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FLORENCE


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Lysa Allman-Baldwin at Caffe Moharicho in Oltrarno, Florence


FLORENCE ADVICE and OBSERVATIONS


ITALIAN LANGUAGE

  • Unless you are fluent in Italian, bring an Italian Phrasebook with you.
  • You will use the Italian equivalent for the following English words/phrases often so memorize their Italian pronunciation before your trip: Sir, Madame, Hello, Please, Thank You, Excuse Me, Goodbye, I don't understand, Where is?, How much?, Do you speak English?
  • Charm and good manners are appreciated by Italians. You are expected to greet small shop owners, elderly people, etc. The more you use (Sir, Madame, Hello, Please, Thank You, Excuse Me), the more help that you will receive. If you start every interaction in Italian then follow with English (using a pleasant voice), you will receive assistance from most people (if they understand English).


FLORENCE FLIGHT

  • Confirm your flight at least 72 hours in advance.
  • Check the luggage policy for your airline.
  • Make a copy of your passport/flight itinerary/hotel reservations and leave it with someone at home. Also, carry an extra copy with you.
  • Request an exit row seat for more legroom.
  • Pack headache, Airborne and other medicines in your hand luggage.
  • If you have a cold or have problems with air pressure, purchase the special ear plugs for air pressure available at most airports or large pharmacies.
  • If you are sitting in coach during your international flight, bring your own cold non-alcoholic drinks and snacks. It's a long flight and the airplane food may not satisfy you.
  • Bring an eye patch for sleeping.
  • Bring plenty of magazines, books and CDs for entertainment.
  • If you are not flying directly from the U.S. to Florence and need to transfer flights in another European city, don't have tight connections between your flights. You need to allow plenty of time for your transfer, since Italian flights are cancelled or delayed frequently.  If your flight is cancelled, don't expect an explanation from the airline.


COMMUNICATION

  • Use the Internet or phone cards for inexpensive communication with home. Internet cafes are available in several locations around Florence. Don't rely solely on the telephone for communication with home; you want to have an e-mail account that you can use when away from home in case of an emergency.
  • Don't call the U.S. using your hotel's phone service unless it's an emergency or saving money is not an issue.


FLORENCE HOTEL ROOMS

  • Florence hotel rooms are very small compared to the U.S., so pack accordingly.
  • Air conditioning is not available in many older hotels.
  • English language television stations are limited (i.e. CNN, MTV).
  • Confirm that the breakfast buffet is included in your room price before going to the breakfast room.
  • Always clarify if the bathroom is located inside of the room when reserving budget accommodations. It is common for bathrooms to be located down the hallway.
  • If you need to cancel a hotel room, confirm the hotel's cancellation policy and get the cancellation in writing in order to avoid cancellation fees at a later date.


MONEY and VALUABLES

  • Bring at least one ATM card and credit card from the U.S. Use the ATM card to get Euros, since they usually have a better rate than many currency exchange offices. Your ATM card should have a code of 4 digits.
  • Cash is more commonly accepted than credit cards at many business establishments.
  • Exchange dollars into small bills (5 Euros, 10 Euros and coins), since you need small change when out and about.
  • Locals don't wear money belts. If you choose to wear a money belt, you stand out as a tourist. Also, wear your money belt around the waist or neck as it is meant to be used.
  • If you don't use a money belt, place your money in hidden pockets or deep inside your bag, so that it's hard for pickpockets.
  • Put only things that you are willing to lose in your visible pockets.
  • When walking around Florence, carry little cash, a credit card, a driver's license and a copy of your passport with you for identification. It's easier to replace a stolen driver's license than a U.S. passport.
  • Store your passport, extra money, plane ticket, list of credit card/ATM card customer service phone numbers and other valuables in the locked hotel safe.


CLOTHES and PACKING

  • Buy a packing book, so that you learn how to pack efficiently.
  • Pack a compact umbrella, magnifier for reading maps, and expandable bag for souvenirs/gifts. Also, the expandable bag is great for last minute repacking at the airport, since the Italians have stricter weight limits than the U.S.


MEALS

  • Find the nearest grocery store and consider purchasing food for a picnic. Also, stock up on your favorite drinks, so that you don't need to buy the expensive drinks in your hotel's mini-bar.
  • When dining with a mixed party (men and women), the men are usually always addressed and served first.
  • Tipping in restaurants is typically 10-15%, but often the service is included. Ask your waiter (or they usually tell you when they give you the bill) beforehand if paying by credit card, because they have to add it on first.


PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION

  • At the train station, it will help you immensely to know the end destination of the train you want (regardless of if you are traveling there). Everything here is easily labeled in Italian, English and other languages, organized, clean, and the Green blazer-clad Trenitalia reps are willing and ready to help.


MEN/SAFETY

Men

  • Depending on where you live in the U.S., sisters may notice a significant increase in the number of sisters dating European men compared to the U.S.
  • Public display of affection among couples is more common than the U.S.

Safety

  • Compared to major U.S. cities, Florence is a safe city. You should use common sense when walking around. Sisters traveling alone should assume they are traveling in a major U.S. city and take the necessary precautions.
  • Pickpockets don't fit a profile. Anyone can pick your pocket, so use care when in tourist attraction areas, using public transportation, etc.
  • Seek help from official looking people only (train station agents, tourist office, tour bus drivers, airport information desk, airline employees, hotel desk clerks, etc.).


MISCELLANEOUS TIPS

  • If it's raining, run into a cafe and relax. Don't get frustrated trying to read maps and street signs in the rain while dealing with an umbrella.
  • Before leaving your hotel, check the weather report. Florence can have sunshine and rain on the same day.
  • Florence uses military time or the 24 hour clock and dates are written day/month/year, so don't get confused by the difference.
  • Bring plenty of anti-bacterial wipes (Wet Ones, Purell, etc.) to help prevent illness.
  • Before leaving the U.S., find out if your health insurance covers an unexpected visit to the doctor in Florence and the locations of the hospitals covered by your health insurance.
  • Have at least a general understanding of the metric system, as it is used for everything from time of day to buying produce, ordering wine, distance from one place to another, etc.
  • Always have change for the public bathrooms (.50 to .70 euro). This amount is either paid to an attendant or via a payment machine almost anywhere you go, except for in restaurants.
  • Bring some of the books on the Florence Resources List with you on your trip.
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