Editor’s Note: Mel Müller is one of the two editors-in-chief of QP. They were not in charge of this article’s editorial process. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Quidditch Post as a whole.
By Mel Müller
I am totally qualified to write this article. Okay, I am fairly unqualified to write this article. But after having been to Florence five times throughout various periods of my life (mostly from the ages of 8-15) and some hours of research, I can give you my fully college-educated opinion on… all right, I had help. A lot of help, actually. Lucrezia Famà, Sofia del Carlo, Marisa El Betty, Riccardo Magni, and Marty Nimrod, thank you all so much for your help. So here’s to what might interest a quidditch player on their trip to Florence. Spoiler alert: it involves ice cream. Entre autres.
Let’s start with the basics. If you are Italian or very good at geography then you may want to sit this one out.
Florence is the lead singer of… that’s another article. Okay, here we go: Florence, the capital of a region called Tuscany. In Italian, the city is called Firenze, not to be confused with a certain centaur, and this is what you’ll be seeing on any and all signs on highways, so make sure you pick the right exit. Tuscany is known around the globe for its landscapes, traditions, history, art, and wine. When you think of romantic Italian landscapes, meeting a random German family there, a young Helena Bonham Carter fainting on the Piazza della Signoria (where Savonarola was burned — gruesome), and Maggie Smith, you’re probably thinking of the 1985 screen adaptation of E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View, which was partly set in Florence. And you would not be entirely wrong, the landscapes really are this beautiful, and taking a hike or road trip around Tuscany would certainly not be a mistake. Especially considering Tuscan cities like Pisa, Lucca, Siena, San Gimignano, or Arezzo being right in the vicinity (Pisa is about an hour and half away by car), it’s worth the trip. If you don’t feel like taking several days out of your busy athlete schedule to discover Tuscany (hey, no judgement), but still would like to get out of the city every once in a while, head to the beautiful Fiesole — the view is quite splendid. This suburb has been the jetset place to be since the 14th century and is still considered one of the wealthiest comuni of Florence. So if you are any bit as en vogue as the German writer Hermann Hesse (lots of Germans in Italy, what’s up with that?), or the Swiss painter Paul Klee, head to Fiesole, subito. There, you’ll be able to check out all things notoriously Roman, like baths and theaters, or remnants of Etruscan walls.
You’d be amiss if you went to Fiesole without walking by one of the many churches (I’m fairly certain you’d have to cover your eyes, which leads to injury, don’t do that). If all of this isn’t enough of a reason for you to feel like the next big Renaissance hipster, why don’t you opt for a walk past one of the villas in the neighborhood. There’s the Villa Medici, or Villa Le Balze (which for some reason is owned by Georgetown University, don’t ask me — no, actually, do ask me, and I will tell you that it got into the hands of a Rockefeller after WWII and she donated the villa — donated! — to Georgetown University. Obviously. What else would you do with a villa). Villa Palmieri, no less impressive, a possible refuge for the young and beautiful according to Boccaccio — yes, the Boccaccio — during the Black Death, and which was also periodically visited by Queen Victoria and by Alexandre Dumas, père, whom you may or may not know as the author of The Count of Monte Cristo or The Three Musketeers. I can’t tell if they ever crossed paths, but they did live around the same time. Clearly, I am not just here to help you up your name-dropping game during your gelato small talk in Fiesole, I am also here to help you find your way through the actual city of Florence. Let’s make it simple, here’s a map:
For museums, check the map. Sadly, none of the museums are free but there are reductions, especially if you are a student. Churches are free with exception of the Santa Maria Novella, which according to our Italian friends is a must-see. Don’t worry if you’re not a museum kind of person — there’s enough to see if you just cross the Ponte Vecchio and get lost in the narrow, cobblestone streets of the medieval city where tourists don’t go. Something that may come naturally to some, but which all of QP and our Italian friends would like to ask of our readers is to respect the pieces of art. Florence, as many other Italian cities, is like a walking museum. Think twice before doing stuff like getting into a fountain because of the (granted) sweltering, blazing, heck, broiling heat, for instance. We take our art and monuments very seriously, and hope you will too.
Where do I find the best food?
My favorite topic: food. Nothing surpasses getting yourself a picnic at a mercato, like the Mercato di San Lorenzo at Piazza San Lorenzo around the church. The market is divided into an inside and an outside area, with the inside filled with anything your stomach might desire. It is open every day with exception of Mondays and Sundays, and you can also get wine to–go. You can try and haggle your way through it, but it’ll be more difficult for non-Italians. To savor your wonderful picnic, I suggest you head to one of the giardini. Just behind the Palazzo Pitti you’ll find the Giardino di Boboli, which is a great stop after an afternoon at the Palazzo, and you’ll be able to see breathtaking sunsets in the parks, especially the Giardino delle Rose, but also at the Piazzale Michelangelo or by the river Arno.
After a nice aperitivo you might want to sit down at a restaurant. Must-eats are, of course, pizza and lasagne, and a panoply of pasta dishes (alla carbonara, all’amatriciana, raviolo, agnolotti) and rice dishes (risotto alla milanese, arancini, etc.) — but do not miss out on Florentine specialities like bistecca alla Florentina. However, meat and fish are often priced by the weight, so the menu might say one thing, and your fish on the table might say another thing. Keep that in mind. Again, always make sure the menu prices and what you pay at the end on your receipt are the same. Italy has this “service table fee” in most restaurants when you sit in that is usually around €1–2 per person — I suggest that you check it by asking the waiter first so that you don’t get tricked. You will be charged for water and bread. As far as tipping goes, if you see the word “servizio” on your bill, that’s the tip already included. If you don’t see it and service has been good, go ahead and round up the price, but don’t feel obliged to tip as far as fifteen percent. This is Europe, tipping culture works differently here.
For a vegetarian culinary adventure try a ribollita, a fantastic hearty potage made with bread and vegetables. As with everywhere, prices depend on where you go. If you buy a sandwich at the local café or a pizza in a local pizzeria, then prices are usually affordable and should not be more expensive than €5, pizzas range from €4 to €8. A rule of thumb is not to go to restaurants where you see a line of tourists, as the prices go up with those places. You might even see pasta dishes or pizzas for €12 or higher, but then again the quality might not always be the best. You will find a lot of street food vendors who sell another Florentine speciality, lampredotto. A sandwich with lampredotto, panino co i’ lampredotto, is your go-to Florentine delicacy sandwich, made from the slow-cooked fourth stomach of a cow. Staying with savory dishes, peposo alla Florentina is a peppery Tuscan beef stew and will go perfectly with your night out at the Red Garter.
Top all of this off with the oldest gelateria in Florence, Vivoli, or one of our other suggestions and specific restaurant recommendations on our magical Google map above.
If you are a club person, try the Blob Club or cross the river Arno to the Flo Lounge Bar. If you’re more of a pub person, you’ll have more fun in the Red Garter where every night from 9:30pm onwards is karaoke night. The easiest thing to do with the weather we are going to get (scorching) is to get yourself a nice aperitivo in the late afternoon. We suggest a Spritz or the iconic Italian cocktail Negroni, made of one part gin, one part vermouth rosso, and one part Campari, garnished with orange peel, and it’s the way to go if you want the most authentic experience. Of course if you don’t drink alcohol, like me, look for the words “aperitivo analcolico” on your menu.
Don’t get hit by a bludger, and if you do…
Pharmacies are called Farmacia in Italian and have a big green cross as a sign on the outside, so you can easily spot them. They have cooling packs, but if you look for them in bigger stores they might come in cheaper. If you’ve taken Ash Cooper’s injury study a bit too far, or had one too many ice creams, you might find yourself in one of the hospitals marked on the map (Ospedale Careggi, San Giovanni di Dio, Santa Maria Nuova). Knowing these can be useful information for you, your friends, and team managers.
If you’ve forgotten your water bottle or your lunch and don’t remember where the mercato’s at, the biggest stores are Coop, Esselunga, and Conad. Prices are okay and more or less the same. You might find sunbrellas there too, but water carriers you will find in sports stores like Decathlon, which is a bit outside the city. There are smaller sports stores around the city center but they are limited and none are particularly grand. For lower prices, check out Pam, Lidle, and Simply — these are the cheapest, though there are not many of them around. What you’ll often encounter is Carrefour Express — a little pricier, but they’ll do the job.
Busses are the main way to move around, since Florence is pretty small. They work, but can be late at times. You can use the apps like ATAF or Moovit to check the times. The Mobike (public bike sharing) system could be another option.
In general, beware of pickpockets especially in the area of the station or in crowded areas, check your receipt when you buy something or go to a restaurant, and don’t be fooled by touristy restaurants (the food quality to price ratio isn’t always good).
Here is a map of public toilets. There is a fee which should be around €1. It is pretty common to get into a café and ask if you can use the toilet, although they rarely let you do this in very touristic cities (aka Florence). If you buy something small (like a bottle of water, an espresso coffee and such) there should be no problem though. No need to bring toilet paper around, maybe just a small tissue pack to be sure, but usually TP is already there. You are welcome.
Author’s Note: This brings me to a subject that I cannot bamboozle my way through, especially not alone: art. For this, I have enlisted the help of Jack Lennard, also known as QP writer of the column You Don’t Know Jack. Jack is the founder and Director of the Quidditch Premier League, and, not surprisingly, he knows a lot more on art than any of us.
By Jack Lennard
Whatever you may think of the IQA’s decision to host the 2018 Qudiditch World Cup in Florence, it is impossible to argue that it’s not an irresistible destination for cultural highlights. I know, perhaps not the top priority for most quidditch fans. But with this article, hopefully you’ll be able to squeeze in some art history between snacking on lampredottos and queuing to buy tickets for World Cup at the venue in person. It’d be impossible to go through everything there is to see in the city, but here are four things in Florence that I personally think are the most interesting and have the best historical attachments — I’m sure the comments will be flooded with others that I’ve missed.
Now, it’s important to understand two things. Firstly, Florence is called the “cradle of the Renaissance” for a reason — there are more things to see in Florence than there is bitterness in the US after the last World Cup. The second thing is that each of these sites are uniquely Florentine. In the 15th century, at the height of the Renaissance, there was no unified Italian state — instead, several dominant city-states held power, Florence being one of them. It’s important to understand that a lot of the architecture and art is based in distinctive attributes that reflect the socio-political context of Florence at the time. Feel free to turn this into a drinking game and take a sip every time that comes up.
It’s tempting to start at the churches, but perhaps more revealing to begin with are the palazzos. In particular, the Palazzo Medici Riccardi. In the mid–15th century, the Medici family were one of the wealthiest in Florence; but they didn’t publicly run the city. Instead, Florence was run as a republic, with any overt shows of power or plots to remove the representative government strictly shunned — which led to the Medici family being exiled from the city only a few decades earlier. Which is why the Palazzo Medici Riccardi is incredibly plain — bare walls, rusticated exterior, almost unremarkable from the outside. But even here, there are signs that the Medicis wanted to convey a message to the people of Florence; the exterior features benches for the public to sit on, with an overhanging cornice on the roof to provide shade. Created as a ridiculous piece of propaganda, they tell the people of 15th century Florence that the family is here to help them, to protect them. Inside, however, is a different story. Among many opulent features is the Magi Chapel, an outstanding fresco-covered section of the palace interior decorated by Benozzo Gozzoli. Among the magi depicted are carefully rendered and idealised images of the Medici family themselves — somewhat less humble in their aspirations behind the palace doors, where they wanted to show that messing with the Medici family was about as desirable as a draw against the US in the last 16 of the tournament. The palace can be visited every day except Wednesdays, and a ticket costs €7. You may want to check in there early to get tickets, as access to the Magi Chapel is limited.
I’ll be honest, I’m not particularly athletic, and plan to keep my moving around at World Cup to a minimum — preferably between the bar and the seating. But even I can manage the three–minute walk from the Palazzo Medici Riccardo to the Baptistry of St. John. Now, much has been written about the big octagonal “welcome to the world” that Florence gave its 12th-century babies. But here I want to focus purely on the big doors it features. Again, if you’re still wondering whether this is worth the trip, Michelangelo called these doors the “Gates of Paradise.” That’s coming from Michelangelo, who 1) is not the teenage mutant ninja turtle, and 2) knows his shit. Forget the south doors, which are nice but not the cool bits, and head to the east and the north sides. After a competition to design the northern doors in 1402, Ghiberti beat rivals including Donatello and Brunelleschi to design the doors. Cast in gilded bronze, these bad boys took Ghiberti 21 years, and depict various scenes from the life of Christ. He won the competition at the tender age of 21, and got to assume sole responsibility after Brunelleschi (the other finalist), who was ordered to work with Ghiberti on the doors, took his tools and went to Rome, outraged that he had not won outright. In an awesome what-if moment, Brunelleschi’s designs were saved, and can be viewed today at the museum in the Bargello. Meanwhile, Ghiberti’s fame only grew, and he was given a second commission: the east doors. The panels each depict scenes from the Old Testament, and Ghiberti’s growing confidence is easy to see. He avoids more traditional panel framing such as Gothic quatrefoil, which he used in the previous doors, and introduces pretty groundbreaking techniques, including perspective to offer depth, and rilievo schiacciato (flattened relief) to accentuate a sense of space. They took 27 years to complete, and art historian Giorgio Vasari later said that they were “undeniably perfect in every way and must rank as the finest masterpiece ever created.”
Speaking of depth and perspective, let’s go back to its roots: Masaccio’s Holy Trinity in the Church of Santa Maria Novella. It depicts Jesus on the cross (with God above him), with two figures at his feet (the Virgin Mary and St. John), and two further figures below them. These latter two figures are the donors, the commissioners of the work, but we don’t know who they are. Essentially, this painting is genius because it captures a sense of depth — something that hadn’t been achieved at this level previously. The fresco became hugely influential in introducing such principles into art, and ushered realism into the world of painting and drawing. Notable here is the trompe l’oeil effect, deceiving the eye into seeing the fresco as an extension of the real building it is situated in. Masaccio achieves this by carefully employing architectural detail and precision, so the building interior depicted fits naturally within the external perception of the room. The fact that the donors are placed closer to the viewer than the rest of the image, thus placing them almost in the world of the viewer, adds to the illusion, and also emphasises the divide between the divine and the corporeal. Below the figures, which are painted at just about life size, is a painted tomb with a skeleton on it, a momento mori, to remind devout visitors that this earthly life is temporary, and that they must look upwards (literally in this case) and seek salvation from Jesus on the cross and from God. Within the painting, the words “I once was what you are, and what I am you will also be” – y’know, in case the morbid symbolism wasn’t clear enough already. Basically, it’s genius. But wait! God is there, the big JC is there, where’s the last part of the Trinity? Look closer. Closer still. And just above Jesus’ halo (or perhaps crowning him), you can see it — the briefest glimpse of a white dove, flying out of the fresco.
And finally, what are five phrases everyone should be able to say in Italian to get around?
- It might not look like it’s true, but simple words such as “thank you” (grazie) and “you’re welcome” (prego) in Italy mean a lot! Confused by the word “prego”? Yeah, I get it, and you’ll hear it a lot. It is commonly referred as the answer to “thank you” (meaning “don’t mention it” or “not at all”), but it’s used when talking to customers too (meaning “there you go,” “please, sure, go ahead,” or even “How can I help you?” if it’s a question, etc.). “Prego” in general doesn’t have the same meaning as “please” (as in “do me this favor”)- that would be “per favore”.
- “Mi scusi” (excuse me) is a good and polite way to start asking for information. It is also a polite way to say you’re sorry.
- “Arrivederci” is a must-say when you leave a store or place in general. It’s pretty formal and could be translated into “goodbye” but also “see you.”
- You might meet people who don’t speak English, so a tip is to know the Italian name of the places you’re headed to. For example, instead of asking about a train station, ask for the “stazione di Santa Maria Novella.” In this way, even those who don’t speak English should be able to show you the way.