FLORENCE, Italy — The black-and-white checkered floor of the taxi looks a bit like home flooring. The seats are yellow, purple and orange leather, while the pea-green interiors are plastered with daisy stickers. When riding in the cab, passengers can play with plastic swords and a megaphone, or make soap bubbles.
Welcome to Milano 25, the Florentine taxi that for 16 years has offered free travel, by day, between a pediatric hospital and the homes of young cancer patients — and, in the evening, carried regular clients around Tuscany’s main city.
Its soul and operator, Caterina Bellandi, 52, is better known in Florence and across the country as Zia Caterina (Auntie Caterina). She drives her Chrysler taxi wearing a flashy green-and-azure cloak topped by a straw top hat decorated with pompoms, and fabric roses and gerberas. An army of little bells sound at the movement of her wrists and of her necklace, …