Giardino Bardini

I accidentally stumbled upon the Bardini Gardens when exploring Oltra Arno (the other side of the Arno River). A wrong turn down quaint residential streets turned into a tranquil, beautiful stroll through these lesser-known but still magnificent gardens and villa with exceptional views of Florence.

The overcast day turned sunny by time I went through the gardens and back,  so my camera caught naturally varied views that really change the feel! Simply looking through these photos brings back the peaceful, restoring feeling this place brought upon me 🙂

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“Revival” — A video of the memories

The gigabytes of video footage and photos from my adventures in Europe have been sitting on my external hard drive for almost a year now. It’s dreamy to look back on the memories, which play out like a surreal movie in my mind. But I’ll never forget the journey, or the lessons of life, love, happiness and exploration that I learned. This video is my expression of this dolce vita…

Make sure to watch it in HD! (After clicking the play button, click the gears icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the viewer, and choose 720p).

Wishes all over Italy

All this time wishing I could go back to Florence is making me think about all the famous locations in Italy that are supposed to bring its visitors good luck and make their wishes comes true. Here are three that I visited–all of which I’m pretty sure I had the same desire at: “I wish I could keep living in Florence!”

1. The Trevi Fountain

Probably the most famous of these locations is the Trevi Fountain in Rome. Tradition says that those who throw a coin into the fountain are guaranteed a return to Rome someday. While I did have a deep moment of wishing for a return to Italy, I did not toss in a Euro. Maybe I should have.

2. Giulietta’s statue

A less-known practice of good luck takes place at la casa di Giulietta in Verona–Juliette’s house. Below her balcony is her statue, which tourists swarm around for the chance to commit the act of good luck: rubbing her nipple….which is now quite faded. Yes, absurd; no, I did not partake. But I did get a kick out of watching others leap at their chance as if all their happiness depended on it. (Maybe I should’ve given this a go too).

3. Il Porcellino

Perhaps the least-known superstitious act of making dreams come true is located right in my other home town, Firenze.

For months I heard about “the pig” from my housemates. “I bought this by the pig!” “There’s this great guitarist playing by the pig!” “We should take pictures at the pig!” “Come meet us at the pig!” I would be told, only left to wonder Where and what the hell is this pig?!

Well, this little piggie went to the market…He’s a bronze fountain nicknamed “Il Porcellino” (“Piglet”) and located at one of the leather markets near the Uffizi. This is something I didn’t learn until late April, on what happened to be the most romantic night of my life. Something about the translation for “wish upon a star” came up while my date and I were on the Ponte Vecchio admiring the starry sky’s reflections on the Arno River. This topic then led to this damn pig statue that I constantly heard about yet knew nothing about. “You never visited il porcellino?!” he asked in amazement. “No, e non so dovè.” I finally admitted it: I just did not know what or where this pig was. My Florentine date was shocked. “Elisabetta, you must come make a wish!” He took my hand, and all of a sudden we’re running through the cobblestone streets of Florence so that I can rub the boar’s nose, make my wish, and put a coin in the piggie’s mouth to ensure a return to Florence someday.

My wish can still come true 🙂

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!

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! 😀

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 😮

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!

The longest walk [down one street] ever.

Today we finally have that gloriously beautiful sunshine that’s we’ve been missing for weeks. The umbrella guys turned back into flower guys, and all peace is restored.

So, I’ve been spending every minute of my day outside that I can. While I briefly wait for my laptop to charge back up so that I can do work in the piazza, I thought I’d share a quick story about today.

The San Lorenzo leather markets take up a few streets lined with vendors selling their leather goods, scarves, trinkets and all sorts of souvenirs at their booths. Usually these streets are so congested with tourists and other pedestrians that it’s easy to duck into the crowd at any time. I often do this method when I don’t feel like dealing with the stares and comments from many of the Italian male vendors lining the streets.

Credit: sjdoesitaly.wordpress.com

Well, the sunshine put me in a great mood today. When I turned the corner and entered the first street of the market, I immediately got a friendly “Ciao.” So I politely smiled and said back, “Ciao.” A few steps later, the next vendor greeted me, “Buon giorno!” Well, I just said hi to that last guy so it’d be rude to just ignore this one, I thought. “Buon giorno,” I replied. A few steps later and again, I get a “ciao.” Then a “hi” from another. Followed by a “ciao, bella” from the next. And as I am automatically responding to each of these individual vendors as I walk through, I suddenly understand why this felt so weird and abnormal: I was basically the only person walking down the street. Where the hell is the giant crowd? It definitely was awkward enough to implement the duck-into-crowd-and-disappear strategy.

I must’ve turned down the least popular street at an odd moment of little pedestrian activity. At this point I was only maybe halfway through the street. Shit, I’m gonna have to say hi back to every damn person now. “Ciao, bella!” “Ciao.” “Buon giorno!” “Buon giorno…” “He-llooooo” “Hi.” “Aaaah, bella” [shakes head and blushes]. I think they noticed my enthusiasm dwindle as I progressed further on. By time I got to the end of the street, I was laughing, and even some of the vendors were laughing because they saw how absolutely ridiculous this whole episode was. It was the longest walk down one street ever, and the most hilarious one too.