Exploring your new city throughout the semester is, of course, an important part of the adventure of studying abroad in Florence-but there are some things you need to know now, like where to find a great place to curl up with your books, or where to get your curls cut. Here are a few essentials of student life you may find helpful during your first few days and weeks in the city.
Studying: library cards, Internet access, and places to study
Though not quite as grand and welcoming as the university libraries we find at home, finding a place to hunker down and get some serious studying is possible in Florence’s libraries and many bookstores. There are also places to ‘study’-restaurants and bars with wifi, that will make you feel even more at home.
The library system in Florence is integrated, meaning your library card is good at all libraries. To get your card, I recommend going to the Biblioteca del Palagio di Parte Guelfa (see box), which you can find in the center of Florence in a small piazza near the post office, just beyond the ‘Old Stove’ Irish Pub (there is a large colored flag with the name of the library outside the door). You have to provide your passport and an address in Florence. The staff speaks Italian, but they assured us with a smile that an English-only speaker would not be a problem.
In addition to a library card, you need to get a PAAS card to have access to the Internet. To get this, you need to bring your passport and your library card to the first floor of another library, the Biblioteca delle Oblate (box). Go to the level with the contemporary books and the black leather chairs. If you enter through the door directly across from the stairs, take a right and enter a side room. There you will find a table in the shape of a square with a space in the center and several librarians and assistants. Any one of these can help you register for the PAAS. You will given a card with a number; when you sign on to the Internet, you will enter this number both for user id and password. You are allowed one hour of free Internet access each day if you use a library computer and three hours each day if you use your own laptop.
Another great resource is the British Institute Library, located in a beautiful historic palazzo on the river where you can enjoy a view of the Arno from the reading rooms. The collection is decent but limited to books on history, Italian and English literature, and art history and you have to pay a membership fee to use the library (ask about the student rate).
If you are the type who needs a lively café environment to get your brain in study-mode, there are plenty of options for you, too. Two downtown bookstores, Mel and Libreria Martelli offer particularly spacious café areas where you can grab a bite and down an espresso before getting down to work. What about those ‘Starbuck’s’ studiers you may be asking? Those who can’t be productive unless there is copious amounts of coffee in mugs, chill music, and muffins and bagels, don’t despair! Mama’s Bakery is the answer to your prayers. It is set to open October 1, and American owner Matt and his Italian wife have made sure that you will have the best of both worlds right in the heart of Santo Spirito.
Finally, if you want to pretend to study, bring your laptop to Tijuana’s happy hour from 7pm to 8pm-the €5 nachos and free wireless could be useful for meeting up with your friends in Florence and also those back at home via email or skype.
Getting around: Buying a bicycle
Although it is true that you can find a used bike for about €20 in the classified ad magazine La pulce (also available online), it is always possible that what you are buying was stolen. If the person sells you the lock, he or she probably also has the key. A better choice would be to buy a new bike from a reputable shop and when you are ready to leave, sell it back and recover some of the money you spent. This way the bike you buy is new, certain not to have been stolen, and if you have any trouble, you know where to go to get it fixed.
Florence by Bike created a special program called ‘Need@bike’ for students looking for a cheap way to get around the city. You choose a brand new bike, which you then sell back to at the end of your stay. Check out the website www.florencebybike.it for details and location information.
Another option is Cicli S. Bianchi, which offers different choices for a new bike with a buy-back option. The shop is very well stocked, and the staff is knowledgeable.
Looking your best
You don’t have to blow your budget to look great while you are a struggling student in the fashion capital of the world! If you need your hair cut or want to pamper yourself with a mani/pedi, you can find various options in the city center. The Armonia Hair Academy is a school for hair styling, so you’ll pay less than you would at a regular salon. A haircut is about €20, but make sure to tell them that you are a student. It takes a little bit more time to get your hair cut here, but I can vouch for the fact that they take time to give you a good cut. Another good value salon with a smiling, accommodating staff can be found at Allegri, near Santa Maria Novella. They offer a 10% student discount on cuts and spa services like manicures and pedicures. Waxing service is offered in clean, private rooms on the first floor.
BIBLIOTECA DEL PALAGIO DI PARTE GUELFA
Monday through Friday,
Piazza di Parte Guelfa
BIBLIOTECA DELLE OBLATE
Monday through Friday,
via dell’Oriuolo, 26
BRITISH INSTITUTE LIBRARY
Lungarno Guicciardini 9
Monday through Friday,
via Martelli, 26R
Monday through Saturday,
9am-8pm; Sunday, 10am-8pm
via de’Cerretaini, 10R
Café: Monday through Thursday, 9am-8pm; Friday and Saturday, 9am-11pm; Sunday, 10am-8pm
Bookstore: Monday, 9am-8pm; Tuesday through Saturday,
via della Chiesa, 34R
via Ghibellina, 156R
ARMONIA HAIR ACADEMY
via dei Castellani, 8 (first floor)
via dell’Albero, 3R