How to…

Survival guide for students

Alexandra Lawrence
September 24, 2009

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Getting lost while wandering around your new city is a great way to get to know your surroundings. However, when you have places to go and people to see, you don't want to waste time getting where you need to go.


There are two different systems for numbering buildings in Florence-red are businesses while blue and black denote residences (but sometimes businesses as well!). If you need to go to via dell'Oche 4r, look for the red 4.

No ‘r' in the address means it's a blue or black number.



Take a taxi


Though it's tempting to flag down one of the many cabs you see careening Florence's narrow streets, you can access taxis only by calling the company directly or going to a taxi stand. To call a taxi, dial either 055/4390 or 055/4242 and say, ‘Vorrei una macchina' and state your address.


Stay on the line while the operator puts you on hold to locate a taxi for you. The operator will come back on the line and give you the name and number of the taxi as well as how many minutes until it arrives. Taxis are named after European cities, so you will hear something similar to ‘Praga 15 in tre minuti' (Prague 15 in three minutes).



Get a haircut


Not knowing how to say ‘no layers' in Italian is no reason to neglect your locks while studying abroad. Plenty of salons speak ‘hair'-meaning they'll understand when you say ‘trim' and ‘highlights' and won't give you a jet-black mullet instead. See our list for salons that offer the ever-important student discount.



Meet your friends and family at the airport


There's nothing better than showing up at the airport to welcome your guests and knowingly whisking them off to the center. Going from the airport to a centrally located hotel will cost you a flat fee of 20 euro plus 1 euro per bag-the way to go if you are picking up two or three people or your guests need to be brought directly to their lodgings.


Alternatively, the local Ataf bus service offers a special shuttle to and from the airport from the train station for 5.00 euro. This is ideal for your trip out to the airport and for those visitors who don't mind rolling their luggage a few blocks or trucking with their backpacks to their hostel or hotel.


See for schedule information.



Find train schedules online


Once upon a time, in the Internet-free student days, we would go to travel agencies or the American Express office to get train information and plan our inter-Italy trips.


The Internet has made such interactions practically obsolete, and we all know that whatever is worth finding can be found online (ahem).


Now, finding train schedules and even buying tickets can be done at the click of the mouse. Go to and click on the ‘English' icon in the top middle of the page. Buon viaggio!



Be a good dinner guest


If you are lucky enough to be invited to an Italian's home for dinner, there are a few ‘rules' that should be observed in the name of good manners. For starters, never show up empty handed when you are a guest in an Italian home. Offer to bring dessert (gelato is always a safe bet) or come bearing flowers or a nice bottle of wine. Once you sit down, you'll notice that table manners are quite different from those at home.


As opposed to our ‘no elbows on the table' rule, Italians eat with both hands firmly on the table, not with one in the lap. While we are used to switching hands after using a fork and knife to cut our food, locals turn the fork and eat what they have cut. Do not feel you have to adopt this method, but it may be helpful when you find them staring inquisitively while you are enjoying your bistecca. Speaking of cutting, don't cut your spaghetti: take your fork, gather a few strands of pasta, clear a small space on your plate, twirl to form a tight-ish ball, eat. But perhaps the most important part of employing good manners at an Italian dinner table is to try everything you are offered. Of course, you can politely decline the spaghetti allo scoglio if you are allergic to shellfish, but refusing to taste what has been prepared might be considered rude. Remember, a pinch of adventurous spirit goes a long way in making a good impression on your hosts.



Find a supermarket (a real one!) near you


Go to one of the open-air markets for your meat, fish and fresh fruit and veggies, but for kitchen staples and household supplies, take a cue from the locals and head to one of the larger grocery stores just outside the historic center, where prices are decent and specials are to be had. This is where you'll find cereal-filled aisles, 20 different flavors of yogurt and an impressive selection of frozen goods. Don't forget a one-euro coin: you'll need it to ‘rent' your shopping cart (put it in the slot, which releases the cart).


If you live around the Duomo, the closest supermarket is the Esselunga in via Masaccio (Ataf bus number 17). From Santa Croce, head to the Coop in via Gioberti just behind Piazza Beccaria. Grab your map, buy a bus ticket, empty your backpack and get shopping!



Get out of town, fast!


There is no denying that as great as Florence is, sometimes you just need a break and a breath of fresh air. Not to fear-a change in perspective is quick and easy with a short bus ride up to Fiesole. Hop on the number 7 bus from the train station, Duomo or Piazza San Marco and in less than 20 minutes you will be high above Florence in this jewel of an Etruscan town. Relax with a coffee or a cocktail at one of the bars or pubs that overlook Florence. Take a spin through the Roman amphitheatre or hike the short hill up to the monastery of San Francesco. Stumble over an Etruscan tomb or two. Revel in the fact you are in a town founded sometime before the third century B.C.


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