Having read Ozzy-Dave's "Vallombrosa - Benedictine Beauty and Home Brew" in these forums before visiting Florence, I knew this adventure would be the perfect antidote to the crowds and jetlag that wearied me in Rome, Siena, and Florence.
Vallombrosa is a small hermitage in the hills outside of Florence. I rose early and made my customary coffee in the chilly Piazza Santa Maria Novella.
Finding the bus to Vallombrosa was easy enough, once I found the station. (It was only across the Santa Maria square, but I had a devil of a time finding it--a portent of things to come.) Just as in Ozzy-Dave's account, I shared the beautiful ride through the valley with only one other passenger and the driver.
The hills that enveloped Vallombrosa were off to the left and stayed that way for an (eventually) alarming amount of time. Neither my fellow traveler nor the driver spoke English, but eventually I communicated my concerns and realized I was on the wrong bus.
Worst-case scenario, I would have to get off and get on the next bus heading back -- not so terrible, but a little disappointing.
I still held out hope that I might find another bus in the next town that headed into the hills, but the gist of my 'conversation' with the driver seemed to indicate this was unlikely.
When I disembarked, I did what I always try to do when confronted by a traveling peccadillo -- I looked for an outdoor cafe, where I enjoyed a cheap half-liter of wine. The weather was fine, the German tourists rowdy, and another half-liter cheered my disappointment.
Somewhat tipsy, I made my way back to the station and noticed a road sign to Vallombrosa pointing toward the hills. Clearly no bus traveled this way, but before too long, I had hitched a ride with a native basketball-playing Springsteen fan who related (in Italian) his own adventure of having traveled to New York to play on its most famous hard courts, and despite not being able to speak a word of English, rented a car and made his pilgrimage to the Stone Pony.
He dropped me in Vallombrosa, which was all and more that Ozzy-Dave described. I walked on wonderful paths through a beautiful forest. Although very few people were around, and I did not meet any monks or experience the coveted 'home-brew,' I did spend a few hours in peace and beauty.
In time, I made my way back to the bus stop to wait for a ride back to Florence. My lonely reveries were eventually interrupted by a lovely hiker, who, after asking if I was waiting for the bus, commented that I must be a very patient fellow. She then walked on around the bend, disappearing about as fast as she appeared.
What with having made it to this wonderful place, the wine, and the favorable compliment from this hiking beauty, I was feeling pretty satisfied with my day. It is true I'm a bit slow (who doesn't have a foible or two?), but at some point it occurred to me that "being patient" might infer more than just admiration.
The schedule above my head confirmed the last bus to Florence, in fact to anywhere, left at noon. It now being almost twilight, I shouldered my pack and headed off in the same direction as my (former) admirer.
Not too long down the deserted road, I came across a very interesting sign. It pointed to a path in the woods and had the name of what looked like a town on it. It stood to reason the road would have to wind back and forth down this steep hillside, but the path probably would shorten the walk. I took the road less trodden.
What's the worst that could happen? What did happen was that I walked through an entrancing twilight with no one around and every so often came across an altar or a devotional bench.
This path must have been laid out by monks or pilgrims (perhaps before there was a road?) making their way from the valley up to the hermitage.
After 3 miles or so, I came to a small town and spied a woman with a couple of suitcases standing on a street corner. She didn't speak English, but after much gesticulation I understood we could catch a bus from here to a larger town, where I could change to a bus to Firenze.
Soon enough, I was on the bus and pulling into the larger town. Now tired from my day, I didn't want to get off the bus too soon -- better to wait until the bus reached the station, where I could transfer.
Before I knew it, we were out of town and barreling down the mountainside! Ah, me, why didn't my acquaintance tell me to get off? I didn't understand these Italians, their language or their seeming reticence to engage tourists.
Somewhat huffily, I determined to get off at the next stop, catch a bus back, and get the bus to Florence. The next stop was a long way...
It was now dark, my optimism shot, and the next stop was in the middle of nowhere. I decided it was better to be on this bus to who-new-where rather than to have to camp in the country with no equipment. I wasn't sure the buses would run this late.
I decided to wait until I reached a town where I might spend the night and then make my way back to Firenze as best I could in the morning. After an hour or so, we did finally pull into a town.
As I was about to get off, I noticed a sign to Firenze! I sat back down. Now my plan changed to getting as close to Firenze as possible. As long as the kilometers decreased, I would stay on the bus. Once they increased or the signs ceased, I would get off and try to hitchhike 'home.'
Rather suddenly we were pulling into Florence. It all became clear; I misunderstood my Italian-speaking director, who hadn't told me to get off because this was the bus to Florence.
I got off directly in front of my pensione, and within the hour I had sat down to my second liter and a fine dinner.