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Argentina, Buenos Aires - Jan-Mar 2010
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Austria - Fall 2005
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Leaning Tower of Pisa - amazing!The day was sunny and warm as we disembarked from the train. With theories that it was Greek or Ligurian, the history of Pisa is unclear. What is known is that it was an Etruscan settlement and later a Roman Colony. The city walls represent an important part of the architectural heritage. The construction began in the northwest corner of the city in the mid-12th century and was completed in the mid-14th.

Before becoming famous for the Leaning Tower, Pisa was called Lungarni. It was first settled along the banks of the Fiume Arno; elegant medieval and renaissance palaces are memorialized in artistic and poetic works. North of the river is the Right bank which is divided into two quarters: S. Maria to the west and S. Francesco to the east. The Left bank, south of the river, is also divided into two quarters: S. Antonio to the west and S. Martino to the east.

The two quarters of the Right bank are separated by the continuous stretch of Via G. Carducci, Via G. Oberdam and the picturesque shopping way Borgo Stretto. The quarters of the Left bank are separated by the long shopping street, Corso Italia.

Hotel Victoria on the north bank of the Arno River in Pisa, Italy!The train station is located south of the city. We walked north on Corso Italia toward the river and crossed over the Ponte Di Mezzo to the Royal Victoria Hotel, on the north bank of the river at Lungarno Pacinotti, 12.

The Royal Victoria is the oldest family run hotel in Italy. Located in the oldest part of the medieval settlement of Pisa on the banks of the Arno, it has a proud and rich history. The Winemakers Guild erected the oldest tower of the building in the 10th century, which served as their headquarters and as an inn, which later became part of the University of Pisa. Early in the 16th century when Florence overcame Pisa the tavern became known as the "Inn of the Victory".
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In 1837 Pasquale Piegaja purchased the tower and other adjacent buildings transforming the old inn into the "Hotel Royal de la Victoire". The name gradually changed to its current form. The property is listed both as a historic building and hotel by the Italian Government due to the rarity of continuous hospitality activity and the unique, distinctive features of the construction. The hotel building includes; a 14th C palazzo, 10th C tower, 3 towers of the 11th and 12th C, two tower houses of the 13th and 14th C, a domus with cloister, and two residential buildings of the 18th C. Over the centuries the hotel has played host to nobility, writers and scientists. At reception, there are guest books with signed comments from many well-known personages.

Rooftop view of the city of Pisa and its famous treasures from the Hotel Victoria.The Piegaja family still owns and manages the hotel. Despite WWII bombing, the Nov. 1966 floods and the passage of time, the splendor of the property has been maintained. The housekeeping is immaculate. The owners and staff should be proud of their enthusiasm and spirit of hospitality that made our stay special.

From the moment we entered it was a trip back in time, old world nostalgia. Ancient period furnishings, smashing antique pieces, marble floor designs, art deco frosted windows at the staircase landings, tall wood framed windows, crystal chandeliers and triple paneled wood framed windows of the breakfast room, dark wood-trimmed doors and glass panels of the first floor public rooms, ancient desks in the first floor study have been beautifully preserved to glorify the hotel's proud history.

There are hidden staircases to the attics and to two terraces that tower over the river and city with incredible and memorable scenes to record. You must make prior arrangements to take this tour.
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Our room on a quiet inner courtyard,was part of the oldest section of the hotel that was the original Tavern. The twin-bedded room was a haven of historic charm but the new technology "Sky television monitor" was a very welcome addition, as far as we were concerned. The huge bathroom with tub/shower offered basic comfort by modern standards.

Ristoro al Vecchio Teatro, Piazza Dante, tel. 050-20210, features a fixed price 4-course menu including wine and water, currently 35€ per person. Fish and gamberoni at Ristoro al Vecchio Teatro, Pisa, Italy.The small room is filled with photos, paintings, plates and bottles of wine. Every table was taken and the show was on.

Owner Giovanni, with the help of one waitress, delivered plates of ancient Pisa recipes, such as warm octopus and chickpeas, bruschetta with anchovies and olives, stuffed mussels, polenta with black cabbage and beans, cheese omelet, corn crostini with anchovy and herring with pine nuts – each dish different and delicious. The portions are generous and we had 3 courses more to go!

Risotto Alba Marina was followed by fresh fish ravioli, shrimp with orange and finally gnocchi with a fish and fennel red sauce. Giovanni was now in 5th gear - kitchen to tables, tables to kitchen, non-stop chatter with clients explaining each dish and offering seconds!

Giovanni is justifiably proud of his chef Marlene who also happens to be an accomplished artist. Coincidentally, she and her artist husband were exhibiting at the Royal Victoria Hotel the week-end we were there.

The light, fruity white wine, Cerroni Bianco di Toscana, Vallo Roi, went well with all courses. Course 3 was grilled fish and gamberoni steamed in clam broth, plus small potatoes stuffed with fish, home fries, thinly sliced onion on soft dough with olive oil was baked in the forno. Oodles of marvelous pastries could not be ignored. Finally liquori and then the most important, "Brodo di Giuggiole", a hot digestive that Giovanni declared would work like a charm. He was right! We waddled out like stuffed pigs, walked the 5 minutes to the hotel expecting to be up all night with grumbling stomachs - no problem, no suffering, just a great sleep!
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Piazza del Cavallieri, Pisa, Italy.We started out on our mandatory visit to the Leaning Tower in the northwest corner by passing through Piazza dei Cavalieri, the fulcrum of the de'Medici Pisa during the medieval era. Home to the National Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri, the Tower of seven ways and Tower of hunger bridged by the Palazzo dell'Orologio and the Palazzo del Consiglio dei Dodici and Collegio Puteano it is still the hub of activity on the right bank. Around the corner is the Church of San Sisto, one of the most important in the city. The old brick walls and varying stone colonades with Roman Capitals along with grand carved marble altar and saddle roof combine to make it a very appealing sanctuary.

Leaving the Leaning Tower to the throngs, we headed south on Via Santa Maria which links the religious center to the Arno. There are many palazzi with 16th to 18th century facades concealing medieval architecture and numerous tower-houses (Casas-Torre) are still in evidence. These tall narrow structures with one room per floor were built to save space. Over time, they grew taller as neighbors attempted to outdo one another and adjoining buildings were acquired until some became palazzi.

About halfway down Via Santa Maria, a side street leads to the Botanical Gardens, the first in Europe, with collections of plants, trees and flowers from around the world. Farmers' Market in Piazza del Erbe, Pisa, Italy.

Walking east along Lungarno Pacinotti we came to Piazza Garibaldi which is at the end of Ponte di Mezzo. Next door is the Piazza Cairoli, known as the Piazza della Berlina (pillory) as it was here that those condemned to public scorn were punished. In medieval times it became the Piazza delle Erbe where the vegetable market was held. The central statue of the Dovizia (plenty), also known as the statue of Abbondanza (abundance) is quite appropriate as on this day the Mercato Contadino was in full swing. This was a farmers’ market of home made products you can sample before purchasing. We started with panforte (bread filled with nuts and fruits) that was exquisite. Moving on to assorted condiments and cheeses we were all smiles. This market takes place the first Saturday of every month so if you plan your visit accordingly, you’re in for an outstanding picnic lunch.
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The same square is home to the old church of San Pietro in Vinculis, also known as San Pierino. Along one side of the church is the striking Via Delle Belle Torri housing many casas-torri. Along the other side is Via Palestro where we found the Giuseppe Verdi Theatre and the old synagogue.

Heading north on Via G. Verdi we came to Piazza San Paolo all'Orto. Built in the 12th C the façade of the church is decorated with Biduino sculptures. Still north to Via San Francisco and then east, we arrived at the great church and convent of the same name. The interior is graced with marvelous large paintings from the 16th and 17th century and exquisite stained glass windows behind the simple altar.

Chiese S. Zeno, Pisa, Italy.Continuing north on Via Filippo Buonarroti we spotted the ancient Porta San Zeno and the Chiese S. Zeno, a wonderful weathered stone and brick beauty with Roman pillars and arches forming the porch with small arched windows above and bell tower on high.

Returning south on Via San Zeno is the church of S. Caterina in the Piazza of the same name. The magnificent façade was shrouded and the interior was completely stripped for restoration. Down the street is the pretty tree-lined green Piazza Martiri della Liberta.

The arcaded Borgo Stretto with its excellent shops was alive with activity. Tiny side streets lead to small squares with cafes, restaurants, bakeries, pastry shops, gelaterie, and artisans’ shops. In this area, the hub of shopping and socializing, the pulse and spirit of the city reverberates off the stones of the buildings and streets.

On our last visit to Pisa some years ago, we met Pieranna, Giorgio and their son Tommaso. Tonight we had the pleasure of visiting them at their home and we were treated to some wonderful home cooking. It was a delightful evening.

Pisa is worth more than a brief stop to see the heralded sights. Stay a couple of days and "smell the flowers". Tomorrow we leave for Florence for six days where our roses await.
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