ITALY: Where the ridiculous and sublime intertwine
WHAT is real Italy? Is it the sights? Their unusual customs, their obsession with soccer or even a bizarre love-hate relationship with bureaucracy?
Well, it's really none of these things. Sure, when you travel through one of the oldest and most famous countries on earth you see these things and in incredible detail. But Italy is a land of contrasts and contradictions. And the craziness begins right in the nation's capital.
Rome is a beautiful mess of a city - within the walls of a civilisation older than modern history itself is a chaotic mix of past beauty and modern life, scrambled together into something quite ridiculous.
But don't think for a minute Rome is not worth going to.
As part of Insight Vacation's Luxury Gold program, you are given a real and authentic look at the city.
You cover all the destinations you want to visit on a classic Italian holiday, and the Papal State of the Vatican is no ordinary expedition.
What really sets it apart are the little things - as part of the group we were able to be let into Vatican Museum earlier than the normal crowds.
You are also granted early access into the centrepiece work in the museum, the Sistine Chapel, painted more than 500 years ago by Michelangelo.
But Insight Vacations tour director Daniele Nannetti, a true Italian and a lover of his mother country, said Rome's real highlights were often away from the most common attractions.
"I love the Jewish Ghetto (a suburb in Rome) and all around it - it is still one of the few parts of the city that are always off the beaten path to many, because as time is limited that would not be a priority," he said. "If I want to get the vibes of the city, I would go and walk that area."
There is so much to enjoy in the rural elements of this fabulous country that this writer simply can't highlight them all.
However, aside from the incredible historical significance of places like Perugia in the centre and the stunning villa in Le Maschere, the real beauty is in the Tuscan hillsides.
On top of learning to cook (and getting to eat) your own authentic Italian food at the historic Villa Dianella, you also get the chance to taste some of the best chiantis on offer at a restaurant just a stroll down from your villa.
If Rome represents the craziness of Italian life and Tuscany is its simplicity and beauty, then your final stop at Venice will be a bizarre mix of the two.
The city is predictably only reachable by boat and almost acts as an adult theme park. Whether it's going on a classic gondola ride, exploring the famous Murano glass workshop or taking a tour through St Mark's Basilica, this is a floating paradise for couples looking for romantic expression.
There is a true serenity to Venice, especially in the early evenings. The water creates a calming sensation, and the smaller crowds give you some breathing space to enjoy yourself.
This writer came in search of true Italy, naked and proud. As I walked off that floating city and into Venice Airport for my flight home, there was a sense I might have done just that.