Some Goodbye Thoughts about Beautiful Perugia


Last night’s goodbye celebration with this wave of language students (from left: Esther, Anna, Jonna, Ibrahim, Roxanna e io).

It’s time to say goodbye to Perugia. Like standing on the beach with the waves pulling sand away from my feet I’m feeling the current that is about to carry me away. Four weeks ago I arrived in a wave of new students. Over the next weeks I watched as other students came and went in each week’s flowing tide. I’m catching tomorrow’s wave, so it’s time to say goodbye to this place I’ve come to call home. Tomorrow I leave for Rome, then I’m off to Vienna to visit friends, and then I return to Florence to begin my walk over 30 days to Assisi and on to Rome. I’m grateful, but also very sad.

Don Paolo Giulietti, fellow pilgrim and priest

Don Paolo Giulietti, fellow pilgrim and priest

Goodbye to the teachers and staff at Comitato Linguistico (Frederica, Flora, David, Luca, Ugo, Floriana, Giulia), goodbye to the friends I’ve made who live here in Perugia (Gigi, Chiara, Don Paolo), goodbye to my new friends among the waves of students from other countries (Flavia, Thomas, David, Anna, Roxanna, Ibrahim, Jose, Renate, Esther, Jonna, Yagmur, Christopher, Tamila, Patricia), goodbye to my Italian family (Graziella, Luigi and Alessandro).

And goodbye to this beautiful city. Perugia is a special place, a old and gentle city with a lively student population from all over the world, an earth colored town, set on a hill with farmland on one side and green hills on the other. It parties hard when the hot sun goes down, and it cocoons quietly when the weather is cool and wet. Its many hills test the feet and legs, but all exhaustion is smoothed away by its chocolate, its gelati and its wide rivers of Umbrian wine. Perugia taught me how to enjoy Italian food and how to drink like an Italian — from aperitivo to digestivo and beyond. When I get home, Theresa and I will have to do our very best to recreate the Limey served at Dempsey’s on Corso Vanucci.


We got the colors backward, but this photo with Patricia and Roxanna warmed hearts and raised eyebrows.

I learned to drink like an Italian, but did I learn to speak like an Italian? Four weeks is not nearly enough time to cram a beautiful and complicated language into my 56-year old brain, but I can have simple conversations now and I do understand a fair amount of what I hear. As is usual for me with a new language, I read much better than I speak or write. My four weeks have been worth every penny, and as I calculate the dollars I realize it’s been much cheaper to spend this four weeks here in Perugia than to spend it at hotels and restaurants in a typical vacation. My tuition, room and board for four weeks was under €1,600 (about $2,200). The friendships were free.

Some people — Italians even — asked me why I would study Italian before writing my guidebook. It was out of respect. Respect for this country, respect for this culture, respect for this people. I feel that after a month of language study I’m more than a tourist in Italy. I’m a student of Italy. As I walk the pathways between Florence, Assisi, and Rome I will walk with a greater appreciation and a growing love for this beautiful place and a more practiced eye to help me understand and learn.

Teacher Flora schools us in correct preparation of tortellini.

Teacher Flora show us what a tortellini should look like.

I found teachers at Comitato Linguistico to be impressively intuitive and extremely helpful in the process of immersing us in the Italian language. When I was puzzled in class, like the strong, happy, young mother she is, Flora would cock her head, look at me with a smile and loudly say, “Sandy! Capisce?” After a few questions and answers I would nod and she would smile and say, “Okaye,” the Italian version of our American word. I would then correct her and say, “Solo in Italiano per favore.” “Va bene,” she’d then say, with another big smile.

I had fun with “OK.” In feigned frustration over dinner one night I took a few minutes to teach people from various countries how to say “OK” in correct, American English. Today, my teacher David came to class with a big smile on his face. He called me over and in pen wrote this word on his palm: “Okè.” He looked at me to see if he had found a way to spell it to help in its correct pronunciation. “Va bene,” I replied, with all the pride of a first-time language teacher.

My teacher David, who mastered the correct pronunciation of a helpful English word.

My teacher David, who mastered the correct pronunciation of a difficult, but helpful English word.

I would love to come back to Perugia one day — to see these amazing people and to enjoy their beautiful city for at least a few weeks more. These people know how to enjoy life. People who come here, if they are open to it, may be taught as much about happiness as they will be taught about Italian. Every piece of chocolate (or Nutella®) seems to be eaten with a particular delight. Every bit of pasta is the best pasta ever. Every glass of wine has the bouquet of rural Italy. Things seem deeper and more connected here. More sensual. Even the people. I was a stranger a few weeks ago, and thanks to the warmth and hospitality of many, I’ve been made to feel at home.

However, this home is like a beach. The tide is coming in tomorrow morning and it will wash me away, the sands shifting under my feet until the current carries me onward. Here, on Monday, another group of students will arrive in the next wave, and then the next, and on. They will find joy and heart and laughter mixed with pasta and pizza and passato prossimo. They will come to learn Italian. They will leave with an appreciation for this place, like all of us this month who found a happy home for a brief time on a beautiful beach in central Italy.

More snapshots of Perugia, and tomorrow on foot to Assisi


Yes, the dressing is pink and yes that is popcorn on my salad.

Some days ago Patricia of Holland had said, “Since we’re both in town on Sunday, let’s go to the Steve McCurry exhibit that day.” I said, “Sure,” then completely forgot about it until she texted me this morning as I sat in the sunshine at a café on Corso Garibaldi. I was there, waiting for my clothes to finish drying at the Bolle Blu, a nearby coin-operated laundromat.

When I packed for Perugia I was in something of a quandary about what to bring. I knew I’d bring my hiking clothes for my July/August walking adventures, but I didn’t want to wear hiking clothes for a month of language study in Perugia. I also didn’t want to have a big suitcase I’d have to park somewhere while on camino. Theresa offered a modest sized — though flamboyantly Hawaiian — L.L. Bean duffel bag with wheels and it seemed just right for a modest amount of street clothes to wear while in Perugia. I realize now that having just two pairs of jeans, four t-shirts, three pairs of socks and six undershorts means I need to do wash about every 5-6 days.

Graziella, my Perugian mom, is happy to do my wash, but on the Sunday of a three-day weekend I just couldn’t bring myself to ask. So I loaded up my clothes and wandered off to the Bolle Blu, where it took just an hour (and €8) to have the machines wash my clothes.

With Patricia’s text I now had a somewhat more grand way to fill the day. After dropping off my clean clothes I met Patricia for a rather elegant lunch (see pic), and then headed down the hill with her to see the beautiful photographs of Steve McCurry. We all remember him as the photographer who captured the startlingly purple/blue eyes of the beautiful Afghan girl some years ago. I think the Umbrian Tourist Office commissioned him to take photos of Umbria for use in publicity since, though they were gorgeous, they did have a somewhat Chamber of Commerce quality to them. Still, I’d recommend the exhibit as a celebration of the art of photography and the beauty of Umbria.

After gelato I dropped off Patricia with Esther of Holland and Ibrahim of Canada and headed out on my own to complete the Porta Sant’Angelo Itinerary from the Perugia walking guidebook.

I walked toward the tall tower at Porta Sant’Angelo, noticed the familiar blue/yellow Via di Francesco way marks along the way, and as I walked I began to think ahead to my new plan for the rest of the weekend. Since tomorrow is my last free day in Perugia, and since I promised my editor I’d have a sample chapter to her by the end of June, this is my last chance to research a day’s walk. If I walk from Perugia to Assisi tomorrow I can get the info I need to create a sample chapter on this stage. This means 25.2 km (about 15.6 miles) on foot. I’ll walk there, take notes and photos — especially of Santa Maria Degli Angeli and the Basilica of St. Francis — and then find some way back.

As I returned home late this afternoon I stopped at a tiny store and bought some crackers and fruit for the journey. This evening I’ll pack for tomorrow’s day of walking to the city of St. Francis. I feel a sense of satisfaction and joy that tomorrow, at least, I’ll be a pilgrim again, with the road under my feet.

Below: photos from today’s walk through the medieval market, to the Steve McCurry exhibit, and off to Porta Sant’Angelo.

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.

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.

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

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?

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: