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By Steve Kelman

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In Florence, Italy (for the first time)

florence cathedral

Cathedral in Florence, Italy.

I have traveled relatively little in Italy, mostly because I prefer to visit countries where I speak the language-- or at least am studying it--and I speak no Italian. But on my way to a recent conference, I spent some time in one of the premier tourist locations in the world: Florence, home of the Medicis and of major collections of Italian Renaissance art.

It is a rather small city, overwhelmingly dominated by tourists, and there has been essentially no new construction in the last century or more. Several blocks from my hotel, the city suddenly comes to an end, in a way I have never seen anywhere before – the old houses along the river suddenly stop, and, rather than being replaced by more spread-out, newer construction, the city simply runs out, replaced by woods. It looks really unusual. The same is the case at the other end of the city.

Within minutes of arriving at my hotel, I got a feel for the pessimism, if not self-deprecation, characterizing today's crisis-afflicted Italy. When I was checking in, the front-desk employee asked me to sign a number of weird statements about things I would or would not do while a tourist in Italy. (The only good news was that these statements appeared on a modern touch screen, allowing me to x the boxes and sign the statements easily.) 

When I asked what this was, the response was:  "We have so much bureaucracy in Italy, so much worse than America."  I then proceeded over to the concierge desk to request help buying advance tickets to the major Florentine Renaissance art museum, since my guidebook highly recommended advance purchase as an alternative to waiting in long lines. The concierge asked me what time I wanted the reservations for, and I asked whether one was allowed to come in before lunch, go out for lunch, and then return to the museum on the same ticket. "Yes, I did this when I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York," came the response. "But this is not possible in Italy."

On a sadder note, Florence is filled with beggars – I haven't seen so many in any developed country to which I have traveled in recent memory.

More on my experiences in my next blog post.

Posted on Sep 06, 2013 at 2:42 PM


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Reader comments

Thu, Sep 12, 2013 Bruce Firenze

Clarification... There is no new construction in the historic center, but there is a horrendous amount of the most horrid new construction outside the center. The ugliest building in Europe just opened after 30+ years in design and construction... the new courthouse near the airport... There are beggars everywhere, almost 100% are Roma and there is nothing the city can or will do as they are 'protected'. Many never 'get' Florence, the ones that do are very fortunate. It is a wonder but many of the wonders are hidden and very difficult to enjoy.

Tue, Sep 10, 2013 Steve Kelman

Don, thanks for your comment. I was sad to see so many beggars, but I saw a lot, unfortunately.

Tue, Sep 10, 2013 Don

Were you in the same Florence we were in on a July visit? Never saw one beggar in 10 days. It was a beautifully preserved city and thankfully there was no new construction

Mon, Sep 9, 2013 Al

No new construction for one-hundred years. I understand why, but it seems like a recipe for poverty and collapse.

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