With some southerly winds forecast, it seemed the ideal opportunity to head on up the Italian mainland for a spot of touristing in Pisa.
We didn’t fancy an overnighter to get to Pisa, so chose to do a couple of day hops. In hindsight, the overnight would have been a better choice. Our first stop was on the Italian mainland in a large sandy bay called Baratti. A pleasant looking spot with plenty of space and a castle poking through the trees on the headland above us. It’s probably very comfortable in off-shore and southerly winds, which was what we’d been forecast. But the wind ended up blowing straight into the bay from the west and Emerald did a nodding dog impression for much of the afternoon and evening.
The next day we set off on a flat sea on a hot morning – we’d timed our journey north to coincide with the end of a heatwave in this part of Italy, with many cities on high alert for unsafe heat levels.
We were motoring but could hear a strange vibrating noise coming from up the mast, which was a worry. We looked up to see if we could see anything hanging loose; nothing seen. We looked around the deck to see if anything had fallen out such as a split pin; nothing seen. We gave the rigging a gentle shake and the noise stopped. Hmmmmm. A few minutes of silence passed and the noise started up again. Another shake of the mast resulted in the culprit was unearthed as a cricket flew out!
We could see thunder clouds building ahead and inland and into the afternoon they started to rumble but thankfully they all headed over the hills. We managed a short, slow sail but for all the pleasure of sailing it left a swell behind when the wind died away.
We arrived at Castiglioncello mid afternoon with hopes for a wander around the town. It had been four days since I’d had a walk and my legs were getting twitchy. But it was to be our first awkward anchoring experience of this summer. We tried to anchor outside the marina where several guides suggested but found the space was now extremely limited by buoys off the beach. We tried a spot off the town but found terrible holding on rocks and weed, so followed the line of restriction buoys which marched right around the headland and into the next bay. Despite the buoys, there was enough space left to anchor in a reasonable depth. Ashore we could see ranks of beach umbrellas, a different colour marking out each commission. But no boat channel for getting ashore; ah well swimming instead. But I’d only done one lap when a jelly fish chased me out of the water. It was one of those days.
On we headed up to the mouth of the river Arno at Marina di Pisa. No wind so we were motoring on another hot day and the Gulf of Genoa was generating thunderstorms again. We’d made contact with marinanova, one of the marinas up the river to find out if they had space for us and more importantly what the depth of water was and what was the air height was from the fishing cable. It was all good news – the cables are gone, they had space and there was plenty of water depth in the river mouth and on up the river.
We were warned not to attempt entry in strong west winds, but it was flat calm when we arrived. We waited for three yachts to leave the river then headed in, keeping close to the nets on the north side as advised. At the entrance we had 3.5m under us then at least 4m all the rest of the way up. We were waved to on arrival and a kind man came down to help us with our lines. There was a spot of confusion over the lazy lines and we ended up at a wrong angle with Emerald’s stern drifting ever so close to the fishing net next to the marina, but due to a Herculean effort by Colin, he got us straightened up to the pontoon.
Emerald was given a much needed wash. She was filthy – the sunshades covered in salt, the decks dusty. It was good to be clean again, I love the feeling of walking on a clean deck rather than a sticky one.
Emerald taken care of, we took a walk down to Marina di Pisa and checked out our surroundings. The marina is 1nm up the river, one side lined with small marinas and pontoons. On the north side is scenic countryside with deer and horses coming down to the river to feed. Swallows swooped about, helpfully eating up any unwelcome mosquitoes although unhelpfully depositing a few poos on Emerald’s clean deck. We’d seen a few of the fishing net contraptions on the way up river, but now we were able to sit back and see how they worked as one was located right next to us with some older gentlemen enjoying their fishing shack.
The marina has water, electric and showers and right outside the security gate is the main road up to Pisa, along which buses pass several times an hour. On the other side of the road are fields and trees through which we walked down to the coastal town of Marina di Pisa.
It was touristing time! In less than 15 minutes, the bus had transported us to Pisa. A few minutes walk down a pedestrian shopping street and we were at the river. We wandered, had coffee and cake and a mediocre lunch. We wanted to leave the tower until the evening when the crowds should hopefully have reduced down so what to do between now and then….. We jumped on a train and thirty minutes later we were in the town of Lucca. I’d read a blog that described it as Lovely Lucca and having visited, I wholeheartedly agree and was wishing we’d gone there straight off in the morning. Lucca is a small medieval town but it’s USP is the solid ring of defensive wall that surrounds it. The walls are over 4m thick with a wide path along their tops along which we could walk, shaded by leafy trees. It was delightfully cool and wonderfully uncrowded. Bicycles also use the path but it’s wide enough for everyone – well, most of the time! We did the full loop, enjoying being higher up where we could nosy into gardens and streets below.
The town has lots of towers, many of which can be climbed; I chose to go up the one with oak trees growing on the top. There were a lot of steps, easy and wide to start with, getting narrower as I neared the top. I emerged onto the roof to small trees rustling in the wind and a fair few people but it was possible to squeeze around them to experience the full 360 degree effect. I now had an even better view of tiled rooftops, narrow streets and pretty gardens and beyond the walls, the low hills of the Tuscan countryside.
Back down at street level we randomly followed the narrow lanes until we emerged on a shopping street which we followed up to a pretty circular piazza with tunnels between the houses to access it. The houses are built on the site of the old Roman amphitheatre, hence the circle shape. It would have been lovely to have had lunch here rather than the bland one we’d had in Pisa…. Ah well! We randomly wandered a little more before taking the train back to Pisa as sun lowered in the sky and sunset beckoned.
And so to the main reason for our visit – the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The streets were much quieter now in Pisa as we walked the twenty minute route from the train station to the tower, stopping off in Chevaliers Square. The tower area still had plenty of people wandering around but we were able to move easily enough without being over crowded. Of course we had to do the silly selfies along with most others who were there.
The architecture and the colours of the stones are stunning. We were too late to get inside the cathedral so we enjoyed the sunset on the stones then wandered back into the town. A drink seemed in order but where to go? Perhaps it was the calling of the Irish, but we spotted a group of people sitting at slightly scruffy tables outside a dark space. We wandered over and found it was an Irish bar with IPA beer and buffet nibbles for E4. Our kind of place!
Day two of touristing took us by train to Florence, an hours journey from Pisa. We got to ride on a double decker train which gave us great views of the countryside. Thunderstorms were forecast, but then that seemed to be a daily occurrence around here.
Florence was busy. No surprise really given we were in the middle of August. It was hot, but not crazy hot like it had been earlier in the week. But even though I shouldn’t have been surprised I was still really surprised by just how many people there were. We looked at the cathedral queue which wrapped half way around the building. Another one we wouldn’t be visiting the inside of but the outside was worthy enough, even more beautiful than Pisa’s with its geometric blocks of green, pink and white stone.
We admired a copy of a Michelangelo’s David in Piazza Signoria, the location of the Bonfire of the Vanities in 1497. The fountain of Neptune was undergoing restoration work so we could only have a peak through a gap in the protective netting and at Neptune himself rising above. More impressive statues were available to view for free in the open air Loggia dei Lanzi gallery.
From here we wandered down to Ponte Vecchia, which was super crowded and at the other end escaped for a lunch break in a tiny cafe with wine and a tasty panino each. Restored we could wander some more, visiting the inside of the Palazzo Vecchio. We somehow missed the queue (we didn’t see it honest!) and walked straight into the ticket office. The Medici family made the palace their home, decorating it in a very ostentatious manner as a sign of their great power and wealth. It houses some incredible rooms including an enormous meeting hall with painted frescoes adorning the walls and ceilings. The building also contains the Dante death mask as mentioned in Dan Brown’s novel Inferno.
We endured a long wait to climb the tower but the wait was worth it for a fabulous bird’s eye view of the city and especially the cathedral.
A little foot sore we returned to the train station after a full on day of touristing. We’d found plenty to see for free and enjoyed seeing the glamorous palace of the Medici family.
Bird’s eye view of the cathedral
Marina di Pisa
Two days of high intensity touristing was enough for us but we decided to stay on another day at the marina. A gentle walk along tracks and through a wood took us down to Marina di Pisa and when we saw the swell at the river mouth, we were glad to be staying another day. Relaxing over coffees and pastries, a spot of blackberry picking and a couple more cleaning jobs on Emerald restored us.
6th August: Elba to Baratti, 25nm travelled
Anchored in sand, 5.3m in position 42 59.614’N 10 30.344’E
A huge bay but open to the west. In the south corner is a marina with moorings available. The beach is buoyed off.
7th August: Baratti to Castiglioncello, 27nm travelled
Anchored in 6.5m 43 24.404’N 10 24.19’E
We tried to anchor outside the marina as indicated on Navily and Navionics, but the available area was too small for us as there were swimming buoys now in place. We tried to anchor off the town but could not find good holding in rock and tiny sand patches. We followed the coastline north into the next bay where we found space and good holding. There are buoys all along the coastline within which you cannot anchor. Open to the west. Despite no wind from that direction we still had a small swell, more annoying than uncomfortable.
8th August: Castiglioncello to River Arno, Marina di Pisa, 21nm travelled
Moored at marinanova, approx 1nm up river in position 43 40.68’N 10 18.193’E
Bows to on laid lines in 3.4m.
At the entrance to the river we had 3.5m under us then at least 4m all the rest of the way up.
Water, electric, showers all available. The marina is secure.
The bus to Pisa stops just outside the gate, turn left and walk approx 100m to the bus stop. Fare was E1.50 per person, journey time 15 minutes.
Provisions are available in Marina di Pisa.