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Uncovering the real Florence: A Florentine's view

  • Story Highlights
  • CNN spoke to Florence resident Tanya Gray about life in the Italian city
  • Florence is small enough to walk everywhere, big enough to stay fresh
  • Locals can spot the tourists -- they're not as dressy as native Florentines
  • Florence has a good nightlife, with many clubs and bars open late
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(CNN) -- Tanya Gray, 28, works at a preschool in Florence, where she has lived for the last two years. She first moved to the city seven years ago from her home in Luxemburg, when she and a friend decided to travel to Italy's cultural capital to enroll as students.

"Once you have seen the Duomo and some of the old buildings you can't really compare it to anywhere else."

While there she fell in love, and over the following years she was either in the city or planning her next trip there.

CNN: Hi Tanya. What were your initial impressions on coming to Florence?

Tanya: It's a very beautiful city, it's very young and there are always things to do: there's always a party; there's always something going on. And that was very different from Luxemburg for me -- Luxemburg is a very small place and there's not much going on, but in Florence there is so much energy.

I was expecting something a lot more like Rome, a lot bigger. Florence is one of those places that is not too big, but it's still a city, so wherever you go you meet different people, it's not that everyone knows everything about you. But it's small enough so that you can walk everywhere. I don't have a car, and walk everywhere.

I have been totally immersed in the Florentine way of life: I'm married to a Florentine, I spend all my time with his friends. I didn't even know there was an English-language newspaper in Florence until very recently.

CNN: What has made the city so special to you?

Tanya: That would have to be all the historic buildings and the architecture, because once you have seen the Duomo and some of the old buildings you can't really compare it to anywhere else. When you see the Duomo, it's breathtaking.

And there are various places in the city, such as the Piazzale Michelangelo, from where you can see the whole of the city, and it's beautiful. You can just spend ages there, especially if you are an art enthusiast.

CNN: If Florence were a person, what would they be like?

Tanya: They would be a really fun, enthusiastic, very lively and cheerful person.

CNN: Is Florence a stylish place?

Tanya: Yes, of course. All the Italians kit themselves out when they go around the center of Florence, everyone is wearing the latest fashion -- even the mothers of 50- and 60-years old have all got them.

You get taken along with the current, even though in the beginning you think, "No, I'm not going to be like them, I'm not." But in the end you just get taken along with the flow. Otherwise you just feel underdressed.

A lot of American students who come to Florence -- and there are lots and lots of students in the center, most of whom are American -- are a lot less dressy than the Italians, and the Italians can spot them a mile away.

CNN: Is it hard to find places away from the tourists?

Tanya: Oh no. The center is very touristy, but if you travel about a kilometer outside of the center it is actually hard to find someone to who speaks English.

I live about three kilometers from the center of the city and round there it's really tough to find someone who speaks English. You walk into a bakery and everything has to be said in Italian. Also, some of the clubs 10 minutes' drive from the center are a lot less touristy than the clubs in the center.

CNN: Where do you shop?

Tanya: Obviously there are lots of shops in the city, but there are also lots of markets, and many people shop at them.

I definitely shop at markets because the shops in town are so much more expensive, especially for clothes. And they're not just in the center, they're also on the outskirts as well, which tend to be cheaper, because the ones in the center can rip you off if you're a tourist, or if you look like one.

CNN: Could you describe a typical Florentine's weekend?

Tanya: On Saturday morning they would go for a walk into town and have a look at all the shops in the center.

And then the Italians are very fond of aperitifs before they go out, and lots of the bars have these aperitifs put out. One of the bars in town is called Slowly and a lot of people go there and have their cocktail and their little things to eat, sausage rolls, crisps and all the different little things.

Then they would go onto a club, a really good one is called Otel, it's in the south of Florence, a ten minute drive from the center, and it's a really nice club. You can have dinner, watch a show with comedians, live singing and dancing, and then it turns into a club after about 12.30.

On Sundays, lots of the Italian people, if it's nice weather, like to go for a drive in the Chianti region: it's beautiful. They might stop for lunch in one of these very quaint little restaurants. If it's terrible weather they can go to the big shopping center, which is called Gilli. Sunday nights are very popular nights to have an aperitif, as well.

It's a big student town, and Thursday night is a big night to go out as well. Well, in the city center any night you can find people going out. There is constantly something going on.



Where have you found the "real" Florence? Do you agree with Tanya? Send us your comments in the "Sound Off" box below and we'll print the best. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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