Thursday, 27 September 2012

And they're off!


We have come to drink your wine,
eat your pasta
and party with some other Canucks.

And we did. Plus gelato.

We have driven from France to meet up with some friends from Victoria who are vacationing in Italy. Our timing worked to meet them in the beautiful city of Siena. If you don't know the town, but have seen Daniel Craig as Bond in Quantum of Solace, then you've glimpsed the city. The horse race (and ensuing roof-top chase) are set in Siena.

This medieval, walled city is made up of piazzas, duomos and winding, angled streets that put San Francisco to shame. The main square, Piazza del Campo is bordered on one side by the huge tower, Torre del Mangia.

Nearby is the Duomo di Siena (the main cathedral). The most striking feature is its marble facade - alternating white a dark marble to give it a striped appearance.

One of the most interesting aspects of Siena is the contradas, or districts, of which there are seventeen. It's kind of like Victoria and all its municipalities....except instead of mayors arguing, these Italians let a horse race settle it.

The twice yearly Palio race pits contradas against one another in a short, brutal winner-takes-all circuit of the Campo. Spectators (draped in their contrada's colours) pack the centre of the square and line the outside, and the horses race a circle in between. The jockeys ride bare-back for three laps of the campo - the horse that crosses the finish first wins the glory for its contrada (note: jockey still on horse is not necessary!).

The contradas are a physical aspect of Siena as well, with the old city broken into these 17 districts, each with its own flag and symbol. This photo shows the flag for Onda, or wave, whose symbol is the dolphin. Their blue checkered flags lead down the main street away from the Campo:

And a close-up of the lights that line the streets, each changing in colour and form, depending on the contrada that you're walking through.

We beging to realise that the contrada you're part of is something very passionate for the people of Siena (passion and Italians, who'd have thought?!?). The hotel we were staying at had a beautiful display of plates hung on the wall, each painted for one contrada. When we chatted (broken Italian to broken English) with the owner, he said the best contrada was his - Pantera, or Panther (and he patted his chest with his open palm to emphasize the point).

Here Umbeto is striking a serious pose for us. Note the framed picture to his right - about twenty years ago, Umberto was part of the Palio celebrations.

And another, less serious, picture of Umberto with Megan and me. He was a wonderful host of his hotel (and not just because he spent a great deal of time helping Cassie say 'thank-you' properly....gratzee-eh!)

Ciao Umberto, we will miss you and Siena!

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