We went to the Palio race in Siena on the second day of my trip to Italy. The Palio is a must see…should be on that list of “100 things to do before I die” that keeps getting circulated. What a thrill. Fifty thousand people crowd into the Piazza Grande for the event. The crowd begins to form as early as 1 in the afternoon…for a race that takes place “around” 7:30 PM (I’m told this race, like many things in Italy, takes place at “Italian time” which seems to mean more or less at the hours indicated). What’s more, the race lasts 90 seconds! What could possibly be so compelling to drive 50,000 people--including me--to jam themselves into a sun-baked plaza in Italy with no chance, for the last several hours, of getting out even to go to the bathroom?
Sounds like the New Years Even craziness of people crowding into Times Square in Manhattan to watch the ball drop, no? (An activity I’ve always considered a worse prospect than root canal surgery.) Take my word for it, though, the Palio is worth it. Bareback riders, insanely fast horses running around a crowded plaza of screaming fans…anything can happen (And it did. A horse collided with the wall, throwing his rider and it looked pretty serious).