Florence is the biggest American study abroad city in the world, not counting students of all other nationalities. Also being a famous tourist attraction, locals in Florence have learned to tolerate (well, most of them have) the unreasonable/uncivilized/rude/troubling behaviors of Americans, students or tourists. These behaviors include and not limited to: taking pictures of everything, speak English instead of Italian, can’t understand Italian when spoken to, going into shops and not buying stuff, travel as groups and obstruct the traffic etc…. So to help us survive in the city, quite a few points were given during our orientation. Here are some of them:
-ordering latte in a cafe will get you a glass of milk. Cafelatte is what you want to say if you want coffee with milk.
-this is mostly for guys, but don’t smile and make eye contact with a woman you don’t know, as it is considered flirting. Girls should ignore such smile/eye contact from an unknown man.
-just like the undesirable areas of Minneapolis, Florence also has some spots that should be avoided at night: the main train station of Santa Maria Novella and the Cascine park. At day they may be great place to go to, at night they become hang-out for drug dealers, prostitutes, and gypsies.
-gelato shops are everywhere, some are good and some are bad. Experiment.
-despite having narrow alleys and bumping roads, cars do exist in Florence. People who drive in Florence may or may not care about pedestrian, so always look before you cross the street…
As it is Saturday, almost everyone on the program planned some sort of trip to nearby or not so near town(s)/city. I went with 3 other people to Siena, which took 1.5 hour to get to by train. We originally thought about taking a intercity bus, but after one hour of searching for the bus stop and the ticket office, we gave up. So on Saturday, we met at the steps in front of the Duomo of Florence (tip: if you want to take pictures of the Duomo, go early in the morning, when tourist groups haven’t started their day and the piazza is quiet and clean) at 7:15 am and headed for the train station.
So we went to buy tickets from the automated ticket machine, and somewhat we got to this page that says “Discounts” with different options of saving 10%, 20%, and 30%. Without really thinking about it, we press the 30% option, and our ticket price was reduced. In Italy, before you board a train or a bus, you have to validate your ticket at a little yellow or orange box that’s on the bus or the platform. The box will punch a hole on your ticket to show validation. We weren’t really sure how this work, so we asked one person in uniform near the platform. She looked at our tickets, and pretty much said that we need to pay more for the ticket. After quite an effort trying to explain where to do this, she gave up and said our tickets were okay. We were very glad to find out later on the train that she’s the person checking tickets for the train we were taking. We could very well have gotten fined, but we got to Siena without much trouble.
The train station of Siena is actually a little bit far from the center of the city, but to save money, we didn’t take the bus and walked. Once we got into the city, it was just one old building after another. Different statutes or sculptures here and there. It was just a really cool experience.
Like Florence, Siena has a Duomo, and a plaza for its city hall, part of which is now the Civic Museum. While we couldn’t really see the dome of the Duomo, the outside of the Cathedral of Siena is incredible by itself. Built hundreds of years ago, it still stands tall in the center of Siena today.
Rest of the day was spent wandering through the streets, window-shop and actual shopping. I also got my first gelato. I believe the flavor is called fruitta bosco, which pretty much is just berries, and it was really tasty, perfect for the hot afternoon.