“I’ll meet you in Pisa”, I said to Chris, and 24 hrs later there I stood by the famous leaning tower. Chris actually met me at the aiport — having someone wait me up by the customs exit for once felt like a homecoming. After a quick game of backgammon in the lawn by the tower, and enjoying our first of a long series of Italian ice creams (Chunky Nutella flavor, anyone?), we jumped on a train to Lucca, one of the important city states of Italy (Machiavelli wrote a whole book on its politics back in the day — I didn’t read it but I heard they were messy). Lucca is about as Tuscany as you can picture — an ancient walled city with little towers and quaint marble adorned squares surrounded by rolling hills with cypresses and fields. We rented some bikes and rode them in the little streets and on the city wall where the whole town seemed to be hanging out and exercising in the warm fall weather.
We didn’t stick around Lucca for nightfall, and continued on by train to La Spezia, as we were bound for Cinque Terre, another Unesco World Heritage site. On the way, we discovered where Michelangelo got his marble. In Massa-Carrara big blocks of white marble line the railroad tracks, and in the distance we could see a mountain made entirely of white marble. It looked snow-covered, but we put two and two together.
The next day we started our exploration of Cinque Terre — a string of five villages along the northwest coast of Italy nestled evenly between terraces filled with olive trees, and vineyards and little rocky coves. There is a train line that connects them all, and many hiking trails with varying levels of difficulty. We picked one of the more difficult ones and worked up a sweat that we later washed off in the Mediterranean followed by a fresh water rinse from adjacent waterfall. During our 2 days in Cinque Terre, we held a backgammon tournament (48 hours long — player with most games won wins). Chris put a huge score on the board the first day, but his “luck” faded the second day, allowing me to nearly tie. When the clock drew our tournament to a close, Chris had won back the lead, and I stood defeated (don’t remember the actual score). If you don’t know how to beaver someone, you oughta find out.
We continued our journey on to Verona, a gem of an Italian city with Roman amphitheater, an entire street made of marble (slick when wet), a beautiful river winding through town, and more romanesque architecture than you can shake a stick at. From Verona, Chris and I parted ways. I continued on to Venice, and he made his way to Milano to start his trip back to the States. Venice was fantastic as well, though I spent too little time. It is overrun by tourists as you might imagine, but after nightfall you can find the Venetians out and about, as I did at a little jazz bar where no-one spoke English, half the bar was filled by the six-man band, and the wine flowed freely.