Travel Log 4: “Studying Abroad…It’s More Than Just a Walk in the Park” Kathleen Flynn. Florence, Italy

“We need a slow mode of transport to truly absorb our surroundings. Space changes utterly when we experience it on foot “ (Slimbach, 182). This quote from our reading fits perfectly for not only the past assignment, but also for my experience thus far in Florence. The city is small enough that I can get to almost any point in under half an hour, but because of this I am constantly on foot. Of course it was quite an adjustment to make walking under one mile some days back home and then an average of six miles here, yet one month in and I feel like I’ve truly absorbed my surroundings. On days when I have the chance to walk around by myself I notice the smallest details from the trendy coats and shoes the locals wear, to the street cleaners who work every day scrubbing graffiti off the walls and sweeping cigarettes off the sidewalk. I have also found that almost every other person walks around with their small lap dogs who are always outfitted in a jacket that is as trendy as their owner’s. These dogs also leave behind a mess on the streets and I’ve begun noticing that large puddles along the building are not water. Texting and walking is not easy around here because not only am I dodging the dogs’ messes, but also the bikes, Vespa’s, and small two seat cars that whip around with no regard for pedestrians. There are no speed limits within this city.

Florence is very lively even now in the off-season of tourists. During the day the cafes, salumerias (delis), and trattorias (restaurants) are filled with people. The locals make use of every structure, such as the stone benches along the old palazzos (palaces) or the wall along the river, to sit, converse and eat a quick snack. Italian couples are extremely public with their affection as they lay together on blankets in the public gardens or kiss beneath the beautiful buildings here. Beggars are not as common here as they are probably in Rome, but street vendors stand along every corner and popular street. I’ve learned that as soon as you make eye contact or answer a question they are relentless in trying to sell you their umbrellas, selfie sticks, or scarves. It’s best to ignore them altogether and it isn’t considered rude.

When going into any shop or restaurant it’s very polite to address the owner or employee by saying “Ciao!” or “Buongiorno!” Most Italians appreciate the attempt to speak the language when ordering or shopping, however most know English and are very helpful. Another important lesson is that there is no need to tip for any type of service here unless you feel like it is necessary. In place of this, most places charge an extra “coperto” for sitting down to eat which is usually only about two euros. I’ve also learned that the culture here encourages slowly enjoying your meal and so there is never any rush. Because of this, I have waited almost half an hour for the waiter to bring my check, unknowing that the customer must specifically ask for it when ready.

During my long walks I’ve soaked up almost every aspect of the surrounding Italian culture here. Being able to take the road slowly on foot without my head in my phone has definitely been a sort of ‘teacher’ to me. I am constantly observing the street signs and the shops along the way in a way I never have when I am home. If needed I could direct a person to any popular spot giving them the names of streets rather than just telling them the general direction. At this point in my abroad experience I have become so comfortable with the surrounding area that other tourists have stopped to ask me for directions. I guess I’m beginning to look less like a lost American and more like a student of Florence! All of these learning experiences and walks have made me feel a sort of closeness and possessiveness to the city. I’m even becoming more upset by the increase of tourists visiting as if the city is mine.

Over the past few weeks I’ve also been reading my travelogue and I’ve found it so interesting reading through the lens of the author, Susan Kelley, even though she took a much different walk in Florence then I currently am. Kelley is in her fifties and came here to get away with her husband who is an artist. While their experiences here are less centered around working and studying, and more on visiting the most glamorous sights and restaurants, her initial feelings upon arriving to Florence were very similar to mine. Kelley wrote, “I felt chic, comfortable, and deliriously happy with my cross body purse and my rubber soled walking shoes as we embarked on this journey” (Kelley). I thought it was funny that she noted her new cross body purse and shoes, which I also invested in before coming here. Also, many people describe being “deliriously happy,” but I think “chic” is another great word especially coming to such a trendy European city like Florence.

I have chosen this picture to describe the walk I took, because this picture was taken the first day I arrived and it is of the street I’m living on this semester. When I first got to Florence this one-way street seemed so narrow and boring to me. Now, it is my favorite way to end my walk home because it is a very popular spot for antique shops, small boutiques, and design studios. There is always something new to look at when I walk down this street and I love window-shopping on my way back. Today, the street no longer feels so small and empty, but large and full of opportunity.

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