Top Ten Tips for Studying Abroad in Florence or Italy – Part II

top_ten_tipsWelcome back to our Top Ten Tips for Studying Abroad in Florence or Italy! Hopefully you enjoyed and were endlessly impressed by the breadth of information in Part I and are dying for more juicy details in Part II. You probably were since, as I recall, we did a totally kick-ass job.

For those new to our Top Ten Tips blogs, these posts will provide you with all the most important information and advice you will need for your study abroad adventure. To help you, our reader, better digest so much material we have divided these tips into three separate posts:

Part I: Tips for Studying Abroad in Florence
Pre-departure & Arrival
1. Money
2. Packing
3. Arrival Info
Part II: Tips for Studying Abroad in Florence
Getting Settled & Learning The Ropes
4. Phone & Internet
5. Getting Around
6. Eating
7. Daily Life
Part III: Tips for Studying Abroad in Florence
Advanced Travelers & Beyond
8. Italian Apartments
9. Study Spots
10. Tips for Meeting Real Italians

In Part II we will be touching on some key details that you’ll need to know once you’ve finally slept and unpacked your bags. This will help you start living it up Italian-style with as few snafus and headaches as possible. If you have already found yourself in some, don’t worry, you’re not alone and you’ve come to the right place. Be sure to use the comments section below to ask us questions or perhaps suggest some new tips that should be incorporated. Onto Part II of the Top Ten Tips for Studying Abroad in Italy (with, as per usual, a special eye to Florence).
Yes, we agree. It’s a beautiful thing.
Part II: Getting Settled & Learning The Ropes
4. Phone & Internet (How to buy a phone and get access to the internet, a bit about calling plans, and how to call or email home to tell them you’re alive)
5. Getting Around (How to get from point A to point B in the city via feet, bikes, or public buses)
6. Eating (Key vocab, tipping, and the dos and don’ts of eating the best food in the world*)
7. Daily Life (Grocery shopping, doing your laundry, and seeing a doctor)
*This is the common belief among Italians. Bring it up with them if you have a different opinion. If you have only eaten Italian food in America, your opinion is void.
Working With What You Have:internet_italy
Like money, phones and internet are treated a little differently in Italy. Phone plans have historically been more expensive in Italy (though the rates are dropping). Over the last ten years Italians have gotten used to making very few, short calls a day. Instead, they have opted for sending sms messages (texting) as the far cheaper and more practical mode of communication. Students that arrive and use their Italian phones (which have higher per minute rates) as if they are in America, quickly find they’re blowing through money at an alarming rate. There are a couple key ways to avoid this when making local calls in Italy (I will address long distance calls below).
1. Plan to get a good plan. Some phone carriers are better than others and some plans are better than others depending on 1. Where you live and 2. How you tend to use your phone. If you are a big caller or texter, ask about plans that will accommodate you. This usually requires picking one or the other—calling or texting—as your primary mode of communication, but if you stick to it, you’ll save a pretty penny.
2. Call your friends. One popular feature of phone plans in Italy is a buddy system. This can mean either having free phone calls between phones on the same carrier, or paying a nominal fee to have one number be your “free” number to call to your heart’s content. If you will be traveling with friends, make sure you plan ahead on which carrier you will all get as this can be a huge money saver. (See below for more tips on picking carriers)
3. Go Old School. This is a helpful motto for most things in Italy. When it comes to phones it means simply pretending you don’t have a phone at all. If money is tight and you don’t want to waste it on calls, make an effort to communicate in person and via email and make every attempt to use your phone only as a last resort.
4. Only Answer, Never Call. In Italy, unlike the US, calls that come into your phone are free. All of them. If your parents call from the other side of the world, it is free for you. If your friends call from another carrier, it is free for you. It only costs money when you make the call. More important to keep in mind is that it’s not always necessary to be home on Skype to speak to family and friends. (Tip: phone etiquette is always appreciated in Italy. Even if you receive the call and it’s not your bill, keep the call short.)
cell_phones5. The “Squillo.” I suggest learning the art of the “squillo.” This is where someone calls, lets the phone ring once (it will only charge you if the person or answering machine pick up), and then hangs up. The number still shows up on your missed call list, but no one pays any money. If a meaning were to be set up in advance to what the squillo means, like “when I squillo you, meet me downstairs,” you now have a free and easy way of sending a message. It may sound ridiculous, but it honestly works (only, however, if this method is not abused and employed to force friends to call back and bear the brunt of the cost).
This brings us to long distance calls home. For calls to the States you have many options, most of which will likely require the internet. Like phone calling in Italy, the internet is simply used less frequently. Unlike most American urban centers, WiFi cannot be found in every nook and cranny of Florence. Though, it is getting better. These days there are more internet cafes, more bars that offer wireless, and more apartments that are getting hooked up. Ten years ago, there were two places in the whole city to get your email. When I studied abroad, I was pretty incommunicado, which was both good and bad. It was good because it made me spend less time in front of the computer and more time out in the world. But, it can be bad when you are going through a bout of homesickness and need a Facebook fix (this will inevitably happen to everyone).
One of the real benefits of internet for students abroad, however, is saving money on phone calls home to the States. Skype has always been a popular way to get in touch and, as long as you’re calling another Skype account, it’s free. If you want to call a phone, rates are pretty reasonable (they are always better if you can call a landline vs. a cell phone). Want your friends to be able to call you at no cost to them? Set up a Skype number with your local zip code. They can call and it will ring your Skype account so you can chat whenever you’re online. The number can be rented temporarily and will also let your parents have a way to get in touch with you without having to be online. They can also leave messages.
One of the best calling secrets, however, is Google Voice. To do this, you will need a gmail account and one other working cell phone to set it up before you leave. Otherwise it is impossible to do from a European ISP. It says that it will not work overseas, but I have had great success using it abroad. It may depend on where you are and your internet access, but I have been able call home for FREE from my gmail account using my google phone for a year now. This has also been a lifesaver on those rare occasions when I have to call my bank and they leave me on hold for 15 minutes. Instead of sitting and watching my Skype money dwindle away, I call using google and it’s free. This number can also be called from the States, and as long as you’re online and your gmail is open, you can receive calls to it from your family and friends. They also let you send text messages and will transcribe your voice messages and send them to you via email (though it’s not a perfected art yet). Where would we be without these guys? I recommend looking into it.
If you do not have access to the internet at your new Italian home, don’t worry, there are options.
1. Internet cafes. These can be paid for by the hour and prices lower the more hours you buy at one time. Most internet cafes now come with a section devoted to internet calling where it won’t bother the other patrons.
2. Bars with WiFi. Many bars now offer free WiFi during the day for students if they want to study or email. This would be a bad idea for calling home, but great for doing work with a constant supply of coffee. (In Part III we’ll cover more awesome study spots around the city).
3. Internet keys. If you have to have internet at home, you can get an internet key. These little USB drives plug into your computer and give you access to the same broadband network your phone uses. It can’t power a hefty bandwidth, but it will get you your email after a few minutes. Warning: you may have some trouble finding something inexpensive for a MAC and the whole process can be costly and not nearly as effective as you would like, so make sure you really really need it. To buy an internet key, head to the same carriers described below.
Tips For Buying a Phone & Picking Carriers:
The main carriers in Italy are Wind, TIM, and Vodafone. These are European carriers so you will be able to use your phones when traveling throughout Europe (at a higher rate, of course). I have used all three at some point or another and they are all relatively the same. The biggest difference is the kind of phones they offer and whether they have good service where you live. Service can really vary in a city like Florence. If you live with a host family, ask them what they use. If you have a neighbor, find out what they have had success with. You don’t want to have to walk outside every time you want to make a call.
When you’re ready to buy, make sure you have your passport, which they will be required to set everything up. Next, choose a phone and a plan. Most plans include a certain number of minutes and texts, and a certain quantity of data if you’re getting a smart phone. While calls can be pricey, data is relatively cheap. For example, for a 1GB a month (more than enough for me) I pay 10 Euro. With calls etc. I usually spend about 25 Euro a month (note: I hardly ever use my phone to call other than to make reservations or an occasional emergency). If you can spend more than that, you may be able to afford an unlimited plan, but it may not be necessary. You can always add more, however, it tends to be harder to get less.
Once your phone is set up, you are responsible for filling it with money. You can do this by either:
1. Going to the various branches of your chosen carrier and waiting in line to have the teller do it for you (this makes using large bills or a credit card a bit easier.)
tabacchi2. Buying a pre-paid card from most Tabacchi (aka bars that have a special “T” sign – see photo – that identifies them as a place that sells bus tickets, cigarettes, and phone cards, among other things). Simply go in and ask for a “ricarica” TIM, WIND or Vodaphone, for 5, 10, or 25 Euro. For this method they will either give you a physical card or ask you for your phone number to be entered into a machine which will credit your account. The card or “scheda” (sKay-Da, which looks like a lotto card) has a scratch pad on the back that, once removed using a penny, shows a long numerical code. Call the number indicated, follow the instructions, and enter the code. Warning: the voice on the phone may speak very fast, so you may need a hand the first time round. Usually you just hit 1 two times and then enter in the code. Often there is an SMS number as well to text the number to, which may be easier.
Bringing Your Own Phone:
Many students opt to bring their smart phones with them from the States. Since many use it more as a camera than anything else, this is more than understandable. A few key things to keep in mind:
1. Unless your phone is “unlocked” – meaning it can accept a SIM card from any carrier, you will not be able to use this as a local phone in Italy. Be careful with JailBroken phones as they may not function in Europe as promised with foreign carriers. I had to buy a special unlocked phone, but I have heard that you just have to ask your carrier to unlock it and they will do so. News to me so don’t quote me.
2. An American phone with an accompanying plan will, however, still be able to receive and make calls, just at an exorbitant rate. Even if you don’t answer a call or simply receive texts, you can be charged. This can be very, very costly after a long stay. If for some reason you want to bring your American phone be sure you go into your settings and turn of the phone’s calling capabilities so it will only work as a computer when it has access to WiFi.
3. If you want to use the phone in Italy regardless of cost, be sure to contact your carrier before you leave to set up an international plan. I have seen bills in the quadruple-digits so be careful! Don’t believe me? Check out this NyTimes travel article which tells the amazing story of a man that racked up an $11,000 bill after a 4 day trip to Jamaica. Luckily, they include some complex alternatives for using US carriers abroad as well.
Get To Know Your Legs, They’re Your Friends:
You will be amazed by how much you can walk. You will be amazed that your legs really can go that long without rest. And later that night, when you’re taking down that mountain of pasta, you’ll be happy to know that you probably walked upwards of ten miles that day, so you deserve it!
For students in a small(ish) city like Florence, walking is all you really need. This city just isn’t that big. If, however, your host family lives a little out of town, or a friend does, you may need to know a little about the local transportation systems.
Local Transport – Taxis, Buses & Bikes
Taxi Cabs
Taxis are pretty standard in Italy. They’re not super cheap, but they are reliable. Note: You have to call a taxi with a phone in Florence, you cannot flag one down on the street. The only exceptions are Taxi Stands found at airports, train stations, and select points around the city. If you’re in a hotel, have them call for you. If you have a phone, program one or two phone numbers in there right away (055.4242, 055.4390, or 055.4798 for Florence). If you forget to do this just ask anyone local and they should know at least one taxi number. When you call, someone will answer, tell them the address where you are and then wait. They’ll put you on hold and then play a recording that tells you how far the cab is and the specific name and number of the taxi that is coming to you. This helps if you are somewhere and several people are fighting for a cab. Keep in mind, if you are not downstairs or outside when the cab arrives or not aggressive with the others vying for one, someone may take yours, or they may simply leave. They don’t really check the names and numbers and most cab drivers just need a passenger, any passenger, and will leave you if you’re not there.
Some cabs will allow you to reserve for a very early pick up and others won’t. If you do pre-order, there may be an extra charge. When they arrive they will call you to tell you they’re there. Just say something like “Arrivo” (I am coming) and head down. If you are leaving very early in the morning, you are usually fine to just wait until 5 minutes before you need to leave.
While I am a big fan of seeing a city by foot, buses are great in sprawling urban centers like Rome. I rarely use the ones in Florence, unless it is really raining or I’m going to a location that simply cannot be reached by foot. The buses are big and orange (hard to miss) and you can find route maps at the train station. The schedules are kept relatively tight but, well, you know how it goes in Italy. Don’t set your watch by it. For a larger map, see here, but keep in mind the routes/bus lines can change! Always double check with someone in the know (i.e. a bus driver) or online using their website’s trip-planner feature.
bus_ticketsFor payment, the buses work on a kind of honor system. You get tickets in a “tabbachi” (that same store that sells cigarettes, phone cards, gum and the like. Look for the big white “T” on a blue sign outside as in the above photo). If you ask for tickets they come in several varieties. You can get a one-trip ticket, two-trip, four-trip, or multi-trip cards. Just keep these in your wallet. When you get on a bus there is no need to show the driver. Instead, walk up to one of the two orange boxes (stamp machines) on the bus (one at front and one at back), stamp your ticket, and stash it back in your wallet. The multi-ride cards are typically electronic and are usually activated by waving them in front of the machine until you hear a beep.
The ticket costs about 1.25 – 1.50Euro depending on the city and lasts for about seventy-five minutes, enough time to get to most places by bus. Every once in a while an undercover inspector will get on, wait for the doors to close, and then check everyone’s ticket. If you don’t have one, they charge you a fine of something like 50 Euro. If you don’t have cash, they make you get off the bus and they walk you to an ATM and watch you take it out. No joke. I say don’t to risk it.
Note: while on buses and public transportation, always keep a close eye on your wallet, purse, and backpack. If you are on a bus with a backpack, take it off and put it in your lap or at least in front of you. It will keep it from bumping the little old lady behind you and it will keep the zippers in plain view in case anyone gets any ideas. Oh, speaking of old ladies, get up when they get on the bus! Very poor form to not let them sit! Those buses can really move and send people flying (especially in the adorable and frail 90-pound varieties).
BikesI studied abroad for a year when I was an undergrad and never had a bike, but when I moved back I got one and it was one of the best choices I ever made.
Now let me preface this…
I am very comfortable with high-speed oncoming traffic; I apparently have little concern for my own life and think I’m invincible. So…it worked for me. If you’re nervous on a bike, scared of cars, not the most “coordinated,” or not very aggressive with moving vehicles, it may not be a great choice. Italian drivers treat bikes like other cars and ride up right next to them. It is a really beautiful dance that happens as you fly down the tiny Italian streets allowing just enough room for a car to squeeze by, while not losing speed, and simultaneously balancing your groceries on your handle bars.
If, after all that, you’re still interested there are several bike stores that rent bikes and occasionally have inexpensive new bikes or used bikes for sale. Sometimes it’s best to just walk by and check. See FlorenceByBike for example. Word to the wise, most of the “used” spray painted bikes you find for sale at other less reputable bike shops (to the tune of 50 Euro or so) are stolen. If you would like a more legit method of getting a bike I recommend the more expensive shops like Sergio Bianchi. There is another quite popular organization which has a weekly bike sale (usually bikes confiscated from young ruffians and then repaired and resold) called Cooperativa Ulisse. Every Monday or Tuesday they post that week’s bounty online. You really have to be on their website right at the moment they post it to get your name on the one you want. It is as simple as signing up and then you can reserve the bike you like the best. The following Friday you can go and see if you like it. If you don’t, it passes to the next name on the list. If you do, congrats! You just got a killer bike for a good price that is not stolen.
If you manage to get that great bike and there is nowhere safe to keep it (in a courtyard or in your apartment), then I would recommend at least three locks. One for each wheel (and the basket, if you have one), and one for the bike to whatever pole or bike stand you can find. I have had many seats and baskets taken, which sucked, though I never got very expensive ones to begin with. Basically, it’s best not to get attached to your bike or any of its parts.
eating_in_italyThe Phrase “When In Rome” Exists For a Reason:
Enjoying the plentiful food options that Italy has to offer is one of the joys of being in this great country. Do yourself a favor and make a promise to try something new every day. Even something you thought you knew well, like a tomato. Tomatoes in Italy are quite different from the gelatinous cardboard we eat at home. Along with those (seemingly) familiar things, try something really new. Ricotta-stuffed squash blossoms? Squid ink pasta? Roasted Boar? In general, I would say everything – familiar and unfamiliar — tastes better in Italy. But then again, I’m biased.
Most restaurants serve standard Italian fare. This is because Italian cuisine is VERY traditional. They are not going to mess with something that has been tried, tested, and proven over the centuries. Each region has its staples, but with slight variations. Go to Bologna to try the Bolognese sauce and then go somewhere else in Italy and try it again. See how it changes? The real fun begins when you ask them whose is better. Italians are SO passionate about their food. If you ask, they will give you an ear-full. I had a woman in a market once explain to me for twenty minutes the reason why tiramisu in Genoa had a different proportion of mousse to cookie than in Florence. I really don’t remember the answer, but I do remember that the Genoese tiramisu was mind-blowing.
Each region will have different traditional items, so always ask what the “local specialty” is and try that. You’ll never have pumpkin ravioli like the kind in Ferrara or Pasta Cacio e Pepe like what you’ll find in Rome, so don’t settle for second best! Plus, once you can taste that kind of subtlety, you’ll know you’ve cultivated a real palate for Italian cuisine.
Along with these traditional restaurants there are a few (and more every year) that take a new look at Italian food and Italian ingredients. They mix and match and they try new combinations that you would never see in a more traditional establishment. These more modern twists are always fun if you are adventurous or in need of a change of pace. One of my all-time favorites in Florence is Osteria Santo Spirito. They have some old time favorites along with some new combos that really change the way you think about Italian food (see this blog post for more of our favorite places to eat, traditional as well as not-so-traditional).
Types of Eating Establishments:
As far as restaurant “types,” you will see quite a few prefixes thrown around in Italy: caffè, bar, enoteca, pizzeria, trattoria, osteria, and ristorante. In the past, these names indicated VERY specific types of food offered, prices, ambiance, and general dining experience. In America, they are used interchangeably to give a restaurant a more Italian sounding name and have made it a bit difficult for Americans in Italy to recognize that these titles have actual significance. While it is true that, as of late, this significance is less strictly applied in Italy as well, there will always be those who adhere to these old identifiers and they are always good to keep in mind.
1. Ristorante (ree-sto-RAHN-tay)
The term “ristorante” is usually reserved for fine dining establishments. You can assume a reservation is required and that servers will be professional, food will be traditional, and costs will be slightly higher.
2. Trattoria (tra-toh-REE-ah)
A trattoria is slightly less formal than a ristorante. Prices are lower, service is more casual, and the food is more modest. There might be a few things on the menu that are the whim of the cook.
3. Osteria (oh-stay-REE-ah)
An osteria is the least formal among these three dining “types.” It is somewhat like a tavern: part cozy wine/bar and part basic run-of-the-mill restaurant.
4. Pizzeria (peets-ay-REE-ah)
This name seems obvious. Pizza house, right? While, any real pizzeria will have a wood-fired oven to cook its main fare, it will also serve a variety of other pasta and salad options you might find in an osteria. The atmosphere is extremely casual and prices are extremely affordable (especially since an 8 euro pizza could last some two days!) Note: while you can get pizza to go, it is not quite the same as the American version and is almost always MUCH better eaten in the pizzeria.
5. Enoteca (en-oh-TAY-kah)
An enoteca is an establishment traditionally focused on wine. However, to top off those delicious bottles, they often serve a variety of small plates, salads, and snacks and the upscale ones can be quite delicious.
6. Caffè (kaff-EH)
As in America, this is usually a coffee shop that serves pretty standard food: sandwiches, very basic pizzas, and pastries for breakfast. Along with coffee drinks, a caffè in Italy also serves alcohol and digestivi (after meal digestive drinks).
Tipping is a somewhat more complicated system than it was ten, or even five years ago. It used to be that everywhere you went, if you chose to sit, there was an additional charge known as either a “coperto” (cover) or just “pane” (meaning bread). This would range from 1–3 Euro per person. In a coffee bar it meant paying according to a different menu where the exact same items had a surcharge attached. Either way, the extra charge allowed you to sit and eat, it covered any gratuity, and (my favorite) allowed you to stay undisturbed for many hours without concern. In fact, it’s somewhat hard to get a check once you do sit down.
Lately, we have noticed that certain places will leave the coperto off the bill. This is not a gift to you. This is basically a way of taking advantage of the fact that you are American (or at least not Italian) and you may leave more than what the original coperto would have been. In these cases (that really tick me off) I always leave what a coperto would be, 2 or 3 euro per person max. This is standard and I never feel bad.
Note: No need to tip taxi drivers either, though if they are nice, I always do. I also do so if my bags weighed 300 pounds, which they usually do.
Dos and Don’ts of Italian Cuisine
As in any culture, there are a variety of faux pas related to food that are difficult to know without someone taking the time to point them out. I find that in Italy, this is complicated further by the fact that we have an Americanized idea of how Italian food should be eaten. Many of the rules we swear by in Little Italy do not fly when in the real deal.
milk1. Milk has a cut off time…every day. Italians have very strong feelings about milk. It is not something that should be ingested after 11am because they feel it is difficult to digest (true, really). This fact is most obviously seen in Italian coffee consumption. A café latte (tip: make sure to say the café part or you will get a glass of hot milk!), or a cappuccino, are drinks that are enjoyed only in the morning. In the afternoon (anything after 11am) Italians usually switch to a macchiato (an espresso with a splash of milk) or a “normale” (an espresso). It may be harder to notice in Florence, a city slowly becoming more westernized by its many tourists, but in other towns it will be very obvious. The ultimate faux pas is ordering a cappuccino after (or gasp, with!) dinner. This is a request that Italians will begrudgingly fulfill, but feel it is very odd, like ordering cereal for desert or a soda with your breakfast.
2. Olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I could go on for days here, but the basic mistake almost all Americans make is expecting these two condiments to be on every Italian table along with the basket of bread. Turns out, Italians do not dip their bread in either, nor in the uniquely American mixture of both. Olive oil is used for a wide variety of things, including drizzling over soup, but not on small dishes with bread as we have come to be so familiar with. In Florence, if they know you’re American, they may bring the two bottles over to you, but only because they have dealt with the request so many times. If you are somewhere less touristy, you may have to ask for it if you really want it. But don’t expect a plate.
3. More is not necessarily a good thing – Parmesan edition. In the states, no matter what the dish, an extra jar of parmesan is always brought to your table. This is almost NEVER done in Italy. When the pasta arrives, it is perfect. You may be offered some ground pepper but otherwise, it has everything it needs. When you put on more parm it is just bastardizing the final product. If they bring it over, once again, it is because they know you are American and expect that you will ask for it. I usually ask them to take it away, mainly because I think the stuff in there is probably pretty crappy compared to what was used in the main dish and I would rather eat quality cheese.
4. Fish & cheese are not friends. Italians never mix fish and cheese. So the above rule about parm is doubly true if you order a pasta dish with fish in it.
5. Meals have an order. Antipasto, primo, secondo, salad (optional), dessert, and THEN coffee. You can eat one, two, or all of these courses, but generally they should be in that order.
6. Finally, one of my best pieces of advice for eating in Italy is never to be in a rush. There is no reservation after you. Take your time! (How do you think Italians get through all those courses anyway? With time!)
7. Daily Life:
The Ins & Outs of Being Italian For a Semester:
Shopping In Grocery Stores:
A couple quick rules about shopping, as there are some that can get you in trouble if you’re are not paying attention.
First. The produce in the grocery stores should not be touched, smelled, handled, or fondled without the use of the free plastic gloves provided (see photo on left, below). Every grocery store will have gloves to use right next to the plastic bags in which you should then place your selected produce. If you do not use them, chances are no one will really notice/care, but, every once and a while, a little old lady will give you a VERY dirty look…and that’s no fun. Plus, it’s hygienic! I like the idea, really. Once you have your selected items in a plastic bag, you will usually be required to weigh it. Use the scales provided and the codes assigned to the different products to determine the final price (see photo on right, below). The scale will then print out the price for you on a sticker, which should be attached to the accompanying plastic bag before you go to check out.
groceriesWhen shopping at open markets it is best to ask the vendor to get the items for you. You can always point to the particular fruits or veggies you are eyeing and they will bag it.
Second (and I wish this were true everywhere), plastic bags cost money. Third, you are responsible for bagging your own groceries. If you did not bring your own bags (I recommend always having some of those recyclable ones tucked away) tell the attendant who is ringing you up that you need one, or two, or however many bags (“due buste, per favore” means “Two bags, please”). They will grab them and toss them out so you can start bagging, ASAP. Your products will be coming at you quickly so get your game face on!
The difficulty in speedy-bagging is compounded by the fact that they really want you to pay with exact change. Italians will wait forever if you are going to give them exact change. Just take your time and count it out. However, if you are paying with a 20 or, god forbid, a 50 Euro bill, you better look sorry. They don’t like that.
laundryOne of the hardest things for me to get used to when I first moved to Italy was the laundry. As an undergrad, I remember finding it sort of frustrating, but later not so much. Most homes come equipped with a little washer. It can fit a small quantity of clothes and usually runs on a slow cycle for a long time so as not to waste water or eat up too much power.
Most Italians run a wash and then hang everything to dry on an interior rack or out a window. Depending on the season, the clothes will dry at different speeds. To avoid a cardboard-like texture when they’re done, use fabric softener. Even without it, I quickly learned that this feeling really doesn’t last. You just have to get it on and wear it for a few minutes and it is back to normal.
When I was an undergrad, I was much more dependent on a dryer to re-shrink shirts and pants. The fact that I could not get my jeans to fit again bothered me, so I would do one of two things: 1. Deal with it or 2. Take the clothing to a Laundromat. Now these can be expensive, as washing machines and dryers use an enormous amount of energy. If you’re planning on taking your laundry in and doing the work yourself, you may want to wash at home for free and then lug the wet clothes to the laundromat. This way you only pay for the dryer. I also recently found a dry cleaner that does pay by the pound laundry (though obviously it is by Kilograms here). Let me preface this, it is not like the places in the US. They do not fold or put your clothes in lovely little ziplock bags. They wash them, they dry them, and then they throw them in a big plastic bag. They are usually wrinkled, unless you get there RIGHT when they get out. But in a pinch, it can be a life saver. There may be more now, but the one I have had students use is on Via della Scalla, 30-32 red (this is right near the Train station and Piazza Santa Maria Novella).
Seeing a Doctor:
This is actually very easy. If your school does not provide an on campus physician and you are not feeling well or perhaps need a prescription, many cities have an excellent system of tourist doctors. In Florence they have two offices and rotate between them. For emergencies they will visit you at home (fees may apply). They are all English speaking and very nice. Depending on the visit, you pay cash and receive a receipt that you can submit to your health insurance later. However, it is never more than 60 Euro. See this list for a wide range of English speaking doctors. At the bottom you will find information for the tourist doctors described above.
That’s all for this post! See you in Part III…Where you will become an Advanced Traveler!

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