Au revoir Maria, and a Friday of goodbyes

IMG_3694

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

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.

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

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!