I have been in Florence for about five days now, so here are some of my first impressions as I start my three-month stay:
A lot of people – I cannot believe this is so busy in a month that is considered the off-season. I am surprised how people can make it through the streets during the busy summer tourist time. How do the guidebook publishers get those empty shots of sights on perfectly sunny days when I assume even more tourists are out and about than there are now?
A lot of large guided tours that take up the whole sidewalk and get in the way when I am carrying back my groceries or carrying my garbage down the block (see previous post).
Not only do large groups take up the sidewalk, but in addition the sidewalks are so tiny sidewalks that they do not seem to be large enough to even hold one person let alone two or three which would be needed with the amount of pedestrians.
Narrow streets and every inch is used for parking – I am amazed at the skills in parallel parking and fitting buses through streets that seem slightly larger than a bike lane in Sacramento.
Not much green in the city center – all trees and green lawn space seem to be on the other side of the river. This is quite different from Sacramento, which lauds itself the City of Trees, and it is easy to get used to how many trees there are even in downtown Sacramento. Here it is either no trees or only trees and lawn in large parks but not much intermingling of buildings and trees.
A lot of small dogs that do not seem to be phased by the busy sidewalks.
It does not matter if you know where you are going, you will end up seeing several famous sights even if you were not planning on doing any sightseeing (sometimes I will figure out much later what the name of the sight was when I look it up on Google). On my search for a tea kettle and large bath towels, I passed by many sights before I even found a tea kettle (leather goods, postcards, and souvenirs are easy to find – more everyday items were a little harder to find in the city center).
It does not matter what building or street you walk into, it is most likely going to be pretty. It is amazing how many beautiful views there are around each corner. Picturesque is the perfect word to describe Florence.
How much walking I do – I thought I did plenty of walking with my dog at home but this is not even close to it. And since there is so much to see, it is easy to not notice how far one has walked over the course of a day. I have gotten used to the feeling that I can walk anywhere I want – no need for a car or bus; everything I need on a daily basis, I can reach by foot (I have not had any reason to go into the suburbs of Florence yet).
How good the food is – even fresh pasta from an ordinary supermarket tastes better to me than pasta I have had in other countries. And I never knew tripe and octopus can be such popular dishes that they are on many restaurants’ menus. I have enjoyed some amazing dishes here and I have been here for less than a week. I am pretty sure I will be so spoiled by good food by the end of the semester.
Italian MTV actually plays music videos! No weird reality shows; no movies. I can’t remember the last time I saw an hour of music video on the U.S. MTV station.
It is humid – especially in contrast to the very dry air in central Northern California. I never really notice how dry it is in Northern California/Central Valley until I leave.
The students have arrived from California and from London (those that went on an optional pre-tour). Everyone seems to be in a great mood and excited to get started. I have never seen any students that excited for the first day of a semester and to see their instructor again!
So far the first impressions are very promising!