lorence has approximately the same amount of tourism
/traffic as Rome
, but it is a student town half of Rome's size. This leads to crowded traffic, a high Americans-to-locals ratio and a terrible environment
. The number of cars is augmented by narrow streets (lane and a half) and scooters
parked on the sidewalk. This makes it impossible to walk side-by-side, it is hard enough to manouver on one's own: traffic seems to invariably go in the opposite direction. Pedestrian
crossings (when they exist) are happy hunting grounds for bloodthirsty motorists, every motorized person is marked by an all-for-self attitude.
The streets are filthy
. Half of Florence is perpetually under construction, the rest is gassed
by re-routed, compacted traffic. This would all be half as bad with some vegetation. But the city center (in which we stayed) has no such thing. The only "parks
" in Florence are block-sized plazas with four trees - one per corner. Even the main streets are narrow, lack trees and are characteristically filthy
The last negative point about this city is that it is possible to spend a night walking the steets
and hear only English spoken. Florence is a University
-town, but having the history it does, out to hold more Italians.
We spent many afternoons walking these crowded streets, through the perpetual drizzle, through corridors and alleys. There seems to be no "strolling" in Florence, everyone is determined to get wherever they are going, ignoring what lies aside them. South Florence is a lot more human, with more trees, space, open doors and less cars. The road up leads to the Michelangelo plaza, from which we were able to watch the tuscan sun filter over the horizon. The food is less bland and cheaper, people are nicer and speak Italian, some do so exclusively. It seems possible to live here, exhaust and the burning sun makes the inner city little more than an enclosure for roads. The city bleeds cars, especially at night, when the better-off leave for their Bed + Breakfasts in Tuscany. Then the city is dead, dark and deserted. The streets seem to give way to a darkness, a force that drives locals and those who know better off of them. One becomes instinctively defensive, paranoid and eager to get home. While the air is cooler than during the day, it is still not fresh. The black buildings turn the city into a cold, ashy, extinguised fireplace. You can feel the soot around you, infiltrating your nostrils with every breath drawn.
But, Florence is a city of the arts, and enjoying it is an art of its own. The best places to eat are in the mentioned southside and red light district (West of the Termini.) The food is grand and cheap, and the surroundings are interesting. The southside offers bridges, balconies and amiable pubs, the termini offers friendly service and transvestite prostitutes who are prime freakshow material. A New York expatriate told us about one shemale who has worked the same corner for over thirty years. The nightly drift and associated danger give the city a certain tinge, one notices more things.
Florence lacks the monuments that make Rome what it is, one has to look and be open to truly experience the cultural wealth. Those who live in the city have created little garden-enclosures in their homes, miniature edens which are sunken into the building and thereby hidden from the public eye. If the doors are open, armed guards patrol the finely trimmed greenery, marble statues and fountains. Venice has the same openings, but while Florence's are "Verboten zu betreten," the Venezian counterparts are open and inviting.
It is wise to avoid reservations in this city, there are more hotels than tourists any time of the year. Hotel owners tend towards the nasty habit of assigning the crappiest rooms for those who call ahead, saving the better ones for those who check them out first.