Monday, October 26, 2009

What's the first thing you should do when you get to Florence?

What's the first thing you should do when you get to Florence? Leave Florence!

For the sum of about ten euro round trip, you can make your way from Firenze SMN to Pisa Central. And why, why would you go here? To see the tower of course. Yes, that magical tower that we've all grown to know and love, even if we don't know why we know about it.

Why is it leaning? What was it built for? I didn't know then, and I still don't know now – but I've taken a picture of myself holding it up, and that counts for something, doesn't it? Everyone needs to take this picture, and – yes – everyone does take it.

But first, you must get to the tower.

It's about an hour on the train and then it's still another fifteen minutes from the station to the leaning tower. I don't know why I thought I'd be able to hop right off, and there it would be. Ridiculous, I know – but, what else is there to the town?

And honestly – that's the question. It's cute and all, but it has no real life aside from the fact that it is home to a well known landmark. Kind of like Niagara Falls, before all the depressed addicted people moved into the casino there.

You have to wonder if this tower is a boon or a detriment. On the one hand it brings people in, and that's good. On the other hand, it prevents the town from developing a life of its own, because – hey – people are already coming in. And that, my friends, is bad. It's a lovely walled city with its old European innards iced in tourist shops, and restaurants. Its outtards are – well I don't know – lets be honest, we all bee-line as south as south can be see the – what's a synonym for tower?

And once there, you are completely taken back. It's actually as impressive as you thought it would be, while managing to totally underwhelm at the same time. You want it to be more – but really it's all it could be. There's a fantastic green field of grass, contrasting the brilliant blue cloudless sky. And stitching them both together is this obelisk of shining light. Bright white, reflecting the sun's midday light.

After you marvel at it for about twenty seconds, you set up your camera and get to work taking a picture of yourself holding it up.

And then you look around, and take note of the dozens of other people doing the exact same. Out of context it looks like a silent tai chi exercise, or silent ballet. I highly recommend taking pictures these people, out of context for later delight.

I had a solo traveller ask if I could take some shots for him. I did – and they were fantastic. I got all the right angels, and put him in just the right place. It's great to ask me to take your photo. Then he asked if he could return the photo. I backed away. What quality of images could I expect from one who didn't even carry his own mini-pod? There is nothing more disappointing than the pictures other people take for you.

One day I'll post some to prove this point. But not today.

It's fine if you know the person you're with, and you can explain how you want the shot set up – but when you review the image, and they ask “how is it?” what are you going to say, aside from “great!” Will you really look at them and say – mate, it's crap! What's wrong with you?

But there it is –

Pictures taken, it was back to the train station, for the hour ride back to Florence.

Total time in Pisa? Two hours.


  1. It's amazing how somethings never really change. I did the same trip you've done seven years ago... with quite similar results. As for the pictures, what I usually do is ask for a second take whenever a stranger takes my picture; at least that way I get two crappy shots instead of one. Or you could ask that guy with all the equipment who is obviously a pro-there's always one- to take your snapshot.

  2. ah see but professional equipment is a trap these days, where half the people have dSLRs due to how cheap they are. you gotta look for the ones not shooting on AUTO.


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