Florence. The cultural hub of Italian civilization. 

I arrived in Florence on January 22 on a train from Thiene, Italy where I had been staying with my friend Stefano. My first impression of the Italian city was one of controlled chaos. People were flitting about in all directions, but did so with a purpose. I've mentioned this before, but I made the distinct mistake of using a suitcase while traveling last year, and I regretted it more and more with each leg of my journey. For one, cobblestones and suitcase wheels are fierce enemies! After ten feet from the train station, my wheels were no longer attached to my very heavy suitcase! Lessen here: travel light, and use only 1 backpack. So, with no other alternative, I took a taxi to my apartment where I would stay for the next several months. Luckily, taxis in Italy are often very cheap, and shouldn't cost more than €10! So if lost or in a hurry, don't be afraid! Also remember there is not tipping for food or transportation! It may even be take as an insult if not careful. 
(I will go ahead and apologize for the lack of photos. My camera became corrupted and lost most of them… Just another reason to go back!)

 So here I am in the cultural hub of Italy, dare I say Europe, and I was here to study... Pffff... Not to say I didn't, but here are the classes I took. 
Intermediate Italian
Wine tasting
History of Florence 
International Terrorism
The first was a given, the second turned me into a sudo-intellectual, and the third took me museum hopping. Needless to say, it was a blast and the perfect way to truly delve into Italian culture! The hardest class was definitely the terrorism classm which gave me not only an in depth look at European society as a whole, but also a look into European International polotics! The thing about my university, Firenze University of the Arts, is that it didn't have a campus. The city was the campus! My classrooms we located across the entire city, making sure I put a lot of mileage into my shoes, but also giving me a free daily walking tour! I will issue a warning if you are planning a study abroad in Italy. Make sure you choose a program that puts you in a school with other Italians! Sadly my program was full of Americans, and it made meeting local Italians ny age really hard! Though I was fortunate to meet a small group of close friends!

So bars are bars but not only bars. They function as morning cafés, afternoon sandwich shops, and evening aperativo venues. Basically you will be visiting them throughout your day, beginning with you morning pastry and coffee fix. Yes, everything that you have heard about Italian coffee is true, and you will never be the same! For one, you will never again order an Americano, you will require three espresso throughout your day, and you will no longer be able to bastardize your coffee with milk and sugar once you return to the states. There is a bar on every corner of the city, making it quite convenient for your daily, scratch that, hourly dose of vitamin C(offee)! Many of which have really cool atmospheres and double as a great hangout/study spot! Definitely check out Volume at Santo Spirito square! 

Wine Tasting
When you think Italy the first two things that come to mind are pasta and wine. Wine culture is the lifeblood of Italians, and runs cheaper than water. No, really. It's cheaper than water. You will pay €2-€4 for a good glass of wine, and €2 for a bottle of water. No, water is not free in Italy (and the rest of Europe!), so make sure to be prepared for that expense. Even at dinner a bottle of water costs money, though they give you the option to take it flat or bubbly! Don't think about asking for tap, because then you just get a mouth full of lime! Now then, wine! You can find many wine tasting across the city, and it is customary to order a bottle with dinner. At tastings you also often get various cheeses with honey or bread and olive oil! Definitely check out a few tastings and/or vineyards! It's Italy! For your stay in Tuscany, I personally reccommend Chianti, because that's where it's produced! If you specifically order a Chianti Classico, know that it is without a doubt wine that has been produced in the area between Flirence and Sicily. For traveling up north, there are several organic vineyards that produce wines with a distinct taste! And the further south, the sweeter the wine will becme. Some etiquette rules for drinking are:
1) Do not even think of drinking it straight out of the bottle. 
2) Drinking on the street, though legal, is tacky. Unless of course you are at aperativo and half of the venue is situated outside. I'm talking about sitting in the curb with paper cups. Tacky. 
3) Italians are always drinking but never drunk. Know your limits clearly and stop when the buzzing gets loud! Being drunk is considered tacky. 
4) hold your wine glass by the stem (so there are no fingerprints on the glass and your body temp does not warm the wine). 

There is truly nothing like Italian food markets to be found anywhere else. Think your local farmers market being about 20x bigger, also has every kind of meat and fish you can think of as well as spices, pastas, sweets, Ect. It is amazing! For those staying long term there is absolutly nothing like buying these fresh ingredients and making your own dinner for two! You can also buy PANINOS and such from market vendors made out of fresh ingredients for your lunch! These markets are incredible and as close to a supermarket as you can find in Italy. If buying ingredients outside of the market you have to go to different shops for each ingredient. For veggies you got to one shop, meat another, fish another, and don't forget the wine shop! I will say that Italy is the foodies mecha! The best place to go is Sant'Ambrogio Market, close to Piazza Alla Croce. 

Italian Cuisine
As I mentioned, you will start your day every day at the nearest bar or ding delicious pastries and one or two espresso while reading the daily tribune, making a comment or two about the corruption of Brelusconi before going about your day! Around 10pm, return and repeat the process. At noon, your starting to get peckish and need something more substantial. The absolute best fix for this is going to a  sandwich shop, which are scattered about Florence. These aren't regular sandwiches. Oh no. These are PANINOS! You get to choose from various cheeses, different kinds of meats, sundries tomatoes, pesto, Ect! My favorite place for lunch in all of Florence was a san which shop called Pino's, located near the Ponte Alla Grazia, which became a daily excursion for me! After make sure to visit the Gelateria Via Dei Negri! Gelato is an Italian custom, and made to be eaten at least twice a day! This particular Gelateria had the most delicious favors, including Nutella!! Now, for Italians, dinner is not served until around 10pm. You must be thinking, how on earth can they wait that long?! The answer is the wonderful social custom of Aperativo. Aperativo can be found at any bar in the city, and consists of buying a drink (usually about €5-€7) wich includes unlimited feasting upon a food bar! The food bar is usually packed with AMAZING food! If you plan to have an early night, you can even treat Aperativo as dinner! Make sure to dress up, and put on your social face! The three best Aperativos are Kitsch 2, Dolce Vita, and Volume! After a few hours of socializing, you may wish to join the throngs of Italians venturing out to local restaurants for dinner. Here's what you need to know:
1) You can never be overdressed in Itlay, but can often be underdressed. 
2) Any restraunt you pick, will be excellent. Choose a different place every night!
3) Never go alone (if possible). Italian dinner require a partner. 
4) Recognize that dinner is a 3 course meal, plan accordingly. NEVER EVER EVER try to change the menu! Always order the food as is! It will be excellent no matter what, and you can avoid pissing off your waiter by being that obnoxious American. Make sure not to turn your nose up at Wild Boar or rabbit, as they are delecacies that you have been blessed with the opportunity to try! 
5) Don't skimp on the wine, it's already cheaper than water. 
6) Never ever rush! In Italy, you pay for the table. So once you sit down, eat your dinner, drink you wine, and after order coffee and spend the next hour having wonderful conversation. Italian dinner is a 2 hour affair. 
7) The waiter will not bring your check until you ask for it, so give them the subtle nod saying, it's midnight and I think its time. Also remember there is no tipping in Italy, they won't accept it! 
For the last step of your food journey, you have three choices.
1) Gelato
2) Get drinks at a local club and dance the night away
3) the third option is not well known, but an invaluable insight to local culture. Around the city there exist three or four bakeries locals termed Midnight Bakeries! This is because at these establishments the chefs start making the next day pastries around midnight for sale in the morning. If you know which door to knock on, you will be answered by an Italian man covered in flour, who will looked down the street to see if its just you! Very cloak and dagger. You then tell him you want two Nutella pastries (Becuse one is not enough!) and fork over €2. He disappears inside, and then reappears holding two hot, steaming,melt no your mouth delicious baked goods from heaven itself! 

There are buses all about the city, but unless you have plans to go to the periphery or residential areas, there is really no need to use them, especially since just about everything is within a twenty minute walk! But, if you di find yourself needing a bus ticket, you can purchess them at your local tobacco shop! For intercity travel across all of Italy, there are trains that can take you wherever your heart desires. Bottom line, cars are not needed unless going to the most remote parts of Italy. No matter how tempted, do not try and rent/buy a moped. Italian driving laws and US driving laws may seem similar, but there are many unspoken rules that if you don't understand, you will die. Lest just say that in order to drive you must me slightly out of your mind. 

Yes, Italians are always fashionable and you will have some expectations!like I said earlier, you can never be overdressed in Italy! Which means there must be some amazing shopping! Just about every major clothing brand you've heard of can be found in the city, as well as many that you haven't heard of. Though, be warned, it's not cheap! There are no used clothing boutiques or the like, if you want to dress the part, your wallet will hurt. Though I do reccommend checking out the local street vendors. On the east side of the city there are street markets daily selling all kinds of leather goods and fashionable clothes. Unlike the retail stores, here you can haggle! Though be warned, if just taking a walk in this sector realize that Italian men are super persistent and will do absolutly everything within their power to get you to buy their wares! Be firm in your convictions! 

Places to see! 
My favorite museum in all of Florence would have to be The Uffizi gallery. The downside is that I didn't visit it till my last day in Italy! Somehow when you stay in a place for an extended period, you end up putting certain things off. But, the Uffizi is a must! Though I'm a bit biased since my favorite artist is Botteceli, to whom they devote an entire room! I spent the better part of an hour in this room alone, and someone even as me if I was alright, considering a had a tear or two falling down my cheek. No works of art has truly moved me such as  The Birth of Venus, Palles and the Centaur, and my favorite, The Annunciation. I could spend hours and hours gazing upon these truly magnificent works of art. Another plus to the Uffizi is that It gives incomparable view of the Ponte Vecchio. Another venue that should be a must on your list is the Gallileo Museum. This is definitely something that cannot be skipped for any science geek out there, as it even houses some of Gallileos original inventions! And of course, we must not forget a trip to the Duomo and Babtistry, both of which are centered in the city. The Duomo can actually boast to have the second largest Capella in all of Italy, with St. Peters being first, and the murals on the interior are truly something to marvel at! Again, Florence is the cultural hub of Italy, which means that there exists an enumerable amount of museums and historical cites. Please do explore these to your hears content, and along the way I'm sure you will learn a fair amount about the Medici family. A few other sites to note are, the Boboli Gardens, The Pitti Palace, Piazza di Santa Croce, Palazzo Vechio, the Giardino della Rosa, and the Piazza Michelangelo (you absolutly must watch both the sunrise and sunset at least once from here, as it has the best view of all of Florence!). There are also several pop up galleries across the city that are always fun to visit! And something you absolutly must do at least once is see an opera. The one I saw had a €5 admission, and was held in the theater room of the a Pitti Palace, but these things are held across the city all year around. 


My Favorite Spots
Moyo: this is a shiek little restraunt that provides an excellent dining experience in a unique atmosphere with original recipes. 
Via Del Tè: my personal favorite place in the city. This is a tea shop that is right next to the Sant'Ambrogio market. Here you can buy bags of tea by 50-100grams, with over three hundred type to choose from! You can also have a small lunch here as well!
Ganzo: also next to Sant'Ambrogio market. This is a great aperativo place, as you get to observe local artwork from students studying in Florence! 
Libreria Brac: You ABSOLUTLY must visit here!one of my favorite places, which serves as a small notable book store, a caffe, a lunch/dinner local and and Aperstivo bar! Here only Vegan food is servedm but is still one of the tastiest and most unique menus in all of Florence! Another thing is the decor. After you step inside, you no longer feel like your in Florence, but are transported to a different world. There is a partition in the middle open to the sky, with streamers flying down, the back of the store housing many bookshelves and ecletic wares! 
Yellow Bar: best pizza in all of Florence. 

Travelers List
What to pack? Amazing walking shoes! NO HEELS on those cobbled stones girls! Leave that to the real Italians! 
Money? They use the Euro, take enough for the local markets, entry to museums, and food! Mostly food!
What to take on a day out? Walking shoes, camera, and your map of the city. Petty theft not very common, but still be carful. 
Danger? Gypsies. They are on every street corner, every day. Beware give them anything and they will keep at you for more! 
When to Go? Anytime! 
Must See? Piazza Michelangelo, the Uffizi Gallery, and Sant'Ambrogio Market. 


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