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Another food craving turned into an adventure. Rami was looking for some genuine Syrian food and Google told us the best bet was a drive away in Pisa. A short hour or so drive later, we pulled onto the side of the Arno (the same river that runs through Florence) and parked in the winter sun. It’s getting colder here and the wind was stronger closer to the coast, but the skies were blue and the sun was strong, so strolling through the center wasn’t uncomfortable. Make sure to follow my Instagram for updates on more photos! 

The first time I visited Pisa was with my mother in 2010. Our tour dropped us off in front of the McDonald’s right outside the entrance into the area with the Leaning Tower. We walked past the green grass that you aren’t allowed to walk on, past the carts lining the wall selling mini models of the tower, as well as the typical trinkets: aprons with the David painted onto the front, mini statues of all the famous monuments, Italia hats, t-shirts saying CIAO BELLA. We had just come from the hill town of San Gimignano. My Pisa experience seemed like the rest stop on the highway – complete with McDonald’s.

In the years later, I was in Pisa again guiding tours – usually only with a 30 minute or so time limit to stay, and because 99% of everyone just wants their pic holding up the tower and that’s it, I didn’t have to actually guide. I’d sit in the McDonald’s and take a break. In Florence, my assumptions about the town were confirmed. Though this may be because the feud between Pisani and Florentines go back to the 12th century, and is why Tuscan bread isn’t baked with salt, some may be a bit biased. Regardless, because of this, I never had a desire to wander during my time in Pisa. The last time I was there before yesterday, I told my tour it wasn’t worth it to go, obliged anyway, had to park the bus a half mile from the tower because the tour operator didn’t book transport, got there, one woman tripped and ripped open her knee and forehead, and there were little black bugs biting everyone. We left after 15 minutes.

But the Syrian restaurant was in Pisa, and so we got out of the car with high hopes – because already this city was looking much more beautiful than anything in the vicinity of the leaning tower of McDonald’s that I was used to. Giant Christmas trees decorated the piazzas placed randomly within the winding streets and out onto the Arno. It’s still the holiday season here – tomorrow is another national holiday so we’re still enjoying the decorations. The bridges were strung with pine tree boughs and the storefronts were as beautifully decorated as in Florence – with much less crowding.

We reached the quiet restaurant and stepped inside to the warmth. No table service, this mini lunch space was simple, but perfect for what we’re after. We barely started to order when the man behind the counter commented on Rami’s pronunciation of “hummus” and “falafel.” Soon the language was lost to me as they chatted away in Arabic; my future linguistic challenge. He was from Aleppo but had left long ago. We ordered and sat, Luna, sitting in her bag on the floor next to us. Soon, the plates came out and Rami absolutely approved (so did I).

Now, my favorite and only restaurant I can recommend in Pisa, Italy is Syrian, and I’m really happy with that.

After, an incessant pull of the tourist bug got the best of me. If we are that close to the tower, why not walk by, take a picture. So as we strolled through town, I began to really like what I saw. Mini fruit markets tucked around odd corners, streets open and welcoming with so many adorable little shops, and then big open piazzas with gorgeous palaces – emblazoned with the Medici crest, of course. I had to admit, I had given people wrong information. The historic center of Pisa was beautiful and definitely worth taking a walk through. Plus, in the bright blue skies of yesterday, standing under that famous tower really is impressive – regardless of the lean, it’s honestly architecturally gorgeous. Now knowing there’s a city to walk through as well, I’d say Pisa is back on my list of recommendations. I had just not thought to discover, nor had I walked far enough down to the tower – it was just to the right of it that you can walk down into town. I highly recommend it now, and will definitely be going back, though that will definitely be for the falafel. Then we’ll see what else we can find.