If I had a spring in my step a few weeks ago as I boarded my first long distance train for over four months, I was even more excited at the prospect of taking to the skies again. As soon as travel restrictions had been lifted, we searched for flights and decided that a weekend in Tuscany would be just right. At the time of booking, prices were extremely low for August at just £38 per person each way which even included a £10 priority boarding and bag supplement.
Our preferred airport is Manchester but as flights from Leeds-Bradford (LBA) were at better times of day, we opted to depart from there instead and even better, managed to persuade my husband to take us. Entrance to the airport was through a large marquee where a member of staff was handing out masks to any passengers without them.
As we didn’t have any checked-in luggage we headed straight to security which appeared just the same as usual except for some Perspex screens to separate passengers loading up their tubs and the addition of numerous sanitising stations. Passengers seemed thin on the ground as a few days earlier the Government had advised against travel to Spain, resulting in many cancellations and unhappy people. Prices for our flight had more than quadrupled in the days before departure as people attempted to switch holiday destinations from Spain to Italy. Airside facilities at LBA are few and far between at the best of times and due the pandemic less than half were actually operating so we just bought some sandwiches from Boots to have on the plane.
Soon the time came around for us to have our passports checked prior to boarding the aircraft and after briefly removing our face masks to confirm our identity we were eagerly climbing the steps onto our Ryanair flight. No social distancing measures had been introduced with passengers boarding as normal from both the front and rear doors depending on seat number. The flight appeared to be almost full but strangely there were two spare seats next to mine so after the aircraft doors were closed I moved along from my allocated aisle seat into the window for a better view.
I had such an intense feeling of joy as the aircraft gathered speed along the runway and drifted up through the clouds as I’d often wondered how long it would be until I could take to the air once again. My last flight, imprinted in my memory, was returning to Manchester from Cologne on 15th March only a week or so before the airline industry closed down and since then I’d long wished for this day to happen.
Arriving into Galileo Galilei Airport on time we disembarked the aircraft in the usual manner and passed through a thermal screening sensor just before immigration to check our temperatures and then, hip, hip hooray we were free to enjoy ‘la dolce vita’ for the next four days.
As we hadn’t got around to eating our sandwiches during the fight we sat under the shade of some large trees in front of the terminal building and tucked into them there. On checking Google maps, we were surprised that we could easily walk into the centre of Pisa in no more than 20 minutes, so instead of using public transport we picked up our bags and made our way on foot to the NH Hotel Pisa our home for the next three nights.
Check-in was quick and efficient and with hand sanitisers positioned in front of the lift doors we were assured of staying safe whilst at the same time enjoying a pleasant city break. Our room was just as nice as expected, with the removal of the usual bright cushions and bed runner the only notable differences from pre-Covid times.
After making ourselves cups of refreshing green tea we set off for an early evening stroll through the city. The hotel faces the attractive Pisa Centrale Station gardens and although I wouldn’t normally choose to stay in such close proximity to a railway station, this district is both pleasant and safe.
Our walk took us along Pisa’s attractive main shopping street Via Corso Italia which connects the station to the older part of town. Along this elegant pedestrianised thoroughfare are a wide range of shops and cafes with their tables spilling out into the centre of the road.
Piazza XX Settembre sits on the southern side of the River Arno and in the soft evening light, the stunning architecture along the riverbank looked even more gorgeous. We crossed the Ponte Di Mezzo which is the city’s most beautiful bridge at 89m in length and faced in white Verona stone. Not only is the bridge itself lovely, the views from it are equally sublime.
Over on the north bank we arrived at Piazza Garibaldi, a pleasant square dominated by a statue of the famous Italian general, Giuseppe Garibaldi. Just off the square is an ornate colonnade known as Borgo Stretto under which Pisa’s most expensive shops are to be found in this, the oldest of part of Pisa.
A short distance further on and we had arrived at the elegant Piazza dei Cavalieri (Knights Square) which is the city’s second most important square after the Piazza dei Duomo, home of the famous Leaning Tower which we planned to visit later in our stay.
This elegant square was the political centre of medieval Pisa and its palace used to be the headquarters of the Order of Knights of St. Stephen in the 16th century. The façade of the building is really beautiful with its ornate plasterwork.
This brought an end to our self guided evening sightseeing tour and as we were starting to feel hungry we settled down on the terrace of Il Capodaglio, a typical small Tuscan restaurant on the edge of one of the many squares.
Even though we were seated outside, the waiter recorded our temperatures using a hand held gun and then offered us hand sanitiser before handing us the menus but it’s best to be safe and sure. Our pizza and pasta dishes tasted delicious and it was so pleasant to be sitting outdoors without even a cardigan so late in the evening. The end of such a memorable day of travelling after a lengthy period of lockdown.
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