Promises, predictions, and jealousy – these were the general sentiments I heard before embarking on my stint in Siena. All those I talked to who had already been abroad spoke of glorious and never-ending adventures. I was apparently about to have “the time of my life,” which seemed like a nebulous and somewhat glum prediction – were they saying that nothing after age 20 could compare? How depressing.

Still, as I reflect on the end of my time in Siena, I can empathize. To borrow an idea from travel writer Pico Iyer, travelling is like falling in love – every experience becomes more intense. And this theme of love is an apt one for me. While I may be “in love” with multiple cities, most rather violently stole my heart away. Siena is the only place that I’ve willingly given it to.

Winding streets, jazz floating on the breeze, coffee, aspirated C’s, exaggerated gestures, sounds of cheerily clinking cups, crisp air that smells of stone and cigarettes… That’s what my city of choice is like. I adore this place.

Merely being in love with a city with good coffee didn’t protect me from heartbreak, of course. There were nights when I desperately wanted to see an old friend, wanted to trade the smell of cigarettes for the smell of evergreens and snow, and just wanted to go home. And yes, there were nights that I cried. But heartbreak is part of the experience of falling in love, and I accepted the risk before coming here. And it was well worth it.

When I go home, I’m going to be tempted to say the same things that were said to me before I left, the sentence that both over- and under-promises: “You’re going to have the time of your life!” Yes, that’s true, but there’s more to it than that. You might cry on the way here, or on the way home; you might have glorious adventures, or just settle into the rhythm of the place; you might become fluent in the language, or stumble on the same word every time. The only real promise I can make is that you will learn and grow both with and because of the city you choose. 

And the only real advice I can give is this: “Innamoratevi!”