The Kindness of Strangers

What was that line from A Streetcar Named Desire about “always depending on the kindness of strangers?” Over the last day or so, that’s what we’ve done–and the strangers have been very kind.

We took a coach train from Berlin’s utterly magnificent new train station to Bologne, where we changed to a sleeper going overnight to Florence. Both trains were very nice–the 1st class coach was particulary spiffy. The sleeper itself evidently had been redone recently and would have been perfect had we not experienced what my family calls “the curse of Sheila”–no matter where we go, if there is a crying baby, it will be next to me. There was a very unhappy baby with excellent lungs in the next compartment; I could hear the parents desperately trying to “shush” him, but he cried most of the night. Needless to say, we slept fitfully.

We were pretty beat when we got to Florence, and (I hate to admit this) feeling stressed by our extended absence from wifi. This time, the trains didn’t offer internet access! (My god, how do they expect you to cope?) We saw an obviously high-end hotel, and had an overpriced breakfast in its restaurant in order to use the complimentary wifi.

Then our adventure began. We had the name of the Villa that daughter Kelly had booked, and the address shown on its internet site. It seemed clear that we should take a bus to the small town of Greve-in-Chianti, and a taxi to the Villa. We managed the bus, and thanks to kind strangers riding with us, also managed to disembark in the correct village (I tend to panic and get off too soon when I don’t know what I am doing and am inept at the language — both of which problems were present.)

Our first clue that we might have miscalculated came when we realized that there was no bus station. We walked across the street from where we had disembarked, to a bar/cafe, and asked the waiter whether there were any taxis that we might engage. He spoke halting English (a lot less halting than my Italian, admittedly). It turned out that there are two taxis in Greve, and neither was available. As we ate our lunch–delicious–he called the Villa for directions, and informed us that it was approximately 15 Kilometers.

We certainly weren’t going to walk, and our waiter said he could call a taxi from the next town, but that it would take an hour to arrive. So he called his father, who came a few minutes later and drove us to what proved to be a nearly-impossible-to-locate villa high in the hills around the neighboring village of–I think–S.Paolo. He had to stop four times to ask directions, and we made more than one wrong turn. He spoke no English, we speak no Italian except “gratzsi” (which I repeated fervently as we drove). I only hope the tip I pressed on him–he didn’t charge us–was sufficient.

Talk about the kindness of strangers!

I am writing this in a villa that has been restored and turned into seven or eight guest quarters of varying sizes, and waiting for the rest of the clan to arrive via rental cars. (Having driven in Italy before, Bob and I opted not to rent a car.) I hope they find this place; I’m not too confident!

We only got here because kind strangers took pity on two very tired, bewildered, elderly tourists.


  1. Elderly.. HA!! You’re having great adventures that turn into hilarious stories later. Can’t wait to see you when you return.

  2. Hi,

    You guys are game! I would not attempt this. I would by crying beside the road somewhere.

    Are there non-family members that will be staying at this villa? or is it just your family.

    I hope it all works out. I will be waiting to hear.


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