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Chris Sayer’s Travel Diary

Monday, 16 Jun 2014

Location: Italy

MapOur last day in Tuscany saw us getting brave. Maybe we had grown some confidence in tackling the Trenitalia regional train system, and so we bought return tickets to get us to Pisa with a possible stopover in Lucca, if we had read the timetable correctly.
There is an Italian law on trains that says you must validate your ticket after purchase but before boarding, on fear of death or a 40 euro fine. This particular morning , all of the validation machines at the Prato train station were not working, so we had to board the train and seek out a conductor to alert him to the problem (according to the blurb on the back of the ticket). When we found a conductor (or rather, he found us), he tried to fine us for not validating our tickets! The language barrier ensured the conversation (not an argument I tried to keep my cool) continued for a few minutes. Finally he relented, wrote something on our tickets, handed them back, and progressed to hassle the next passenger. I saw a credit card transaction happening there.
Lucca was beautiful. Like so many small towns wed already seen, the centre of Lucca was also surrounded by a high wall built in 16th century, and contained an impressive multi-coloured marble cathedral. Many large trees provided tranquil shade, and people went about their business on bikes or walking, some with a small dog on a leash. What made this place even more appealing was the total lack of tourist throngs.
On to Pisa, and with map in hand we left the train station and walked south, through narrow cobblestone streets and laneways, eventually reaching the mighty Arno River, the same one that flows through Florence but here it is closer to the sea. More narrow laneways, with street dining at restaurants and gelato shops. Reaching the corner at the end of one such laneway, we were greeted by an amazing sight. A tall, white marble tower jumped out in front of us, surprising us with its imposing presence and its familiarity. Im sure the immediate thought process is the same for everyone when they first see the Leaning Tower of Pisa. This large stone structure is surely in the process of toppling over. It is remarkable that it is still standing after 900 years. There are not many buildings in the world that can announce themselves like this one can.
On the way home, we had to get to Prato via Florence, and I did a silly thing. Spooked by our encounter with the conductor and our non-validated tickets that morning, I validated in Pisa and also in Florence. And of course, we encountered a conductor on the way to Prato. And of course, I was unceremoniously accused of cheating the system because we were in possession of twice-validated tickets. I was beginning to feel paranoid. If only these guys spoke a little English so I could explain! We made it to Prato unscathed, and treated ourselves to an award-winning gelato, made by a guy who had gone a Gelato University to learn his craft. He proudly displayed his graduation certificate in his shop.