Food, football and Mafia movies.
That was the extent of knowledge of Italy prior to last week.
Sure, I knew there was much more to the history and culture of the country than that but like most of Europe, I had barely scraped the surface in my lifetime as I looked further afield and dreamt of travelling far beyond the pastures so close to my own country.
This was not my first visit to Italy, though it may as well have been the first as my memories of that school trip to Rome and Pompeii are but a muddled cloud of snapshots from a history trip wasted on a mind too young to appreciate it.
One year had passed in Korea and I was set to meet my family again, in itself a special occasion but to be going to Florence to do so made it all the more exciting.
All I knew about Florence had been learned through playing Assassin’s Creed on the Xbox so I already I was expected to underwhelmed as I knew there was no way I could be calling on Da Vinci for a crossbow before running along the rooftops and shooting peasants in the streets below.
The long-haul flight almost sucked the soul out of me, further compounded by delays and cancelled buses but after 27 arduous hours, I finally zombie-staggered my way from the taxi to the doorstep of my hotel and into the arms of my delighted, slightly-inebriated parents at 2am.
According to my brother there was no telling them otherwise when they decided to stay up well past their bedtime to welcome my arrival, he assumed guard duty sipping at a beer as they fueled their mission on alcohol, smashing through their own fatigue to greet me with red-eyes and groggy voices as they giggled and wobbled their way back to the bar for a nightcap with their “long-lost son.”
Four short-but-ever-so-sweet days followed in the same vein with sleep taking a back seat to the flow of beautiful wine, lavish dining and late-night camaraderie, all under the bask of the Mediterranean sun. If we weren’t strolling through the cobbled streets of al Ponte Vecchio admiring the statues and Roman architecture, haggling for leather products or enjoying an authentic cappucino, then we could be found lounging by the poolside in the beautiful Tuscan countryside villa we had commandeered for the week.
I can now see why Italy has rocketed to numero uno on my parents holiday destination list over the past decade and they have managed to explore quite a bit of this country, soaking up all the rich culture and history in perfect weather with the great hospitality and charm that it’s people have to offer.
Mosquitoes and pickpockets are a concern but bug spray is widely available and apparentely it can defend against both these nasty pests.
I’ve always looked far to the horizon but paradise can be found anywhere, even much closer to home. For my family it took them half an afternoon to jaunt back to their lives.
Watching them go, I ambled around Pisa for a while, doing some mandatory shots of the Tower and munching as much pasta and pizza as I could manage before beginning the marathon ride back to Korea.
They say it’s the people that make the place and there’s no doubt that was a factor as I enjoyed one of the best travel weeks of my life in Italy. But it has to be say, Florence is a pretty damn special place too!