Day 0, August 14th

On August 14th, Anna and I took our loaded bikes and set off for the Tiburtina train station a little after 10 in the morning. Our setup was fairly basic: a 20-something years old Mercedes mountain bike and my own Abigail, a 2016 Fuji Tread 1.6 disc. It took little for me to adjust to the weight of a fully loaded bike – I was carrying to full pannier bags strapped to a rear rack along with a backpack containing some spares in case of emergency, and a small handlebar bag containing mostly food. Despite the increase in weight (the bike weighs around 10kg when unloaded, and up to a whopping 30kg when fully loaded) she handled quite well, and we were both in good spirits as we headed to the train station.

After a short ride through Rome’s deserted streets, we reached Tiburtina. This is where the adventure began! We couldn’t buy a train ticket in advance due to the online reservation system not allowing us to buy a ticket for the bikes, so we arrived in the station way in advance to deal with the whole ticket situation. Luckily for us we didn’t have any problems, and soon after we were on the train along with our trusty bikes.

Our bikes at the station.

As often is the case with the Italian rail transit, our train was accumulating quite a delay which had us slightly worried. We were supposed to get off at Chianciano Terme, where we had to catch another train to Siena 38 minutes after our programmed arrival. The intercom informed us that there were “strangers on the track” and that the train couldn’t leave yet. This made us slightly nervous, considering how little time we had to switch trains. Travelling with bikes is very limiting, as you only have a few options available to transport your bike on a regional train – had we missed our connection, we would have potentially lost several hours before another viable train could have brought us to Siena. After what seemed like an eternity, our train finally left with a delay of around 30 minutes. It would have been tight, but if things kept running smoothly we would have made it.

And make it we did! The station at Chianciano was very tiny, and we even had time to buy a snack and visit the bathroom. A few minutes later and we were on our seats, on the last leg of the trip to Siena. While sitting and chatting at our seats, excited for the adventure ahead, a kind of funny looking yet very nice individual joined us and asked us questions about our bikes. He was fascinated by Anna’s Mercedes, and he told us that his cousin used to own a very similar one 20 years ago – what struck him the most was how much it cost back then, something over 3 Million Lira (probably around 1600 Euros today). We soon parted ways as he got off at his stop, and we were left on our way to Siena.

Bike storage on the train to Siena.

We arrived at the Siena train station in the early afternoon, and we got a little taste of the trip ahead. We got the bikes off the train, we set up the GPS on my phone, and we started going towards our hostel. It seemed way closer than what it actually was! The hostel was located on the other side of the hill, so the first thing we did was climb what we thought was a nasty hill (it was nothing compared to what awaited us later on). Fortunately it didn’t take too long for us to reach it, and less than thirty minutes later we were all settled in our room and ready to hit the town.

We took a bus from the hostel to the center of Siena, where we took in the sights and the colors of the city abuzz with activity from the upcoming Palio. People were flying their contrada flags and singing their songs while flocking to an incredibly crowded Piazza del Campo, where a few trial runs were supposed to take place before the actual race.

Crowds in Piazza del Campo

We spent a lovely afternoon in Siena, just walking around and looking at the sights. We had an early dinner of pappardelle al cinghiale, and after giving up trying to find a bus to take us back to the hostel we hopped on a taxi and turned in for the night. The pilgrimage was about to begin.

—> Day 1, from Siena to San Quirico d’Orcia