Emily Bauman taught first-year Liberal Studies students at NYU Florence last year. She asked students in her writing class to reflect on a common experience they all shared in Florence: taking the local #25 bus.
NYU Florence is positioned, spectacularly, at the edge of the city in a former villa filled with views of Florentine landmarks through crumbling statues and cypress trees, olive groves and, inthe spring, wisteria blossoms. But if you want to walk downtown you take a long steep trip down suck-in-your-stomach narrow cobblestone sidewalks, past a gas station, pizza parlor, and horticultural gardens, and into the winding streets of town.
As an alternative most of us prefer to rely on the 25 bus, which runs from the bus hub of Piazza San Marco all the way into the hills of historic Pratolino. To ride the bus is, like its route destinations, to journey between past and present. The journey greets you with the canned female voice of a modern recorded sound system, but the voice announces many of the route’s stops by the businesses that mark the spot. A pharmacy, a caffè – establishments that in New York no one would ever count on staying established – appear as fixtures of the urban landscape. The effect is familiar and inviting, a city that goes beyond Google Maps to greet you personally, informally.
My friend and I were walking to the San Marco bus stop late one evening. The air was still warm with the quick beginnings of Florentine spring, so we decided to stop for gelato at the corner. My small paper cup was filled with the rich flavors of caffè and cioccolato. I had exactly two bites of the creamy concoction before I walked out of the gelateria to find the venticinque pulling away. In a panic, my friend and I rushed after it, trying to catch it at the next stop about 40 yards down the street. My heart broke as the cool cup slipped out of my hand, landing face-down on the sidewalk. When I arrived at the bus, my relief was soon replaced with regret and annoyance at finding it parked on break. My personal-record-breaking sprints and sacrificial gelato had been for nothing. I had a good 30 minutes to mourn the loss of my gelato before the bus finally started back up and began moving home, toward Villa Natalia. (Eileen King)
Be careful though of not being ready with your ticket, purchasable at a local tabacchi store, in case of random visits by the bus police. You will be fined fifty euros if caught without.
The first time I took the bus was my first night here. There was a giant gaggle of us being obnoxious and not knowing what we were doing. We brought along with us our free bus tickets given to us at orientation. We didn’t even know how to use them. We just got off at our stop and scurried off, giggling that we were able to score a free bus ride. I remember the first time someone got fined. Others followed. I narrowly missed having to pay something like 200 Euros. Personally I don’t really like the bus, with its high unpredictability and risk of being stopped by the oh-so-powerful ticket inspector. I’ve taken to walking. It really isn’t that far. (Phoebe Schoeck)
To be one of the crowd on the bus is to experience the city’s diversity: workers from Asia and Latin America commuting in from out of town, local Italians who yell at the bus driver if there is no more room, and, of course, American study abroad students with their bright energy and conversation.
The doors open and you step inside. The bus driver shoots you a quick glance but goes back to wearily checking the dashboard clock. “Vorrei un biglietto per favore,” you tell him through the small hole between you and his little cubicle. He hands you a ticket through the slot and you give him 1.20 euro. You carry the pink ticket embellished with silver fleur de lis to a small machine that quickly stamps on the time you validated your ticket. You walk deeper into the moving bus, stumbling and almost falling as the sporadic stops take you by surprise. Suddenly you notice a familiar, mouth-watering scent wafting between the seats and handlebars. You turn around and see a group of American college students, chatting away and munching on french fries stacked in a cone with a variety of unidentifiable condiments coated on top. The other people on the bus all notice the smell and try to look away, focusing their attention to something else other than their growing hunger. You realize you are not alone. (Sophia Chan)
Some may see a bus as a just a rickety configuration of metal and screws, but what I see is a representation of the city it travels through. If you think of Florence as a body and the streets as its veins, the people are the blood cells, the eyes, the brain, and most importantly the heart. I, the student, play three different yet significant roles within this ancient being. The scientist: here to learn and analyze; the antibiotic: a foreign substance here to bring positive change; or lastly the disease: looked down upon by the brain and conscience of the body, which only seeks to rid itself of the malady while simultaneously wondering where on earth it came from. (Logan Kelly)
Florence has its many perspectives and divisions, but it is a generous place. Though it is no longer one of the biggest cities in Europe, as it was once hundreds of years ago, it still has the capacity to be a great teacher, to expand one’s sense of self and experience.
People waiting in San Marco recognize each other immediately by “I have seen you on campus.” The conversation starts naturally with one smiling at the other. I remember a girl telling me that she was going to visit Uffizi Museum because the tickets are free the first Sunday of every month. And the other time another girl told me that the card with ten counts is cheaper than the ten tickets one buys individually. I might not remember their names or faces but I remember their words, becoming part of my memory in Florence. (Yidun Ouyang)
When I first traveled to San Marcos on the 25 bus from campus, my experience didn’t feel like an experience. Outside the bus windows I saw a new world – a world with many cafés and restaurants from Middle Eastern to Chinese, monuments, street performers, and people. Even though I was surrounded by many fellow NYU students I felt isolated, like I was watching a television show like National Geographic: trying see what the world is like without actually being a part of it. After that bus ride, I decided to walk everywhere and every time. Except for April 2nd, my birthday. It was my first time that semester going into town late at night, and the bus was one of the last that day. Everyone was from NYU and there were many of us, talking, laughing, excited. A student called out,“Gavin! Making a guest appearance tonight!” Suddenly I discovered a feeling we all created together, a feeling of being bigger than the big world we already live in. (Gavin Ward)