Subject: Re: To Pisa or Not to Pisa
Dear Marcy:

I'm not an expert on Italy, but we did have a great trip to northern/central Italy in April 1998 that included Venice, Florence and Pisa. It's all a matter of opinion, as you can already see from the several varying posts. I have to say the leaning tower was a huge disappointment to us--we're 40-something Americans who were raised on leaning tower pictures and lore; in reality, it's a moderately-sized fenced-off church bell tower of architecture not unlike what you'll see other places in Italy, which in this case is leaning and supported by all sorts of cabling, posts, etc. The baptistery and carved pulpit in the cathedral are impressive, but honestly, the entire setting is one of the ticky-tackiest tourist traps you'll encounter, as there is little else Pisa can offer to visitors. All in all, I wouldn't bat an eyelash at skipping Pisa in favor of spending more time in glorious Florence, which is chock full of breathtaking art and terrific shopping, which are two interests you mentioned.

The Italian train site does not show timetables in June as of yet, but using a week day in May, there are trains Montecatini/Firenze almost every hour, the trip is just at an hour. See:

Your Venice/Burano question is easy for me, too--I'd definitely spend more time in Venice. Read up on the city--the history is quite interesting, and it will make your brief visit all the more satisfying (plus you will figure out your priority list of what to see). What you will learn and witness first hand is that there is only a very small resident population in modern day Venice. Most Italians employed there commute daily from the mainland to occupy themseleves in the #1 business of tourism. Thus, in the key tourist spots--which you certainly must see--you will be surrounded by other tourists. Way too much English! To really experience Venice and the flavor of what life on the island(s) is(was) really like, you'll have to spend enough time to wander, get lost's small, street maps are great, you'll easily find your way to a vaporetto back to a familiar place. In the process, you will see a few real Venetians in their shops catering to the other few locals and lounging over wine and coffee in quiet, small piazzas with laundry hanging from windows above in one corner and lovely cathedrals (with surprisingly rich art finds) in the other. If you like cemeteries, the cemetery island is a must see--and just a vap ride away, won't eat up a lot of time. If you like modern art, the Peggy Guggenheim collection is highly regarded internationally, and quite fascinating in terms of who made it as an important modern artist and why, illuminating the very important relationship between artist and benefactor. It's nicely curated, small, conveniently located and can be done quickly.

Now, Burano is charming. But in a slow, enjoy the lace and little shops and colored houses, strolling along kind of way. Which can be a wonderful way to enjoy your holiday. You never know: at this point in your travels, you might be more than ready for such an outing. Sometimes, especially in a place so deep as Italy in terms of art, science, architecture, etc., you find yourself in cultural overload. Or at least I do...a few hours' escape from traditional sightseeing is such a treat, when I feel like I have the time. So, unless you have to commit to your sidetrips in advance, you might want to play it by ear and see how you're feeling. (Of course, I can't take my own advice here--with your time allotment, I know I'd do Venice til I dropped, but that's just me!)

Have a wonderful trip!

Diana Houston, TX