I have been to Italy twice before, and both times, I was a bit underwhelmed at first, maybe because Rome and Milan are a bit oversold in terms of historic culture. But both trips, I was won over by the more modern culture of the country, its welcoming traditions and friendly people. My third trip, which started out in Florence, was no different. I flew into the central city, where I spent one night in a hotel by the Baptistery of St. John and Cathedral of Saint Maria of Fiore (top left). I took an obligatory walk along the Arno River (top right) to the famous Ponte Vecchio (bottom left), in the middle of which sits a bust of sculptor Benvenuto Cellini surrounded by a love-lock collection (bottom right).Uffizi Gallery was serenely vacant (top left). A few hardy salespeople were still hawking their paintings there and in other squares, but to me, the city's narrow, lamp-lit streets revealed the true artistry of the city (top right). People are just going about their daily business amid the ancient architecture: Down an alley steps away from the Duomo, they were getting repairs to the bikes and scooters they use to navigate the car-restricted downtown (bottom).
Ravenna, where we would be running a half-marathon on foot. Our back-roads route took us near the National Park of Casentinesi Forest, whose elevation put us above the clouds (top). The view from our AirBnB wasn't quite as spectacular, but it did feature of wall of grape vines on one side (bottom left) and a small church on the other (bottom right).
Dante's Tomb, which apparently its residents don't really love because of the crowds. When we were there, the line was only about a dozen people deep (top left); I can only imagine what kind of hell it must be during high season. I, for one, would rather take in a showing of the writer's work at the nearby Dante Alighieri Theater (top right). With no performances on the bill that night, we opted to carboload with some bread, pasta, and wine at Al Gallo 1909 (bottom), whose patriarch proprietor kindly took pity on a pair of reservation-less gals, possibly because his son, who served us, is a runner himself.
marathon refers to Ravenna as the City of Art because it is on the UNESCO World Heritage List due to its well-preserved mosaics. We visited the city's collection of masterpieces over two days. Our first stop was to gawk at the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo (top left), whose fifth-century artworks show the beginnings of Byzantine influence, including one of the few depictions of the devil in a church (top right). The influence of the East comes clearly into focus at the Basilica of San Vitale, built later, in the sixth century (bottom left). Its ceiling, for example, mixes biblical figures with Byzantine emperors (bottom right).
The adjacent Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, with its beautiful blue colors and intricate designs, is thought to hold the remains of its Roman empress namesake, although there is no substantial evidence to support the claim (top). The Baptistery of Neoniano, located by the tiny Chapel of St. Andrew, features equally vibrant mosaics inlaid with marble (bottom left). As small as it was, its ceiling creations outshone those in the dome of the Cathedral next door (bottom right).Baldovino Enoteca, where we accompanied our red with some chocolate bought from a festival going on in the city's main square (top). (Hat's off to you, Ravenna, for that excellent coordination in event planning.) At dinner afterward at cozy Al Cairoli, I switched to beer, a LaFresca golden ale from Birra Riminese, with my appetizer (bottom left), which I followed up with an absolutely full-size and guilt-free dish of pasta (bottom right).