Video: Lively Siena, Pre-Palio

08/25/2016 02:49 pm ET Updated Aug 26, 2017

The night before Siena's Palio, at midnight,ᅡᅠthe streets were filled with eating, drinking, singing, and camaraderie, as neighborhoods gathered to pump each other up for the big horse race. The city is full of both locals (who live this ritual as if it's in their DNA) and tourists (who are generally clueless and are just waiting for the race), living in parallel worlds. Your challenge is to bridge those worlds.

Siena is divided into 17 neighborhoods, or contrade. Historically, these were autonomous, competitive, and filled with rivalries. Each contrada -- with its own parish church, fountain, and square -- still plays an active role in the life of the city. And each is represented by a mascot (porcupine, unicorn, she-wolf, and so on) and a distinctive flag -- colors worn and flown all year long, but omnipresent as the race nears. ᅡᅠAnd, tonight, each contrada has a party going on.

This is Day 93 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I'm reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Vienna, the Alps, the Low Countries, England, Siena, and beyond. Find more on my travel blog.

(This post originally appeared at