from the mitten to the boot and back

Ann Arbor is cheerful and upbeat, there’s an electricity here. The University of Michigan is intertwined with the city and they depend on each other. In part, it’s powered by the students; the twenty-somethings buzzing to and fro with a furious mixture of excitement and anxiety. There’s either no money in our pockets or too much of dad’s. We’re confronted by our futures. It could be in 5 minutes from now, following the call of a grande soy vanilla latte  – or directing the course for years in advance, to major in English or Communications because “at least you can get a job with that”.

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“Townies” as we call the natives of Ann Arbor could be described as hip and well educated with a general acceptance that driving around this city is hell from September to May. Some are a bit eccentric, but they certainly add to A2’s flavor. Because of the University’s international scope, lots of people are drawn here from all over the world.

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Anyone who has an interest in anything can probably find it in Ann Arbor. The community and University combined offer a club for almost anything and activities from rock climbing, to roller derby, nerdy but cool gaming places and record stores to a botanical garden. Obama likes hanging out here and Madonna went to UoM for a little while – her daughter goes here now!!

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The truly, truly beautiful thing about college, and specifically University of Michigan is – we have this cradle of Ann Arbor, it surrounds us in comfort and offers the tools we can use to find ourselves. It is soft here, and welcoming. People are happy and helpful.

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Mid December overcast skies in Michigan, the trees have laid their leaves down and they are long gone from their raked piles on the side of the street. We barely hesitate, we slip on our gloves and our long, black, puffy parkas to head out into the cold. Although I know the routine, every year it seems I forget about the biting wind and the ever present chill that cannot be quenched by layers of clothes or artificial heat.

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I was staying with Nikki who graciously took me in for a few weeks when I came back from Italy. (roomies4lyfe) Thanks to this girl for always being there. Ride or Die. A truth speaker and often times my moral compass. The bigger the hoop earrings the better. I could say a lot but I’ll spare her. Days are spent pretty quiet – we stream tv shows on the internet and always have good talks over smoke breaks.

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And dearest Gaby who gives the warmest hugs lives two doors down. Within one block, four houses belong to my closest friends – a one minute walk connects most of the people I hang out with.

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This is our little baby Zilla, she’s two years old now, but she has the small stature and spirit of a kitten. By that I mean she’s pretty crazy and basically a ball of cattitude who is very loving in her own way when she chooses to be.

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By the time night falls, we pick ourselves up, and finally put ourselves together. With our energy wound up all day in books and working food service part time, after dark is our time to shine.

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Once the night’s supplies have been gathered and we are prepped to go, our troop begins to fall in line. Jackie, Joe and Théo come in from Division, across the parking lot behind Nikki’s house – the silliest folk I know who all have sharp wit, are keen on cuddling and cooking, and are the most generous with their love and resources.

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After a lil goofing off, we go from Jefferson around the corner to Division where my friends were hosting Théo’s birthday party. The party started with all of our closest friends. I heard many people say “if this is all that show’s up, I’ll be fine with that”. We are all in senior year, we have found our niches, our family, our spots. A night with the people you already know trumps a night of walking around looking for a party big enough to crash.

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The thing about college is that sometimes Crystal Palace is your only option, and that isn’t okay but it has to be.

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I can tell you with certainty that Taylor Swift’s “Shake it off” is streaming on someone’s iphone through the speakers to get us all in the mood to dance – it works every time.

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Leaving my signature.

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The best thing about my friends is how much variation we have amongst us – we all differ in background or race, career path, sexual orientation, major, and beliefs. My friends all have different perspectives that help me to understand and care more about the world outside of my own experience. They are all strong willed, I know that all of my friends will succeed in any endeavor they chase. I expect they will all go far. Nikki’s mom spent a night with us once and after observing our interactions, with heartfelt tears welling in her eyes, she compared us to “a good minestrone” with lots of different ingredients that each have a taste of their own and compliment each other. I admire my friends for their passions in human rights and for tirelessly putting acceptance and love into a world that is so often unforgiving. I am blessed to be surrounded by folks who support me to the max. They not only love me for who I am, but they helped make me this way. It’s people who make a place feel like home.

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We carry on from porch to porch around the neighborhood, meeting friends of friends which automatically makes them friends too. We let go, we drink and laugh and probably forget a lot of the details.

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The holidays bring about ugly sweater themed parties to celebrate the end of a semester. Peppermint patty shots are  peppermint schnaps poured down the hatch, followed up with chocolate syrup to chase it down.

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Walking down liberty towards main st we head to the German bar, Heidelberg, then a cab ride across town to Blue Lep.

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And he’ll probably hate me for putting this in here, but since leaving Italy in November, my boyfriend Peppe has been stuck behind a screen. 4,000+ miles is really far and difficult but we’re going strong and totally excited for the next big adventure: Peppe in America! Coming soon!

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once upon a trullo town

On the way to Alberobello, somewhere in the hills between fields and stone dividing lines we stopped at a gas station. This is completely random but I find it the most strange and I will always remember it. Okay so. We approach the gas station and the first thing I see is a seriously huge, like 12 ft tall, statue of Jesus. He was standing right there on the edge of the parking lot at this gas station in the middle of nowhere. ???? So then we go inside the store of the gas station to get a coffee. I was a little taken back, but somehow not surprised when I realized there was a full bar in there. Just come on in for a drink while you’re gassing up to drive in your car. Oh, Italy. Anyway, scroll on for the real story and also a lot of pictures.

We were on a mission to see the trulli village in Alberobello. When we first arrived, it seemed to be a city like any other.

DSC_8304 copyJust around the corner we found an entrance to the village and an immediate shift in atmosphere. It was like walking into a fairytale crossed with Lord of the Rings. They were drystone dwellings with conical roofs, some adorned with flora, popping with color against the white walls. It felt magical and other-worldly, like how could this place be real? Would a hairy-footed creature come out of one of these doors?

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First of all, thinking about how old this place is really amazed me – this particular settlement dates back to the 14th century.  The sheer volume of trulli maximize the oddity factor, it’s like being transported to another time.

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The other factor I found most interesting about this place was that people actually live here. It’s not a land of gnomes and trolls. Mailboxes and entryway decorations, furniture and rugs outside of dwarf-like doors seemed almost staged, like a curious town-sized dollhouse. Perhaps now that’s more of what it serves as, a novelty. Some dwellings are offered up to tourists for a weekend stay, and noticing lots of telephone wires, I wondered if they had complimentary wifi.

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On what I assume to be the main strip of the village, tourist shops with trullo-shaped limoncello bottles lined the streets between handmade crafts, art studios, historical sites, and homes. Originally, this style of construction was designed for easy tearing down and building back up again – to evade taxes of course. These strange buildings have been repurposed, renovated and still stand within a delightfully peculiar community.

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(all film images thanks to Peppe)

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The white painted symbols on the roofs represent a variety of Christian, magic, and primitive good luck charms. One of the craft stores was open, so I had to check out the inside which was far more spacious than I anticipated. What appeared to me as a little one room house actually had a few connecting corridors filled by hand painted trinkets with a small studio in the back. The objects seemed crafted by elves, but to my disappointment, no one hid behind the counter with a hat and pointy ears.

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Annarita and Ivano, who shared the adventure are two of my boyfriend’s closest friends, so it was really great to spend some extra time with them. (and to have someone else help me make fun of Peppe). I promise I’m learning Italian so I can have actually good conversations with everyone. Thanks to these two for being so warm and accepting to me!


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A pop-up shop sold various nuts and dried fruits as a handy snack for walking around the village. We had almonds and olives and a white nut that I impulsively shoved in my mouth without realizing there is a “right” way to eat them. “It’s too late,” Peppe laughed as soon as I popped it in still coated in its shell. A cloud of smoke filled my nose with the smell of roasting chestnuts. The sun was getting low and my eyes traced a silhouette of the village, like a cut-out on the canvas tent.

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Peppe spotted these stairs from the other side of the village center and was drawn to them – so we investigated to see where they led, which ended up being some pretty cool views.

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I can’t help but look at this and see a miniaturized, quirky storybook world. As a notably small person in a tall man’s world, I find myself with an affinity for anything quaint and “me sized”. This maybe the closest I’ll ever come to being in a fairytale.

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On the walk back to the car we had a run-in with a one-eyed cat and her troupe of kittens. I persistently called, “micio!” to them in efforts to coerce them into coming nearer. She seemed like a warrior, a survivor. Her kittens were fresh, probably barely on their feet and she only had one-eye so I don’t blame her for being skeptical.

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adrift in giovinazzo

Giovinazzo is a little port town, just down the coast a few minutes from Palese. We went one night to get lost in the light stone walls of tiny, twisting alleyways that were washed with yellow light. It was quiet underneath the full moon, we watched it reflected, glittering blue across the water. From our perch atop a dividing wall we noticed lights near the horizon, where it was hard to differentiate between sea and sky – stars or fishermen’s boats.

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A street along the coastline links a few cities like Bari, Palese, and Giovinazzo. Just a bit further down is Molfetta, where we went the night before I left Italy. Peppe has a tattoo artist friend, so for my birthday he offered to get me the one I’ve been wanting since summer time.  I consider this one of the most formative and defining times in my life – these experiences have set the stage for what I hope to attain in my future. The image I selected is the giglio of Florence, you can find it literally everywhere there. You can take the girl out of Florence, but you can’t take Florence out of the girl. Thank you Arianna, Check out her work at Nocer Art Tattoo Facebook and if you find yourself in Molfetta, drop by their shop!

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the heart of puglia

We drove the highway and a street along the shoreline from Palese to reach the city center of Bari. The only other major city I have been in is Florence, and this place had a very different feeling.  Just approaching Bari it seemed a lot more like a metropolis. There were busier streets, more densely packed and taller buildings as well as a faster, more frantic pace. After we parked the car and got out, this fish market was appropriately the first thing I saw.

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First and foremost, Puglia’s capital of Bari is most well known for the sea. During the summer, the beaches and shorelines are flooded with people trying to both relax and escape the heat. So, November was not the ideal time to fully experience the city. The temperatures were mild and the sky was usually quite clear. For a Michigander, this was very nice. The natives were walking around clad in what appears to me as full winter mode – layers of sweaters, long coats, and boots.

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While no one was rushing to jump from rocks into the crystalline waters, the sea was still coming to them. The fresh seafood is a basically the crux of Barese cuisine. Peppe explained that the fisherman was shaking a tub of octopus in icy water because it helps the tentacles retract. Jumbo shrimp, squid, muscles and sea urchins are among the common choice foods, some of them eaten raw.

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The fishermen paint their boats blue with brown bottoms to confuse the fish by blending with the water.

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After passing through a main piazza near the big roads, we made our way inward through the tiny winding streets and everything felt much quieter.

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This street was void of any people in the afternoon, but Peppe said it would come alive at night as young people flock to the clubs and bars. The small town where my boyfriend is from is just a few miles outside of Bari. Since not much happens in Palese, this is where Peppe and his friends would come to socialize.

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The South of Italy is particularly religious. There are lots of festivals and processions in the name of Saints and faith. The Patron saint of Bari is Saint Nicholas. His statue and church stood on the edge of the city’s historical center.

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We entered the church and in the basement witnessed the resting place of the actual Saint Nicholas’ bones. I’m not a religious person, but I know the affect these encounters have on those who are. I felt close to something powerful, I was quiet and humbled.

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The streets tucked within the historical center were quite empty, save for a few wandering souls. I felt transported to a totally different time where everything slowed down. Walls seemed taller here than in Florence, more closed off.

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Despite the placidity, evidence of life was everywhere – in the clothes hanging from all the lines, open doors, and distantly audible conversations.

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An open door displayed a tray of freshly made orrecchiette pasta, another classic food from the Puglia region. The “little ears” get their shape from fingertips.

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The setting sun bounced my favorite light reflections across the buildings and shadows formed their own architecture.

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After our exploration, we snacked on panzerotti and foccacia, which is yet another Puglia classic – a pizza dough like flat bread with vegetables and toppings baked in. If you’re familiar with the beer Peroni, that’s another proud feat from Puglia.

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Experiencing a city with a totally different vibe from Florence was definitely a treat. Florence has something magical and incomparable, it doesn’t fully reflect what life is like in other places in Italy.  I soaked in the salty smells of the sea and eased into a change of pace. It has a beat, a pulse, a livelihood of work and routine. This wasn’t a tourist city. It was different for Peppe too, to see his stomping grounds in a new way through my eyes.  There is an excitement in uncovering a new place, where you can’t expect whatever may come around the next corner.

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Odi et Amo

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“I hate and I love”

It is very hard for me to write this post. It’s my last day in Florence. After tomorrow, a week long trip to my boyfriend’s hometown in Bari, Italy then back in America on November 6th.

All I can say is, you can never be too prepared and I certainly wasn’t prepared enough. I have depended a lot on my life playing out just by following my heart, as it usually does in the movies. But that just isn’t life, and it isn’t easy. Nothing about this is easy.

Yes, I am gallivanting about Florence as part of a greater love story with friends and opportunities but it doesn’t end here. What I’ve come to realize is that once you involve jumping over oceans the scale of everything becomes more intense. While I’m ecstatic and having the time of my life, the other side is, a problem isn’t just a problem, it’s like THE WHOLE WORLD.

I spent my first few days here in a roller coaster of emotions – extreme happiness all throughout the day, awe of my surroundings but by nightfall, I was drenched in tears. I was terrified to leave because now I felt I had so much to lose. This lasted about four days, trying to figure out how the hell I was going to stay here. Unfortunately,  it isn’t as easy as getting a plane ticket and having an Italian boyfriend. Suddenly every obstacle was so much greater and it involved not just people, but entire countries and distances I can’t fathom.

While I assumed extending a tourist visa was possible, upon hours of research and emails to consulates I have found that it is absolutely not. It’s not just hard – it’s impossible.

Marriage was considered, also isn’t easy and probably a little too drastic hahahah

We exhausted every possibility until I finally had to accept, at the end of two months when my visa expires, I will have to leave. While I’m sure some of the guys walking around selling fake Gucci handbags and “selfie sticks” aren’t carrying official visas, I’m not willing to take the risk of getting caught and never being allowed in Italy again. I want to come back and grow old here and be one of those old ladies that still ride bikes. in heels.

And so about two weeks after arriving, with much chagrin, I purchased a flight back to the United States.

I have to leave this place. Again. I have the opportunity to apply for a student visa and return in January which also involves lots of hoops to jump through and money to be made. Lots of what if’s and unknowns, also not easy.

More than anything, when I was forced to make the decision to go back to the states, I felt embarrassed. I felt silly and like I had somehow failed all of the people who believed in me. There were so many people who in some way expressed that they were inspired by a young girl who just did what her heart told her to. I don’t want to let them down.

The most important thing that I (and anyone else) can take away from this is how I did it all for myself. I made a decision and I followed it through, I even made the most of it. Being here I have developed friendships, connections, opportunities and so many more personal things that make me a stronger person.

At the end of the day, the only way I can justify this is by insisting that this experience is immeasurable. Failure is not an option here.

The only easy part about any of this was falling in love with this place. Florence has a pull unlike any other place, and it’s not just me saying this. Even ask the Italians that live here! Time moves differently, there is a feeling I cannot describe. Every place has it’s own personality but Florence, she really is something else. I almost hate this place because of how much I love it. Following my heart was easy, it’s all the other stuff that makes it hard.

Like anything, though, you need an equilibrium. You can’t have easy without hard because that wouldn’t be any fun, anyway.  So next time, I’ll lead with my heart but have a little more logic, just a bit more sureness following close behind. And I can guarantee it won’t be long until I’m back again.

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to market, to market

DSC_7531 copySundays have sort of fallen into place as designated adventure days.  A very packed and sweaty twenty-five minute tram ride took us to la fiera di Scandicci a few miles outside of Florence with some friends from Peppe’s work. I was overly agitated by the fare-dodging teenaged boys who stood behind me, hogging the handrail, complete with their zitty faces and shrill voices. Obnoxious teenage years are very clearly universal. All of my rant aside, leaving the city center was pretty refreshing.

There were so many people, plenty of snacks, endless shops and seriously the best dogs ever. Though I had no interest in buying anything or shopping whatsoever, big crowds mean unsuspecting subjects and plenty of cover for me. I quickly sank into my photo-mojo zone where everything becomes a picture and I can’t help myself so prepare yourself for a photo-heavy post.

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DSC_7515 copyI’m not sure why, but this one is one of my favorites. From the hip, as well! I’m getting much better at this technique and it’s becoming a natural part of my photography process.

DSC_7530 copyMeet Luigi! Peppe’s brother moved to Florence this week from his home in Bari in hopes of finding a job here. He studied graphic design and used to be a DJ, harboring a passion for electronic music. We’re both more of the “romantic” type. He doesn’t speak much English, but we’ve been helping each other out a lot by exchanging conversations composed of both broken English and Italian. It’s definitely the best way to learn. Having an Italian boyfriend who speaks fluent English doesn’t help too much because he only ever speaks to me in English (and makes fun of my attempts at Italian whenever I try).

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DSC_7544 copySo much walking and looking at things I couldn’t buy had me fiending for a beer, but finding one for the right price was another story. Here we had two glasses of vino bianco for only one euro. Non male!

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DSC_7568 copyAnother favorite from the hip! I’m learning to shift perspective from my eyes to the lens in order to imagine what the camera is seeing.

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DSC_7598 copyMaddalena and Adriana are super sweet and I adore them.

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DSC_7623 copyI love me some Italian boys! By this point we were surviving off of samples of fried treats, peanut brittle, and roasted chestnuts. Starving and tired of walking, we unanimously agreed to head back to town for an apertivo.

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DSC_7648 copyBack in Florence a storm was brewin’.

DSC_7653 copyTaking shelter from the rain under a shop window, we awaited the bus to deliver us to the endless buffet.

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We ended up walking a few blocks after rejecting the second bus which actually could not physically squeeze more people onto it – and I thought the afternoon campus bus from Bursley was bad. Peppe and I immediately sucked down three plates from the buffet and, again, I had a flowery-based cocktail ~ Petalo with rose and vodka and orange. so so delicious. A Sunday stuffed with people watching, topped off with yummy food left me ready to start the week.

AS PROMISED!! THE BEST FAIR DOGS!

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ingresso gratis

DSC_7288 copyLast Sunday my boyfriend and I took a trip to the Boboli Gardens because he had never seen them. When we went up to get tickets we realized we had lucked out – the first Sunday of every month means all of the museums in Florence are free, so we walked through the galleries of Palazzo Pitti as well as the gardens.

DSC_7281 copyI hadn’t seen the galleries before and immediately my eyes were drawn into the intricate frescoes painted on the ceilings of each room, basically washing over the series of portraits that crowded the walls. I was especially impressed by the trick of the paint, making them seem to protrude as though they had been sculpted.

DSC_7290 copyI had my camera strung around my neck, as usual, and upon entering the first room, after just a few moments Peppe asked my why I wasn’t taking pictures. I was totally taken aback, because the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. Why would I take pictures of a painting? I’m an artist but I will (cautiously) admit to not caring that much about art. If you can convince me to walk through a museum, I would rather stick my face right up against the frame to see the tiny strokes and evidence of the artist’s hands in order to take advantage of my proximity to the work. What’s the point of taking pictures of a painting??

I found myself very frustrated because now that this notion was in my mind. I seriously watched a girl walk into a room, hold her phone up to photograph a painting and promptly continue going on her way, without actually looking at the painting with her own eyes. I saw a man stand ten feet away in order to photograph a painting with his obnoxiously huge lens that you shouldn’t use unless you’re taking pictures of wild animals.

DSC_7292 copyIf you’re in the presence of great work in a museum, why stay behind a screen? You might as well just google it.

DSC_7295 copyI found myself way more interested in the architecture, the windows, the marbled door frames and the fact that people actually LIVED IN THIS PLACE.

Untitled_Panorama3A view from one of the Palace windows – you’ve gotta see this one full size.

DSC_7312 copyI can only take so much staring at paintings so I was eager to move on. Entering the gardens, I made friends with a local and seriously considered what I would give to live her life. This place is pretty much just for her, or so she thinks.
DSC_7318 copyDSC_7322 copyShe started to walk away, but I consider myself a bit of a cat whisperer, so I convinced her to come back and cuddle a little more. (Thank you Peppe for the blurry pictures)

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We ran into my friend photographer friend, Erin, during our walk around and she snapped this one of us. Thanks Erin!!

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DSC_7379 copyDSC_7410 copyPeppe took this one and said “It’s cool because I put you out of focus and the rest in focus” hahaha okay, let’s go with that. I actually like how it turned out.

DSC_7422 copyDSC_7417 copyThe Boboli Gardens have some really amazing views of the city, as well as lots of green space to relax – which you don’t find anywhere in the center.

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And just for giggles – Peppe said Pegasus was one of his favorite mythical creatures (perhaps because people in the South of Italy eat horses and as a horsegirl this seriously makes me upset) he wanted a picture with statue, but insisted he be riding it. We managed to pull it off thanks to photoshop hahaha

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