Food, football and Mafia movies. That was the extent of my knowledge of Italy prior to visiting Florence last August.

Sure, I knew there was much more to the history and culture of the country than that. However, like most of Europe, I had barely scraped the surface in my lifetime. I’ve always looked further afield and dreamed 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 memories of the school trip to Rome and Pompeii are a muddled cloud of snapshots from a history excursion 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.

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 in Florence and into the arms of my delighted, slightly-inebriated parents at 2 AM.

La Piazzole Villa in Tuscany

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. Finally, they smashed through their own fatigue to greet me with red-eyes and groggy voices. They giggled and wobbled their way back to the bar for a nightcap with their “long-lost son”, moments before waving the white flag and heading to bed.

parents

Four short-but-ever-so-sweet days followed in the same vein. Sleep took a back seat to the flow of beautiful wine, lavish dining and late-night camaraderie. 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 cappuccino, then we could be found lounging by the poolside in the beautiful Tuscan countryside villa we had commandeered for the week.

pool

Now I see why Italy has rocketed to numero uno on my parents’ destination list over the past decade.

They have managed to explore quite a bit of this country, soaking up the rich culture and history in perfect weather and enjoying the great hospitality and charm the natives offer.

sibs

Mosquitoes and pickpockets are a concern but bug spray is widely available. Apparently 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 just a few hours to jaunt back to their lives.

My brother and I in Florence

Watching them go, I ambled around Pisa for a while.

First I took some mandatory shots of the Leaning Tower. Afterwards, I munched 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.
There’s no doubt that was a factor in one of the best travel weeks of my life in Italy.

But it has to be said, Florence is a pretty damn special place too!

Have you been to Italy?
Where do you recommend? Let me know in the comments below.