Romito Magra to Pisa (47.94 miles, 4 hours and 35 minutes moving)

Today the weather was completely different from the previous two days, and despite having to start the day in a gross cement-grated shower with a trough of standing water underneath, I started out in great spirits. The road was reasonably flat, and there were quite a few cyclists getting some miles in. At one point when I stopped and was taking down the address of a Vodafone billboard and entering it into my GPS to see if it was near my route (it wasn’t- only 20 km out of the way), a gentleman cycled past me and then came back to talk. Everyone always wants to know about my bike with the little tires.  That is, if I don’t have the solar panel strapped to the back, which I didn’t today. After chatting for a while about my route, he wanted to get a photo with me, so we flagged down some passers-by. I had them snap one with my camera but his camera’s battery was dead, so I got his email address and sent him the photo.  I think he may be planning on bicycling about 5000 km across the United States later this year, so if you’re reading this, good luck, Antonio!

I stopped at one and sat on a bench overlooking a canal at the beach, and while it was not a particularly picturesque view, it was nice to relax, enjoy some food, feel the sea breeze and warm sun on the small portion of exposed face, and take it easy knowing that I did not have a lot of miles to cover today.  A few miles down the road, I came upon a Vodafone store that looked like it had actually been open at some point during the day.  The metal bars covering the windows and doors were swung open, but the inside was dark, and the glass doors were locked. It was a little after 1:30 p.m. at the time, and I really wanted to get my internet problem fixed, so I decided to have a second lunch at the pizzeria on the corner just across the way, with the hope that by the time I finished, the store would have reopened after the long lunch-hour. The half-pizza was delicious, my first since crossing into Italy, and I washed it down with a Coke-light that came in a tall, skinny can like a Red-Bull can, only large enough to still hold 12 ounces.

With the weather and time on my side, I lingered for one of very few times on this trip. At 2:05 p.m., the Vodafone store still wasn’t open, and I saw that the Telecom Italia Mobile store next-door wasn’t slated to reopen until 5:45 that evening. I still needed to pick up groceries for dinner and breakfast and had seen a sign for a supermarket a little ways back down the road, so I decided to backtrack, get groceries, and then check the Vodafone store before heading out of town. I ended up bicycling two miles back the way from which I came, only to find that the grocery store was ALSO CLOSED! Because people don’t need groceries on Thursdays. I stalled a little longer with a stop for my first gelato in Italy (the five or six flavors I tried were all delicious).

Now, having wasted almost two hours of the day, I gave up, cycled past the still-locked Vodafone store, and decided to continue on down the road. It was only about 15-20 miles to Pisa now and although the wind had changed directions to give me a slight headwind, I was finally able to comfortably ride at about 15 mph for long stretches, and I covered the distance quickly. There was a supermarket outside of Pisa that did happen to be open, and when I got inside, I was astonished to see that it was like a Sam’s Club discount warehouse from the States.  Huge shelving units were stacked from floor to ceiling with pallets of bulk goods.  The prices were great, and I managed to find most of what I desired, even in small enough quantities for me to carry.

Yet, I was even more surprised to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa peaking over the trees on the horizon as I reached the town.  I’m not sure exactly what I had expected, but generally the famous monuments are hidden, blocked from view by the great many buildings that spring up around them over the years. Yet Pisa seemed like a much smaller, unassuming community that had barely even spilled northward into the urban sprawl that strikes so many cities. The campsite, Terre Pendente, was a mere mile from the plaza that houses the Tower, so I checked in, unloaded the bicycle and set up camp, and then hopped on my now much lighter bike for the short ride into town. Although I had planned on spending Friday in town and exploring, I decided to take my camera anyway to get the requisite photos of the famous clock-tower, and it was a good thing I did.

Once in town, I navigated up and down the cobblestone and brick streets of the historic district, finally finding an open Vodafone shop, where they informed me that because I had used more than 5 hours of internet the other day, my account had been blocked until I paid a 5 euro reinstatement fee, which I did. I also inquired about using the same SIM in my unlocked iPhone, and the nice guy working at the store added the one-week iPhone data plan, which normally costs 3 euros, to my account for free! Although that part still hasn’t worked, presumably because I need to have Vodafone customer service register my phone’s IMEI number into their system, so the search for another open Vodafone store will continue. Hopefully it is all figured out before I arrive in Rome in a few days!

I returned to the Leaning Tower and took a few photos of the landmark, as it was bathed in the subdued sunlight of the golden hour, with the sun dipping behind the clouds. I watched hundreds of people pose for photos, lining up the camera just right so that it looked like they were either pushing over the tower, or single-handedly holding it up. The creativity award for the evening had to go to two boys who went a step farther.  Setting their camera up on a timer, one boy jumped down on all fours while his friend positioned himself so that it looked like he was “tripping” the tour right over his accomplice.

I listened to the languages being spoken in the square, and finally I heard a couple speaking English. Jens was from Sweden, and his girlfriend Khai was from Burma, though they had both been studying in a Masters program in Sweden, before starting their road trip in a camper-van. They were really nice, and Jens agreed to try and take a photo of me riding my bicycle up the tower, in continuation of the constant climbing that Italy has thrust upon me. They plan on finishing their travels in Rome a few weeks after me, and I hope that their vacation helps them recharge for the next portion of their lives!

The climbing continues in Pisa...
The climbing continues in Pisa…

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