I slept in a train station last night. And not by choice.
Yesterday I took a 1.5-hour train ride to Siena to watch Il Palio, an historic horse race held twice a year where 10 riders representing the 10 different parts of the city ride bareback around the piazza.
If you don't mind hot, sweaty crowds, then I would recommend seeing this spectacle. Each "team" parades around the city all day before the actual race, and it was really great to see the costumes and elaborate decorations.
Flags hung from buildings on nearly every street.
People paraded around donning their respective flags.
Each of the city wards marched around this piazza waving their flags and pounding on their drums.
I managed to catch the dismal match between Brazil and the Netherlands. Now who am I going to support?
The race horses were off limits to the crowds. Here they are preparing for the race:
I stood in a thick crowd of people waiting to get into the center of the piazza for about 30 minutes. There was lots of sweat and shoving but I managed to get a decent spot near the rail.
Here they come!
I was still stuck in the middle of the piazza at 8 p.m. as the horses were cleared off. The last train to leave Siena for Firenze was at 9:18 p.m. There was no way I was going to get out of this heavy traffic and to the station in time.
Having no credit on my phone to call Ged or anyone for that matter, I started to panic. What was I going to do? Should I start looking for a place to sleep for the night? Wait, I can't afford a hotel.
I sat on a curb and cried for a little. By 10 p.m. I decided to search for the train station again. Everything, of course, looks different at night. Streets you look for from memory suddenly disappear. Dead ends come out of nowhere. After getting lost too many times to admit, I eventually found the train station.
Other people were sleeping there so I did the same.
I laid down on a bench and closed my eyes, but the bright lights of the station and the cold bite of the air wouldn't allow sleep to descend upon me.
Around midnight Ged called me to see where I was. I told him.
"We've all been there," he said. And maybe he's right. Maybe this was an experience I needed to have instead asking him to come pick me up in the car.
I had six hours to kill until the next train arrived heading to Florence. I waited. I didn't sleep. I listened to the sounds around me.
Spanish teenagers blasted today's hits like the train station was their own personal nightclub.
Italian preteens rode their bikes back and forth along the platforms, pumping their brakes until they screeched in agony. And when they got hungry, they rocked the vending machines until sweet drinks and treats fell from the racks.
I think the worst was the slightly demented man with the Vuvuzela. His goal must've been to keep everyone within a five-mile radius from sleeping. Mission accomplished.
The ride back was one big sleep. The ticket man had to wake me to get off.
I can honestly say that I've never been so happy to be back in Florence. I speed walked from the station to the apartment, jumped in the shower to scrub off the Siena dust and dirt and collapsed into bed. No questions asked.
I think the Siena city commission needs to discuss extending the train schedule on the days of the Palio. If I spoke a lick of Italian those officials would be hearing from me. But I don't, so they won't.