Florentines are proud of their city and live it very differently than visitors. They’ve been to the Duomo and the Uffizi by the time they’ve finished elementary school and would never waste time waiting to see David. The Renaissance is in their DNA and their daily routines focus on the practical rather than the extraordinary. If you want to live like them you have to forget about monuments and museums and start to think about simple pleasures like lunch, soccer and relaxation.
- Most Florentines spend their summers on the nearby Tuscan beaches but when they can’t get away they come to Spiaggia sul Arno, the city beach that’s set up along the Arno every year. Families and friends show up on weekends with coolers loaded with picnic treats but if you’ve left your basket behind you can grab a sandwich or drink from the kiosk that remains open all day long.
- Tripe is an acquired taste and Florence is the place to acquire it. This cheap, unheralded ingredient has been feeding residents for generations and is still prepared daily in dozens of outdoor kiosks around the city. Locals love it and nearly every Florentine can point you towards the best. Vendors are animated types who enjoy chatting with returning clients and provide animated street theater as you chew standing or at the counter.
- Soccer (calcio) is close to religion in Italy and Florentines are believers. It’s a one-city team and both young and old passionately follow the viola, as they’re called. The season is long and most games are held on Sunday afternoons at Artemio Franchi stadium just outside the historic center. You can splurge for the expensive seats but are better off sitting next to the most vocal supporters behind either of the goals. By the end you should have learned a few football songs and made up your mind on what team to support.
- Like most Italians Florentines prefer to be outdoors and their city has been designed over the centuries to allow public gatherings. There are plenty of big squares where locals can be seen at every hour chatting with each other and observing the comings and goings of their city. Much of the center is pedestrianized and the pre-dinner stroll is a ritual that takes place along Borgo la Croce, San Frediano and along the Arno. When locals tire they sit on the benches of Piazza la Repubblica or the church steps of Santo Spirito where conversations go on till the early hours and there is never any hurry.
- Locals may be a rarity browsing the leather stalls of the city but they always need to eat and when they need fresh vegetables or slice of butchered meat they head to the covered markets. Mornings at Mercato Centrale and Sant’Ambrogio are the best times to watch the throngs of shoppers lining up for produce and exchanging gossip with greengrocers and fishmongers. Do not be intimidated by the unruly lines and loud exchanges. Choose your fruit, hand it over to be weighed and head to the next cheese or wine stand to fill up on Tuscan ingredients.
- The hundreds of bikes locked up outside Santa Maria Novella train station make it clear what the favored form of transportation is in the city. Florentines ride bikes everywhere and the city’s two bike sharing schemes are a resounding success. There’s even a museum dedicated to bicycles and plenty of bike paths and parks populated with local cyclists. Renting or sharing is easy and once you get a handle of local disdain of breaks you’ll be ready to explore preferred destinations like Fiesole where mountain bike enthusiasts converge on weekends.
- Sunset is special in Florence and magically transforms the pastel colors of the city’s facades. There are plenty of rooftop bars to enjoy the natural spectacle but most Florentines are happy parking their mopeds or bicycles along the bridges of the Arno. Ponte Santa Trinità is the most popular due to its vicinity to the Ponte Vecchio and you should arrive early to get a front row seat.
Alexei Cohen lives in Rome, Italy and writes travel guides about
his adopted land. Moon: Rome, Florence & Venice is available now.
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