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I once thought there could be no more beautiful place on Earth than Germany, more specifically, the Alpine regions of Bavaria. Having seen so much of Europe, from the Arctic Circle to the Adriatic Sea, some of the Far East, my share of Central America, and lots of the good ol' USA, I remained convinced the Huns had it over the rest. But wait! I give, I admit, I was wrong.

Having now spent a cumulative, grand total of twenty-six days in Italy, I have succumbed to my senses. I am now convinced there is no place that equally, and simultaneously, stimulates the five senses like Italy. I have bathed in the beauty, basked in the bounty, and boggled my brain during my romantic romp through this place called "Italia".

I think she, Italy, had me by my tenth day. There was something thrilling, yet intriguing, about laying flat in a row boat, atop of your spouse and closest friends, on the open sea, in preparation for being thrust through a cliffside orifice not much larger than the boat. Emerging moments later in a darkened cavern, eerily illuminated through the sea water by the sun outside, expelled all I had previously known about what beauty might be. Ignoring the Hemingway-esque boatsman and his looping, three word serenade of "Ol Solo Mio", the Blue Grotto and Capri epitomize a cascading millennia of Italy's beauty, mystique and intrigue.

Descending by motor scooter that night from the pinnacle of Capri's peak, from which Tiberius tossed ill-fated visitors, carried us right to the edge of the island's vertical facade. While scared to death, and scared to look down, there was no resisting the impromptu moment to stop and stare at the mystery novel spectacle of Capri's harbor and the mountain top town illuminated at night separated by a thin, knifelike horizontal blanket of fog. The bright Sorento Coast in the distant background seemed oblivious to the mystery and danger, just as I was oblivious to what this place was doing to me.

Strolling through the mysterious and remarkably preserved remains of a once thriving metropolis, buried in millions of years of vaporized rock ash just days before wasn't enough. Hiking up the face of the culprit responsible and looking down onto Pompeii only added to the experience. While Pompeii and "Vesuvio" were quite impressive, and had been on my punch-list of places to seesince first eying the writhing, plaster dog frozen in time in my fifth grade history book, they didn't alone do it for me.

History seemed to stand still in so many of the places we journeyed. I could hear the thunderous noise and smell the acrid smoke from canons returning fire as I stared at the cannon ball burgeoning from the iron clad portico doors protecting the threshold of "Castello de Nuovo" in Napoli. I could see dozens of ball and powder muskets lining the empty gun racks in the entry hallof the Palassa. I could hear the clatter as I watched the royal guardsmen carefully load and gently place their readied weapons in stand by. Pausing for my photo in the opening of the sentry post, I heard the sounds of the sentry's trumpet as he sounded muster, assembling the guard to protect the royal s.

Feeling dwarfed and humbled by the size and history of Piazza di San Pietro, I smelled freshly brewed cappuccino drifting from somewhere on the street corner behind me. I became lost in the eery quiet of a waking city as a pair of Catholic nuns scurried across my camera lens adding an appropriate action and sense of realism to an already perfect picture. The swelling serenity of this visual sensory input managed to completely blanket the distant, rising noise of tourists, buses, and pilgrims ending their pilgrimage at the gates of Vatican City.

My pilgrimage ended there with the others, it was my reason for going to Rom\e, and it moved me in all the ways I had always imagined it would. Seeing the Pope up close and personal, for this Catholic, was almost enough to seal the deal. And, it should have been. But grasp the prize from my beloved Deutschland, maybe?

Maybe strolling through Rome's picturesque piazzas at dusk changed my mind. Could I be swayed by the mayhem surrounding "Fontana de Trevi" at night as I captured the fountains grandeur behind the beauty of my wife? Maybe climbing to the top of the Spanish Stairs and seeing the dome of Saint Peter's Basilica jutting from the Roman skyline at night would inspire me to new heights.

I really thought all was lost on my inspirational Italian interlude when my camera bag was stolen as I became lost in the moment of capturing the captivating, yet gritty, coastal grotto city of Vernazza in the Cinque Terra. But the rage over losing my bag and telephoto lens soon evaporated in this fishy, little, touristy boating town. In fact, as I later thought, it was apropos to lose my momentarily unattended bag in this seedy little seaside city. Part of the history and intrigue of "the Five Towns" is its past being plagued by marauding Mediterranean pirates through the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

Watching the sun set from a tiny terrace sitting on a rocky crag several hundred feet above the crashing surf, I sensed an almost dubious honor. It seemed some centuries old, historical proclamation mandated this was how it had to play out. The unadulterated visual feast of the harbor, the coast, and the sea at night with a backdrop of a red emblazoned sky, melted away the memory of sinister thievery and scurrying night urchins seeking opportunity among oblivious tourists. After several glasses of wine, fresh cheese and laughter, loss evolved into lost in time and space.

Italy is bountiful in spaces lost to time. Roman arches sit atop two thousand year old columns spanning a steady, undulating rainbow of geographically diverse throngs, as columns of buses speed by in a deafening din. Time seems to dissolve as objects impervious to time stand watch over what time has been unable to destroy.

Roman amphitheaters and coliseums record monumental engineering feats over two millennia before I stood there awestruck in wonder. Settlements of Romans leaving artifacts in stone to document their existence and testimony to the advances in arts, technology and science. The coexistence of church and state evolving to a church state destined to preserve sacred tradition.

Churches, everywhere, as old as the Church itself. Pre-Renaissance structures are still protected by spiring walls draping vertical hillsides. Sunday Mass takes place between columns dating back to the Dark Ages. Columns still standing, withstanding earthquake, conquering hoards, and aerial bombardment. It might be the Italy's integration of Church and history that humbles my perceptions.

The spikey hill regions of Tuscany, seemingly isolated by steep geographical divides and covered by vineyards. Castles sprinkle a landscape pocked with terraced, medieval burgs. Restaurants still operating in thirteenth century cellars with beautiful views from hilltop basements.

I admit I am blown away by her bountiful beauty, naturally created by tranquil landscapes or created in the art, architecture, and audacity. Through the eyes, Italy etches imagery into the mind, real and imagined. Italy destroys previous theory and precedented traditions of taste, in food to die for or art for which people have died.

Her sounds, day and night, overwhelm the bystander. It might be silent, ancient hills of Umbria, or the honking, buzzing clatter of Scapanapoli. The beauty of her rhythmic, wavy language almost artfully hypnotizing the casual listener. Crashing waves and swarms of motor-scooters attacking a traffic circle in Rome equally thrill the mind.

The touch of the warm western sun and cool coastal winds lashing your body tell the story of generations cut off by sharp coastlines knifing into the sea as you look down to the waves below. The gentle caress of a lover's face awash in the setting sun touches your soul. Running a hand over the stones surrounding the cells of Saint Paul or Saint Francis will electrify the spirit. Through touch you can feel, and see, and hear Italy.

Am I qualified to make such claims of Italy? I haven't seen that much of her yet that I should feel justified to judge this wonderful place. But I am compelled to say Italy is a place that touched my heart, down to my very soul. It is the totality of what I have experienced of Italy that creates my int riguing sensory soire'.

Italy does it for me. She provides the thrill, mystery and intrigue I seek to explore. Italy overloads the sensory systems with small bites or large doses. She is, unequivocally, the most beautiful, bountiful place I've ever seen.

My only caution is to take care with portions if you are to consume Italy. Too much of a good thing is possible very quickly and the thought of never go ing home crosses the mind far too often while here.