“È quest’autobus per Santa Brigida? Is this bus going to Santa Brigida?”
Seems like a pretty simple question, but after a 5 hour hike and an hour wait for the last bus of the day, we wanted to be sure. We had no interest in retracing our steps back to the car. ” Sì, questa è l’autobus giusto. Yes, this is the right bus,” she replied with a smile.
A few minutes later, I approached the same lady again, wondering if I had perhaps misunderstood. “Sei sicuro? Are you sure?” With that question, she assured me that there was no doubt about the destination of our bus. She also said something about her grandson, which I didn’t completely follow. But she seemed certain, so I relaxed. Then she did an odd thing: she tossed her purse onto the bus dashboard.
The bus driver finished his cigarette outside the coffee bar, and climbed back in. He switched the overhead sign to read “Santa Brigida.” We settled in for the half hour ride back up the hillside. We picked up people at various stops along the way. Nothing unusual. The woman who helped us, shifted to the side, inviting a friend to sit next to her. He thanked her with a broad smile, saying how very kind and gracious she was—and then they began talking and laughing as most Italians do—at least the ones we know.
The bus route took us from the river towns of Pontassieve to Sieci. From Sieci, we followed the meandering stream toward Molin del Piano. We stopped at the piazza in the middle of town and the doors opened wide. The woman got off the bus. Oh, no! I thought, she forgot her purse! The driver didn’t seem to notice. I watched as she walked up to a glass front and rapped on the window. The door opened and just like the Pied Piper, 20 children streamed out and followed her onto the bus. She seemed familiar with each and every child, calling them by name. Ah, yes! Public buses sometimes double as school buses here. So the 4:15 bus left right on time from Pontassieve (4:19 – Italian time), and immediately transformed itself into the afternoon school bus—and we suddenly became a couple of school kids once again.
Now, here’s where the story becomes oh so Italian. At each subsequent stop, the Pied Piper walked down the aisle and fetched the appropriate child. She made sure that they had their stuff—mostly colorful backpacks—and ushered them to the door. At the first stop there was a man who was probably the grandfather, sitting on a low stone wall at the side of the road. A young boy jumped from the bus, and immediately began yammering with his nonno, grandfather. At the next stop a father waited for his son. Around the next bend, a group of 4 mothers stood, eagerly awaiting their children’s smiling faces. Next stop: 6 mothers. 6 more children spilled out into their arms. Friendly greetings and waves were exchanged at each stop—between the children, the woman, the bus driver, and of course a sincere grazie and ciao ciao ciao from the waiting family members.
So this helpful woman . . . was she like a bus monitor? Some volunteer grandmother? Some kind lady who just helps out on occasion? Who knows. But, after all the kids were gone and it was just the four of us again, we pointed to our car at the side of the road. The driver made a special stop. We gathered our backpacks, hiking poles and Izzi-B (our little dachshund), and just like school kids, we descended the steps—truly “to-your-door” service. The kind lady wished us a good afternoon and the bus driver offered a hearty farewell wave along with a ci vediamo, see you again.
As the bus drove away, we shook our heads in disbelief at our good fortune. All we wanted was a ride back to the car, yet we got so much more. We were given a privileged glimpse into a part of country Italian living. We got to see the beautiful smiling faces of the kids, hear the excited after-school chatter, and witness the caring interactions of friends and family during a normal day in Tuscany.
You’ll never read about it in a tour book as one of the “must do” activities. But, from our perspective, your first stop in the Florentine hills isn’t to see Michelangelo’s David, or the Uffizi gallery. Instead . . . head out to the countryside, and catch a late afternoon bus (about 4:19). Sit back, relax, and enjoy the delightful chatter and loving interactions of Tuscany at its best: real Italians, simply living the good life!