As Florence was established in medieval times, many of its streets are quite narrow. With our north American sensibilities we would think it unsafe to have two way traffic, bicycles, vespas and pedestrian traffic all making their way down what we would term mere alleyways. Nevertheless it seems to work. Mind you one can’t possibly get any real speed up on these twisty streets so not even the cars go too fast. Interestingly, while gardens do exist in central Florence they tend to be situated in inner courtyards or surrounded by large walls. Consequently the houses and garden walls come right to the edge of these narrow streets. Many of the streets are therefore designated one way…good thing in my estimation and much of Florence is designated as pedestrian zone.
The inner city is therefore not designed for modern day vehicular traffic. I have found that the inner tourist area—which is most of old Florence is a ZTL –Zona a Traffico Limitato …a Limited Traffic Zone so a restricted traffic area, apparently controlled by a network of video cameras. To drive in this area you need a special permit ( not available with a rental car) and if you do apparently a massive fine will eventually find you. While I will be renting a car for part of my stay in Tuscany, there is no way I will get anyway near the centre of the city.
Very glad I was that i was here early enough to suss this all out and to recognize how complicated it will be to drive in Florence at all. Oh yes I may not have mentioned that these small streets also do not run in nice straight lines or form any kind of grid that could help you figure out where you are or where you are going. In fact you will find that most of the streets change names quite regularly as well.. you think you are still on Via Giuseppe Verdi and you look up at a cross road and find out you are on Via dei Benci.. all part of the charm of the Florence experience. To experience Florence comfortably, you cannot have a high need for control or knowing exactly where you are at any given point…. If you did, this would be a frustrating city.. I did seem to find however, that when I amble down many of the streets in the centre, most eventually lead me to the Duomo. I guess getting to church was important in medieval times.
In my first few days I wondered what it would be like to find one’s way at night through these narrow streets and as a woman on my own in Florence I considered how safe it would be to venture out of an evening. Well I did not have long before I was compelled to experience Florence at night. When I arrive, I
like to check out blogs of others on Florence. They are great sources of what to see and do and often more interesting to read than the commercial tourist sites. http://girlinflorence.com is a great site that I found really informative, as well as an English monthly news magazine called The Florentine that my hosts had left in the apartment for me. I picked up a more recent version at the tourist bureau later in the week and you can also access it online at www.theflorentine.net
Mercati in Musica: “un Orchestra di Chitarre”
In any event, trolling events I found that in the month of September the Markets in Florence were hosting a series of musical concerts in the evenings. The last of these was to be held at 9:15pm on Saturday after my arrival. This sounded way interesting, so with some trepidation I set out to see what it would be like to navigate those small alleyways at night on my own. Just to be safe,I let my daughter know what I was doing and where I was going. What she could do about it back in Canada who knows, but I thought, if I never show up again the police would have some place to start in their investigation. (I am currently reading Elisabeth George, hence the leap to how to leave clues for police detectives ).
In any event I soon found out traveling the alleyways at night was no issue…they all are incredibly well lit and generally full of people out and about experience Florence. A breeze as it were…although wherever you go, it is always good to pay attention to what is going on around you..having been pickpocketed once in London UK, I did not want to have a second experience.
When I arrived I found a large group of guitarists sitting on the steps of the market playing guitar.. turns out I had arrived while they were still setting up and simply practicing. Shortly chairs came out, set up in the Mercato, I scooped a seat in the second row and experienced an amazing concert of guitarists accompanied by a violin, an oboe and clarinet. Amazing and magical. I attempted to make a short video, but until i upgrade my blog,it seems i can’t upload it yet… I will try to do so in the next few days so that through it you will get a sense of the evening.
A great start to experiencing some of the culture in Florence.