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 www.viadifrancesco.it site

Layout of Umbria’s Via di Francesco from the http://www.viadifrancesco.it 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:

Short and Beautiful Walk Leads to Happy Reunion

May 20, 2013 — Arrone to Piediluco

20130520-153439.jpgViews toward Arrone as we left town after breakfast and shopping

Our morning started with a breakfast of coffee and “biscotti,” which sounds promising to an American used to the Starbucks variety of biscotti, but which in Italy seems to mean a sugary pastry preserved forever in a plastic Twinkie® bag. Still, smothered in jam or Nutella these biscotti give ample, sweet calories for a day’s walk. We lingered over breakfast, then lingered some more after breakfast, to give ample time for our clothes to dry in the morning sun.

After buying apples, checking my weight at a crowded pharmacy (down 3 pounds), buying toothpaste, and clarifying directions with a helpful member of the local polizia we left Arrone under partly cloudy skies, in shirtsleeve temps on a level track through the valley behind the town.

20130520-153535.jpgOne of the many fisherman along the accompanying river out of Arrone

By the topographical chart we knew we had level ground as far as the Marmare Waterfall, but at that point we’d climb about 400 feet to the Marmare viewpoint. We were excited about seeing a beautiful waterfall, even if it meant a steep climb to get to the top.

The climb ended up being quite steep — like a stairway without the steps. Sebastian led the way up, up and up to the large park above the falls that includes a museum, food kiosks, ballfields and a campground. The steep climb had prepared us for a bite of lunch, which we took at one of the kiosks near the ticket office. We asked about the cost of tickets and learned they would go on sale “when they turn on the waterfall.” Seems the beautiful falls do double duty as a power generator and part of the day the water is diverted to make electricity for nearby towns.

Rather than wait a couple of hours for the waterworks we headed on toward our goal of Piediluco which was just 7k ahead. About two-thirds of this track was on tranquil, gravel road next to a wide canal, but unfortunately the other one-third was on the edge of a busy two-lane highway. So we made our way into Piediluco alternately in either sun-splashed bliss or barely controlled terror.

20130520-153622.jpgStepping off the path to watch a visiting painter

By 3:00 we were in the lakeside town and a kind man directed us to the only open hotel in town, a renovated monastery above the famous Church of San Francesco from the 13th century. We settled into our room, showered and headed to the terrace, just above the church’s tile roof, to write in our blogs and diaries. As we wrote we were charmed by various local cats and by the hotel owner, too, who brought us bread, cheese and a couple of tiny pizza slices for a snack.

Even though we’d seen some beautiful scenery, the big event of the day was the arrival of our 2011 camino friend, Andreas of Finland. We long ago knew he’d be able to join us starting on May 20, but it wasn’t clear until a couple of days ago that our rendezvous would be here in Piediluco.

20130520-182133.jpgFisherman among the boats at Lake Piediluco, a place also popular with Italy’s competitive rowing teams

Andreas is much-loved in our 2011 pilgrim family. I appreciated especially his jokes, skits, and comedy sketches. He’s a faithful Lutheran and a student of theology and journalism.

Tomorrow we head into “real” St. Francis territory as we cross from Umbria into Lazio and overnight at Poggio Bostone, a place closely associated with St. Francis’ life and spiritual development.

20130520-215140.jpgFrim left: me, Sevastian, our host restaurateur/hotelier, Jacqueline, and new arrival Andreas