Conversations on Studying Abroad

My Favorite Kind of Day: Taking In the Essence of Florence, Italy

Mar 3, 2022 2:13:00 PM / by Chris Reidy

Life is expected to be different when you're living in a whole different continent. Chris writes about some of his favorite ways to enjoy Florence on a daily—in both little and meaningful ways. Find out what his day-to-day life is like while studying abroad and how he's taking the essence of the city in.

Having been in Florence for almost a month now, it’s hard to say what my favorite part has been. The Duomo is breathtaking, and even on my thousandth pass, it’s impossible not to admire. The Uffizi and all the other museums in the city offer some of the best art in the entire world, most less than a 10-minute walk from my apartment. Some of the best meals I’ve ever had took place in just these last few weeks; I’m not sure I’ll ever stop thinking about the buttered chicken at Trattoria Sostanza. However, despite all the amazing experiences this city has to offer, my absolute favorite days are the most casual ones. No tickets purchased, no lines waited in, nowhere to go or be. Living day-to-day in the city is just as beautiful as anything else it has to offer, so much so that I can’t help but dedicate an entire blog to the days where I do the least bloggable activities of my entire trip.

Interesting Church Steeple Spotted on a walk along the edge of Florence

Caption: Interesting church steeple Spotted on a walk along the edge of Florence.

Days like these for me would be on a Monday or Wednesday, days I happen to not have class on. Most of my friends would still be spending at least a few hours at the CAPA Florence center, so I’m likely on my own for most of the day. I usually get out of bed between 8 and 9am, although the process of waking up starts much earlier than that. My bedroom is street-facing, so around 7am is when I first hear the street sweepers outside our apartment. It’s not a very romantic wake-up for light sleepers, but it’s just the gentle nudge of the city helping you start your day, and anything beats the traumatizing sound of an iPhone alarm. A symphony of shopkeepers, students, and commuters starting their days begins to fill the streets as the noise gradually increases, making it harder and harder to turn back into my pillow. By the time the sun has risen to the point of being able to crack light into my closed windows, and the streets are fully a roar, I remember I’m living in Florence, Italy, and no longer hesitate to start my day.

After showering and picking out an outfit acceptable enough for the Florentine streets, I immediately beeline for some espresso. I like to try different shops across the city, although my go-tos are the ones immediately to the right or left of my apartment’s front door. I usually like to stand at the counter to sip on my espresso to save the table service fare, but if I’m getting a croissant as well I’ll happily sit down to ease into the morning. After paying and leaving, I’ll probably stop outside for a few minutes to think about things to do. The mornings are when the city feels its most productive, so that’s when I choose to get my administrative duties out of the way. I might opt to pick up a few groceries for the week, splitting it up between the local grocery store across the street, and then taking a walk over to the Sant’ Ambrogio market for some fresher produce and a more entertaining stroll through the aisles and stands. If I’m set on food at the apartment, I might head over to a local pharmacy or home goods store to pick up an item I’ve been meaning to grab. If nothing else, I might hit some clothing stores to check out the sales.

Outside of Semel facing the San Ambrogio Market

Caption: Outside of Semel facing the San Ambrogio Market.

After a leisurely morning, I like to stop for lunch at one of the countless sandwich shops in the city. It’s extremely hard to find a bad place to get a panini in Florence. Some of the more famous ones like All’Antico Vinaio are amazing, but it’s easy to find similar options at half the cost and no wait. Semel is a personal favorite alternative, and I’m also a big fan of going into shops like La Bottega or a stand in the market to pick out your own combinations based on the fresh ingredients behind the counter. Paninis are great on the go and I find I enjoy them best with a scenic view. Posting up somewhere along the Arno river or taking the short walk up to Piazza Michelangelo for breathtaking views of the city must be two of the best places to sit and eat a sandwich in all of Europe!

Taking my Panini for a walk

Caption: Taking my panini for a walk.

Despite lunch and the espresso carrying me into midday, right around this time is when I really enjoy following the Italian way of taking a siesta. A lot of shops close, there are a lot less people on the streets, and it seems that the city itself takes a collective break from the day. I usually go back to my apartment to rest, catch up on a few emails or some homework, but in general, I just chill out for an hour or two. This is a crucial part of life I think Americans really miss out on. It feels like a collective decompression from whatever you were doing throughout the day, easy or hard, and it genuinely seems to help keep peace of mind throughout the rest of the day.

As things start to open back up in the late evening, I too like to restart my day usually with a lengthy walk throughout the city. I never would go on any walks back home, but I’m starting to truly understand all the retired Italians who pace slowly through the streets, hands behind back, stopping to watch construction or crowds go by. The city is like an open-air museum, so I like to pick a direction I haven’t gone in yet and just keep walking until I explore a new area before finding my way back. Long walks are really a great way to relax, learn more about the city and its geography, and just observe everyday life in our new home.

By the time I get back, I’m usually starting to feel ready for dinner, and this is when like to reconnect with my friends or roommates to share a meal together. We might have a glass of wine and some bread in our apartment before going out to find a new restaurant to try. Once settling in somewhere, we easily drop our American ways to truly take our time to sit and enjoy the meal, talking and enjoying each other’s company for a minimum of two hours before paying the bill. After dinner we often walk to get gelato, usually taking it to go in cups as we walk through the medieval-esque streets after dark. By the time we get home, there’s nothing left to do but relax, usually throwing a movie or soccer game on the TV as we unwind and prepare for the next day.

View from Piazza Michelangelo

Caption: The view from Piazza Michelangelo.

Jam-packed days of sightseeing and exploring are amazing. Weekend trips to other countries and cities are half the reason most of us chose to come to Europe. Florence, and being abroad in general, has so much to see and do, it can almost be overwhelming. It truly is a whole different world compared to the US. All these things and more are why we came, but the utmost reason for me was to live a different life completely alien to how I go about mine back in the US. It’s the days of nothing, the days unplanned and unorganized, where I find I can experience life like that to the fullest.

Thanks, Chris!

Chris Reidy

Chris Reidy is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2022, sharing his story in frequent posts on CAPA World. An economics major from University of Miami, he is studying abroad in Florence this semester.

Chris' journey continues all semester so stay tuned.

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Topics: Florence, Italy, Local Culture