One of the more dubious joys of traveling is getting from A to B on public transport. Sometimes, the trip is a dream of transport efficiency, such as the first class train trip from Rome to Florence on the super fast train. Other times, not so much.
According to Rick Steves, getting the bus from Florence to San Gimignano is a breeze. If so, I’ve had breezier times. The first challenge was finding the right bus station! I thought I’d done my research – at least enough to know that three bus companies had locations near the main train station. Unfortunately, I trundled around to the two that I didn’t want before finally finding the one I did want. At least I had the fun of bumping my suitcase up a smelly back alley that emptied out near the train tracks—not the right way as it turned out. I asked a station guy – Dove Seta? (name of the bus company) and got a very polite and long reply of which I gleaned exactly 0 words. But I smiled inanely and said Grazie and kept on trudging.
Eventually I did find a very nice station worker lady who in perfect English gave me very precise directions that even I could not fail to follow. Once at the bus station, I easily bought the ticket and sat down to wait 40 minutes for the bus. What is it about bus stations? They are like poor little sisters of the bigger, flashier, cooler train station next door. In the bus station, everything looks sad and small and depressed. The pervading smell of diesel fuel seeps into your nostrils along with the cigarette smoke of the young kids hanging out at the entrance to the bus station smoking under the sign that says no smoking.
One virtue of the bus station is that tourists are definitely the exception not the rule. At least twice people spoke to me in Italian, presumably thinking I was local since how many tourists bother taking the bus? Presumably, the ones who read Rick Steves.
I finally got on the bus to Poggibonsi—probably one of Italy’s uglier little towns—where I was to get another bus for San Gimignano. Poor Poggibonsi—from what I could see, it is awash in big box stores and the kind of hideous urban sprawl that makes it look like just about any mid size town in the western world. The only thing that distinguishes the outskirts of Poggibonsi from the suburbs of Vancouver is the names on the stores. The giant supermarket is called PAM instead of Super Store but that’s about the only difference.
Things started looking up on the bus from Poggibonsi to San Gimignano, which I shared with a dozen or so young people out and about on a Saturday. I know it’s been said before but I’ll say it again anyway. So many of the people you see in the streets—particularly the young men—look exactly like the people in the Renaissance paintings. I mean their faces are pretty much identical! Take off the jeans and put on a doublet and you’ve got Romeo in the flesh.
The bus thankfully left Poggibonsi behind pretty quickly and plunged into the picture perfect Tuscan countryside. Pointy cypresses, sprawling vineyards, blue skies and, wait for it – in the distance the towers of San Gimignano. They looked just as beautiful as I’ve been imagining them these past two years since I started the novel. At the moment, the novel is actually titled “The Towers of San Gimignano” which is a bit of a mouthful and probably won’t stay but it will do for now.
The bus deposited me at the main gate into San Gimignano and I emerged into a blaze of warm sunshine and not a taxi in sight. The Villa Ducci, where I’m staying, is about 2 miles from San Gimignano. I was told in an email that I could easily catch a taxi from the bus stop to take me to the villa. Ah, no. I hung around for quite awhile but never saw any taxis and really didn’t feel like walking into the town to search out a tourist information center.
So what does any well heeled traveler in the 21st century do? I whipped out the cell phone, turned on the 3G, and called the hotel. I don’t want to think what the call must have cost but at least I got through immediately and ten minutes later a very nice lady drove up in her car and whisked me away to the Villa Ducci and the start of my San Gimignano adventure.