For once in our lives, we were ready on time that Sunday morning. Our family is notoriously running behind, but we did everything right this morning. We were completely ready to meet up with our group for a tour of the Tuscan countryside.
Our apartment is a little over a mile away from the train station meeting point, so we planned to call a taxi to bring us there. You can’t hail a taxi in Italy - you have to meet them at a taxi stand or call for one - so I made the call… and the first company didn’t have any taxis available. So I called a second company. And then a third one. And then all of a sudden I had spent 20 minutes on the phone only to find out that there were no cabs available in the entire city of Florence at 8 o’ clock on a Sunday morning. Now we were in danger of being late.
We loaded up the girls into the baby carrier, stroller, and Joshua’s arms and started off on foot as quickly as we could. I tried to stay optimistic, but I knew there was absolutely no way we could cover a full mile in the next 10 minutes.
We kept walking but were clearly* not going to make it on time,* so as we walked by a hotel, Joshua asked the doorman for help. The native Italian-speaker fared better than we did in calling a taxi, and five minutes later, a car pulled up and zipped us to the train station.
As our taxi came to a stop in front of the station, we saw the door close on our tour bus, and watched as it pulled away.
I was crushed… I had been so excited for our big day, and had been so proud of us for getting ready on time. I couldn’t believe we were so close and then missed it.
I thought our day was ruined, and was already picturing in my head how to get the tour company to reschedule us for another day. But before I got too far in my misery, Joshua suggested that we should check for an alternate way to meet up with our tour.
So we went into the train station and saw an 8:55 train to Siena listed on the board. We quickly bought tickets and found the platform just as the train was pulling in. We jumped on board, settled into our seats, and started to shoot a quick video about our experience. Just then, the conductor walked in and said that the train didn’t actually run on Sundays, so we’d have to get off and wait for the next train at 11:10.
My heart sank even lower this time, but I wasn’t going to give up again. I called the tour operator, since it was after 9am and the office was finally open. A very friendly woman told me that if we ran to the bus station down the block, there was a 9:10 bus leaving for Siena.
We took off down the street (including running down a couple flights of steps, for which Joshua carried the stroller with Abby sleeping inside), stopped a couple times to ask for directions, and found the bus station… where we saw the Siena bus drive off right as we walked in.
That was about it for me… I was two seconds away from the tears coming down my cheeks, when a kind man saw my face and came over to tell me that there was a second direct bus to Siena coming in a few minutes. I thanked him profusely and pulled myself together to go buy tickets.
There was no mention of a second bus to Siena on any of the station boards, and the man who sold me the tickets didn’t know anything about it, but somehow a bus arrived about 10 minutes later and lit up its sign to say “Siena Rapida”. I breathed a huge sigh of relief as we climbed on and found our seats, and we were on our way by 9:30.
I talked to Jessica from the tour office again while we were on the bus, and she gave me instructions for how to meet up with our tour group once we were in Siena. We found our group in Siena’s main square, Piazza del Campo, and had a wonderful rest of the day with our tour.
We had a delicious lunch at an organic winery, eating fresh pasta and sipping wine while we overlooked the vineyard and hills of Tuscany. We wandered through the medieval streets of San Gimignano and ate a cup of incredible gelato from the winner of the world gelato championship. Then we ended our great day in Pisa, admiring the beautiful Leaning Tower and taking the classic cheesy tourist photos there.
What started off stressful and heartbreaking ended up being a fantastic day filled with great memories. But it seriously has me wondering… how many of these misadventures are we going to keep having? I truly hope that all of the ridiculous things we go through will help save you some heartache during your own travels!
Here are a few quick takeaways should you ever miss your tour or even just a public bus or train:
1) Don't panic and don't give up. If you’re in a tourist destination, there are trains, buses, and taxis that can help you get where you need to go. Check out your other options - don't assume that because you missed your travel one way that it’s impossible for you to get there. Optimism and persistence will help out - where there’s a will, there’s a way!
2) *Get on the phone*. If you miss a tour, call the office as soon as you can. They are there to help you, and already know the alternative means for you to meet up with your group again.
If you’re able to get an international calling plan for your phone, or better yet get a SIM where you’re traveling, I highly recommend it. I needed my phone to call the taxi companies and then to call the tour office, and it’s a lot easier to use your own phone rather than asking a stranger for a phone or trying to find a payphone.
That being said, there was actually another couple in our group who missed the tour bus too, and they did borrow a phone to call the tour office and find out about the 9:10 bus to Siena. So if that’s your only option, just get brave and ask someone nearby for help!
3) Stay calm. Keep your sense of humor. Even if nothing feels funny at the moment, don't let it get the best of you. Travel is full of moments that stretch you, and at the time they might not always be so pleasant. But you will grow, you'll get through that moment, and you'll come out with a great story of how you triumphed in a foreign country!
And one final tip to keep in mind whenever you're traveling:
Don’t expect American convenience in other countries. It never crossed my mind that we’d have so much trouble getting a taxi that morning. In retrospect, we should have started calling earlier than we thought was necessary, and then we would have had time to make the walk even if we couldn’t get a cab.
We expect immediate service and gratification in America, but in Italy, we were at the mercy of taxi companies who might take it easy on Sunday mornings, or who simply don’t make random English-speaking passengers a priority.
Give yourself extra time, so that if you have to go with Plan B, you can still get where you need to be without a problem.
Have you ever missed a tour before? Leave me a comment about how you handled it!
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