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:

Ancient Villas, Australians, and Belgian Yoga Ladies

Town Hall at Foligno

Town Hall at Foligno

May 15, 2013 — Spello to Trevi

After covering 20 km in six and a half hours here we are, enjoying a cheese and beer snack in our four star hotel in the beautiful hill town of Trevi.

The day started with a breakfast of croissants and Nutella in the dining room of our Spello hotel. We visited in a combination of English and French with two Belgian ladies who were pleasantly surprised by our plan to walk to Rome. They’re scouting out the walk themselves for a future trip. We lingered over coffee since it was raining outside, then said goodbye and began our walk in rain gear down through the cobbled streets of medieval Spello to the busy roads at the valley floor below.

The well-marked path took us along the hillside through olive groves and small farms for several kilometers, then we rejoined the busy streets as we neared the center of Foligno. The rain let up, and we ditched our rain gear to keep cool in the warm air. In this portion of the day’s walk, often there were sidewalks, but sometimes we shared the quieter streets with the tiny Italian cars and mini-trucks.

Thankfully, central Foligno is a pedestrian-only zone and we enjoyed a coffee break in the main square with a view of the beautiful church, the Duomo of Foligno. As we chatted and sipped our coffee a gentleman next to us asked in a soft, Australian accent where we were from. We described our current adventure and past walks and he was surprised at our plan to walk all the way to Rome. Soon he and his wife were describing their adventure — they are here in Italy after a two-month cruise from Australia to Japan to India and on to the Mediterranean. “We’re ready to go home now,” said the man. “Yes,” said his wife, “so we can begin planning our next trip!”

Lovely vista of Trevi

Lovely vista of Trevi

We left central Foligno, to clouds but no rain, then ducked into a tiny pizzeria for a quick slice in order to avoid a sudden shower. The road then took us up into the foothills, once more among the olive trees, for a mostly gentle climb to the outskirts of Trevi. As we walked past a small, freshly mowed meadow, we noticed our two Belgian friends stretched out on the grass in yoga poses. We said, “Bonjour!” but a “Namaste!” might have been better. The ladies waved and shouted with cheerful smiles.

We were a little disappointed that the road once more turned steeply up, our legs are not quite yet recovered from yesterday’s grueling climb and descent. We were rewarded, though, with frequent vistas of the panoramic city of Trevi, our goal for the day.

We stopped at the Tourist Information office in an ancient villa on the outskirts of town and the friendly young woman in her office under 17th century frescoes found us a room with three beds in a four-star hotel for just 60 Euros per night, including breakfast.

That was a bargain too good to pass up, so soon we were settled into our room at the top of a spiral staircase, enjoying a snack of cheese, crackers and beer at our fancy hotel. Ahhhh. The life of a pilgrim!