I’ve had a number of conversations with students throughout Europe who’ve asked me why I chose to come study in Venice. When I explained my options from the perspective of a Duke student (Rome, Florence, and Venice), they chortle at my decision-making, saying that I chose the worst of the three options. Although I’m willing to admit I might have made a mistake, it’s only fair to compare the cities in an objective manner.
Since I haven’t been to Rome yet, I only have the credentials to rate the other two, and now is especially appropriate as I spend last weekend in Florence. Without further ado, let’s start the show.
Florence boasts the Duomo, the David, the Uffizi, Ponte Vecchio, and much more, including an astounding array of statues of semi-nude or nude males. Venice’s starting five features Piazza San Marco, Rialto, Murano, Burano, and pigeons. And although Piazza San Marco is on a whole different level from its competition, only one of these cities was the birthplace of the Renaissance.
Florence actually has streets that are car-accessible, at least in theory. Really, though, it’s a walking city through and through, which is perfect until about hour 17, when the blisters start popping. Venice can be a bit of a walking city, but with enough boats to arouse a member of Augusta National, all the real travel takes place on the sea. Plus, you won’t find gondolas anywhere else–unless you do, but you probably won’t.
There’s a reason Venice is known for its drinks–spritz, bellini–and not for its bars or clubs. The one spot for nightlife is a series of 6-8 bars that let patrons sit outside while drinking. True story: I went to a club in Venice that literally was a furnished warehouse. I still had fun, but it’s the principle of the matter.
Florence, on the other hand, has clubs, bars, rowdy wine-tastings, everything. It’s the Willy Wonka for energetic alcoholics. (Florence has a bar where $1 is equal to 1 Euro. TALK ABOUT A GOLDEN TICKET.)
Florence has Americans; Venice has Asians. Both swarm in packs, follow tour leaders holding pink umbrellas, take the exact same photos, and get ripped off by street vendors. Oh, and they’re everywhere. And because some people might get offended if I make the jokes I want to, let’s engage in some reverse racism and get the hell out of here.
Venice’s food ranges from decent to good with prices from expensive to requiring-a-second-mortgage. Florence has surprisingly good prices, and the quality ranges from excellent to literally-the-best-thing-that-has-ever-happened-to-you-save-for-any-potential-marriages-or-births-of-your-first-child-and-even-then-it’s-debatable-which-is-better. Panini, foccacia, pizza, pasta, it doesn’t matter: this is an unfair matchup.
Gelato’s somewhat harder to rate because there’s rarely a bad gelato product in Italy. But at the moment I can only name one really good gelato place in Venice, and I can name two in Florence. Since I’ve stayed in Venice for roughly 20 times as long as in Florence, I think this might be a sign of a greater trend.
Depiction in Movies
Apparently Room With A View (based in Florence) is a good flick, but Venice is where James Bond chooses to retire in Casino Royale. Case closed.
Locals’ Propensity to Speak English
If you, as an American, speak Italian in Florence (which I do because I’M CULTURED), the Florentines will actually engage with you and continue the conversation in Italian, regardless of how much you mess up. In Venice, this patience doesn’t exist–if you start a conversation in Italian, the response will almost always come back in English. The fact that you’re American is obvious, and they don’t try to ignore how badly you’re butchering the language. Venetians treat your Italian like an injured deer: yes, you could try to nurture it back to health, but realistically, it’s going to collapse sooner or later, so why not expedite the process? And really, isn’t this method easier?
Somehow tied 4-4 going into the last matchup (I’m picking and choosing my categories very carefully), let’s take a look at something special each city has to offer.
For Florence, it’s the San Lorenzo Leather Market. Stretching across numerous plazas and side streets, and featuring bags, wallets, jackets, belts, and more, it’s quite the place. Not only are there hundreds of these incredible goods at your fingertips, but you get to haggle with a real Italian intent on taking as much of your money as possible. The negotiation is just part of the buying process, and as much as they’ll act like they’re giving you a good price (“For you, my friend, is a-only two a-hundred”), they’re trying as hard as possible to squeeze every drop out of your wallet.
For Venice, it’s harder to put a finger on a single thing. There’s something about the allure of Venice–walking the streets late at night, not really knowing where you are but not really caring, living on the water every day so that the extraordinary view becomes commonplace–that makes it what it is. Although the city has its problems–namely its dependence on the tourist industry, l’acqua alta, and that little fella called global warming lurking around the corner–as a traveler and not a permanent resident, I can’t see much beyond its beauty.
But I really like some leather. Florence takes the category, and the win, 5-4.
Final: Florence, 5-4
Check back soon to read about my first-hand encounter with Italian bureaucracy. (Did I get to party with Berlusconi? TO BE CONTINUED…)