Oddly enough, I didn't come to Italy for the churches.
December 25, 2007 3:23 AM   Subscribe

I just landed in Italy. Help me find the Florence and Rome that no one writes about.

My family and I will be staying in Florence and Rome for Christmas and New Year's. History, museums, and churches are great, but more their thing than mine. Where can I find what I'm looking for? I want to see the local street scene: where are Florence and Rome's skate shops, the parks where the people are loitering, the secret places to stumble on tags? Where are the best streetwear stores, and the "best kept secret" boutiques? TIA.

And for those of you who celebrate it: Merry Christmas!
posted by twins named Lugubrious and Salubrious to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
The first thing you should do in Florence is go to Oltrarno, across the river. It's a lot more interesting in many ways that what's north of the river (which is mostly churches). South of the river, there's a lot more "local" charm.

It was years and years ago and I don't remember it fully, but you can take a bus east of the Stradale near the river and eventually you end up in a very residential area..I seem to remember some kind of kiddie park that was really nice. I do wish I'd spent more time exploring Florence when I lived there.

I wish I could remember where the nice bars were, too.
posted by Deathalicious at 4:23 AM on December 25, 2007

Oh! Oh my goodness! If you're into markets at all you must go to Mercato Centrale in Florence. Can't believe it didn't come to my mind first. In fact, unless you are a very seasoned traveler or come from outside the United States you probably haven't encountered markets like you will in Italy. That's an excellent direction to take for a glimpse of street life. They most certainly will be written about.

Here is a list of skate shops in Italy, you want Firenze and Roma, obviously. Most of these shops should feature at least one person who speaks serviceable English, and you can ask them for recommendations on cool places to see around town. Italians as a rule are very friendly and sociable and, if you are lucky, may drag you along with them.

For Rome a lot of the places that are tourist destinations are also hangouts for the locals. People really do hang out in all the piazzas around there. There's almost nowhere in central Rome that you can go that would be a mistake. Yeah, it's historical, but don't forget that at its best, history means the place has been chock full of people for a long, long time. That counts for something.

If you like food, both Rome and Florence will make you very happy indeed. Here are some recommendations; I have no idea if any of these places still exist or are still any good. I studied near Piazza St. Croce so most recommendations are near there. North of the piazza is Via Giuseppe Verdi. Along that road is Salumeria Verdi, which offers really excellent pasta dishes and other hot items to go. Don't know what it costs now but when I was there 7 years ago it was 5,000 lire, so it's probably 4-5 euros now I guess. Head southwest of piazza down Borgo St. Croce, you will see directly across the street some kind of eating establishment -- can't remember exactly what it was called but I think it was an enoteca. They have really, really excellent crostini and bruschette, and all the other food there is good and inexpensive as well. Just to the left of the enoteca is a road that stretches west, Via dei Neri. Along this road are a very, very excellent bakery and a few nice salumerie (sort of like a deli). At Piazza della Signoria turn right (north) and continue until you hit a T and turn left onto via delle Oche which continues west. Eventually you will hit via delle Belle Donne. Somewhere along that street was a very, very nice restaurant (although a bit pricey) which has excellent seafood. There also was an occult shop somewhere along that street as well.
posted by Deathalicious at 4:55 AM on December 25, 2007

Best answer: Going by your tags, the alt-punk scene can be found in the centri sociali. You might run across the odd skater or two in the Villa Borghese park, near Piazza del Popolo; the cobblestone filled historical center doesn't lend itself to skating in general.
posted by romakimmy at 7:07 AM on December 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't know about Rome, but in Florence you HAVE to get pizza at Pugi in Piazza San Marco. The bookstore in Piazza della Repubblica is a great place to browse books and it has an awesome cafe on the second floor.

It's easy to get around Florence walking, or on the bus. Get a map of the bus route for free from the ataf office. It's across from the station and behind Santa Maria Novella (where the 9 is in this picture). Buy bus tickets at any news stand.
posted by Nickel at 9:06 AM on December 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

In Rome, my friend and I went to the shopping mall Cinecitta Due. Out of the way, and not unlike American shopping malls, but it was definitely out of the bounds of our little tourist map and an experience. Of course, we were 18 & 19 year old and female. Perhaps shopping isn't your cup of tea.

Another common sense thing is just to wander. We found all sorts of wonderful nooks just roaming around both cities. Old theaters, fountains, plaques from centuries ago. I love the fact that there's so much history there, so wandering around certainly helped make my trip.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:30 AM on December 25, 2007

Renting a motor scooter in Florence is both criminally fun and life-threateningly harrowing.
posted by "Tex" Connor and the Wily Roundup Boys at 2:16 PM on December 25, 2007

I was the same way - not really into churches and museums. I asked a related question last month. I wasn't looking for the skate scene so didn't notice it if it was there, but maybe the thread will still have some ideas for you. I did see plenty of graffiti, so I imagine you'll find some tags. And there are apparently a few skateparks in Rome, so maybe google up on those and use that to learn more about the wider scene.

I took some of the MeFites' advice and went wandering around in the Oltrarno and Fiesole in Florence and Trastavere in Rome. Wandering did end up being my favorite thing. I just enjoyed seeing people out doing their regular stuff and interacting with each other in the streets.

Fiesole is a not-too-bad bus ride up into the hills around Florence. The bus from the station actually goes back through the city for quite a bit before heading back out. Next time I'd like to figure out how to just catch it on its way out. There isn't a whole lot up there but there's an excellent panoramic view from the top, with excellent views of both the city valley and the hillside houses. There are a couple of casual-but-good restaurants right there near where the bus lets off - they're in the Rick Steves book if you've got that. Best pizza I've had yet at one of them in a row of shops on the main road heading east out of the bus area. Otherwise there's an old convent at the very top by the panoramic viewpoint, a church with a little museum right there in the main area, and some kind of ruins, I think.

The Oltrarno had more going on, more people out doing their usual living, more workaday places to eat or have coffee. In the restaurant department, I tried an AskMeFi-recommended place called Trattoria Antico Fattore, a block down a little street/alley heading away from the front face of the Uffizi museum. That turned out to be very nice.

In Rome, I'm glad I got down to Trastavere across the Tiber river. That felt very much like a regular place where people lived and worked, not a touristy destination. I enjoyed walking around there. I stumbled upon a few outdoor cafes and restaurants, and a piazza or two where people were hanging out. There's another good elevated view of the city there up by the Fonte Acqua Paola fountains. I didn't do much there, I just liked being in neighborhoods.

Piazza Navona back up in the city proper was a kind of nice hangouty, people-watching place. There are charming areas to wander around right around that area. I stumbled into what was apparently the mecca of gelato near there - dozens and dozens and dozens of tempting flavors.

It's a stretch, but maybe a skate-minded guy would like the Capuchin Crypt in the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini a couple blocks north of the Barberini Metro station. Another AskMeFi recommendation. It's a beautifully and elaborately decorated crypt, and the decorations are all made out of human bones. It's so artfully done that you forget they are human bones. It's free (donations suggested) and pretty small, maybe 6 or 7 viewing alcoves, so it'd be a quick stop. No pix allowed, but they have cheap postcards.

I wound up spending about 3/4 of my time on our guided tour with my family and group, so didn't explore as much as I'd have liked. And my suspicions about the museums were right for the most part - they were mostly yawners for me. But the one giant exception to that was the Vatican. OMG, that was excellent. We went in through the Vatican Museum (the ceilings in the Hall of Maps were exquisite and were my favorite), through the Sistine Chapel (yep, amazing), and finally into St. Peter's. St. Peter's takes the cake. I'm not even religious and I was blown away. That's the grandest, most impressive place I've been that was made by human hands. Don't miss it. If you can go midmorning or mid-late afternoon, do, because the sun comes through the high windows in the thickest, brightest sunbeams I've seen. It's magnificent. They knew what they were doing when they built that place. Just glorious. Make reservations in advance so you don't have to wait in the long lines.

Have fun! Wear supportive shoes or be sorry.
posted by Askr at 7:27 PM on December 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

Best answer: About Florence: parks in the winter tend to be quite desert, the largest one being the Parco delle Cascine (on tuesday there's a large market): downstream the river from the center, on the right side.

A general rule of thumb to get the most of Florence: when in the city center ditch the larger streets with lots of chain-owned stores and negotiate the center by randomly navigating the smaller streets and alleys. The 'beaten path' is just a catalogue of internationally known designers stores, not very different from the respective areas in Rome or Milan (or a generic upper category shopping mall, with the possible exception that shops here are inside historic palaces)

Ditto for the Oltrarno indications, I'd also recommend the Sant'Ambrogio area (another, smaller, covered market more genuine than San Lorenzo imo and lots of bars, cafes, small shops), or the area north of the centre, or the San Niccolò area south of the river (not the area usually called Oltrarno, but still some interesting place in Via dei Bardi or Via dei Renai).

Here I made a Google map with rough indications of the areas to explore, in case, I'm available for other, more specific indications, via MeFimail. (yes, I'm a Florentine)
posted by _dario at 9:25 PM on December 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

Take a whole day and ride the train to Pompeii from Rome. It's about $11-15 round trip, I'm guessing (it was $8.50 in 2002) apiece. Get up in the am, buy the train tickets, spend the day in Pompeii, eat lovely food in Napoli, then take the train back. I think a lot of people forget how close it is, in terms of travel. I think it's about 2.5 hours? Can't remember exactly but TOTALLY worth it. You can get the tickets at Termini Station (the main train station in Rome).
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 10:21 PM on December 25, 2007

Response by poster: Wow, these are all great suggestions! I'll definitely be checking out the centri sociali when I'm in Rome and the Sant'Ambrogio, etc. areas, as well as Oltrarno and Mercato Centrale while I'm in Florence. Capuchin Crypt and Pompeii look great too.

Thanks much, MeFi :-)
posted by twins named Lugubrious and Salubrious at 1:48 AM on December 26, 2007

Best answer: Got back and I just wanted to share my own recs:

Looking through my travel diary...Oltrarno was the best part of Florence. If I went again, I would get a room there. It was definitely the kind of ambiance I was looking for. We stayed further away from the town center across the river at Relais Villa Antea. Also gorgeous, great breakfasts.

The ceilings at the Uffizi are probably the best reason to go there. The markets in Florence were a little bit of a disappointment; maybe they've changed since most people went there, but by the time I went there, most of them were selling the same stuff you can get on Canal Street.

I also stumbled onto the Via degli Alfani and there was some great street art there.

In Rome, I loved hunting for the centri sociali. Forte Prenestino was actually the only one I could find, but if you want to go, the doors don't open till 6 or 7. There's also a store called Bartolucci that sells handmade wooden clocks at Via Condotta 12/R and an old-fashioned apothecary at Via Condotta 32/R (complete with sticks, herbs, and animal parts in the window).

The Piazza di Sant'Ignacio looks like a beautifully lit-up stage at night, and the Capuchin Crypt was fascinatingly gruesome. And I think that the best market that I saw was in Piazza Navona (although it might have been Campo de' Fiori). There were lots of handicrafts, and I think it might have been the Christmas market, although I'm not sure.

I had a great time, thanks again for the recs everyone :-)
posted by twins named Lugubrious and Salubrious at 7:47 PM on April 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm just marking the above as best answer to sum up taking everyone's recs.
posted by twins named Lugubrious and Salubrious at 8:31 AM on May 30, 2008

« Older Hold the prayer and pass the potatoes   |   Birthday Gift for Someone Turning 50 Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.