Siena Copyright - Massimo Catarinlla

Siena  –  (Copyright – Massimo Catarinlla)


Some  years ago my partner Rob and I hired a car and toured the  Italian province  of   Tuscany. One evening we checked into a charming little hotel tucked behind the Campo within  beautiful  Siena’s medieval walls.

Medieval tower, Siena

Medieval tower, Siena

However, there was a small problem. ‘Where can I park la macchina?’ Rob asked at reception, turning an imaginary wheel (private vehicles are banned from Siena’s steep, narrow streets).

Our landlady smiled. ‘Don’t worry’ she said, and explained that we could park outside the walls at the Stadium for a reasonable fee. Five minutes later we were edging our little Fiat through the city gates. However, on our way down  the hill  we found a closer car park. Even better, there was no pay station, so we could save a few quid….well euros.

Rob and I had a lovely evening in Siena. We gazed in awe at the wonderful marble pavements in the cathedral and made ourselves slightly sick on wickedly rich panforte.

Panforte, a delicious specialty of Siena.

Panforte, a delicious specialty of Siena. (Wikipedia)

Next morning we caught the commuter bus down to the carpark and were shocked to discover a ‘timed entry’ ticket under the Fiat’s wipers. Nobody else had one, so we were tempted to discreetly drop ours and drive off, especially as we had no idea how much we owed or where to pay. Only visions of being detained at the border forced us to enquire at a cafe across the road .


With typical Italian generosity, everyone tried to assist. ‘Oh yes, you pay up in the city’, they gestured with sympathetic smiles. Arguments broke out about how best we could get there and two old fellows busied themselves drawing maps. Before they could finish another  man arrived and offered to run us up the hill in his delivery truck. It was a tiny two-seater, so his wife stayed behind while the three of us squeezed in among the fruit and  vegetables. Half an hour later we were still criss-crossing the hillside; dropping off cabbages in cobbled lanes. Our kind driver was eager for conversation, but my Italian is so limited I could only reel off the names of places we were intending to visit – presuming we could escape from Siena. Rob was too distracted to utter a word. Finally the dear man presented us with  two oranges and dropped us at a security car park. It was completely full and cars were lining up for spare spaces.

The attendant inserted our ticket into a time clock where to our great horror it registered a fee of nearly 50 euros. Rob paled visibly, but paid up and was handed a metal disk which he gazed at in confusion until the attendant produced a sign in English reading;   INSERT  TO OPEN GARAGE DOORS.


Good heavens! The reason for our outrageous bill suddenly dawned on Rob and he tried to hand back the disc; “Er scuzi, scuzi… I did not parco my macchina up here, it’s outside the … it’s fuori the…Oh  good grief, what’s the word for walls?‘ In his panic he abandoned all attempt at Italian; My car is not parked in this building, OK? It’s in a really cheap place…outside the walls!‘ Of course it was hopeless. The attendant waved a Mercedes through to take the space we were supposedly vacating and impatiently gestured us up to the parking levels. In the end we did as we were told but simply left the building through a pedestrian exit. Behind us, the Mercedes driver was honking in fury at being unable to find a spare spot.

It was a long way back to the car but we ran all the way for fear of being slugged with another fee. As we drove off I noticed Rob still had the metal token clenched in his fist. ‘Why don’t you throw it away?’, I suggested gently, as Siena disappeared behind us;  ‘It will only remind you of everything.‘ He gave me a withering look. ‘Like hell I will! We’re coming back one day and I’m using it to park in that bloody place for a week.‘   I only hope they don’t change their tokens in the meantime, it will break his heart.

That night he lay awake in a hill town further north, lamenting the loss of his 50 euros. ‘Never mind’, I told him. ‘I’ll bet that parking attendant is awake too, going quietly crazy over the phantom foreigners who vanished without leaving an empty space. We’ll probably become an urban myth!’

Footnote – We still have that wretched token somewhere.

UPDATE – A friend sent me a postcard from Siena the other day. Oh dear….so beautiful, but brought those  parking memories back!





  1. I had to laugh at this. They’re probably still scatching their heads at the crazy foreigners!
    I thought I had a problem some years ago when I hired a car in Tasmania and they told me I could return it by leaving it at the airport. When I got there early in the morning I couldn’t find how to get in the paying car-park and drove round and round in a panic, imagining missing my plane. Eventually it was sorted out but by the time I got on a plane (after having more hassles with the weight of my luggage), I was a wreck!

    • Pauline

      Oh yes, Christine…. I remember a similar nightmare experience returning a rental car at Charles de Gaulle airport one night. We must have circled the damn place a dozen times without finding the place. Another time in Spain a local police officer actually escorted us to our hotel!

  2. I hope Rob remembers the safe place where he put that token, ready for your return trip. He had probably bought the Fiat for that price. Sorry for laughing while I was reading the above. 😉

    I used to breeze through travelling abroad, but get big attacks of angst at virtually every turn these days, so I’m planning to go to Bognor Regis on the south coast this coming year!

    • Pauline

      Ha ha, I remember Bognor Regis….some of my Aussie friends got jobs there in the seventies. We are going to New Zealand next year, vaguely similar. Only joking dear Kiwi friends and relos.

Leave a Reply

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.