A bit of sun, a bit of Pisa
Tuesday, June 29
We were kind of psyched to check out this back-to-nature thermal bath place, and fortunately the weather continued to co-operate. Like pretty much every single day since the day after Asmir's wedding, the weather had been pretty much picture-perfect.
We had a coffee stop at a nice little bar in downtown Viterbo, then drove the short distance to the very unassuming location of the Le Masse di San Sisto
. It's basically located at the end of a short non-descript gravel road that is itself just a few metres away from a highway interchange. It really looks and feels like it might just be an open field with a few trees here and there off to the side of a highway.
There were many cars in the dusty parking lot -- even though this was a morning on a weekday in June -- a time I would have thought would be quieter. Perhaps this 'unknown' place was becoming known?
We got our beach stuff ready and walked up to the opening in the fencing around the area. There was a small building at this point, and people going in and out. We were immediately greeted by a young lady and a couple of middle-aged men. A somewhat-confusing (for me) Italian exchange occurred. It seemed that us visiting the hot springs was not a simple matter of paying a fee. We needed to be 'soci' (i.e members). There was no concept of a day-visit for any amount of money, and no, there was no way for us to buy a membership there on the spot. Instead, we apparently had to do some sort of mail-in process (again, that was the sense I got). There seemed little flexibility, little sympathy for the fact that we were from another continent and just wanted to try out this facility for a few hours (and were fully willing to pay).
The girl and her flanking male acquaintainces seemed a bit odd to me... a bit standoffish, I thought. It almost seemed as if they were defending the place from attack; the men next to the girl seemed faintly to act like bodyguards or bouncers. That was the vibe I got, in any case. Not at all like the happy, hippy-ish, green-concept undeveloped hideaway that I sensed from the [obviously out-of-date] web pages that I had looked like (the original page I read on this place is available here
). Seems like some good old fashioned Italian-style clique-y and obscure beauraucratic management had got their hands on things.
We weren't about to make a dash for the pools or anything like that, so we just had... to leave. Disappointing, because I had thought to spring (ha, pardon the pun) these hot springs on Jenn and Pu as a kind of unexpected surprise (in the grand scheme of the trip, I mean).
So, no hot springs. But, it was a sunny, hot, day, and we were not far from the coast. Perhaps as a fall-back, a quiet few hours on the beach?
We drove northwestward at a lesiurely pace, following highways that more or less parallelled the coastline, albeit at some distance inland. Every so often, we'd spot an access road that seemed to lead to a promising section of coastline. We'd investigate, but usually find that the coast was lined with private campgrounds and resorts. I knew there were sections of public beaches here and there, but this kind of thing wasn't well-marked. So, we kept looking, and driving north-westwards. Eventually we crossed from the province of Lazio (where Rome is located) and into the province of Tuscany.
Beach, Gulf of Follonica
Not long after that, one of our off-highway explorations hit paydirt. We noticed some public-ish/municipal-ish looking signs and an access path and bridge that seemed to lead out to the beach. Looked very much like generic public beach access. So, we found a spot to park the car and once again got out our beach stuff.
Following the path and crossing a nice pedestrian bridge, we found ourselves presented with a somewhat narrow but almost empty stretch of beach! It stretched away for perhaps a kilometre or so before the tell-tale rows of beach umbrellas and chairs signalled the next private establishment. This little section seemed perfect, however, so we set up for the afternoon.
The situation in the water turned out to be more than adequate, as well. The sandy beach continued out to sea, providing perfect footing underfoot for wading or heading out to deeper water for a swim. There were no greebly things in the water like banks of seaweed or jellyfish.
Off in the distance we could we the faint outline of the arms of the Gulf of Follonica -- the large bay of water within which our little beach spot was located -- and beyond that, the hazy outline of a somewhat-mountainous island. This was the Island of Elba, made famous by the exile of Napoleon there for a year in the 1700s.
After we'd had enough laze-ing around at the beach, we decided to continue on. I knew in general that we needed to head in a northerly direction, but I didn't have any specifics planned for the next few days. Thinking of interesting places to visit, I thought of Pisa. We had driven far enough north today in our search for the beach that we weren't far from it. None of us had every been there, and, of course, it is well-known for a certain famous but somewhat unfortunate tower. We discussed, and agreed that Pisa seemed like an interesting place to end our day.
Benedetto Croce Plaque
In about an hour, we were in Pisa. The first order of business was to locate a place to stay for the night. I had been learning that the best option for finding a place that suited our needs (and at a reasonable price) was to look for and book it on the internet. So, the first order of business was finding internet access. Carefully cruising a few of the downtown roads in Pisa netted us a small internet cafe, and I dashed in and did some looking. I ended up choosing a spot on the outskirts of Pisa called the 'Airone Pisa Park Hotel'. It appeared to be a very nice secluded spot with a leafy villa-like feel (not actually a villa, though), good room amenities (like A/C and internet access), and a very decent price. I returned to the car, and we headed off to check in and clean up a bit.
Airone Pisa Park Hotel
The hotel is located on the outskirts of Pisa; in fact, it sits in a bit of farmland. Normally my criteria is not to stay in places that are too far away from whatever town core we're visiting, but in this case it was ok: Pisa is quite a small town, and the drive to and from this place to the center of town was at most three or four kilometres.
Airone Pisa Courtyard
Pu grew increasingly excited as we left the town and headed down a tiny little farm road towards the hotel. For some reason he had been imagining a little country place in his mind (as a place to stay), and now it seemed to him that his dream had come true.
Crossing a little concrete bridge over a farm canal, we came to the entrance of the Airone Pisa Park hotel. Set in a leafy, tree-lined enclave surrounded by open fields, the place did have a villa-like feel, with nicely manicured grounds. The buildings of the hotel themselves, while reasonably attractively styled, weren't historic in any way. We checked into to our unit (via it's own door directly from the hotel's grounds), and discovered a very spacious high-ceilinged room with four beds scattered around it. Unlike our previous hotel, this room had powerful and functional air conditioning, which we put to good use.
After a shower and change of clothes, we were again (as we seemed to every night at this time) feeling the need for some good Italian food. So, we headed the short distance back into Pisa and started looking around (essentially just wandering the streets for something that looked authentic and interesting). We discovered a little spot, on Via Giuseppe Mazzini, called Il Nuraghe
. I can't remember what called us to it - the menu, or perhaps the low brick vaulted ceiling at the entrance. In any case, we decided to eat here.
Waiting for appetizers
It wasn't particularly busy, but the place seemed not-too-touristy, which we liked (of course, I guess we ourselves were spoiling that, no?). The menus came in Italian (without english), so some translations by me were required. There seemed to be an emphasis on seafood dishes (much to Pu and Jenn's delight).
Even better was the jovial man that came to take our orders - the chef himself, as it turned out! Ordering directly from him was fun - we were able to ask specific questions about preparation; he gave us suggestions and recommendations as we went along; and he was more than happy to agree to little customizations, such as sauce type and the like.
I don't remember everything we had, but for starters I had a minestrone soup, Jenn had an interesting-looking octopus salad, and Pu had a very classic Italian antipasto: prosciutto e melone. Jenn continued her sea-themed dinner with a plate of Ravioli alla sarda, which I believe is fish-filled ravioli (and with the Ravioli itself being made from dark-colored seaweed). Pu again went classical with a more plain-looking dish of ravioli or agnolotti.
Afterwards, we had more pleasant interactions with the chef (from whom I get the impression that this restaurant has pretty much been his whole life for many decades). And then, a nearly-completely illegible bill (which made it a bit difficult to split up the costs, but at least the final amount was readable!). Il Nuraghe is definitely a truly enjoyable little spot with much character!
After dinner, we still felt like we wanted to see or do something. So, we undertook an evening walk around Pisa, walking along the River Arno (which runs through the center of the city), gravitating towards the most famous little bit of Pisa - the so-called Piazza dei Miracoli (more properly known as the Piazza del Duomo). This piazza contains one of the most famous icons that symbolizes Italy to the world: The Leaning Tower of Pisa. And, there it was, bathed in floodlights (it was twilight now), and indeed, very tilted. It is very difficult to capture the essence of the tilt in a photograph. In real life -- in 3-D -- it looks very, very titled. And, it's quite a beautiful tower, too, with a distinctive combination of Gothic and Romanesque elements.
It was getting towards the end of opening hours for the tower and the other attractions in the Piazza, so we ended up taking a quick walk through it, admiring the various buildings (the other major attractions in the tower apart from the tower being the baptistry and the duomo itself). We decided then, however, that this spot deserved a little more inspection, so we agreed to come back here the next morning.
Interactive Trackmap, Pisa Walk Evening of June 29
Pisa Walk, Evening of June 29
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain:
Total Elevation Loss:
* : +/- 75 feet