Siena was extremely busy today! We spent more time than usual looking for parking and the city itself was full of locals and tourists. This week is the Palio delle Contrade- a horse race held twice a year dating back to 13C, it is one of the most famous in Italy. 10 contrades which are sub-divisions of a district, (there are only 17 left from 59) compete in the race. Each Contrade has its own flag, its own museum and social life. They spend all year preparing for this race. The race is held in the Piazza del Campo which is Siena’s main square…bigger than most typical squares but still a very small area used as a race track. In fact, due to the horses needing to turn so sharply, they line the corners with mattresses. The race is 3 times around the track.
As we walked through the busy streets, we could see the city was in preparation for the race. Flags, each with a different symbol representing the various contrades were hung up high everywhere we turned. The square, usually nice to walk through had bleacher seats along the edge and dirt brought in to create the track. Locals were walking around wearing their flag colors. It was fun to see the festivities building up to this historic event, but we decided to not attend the race itself. From what we heard it is jam-packed with people and once you are in the square you are not allowed out…no bathrooms, extreme heat and lots of people.
We squeezed our way into a restaurant down one of the alleys for lunch. It is extremely challenging not to order pasta for both lunch and dinner here in Italy…chewy fresh handmade noodles tossed in garden fresh vibrantly red tomatoes…add the basil and a bit of that Parmesan cheese? Anyway, we ordered a pasta and a salad as well as some bruschetta with a half bottle of wine. After taking our time, we continued meandering through the streets and immediately ran into the bakery, Nannini. It was in the Michelin book as the most famous cafe in all of Siena. The book said to indulge in a cake or ice cream…who are we to argue with that recommendation. We had literally just eaten lunch but we both managed to fit a scoop of gelato in as well.
We walked and ate our ice cream while stopping to look at buildings and take pictures. The last time we were here was for our honeymoon in 2005. We didn’t spend too much time here so it was familiar but still new. As we left the square, we saw a hair salon and Giff had been wanting a haircut…they could fit him in right away, so I left to walk around for a bit while he got his trim. I came back and was trying to get a picture of him from outside…his hair looked a little different. I walked in and there were about 4 stylists all standing around him. I took his picture and then sat down next to a very upset Giff. Now, let’s keep in mind…getting a haircut where there is a language translation challenge is always risky. They basically gave him a buzz cut on the sides…they went in with the buzzer and in one swipe, his hair was shorter than ever! He of course let them know right away how upset he was…they had no other choice but to buzz the rest on the sides and back to make it even. We walked out of that place and Giff could not stop cussing the lady that chopped his hair. He called himself a carrot top because the sides were so short and the top was long. Of course Giff is super cute no matter what, but it was kinda funny to see him dramatize this whole experience.
With an extremely pouty Giff…we went to see the Siena Duomo (Cathedral) before leaving the city. This cathedral was beautiful! The steps and floor made of marble, the bronze door was a massive entrance and the intricate detail of the statues and design was extraordinary. We took a lot of pictures and enjoyed getting to see this site.
We left the city…we were going to dinner tonight with our B&B hosts and wanted to have a little bit of downtime before going back out. Back at our place we only had about a half hour before we were in the car heading to what Ben and Martha (B&B hosts) called a sagra. The sagra was being held in a small local town…it is a small festival held every year for a couple of weeks and is a kind of charity to help raise money for a cause (this one was to raise money for the sports fields of the kids). We went upstairs and sat at a long table outside. Ben and Martha had invited some of their friends who invited some of their friends so we had a group of about 10. A piece of paper was given to each person…we filled out the quantity of what we wanted, for example…1 bottle of water, 1 pasta with red sauce, 1 pasta with mushrooms etc. The staff were all volunteers and brought out the food being cooked by other volunteers. We thought it was very nice to be invited to something like this where it is truly a local scene, the food however was not up to par for the amount that was being charged. It was very basic food, the wine offered was not good and the price was about $65 for the two of us. For $65 in a restaurant where a chef is cooking you can get some amazing pastas with great wine and dessert. We understood it was charity though so at least the high prices went to a good cause.
We drove home with Martha and Ben and got a good night sleep from our long day.