My husband and I are planning a month long stay in Florence early this summer. We have reserved a small 2 room apt in a villa just below the Fiesole hills on the outskirts of Florence. We do not want to rent a car. We're interested in music and art, and getting to know the culture of the region, including cooking most of our own meals. I would greatly appreciate any advice and suggestions that those of you familiar with the area, can give us. Also any tips that might help us keep our expenses down. Thank you in advance!
Have you asked the owners of the villa for their suggestions on how to use public transportation? They'll know the specific logistics much better than anyone here. (No offense, everyone.) I've got to tell you that most people that get a place like the one you've reserved will find a car pretty useful. But perhaps you're near a train station?
If you're planning on cooking a lot take with you some of your basic spices that you are fond of (and a favorite hot sauce - ok I guess that's a southwest thing ha ha). I'm talking here about small amounts in zip lock baggies so you don't have to buy a whole jar of say, paprika. Other than that plan on shopping for food each day (except perhaps Sunday). Doesn't take long and buy what is seasonally available. You will quickly find the local farmer's markets and the Super U or whatever for TP. By shopping daily like a local you will enjoy local food and interaction. Bus passes are an excellent value and just take a bit of work to figure the schedule out. I believe there is a Florence Art Card for a month but I gave my guide book to my sister so I can't give you the details. Buy Ricks Florence guidebook.
You might want to join friends of the uffizi (Amici degli Uffizi). Individual membership is 60E (and I think it allows you to bring guests, but you should check to clarify that; family membership is 100E. It will give you unlimited admission, without reservations, to all the state museums in Florence (including a number of the Medici villas ). It's great to be able to drop in for a short visit when the mood strikes, and the membership is much cheaper than individual reserations/admissions if you anticipate multiple visits to Uffizi or Academia.
I'm from Florence and I can give you advice. I also lived at the foothills of Fiesole a couple of years, so I know the area but I need to know the address of the villa, or at least the street. Fiesole foothills is too broad of a description.
A monthly bus pass in only 35 euro (www.ataf.it - Florence's transportation site) and it covers pretty much everything you need outside of longer distance trips. It might be good to have.
If you get a little homesick, there is an English speaking Lutheran chuch in Florence.Have a great trip!
There is also an American Episcopal church (incidentally near the Ponte Vespucci). It's called St. James. However I've never heard of Americans getting home sick in Florence because they don't hear enough English language. Just walk downtown and you'll hear hundreds and hundreds of loud Americans talking all over around you. As a matter of fact you are more likely to hear American English downtown Florence than Italian. Florence is full of Americans. Besides the about 60,000 US citizens who live in Tuscany, there are several Americans universities with a branch campus in the city (Stanford, NYU, Pepperdine, Syracuse, Georgetown, Harvard, U of Wisconsin, U of Michigan among them), plus hundreds of Italian and Art schools for foreigners, many of them with American students, and of course the millions of American tourists who visit every year. Many Italian restaurants downtown even serve Thanksgiving dinner to cater to the American clientele. If you are going to Florence to get away from Americans, I don't think you chose the right place. You won't even miss McDonalds, if you crave a hamburger. The only thing you won't find is Starbucks. Maybe because that company realized their espresso sucks compared to what you can buy in any bar in Italy. And if you miss some American product you can't find, just get on line, ask a question, and I'll tell you exactly where to find it in Florence. Even maple syrup for your pancakes. I lived in Florence for 28 years, 6 of which with my American wife, so I know where to find anything you need. Just don't ask for Root beer. I still can't help you with that (I'm thinking of starting an import/export of root beer in Italy, I wonder if it would be successful).