Day five in Italy would have been our first day in Florence, but the tour group had planned a side trip to Pisa located 75 miles west of Florence. Jim and I contemplated sitting this day trip out and hanging on our own in Florence, but we would have an extra two days in Florence at the end of our vacation and would likely never make the special trip to Pisa in the future. We said what the hey, and went to Pisa.
Once we arrived to Pisa, we boarded a small tram that took us through the markets and to the Piazza del Duomo, where we found the top three attractions: The Duomo, the baptistry and the campanile (the bell tower of the church that leans.)
I couldn't resist taking a picture of this sign. It says, "The song that you are hearing are sung by the driver of this treeno. His CD's are sold on board for E10 each." The music sounded like soft classical songs recorded in a bathroom.
Pisa reached it's peak of power in the middle ages as a maritime republic before being overtaken by Florence and Genoa. If you want to get a Pisan all riled up, mention Genoa - I thought our local tour guides head would explode as she talked with such passion about that city.
It was hot here! It was hot everywhere, but in Pisa I felt I could fry an egg on the concrete. Not that I would have wanted to, there were thousands of tourists and street vendors lining the road that leads to the Duomo(church).
Everyone has to take a picture in front of the leaning bell tower. This is ours. It's proof that, yes, we wasted half a day to travel to this little town and look at the tower and say to ourselves, yup it's leaning just like everyone said it would.
We had a local guide take us into the Battistero (Baptistry) and point out the hexagonal pulpit (1255-60), and then the baptistry keeper came to the center, all the doors were closed, and he cooed into the rafters and we sat in silence as his voice echoed around and around the circular building. It was a bit of a bone chill.
We were told most baptistry's were square or hexigonal, but this was the only baptistry that was round. I couldn't find anything in my books that backed this up, but I didn't want to call our local guide a liar - I told you how heated she became while talking about Genoa.
The cathedral was designed in 1063 and errected in the 13th century. There was a terrible fire in the late 1500's that destroyed a lot of the original building.
Left from the original building are three bronze doors at the entrance and a spectacular lamp hanging from the ceiling over the pews. According to tradition, Galileo, a Pisa-born astronomer used this hanging lamp to formulate his law of the pendulum by timing how long it took to swing from side to side.
Although I've always assumed Pizza came from Pisa, it isn't so. We did have some darn good pizza in Pisa at Ristorante Maiori in Piazza Arcivescovado. They have a great flash website, although it isn't all translated in English.
The restaurant, owned and operated by chef Andrea from Naples, produces some ridiculously delicious Neapolitan pizza.
Jim and I had our evening free in Florence. We were very excited about our chosen dinner spot, although known to attract tourists, we wanted to go anyway. Of course Italians do not eat dinner until really late in the evening, so we decided to hit a few wine bars along the way and sample appetizers to help us make it to our late dinner time.
I didn't catch the name of this wine nook, but we certainly had a great time. Our server spoke perfect English, as well as six other languages! Six! I was ashamed that I only spoke one. He was so nice, and knowledgeable about wine. We sampled from a few bottles, before we chose what glass we wanted to enjoy. I tried to get a picture of this really nifty pour spout they used, but he moved SO fast, all my pictures came out blurry.
I decided to have this Le Masse Di Greve made by Lanciola.
Trying to be adventurous, we ordered an appetizer of lard and honey. I know, what were we thinking? When would we be able to order something as absurd as lard and honey anywhere else?
Jim decided to have a glass of this Le Masse Di Greve Chianti Classico 2004 Reserve made by Lanciola
I didn't care too much for the appetizer, and discovered lard isn't my thing. But I did really enjoy the wine and the small dish of black olives they served us.
While searching for our dinner location we rounded a corner and I stopped Jim and asked, "Do you hear Alan Jackson?" We stood motionless until we could hear the faint country music wafting towards us.
We followed the sound of "Don't Rock the Jukebox" until we found this little Guitar Club.
We didn't return to this live country music spot, because there was no way we would have found it again.
This is what we looked like the entire time in Italy. Confused with the map, standing on a corner searching for a street name and LOST. I was always completely lost and lucky for me Jim was only lost 75% of the time. We laughed about it (most of the time) and enjoyed our adventures exploring the back streets of Rome, Florence and Venice.
Our first dinner out in Florence (the first night we ate at the hotel) was at La Giostra, a popular fine dining restaurant. Upon entering the restaurant the walls surrounding the hostess stand are covered with no less than 50 autographed photos of famous people (Brad Pitt and Ron Perlman to name a few) posing with the executive chef.
Because we knew a lot of food was going to be brought to the table, we decided against ordering an appetizer - although this plate was brought to the table anyway. It was an assortment of canapes like toasted bread with liver pate, and sliced meats. We sampled a little bit of everything but really tried to hold off until our handmade pastas arrived.
I ordered the Risotto con asparagi e zucchine (rice with fresh asparagus) and I thought it was beautiful, but lacking in flavor and the rice was undercooked with too much "bite."
Jim's pasta course was the Tortelli di crostacei pomodorini e gamberi (tortelli with crustaceans cherry tomatoes and shrimps.) It looked and tasted great! I had the Ravioli with pear and pecorino cheese for my entree, although I didn't get a good picture of the dish. The restaurant was lit by candlelight and a few strands of twinkle lights overhead, making it incredibly romantic but near impossible to take good photos.
Ravioli with William’s Pear and Pecorino Cheese
(I did not make any edits, this is copied straight from the web site.)
There are few people who really prepair the handmade pasta by their self. So, Liliana, who do it for La Giostra (she cames from Emilia Romagna, a very famous shire for pasta), is really gelous about her recipes. We hope the following is right and we think is the best we could have from her...
You need to prepair a homemade sheet pastry with eggs and wheat flour (one egg for person from a minimum of four). The secret here is that when you have finish to knead the pastry it needs to rest for a while. Than you will stend it and here something about the machine. If you do it with the machine who has the rolls in metal the pasta will be very smooth and silky. This is not a merit because the sauce doesn’t fasten with the dish. You must use the wood’s roll and “tend” the pastry very slim.
The stuffing is prepared with William’s pear and Pecorino Cheese. The choise of first is difficoult because you need some fruits a little bit unripe for the less water inside and ligther aroma, than a good and not aged Pecorino. Here, Liliana who prepeared at La Giostra doesn’t confirm but I think she puts one “red” of a egg to fasten the stuffing...
For the sauce is something very delicate like a good butter with a bit of aromatic herbs.
For the wine with, try a Pinot noir from Alto Adige (blauburgunder) if you like red; with sauvignon blanc Conte della Vipera Antinori, if you prefear a whiteone.
Probably an easier recipe to follow would be this one I found on the Williams-Sonoma web site.
Pear & Pecorino Ravioli with Walnuts
The Williams-Sonoma recipe is inspired by Italian Chef Lidia Bastianich. Her original recipe for Ravioli “Cacio Pepe e Pere” (fresh ravioli stuffed with pear and pecorino cheese) can be found on her site.