The title of this post is actually a bit misleading, because the country of Italy might actually be my first home. My nest supreme.
In my heart at least. And we all know that's where home truly lives.
In the past I've tried to unravel the mystery of why I've fallen so deeply in love with Italy, because it goes far beyond its beauty and irresistible charm. "Italianophiles" (people obsessed with all things Italy) live all over the world, so I know I'm not alone in this entirely unoriginal affair. I can't lay claim to Italy, I need to share it with others like me.
Oh yeah and around 60 million Italians.
Italy and I began dating back when I was a child, when my father asked me which team I was supporting in the football World Cup. I don't know why I blurted out "Italy!" - I'd never seen it, barely heard of it, and was far too young to choose based on the players' pretty faces. Oh but they are pretty.
But, for some reason I shall never be told, that day I chose Italy and it chose me - and it started to take over my thoughts. My ears pricked up at the mere mention of Italy in conversations and I had dreams about it. I lived through my teenage years green with envy whenever anyone mentioned they'd been there on holiday. I knew we were destined to meet, I just didn't know when.
It didn't happen until I was in my mid-twenties. My dad invited me on a European holiday and, after beginning with a fantastic week in Paris, I actually felt sad to leave it and (traitor alert!) almost disappointed to be moving on to Italy.
That harlot Paris had momentarily stolen my heart away from my Italians. How dare she.
But train tickets and accommodation were booked and I had no choice but to come face-to-face with my destiny.
After spending the entire train trip childishly depressed over losing Paris, our train pulled up in Rome. I stepped onto the platform into a swarm of bustling, hurried, pushing Italians carrying coffee and cornetto (pastries). The trains were all delayed, people were shouting, a leery man literally wouldn't leave me alone and asked if he could come with us to Venice, and I was surrounded by total and utter chaos.
Oh boy, I thought. I think this is relationship is going to be serious.
It was too much love. At first sight.
Three weeks spent in Rome, Venice, Florence, Perugia, Naples and the Amalfi Coast; I fell for it all.
The lack of care factor for any kind of organisation.
The cacophonous, emotional voices that danced between huge arguments and swarms of kisses.
The expressive, talkative hands that waved all over the place.
The three-hour daily lunch break where I couldn't buy anything because all the shops were closed.
The presumptuous men who literally chased me down the street.
The sleepy, rustic countryside that smiled warmly.
The deliriously happy food that lives only to be eaten.
The jaw-dropping historical sights (the Pantheon has to be seen to be believed).
The sentimental Italian songs sung in piazzas by grown men in tears.
The bottomless bottles of wine.
I was utterly, truly, madly, tragically and deeply enamoured - and there would never be any way back.
Oh and best of all - last time I went I got to bring this spunk.