By Gemma Sturt, Florence, Università degli Studi di Firenze
As I’m writing I’m sat out by the Arno with what seems to already be my 100000th espresso of the day, a bag full of complete steals from the local market and a gorgeous afternoon view… needless to say the reality of living in a city as jaw-droppingly beautiful as Florence hasn’t really sunk in yet. The city is certainly historic and, although a very popular tourist destination and only a mere 2 hour flight from London, the day-to-day lifestyle of an average Florentine is utterly different to that in the UK.
Trying to settle into life as a local has already yielded some major highlights of my time here, such as my very first moped ride weaving in and out of city centre traffic (!!!) which then developed into my first ever lesson along a quieter road in the suburbs. I’m hoping to get my own little “motorino” (scooter) soon as I’m told it’s the best way to get out and about to see the surrounding Tuscan countryside.
I’m also starting to explore some of the more rural towns outside of the city where I’ve already spent some of the best evenings of my time here – including going to my first Tuscan “sagra”. These events are usually held during the month of September to coincide with the beginning of the harvest, and are essentially local food festivals. I went to a “sagra al tartufo” (tartufo = black truffle) where farmers bring their produce straight to the stalls to be included in a variety of themed dishes – think truffle bruschetta, truffle pastas and pizzas, truffle beans and crepes with Nutella… – all at significantly less cost than eating out in a restaurant. Naturally we went a bit crazy with the menu and had to waddle home to nurse some serious carb comas (the resulting food baby lasted for about two days… oops).
Another massive plus of daily life in Florence? Gelato. Need I say more.
In terms of nightlife, local Florentines strictly adhere to a routine of “aperativo” (translate: “aperitif”) cocktails before dinner and then onto bars later in the evening. This is actually a good way to eat in the centre very cheaply – as the price of one aperativo cocktail/drink usually also includes an unlimited, all you can eat buffet of traditional Italian food.
Although no off licences or bars open past 2 am (in efforts to curb drunken antics of ‘Brits Abroad’) there are some real gems to be found in the city for late-night events venues for electronic and alternative music – a scene I really loved in Manchester. Bahia Café is one such venue by a reservoir in the middle of the “Il Mugello” countryside (a region in Tuscany) about 45 minutes by train from Florence, and plays house & techno all weekend in the summer.
A little closer to home in the city centre is “Spiaggia sull’Arno”, literally translated as “beach on the Arno”, and is just that – a bar and music venue on a man-made beach by the river hidden about 15 meters below historic street level. I was quite surprised to discover Florence has a thriving underground scene as these types of places aren’t immediately obvious, but I’ve learnt they do exist if you seek them out and persevere with trying to find your own niche in a new city – a place is only as good as what you make of it.
Since my arrival nearly 3 weeks ago now (???!), the days have mostly been filled with sightseeing, language classes before the stresses of lectures start come late September and sorting through A LOT of life admin. After my initial horror at being told I wouldn’t be able to open a resident’s bank account for three months (thankfully now sorted) I think I’ve just about gotten to grips with the inner workings of Italian bureaucracy so I’ve included below some tips I wish I’d known before moving over that can be applied in general for study abroad preparation:
- Bring cash!! I soon discovered that my mere €200 wasn’t going to last until I had all my documents sorted to open a bank account, and the first few weeks are the most expensive in terms of buying one-off things like bedding etc
- It sounds a little petty but bringing some British teabags with me here just to have a mug of PG tips after a stressful day has been a really comforting reminder of home
- Get to government and uni buildings as early in the morning as possible – everything shuts here by 1pm, and processes in the bank/local offices takes so much longer than expected
Sightseeing in Florence: Michelangelo’s David (copy) in Piazzale Michelangelo, Basilica di Santa Croce, Ponte Vecchio
I’ve already had a few setbacks (like discovering my two male flatmates had started using my £25 face cleanser as handwash… 😦 ) along with the frustrations and growing pains of learning a new language on the go, however I’m already starting to understand why studying abroad is such a unique and amazing experience.