Journeying from Brussels to Pisa
Our journey to Pisa began at the butt-crack of dawn in Brussels (about 3:15AM). We had a shuttle bus to catch at 4AM across town, heading to the airport. Since we didn’t know that area of the city very well (and it was the middle of the night) we caught an Uber ride to the bus station.
Our Uber driver had to park down the road from the spot where the taxis usually park, since the Uber drivers and taxi drivers don’t get along in Brussels. Our driver also had no idea where the shuttle bus would pick us up. Alesha thought she’d seen shuttle buses a ways behind our drop-off point, so we walked that direction.
We quickly realized that this area by the station was super sketchy at 4AM. There was a group of bums huddled around a barrel shouting, sweating, breaking glass bottles, etc. right across the road as we wandered past, with our giant backpacks in tow and looking tourist-y as hell. A few of them broke off from the main group and followed along with us across the road.
We eventually realized we were wandering in the wrong direction, so we had to turn around and walk past the group again, while another guy walked from a side-street and followed us for a little while (I was on high alert kick-ass mode). We power-walked back to the station, and got back to a safer spot, and eventually found the shuttle pick-up point heading toward the airport.
Our flight to Pisa was on RyanAir. RyanAir is a major airline throughout Europe, and is widely known as a budget airline. They offer very little amenities, will nickel-and-dime you any chance they get, and generally suck. However, their fares are often REALLY cheap (like €10 per person cheap), so Alesha and I were able to find really cheap flights across Europe, as long as we weren’t super picky what day we flew or what country/city we were heading to.
The experience overall was… not great. There isn’t enough seating in the RyanAir section of the Brussels airport, first of all. They basically expect half the people there to stand the whole time. Secondly, I would not recommend anyone over 6 foot to fly them if you like to be comfortable (especially on a longer flight). My knees were jammed into the person sitting in front of me. Oh, and they require a printed boarding pass if you’re a non-EU citizen (the mobile phone version won’t cut it) and they charge you €15 to print a boarding pass at the airport.
We arrived in Pisa at about 9AM. We stayed one night in Pisa near the city center. Our host, Mikele, was part of a multi-generation Italian family that owned and operated the bed and breakfast estate we stayed at. They had a big awesome garden in the back, and a really adorable dog named Nicos. Mikele’s whole family lived on the estate and everyone was super nice. Mikele’s grandma lived across the hall from us.
Since we’d stayed up all night the previous night (to watch the Seahawks), we immediately settled in and took a two hour nap. After that, we decided to walk into town and see the sights (mostly the Leaning Tower).
The walk into the center of the city was very pretty. Close to the tower, it got really tourist-y. Men selling selfie sticks and umbrellas, the restaurants got more expensive, TONS of people, etc. The tower itself sits in a square called the “Piazza del Duomo” which translates to Cathedral Square. It’s a sacred religious site for the Catholic Church, and includes the Pisa Cathedral, the Pisa Baptistry, the Campanile (the Bell Tower, which famously leans to the side a bit), and the Camposanto Monumentale (the cemetery). I don’t know if I felt the presence of Catholic Jesus here, but it was beautiful nonetheless.
After a nice meal near the square and a glass of wine, we decided to head back for the evening and rest up before another travel day. I found an website called “Just Eat” where I was able to order pizza and a bottle of wine for dinner. Despite the host and his family being very loud until about one in the morning (they were literally moving furniture around in the middle of the night and having a party), we went to bed early and caught up on sleep.
Pisa to Monterosso
The following morning, we woke up at 9AM for breakfast. Mikele (the host), came up into our kitchen and made us coffee and set out breakfast. The guy was nice enough to have a conversation with me about the seasons in Pisa, and how he can tell the time of the year based on the birds outside. I had a hard time understanding his English through a very thick accent. He was nice enough to teach me a few words in Italian.
We had to check out about 2 or 3 hours before our scheduled train, so we headed to the station and got a bite to eat and cappuccinos. Fun fact: cappuccinos are strictly a breakfast drink in Italy. If you order them for lunch or dinner, it’s a social “no-no”.
Anyways, after we’d ordered cappuccinos like idiots, we caught our train to Monterosso. This city is one of the five coastal/fishing villages comprising “Cinque Terre”, Italian for the “Five Lands”, and where we stayed for four nights. The train ride was a little over an hour, and forty-five minutes into it, we were told our carriage was having technical difficulties (the AC was broken) and we had to move carriages. We asked to just remain in our seats for the next ten minutes, since we were getting off the train soon, but nope. Conductors orders. There was a mass migration of our carriage (100+ people), to the other side of the train, which seemed to concern the other passengers that something was seriously wrong, but I let them know it was just the AC. About two minutes after we sat back down and situated our bags, it was time to get off.
Wow. Cinque Terre is a seriously beautiful place. The weather was about 75 degrees and humid, it was bright and sunny, and the scenery was amazing up and down the coastline. Monterosso is the only city out of the five that has a white-sand beach.
I busted out the Google Maps and navigated us up the hill to our new home for the next few days. We met our host Gianni, who was a nice guy, and left us some fizzy water, orange juice, and THREE BEERS in the fridge. Hell yeah! We drank two of them before we even left the apartment.
With the sun starting to set, we thought we’d get our bearings in Monterosso. The city has two downtowns, a “New Town” and an “Old Town”. The new town was a bit more tourist-y, and is mostly a bunch of restaurants/shops along the coast. Old town feels a bit more “Italian”, and consists of a few really cozy winding streets, lots of shops, etc.
We picked up some homemade noodles and pesto in Old Town for dinner. I had heard that Italy has really good wine for €4, so we got a few bottles of cheap wine, and it ended up being really bad. Really, you get what you pay for with wine, even in Italy.
To see all of the photos from Pisa, click here.