Arriving in Siena

The Journey out to Italy

On Saturday morning, June 17th, my father and I got in the car and began the drive out to Chicago. Even though this was technically the beginning of my trip out to Italy, boarding the first of my two flights was my crossing of the Rubicon; once the plane began to move, I knew I would not be resting until I arrived in another continent. After transferring to another flight in Berlin, I arrived at the airport in Milan. With my passport stamped, I began assessing my options as I grabbed my bag from the baggage-claim. My train would be leaving for Florence in 45 minutes, yet driving to the train station would take at least twenty minutes. Consequently, I had to find a way to get to my train quickly. It was at this point that I had what I consider to be my first “Italian Experience.”

While exiting the station, I was approached by multiple companies providing taxi services to arriving travelers. I picked one, and the driver and I walked to the car. The person who had arranged my taxi for me had spoken with me in English, and consequently the driver assumed that I spoke no Italian. Therefore, when he asked where I was from and I responded in Italian, he was initially surprised and, almost immediately afterwords, excited. During the ride to the train station, we discussed my relationship with Italy and my previous exposure to the language. I told him that my great-grandparents were born in Sicily and that my grandparents on my father’s side still speak the language. He told me that his daughters were my age, and we concluded that he was roughly the same age as the prior generation in my family. As we arrived at Milano Centrale, I received one of the best compliments I have ever heard: “Cristoforo,” he said to me in Italian, “you have Italian in your blood.” Taking my bags from the trunk, I said goodbye and departed to find my train with plenty of time to spare.

On the train to Florence, I similarly spoke with the individual sitting across from me. He was slightly older than myself, around thirty years old, and was a policeman from Rome on vacation. He asked me where I was from (as many other Italians have). I told him I was from the United States. Again, he was impressed that I spoke any Italian at all. As the son of the owner of my B&B would later tell me, it is rare for Americans to come to Italy with any understanding of the language; I would soon find that my friends and I were without question an exception to the rule rather than the norm. After switching trains in Florence, I arrived approximately an hour later in Siena, Italy.

Since then, I have spent the majority of my time taking language classes and culture classes. Over the first couple of days, I made sure to acquaint myself with the city; as someone who loves maps, climbing the tower in the Piazza del Campo was a wonderful way to orient myself and familiarize myself with the surrounding area. As a consequence of my culture class, I have also been able to tour the Duomo of Siena, the Palazzo Publico, the Crypta below the Duomo, and one of the seventeen different Sienese Contradas (a very unique element of Sienese culture which I will explain in my next blog post). At the moment, I find that I can usually express myself relatively well in Italian but when others speak quickly to me, it can be easy for me to miss important phrases. My language class has been extremely helpful in terms of learning new grammatical structures; however, during the day I mainly focus on picking out new words I hear and memorizing them or recognizing words which I commonly use in English and searching for the equivalent in Italian. One of my favorite elements of my language class is our tendency to describe new words in Italian in place of translating directly into English. Doing so has already made me think more easily on my feet while speaking, and is likely part of the reason as to why expressing myself is easier than understanding others. During this next weekend, the Siena Palio will take place. Next week, I will describe what it’s like to live in Siena during its most important week of the year and explain in what ways I have been involved with those cultural events. A presto!


The view of Siena at the top of the Palazzo Publico’s watchtower.