This was the Big Girl's second most enjoyed day of our trip, after our day trip to Lake Garda. We had a very early start, catching the 7:15am bus from Florence. The reason for the early start was Palio trials. The Palio is a horse race held twice a year in Siena around the Piazza del Campo. You can read all about it here. In the days prior to the race two trials are held, the morning one at 9am. We arrived in Siena at 8:30am and starting heading in the direction of the Campo. Soon we saw a mother and daughter wearing their contrada scarves (Porcupine) so we fell in behind and as we followed we became part of the stream of people heading towards the campo.
It's a 10-15min walk from the bus stop. Inside the campo, school children in contrada colours sang and chanted from grandstands in front of Palazzo Pubblico.
Sand covers the cobblestones and barriers are set up around the track. We could easily get a good spot close to the barriers to watch the trial. Soon the final barriers were in place, you need to be in place before that happens. The horses enter and do a lap, a loud explosive detonation alerts us that the trial will be beginning soon. The horses try lining up on the starting line ...
but one refuses and after some minutes all the horses do another lap of the campo before attempting again. This time the race begins and the front horses race past us, by the time
they reach us on their second and third pass, they are taking it fairly
easily. The trials are run to get the horses used to race conditions so
the outcome does not matter.
Still, when the second explosive detonation signals the first horse past the finish, members of the winning contrada vault the barricades and celebrate, gesturing enthusiastically and congratulating the rider and each other.
After the barriers are opened we take a stroll around town. I had pre-booked the Duomo for 11am and apart from lunch and the cathedral complex, our only plans were to experience the hill town. I had downloaded some walking maps and we decided to do the orange track before our booking at the Duomo. As we walked a large group from the Chiocciola contrada passed leading their horse, chanting and cheering all the way.
All the streets are decked out with contrada flags and lanterns.
So even if, like us, the crowds of the Palio on race day would be just too much for you it is certainly worth coming out on the days prior to get a taste of the Palio festival.
Siena itself is a beautiful destination. I'm going to save my photos of the Duomo complex for later because it is truly stunning ... one of my favourite churches ... possibly the favourite that we visited and deserves it's own post. We had some fun looking for the various contrada animals.
Admiring the view from the wall ...
Eating lunch at Osteria la Chiacherra, outside on the steeply sloping street on stools and tables with legs on the downhill side cut longer so the food and your bottom don't fall off.
Checking out the Campo without horses,
enjoying a cool gelato and a walk around the fort before catching the bus back to Siena.