9 – 10 April: Assisi, ItalyContinued from part 1: Venice.
We head into the Santa Lucia train station in Venice a good hour ahead of our train’s scheduled departure. Not having any experience with trains, we head to an information booth and a helpful Italian official informs us that the tickets we have booked only allows one class of travel, and what we thought would be a three and a half hour train-ride with one stop-over, changes instantly into a nine and a half hour trek with four train legs, ending with a bus to take us to our final stop. Also, the train departs in 15 minutes. So much for planning ahead! We’d informed the Bed & Breakfast in Assisi that we will be staying at to expect us at around 18:00, but clearly this would no longer be the case. For the next three hours, my main entertainment as we stop at stations on our way is to see if there is an open wi-fi network available that I can connect to, so that we can inform the B&B that we will only be arriving at around 00:30. Luck is on our side and not only do we find a network, but luckily the owner also checks her email (on a Sunday) and responds, confirming the new arrangements. We travel from Venice to Bologna, from here to a small-town-whose-name-I-can’t-remember, make a trip to Falconara Maritina, from here to Foligno, and finally take a bus from Foligno to Assisi.
Finally we arrive in Assisi at approximately 23:00, and start walking to the B&B. At what should be our destination, we encounter farmlands and families, together with a few dogs who find our presence most unwelcome. After waking the neighbourhood, we establish that we are in the wrong place and now have nowhere to sleep. An Italian family of four (mom, dad, grandma and son) finds our tale quite unbelievable, and while Francois is trying to explain to the father and son where we were trying to go, the grandmother repeatedly asks me whether we really walked all the way from the “stazione” to their house, using the universal sign for walking indicated by trotting her index and middle finger across the palm of her other hand. She finds my tale very amusing, and I can tell she thinks something along the lines of ‘all tourists are mad’.
Eventually we figure out our error: there are two streets with the same name in the area, and luckily the father knows where we were meant to go. He kindly offers to drive us there, and the son tags along to act as a translator for us. We are very glad to accept this help, as walking back to the station and then to the B&B would’ve meant another 10km. After struggling to find the address in the correct street, a joking offer that we could spend the night in their house with them, and some ‘lost in translation’ incidents, we finally arrive at B&B L’Arcobaleno. We are greeted by a very worried hostess (who’d sent her husband to both stations on Assisi and Basta Umbria to look for us), a bottle of champagne and a wonderful room. We’re told to rest out and come down for breakfast when we wake the next morning, as we’ve arrived so late.
Breakfast is served in the family kitchen, with a range of local breads and cheeses and best of all, a lit fire in the hearth in the kitchen corner. We spend most of the time swapping stories with our hostess, and she advises us on the best sites in Assisi and what to look out for in the rest of Italy. After finding out that we only have the rest of the day to spend in Assisi, she commandeers her husband to drive us up to Assisi itself so we can view the Basilica of St. Francis. On our way up the hill he also shows us which bus stop to use in order to view the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli and also how to get to the station in order to catch our train to Rome that afternoon.
Assisi is a fully functional, fully fortified medieval town and it’s an amazing experience to walk up the cobblestone streets approaching the Basilica Papale di San Francesco. It seems like thousands of people throng around the entrance to make their way into the massive church, and as we enter we are swept around the outside with the crowd, making our way steadily down the stone steps that have been worn smooth with years and years of feet treading over them. We finally reach the crypt where St. Francis is buried, and revere in the meaning this place has for so many. This basilica is one of the most important in Christian pilgrimages in Italy, and it houses great frescoes by the medieval masters such as Giotto and Cimabue.
Moving down from the hilltop, we travel to the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli – St. Mary of the Angels. The building is an impressive structure from the outside, but is completely awe-inspiring and jaw-dropping on the inside. Artworks the size of small houses decorate the walls, and way at the back of the massive basilica is the Porziuncola – the tiny 9th Century church in which St. Francis died. It is to protect this small little structure that the basilica was built between 1569 and 1679.
After spending as much time as we can in this most holy of places for the Franciscans, we drag ourselves away and take the train back to Foligno, from where we will be heading to Rome for the next five nights.Continues in part three with our stay in Rome, Italy shortly.
Header photo by Deon Joubert.
All other images by the author: © catterflyworx 2012.