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It's embarrassing how long it takes me to blog personal work... now, a year and a half later (what?!), here is the third installment of our Italian Adventures. We left the other-worldly town of Manarola and headed Southeast.

If Ben and I were to pack up and submerge our Midwestern selves into the Italian culture, we would settle in Firenze in a heartbeat. Such an easy city to explore; a walk in any direction puts you face to face with some of the best work of the Renaissance. Where we have stop signs and historical plaques, Florence has Cellini's bronze masterpieces and Ghiberti's gold baptistry doors. The desire we both share to create something beautiful, consumable and significant has never been so affirmed.

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Our daily routine quickly became an early rise at the Hotel Lorena, due cappucino from one of the many delightful cafe's, time spent writing/drawing/filming at the Piazza della Signoria as we waited out the rain and then a visit to one of the many magnificent galleries. I had visited all the main museums during a backpacking trip in college, but this time had the freedom to sit as long as I pleased in the Accademia and the Uffizi Gallery -- it was fantastic (not to mention that this round I was showered-regularly and traveling with my honey).

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Our time in Florence overlapped with that of Ben's parent's for about 18 hours so we made the most of it with a bottle of wine on the roof-top patio of their delightful B&B (to the soundtrack of church bells and an opera singer), followed by mass at the Duomo the next morning. We were immediately greeted by the humble priest who would have been taller than me but time and older bones put us at eye level with one another. After the service he thanked us for coming and asked what I did in the U.S. I responded "photographer," and he smiled, nodded and exhorted "Yes. For the love of people. Love of Jesu, love of people." I will always cherish that moment of genuine confirmation and encouragement; what a beautiful gift.

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One afternoon was spent exploring a few of Florence's many indoor and outdoor markets and then finding ourselves in the magnificent itsy-bitsy wine bar Casa de Vino, filled with local men and women (the best confirmation you could ask for when searching out a place to eat).

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A quick jaunt across the River Arno via the Ponte Vecchia (Italian for old bridge, and still standing despite Hitler's order to destroy all bridges during WWII because a commander thought it too beautiful to destruct), and we stumbled upon what became our favorite restaurant of the whole trip : 5 e Cinque. We walked up just as the kind owner was opening the door and putting out the 'patio tables' (two small metal t.v. trays on either side of the door), and asked if we needed reservations. He smiled and said he would put the reservation under "Tom." He proudly translated the simple Italian menu made up of "the most delicious organic ingredients" and described us as "strange customers;" most of his U.S. visitors are from California or New York. Never Ohio, he said. Our meal was the most delicious yet -- the owner stopped by regularly to chat and check on his unique Midwestern couple. While we were dying of delectable cheese intake, a lovely Italian man (obviously a regular), stopped by for a glass of wine and some olives -- the owner immediately set up to bar stools on the sidewalk across the street -- one for the man and one for his plate of olives. Django jazz notes were the evening's soundtrack and we couldn't have been more content.

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Ben did the perfect amount of research so that our daytime explorations were efficient but not overwhelming. Our evenings were spent getting lost and sipping wine or eating gelato (most often, a mixture of both), and stumbling upon the most magnificent street band -- three men, a bass, guitar and violin classically trained made up the band Roma Dracula. We sat and listened for over an hour, chatting with other travelers (Ben befriended a Russian man who now lives in NYC so they had plenty to talk about between the city and Russian poets), while others danced and the crowd grew. We enjoyed them so much that Ben confirmed when and where they'd be playing the next night; we arrived a bit early to get a good seat and they waved at us, allowing us to pretend as if we'd fit in just fine here.

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We took 8mm video throughout our trip -- we recorded the music that accompanies the video during the band performances so you can get a taste of Roma Dracula's fine talents.