Pisa and Florence, Italy

After taking the train from Venice, we made a quick stop in Pisa to see the Leaning Tower before going on to Florence. Our first view of the tower was one of total amazement. According to history, the tilt of the tower began shortly after construction started in 1173 and continued for most of the 344 years it took to build. The tower was finally completed in 1319 but was halted several times during construction, once for almost one hundred years, because of the continuous tilting. Currently the tower is 183.27 feet high on the low side and 186.02 feet tall on the high side. There are about 294 steps to the top with the stairs wrapping around in a spiral formation on the inner side of the walls. Renovation work has been done on the foundation in recent years and it is estimated that it will be good for another two hundred years at least. However, in spite of the work done, neither of us was inclined to make the climb to the top. It looked like it would be a long way down and the tilt was significant.

The Leaning Tower was another one of those sites that, although having seen many pictures previously, is quite unbelievable anyway. It almost defies the laws of gravity. The other buildings in the square, the Cathedral and Baptistry, were very impressive in their architecture and although picturesque, it was the tower that held everyone's rapt attention. The tower is the third oldest structure in Pisa's Cathedral Square. After getting the usual corny touristy pictures of holding up the tower, we headed back to the train station to continue our trip to Florence.

Our accommodation for our one night stay in Florence was a room in a hostel. We were very impressed with the set-up of the hostel and the statues displayed in the lower court yard. Also impressive was the fact that both breakfast and dinner were available at extremely reasonable prices for those who were staying there. Our trip of Europe unfortunately, has been a case of a lot of tasting the icing but not having time to eat the cake. But it has opened up our eyes to what can be seen when you travel and what a wonderful experience it is.

Florence is considered the birthplace of the Renaissance and has been called the Athens of the Middle Ages. It is a city steeped in history and lures you down its streets with its architectural wonders. Shortly after our arrival, we took a guided walking tour. Throughout our short tour of Florence, our guide pointed out many buildings, indicating whether their architectural influence was Renaissance, medieval, Baroque or that of the Medici family.

The first place we visited was the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore built in Renaissance style architecture. Built in 1296, the facade of green, pink and white marble was not completed until 1436. Our guide explained that lack of financial resources was the reason for this. Another place we visited was the Plazza della Signoria which is in the center of the historic area featuring an open air sculpture exhibit. There are many squares in Florence and many are like outdoor museums with beautiful works of art. Also, the Ponte Vecchio, built in 1345, was Florence's first bridge across the Arno River and the only bridge surviving from medieval times.

Taking us to a Gelato shop, our guide claimed it was the best in all of Florence. Most who got one seemed to agree with her. Besides there being many cafes and restaurants, it is also considered to have some of the best shopping in all of Europe. She said that the city is the place to come to see art by Michelangelo, as well. There are many pieces of his art throughout the city.

The Uffizi Gallery is a place that should not be missed having only masterpieces and works of art collected by kings and other royalty. This includes such artists as Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Goya, Bellini, Leonardo Da Vinci and Botticelli. The gallery, built in 1560, has art dating from the 13th century.

At the end of the tour, our guide left us in one of the many squares in Florence, letting us find our way back to the hostel ourselves. This gave us the opportunity to explore more of Florence in the short time we had available.

Our next adventure is Rome where we will be able to stay for three nights and have a little more time to explore that city.

Ms. Behnish has had many articles published in magazines and newspapers in both Canada and the United States on travel as well as family issues and brain injuries.