How to choose: Florence v. Rome
Posted by Andy Steves in on July 22, 2014..
After months of research and talking with an advisor, you finally sit down to make the decision of where to study abroad. You know you want to study in Italy, but where? You’ve heard of amazing tales from your friends in both Rome and Florence. Here’s a quick guide of a few things to expect in the two classic Italian cities and hopefully one will be calling your name by the end of this article.
1) City Size
Rome has everything you could want and it’s all reasonably walkable. From the hustle and bustle of a New York City street to quiet and quaint “traditional” Italian streets there is something for everyone. One second you can be in the middle of mass chaos on Via del Corso dodging Vespas and delivery trucks, but if you walk even two minutes in another direction you’re transported to another time where streets aren’t even wide enough for cars and neighbors talk to each other from house to house. In a single day of walking you can criss-cross from the far reaching Vatican to Piazza del Popolo to the Wedding Cake – sure you’ll be ready for a big meal, but it’s doable.
The birthplace of the Renaissance. Florence is the big city with a small town feel. Although it’s always busy with tourists from around the world, you can easily find you own corner of the city to truly enjoy Florence. You’ll be able to walk anywhere within 30 minutes as long as you’re not stuck behind a large tour group. Firenze will become your city as you navigate the narrow streets with no cars in sight due to local law. The bus system is easy to navigate but won’t be needed unless you want to check out the suburbs. Explore the city on both sides of the Arno River and find out why there is so much packed into Florence.
2) Sights & Attractions
First of all, check the Trevi Fountain, Colosseum, and Vatican off your list on a less crowded day. Of course those spots will be some of the best places to ever visit but if you’re there for four months, the colossal Colosseum may get as run-of-the-mill as the Duomo in Florence. For a little bit of alternative scene for attractions and sightseeing check out Piazza Navonna. You’ll can stroll around the lighted fountains listening to the street musicians to become one with the locals who need nothing more than a gelato in hand and some good company to make a perfect evening. Then take the walk over to the Spanish Steps to grab a top spot looking out onto the entire beautiful city. Finally be sure to hit up Trastevere, the home to many bars with more of an Italian vibe. Take a peek inside Bum Bum to get an ice cold Brazilian drink filled with fruit for just a few euros.
You’ll walk past the facade of the world-famous Duomo just about every day in Florence, but be sure to see more than just that! Take time to walk around the entire church, technically called Santa Maria del Fiore to admire the fascinating art and architecture typical to Florence. Be sure to make the trek up the the top of the cupola, or dome, of the church or enter a different way and climb the bell tower. Time a visit to the Galleria dell’ Accademia to see the original 500 year old David by Michelangelo in all its glory without the crowds. Walking around Florence is an art history tour in itself as you travel past the Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizi Gallery, Santa Croce, Palazzo Vecchio and Piazza Republica. Don’t forget to check out the shopping at San Lorenzo market to grab a souvenir for a friend. Whether you’re there for four months or four days your schedule will be packed with world-class Renaissance art and architecture.
When studying abroad in Rome, it’s all too easy to find the bars that cater to American students. Scholar’s Irish Pub, Abbey Theatre and the Drunken Ship are the mainstays for students in downtown Rome. Be sure to bust out of the student bar scene and find some great local Italian spots too near Piazza Navonna and deep in Trastevere. If you walk past a bar and the patrons are spilling onto the street, speaking only Italian, hand gestures a’waving and wearing all black, you know you’ve found a local watering hole.
Florence has concentrated areas with lots of bars and clubs which are popular with most students. Anyone who studies abroad in Florence for an extended time will become very familiar with hot spots such as Red Garter, Lion’s Fountain, Astor, Twice, Kikuya, 21, Space, and Old Stove. Of course there are many more places to grab a drink but the neighborhoods near Piazza Santa Croce are going to be a good bet for a good time. The always classic backup plan to head to the Duomo to sit on the steps and drink some wine is also a solid choice. Whatever you choose for your evening ritual, do your best to keep the streets clean and quiet!
4) Fun Facts
Forget Sundays as the day of rest, in Rome Mondays are the day that many things stay closed or shut their doors early. Good to keep in mind! Also when walking around The Eternal City, be on the lookout for the letters ‘SPQR.’ These letters will be on signs, street drains, manhole covers and anything in between. It stands for, “Senatus Populusque Romanus,” which means, “The senate and people of Rome.” It is a great historical reminder that it is truly a city of the people.
Late in the evening, possibly after a few pints at the bar, you may come across a dimly lit street with a glorious, curious smell coming from down the road. If this happens to you, STOP WHAT YOU'RE DOING. Follow the smells to what is known as a secret bakery; look for a line of students waiting their turn. Early in the morning, bakers will be making fresh pastries for the upcoming day. They bake in bulk and then distribute to the local cafes. Hop in line, ask politely, be quiet (since it’s late & not entirely legal) and grab a fresh chocolate croissant for a euro to enjoy snacking on the walk back to your flat.
5) Final Ruling
Rome has had the big-city feel for over 2,000 years (with a low-point in between), and the ruins and city hustle are there to prove it. This is the place to go if you want to really experience a big, rambunctious Italian city. Everywhere you look you're reminded of the thousands of years of history that have taken place exactly where you're standing - which is incredibly humbling. There’s something undeniably magical about Rome that can’t be described in words – it has to be experienced, and everyone who goes there finds their own Rome.
Florence sits in the beautiful Tuscan hills along the Arno and sometimes it just can’t get better than that. You will soon find that it can be your new home city filled with American students while capturing everything you can imagine in a small Italian city. Take in all the intricacies and senses that make up Florence as you sip on Chianti wine while feasting on steak Florentine. Don’t take our word for it, go to Florence yourself to find Italian Renaissance culture, history, and art. If nothing else, you’ll find yourself as a traveler.
This past weekend, I traveled to Budapest with WSA with a couple of friends from my university abroad, and I couldn't have asked for a better trip! After arriving at the hostel, we met Bogi, our tour guide for the weekend, who was instantly friendly and welcoming. Throughout the weekend, Bogi was an amazing guide! She showed us some great places for shopping and food, as well as the top sights around the city. You could tell she loved her job and never passed up an opportunity to share about her hometown and some of its history. She was so friendly and was sincerely interested in us as individuals and did everything she could do accommodate our priorities for the weekend (whether it was food, shopping, nightlife, sightseeing, etc.) I would highly recommend WSA's guided tours for any student studying abroad who wants to explore more than their university's city!Katrina Alford, Concordia University - Irvine ~ AIFS Richmond, Spring 2015
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