Back to Blogging – A Four Month Recap!

Since moving back to the States in late September, I’ve been taking a blogging hiatus.  It wasn’t really planned, but I think I was traveled out and just decided to spend time with family and friends for a while.  After three and a half years of living in Italy, we were really excited to be able to catch up with everyone – from Seattle, to Texas, to Kentucky, to Arizona and beyond.  It’s been a fun ride and while Bobby prepares to leave again (for Korea this time!), I figured I’d look back at our last few months in the motherland…. [Read More]

Cavalcata dei Magi – Epiphany in Florence

It was a very festive day

The Feast of Epiphany is celebrated on January 6th.  Epiphany marks the 12th day of Christmas when the three wise men (or magi) arrived at the manger bearing gifts for Baby Jesus and it is traditionally one of the most important holidays in Italy.  In Florence, the day is celebrated with the “Cavalcata dei Magi,” literally meaning the “Ride of the Three Kings.”  The parade starts in Palazzo Pitti, just south of the Arno River, and finishes in Piazza del Duomo, where the three wise men – riding in on horses – deliver their gifts to Jesus in the manger.  The parade is also accompanied by Florentines in medieval costumes, flag throwers, and a band.  This year, it is estimated over 700 people participated in the Cavalcata dei Magi to celebrate Epiphany.

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Visiting Lands Unknown – Romania & Serbia

And this is the drop-off on the other side

I think most people have an idea of what traveling to Italy, France, or Spain looks like.  There are thousands of guides on the internet, Rick Steeves books, and friends/family members/colleagues that will give you advice on what to see or do.  On the other side of the spectrum, there are countries like Romania and Serbia in which most people know little about.  This is not to say that they are less special or culturally-rich countries; the countries are just a little off the beaten path.  After spending Christmas in Budapest, we drove to Timisoara, Romania, where we visited (yet) another Christmas market and then headed on to Belgrade, Serbia, where we toured the town and met up with another Olmsted Scholar and his wife.

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Boldog Karácsonyt (from Budapest!)

Shoes on the Danube - Holocaust Memorial

Last year, we were invited by some Olmsted Scholars from the class of 2012 to celebrate Christmas in the High Tatras Mountains of Slovakia.  We had such a good time that we decided to continue the tradition and organize a Christmas trip for 2013.  This year, Bobby and I traveled to Budapest, Hungary to meet up with five other scholars and their families.  We spent four nights in the gorgeous capital city, taking in the Christmas market, seeing the Chain Bridge and Holocaust Memorial, visiting the famous Szechenyi thermal baths, hiking up Gellért Hill, and gathering for nightly meals with our Olmsted friends.  Although we are always slightly bummed we can’t spend the holidays with our families (….until next year!), it was really nice to share Christmas with a fantastic group of people from our military family.

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Christmas in Florence 2013

I liked the laterns from last year more, but this was also quite pretty.

The Christmas season in Florence kicks off every year with street decorations and a small German Christmas market near Santa Croce.  We visited the market both our first and second holiday seasons here in Florence, so we figured we should go 3 for 3.  Although the offerings don’t change much from year to year, it is still nice to have the first glühwein of the year, just steps from our house.  We will certainly miss this next year!  … [Read More]

Trentino – Alto Adige Christmas Markets

Christmas market under clear skies

Sometimes I find it hard to “get in the Christmas spirit” here in Italy.  Christmas isn’t overly commercialized like it is in the States, which is a good thing, but without the constant television ads, Christmas music in all the shops and on the radio, and pressure to buy everyone and their neighbor a gift, sometimes it’s hard to get in the spirit.  I know, it’s strange.  Also, in Firenze, the weather is really mild – in the 50s everyday so far this December – so when I remind myself that Christmas is only nine days away, I have a hard time comprehending the situation.  To prepare our warm-natured bodies for our upcoming holiday trip to Budapest, and to prepare ourselves mentally for Christmas, we decided to travel to Northern Italy last weekend to the Trentio-Alto Adige region for some Christmas market fun.  … [Read More]

Naples, the Second Time Around

Cloister of Santa Chiara

I have to admit, the first time Bobby and I visited Naples, we did not fall in love with the city.  We thought it was dirty (well, it is) and the people were aggressive (read: mafia).  Although these prejudices still exist, we decided to give the city a second chance and travel there last weekend.  We chose Ferrari’s high-speed train called “Italo” from Firenze SMN station to Napoli Centrale.  The trip, on the world’s fastest train, took a little under two and a half hours.  Not bad!  We met Bobby’s sister Eva and her husband Geremia, who is a sort of Napoli-guru, on Saturday morning.  Geremia lived in Napoli for years and travels there often for work, so he was a fantastic tour guide, showing us the best museums, churches, and restaurants the town has to offer.

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The City of a Hundred Spires: Prague

Prague skyline from the castle

Prague was once nicknamed “The City of a Hundred Spires” because of its spiked cityscape.  Today, historians estimate there are 500 spires within the city limits.  This was the first time visiting Prague for both Bobby and me, and I must say it’s now one of my favorite European destinations.  Although the weather wasn’t spectacular, we couldn’t help but feel the city’s charm.  We were very thankful that Prague’s famous Christmas market was still going strong, even though we visited after the 25th and it served as a perfect backdrop for our visit.

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Veselé Vianoce from the High Tatras, Slovakia!

DeDe, Jenn, and me

This year, we spent Christmas in the High Tatras Mountains in a small town called Strbske Pleso, Slovakia.  (Don’t ask me how to pronounce this city; there are no vowels!) The Grahams, fellow Olmsted-ers in Poland, suggested a Christmas get together, an offer we couldn’t refuse!  We’d never been to Slovakia before either, so we were really excited to see what it was all about.  Along with the Grahams, who live in Krakow, we met the Hensarlings (Brussels, Belgium), the Musas (Rabat, Morocco), the Johnsons (Ljubljana, Slovenia), the Shores (Gdansk, Poland), and the Bushes (Budapest, Hungary) at the beautiful lakeside Kempinski Hotel.  Three out of four branches of the Armed Forces were represented (I’m not sure what happened to the Army folks!)

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Frohe Weihnachten from Vienna!

Trees decorated for Christmas

Wien, or Vienna to us English-folk, was the first stop on the 2012 Flammia Christmas adventure (stay tuned for the next installments of the trip in the High Tatras Mountains in Slovakia, Prague, and Munich!) Along the way, we intended to meet up in Slovakia for Christmas with other Olmsted Scholars who live all around Europe and Africa.  However, everyone had like-minded plans and several families (including us) got together for a visit to the Christmas markets and dinner in Vienna as well.  We were very excited to be able to spend more time with our Olmsted/military family!… [Read More]