Italy 2017

Saturday July 1, 2017

Sunday July 2, 2017
Siena and Palio

Monday July 3, 2017
Travel to the Dolomites

Palio dates back to 1590 when the Grand Duke of Tuscany outlawed the bullfights that were taking place in Il Campo in Siena.  Originally Palio raced buffalo, then donkeys, before settling on horses in 1633.  The Palio held on 2 July is named Palio di Provenzano, in honour of the Madonna of Provenzano, a Marian devotion particular to Siena which developed around an icon from the Terzo Camollia.  The second race on August 16 was added in 1701.  The August race is called Palio dell'Assunta, is held the day after the Feast of the Assumption, and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Sunday morning I walked over to the train station in Florence and took the train to Siena.
I couldn't believe how beautiful Tuscany was from the train...

I chatted up a woman on the train on the way up from Florence, she was taking the train in for the day because works the 500 - 1000 euro seats at Palio. 
She had nothing good to say about the police, she says she's watched fights break out from her place in the stands, the cops scurry away so they don't have to do any real work.
She did admit that the police make a good show when they circle Il Campo with swords drawn at the beginning of the Corteo Storico, to the parade before Palio.
She also said to make sure to watch the contrada's priest bless their horse in a church, she indicated that was arguably the coolest moment of Palio day...

I arrived in Siena shortly after 10am and took a taxi to my Hotel Palazzo Raviazza.
It was early and my room wasn't ready yet of course.
I asked the front desk clerk which contrada we were in, and I also asked where I could watch them bless a horse prior to the race.
She said we were in pantera (panther) contrada, and fortunately we are racing today!
Hotel is also very conveniently right next door to the contrada's church where they bless the horse.
She also told me they were going to try to limit the number of people in the infield for the first time. 
I worried a little about this for a while, then realized that would never happen, police in Italy do nothing other than talk to each other, drink coffee, play with iphones, and collect a paycheck. 

I then ran off to see Siena...

2017-07-02 10:47

The church in Pantera.  Hotel Palazzo Raviazza is to the right
Note the all the Pantera flags - hard to see in this picture since they are all wrapped around flagpoles, but they're easier to see in other pics.

2017-07-02 10:47

The Duomo from the street in front of Hotel Palazzo Raviazza

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The Pantera at the start of Pantara contrada

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The border between the aquila (eagle) and pantera contradas - see the yellow aquila flag next to the blue and red pantera flag on the left in the shade.

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The Duomo was closed for services until 1300 unless you want to listen to the service, which I didn't.

The only thing opening soon was the Duomo museum.
I bought a ticket and went inside since I'd never seen it.

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Once I'd seen (and photographed nearly) all the exhibits on the top floor of the Duomo museum I waited for my turn to climb up to the top of the incomplete basicila.
They only allow about 15 people on top of the incomplete basilica at a time, which means you get to wait your turn in an very warm room in the museum for your group to go up a few additional flights of stairs
I had to wait perhaps 20 minutes.  Fortunately I was the first in line in my group so I got the run up the stairs and had the platform to myself for a minute.
Torre de Maglia was closed for the day, but the view form the Basilica is better since you get to see the Torre.

2017-07-02 11:37

Il Campo from the top of the incomplete basilica
The view from the top was amazing.
I was SO pysched to be in Siena for Palio!!!!!

2017-07-02 11:37

PANO - scroll right to see the rest of Siena

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I was the first up and the last down off the top...

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Donatello's Madonna and Child

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The original 1288 rose window from the Duomo - they replaced the original in the Duomo with a copy.

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After the Duomo museum I went to see Il Campo

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PANO - scroll right to see the rest of Il Campo

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The 500 - 1000 euro seats...

2017-07-02 14:03

I grabbed a gelatto for lunch, then went back to the hotel and my room was ready. 
Perhaps the nicest and largest room I've ever had in Europe though the picture doesn't show it well.
I later checked prices for this hotel in off season - the cheapest rooms are still close to 200 euros in off season, I did pretty well to pay this much for a room for Palio.

View from my room

2017-07-02 14:16

I went to the church early to get a good place to stand to watch them bless the horse.
There was a very high end tour group with pantera bandanas on in the back of the church, their tour guide was quietly telling them what was going on.
Eventually the church filled up with locals, the ultra rich trust fund types... and me.
I stood too far back and the horse was hidden by all the people... and somehow I didn't get any pictures or video!
They announced several times in English 'no flash' to avoid scaring the horse.
After standing in a fairly warm increasingly crowded church for about 45 minutes, the ceremony itself was thankfully short.

Once the ceremony was over I walked backward in front of the parade of pantera as we headed towards Il Campo.
There were tons of tourists and tour groups earlier in the day, but now I'm only seeing Italians and the very very wealthy trust fund crowd who can afford the 500 - 1000 euro seats and the high priced hotel rooms.

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When two parades from different contrada meet they have a bit of a 'battle of the contrada' performance in the street, waving their flags and beating their drums at each other.

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After I roamed the streets for perhaps 20 minutes watching all the contradas parade and perform I decided to claim my spot in Il Campo.
I had my camera, my camelbak full of water, and my iPhone..
I bought a Pantera bandana on the way into Il Campo but did not put it on, I didn't need to start trouble in a langauge I didn't understand, and I don't know who my enemy contradas are.
Apparently its not that big a deal, I saw a high end tour guide in the church with her very rich clients and they all had pantera bandanas on, but I was also alone and spoke no Italian..

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PANO - scroll right

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I made my way over to where I assumed the start and finish line were to get the best views.
They use a very thick rope strung across the street as the starting gate for the race.

After I'd been sitting for perhaps 30 minutes there was a very, very loud explosion near me.
Turns out they fire off a small cannon a few times during the day, scaring the shit out of and deafening everyone close by, and I was within 10 feet of it.
My ears were now ringing loudly, this was not cool. 
Soon everyone around me stuff paper in their ears to protect what was left of their hearing.
I dug in my backpack and discovered a single earplug, which I used to protect my right ear, which was closest to the cannon when I looked at the finish line.
A couple of people around me had radios, they seemed to know when the cannon was going to fire so I paid close attention to them to try to avoid further hearing loss.

The crowd filled in slowly and crowded in.
I didn't hear a word of English, only Italians were here.
Newcomers made their way around me closer to the start/finish line but that didn't bother me. 
I was about 15' feet from the starting rope, I just wanted to keep enough room to sit down.
I was surrounded by the owl contrada - I saw at least a dozen owl bandanas, and the girl in front of my had an owl tattooed on her back.

The least crowded place was the dead center of Il Campo since you can't see much of anything from there

2017-07-02 17:16

Shortly after 5pm the Corteo Storico, the Palio parade, started with the mounted police.
At this point I'd been here about 90 minutes, some of it in the hot sun but some of it thankfully in the shade of some very welcome clouds.
The woman on the train told me the mounted police make two circuits - the second with swords extended at full speed in a rather dramatic display.
I wasn't able to get any pictures of their second circuit, the horses were moving too fast.

2017-07-02 17:28

Now there were lots and lots of flags on parade...

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Pantera contrada has nearly finished circling Il Campo.
The seats on the right are for the people in the parade.

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My contrada pantera was first of the 10 contradas in the parade!
How exciting!


At least 45 minutes later pantera was circling Il Campo...
Glaciers move faster than this parade....

I thought Palio took place in the early evening.
Clearly this was mistaken...

I sat down and nearly nodded off a few times in the heat.

Perhaps 1-1/2 or 2 hours into the endless parade a girl near me (3', 1-2 people away)  got rescued, she was ready to pass out or hurl (or both) from the heat.

The crowd was stone cold sober or there would be piss everywhere.

There are too many smokers nearby, it smelled awful.

Everyone in the cheap seats was looking for the 'fast forward' button on Corteo Storico...
The parade lasted at least 2-1/2 hours ...
So including the time I sat waiting for the parade to start, I'd been here around 4 hours now....

2017-07-02 19:11

The Carroccio, a modern form of an ancient war wagon, brings the Palio.
The Palio is a white painted silk banner, and is the prize for winning the race.

After it completed its relatively fast circuit around Il Campo they removed the Palio from the Carroccio and hoisted it up into the 'bridge' stands between the two buildings in the middle of the picture above

2017-07-02 19:20

The guy on the left with the ear protection was the one firing off the 'cannon'. 
He handed what looked like an empty shotgun shell to a spectator as a souvenir,
Would been nicer if he'd handed out earplugs.

2017-07-02 19:25

0:00 Palio (the banner itself) it hoisted up for display
1:08 rope used for starting line tightened up
5:30 dignitaries enter Il Campo
7:35 cannon fires and horses enter Il Campo
Horses circle, waiting to line up
11:08 the crowd begins to silence so they can line up the horses to start the race
11:48 they start to line up the horses for the first time

After over four hours of waiting finally we were ready for Palio!
The horses came out and started to line up!
For a minute it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop (thats in the video above at 11:08)
Someone near me yelled at everyone to put their phones down so others could see.
I lowered my iphone to avoid blocking anyone else's view but I still kept taking pictures and video.

2017-07-02 19:38

horses circling, waiting to line up at the starting line

They need to line up 10 horses.
They'd get perhaps 6 or 7 lined up, then everything got messed up, they'd start circling the horses again to calm them down, then a few minutes later they'd try again.

2017-07-02 19:40

two horses lined up at the starting line

During about 5th attempt to line up the horses I noticed that the two closest jockeys look like they were going to kill each other.
Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of that.

They made another 3-4 attempts to start the race.

Then we had a false start; the cannon fired after the race 'started' without all horses lined up

Another few attempts to start the race go went...

Apparently last horse was hopeless and the source of our delays.

Now the crowd is getting pissed, someone next to me is leading a chorus of boos

I've been here over five hours, we've been trying to start the race for well over an hour now.

2017-07-02 20:53

Now they walked the horses without riders for a while.

There were about 10 minutes of discussions between dignitaries.

The starter dude who fires the cannon took off his ear protection so it must be a serious delay...

Finally they removed the hopelessly bad horse to scattered applause.

And they remounted...

1:44 Palio starts!
lap 1 is totally out of focus, sorry about that.
2:22 lap 2 - you can clearly see a riderless horse on the far side of Il Campo
2:58 Palio ends!

And after only a mere 5-1/2 hours of waiting, the race started!
I could see the tops of the horses over the crowd.
I could see pretty well considering I paid nothing for my seat.

I saw a riderless horse in the far corner during second lap.

And in just over a minute later it was over...

Pantera sucked, I later heard we came in last, or at least last among the horses that didn't get thrown off Il Campo because they were too hopeless to even line up to race properly...

The winning contrada (giraffe, I later heard) took the Palio from where it hung near the officials and they began parading jubilantly out of Il Campo.

I jumped the fence and raced to the Duomo
My understanding from watching the Rick Steves edisode that includes Palio was that the winning contrada goes to the Duomo to officially receive the Palio.
This did not happen, nobody went to the Duomo except me.

I was now done with Palio and was famished.
I went to the restaurant that my hotel recommended, but it was full.

I then went to another restaurant and was very happy to get seated.

2017-07-02 21:51

I ordered a calzone and 1/2 liter of red wine.
It was the best calzone ever!

Kids at the next table replayed Palio on their iPhones at dinner

I had a huge gelato after dinner.
I'd also had gelato for lunch, this was a 2 gelato day!

I went back to the hotel and walked out back to the garden overlooking the valley below.

I could hear the partying of the winning contrada (giraffe) in the valley below from the hotel

I later heard nearly all the jockeys are from corsica, and that winning jockey gets 500k euro.

I saw them interviewing the winning jocker on tv.

Once I got back to my room I checked the forecast again.
I'd been thinking of biking up the Stelvio in a few days.
The Stelvio is near the Swiss border, is regularly featured in the Giro d' Italia (Italian version of the Tour de France), and is one of the hardest road bike climbs in Italy.
I'd been watching the forecast for that area closely.
The forecast now called for and 80% chance of rain Tuesday and a 40% chance Wednesday
I decided to see the Dolomites on Tuesday and to bike the Stelvio on Wednesday...

Saturday July 1, 2017

Sunday July 2, 2017
Siena and Palio

Monday July 3, 2017
Travel to the Dolomites