Allergy-Friendly Study Abroad Guide: Florence, Italy

Sara Albert studied abroad in Florence, Italy last year while managing a peanut allergy. She is currently a senior at Cornell University where she majors in Human Biology, Health, and Society. You can find her on Spokin @saraalbert121234.

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Tell us about you!

Where are you study are you studying abroad?
Florence, Italy

How did you choose your study abroad location?
I had always wanted to travel to Italy. Florence is a smaller city that can be easily navigated. It is small enough that I knew my way around, but big enough to feel like I was in a city and having new experiences every day.

Had you been out of the country before studying abroad and did you speak the local language?
Yes I have been out of the country before studying abroad!nI do not speak Italian, but I used Google Translate and learned a little Italian from my Italian class. It was very easy to get around and I never really had much trouble.

Did you plan anything ahead of time?

I printed out allergy cards and had pictures of them on my phone. To be honest, I didn’t even end up using them. I mostly used Google Translate and would show the waiter after I ordered food. If I was grocery shopping, I would ask anyone who worked there to read the ingredients. Other than that, I didn’t plan much. On the weekends when I traveled, my friends and I would always make reservations and I would typically ask if they use peanuts in a lot of dishes, or I would check the menu online!

What are your best tips for studying abroad with food allergies?

My tips would be to make sure before you go to the restaurant that you have service to translate “I have a severe allergy to (blank) and I can’t have it in any dishes that I order. It is very important that I don’t eat this, otherwise I will get very sick and have to go to the hospital,” or something along those lines. The most important thing is that you let the waitstaff know. If I was traveling to new countries and making reservations, I would usually glance at the menu before to see if they cook with a lot of peanuts or I would call and ask. Other than that, I didn’t do much to prepare. My main suggestion would be to take extra caution when you’re abroad. If you think you weren’t understood correctly, it’s better to be safe than to risk it and eat something you’re not sure about! I always went into meals with caution and didn’t eat if I felt that I was misunderstood. Another good thing to know is most of the cities I traveled to had established hospitals/healthcare systems. I know people who had to use healthcare services abroad and had fine experiences so if anything were to happen, you have your EpiPen and you will be okay once you’re taken to a hospital. Because I lived in Florence I can speak on this, but I’m not sure about other locations. I know ambulances are free of charge, which can be good to know if you’re in an emergency situation! My last piece of advice would be to always bring your EpiPen, Inhaler, and Benadryl every time you leave your apartment or where ever you are staying.

Did you have any concerns about traveling with food allergies?

I definitely had concerns traveling abroad, especially considering the severity of my allergy. I overcame my fears by erring on the side of caution. If there was ever difficulty in servers understanding I decided to stay safe and not eat at that restaurant. I was lucky enough that most of the time I was fine and they understood. Especially in Italy, all the staff was extra cautious and said it was better if I didn’t have something just to be safe. Throughout my weeks traveling, I found this problem less frustrating and easy to travel with!

What airline did you fly? How did you handle accommodations and airplane food?

I flew to Italy on Delta. I didn’t eat the plane food just because I was nervous to eat new foods on a long flight. I brought snacks like fig bars and fruits, but it was an overnight flight so I slept most of the time.

Where did you live and how were meals handled?

I stayed in an apartment and either bought my own food at a grocery store or went out to eat.

What are your 3 favorite places to eat at in Florence?

All’Antico Vinaio
Although this is a bustling very very busy restaurant, the servers take time to check in the back if things contain allergens. Luckily they didn’t have peanuts, and consistently didn’t have them. It may be overwhelming because it’s a very busy place but they will listen to you! I would say it is probably dangerous if you can’t risk cross contamination because a lot of the sauces and cheeses are all near each other and it’s very busy. They will change their gloves but you should be prepared to ask in Italian or show it on Google Translate. The sandwiches here were amazing and consistently delicious! I miss this place a lot because they were always amazing! I consistently ate sandwiches here and just a warning they are huge! And they are very affordable compared to sandwiches in the United States.

Il Profeta
Waitstaff was very accommodating and their only concern with peanuts was when it came to their desserts so I didn’t eat the Tiramisu. It was a common theme that the waiters were worried at these restaurants and would usually advise not to eat certain dishes. In the end of the day, I don’t think the Tiramisu had peanuts but I decided to not eat it and be safe!

Trattoria 13 Gobbi
I loved 13 Gobbi. The food was delicious. I heard mixed reviews about the dessert being safe, so I sided with not eating the cheesecake (I think it was something they are known for). I really enjoyed the signature rigatoni pasta with red sauce and cheese mixed in. I came here a few times. If you have a peanut or nut allergy, I wouldn’t eat the desserts here because there seemed to be some miscommunication with the waiters.

If there’s a food your study abroad location is known for that you were able to have safely, what was it and where did you try it?

Florence is definitely known for their pastas and pizzas and it was very easy for me to enjoy these dishes safely.

What other places did you visit during your trip?

I traveled to Rome, Venice, Barcelona, Dublin, Paris, Sicily, Portugal, Pisa, Ravello, the Amalfi Coast, Amsterdam, London, Madrid, Switzerland, Cinque Terre, Budapest, Sienna, Brussels, and a few different places around the South of France.
In Budapest, I loved eating at Mazel Tov in Catania; Trattoria Casalinga Nino in Catania; Al Vicolo Pizza & Vino and Le Chou de Bruxelles Fritland in Brussels; in Brussels; MUN, L’As Du Fallafel, and Angelina in Paris; Ristorante Ai Barbacani in Venice; Coya, 34 Mayfair, andBorough Market in London.

Besides the food, were there any fun experiences or favorite things you did?

I really enjoyed walking around cities a lot and stumbling upon activities. Museums in Florence and Paris were very fun and I also did a croissant-making cooking class in Paris. In South of France my friends and I rented a car, and it was very fun to drive around to different places in the South of France. I went to wineries in Florence, and my program also offered free cooking classes and trips to go on for runs or hikes in other cities nearby, like Sienna. I also enjoyed going to Piazzale Michelangelo to see the sunset in Florence! In Budapest I did a fun boat cruise and we went to the baths. In Amsterdam I really enjoyed the tulip festival. In Dublin, I did a tour at the Guinness Storehouse. In Venice, I loved taking the gondola ride around. In London I did a lot of eating, and sight seeing and I really liked doing an afternoon tea and going to a soccer game in a town nearby at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium. In Switzerland, I did a kayaking tour in Brienzersee next to Interlaken and I did a chocolate bar making class. I had many other experiences, but these are just a brief handful!

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