Perugia walking tour snapshots


Map of the Centro Historico of Perugia.

The Turismo office of the Comune di Perugia has nicely divided the old city (Centro Historic) into five walking tours. Today I had a late start due to rain in the morning, but by evening I’d walked two of them — Porta Eburnea and Porta Santa Susanna. This gave me a great opportunity to try out the camera my friend Robin lent to me, and I can tell I have a lot to learn. I bravely put the camera on full automatic mode to see the effect, and often it’s not too bad.

Below are some photos of my walks, or perhaps I should call them snapshots. Either way, I’m enjoying the opportunity to explore some of the side streets and hidden sites of this lovely town.

Au revoir Maria, and a Friday of goodbyes


Someday remind me to tell you how they cut round cakes in Italy.

I’m discovering that Mondays are hello days and Fridays are goodbye days at language school. Today before class it was time to eat goodbye cake for Maria, one of our dearest teachers. After class it was time to sing goodbye karaoke for Maria. Before dinner it was time to drink goodbye apperitivi for Maria. However, some students are finishing their classes and leaving as well, so in between goodbyes to Maria we shared a lunchtime goodbye with Thomas, a dinner goodbye with Martino and a digestivo goodbye with Flavia.

Back at my Perugia home, in between goodbyes to people I said goodbye to my room and hello to Thomas’ former room. Though my old room was just fine, Thomas’ has an extraordinary view and a bathroom of its own. Now I can set out my toothbrush and toothpaste just how I please.

I also had time for a walking exploration of Perugia, and I headed to one side of the mountain on which Perugia is located, walking downhill to a section of churches and smaller apartment buildings. As I say hello to Perugia I’m starting to realize that what makes Perugia unique is the relatively large size of its Centro Historic in proportion to the relatively small size of its population. Wikipedia lists Perugia as having a population of just 168,000, which puts it on par with Vancouver, Washington or Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Perugia is infinitely more charming and complex than either American city, I suspect due to the fact that its population has been fairly large over a many centuries, unlike our American towns that sprout and grow overnight. I’m sure it has its sad and seedy areas, too, but so far there is none of that sprawling American car-desert with vast parking lots and superhighways. Thank you, Italy.

After a day of saying goodbye I said goodbye to the final goodbye party at about midnight and headed to my new room. Monday is Italian Independence Day, so that means a three day weekend, followed by some new people to greet when we’re back in school on Tuesday.

Now is the time

Scenes from Perugia

Some scenes from my recent walks along the streets of Perugia. Click to enlarge.

New Italian Words: “Apperitivo,” “Digestivo”

Wine tasting with (clockwise from left) Maria, io, Tamila, Patricia, Chris.

Working hard with (clockwise from left) Maria, io, Tamila, Patricia, Chris.

My daily life has a new normal. When the sun bathes my bed with yellow light I wake up, usually at around 6:00. I check my email in bed and perhaps write a blog post while I wait for others to awaken. When I hear them stir I either get up for my shower or head out to the dining room for breakfast. This involves Corn Flakes, Nutella®, a piece of Italian pound cake, a cafe latte, and conversation with Thomas and Flavia. Once I’ve eaten and showered, it’s back to my room to prepare for class.

At about 10:30 I walk down, down, down from the Centro Historico to Comitato Linguistico, my language school, which is in a pleasant part of town near the modern bus station. There I have a class with my teacher, Maria*, and this week just one other student, Patricia of Holland. The class is exclusively in Italian, though both Patricia and I often slip into Spanish to help us figure out vocabulary or to compare verb conjugations. We begin with review of homework, then work through the study book, then have some vocabulary lessons and conversation. Maria ends the class with a homework assignment, and then students from all the classes often head out to lunch somewhere nearby or at the Centro Historico. After lunch, it’s individual study time or blogging time or time to tour this interesting city.

Three arches lead the way to a so far unexplored part of town.

Three arches lead the way to a so far unexplored part of town.

Yesterday I really got down to studying. I went to the bookstore and bought some sticky tabs so I could mark the reference sections of my book, and then for a couple of hours I sat down with my numbers and with verb conjugations to make sure I have a good foundation in Italian.

Almost every afternoon or evening Comitato has an optional excursion for the students. Yesterday a group of us gathered at 19:00 — military time is standard here — and walked to a section of town I’d never seen before, very near a prominent set of three arches, similar to a gate in a city wall. Maria** was our leader, and I and three others sat down to taste Umbrian wines — a prosecco, a white and a red. We must’ve still looked thirsty after only three bottles, so the proprietor had pity on us and brought out some of his artisanal limoncello to help us out. This is hard work, being an Italian student.

Always another fascinating neighborhood to visit.

Always another fascinating neighborhood to visit.

I have a standing date back at Graziella’s each night at 21:00 for dinner, so I excused myself from our wine tasting and walked back to Piazza Republica, admittedly with my head spinning a little bit from the wines. Back in the apartment, Luigi, Graziella’s son, who has dinner with us each night, must’ve noticed things weren’t quite normal. “Apperitivo? Si?” he asked. “Digestivo. Si,” I responded.

Until I looked them up just now I didn’t realize that I got the vocabulary just a little bit wrong. “Apperitivo” is the Italian word for a small taste of low-sugar liquor that gets your stomach ready for dinner. “Digestivo,” it turns out, is not the word for “wine-tasting extravaganza with fellow Italian students,” but simply means the kind of liquor you drink just after dinner to help your digestive tract enjoy the food you’ve just eaten.

As I think about it, all this common sense gastronomic wisdom seems to have succeeded in making Italy quite the relaxed and stylish country. It reminds me of a video Maria shared in class yesterday.

In spite of my misuse of the words, Luigi seemed to make sense of my vocabulary, perhaps due to the somewhat flushed look on my face. Soon, he, Thomas and I were talking to each other in French, Luigi’s second language and a strong language as well for Thomas. It was an interesting exercise to pull out my high school French, which I last studied in 1974. Still, my French is a little better than my Spanish, and both are much better than my Italian. The little exercise over dinner is a reminder of what it is like to live in modern Europe, where it is assumed that a well-educated person will be competent in slipping in and out of a few languages over dinner.

As much as I was enjoying the conversation in French, I excused myself immediately after dinner to head to my room. I begged off the dessert Graziella had prepared and climbed right into bed, where I fell asleep almost instantly — the result of a busy day of studying Italian here in Perugia.

Italy, brought to you by Nutella®.

Italy, brought to you by Nutella®.

*Maria insists that I correct an earlier entry in which I note incorrectly that she is 38 years old. She is only 31, as should be obvious.

**Not the 38-year old, but the 31-year old Maria.

Essere, Avere, Parlare, Scrivere, Dormire, Vetro

Pretty amazing stained glass.

Pretty amazing stained glass — the process of restoration.

After studying a few languages over the years — French in high school, Hebrew in college, Greek in seminary and Spanish post-doctorate — I like getting down to basics. Tell me how to conjugate verbs, s’il vous plaît. Fill my head with vocabulary, por favor. Pronouns and prepositions, בבקשה. I’d like some adjectives, παρακαλώ. So today was a productive day of learning Italian — we covered many of the important basics. Before class I reviewed essere (to be), and avere (to have), then in class we moved on to present tense of regular verbs with the three main endings: parlare (to speak) represents the “-are” family; scrivere (to write) represents the “-ere” clan; and dormire (to sleep) fills the bill for the “-ire” group. So if I were being a good student right now I would drop the blog and instead be reciting in my mind: “parlo, parli, parla, parliamo, parlate, parlano; scrivo, scrivi, scrive, scriviamo, scrivete, scriveno, dormo, dormi, dorme, dormiamo, dormite, dormono” etc.*

Instead I had lunch, went on a tour of a stained glass restoration shop, took a nap, and updated you on my life via this blog.


A slide of typical old city Italian life just a block from our lunch stop.

I dined with Thomas, Patricia, Roxanne and Dieter at Piazza Republica for lunch. Afterward I joined a group of about 8 of us for an excursion to a stained glass restoration company. Although the tour was exclusively in Italian, I could clearly make out that the glass was beautiful, it was difficult to restore, that the building housing it was very old, and that this company’s glass is in lots of famous churches, and also a cemetery in Los Angeles, California.

Before going on I should announce that I do know a little something about stained glass. In the mid-1980’s at the Fall City United Methodist Church I was honored to lead the congregation in installation of beautiful windows, produced by Perry Stained Glass Studio in Issaquah. They put together some gorgeous windows for the church, a real highlight of the old, 1890’s building. Then when I was in Wenatchee I led in the restoration of its leaded glass windows, once again by Jim and Liz Perry. Then as pastor in Seattle our building committee chose Mark Eric Gulsrud as designer for two, beautiful, contemporary windows. Jim and Liz built them and they are just lovely. In between all of this I briefly took up stained glass as a hobby, but more importantly I often visited Jim and Liz in their studio while they were laboring away on windows for my churches. They built a beautiful small window for me, too, which I still have an will hang when I have just the right place for it.

Glass has been in the blood of her family for five generations.

Glass has been in the blood of Madelena’s family for five generations.

So, I was looking forward to seeing how the Italians do glass (vetro). Our little group from the school arrived at a bit past 4:00 in the afternoon and were greeted by a mid-30’s Italiana, Madalena, a fifth generation glass maker who is justifiably proud of the traditions of her glass-making family. She welcomed us into her family’s home/shop and as we entered we walked past shelves containing file boxes of correspondence going back over 250 years.

She took us through the earliest shop, a small room with an ancient oven for glass, followed by a larger studio with designs from the early 19th century, then into a more modern studio where glass currently is restored. I was intrigued to see that the company does make some of its own glass, but was particularly surprised to see that the shop makes its own lead came. I’ve only ever seen the mass-produced variety.

I have never in my life seen a stained glass window with this amount of detail and beauty. Truly awesome.

I have never in my life seen a stained glass window with this amount of detail and beauty. Truly awesome.

Most impressive of all, though, is the 19th century glass in the realistic style. In the past I have not been a big fan of this kind of art glass, which relies on a great deal of surface painting to achieve its effect. But a life-size window that depicts a woman in a blue dress is mind-bogglingly detailed and vivid in its colors — quite extraordinary and far beyond anything I’ve seen in this style.

Once our tour was over I headed with our group up the hill to Centro Storico, as the historic center of Italian cities is usually called. I wandered through the large bookstore off the Piazza Republica and to a gelato place for an irresistible sweet, then I hit the sack for a much-needed sleep. Ah, yes. Dormire.

Dinnertime came with a tap on the door from Thomas. Graziella had prepared another feast of pasta as primi, followed today by chicken for me and beef for the red meat eaters. I’m sad to say that Thomas and Flavia have only two more days with our little family. Presumably Monday will bring a couple of new students to share Graziella’s airy apartment. I’ll be the senior Italian student then, which should be scary to contemplate. Flavia has already advised me to put in a request to move to Thomas’ room, which has its own bathroom as well as a panoramic view of the city and the green hills beyond.

Oh, one last highlight of the day. There’s always a treat on the reception desk at our school. Today it was ……

Nutella®, as omnipresent in Italy as espresso.

Nutella®, as plentiful in Italy as espresso.

*Note to my Italian-gentsia friends, I’ve intentionally made one error. Can you find it?

Amici in Bici and Amici con Gigi

Biking near the shores of Lago Trasimeno

Biking near the shores of Lago Trasimeno

Yesterday began with a puzzle — could I get to school on my own without getting lost? My class is now starting at 10:00, while Thomas heads to school for a 9:00 class, so without my guide today I would have to figure out the serpentine roads from Via dell Streghe down the hill to Comitato Linguistico, near the bus station. Google Maps was little help — it doesn’t know any of the side alleys and most of the stairways that shorten the trip. Still, I managed to make it in under 20 minutes, only about twice as long as it took with Thomas the day before.

When I arrived I learned from Frederica, who runs the school, that my class would be shortened since there are only two students. That means we’ll start now at 11:00. Once our teacher, Maria, arrived, Patricia and I went to work on some very basic but helpful material — what letters make what sounds, conjugation of the verb “avere” (to have), and some basic descriptors about people — work, education, marital status, etc.

Our biker gang outside the Touro train station.

Our biker gang outside the Touro train station.

When class finished at 1:00 I was starving, so I decided to head across the street for a quick slice of pizza before our bike excursion would leave at the prearranged time of 1:30. After two quick slices I returned to the school at 1:25, only to find that our bike group had already left. Frederica showed me to the bus so I could catch up to them at the train station, but when I arrived at the train station none of my schoolmates were there. To me this didn’t seem like too much of a problem, since it was raining hard and I now had two good excuses to go home and get some anti-jet lag sleep. I gave it one last try by calling Frederica and, while on the phone to her, Hugo, our guide for the trip, miraculously appeared in front of me. The other students had disappeared across the street for their own slices of pizza. Hugo apologized for leaving without me and I apologized for stepping out for an early lunch. Soon all 10 of us were gathered at the now sun-drenched train station, ready to head to Touro Sul Trasimeno, about 20 minutes away, for our bike trip.

I took on a hitchhiker.

I took on a hitchhiker.

After walking from the station to a bike rental shop we headed out along a dirt road near the lake in bright sunshine. I think we all enjoyed the combination of natural beauty and exercise. We did have a couple of accidents, the worst being a spill by Tamila that resulted in a few scrapes and, I’m certain, some bruises too. Roxanna’s bike pedal fell off, so I traded her bikes, and then Delia became exhausted and hitched a ride on the back of my bike for the last kilometer. This all contributed to helping me feel useful. We enjoyed a beer and gelato near the end of the trip, then jumped on the train back to Perugia.

A photo of Thomas taking a photo of the MiniMetro.

A photo of Thomas taking a photo of the MiniMetro.

Back in town we explored one of the amazing features of the Umbrian capital — the MiniMetro. It’s a light rail system with tiny cars that transport passengers up and down Perugia’s big hill — from the train station nearly to the top of the old city. It has its own tracks and tunnels and is a gleaming, modern example of how to enhance the pedestrian experience and keep people off the roads.

After marveling at the MiniMetro I made it back home at about 8:00 along with a bag of soap, shampoo and other supplies from the Farmacia. Graziella had prepared heaping plates of “bow-tie” pasta in red sauce followed by some tasty cod as a second act. I cleaned my plates and then headed out at 10:00 p.m. to meet with Gigi.

As I had researched the Via di San Francesco I came to understand that there are three main tracks, the most well-funded one being sponsored by the Umbrian Office of Tourism. It’s well-marked by the familiar blue/yellow signs and has an excellent website, full of helpful information. After posting about my trip on my blog and others places I somehow soon was making Facebook friends with people in the Tourism office. I was told I had to meet Gigi (Gianluigi) Bettin, who has taken on the Via di San Francesco as his primary work. He had been following my blog and texted me just after I arrived in town, inviting me to meet and discuss all things cammino. Earlier today I’d set up a meeting for us at 10:00 p.m., the earliest my busy social calendar would allow.

Gigi (left), me, and Ciso, talking serious pilgrim talk.

Gigi (left), me, and Ciso, talking serious pilgrim talk. Gigi’s book is in the foreground.

We met at the fountain in the main piazza and Gigi had with him a gentleman named Ciso B_______, a government official who supervises the Tourism Department and other offices for Umbria. He’d run into Gigi on the street just before our meeting and Gigi invited him along to meet me. It was great to know Ciso, since it had been his decision that in 2008 set in motion the creation of the Via di San Francesco. Gigi was hired as a result, and he was responsible for commissioning the way marks and setting in place the website and infrastructure that created this cammino. I felt honored to spend time with these two gentlemen who’ve pulled together what I believe is a truly excellent pilgrimage walk.

As we talked, Gigi and Ciso showed a lot of interest in the post-Florence and pre-Rome stages I’ve included in my itinerary. They agreed that walking from Florence to the start of their itinerary at Santuario della Verna could be challenging. They also agreed that the walk into Rome needs more signage and infrastructure. I encouraged them to recognize that their Franciscan pilgrimage presents an attractive option for the 250,000 people each year who’ve walked the Camino de Santiago and are looking for their next great adventure.

Gigi also shared an interesting detail about his book, La Via di Francesco. His co-author is Paolo Giulietti, a local Catholic bishop who also serves as chaplain for the Italian Santiago confraternity. Don Paolo’s partnership closely connects the pilgrimage to the Catholic Church, which is a real plus for religious pilgrims. Gigi clearly has a great appreciation for the genuine spirituality of this man and I hope to meet him while I’m here. In addition to encouraging me to meet Don Paolo, Gigi invited me to several upcoming meetings — one with the Italian Santiago confraternity in a couple of weeks, and one with Italian pilgrims who’ve completed the Camino de Santiago, the Via Francigena and/or the Via di Francesco. One is here in Perugia and the other is in Florence in a couple of weeks — I’ll have to see if it can fit either onto my crowded calendar.

The subject of the Italian confraternity reminded me of my experience at the Albergue San Nicolas at Puntetitero, run by the Italian confraternity, on the Meseta in Spain. I’d walked there almost exactly three years ago, arriving in the evening after a long and somewhat waterless walk that had begun 37 km (23 miles) earlier that day. Gigi’s eyes sparkled as I told him the story. The place is now my favorite albergue, infused as it is by the joy of the Italian hospitaleros who put on purple capes and wash the feet of each weary pilgrim before serving them a meal of tasty pasta and wine. Their attitude is very Christlike, spiritual, and loving — and their attention makes San Nicolas one of the highlights of the Santiago pilgrimage, brought to you by Italy. I see this same love of pilgrimage in Gigi and Ciso and I look forward to a partnership with them in helping others discover their creation, the Via di San Francesco.

The busy-ness of the day is keeping me from being homesick, I know. I’m missing Theresa, missing the church, missing Seattle. But today was a day of new friends — “amici” — on “bici” (bikes) and with Gigi.

Exploring new territory in the Art of the Selfie

Exploring new territory in the Art of the Selfie

Look out — My head is about to explode

IMG_3604Today my head wants to explode — so much information about the Italian language in so little time.

The day began at the usual hour — 4:00 a.m. when for some reason I’ve been waking up. This time I managed to force myself back to sleep, and I reawakened at 7:00, refreshed and ready to begin the day. The rest of the apartment — including my hostess Graziella and my two fellow students Thomas and Flavia — was still fast asleep. I caught up on a Facebook argument I’m having with an atheist back in Seattle and then headed to the showers after I started to hear people stir. After my shower Grazielle had a breakfast of toast, cake and peanut butter ready (no Nutella®), which I washed down with a caffe latte.

School secretary Giulia waves from behind the Comitato Linguistico desk.

School secretary Giulia waves from behind the Comitato Linguistico desk.

After breakfast I went back to my room to see if I could catch Theresa at home while she was still awake. We talked on FaceTime and it was great to see her face and hear her voice. By the time we were finished, Thomas was ready to head to school, so we walked down the hill together to Comitato Linguistico, our language school, Thomas leading the way.

Comitato is housed on the fifth floor of a 1970’s era office building just above the main Perugia bus station, and its quarters are cozy, modern and friendly. I met Giulia, with whom I’d had several email conversations over the last months, and was oriented by Frederika, the owner. She showed me around and described the optional excursions students can take. I signed up for every one, including a city tour this afternoon, a bike trip to Lake Trasimeno tomorrow, a stained glass restoration tour Wednesday, a wine tasting Thursday and an Italian movie on Friday — so many excursions that I had to mark them in my iPhone calendar. After finishing this task I discovered my class wouldn’t start until 10:00, which gave me time for a second breakfast at a nearby cafe.

When I came back I met my first teacher, David, a friendly young Perugian. My fellow students in class are a young Dutch woman, Patricia, and an American woman from Fresno, Delia. She seems to have a lot more Italian than Patricia or me, so today’s lessons were elementary for her, challenging for Patricia and me.

David and me with our grammar book.

David and me with our grammar book.

David walked us through some basics. Pronouns, conjugation of “to be,” a couple of prepositions, and some vocabulary — all in one hour. In our conversation time the first question in Italian was “where are you from?” followed by “how old are you?” and “where do you work?” The first question was easy. My answer to the second question led to some surprised looks, which I took as flattery. The answer to the third question was the one I’m still trying out. “Sono scrittore” (I’m a writer). Then I described my plan to write a guidebook, to walk from Florence to Rome, the address of my blog, etc.

At 11:00 it was David’s time to transition to another class, and Delia left to join a different class too, likely more advanced. Patricia and I were then introduced to Maria, a 31-year old teacher from southern Italy. She was full of laughter and jokes as she led us through vocabulary words. The general topic was “Details” and we learned how to describe information about people like their work, hobbies, musical preferences, favorite color, favorite beverage and food, sports, languages they know, marital status, and general personality traits. Soon Maria, too, was asking my vocation, and when I answered, “Sono scrittore,” she unfortunately asked, “How long have you been a writer?” Thinking back to the immigration officer in London who’d negotiated the answer with me I responded, “Four days.” She would have none of that, and before long I was describing my work as a Methodist pastor for 34 years. Soon I was also sharing in halting Italian about divorce, girlfriend, children, languages I’d learned, educational attainment, etc. Patricia also shared, as did Maria. We enjoyed much laughter as we learned about each other. Maria had ruled that English was forbidden in class. Spanish, however, would be acceptable, which was a great relief. Both Patricia and I spent much of the class speaking and hearing in Español. I’m not sure either of us can separate the two languages quite yet.


View of city rooftops.

After class Patricia and I walked up to the main pedestrian area and sat for a quick lunch. She’s a communications student at university in Amsterdam with a boyfriend of 5 years. She reminded me that I’d told her I had a 2:00 meeting, so I jogged down the street at 2:01 to meet Kenneth Miner, a Camino de Santiago pilgrim from Oklahoma with whom I’d been chatting on Facebook and on this blog. Kenneth was inspired to walk from Assisi to Rome after reading last year’s blog entries and he heads off tomorrow from Assisi. He’s something of a medical miracle, having had leg bones on both sides replaced in surgery last year.

After lunch I headed home to blog a little, then took a quick nap before my 5:00 p.m. tour of the city with other students. David served as our guide and walked us through the Papal Fortress and many other sites in town, after which we gathered over drinks in a hip bar. As we sat and I listened to other students talk I couldn’t help but feel very old and very tired. My head was about to explode with so much input all at once. I decided to believe that if I can survive these four weeks I will come out knowing some Italian.

David shows our group the fountain at Piazza 4 Novembre in the heart of Perugia.

David shows our group the fountain at Piazza 4 Novembre in the heart of Perugia.

After the tour I headed back home, ready for dinner. I’m longing to speak only in English for awhile, but as I walked I had Italian phrases running through my head and I was starting to think about how I would tell Graciella that I may miss dinner tomorrow night due to a bike trip to Lake Trasimeno. Funny that the words I should say in Italian came instantly into my head. Maybe some will indeed be sticky enough to be there when I need them over the next months.

Dinner included an Italian monologue on the topic of dinosaurs by Graciella’s grandson, Alesandro. He’s a bundle of energy, which is much more than I am after a hard first day of Italian. Graciella, who’s hosted many students, asked in Italian if I was tired. I answered honestly. She slowly and knowingly nodded her head as she swallowed a bite of salad. “Il primo giorno è sempre il più difficile.”

Along with bread, water, a bottle of local white wine, and all of the plates and utensils I couldn’t help but notice a jar of Nutella® sitting alone in front of my plate. Graziella picked it up, showed it to me, and said, “Look what I bought at the store today.”

Which Way to Witch Way?

To find the Via delle Streghe (Way of the Witches), just go behind the  freestanding sign, then under the Ristorante La Taverna sign. Look for #13.

My Perugia room is on the Way of the Witches. Just go behind the freestanding sign, then under the Ristorante La Taverna sign. Look for the unluckiest number you can think of if you’d like to find the apartment where I’m staying. Ring the bell and you may find me here. (The black line in the middle is a sign that the photographer was too lazy to stand up and move around the narrow rope holding down the sun umbrella adjacent to his lunch table.)

I was sad to say goodbye to my gracious host, Alec, and his lovely guest house this morning, but it was time to head to Perugia and find my new abode. Months ago when I chose to study at Comitato Linguistico in Perugia, I knew I’d want to live with an Italian family rather than find a simple (i.e. lonely) studio apartment. The goal was to get as complete an immersion into Italy as possible, and everyone seemed to agree that living with a family is the best means to that end.

After driving to the Perugia Airport to drop off my rental car I took another €30 cab, this time into the heart of Perugia. The day was very sunny, and as the cab driver zipped through the Perugia suburbs I knew right away I would enjoy this town. He drove me to the top of the hill, just a few blocks from the cathedral, at the foot of the pedestrian mall, dropping me at the start of Via Luigi Bonazzi, the pedestrian mall at the center of the old city.

First impression of central Perugia: sweet. The city is mouldering in a charming way, like most Italian towns. The buildings are of stone or plaster-covered stone and where the plaster is painted it is stained, faded or peeling. The pedestrian mall has a Sunday flea market on one end and in the length going to the cathedral is dotted with the shaded, outdoor eating areas of a dozen or so restaurants. Waiters (no waitresses) stand at the doors of their establishments, ready to help anyone who’d like some food to accompany their people-watching. It’s afternoon, so many of the stores are closed, but clearly the gelato emporiums are open since motorcyclists, carabinieri and grandmothers have cones of the chilly delight in their hands as they walk by.

The cab driver pointed me to the Via delle Streghe, location of my room. I’d looked up the meaning of the street name back in Seattle and had to chuckle when I learned it meant, “The Way of the Witches.” I’ve come a long way from being a Methodist pastor one week to living on Witch Street the next. After finding the street and the doorbell I was to ring at 3:00, I settled down for a noon lunch at a restaurant across the street.

The Way of Witches -- Is it a narrow street or wide stairway?

The Way of Witches — Is it a narrow street or wide stairway? Either way I plan to follow the sage advice of the graffiti artist.

Four twenty-something students from the U.S. sat at the table next to me and I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation — “got drunk last night . . .  woke up with a hangover . . . couldn’t find my cigarettes this morning . . .  that boy’s cute.” While I’m in Perugia will I miss conversation in English? Maybe not.

A little later a group of 30 or so English-speaking students strolled by, with a teacher or tour guide pointing out helpful stores — Vodaphone, the bookstore, etc. Obviously Perugia is earning its reputation as a university town that specializes in teaching foreigners the secrets of the Italian language.

The waiter at the restaurant is nice enough to let me chill out at one of his tables for the 3 hours I’ll need until my room is ready. I enjoy a meal of mixed salad and Margherita pizza as I wait, watching the crowds. Theresa Elliott will be interested to know that there was not one local woman with grey hair who passed by in three hours. Apparently the hair of Italian women comes only in black, brunette and blonde whether they are 18 or 80 years old. They are also smartly dressed on this Sunday-take-a-walk afternoon.

Because they notice a photo I’ve posted of my arrival, I connect on Facebook over lunch with some of the local Italians who work for the Umbrian Tourist Office on the St. Francis camino. Gigi, a young fellow who lives in Assisi looks forward to a meeting later. Chiara, a woman closer to my age, asks if I have plans today. An American pilgrim, Kenneth, is in Assisi now, but we’ll meet while he’s here, preparing for his Franciscan walk.

A comfy room for the next 4 weeks.

A comfy room for the next 4 weeks.

The time to walk the Way of Witches finally arrives, so I ask for the bill and head down the wide stairway to find the house number. It turns out “my” building on the Way of Witches is a mid-1960’s, brick, multi-story apartment house, hidden from view by the much more quaint 16th and 17th century buildings on the pedestrian mall. A modern apartment has some advantages and I ring the bell to the gate with a sense of excitement.

Soon I hear a voice from a balcony above. “Sandy! Four!” and I see a woman I’ll soon know to be Graziella, my hostess, waving four fingers at me. I go through the building door, up a tiny elevator, and find a smiling and gracious Graziella and her former tenant, Katia, awaiting me at the door of a spacious and airy fourth floor apartment.

Graziella shows me to my place, a large bedroom on the back side of the apartment. She then tours me through the bathroom (tub with handheld shower in the Italian style) and describes in detail everything I should know. Sadly, she speaks only Italian so I don’t understand a word she is saying. I respond in Spanish and pretty soon we’re having a rudimentary conversation about me not eating meat and how I like eggs, croissants, coffee and Nutella® for breakfast. I go to the living room and reintroduce myself to Katia, who’s from Finland and speaks very good English. We go through the same details all over again, this time and with Katia’s words I start to understand. Here’s the key, always double lock the front door. Here’s the cat, keep your bedroom door closed. Breakfast is whatever time you want it. Dinner is 8:00ish.

Graziella, left, and Katia.

Graziella, left, and Katia. Witch Way is not named after either of these kind ladies.

We have a few moments for pictures and I take one of Graziella and Katia in the living room. I adjourn to the bedroom and begin to unpack my few possessions into the closet and bureau. I brought several books, but as I unpack I realize how few pants I have, plus just a few t-shirts. Today is Sunday and the stores are closed, but maybe I’ll get a pair of shorts tomorrow. I have a tiny bag of laundry and I make a mental note to learn the Italian word so I can ask Graziella about it later.

I can already tell that this adventure is going to be, well, an adventure. Tomorrow I’ll go to Italian school for the first time and hopefully meet some people. I’ve scoped out the comfortable side chairs near my bed where presumably I’ll do my reading. I spread out my electronics on the desk to start recharging my various batteries. I logged onto the WiFi and, all these things accomplished, I begin to relax, feeling instantly sleepy. These 4:00 mornings can’t last much longer. I need a good night’s sleep and an end to this jet lagginess of the last days.

Later on I’m sure I’ll meet my Facebook friends Gigi, Chiara and perhaps Kenneth. I’m sure other surprises await, but for now I’m glad to have found my new, temporary home so I can dig into this work of studying Italian here on Witch Way.

View from my window, above which street?

View from my window, above which way?

Like a Walk in the Park

Sentiero Italia. Or was it CAI #3? Or #10Bis?

Sentiero Italia. Or was it CAI #3? Or #10Bis?

As soon as I can I’m going to stop waking up at 4:00 in the morning. Although it’s nice to spend a little time over email and also to connect back home where it’s early evening, it’s tough to be awake, hungry, and have to wait four hours for breakfast.

Mirko, left, with John. Today's hiking buddies.

Mirko, left, with John. Today’s hiking buddies.

Such is the hard life of an Ordained Writer (formerly Ordained Minister). This morning I dutifully waited the four hours until breakfast and, when it finally, arrived, was not disappointed in the spread. Mueslix, toast, yogurt, coffee, orange juice, jam. Oddly, no Nutella®, but I’m not complaining. I settled in at the outside breakfast table, with my host, Alec, talking about hiking maps for the local area. Alec mentioned that another guest, John, was planning a day’s hike with a professional local guide and suggested I might want to consider joining them.

When John arrived he agreed, and the two of us set out for Gubbio where we were to meet our guide. John works in Italy for the U.S. State Department and is on a mini-vacation from his office in Rome. Once in Gubbio we met up with Mirko, our guide. Mirko is a local farmer who trained as a geologist, and to supplement his income he took up guiding. He’s also into spelunking, i.e. exploring caves, and he shared with us that the peak he chose to show us — protected in a nature park — has an old Italian name of Monte Cucco that possibly means “Hollow Mountain” due to the 30 km of caves inside.

From here the mountain does not seem hollow.

From here the mountain does not seem unusually hollow.

We agreed to a 3-4 hour hike and set off on what turned out to be Sentiero Italia. This “Grand Italian Trail” covers 6,166 km as it snakes its way across, up and down the Italian peninsula plus Sicily. For folks from the Western U.S. it would be something like spending time on a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. Walking on the “S1” gave me a chance to ask Mirko about Italian trail marking, a matter I’d been curious about since last year when I noticed a variety of markings on the Via di San Francesco. According to Mirko, all red and white striped trails are marked by the Club Alpino Italia and numbered by locals based on the trails’ destinations. The Sentiero Italia is the “Interstate Highway” of Italian trails, always marked with the red/white stripes and a black “S1” scrawled in the middle. Mirko described the difficulty of creating maps for the many Italian trails, given the large number and the fact that the trail system in Italy is maintained mostly by volunteers. As we branched off the S1 we walked along Trail #3, #17, and then #10 BIS. The latter is like “10 plus,” according to Mirko, because the trail numberers ran out of numbers and needed to find something between #10 and #11.

Mirko showing how to walk in a limestone creek bed. He also showed us how to fall down a short bank.

Mirko showing how to walk in a limestone creek bed. He also showed us how to fall down a short bank.

We walked through forests of beech, then along meadows filled with wildflowers. Mirko seemed to know them all. He mentioned to us that he’d recently identified 85 different varieties of orchids within this nature preserve. We walked along a limestone lined creek bed and enjoyed finding tiny worms and leeches in the clear water. Mirko assured us that we could drink the water since its purity was proven by the presence of the tiny squirming creatures. I politely demurred and instead sipped from my clear plastic disposable water bottle.

Mirko was a fine guide, but the economic difficulties of the region were apparent as he showed us the bottoms of his hiking boots. They were worn completely smooth by four years of hiking. I found myself wishing I could help him get a new pair and I worried, with good reason it turned out, that his boots would be slippery in the wrong conditions. Mirko was very earnest, and his geological background and love of plant life showed themselves as he described the sights along the way. Fortunately he wasn’t hurt when he slid a few feet down a damp bank, landing on his backside.

True to his word, the hike ended back at the trailhead in about 3 or 4 hours. Unlike trailheads back home, this Italian one was equipped with a fine restaurant. We enjoyed plates of tagliatelle ai funghi, a local specialty, before heading back to a challenging afternoon of sunbathing by the pool at the guest house. Later I will force myself to enjoy a barbecue and some local wines with the other guests, followed by a viewing of the evening’s promised meteor shower.

Narcissus. At least that's what Mirko said.

Narcissus. At least that’s what Mirko said.

Simple Task: Get to Perugia via Gubbio

May 23 & 24, 2014 — Rome to Gubbio

Yesterday’s taxi fiasco could have been averted by following the simple rule I learned in my first international trip: never agree to a taxi ride in an un-metered taxi without first negotiating the price. If only I’d followed another well-known rule of travel yesterday I would have saved a couple of hours of frustration. The rule? Never step onto a train without knowing for sure where it’s going.

These are on every breakfast table in Italy and each packet is the equivalent of eating two hazelnuts.

These are on every breakfast table in Italy and each packet is the equivalent of eating two hazelnuts!

The day started well and ended well. I awoke early in La Girandola Hotel B&B near the Termini Station in Rome and cruised the Web while waiting for breakfast to be served in the eating area outside my room. This allowed me to research the top cell companies in Italy to see where and how I could get a SIM card for my iPhone. I discovered the TIM company is Italy’s largest cell provider and they have a store right in Termini Station. I also reserved my train ticket to Perugia, where I will get to the airport and pick up a rental car for a ride to the guest house where I’ll relax for a few days before language classes. I also bought my train ticket online — Rome to Foligno to Perugia. Simple.

Breakfast time finally arrived (8:00 a.m. seems late when you wake up at 4:00 a.m.). “Ahh, yes,” I said to myself as I scanned the breakfast table. “Nutella®. I’m back in Italy.” One croissant and “the equivalent of four hazelnuts” later I was off with my bags to Termini. I picked up my new TIM SIM card and 10GB of monthly Internet (so I can use my phone as a hotspot for WiFi when necessary) and grabbed my train tickets from the machine with 45 minutes left to spare before my 9:35 train to Foligno.

Waiting for the train at Termini Station in rainy Rome.

Waiting for the train at Termini Station in rainy Rome.

On the train my mind went back to this same trip last year with Sebastian, my camino friend of 2011. The route is notable for the many tunnels, which themselves are notable for the terrain, which itself is notable for what it means for pilgrims — to walk to Rome requires you walk over all those mountains that the trains go under. Indeed, Sebastian, Jacqueline, Andreas and I had walked those mountains in a quad-building pilgrimage that had taken us to Rome and was the genesis of the book I’d be writing this year.

Two hours later the train arrived in Foligno, a flat, industrial town in the shadow of the Central Apennine range famous for gorgeous hill towns like Spoleto, Spello, Trevi and Assisi. At the station I checked the “Departures” board to see where I’d catch my Perugia train and dutifully went to Line 1 to wait. While I was grazing the glass cabinet of pizza slices and croissants in the adjacent cafe I heard the announcement, “[unintelligble]…[unintelligible]….Perugia….[unintelligible][etc.].” I sprang for the door, ran down the stairs and across to Line 3, jumped on the train, settled in, and immediately realized — it was going the wrong direction.

My first mistake was I hadn’t trusted my own reading of the Departures board. My second mistake was that I hadn’t realized that Italian train announcements always begin with where the train is coming from, rather than where it is going to. Not to mention that I hadn’t even learned any Italian prepositions yet, so I don’t know the difference between da and verso.

With some newfound humility I climbed off the train back at Spoleto and saw on this station’s Departures board that I would have to cool my jets for an extra hour before I could get back to Foligno. Out of curiosity I called a cab to see what the fare would be to end my train adventure and get right to my rental car. The polite cab dispatcher offered the ride for a mere 100 Euros (about $140). An extra hour wait suddenly seemed ok.

Guesthouse near Gubbio, with views toward Lake Valfabbrica. Gorgeous Umbria.

Guesthouse near Gubbio, with views toward Lake Valfabbrica. Gorgeous Umbria.

At 1:00 I was back on the train to Foligno, then after realizing the Perugia Airport is actually closer to Assisi, I transferred instead to St. Francis’ town, where I caught a 30 Euro cab to the airport. I picked up my rental car, and drove about 45 minutes to my delightful Gubbio guest house — at the end of a 4 km strada bianca (gravel road) with an amazing view of the Val di Chiascia. Highlight of the trip? A stop at a roadside cafe for a croissant — filled with delicious Nutella®. Oh, I also saw one large and beautiful deer I’d startled as I drove down the gravel road, plus a red fox who scampered across the gravel in advance of my tiny, white Citroën C1 rental.

Here in the countryside I’m deprogramming from travel for a couple of quiet days while awaiting the start of Italian classes in Perugia and my home stay there with the Bertolini family. During this green and calm time I’m gathering my thoughts, reading and taking notes from the books I’ve carried from Seattle. My mind is moving from the busy past weeks in Seattle to the upcoming walk I’ll begin after language classes end next month.

Layout of Umbria's Via di Francesco from the site

Layout of Umbria’s Via di Francesco from the site

As I drove yesterday I saw out of the car window the familiar blue and yellow way marks of the Via di San Francesco walk. The walk I’ll write about is all around me here outside of Gubbio. It stretches many miles north into the green hills around Sansepolcro and Santuario Della Verna and south past Assisi and across to the Nera River valley. The area is beautiful, and I’m happy to call it my home for these three months of learning, walking, writing and adventure.


Here are some photos of the lovely agriturismo I stayed at these days: