Travel Guide: Ciao from Florence

Welcome to the Hatchet’s Travel Guide. I am Jessica Greco, a junior majoring in fine arts. I am currently abroad with Syracuse University’s art program in Florence, Italy.

I have been here for a little more than two weeks. I am finally starting to get the hang of things here. From the moment I got on the plane things were very strange. The whole setup was very retro with lots of lime green and burgundy seats. We had to watch this little animated safety video with a girl in it who looked like Daphne from the old Scooby Doo cartoons.

We finally arrived in Milan and were put on a bus to Firenze. What’s Firenze? That’s what the Italians call Florence. Of course, I had no idea about that until I stepped off the plane.

We stopped for lunch at a place called Autogrill, which was the weirdest truck stop I have ever been to. It is this big truck stop mecca, as best as I can describe it. There were all sorts of amazing, fresh-looking food. There were gas pumps outside, and when leaving they send you past a ground floor with all sorts of stuff for sale: cheese wheels, huge dried meats hanging from the ceiling, flags, toy cars, and laundry detergent, just to name a few things.

We were then drowned in paperwork while we registered for classes, and it was completely dizzying.

The first night we had a welcoming party, and the school bused all of the students up into the surrounding hills to a medieval castle they had rented for the party. There were candles all over and ivy was practically dripping from the walls. To top it off, the view of Florence at night from up in the hills was incredible.

Finally at our orientation hotel, we all felt more disoriented than ever. I didn’t know any Italian, I was catching a cold, and I didn’t know where I was or how to do anything. To say I felt completely isolated would be an understatement. For two days they shuffled us from the hotel to meetings to a restaurant and to more meetings.

While Florence seems very large and busy, the main downtown area and some of the surrounding neighborhoods are quite easily navigated and completely walkable. I have a class on the other side of town, and I can walk there in a half-hour.

Assuming I don’t try to find a shortcut and get lost, almost everything is between a 10-40 minute walk away. I haven’t attempted to ride the buses yet. I hear they are very simple and aren’t air-conditioned so I’m holding off for as long as I can because the weather still gets very hot in the afternoon, regardless of how cold it gets at night.

Taxis are very good, except they can’t be hailed here. They can only be found at a taxi stand, or by calling for one, but they’re usually very quick to respnd.

On the third day I met my roommates and we got our apartment, and things started shaping up. I’m living on Via Guerrazzi, right near the main school building with three other girls. Our apartment is right beyond the city center’s north boundary, so everything is really close, and it’s a beautiful neighborhood. Of course, no apartment is without its quirks. For example, our bathroom is very odd, because we have two rooms for it, one with a toilet and one with the bathtub itself.

This city may look very old, but the people are all up to date. Italians here have an overwhelmingly good sense of style and dress well, men and women alike. It’s a much more courageous style than the U.S. trends tend toward. I haven’t seen a single Gap yet. Some of the men are actually prettier than the women, but one thing everyone agrees on is that there are beautiful people of both sexes everywhere.

Oddly, there’s a red shoe phenomenon I can’t quite explain, but I keep noticing it and intend to figure it out by December. Maybe they all just have a thing for red. I see people wearing all denim, nothing with the color red. But suddenly there is a shock of red at their feet. Regardless of the color of the outfit, they all seem to like the red leather shoe-sneakers. Lately I’ve been having this strange compulsion to get myself a pair and see if it feels less silly wearing them than I think it looks.

I still feel really awkward shopping here, as my vocabulary is painfully limited, so I find myself pointing and nodding too much. Almost all of the shops here are small and privately run, which is a far cry from the supermarkets and malls that I’m used to.

I made one trip to a big grocery store here, Esselunga, and it was one of the strangest experiences. Fruit and vegetables go in a baggie, but wearing little plastic gloves while picking the fruit out is a must. I then had to put the bag on the little scales nearby and push the button for what I got, thus pricing it myself. The completely illogical setup of the store just blew my mind as well. Who puts fish next to books?

Like I said, everything is different around here and, it’s taking me a while to get used to how things work, but I’m really enjoying learning a new culture and way of life.

Stay tuned for more of the Travel Guide next Monday.

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