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Manarola.

I slept through most of our relatively short train ride to the Cinque Terre, missing what my husband later reported was a great, if fleeting, view of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. With his seat facing backwards, his view was of what the train had already passed, and he couldn’t wake me in time to see it so he decided not to. I was excessively disappointed, and I asked all about it and why not wake me, but I could tell he felt bad about it and I was just making it worse. It was a good moment early in our marriage — he repeatedly said he was sorry, but in the end, I realized I was the one who needed to apologize.

The five villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso comprise the Cinque Terre, from south to north. Each is impossibly built into the craggy coastline where the top of the boot curves west toward the south of France. The region is both a national park and a Unesco World Heritage site, and because vehicle access is either limited or nonexistent, most visitors access the area and move between villages by train, ferry, or walking trail. Read the rest of this entry »

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The tunnel from the Uffizi to the Medici family’s palace over the Ponte Vecchio.

Florence

My husband said he went for the upgrade to first class on our high speed train from Rome to Florence because it seemed like a good idea at the time. That time was around midnight the night after our wedding and hours before we’d fly to Italy. He had to book four separate trips from more than one rail company, and the user interfaces, not designed for Kentucky hotel wifi users (or, potentially, anyone else), caused the whole process to take more than two hours. We had complimentary wine from our hotel to help pass the time that night, and we had it again on our high speed train with almost the entire car to ourselves. First class seemed like a good idea all of the time, and when done right, it can pay for itself.

We stepped out of the train station and into Florence around midday with the rose-colored lenses that complimentary morning Prosecco so perfectly produces, until my husband realized he’d left his camera bag containing a top-of-the-line Canon 5D Mark III with professional lenses under his train seat. He dropped everything on the curb at the taxi stand and, without saying a word, took off at full speed toward our train, which the conductor told him was set to depart in exactly one minute whether he was on it or not. I didn’t even know what my husband had gone back for, so I just prayed hard enough for smoke to come out of my ears until I finally saw him emerge from the station with the camera bag strapped over his chest. The rose-colored lenses resumed.

Our cab driver had to give us a scenic route around the famous Duomo and Giotto’s Campanile of the Florence Cathedral, or Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, to get around labor strikes, and I was in total awe. I loved the tiny cobblestone streets and seemingly ancient homes. I felt like there was a castle on every block. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Forum.

My husband and I got married on October 18 in Louisville, Kentucky at St. Boniface Catholic Church, followed by dinner and dancing at 21C Museum Hotel. It was everything I could have hoped for. I just wanted to carry my gorgeous Technicolor autumn bouquet and eat endless canapes with bison tartare, quail eggs, and truffle oil, surrounded by art, with my husband, forever and ever.

But this series of posts is about my honeymoon in Italy, which turned out to be a natural extension of what we loved about our wedding. We enjoyed fall foliage in Piemonte and unfamiliar flowers and trees in Rome. At wine bars in Florence and Venice, we helped ourselves to aperitivi and cicchetti, buffets of complimentary appetizers. We ate steak tartare and eggy pastas all over Northern Italy. We visited Alba at the height of its short white truffle season. We saw so much art. And we took part in the Catholic ceremony of all Catholic ceremonies.

Almost a year has passed since the trip, but all of the details I abbreviated to a word or a couple of words in my daily log of the trip — written around 6:00 in the morning each day because I was sick for the duration and never recovered from jet lag — I still remember in full. So without further ado, the story of how I fell in love with Italy.

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New Orleans has a spring in its step.

I was happy to find, over Memorial Day weekend in New Orleans for a friend’s wedding, that the city appears to be doing better. Much better.

As much was conveyed to me by our taxi driver, a sweet older woman in a brightly colored muumuu who hummed to the jazz music on the radio between our exchanges. I told her I had first traveled there for business in spring, 2008 and returned later that summer. Almost three years had passed since Hurricane Katrina, but the city felt like something terrible had just happened.

No one was walking around in the Business District or Garden District, and what few drunken convention attendees and bachelor parties there were to be found in the French Quarter made the place feel all the more depressing. I stayed at a boutique hotel, a huge studio loft, and a W, all for around $100 a night, which was indicative of a weak local economy. A work contact drove me around what had once been the Ninth Ward but was then mostly cracked cement stairs leading to rotting houses or nothing at all. She showed me Habitat For Humanity’s first completed housing area, dubbed Musicians’ Village, and it was small. Philanthropic attention had long since moved elsewhere.

I started to tear up as we passed the convention center in the taxi cab, and the driver and I had a moment. But as we pulled further into the city, I noticed something was different. There were people everywhere.

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Mývatn to Akureyri

Rarely had I seen a bluer sky or whiter snow than the landscape I woke up to. We got our first view of Mývatn that morning in daylight, no snowstorm or winds, and we observed that the lake itself is only part of the draw of the region — huge volcanoes with deep snow-filled craters circle the lake at a distance, making for a dramatic landscape in the winter and, inevitably, an inviting hiking destination in the summer.

The complimentary breakfast at Vogafjós Guesthouse was the best of our trip. We helped ourselves to Read the rest of this entry »

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Höfn to Mývatn

A replacement SUV rental arrived mid-morning, shortly after we finished our complimentary breakfast in the Höfn Inn’s charming dining room across the street from the guesthouse. We loaded up the car and were soon on our way to the resort area of Lake Mývatn, where we would be staying at a guesthouse with a working dairy farm. I booked it before we’d even bought our flights.

We had every reason to be optimistic about the day’s drive, for a change. Read the rest of this entry »

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Klaustur to Höfn

My guy let me sleep in a little while he looked into driving conditions, doing research on the internet first and then consulting with the concierge at Icelandair Hotel Klaustur. We had no good options, only poor ones in varying degrees of risk and expense. Read the rest of this entry »

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Hella to Klaustur

The view out the bedroom window in the morning startled me. In the morning sunlight, in what I would find out was about an hour’s drive east, I saw a long line of snow-capped peaks along the horizon. The evening prior, the visibility wasn’t that good, and the eastward view just looked like farmland. But that morning, Read the rest of this entry »

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Golden Circle to Hella

The day’s plan was to see the popular tourist attractions near Reykjavik that make up the Golden Circle — Þingvellir, Geysir, and Gulfoss — and then begin our weeklong journey around the circumference of the island, spending the night on a horse farm in the south. I saw more tourists on this one day than the rest of the week combined. Actually, that’s an overstatement — of how many tourists I saw the rest of the week. If you’re planning to go to Iceland to “get away from it all,” you’ll need to get further away from Reykjavik than the Golden Circle. Read the rest of this entry »

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Reykjavik

We slept so soundly that first night. I have not a single complaint about any of the beds I slept on in Iceland, but that first one was especially good, with a plush duvet cover for each of us and natural light streaming in from all sides. We reveled in a small breakfast of Icelandic yogurt we’d purchased at the grocery store the evening before, then we set out to explore Reyjkavik.

We wandered downhill on Laugavegur in the morning, Read the rest of this entry »

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