Friday 24th October 2003

Julie and I are greatly looking forward to our return to Italy, and especially Florence because it will give us a different Italian flavour, against which we can compare Rome. We adored the capital when we visited over two years ago.

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We completely fell in love with the whole italian lifestyle thing, that "Dolce Vita". So Florence has a lot to live up to if it wishes to surpass Rome in our hearts.

Firenze, to give it its real name, is situated in Tuscany, the sensual inner thigh of Italy, and whilst the city may not rival Rome when it comes to the ancient history; its significance as the birthplace of the renaissance means that it has plenty to offer. In fact, according to statistics produced by UNESCO, 60% of the world's most important works of art are located in Italy and approximately half of these are in Florence. So it is true what they say about Florence; there's much more than just Botticelli's Venus and David's penis!

It's also renowned for its gastronomy, the art of food; although after reading what is considered as the "traditional Tuscan fayre" my stomach still hasn't stopped churning! It starts off reasonably normal, if a little gut splitting, with a 32oz T-Bone Steak (Bistecca alla Fiorentina) but it then descends into a depraved list worthy only of a witches brew and certainly not what I would consider an a la carte menu! For example Eye of Newt (no-only joking! but I wouldn't be surprised!), but Pig's intestines, fried Brains (cervella), Cock's comb (cibreo), with Giblets (we're talking gonads and gizzards here), and Tripe (trippa) to name but a few delicacies.

They make me retch just by thinking about them! Thankfully for the vegetarian Florentines are also known as big bean eaters and also spinach features highly in many dishes. The irony is that before I became a vegetarian I would have been the first in the queue to have a try of all those spare body parts, whereas Julie, a conscientious carnivore, could never bring herself to eat those bits and pieces.

I've always said that Julie and I are ying and yang. Two total opposites and equals in harmony. She completes me; makes me whole.

I even remember the first time I said this out loud. We had been drinking all day because we were going to give up alcohol for lent, (we never did manage it!) when Julie's niece Rachel and her fiancé Nathan picked us up from a pub in Bangor to take us to a surprise family party. Well, it was a surprise to us!

They had just announced their engagement and we got onto the subject of love when I spouted forth my ying yang speech.

I was gutted to find out later that I hadn't come up with an inspirational original quote as people across the world have been using this analogy for love for thousands of years! Ah well, it's the sentiment that counts, and that it's true.

We are certainly poles apart when it comes to preparing for a vacation. I research my destination as thoroughly as I can; building myself up to a crescendo of anticipation whilst Julie is in utter denial over the fact that she's actually going anywhere! For me this holiday really started at 4pm, today (just as Concorde was landing for the last and final time). As I walked up to the car park I quite literally had a skip in my step. I had that walk that borders upon running, like an excitable Olympic walker within sight of that finishing line! In contrast Julie's vacation will not begin until she can kiss the tarmac of Pisa airport in pope-like fashion as a sign of undying gratitude to God's miracle of keeping the 400 tonne aeroplane up in the air!

I've spent the last few months reading renaissance literature such as Machiavelli's "The Prince" and Dante's "The Divine Comedy". I have also tried reading George Eliot's "Romola" about 15th century Florence featuring tales of the 'Bonfire of the Vanities', but gave up because I often found myself having to read the same line twice if not thrice to make any sense of it! I've also read much about the art of Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Donatello, but I didn't quite get around to watching their movie where they become heroes in a half shell!

There has always been, without fail, within a few weeks of us travelling, some act of mindless aggression loosely related to our destination that would really seriously crank up Julie's anxiety to levels way above sheer panic. Thankfully the world has been relatively peaceful over the last few months, (except for the War in Iraq, but that's OK, we're not going there!) So there has been no morning sickness, no signs of hysteria, all has been quite calm.

Also, fortunately for Julie, she has had the beautiful distraction of Nathan & Rachel's wedding to take her focus away from "international terrorism and aircraft disasters" and concentrate her mind on more real and pressing issues such as "do these strappy shoes go better with this dress than those strappy shoes?"

Even tonight she still didn't allow herself to dwell too long on the topic of Florence, concentrating instead on mission "Burgundy Accessories". This Friday evening was spent blissfully shopping for the wedding!

Saturday 25th October >>

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