It took a while for the South Loop to grow on me. It also took me a while to give it a name.
But I have fortunately succeeded on both counts. The South Loop (Munich-Venice-Rome-Florence-Nice-Lauterbrunnen) was my least favourite during training, mainly due to the fact that we spent much of this time sleeping (or suffering from a lack thereof) in tents.
Fortunately, I have not had to sleep in any sort of canvas dwelling since and hanging southside has, in turn, improved dramatically. We’re unfortunately still stuck on campsites in Venice and Rome, but even there we have little cabins that can start to feel like home. The pizza is always waiting and the house wine is always delicious. I order in my high school Italian, which serves me so well that I can even carry on simple conversations. Can’t complain, really.
But the highlight stop down south (every loop has one) has got to be Florence.
I wasn’t the biggest fan of Florence in 2007. I was a little bit over Italy, a tad fed up with art and still recovering from my mystery rash obtained in the Greek Islands. I was so unimpressed that I actually spent half of my time in nearby Siena, which I loved.
This year though, I have fallen head over heels for the Renaissance city. To sum up my feelings for the place, I will reflect back on last Tuesday. I was walking past the Duomo, quite possibly my favourite cathedral in the world, with an amazing gelati that actually had real tiramisu heaped on top.
I caught myself humming.
Not a particular tune, just humming from the delight of perfect surrounds, perfect food and perfect weather. No wonder the Italians can often be nutty – your reaction to the perfection of it all can turn you into someone you would often stare and shake your head at in the street.
And it’s all so accessible, a barometer I always use to judge the a country’s ability to share its delights with visitors (and France always fails). Pizza tends to be better when bought from a window rather than when sitting at a table, the best method of transport is by foot and I was able to have a date with the most famous man in the world for free.
This 500-year old man known simply as ‘David’ is the exact opposite of the most famous woman, the Mona Lisa – seeing him in the flesh (or Carrara marble) is overwhelming. I was expecting to go ‘oh yeah’ but he had me and the rest of our late-night possie (he’s free to see on the last Tuesday night of the month) captivated until they shut the museum for the night.
Even Florence’s surrounds have me singing their praises – on a wine tour of the Chianti region, we sipped Chianti Classico and grappa, feasted in the dining room of a Tuscan nobleman’s villa and ran through the picture-perfect vineyards with a glass of vintage red in one hand and slices of salami from a 300-year old butcher shop in the other.
La vita e bella!