Sometimes the best travel experiences are the ones that take you by surprise. Pisa was a convenient stopover for us, and, expecting to just pay a cursory visit to the Tower and try to get as much sleep as possible, we hadn’t done much research or bothered to muster up any excitement. Dropping our bags at the hotel, we immediately ventured out for food, espresso, and a glimpse at Pisa’s most famous landmark. Often being more of the food and culture type of tourist than the famous landmark kind of tourist, we joked about the tower and pretended we were excited to see it, and eventually those jokes morphed into genuine, almost giddy excitement which suddenly burst out of both of us when we finally turned a corner and it came into view. We had excellent fun taking photos of the Mister posing with the tower, marveling at how it really looks like it ought to topple over, and watched hundreds of other tourists do the same, before making our way over to the maze of souvenir stalls and energetically combing through them to find the perfect kitschy bottle openers to give as gifts.
Most of our trip we’d worked hard to research good food and eat like the locals did, but in Pisa we’d lost steam and, in search of sustenance, walked down one of the quaint old streets that were lined with the sort of over-priced restaurants that are geared towards foreigners. We’d managed to avoid those sorts of places during most of our travels, but now that we were seeking one out, we were turned away again and again as it turned out they were all booked up for the night. Frustrated and starving, we wandered further and further into the residential neighborhoods and eventually happened upon a little restaurant on a quiet street corner that had a table open on its tiny patio. We’d had so many amazing meals in Italy, but this one stands apart in my memory like no other. There was so many moments when I closed my eyes and relished the way the osso buco melted in my mouth, the creaminess of the polenta, and the utter perfection of the risotto, flavors and textures that are all still so clear in my memory. We remarked to our server that it was without a doubt the best meal we’d had in Italy, and she’d smiled and said, “Of course, this is food for Italians.”
Later, stuffed, exhausted, and happy we meandered along the Arno river, basking in the golden glow of the setting sun and blissful in the unexpected loveliness that was Pisa.