Florence is an abroad site for many colleges and universities, and it receives a year-round influx of bright students filled with wanderlust and a desire to learn more about their world. From someone who has recently returned to the States from good old Firenze, it’s important to have fun, but there are several things any college student must know.
1. It is not necessary to walk on the sidewalks, nor will you find yourself doing it the majority of the time. They’re too narrow to walk on, anyway. Florence is a walking city. Unfortunately, ladies, this means that you will severely regret packing those heels that are just so cute. You’ll try them once for a night out, but you’ll soon realize that they’re simply not practical on the cobblestones.
2. DO NOT try to take a taxi unless it is late at night or you feel unsafe. Because Number 1, you will get to your location in probably the same amount of time it would take you to just walk. The entire downtown area of the city, from one far point to the other, can be walked within an hour. It’s not worth it.
3. When you order a coffee, it’s espresso. You must specify if you want a macchiato, cappuccino, or Americano. Italians are serious about their coffee, and boy is it truly the best in the world. If you happen to find a café that doesn’t charge you for a table (as most have different prices to stand at the bar or to sit down and have it brought to you), take the time before (or between or after) class to unwind and watch the city wake up.
4. Don’t even begin to think about dinner until 7:30-8. And if you are going out somewhere, make a reservation. The good places fill up quickly, and you don’t want to be left wandering around in search of a place to sit down. However, there is no shame in grabbing pizza to-go and sitting in front of the Pitti Palace. And, the plus side is that no matter what food you get, it will be good. I’m pretty convinced there’s no such thing as “bad food” in that country.
5. You will never be able to try all of the pastries or all of the gelato shops. However, you can definitely try (and unabashedly regain the Freshman 15). Once again, there is no such thing as bad food in Italy, and this includes sweets. So enjoy un brioche con cioccolato and know that you are eating a quality pastry. As far as gelato goes, yes, it is different from ice cream. For many reasons. Italians take pride in this sweet, creamy dessert, so try a different one every time. Mix the flavors. Get one of those punch cards and earn your free cone. How often can you get gelato that fresh?
6. Do not run across the street. Have no fear. Those Fiats will not hesitate to hit you, but just know how many steps you have to take to not die. If you run, it just makes you look like a tourist. Which you are NOT. You are a student, thank you. There is a difference.
7. Push through the tour groups. For some reason, they must be somewhere very, very urgently just as you’re running late for class. It never fails. They WILL make an attempt to cut you off. Do not let them. Be strong. Power through.
8. IF you’re studying Italian, make it known. If you’re a student (which you are), make it known. Once you have been pinpointed as NOT a typical American tourist, the locals will be so much more patient with you. Even if you only know ciao, bella, and pasta, making an attempt to speak some Italian is better than none at all. It’s appreciated. If you’re taking Italian, use this opportunity to practice. If you don’t know the language, try picking it up on those mornings when you’re sitting with your coffee and pastry. It’s a beautiful language. É una lingua molta bella.
9. Make an attempt to talk to locals. As with any abroad experience, really try to immerse yourself in the culture as much as possible. Even if you don’t speak Italian, it’s possible that you can find a middle ground if you do speak a language other than English. When I first arrived in Florence, I’d only had one semester of Italian, but I took Spanish in high school. I wandered into a glass making shop, and though I could barely speak Italian and the woman working could barely speak English, we were able to converse in a mixture of the three languages because Spanish was our middle ground.
10. Avoid the touristy spots at all costs. Unless, of course, you’re visiting them. Two of the huge ones are the Ponte Veccio and the Duomo. The crowds will be worse, and if you’re not there to buy a selfie stick, it’s better to just grab a map and take a back road (as long as it’s safe).
11. You will get used to taking trains. Europeans use trains much more than we do in the U.S. It’s cheap, for one thing, and there are so many train stations around that it makes sense. The one-hour trip to Pisa, for example, costs about 8 euro. Plus, the Florence train station is pretty small and super easy to navigate.
12. Google Flights will become your best friend. Never heard of it? Neither had I until I was in Florence. This will be your best resource when trying to find that one flight to that one place, but it can’t leave until you’re out of class. We’ve all been there. Studying abroad is about travelling abroad, too, and with that comes the last minute trip to Paris or Barcelona. I packed for a weekend in Croatia in four hours, but it was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Look into Ryanair for travel; I once found a 29€ flight to Stockholm.
13. Take in the art and culture. After all, you are in the renaissance capital of the world. Take a class on painting frescos at Palazzo Strozzi. Enjoy a wine tasting. Enroll in a cooking seminar. Visit a museum that is off the beaten path- you may just find your new favorite work. The artists here is amazing, too. Find that hole-in-the-wall painting gallery that only takes cash or stop to listen to that old man playing Beauty and the Beast on his accordion. It’s magical.
14. Enjoy yourself. Take a selfie with David. Eat too much gelato and pasta. Get lost on purpose. Make new friends. And above all, take a minute to realize that you’re in ITALY! How amazing is that?