January 23, 2011, 02:13 AM
A newcomer seeking insight on Florence
My name is Alice, I am 42 yo, Franco-American and mother to a lovely 4 year old boy. We currently live in Morocco, and are looking to move back to Italy (where I grew up) ; The "obvious" choice is Rome, for its huge international community and "diversity" (?..) but I am having a very hard time adjusting to the idea of moving back to live in what I know to be complete chaos.
I came across this site on my search for information about living in Italy (I am considering different cities between Umbria/Tuscany and Lazio and would be very grateful for some "local insight" on living in Florence full time (see below).
As a single Mother, my primary concerns are of course schooling (quality thereof, both public and private, probably Italian), but also social integration, both for my son and myself. I speak fluent Italian, French and English, and enjoy being around both Italians AND expats.
Some say Florence is very chatoic (as compared to?? Rome is a nightmare) - how "manageable" is the chaos (long hours sitting in the car? going crazy trying to park?). Given that I am not "office bound", are there green, child friendly areas that are on the edge of Florence with good education? The idea of living on the edge of the city, and only facing the chaos when necessarily and not constantly appeals to me greatly...
In this regards, your insight on both the schooling (any recommended day care centers/pre-K schools?), and the extent/diversity of the expat community and any other considerations you can share would be greatly, greatly appreciated....
PS: if anyone is interested in a home exchange for a month or so this summer, please contact me. I have a lovely, large house in Tangiers that can accommodate up to 7.
Last edited by Alice68; January 23, 2011 at 02:16 AM.
January 23, 2011, 01:12 PM
As an expat myself I can tell you that you will find a large community of other expats here in Florence. It might not be as big or as diverse as the one in Rome, but you can be involved or not as much as you desire. Have you been to Florence in the past? The city really is not that big and if you do not have the necessity to be office bound every day morning and evening you should certainly look into the outskirts of town as an ideal location, both for more green space as well as reduced traffic. There is some chaos with traffic mainly around the Fortezza da Basso and along the viali at certain times of the day -- too many cars in a city not designed for them, although the recent "tramvia" line has helped reduce some traffic in that specific area (between Scandicci and the SMN train station). Parking is one of the greatest woes for Florence but the lack of really depends on the area - the closer you are to the center, the harder it is since homes there were never built with the idea that one day the residents would need/have such things as cars! Newer residential areas often have their own parking spaces on the ground floor or underneath their building.
There are many nice residential areas in town, from the area around the stadium towards the hills of Fiesole, Settignano, south of Piazzale Michelangelo, Viale Europa, Bagno a Ripoli, Galluzzo, Scandicci.... the area of Florence that heads west/northwest toward the airport is more industrial and spread out and generally just not as sought after (although for this very reason it does offer cheaper housing).
As for schools, would you plan on integrating your son into an Italian public school, a private school or one of the international schools when he starts school? There is an American international school as well as French school that I know some expats favor. Expats married to Italians with children growing up Italian often have their kids in the public schools. Of course, at 4 years old your choice of the day care/pre-K school does not matter on what you'd like him to do after but there might be some that expats favor over others. Unfortunately, I don't have kids yet and therefore cannot speak from personal experience in this particular area.
Look into reading the Florentine, a local newspaper by expats that has current news and information on the city.
Hope this is useful in getting to know a bit more of Florence in terms of being a resident - don't hesitate to ask more questions, I'd be glad to help!
January 23, 2011, 01:25 PM
Thank you so much Lourdes, that's very nice and helpful of you.
I came to Florence many years ago, but never with the idea of living there. This is a new road that I am exploring, and everything I have read so far is encouraging. I like that the expat community is large, but not as large as in Rome. I love Rome, I grew up there, but the idea of living in the midst of such chaos makes me cringe... must be age!!
Regarding schools, I am not very pro ISF, partially because it is VERY expensive, and partially because my siblings and I, as well as my nephews all went to the local International/American school of where we were living and I found, in most cases, that as we grew older we lived in a "different world" than the locals. When "real" school starts, I am happy sending my son to an Italian school; for the first year, a bilingual or good (probably private) Italian "Materna" would be ideal as he does not yet speak Italian (I do) and this would make the transition for him a little softer.
Thank you for the link to the Florentine; I will look at it.
I do have another question, if you don't mind : as I plan on coming in March to do some on-site scouting, do you have a couple real estate agencies or people (professional) to recommend? I'm looking for someone who can show me the different areas that you mentioned (a modern residence with garden sounds lovely!!) - for a (reasonable) fee of course. My idea is to rent for a year, and subsequently purchase a flat so I need someone who can give me some leads on both accounts, and who knows the various areas well. Also for an initial temporary rental...
January 26, 2011, 11:11 AM
a scouting visit is a must! :)
Glad to be of help. Also take a look at the AILO website, it is the association of local american/international women that get together for social/charity purposes. I was part for a few years and it can be a great resource, although the average age of the group is quite high. I'm not currently active just because have not had time to participate in events, many are during the day and thus during work hours.
The idea of coming ahead to scout is ideal, that way you can decide see Florence with a different view, look at possible areas and decide whether you like it enough to make this your new base . Since you've already lived in Rome, then all you have to remember this is Italy as regards all the possible drawbacks (mostly all bureaucratic). All the rest are pluses - its history, beauty and charm
Two agencies that you should get in touch with that should be a good place to start your search:
Pitcher & Flaccomio - this might be ideal for rental+purchase since they do both - the real estate agency manages rentals for local property owners as well as offer properties, both in Florence, the surroundings and Tuscany.
Merry Go Round - This agency offers apartments in Florence and surroundings, for both short term and long term rentals of months or up to a year.
If any further questions pop into your mind, feel free to ask!! Check your PM (private messages) since I'm giving you a few more details on the agencies.
January 26, 2011, 07:29 PM
Thank you Lourdes
Thank you again Lourdes, for your informative and helpful message. I checked out the websites you suggested (of the realtors) and there are a couple products there that could be VERY nice and within my budget... let's hope they are still there when I get to Florence and hopefully I can visit them.
I read about the AILO organization ; it's something I would need to explore on location.
My biggest concern now is trying to locate a good Pre-K for my son, this will determine my initial living area etc etc. I was oriented towards a Mothers' group, hopefully I will get more child-related information there.
Am eager to put the for now long distance exploring into action! The more I read about Florence and thereabouts, the more i have the sense I will like it (as I lived in Italy for 16 years previously) ; no matter how bad the bureaucracy, it can't be worse than where I live now which is something from a couple hundred centuries ago!!! Yes, it's THAT bad!!!!
Thanks again , Hope to meet you in person some day soon
January 27, 2011, 10:22 AM
You're right, you just reminded my that there is at least a mother's/childrens group running by members of St. James church, the American church here in Florence. Not having children myself yet, I can't give you much details but I'm sure the mothers there would be very helpful in offering advice about pre-K school for your son. Ah, here it is: FirenzeMoms4Moms!
If you saw something you like on the property websites I had recommended, you should contact them. The listings on the sites are not all of the ones they actually have, so if you contact them and say I like this one and that one, they'll likely also be able to tell you we also have this and that and when you do come to Florence you already are set up to go see them. P&F in particular is owned by Suzanne, an Australian woman that is part of AILO and I believe there are other expats working in the office. I wouldn't be surprised if they might also be able to help out with pre-K recommendations, or at least point you in the direction of someone who can .
Definitely hope to meet you in person soon, do let me know when you come to Florence to do some scouting