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Report 472: Back to Uni to Learn Italian - A Month in Perugia

By Pamela R from Sydney, Australia, Fall 1998

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Page 12 of 31: Saturday 12th September - Assissi

It was raining cats and dogs (or as they say in Italian, pioveva a catinelle) but we all made it to our tour coach, including this time Jason, Andrea and Sarah who hadn’t shown up for the previous tours.

It was still teeming when we reached Assisi and the guide was nowhere to be seen. We all waited patiently in the bus for a while but eventually we decided to start on our own again as we already knew what we hoped to see. Suzanna came with us and we walked from the bus parking level up the hill and into the lower basilica. (The upper basilica sustained the major damage from last year’s earthquake and is not able to be visited.) It was pretty crowded with tourists, and there were to be heard frequent admonitions of ‘Silenzio.’

After our visit, we were all in need of a toilet stop. We were directed up the road which runs along inside the town walls but the toilet was out of order – meaning it accepted your money but wouldn’t release the entry door. After several others had tried and failed, and with Suzanna urgently in need by now, we struck out towards the centre of town to a café where we’d previously made a comfort stop. It was also a good opportunity for a coffee to get us going again.

Our first port of call, after a bit of window shopping and buying a small watercolour on the way, was the Tempio di Minerva and beneath it, the Foro Romano, which gave a remarkable insight into the Roman town, partly excavated, beneath today’s Assisi. We walked along its ancient roads, stood within the bare outlines of houses and shops, and could quite readily picture those early people at work and play.

The rain was even heavier when we came out of the forum and after briefly visiting the Tempio, transformed into a church in 1539 to save it from destruction but retaining its original imposing pillared facade of Corinthian columns, we were starting to think about lunch. We’d previously made note of a couple of interesting restaurants and Suzanna was happy to follow our suggestion. La Fortezza got the nod over Buca di San Francesco (a plate restaurant) basically because it was closer and we were drenched. We all agreed it was an excellent decision as we had a fantastic meal without really breaking the budget. Not to mention the complimentary champagne and bruschetta (three types – liver paté, spicy tomatoes and asparagus paté) that was brought before our ordered meals [antipasto norciana for all of us; then Peter – salmi di cinghiale; Pamela – anatra con finocchio; Suzanna – piccione con limone]. This was washed down with a pleasant house red, and coffee completed the meal.

Our large shared salad arrived without servers, and rather than delving with our own cutlery, we asked the waiter for some. These he brought, and with great care, proceeded to dress and thoroughly toss the salad after which he took the servers away again. As we proceeded after all to help ourselves with our own utensils, we wondered what he must have thought we meant – that we were simply too lazy to toss it ourselves!

We had a rush to be back to the bus by 3 o’clock, but not so much that we couldn’t make time to stop on the way for some almond toffee (sold by weight and very heavy it must have been as we were surprised at L.2,800 for quite a small piece).

Everyone was back in time and we drove down to Santa Maria degli Angeli below Assisi for a half hour stop at the church which encloses the Porziuncola, the tiny chapel where St Francis was said to have worshipped and taken his vow to reject wordly things before throwing himself among the rose thorns. We saw all the things one is supposed to see there – the rose garden (with its now thornless roses), the statue of St Francis with the two white doves nesting in his clasped hands, and the chapel where he died – all along with several other busloads of tourists.

Then we piled back into the coach, arriving back in Perugia around 5 o’clock, cold and wet and tired. Peter rushed out and bought a few provisions and we fell exhausted into bed after feasting on bread and jam and fruit for supper.

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