I was in Cremona this Sunday bright and early to run my first half marathon. It was really early in the morning, I didn't really have a clue how to get to Cremona, and I did not really know what to expect, so predictably it was an antsy morning. But once I got there, everything just fell into place. The event was highly organized, managing to corral almost 2,500 runners into tables, lines, the starting point, and changing rooms. The fact that Cremona is also not that big of a city helped a lot--the city center is very small, making navigation through its characteristically medieval streets a breeze.
Unlike marathons in the US, Italian marathons are definitely not ran by individuals or unaffiliated athletes. It was fun seeing the piazza in front of the duomo--the main meeting point and the finish line for the race--fill-up with groups of mostly men in their 30s in bright jerseys of the same color, representing running clubs from various cities across northern Italy. Of course the race also includes "libere" runners such as myself, but the race mainly catered to running clubs. (The rankings even ranked runners by clubs and groups, which I'm sure fuel some rivalries between clubs from neighboring towns.)
And we're off! The race started at 9:30AM. The day was cold and dreary throughout the race, which is actually my favorite weather during long-distance runs. Nevertheless, there was a very jovial atmosphere among the runners, with some running it with significant others, siblings in wheelchairs, or workout partners. Of course, I didn't have my camera until the end of the race, so here is a shot of the area just past the finish line after the race. This well-organized event had one weakness: a significant dearth of trash cans. As a result, the city center was littered with foil blankets handed out to the runners after the race. (The usefulness of the blankets really escape me. YWould your skimpy and wet running outfit underneath negate the warmth-producing effects of the blanket?)
After the run, the award ceremny, where the rilvaries between groups really becmae more apparent, with alternating parts of the room applauding when a certain color jersey went into the stage to retrieve an award or flower bouquet. It was nevertheless a great and exhilarating atmosphere.
After the race, I had the opportunity to tour a bit of the town before I headed back home. Although Cremona is roughly the size of Vicenza, it is for the most part a limited town in terms of sightseeing. The two places that I was interested in were both in the piazza del commune: the Palazzo Comunale and the duomo. (The tower and baptisery were both closed. Besides, the tower was very tall, and my legs were shaky from running 13 miles.)
The duomo is a marvel from the outside, with its beautifully ornamented Romanesque facade gleaming in white and pink marble. With the red buildings and the red tower next to it, the facade really stands out. Inside however is one of the most beautiful frescoed churches I have ever seen. The centerpiece is the nave, frescoed by numoerus artists depicting the life of Jesus. The best however is the large Crucifixion by Pordenone facing the altar right above the door. The cathedral inside is dark, but the moody light that comes through the rose windows make for a ver atmospheric interior.
Across the duomo is the Palazzo Comunale, the city's town hall and the location of the city's prized violin collection. Cremona starting from the 15th century became one of the centers of violin-making in the world, with the likes of Amati, Guarneri, and Stradivari setting up shop in the city. Many argue that the violin as we know it today first took shape in Cremona with the workshop of the Amati family, and was perfected in the workshop of the Stradivari family. Some of these prized violins could be seen inside the palace in the Sala dei Violini. In all honesty, one really needs a deep interest in musical instruments to really appreciate the craftmaship that goes into these pieces. Otherwise, for people like me, it's just a collection of violins. The palace though is still interesting to visit, albeit incredibly modest compared to palaces in Venice or Florence.