Let me just start off by saying that every amazing thing that you hear about Florence before coming for the first time, is in fact true. Before I left New York, all I really knew about this city was gathered from people’s reviews and experiences, as well as from images found on the internet and seen in movies. But, believe me; they were not lying! Florence is just as beautiful and breathtaking as it is described to be, if not more so. In fact, even after living here for about 1 month, I am still pinching myself to make sure that everything I am experiencing is real life, and not just a figment of my imagination. I am sure you will do the same once you get here too!
I immediately fell in love with the winding Tuscan streets, historical buildings, breathtaking architecture, and of course the heavenly scents from the local gelaterias and neighborhood restaurants. The layout of the city, along with the rich history that embodies it, contribute to the charm that Florence offers. I couldn’t help but feel at home the second I first got a taste of Italy’s laid back lifestyle and rich culture, just from simply walking around and exploring. From seeing the locals getting their daily cappuccino at the local pasticceria, to enjoying a conversation with friends in the nearby piazza, you can’t not feel happy and at ease when really taking it all in.
Being that this semester is still fairly new, I have been trying to take advantage of the free time that I have and walk around as much as I can. Walking has always been one of my favorite activities to do in my free time, because I find it the best way to really explore and get to know your surroundings. One of the first thoughts that came to mind during my first week of being here was, “Everyone told me how tiny Florence is and how easy it is to navigate here, so why do I have no idea where I am going?!” I have come to realize that this feeling is completely normal when you first arrive in a new setting. Of course every street will seem like a maze to you and you might even have trouble figuring out where your apartment is. But, I can assure you that it does get easier! Also, don’t be afraid to get lost at first; sometimes, that is the best way to learn your surroundings.
Navigating the city streets and just assimilating to the culture altogether takes some time, so here are a few tips and pointers that may help you out if you study abroad here:
- Use the Arno River as your guiding point: I have heard some people tell me to use the Duomo as a guiding point if you get lost, but this did not honestly help me much at first, because I had no clue where the Duomo was in relation to everything else! I understand that it is very possible to get lost even when you are using a map (you will find yourself squinting to even just figure out a street name). Since the streets tend to wind and intersect each other, I find it easiest to use a point of reference that is pretty much a straight line, and using the different bridges as a guiding point help a lot also!
- Coffee Routines: If you are someone who has grown addicted to coffee from living in NYC the past two years like me, then you should know that American coffee is hard to come by here. But believe me, as soon as you get into the routine of having a daily espresso or cappuccino, you will soon forget about the need for a large cup of coffee. Also, the cappuccinos are usually between one-two Euros here, so you will be sure to save some money!
- Speaking the language: I know it is difficult and intimidating to even attempt to speak Italian to the locals, because you may not feel all that confident with your vocab skills that you have gained from only a few years of Italian class. Nevertheless, you should still try! The first day that I got here, I had a reality shock when I tried to buy a bottle of water and realized that I had to speak Italian to ask for it. My mind must have been in a temporary fog and I forgot that I wasn’t still in America. So, I quickly scrambled a few words together and just hoped that the shopkeeper would understand what I was attempting to say. I realized that it doesn’t hurt to test out your language skills, because it is really such a rewarding feeling when an Italian actually understands what you are trying to say. If you don’t have such great luck at first, the good thing is that mostly everyone knows some English here, so you will definitely be able to get by!
- Eating on a student budget: You will surely be tempted to try everything in sight the minute that you smell the wonderful aromas sifting through restaurant windows, and you will probably want to try it all at once. However, the reality of the situation is that we are still students after all, and probably don’t have the money to go out to expensive dinners every night. The good news is that you can still eat really well here without breaking your bank account! There are plenty of panino shops where you can get a panino for five euros or under (I recommend: Il Panino near Santa Maria Novella; All’Antico Vinaio; and Sandwichic). For a tasty treat after any meal, gelato is always the answer! My all-time favorite so far is La Carraia, where you can get a gelato cone for only one Euro, and it is the most amazing thing you will ever try! How much better can you get than that?
I could probably go on and on forever about the many things to learn and discover while exploring the streets of Florence. But, I will leave some of the surprise for you to find out, and I will be sure to give you more helpful pointers and thoughts in my post to come! So, ciao for now!