So, we're returning to the small village of Figline Val D'Arno and the lovely Villa Casagrande http://www.hotelvillacasagrande.com/. (This is our second visit to the villa).
Figline is a bedroom community of Florence, 20 minutes equally by train or car. It consists of one main square with a church on one end and shops/restaurants/banks on the other three. Figline like many Tuscan towns still recognizes siesta. From 1:00pm to about 5:00pm most of the businesses shut down. The shops reopen around 5 and remain open to 9:00pm. This schedule works well for us, since we like to eat dinner at 7pm, we never have to make a reservation.
Staying outside of Florence has its definite benefits, no traffic to speak of, prices for food and lodging are usually 1/3 to 1/2 less and the opportunity to really connect with the residents of your host country are so much greater. A great example would be when we dine in Figline. After we are seated, the staff tends to gather in a corner whispering and nodding or pointing towards us. The person who is the most fluent in English (or drew the short straw I suspect) timidly approaches our table and always begins with "Pardon me, but I have not had English since high school....". Of course their English is 1000% better than our Italian, so we are always bemused/ashamed at how carefully and correctly they explain their written in Italian, menu.
I had another 'up close and personal' experience at the village laundry mat. It was completely self serve. I had put my clothes, soap and money in the machine, but no matter what I did it wouldn't start. Two elderly gnomelike gentlemen were in a corner folding a quilt. My Italian quit after Boun Giorgno and I had to pantomime my problem. They walked over to my machine, stroked their chins, discussed my problem and then calmly closed the washing machine door all the way.
On another morning, I went to the local bank to exchange some currency. As I wait in the line to visit the teller I notice many persons talking quietly to one another as is the case in a small town a the local business. A few of the people glance my way as if to say, "who is this - definitely not from our town"? As I stood there I so wished I knew someone. However, to my surprise just then Danella from the last night's cooking class walked into the bank. I exclaimed, "Bonjourno Danella" and she came over to me with a hug. The bank line quieted and the people were now stunned as to how does this guy know someone? One of the morals of this story is to get to know the people in the town whenever possible an take part in the everyday life of the local citizens. The teller and even the bank manager came over once I came to the window to work in completing my transaction. What a great feeling to have known someone and to have had such a pleasant experience in conducting everyday business.
Figline Val D'Arno here we come!