17.11.2014 - 17.11.2014
The Mall is paradise for fans of top-tier designer brands like Prada, Burberry, Gucci, Miu Miu, etc etc... The name "The Mall" is really misleading, because the place is actually like a small industrial park, but with boutiques in place of factories.
Each label has their own standalone boutique selling a wide variety of goods from bags to small accessories to shoes to clothes. There's lots of stuff for the men too because guys in Italy are very fashionable. And everything there is at least 50% cheaper than their normal retail prices. At least, that's what the price tags say. And considering tax refund for tourists, the savings can be quite significant! Apparently, it is very popular among tourists. The reception at our hotel knew immediately where we were going when we said we had a bus to catch.
A shuttle bus from the bus terminal takes visitors to and from The Mall for 10 Euros (5 Euros for each trip). Bus timings can be found on the official website. The journey is about one hour long. And the funny thing is, we only see Chinese tourists on the bus and at The Mall. The entire bus is filled with Chinese and the only non-Chinese person is the bus driver. I know rich PRC tourists are really into branded stuff, but it's just so odd to see no Italian customers! We did see two Caucasian passengers on the return trip and I think they are Americans. If I lived in Florence, I'd run a shopping service! I could probably enjoy a neat little profit selling the items at a higher price overseas. The profits could easily cover the travel cost a few times over.
Pictures taken at The Mall:
Yeah it looks dull and dreary, especially since it poured all day, but inside the shops, it's all bright and shiny.
There's a Gucci cafe, and we checked the prices and they're surprisingly affordable (I think less than 10 Euros for a dessert). We made up our mind to go later in the day after lunch, but somehow, we forgot. (But it's ok because we found a Gucci cafe elsewhere the next day :D)
There is free wifi that covers the whole place in case you need to look up stuff before making your purchase, but it's only for an hour, and the connection is extremely crappy. Definitely do your research in advance!
Out of all the boutiques, the one I find most interesting and well-stocked is The Prada (which I brilliantly did not get a photo of), which despite being called Prada, also has a wide variety of goods from other brands (I think they are subsidiaries. There's Miu Miu as well). The upper level is all clothes while the first level is bags and purses.
Upon entering the shop, the staff will hand you a number slip. Keep this number slip. Quoting Ivy, it is your life line. Whenever you eye something and want to consider buying it, show your number slip to a retail assistant, and he/she will make a note to reserve one piece for you.
When you wish to pay for your purchases, show your number slip to the cashier. They'll bring out all the stuff you reserved. You do not have to feel pressured into buying any of it. If you change your mind, it is completely all right. The staff will not show any displeasure. Personally I find this reservation method quite counter-productive and time-wasting because each customer takes up quite a bit of time to inspect their purchases or even ponder over whether to see their purchase through. When we were queuing to pay for stuff, we saw a woman trying to get ahead of the line because she was pressed for time. She kept heckling one of the staff, but he patiently, politely, but firmly told her she would have to wait in line. Moral of the story: If you have a schedule to keep to, do not leave your purchases to the last minute. The lines get really long especially nearing evening! Give at least an hour's buffer time. We didn't wait that long in the line, but it's better to be safe than sorry. There is a tax refund office, so if you want to do your tax refund there, you should do your purchase even earlier. The staff at the counter usually removes the original packaging of your purchases by default, but you can request to keep it and they'll let you have it.
I'm not a big fan of Western brands but I had a nice time browsing and touching all the expensive-looking stuff, and learning new things. I didn't know about ostrich skin bags and never saw them in Singapore for example, but I saw them at one of the shops, and you really need to know your stuff and ask the right questions. Apparently, ostrich skin bags from certain countries cannot be freely exported.
Ivy loves designer goods at budget prices (I mean, compared to what you find in the boutiques) so she's fluttering all around getting help from the retail assistants, who appear to be knowledgeable about the items they're selling, friendly and well-versed in English.
I found an adorable lilac little Miu Miu handbag that I really liked. When I asked to reserve it, the staff told me it was the last piece. See, I always have such good taste. I said that it was all right and she kept it for me. However, when I was checking the bag at the counter, I noticed a few scuffings and even peeling, which was really unacceptable for a bag that was so pricey. I ended up leaving the place empty-handed. I must be the only person who paid 10 Euros to go window shopping! I felt so emo to see everyone piling into the bus with huge Prada bags!
Ivy's a happy shopper, she brought back a big bag of clothes and accessories.
The day wasn't a complete loss. I learnt what artichokes taste like.
Had a lovely lunch of white wine, pasta (I think its spaghetti vongole) and artichokes.
The artichokes are very interesting. At first glance, they look like chunks of white chicken breast meat. I'm really not sure how to describe the taste. It definitely tastes more satisfying and has a different sort of texture from other typical vegetables. It's not crunchy, and in fact, quite soft and mushy. It sort of reminds me of boiled garlic, but doesn't smell as pungent.
Ivy had risotto and spinach, which were also very tasty.
The meal cost us about 24 Euros each.
The waitress was a friendly and excitable young lady who kept smiling. When she asked if we wanted dessert and we told her we were going to have it at the Gucci Cafe, she was like 'of course, it's Gucci, perfectly understandable'.
We spent about six hours at The Mall and went back amidst a very heavy downpour. The windows were so misted up I could hardly see anything outside. Luckily the driver was very skilful!