After spending 10 weeks in southern Spain, we felt like we had a good sense of the place, and we were eager to visit our next country, Italy. It was still cold in northern Spain (there was snow near Barcelona at Easter). So we decided to put off visiting other parts of Spain—Madrid, Barcelona, the Basque country, the northern coast—until some future time, such as this fall.
Thanks to Ryanair, we got a fairly cheap flight from Seville to Pisa, so we started our Italian odyssey in the famous region of Tuscany. We got lucky and found a fantastic CouchSurfing host: a fun, friendly, generous guy named Marco. He is a local tour guide who put us up for five days and gave us great tips for exploring his pretty and historical corner of northeastern Tuscany: Pisa, Lucca, and small towns in the valleys of the Apuane mountains.
Not content with cooking us great meals and drawing us personalized maps of little villages to visit, Marco shared his extensive record collection with us. (Lots of 1970s and 1980s American classics, among many others.) We had spirited conversations about life philosophies, travel, and the Italian character. Drove one night down the coast to hear a concert by Marco’s musical idol, Bobo Rindelli. Hung out with some of his friends and family (thanks for the great lunch, Mom!). Walked around his little home town and listened to sounds of the river from his balcony. All that, plus the beautiful mountains and fabulous art and architecture of northwestern Tuscany. We couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to La Bella Italia.