14 October 2011

7 Things I Learned While Living in Florence

I can't deny that my brief time spent living in Florence, Italy was different than the romanticized idea I had in my head, but at the same time I would not change the fact that I took a risk and went for it anyway.

Accademia Italiana - my Florentine school.

Not just having been in this city for an afternoon, like most tourists, living the Italian life took some getting used to. I had to get used to living in a country I'd never been to before, figure out how to get to my school and buy my necessary supplies and wander the streets in search of markets that sold more than just fruit and crackers. Here are some things I learned in the short time I was there in 2007.

1. Everything is old...get used to it. After all, that's why you want to go to Italy, right? Because of its old-world charm? Well with that charm comes centuries of age. And, no, not every building is capable of wireless internet (including my apartment). But 24/7 connectivity isn't really essential - go out and see what the city is famous for!

Via dei Neri, the street I lived on.

2. Get lost. Everything in Florence is within walking distance, and you'll never be lost for long. Familiarize yourself with the general layout of the city and then let your eyes (and perhaps your stomach!) lead you throughout the city.

The Duomo is the focal point of the city and you can't go far without catching
glimpses of it.

Some of Italy's best street pizza.

3. Be ready for stairs. Lots and lots of stairs. Elevators are pretty much non-existent or non-working. And if you do happen to find an elevator - it's more rewarding to take the stairs anyway. Suck it up and do as the Florentines do - you'll get used to your daily exercise. I remember arriving in Florence and having to drag my HUGE suitcase up, like 8 flights of winding stairs. Good times.

One of many flights of stairs.

4. Be prepared for bug bites! I remember having mosquito bites up and down my arms, on my fingers and face. Do yourself a favor and buy some "Vape" (it's a plug-in repellent) at either a pharmacy or supermarket. After being eaten alive and always being on the verge of tears from the pain, it saved my life!

Two (one is barely visible on my upper arm) of 13 huge welts I had at one time
 from mosquito bites.

5. Not everyone speaks English. I guess I kind of assumed - Florence being a major city and all - that most people would speak English. This was, in fact, not the case. I came across many people that did not speak any, or very little, English and that's when you have to get creative with charades or (shock!) actually learning some Italian. It's not a huge obstacle as it's pretty easy to find a way to be understood, but one that should be acknowledged.

A Florentine walking his dog in Piazza Santa Croce

Police officers in front of Palazzo Vecchio.

6. There's always some kind of festival or excitement going on. Get ahold of a newspaper, do some research - or better yet, ask a local - about upcoming activities.

A random festival I discovered upon exiting the Palazzo Vecchio.

7. Accept, and find humor in, life's peculiarities. Such as bathrooms connected to a kitchen, having to hang your laundry (and unmentionables) to dry in said kitchen and dumpster trucks collecting about 5,000 crates of glass at 5 am. I wouldn't have it any other way - otherwise I'm not sure it would have felt like an authentic experience.

Our second bathroom off the kitchen.

My temporary home in Florence.

Living in another country is not just about accepting other ways of life, it's about adopting them as your own (at least temporarily). It's about seeing life through a new set of eyes and gaining appreciation for another culture. Adapt, take risks and enjoy life!

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