It’s unfair to judge an entire country based on one city, especially Italy, since it was only unified in 1861 and still carries echoes of its differing languages, dishes and customs. I grudgingly accepted this truth when the aforementioned French boyfriend swung by to drag me kicking and screaming on a tour of Tuscany. I can feel your sympathy already.
Thanks to family links, my Gallic knight in shining armour had a less combative opinion about Turin, at least until the cleaners burst into our hotel room and we had to reiterate the large, obvious “do not disturb” sign on the door. After that cacophony of confusion and embarrassment we took a long drive down towards the dappled, leafy region of Tuscany under a silent and operatic sun, accompanied by the likes of Daft Punk and the inoffensive, middle-of-the-road driving tunes of Etienne Daho.
Surrounded by yellow spring leaves, the town of Asti shot past with an appropriately sparkling glimmer in the midday sun, and the dark bar of the Genova overpass soared overhead in front of a grey sea. All around us the Apennines rose out of the ground like the shoulders of some mighty sleeping giant.
Our first stop was Pisa, or more accurately a small pebbly beach near to the main attractions of Pisa. After a gloopy clam and spaghetti dish with sea view we wandered around the Piazza dei Miracoli by the Leaning Tower itself, opposite the Duomo, which could easily have housed the kings, queens and jacks of a set of playing cards.
This pretty, sun beamed little town could also be the stop off point for adventurers in the calm of the storm, right before the romantic interlude between the main characters and when one of their group starts double-dealing with the locals. Speaking of double-dealing, we saw plenty of counterfeit jewellery among the “hilarious” tourists pretending to hold up the tower, and soon after we darted off towards Florence, a mere two hour drive away (if that).
The first thing I remember about Florence is the cobble stones, both in that they were visible beneath the crowds and took literal pains to grind my feet into dust. If I thought the duomo in Pisa could house playing card royalty, the one in Florence was for their equivalent of the Joneses.
Even with my horrible camera, it and the Belvedere are no doubt impressive.
After battling through the queue, stepping inside and seeing the frescoes was like walking into the pages of an elaborate storybook.
This wasn’t all Florence had to offer by any means; in fact my favourite place to visit, despite the checks and searches reminiscent of airport security, was Palazzo Vecchio. See if you can guess which famous (replica) statue I’m obliviously obscuring.
Inside the main hall, the ceiling was a gilded jigsaw of fantastical artwork and stern portraits of people long forgotten.
Beautiful ceilings were obviously the trend in Florence, as even the local cinema, where we stopped by to watch Kingdom of Heaven, had a stained glass domed roof.
Later in the evening we took a stroll along Ponte Vecchio among the ember torches of street performers, and found a place where hundreds of couples had written their names on brass locks and attached them to the bridge as a symbol of their love. I’m not sure black permanent marker is the most romantic of pens, but it’s a sweet idea, even though it caused a rather awkward silence between us at the time. Another one followed later when he insisted we try “Milanese Scallop” for dinner, and after idly munching on what tasted like amalgamated sandwich meat, I found out it was veal. Oops. Things took a further dive when I insisted on paying for once, which resulted in the waiter berating him for his “lack of manliness”. Hooray for unsolicited opinions!
There followed the next day a reluctant drive back through the greenery into the grey mists of Turin. As a final trip, we braved the cinema museum, quite possibly the most impressive spire in the city.
The museum itself is on several levels with a labyrinth of glass cases and projection screens.
You swoop up and down into the main lobby on a large glass elevator, and at the very top, smog permitting, vistas of Turin abound. I love heights and contraptions like that, so my estimation of Turin shifted ever so slightly upwards that day.
Of course, Tuscany is famous for its beauty, but there were other places closer to Turin that also helped re-shape my opinion of Italy.