10 October 2013: Siena is one of the most touristic cities of Italy, famous for the Palio, the horse race which has been held twice per year since medieval times in the central square of Siena. Being so touristic, you could perhaps expect Siena to superficial, lacking atmosphere and charme. But no! Siena is a city full of life, it is genuine, beautiful and charming. And the Palio is very much alive and serious stuff in the local communities!
Each “neighborhood” of Siena is called a “contrada” and each “contrada” has its own coat of arms and its own colours. On the day of the Palio, each contrada gets assigned a horse. This happens as a draw so which contrada gets the best horse is purely based on luck and nobody knows until the actual day of the race. Once the horses have been assigned, the battle starts to get the best jockey for each horse. Usually, if a contrada has been lucky to win the best horse, it will also have a good chance to be able to hire the best jockey since all the jockeys are interested in winning the race!
The contrada that wins the race is celebrating for months after! Flags in the colours of the contrada and their coat of arms hang in every street of the contrada. When we visited, the victory of the Palio in August was still being celebrated in the contrada of Onda. They have the colours blue and white and a fish in their coat of arms.
The fish from the coat of arms of Onda is hanging everywhere in the small streets of the neighborhood.
The famous square of Siena, the site of the Palio horse race, on a rather more peaceful day.
The Onda contrada won the Palio 45-1/2 times – one time they had to share the victory with another contrada.
Montepulciano and Montalcino
8-9 October 2013: From Napoli we drove north, we passed through the outskirts of Rome and arrived to the wine region in Tuscany. For some reason, we have very few photos but we can confirm that the wine is very nice!
O sole mio!
Singing “Funiculi, funicula! Funiculi, funicula!” in Napoli, 5-7 October 2013.
Napoli is a fascinating mix of narrow streets with clothes hung out to dry high above between the houses – and below a chaos of scooters, boys playing football, 8 year old girls with lip stick, stalls selling fresh fish, fruits, vegetables, old men throwing long glances after the ladies passing by while smoking cigarettes, holes in the walls with one of the countless saints of Napoli (Maradona and Sofia Loren are two of them), prostitutes down the even smaller side streets, dogs and cats, guys with small parakeets (pappagallino ondulato) that can pick out the lucky lottery tickets for you, churches, posters on the walls announcing that “Carmine Lofotano also known as ‘o lattaro’/the milkman has died at the age of 87”, balconies full of flowers and old ladies watching it all from the corner of a window. Napoli is fantastic!
The Amalfi Coast – Costiera Amalfitana
3-5 October 2013. The Amalfi Coast became famous as the holiday destination for italian movie stars and other VIPs in the 1950’s. It is beautiful with it’s steep cliffs, “hanging” villages, terraced fields with lemon trees and the endless view over the sea. And it is very very crowded! Nevertheless, in between all the tourists and the tour busses, it is still easy to recognize the charm of the Amalfi Coast.
We stopped in Maiori for the night. It is less famous and therefore less crowded than for example Amalfi and we liked it a lot. We walked the beach promenade in the night and watched the local soccer game, the old guys playing cards, the young romantic couples… Even if it is heavily touristed, the Amalfi Coast has a lively local life going on.
The next day we crossed from the east coast to the west coast to catch the ferry to Sicily. We spent our first night in Italy on the parking lot of the state ferry company in Villa San Giovanni….just not to make it too romantic! It was very strange to be back after almost 1.5 years of traveling so we needed a bit of time to get used. We cooked a white rice with cheese and watched the trucks passing by.
29 September – 1 October. In Sicliy we went to visit good friends…..but first…..we had to stop at the “pasticceria” in Noto! We had the cassata, the cannoli siciliani and the baba siciliano. Maybe it was a little bit too much!!
From Sicily, we jumped back onto the mainland of Italy and started driving north along the west coast. First stop was Tropea. Tropea is a lovely village on the edge of the sea and it is famous for the very strong chilis grown in the area.