American in Italy, culture, expat, italy, life, travel, tuscany, Uncategorized

Why I love public transportation

ataf bus florence

I know what you might be thinking. Is this girl crazy that she actually likes taking the bus/train/public transportation in a country not well-known for it’s efficiency? You might be right and if you follow me on twitter, you probably have spotted a rant or two about my feelings on the bus that morning/day/night. Still, that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the service.

Living in Florence since 2007 means that I have never had a car. Yes t-man has a car, but that is not my car. Even the awesome three-wheeled electric rischio on my twitter profile isn’t mine –  but rather the property of someone I work for. My ‘car’ for a few years now has been my two feet, bike, the bus, train, carrier pigeon, boat and the like. I drive manual {stick-shift} – which is a super awesome skill to learn if you are EVER planning to drive outside of the United States of America and the truth is I love to drive, I really do. But I hate relying on it, and only it to get around. Growing up in Texas, that is pretty much how it is. I started driving at the tender age of 16 getting from my high school to the local community college to take dual-credit courses. Some of my fondest memories include jumping  in the car packed with friends going to Austin, Texas for a wild weekend, or to Sonic for a cherry lime-ade {what did they put in that anyway?!}

Car  = Freedom, to most Americans.

When I moved to Los Angeles, despite living in a more environmentally conscious state – cars were always the one non-exception. Everyone had them, car pollution was/is rampant, public transportation a joke –  which I knew all too well when t-man visited and had to actually use it get around the city of angels. A trip from Target in Burbank to our apartment in Toluca Lake (maybe a 10 minute journey by car) took him two hours by bus. Life in Los Angeles meant you plan your life around your commute. One example – I used to intern in Santa Monica and when I would finish around 6pm, I had a hour and a half to two-hour drive back to the valley to my apartment in  Toluca Lake. Not fun but something you had to put up with since the 405/101  highway really is the seventh circle of hell during rush hour. That traffic takes no prisoners.

Moving to Italy was a life changer when it came to commuting. While the annoyance of dealing with cars/insurance/parking was soon replaced by other annoyances like red-tape nightmares – still I was relieved not to have a car. One day I will get one, hopefully a hybrid, to make those journeys to tiny towns in Tuscany. In the meantime I am not too sorry to be without one one at this moment,  besides buses — I can easily hop on the train and discover so many cities not just in Italy but in all of Europe. Once I got on a bus at 1pm in front of the Florence train station and at 8:30pm that same day – I was walking around the center of Ljubljana {Slovenia}. I have been riding the local bus, stamping my ATAF ticket, been fined for not having one {woops}, dealt with buses that rained inside etc for many years. This is my life.

When I meet someone in Florence who has never taken the bus I actually feel a little sorry for them in a way because it is an experience. I have seen the craziest things on the bus and they have given me so many stories while also feeling a sense of solidarity with locals. For example:

  • On bus line 14, Girone to Careggi hospital – a few years ago there was this artist who would sit in the back of the bus and sketch people. He was incredibly good and we spotted him at least two or three times a month and I always wondered about his story.
  • On the same bus line – 14 {a long line crossing the city}, there was a guy we called ‘ladies man,’ a short awkward guy who had a love for the ladies and a very showy way of expressing this. He would bow like a page in King Henry’s court when a woman got on the bus and would utter an adoring ‘prego’ every time the automatic doors parted and they got off the bus. It was fun for everyone otherwise having a normal non-eventful day to watch. I spotted him a few years ago in the store Stefan trying his magic with one of the female store clerks. 
  • One time we spotted a guy, who probably had some mild mental problems to be honest, going around the empty bus trying to ‘fix’ things he saw to be broken. Included windows, plastic hinges, the popped-out roof meant to distribute fresh-air, all while muttering to himself with a certain air of authority. The bus driver eventually told him that despite his ‘work’ he was never going to see a dime from ATAF so he better just stop. I actually think he ended up breaking more than he fixed. 
  • Once my good friend Gianna received a fine for stamping her ticket more than she was supposed to. Her type of ticket was valid for four trips and yet she stamped it five times. You do the math. I went with her to face the shame/pay the fine thinking it would be the most awkward experience only for us to get whisked into the office where the ‘interesting’ guy taking care of the ATAF admin proceeded to hit on us and ask us a million questions about America. When we explained how she got the fine, he walked around the office yelling {in a funny way} “fiveee times, she stamped the ticket fiveeeee times!”. As you can see – they take their job with a sense of humor and try to get a date out of it. You can’t make this stuff up..
  • Bus drivers can be just as ‘colorful’ in fact I normally code them from 1 -3 – one being normal, three being insane or super angry. One code three happened to really take out his personal frustrations out on the passengers. abrupt stops forcing people to vice-grip the supports and fall all over the bus, slammed doors in people’s faces, and driving like a formula-one wannabe. He took it up a notch and actually started to give people the middle finger as they exited the bus, people stood outside in utter disbelief as he laughed like an evil monkey at their shocked expressions. It happened about three times until his mental breakdown hit a pinnacle and everyone was ordered off  the bus and the sign was changed to ‘deposito.” Lovely! A very unifying moment for us all. 
  • A friend of mine once overheard the best conversation on the phone between an Italian woman and her would-be online ‘date’. Basically she was loudly sharing information about herself to this man she has never met and my friend was recounting all of this through FB & twitter which was pretty much the funniest most awkward conversation I ever had the chance to overhear. 
  • Sometimes you will see homeless men on the bus with their big bags spread out in every possible direction. Often you can smell them a mile away so they have a pretty wide birth of space to themselves. No need to ask!  On one particular occasion a guy had obviously been given a huge bag of clothes and he proceeded to go through this bag on the bus with a running commentary on each item he pulled out often uttering  “bruttttooo!” or “non ci credo” which in Italian means “ugly” or “I don’t believe” it. He tossed item after item over his head throughout the entire selection process until the bus was covered in clothes. It was pretty awesome to watch, I must admit. 
  • Sometimes you will see something that scares you but isn’t really harmful in a way that maybe back home would have been. As I was getting on the bus with a friend we spotted a guy face-down on the floor of the bus. My thoughts were that he had been drinking and just decided the floor of the bus looked pretty comfortable at that exact moment. His friend sat idly nearby saying nothing. We notified the bus driver who sighed with a heavy “madonna” and stopped the bus to ‘take care’ of the situation which meant pleading with the friend to help in a heavy Livorno- accented Italian. 

To be fair, this is actually just a small amount of stories from my life taking the bus in Florence, I have so many more! But I will also say that the people who take the bus in Italy come from every walk of life. It isn’t like in Los Angeles where if for some reason you don’t have a car – most peoplewould conclude that something  must be wrong with you. Here on each bus ride you can find a cast of characters of sorts. Loud students taking over every available space, stressed mom and stroller, a loud cell-phone talking human, a guy sporting a cape, a woman wearing every shade of purple {from head to toe}, an angry fur-wearing nonna who just might kick you, a handsome Italian man with a Burberry scarf, a tired worker waiting anxiously to get home. They are my people.

Is taking the bus safe? Yes!  While the efficiency of the bus varies, what I have noticed is that using the bus closer to the center means better and more frequent service while if you rely on it from the outskirts of the city –  you may have a more difficult experience. For example, I live on bus line 23 to Sorgane and I have been really happy with how often they come while my old bus line famous 14 has worsened their service. I waited for over an hour one recent Sunday in Girone and that seems to be the new normal.

If you are learning Italian, taking the bus really helps! I love listening to conversations and participating occasionally myself if I am in the mood. It really is a way to feel more independent when you first come to live in Florence. Why not use it as another opportunity to see daily life, front and center.

If you are a little confused about the bus system works check out this blog post by my friend, Alexandra from ArtTrav and my own info sheet here. Tell me about your funny/interesting bus stories, I would love to hear them! 

ataf firenze

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0 Comment

  1. Firenze Mom
    23.02.2013 at 13:42

    Yes right there with you on this one. It is a love hate relationship

    1. ggnitaly84
      23.02.2013 at 13:47

      Absolutely, love & hate are exactly my feelings about ATAF and their service.

  2. Kristen Peterson
    23.02.2013 at 14:09

    Love your description of “colorful” ATAF bus drivers. I, too, feel I got the “back stage tour” by experiencing this mode of travel and that JACKPOT feeling when you score a seat on an 8am bus. I met some of the nicest people on buses. Car enthusiasts don’t know what they’re missing.

    1. ggnitaly84
      23.02.2013 at 14:14

      haha it is a GREAT day when I get that prime seat two windows from the middle door. I put on my ipod, crank on this American life podcast and just dream. Until I get kicked out of it by a nonna! 😉

  3. Sara White
    23.02.2013 at 14:35

    I also have a total love-hate relationship with the bus. I hate it when it’s late and so crowded that I’m forced to get up-close and personal with some random Romans, but I love the entertainment value it provides. One thing’s for sure – there’s never, ever a boring bus ride!!

    1. ggnitaly84
      23.02.2013 at 14:54

      Nope, boring is no way to ever describe a typical ride on the bus in Italy ;-).

  4. faz
    23.02.2013 at 15:41

    I’ve always had a car or access to a car in Australia, moving to London means we’ve been car-less for almost 2 years and I agree it is great!! I visited friends back in Australia recently and I realized I had completely forgotten the pain of ‘looking for a park’ hahaha. People complain about the Tube but it is really conveniently, the only problem is it does take at least 30 mins to get anywhere. But you get used to it!

    1. ggnitaly84
      23.02.2013 at 15:49

      Even for me in tiny Florence, the bus takes 25-30 minutes while by car it’s a 1- minute journey. What equalizes it, is looking for parking and also the stress of crazy drivers. I just plan my appointments around how long I know it takes 🙂

  5. Bev
    24.02.2013 at 2:04

    Totally agree!! Yes, as an American, I like the freedom of having a car for whenever I need the convenience. But on a daily basis, I usually hate driving and prefer to ride my bike or walk. There really is a lot of freedom in walking or biking….and much less stress. Driving has become almost combative in the States. ugh! In the end, I’m with FIRENZE MOM….it’s very much a love/hate relationship.

  6. D
    24.02.2013 at 12:10

    Love-hate. Perfect. Your comment about feeling a bit sorry for people living in town and never having taken the bus is about how I feel too. At first I was scared/wary too….mainly because the buses at that time didn’t all have the schermo and vocina, so trying to find “my stop” while the bus whizzed by was intimidating. Also, Florence was the first time I’ve taken an actual bus….lol. Sure i’ve ridden the subway/metro, but the BUS was something really new. I like that I can go where I want instead of walking 45 minutes to an hour (even if, on the hate side…sometimes walking 45 minutes would have worked out the same, with a bus stop wait of a half hour….) More than hating ATAF or the drivers, I usually just hate my fellow passengers more. Not even the skeevy ones….the jerks who are usually fool teens, or university types who need to chat on the phone lamenting their ‘horrible day’ to mammina while resting themselves on my shoulder, the people who are incapace to understand not to stand at/clog the exit unless they’re actually about to get off….and so on and so on. But yeah, mainly I hate the teens. lol

    1. ggnitaly84
      24.02.2013 at 17:41

      the worst is when you get on the bus, finally ‘settle in’ and see a huge crowd of students waiting to get on the bus and just be annoying. I also get really annoyed with the whole ‘rush’ to push people out of the way to get off/on the bus in general. I have now perfected my loug & angry “permesssssooooooo” for just those occasions!

      1. D
        25.02.2013 at 11:06

        YES! The crowd of students! I know it so well….sometimes I cringe when I have to take the bus anywhere between, say, 1 and 2.30 as I know they will all be in groups waiting after school…..

        1. ggnitaly84
          25.02.2013 at 11:08

          and on Saturdays (I always forget schools are open then..)

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