Italy is my favourite holiday destination. Rustic, charming, antiquated and gothic in some places. There are too few words to describe Italy and its cultural richness combined with age old architecture which blows the senses to pieces.  

Italy gives one an eclectic palate for adventure and whilst many towns and cities may offer a homogenous feel, Italy is by all accounts diverse from North to South (as little as I have seen of it). 

Venice and its little archways leading onto bridges which act as arteries through the plethora of cobbled pathways does not nearly compare with the ruins and chapels of Rome where bloodthirsty Ceasers inflamed the baying crowds in the Colosseum, whilst the beautiful island of Capri cannot surely compare with the calamitous remnants of Pompeii. So much beauty, so much historical ‘fabric’ interwoven and this is why I love travel.

Beauty at one’s feet – Florence

We venture off the beaten track. The tourist hot spots are not nearly as interesting as the side streets which offer an authenticity without bundles of souvenirs and heightened service charges, although one has to be careful that reverse psychology isn’t used and you get caught paying those high charges to a merchant who has learnt that the wondering explorer can sometimes be charmed by the quieter pathways. I have found the path less travelled very interesting. In Florence, quiet little Piazzas off season were a gratifying find from St Mark’s Square in Venice, peak season. I did once find a Piazza in Napoli on a Sunday afternoon where a man was singing and playing on his instrument and it was quite sublime as the locals all gathered round to enjoy. The path less travelled is also where we learn just how the locals feel about the running of their home.

Rustic Charm – Tuscany

As the little old lady opened the door to us in Pisa (our first stop prior to Florence), her smile, her weathered hands and face were a warm welcome. We slept in her circular bed with manikins in the corners of the room, a little dressmaker. I liked the old lowly-lit side streets and heavy wooden brown doors accessing our accommodation. The hotel chattels a distant thought. It is lovely to stay in places where one can get to know the owners and get a real taste of local culture, they also know where to go to avoid the tourist traps.

Venturing into a restaurant gone 7 pm you may find the restaurant empty but within an hour or so, the tables will be occupied and the chatter and laughter peaking. Families and friends gather for hours to officiate the supper ritual. Sometimes this ritual trickles out to the street onto decorative little furnishings.

I couldn’t help looking at the leaning tower of Pisa and thinking about Christopher Reeve in Superman, pushing the Tower back into place. With it’s columns and apertures it is something definitely worth stopping a night in Pisa to see.

It was lovely to go with a partner to Florence as one gets to enjoy the cosy little restaurants over conversation but not before partaking in an al fesco antipasti drumroll. Feast your eyes as you enjoy romantic strolls along the river where shadows enhance mystique. Walk steep paths to observe a cluster of rooftops amid rustic coloured buildings and cypress trees. The curling river beneath old bridges allows the eye to wonder until huge ornate turret roofs catch your attention and the grand finale is complete.  

The Duomo which is central to Florence but only one of many churches is padded with gilded bronze plated doors (The Doors to Paradise). The detail embossed on each door plate enthralling. Then there was the different shades of marble. Marble so expensive, yet nothing was spared in building these stunning structures. It reminds me of the Pyramids of Egypt and the ‘sacrificial lambs’ which made those vast egotistical structures a reality. We cannot change what has been and gone, but these places are a symbol for me of the need to share wealth and ensure that such vast beauty doesn’t come at a cost to humanity.

Various scripts and sculptures throughout the city, “ahh if only I could speak Latin”. Statues and monuments pave the streets, glorifying the past, heinous as some of it may be. So many blades drawn in the thirst for power and control. On the museum steps, stands a man with what looks like a severed head in his outstretched hand, but it isn’t, it’s a bunch of grapes. One wonders what a bunch of grapes has to do with a sword. 

I cannot forget the quaint little bridges of Italy, including the enclosed Bridge of Sighs in Venice at dusk, it is suggested that this bridge was used to transport condemned prisoners to their death, hence the ‘sigh’. Florence also had a wonderful little bridge which had properties overhanging as if at any moment, they would halve and drop into the dark river. On this little bridge one can find lots of fine jewellery boutiques, coffee shops etc. This was a bit of tourist hotspot, so we opted to have a glass of wine further along the river bank. The cobbled stones really add to the timelessness of the place.

Travelling varies per individual. Since honing my skills of quiet observation, listening, feeling, my idea of travelling has completely changed (especially without 4/5G). To sit on a hilltop and watch the sun go down, to enjoy lunch on a beach, to feel soft green grass beneath me on a hot summer’s day. One does not have to travel far if one’s senses is heightened and appreciation of the simple things is achieved. Right where we live, these things are available if we can see past the superficial.

The vino ….. as much as I enjoyed French wine, I preferred Italian red. I am by no means a connoisseur but Italian wine wets the palate in a way which kept drawing me quickly back for another slurp, much like its culture. The real challenge for me when it comes to alcohol is Italy. A plate of cured meat and cheese tastes so much better with a blast of dense vino aromas and flavours.

As we toured Siena, Sam Gimignano and Monteriggioni, coarse beauty only became more distinct among the old stone walls, more alive with stories of treacherous horse racing in Siena (a race around the central piazza twice per year) and breathtaking artistry by Donatello, Bernini and a young Michaelangelo. The Siena Duomo is a Gothic Cathedral first started in 1215-1263. In the 14th Century, Siena experienced great wealth and power and so decided to extend the Duomo, however The Black Death put paid to this enterprise in 1348. The detail, simply astounding as rows upon rows of gilded and rose archways are adorned with story lines. Wall upon wall of colourful characters in action. Who could not worship a God that produced such finery and pay homage to His chosen ones in those early days?! Surely this is art manifested with little or no distraction and from the spiritual plateaus of a person’s being?

Whilst paved streets were indulged with winter rain and narrow pathways blurred at times by fog, we slipped under cover on occasions to buy locally made chilli oil. Inclines weren’t too steep where old fortresses were our destinations, where little cottage fronts were covered in rose bushes and other pretty flowers.  

As we tasted wine towards the end the tour (the connoisseurs in hope that we may purchase some) I promised myself that never again would I sacrifice quality. Never again would I pay money to travel somewhere which is sold based on mass and has little to offer culturally. Never again will I go to a place and not infuse every single moment of the experience. I have been fortunate with travel but I have been to places and if I had not taken photos, I may not have remembered through alcohol oblivion or purely ‘not being there’. I won’t do this again.

Pack your suitcase – off to Florence

 St Helena Island is not a place that is sold to the masses, it is unique, it is rustic and naturally beautiful. It was always going to be a popular destination for me even though it is my home. We do not have the tapestry of first world countries, which is why the island so special. There are few places on this planet which is untouched by the dirty fingers of overpopulated tourism. St Helena is one of those places. I hope you get to visit someday.

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