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Student Reflections

Travel Trials and Tribulations: Siena Edition

Mackenzie Fuller
March 17, 2023

Since coming back from studying abroad, a frequent question I get asked is do I have any travel horror stories? Thankfully, things went pretty smoothly all things considered. I never missed a connecting flight (though I had a close call on my connecting flight back home). I never lost my luggage. I never got pickpocketed. I never got lost in a new city with a dead cell phone. However, when traveling, mishaps and mistakes are bound to occur. Hopefully, after reading about my travel trials and tribulations, you won’t make the same mistakes as me.

Last summer, my best friend and her family were taking a big trip to Italy. As the now-designated all-things Italy expert after my semester abroad, she had some questions for me. Her family wanted to take some day trips while staying in Rome and she asked me about Siena. That prompted a full-blown story-time on my ultimate travel fiasco.

Siena is a Tuscan city known for its medieval brick buildings and annual horse racing contest. Only about 2.5 hours from Rome by bus, it’s a pretty easy day trip. A bus from Termini station takes you right there. On one of our last weeks abroad, me, my three roommates, and two of our friends planned a day trip to Siena. We had already been to Paris as a group and taken other day trips within Italy altogether. I knew how they all traveled and how we, as a collective group, traveled together. I was expecting a smooth trip, but that prediction was completely off. 

The night before our excursion to Siena, one of my roommates got a call from her mom. Her beloved old family dog had passed. The dog was sick when she left for Italy, and she had already said goodbye, but the news hit hard. She had a rough night, with little sleep, but still wanted to go to Siena, hoping the trip would take her mind off things. She didn’t wake up to her many alarms which delayed our initial departure (side note: this is simply how our day trip started and I would’ve slept through my alarms too if I had been in her shoes).

We had to walk quite a way to get to public transportation that would ultimately bring us to the bus stop. Once we were out the door, we were hustling. Italians typically walk slowly, like they don’t have a care in the world or a destination to be. My friends and I, on the other hand, were on the verge of a “light jog.” Our arms were pumping and we were breaking out in sweat since we did not have a minute to spare. While en route to the bus station, we texted our two other friends who we were meeting at the bus station, letting them know we were running late. One of our friends, Devra, was already on the bus. Our other friend, Lily, also slept in.

Once we got to the bus station, it was a mad dash to our bus. I have never run faster in my life (and I probably never will again). This was our first time at the Termini station, which is big and confusing. We couldn’t find our bus right away and didn’t have time to ask anyone. Running around, checking all the buses, we finally found the correct one. 

At that exact moment, in slow motion, the bus pulled out and left the station. We were waving at it to stop but to no avail. I could see Devra’s face in the window, a look of sheer panic, as she headed to Siena alone.

Thankfully, there was another bus to Siena in an hour. We each bought a new ticket and sat at a nearby cafe to get some breakfast. When the bus arrived, we were the first in line. Out of the group, my friend Lauren and I were the first to board. We had assigned seats, so I was closer to the front while she stayed in the back. As soon as I sat down, I put my headphones in and started to fall asleep. I was exhausted from the chaotic morning and was looking forward to a rejuvenating nap on the long drive to Siena. Right as I was about to fall asleep, Lauren woke me up to some troubling news.

My three other friends’ tickets weren’t scanning and they weren’t allowed on the bus. The bus driver only spoke Italian and our collective Italian skills (acquired from Duolingo and an introductory Italian class) were definitely lacking. Finally, we figured out that they had bought tickets to Siena for the next day. Even though the bus was pretty much empty, they weren’t allowed on. The group was divided again: Lauren and I would go to Siena that day and meet up with Devra while the other three would go the next day.

Once we got to Siena, we had a great time. We viewed a special Dalí exhibition, visited the Duomo, and saw the mummified head of Saint Catherine of Siena. I bought my favorite souvenir while abroad, a pair of chunky black loafers, while Lauren coincidentally bought her own favorite souvenir, a beautiful suede hat. We had pizza and wandered the streets, admiring the rolling hills of Tuscany, turning a warm shade of orange, red, and brown as Autumn came around, and headed home. When my other friends went to Siena the next day, they also had a great time. We compared where we ate, the sights we saw, and what stores we shopped at. It was cool comparing stories, hearing the similarities, and learning about the different things Siena has to offer. Though we all wished we had been able to explore Siena together, we all enjoyed our respective trips.

That being said, I couldn’t get myself to recommend Siena to my friend and her family. I hear Siena and automatically thought of missing the bus.

Sometimes the journey getting to a destination is more memorable than the place itself. Unfortunately, Siena is that place for me. So if you’re looking for a quick day trip from Rome, I’d personally recommend Tivoli or Assisi (Tivoli was so great I went twice!).

Moral of the story: If you happen to miss your bus, make sure the replacement tickets you buy are for the correct day.