I’ve resurfaced to tell you that I’ve made it. I’ve completed 60 days of my one-year Sabbatical- dropping work to help myself to a slice of the Vita Bella in Florence. In a tweet I’d say “weather intense, flat hunting tough, made some friends”. But instead of taking the easy way out I’ve decided to put my money where my big fat mouth is and let you know how I’m finding it. I’ve been hyping myself and others about this experience for a good few years and now that I’m here, I bet you want to know if I’m sold on the idea of living here or not? I’m still unsure. The bouts of homesickness are still frequent but what I can tell you is that from finding an apartment to making friends, dating, I’ve learnt a lot and gone through a raft of emotions. So for those curious to take a leaf out of my book, here are my initial observations of Florence 60 days and 60 nights on…
If you can’t stand the heat…
I want guaranteed heat so of course Italy’s warm predictable weather influenced my decision to jump the UK ship. On previous visits to Florence (always mid-late May) I had bright sunshine and uninterrupted blue skies- what a delight! I was not at all disappointed. As soon as June came about it was hot. It was pure paradise to don shorts, t-shirts diaphanous dresses and sandals 24/7. But here’s the bit I overlooked and probably explains why I was rubbish at geography. Florence is in a valley (the locals describe its geographical point as the conca) so in summer it gets incredibly humid with virtually no air circulation. It’s been over 30 degrees every day for weeks (this is not meant to rub your noses in it) and I’ve been a sticky mess. My current room is an oven, gas mark a zillion. Also the humidity invites the like of mosquitoes, who in the evening are picking away at me like the captive carcass I am. NEWSFLASH: Rad wants to feel the cold- FYI anyone who knows me in London would have to pick their jaw up from the cool (oh so deliciously cool) ground.
If intense heat can floor me, intense cold may well put me six feet under said floor. I may be writing my next update from the afterlife!
The Tuscans are not happy. They feel robbed of Spring this year as it was unseasonably cold and the continuing heat is not winning them over- its claimed lives and landed people in hospital. So extreme weather systems here are a definite watch out. Can I admit to myself that I am relishing the advent of September? Hmm maybe, but then Winter is soon around and for me that is the litmus test. If intense heat can floor me, intense cold may well put me six feet under said floor. I may be writing my next update from the afterlife!
Home is where the Start is
Well nothing like hitting the ground running hey? Job number 1 for me was to find a place to live and it’s been no walk in the park. Flat-hunting in Florence is notoriously stressful. If it wasn’t for close friends here I don’t know what I have would have done. Since arriving, I’ve upped sticks about five times (involved a stint in Milan) so that gives you a good idea about the challenge at hand. After two months of gruelling house views and dealing with estate agents I can conclude the following:
Flat-hunting in Florence is notoriously stressful…Since arriving, I’ve upped sticks about five times (involved a stint in Milan) so that gives you a good idea about the challenge at hand.
- Location Location Location: It’s easy to get sucked into Florence’s city centre. You’d be on the doorstep of so much. But it is ridiculously touristy and hence pricey as f***! In my view it’s better to widen the radius and look further out. Before you start hunting get a lay of the land and visit some of its more residential suburbs. Places like San Niccolo, Gavinana, San Frediano in Oltrarno (dubbed the hippest neighbourhood in Florence), Leopoldo are not too far out of the centre and are very cool with a far more authentic vibe of Florentine life. Prices tend to be more reasonable but if you’re looking in the high season get ready to dig deeper into your pockets.
- Diversify: Use a variety of channels as you search: enlist the help of estate agencies, acquaintances of acquaintances, online apps (top ones are: Immobiliare.it, Idealista, EasyStanza, RoomGo). Italians are very helpful -my friends were- so don’t be afraid to reach out (and you sidestep the formal process that is involved with agencies).
- The price is right! Comparatively speaking you won’t not be shelling out as much as say Central London, but that doesn’t mean renting a flat here isn’t expensive. So try to ensure that whatever you go for is in line with what locals would pay. After surveying some of my Italian friends the going rate is from 350€, for a room in a shared apartment, to €650 for a studio or 2 bedroom apartment on your own.
- Do not compete: Of course as a sort of tourist the above has not rung true for me just as yet. The city is a honeypot for tourists, retired Italy-fan couples and students (there are four American universities) so competition is fierce. Florentine landlords have the rule of the roost who can dictate the price regardless of whether their property is a hovel or not. So this is why staying out of the historical centre is even more of a must. Because you can bet your bottom euro that the decent/nice places are reserved for tourists at more expensive prices.
- Deal or no Deal? It feels like clauses in rental contracts here don’t need to be spelled out in full. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for them to be so. And if they refuse do not be afraid to walk away! Once you get a contract, there are many kinds but in my situation it’s a contratto transitorio, (a longer term lease for someone who is not a tourist), don’t sign it right away. Have a good read and enlist the help of Italian friends who can explain the legal jargon. The crucial cornerstones of a solid agreement are:details of rent (canone mensile) per month including deposit (deposit0 cauzionale),
bills (le bollete/utenze: gas, electricity, water) they can be fixed per month or depend on a meter reading, which you are entitled to see proof of via a bill.
break clause (il recenso anticipato),
an account of the property’s current state (inventario) before the agreement starts and assurances that the landlord will take care of repairs.Obvious right? but I’ve seen some contracts and lost out on houses at the very final hurdle because landlords refuse to put the above in writing. Plus landlords tend to request rent in cash* (which means paying more). If you are OK with this (i.e. renting short term), get a receipt on a letterhead, but I suggest you go with a bonifico (a wire transfer which you can do for free via TransferWise) that way leaving a paper trail should any disputes arise. Protect yourself!*Opening a bank account: Unless you are an Italian resident you will need to pay a fee to open a bank account in Italy. This is costly and limits what you can do (how many cheques you can write, how many withdrawals). Therefore in my opinion for Brits get a Monzo card. You can make payments abroad without getting charged and they use the market rate so you get a better deal.
At the 11th Hour…
Anyone who knows the Mediterranean will tell you that socialising doesn’t really get going until late. This has initially clashed with my British timing; as per my usual London life, I tend to drop by the local pub once work is out (6-7pm) perhaps adding on an optional dinner and club outing. But here that thinking is wrong. If you want to grab a drink with a Florentine -date or otherwise- they tend to suggest kicking off the night at like 11pm! This surprised me as it was just a casual bevy not a clubbing night. Back home 11pm is my bedtime so I’m thinking how on earth do I fill my time until 11pm without dozing into dreamland? Suffice to say I’m working on it but the intense heat has a way of lulling me to sleep.
…But better late than never!
For me this is where London falls short. Regardless of whether it is a late evening, the ease of going out and about in Florence makes it a virtual cinch to meet new people; it’s not as big as world metropolises and is very scale-able by foot. Plus it has a palpably more relaxed pace of life. Florentines are an open inviting bunch and more often than not you’ll be chatting with randoms all night long. Definitely something in London I have rarely encountered. Plus the dating scene is so much easier. Granted whether they convert into anything sincere or long-lasting is another matter, but the opportunity to meet new people is so much higher that your upping the potential of finding romance. Though never ever use Tinder in Italy. As a seasoned dater I’ve observed Italian men to be very charming but also candid from the get go. Add Tinder to the mixture and don’t be surprised if you get a lot of booty calls- which depending on what you’re up for can be a good thing…or not!
Florence makes it a virtual cinch to meet new people; it’s not as big as world metropolises and is very scale-able by foot. Plus it has a palpably more relaxed pace of life.
300 days and 300 Nights to go…
But who’s counting right? I’m just 1/6 of my way through my Sabbatical and in the thick of its most trying time. My objective in coming out here was to find out if I could make a life out here and that is definitely happening. I wanted to take my rose-tinted specs off and see Florence and Italy for what it is. I want to be real with you; my love for Florence is still strong but in truth, I’ve been on the phone wanting to come home. I fight the impulse to jack it all in because I’ll never get this time again. And you never know give it another 2 months and the struggle, though real, might all be worth it.