By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

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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