Florence: General Facts

  • Population: ITALY, 57,634,327: FIRENZE, 376,662
  • Italy is slightly larger than Arizona and shares borders with six countries including Vatican City and San Marino
  • Area of City: 548 sq mi/1,420 sq km.
  • Province/State: Florence is the administrative capital of its own province, as well as the capital of the Region of Tuscany.
  • Italy is a member of the European Union.
  • Currency in use: Euro (as of 05/31/05 one US$ = .79 Euro)

  • Important Contact Numbers
    (when calling within Italy, omit “011-39”)

    Carl O. and Patricia E. Bleyle
    Home: 1-515-292-4266; Office: 1-515-294-2966
    E-mail: cobleyle@iastate.edu

    Italy: Via Parione, 2 (September 2-29, 2005)
    Firenze, Italia
    Tel: 011-39-055-292067
    Cell: 011-39-3486617821 (operative only when we are in Europe)

    Housing: Students: Albany Lodge (Charles Apartment)
    Via Cherubini, 4
    50121 Firenze, Italia
    Tel: 011-39-055-504 7042

    Albany Lodge Contact - Margarita Martinez (Louise Apartment)
    Via Cherubini, 4
    50121 Firenze, Italia
    Telephone/Fax: 011-39-055 5416871
    Telephone: Cell – 011-39-340-8534505

    Rules to help Enjoy Florence

    It is against the law to damage monuments and works of art or to climb or sit on monuments. Fines may be as high as $2,000.

    Municipal police regulations prohibit playing games or performing bodily functions outside the amenities provided; throwing objects into fountains and rivers; climbing on fountains and walking along the river embankment and bridge piers; picking flowers, climbing or damaging trees and other amenities in public gardens.

    Tourist Information Centers
    (all phone numbers assume one is dialing from within Italy)

    APT (Agency for the Promotion of Tourism)
    Via Cavour 1r
    Tel: 055 233 20/055 29 08 32/055 29 08 33
    08:15-19:15 daily, 08:30-13:30 Sunday
    city information, maps and events
    ask for the Concierge Book, the large map of Firenze, and The Bus Route pamphlet

    Informazioni Comune (City information)
    Borgo S. Croce 29r
    Tel: 055 23 40 444
    09:00-19:00 daily: 09:00-14:00 Sunday
    (I particularly like this location - less crowded, very helpful personnel)

    Addresses: Street Numbers

    A street number such as 36r (36/R) means "36 red." All commercial enterprises are marked with red street numbers; residences have blue/black numbers. Don't be surprised if the sequence of numbers is not continuous between the two colors: You may have red No. 5 followed immediately by blue/black No. 27 on the same side of the street. Via Cherubini will be 4 blue/black.


    Alas, January 1, 2002 marked the death of the Italian lire. As of that date, the European common currency, the euro, will be used in Europe’s twelve euro-zone countries. Those of us who previously paid 3,500 lire for the daily International Herald Tribune or 10,000 lire for a coppa of gelato will feel less affluent since we no longer will carry 100,000 lire notes in our billfolds. However, a supposed advantage of the euro is that its value will or should be close to that of the American dollar. Due in part to the huge United States budget deficit, this is not the case at the moment. The dollar has fallen to the point that $1.00 now equals .79 euro.

    Euro banknotes come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500. One euro equals 100 cents. Bridges, symbols of Europe’s architectural heritage, appear on the reverse side, taking the place of the cultural symbols of the former lira notes. Coins will be available in 1 and 2 euro and 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 cents. With the practically worthless value of the “penny” and the “nickel” one wonders why these two coins were even considered for production. Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvius man” appears on some of the 1 euro coins and an image of Dante appears on some 2 euro coins.

    Portraits of scientists and artists, composers, and educators graced the old lire notes!!!!

    Lire  1,000 Montessori or Galileo
    Lire 2,000 Marconi
    Lire  5,000 Bellini
    Lire 10,000    Volta
    Lire 50,000 Bernini
    Lire 100,000 Caravaggio

    What is the plural of euro?

    With the launch of euroland’s new currency some eurocrats have come up with a new way of spelling. In some languages the euro will not carry the regular plural ending. In English, for instance, the official spelling of the euro (adopted by the Central Bank of Ireland) is 1 euro, and 100 euro (1 cent and 100 cent) – without an ‘s’ in its plural form! Someone somewhere claims the plural ‘euros’ was banned due to its unfortunate resemblance to the Greek word for urine. In Your Pocket refuses to adopt bureaucrat-speak and, following the example of the Bank of England, has stuck to correct English usage, writing that plucky little plural of euro with an ‘s’.

    In Italian too the plural does not take the usual Italian ending: 1 euro and 100 euro (1 cent, 100 cent). Florence In Your Pocket

    When traveling to Europe, a commission-less or 1% commission credit card provides the best exchange rate and is usually the most convenient to use. Visa, Mastercard and American Express credit cards (not Discover) are gradually gaining acceptance in most stores, restaurants and museum shops. Some smaller restaurants catering to locals still accept cash only. (See Cucina Italiana handout for those restaurants that do accept them.)  Some restaurants and businesses, such as La Grotta Guelpha, will charge your credit card in dollars at an exorbitantly high exchange rate. Look carefully on the menu to see if credit cards are charged in dollars instead of euros. It is best to use cash in places such as this. Or you could ask the waiter to be sure that the amount charged is calculated in euros and not dollars.

    Commissions: Most bank credit cards now charge a 3% commission on foreign transactions. The ISU Credit Union is now issuing Mastercard and Visa credit cards which allow commission-less foreign currency transactions. According to one of our students, CapitalOne also does not charge a fee. Check with your card issuer about the commission rate or any other fees it may assess. You may have to be persistent to find this out. See below for additional information. Two or three percent may not seem much, but on a $2,000 leather jacket, it can add up!!!

    Almost every Florence bank has an automatic 24-hour ATM machine (Bancomat) located on the premises. You should be able to draw money from your Bank or Credit Union checking account at the current day’s exchange rate without a commission charge. Instructions are available in several languages including English.

    Check with your card issuer to be sure your card can be used abroad. The pin number should not be more than 4 numbers in length. Avoid the street money changers. The commissions are extraordinarily high.

    You can also cash foreign currency in the ATMs. Be sure the notes are smooth and not wrinkled. Just follow the instructions. You will be charged a commission.

    Occasionally check your account balance through the internet to be sure your account has not been hacked. Mine was hacked during the Fall 2004 program through an ATM located at the Deutsche Bank. Your account should be insured against this.

    This past summer, two ATM’s in Florence were found to have bugged ATM’s. Check the slot that accepts the card for any signs of tampering. In the latter case, someone had inserted a small device that could read the account information of clients using the ATM.


    Esselunga (Albany Lodge)
    Via Masaccio, 274 – Tel 055 573 348
    The HyVee of Florence

    DO NOT FORGET TO GET YOUR ESSELUNGA FÌDATY CARD. This card gives discounts of between 20 to 50 percent on certain items and is available free of charge at the store’s customer service desk. Give it to the clerk before checking out. Credit Cards are accepted.

    Supermercato Conad
    Via dei Servi 56r (across the street from the Laundromat listed elsewhere)
    055 280 110

    Travelers' Checks

    The American Express Office, Via Dante Alighieri 14r, is open 09:00 to 17:30, Monday through Friday, and 09:00 to 12:30 Saturday during the summer. All the regular services of an AMEX office are available here. The rate of exchange is not very good but is slightly higher for American Express Card Holders and for amounts over $500.00. You can buy airline, train and bus tickets here.

    A passport or other identity document is necessary to cash travelers' checks.

    I do not use traveler’s checks due to the low rates of exchange.

    Health Advisories

    Florence is a relatively safe city and its natives are friendly to American citizens. The chances of terrorist activities or health concerns are minimal.

    http://www.travel.state.gov/travel_warnings.html (State Department)
    http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm (Center for Disease Control)

    Hygienic standards are similar to those in any industrialized nation, with the notable exception of public rest rooms which tend to range from dirty to unbearable. See below under Toilettes.

    Tap water is safe to drink unless marked non-potabile. However, most Italians prefer the taste of bottled mineral water (naturale or gas). A small bottle of water in grocery stores costs approximately 50 cents. It often is refrigerated. Restaurants charge two to three times this amount. A grocery or wine store will often sell six-packs of larger bottles of water for 3 euro. This makes it relatively cheap. If you plan on a long outing, it is good to take a bottle of water with you. Public fountains are practically non-existent.

    Food on the streets is usually fine, but trust your instincts, and know what you are eating (watch for offal - see various names under the section “Tripe Seller” in the Cucina Italiana handout).

    In the Corriere della Sera I read the results of a fifty-one-nation study of Europe: Italy has the lowest percentage of overweight citizens, also it is last in suicide. Besides the obvious qualities of the Mediterranean diet that we’ve read about in every magazine, I think there are a few other factors at work. When food is really good, day after day, you don’t have the urge to eat a lot; you’re satisfied. When food is unbalanced or badly prepared, you keep eating; the body keeps wanting. Because of the rhythm of the meal, portions of meat are small. No one seems to want sugar or salt snacks between meals, though no one worries about the occasional dessert or gelato. The least major ingredient in the kitchen is sugar. These preferences add up to a lifestyle. All kinds of fruit are enjoyed constantly. Frequently I’ve seen children reach for a tangerine and refuse the chocolate dessert.

    Mayes, In Tuscany

    Stephen Kerr: British General Practitioner
    Via Porta Rossa 1 (near pharmacy in Piazza Signoria)
    Tel 055 288 055; Cell 335 836 1682

    Drop in clinic M-F, 15:00-17:00 – mornings by appointment
    House calls 24 hours (40 euro, weekdays; 50 euro weekends; 35 euro during regular office hours – student rate)

    Tourist Medical Center – 24 hour on-call service
    Via Lorenzo il Magnifico 59
    Tel 055 475 411 – house calls available
    English and French
    Cash payment only

    Misericordia Ambulance and Emergency Services
    Piazza del Duomo 21
    055 212 221
    volunteer service but small donation requested



    As mentioned above, public restrooms tend to range from dirty to unbearable. It is wise to keep a supply of tissues handy, since paper in public rest rooms is often missing. Keep loose change for attendants at rest rooms in train stations and other public areas (.75-1.00 euro average). Rivoire (Piazza della Signoria) and the restaurants surrounding Piazza della Repubblica all have clean facilities, which may be used if necessary. Another clean toilette may be found on the 4th floor of the department store, Rinascente, Piazza della Repubblica. Men and women use the same exterior door, but when inside, you will find that this is not a unisex toilette. Please check the doors inside for the proper one (pants versus skirts). Any restaurant you patronize will also have toilets, often unisex ones. Bars are required to have and allow use of toilets. All museums have toilettes.

    Since water is at a premium in Florence, toilettes are so constructed as to use very little water. This often poses the situation that flushing does not always complete its intention. Therefore a brush is usually found next to the toilette to complete the job. Please use it as a courtesy to the next occupant.

    Voltage Requirements

    Voltage in Italy is 220, and although the 3-prong round plug is preferable, a round 2-prong also works. Many North American appliances have 220-volt switches and may be used in Europe. They may still require a plug adapter, however. If there's no voltage switch, a converter is required as well. Using cheap converters for computers is not recommended. The ISU Computation Center sells a power cord that automatically converts local current for use in your computer. I have used this in the past and have experienced no trouble. However, you do need an adapter plug to insert into the Italian socket.

    Do not use your appliances for over ten minutes. They could melt in your hand even with a converter. I recommend you wait until you arrive in Florence and purchase a communal hair dryer. You can get one for under $10.00 in many stores.

    Post Offices

    Main Office
    Via Pellicceria 3 (in the arcade west of Piazza Repubblica)

    The main Post Offices is open daily between 08:15 and 17:50), weekdays, and Saturdays between 08:15 and 12:30. Stamps may also be purchased in any Tabaccheria. Mail for the United States should be placed in the right hand side of the boxes marked posta prioritaria where it says altre destinazioni.

    For first class postage to the United States the following is needed: a first class postage prioritaria stamp and a postaprioritaria label which is included with the purchase of this stamp. The label is placed in the upper left hand corner of the address side of the card or letter at an angle slightly tilted down from the left. Return addresses are placed on the envelope flap opposite the address side.

    Italian mail service is often the focus of ridicule but I have found that mail I have sent does reach its destination the U.S. in a reasonable amount of time.

    Business Hours

    Most stores and offices are closed on Sundays. Ordinary business hours for both shops and offices are from 09:00 to 13:00 and 15:00 to 19:00. Public buildings may open as early as 08:00 and close as early as noon without re-opening in the afternoon. Some large department stores, tourist shops and supermarkets stay open during the lunch break.

    In Florence, during the winter season (approximately October to May), food shops are closed on Wednesday afternoons; this changes to Saturday afternoons in the summer (May through September).

    Banks are open Monday through Friday only, from 08:30 to 13:30; most reopen for an hour in the afternoon, at about 14:30. Bancomats are available 24/7.


    Italians dress very well and are extremely fashion conscious. For visitors, neat, casual attire is appropriate for everyday situations; athletic shoes, jeans and T-shirts should be kept to a minimum. Shorts and sleeveless blouses are frowned upon, even in the hottest weather. It is sometimes prohibited and at all times rude to enter churches in short skirts, sleeveless tops or shorts. Each museum/church site posts a sign containing pictorial symbols which indicate prohibitions to entrance.


    Tipping is not obligatory since most restaurants include a cover charge per person (pane e coperto) that ranges from 1 to 3 euro. Often a 12% service charge (il servizio) is also included in the bill. Together, these make up a good tip. However, if you wish to reward especially good service, you might leave an extra 5%. Taxis in Florence are more expensive even than taxis in Tokyo, so don't feel obliged to tip unless you're in an extremely expansive mood or wish to be considered a tourist. However, if the charge is, for example, 15.75 euro, it's quite normal to round up to 16 euro. In like manner the driver may round down the meter reading from 15.25 euro to 15.


    Summers are hot; spring and fall mild. Winter isn't particularly cold, but very foggy and humid. Although winter temperatures are not very low, dampness makes the cold very penetrating. February, March and particularly November can be quite rainy. Average temperatures: Jan 35-49 Fahrenheit/2-9 Celsius; Feb 36-53 F/2-12 C; Mar 40-60 F/4-16 C; Apr 46-68 F/ 8-20 C; May 53-75 F/12-24 C; Jun 62-81 F/17-27 C; Jul 63-89 F/17-32 C; Aug 62-88 F/17-31 C; Sep 58-81 F/14-27 C; Oct 51-69 F/11-21 C; Nov 42-58 F/6-14 C; Dec 37-50 F/3-10 C.

    Time Zone

    Florence is an hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. When it is noon in Florence, it is 05:00 in Des Moines. Italy observes Daylight Saving Time from the end of September to the end of March and changes its clocks, as does most of Europe, at the same time we do in the U.S.

    VAT Tax

    Italy imposes a value-added tax, known as IVA, on the price of most items, ranging from 11.5% to 16%. If you make a large purchase (more than 150 euro) in a store, or purchases in one store on one day which total over 150 euro, and plan to take the purchase out of Italy, it may be possible to receive a refund of part of the IVA. Clothes must not have been worn and should be in the original package. Participation in this program is at the discretion of the individual stores.

    Stores participating in the program usually have a special sticker or sign in the window, but it is still a good idea to verify participation before making your purchase. The refund can be claimed when you leave the last European Union country in which you are traveling. However, if your ticket shows you have a connecting flight in another EU country (Germany, Bavaria, France, The Netherlands, et al.) with a short layover, you might be able to claim your refund at the IVA desk at the Florence Airport. Your refund will usually show up on your credit card a few months later.

    Another way to receive your refund is to go to a Refund Office in Florence. Here is the procedure:

    As soon as you have made your purchase, take to the refund company your passport, credit card, and store receipt, and fill out the refund company’s form.

    On departure from the European Union you will need to obtain a customs’ stamp on the form and [rarely] show the unused item to the customs official. In any case, do not pack it until you have received the stamp. Then mail the stamped form in the envelope provided by the Refund Company in the post office box outside the airport, or from wherever your departure. The customs booth at the Florence airport may have a mail drop located on the counter.

    Global Refund Italia, s.r.l. Tax Refund S.P.A. Tax Refund S.P.A.
    Ponte Vecchio, 2 Via Dante Alighieri, 22r  Lungarno Acciaiuoli, 6r
    055 211 567 info@taxrefund.it

    Cultural Practices

    Italians have a penchant for titles such as dottore or professore. In Italy, any university graduate is a dottore. Also keep in mind the Italian concept of the workday: any hour between noon and 15:00 or so is considered possible lunch/break time; therefore meetings are generally not scheduled then. Finally, while it is good to be punctual, arriving up to about 20 minutes after the scheduled hour is not considered "late." Don't be surprised if your Italian counterpart arrives later than you do. This does not apply to meeting times for Tones of Florence students.

    Florentines tend to be quite reserved in any business encounter with unfamiliar people. Those who are too casual or chummy too quickly can be misinterpreted as being ingenuous or naive, the stereotype some Italians have of U. S. citizens, in particular.


    Albany Lodge

    You will have a direct phone available, which will be metered. Margarita Martinez will tell you how to calculate charges for each call. Each student is responsible for reimbursing his/her personal long distance calls. The charge for local calls will be divided equally among the students living in the Albany Lodge or Santo Spirito.

    Albany Lodge students: You should be able to access the internet from the Albany Lodge through Margarita’s account. See her for details about reimbursement.


    Romula was in a doorway, the baby cradled in her wooden arm, her other hand extended to the crowds, her free arm ready beneath her loose clothing to lift another wallet to add to the more than two hundred she had taken in her lifetime. . .

    In the crowd, Romula had a friend she could depend on. .

    If the intended victim seized Romula and held her, Gnocco could trip, fall all over the victim and remain entangled with him, apologizing profusely until she was well away. . .

    Hannibal, p. 172

     The center of town is relatively safe, with the exception of purse snatchings. Florence is a lively place and even on weekday evenings the streets are relatively full until about 23:30 (later on weekends). While there's no reason to avoid going out at night in the center of town, the more remote parts of the city (particularly the area around Santa Maria Novella station) should be avoided.

    Purse snatching is quite common, with foreigners as the preferred targets. Here are a few typical scenarios: The first is a quick grab on a crowded public bus just as the doors are opened to dispatch passengers; always be very aware of your handbag and protect it.

    A second finds a purse snatcher riding by on a motorbike, grabbing purses on the traffic side. To avoid this, hold your bag firmly on the building side of the sidewalk.

    In the third scenario, packs of gypsy children come out of nowhere, make a bit of a scene (often poking you with a newspaper), and in 30 seconds make off with your bag. Keep a good lookout, and keep your purse tightly closed with single-minded determination (men, hold directly onto your wallet) and shout anything loudly (Vai via = get the hell out of here), in an angry tone. DO NOT FEEL PITY FOR THESE KIDS. THEY ARE THIEVES. Four years ago one of our students (female) was confronted by such a group. She proceeded to wield a karate chop in the vicinity of her purse and found a little hand that recoiled accompanied by a howl. We think she broke the urchin's wrist. These attacks do not usually occur in isolated places but in the open in the main squares among the tourist herds.

    How to Avoid Slippery Fingers

    • Leave expensive jewelry and other valuables at home.
    • Make photocopies of all important documents - passports, traveler's check numbers, airplane tickets - to carry with you, and store the originals safely.
    • Use money belts, holster wallets, or "bra pouches" that can be hidden under clothing. Fanny packs are not recommended.
    • Keep wallets, cash, keys and documents in front pockets - not in purses, backpacks or handbags.
    • Handbags should be worn close to the body, with the strap falling across the chest. Keep a hand on the bag.
    • If you have to put a backpack or handbag on the ground, put your foot through the strap.
    • Don't wear your camera dangling from your neck or wrist; keep it out of sight. Avoid expensive-looking camera bags.
    • If a stranger points out a stain on your clothing, refuse his assistance: This is a well-known pick-pocketing scam.
    • Beware also of gypsy mothers feeding their babies. One arm may be a fake, allowing the real arm you do not see to pick your pocket. (This technique is described in Hannibal.)
    • A recent scam involves a person kneeling on the ground, who rises as you approach, with a ”gold” ring he has found on the street. He offers it to you, requesting only a small finder’s fee. Obviously, the ring is worthless.

    Emergency Numbers

    The following numbers usually require someone who speaks Italian:

     general emergencies of any type  113
     carabinieri (all-purpose police force, quite reliable)  112
     fire department 115
     Automobile Club of Italy (commonly known as ACI) 116
     medical emergencies of any type 118
     American Consulate, Lungarno Vespucci 38 23 98

    Transportation in General

    Next to soccer, transportation -- the need to improve it -- is the favorite topic of conversation in Florence. Slowly but surely, progress is being made. The first step was taken a decade ago, when the city center was closed to traffic, except for residents. Florence is a driver's nightmare, with its tiny, narrow streets perennially clogged with bicycles, mopeds and dumpsters. Since the areas of the city that are of most interest to us are all within a pleasant walk from one another, the important sites are better reached on foot. Those few attractions not easily reached by foot are on main public bus routes. Taxis are an option, but only for wealthy oil moguls and former Enron CEOs.

    Arriving by Air at Perétola

    The Amerigo Vespucci Airport lies on the outskirts of the city, a 10 to 25-minute harrowing ride from the center. (Locally, the airport is referred to as "Perétola," the name of the neighborhood where it's located.) Flights from the United States use either London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Frankfurt, Munich, Paris, Rome or Milan as a hub, with a direct flight to Florence. You will probably walk directly from the plane, through the airport and into the taxi without ever seeing a customs agent. Don't forget, however, to pick up your luggage which, if you use the same airline or one of its partners for the entire flight, should go directly from Des Moines - or other departure points - to Florence. Free carts are available to take your luggage from the carrel to the street.

    When outside the terminal, turn to the left and go as far as the curb. Taxis come from this direction and you will have a better chance of getting a cab immediately than if you wait your turn in line directly outside the door. The Italians do not know the meaning of the word "queue." This is true for busses as well. Hold your ground or you will be shoved aside.

    By law the taxi companies all have to charge the same prices. Average cost for the trip from the Amerigo Vespucci Airport to the center of Florence should be between 15.00 and 20.00 euro. Four persons can ride in one taxi and share the cost if there is not too much luggage.

    Note: There's an extra charge of .25 euro per piece of luggage, which does not, however, apply to handbags, briefcases, laptops and the like. There's also a 2.00 euro airport supplement as well as extra charges for late night, Sundays and holidays. These supplements will be added at the end of the ride and be visible on the meter.  Do not think you are being overcharged.

    Tell the taxi driver to take you to Via Cherubini Quattro (4).

    City Buses

    Orange city buses in Florence, run by ATAF, serve the entire city and many outlying areas. Tickets can be purchased at bars, tobacconists or newspaper stands. Tobacconists display a sign with a large white T against a black background. Otherwise, establishments that sell bus tickets have the orange ATAF logo.

    Tickets are valid for a certain amount of time (minimum 60 minutes), regardless of how many different lines you take or where you go. They must be stamped as soon as you get on, using one of the little orange machines located either at the back or the front of the bus. As with trains, an unstamped ticket is not valid. A route map is available at the ATAF information office in the train station of at any of the Tourist Information Centers. The basic ticket is for 60 minutes and costs 1.00 euro. A four ride [60 minutes each] ticket costs 3.90 euro. The Carta Arancia allows for unlimited travel on public buses for seven days and costs 15.00 euro. It can be purchased at the ATAF office in Santa Maria Novella. Buses run at approximately 20-minute intervals from 06:30 to 20:30. After 20:30 they run much less frequently; at 30- to 60-minute intervals. In the early morning, they generally start at around 05:30, depending on the route. Between midnight or 01:00 and 05:00, most routes have no service.

    Buses can be very crowded during the Italian rush hours (08:00 to 09:00, noon to 14:00 and 17:30 to 19:00), but they can be extremely useful for getting to some of the beautiful, green areas in the city's immediate surroundings -- for example, the No. 7 bus to Fiesole and the No. 10 to Settignano. The SITA buses to Siena are a much better choice than the train, as the train station is far from Siena's center, whereas the bus stop is near the area where the major monuments are located. Buses to Siena run frequently and take approximately 75 minutes. The major bus companies are SITA (Siena and San Gimignano), Lazzi (Lucca and Pistoia) and Cap (Prato). The SITA station is located in Via Santa Caterina da Siena, very near Santa Maria Novella train station. Lazzi and Cap are also located near SMN train station, in Piazza Adua and Largo Alinari, respectively. All three companies also serve many other destinations, including typical Tuscan hill towns and villages. Information is available at their respective stations or by phoning: SITA (055 48 36 51), Lazzi (166 845 010), or Cap (0574 608 218/9).

    Taxis in General

    The three taxi companies in Florence have switchboard operators who speak English, and the drivers speak enough to get the job done. They operate 24 hours a day. Fares are outrageous. Even a rather short ride will rarely cost less than 6.00 euro, thanks to the starting charge of 3.00 euro. However, since the public buses are greatly reduced after 21:00, taxis are indispensable for going long distances late at night. (If your distance is a short distance within the center of town, do as the natives do: walk it.)

    You can get a taxi either by going to a taxi stand or phoning, but rarely by hailing one on the street. Taxi stands are located in almost every major square in town. In the center, taxi stands are located in the following piazzas: San Marco, Repubblica, San Giovanni, Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce. There are also stands in front of the Hotel Baglioni and at the corner of Via Oriuolo and the Duomo. Stands are well marked with blue and white signs. Charges are as follows: 3.00 euro as basic fare, then .75 euro per kilometer. In addition, there are the following supplemental charges: 2.00 euro on Sundays and holidays; 3.00 euro from 22:00 to 06:00 every day of the week.

    If you prefer to phone, use one of the following numbers: 055 43 90, 055 47 98 or 055 4242

    However, when you order a cab by phone, you pay the meter charges from wherever the cab is when you call. Therefore, there may already be a high charge on the meter as you get in. The charge can be somewhat estimated by considering how many minutes the operator at the taxi switchboard says you must wait. If it's more than, say, a five-minute wait, the taxi is coming from farther off and will consequently have a higher charge on the meter when it arrives. The city name and number are the taxi's "identity card." When your taxi arrives, make sure the "identity" corresponds to the one you were given over the phone. If not, don't get in; wait for your proper taxi to arrive. Estimates on arrival time are usually higher than actual time of arrival. If the dispatcher says five minutes, the taxi will be there in three. If the dispatcher says three minutes, the taxi is already waiting. Any time you ride in a taxi, be sure to wear a night mask (so you will not see the close calls) and say a few "Pater nosters" and "Ave Marias". Nevertheless, I have not yet been in a taxi in Florence that has had an accident. The drivers are amused at the terror of American passengers, and the louder you scream, the faster they go. Always ask for a "ricevuta" or receipt.

    Outline of Procedures to Follow when Calling a Taxi

    • Dial 055 43 90, or 055 47 98
    • Wait for operator to answer – You may be put on “hold” – if so, you will hear music
    • When operator does answer, Give the street name and number of your location: Via Cherubini 4 (quattro)
    • Wait for confirmation – you may again be put on hold while the operator searches for a taxi – if so you will hear music again
    • When the operator has found a taxi, she/he will give you the name of the cab and the number – it really is not necessary to get it correct unless you are at a busy location such as the Theater or a major venue.
    • If you do not understand, ask again and ask the operator to repeat the information in English


    Washing machines are available at the Albany Lodge. Another location is:

    Wash and Dry
    Via dei Servi 105r (Albany Lodge)


    Odeon CineHall
    Piazza Strozzi
    055 214068
    Monday and Tuesday (and occasionally on Thursday) – films in their original language – four shows daily

    This stunning art nouveau theatre which houses the Odeon Original Sound was built in 1922 by Piacentini in the courtyard of the 15th century Palazzo Strozzino, designed by Michelozzo. The original decorations enhance a spacious 600 comfortable-seated theatre, equipped with a new computerized projection. The Digital System guarantees the vividness of sound track, music and special effects. It is conveniently located in the center of town and has its own bar.

    Medical Information:

    International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers. IAMAT Centre:
    Via Lorenzo Il Magnifico, 59. Consultations and home visits 24 hours a day 055 475 411

    Medical Analysis/Tests
    Fanfani, Piazza Independenza, 18b  055 49 701

    After Hours Medical Service 055 28 7788
    24 Hour Emergency Ambulance with doctor on board 118
    Ambulance First Aid (Misericordia)  055 21 2222
    Ambulance First Aid (Fratellanza Militaire)  055 21 5555

    24 Hour Pharmacies:
    All’Insegna dell Moro: Piazza S. Giovanni, 20r (Duomo) 055 211 343
    Molteni: Via Calzaiuoloi 7r (Piazza della Signoria) 055 289 490
    Comunale 13: inside Santa Maria Novella train station 055 289 435


    On a Tuesday morning don't miss the famous Mercato delle Cascine, which stretches for about a mile along the banks of the Arno River, from Ponte della Vittoria to Ponte all'Indiano. Here you'll find clothing, sheets, towels, kitchenware, wicker, lingerie, tapes, perfume and food on sale, and if the long walk works up an appetite, stop at one of the stalls selling snacks and sandwiches. Italian women start haggling over prices at around 07:00 and they're home in time to get the pasta on the table by lunchtime -- which is when the sellers start dismantling their stalls.

    In the heart of the city you'll find many other markets. The Mercato di San Lorenzo, in Via dell'Ariento, is probably the most popular and it's open all day, every day. This market is naturally much more tourist oriented than the Cascine, because of its location. On sale are clothes, shoes, bags, costume jewelry, scarves, belts and small gift items. You'll also find an indoor fresh produce market, selling fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and an array of deli items. This indoor section is open Monday-Saturday 06:00 to 14:00.

    The Mercato di S. Ambrogio, in Piazza S. Ambrogio, is the twin of San Lorenzo with outdoor stalls selling a variety of stuff and an indoor fresh produce market. However, it's open just 07:00 to 13:00, Monday through Saturday.

    The flea market in Piazza dei Ciompi sells many precious pieces from the past including furniture, ornaments, coins and prints. Don't be afraid to bargain over the price -- vendors often start very high.

    How many shades of green can there be? You won't know until you've seen the Mercato dei Fiori. The spectacular array of flowers and plants is underneath the arches, on Via Pellicceria, Thursday mornings only.

    At the Straw Market (Porcellino) in Via Por Santa Maria, you'll find intricate hand-made embroidery and lace, many straw articles and Florentine wood carvings, together with good quality leather goods at reasonable prices.

    Student Behavior on Study Abroad Programs


    The age requirement to purchase alcohol in Italy is 16. However, drinking hard liquor will brand you as an alien (English, Irish, American) and reaching the state of intoxication will make you a social outcast among educated Italians.

    Wine is considered appropriate with meals, and its consumption in conjunction with food is taken for granted. If you wish to drink American soft drinks, bring extra cash. One of our students (Summer, 2001) was charged the equivalent of $15.00 for a Coke in one restaurant. Better to opt for Aqua minerale naturale (not gassed). MacDonalds does offer beer in its outlets, however, the Study Abroad Program Director has been known to consider immediate deportation for committing this gustatory crime.


    SAY NO EMPHATICALLY TO DRUGS. Nobody can help you if you are caught purchasing or consuming drugs. Be prepared for an extended stay in Italy if you wish to do drugs.

    Attention to Women

    Italian men are very charming and know every English word associated with “making out.” It does not matter who the female or what she looks like, she still is the object of attention and adoration, particularly around the Duomo at night. Remember Leparello’s catalog aria from Mozart’s Don Giovanni if you suddenly think you are the reincarnation of Venus by how the young Italian males describe you.

    While Italians for the most part are courteous and will back off with the slightest indication that their advances are not wanted, this is not true for the English male students. BEWARE THE BRITISH. They are not so courteous.

    Students on both Florence Programs are bound by ISU’s disciplinary policy, which is in effect both at home and abroad. This agreement is accepted when you sign the Conditions of Participation form included with your application. You can be sent home at your own expense for behavior disruptive to the program. To reinforce the obvious, students are also subject to the laws of Italy.


    Study Abroad Office (from Italy) Tel: 001-515-294-6792 (08:00-17:00 weekdays)
       Fax: 001-515-294-8263 (24 hours)
       E-mail: studyabroad@iastate.edu
    ISU Department of Public Safety 001-515-294-4428 (24 hours)

    Miscellaneous Tidbits

    Italian Boys

    Italian boys do something better than any other boys in the world: they lean, and they do it against walls, against Vespas, against each other. Italian bodies seem to fall naturally and spontaneously into beautiful contrapposto: the S curve of sculpture. It is beautiful because it is physical, if not active: it is an event in its own right.

    Hawthorne made much of the faun of Praxiteles (in Rome), and most people have made much of the Michelangelo and Donatello Davids. . . But no sculpture of an Italian boy is so wonderful as a living, leaning Italian boy: how difficult it is not to be like the driver of the “adorable wine-cart” in A Room with a View, and stare.

    Even the famous bell tower in Pisa does not lean so well.

    Mark Mitchell, Italian Pleasures


    Italian Drivers

    Although he was licensed to drive and occasionally, under duress, did get behind the wheel himself, Arbati avoided doing so whenever possible. The reason was simple. He disliked and, if he was perfectly honest with himself, actually feared that subspecies of Homo Sapiens which an otherwise charitable God had, for inscrutable reasons, permitted to survive and even to thrive on the planet in the form of The Italian Driver. The mere thought of them made Arbati shudder. There was, he was convinced, some bizarre quirk in the Italian spirit, some impulse built into the gene pool of the race itself that, once behind the wheel of a car, transformed normally placid men and women into rancorous savages inflamed with a wild bravado who refused to yield even an inch of pavement to those around them. The sirens one heard so often in Italian cities were always – or so it seemed – ambulances rushing to the aid of another stricken pedestrian or hapless Vespa rider. Arbati had no intention of casting his lot among them. His idea of hell, in fact, was to be trapped for eternity in the clogged arteries of the old city – going round and round and round – while drivers pressed in on all sides honking, cursing, and shooting obscene fingers at him. Whenever possible, therefore, he let his partner, Giorgio Bruni, do the driving. It was easier that way. James Hill, Ghirlandaio’s Daughter

    Tourists swarmed the pavement, peering in at the windows of Gucci, Valentino, and Ferragamo. Woe to the careless soul, his mind on bargains, who ventured into Giorgio Bruni’s path! Arbati bowed his head as if in silent prayer.

    Bruni braked suddenly and swerved sharply left. Arbati’s head came up in time to catch sight of a stout matron springing like an Olympic hurdler for the safety of the pavement. Without batting an eye, Bruni accelerated and carried on as if nothing had happened. In his mind, nothing had. It was all part of driving in Florence.

    James Hill, Ghirlandaio’s Daughter

    Italian People

    What makes the people so friendly, no, not just friendly, so genuinely kind and generous?

    We have the inheritance of the Etruscans and the Longobards . . . Now consider, in contrast, the Sardinians. They are Punic. They don’t want you on their land. But you can walk across my land.

    Mayes, In Tuscany

    Men kiss, Children kiss. Boys swagger down the Rugapiana arm-in-arm. The piazza, longest running play in the world and the crux and crucible of Italian life, shows kissing scenes all day. Teenage girls give other girls little kisses at the bus stop. (You kiss to your right first, to avoid colision.) As groups break up after dinner, the goodbye kissing takes twenty minutes. This accounts for some element of joy in the culture; you are kissed and kissed from the moment you are born. In churches, people kiss the foot of a sacred statue, cross themselves, kiss their own fingers and place them on some part of the Madonna, or blow this kiss toward the crucifixion. Rings and rosary beads are kissed. So the kiss, not only spontaneous affection, thanks and blesses. This intimate expression keeps alive the joy we all are born with. Even letters are signed, baci, baci, baci, kisses, kisses, kisses. “Ciao,” Chiara says into her telephone, “un grosso bacione,” a big, big kiss.

    At the same time, Tuscans are riband and sharp in their humor, fatalistic, private, and fazed by nothing. Symbiosis with the land runs deep. Meet even the slickest fashion designer or magazine reporter or video cameraman and the talk soon reveals a passion for the way food and wine are made: a homing instinct toward the land. I always find a fierce territorial attachment in Italians. In the country, the connection is vital. The constant gift-giving is an exchange of bounty from the garden. Italy is a world leader in the number of ecological, organic farmers. This springs not from a recent Greenpeace promotion, but from a natural feeling for the right way to grow things, the way Vergil and Cato and Varro knew.

    Mayes, In Tuscany

    Tuscans are thrifty. They have a deep-rooted dislike of throwing anything away that might once again come in useful.

    Tuscans are able to look back in a far more clear-sighted way than most people. They are fortunate to be free of collective complexes and, above all, of that arrogance which hides shame. They do not romanticize what has gone before, nor do they feel a need to close shutters upon it. The past is part of them and they are part of it. Kinta Beevor, A Tuscan Childhood

    Whatever the hardships brought by the war and whatever the huge changes that followed in its wake, two closely linked Tuscan emotions certainly seem to have survived: a love of the land and a love of what it produces. It is important to a Tuscan to eat his own produce from his own carefully tended orto.

    Kinta Beevor, A Tuscan Childhood
    The singer and writer Lorenzo Cherubini, called “Jovanotti,” lives in Cortona. All his rap/lyric CDs reach the top of the Italian charts. He recently wrote a hit song – a lullaby – for his baby daughter, Teresa. The song “Per te,” starts “For you,” and then he imagines all that he wishes for her. “And for you the sun burns in July . . . and for you the school bell . . . and for you the 13th of December . . . and for you the strawberry’s red . . . and for you the perfume of the stars . . .” Listening closely to ‘Per te,” I hear him wish for his daughter sabato nel centro, Saturday in the center of town. Saturday in Cortona, of course, is market day, a weekly celebration. What a joy, that wish. So profoundly un-American.
    Mayes, In Tuscany

    Light. I asked Maria when her boy was born and she said, “Il venticinque di gennaio – Lorenzo è dato alla luce.” . . .  What a precise and welcoming metaphor, giving the newborn to the relief and wonder of light.

    Mayes, In Tuscany (On January 25th, Lorenzo was given to the light.)

    Italian Fashion

    In Florence, we wandered down the via Tornabuoni, past Procacci, which still makes its delicious little sandwiches, and Parenti, where the best wedding presents come from. But most of the shops, such as Gucci and Ferragamo, even if Florentine in origin, are now glaringly international.

    It was curious how first craftsmen in leatherwork, then their grand successors in fashion dynasties took over the ground floors of ancient palaces. Above the principal entrance, you can often still see the old coat of arms in corroded stone, and sometimes a heraldic lion whose sad, irritated expression seems to suggest he is suffering more from toothache than the responsibility of symbolizing noble lineage. Today the wheel has turned a little further, taking it full circle: international banks have taken over the palaces of families whose fortunes had been founded in the late Middle Ages on international banking.

    Florentines, although always beautifully dressed, have succumbed a little to that creed of the last decade: luxury for its own sake. Over the last two hundred years, Tuscan parsimony meant that even in the grandest houses show was both distrusted and disliked. Simple food, although excellent because of the quality of the ingredients, was de rigueur. At lunch, guests were offered wine out of politeness, but the family usually drank only water. Only recently have conspicuously lavish parties become more fashionable. Yet if one judges by the responses to the great flood of November 1966, the most ancient Florentine qualities seem to have suffered little. One heard of lawyers, civil servants, dentists – even an admiral – working alongside students and artisans as everyone rose to that disatrous occasion. And the emergency restoration work proved that if you scratch a Florentine you will find a crastsman.

    Kinta Beevor, A Tuscan Childhood

    The Disabled

    [The priest] was assisted by a slightly retarded boy of the sort the British tend to deride as a village idiot. The Italians, on the other hand, would say that “he has not got all his Fridays” and treat him as “a child of God” – a universal relative.”

    Mayes, In Tuscany


    One of the holidays most revealing of the culture is All Saints Day, November 1, when people travel to their places of origin to make sure all their dead are remembered. For days before, flowers are sold from fields. The camposanto, cemetery, always full of flowers, for this holiday is laden. Every little infant Irma or Fabrizio who died of influenza in 1918 sleeps under a mound of roses. Imperial chrysanthemums are the flower for the dead. Bundles of yellow, gold, and white face-sized blooms are heaped on every grave, or are stuffed into the vases adorning the walls of drawerlike graves. No grave is bare; everyone who lived is thought of again on this day. I like to walk in cemeteries, especially here where the comfort of memory still lives. Maybe memory is kept alive because each grave has a photo of its occupant. There’s Benedetta, toasting with a glass of wine; Rocco, the mad painter, looking back at you with I-told-you-so eyes; all the weathered and worn contadini in black suits or dresses. When I tot up their ages at death, I see there were in their forties or fifties. On one grave I read, “Time obliterates everything but memory.”

    Mayes, In Tuscany


    Italians touch more than Anglo-Saxons and Asians. It is usually to show cordiality and good will, to communicate. During a conversation an Italian may touch your forearm. This is part of Italian body language and you should not see any more meaning in it. Touching the legs, however, while sitting and conversing, indicates intimacy – or the desire of it.

    It is common to see two men or two women walking a fraccetto (arm in arm). This simply shows friendship. Holding hands, however, means intimacy, as does holding a person around the waist.

    In Italy shaking hands is very common. Hugs to bid hello or goodbye are also common, but usually these take place only between old friends. You may also kiss them lightly on both cheeks.

    Pinching a woman’s buttocks was a common approach a few decades ago, but this behavior has now disappeared.

    Tuscan thriftiness

    a deep-rooted dislike of throwing anything away that might once again come in useful.

    Tuscans are able to look back in a far more clear-sighted way than most people. They are fortunate to be free of collective complexes and, above all, of that arrogance which hides shame. They do not romanticize what has gone before, nor do they feel a need to close shutters upon it. The past is part of them and they are part of it.

    Kinta Beevor, A Tuscan Childhood

    The Land

    Whatever the hardships brought by the war and whatever the huge changes that followed in its wake, two closely linked Tuscan emotions certainly seem to have survived: a love of the land and a love of what it produces. It is important to a Tuscan to eat his own produce from his own carefully tended orto.

    Kinta Beevor, A Tuscan Childhood

    Good grappa is said to taste much better from wood than from glass. Per digerire – it settles the stomach – Italians have a marvellous way of using health as the best excuse for self-indulgence.Mayes, In Tuscany