La mia ultima notte

My last night.

My last night of greeting people with “Buona sera” and a kiss on each cheek.

My last night of spending time with friends sitting in a piazza as opposed to in front of a TV.

My last night of freedom from the constant interruption of e-mails and notifications.

My last night in a land where delicious red wines cost 3 Euro and are expected to be consumed with dinner.

My last night of feeling like the most gorgeous girl that the men charming me in the street have ever seen.

My last night that all this knowledge I’ve accumulated about this incredible city and beautiful culture will actually be of use.

My last night of casually walking by amazing Renaissance palaces and churches on my way home.

…My way home.

Home…

They say “home is where the heart is,” but too many pieces of my heart will be left here in Florence–in the awe felt besides the Duomo, in the eerie silence of San Miniato al Monte, in the exhilarating tranquility of the Arno River’s soundtrack, in the local musicians who summoned gatherings of strangers in piazzas,  in the restaurant owners who treated their staff like family, in the bartender who reminded me that I’m in charge of my own life, in my Italian friends who I somehow learned to understand despite the language barrier,  in a special someone who taught me that movie-style romance can be real.

Hell, I might even miss those damn flower guys.

Tonight is my last night, la mia ultima notte, and I’m not ready to accept it. While I know the concept of Florence as my home cannot last, I hope the millions of amazing memories tucked away in so many places and people of this city will last forever. And I hope that everything I’ve learned here will not just be a memory now, but will remain a part of who I am and the way I live my life forever.

Rome in a Day

Everyone told us we’d need more than one day in Rome to see all we want to see, but we proved them wrong–even on a beautiful Friday in May!

We started with a trip back into ancient times, with the Colosseum and incredible city of ruins.

The Colosseum

The Colosseum

The Colosseum

I thought I only could experience ancient, ruined cities like this in video games 😮

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This building is incredible…

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The Pantheon

Trevi Fountain

Next we headed over to the Vatican City. It was crazy how it was an entire little “city” walled off from the rest of Rome.

Vatican City

The Vatican Museum …Now I can see how the Pitti Palace in Florence (post-Medici takeover) was an attempt to mimic the classical Roman styles with lavish Baroque-style and manneristic architurecture/decorations.

The Vatican Museum

The Vatican Museum — The Sistine Chapel — Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam and Eve” and “The Last Judgment”

It took a very long time to actually exit the Vatican Museum…We kept getting led through more and more halls, until we got to this staircase and decided that we are probably being sent to hell……especially after Heather yelled “Jesus!” in response to strong sunlight, but right in the face of the nun she wasn’t expecting to see upon turning away from the sun glare. (Instant sun glare to nun glare).

St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica — “It’s like God himself is radiating through the dome!” -random man

St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica — Michelangelo’s “Pieta”

St. Peter’s Basilica…Definitely one of my favorite sites I’ve seen in Europe.

After the Vatican, we STILL had more time to explore Rome! We ventured along the river, met with a friend of Heather’s for dinner (Rome has awesome pizza), roamed around Rome more, and then headed back to the train station for Florence–all before it got dark.

Looking at these pictures, it still feels surreal that I was actually there. It’s so weird to learn about and know of these sites in such a distant way since elementary school, and then to actually be there. I’m so glad I got to experience it!

Munich Springfest: PROST!

Springfest 2012 in Munich, Germany

Springfest, modeled after the famous Oktoberfest, is not just a festival of drinking beer into oblivion. It’s a giant, culturally-themed fair with rides, foods and German traditions.

This attraction is one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen in my life. The children are put into giant balls and then sent afloat to struggle like hamsters who can neither gain any momentum nor maintain any stability.

Groups of attendees in elaborate costumes would spontaneously spring into traditional music and dances of the old German culture.

I was so impressed to see even young adults embracing the cultural traditions. They clearly planned with large groups of friends to coordinate choreographed dances and matching costumes.

The theme decorations were so cute!

You could get your schnitzels and bratwursts at every few stands, including a half-meter one!

And there were cutely decorated sweets all around as well.

And, of course, BEER. Beer served in these giant steins. This is the Radlermass–the most refreshing beer I’ve ever tasted. It apparently involves lemonade, which wasn’t distinguishably tasteable, but certainly added a little sweetness.

The waiters serving beers in the tents were kept VERY busy. I wonder how many giant barrels of Augustiner were consumed 😮 …What was even more amazing was seeing the waitresses carry up to ten filled steins at a time!

This is what the Augustiner tent looked like during the day–pretty family-friendly.

But from about 7-11pm (when it closed), the Augustiner tent evolved into “the routy tent.” When the band started playing, everyone ascended right up to stand on the benches of the table and remain up there for the remainder of the night singing, dancing, cheersing and drinking.

After the first night, I woke up with a swollen hand from holding my heavy stein all night 😮 PROST! (“Cheers!”)

To me, the most awesome aspect of this tent and the college-age Springfest experience is how innocently jolly and cultural it was. Yes, it was crazy in there–beer spilling all over the place, everyone being loud and routy, people jumping up and down on the benches, sometimes someone falling–but in a way that I don’t experience in American culture. Tables were shared among strangers who became friends, most the people were dressed in the traditional costumes, people were chanting along with ye olde historical drinking songs and German tunes, and the dancing was not distasteful the way it would be in a club. It was an incredibly unique experience that I will always remember. And as our German companions told us: “This is nothing compared to Oktoberfest!” …I can’t even imagine.

At 11pm, the fair shut down and everyone flooded out of the tents. This is unfortunately when my belongings got stolen 😦 but Springfest was overall too great to be spoiled.

My weekend in Munchen was not just about festing, though. My friends and I did lots of exploring through the city both on foot and with a bike tour!

We were slightly nervous about biking through the city in a giant group, but we managed!

Munich is full of beautiful architecture 😀

Hofbräuhaus Brewery

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St. Cajetan’s Church

St. Cajetan’s Church

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We spent quite a bit of time in the English Garden — a large and beautiful park.

The English Garden holds the Chinesischer Turm, the second largest beer garden in the world (where our bike tour guide of course had us stop for a stein at before continuing on our tour…)

There was a large, grassy area for lounging and playing sports, but it came with two major surprises: 1) Nude tanning. When we first approached the area, we realized that a lot of the sunbathers were naked. My friends and I chose to lounge at a spot near the stream that didn’t seem to have any naked people. After laying on my back a bit, I flipped around to read my book and was shocked to see an old, naked man sitting only a few meters in front of my with his junk hanging out. Not cool. 2) The stream went throughout the entire park and moved with a lot of velocity. Every now and then, we’d see people in the stream quickly float past us, carried with the force of the water. It looked fun but crazy!

This stream also had an area with waves for surfers, tucked away in the woods. Again, one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen….

Our weekend in Munich for Springfest is one of the best times I’ve ever had in my life….I hope I can go back for Oktoberfest someday!

A fragmented sense of political issues in Italy

As a Communications student interested in people, culture and art, I’ve done my fair share of attempting to delve into the minds of the locals surrounding me. One type of observation that always stands out to me are political issues prevalent in Florence (or in Italy in general). Through my cultural encounters, discussions with Italians, and lessons in class, I’ve developed a fragmented sense of five political issues in particular:

Snapped a photo with this street art for you, Dad.

  1. Silvio Berlusconi–that’s a funny joke. As I already knew before coming to Italy, the last prime minister was absolutely horrendous. He overstayed his turn, poorly used his power, contributed towards the European debt crisis, and, uh, touched young girls. Fortunately, he finally resigned in November 2011, but he sure is still spoken of today. Sometimes his name angers people, like the way one of my professors spoke about him. But sometimes his name is just a funny joke–like the “Bonga bonga” theme night at a pub that was all about mocking their ex-prime minister.
  2. Immigrant, shimmigrant. Acquiring your Permit of Stay is an expensive, annoying process demanded by the Italian government in order to stay here legally past a certain number of days. Likewise, it is mandatory to carry around your passport (or a copy) to prove your approval to be in Florence. However, complying with these perturbing tasks will feel absolutely useless as you pass illegal vendors on every main corner of this city. During our orientation, we were told what a major problem illegal immigration is in Italy right now–particularly from Eastern Europe and Africa. Many of these people make a living illegally selling goods on the street, and it’s amazing how it seems to just be accepted. It’s not like you see police going after them or asking for their documents. At night, I once passed a group of them sprinting to their van with their merchandise carried in blankets, so maybe they do get caught at late hours. The crime rate of illegal immigrants is high as well. Between the illegal selling and the crimes, it’s a shame that all immigrants here seem to be discriminated against by Italians–even if they’re legal. I’ve not only learned about it in my class, but have even talked about it with legal immigrants themselves, who are thankful for the better life here but are negatively affected with this. I guess these immigration issues are universal among different countries, because it sounds an awful lot like the US situation.
  3. What “mafia?” Especially in Southern Italy, you will find a complete denial that the mafia exists. It exists. That is all.
  4. American health care doesn’t just upset Americans. From the locals I’ve spoken about politics with, Italians seem to despise American health care. Their proposed solutions, to me, sound so socialized that it’s scary. The difference in philosophies doesn’t surprise me, but what did surprise me is how passionately angry they feel about the issue–even though it’s not even the health care system of their own country. So, be careful when talking about this issue with Italians!
  5. Youth in revolt. Every day I pass posters or street art with political messages–particularly anti-fascist messages. Sometimes, I even see protests of young Italians revolting against these issues. My generation here seems to want a more democratic government, and I’m not sure what they’re going to do about changing it.

Notte Bianca: When the city pulls an allnighter

In conjunction with Labor Day today in Italy, last night was the annual “Notte Bianca” (“White Night”)–a night in which the city of Florence doesn’t sleep. Businesses are invited to stay open all night, every piazza is full of stage set-ups, musicians, DJs, drinking tents, and all kinds of fun stuff, and the streets are absolutely flooded with people. EVERYONE is outside living it up–drinking, dancing, eating, walking, going wild…all the way until 6am.

I can only imagine being a tourist and not knowing about this night, seeing Florence this routy at night, and thinking that this is how it always is. Crazy fun night!