LYDIA’S BLOG: Assisi

Feb 20, 2012

I can mark it as a success.

All in all, the weekend cost me €165. That includes travel, lodging, entry fees, tours, food and souvenirs for three days. Not bad at all.

Amy kindly let me borrow her laptop on the two-hour train ride home. I had enough time to write about Assisi, but not Orvieto. So that will be for my next blog entry.

“Benvenuti in Assisi, città della pace” (“Welcome to Assisi, city of peace”).

We left Florence at 8:02 a.m. Friday, arriving in Assisi a little before 11 a.m. I’m not sure why I felt like I needed to print out Google map directions; as soon as we left the train station we could see the hilltown prominently in the distance.

I put them away immediately, and we started the 4-km walk on a narrow gravel road to the base of the city. We could have taken a bus, but where’s the adventure in that?

Our check-in time at the bed and breakfast wasn’t until 1 p.m., so we started wandering. It wasn’t long before we were lost, map-less, in a labyrinth of steep streets. Luckily, we happened upon our hotel around 12:30 p.m.

Still without a sense of where we were, we walked into a large church next door until it was time to check in. Much to our surprise, we were neighbors with the Basilica of San Francesco.

Even more surprising, as soon as I entered the doors of the church, I ran into Dawn, a Grand Haven High School graduate who’s also studying in Florence. Until I met her for dinner a couple of weeks ago, the last time I saw her was when I sat next to her during my graduation ceremony in 2009. She was visiting Assisi for the day with her school.

It’s funny how life weaves people back together.

After saying hi to Dawn, Amy and I walked farther inside. We saw the tomb of St. Francis and explored the ornate upper and lower churches, admiring the frescos and architecture. Pictures weren’t allowed through most of the church, but I did take one of the tomb.

I’m not a very religious person at all, but I am always overwhelmed inside these ancient churches. It’s not only the history that strikes me, it’s a ring I wear on my left pinky — the wedding ring that belonged to my grandmother, who I know would have loved to see these places. I can’t help but to feel like I am seeing them for her.

Then it was time to check into Properzio. We were so happy to relieve our backs of the bags we had been lugging around all day. We stretched our shoulders, organized ourselves and headed back out to our next adventure: Eremo delle Carceri.

We hadn’t heard of it until we started our research on TripAdvisor. Everyone said it was well-worth the hike and the most peaceful place they’ve ever been. It’s where St. Francis traveled daily for prayer and meditation. Boy, do I give him every credit in the world for walking there every day.

Amy and I walked about 1 km from our bed and breakfast to the edge of the city, passing Tempio di Minerva and Duomo di San Rufino along the way.

We didn’t have a very good understanding of how far it would be. Four kilometers didn’t sound bad, but we didn’t factor in the incline. After about 20 minutes without a sign telling us we were headed in the right direction, we sat down in the road and pulled out our Italy guidebooks.

We had underestimated the hike. Amy’s book told us it was a 90-minute, 3-mile uphill hike. In true Amy-Lydia traveling fashion, we looked at each other, shrugged, pulled ourselves to our feet and continued forward. Might as well, right?

Although rough, it was a gorgeous walk. We stopped several times to sit and see the view, and one time to befriend some donkeys on the other side of a fence along the road.

After what felt like hours, but in reality had only been about one, we flagged down some police officers who were driving past to ask them if we were even going the right way. We were and had “uno o due kilometers” farther to go. And we continued.

Eventually we made it!

Everyone was right. The view and the calm were worth the hike twice over. I took few pictures in the sanctuary. It was much less what it looked like than what it felt like. It was like there wasn’t another human on Earth. It was the calmest place I’ve been in a long time. The sun was bring and the air was crisp. The only sounds were the birds, the rustling leaves and the soft crunch of snow beneath our feet.

We stayed up there for about an hour, exploring briefly and then just relaxing.

After awhile, we gathered our energy and started walking down, leaving a trail of Clementine peels along the road behind us. We had planned to make it back to the city and up to Rocca Maggiore in time for the sunset, but it was descending the sky with us. We stopped at many of the same places to capture it.

After almost an hour of walking, I pointed to a familiar spot in the road. “Look, Amy, that’s where we thought it was time to give up.”

We laughed and finished the last short stretch to the city. We walked down to Monastero di Santa Chiara to see the church and the city. It was beautiful.

After a short stop at the B&B to clean up, we went out for dinner. I tried truffle pasta, since the area is known for truffles. Molto delizioso.

On the way back, we wandered over to the basilica again, before climbing the stairs to our room and collapsing in bed.

Our room was colder than it was outside. I have no idea why it was so freezing. I curled up in a tight ball under the covers, willing my body to warm up. I fell asleep shivering and trying to decipher “I love you, Beth Cooper,” dubbed in Italian on TV.

It took about 20 minutes after waking up for me to be able to muster the courage to fling the covers off myself. It was still freezing.

Amy hadn’t slept all night — she was too cold — so I gave her my blankets and got in the shower. We put on all the layers we could, packed and went downstairs for breakfast. The woman working made us cappuccino as we ate some sort of fruit and nut bread.

I still regret never asking her name. I couldn’t hear her when she first introduced herself, and it got progressively more awkward to ask her as we talked more. She was incredibly nice and ended up driving us most of the way up the hill to Rocca Maggiore. We were more grateful than I think she realized. My body was screaming from the hike the day before.

Amy expressed similar complaints.

We climbed the last small paths to the castle and looked out over the city. We stood in silence when suddenly a feline friend joined us. We named him Rockefeller, after Rocca Maggiore.

Cats are everywhere in Italy for no apparent reason. This one was particularly nice. He escorted us up through the first gate and to the ticket booth, circling our feet as we paid €3.50 to enter. We explored the castle for a while, reading the signs we could decipher. It’s crazy to think of what it would have been like in its prime days.

We climbed all three towers and stayed atop the last for quite some time, taking in our last moments in Assisi.

I knew Caitlin was coming to the city for a day trip, so I called her and said if you do one thing here, climb this castle — advice I will give anyone coming for a day. If you have time, do Eremo first.

Eventually we climbed down spiral staircase after spiral staircase and left the castle. We sat outside, and I tried to map out the best route to the train station, at least 5 km from where we were. I had hoped to see Rockefeller again, but no such luck.

We retraced our steps back to the train station. It wasn’t until walking down the hills that we realized that Friday’s walk up the mountain wasn’t what was causing our pain. It was the walk down, and this one released a new wave of muscle soreness. But we made it and sped onward to Orvieto.

I’ll update on Orvieto tomorrow. I need to go do the homework I pretended I didn’t have all weekend.

Arrivederci.

Editor’s note: Former Grand Haven Tribune intern Lydia Coutré is spending a semester in Italy. She is a junior at Kent State University, studying journalism. Her blogs during her stay in Italy will be posted here and at http://lydiaislost.blogspot.com. All photos by Lydia Coutré.

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