Today Laura, Liz, and I bought these tickets to ride on an old steam train from like the 1800s. It was super cool! There was steam billowing up everywhere…sometimes into the cabin, but it didn’t smell that bad. We sat next to this guy who had a nice camera and it turned out that he was an architect too, from Florence! We had what little muddled English/Italian conversation we could along the way. And he told us about these really great places to see around Tuscany. Definitely a to do.

While on the train, all the sudden the door opens up from the other train car and this woman walks out and turns to look at us. And she’s wearing this horrifying old lady mask. It then struck us. It’s Epiphany! And that’s the Befana! And the way that Italian children celebrate Epiphany is they hang up their stockings the night before and leave out wine and some food. She rides a broom and is sort of like a “good witch.” The Befana comes into the house through the chimney and gives the children candy and gifts if they’ve been good and coal (or dark candy), garlic, onions, or sometimes a stick. She also sweeps the floor of the house, symbolically sweeping away the problems of the past year. If the children see Befana they get hit on the head with her broomstick. The Legend goes that:

Legend had it that Befana was approached by the biblical magi, also known as the Three Wise Men (or the three kings) a few days before the birth of the Infant Jesus. They asked for directions to where the Son of God was, as they had seen his star in the sky, but she did not know. She provided them with shelter for a night, as she was considered the best housekeeper in the village, with the most pleasant home. The magi invited her to join them on the journey to find the baby Jesus, but she declined, stating she was too busy with her housework. Later, La Befana had a change of heart, and tried to search out the astrologers and Jesus. That night she was not able to find them, so to this day, La Befana is searching for the little baby. She leaves all the good children toys and candy (“caramelle”) or fruit, while the bad children get coal (“carbone”), onions or garlic. – courtesy of Wikipedia.

We asked one of Befana’s helpers if we could also have a stocking filled with candy, and they actually gave us one! The entire train car laughed because the lady joked and said that we were big kids. It was funny.

The train stopped once to refill with water. We all got out and took photos and it was really cool to see such an old train working. It was like a scene out of a movie. We all re-boarded and continued on our trip. None of us had any idea what we were getting into. The train stopped again and everyone got off an followed the leader up this hill where they had panatone, pandoro, bread and oil, drinks, etc. We feasted for a short while but it was pretty crowded. We then saw a sign that said “fortezza” so we followed it. The fort was about a kilometer away and I was a little afraid that we weren’t going to make it back to the train (Eisenstein revisited). We did though. And in the process we trudged through the mud in a completely isolated forest road. Kind of creepy, but also really cool.

Before boarding the train, we watched them top off with water and oil the wheels. Steam poured out everywhere. It was surreal. There was this moment when Liz came back from the bathroom on the train and said that as she was walking through the train there were kids playing around in one of the cars. One of the moms said something like, “LOOK! Befana!” and the kids turned around and screamed out of excitement and Liz was shocked and screamed too! It was hilarious. Throughout the entire trip everyone was joking about how she was the Befana. We talked with our Italian friend some more on the train and before we knew it we were already back in Florence!

We went back to Liz’s “mansion” house and literally threw some lunch together with whatever ingredients she had in her fridge. We used spaghetti, canellini beans, sriacha, rosemary, zucchini, sun-dried tomatoes, tomato sauce, garlic, etc. And we made mashed potatoes. We feasted and it was yummy. Exhausted and full, Laura and I began walking home. As we were walking through the Uffizi, we heard drums and decided to check it out. Turns out there was a huge Renaissance parade going on. There was even a baby camel! There were tons of people dressed up as everything from Florentine nobility to medieval axemen. Some guys were even carrying falcons! We followed them trying to catch up to the front. We ran through the Uffizi arches, darted through Palazzo Vecchio, ran down side streets and eventually ended up (somewhat in front of where we started along the procession) at the Duomo. We circled it and went to the side where the Nativity scene is and there was a donkey and a cow IN the Nativity! We wedge ourselves through some more, and there’s THREE GROWN CAMELS in the middle of Florence! There were sheep and there might have been baby miniature horses…SO CUTE! The Three Wise Men came and presented their gifts to the Nativity Scene (where I assume there were people playing Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus). One of the wise men had a crazy awesomely pointed hat. They also released a huge bouquet of balloons in front of everyone. Flags were waving, drums were pounding, and we were sardined between hundreds, if not thousands of onlookers.

There was also a concert that we semi-sprinted to, all the way back at Palazzo Pitti. On the way we ran into the awesome Wise Man with a pointy crown riding an awesome horse. Laura waved and he tipped his hat to her…as in he took it off and did that thing where you say hi by holding your hat out…whatever that is called. We made it in time for the concert and unfortunately there weren’t enough seats for everyone so we sat up against this wall in this baroquely ornate but solid white room in the palace. Laura sketched and I munched on my Befana candy from earlier in the day and we enjoyed beautiful piano and flute music, sometimes accompanied by an opera singer. It was really cool, and nice to relax after literally running all over the city today.

After the concert, Laura wanted to show me where a really great apertivo place was by the old city wall. We forgot that it was a Sunday and that it was also a holiday so nothing really looked that interesting so we decided to take our exhausted selves home. Our feet were killing us and we decided that we were just too tired to really do anything.

Today was the most fun I’ve had in a while. Ever since my family left, I’ve been in a sad state, somewhat depressed, and not motivated to do anything. I still am really sad that they are gone, and still really wish that they could be here experiencing all the amazing things that I get to see and live. This experience is so unforgettable and I’ve learned and grown more in the last 4 months than I probably ever have. I just wish that the people I love most could have the same. I am so lucky to call my family my best friends and the people I love most. I’ve realized that not everyone has that privilege and that what my family shares is truly a blessing and is extremely unique. I love that I have this love for these people. I don’t deserve these blessings but I am thankful for them nonetheless.

Befana Song:

La Befana vien di notte
Con le scarpe tutte rotte
Col vestito alla romana
Viva, Viva La Befana!

P.S. I also decided to wear my ONLY set of heals today – figures.