To hell if it looks pretentious, and in any case we feel a bit reborn ourselves, for at least three reasons: 1) getting away from blighted Blighty, 2) doing it by train, rekindling happy memories of Interrails past, and entering France/crossing Paris on the very last day when it was possible to do so and 3) seeing Italy again, the country I love more than any other, after a painful two-year-plus absence. Thus the first glimpse of an Alpine rock-face before Chambery.
Impressions of Torino in detail must wait, but what a glorious, spacious city, and how amazing to see the Alps so clear from so many streets. This was new, and seemed miraculous to us. Then on to Firenze, and the impact of Baptistery and Duomo was so different from previous visits (not sure why).
Now we're in the bosom of friend Sophie's warm and welcoming home in Siena. With her friend Pia joining us, the Swedish tradition of a big feast on the eve was adopted, and before that I managed to slip out to an intimate service at 6pm that had taken my fancy, in the district of the Oca (goose) contrada (Palio connections to be explained some other side).
I think I did well, because the Oratory of St Catherine which belongs to Oca isn't usually open. It's a jewel, with Neroccio di Bartolomeo's statue of the saint very much central, putti by Sodoma above and finely detailed scenes from the life around the wall. Not right to photograph during the service, so the few shots I took were on departure, but you can see how lovely it is.
Later we strode out for Midnight Mass in the Duomo, so very different from when J and I attended 34 years ago. Then the building was packed, and Italians stood around and smoked or showed off their fur coats. This was a very sombre affair. The old ladies certainly weren't out - not the right time. But it IS so refreshing to be in a country where vaccine passes admit you to restaurants, museums, trains and places of entetainment. Masks on the streets, too. Why didn't our hapless government ever do all of this?