If you visit one place in Italy for the food, make it Florence

It’s not hard to see why Florence is a fav destination for many. The place is romantic, filled with history and culture, and also serves up some of Italy’s best food. But you can all too easily fall into the trap of overspending on sub-standard fare if you stick to the haunts around the Piazza del Duomo. Instead, join the locals here:

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Florence offers an abundance of deliciousness.

Mario’s

Only open for lunch, this small restaurant offers mouth-watering and satisfying meals that’ll have you salivating for days. Arrive at 11.45am so you can get a table and peruse the menu outside. You can practice your patchy Italian here but all you pretty much need to know is that you’ll get the ravioli and ribollita for starters. And then choose your meat options for the main – a large, juicy, salt-and-butter crusted pork chop, or if you dare, share the city’s famed T-bone steak between two. Order a side, throw in a glass of Chianti for a few euros and that’s your breakfast, lunch and dinner sorted.

italian subway

Florence’s Subway.

All’Antico Vinaio

Florence’s answer to Subway but about 10 times better. Be prepared for a fast-moving line and know what you want. Choose from the list, or create your own such as prosciutto, sheep’s cheese, eggplant, tomato and tapenade. Squished between slides of warm crusty focaccia bread, these 5 Euro babies will keep you full for hours. Best eaten with a bottle of Chianti poured into plastic cups sitting in the gutter – or for somewhere more classy, take away down to the River Arno.

Central Market

You really could eat every meal here. From 10am start the day with an espresso and a sweet flaky (and cheap!) Italian pastry. Then buy the makings of a picnic lunch – but be warned it may take you a few hours to peruse all the cheese on offer. Add some prosciutto, tomato tasting tomatoes, blood red oranges and some biscotti for afterwards. Still hungry later on? Head upstairs to the large food court with offerings such as fried and grilled seafood, burgers, more T-bone steak, pasta, pizza, and so much more. Grab a beverage from one of the bars and happily feed your face while you people watch.

Vivoli

You can’t visit Italy and not eat gelato. There’s no shortage of gelatarias in Florence, full of mouth-watering mounds of gelato but why not go to the best and original? It’s worth seeking out for the pear and cameral, bacio, mango… well pretty much every flavour under the hot Tuscan sun.

Where have you eaten in Florence? Any recommendations?

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Living like a local: 4 ways to immerse yourself while on holiday

During a recent trip to Europe, my partner and I played the game of ‘could I live here?’ While the thinking was a pie in the sky, we were asking it while doing things that the locals were doing.

Although we saw the sights, paid too much, lined up, and took selfies, we also took our cues from residents and took time to embrace the every day.

Here are some ways you can combine your ‘to do’ list with a bit of cultural immersion to get a feel for what really living there would be like.

Stay in an Airbnb

Staying in an Airbnb gives you the opportunity to discover neighbourhoods you would never visit if you confined yourself to a hotel in the city centre. Your host will provide you with great local tips on where to eat, shop and when to visit the sights. We would never have discovered a deliciously traditional French restaurant – and tripe sausage – if it wasn’t for our lovely host.

The Eiffel Tower was nice but so was the tripe sausage.

The Eiffel Tower was nice but so was the tripe sausage.

Take public transport or use your own two feet

There is no better way to understand the occupants of a new place than by people watching. Take the train to see what commuting would be like – just be reminded that trying to backpack your way through London on the underground at peak hour may elicit a few death stares if your Oyster card declines. Taking a bus gives you a different perspective, while walking is the best way to discover hidden alley ways, cute boutiques and street art.

Visit the local shops

Eating out is one of the great pleasures of travelling but you don’t have to do it for every meal. Buying groceries at the local supermarket can be a fun and educational experience, not to mention a much cheaper option. Visiting a fresh food market is a must if you can. Pick up some supplies to take on a picnic or use it to create your breakfasts in the morning. One of our best finds in Florence was the large undercover market with stalls filled to the brim with cheese, cured meats, biscotti, and juicy blood oranges – it was a tourist attraction in itself.

Do something you would back home

One of my favourite travel experiences was spending an hour or so at the laundromat in Bedford–Stuyvesant in Brooklyn. It provided the perfect opportunity to just sit and read my book, look out the window and listen to the chatter of locals going about their business. The same feel can be achieved by visiting a local library or bookstore, sitting in a park, going to the cinema, or attending a sports match. Attending a Canadian football league game in Toronto gave us an insight into a sport we didn’t know much about and ample time to people-watch.

Try to live a little bit like a local, and you’ll discover a whole lot more about the place you’re visiting.

How do you ‘live like a local’ while on holiday?

Bound to the big chains? Here are some alternatives

When I left Katherine in the Northern Territory I vowed to never again visit a large supermarket chain. After four years of visiting the same store I was sick of its sameness, its uniformed vegetables and gaudy promotions.

In Australia, the two largest supermarkets have a monopoly. They dominate the grocery space and convince us, the consumers, that there are only two options when it comes to deciding where to do the weekly shop. It’s worth being aware about the activities of these companies before making a decision on where to spend your money.

Luckily, there are more than just two options.

Shop local

I’m spoilt for choice with three butchers, a veg and fruit store, deli, bakery and more just a five minute walk away. Now, I know many people aren’t lucky enough to have this abundance of choice, but even travelling that little bit further is worth it. Many think individual shops will be more expensive, but often no more so than the chains. What’s more you get quality products and friendly customer service. It’s also important to support local businesses otherwise one day we won’t have the choice.

Markets

Markets are not only a treasure trove of produce, but also a great way to interact with the people who make or sell your food. My local farmers market has a particular veggie stall we love. It sells the most amazing vegetables that are the complete opposite of what you find in the supermarket; purple, white and orange carrots, juicy leeks, fresh green broccoli and beetroot of all shapes and sizes. Undercover markets are also great alternatives to the big supermarkets. We usually just buy what’s in season and then make up recipes from what’s in the fridge during the week.

Broccoli? No a delightful green cauliflower from the veggie guy at the markt

Broccoli? No, a delightful green cauliflower from the veggie guy at the market

Community food groups

Community food groups are springing up everywhere – from regional towns, to inner city suburbs. Often run by a few eager volunteers, it’s a great place to pick up bulk products like rice, flour and beans, as well as veggies. Food swaps are also another great idea to get you inspired to make more of your own food and to enjoy what others have created. Find a swap meet near you using the Local Harvest map. Also check out your local council website for listings, as well as on Facebook.

Online shopping

This is a space that’s only going to keep growing. There are already plenty of companies offering to send you boxes of organic products, gourmet meals and Paleo ingredients. There are also schemes like the Goodness Me Box, which send you a surprises box of health food goodies each month for you to review. Reviews earn you reward points which then go toward your next delivery. For a more complete shopping experience, Aussie Farmers Direct will service most of Australia delivering Aussie-made products to your door.

How do you like to shop?