I have already gone in-depth about my first few weeks of living in Florence, but there are a lot of things that I did that are too numerous to chronologically categorize. So this entry will be mostly just a blend of things I did periodically my last few weeks there, as well as any observations that I had.
At the Apartment, our living arrangements were pretty nice. Jacob and I had sort of master bedroom and bathroom, Salasi and Jordan had a smaller room down our long hallway from the kitchen, with a bathroom on the side. We had a washer, and had to air dry our clothes on a rack in the kitchen. Our TV had MTV playing music videos constantly, which is how I am now very familiar with American and Italian pop music of the summer. We had a stove and utensils for cooking on it, as well as a bizarre functioning microwave. My one complaint about the place was that every single week day between 9-10am or so, a terrible smell would be present outside of our rooms window that made the entire room smell. I learned to be outside of the apartment during this time.
Grocery stores were where my Italian was at the top of its game. Basically just saying “bonjorno” and “gracci”, with a dash of “yes I’ll take a bag”, which I don’t remember how to say now. My cooking skills are fairly limited, so I stayed away from getting meats which I might fail in preparing properly. I did however take advantage of lots of fresh produce, peaches especially. Cereal became my favorite quick breakfast item, and mass pasta my dinner item. The Central market had bountiful amounts of fresh produce. I walked around it many times looking at the goods being prepared by butchers and farmers for sale. On the upper level of the Central Market were several restaurants, shops, and wineries that emphasize being stocked by local Tuscan and Italian producers, which they take pride in as meaning better food quality and Italian environmental health. I had the most delicious sandwich for just 4 euro on this floor. What I thought was roast beef was actually cow stomach. I probably wouldn’t have eaten it had I known that, but it was still incredibly flavorful and the best meat based food I had in Italy.
Lunch time was when I wandered parts of the city looking for different places to eat rather than preparing my own food. I found several amazing small bakeries with huge varieties in pizza, sandwiches, and bread that charged incredibly fair prices. I started supplementing a lot of my meals every day with goods from these kinds of bakeries, one in a super market that had particularly good variety near the duomo. All of this and the gelato in Florence made for incredible cuisine.
There were also times when the food wasn’t so Italian or of high quality. If you ever travel to Florence, there are dozens of these fast food style restaurants that sell what is called a “kebab”, which is basically a burrito loaded up with mayo, shaved meat of a questionable quality, french fries, lettuce, and some spicy sauce. Each of these dozens of restaurants is run by an Indian guy, and they are always playing Indian MTV or soaps on a TV in the background. They are incredibly delicious, filling, and also horrible nutrition. Jacob was convinced he was bleeding internally or dying from a parasite for a weekend after eating one. Your doctor would probably recommend not consuming more than one per week.
There were a couple impressive firework shows I attended in Florence. The first was sort of water symphony, with floating pieces acting out some sort of scene, with fireworks mounted on floating devices to occasionally shoot off all along the river between the 3 bridges this was occurring. It was PACKED. I got there a half hour early and every spot along all 3 bridges was completely crowded out, and all along the sides of the river too. There were a couple of cool displays of fireworks in this showing, but the focus was on smaller firework effects on the floating pieces with actors and displays. As a cultural event it was fascinating.
The second fireworks show was staged from the Piazza de Michelangelo, above most of the city, which made just about any spot along the entire stretch of river a decent viewing. I went with Jacob to this one, and this show too was completely packed along the all sides of the river and anywhere with visual of the area of where the fireworks would be. This show was more rythym-and-booms like, and much more my taste in explosives use.
Europe is known to have a very present night life scene. Florence was no exception. Especially since we were in Florence during the time of the World Cup, every bar and restraint had a TV playing that night’s big game. Tips are included in the price of everything you can buy out, so everything you buy is going to be more expensive because you are helping businesses to support a livable wage. Plus they make loads of cash off of tourism that way. One night I went with the guys in the apartment and a few girls up to the Piazza de Michelangelo, and they really wanted to get into a night club that was all out-door. It looked pretty cool, but the lines were crazy, and they charged a 10 or 20 euro cover fee like many clubs do. I opted out. This same group of people frequented the many bars that and clubs that appeal to the foreigners traveling Europe, like the ‘Irish Bar’ that I heard about non-stop. Bar hopping and buying overpriced liquor to talk with Americans to me seemed like a ridiculous waste of time. Those I knew on the program that did this had a blast doing so, but I could do that in the States anytime I want, which I don’t find all that fun anyway.
The beggars of Florence were the most noticeable out of any of the cities I visited in Italy or in Europe. I now understand why the phrase ‘getting gypped’ comes from. Beggars on the street are common in many cities, holding signs or in a seated position with a can for coins to be deposited. Some sing, perform, or dress up to appeal more to passers, but the gypsies I encountered were true masters of the art. Some wait in train stations to ask unsuspecting foreigners if they need help with ticket machines or finding a spot on a train, posing as working with the train company. After helping you with an already free service, they demand euros as a fee. I saw many travelers get scammed this way, but was well versed on how to deal with them. I also had the fortune of looking less American than many who would be targeted. I saw a group of these beggars once harass a group of street musicians for the meager change they were collecting in a hat. I became familiar with certain individuals who were looking to scam people, and became accustomed to their habits and locations. It was just like an episode of Cheers, except they were slightly more legal pickpockets. Of course thieves like these are infuriating. But I felt for many of this class of beggars. Most of them were homeless, no doubt. Some maybe weren’t. The economy has been rough in the austere budgets and economy of Europe, and many of these profiled ‘gypsies’ are and have been a discriminated class for centuries. That’s a hard ladder to climb up from.
If you are familiar with a skit by Daniel Tosh called “Cargo Pants”, I did a similar version of that with all of the useless small change euro I collected throughout Europe, at least 3 or 4 euro completely made out of pennies and nickels. Heading for the train station on our last day in Florence, the first beggar that asked me for spare change, I acted really happy and emptied my pocket into their cup. It was a lot more fun in theory. I was rushed trying to get to the station. 😦
In most major cities, especially in Italy, there are illegal street vendors selling counterfeit or stolen goods (allegedly), run mostly by what appeared to be African immigrants or Italian nationals. Florence had a decent sized community of West Africans, especially in the area where we were living near. We were warned that if we bought any of these goods–often placed on rugs on the street, we ran the risk of being arrested. And these black market dealers were well aware of the consequences too. They commonly worked in groups, looking out for each other to warn of police should they need to flee. I witnessed one of these illegal vendors sprinting through one of the squares in Florence as he was pursued by an officer on motorcycle. I watched, enjoying some Gelatto on a bench as the pursued man ducked through side streets only to appear in the square again. He eventually escaped the officer by simply walking instead of running in the light crowds moving through the square. It was some vintage Assassins Creed work.
The Florence art scene was incredible. Everywhere I went there were the art galleries and statues you can find in every Italian city of course, but Florence is a hub of graffiti street art and small time art dealing. I took pictures of all of the artfully vandalized signs and walls. Dozens of artists are all around the city setup with their own canvas artwork that they make throughout the day, which you can watch them work at as an indication of the authenticity. There are also small artisan shops with artistic goods like masks, paintings, costumes etc. One artist in particular I passed daily from class, and I enjoyed his simple artwork of natural scenery around Florence. He was charging 5-10 euro for the small water-color pieces that I watched him make occasionally. I wanted to buy one to send home as a little souvenir, but I later found out it would have cost me upwards of up to 50 euro for that, and it simply wasn’t worth it. The day before we were to leave, I wanted to try to visit some of the museums I didn’t get a chance to see because of time or crowds, but it seemed that every other tourist had the idea I had of getting their early in the morning. The monstrous crowds of late June and were something I could not justify the time for, and instead made my last full day in Florence a relaxed walk around the city I called my home for a month.
On our last day in Florence, our room mates neglected to help Jacob and I do any cleaning in the apartment, which we needed to do to get our security deposits back. This set us back several hours, and I had to rush to send my bottles of wine home that were to be my souvenirs. (I’ll talk more about wine in separate blog about the class). We made it to the train with a few minutes to spare to head out to our next destination of La Spezia, Italy.
Florence was my home abroad. I was a student and resident, rather than the eager, wide-eyed tourist I might have appeared as elsewhere. I explored every inch of the city I could, and took in every moment I had within it. The people of Florence are incredibly friendly and vibrant. The history of the buildings and culture are present on every street corner and in every shop. Long after the many intricate details of my trip abroad fade from memory will I be able to talk at length about the beautiful and amazing place that Firenze, Italia is.