August 16 – A group of us gathered in front of the hotel then made our way into old town. Along the way we crossed paths with the Carabinieri. Italian men in uniform on horseback, what more could a girl ask for?
We met our host at the Duomo to collect our tickets then wandered the streets while we waited for the gates to open. The excitement in the air was incredible. Maybe it just felt different to me since this place was so exotic and historic in comparison to American sports venues.
I was extra excited about the fact we had seats for the event rather than having to fight for a view in the massive crowd in the center of the square. What I was not prepared for were the bleacher-like seating we had. Its difficult to describe. Row upon row of slats of wood, maybe a couple feet wide, with nowhere to put your feet except on the edge of the row in front of you. We stacked up, each person sitting between the legs of the person behind them. Cozy would be understatement but we made it work. Here is a google image I found that may help.
The crowds cheered as the parade made its way into the square. Each of the contrada’s doing their flag routine while the drummers played. The neighborhoods rider and horse being marched along. It was so amazing to watch hundreds of years of tradition being paraded in front of you.
The procession is long and it takes quite a while. The sun was bright but bearable and I had been sure to slather on the sunscreen. Excitement filled the air as the Carabinieri made their passes along the track. Initially keeping a slow pace then taking off full speed. After getting the crowd jazzed up the racing horses and riders made their way onto the track. Plenty of jostling around at the rope marking the start of the race. Seems there really aren’t many rules. The horses dash off the line and you hear the cannon blow. False start! The riders let the horses take their own pace back to the starting line. More pushing, shoving, and nervous energy as the racers awaited the start. The rope was dropped and the horses were off. Our seats were across the square from the starting line but we were seated at the toughest turn of the track. The horses and riders made the first quick lap and they came around for the second. As they round that tight turn one of the riders falls off and rolls around under the following horse. Quickly security and medical responders were on the track and cleared the rider. The horse carried on without him and could still win the race as it wasn’t necessary for the rider to cross the finish line. The third and final lap had us hoping our horse would make a move but they were unable to pull off the win.
The race finished and everyone started running onto the track and out of the Campo. We all looked at each other unsure of what was happening. We stayed in the bleachers for a bit watching the drama unfold. Apparently the rival contrada members were in a hurry to get their horse, rider, and themselves back to the safety of their neighborhood. Others were part of the winning contrada rushing to celebrate with win. I guess everyone else was just caught up in the moment.
We waited for the mob around the winning horse to depart from the gate near our seats. Feeling fairly confident we would not lose each other in the crowd we headed out into the streets. Our group of DreamTrip travelers made our way to a restaurant near the archway on the route back to the hotel.
We enjoyed one last delightful meal together, knowing we’d all part ways the next day. Lots of delicious pasta, wine, and laughs.
Of course I stopped by the gelato stand on the way to the hotel.
This Guardian photo essay gives you a great inside look into the race as well.