“We shall be going and see the Leaning Tower of Pisa tomorrow, if it is still there”!!!! These were the words of our guide when our bus came to a halt in front of Hotel Park California on Via Aurelia in Pisa. Wait a moment…..did we all hear it correctly? Well, after a very exhaustive Rome and Vatican City visit, topped with about 5 hours of bus travel along the A12, everyone, irrespective of age and level of physical fitness, was longing in to rush into his/her room and jump into the soft beds. But these words seemed to stop us dead in our tracks. We all gave our guide a collective questioning look and saw the mischievous twinkle in his eyes. “You see, the tower may lean a little more tonight and …thud! Well, a point to note!!

It was quite late in the afternoon that we had reached Pisa. Our day had been pretty hectic since we had had quite a long walking tour, coupled with an earful of Roman history and heritage in the 1st half of the day. Pisa, a quite city on the river Arno, had a charm of its own. Like any other Italian city in the Tuscany region, it too has an old-world charm. With cobbled streets, beautiful churches, brightly painted houses, several bridges on the river Arno, Pisa welcomes tourists from all over the world for obvious reasons. It’s a quiet town but not a sleepy one and the bridges especially see a lot of traffic throughout the day. We had to cross one, the Ponte della Cittadella, in order to reach our hotel. On the way, some notable cathedrals and squares were shown to us but everyone in the bus had one question- where is the leaning tower? Just one inclined structure had magically dwarfed all the grand ‘upright’ pieces of architecture.

Our hotel, away from the city centre, was surrounded by lush greenery. Maintaining a discreet distance from the rest of the buildings, but sharing a common swimming pool, are condos of a light reddish hue. The other part has bungalow-styled properties lined along a boulevard. The tree cover and greenery is a big plus point as it makes the entire atmosphere more serene. Each condo is fully furnished and extremely cosy, since it is a 4-star property. The place is approximately 2.8 kilometers away from the Leaning Tower. With special interest in the Past, I, was perhaps extra-excited to be able to actually see such an architectural marvel the next morning, must have traversed this little distance several times in my mind, the night before.

The star attraction of Pisa is the Piazza Dei Miracoli or in simple English − the Square /Field of Miracles. This complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, holds three very important pieces of architecture- the Baptistry, the Church and its Bell Tower. It is this bell tower which is inclined at 3.99 degrees towards the ground and is famous as the “Leaning Tower of Pisa”, one of the wonders of the modern world. The eagerness of sightseers can be guessed from the fact that the complex was already crowded with tourists from different nations even though we reached the place soon after breakfast

It was a short walk to the main site but the day was rather hot. As we hurried, I heard a clear, loud voice with the unmistakable American accent announcing, “You just can’t find anything right in this Goddamn country”!!! Undoubtedly an irate American used to the best of facilities. Well, to be frank, it sometimes feels good to hear a familiar language in a country where the majority prefer to have no link with English.

The reference to Galileo Galeili came up time and again as our guide explained the details of the place to us i.e. its historic reference, landscape, as well as its geographic plus strategic location in the country. Pisa has been the birthplace and home of several Italian greats in various fields. Our guide explained that Galileo himself had conducted some of his experiments here in the Field of Miracles itself.

Although there are several shops and stores near this place packed with souvenirs, a rather not-so -familiar sight caught my eyes. I spotted several men of African origin selling mainly two types of wares-African musical instruments and guess what − fake watches! From the Field of Miracles, we had to walk a bit to a nearby bus stand in order to board our coach and that is where I saw this. All the big brands were being displayed- Rolex, Omega, Rado, Tissot and so on. Some of our group were planning to bargain with them but were strongly advised against that by our guide. This was not a proper place to shop and moreover time has been allocated for shopping post lunch at a well-known market place for tourists. As far as the musical instruments go, Senegalese Djembe drums and rattles were seen to be in abundance.

An Indian lunch at one of many Indian restaurants was scheduled for the day. So without further ado we were ushered in and saw a smiling Indian waiter with his hands folded and ‘Namaste’ on his lips. During my travels to different countries, I have come across one oft-repeated name for Indian restaurants in many places and that is Taj Mahal. Luckily, this time, it was not so. Lunch here was an uneventful one but the second half of the day had something much more interesting for many. It was time for Shopping! We all walked down to the designated area, just a few blocks from the restaurant. I went around looking for an Italian chocolate called Baci which is considered to be a local product. Apart from little mementos, there was not much that one could pounce on.

However, there was more excitement in store. Once we reached the hotel, our guide announced that we would all be going for an interesting local dinner at a joint and we were all to come down to the reception by 8 PM latest. It was pizza time @ Pisa- i.e. a dinner of authentic Italian pizza, prepared over an olive wood fire. The place situated on the river bank, was owned by a lady who spoke some English with such a pronounced Italian accent that it seemed like a foreign tongue. The tables with wooden benches were lined up neatly in an open space and the wind chill of the night provided the required air conditioning. Soon we had before us pizzas which we all saw being actually made, tossed high up and then deftly caught. The menu was simple but delicious as well as filling − tomato soup and pizza margherita, followed by delicious ice cream and we all left happily with a real sweet taste in the mouth.

Addio (goodbye) Italy − we chorused before heading off in the direction of Switzerland!