Tuesday, April 16, 2019


Following the success of our visit to Arezzo, we decided to do another day trip. This time we chose the city of Siena, about an hour and a half from Florence. I hoped that it would be similarly enjoyable.

Sadly, I hoped in vain.

Siena is built upon a hilltop, surrounded by ancient fortified walls. The train station is outside of these walls, since the invention of the wall predates the invention of the train. To walk between the train station and the city centre of Siena therefore means you need to walk up the twisting, switchback roads that link the train station to the city gates.

Except that you don’t. There’s an escalator that links the train station with the town, accessed via a shopping mall across a piazza from the train station.

But is there any indication that this escalator exists at the train station? A sign pointing to it? A noticeboard saying “City Centre: This Way”?

No. No there is not. Apparently the Sienese expect tourists to do their research before they come to their town. To add insult to injury, after a tourist wends his way up to the city the long way around, via the roads, the escalator down to the train station is very well signposted. So basically, they make the escalator known once the average tourist doesn’t really need it any more.

Really, Siena?

After wasting 45 minutes walking to a place that would have been a five minute escalator ride away if we’d known about it, we encountered our first Sienese when we stopped for a late breakfast. The waitresses at the cafe set a new high bar in surliness. My barista slammed the saucers down for a couple of cappuccinos as if she was being asked to make coffee for Osama bin Laden. The coffee was, like all Italian coffee, excellent, but the attitude was unusually bad. We proceeded to notice this throughout Siena: waitstaff who are sick to death of stupid tourists and a clueless Australian who wants casata gelato is just the last straw.

But much as they hated it, they still took my money… just like everyone else. Siena seems devoted to emptying tourist wallets of euros at a level unparalleled in my travels. In tourist-saturated Florence, you can still enter the Duomo for free, since it’s a church, and if people want to enter a church and worship God (in between ogling frescoes), it wouldn’t be right to charge them for the privilege. The Sienese hold with none of that nonsense – you need a ticket to enter their Duomo, just like any other museum, gallery or fairground attraction.

Fortunately for the stingy tourist, there are many spectacular churches in Siena that are off the tourist radars, and so can be entered freely. The most impressive of these is the Basilica of San Francesco, from the outside quite possibly the butt-ugliest building the Renaissance ever produced, but inside it’s quite stunning, simply because of the space. It’s basically God’s Aircraft Hangar.

Fortunately for Benny, there were plenty of opportunities to make friends with the less obnoxious locals

After a lunch of quite possibly the worst Pizza Margherita ever (and in Italy! Santi ci preservano!) I was winding down, so I looked for a way to get some wifi so that I could check my messages and confirm the schedule for the next train. Many cities have free wifi in their city centres and train stations, most cafes offer it as a service to customers, and even clothing stores like OVS offer free wifi... in Florence. Does the city of Siena offer free wifi? Is it accessible in the train station? Do the cafes advertise it on their doors? Does OVS Siena offer it? The answer is no, in all cases.

Presumably if people could access free wifi, they might find out about the escalator, and that would never do.

Eventually I found a patisserie on the very outskirts of the old city that was willing to let me use their wifi in return for my purchase of macchiato and pastry. And because I found out about it so late, I then missed the return train to Florence by two minutes.

So I got on the escalator, rode it down to the shopping centre, marveled at the fact that in Italy a bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin (14.49 euros) costs less than a knock-off Apple lightning cable (14.99 euros), and waited for the next one. When it finally came, and I was finally able to get away from Siena, I breathed a frustrated sigh of relief.

Since then I don’t think I’ve refered to Siena at all. I have however been heard to speak of a place called F*cking Siena. And F*cking Siena it has remained.


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