Bologna Afternoon

On one of our last days in Italy, we accompanied Yann's dad Mario to Bologna on a business trip. Most of our visit was actually spent visiting a university hospital where Mario was meeting a colleague. We were given a guided tour of the hospital, which included a visit of the impressive collection of old books and images of early medical practices. We especially liked the mural depicting life in the New World, complete with a baby being chased by an alligator. We left Yann's parents and took a bus into the Bologna city centre for a pleasant uncrowded exploration. With only a few hours to visit, we did typical “old Italian city” activities: we climbed towers (two famous towers and the symbols of the city), we visited the basilica (San Petronio). We finished the day (and our touring of Italy) sitting on a patio in the central square, drinking prosecco with Yann's parents - ending our relaxing two weeks in the country. Thank you to our amazing hosts, Yann's parents Nicole and Mario who we love so much and hosted us so generously while we toured Italy. To Yann's sister Eve, who did most of the planning for our day trips to Florence, Rome, Assisi, Gubbio etc. To her patient husband Mathieu who enthusiastically accompanied us everywhere. And finally to our wonderful nephew Laurier, who did his best not to cry too much while we paraded him around Italy.

Rome & Vatican City: Speed Touring

We visited Rome and the Vatican City on a day trip from Perugia. To save time, convinced by Yann's sister, we purchased 10 euro "hop on/hop off" bus tickets to speed around the city. There are tons of competing bus companies, we were approached right off the train by touts from whom we bought tickets. On a hot summer day this service proved to be useful but for the hour spent on the bus in afternoon rush hour traffic.

The first stop of the day was the Colosseum which was impressive and very crowded. We waited almost an hour to purchase tickets and be admitted onto the sight. This gave us time to admire the hoards of modern gladiators, most clad in elaborate costumes roaming around looking for unsuspecting tourists to pose with, and charge for their services of course. Sadly, since we've visited, modern gladiating has been banned by the city of Rome. No photos of gladiators in this blog, we're too cheap. Directly across from the Colosseum is Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum, one of the city's most ancient districts. We wandered around the beautiful grounds for the remainder of the morning, admiring the vast collection of ruins and enjoying a picnic lovingly prepared by Yann's mom. After lunch we took our tourist bus to St. Peter's Square, where were were met with yet another impressive crowd. The line up to enter St. Peter's Basilica was enough to discourage Eve and Mathieu (Yann's sister and her husband) who decided that the hours spent waiting to get into the basilica were better spent elsewhere. Yann and I opted to endure the wait, but with only a few hours remaining before closing, we had to choose between visiting the basilica dome or the Cistine Chapel (two separate equally long lines). I'm not sure if we realised that they were two lines until well into our wait in the "dome line" so ... we saw the dome (which, along with the views from the basilica roof, were well worth the wait). After an eternal 3 km bus ride from St. Peter's Square we were dropped off at the "Trevi Fountain stop" and we headed off in search of the famous sight. We sped walked through narrow streets hoping for some sign of the fountain whose location we couldn't quite make out from our tourist map. It took a few minutes before we found it, along with every other tourist in Rome. Now running very short on time we didn't mind spending no more than 5 minutes at this impressive, but absurdly busy landmark. We completed our day at the Pantheon, whose front facade was undergoing renovations. This made for a nice, speedy visit with the highlight being the inner view of the roof. We caught up with Eve and Mathieu at the central station, with just a few minutes to catch our train. We finished our turbo day eating dinner on the train, which was appreciated by all our cabin mates.

Jousting in Arezzo

We timed our visit to Arezzo to catch the totally wacky local event: The Saracen Joust (Giostra del Saracino). Qualifying it as wacky may be a little unfair, the event is deeply rooted in the city's history and once served the important task of training Arezzo's young men for battle (Saracino = Muslim). Although not quite as serious as it may have been centuries ago, the whole city seems to take part in the festival's activities with a certain air of competitiveness.

We had a vague idea of the day's events but we arrived early in the morning to make sure not to miss anything. While we did arrive three hours early to a pretty empty city, we guaranteed ourselves a prime spot for watching the "battle proclamation", the day's first event. The proclamation is read from the steps of the 800 year-old Basilica San Francesco and followed by a procession of various medieval-costumed men, each representing one of the four Arezzo city quarters (named after the four city gates: Porta del Foro, Porta San Andrea, Porta Santo Spirito and Porta Cruciferaa). Acne-faced teenagers marched through the streets in colourful leggings and chain mail - we wondered if they had volunteered enthusiastically (and marvelled at the thought that they very well may have). City residents sporting their quarters' colours and coat of arms cheered as their team paraded by. Vendors lined the streets hawking a selection of toys and clothing showing off team colours. To fit in, I bought a Porta del Foro bandana which I wore all day around my neck (I liked the lion on the coat of arms). Yann found me somewhat embarrassing and balked at the cost of my newly purchased item but I strode around with confidence. Yann's parents joined us in the late afternoon, in time to catch another, more elaborate procession. This time the actual jousters were on hand to be blessed on the footsteps of the cathedral by the local bishop (seriously). Yann and I already knew the jousters from their full page feature in the local paper.  We struggled for a view of the blessing amidst crowds of people, some tourists, but mostly locals. We were able to follow the jousters through the streets of Arezzo on their way to the city square turned jousting arena, the central Piazza Grande. A dirt mound runs transversely across the square, surrounded on two sides by stands and the other two sides by standing room cheering sections. Beautiful old homes surround the square and residents crowd the windows that look out onto the jousting pit. We rushed ahead towards the arena hoping to get good "standing spots". Fans are divided into the two viewing areas by team colours (two quarters in each area). Despite sporting my Porta del Foro lion bandana we ended up in the wrong viewing area, surrounded by blue and yellow. It didn't really matter because the four of us looked so out of place as it was (for one, because we were the oldest people there - anyone over the age of 18 was sitting in the stands).

Our standing area got more and more crowded as the evening went on and we did our best to watch the acrobatics show preceding the joust as blue and yellow smoke bombs exploded around us. We seemed to be the only people in our area who cared about watching the warm-up act. When the jousting actually began the crowd quieted down a little bit, but mainly when waiting for the judges' scores to be announced. Residents watching from their balconies would announced the scores in advance to the crowds below (from watching simultaneous broadcast on their televisions). The maximum score a jouster can get in one round is 5 points; by hitting the rotating dummy (Saracino) without being hit by its spinning arms. Depending on the positioning of the hit, the jouster receives anywhere from 1 to 5 points, if the jouster gets whacked by the spinning Saracino he loses points. Each quarter is represented by two jousters and at the end of the night the team with the highest combined score receives a golden lance (and probably some cash too).

Early in the competition one of the riders was given a score of 3 after what appeared to be a fairly decent slamming of Saracino. His teammates, feeling that he deserved a higher score, rushed the judges' table and began throwing punches,  prompting a hilarious brawl of leggings-clad fighters. We couldn't figure out if this type of antic was staged for the audience, by the weirdness of the event we wouldn't have been surprised either way.  Nobody seemed overly concerned with the fighting and the competition continued without much of a delay.

We watched a few more jousts from our crammed standing area, without really having an actual view of what was going on. We decided to head home before the end of the joust, after a great, but long day of bizarre entertainment. We left the competition to the people who seemed to really care about the results: the teenagers of Arezzo.