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Tips for Palio Siena July 2014?

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Hi all,

My mom and I will be in Siena for 3-4 days for the Palio. We have a hotel about a block off the campo. I've read the more recent Palio posts but was wondering if anyone had any specific suggestions about the most fun way to experience it. We probably won't spring for the grandstand seats and really don't care if we can't see the race itself. We're more interested in the atmosphere and I'm sure we'll be able to catch one of the trials. We definitely want to see the parade, the blessing of the horses and do one of the neighborhood dinners. Would love to hear about your favorite vantage points, restaurant, contrade or any other tips learned from experience!

Thanks,

Karen

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    We enjoyed being in the duomo when the various groups paraded in and were blessed. The race itself only lasts a couple of minutes but I am sure those who actually do whatever it takes to get an actual view would swear it was worth it.

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    Yes, actually seeing the race is priceless. The trials are boring. I don't know how you get to have dinner at a contrada dinner without an invitation, but maybe that's possible. The best part, though, is the festivity in the streets once the race is over.

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    You really must find a way to see the race. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
    Below is an excerpt of our Palio day from my tripreport several years ago...

    The Palio, July 2, 2008

    We had been in Tuscany during the Palio before, but never had the financial means to buy tickets for four or the guts to just “show up”. Well, this year, still not enough money, but we did find the guts to just show up.

    So after renting a car in Florence, we drove into Siena with our fingers crossed at about 2 in the afternoon. There was no traffic at all into the city. We pulled into a parking lot, drove about 20 feet, and found a parking spot. Wow! that seemed too easy.

    We then walked into the town (about 10 minutes max). The buildings were decorated with contrada flags, but the streets were surprisingly quiet. Did we have the wrong day?

    Upon entering Il Campo, the main piazza, we saw the track, barricades, and bleachers set up. Someone had recommended staking out a spot along one of the “spoke streets” that go downhill towards the Campo, which we did. The boys hung out for about an hour, while us girls went to see the History of the Palio documentary in a little theater (very good!) and browsed through the shops and town. We then switched with the boys, but found out we would not be able to stay in our staked out spot because it was be closed off.

    So at about 3:30, we moved into the center. We were able to get a spot near the rail, in the shade, at the finish line. It really wasn’t that bad. I sat down and had my book to read, and the others made friends and chatted with some American college kids.

    At 5:00, things started to change drastically. Mainly, no more sitting and a lot more people. People were squeezing/pushing in and things were getting tight. Imagine an elevator with the maximum amount of people in it, and this is how were standing at this point, with 2 hours to go before race time (or so we thought).

    Eventually the parade of contradas began at about 6. We were thrilled for some distraction -- each contrada in Renaissance costume parading by, twirling flags in the air, etc. Fantastic. Well, there were 13 contradas, and frankly, even I was getting bored after a while.

    And oh how we envied those people sitting in the bleachers and balconies, were just now showing up!

    By 6:30, imagine being in an elevator with three times the maximum people in it. That’s how crowded we were. We had been standing around the same people for hours now, and we were all very friendly and on good terms. Every once in a while, a pushy obnoxious person would come by trying to get to the rail. Are you kidding?? We’ve been standing here for hours! We’re talking some serious pushing and pushing back.

    There was also the fainting. Several people were carried out on stretchers, and we only saw the people fainting in the SHADE. Can’t imagine what was going on with those poor people stuck out in the sun!

    Yes, this whole drama may sound miserable, but for some strange reason, it was actually spectacularly fun. Our kids did not complain once, and my husband was smiling ear to ear the entire time.

    So at 7, we found out that race actually starts at 7:30.
    At 7:30, there were about 30 minutes of false starts.

    And then at 8, it finally began. The excitement was unreal. As the horses started their final lap, fans went crazy and started to try to leap over people to get over the rail onto the track. (There are no rules, here, remember.) We had to stand our ground and hold on tight, since we were at the rail. In fact, we had to do this for 2 or 3 minutes after the race was over until the fanatics got through, and then we could walk out easily.

    Wow! After the race we all felt exhilarated! People were celebrating, flags were waving, bands were playing. (I'm surprised there were no fireworks, but I guess that wouldn't have gone with the Renaissance tradition) Words really can't describe what it felt like to be there at this moment.

    (And, of course, we had been liberated from the center. I was thinking at the time that that also added a lot to the feeling of exhilaration.)

    We were in our car by 8:30 heading to Montalcino. By 9:30, we had checked into our hotel and were seated in a restaurant for another great meal.

    This was truly a fantastic day. We were all thrilled and smiling for hours.

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    You really shouldn't miss the race. And the trials are fun, if only to watch the different contrade enter the square, sing their fervent songs, and stand together in bright seas of yellow and red and blue scarves. What may be fun is to pick a contrada to cheer for and spend more time in that neighborhood. That way, on race day, you can stand among them and cheer on their horse.

    On the night of the dinner, you won't be invited to a dinner unless you somehow acquaint yourself with someone from the contrada. I ate alone at a restaurant in Torre, served by 5 waitresses, while they stood at the doorway to listen to the Torre men and ladies sing their songs at dinner. Only after dinner, I was able to explore and crash several different contrade dinners as they sang and danced and prepared for the exhilarating day ahead.

    On race day, you need to arrive in the square several hours before the race to witness the pageantry of the parade, as well as the race itself. (Truth be told, I brought two bottles of red wine and shared some of it with my new companions.) After the glorious race, I returned to Torre to witness their anguish as they re-watched the race on the big screen in their town bar over and over again. Then I joined the Bruco celebration in the street as they danced, sang, drummed, and waved their flags in victory. While the rest of the contrade escaped to their homes, Bruco and the tourists partied long into the night.

    It is not to be missed!

    (If you want, check out my fictional travel memoir, "Bullets, Butterflies, and Italy" at my website, www.johnmeyerbooks.com, or download it on Kindle, Kobo, Apple, Sony, or Nook. Inside the book, my characters thoroughly explore the Siena Palio. The festival becomes much more meaningful and poignant once you understand all the meaning behind all that passion and pageantry.)

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    I'd say the best part of the occasion is the build up week not the event.

    Sitting around for 3 hours with huge crowds in 34oC and having a very limited view of a 90 second race was a once in a lifetime experience. You would only do it once in a lifetime.

    The colour of the parades leading up to the days counted for far more. Course people will want to tick the "I have seen the Palio" box.

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    Actually, the contrada dinner was the highlight for me, especially because it was filled with high drama - the Acquila jockey had broken his leg during one of the trials, and there was a mad scramble to find a replacement for him. The food was wonderful, the speeches were numerous and fervent, and there actually was a fountain that spewed wine!

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