Italy, August 2016: Tuscany Travel Tips

Last month James whisked us off to Tuscany for a week of sunshine and relaxation. I started writing a post about our stay, and before I knew it I’d written half a novel just about the local buses! I consider myself an experienced independent traveller, and I found the buses really difficult. So I decided I’d devote a post to our experience with them, in the hopes that it might help someone out!

Before I dive in to the buses though, I have to briefly mention our air travel. We flew via Amsterdam, which is always my favourite airport to transit through anyway, but was on particularly good form thanks to police on Segways…

Amsterdam Airport - Emma's Picture Postcards

…and a variety of fun art displays, including this fascinating clock, which a “workman” repainted each minute:

Once we reached Florence Airport, we had the “simple” (ha) task of taking a bus to the centre of town, and another to the village of San Casciano, where we were staying. This was much easier said than done, but by the end of our stay, I feel like we’d gotten our heads around it. Here’s what we learned:

– The main bus company in the Florence area, or at least the one that covered the routes we needed, is called SITA. It was formerly known as Busitalia, and some of the buses still have the old name on them, but are otherwise identical.

– Tickets cost €1.20 if purchased from a ticket vendor before boarding the bus, or €2.30 if purchased on board from the driver. For the airport bus, I’ve seen the price quoted online as anywhere between €3 and €6 each way, but we got there fine with standard €1.20 tickets, and actually had them checked by a bus conductor who happened to get on board.

– Tickets aren’t always available to buy on board, so ask the driver when you get on. If he says no, just hop back off and wait for the next bus, and/or make use of that time to see if you can locate a ticket vendor (more on that below!) The one time we did make use of this option, the driver said yes and waved us on, and we sat down behind him, James hovering on the edge of his seat waiting to be summoned forward to make the purchase. 20 minutes later, we figured he’d forgotten and we’d landed ourselves a free ride, but he sold them to us as we disembarked 😉

– Tickets must be validated on board the bus – stick your ticket into the slot in the red box and hold it there until it clunks.

San Casciano in Val di Pesa, Tuscany, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

– TOP TIP! Tickets aren’t valid for a specific date/time/route until validated. So if you’re lucky enough to find a ticket vendor early in your stay, buy as many tickets as you’ll need for the duration. One ticket covers one person for one journey, and a journey starts and ends at Florence, so for the two of us to go from the airport, to Florence city centre, and on to San Casciano, was two journeys each, therefore four tickets. Including another four to get back to the airport for our departure, and another four for a day trip into (and out of) Florence, meant we needed twelve tickets in total.

– We found the bus drivers generally quite helpful, and bus stops clearly marked and easy-ish to find, with the help of Google maps. Trying to buy tickets… not so much.

– So where are these magical bus ticket vendors where you can buy cheap tickets? Well, good question. Generally, there will be a shop of some description (a newsagent, tobacconist, bar, cafe, etc), vaguely near each bus stop, ish, which sells tickets. However. Italy is overrun with little shops, and a single street could have three tobacconists, and two of them might (apparently) have no idea that the third sells bus tickets. The one that does might also close for four hours (and then some) in the middle of the day, or if you’re really unlucky, might be closed for the entire month of August because the owner is on his holidays. Yay.

Duomo, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

We managed to buy tickets in advance at three different places, as follows.

– the SITA bus station in Florence. Google Maps knows this as “Busitalia Nord Autostazione” and it’s on Via Santa Caterina da Siena. Because we had just missed the shuttle bus and couldn’t work out where to buy tickets at the airport (I’ve read since that you can buy them at the bar inside), we ended up taking a taxi from the airport to this bus station. Compared with our later sagas, this was by far the simplest and most familiar bus-related location, and I wish we’d bought our full trip’s worth of tickets at this point!

– there are four bus stops together on Largo Fratelli Alinari, just around the corner from the train station, and there is a shop selling tickets that’s actually directly at these bus stops (hallelujah!) – I believe it’s called Cap Tours, I tried to double-check using Google Street View, but ironically there’s a bus in the way, ha!

Piazza della Repubblica, San Casciano in Val di Pesa, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

– and thirdly, the Latteria (dairy shop (yes really)) in San Casciano. This is located on Piazza della Repubblica, and is closed from 12:00 to 16:00, and when I say 16:00… At 15:45, having finally located the right place thanks to a helpful waitress from the bar a few doors along and being told it was closed until 16:00, I finished the ice cream I’d bought at the bar and did a few laps around the village while I waited. The bells rang for 4pm and I slowly wandered back the the Latteria and took a seat outside with a crowd of old men, one of whom turned around in his chair to slowly look me up and down. Pleasant.

At 16:10, an old fella in a bright orange t-shirt wandered at about 1mph out of the shop’s side door, went to the bar along the street, drank an espresso, wandered back to the shop, sat down outside to smoke a cigarette… smoked another cigarette… and then went back in the side door. At this point, an old lady marched up, quizzed the gathering of men, marched around the corner, marched back, and slammed her face against the shop door to peer through the glass. I dread to think what she saw, because a moment later, the shop owner, having changed from his orange t-shirt into a white shirt, opened the door and let her in, followed by me, a small boy who had darted up, and the crowd of old men, bringing the total queue to about 15 people. By now it was 16:25. The old lady proceeded to order whatever it was she was after, and pour a purseful of 1- and 2-cent coins onto the counter to pay for them. Thankfully by this point I’d had plenty of time to prepare “due biglietti a Firenze” and the correct change, and was out of there in about 5 seconds. What an adventure.

I’ll be back soon with a couple more Italy posts… and only one other drama 😛 Have a great week, and please comment below if you have any more tips!