JR: Last Sunday I was able to make it home in time for the Castiglion Fiorentino Palio. I don't think I've ever seen the town so crowded! There were people everywhere lining the roads getting excited for their neighborhood to win! Most people were dressed in their neighborhoods colors or had the neighborhood flag tied around their necks. Lots of areas were blocked off to get into the center where the Palio was held so I had to walk around the whole town to the other side. I finally found the ticket booth and of course was so confused on which ticket to buy and where to sit. A very nice Italian lady who is a resident of Castiglion came up to us because she knew we were Americans, not surprising! She spoke English and helped us buy our tickets, she also said we could follow her into the arena to stand with her and her husband. I was so glad we ran into her because she started showing us the ropes immediately and guided us to a great spot to stand and watch the Palio right in front of the starting line. The horses and riders came out and made a lap around the arena while the announcer recited all of their names. The announcer told everyone to be patient because the event was about to start and not until later did I realize why he said that. There are 2 horses plus riders for each neighborhood, and before they can race they all have to line up in front of a big rope in a certain order. The order was drawn randomly by the announcer earlier that evening. I wouldn't have known any of this if it weren't for the Italian lady that translated to me everything that was being said! I was surprised at how hard it was for the jockeys to line the horses up but the horses didn't seem too tame and they also have to ride bareback! I think there were about 12 or more false starts because if it looked like they were lined up a man would shoot off a gunshot, and the jockeys would think the race started but there was always a mistake in the order so they would have to come back and start all over which isn't a fast process. At first I thought it was all really neat and interesting but by the end, along with the rest of the crowd, I was getting frustrated and just wanted the race to start! Residents of Castiglion were getting very upset with the announcer also because they blame it on him if the outcome isn't what they want since he's in charge of if the race is the real thing or just another false start. The Italian woman next to me said that when the race is finally happening the announcer gets down off the podium immediately and runs off with police escorts because usually people will actually come after him! About an hour after the Palio was supposed to start there was finally no more false starts and the real race began! The funny part is that the actual race is only about 2 minutes because the riders only ride around the arena 3 times and then it's over. The Cassero neighborhood won (blue and white) and everyone from there went crazy!! They were awarded the Palio (banner) and paraded around town singing and shouting. It was such a cool experience, and I'm so happy I stuck it out long enough to actually see the race!