Travel log 4 “Studying Abroad… It’s More Than Just a Walk in the Park” by Lauren Kantrovitz, Florence Italy.

‘Getting lost’ within the streets of Florence, as many people have encouraged me to do, has not only been a way for me to engage and learn more about the culture that encompasses me each day, but also acts as an extremely therapeutic getaway, if you will. As stated in previous weeks, a goal of mine while abroad was to challenge my sense, or lack thereof, of direction. As one would expect, one with poor navigational skills likely would not be the first one jumping up and down to get lost within the streets a new, foreign city. However due to the fact that while here in Italy, wifi is very cherished as it is not found easily, data, which is rather expensive must be used if one would like to use the internet if in the need of assistance for directions. On account of this, I only use my data when absolutely needed; When I am ‘really’ lost. This has been an extremely beneficial and forceful way to accomplish my goal as I now know my way around a good chunk of the city! Hooray! Not only that, but I have opportunely discovered new restaurants, chocolate shops (my ultimate guilty pleasure) and located places that we had read were must visits while walking around the city by myself. I have found that I tend to take in more of my surroundings and appreciate them more when by myself, likely due to the fact that I am person that is easily distracted by the people around me. I began to enjoy the city of Florence much more when I began to take in the magic that I have been told encompasses me and I feel as though I have finally begun to encounter the allure that the city holds.
As I am beginning to feel more comfortable with Florence, I can begin to take in all of the stimuli that surrounds me that at first, was so overwhelming, I was not aware of. The best way for me to explain the smells, sounds, and observations I make as an entirety each day would be to walk one through my day from the beginning. It only makes sense as I am woken up each day by the sound of the city. The walls of my apartment are very thin and on a fairly well known residential street, resulting in myself being woken up throughout the night to the sounds of voices, likely of drunk Americans, or a women, that quite creepily, I often hear singing at the wee hours of the morning. Each morning, it not only sounds, but feels as though my bed has been placed on train tracks as my apartment quite literally shakes from the passing of what I believe to be a train (although the Santa Maria Novella Train station is a twenty minute walk). This is accompanied by loud rumbles and the train horn. We are situated on the second floor of the apartment building we live in. Each morning, and all throughout the day, we encounter different intensities of a fowl sewage like smell when we enter the hallway to leave the building. Occasionally, if we’re lucky, we smell garlic cooking from another apartment around dinner time that hides the potent smell. Fortunately, it is just the hallway and not the apartment that has that awful smell. Right before leaving our building, one will see an elevator that nostalgically reminds me of The Lizzie McGuire Movie, that took place in Rome, with the iron see-through door. Frankly, I likely won’t step foot in the elevator again as although fascinating, does not feel particularly safe.
As soon as you step outside the doors of the apartment one will notice the streets that are constantly lined with cars, young students walking to grandparents taking a stroll, and finally the many bikers and Vespas that seem to be the main form of transportation here in Florence. Rather comically (unless hit), if a pedestrian is in a cars way, they will plow you down, no question! That is one of the first things I was surprised to see when I arrived in Florence. In the United States, pedestrians always have the right of way, and cars will stop for you as if they hit you, there would likely be repercussions. In Florence, I truly question whether anything would happen if a car hit someone, which I’m surprised I have not witnessed yet. One must always look both ways as out of the corner of your eye a speeding motorcycle going speeds that would be incredibly illegal in the states will fly right by you. I also have yet to see speed signs anywhere in the city and have only noticed police officers near historical monuments such as the Duomo or Uffitzi. Additionally, the police officers here are not what you think of at home in the states. They are wearing military suits, carrying gigantic guns, standing still, likely in a group or near a military jeep, with straight faces. Very scary if you ask me! I think their plan to intimidate people to prevent criminal acts is working.

During my walk to school I will see a class or two of about 20 students, each of young elementary students. I am unsure if they walk to school together or take walks around the city during school as this will typically be around 11am. I then pass the cafe that I frequent every morning. People typically have a cafe that they can refer to as ‘their’ cafe based on the neighborhood that they live in. People tend to be very loyal to their baristas and not Starbucks or Dunkin here in Florence! I do the typical “American” thing and order a cappuccino, just wait… To go. I pay a 1.30 euro with the dollar being a coin! How cool! Each morning I am fortunate enough to pass the beautiful Duomo, and based on the route I take, the Uffitzi as well. My school is right on the streets lining the Arno which is known for the Ponte Vecchio. Unfortunately, and oddly enough, I have found that I don’t typically discover many smells while walking through the city streets. I suppose it may be due to the wider streets as when I walked through the very thin streets of Venice, smells of restaurants and the wonderful food cooking overwhelmed, in a very good way I may add, my nostrils.

As expected, everyone here smokes cigarettes! So if there is one smell I often notice, it would be from the many cigarettes I pass throughout the day.

Another mannerism I have noticed each day while I walk through the city is that people don’t apologize for being in one’s way or bumping into you. Often times, I find that I have to step off of the sidewalk into the streets to pass someone or else they will quite literally have no problem running me down. I have found that the only people that seem to move out of the way are foreigners or younger Italians. On account of this, I believe it may be a form of respect that is expected toward older people in Florence, to move out of the way.

Gypsies and pick picketers were people I had been warned that I would encounter often during my time in Italy. I have been to Italy before and remember feeling that my space was often invaded in Rome by men on the streets selling goods. However gypsies I did not remember and Florence I had never been until now. In Florence, gypsies dress like what you would stereotypically imagine in a long colorful peasant-like skirt with a large shawl or jacket. However from what people had told me I had imagined gypsies following me trying to haggle me for money. However I have found, based on my encounters, that the gypsies here tend to keep to themselves. The only people that I feel invade my space are the men near the Duomo that sell selfie sticks, because who wouldn’t want a selfie with the Duomo?

When we first arrived in Florence, during our orientation, a police officer spoke to us for about an hour, particularly speaking to the women in the room, warning them to be weary of Italian men as they are extremely flirtatious and will likely try to take advantage until you flat out tell them no and to go away. They don’t take hints he told us! Additionally, he stressed that we should walk on the sidewalk with our bag away from the road, our bag always zipped up and in front of us telling us that it could be snatched right out of our hands. As that is what I had also been warned of prior to arriving in Florence, I expected to feel slightly anxious and very cautious at all times while in the streets of Florence. Now although I would not advise to leave ones bag wide open, I have not experienced anything that has made me feel that I need to be exceptionally more cautious than I would in the states unless I’m walking through the leather market where it is very crowded.

Recently, I took a day trip to Rome and just as I remembered, it was drastically different than what I’ve found in Florence, and this time, the gypsies really stood out to me. In Rome, the gypsies would often be limping or on the ground looking as though they were near death, in pray. They used the technique of making foreigners feel sorrow for them in order to bring in reward just as Amber who studied in Ethiopia described. I’m glad that I don’t have to encounter begging such as what was explained in “Becoming Worldwise” as the “begger mafia”. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to pass such hopeless and disabled children each day. Just as Slimbach stated, “We simply cannot give to all beggars but neither must we refuse all beggars. Over time, our giving will be selective…” (188). I feel this is a good synopsis of travel as people initially enter a city that is new to them, their senses overwhelmed and unsure what to pay attention to. Everything seems desirable and great when it’s the first thing you see and have nothing else to compare it to. Based on my daily travels throughout the endless streets of Florence,I have allowed myself to experience enough to be able to make opinions for myself based on what panini or gelato is better or what is a better place to sit down and study. At first, everything seems wonderful, but one has to give themselves the time to make the informative decision and chance to find the magic in every place just as I have begun to do with Florence.

As described by Slimbach, it can be difficult to find the time to rest or even the environment to do that. Unfortunately I have been in that position as I share the same schedule as my roommate who I went on the trip with. Up until now, I have only had one day with the room to myself, for a solid twenty minutes. I am a person, who in order to stay sane and put my thoughts and feelings together, needs alone time. On account of this, it has been difficult to adjust to Florence. The ability to walk around the streets of Florence, that always allow me to discover new places and wonders, has been a great replacement for this.

Mercado Centrale (the central market) is a famous market in the center of Florence that is filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, homemade pastas, you name it. Local residents frequent there and people form relationships with the owners of each little shop that they frequent in the market. People tend to buy fresh groceries each day as opposed to buying a weeks worth supply of groceries at the beginning of the week. I absolutely love this about Florence as I have always found grocery shopping, especially in places as wonderful as the central market that always permit the discovery of something new, as something to look forward to! The market closes at 15:00 each day (if it isn’t clear already, I have successfully switched to the world clock and don’t plan on going back!) and if you go when the market owners are packing their food away, you can barter with them and get great deals! In terms of restaurants, I have found that on account of the fact that it is frowned upon to tip waiters, waiters don’t give customers their full attention until you are officially their customer. At home, I work in the restaurant business and as soon as someone enters the restaurant, all waiters and employees of the restaurant must put their best foot forward from the moment they enter the restaurant. In Italy I have experienced that they don’t pay attention to you as often until they have seated you. In terms of etiquette, it is somewhat expected to finish a meal as it implies that you were not satisfied with the meal given to you if you have left food on your plate. Time is also treated much more casually in Florence and is not taken in offense when one arrives a few minutes late as one is expected to enjoy their morning cappuccino at the cafe and their stroll to work! Finally, public transit, such as the bus system, is based on an honor system. All in all, Florence is a much more relaxed place seeming to place more importance on people’s happiness and places more trust that people will do the right thing than in the United States.

The memoir that I chose, “Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy” by Frances Mayes, ended up being a great choice for me as I found I could relate to her experience of adjusting to Italy. Mayes bought a summer house in Bramasole, Italy and when she initially bought the house, imagined it being the perfect getaway for family and friends to visit and have huge family dinners and such. However, the house was not as well kept as hoped and problems arose throughout the many summers they visited after buying the house. Although it was initially very difficult to find that magic that she had dreamt of towards her italian summer house, she eventually found it after allowing herself to tread over the bumps in the road. I feel that I can relate to this experience as it is a difficult decision to leave behind or put so much money into something, but when it’s a dream, it seems easy. However when you finally end up taking on your dream and it does not initially end up the way you had imagined, it can be very disappointing. I am already finding that if you stick through the tough times you will allow yourself the opportunity to appreciate the good even more than expected. Although I know I have many more bumps in the road that I will encounter, I am beginning to experience the feeling of discovery here in Florence, which could not be more exciting.

The picture that I chose is of a chocolate shop I randomly found while exploring the streets of Florence. I of course had to share this on account of my love for chocolates to show what great finds you can stumble upon while wandering streets mindlessly!

Slimbach, Richard. Becoming World Wise: A Guide to Global Learning.” Stylus. Sterling, Virginia. 2010.


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