The inevitable theft incident…check.

Well, I made it until I only have two weeks left in Europe to have my stuff stolen…

This weekend I was in Munich, Germany for Springfest (which was absolutely incredible–shall blog about it next time I have time). Maybe the perfectness of the weather and the amazing experience made it too good to be true that something bad had to happen. Sometime in the ~45-minute time of leaving the festival tent and walking back to the hostel with my friends, the clutch inside my gym bag went missing–credit card, debit card, driver’s license, school ID cards, health insurance cards, ~200 Euro, and a bunch of other less-important cards…gone. (I had them all on me because I figured it’d be safer on my body than in my empty hostel room–especially since I haven’t seen any problems like this all semester).

Luckily I noticed right when I got back to the hostel, so I was able to cancel my card accounts before they were used. And luckily my passport was still safe. And fortunately I have really supportive friends and family who did what they could to help the situation and calm me down. I know, it’s “just money”–but it’s upsetting in a panicking sense to lose all my money and access to money while still in a foreign country for two more weeks. And just the matter itself is upsetting…You think you’re being careful with where your belongings are stored on your body and who’s walking around you–but yeah, someone delicately opened your bag and took your clutch, maybe even while conversing with you as a comrade.

๐Ÿ˜ฆ

But with every bad person you encounter, there’s gotta be 100 good ones you meet too. I won’t let this taint my sentiments towards my travels.

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Florence Underground Music Scene

As someone who grew up in the NJ music scene, I’ve been craving a taste of the local music scene in Florence–especially since the Florentine teens and young adults carry such a punky style. Well, I finally got my in.

Last week, a bartender I’m friends with (Simone) told me about an upcoming gig his band would be playing right near the pub (which is right near our apartment). After two past failures at attending a local show this semester, I was SO psyched to finally have an in–and to see a friend’s band! “It’ll be more like a giant party,” he told us, and man was he right!

On Friday night, Vicki, Heather and I found the place (thanks to the giant crowd of smokers outside of course) and presented the fliers (aka magical admittance tool) that Simone had told us to print out beforehand to the bouncer, who let us right in. We confusedly entered what looked like a typical caffe, but then were led back to the room where the show/party would take place. The entrance fee was 10 Euro, which covered two drinks at the bar as well.

Our friend's band, Cinderella Breakdown, kicked off the live set. They had the front of the room dancing, and even some fans who jumped up on stage to dance too.

When we entered the room, we were struck by the spinning party lights, DJ blasting jams, and pretty ghetto set-up of a bar. It was an energetic atmosphere though–definitely not what I’d expect for a local show based on the Jersey music scene, but definitely fun!

It felt so funny seeing our local bartender singing it out on stage!

The age range went from teens younger than us to adults in their 40s, and we were probably the only Americans in the place. We noticed a lot of other regulars from Joshua Tree Pub, where Simone works, so it was really cool to see everyone coming out to support his music and have a good time. Cinderella Breakdown played a very fun set, but we were surprised that all their lyrics were in English instead of Italian!

The next band that played was a lot younger, called Ritmo Randagio. They certainly brought in a younger crowd with even more dancing, and they played a combination of original songs sang in Italian and covers of American songs sang in English, like Kids by MGMT an Stand By Me–both which the crowd loved.

I was so impressed by not just the party atmosphere of dancing, but particularlyย  by the way the young guys and girls interacted. These college-age kids would dance kind of old-fashioned style, with the guys taking the hand of a girl and twirling her around, etc. It was very cute and romantic, I thought.

I was really impressed with Ritmo Randagio, and actually returned to see them again last night at the Hard Rock Cafe in Florence. They played another awesome set, and I enjoyed getting to briefly meet some of them when I went to buy their CD. Apparently they’ll be playing on Monday night in Florence again, so I’m planning to see them then too. I could definitely get used to the Florence underground music scene ๐Ÿ˜€

Ritmo Randagio at the Hard Rock Cafe, Florence (April 24, 2012)

I kicked over the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Yesterday I visited the ever-so-famous Leaning Tower of Pisa...and kicked it over.

RAWR. Anyway, it was a fun trip. One of the most hilarious sights was looking at the line of people holding funny poses with their hands up in what looks like the middle of nowhere in order to capture the oh-so-desired cheesy tourist photos. (Of course, I was one of them too — but I’m pretty sure I’m the only badass who kicked down the tower :P)

Apparently, the lower leans about 5 meters. It originally started shifting mostly due to natural causes, because it was constructed without a basement. Apparently it stopped continuing to shift at some point though. I stood on the side that it didn’t lean down on to be safe, as I promised my Grandpa I would ๐Ÿ™‚

There are other amazing monuments in the "Field of Miracles" where the Leaning Tower exists -- the Duomo (cathedral) and a huge Baptistery.

But let's face it...Pisa is primarily visited with one purpose in mind: take really fun photos with the tower! ๐Ÿ˜€

Rockin’ the Italian leather jacket

Yesterday was the day I finally caved in and bought myself an Italian leather jacket from the San Lorenzo leather markets.

Seeing how cool the locals look in their leather jackets, I had been wanting one all semester long. Plus, Florence is pretty well-known for its leather products — “You have to get something leather there!” my family friends who had visited here before told me.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been checking out the jackets in the leather markets, taking note of the different styles, prices and employees. There were two vendors I had actually spoken to about possibly buying a jacket, but one of them didn’t make a low enough price offer, and the other was so effusively full of shit with his sly charming techniques that I just didn’t want to close a deal with him. Oddly enough, both their names were Alex.

Yesterday I passed through the markets again on a beautiful, sunny but still-quite-chilly day. I spotted a jacket I really liked in a stand, except that it was brown. The vendor saw me looking and said something, so I told him in Italian that I liked that jacket, except would want it in black. He instantly lead me a little down the street to the actual store behind the leather stands that line the streets. He tracked down the jacket in black and was able to determine my size just by looking at me. As he zipped me up he said, “You have the perfect physique for the Italian jacket,” and based on how I looked and felt, I almost believed him. I did want to try on some other jackets too, though, and ended up spending about 30 minutes total with this vendor. We mostly spoke in English, conversing about school and the quality of the leather and Florence and which jackets looked best on me, etc. I liked this for two main reasons. First of all, it obviously makes me feel more comfortable and less like a victim of any tourist-trap strategies. And second, my bargaining strategy is to approach the vendor like a friend at your own level who you are just doing fair business with: be interested in him and kind to him, don’t react like you’re weirded out by anything he asks or says, speak all the Italian you can, and do not to go in with any hints that you’re already suspecting he’ll try to rip you off. He was actually the perfect balance of an approachable vendor–not at all too effusive with the comments of charm, a good conversationalist, and a source of information to track down the right product. Oh, and of course, his name was Alex too. What the hell, I thought, do these vendors do a group huddle of the month’s game plan and assign everyone a name or something? “Alright, scarf guys, your name is going to be Max. Jacket guys, you’ll be Alex…” Nevertheless, Alex III succeeded. The jacket I liked most was marked for 420 Euro, which he discounted down to 220 for me (I’m sure they’re all marked way higher than they need to be in the first place). I refused that, and kept trying on more jackets, asking him to only select cheaper ones. I told him that I had seen lower prices more in my college-friendly budget, like a 90 Euro jacket. He immediately took out a lighter and held the flame to the jacket I was wearing. “See this? This is real leather that resists fire and water. The lowest you’ll see for a real leather jacket like this is maybe 130,” he explained. I believed him because it did seem to match what I had observed for real leather jackets in both the San Lorenzo marketplace and back home in the US. I spotted another jacket I was attracted to on a rack, tried it on and loved it, did my best to hide my enthusiasm, and nailed an offer that was perfectly acceptable (the number I had in mind while going in in the first place)–and about 3 times lower of the marked price ๐Ÿ˜€

So, now I’m rocking the leather jacket on the streets of Florence. If I have one regret in Florence, it’s not getting my jacket earlier!

P.S. I have often been mistaken for an Italian local before here, but now I really am quite often! Time to put my Italian language to the test! ๐Ÿ˜€

Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou, Verona?!

Verona, Italy

The city

Welcome to Verona, the romantic city of Romeo and Juliette

"Shakespeare Street"

Verona is one of the most historical cities in Europe

Gazebo in the center of the Historic District

A beautiful loggia

“Juliette’s House”

"Casa di Giulietta"

We're in Letters to Juliet! ๐Ÿ˜€

Apparently, it is a tradition of good luck to rub the breast of Giulietta's statue...as this young boy is so ecstatically embracing.

"Locks of Love"

The balcony, which was attached to the house in the 1900s to match the tale ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

โค

The amphitheater

You can see the ruined amphitheater in the background here...

It was a quick trip back in time sitting on the theater stairs

BACI!

A hike through the Alps

Garda Lake: The village

Before heading into the mountains for a hike in the Alps, we visited Garda Lake--a quaint, old village with a beautiful view of the Apennines.

It wasn't the ideal sunny weather we had been hoping for, but I actually think the stormy atmosphere created a breathtaking eeriness to the views.

๐Ÿ™‚

Garda Lake: The castle

The entrance to the village began with this awesome castle ๐Ÿ˜€

It felt a little surreal...

Garda Lake: An amazing view of the Alps

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We'd be hiking through those mountains in just the next day! ๐Ÿ˜€

The Alps: A hike through the Apennines Mountains

The rolling misty clouds that surrounded us looked absolutely incredible...

The cold and rain couldn't stop us from appreciating what an awesome experience this was ๐Ÿ™‚

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The Alps: The waterfall

Woohooooo!

The Alps: The church I was obsessed with

I was absolutely obsessed with this church from the 1000s that sat atop a hill... (Scarlet Monastery, any World of Warcraft fans?)

We walked up to get a closer look...And it only got creepier and creepier.

A cemetery wrapped around the outside of the church

The stone walls of the interior were covered in frescoes and Latin phrases

This is possibly the scariest photograph I've ever taken in my life.

From Florence to Fiesole by foot!

A few weeks ago on a beautiful sunny, warm day, some friends and I ventured out to take a walk to Fiesole--a historic town located up on a hill only ~6 miles from the center of Florence.

This is maybe ~20 minutes into our journey... You can see Fiesole on those mountains in the background ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

...We're getting there! The ascension up the mountain reminded me a lot of climbing up to the castle atop the city of Assisi--winding roads back and forth.

Buon giorno! ๐Ÿ™‚

When we finally reached the main city of Fiesole, we entered a charming, old piazza with this statue to commemorate Liberation Day.

We ate outside at a delightful Italian restaurant, and were very happy that they actually played classic Italian music! (as opposed to the American music you often hear at public places in Florence)

The view of the Tuscan countryside was beautiful, and a nice change in pace from the city environment of Florence.

I loved all the little villas dispersed throughout the green countryside ๐Ÿ™‚

Ciao for now! I have many more adventures to catch up on sharing soon, like a trip to Verona and a hike through the Alps! ๐Ÿ˜€