Florence is a culture lover's dream. The Uffizi Gallery offers an afternoon's worth of museum fatigue and Michaelangelo's David is captivating (seriously). I think I spent over an hour transfixed by its perfection. I'll be the first to admit I know next to nothing about art. I couldn't tell you the difference between a Rembrant or a Van Gogh or a Goya. But I could tell David was special. It was amazing to me that an inanimate object could have such a presence.
After Florence I took my own private tour of Tuscan towns. I went to Siena, home to the biannual horse races around its Piazza del Campo, San Gimignano, where all buildings are made from red brick and towers and churchs are 700 years old, and Lucca, which is completely enclosed in an ancient city wall. I also stopped in Pisa for a couple hours to take that famous photo before moving on to Cinque Terre.
Cinque Terre was recommended to me by just about everyone I know who has visited Italy, and it didn't disappoint. It's comprised of five fishing villages along the Western Coast of Italy and boasts a world famous 9km hike from the first to the fifth. I had three nights there, so I did the hike twice with both of my full days. One of the sections between two villages was closed because of an avalanche, but the detour (which added an extra hour) was actually a surprising highlight. It was largely empty since most people opted for the train, and took me through vineyards and lemon groves hundreds of feet above the standard trail. The views were spectacular, the weather was perfect, and I even had a room to myself back at my hostel. Life was good.
After Cinque Terre I went to Bologna for two nights where I stayed with my friend Dinah who is studying there. I took my one full day to explore the city, but really Bologna isn't as much of a sight to see as much as it is a place in which to indulge. On my first night Dinah took me to a bar for 'Apertivo,' which is a Bolognese tradition where you pay for a drink and then get to dig into a full Italian buffet. I soon discovered I could get along pretty well in Bologna. On my second night we cooked up some handmade tortellini with Bolognese sauce we made from scratch.
From Bologna I took a train into Venice where I would spend my last two nights in Italy. Venice is the only place in the world where a map is utterly useless. Shoulder-width, cobblestone alleys snake through the city and render efficient navigation impossible. But that's the essence of Venice. To be there is to be wandering and truly lost. I used my time there to take a boat ride along the Grand Canal, visit St. Mark's Basilica, and see where Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was filmed. Standard fare, really.
I spent just over three weeks in Italy, by far the longest amount of time I've been in any country. Well worth it, too. Up next is the French Riviera, the Spain, and finally Portugal, where I will run out of European real estate and return home. But such thoughts are not for today. Not while there is still life in my shoes, wine in my glass, and a ticket in my hand.