Sunday, February 21, 2010

Siena! Friday and Saturday the 19 and 20th


Jill and I woke up at 6:30 am (leaving a couple hours before the rest of the group to take advantage of the trip as much as possible), packed our lunches, and feeling a great deal like turtles , left by 7:20. We practically bounced to the bus stop in excitement , despite the pouring rain, and blustering winds. The excitement of going to Seina is in no way something to be depleted by some damp weather!

One bus and just two metro stops later we got to the train station over half an hour early, which gave us the confidence in finding the bus in plenty of time…. Oh my, with under 20 minutes left, and having been across the street, down the road, around the corner and back again, we finally stopped our manly ways and asked for directions from a very nice little Italian lady who spoke next to no english. She helped us with much gesturing and led us from ticket booth to ticket booth, talking to each person there where our bas was located at. (meanwhile I was frantically trying to get someone on the phone from our group who knew where the bus was and panicking because I could not for the life of me remember collecting two tickets). She finally stopped triumphantly in front of our bus, number 5 , stop. (just a year yards from the area we had been to and fro searching through. Blind American girls. Thank God for being happily helped by extremely nice Italian ladies J how awesome.

On the 3 hours bus ride, nibbled on some snacks, and (like usual) slept curled up in a seat. (I’m travel size for convenience!) Until the bus stopped and we lept off, completely disoriented, without an idea or plan or sense of direction. It took us a few minutes of standing there, gripping each others arms and quietly squealing in excitement at actually being in Siena!!!!!! We snagged some maps and went in look for a cafĂ© somewhere dry…picked a direction and started off!

We ended up going through a gate of red looking so we banked on being able to use “unknowing Americans” as our excuse and ventured down the graveled path. It lead to the outside edge of these walls around a park like area with benches and trees. It was a large fortress type building we dfound out later it is called____. When we reached the side, the view overlooked all of old Siena on one side, and houses layered on top and beside each other..until the hill country settled lower and we could see the valleys. Tracks of gardens with rows leaving imprints where spring would come and fill. Farther hills rose and fell, and on the edge, just the suggestion of mountains smudging the horizion. Clouds raced and hurried by, while close to the earth, while tendrils of rain could be seen brushing the ground.

While up there we took pictures while the wind buffeted our hair (obviously fashionably ) and we unwrapped our sandwiches, carrots, apples etc. (followed by chocolate bar).

Three turns later, down little allies and narrow streets while we paused to look in every other window we passed. Open markets with vegetables, oranges, grapes (one at which we bought big sweet grapes and white grapes) Little restaurants with their menus out, under the awnings. Peering in the windows we could see softly lit rooms with little tables set.

Shops of clothes. Shops with colorful scarves, hats..and a weaving loom set up (taking up most of the space) with a little old lady who asked us where we were from and what we are studying, how long we are staying. She was nice even when we realized we couldnt afford a gosh darn thing.

Met up with the rest of the group at the bus station. it was pouring rain we hustled off to a nearby restaurant. Found a close-by comparatively large place...busy! a line all the way to the door! Moved fast though (Jill and I held the few seats we found). Figured it must be a good place to be packed with all the local Italians (I felt very obvious, like some people knew who usually came, and were accustomed to the sort of people who frequently ate there...and so our presence was not overlooked. Not in a negative way at all though...simply a feeling).

Walked just a little farther and found the Hotel we were spending the night at. albergo- Cannon D'oro! Despite the shady tunnel leading to the entrance, the rooms were large (very comfortably fit the 3 of us) with high ceilings, and big windows. 3 rooms for the group total. Each had our own bathroom (complete with bidet!) and shower. there is a picture of what the view was outside our tiny bathroom window. Another of the three of us (Me, Jill and Becky) plotting and planning..circling and finding routes to where we wanted to go the following day.

For the rest of the evening we walked around old Siena, getting an idea of the lay out, and scrambling to see as much as possible before dark. (many places were closed for the evening, or only open a little longer; which would not leave enough time for the proper amount of head-tilted wandering.

first area we came to was Il Campo, with the Palazzo Pubblico. It was shaped like a shell, higher on one side, and sloping downward to the Palazzo and its belltower (which, along with two of the churches, can be seen nearly anywhere in the city)

Twice a year, in July and August the Il Palio is held! They bring in dirt and pack a track around the Il Campo and hold horse races. It is one of the last bareback horse races left in the world! The shape of the Il Campo (as a shell) has tight corners, sharp angles at the edges and unlevel ground as well. Therefore, along the outer edge they put up padding mattress type barricades. This is so when the horses don't make the turn and fall, they slam into these "soft padding" and are okay.

Ten of the seventeen Contrade have horses in this race (with selection of the 7 who did not participate the year before automatically in the race and then the other 3 drawn at random)

The Il Palio is a big deal here! Something like four days of celebration beforehand. For the winning contrade, ten days of celebration afterwards. Parades with the Contrade getting dressed up in costumes on their horses.

The horses are bought in at three in the morning in the week before the races. and for a few days, are simply run around the track while the judges watch. The certain mixed breed horse is used for this race. Short and sturdy so they have the endurance and low center of gravity to make the fast, sharp turns. The judges finally pick the 10 best from the many that are brought in, and each contrade picks the name of the horse from a hat. If they draw a good horse, they will spend big bucks for a really good jockey.

The horse is more valued then the jockey. Because if a jockey falls off (which happens frequently because of the race being bareback) a horse can still go on and win the race. There is such a strong competitive spirit among the contrade. Wayyyyyyy back in the day (like 17th century?ish??? earlier probably too...) there was poisoning of the horses going on, making them sick, injuring so they couldnt race. Today there are bribes and deals made to keep enemy contrade from winning, or to hinder a horse during the race (some would rather an enemy lose then themselves win). Nobody knows which side anyone is on, and all sorts of money is exchanged. But on the day of the race, no one knows if it was worth it or if jockeys (or whomever) will keep their word.

Due to all this commotion and festivities: wherever the horse is kept will be so silent, you could hear a pin drop. But so many people come to pet the horse, see it, get their pictures taken with the horse. (which makes me pretty happy that this is totally acceptable to be this horse friendly happy over here) At ALL times (night and day) there are no less then four people gaurding the horse. I think it is a tradition that is continued...but also for the money and value put into the horse racing. Following the race, these 3 year old horses are turned out into pasture, or used for pleasure riding. The race is the height of their career, and so strenuous and intense, that they are considered deserving of their pampered and serene retirement to the country.

(think I could join them to such a life following these years of college science?haha "just kidding", i have a horse to give me weekend therapy!)

Met up with the rest of the group for pizza..walked around a little more (found a mint gelato! tasted like mint-ting-a-ling of home, and summertime, and the Lake with family and lots of loving everywhere!) The "main street"leading to el campo was busy even when the stores were closed and there was nothing to do. We were told that people walk the street just to be seen, or to meet with friends.

Curled up, and slept for 7 and a half (ish) hours straight without any dreams for the first time the whole trip! These weekend trips are healthy on so many levels!


Woke up for the breakfast at the hotel at 8. Yes they had a coffee/expresso machine right next to the cereal. and (unlike America) it was gooooood strong coffee too!Today, Let me tell you we did some serious hoofing it! and this weekend I sat down a total of 6 times? including meals and sleeping...

Back to St. Domenico basilica (St. Catherine's). We had stepped in real quick yesterday...during a particularly bad drenching. It was colder inside where it was dry then outside in the rain!

After a quick pow-wow on the outside steps we handed the map around, then set out in a direction to get to the first contrade museum by opening time.

...okay...not done with Siena yet..but whew i figure that's several evenings worth of literature to slog through on a rainy day to take a pause between posts.

sorry about the pictures not showing up. I think if you click the empty space a window will pop up showing a big version. Working on fixing that. Things like this tend to happen when technology is involved...

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