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Report 1247: A Not-So-Slow First Trip to Italy and Budapest

By andasamo from Nova Scotia, Canada, Spring 2006

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Page 13 of 14: A Sidetrip to Assisi And The Kindness of Strangers ...

photo by Andasamo

Remnants of Roman forum in Assisi

Before leaving home, we’d thought we might go on a shopping tour in Florence, having heard so much about the outlet stores. However, as soon as we realized we could spend the day in Assisi instead, the shopping idea went out the window ... after all, we can shop at home, but how often do we get to see more of Italy (not often, considering that this was our first, and so far only, trip!)

The journey to Assisi was a bit of an effort – we were uncertain which train to take, but finally boarded the one we felt was headed in the right direction. We asked the Trenitalia official on board and he said, no this train did not stop in Assisi, but then several locals, plus a very helpful woman from Finland assured us that yes, we were on the right train. The woman from Finland was actually going to Assisi herself to meet friends (and perhaps investigate a property since she had a Real Estate in Italy book in hand.) Lo and behold, in time we stopped in Assisi so all was well. We checked our bags and took the bus to Piazza Mattiote at the top of the town. (We thought our legs would thank us for riding to the top instead of walking!)

Where to go from here? Well we did have the Rick Steves self guided tour in hand, but proceeded to get lost while trying to find the starting point. We headed up and found a dirt path running alongside the town wall and what an incredible experience that turned out to be. There was not a soul in sight, nor the sound of a vehicle, nor anything else modern to mar the timeless feel of the place. Along one side of the path was the ancient stone wall, on the other, an olive orchard with a spectacular view across to what we later found out was Rocca Maggiore. Somewhat reluctantly, we retraced our steps (after discovering that the path led to a building I believe was Rocca Minore, and did not appear to be a public thoroughfare.) Then we managed to get on the right track and walked around the remnants of the Roman Arena to the Porta Perlici, which does have a commanding view. We strolled down through the town, stopping at the Church of San Ruffino, Basilica of St. Clare, Temple of Minerva, Church of Santo Stefano, and at a little shop, Poiesis, where we bought hand made olive wood bowls, and Mom bought gifts for her sisters. I must confess we also stopped at the €.99 shop partly because it was just so incongruous in the midst of all that history, and because I wanted to buy something for my daughter and niece, who are dollar store fanatics!

The Assisi churches all felt immensely spiritual. Perhaps that was simply because, unlike most other churches we'd seen, we got to visit these in the absence of tourist mobs. The day was cool and drizzly so there were not many people about. I really loved the area around the Church of Santo Stefano. The building itself was beautiful, with its mix of pink and white stone and small steeple, plus there was a little wall to sit and enjoy the panoramic view, a gorgeous bush in full bloom; even the red brick pathway was pretty! Near the Temple of Minerva, we stopped for a tasty bite of pizza, topped with onions, a salty cheese and olive oil, a mediocre biscuit and a delicious fruit and nut tart.

Time to visit the Basilica of St. Francis. We are not Catholic, but nonetheless felt like pilgrims standing in hushed awe before St. Francis’ tomb, with only a handful of others in the room. Looking at his rough patched robe impressed upon me the conditions under which he lived his life. In the Upper Basilica, we were captivated by the frescoes of his life cycle. We managed to tear ourselves away reluctantly since we did have a train to catch and I still wanted to see Santa Maria degli Angeli in the lower town. The porziuncola took us completely by surprise. I had read that the church was built over St. Francis little chapel, but still - we stepped into this massive cathedral and – whoa, there was a tiny (and very old) stone building in the middle, right under the dome! It was a moving experience to stand inside the tiny (and I do mean tiny) chapel and listen to the service being held in the main cathedral. In the passageway to the Chapel of the Transito, there was a statue of St. Francis holding a basket in which were perched two live doves (talk about photo op!) and a view of the rose garden, unfortunately not in bloom. Our spirits high, we walked back to the train station and ... missed our train to Rome.

We had tickets for the Eurostar, which train, thus far in our journey, had a very distinctive appearance. When one of the funky coloured Trenok trains came along, we just watched it until the last minute when we got a sneaking feeling it might be “the” train to Rome. I ran inside to ask the woman at the counter and she waved me frantically toward the train “yes, Rome, yes”, but as I ran back out, the train was pulling away. Mom was running along the platform toward me but we couldn’t make it. Oddly, although we were in a foreign country, didn’t speak the language and had an early morning flight, this did not particularly stress us out.

We went back to ask when was the next train to Rome, only to discover that was the last direct train of the day and that we would have to go to Foligno and change trains there. OK, we felt we were up for that challenge. No problem getting to Foligno, but once there we realized we had no idea which train might be headed for Rome. A man was standing beside one train so we pointed to it and asked “Roma”? Not so. He asked where we were from and when we replied Canada, he broke into a grin saying that Canada was the capital of the world (maybe he has family here?) Then he pointed across the way to where the train bound for Rome sat, ready to pull out. We had to go sottopassagio to the next platform before the train left. I guess he felt we wouldn’t make it because next thing I knew, he came flying past grabbing Mom’s bag and yelling to the train officials to hold the train (at least he was yelling to them in Italian while pointing back at us so we assumed he was saying to hold the train.) Mom and I ran after him, just barely making it. As he handed Mom's bag in after us, the doors closed and the train pulled away. So unfortunately we had no chance to thank this kind gentleman, but we certainly appreciated his help! (And the help of the kindly nun who made sure we didn't get off the train at Roma Orte instead of Termini, or Roma Centrale as she called it.)

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