Souvenir Shopping in Florence

The culture of shopping in Italy is an interesting topic. I could talk about how locals buy groceries at Conad or how cute markets pop up all over the city of Florence, but with about a week left in Italy, all that’s on my mind and my peers minds are gifts and souvenirs.

When we get back home there is only a week to christmas so we have to do all our shopping here. Also, it’s time to get those last minute souvenirs for the fam since they supported you and helped you on this journey called study abroad.

 

The difficulty about buying gifts in Florence and abroad is finding items that are meaningful and unique to the city.

 

Here are my ideas and suggestions:

 

1) LEATHER

As discussed in a previous blog post, Leather is very unique to Florence which makes it a great gift for friends or family. You’re not limited to expensive shoes and jackets, but there are belts, wallets, coin purses, small purses, leather bound notebook, gloves, and so much more!

Who wouldn’t want genuine italian leather gloves this holiday season or a nice handmade journal for next semester?

 

2) COLLECTABLES

Now this hard about this one. Do any of your friends or family members collect unique items? Maybe pins, thimbles, ornaments, magnets, shirts, etc? This makes your job easy! Most of those little collectable items are easy to find and cheap. My grandmother collects thimbles from around the world so I can check her gift off my list.

 

3) CERAMICS

Ceramics are a great gift for not just your mom. You can get a cute decorative jewelry plate for your friend, a mug for dad, or a food platter for grandma. Not only are these items insanely beautiful, but they are handmade by local artisans from Italy using old and original techniques. Just remember to get them packed well by the shop so you don’t have to worry about anything breaking on the flight home!

 

4) FOOD

Share your experience of Italian cuisine with your family and friends by gifting them a taste of Italy. Some ideas: pasta, limoncello, wine, italian cookbook, extra virgin olive oil, chocolate, or basically anything truffle related.

 

5) APPAREL

European fashion is a hot topic which makes apparel items a great gift for friends. They can brag about how their best friend got them something from Italy. Think hats, shoes, sweaters, scarves, and more! The markets in front of Santa Croce are great sources of inspiration. Maybe that friend of yours who loves soccer might enjoy a Fiorentina ACF beanie.

 

6) POSTCARD / PHOTOS

Just an idea, but send one last post card before you leave! Send it to your family, friends you might not see this holiday season, or maybe even yourself. That would be a fun reminder a few weeks from now.

Also, parents and grandparents love bragging about their children. Get prints made of you during your trip abroad or make a photo album to say thank you.

 

Do you have suggestions to share with your fellow peers? Share in the comments, I would love some more gifting ideas.

My Favorite Florence Food

Learning Italian has been a difficult part of the culture to grasp and immerse myself, but I will admit that I have completely indulged in the Italian food culture. I’ve maybe even gained a few pounds from my dedication to enjoying this part of my study abroad experience.

You can read hundreds of books on pasta, wine, and pizza unique to Italy without even brushing the surface of the food culture in Florence; however, I figured I would take the opportunity to share a few of my favorite food spots I’ve found over the past few months. This list also includes study places for my peers to check out as finals roll around the corner.

 

COFFEE/ BRUNCH

  • La menagere

Via de' Ginori, 8, 50123 Firenze

Flowers, Coffee, Food, Store, Cocktails, and Music. This place has it all! La Ménagère is my go-to study spot. They are very accepting of you pulling out your laptop and getting work done. This spot was once the first Florentine hardware in 1896 and has been reborn into a very eclectic and unique spot close to Basilica di San Lorenzo. The smell of flowers fill the air and the rustic and modern aesthetic calm the atmosphere make it a great place to be productive. I absolutely love the almond cappuccinos, they are better than their regular cappuccinos. The pancakes are the best pancakes I have ever had, and I am very picky about pancakes. Just make sure you get there before 12 if you want to order this delicious dish. After 12 I will get the ham sandwich and a cake. They have awesome cakes and pastries. My favorite is the carrot cake.

 

  • Ditta Artigianale

Via dei Neri, 32/R, 50122 Firenze

This place is very unique and hip to Florence. Most cafes in the area only serve espressos, cappuccinos, macchiatos, and other espresso and milk combinations; however, Ditta has a lot of options that you can’t get anywhere else. They even have filtered and drip coffee. They are also accepting of productivity in their space. While they are known for their alternative coffee options; they also serve food. One of their favorite dishes, and my favorite, is the coffee french toast.

 

  • Le Vespe Cafe

Via Ghibellina, 76, 50122 Firenze

Le Vespe is brunch spot known for its american style options. They have egg breakfasts with bacon, sausage, toast, and so much more. I am not sure how Italians feel about this place, but as an American living here for several months, I get a craving for a classic american brunch. My favorite item on the menu is the grilled cheese sandwich. It is incredible and includes bacon, spinach, and piles and piles of delicious cheese. They also have very unique coffee options included flavored drinks and chai options.

 

PIZZA

  • Gusta Pizza

Via Maggio, 46/red, 50125 Firenze

I only have one suggestions for pizza on my list because I am very fond of one place in general. My go-to pizza place in Florence is Gusta Pizza. This restaurant is perfect for any tourist or student studying abroad. They make your pizza in the shape of a heart... until they recognize your face. Then you have to ask for them to cook it that way! I get the margherita but they have a few constant selections with the addition of specials you can find on a board near the oven. You can watch them make your pizza and cook them in a giant oven. The prices are also very affordable! The margherita pizza is 5 euros.

 

PASTA

  • Acqua al due

Via della Vigna Vecchia, 40r, 50122 Firenze

This place requires a reservation and the prices are a bit high once you pile the bill with incredible items; however, this is an amazing option for an end of the semester splurge or a romantic dinner to end any vacation in Florence. Their appetizer bread and spreads they give you are really great. The bean spread is tasty, you’ll want to pile it on! They have fresh pasta options that are made in house. If you like truffle, get the truffle pasta. They also have an option for all courses to get a sampler. This means that if you get the sampler option for the first pasta course you get 5 different great serving size options of their selection of pasta. If you get the second meat course sampler option you get several servings and samples of their best meat selections including their steak! I would recommend the steak with blueberry sauce. It is what they are known for, and it’s the most expensive thing on the menu; however, it is worth it. I promise.

 

  • Osteria Santo Spirito

Piazza Santo Spirito, 16/R, 50125 Firenze

Osteria Santo Spirito is on the other side of the river near Gusta Pizza. It is a very unique spot. They offer blankets during the colder months if you’re sitting outside. They have lots of pasta options that are very unique. I get the pumpkin cream Fusilli pasta. I was really craving pumpkin this fall and got my fix here. My roommate ordered the Gnocchi Gratinati Al Formaggi Morbidi Al Profumo Di Tartufo (AKA: Truffle Gnocchi), which was amazing. I have have some bad gnocchi in some touristy Italian restaurants, but this dish had a great consistency and texture. I would highly recommend this spot for great pasta options.

 

GELATO

Alright before I give you a list of my favorite gelato places around Florence, I have to explain how to determine good gelato from bad gelato. Gelato is iconic to Italy for a reason.. It is natural and amazing, but there are tourist traps on every corner. You need to know how to tell them apart. This was one of the first tips and tricks I learned during my stay.

Have you ever seen the giant stacks of gelato piled up with chocolate stems and fruit sticking out of them? Your first reaction might be “ooohhh, how pretty!” Your reaction need to be, “Ew, gross.” Because this gelato is full of unnatural sugars.

The best gelato is going to be covered with metal tops or flat and not piled high. Think about it… how does gelato stay piled up for hours without melting? It doesn’t.

Another way to tell if a shop is selling good gelato is by the banana flavor. If the color is bright yellow, thats a sign that it is infused with unatural flavoring. If it is a creamy beige color… that actually looks like the color of a real banana.

Now.. on to my list…

 

  • Gelateria dei Neri

Via dei Neri, 9/11, 50122 Firenze

I go to a yoga studio across the river and this place is on my walk home so I always get a small gelato as a treat to myself for my workout.

My favorite flavors here are yogurt, mixed berry, and mango. It’s a great combination to get anywhere.

 

  • Vivaldi

Via dei Renai, 15, 50125 Firenze

This shop is on the way to Piazzale Michelangelo and it is a adorable. It serves as both a gelateria and a cafe. Other than gelato, they sell coffee, cakes, hot chocolate, and more. In the back there is a space that you can sit down on couches and at tables. It’s the only gelateria that I have found where they allow you to chill and get work done. This concept is very foreign from my observation.

If you want a place to study for finals, but don’t want to go to the library, check out Vivaldi.

They also have the best prices compared to my other suggestions.

 

  • Marco Ottaviano II Gelato Gourmet

Via Matteo Palmieri, 34, 50122 Firenze

This place is right around the corner from my apartment. So when I need a late night snack all I have to do is walk down stairs and turn the corner. My favorite combo here is the cheesecake and nocciola (hazelnut). It’s the only gelateria I have seen with a cheesecake flavor other than Gelateria dei neri.

 

  • Amarino

Via del Corso, 44/46r

My love for Amarino extends from my love for Paris. I studied abroad in Paris for a month and found this lovely place so when I found out there was a location in Florence I was ecstatic. Not only do they have gelato but they make crepes and waffles that you can add gelato on top! This is probably the most expensive on my list, probably because it’s a chain gelateria as opposed to the other options which are locally owned; however, Amarino is an Italian company.

Not in Florence? Amarino has expanded to the states. So you can get a taste of italian gelato in the states. They even opened one in my hometown Atlanta right before I left!

Referendum Protest in Florence

As I walked down the street from my florentine apartment on November 12th I suddenly came across a large gathering of people in front of Santa Croce. My curiosity took me into the crowd. This protest, like others that have occurred in Florence recently, revolves around a political issue that is way above my knowledge and many Italian's understanding.

I am not a political science expert, an Italian, nor do I really understands all factors involved regarding the protests in Florence; however, I am an interested foreigner living in Florence and did a bit of research on the topic. My research includes internet sources as well as a guidance from some local Italians.

Today I will share the images and scenes that I captured during this event, and give you some basic information about the issue and include resources so you can do your own searching. Part of understanding the culture of any place is acknowledging and knowing the political issues. It’s especially important if you’re living in another country and protests are blocking the streets outside of your apartment!

The best overview of the situation I found was from an article on, The Local, an italian news site in english. Check it out. 

 

Here are the basics:

Who:

  • The current Prime Minister of Italy is Matteo Renzi (centre-left)

    • He was appointed Prime Minister. The Italian people did not vote for him.

  • Other parties involved: Mr Salvini and Mr Grillo (plus a ton of other parties I won’t mention because apparently there are an infinite amount of parties in Italy)

    • Mr Salvini is a member of the European Parliament and Lega Nord party. He is a part of the “Northern league.” If you want to read more about his political views and his goal for Italy to ditch the euro currency check out this article

    • Mr Gillo is the leader of the Five Star Movement. If you want to learn more about this guy check out this article

When:

  • On December 4th Italians will vote either “yes” or “no” to a proposed referendum (or change) on constitutional reform.

  • The next general election in Italy is in 2018.

What:

  • The constitutional reform will reduce the size and power of the senate.

    • Current constitution= The voters would elect 630 members of the Chamber of Deputies and 315 members of Senate of the Republic.

    • Proposed reform= The senate would be replaced with an indirectly elected body composed of 100 members (95 from regional councils and 5 appointed by the President.

      • Some Italians are worried that if Renzi gets the yes vote, he will get the power to change whatever he wants. While others believe the yes vote will strengthen the government and make it more similar to the political organization of the United States.

      • If the referendum gets the no vote, Renzi may resign and the northern or right wing parties could gain power in the 2018 election which may result in Italy ridding the euro currency.

Where:

  • Why Florence? Renzi was born in Tuscany and was once the Mayor of Florence.

 

Chaos for the “yes” and “no” vote

From my research it seems that whether the result is yes or no, chaos is predicted. How?

  • If “no” wins: The Prime Minister, Renzi, says he will resign from office. This will result in political instability. The right wing parties, those opposing to the reform, would see this as a win so that their leader can step up.

  • If “yes” wins: Reformers say the change will make Italy more efficient, while opponents say it will remove vital checks and balances.

 

November 12th, 2016

This protest was lead by the northern right wing parties. They came down to Florence on buses.

These are just a few Lega Nord flags.

These are just a few Lega Nord flags.

The group of people protesting will vote no to the constitutional change which shows thy do not support the current prime minister.

The group of people protesting will vote no to the constitutional change which shows thy do not support the current prime minister.

Rough english translation: "The reform is scary. Welcome back to a dictatorship."

Rough english translation: "The reform is scary. Welcome back to a dictatorship."

Many protestors dressed elaborately in support of their stance and were open to sharing their opinions (even with me, someone who doesn't speak Italian).

Many protestors dressed elaborately in support of their stance and were open to sharing their opinions (even with me, someone who doesn't speak Italian).

They stormed the streets around Santa Croce chanting.

They stormed the streets around Santa Croce chanting.

The group also brought a giant green smoke bomb that filled the street with green smoke. 

The group also brought a giant green smoke bomb that filled the street with green smoke. 

The police stood around cautiously, ready to take action if anything were to become violent.

The police stood around cautiously, ready to take action if anything were to become violent.

During this video I shot you can hear an explosion and see many signs that show a familiar name.. TRUMP. This group along with Salvini is using Trump's victory in America to say that Trump proved the outcast option which many don't think could ever win, can! They hold signs that say "Yesterday Trump, Tomorrow Salvini.. Say No." This group supports Trump and sees Salvini as their Trump.

Living Like a Local (Part 2): Apartment Living

Most Florentine’s live in apartments with roommates. It’s not like living in an apartment in the states where we have the luxury of air conditioning, dishwashers, and clothes dryers. Everything about living here is unique and adds to the culture of living.

 

LAUNDRY

Laundry… one of my favorite things to photograph here in Italy. Ok, that sounds a little weird. But when everyone hangs their clothes outside their balconies and they somehow blend with the architecture, it is beautiful!

As beautiful, as these scenes may become, the task of drying clothes can be quite the hassle. I never spent that much time doing laundry before I came to Florence. I had a giant basket and would wait for one day that I could do one giant load. Here, the washers are tiny…. Probably because they know you don’t have anywhere to dry your clothes anyway. In my apartment, we have two racks that hold just enough clothes and it takes up so much space in our entry way.

Fun Facts:

  • The first load of laundry my roommate washed, resulted in oddly feeling clothes after they dried. They felt hard and plastic. She asked, “will I have to throw out my clothes at the end of my study abroad because of line drying my clothes?” NO!!! It turns out that air drying your clothes is better than using a machine. Yes, dryers make your clothes softer, but they weaken the fabrics’ fibers. Also, the sun is a natural whitener so the stains will fade naturally if you leave your clothes to dry out the window.

Tips:

  • Now that it’s getting cooler in Florence, you may have noticed that it takes your clothes longer to dry. Wash smaller loads of laundry so that you have enough clothes to wear in the meantime while your laundry dries.

  • A coworker of mine also suggests that you can leave socks on the heaters!

  • If you’re lucky enough to have a spin cycle option on your washer, use this to further get the liquid out of your clothes. Hopefully this will speed up the drying process.

  • Lastly, if it’s a sunny day, take advantage of the heat and put your clothes by the window to dry!

 

DISHES

Ok, so maybe “washing” dishes isn’t that different than it is in the states. But it does take a bit more time considering we do not have dishwashers. I was always used to throwing away the food on my plate, running it under hot water to get the leftover remnants off, then putting it into the dishwasher for further cleaning and drying. Here, we must scrub the dishes clean, and wipe them down with towels to get the delicious, but sticky, olive oil off the dishes. You know… because olive oil is in almost every dishes here in Italy. Seriously though, we use it in everything. We have to air dry our dishes which does not take too long, but this process is never ending because our rack piles up and requires constant maintenance as it is always full when 4 girls are sharing a space.

TRASH

There isn’t a trash chute in the apartment nor anyone who picks up the bags if you leave them outside your door. I have to carry trash down 3 flights of stairs and walk about a block to the trash location for my neighborhood. Then when you get to this spot, there are about 5 different trash chutes options all for a specific type of trash. In America we have two options: recycled items and then everything else. Here we have “Multi Material” (which I assume is the equivalent of recyclables since the picture on the outside is glass and plastics), “Residual Waste” (still unsure what is and what is not included in this one- if you know please tell me in the comments), and “organic.”

Tips:

  • In order to avoid contaminating the trash chutes in your neighborhood. Have separate trash cans in your apartment that you get in the habit of using correctly.

  • Also, you can buy recyclable and degradable bags for the trash if you’re into saving the world and everything! We have them in my apartment thanks to my roommate Mason who gets them at the local 99 cent store. :)

  • My roommates and I have a bad habit of using one big trash can and waiting until it’s extra full. Then it sits by the door waiting for someone to graciously volunteer to lug it all the way to the trash dump where it barely fits into the chute. Have smaller bags and take the trash out every day.

 

AIR CONDITION / HEAT

Well… for starters, air condition systems are a luxury here in Florence. So if you’re planning a trip here during the summer, plan accordingly. Bring clothes that you won’t sweat in during the night.

But the heating conditions are more relevant as we are getting into the cooler months. Our apartments luckily have heaters; however, for my peers and I, they are only scheduled to turn on during specific increments throughout the day.

Tips:

  • Because most of our floors are marble and get very cold, pick up a pair of warm fuzzy socks or slippers. You can probably get them at Tiger.

  • SAI students our heaters are turned on from 6 - 9 am, 12 - 2pm, and 7 - 10pm. Know when your heater is on, and keep the windows closed so you can allow your rooms to get warm.

  • While you should try to keep the heat in the rooms, remember to allow some time throughout the day to keep the windows open so you can filter the air. After showers, I know the heat feels great, but if you do not open the windows mold could grow in your bathrooms…

Fun fact:

Hot water is another interesting topic that I won’t go into much detail about, but I wanted to share how my roommates and I get hot water for our showers. We have to keep our kitchen sink running! If we want to shower we have to go into the kitchen, turn on the sink and let it get hot, while it is running turn on the shower, and keep the kitchen sink on. We sacrifice the water pressure but at least we have hot water!

 

Walking like a Local

Everything about Florence is different from my home Atlanta, Georgia. After traveling to a few other Italian cities like Rome, Venice, Siena, Pisa, Pitigliano, Cinque Terre, and few other towns, I have come to the conclusion that Florence is definitely my favorite. I am probably biased since I have spent the most time here because I have had the opportunity to not just explore and see the city but to live here. The means of commuting, shopping, and apartment living all add a unique aspect to the daily lifestyle. I am so intrigued with the unique day to day routines and the culture of living. This week I will talk about the different ways to get around the city and share a little behind of scenes of commuting in Florence as a local!

 

Walking

 

 

I have been driving since I was 15, the age you can get a permit in Georgia, because it’s basically the only way to get around.

When I came to Florence, I knew that I would be walking the majority of my travels; however, I underestimated the amount of walking I would be doing. I walk everywhere! I thought that maybe there would be a metro or bus that would assist me on my journeys, and while there is a bus, it is not worth the confusion and time as everything I do is within few miles of each other.

Florence is a fairly small city, so it doesn’t always appear that you are walking that much until blisters appear on your feat and the soles of your shoes are worn down! At this point, I have adjusted to the amount of walking and find it fun to check my mileage every once in awhile.

In September my daily walking average was 5.2 miles. The most I walked in Florence within a day was 10.4 miles, and the most I walked in a day in Italy was 12 miles in Rome.

To some that number may be small but to a girl from the south who drove everyday, that number is big!

Do you have an iphone? You can check your average mileage on the health app. This is how I keep track. Go to the app with the small pink heart in a white box, click on activity, and then you can see both step information and mileage. I am sure there are other apps you can download, and you may even have one of those snazzy fitbits! Either way, I suggest checking out how much you walk while in Florence because it may be more than you realize!

My only advice about walking in Florence is to have an idea of where you're going so you don’t get lost and wear the correct shoes for the journey! If you’re walking to Piazzale Michelangelo, I suggest you wear comfortable shoes.

 

Car

 

Very few people in Florence own cars because of the small streets and close proximity of the city. The most fascinating thing about driving in Florence is that the laws and rules of the road are very loose. Cars always have the right away and somehow they manage to fit down the smallest of pathways. I drove in a taxi once and the walls were less than inch away from the car on the both sides. I have also witnessed a car trying to fit into a parking garage and it got stuck. Another common thing to witness are bikers running into the back of cars or almost getting run over. Cars will go in both directions on roads and drive in the middle of pedestrian market areas. It can be scary to walk around in Florence with limited driving rules so I can only imagine the stress of the driver. I am not sure why the driving rules are not enforced nor do I understand why anyone would want a car here.

To those driving to Florence, park outside of the city and walk to the city center. It will take three times as long to navigate the city in a car and find parking.

 

Moped

 

Probably the most fun way to get around Florence is by moped! They are everywhere. Mopeds line the streets. My favorite photos are the men in suits riding on their mopeds. It’s an iconic part of europe and I understand why they are so common after observing the driving here!

You can take a moped tour around Florence with a few companies like Alina Rental and Eco Rent. I am unsure whether I would do this because it seems like a funny touristy thing to do, but I kind of want to be “that” person. You know.. so I can say I truly immersed myself in the culture.

 

 

Biking

 

 

Biking is another very common way to get around the city for a local. If I were going to be in Florence for longer than a few months, I would definitely invest in a bike because it would make my commutes much faster; however, it might not make them easier. Bikers, like drivers here, do not follow the rules. They bike where ever they want to which can cause problems like running into cars or tourists. I have almost been run over by a bike about 10 times. They come out of nowhere and seem to always be headed right where I am walking.

An issue I have heard from a few locals is that bikes seem to get stolen quite easily here. One lady in my office told me she went through 5 bikes in a short amount of time because they were all stolen. She eventually gave up her hopes of riding her bike and she now walks wherever she needs to go.

I have not ridden a bike around Florence, but I did get the chance to bike around Chianti. It was by far my favorite thing I have done here. The experience was very refreshing. I went with Tuscany by Bike and the trip included an amazing lunch, wine tasting, olive oil tasting, a tour of a winery, and a 13 miles bike tour. If you want to experience tuscany by bike, but don’t want to deal with the craziness of Florence, I recommend this to everyone.

If you’re brave enough, there is an option is to rent a bike in Florence for a few hours or a day. The prices are reasonable usually around 4 euros an hour or 12 euros a day.

 

Bus

 

There is a bus system in Florence, but from my understand and observations the people who use the bus are usually those that live outside the city center and work in the city center. My only experience with the bus was a failed attempt. I was with my class up near Piazzale Michelangelo and we were going to take the bus down to the duomo instead of walking. We saw the bus coming down the street, the driver saw us, slowed down slightly, and didn’t stop for us!

The bus is a cheap option and somewhat reliable on their projected times, so maybe you can give it a try and tell me about your experience.

 

Taxi

Another form of transportation are taxis. The taxi system here is very different than in the states. Waving down a taxi like you would in New York is not a thing here. There are specific locations where taxis’ pick up people. You can find a list of these spots online. What happens when you go to a taxi location and there are no taxis? You can call a taxi service. The numbers are: 055.4242 / 055.4390 / 055.4798 / 055.4499. You can call them to pick you up at a taxi location or an alternative location, however, if you pick the second option they may charge you for the time it takes them to get to wherever you are.

 

Awesome Fact: Visit Florence says that you can get a 10% discount off the fare if you travel alone between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. The discount isn't automatic, so ASK FOR IT!

 

 

Train

 

While walking is my mode of transportation within the city of Florence, I take the train to other italian cities. This option is preferable over a bus in my opinion due to the surprising comfort and speed of the trains. Trenitalia seems to be cheaper compared to Italotreno, and the Santa Maria Novella train station may seem overwhelming but it is easy to navigate. There are many Florentine families who don’t have a car and only use the trains to travel!

Take me to Church: Religious Culture in Florence

With frescoes of religious visuals on the sides of buildings and churches on every corner, it is no question whether or not Florence holds religious values. Most of the citizens are Catholic, and the city follows many of the religious traditions.

Today, I will discuss the religious culture of Florence which will include some history, fun facts, sunday service information, and information about other religions in the city.

 

HISTORY

In 1929, Roman Catholicism was made the state religion of Italy. For several years the church had the right to censor books, films, and theater productions if they were not appropriate for catholic audiences. Religion was also a mandatory subject taught in schools. In 1984, the relationship between the Church and the state was formally severed; however, the church has remained important for Italians.

 

FUN FACTS

  • Every city in Italy has a Patron Saint, and Florence’s is Saint John the Baptist. On his feast day, June 24th, the city celebrates. There are fireworks, feasts, and it is a party!

  • Only 25% of Italians attend church on a regular basis. Those who attend regularly are young children, women, and elderly.

  • Members of the upper and lower class do not attend mass as often as the middle class.

  • Many Roman Catholics in the southern regions of Italy practice folk beliefs! Certain women in small villages are said to have magic powers. They are consulted for predictions about the future, potions, or charms to win lovers. Some southerners fear witches and perform animal sacrifices to keep them away.

 

GETTING INVOLVED

Whether or not you are Catholic, it would be an amazing experience for you to go to a service at some point during your stay in Florence. Your options are endless, so you could even church hop and find your favorite.

I found a great website that featured about 15 churches in the city center. It includes some detailed information about each, if you want to look at more options than the few that follow:

If you are interested in attending a service in english, check out St. James Church.

This is an American Episcopal church in Florence.

Sunday Service: 9:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist with sermon, 11:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist with sermon and music

Address: via B. Rucellai, 9

If you would like to try something different you can attend a mass in Latin and Gregorian chant at the Duomo, Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower.

There is a Sunday service at 10:30am, and further times are listed on their website. They have services almost every day.

Another church to check out is Basilica San Miniato al Monte. It is very close to Pizzale Michelangelo, and has an even higher view than the touristy spot below. It is free to go inside and see the beautiful architecture and design.

Open times: Sunday (8:15am - 7am), Weekdays (9:30am - 1pm, 3pm-7pm)

Sunday Mass in Gregorian chant and Latin: 8:30am, 10:00am, 11:30am, and 5:30

Address: Via di San Miniato al Monte

The church also has a beautiful cemetery that is worth checking out. 

Holidays that will take place during the remainder of my study abroad trip (October- Mid December):

  • All Saints and All Souls Day

    • November 1st= All Saint’s Day

      • Celebrates the memory of every Catholic saint

    • November 2nd= All Soul’s Day

      • Centers on the remembrance of those who departed this world.

The two are usually considered as a continuum by most Italians, who use these days as a moment to reflect and remember the departed.

 

  • The Immaculate Conception

    • December 8th

This is a Holy Day of Obligation. The faithful are required to attend Mass, where they commemorate when Mary was graced by God to lead a life completely free of sin.

 

OTHER RELIGIONS IN FLORENCE

While 99% of the Italian population are catholic, the remaining 1% have communities within the city center.

 

Jewish Community

Ever wonder what that bluish green dome is in the city? It’s a jewish synagogue: The Great Synagogue of Florence or Tempio Maggiore.

There is also a museum inside that contains historical information about the jewish community in Florence.

You can get a ticket for 5 euros as a student. Every half an hour there is a presentation alternating in italian and english for free.

Address: Via Luigi Carlo Farini, 6

 

Muslim Community

There are around 1,000 muslims in Florence and three locations to worship. One of those locations is on Borgo Allegri, not too far from FUA and Santa Croce.

On Fridays it’s a sight to see! People pray on the streets outside the mosque for the Friday prayer of Jummah. While it may be a neat visual, this is not the ideal situation for the community. Unfortunately, there is just not enough room in their mosque so they have to move people on the streets.

Address: Borgo Allegri, 6

Everything Leather in Firenze

Walking down the streets of Florence, it is no question whether or not Florence is a mecca for leather. You will find a shop on every corner, a row of merchant booths, or men pestering you on the side of the streets all selling leather. Today I will discuss the leather culture in Florence including a bit about the history of the industry, spotting fake leather versus real leather, and most importantly where you can get your own leather items.

Let’s just say that sending me on a search for leather in this city was not a good idea. I went determined to only research and not buy, but I walked away with several items that I am in love with! Here are a few of my favorite purchases.

HISTORY

Before you go out and spend your souvenir money on leather, let’s talk about the basics.

Most of us know that leather is dried skin, but did you know that there are lots of different animals that leather products are made from? In Florence about 60% of the skins are from adult cattle, 10% sheep, 10% goats, and 8% calves.

If you want a life-long statement piece that you can brag to your friends that you bought it in Florence, it would also be great to know what animal it is from. That way you can do some research about the best ways to care for your specific leather so that it can last. When you go buy leather check to see if the label mentions the type of leather, and if it doesn’t say just ask! This is also a great way to tell if a shop owner or vendor is selling real products. If it is real, the owner will be able to give you details and important information, but if it’s fake, they will probably get flustered and tongue tied.

Fun Fact: Italy exports italian leather to 120 countries worldwide.

If you want to learn more about the production of leather and read about how it is made, I found a great website created by a local leather supplier that talks about the process.

 

WHY BUY THE REAL THING?

Many of my peers are planning on buying their friends and family fake leather in Florence because it is cheap. That is perfectly fine, but Florence is known for its genuine leather products not it’s fake products. If you want a go-to item like an everyday shoe, daily purse, or winter jacket, invest in some real leather. If you are purchasing an item that you won’t be using often, you can get away with fake leather.

Here are pros and cons to both options:

Real Leather:

  • Pros

    • It does not crack easily (very durable)

    • It is breathable, and will let the air pass through it.

    • It is hypo-allergenic.

    • As it ages, leather generally becomes softer and more flexible. This will add character to a bag overtime.

  • Cons

    • While leather is fairly easy to clean, it is susceptible to staining from moisture and fading from sun exposure.

    • It can be pricey!

Fake Leather

  • Pros

    • It is more elastic than real leather so that allows it to stretch and move.

    • It is also waterproof and quite resistant to stains and scratches.

    • Fake leather won’t break the bank!

  • Cons

    • This material is not breathable, and it does not let air pass through it.

    • It catches the allergic germs easily; it is not hypo-allergic.

    • The major disadvantage is that you likely won’t be maintaining it long. The material does not have a long lifespan (it will become stretched and worn with regular use).

 

IS IT REAL OR IS IT FAKE?

If you want to watch a video about how to tell if leather is real or fake watch this video; otherwise, here is a short recap. 

Some myths to determine if leather is real:

Smell

Fake leather and real leather smell the same! All you are smelling is the chemicals on both fake and real products.

Texture

Those who make fake leather products have become such great replicators that the texture is also almost the exact same on the outside. The smooth glossy side is not a good way to determine its authenticity. You need to look on the suede side. Items with a lining, like a jacket, can be rubbed. If it is smooth and slick it is most likely fake, but if it is rough it could be real.

Labels

Italian Law also says that labels must be sewn onto genuine leather, but that means that any other parts of a product that do not contain a label could be fake. If you are buying a jacket and the label is in the inside behind the neck, the back could be real while the collar and sleeves could be fake.

The flame test gimmick and other tell-tale signs of a fake!

In the outdoor markets, many of the vendors have ways to trick you into believing their product is real.

The flame test is one of those gimmicks; however, the flame test is made up! Would Prada let you put a flame to their bag? No. Remember, we learned that leather is animal skin. Just like our skin would burn under a flame so would animal skin. Real leather is not fireproof, which means that both real and fake leather will burn. The outdoor market vendors will keep a flame moving so the heat doesn’t burn the product. The scratch test was also created for the fake vendors to trick you into believing that you are buying real leather.

Florence has a great leather industry which means that incredible deals do not exist. If it sounds too good to be true, then it is probably fake.

 

WHERE TO BUY

Jackets

Christy, the housing coordinator in the SAI office, has a friend who owns a leather jacket shop in Florence. Let them know Christy sent you!

Pelletteria La Noce

Address: Via Borgo La Noce 8r Stand #4

Bags

Check out Via dei Ginori 23r for your bag and wallet needs. This is Regan’s favorite place to shop, and now my favorite as well! This is where I got that beautiful brown calf bag shown earlier. You can see them making their products right in the store which is very unique and proves its authenticity. If you make your way to this neat and eclectic shop, tell her Regan sent you! I told her Regan sent me so she discounted my bag, and then discounted it more for paying in cash.

Address: Via dei Ginori 23r, it’s close to the Duomo and the Medici Chapel.

FREE OPTIONS/ STUDENT DISCOUNTS

Massimo Leather gives study abroad students a free leather coin purse when they buy a bag or jacket!

The address is Borgo La Noce 13r and 15r





Study Abroad or Travel Abroad?

Study abroad in Italy is definitely a culture in itself for the city of Florence. With 4,000 foreign students in the city every semester, there are many events and companies that are specifically created for us!

We all know that we came here to “study,” but we also have to admit that we have the desire to travel and explore while we are here! Travelling is going to further our knowledge in not only education but in life. Today I will be talking about some of the ways we can plan travel during our time here ranging from free options with SAI to companies like Smart trip, Bus2Alps, and Florence for Fun.

In just a short time, I have already had my fair share of travel and planning experience. I have attended the SAI weekend trip, planned some adventures on my own, and booked a few trips with Smart Trip and Bus2Alps.

I have come to some conclusions about pricing, pros and cons, and what you’re going to get out of these travel options.

FREE OPTIONS

SAI offers inclusive activities and travel options for us. Before you start filling your calendar with weekend trips, take a look at the adventures that they have to offer. I almost booked a biking trip with a company before I realized that SAI offered the same thing! Let’s take advantage of what they provide and make friends while doing it.

All of us who are here in Florence with SAI are going to FUA and may even have classes together. It seems to be quite difficult to meet people in our classes because many of them came from the same school or there just isn’t enough time to mingle afterward. These free excursions with SAI are a great way to meet people going to your school and living in your neighborhood. I have met more people on my trips with SAI than I have from my classes.

Here is a list of some excursions happening throughout the semester with SAI (you can find this list along with awesome descriptions of the events on your SAI flash drive):

The Boat Tour of the Arno River: September 23

Hike the Tuscan Hills from Fiesole to Settignano: September 30

Day Trip to Bologna: October 8

Day trip to Lucca and Carrara UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES!!: October 15

Traditional Bookmaking Workshops: November 3 & 15 & 23

Italian Cooking Lessons: September 27 and October 3 & 13

Tuscany by Bike: September 15 and October 7

Visit to Contemporary Art Exhibition: November 10 & 17

Soccer Game: TBD

Here are some photos I took from the Weekend trip to Maremma and Islands of Tuscany.

 

FUA

Another place that we can book travel plans is at our own school FUA. If you want to find a list of their travel options you can either go to myfua and follow the steps we learned during orientation or you can find a list and detailed itinerary on the SAI flash drive that you received in the mail before you arrived.

The prices might seem to be more expensive than some of the travel companies in Florence, but there are several pros to booking with FUA. If you are on a trip with FUA you will be staying in a hotel and the trips usually include breakfast and a few meals. Keep in mind that a lot of the trips with companies like Smart Trip, Bus2Alps, and Florence for Fun only include transportation and sleeping accommodations and sometimes that means sleeping on a bus.

Once you add the cost of food for a weekend trip and the excursions that you are wanting to do on a trip, it can get pricy. Most of the FUA trips even include entrance to museums and activities. Even though the initial price might be more than other companies, just look at all that they include in their packages!

Another pro to booking with FUA is that you will get a more educational and art focus experience that will most likely merge the information you’re learning in your classes.

These trips are also likely to fit with the schedules of those student’s who have the dreaded 4 or 5 day school week.

 

INDEPENDENT TRAVEL

Making travel plans on your own can be somewhat intimidating. A google search of flights leads to an infinite amount of options, and trying to determine where to even go when you travel is difficult when you’ve never been!

When planning a trip on your own, use your resources:

One option is to email SAI and ask for their advice. They enjoy telling you where to find the best flight prices and hidden gems.

Another option is to check itineraries from travel companies. They list from day to day what they are visiting and you can plan those yourself. You don’t need to limit yourself to what a company plans, do and see more places that these companies don’t offer.

Traveling independently is an adventure on its own. You’ll face so many challenges that will test your international street smart skills. The language barriers will be difficult and the planning must be detailed. You will need to research when museums are open and when they close, what time to be at the train station, and how to get a taxi from point a to point b. Just remember that it is okay to mess up! Study abroad is a learning experience in and out of the classroom. You will learn so much about yourself and the places you’re traveling when you are traveling independently. Challenge yourself by planning a trip on your own, or with a friend, to create a customized and unique travel itinerary that will further your experience while abroad.

 

PRE-PLANNED TRAVEL WITH COMPANIES

While traveling independently has its pros, sometimes there are travel plans that seem almost impossible to make happen financially and logistically without help and guidance. That is why travel companies exist! Lucky for us, we have several here in Florence created specifically for study abroad students.

Two weekends ago I attended a day trip to Cinque Terre with Smart trips, where we saw 3 different towns.

Manarola

Riomaggiore

Monterosso

1.jpg

I had a few hesitations about this type of travel to begin with. For starters, I was unsure how much free time I would have and worried that I would be dragged around from location to location. Would I have a say in my experience? YES! To my surprise, there was a perfect balance between a set schedule and some freedom. We met early morning at a meeting spot near the bus station in Florence. From there we took a bus to Manarola and had time to see the iconic italian colorful city stacked on the coast. Smart Trip took us from town to town at a specific time, but we were able to explore every location on our own.

The friendly employees of Smart Trip also informed me that some people book for the transportation. They say as long as you are at the meeting spot to head back to Florence at the end of the day, you can do whatever you wish!

Another worry I had was going on one of these trips alone. With that said, my roommate, Jen, joined me. While most everyone who went on this day trip had a partner in crime, there was a handful of people that came solo who ended up making new friends! Our parents reminded us to “always travel with a buddy” about 30 times before we left, so this kind of trip is the perfect one to book because you're basically guaranteed a buddy! *Feel free to use this as your excuse to ask your parents for money to book one of these trips.*

Jen and I had a blast strolling around the beautiful towns and soaking up the italian sun on the beach of Monterosso. We even rented a kayak for 12 euros!

meonkayak.jpg

The most important advice I can give to everyone trying to book a trip with a travel company is to do your research! My roommate, Jen, and I dedicated an entire afternoon to comparing prices between these companies. We found that Smart Trip was insanely cheaper than Florence for Fun and Bus2Alps because they are owned by Ciao Florence which has their own bus company. This means that when they are booking trips, they don’t have to go through a third party for transportation which makes our cost less.

Bus2Alps had a walk-in sale one day, and even with 50% off their weekend trips, Smart Trip was still cheaper. I went to this walk-in sale with a list of the trips that I knew that I wanted to book and put Smart Trip prices beside them so I could determine if I would accept their “Amazing in-store Deal.”

I have been to two different companies in-store sales, and it is easy to feel pressured into booking something immediately. Even the young and relatable employees from all of these companies can be a bit intense and pressuring. Keep in mind that these employees get a commission when you use their discount code to book a trip. So they want you to book because it pays their bills.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe these companies are having big sales like they had a few weeks ago to begin the semester. On the bright side, a manager of one of these companies informed me that sometimes when a trip doesn’t fill up, they will discount trips last minute. I definitely would not rely on this, especially for popular trips like Oktoberfest, but if there is a trip on your list of places to go that you aren’t attached to, you could always hold off and hope for the best.

While the price is definitely an important aspect to deciding where to book your trip, it is also important to compare itineraries and determine what you want to get out of your trip. There are several other companies that you can use to book travel plans.

To conclude, determine what is most important to you for your travel plans this semester. Make a list of the places you want to visit, not where your roommate wants to visit, and do research on your options.

Ciao and safe travels!