We live in a little neighborhood 20 minutes outside of Florence. Access to transportation and Wi-Fi were a WHOLE thing when we moved to Florence.
We wanted to avoid getting a cell phone plan while we were here. But as soon as we got lost in the city with no chargers and no wi-fi to find directions we said, FORGET THAT. Dimenticalo!!!
Our maps are cell phones. We found a great cell phone plan with “Wind” – it’s a popular cell service in Italy. We bought SIM cards for 3 months at €12/month for unlimited data use throughout Europe.
Once we had our Wi-Fi that would work anywhere in Europe, we were able to sign up for bikes to ride into town. In Florence they have, “Mobike” – it’s a bike sharing app and company based out of Beijing, China. The app is free and each ride is as low as 35 cents!!!
Sometimes I don’t feel like biking and I take the bus into town. The first week we got here, we would ask the bus driver for bus tickets because we were told that’s where you could get tickets. But every time we did this, he never had tickets. So sometimes we would ride on the bus without tickets. Of course I had heard if an ATAF officer came on the bus and you weren’t able to present him with a validated ticket you could be fined. ATAF is the name of the transportation system in Florence. But after a few rides, I’d never seen any ATAF workers get on the bus. When you get on the bus, you are supposed to go to a machine, stick your ticket in, and the ticket gets validated. Whenever I ride the bus I see maybe two people the entire ride validating their tickets.
During our first week in Florence, headed back to our place, I asked the bus driver if he had a ticket and he did not. I knew I could probably buy one at a tabacchi (corner store) but sometimes I had tried that and they didn’t have any either. So I decided to get on the bus without a ticket. It was raining and I wanted to get home so I boarded the bus.
On the second to last stop of my 20 minute bus ride home, a man gets on the bus and starts speaking to me in Italian. He has blonde dyed hair, smells of cologne and is wearing mirrored aviator sunglasses. I awkwardly laugh at him because I have no idea what he is saying. As I’m laughing, all the Italians on the bus are scurrying away from him to the back of the bus. He unzips his jacket and reveals an ATAF name tag.
SHIT. This is when I realize I am in trouble. I stop laughing. I start shitting my pants.
At first I try the “I don’t speak Italian” thing, but he doesn’t care. He tells me that I can’t ride the bus for free. He orders me off the bus, and tells me he needs my ID and where I live. I’ve heard other people trying to run away at this point – but being someone who is living in a foreign country for the next three months I did not want in any way possible to mess with the legal system. I gave him my address and ID. He wrote all my information down and handed me a receipt. It said, “Turista” on it. He said, “you have to pay €50 now. If you don’t pay now, you pay tomorrow for €95. And more the next days.”
With tears welling up in my eyes he asked me, “How long have you lived here?”
“You cannot ride the bus for free!”
I felt so embarrassed and sad that I had to fork over €50!!!! Again it was the fourth time I rode the bus, but oh how I wished in that moment that I would’ve had a €2 bus ticket!
I write this post so that if you ever go to Italy, make sure you buy a bus ticket! Since then I haven’t seen any locals get fined, just kicked off the bus. As a “turista” I think I stood out like a sore thumb and I wonder how much money they make off tourists every year!!!
Now I always buy lots of bus tickets when I only need one – just in case.