzerland. He went to see the other two games with his father and promised me I’d get to go with him to cheer on Norway (I was cheering, he wasn’t). I am a proud viking. Of course I had my face painted with the Norwegian flag on each cheek. Of course I had a flag in my hand. At one point I even had two. I had a great time channeling my inner viking…until Norway lost and I left the game feeling grumpy.

IMG_20170529_102856.jpg

30. Do something out of selflessness

location: London and Amsterdam

I have never been a stranger to supporting a good cause, and I’ve always given money to charity and to homeless people when I have a little extra to share. So technically this wouldn’t need to be on my bucket list as it’s something I’ve already done before. I just put it there as a general reminder that one should always motivate oneself to give back to the community and help fellow humans (and animals) in need.

I recently helped crowdfunding an independent drama film, Homeless Ashes – a movie that will raise awareness of homelessness in the UK. And in Amsterdam, I visited The Catboat (animal sanctuary) and donated money.

IMG_20170529_174545.jpg

29. Try a dish I’ve been skeptical about trying

location: Narbonne, France

People who know me well, know I’m not much of a fish eater. Especially salmon. And tuna…I might even go as far as saying I hate the taste of tuna. I’ve tried tuna salad, pasta with tuna and tuna sandwiches and all those things made me wanna vomit within a second.

While in Narbonne, I visited a nice gastronomic restaurant (Restaurant Gaia) recommended by the lovely bed & breakfast I was staying at (La Maison Gustave). I ordered a three course meal – along with an amuse-bouche. For those who don’t know what amuse-bouche is; it’s a single-bite pre-appetizer offered to you by the chef, and it’s not something listed on the menu. It’s a surprise element. A joy for some, a nightmare for picky eaters. There I was, without my significant other, who’s usually there to finish my plate and eat all the things I don’t like.

In front of me, there was a small piece of tuna steak accompanied by some kind of citrus-mousse. The tuna looked nothing like the tuna I’d tried before. It looked like beef. I tasted it. The texture was like beef too! And the taste wasn’t even that bad. Well, the aftertaste was, but some large sips of red wine washed it all away. I texted my boyfriend the good news: “tuna isn’t that disgusting after all!”

His reply? “I told you so”.

AirBrush_20170511235517.jpg

My verdict of this project?

Bucket lists should not be taken too seriously, but having one scribbled down ain’t gonna do no harm. My list was the extra little push I needed to book that solo trip. It was the little push I needed to do things I wouldn’t normally do. And thanks to that list, I will always remember the last months of my life as a twenty-something girl.