On Friday we took the train to Siena. This beautiful medieval city in Tuscany is very famous for its rusty red stones from which the color "sienna" gets it name. On the 2nd of July and again on the 16th of August, the city puts on an event known as the "Palio," a pageant/horse race around the large piazza "Il Campo" in the center of the city. It actually lasts a few days as they hold trials on the days preceding the big race and the city is decked in its neighborhood flags and colors. On the day of the race there is a big procession all around the center of town and everyone wears medieval costumes, with their individual neighborhood colors and designs. This is the first festival I would have to say that seemed to be a real boys club. Although I did think that some of these guys looked liked women wearing men's clothes but there was absolutely no female clothing as they paraded around town in the most amazing costumes of velvets and silks and satins, embroidered and decorated with buttons and ribbons and all manner of finery. The flag throwers were quite a sight to see. Two guys with these giant flags stop in the middle of the street, in front of their neighborhood groups and toss these things around as if they were feathers, up in the air, behind their backs in a demonstration of skill and mastery that was quite impressive to watch. And, let me tell you, Siena has some of the most beautiful Italian men we have seen so far! Even Bob had to agree that they were simply stunning - all and virile in all their glory riding on horseback, and walking through the streets wearing armor, carrying swords, playing instruments, proudly representing their colors and their birthplace. And once again we witnessed this neighborhood and civic pride that is so evident in these ancient Italian cities.
This is one of those times where having to take public transportation can be a problem. This event is so popular to tourists; there were absolutely no available rooms (no last minute convent or anything) so we had to be sure to catch the last bus home to Perugia, which left one hour before the actual horse race began! We had had a fun day though, watching all the medieval marching and everything and the Duomo in Siena is quite breathtaking to see, with its striped façade in green, pink and white marble, that we were content enough to go home early. The last bus was to be at 6:30 and we made certain we arrived at the station around 6 only to find out that the bus was having mechanical problems and would be late! We ended up waiting until around 8:30 for a smaller fill-in bus to pick us up and take us back to Perugia. Everyone waiting for the bus was so thrilled and exhausted when it arrived, we almost cheered and all piled in and flopped into the seats for the hour and a half ride back home.
Siena is one of those wonderful medieval cities in Tuscany, a must-see on the tourist circuit. We have been there a few times in the past but have never spent more than a day there. So we must return again, perhaps for the next Palio, perhaps just to visit parts of the city we have not seen. The last few times we arrived by car and by so doing, you enter from an entirely different part of town than when you take the train and I felt a little disoriented at first. We did find it to be more commercial than in the past, with, it seemed, many more shops than I noticed last time, high-end clothing and shoe shops, and of course the many shops for tourists to bring home souvenirs of their visit. Bob has a little house collection at home and I picked up a miniature version of the city complete with the bell tower of the Palazzo Pubblico with its crenellated façade and main square, shaped, they say like the protecting cloak of the Virgin Mary, who, along with St. Catherine (yes, Suzanne, as in "St. Catherine of Siena" - all you Catholic school kids should remember her) is their patron saint.
This Friday marks the beginning of the Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia, which we have looked forward to since arriving here in April. For the next two weeks there will be free concerts all over town and music will fill the streets throughout the day and late into the night. We have purchased tickets to see Al Jarreau, George Benson and Tony Bennett (Tony Bennett in Italy!! Can you imagine??) The rest of the time we will simply take in all the free concerts and just revel in the atmosphere of the city that we so enjoyed on our last visit to this wonderful city.
UmbriaJazz goes from the 8th of July to the 17th and then on the 20th we leave Italy for 10 days in Paris. Life is indeed good.
Rosemary & Robert