Celebrating our 39th birthdays, again.

For 53 years, I've heard my bff say, "I'm living vicariously through you, Micki."

Planning a trip to Italy with Robin Greenbaum was exciting in itself. I had been there before but she had not. Thrilled to see her face - watching the Tuscan countryside roll by, viewing the Duomo and Baptistry in Firenze, eating the food, drinking the wine (my choice; hers is vodka), strolling the streets - was like I was experiencing Italy for the first time.

I kept asking her, "Was I exaggerating?" "Absolutely not," she answered. A huge smile came to her face. Me? Tears, per usual.

This was a Tauck "Culturious" tour, and we were doing things neither of us had dreamed of doing. Seeing the Carrara marble mines, where Michelangelo used one large and very heavy piece of stone to carve his David, making pasta, visiting the "Lardarium," where, yes, they make lard, climbing 400-plus steps to the bell tower in Siena, rubbing the boar's nose in Florence for good luck to return to Italy. The list goes on, and on, and on.

Worried we were gaining weight, as we have since we were in our 20s, I kept assuring and reassuring Robin: we are walking, climbing steps, and we are active - not to worry. I am convinced pasta and red wine is a temporary curse of the waist. We visited a villa where we donned chef's hats and aprons and proceeded to make our own dishes of pasta, getting the dough under our fresh manicures and flour in our hair. We used olive oil from olives grown in their orchards and made tagliatelle with a choice of sauces. The villa served chicken cacciattore along with braised vegetables, and I swore I would never eat again. You've heard the expression "full up to here," well, we really were full up to there.

One of the biggest highlights - and the most emotional - was a visit to the palazzo of the former mayor of Florence, Piero Bargellini, to hear a lecture from Gregorio Nardi, his grandson. Nardi, a concert pianist, then performed for us privately in his living room. As his fingers touched the piano, tears came to our eyes because the beauty of his talent - an impression on our souls - is something we will remember forever. It reminded me of the line in the movie An Affair to Remember, when Deborah Kerr was weeping on the deck of the ship and Cary Grant, concerned, asked her why. She responded, "Beauty does that to me." I told Nardi of that line and he autographed a copy of his CD to me with that sentiment, in Italian.

Two women sharing a hotel room for a week was a challenge, but we managed not to annoy each other too often. The hotels turn off the air conditioning during October and turn on the heat. (Here we were, two post-menopausal women, with heat on in our hotel rooms. Doesn't the management understand that we have our own "personal summers?" I think not.)

Meeting new people, experimenting with my limited Italian, walking arm-in-arm with my best friend, couldn't have been more perfect. However, I did manage to "shop until I dropped" and my credit cards will never be the same. I think I seared the edges permanently. In this wonderful country, Robin did "live vicariously through me" shopping, but she was definitely my partner in crime.

"Buy the Prada handbag," she said. And I did.