Florence is like Palmerston North in that every time I try and fumble out some Italian, everyone starts giving me weird looks.
Other than that, the city famously referred to as the “jewel of Italy” and the city famously referred to as the “suicide capital of New Zealand” (thanks John Cleese) at first seem to have little in common.
However, in true journalistic style I thought: “We’ve got a story here”, and desperate to re-live my travels and well in need of a good laugh, I set out to compare the two cities. Just as in Florence, I armed myself with my camera and hardly any money, and hit the Palmerston streets looking for adventure. Here’s what I found.
The journey: In NZ, I can feel my feet
Palmerston North is a pretty easy city to get around. The street plan is a literal grid, meaning if you just head in one direction, you’re guaranteed to find a road you recognise. The only way anyone could possibly get lost is if they were a first-year attending a party on Ada Street on O-Week, and even then it would be pretty damn hard.
However, Florence is a maze of streets that would be impossible to drive, so hardly anyone does. This means a ton of walking, and you’re absolutely going to get lost. After one day in Florence, my feet were the kind of numb that only walking 10km on cobblestones does to you, and there were at least two new holes in my shoes. In contrast, back in the urban heaven for footwear that is Palmerston North, I can finally feel my feet again. And that’s because they’re on the gas pedal.
Palmerston North: 1 Florence: 0
The Cars: Italian cities have no room for bogan rides
The car up on the left is the nicest car I’ve seen in Palmerston North for years, in what usually is a wasteland of too-loud, budget Subaru’s; or even worse, “Dad car” Ford Falcons. Unfortunately we can’t let go of our strong bogan traditions, and hiding outside the frame of that photograph, those Falcons and Subu’s are still cruising the streets. Whereas, on the far right, that shop window of comically small sized cars is a freaking Fiat Museum I happened to walk past. I’m sorry Palmerston North, I really am, but Fiats are damn fine cars, and Florence 100 per cent wins this round.
Palmerston North: 1 Florence: 1
The food: Higher than Lil’ Wayne, lower than Batman vs Superman reviews
The ball ought to have been in Italy’s court for this one, as it is a country famous for its food. However, somehow in Florence I ended up eating both some of the best and worst food of my life.
The lows: Never EVER eat from a back alley kebab shop in Florence because you’re trying to save euros. The disappointment just isn’t worth it.
The highs: Florence has the best chocolate gelato in all of Italy. And easily the best sandwiches in the whole world.
Palmerston North can again be compared to Florence in that I’ve had some of the best and worst food of my life here. Well, at least before I lived in Italy for four months and became a food snob.
The lows: “Fast Food Highway” aka Rangitikei Street.
The highs: George Street and Coleman Mall, which each have a great selection of boutique restaurants, cafes and eateries.
While a well fought round, Florence takes this one out solely on the strength of their sandwiches. Eat your heart out Subway.
Palmerston North: 1 Florence: 2
The art: No contest
Look Palmy, I tried my best by photographing you in black and white here, but only a madman could compare your “art” with that of Italy’s most artistic city. This is such a severe thrashing that I’m giving Florence double points.
Palmerston North: 1 Florence: 4
The views: The final showdown
Unlike the art, both cities have somewhat similar views – at least on a topographical map anyway. They both have unclean rivers through the centre, parts of the city separated by bridges and outlooks over the city for 360 degree views. Here though, Florence is all leather shoes to our muddy Palmerston gumboots; with its Il Arno for our Manawatu River, famous Ponte Vecchio to our Fitzherbert Bridge, and Piazzale Michelangelo for our Porkchop Hill.
But it’s all a bit posh, isn’t it? After all, the flourishing city of Palmerston North has its rustic charms too, and you don’t have to climb nearly as many bloody steps to get to Porkchop Hill. You wouldn’t see a beat-up Ford around Florence, and despite the high student population, it would be rare to spot the standard Ag or Vet student too – only bedraggled artists and literary types populate the city. It has absolutely none of the comforts of home, not even good fries.
Palmerston North: 2 Florence: 4
So don’t go to Florence. Don’t become another part of the soulless tourist masses who take over the cafes and streets, and generally annoy Italians and the exchange students in Italy – who with more cultural appropriation than actual knowledge of the language already consider themselves Italian. Don’t go to Florence and ruin the city I’m going to be living in one day. Just stay in Palmerston North, we have it all right here. And our kebabs are better.