Pisa Pizza by the Meter and the Airbnb in a Church


"You don't need to get a hotel room. You can sleep at Father Agostino's church in Pisa," said Gianna, Sam's eldest sister, during our last dinner at her house in Florence. Hmm, what? Church? Seriously? My automatic response to Gianna was that sleeping in a church was bizarre, if not absurd. But by now, I knew better than to question Sam's Italian family. How does that saying go? "when in Rome do as the Romans do?" The church accommodation could have been an exciting experience. My only concern was: can Sam and I sleep together, in each other's arms, under the altar crucifix, without being eternally damned? Will Jesus make an exception for us?


After a whole week of visiting Sam's relatives in Florence, we were about to spend the rest of our stay in Sardinia, Italy. Some relaxation before heading back to the U.S. was a must. A week with Sam's family can be eventful: people to see, places to go, and some drama here and there. I also don't speak Italian – which, to be honest, is sometimes a good thing – but it can be tiresome listening to that lalalalalalalala music. A few days before our departure from Florence, our flight to Cagliari was canceled. Our only alternative was to fly from Pisa at 5:00 am the following day. And just like that, I had the opportunity to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa for the first time, sleep in a church, and buy pizza by the length, a meter at the time. Let me recount what happened.


Gianna's husband, Giovanni, has a brother called Agostino, who is the Prior of the church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Pisa. The church and its quarters have enough rooms to host the Cannes Film Festival. Father Agostino could run an Airbnb business at the church premises. It would be the perfect accommodation for tourists looking for a bargain room in downtown Pisa. I had not seen the place yet, but I could already imagine it would not be as comfortable as a Four Seasons. At the same time, due to the circumstances, it was free. Better not complain too much - I thought - since the free accommodation also came with a free ride to Pisa. Full service – family-style. Giovanni agreed to drive us to Pisa. Only when we had arrived in Pisa, I understood that Giovanni also had some vested interest in giving us a ride besides obeying – and that is what a man does, especially in Italy – to his wife. Pisa for him means pizza. Pizza by the meter … two, three, and infinity meters.

We parked at the church to drop off our luggage. After greeting Father Agostino, Gianna and Giovanni went to attend the evening mass while Sam and I ventured into the narrow streets of Pisa. Before leaving them, we decided to meet at 8:00 pm for dinner. No town is the same in Italy, but I could see some similarities in the architectural style of the cathedral of Pisa to buildings I had seen in Florence, a well-known rival of Pisa back in the day. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is right in front of me. Didn't Superman fix it in one of his movies? Even Hollywood could not resist the charm of this monument to oddity and magnificence at the same time.


After an hour of walking around, Sam and I found shelter from the warm evening of July in a botanical garden behind Piazza dei Miracoli. It was getting close to 8:00 pm or dinner time: the main event of the evening. Any time to eat in Italy is an event. Sam's adrenaline rushed us. When it's time to eat, Sam loses grab with reality, but he had a point of being punctual at this dinner. Giovanni, too, doesn't like waiting when it's time to eat. And then that night, we were going to Ristorante Le Scuderie, the only place in Pisa and one of the few in Italy – maybe in the world - where pizza is served by the meter. And you thought that the Leaning Tower was the main attraction of Pisa…

We sat in the gracious backyard of the restaurant while I wondered how many meters we were going to order. The men in the group had an appetite. But who was I kidding? I had an appetite too. About 20 minutes later, the first meter arrived. Giovanni was excited. He even brought a measuring tool to ensure he was not getting ripped off. Every inch of pizza matters! I could hardly wait to sample the special for tonight: thin crust one can barely see, and the ingredients' flavors stand out individually yet blend well together. I know that fruit is called tomato, but it tastes like heaven, unlike any tomato I had in California. It was delicious. We all indulged. A few minutes later, the second meter arrived, then the third… fourth, fifth, tenth.

Ok, I am kidding, we stopped at four meters, but it seemed like we ordered ten. Soon after the fourth meter vanished, my eyes began struggling to stay open. The pizza coma, the heat, the walking, and everything else had tested me. It had been a long day, and I had counted the minutes until I could go to bed before I fell asleep at this blow-your-mind-pizza-by-the-meter restaurant. "Our flight leaves at 5 am," I gently nudged Sam to let him know that I was exhausted.

When we took a quick look at the room earlier, I realized there was zero chance of it having AC. I prayed in my mind - yes, I occasionally become religious in times of need - that the church bells would not go off every hour in the night, as no earplugs in the world would help with that. "But wait" as we walked out of the restaurant, I saw Giovanni and his brother pointing to the shop next door. What? Gelato by the Buckets - is the broad translation that Sam offers. And I thought I heard it all! But I LOVE gelato; my taste buds began screaming. Nocciola, Nutella, Pistacchio, Stracciatella… I was not yet in bed, yet I was engorged in a gelato dream. But I was too tired, even for gelato, which is remarkable for me.


We survived the night in church, despite the heat, no AC, and the hard cardboard beds, one in each corner of the small room. Needless to say, there was absolutely no hugging. A few hours later, we were in a taxi headed to the airport of Pisa to catch our flight to Cagliari, Sardinia. At last, we could relax, just Sam and I, and enjoy another one of our many honeymoons on the white beaches of La Maddalena.




~ Written by: Viktoria Rusnakova & Samuele Bagnai, authors of Enthusiastic All the Way & Tuscan Who Sold His Fiat to the Pope, respectively.


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