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Art, Travel & Life in Italy & Europe

Italy/Florence FAQ’s

(Feel free to email me new, pressing questions)


Q: What is the weather in Italy right now?
A: Here is a reliable italian weather website (tempoitalia). These sites give a week’s weather in advance.

Q: What is the weather like in December in Florence?
A: Like winter. Cold. Wear a down filled coat! Umbrella also handy.

Q: Do Italians care about weather at all?
A: Only to complain about it. Generally, weather here is not all that remarkable, and does not warrant its own channel on tv. The weather report during the nightly news is so vague it’s frustrating.

Q: When is the best time to visit Italy?
A: Any time is a good time in Italy!! But weather wise, you might enjoy spring (April/ May) and Fall (September and early October) the most. Cities are fine in any weather. The coasts and areas like Cinque Terre are not particularly pleasant in winter. Tuscany and other areas of the countryside can be very pretty in winter – there are some sunny days – but it’s prone to snowstorms, especially in February.

Where to stay?

Q: should I stay in an apartment or a hotel?
A: Arttrav backs “slowtrav” principles, so we like staying in apartments in town, or villas/country houses outside of the city. Apartments feel more like home, and a major advantage is that you can cook your own meals. Then again for some people, this is a disadvantage as they’d rather eat out! Apartments are useful for families are larger groups of people, as they are usually economical and flexible.

Q: What is the best area of Florence in which to stay?
A: This is a matter of personal opinion. It also depends how long you’re staying. For shorter periods, try to remain central so you can visit a ton of sites, but stop back at the hotel to rest your feet. Downtown Florence is small so any area is OK, though Santo Spirito is a bit further from the major sites. For longer stays, consider the peripheries to the north and south of the city, outside the ring roads, where you will experience Florence more as the Florentines do. These residential areas offer local markets, supermarkets for food, and bus service to the center.

Practical stuff

Q: Can I use my American flat-iron/ hairdryer in Italy?
A: You need a travel or dual voltage appliance to make it work here. Italy runs on 240 volts. You can get a voltage and plug converter and bring along your appliance. If you’re staying a longer time, consider picking up a cheap european one at an electronics store such as Euronics.

Q: Is driving in Italy really as bad as all the international jokes about it make it out to be?
A: NO! Driving here is really not much worse than in New York, only that there are scooters (motorini; vespas) that zip in and out of traffic, and there is not a whole lot of respect for lines or stop signs (the Florentine expression “rosso pieno” refers to a stop light that can be fully red, or only a bit red, in which case you can go through it). But otherwise, it’s just like home. You just have to be extra alert. Note that you need to have an International Driving Permit (IDP) issued in your country of residence before you travel, unless your license is from one of the EU countries.

Q: How will I know what to see/ where to go?
A: You’re already on arttrav so that’s a good place to start. But whatever you do, don’t leave for Italy without a guidebook and map. A GPS unit is good, but don’t depend on it to get you to the smaller places correctly – always cross check against a map. There are reading lists and the arttrav/ amazon A-Store to help you with your book and map choices.

Q: Where can I buy postage stamps?
A: Not only can you buy stamps at the POSTE (post office), where you will wait in a long line with people humphing periodically about the long wait… but you can also buy them at a Tabacchi (or tobaconnist’s) store. Most of them should know the current rates to mail a regular weight letter to various locations. Packages do have to go from the post office unless you have a way of weighing them. Current rates for letters are: 60 cents in Italy, 65 cents in europe, 85 cents to USA and Asia.

Food etiquette

Q: Can I drink cappucino at any time of day?
A: You CAN, but you might get a funny look. For Italians, cappuccino is a good breakfast, but is considered too filling to order right after lunch – they drink expresso. Similarly, it’s an OK afternoon “snack”.

Q: That expresso gives me jitters. Can I get american coffee?
A: Yes, order a “cafe americano” or “cafe lungo”

Q: Do I have to eat everything on the menu?
A: NO. Italian menus are divided into appetizer (antipasto), primo (rice or pasta), and secondo (meat or fish), plus dessert and coffee of course. By no means do you have to eat all of these in sequence, and any decent restaurant should not frown upon your choice to limit yourself to just a primo. To the greatest possible extent, I suggest you eat like you would at home, only better! Only in very fancy restaurants or special occasions to Italians eat one of each things.

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By: arttrav

Alexandra Korey aka ArtTrav is a Florence-based art historian and arts marketing consultant.