we spent 8 days in Florence and stayed in the Santa Croce neighborhood. we were in the center of the city, less than 1 mile from the Arno River and near plenty of museums, art galleries and cathedrals.
proximity to tourist attractions is not important to us, but we were excited to be around so many restaurants. in fact, we became regulars at the small and friendly local restaurant on our block - the staff was very amused by Ryan and he became known as “the man who eats only meat”.
Florence seems to be set back in time. old, grandiose architecture with winding, cobblestone streets in the city; rolling hills dotted with legit castles and wine estates in the distance. it’s a fine place to sip an espresso and admire the view.
there are massive groups of tourists flooding the streets, identified easily by their matching t-shirts and their tour group leaders shouting to be heard over the other groups.
in the center of the city, we actually overheard more English than Italian. we have to imagine downtown is the “Times Square” of Florence — the locals only pass through if they absolutely must.
we also made the obligatory day trip to Pisa.
the excursion can be done in 3 hours: we hopped on the high-speed train from Florence to Pisa (1 hour, 15 minutes), ran from the train station to the Leaning Tower of Pisa (10 minute run), took 10 pictures, and then walked back to the train station to catch the next train to Florence.
for people who know a thing or two about ancient architecture, the tower and surrounding cathedrals might be worth a longer visit.
27 Quirks About Florence, Italy
- olive oil is a standard condiment at the table along with salt and pepper. salad dressings have a base of olive oil by default mixed with white vinegar, mustard seeds, balsamic vinegar, red wine, etc.
- Italians are very proud of their Tuscany wine, especially Chianti. we quickly learned it is strange to refuse wine with your steak meal
- restaurants have categories in their names: osteria, pizzeria, trattoria, panini, etc. in the US, the restaurant name could be no indication of the type of food offered
- it is very difficult to run on the streets of Florence. sidewalks are narrow, cobblestone streets are bumpy, and you don’t get much visibility around the many corners and turns. cars do not slow down for you so it can be dangerous as well
- pleasant weather in June: 60s at night to 80s degrees Fahrenheit during the day
- Florence is very touristy, unlike Milan. we overheard more English spoken in the city center than Italian
- trash and recycle bins on the streets in each neighborhood. you sort your trash by category: household items, containers (paper, plastic, glass together), and organic
- separate standalone bidets. here are some instructions, which seem quite complex
- aperitivo is happy hour. many spots will charge ~10 euros for a wine or spritz and unlimited cold cuts, breads, cheeses, pastas, etc.
- lots of smoking, drinking, and carbs but average obesity rates and life expectancy is better than in the US
- cannot purchase alcohol from stores after 10pm
- bars are open until 2am, but most kitchens close by midnight
- lots of American college and high school students flock to Florence in groups for vacation. the drinking age is 18 and many of the kids partying at night looked even younger
- little bodegas on street corners offering booze, water, and snacks
- farmers markets in each neighborhood with sections for clothes, meats and cheeses, and fruits and vegetables
- an abundance of tiny shops and carts selling leather products. we’re not sure if it’s all real leather, since listed prices varied so widely (the lowest was 10 euros per 3 belts)
- neighborhood parks are unkempt with high grass and weeds
- street sweepers drive around in their large vehicles day and night. streets and sidewalks are sparkly clean
- water faucets in the city centers are for personal use and some are perpetually running. we see locals use them to wash their feet, hands, and fruit, and to refill water bottles
- steaks are assumed to be cooked at medium rare temperature at the highest. asking for a medium (or higher) steak temperature raises eyebrows at the nicer restaurants
- the nicer steaks and cuts of meat are sold by kg in restaurants and they weigh the cut on the spot. US steakhouses often have predetermined sizes (8 oz, 16 oz, etc.) with a price for each size on the menu
- restaurant service was usually quite quick. we would order steaks and they would be brought out within 10 minutes
- most restaurants do not open for dinner until 7 or 7:30pm
- several food delivery companies under operation
- Uber was not available in our area
- there are taxis but you should plan ahead. when we tried to call for a taxi in the late morning, there weren’t any available for our area. also, taxis are not supposed to stop in the streets if you try to flag them down
- waiters let you sit at the table after your meal until you ask for the check. it is common for Italians to sit and sip their after-dinner drinks into the night
our Airbnb in Florence’s city center was $94 per night (+ $24 in fees per night). meals were $23 /each on average.
here's a comparison of our New York City vs Florence lifestyle.
we found meals to be cheaper than what we are used to in NYC. our standard meal in Florence was a 1.2-1.5kg Fiorentina steak + sides + wine and this ranged from 60 to 120 euros.
we visited Italy during its most popular season (summer). when we booked our Airbnbs, we watched prices increase by over 2x (!) after selecting our dates.
a solo digital nomad, or thriftier couple, could definitely beat our cost of living by at least $800 for the same 8-day stay.
we were very pleased with our Airbnb. high ceilings with wooden rafts, rustic and modern furniture, exposed brick walls painted over in white, intricate French double doors to the patio, newly refurbished wood floorboards, and great A/C.
someone in Milan told Ryan that Florence was known for Florentine steak, which is a marbled cut between the sirloin and the tenderloin. here's a detailed explanation of this cut of steak for other meat lovers out there.
so we ate a lot of steak.
our favorite Florentine steak was at I'Tuscani 3. the vibe, service, and taste was perfect.
Rickshaw followers are accountability partners. here's what we achieved in 8 days in Florence.
Hideko wrote model tests for her HR app and finally launched it. more on this in Hideko's corner.
similar challenges to Milan -- no cold brew and no nomad-friendly coffee shops.
Florence would be a great choice for a vacation. the city center is compact and walkable, locals are friendly to tourists and are mostly bilingual, and you can sip your wine overlooking a scene out of a movie.
Italy has been kind to my carnivorous diet.
Florence in particular is known for their famous steak, /i>fiorentina. this is basically a tomahawk / t-bone and you can't get it any smaller than 1.2kg (2.6 pounds). this includes the bone, so we had a couple meals that were 1.6 or 1.8 kg. talk about a feast.
my body weight fitness routines are kicking ass, and i'm now doing over 100 pullups, decline pushups (more resistance), and pistol squats at children's playgrounds 3x per week.
one time a mom ran over to me, yelling that i was going to break the equipment. oh well.
i launched Report Card Agency on this trip. the business helps small businesses of <20 employees carry out a 360 performance review.
the performance review product market is saturated with advanced software that creates intricate stats and charts for HR teams. i believe these tools are losing touch with what makes a performance review effective: helping employees understand specifically how they can be better at their jobs.
so Report Card Agency’s mission is to provide targeted, customized feedback to employees.
at the end of last year, the project scope started as a static landing page. but, as they often do, the spec evolved. now it’s a full-fledged app with dashboards, survey builders, and a framework for managers, teams and users.
i started building this app at the end of last year and quickly realized i needed to know much more about coding in order to finish the spec. so i took a hiatus on the app in order to graduate from Launch School, an online school for software development.
it was a long path with detours but i finally had the missing pieces to launch Report Card Agency on this trip. the crucial thing is i will not need to rely on external developers for bug fixes or "urgent" customer patches. i can push the changes myself.
the next step is marketing!
Florence earned a
71 / 100 score according to our Rubric.
there's a demonstrable difference in the tourism industry of Florence vs Milan. this translates into more English-speaking staff at restaurants, as well as more American-friendly businesses, e.g. sports bars and cafes with iced coffee.
enjoying a few back-home comforts in Florence was a nice break from the usual compulsion to adapt to our surroundings.