This past weekend we traveled as a group to Florence, the center of the Renaissance. It was interesting to compare the two cities; Rome, the center of classical civilization, and Florence, the center of the classical renewal. In some ways, they were very similar: both are rich in history and art. Of course, they are two different cities in two different regions, so things are run a little differently. Florence is famous for its open air markets, shops, and leather. It’s impossible to go to Florence and not buy something. I definitely bought more trinkets than I was expecting, but I got away without spending a huge chunk of money. Also, Florence is a lot more touristy than Rome is. Consequently, some things, like gelato, were more expensive than they would be in Rome. The pace of the city is much slower, too. Not as many Italians live there, so no one is running to get to work or wherever Italians go when they are in a rush. Because it is mostly tourists in the city, people stroll at a leisurely pace in the middle of the road, and the city is much quieter because there aren’t a million cars roaring down the road. However, I wouldn’t want to study abroad there for six weeks because I feel like once I saw all the touristy stuff, I wouldn’t have anything left to see for the last three weeks of the program, whereas in Rome there are a thousand things to do and I know I won’t get to do everything, unfortunately. Also, because there are so many tourists, many Florentines speak English. This would not be good for me, because I would be tempted to speak in English all the time and not practice my Italian and really glean what real life is like for someone who lives there.
I was on Skype with my roommates who are back in Gainesville this week, and they asked me some questions I hadn’t really thought about sharing, but are questions that people always want to know. Like, had I eaten any strange foods and how you flush the toilet. Well, I haven’t eaten anything weird but I did eat my first gnocchi and my first risotto this weekend, both of which were fabulous. As far as flushing the toilet goes, there’s a button on the wall above the toilet. So now you know. I brought this whole thing up because their questions made me realize I haven’t really told you about life here because I’ve been focusing on my adventures. So I figured I’d do something a little different and tell about little things and about what Rome is really like.
Shopping: Apparently, sales only happen twice a year in Italy. And all the stores have sales at the same time. It’s odd, but it is what it is. Lucky for us, it’s sale time here! You can’t avoid going anywhere without seeing the store windows announcing “SALDI!” and peering in the windows to search for cute shoes and clothes.
The Pigeons: They are EVERYWHERE!!!! And I mean everywhere. One tried to land on my head yesterday. They are very stupid too. I’ve seen several of them almost get squished by a tram zooming by, and they just walk right in your way, and don’t move to the last second. They also don’t seem to understand the fact that a car will kill them in a millisecond. And drivers here will NOT stop for a pigeon. I used to enjoy the presence of the pigeons because it seemed like such a European thing to have pigeons everywhere, but now that I’ve realized they are just the equivalent of squirrels here, I’m a little sick of them.
The Dogs: Unlike the pigeons, the dogs here are wonderful. I want to take home every single dog I see here, and I see a lot. I suppose it’s a thing to bring your dog with anywhere you go, because I’ve seen people shopping and eating dinner with their dog by their side. Big or small, they are all well behaved, and many of them don’t even need a leash. It is impressive. It’s also impressive how cute each and every dog is. For some reason, they just seem different here than back in the States.
The Traffic: There’s only one word for this: CRAZY. Let me just say that I will be fearless with regards to traffic when I come home. If I survived jaywalking across a very busy street, I’ll be okay. Unfortunately, sometimes you have to jaywalk. In most places, there are red, yellow, and green lights for pedestrians, but sometimes there’s just a crosswalk with no light. And then there are the times when the most direct route doesn’t have a crosswalk. What you have to do is look for a reasonable break in the oncoming vehicles, then just step out into the middle of the street like you know what you’re doing and you’re confident you won’t die, but not lollygag at the same time. When in doubt, stick behind a local and cross when they cross. Of course, it helps that drivers here will always stop for you or maneuver around you if you are in the way. You will get angry honks if you don’t have the right of way, but you won’t die. I chalk this fact up to the seemingly “every man for himself” rule. This rule actually seems to work, maybe even better than concrete rules do in the States, because here everyone is paying attention to the road and their surroundings and they don’t do anything stupid. So, even though it’s hectic, it’s effective. The same rule of every Roman for himself applies to foot traffic, as well. During the day, Italians are rushing to get somewhere, and it’s up to you to make sure you don’t get in anyone’s way. The cobblestone streets and sidewalks don’t particularly help with this, and although it’s pretty, it’s a safety hazard. There has been way too much tripping the past couple of weeks.
Eating: Everyone rushes around until about three in the afternoon. Then a lot of shops and restaurants shut down to keep cool, relax, and eat a big lunch with their families during the hottest part of the day. After a couple of hours, places open up again, and the pace of the city slows down. There is still a lot of traffic and noise, but the foot traffic is drastically different. People stroll down the street, sitting outside, talking, and around 8 pm, they start heading to dinner. Dinner can easily take an hour and a half to two and a half hours to eat properly. Italians usually order two courses, or one course and a dessert, wine, and a cappuccino at the end of the meal. They also just sit for a long time talking, and it may be 30 minutes after they finish eating before they ask for the check. (You have to ask them to bring the check here; they don’t do it automatically.) I really enjoy the slow and relaxing pace of dinner, but unfortunately I do have studying to do, and sometimes a long dinner is not efficient. Plus, eating out a lot can add up. So sometimes I skip the dinner experience and resort to my default meal of crackers dipped in Nutella.
The baptistery, cathedral, dome, and bell tower in Florence
Climbing up the 463 steps to the top of the Dome
Really steep steps in the Duomo
At the top of the world! Aka the dome
Rubbing the nose of the Florentine pig and making a wish
Crackers and Nutella