(Emily) Having been out for a morning recce, Jackson greeted us with the ominous words: “The good news is the bikes are still there….” The bad news was that in all the palaver of walking the bikes around town then finding a side street not too far away to park them up, Jack had left his helmet on his bike and it was subsequently no longer. He took it remarkably well, despite the inconvenience, cost and the fact that all his auto-communications stuff was still attached inside, and promptly went off to seek out a new one. Returning with a stop-gap open face number (only 30 euros), Jack (“I always look for something to climb”) convinced us that we’d have plenty of time to ascend the tower of the Duomo before check out so off we went – seeing as it was only a hundred metres from the hotel, we could hardly miss it out (well, Matthew could; he’s not a heights man)! The sun was shining, hurrah, and the view from the top of the tower was awesome. Well worth the calf-killing 450+ steps!
Turns out we didn’t have quite so much time and it was a bit of a sweaty stress bringing the bikes back round to the hotel and lugging all our stuff back down the stairs. Although a bit a annoyed with our tardiness, the hotel proprietor took pity on us and even brought out some free cold drinks. The carabinieri, meanwhile, were not impressed!
Matthew was due to leave for home that morning but we had convinced him to ride with us for just a while longer, up until lunchtime. Something he may have started to regret once Jack led us down multiple twisties, steeper than steep hills and tried to get us to go up a gravelly dirt track… All was forgotten though, over lunch at a fantastically rustic taverna in a pretty Tuscan hill top village (whenever we commented on how good something tasted – the wine, the olives, the meat etc – the owner pointed out the window to indicate it came from ‘just over there’). Jack certainly does know how to seek out the best places. All too soon, the time came for Matthew to go his separate way and make the long ride home back to the UK, via Antwerp where he was meeting up with a friend. We’d had an amazing week with Matt and it was all far more emotional to say goodbye than anyone had expected. Having watched Matthew ride off, we continued on our way but it was very strange not to see him in my mirrors (it had always been very reassuring to have such a careful and accomplished motorcyclist with us) and we were all a little sombre to have lost one of ‘the fellowship’.
That evening, we arrived in Sienna at about 5.30pm on what looked like was going to be a beautiful evening. True to form, Jack led us right into the pedestrianised heart of the city where we parked up. James guarded the bikes, Jack went off to the tourist information and Jessie and I went in search of icecream. We eventually settled on a youth hostel on the outskirts of town and once sorted there, took a bus straight back into Sienna as the sun went down. We sat in the piazza soaking up the atmosphere of a balmy evening in a beautiful city before finding somewhere to eat. Turned out to be a funny place – the owner was a complete oddball who wouldn’t look women in the eye and refused to serve anything he didn’t deem suitable (i.e. Jess and I weren’t allowed tonic with our Martini/Amaretto; in fact, when he thought we were going to have them with food, he wasn’t going to serve us spirits at all!) He warmed to us by the end though and he told us all about the Paleo.
(by James – anorak moment!) The Paleo is a bi-annual horse race, consisting of three laps of the piazza and is totally unique to Sienna. The race itself only lasts little more than a minute and has only one rule: you cannot take the reins from another jockey’s hands. Other than that, anything goes, including hitting each other with your whips and running other riders into the walls on the sharp turns (and thus into the crowd!) Each rider represents one of ten city wards within the town and historically was used to avoid bloodshed between feuding factions. The riders themselves are paid for by the communities of each participating ward, and true to form for a politically charged, no holds barred race, each ward can pay the riders what they like to ensure they get the man they want, and are also known to pay off other jockeys to not win. That said, the jockeys, despite wearing the ward colours, are fairly irrelevant and are viewed as ‘prostitutes’ by the Sienese; it is the horses who are the true heroes, and a riderless horse can achieve victory as long as it still bears the ward colours on its head. Every person born in Sienna is automatically a member of one the district, which district depends on where in the town they are born so often the husband, wife and children of a family will each belong to a different district and remains loyal to it for life. So seriously is this taken, a boss who has employees belonging to the winning district will all too likely take the week off in order to avoid the ruthless ribbing he will receive from his workers. Each district has its own cathedral-like church decorated throughout with its colours and emblems and dedicated to its own saint, and upon victory, its members flock to the church for a thanks-giving mass before organising countless festivities for the following couple of weeks (members only!!)
On Tuesday we took advantage of a full day on foot to explore the city, having lucked out when a passing tourist gave us four passes to local attractions that they didn’t have time to use. Went into the Duomo, and saw some frescoes from the 14th and 15th centuries in what used to be the hospital. Some fantastic architecture and historial art work on show but we were all a bit ‘churched out’ in the end, and getting fed up of walking round in drizzle, so settled in to a bar for the night to play whist and drink wine. Very cultured!!