Friday in Porto Venere and Pisa
My last full day in Italy meant heading to Pisa, ready to catch an early morning flight (and see the famous tower of course) – if you’re travelling in the area, flights from Pisa are a lot cheaper than other local airports. I had a full 24 hours though until the ball dropped on my trip, so I didn’t want to waste any time. I packed my bag, headed to La Spezia and took a bus to Porto Venere, a fisherman’s town resembling the architecture of Cinque Terre but being a quieter option than the mass tourism found there.
Finally found the bus that was diverted because of a weekly market in La Spezia…
I walked along the waterfront of Porto Venere, soaking up the last of the sun I would see in a while (in the UK, Winter was fast approaching) and observed fisherman and fisher-women hard at work, trading fish, gutting fish and catching fish (not exactly in that order). Roaming the town caused far less tourist-induced stress; whilst Portovenere’s sisters being undeniably beautiful, here one could perhaps not find cameras constantly shoved into one’s neck. The bright red, pink and yellow “Palazzata” buildings stood closely together along the harbour-front, and if you find the tucked away stairwells you can explore the village’s insides, composed, not unlike the rest of the Cinque Terre villages, of stores, cafes and restaurants.
A weird black carrot sparkling drink!?
I kept walking straight onwards through the village, exiting the towering terraces and stepping out onto a flat, exposed promontory, at the far end there being the Church of Saint Peter – a tiny “Genovese gothic” church dating back to 1198. Quite fittingly, a wedding just so happened to be taking place. I took a sneaky peek inside to see how the ceremony was unfolding before climbing to the top of the church for a stunning panoramic view of Porto Venere.
A little further below, on the way to the church, “Byron’s Grotto” is a magical gem waiting to be discovered by any visitor passing by. At first, you’ll see a sneak peak through a “window” in one of the old rocky walls. Next, once you climb down, you’ll enter a small yet idyllic mini-paradise; sheetrock lines the more walkable areas of the grotto, it being a bit of a slippery journey down towards the larger, rounder rocks one can sit on to dip one’s toes into the cool mediterranean sea water – beautifully clear and a deep aquamarine blue. If you feel a bit more like an adventurer, head a bit further into the grotto into a little “cave” like area that’s tucked away out of sight that frames the cliff-rock ahead in a spectacular way. This tiny part of Porto Venere was perhaps also one of the most amazing parts of my Italian adventure, the serenity and peaceful energy of the landscape enough to keep you there forever. In fact the English poet Lord Byron swam across the bay of Porto Venere to visit his muse, Shelley, residing in a nearby village – hence the name of the whole cove “The Bay of Poets” and the grotto’s very own name “Byron’s Grotto”, the location being said to have inspired some of his timeless poems.
The view from the church.
Exploring the marvelous grotto.
After a little more exploring of the town, another glass of freshly squeezed orange juice was very much in need (this stuff was my saviour from dire illness) and I headed back to La Spezia to catch a train to Pisa before grabbing a quick train snack: a Sfogliatella.
A who what where now? A Sfogliatella is a pastry ‘shell’ sort of resembling a lobster tail, being layered with leaves of thin, crisp pastry and filled with smooth chocolate or fresh ricotta – the ricotta can also be flavoured with lemon or candied citrus peel. Both are a small, yet decent sized, treat to satisfy a sweet craving or to go alongside an espresso, also being cheaper than a larger slice of cake or pie.
I can’t say my time in Pisa quite compared to the rest of my trip, everything so far seeming Hollywood material-esque. But alas, you’ll never know unless you try. I had only a few hours anyway (this definitely being more than plenty of time in the city) strolling from my hostel located near the train station into the city centre and toward the famous leaning tower and surrounding buildings. After the initial surprise and shock that I was actually seeing the tower IRL I became far more amused by the tourists surrounding the tower than the tower itself. It cost a whopping 18 euros to even go up the tower, so I opted for walking around the area a few times before resigning to eat some Pisa pizza. It had been a whole week and I hadn’t eaten pizza at all – shameful, I know. Of course, I ate the whole thing by myself; a Napoli wood-fired pizza, for a proper end to my trip, alongside an Italian beer and a, fairly questionable, limoncello tiramisu. As if I wasn’t stuffed enough with Italian treats, I decided I needed one last scoop of gelato for a proper goodbye. On the way to the hostel, I stopped at my last gelateria for a compulsory scoop of pistachio and hazelnut, walking slowly home through the busy Pisa city centre as night fell and my eyelids drooped.
A mural by world-famous street artist Keith Haring.
My intense five-day Italian adventure was really a crazy rollercoaster; I was initially really unsure as to how it would unfold as I was travelling solo since the first time I travelled alone to Belgium a couple of years ago (which ended up making me feel a bit depressed and rather existential at points). To my delight, it turned out to be a short ’n sweet, adventure of a lifetime. Italy is a crazy magical place and one that no doubt I will be returning to in the near future… arrivederci, e fino alla prossima volta…