I had no idea what to expect when we moved to Florence for the summer. And while it would take an entire chapter of a book (;)) to really unpack the many ways our summer changed my heart, I compiled a little list of some of the small unexpected things we learned during those perfect three months.
There is Italian food…. And that is it.
You will eat Italian food- pasta, gelato, cheese, pastries, and gelato and it will be completely amazing, but that is all that will be offered at any of the local restaurants. There is literally no Mexican food and you should completely give up any dreams of having sushi unless you are in Rome. Salads are difficult to come by and the caprese salad is probably the closest you will get to the concept of a salad at most local restaurants. But let’s get back to the good stuff, you will eat ahhhmazing Italian food and it will blow your mind. You can have your favorite burrito when you come back to the US.
Air conditioning is a privilege and not a right.
The majority of all restaurants, stores and apartments in Florence do not have air conditioning. Our apartment had air conditioning but we were the only apartment on our entire block with an air conditioning unit. This is shocking for a number of reasons. First, summer in Florence is no joke. It gets seriously hot and literally never rains. I am talking very, very, very hot. The temperature often reached like dangerously high Arizona type summer temperature levels during the month of August. Second, Florentines are just tougher people than us Americans. Despite the super hot weather, the majority of Florentines either head out to their beach houses on the coast or they just stick around and deal with the extreme heat. On 105 degree days you will feel like such a baby for running into your air-conditioned apartment while the 70 year-old woman across the street washes the dishes in her home with just the windows wide open.
Good luck hailing a cab in Florence.
You cannot hail a cab in Florence. You either have to call and schedule for a cab to pick you up or you have to go to one of the sanctioned cab pickup places in the city. Cabs offer a set price to the airport from the city, but if you plan to be dropped off somewhere even a block away from what your cabbie considers to be the city center then expect to pay an extra fee. Just expect to always pay a little extra everywhere and for everything.
Work out clothes and yoga pants do not exist in Italy.
You will quickly notice that you will not see any Italian wearing workout clothes or yoga pants on the street. I wrote a little quip about this on Instagram and received MANY comments because apparently criticizing yoga pants is like criticizing someone’s first-born child. I had never really noticed how prevalent yoga pants were until I came home and literally the entire Chicago population was running around in the city clad in these elastic pants. Italians wear yoga pants to yoga. Imagine that! Well anyway this topic feels needlessly controversial so onto the next one!
You will still hear American music everywhere.
The majority of all restaurants and stores play American music. I also noticed this in Vienna, Austria. You will recognize the music playing generally everywhere. We listened to Coldplay in so many stores in and throughout Europe.
Expect to always have to ask for and pay for water.
Matt thinks that half of Europe is chronically dehydrated and I completely agree. If you want water you will have to order a bottle. Waiters will never just bring you a glass of water with your meal. You will spend many euros on sparkling (or still) bottled water.
Aperitivo hours are magical, magical times.
This was probably the most amazing discovery of all the discoveries. In northern Italy, there is a very magical hour called the aperitivo hour. The aperitivo hour is generally from 7-9 p.m. and is when all the local bars sell drinks at a slightly discounted price and put out an appetizer buffet. You just have to order a drink and you can eat ALL of the appetizers! I think it is a way for the restaurants to sell all of the food that they made for the day but did not sell during lunch. It is also a wonderful way for you to have a drink and a very cheap dinner. This is a magical time. Do not miss an aperitivo hour in northern Italy.
House wine is a thing. And a very good thing at that.
Every local restaurant will offer a local red and white house wine. This wine is always the cheapest one on the menu and you can order it in liters. Granted I know nothing about wine, but I have drunk my fair share and just based upon experience, I can tell you that the house wine is generally always good. Order it! You are in Italy the country of vineyards and wine making! Order the damn house wine!
In Europe everything is just smaller- apartments, hotel rooms, cafes, garbage bags, everything! The kitchen in our apartment was teeny tiny and the average hotel room size was much smaller than any average hotel room you would book in the US. I immediately noticed that the trash cans set up in our apartment were very small. Everyday we would have to empty our trash and during my daily walks to the garbage can in our neighborhood, I always saw all our neighbors making the same daily procession. Italians bought only what they needed for the day and then threw it away the next. Every morning we would see the same locals wander into the local neighborhood bakery for their daily loaf of bread. They did not stock pile food but just bought what they needed for that day. It quickly became very clear that locals did not buy much from the Jewel of Florence, Conad, and instead bought fruits and vegetables from the local fruit stands in their neighborhood.
You will feel too shiny, too new and like you are the girl at the party trying too hard.
Italy values culture over the shiny and new. Florence is certainly not a bustling metropolis. The job market is slightly depressed and the locals do less and have less. In exchange for a booming marketplace the country deeply leans into its magnificent culture. Florentines are beautiful, full of life, relaxed and simply not striving. This is a place where you can really allow yourself to relax. Upon arriving in Italy, I immediately fell in love with how the character of the people and the culture always took priority over the superficial beauty that results from selfish striving. Italians value beauty but its base is in culture. This deep tradition seems to ground the people and the country. I also felt like half of the clothes in my closet were completely ridiculous. I loved how the locals repeatedly wore the same outfits over and over again and felt ridiculous in my bellowing, frilly top. I felt like half of my closet was purchased on a whim and a result of the fast fashion craze. (Fast fashion is the business model that companies like Zara and H&M are based upon. Instead of operating on a seasonal fashion model, which historically controlled the majority of all clothing manufacturers, they began cheaply producing new styles every two weeks in order to stimulate the public’s appetite for the new.) You will return to the US and immediately feel like we all have too much money and spend a lot of time and energy on new, shiny clothes and watches at the expense of beautiful long lunches.
Each town will have its own special feel and “thing.”
Italy is such a beautiful country and there certainly will be tons of similarities between the towns that you will visit. However, every town will also have its own “thing” and feel very different than the last town you visited. Northern Italy is super different than southern Italy. The food is different and the people are different. Florence has a completely different vibe than Rome or a coastal town. And this really should not be all that surprising, but for some reason I think it is really easy to forget the immense diversity of this beautiful country. I think sometimes when you travel to a different country you sometimes expect the whole country to have the same vibe, but this is never the case. Los Angeles is completely different from New York City. The east coast is totally different from the west coast. It should probably come as no surprise that Rome is a different city than Florence and that Lake Como is nothing like anything you would find in southern Italy. Bottomline, Italy is heaven. I have not even tapped the surface of its treasures. You could spend the rest of your life exploring all the different parts of this magical country.