By Alyssa Gregory
I arrived clutching my purse, luggage and bucket list…prepared to conquer Florence like a boss. After living here two weeks, I have to say Florence has humbled me. As Oscar Wilde said, “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes So while not an expert, I consider myself experienced in the area of mess ups. Here’s a list of embarrassing rookie-mistakes, I made. Read and take caution.
Fresh off the train and ready to take on the world, my first stop was the gelateria. Because one should never tackle the world on an empty stomach. In the first piazza my eye was caught by giant glorious mounds of goodness. Sadly, it was a trap. One of the biggest, touristy, yummy looking traps I’ve ever seen. The gelato tasted blah and I was horribly let down after all the hype I’d heard. Very quickly I learned the fluff is just, well fluff. It has been frozen or chemically altered to create the glorious looking, but oh so blah fluff. Avoid the bright dyed color imposter and look for gelato shops who keep their goods under metal lids.
Go for comfort not height. I have seen many a young woman ruin their vacation by trying to waltz around the Florence cobblestone sidewalks in heels and end up tripping and spraining an ankle. So ditch the heels for a more popular Florence fashion, closed toed flats and ballet flats. Or go for the traveler’s favorite, tennis shoes! Florence is a small enough town you can walk anywhere. So put on some comfy shoes and enjoy a stroll through the historic streets.
- Lunch Time
Friendly reminder YOU’RE NOT IN THE US ANYMORE! Meal time in Italy isn’t a timed race or something to be eaten during the time it takes you to get from point A to point B. It is an event. Something to be planned around. If you sit down at a café or restaurant be prepared to wait. The food is usually cooked fresh, which takes time. And the Italians will expect you to take your time enjoying it. So make time for a leisurely, pleasant lunch that doesn’t give you indigestion because you ate too fast. But, if you’re in a hurry and don’t have 45 minutes to an hour to spend on lunch, pick up a sandwich or a pre-cooked slice of pizza from a small shop.
Ordering a cappuccino after 11 am shouts TOURIST and gets you some weird looks and even weary head shakes from the locals. Italians are convinced that drinking milk after any meal will mess with your ability to digest food properly. Any helpful waiter would refuse your request for an afternoon cappuccino because it’s bad for your health. So pick instead one of the several other coffee choices with which to finish your meal.
- Fruits and Veggies
Don’t touch the fruit! Angry Italian grandma will begin shouting mean things in Italian with lots of hand gestures. If you are in a supermarket look for the plastic bags used to put the fruit/veggies in, underneath will be plastic gloves to wear to make your selection. Also, at many market and stands it is considered rude to pick out your own fruit. The vendors will do it for you. So hands off!
While most of the bars and clubs stay open into the wee hours, that doesn’t mean everybody in Florence is up. Don’t be loud in alleys. If you carry your party to a higher decibel, then you’re running the risk of being drenched in water from unhappy residents who live in the upstairs apartments. Alleyways near secret bakeries are prime real estate for drenchers. So keep it down.
Piazzas, or as I like to call them tourist water coolers because it is where groups usually meet and where tourists feel the most comfortable shopping and eating, can be quite intriguing. But while convenient because everything is near each other, convenience comes with a hefty price. The shops and restaurants prices are as much as double or triple the amount smaller places charge on side roads.
First don’t underestimate jet lag. It WILL take you down for the count for a little while. Give yourself time to recover or you will be miserable your whole visit. And, after you get over the jet lag, still don’t cram pack your day down to the minute full of tours. Things go wrong. You find some things catch your attention and hold it for longer then anticipated. After all there is some beautiful places in Florence. Things are late, especially in Italy, known for being laid back. Many things can cause you to get off schedule. Don’t stress and plan some free time into your day.
They make maps for a reason. So you can get lost. Ditch the guided tours, put on your tennis shoes, pack your sunscreen and just go. Make some random turns down streets you’ve never been down. Hop on a bus and get off at any stop. Just get totally and completely lost and see the side of Italy not experienced by tourists…the real Italy. Don’t be a Facebook tripper worried about getting that perfect photo or tagging yourself in as many monuments as possible. Experience and explore instead.
Italian culture is known for being laidback. And just because it inconveniences you that stores and shops are closed for hours during the afternoon doesn’t mean they are going to change tradition to make you happy. Be aware of the inconveniences and plan accordingly. Remember you are a tourist in their culture. Accept and try to embrace the relaxed easy going nature of Italian lifestyle. You’ll feel so much better. I promise!
- Credit Cards
No matter what the commercials say, credit cards are not accepted everywhere. To save yourself major embarrassment have local currency before you disembark from the plane. I learned the hard way. When I landed in Italy I couldn’t find an ATM or currency exchange places. I still tried to buy an euro worth of cooked bread but when I got to the cash register I couldn’t pay. (Credit cards not accepted!) Talk about embarrassing. Save yourself the humiliation and always travel with local currency.
Do not hesitate. Do not slow down. Do not make eye contact. Do not engage in conversation. Do not reach for your purse. Do not take two steps closer to the wares. Unless, of course, you want to buy something. All these are signs to a vendor that a sale is about to be made. Like a bad ex who doesn’t get the signs that the relationship is finato, the street vendors will keep hassling you until A. you buy something or B. you walk out of the sales area. Save your breath and your time by avoiding streets like the Via Dell’Ariento if you’re not in the mood to buy. Be firm. Let your no mean no unless you’re the one haggling them.