Florence has been my home for the last 5 weeks. You would think I would write on it sooner, but I felt that I didn’t know enough to say anything besides “I like it”
So now that I have 5 weeks of experience under my belt, I’ll share with you some of the things I’ve learned and seen.
My roommates and I live on the south side of the Arno, just past the Ponte Vecchio and close by the Pitti Palace. Initially, I was a bit put out that I’m a 15 minute walk from every school building, not to mention the center of the city, but it turns out I was handed a gem in disguise. It forced me to see more of the city, plus the south side holds some treasures that most other students have to go out of their way to experience.
On the south side, there is plenty to do. For a delicious mid price meal, you can go to 4 Leoni. The atmosphere, combined with the quality of food, provides for a wonderful dining experience. I’ve heard the famous and well-to-do often dine here. Despite that fact, most of what you order is between 5 and 20 euro.
For example, I got pear-stuffed ravioli for only €12.
I recommend eating here at least once.
In the Piazza Pitti there are a handful of cafés and trattorias, and they were good.
There is also a small trattoria nearly hidden just off of piazza Pitti. You enter into the deli area, and from there you go to the back and climb the stairs, which opens up into the restaurant area. The food is cheap and good. They have all sorts of pastas.
Also on this side is Gusto Pizza. There, you can get good pizza for cheap. You can either eat your pizza at a table (with a cover charge of course) or you can carry it down the street to the Piazza Santo Spirito and sit on the steps like the locals do. I really enjoy this area because it has the beauty without 50,000 people crowding it.
The Boboli Gardens are also in this area. I have not yet had a chance to swing by there, but I’ve heard it’s lovely.
Also on this side is the Piazza Michaelanglo, which gives you a great view of the city (lots of steps).
As far as shops, there is a Conads (which is a grocery store) right near the Ponte Vecchio. I’m going to give you some solid advice; never attempt to just “pop in and grab a liter of milk real quick and leave”. You can’t grab a pack of gum in the hour you have before class. There is no such thing as “in and out” at Conads. You are waiting in a 20 minute line at minimum. No exceptions. If you want that 20 minute line and not an hour line, go at 8:00 pm. But in general, be prepared to do some waiting. Oh, and bags aren’t free. You have to pay. And also, you have to weigh your own fruit and vegetables
There are also fresh fruit vendors at the bridge west of the Ponte Vecchio if you’re sensible and don’t feel like waiting around.
Shopping is a big thing in this area. If you want something genuinely made in Florence or Italy, this is the place to be. There are linen shops, ceramics, of course leather, souvenirs, all sorts of things.
Next is the gelato. I highly recommend Cantina del Gelato right up on the Arno, just east of the Ponte Vecchio. It is little more than a hole in the wall. Their flavors are excellent (peanut butter!!!) and it is cheap. Much to my waistline’s dismay, I’ve picked up the habit of grabbing a scoop on my walk home after class
I can’t speak for the Ponte Vecchio itself very much, except to say that they sell jewelry and lots of it. I haven’t won the lottery yet or married George Clooney (or, you know, finished my degree so I can get a career that pays), so I can’t describe to you what the prices or goods are like there. Sorry.
Moving north up the Main Street of Via Por Santa Maria, you have about ten million different shops. If you want it, Florence has it, from H&M to Gucci to Yammay.
Head east and you hit bars and pubs.
Our favorite pub was a Scottish pub on Corso Tintori called The Tartan Jock. The drinks were reasonably priced, the atmosphere is comfy, and there’s always a game on. It was a great place to hang out with friends and meet new ones.
Some of the other pubs and bars in the area include the Lion’s Fountain, EYB, Moyo, etc. I can’t speak for these places, as I didn’t go out much, but I’ve heard they are fun.
Also in this area is the Yellow Bar, which is actually not a bar at all but a magnificent restaurant.
When I say it was the best food I’ve had in Italy, I mean it.
You cannot visit Florence without eating at the Yellow Bar. I don’t think it counts as a visit if you didn’t dine here at least once.
Here in this area, too, is the Uffizi gallery. I could have stayed in there all day long. There was so much to see and do.
If you head west from Via Por Santa Maria you hit more shopping and also the train station. This side I did not travel as much, but the few times I did were lovely.
Head north on Via Por Santa Maria and you get to the Piazza della Repubblica.
This is a good pit stop to make before heading to the Duomo or simply when you want to take a break from shopping. There is a merry-go-round there, as well as several restaurants.
I recommend the Fioro del ‘Oro, specifically the Strawberry and Marscapone pizza. I ate this dish four times, it was that good. I have a bit of a sweet tooth, so the dish spoke to me. The other dishes were excellent as well.
Also in this Piazza is the Hotel Savoy. If you have large bills and you need to break them, stop by the front desk. They can break your bills more reliably than the banks in Florence.
Keep traveling north and you’ll eventually get to the Duomo.
10 euro gets you entrance into the lower chambers, the bell tower, the museum (though it wasn’t open this year) and the dome. The stair climb to the top of the dome is strenuous but worth it. Florence looks like an ant farm from up there.
The walk up is rough, but the walk down is frighteningly steep. Excuse the blurriness of this picture; I was trying not to fall and break my neck (and the necks of whoever I took down with me on my tumble)
If you want a student-made meal, head to Ganzo. On a Wednesday night, for 5 euro you get a drink and all-you-can-eat appetizers.
There are definitely a thousand things I have missed. I couldn’t possibly cover everything in that city in the 6 weeks I am here. I don’t think I could cover it all in a year.
Florence has become my home. I didn’t think I was going to end up loving it so much. Of all the places we’ve gone, Florence was my least favorite. But even with that qualifier, I adore it.
If you had told me on my first night that I would actually miss this place, I would have wiped away my sad little culture-shocked tears and told you that you were crazy. But here we are, 40 days later, and my heart is broken that I only have three more nights to make pasta in my kitchen with the windows open and the sound of accordions drifting up into my apartment. Only three more mornings to walk past the Duomo. Three more evenings to hear the bells ring at 5:30 pm.
So to you, Florence, I give my love.
Arrivederci, la mia cittá bella.