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:

Emerging from a Self-Induced Travel Coma

As I sat with Don Crawley at Sea-Tac Airport on my way to Italy he said, “Wow, you’ve had a lot going on in your life.” Don’s right, and it’s clear I haven’t had a lot of time to sort through it all. The after-effects of the many changes appeared at different times yesterday.

The most obvious change, of course, was leaving Seattle to go to Italy. My arms felt like they were glued to Theresa as we hugged at the Departures driveway at SeaTac Airport. I didn’t want to let this great woman go. She’s become very important to me since we met on October 31st last year and I’m really not ready to put our relationship on hold with so much yet to discover. This whole Italy plan was hatched before we met and I’m not sure I could’ve passed up a summer with Theresa if I’d known about the possibility as I got the wheels rolling for this Italian guidebook adventure.

With Don at Gate S12 at SeaTac Airport - day of departure.

With Don at Gate S12 at SeaTac Airport – day of departure.

After passing through security, my friend Don Crawley was waiting for me with a cheerful smile. He had noted via Facebook that we’d be at the airport at around the same time — Don going to Los Angeles on business. while I headed to Italy. We sat together over coffee and a pleasant chat while we awaited my plane which would be the first to leave. We began plotting a future rendezvous — Don is cooking up a holiday in France this summer while his wife, Janet, is teaching a class near there and we’ll meet in Florence for a guys’ holiday in the city of Michelangelo.

As we talked, Don may have noted that I had already started to succumb to what I’ve come to call my “travel coma.” My speech starts to slow down, my eyes take on this drowsy look, and my brain begins to operate at partial capacity. It’s something like going into shock after an injury, but a travel coma for me is an odd deadening of senses that somehow helps me deal with the discomforts of being jammed into a small seat for hours at a time while changing time zones, languages, currency and cultures.

Inside the Reykjavik airport.

Inside the Reykjavik airport.

After saying goodbye to Don the coma began to take hold. The flight to Iceland took off at 4:30pm Seattle time and arrived at 5:30am Reykjavik time, but somehow there was never a sunset. Our jet took us north quickly enough that we squeezed dusk and dawn together somewhere above the Arctic Circle. By the time I got to Iceland I’d slept just a touch. I grabbed a sandwich, and orange and some chocolate milk for what I guess was breakfast and then stepped right onto my London flight. The couple next to me must’ve enjoyed watching my head bob up and down as I drifted into and out of sleep in the window seat.

I briefly emerged from my coma as I arrived in London and I realized right at Passport Control that due to the lack of a pen I hadn’t filled in my Arrival Card. I borrowed a pen in line and quickly filled it out with a quick scan and some scribbled responses. Then, when I arrived at the passport desk, the immigration officer asked one of those innocuous but deeply meaningful questions.

“What is your occupation? You left the space blank.”

How could I tell her that I wasn’t sure anymore? I’d just retired after 34 years of ministry as a pastor and was heading to Italy to study Italian and write a guidebook. Not only that, but I hadn’t had time to consider all the consequences and was in a jumble of feelings in the purgatory between the past and present.

“I’m self-employed,” I blurted out.

“Self-employed doing what?” she said in her British accent.

I thought for a long second and then said, “I’m writing a guidebook.”

“OK, you could just put down, ‘writer,'” she said as she filled in my occupation for me and stamped my passport.

And there it is. If anyone asks, I’m a writer. The lady at the desk said so, and I’m not going to argue with her. The vocational transition occurred in a 10-second conversation. Goodbye, pastoring. Hello authoring. The pastoring took four years of seminary, a handful of interviews, psychological testing, much fervent prayer, and the laying on of the hands of two bishops. Becoming a writer took a book contract and the quick decision of an Immigration Officer. Both were conferred on me by others, came after a period of waiting and involved paperwork. So my new vocation sounds official and, at least for now, the appellation will have to do.


Inside Terminal 5 at Heathrow after being ordained a writer.

After being ordained a writer I stumbled my way between Terminal 1 and Terminal 5 of Heathrow and boarded British Airways for Rome. Following more dozing in the window seat, bathed in the sunlight-that-should-be-nighttime we landed at Fiumicino Airport. Italy at last.

I boarded the train for Termini Station where I’d reserved a B&B for the night and am pretty sure I had a pleasant conversation through the drowsiness of my coma in French, Spanish and English with a retired couple from Montreal in the seats across from me. Then I made my stupid mistake.

I was on the curb outside Termini Station, still partially comatose, when I suddenly realized I didn’t know where my B&B was located. I vaguely remembered it was close to Termini, but without an Italian cell phone plan, my usual guide — Google Maps — was unavailable. A man yelled “Taxi!” and I ignored him, but then impulsively turned around, threw my bags into his car, and told him where I was headed. He took me on a whirlwind drive for about 10 blocks — right back to a point at the train station about 2 blocks from where we’d started. Then he demanded 25 Euros.

Hotel Girandola Bed and Breakfast. Just a block from Termini Station.

Hotel Girandola Bed and Breakfast. Just a block from Termini Station.

I just laughed. Then I said “No,” and handed him a 5 Euro note and some change. He complained loudly in Italian. I smiled and  politely stood my ground — I wasn’t going to pay this scoundrel another cent. After he drove off in a cloud of probable profanity (speaking words I may not learn in my upcoming Italian studies) I wandered a couple of blocks away and found my B&B — right across from the train station, not a block from where I had picked up the cab.

I buzzed the door at the B&B, found my simple, cozy room, had dinner nearby, and headed to bed to sleep off my coma and begin my Italian adventure as a writer. Ciao, Seattle. Bongiorno, Italia.