"We are here on this planet only once and might as well get a feel for the place." -Annie Dillard

Friday, September 30, 2011

Stopover in Bologna: Marcella

September 26

*so sorry for the lack of photos here - oh I wish I had thought to take a picture of my pasta!!*

Success! After being in Munich and feeling completely lost in German, I arrived back into Italy feeling like I was back in familiar territory. 'Yeah, I can get by in this language. I know what I'm doing!' (Haha!) BUT, I did arrive at the train station and successfully in Italian 1. ask for and buy post card stamps, and 2. buy a bus ticket and ask where the stop was for bus number 21. AND I understood the man's directions to get there (well not all of it but enough to understand where to go). AND I asked on the bus for someone to please tell me where the stop was for the Piazza I needed to get off at in order to get to Marcella's house (my couchsurfing host).

So that started my Italian evening in Bologna. Just going to be a night stop-over on my way to my first helpx job near Citta di Castello in Umbria, Bologna ended up being a great evening of really "being" in Italy, and in the heart of the food capital of the country!

When I got to Marcella's, we drank some tea and chatted for awhile, talking about my travels and her own experience in the States, in California. Then we headed out to go to the center of town so she could show me around. I wish I had got there a little earlier so I could have seen some of the sites a little better because it was starting to get dark when we headed out, but nonetheless, Bologna is a really neat town! All the walkways are covered with what they call porticos, a signature of the city.

Then a friend of Marcella called her and we all met up to do my "traditional Bolognese food and wine night." Her friend didn't speak English, so I took the opportunity to say that let's just have an Italian night and I will do my best, which turned out to be a great thing! First, after much discussion between Marcella and Claudia about where to go, (they had to pick just the right places!) we went to a wine bar where they ordered me a very good regional red wine. And then I turned my brain on to catching any words I could pick up on, working, working, working to piece together the familiar to decipher the conversation. Sometimes I succeeded and sometimes not, but I could feel my brain taking notes, storing words, learning new ones, Marcella helping me along when I got lost!
Bologna's own leaning towers -
remnants of the middle ages.

At the wine bar we were served little mini cuts of pizza, which I just figured would be our dinner, but then Marcella turned to me and said, 'ready for dinner?' I looked at my watch - 9:00 - okay! Again, much discussion between the two of them to decide the right place to eat, and oh boy, they chose right, them ordering me a plate of three different hand-made pasta. - a Tortellini with cream sauce, something that started with a "g" with stuffed asparagus and mushroom, and something else that started with a "C". aaaaaahhhh so good! Never have I tasted pasta so good! And of course they ordered me a regional white wine for dinner. What an experience! Meeting Marcella, with her energy and big smile and love for music and art, was such a gift.

And what a way to end my first part of Italy - my traveling part around the region, learning the ropes of train schedules and buses, asking questions, slowly learning bits and pieces of Italian, seeing the sea and the mountains, cities, and art, and tasting the regions food and drinks. And hostels and couchsurfing, which has been such an AMAZING experience; each host being a little different but all enhancing my trip so much.

And so now I am hanging up my backpack for awhile for some time in the Umbrian countryside. I was really getting quite good at packing my things....hefting my backpacking pack on my back and then placing my little backpack over the shoulders in the front. The tell sign of the traveling backpacker. Kind of like how motorcyclists have their little wave on the road - we pass each other in the station, recognizing that we share a similar experience, giving each other a little nod. (I'll have to get a picture of this get up for you all to see!)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

München! (Munich)

September 24 & 25

Devan and I in Munich
walking along the river

Munich, capitol of Bavaria, Germany and town of Mercedes-Benz taxis and so many people in dirndls and lederhosen you'll find yourself thinking that maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea to purchase a dirndl for yourself! Well at least this is the case for the latter during the over two week in September/October for Oktoberfest, the world's biggest fair/beer drinking festival.
<-- the symbol of the city.

It was here I came to visit my friend Devan as she is studying here for the year. And as it turned out, I also managed to time the visit during Oktoberfest. Somewhat Ironic for two girls who don't necessarily think beer is the greatest thing on earth, or a great thing at all for that matter!

I was greeted by Devan on Saturday mid-day after a beautiful train ride through Austria, and immediately we took advantage of the day, bringing my things to her dorm and then going out to the center to do what I like to call a "church tour" - visiting all the churches, admiring each one for it's unique beauty (Although there was one that she took me too that was a bit over the top! Apparently it was the private church of these two brothers and it was like a case of people with too much money and no artistic sense! Let's paint a dragon here! Let's put in this gold pillar here! Okay! --> picture on right is crazy church

The town hall -
home to the famous Glockenspiel with it's
fun figurines that dance around when it chimes!

On Sunday we also walked through the beautiful English Garden, Munich's park that is actually one of the larger city parks in the world. It really felt like you were out in the wilderness here in the city, with trees, grass, lakes, and birds.

Very neat memorial to the members of the Nazi
resistance group, the White Rose, which started on Munich's
university. The memorial is stone pieces on the ground
replicating their pamphlets.

And of course, a visit to Oktoberfest. I'm not sure what I was expecting, maybe a large parking lot full of white tents with picnic tables and lots and lots of people drinking their beer, but that was not at all what I found. What it was a huge, massive fair with rides, roller coasters, booths, sweets, and of course the huge buildings stuffed with people drinking, singing, live bands, theme songs, etc.. etc.. And of course everyone dressed in their dirndls and lederhosen. Apparently this all started over 200 years ago with the marriage of two important people in the city, and well, they liked it so much that they kept it going the next year... and the next year.. and the next. And it still goes on today!

This was like something out of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
I was waiting for him to pull out lollipops and call
for the children.

My visit with Devan was good, and was in retrospect perfect timing. Kind of a way to transition between the first part of Italy, being on my own and traveling around, to the second part of Italy where I will be more sedentary and working with people, not everything just being about me! It also was good to see someone familiar, to talk about our respective experiences traveling and being here in Europe and reflecting back on each of our high school exchanges to Belgium and Hungary, and for Devan how that experience differed from her experience so far in Germany. And of course, just spending the weekend together exploring the city. (Well actually, Devan acted more like a guide!)

And now, back on the train, heading down to Bologna for the night before arriving at my Helpx stay tomorrow. On to another, unknown experience!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Hiking in the Dolomites!

Ich bin ein Italiener! (September 21, 22, 23)

Sitting here on the train, traveling through Austria(!) on the way to see Devan in Munich. High mountain peaks, beautiful valleys with little towns and fields, sun shining - yep Austria! I keep wanting to get out and explore, but I have to be satisfied with just a train ride through this trip. :-)

So let's backtrack a few days to the Dolomites - Italy's Alto-Adige, or if you are from the area, South Tyrol. As Rick Steves explains, "Many here are fair-skinned and blue-eyed, eating strudel after their pasta, and feeling a closer bond with their ancestors in Austria than to their swarthy countrymen to the south.." If you want to read more about the history of this area and how it became a part of Italy after World War I, click HERE.

Took a break from Italian food, and went out for some South Tyrol cuisine...
As most of you know, this is a meal that I normally would never order. Pork loin, sauerkraut (which in theory I don't like), and a dumpling that may have had liver in it....But I ate it and enjoyed it!

Top it off with an apple strudel!

I hopped on the train Wednesday morning and took the train up and away from the paintings and architecture of Florence to the mountains and snow of the Dolomties. The first change in culture was getting off the train in Bolzano/Bolzen (as an attempt to Italianize the region, Mussolini gave all the towns and streets Italian names, hence everything having two names.) to be greeted by the signs being in both Italian and German as opposed to Italian and English like the rest of Italy. Then walking down the street, I'd pass a group speaking Italian and then on the corner a couple speaking German. It became a game for me to try and pick out who would be talking what. Man waving his hands while talking, Italian speaker. Blond hair, slightly sun-burnt woman, German speaker. In this town of about 100,000 people live side by side with two languages, although I would have to say the majority of people seemed to speak German, which becomes more and more the language of choice as you get further into the region. I nice segway to get my ears used to the language in prep for going to Munich to visit Devan!
Even church architecture changed

Had to include this!
A surprise find in a music shop in Bolzano.

Hiking DAY ONE

My purpose for coming to the region was to do some hiking up from the Alto Adige, Europe's highest alpine meadow, and up into the Dolomite range, to Mt. Schlern and along the ridge connecting it to another peak. So Wednesday I spent the afternoon in Bolzano, buying some bread, cheese, and fruit from the street market for my hike, going to see the famous Ice Man in the museum (have you ever seen a 5000 year old mummy? Cause now I have!), and spending the evening at the Youth Hostel Bolzano/Bolzen getting myself organized. Then Thursday, up early and off, catching the bus to Suisi, and then the gondola ride up to the meadow. On the way up I started to realize something.....'Oh yeah, I'm going up in the mountains in September...." Yep, as we got higher, there it was - snow! I quickly realized I had underpacked and bought myself a fleece (very good idea as it turned out) and a new pair of hiking poles (which I'm so glad I purchased as they really probably saved my knee from acting up). (photo of meadow with some parachuters coming down!)
A cool way to fill a water tough with water!

Then through the meadows, past the little farm huts, horses, and cows, with their bells ring-a-linging, a sound that you could hear all the way up on the mountain, drifting up occasionally with the wind, something that would be comforting when I was all alone on the trail. And then up and up. Hiking felt good, and soon I started to smell the pine trees, the fresh air, the snow, the sun - all giving me a feeling that it was an early Spring day, March, back home in Montana - the kind of day that you would be happily up on the ski hill in a t-shirt :-) I also had to laugh because one week ago I was kayaking and swimming in the Mediteranean and now here I was tudging through snow!

And then I made it to the top, to Rifugio Schernhaus, my lodging for the night. One of the first "refuges" in the area, built in 1888?, it was an amazing place, with comfy little rooms, slippers to walk in, and a great dinner on the mountain, for the dozen or so of us staying the night.

But I still had the late afternoon, so I hiked up another twenty minutes to the top of Mount Pez, where there was an amazing 360 degree view of the whole region. I just sat up there for a good hour, watching people come and go, writing in my journal and being way up high, away from traffic, hourds of people, and buildings. Just being with the mountains and fresh air - such a good thing for the soul.
Way up top

That night as I was eating dinner, I brought my camera with me (you never know!). When I was about done, a guy came up to me, Peter, to tell me that a "very special moment" was happening outside on the mountains and I should come with my camera. The whole range had turned red with the setting of the sun, and particularly on one area, the Rosengarten. He then told me of the legend of the area where there were dwarfs and humans and they had a battle where the humans killed masses of the dwarfs, so they retreated into these mountains, and when the mountains turn red, of the rose garden that betrayed the dwarf king that he turned to stone. Check out the legend HERE.

These photos look much redder in the originals-
not sure what happens when Blogspot loads them.
But you get the idea!

Afterwards, we went back inside and finished, chatting with Peter, who was from Switzerland, him telling me about the legends of the area. What a great day!

Perfect day in the mountains


Then next morning I awoke to the sun rising up over the mountains - and it was COLD! The air was crisp and fresh, like a winter morning where you just snuggle a bit more under the blankets before gathering the courage to hop out of bed! And so that is exactly what I did. And then somewhere between getting up, getting ready, and returning to my room, a thick fog had descended on the mountain. I was hoping it would lift, as I was looking forward to the views that I would no doubt have walking along the ridge that day. But alas, after having some tea and taking my time getting ready, it was 9:00 and I needed to set out. And so I bundled up in my four layers (t-shirt, long sleeve, fleece, and rain coat to act as windbreaker) and took off.

There was one day while walking across England where I was up in the moors, in a similar fog, and while it tested my comfot level, making myself trust in my direction and knowing where I was going, there was something really magical about walking in the mist, not really knowing what was around you. And that was how walking up on the ridge was.
Cairns marking the trail

The fog has a way of blocking out outside sound and heightening that around you. In the calm silence, there is also the sound of your breath, the wind, an occasional caw-caw of a bird, the trickle of a stream. And so I walk, rocks and peaks drifting in and out of sight, snow and dirt, and me. At first I was disappointed with not having the view, but then I started to be greatful for this time where you really feel like you are out alone in the world, a perfect time for meditation and being in the present.

There was a moment where the trail went right up to the ledge, and I had a moment where my heart started beating a little faster, looking over the ledge, not really able to see what was out there. That Mary Chapin Carpenter song came to my head, 'I Take My Chances', where she sings about standing on the edge of the railroad tracks until she sees the train "just to see how my heart would react." And so I stood on the ledge, noticing my heart beating faster, and trusting in my firm feet on the ground. Oh, that song is so good! It's been stuck in my head since!

Anyway, I kept walking, coming across a couple who appeared out of the fog, who were from Seattle! Peter had met them yesterday and told me about them, and they must have seen him again this morning, as they knew about me. As much as I have just raved about the isolation of being up on the mountain, seemingly by yourself, it was a nice break to run into them and have a moment of talking about our hiking adventures. And then off again.

Then, about 10 minutes before I hit the next Refuge house, the sun broke through, around 11:00, and then just like that the fog lifted as I got to the Refuge. And with the sun, came the people. Funny the timing, but really, it happened like that. All the sudden, coming from the other direction, came that morning's hikers, which made me savor all the more my time alone in the fog that morning (how many times can I saw that! hehe).

And so with that I started my descent down, back into the meadow, back to the cows with their cowbells, with the little ponies and farm huts. And then, back down the gondola, into the "real world" where I got my big pack in Bolzano that I left at the hostel and on to Brissanone/Brixen to spend the night before heading to Munich.

Just came down where those zig-zag lines are!

And back to the meadow...
Last look at the Dolomites

After this weekend I will make a quick stop-over in Bologna for a night before arriving at my first HelpX spot. I'm realizing that my travels on my own, being with myself is going to come to a close. Or at least the way I am spending my time is going to change a bit. I've had such a great week and a half; I can't believe it has only been that it feels like so long ago when I arrived in Torino!


September 19/20
Mariangela, my host for two nights

Mariangela, my couchsurfing host for the nights of September 19 and 20 in Borgo San Lorenzo, just outside of Florence. What can I say about her? Staying with Mariangela was just a little out of my way. I had already seen most of Florence, but when I scheduled to stay with her I wasn't sure if I would be able to find a place to stay in actual Florence, so a half hour train ride into the country seemed okay. When I did end up finding places to stay in Florence, I decided to stay with her anyway, as I thought it would be a nice break, possible hiking in the countryside, or a nice way to take a day trip to Siena or San Gimignano.

This random side trip ended up being a real highlight of my trip so far. I am still thinking of her quiet, gentle demeanor, big smile, kind personality, eagerness to learn about different people and places, and her incredible hospitality.

I arrived at around 9:00 PM on Monday night, where Mariangela met me at the train station and walked me to her house, only about a 100 meters away. There, her son Simone had prepared a traditional Tuscan dinner for us - pasta with beans. (need to look up name in Italian) with fresh picked peaches for desert. We talked about what I was doing and where I was from, pulling out a map to show them Montana, Washington, and North Carolina, where I just finished studying. By that time - bed time!

The next day, both Simone and Mariangela went to work early, but I took my time getting up as it was a little rainy. It was nice to have the space to relax and take my time with the day. I then went out to explore the town, the countryside, and read in the park. I guess I could have taken a trip to Siena or San Gimingano, but I really savored having this nice, relaxing day.

The center of Borgo San Lorenzo

That night Mariangela took me to her family's country home to feed little kittens, out overlooking the valley and hills, with olive trees and fields. She talked about the work it took to maintain this place, as her mom is gone and dad getting too old to come enjoy it. She pondered over what to do with it and how she should probably sell it. I told her of the similar quandry my parents have with our place in Montana.

That night we had another great meal - a dish of fresh tomatoes and eggs (she didn't know what to call it other than that!) with meat slices afterwards and some desert wine. Dad, I am going to make you this with your tomatoes, you will love it! I then shared some of my music with her on a guitar she pulled out of the closet - it was so nice to get to play some music!

During dinner we started talking about languages and travel, and then Mariangela exclaimed. 'You are so lucky to have English as your mother tongue.' That is something I have thought a lot about on this trip. The priviledge we have as native English speakers to just be able to go anywhere and know that we will probably be able to get by as English is the middle language of communication for people all over. It is something I try not to take advantage of - and am really trying to communicate the best I can in the Italian I have and am learning!

Mariangela and me - in the kitchen learning
some new recipes!

Such a simple visit, yet it left a big impression on me and I was sad to leave her, Simone, and her home. Although, she has invited me back to take me to San Gimingano yet! As a parting gift, she gave me this little piece of embroidery that she made "to remember her by." And I will - her gentle and kind spirit that welcomed me into her home is an inspiration!

FLORENCE (FIRENZE!) - (with Pisa stopover)

highlights -
Pisa stopover
Meeting Miray, couchsurfing host
wandering Florence
museums, paintings, chuches, oh my!

aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh......too many photos to choose from!!!....aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!
ALSO, this post is very link heavy for the history-more info buffs!

DAY ONE - September 17

The image of Florence - the Duomo and it's
famous dome - the first of it's size,
that still amazes architects today

Well I am now sitting on a train on the way to Bolzano/Brixen (Italian and German name) to go do a bit of hiking in the Dolomites. I'm sure when this actually gets posted I'll already be off to something else, but right now I am thinking of my time I just had staying with couchsurfing host, Mariangela (post to come if it isn't already there) and a bit nervous for this next part of my adventure. I know that nervousness will pass as soon as I get in it, as it has been with each section of these travels. Nervous to arrive, nervous to figure out trains, nervous about arriving at at each new location - it's all part of the unknown and then you get in it and have a great time!

Leaving Cinque Terre on Saturday, I took the train to La Spezia where I changed trains to make a quick stop-over in Pisa on my way from Florence. Because of a regional train strike that was going to happen on Sunday, people were trying to get out and and I met a woman from Missouri who was trying to get to Florence as she was originally scheduled to get there on Sunday - no place to stay that night, so she couldn't stop in Pisa... I'm sure she figured something out!
Sitting next to me was an older, nice Italian gentleman who was eager to talk to me in English. He had been sailing all over the world, so we talked about where we had been (well mostly where he had been!). As we passed some mountains on the left, I asked him about them as they seemed to be covered in snow. He informed me that those were the mountains where they mined for marble, and along the way you could see places with huge marble slabs. He told me that even now working in those mines was very dangerous and many people were killed, something I thought a lot about when I arrived in Florence, as I took in the incredible Duomo and all of it's intricate detail. I'm glad he told me about those mountains and the mining there. It gave me another element to think about when looking at all the historic buildings. (left - Florence's Duomo. The Baptistrz, Cathedral, bell tower, and Dome)


And so we made it to Pisa and I immediately connected with a couple from Pennsylvania and two girls from Australia. All of us on the same mission to get a bus to the "Field of Miracles" to take our photo, walk around, and for me, stop and take it all in before rushing off to Florence! The leaning tower, which is actually the bell tower of the church, was shorter than I imagined but it sure was leaning! There's quite the history of trying to correct the lean, starting when it was first being build. You can read all about it here -
And so then I was off to Florence, where Miray, my couchsurfing host for the evening met me at the train station.

(which one do you think is straight!)

Meeting Miray

I met Miray, my couchsurfing host for the night, at the train station. And what a treat! She is from Turkey but is steadying graphic design here at the Florence Institute of Design. And even though she had only been in Florence a month, she had many recommendations of places for me to go and walked around with me a little in the afternoon before I went off on my own, pointing out some of the buildings and explaining how they were medieval, showing me how you could tell by the architecture and how the older family members would live on the bottom floor,and then on up to the top where the youngest in the family lived. Something I never would have known if I hadn't had someone to show me! And her place! It is right along the Arno, originally an old palace that has been turned into lots of little apartments. Her's was at the top, very attic-like but comfy, and an awesome top of the roof view!

Climbing the Dome and Piazza Michelangelo
I then went off to do a bit of exploring, going right to the Duomo, rounding the corner and then stopping in my tracks as it opened up to me. The symbol of Florence, 600 years to complete in it's entirety, and even though I saw it again and again many time over the next couple of days, it continued amaze me and present new details I hadn't seen each time I saw it.

Detail, detail, detail

Because it was already later in the afternoon, there wasn't much of a line, so I got in to climb the almost 500 steps to the top! I'll have to say that I've done a lot of hikes, and this climb was not a cake walk! But the views from the top were so worth it. What a way to be introduced to this city. From the very top! And down below I could hear the sounds of vendors, an occasional siren, church bells - and open air.

By the time I descended, it was early evening, so I made my way across the river to Piazza Michelangelo, where I climbed the hill to watch the sun set over the city, taking time to breath and transition from being on the coast in Cinque Terre to being in the city of Florence, ready to see the sites and museums!
Sun setting over Florence

Evening with Miray and Claudia and Couchsurfing
Making my way back over the river I met Miray at this bar (I don't know what to call these places! They aren't really like bars in our definition.) with her friend Claudia, who is from Switzerland and is studying interior design at the same school. We hung out, got to know each other and then made our way to the Florence Plus Hostel (woah, ritzy hostel!) to the top of roof for a couchsurfing gathering. A panoramic view of the city by night, hanging out and chatting with other couchsurfing members from Turkey, Spain, Japan, Italy!, Poland, and probably other places - all of them working or living in Florence for the time being. It was a real nice way to not be so much of a tourist in a town whose center is mainly made up of tourists! To feel like I was really a part of a group in a foreign place.
(picture on left - Miray, Me, Claudia)

DAY TWO - September 18
My own masterpiece?
I have no idea what setting I put on my camera,
but the result was pretty neat!

Museum day!! (sorry no pictures in the museums, but you can find all these things online) Today I had reservations for the two major museums - the Accademia (which houses maybe the most famous sculpture in the world - David by Michelangelo) and the Uffizi (considered one of the best art museums, housing paintings paintings such as The Birth of Venus by Boticelli)
Dante's house. The famous poet was Florentine,
so people here claim they speak the
best Italian!

I also managed to squeeze in seeing the Medici chapel, which is where many prominent members of Florence's most famous family are buried, plus some pretty amazing jewels etc... I keep thinking about a really excellent book I read for an Honors class at Western on the history of the printing press and bookmaking (an AWESOME class by the way). It was called "Out of the Flames." *MOM - this is the book I gave to you to read this summer and I know it is now lying around the house somewhere. Please keep it for me!* Anyway, it really went into the history of the Medici's and Florence's Renaissance and Savanorola's subsequent rise to power etc.... But now after seeing all the sites of Florence, I want to read more about the Medici's and the history of the Renaissance and how it all came to pass in Florence!

The Medici's church, San Lorenzo, the round dome area
is the Medici chapel where many of their treasures are housed
and is where many of the Medici's are buried.

But wow, the museums and artwork were just amazing. Of course, David was spectacular, and seeing The Birth of Venus and all the other paintings in the Uffizi were just beyond words. Just to think of all the masterpieces and time the painters and sculptors took with their art. It's unbelievable - and that some of these painting are over 800 years old and they have survived! But my surprise discovery was Lorenzo Bartolini's 'Faith in God' sculpture. Something about this sculpture was so beautiful and delicate, I can not explain it. The arts in school are so important! I want to go more into all of this, like seeing other sculptures of Michelangelo's where you could see his chisel marks, and getting close up to a painting and seeing the brush strokes - there is just so much, and words don't do it justice. You just have to go see for yourself!

I also want to thank my junior high and high school art teacher, Mrs. Ruth McDonald, for making us take those tests on the paintings in junior high that we all hated taking, but I was really able to appreciate everything I saw so much more because of those quizzes.
Lorenzo Ghiberti's famous bronze cast doors
on the Baptistry. 'The Gates of Paradise'
Actually this is a copy as the original is under restoration.

That evening it started to rain, so I made it back to the hostel, having an evening to myself in my single room and doing my laundry (I was so upset I waited to book until all the dorm rooms were taken up, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise to have that space for myself that night!) I feel fast asleep to the sound of rain and rolling thunder.

DAY THREE - September 19

Florida, Montana, and Illinois -
My buddies for the day!

.....Okay, let's talk about gelato for a second. I'll admit, I ate my share of gelato while in Florence. Afterall, it's supposed to be the best in the country! And there were two places that I went, that according to the books, and the guide I had this day, were the best in town: GROM and PERCHE NO. Both make it fresh, try to use organic and local ingrediants, and are AWESOME. Although I am going to have to say that I think I preferred Grom over Perche No, but I definitely am going to have a hard time eating regular ice cream the same way after those two places. (Well unless it is Mallard of course!)

So tour day!
In the morning I woke up unsure whether to take advantage of the free walking tour the hostel offered or just go out on my own. Oh by the way, Hostel Archi Rossi is great! Super cheap dinner (2 euro 50 for a big plate of spaghetti) and free, actually really good, breakfast!) So as I was pacing around in my quandary, there were two women sitting with their maps, obviously waiting for the tour. And so I just sat down. I guess I made my decision! And a good one it was! Our tour guide took us all over to all the churches and sites, explaining details and facts that I never would have known. Highly recommended to take a walking tour, especially if it is free!

Our tour guided pointed out that on the front of the Duomo cathedral
there are statues of all twelve disciples, which is abnormal because
usually depictions leave Judas out. Well, they needed things to be
symmetrical, so they put Judas in. Can you guess which one he is?

When it was over, the two women that I met initially and I decided to spend the rest of the day touring the town! "Florida" (I'm so bad with names) and "Illinois." All of us traveling on our own through Italy. We went to the church Santa Croce, where Galileo and Michaelangelo are buried. Amazing. We also got caught in a random HAIL STORM. Sunny one minute then hail the next.

The tomb of Michelangelo

Galileo's tomb

Then off to the Duomo (the word for church by the way) to see the inside cathedral, had a great sit-down lunch together (my first time in Italy!), walked the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge and along the water, and back to the hostel! We just had to stop sometimes, as I did all the time throughout my stay here in Florence, to take in all the detail, even of little random carving on the side of a building, something that must have taken so much time but probably barely gets looked at. There is just so much! It was then time for me to get ready to catch a train to Mariangela's, my couchsurfing host for the night. But what a great, unexpected day! Just another lesson that you never know who you will meet or what you will do, but just be open for everything and trust your intuition!

On the Ponte Vecchio bridge, historically and currently
a place for selling goods.

Found this random little church in an alley
near Dante's house.

Statue of San Giovanni Batista (John the Baptist),
pointing us in the right direction!

Random streets signs in Florence!

Rubbing the Bronze Boar is said
to bring you luck.

Goodbye to Florence