Friday, October 22, 2010


This past weekend, while Nathan was out of town, I joined in on a USO trip to a chocolate festival in Perugia in the Umbria region. I'd spent the previous week on the waitlist, calling the (very nice) lady at the USO office every single day to see if I'd made it onto the trip, which left at 7am on Saturday morning. It wasn't until Friday afternoon, 1.5 hours before the USO closed, that I got the long as I was willing to share a room with another lady on the waitlist. Since we'd already arranged Scully care, and I didn't want to sit around the hotel all weekend, Saturday morning at 6am found me up and on my way to my pick-up point. The USO arranges for bus transportation for these trips with plenty of rest stops (too many for me - 100 people on our bus plus all the other bus tours who are stopped all trying to use about 4 toilets...really, I think we spent more time waiting for a free stall than actually driving to our destination). Our trip consisted of spending Saturday afternoon in the town of Assisi (a surprise to me) and Sunday in Perugia, the location of EuroChocolate.

Assisi is gorgeous! It began raining as we arrived, and the clouds obscured the view, but it was just clear enough to show us what we were missing from this little hill town. The panoramic version of the more you know, the more you know how little you know...or something like that. Sadly, we didn't have nearly enough time in Assisi. There are two main churches in town, which anchor the ends of the main street. The largest and most famous church is the Basilica of St. Francis, who was born in Assisi. The story of St. Francis is more fascinating than I ever imagined and rivals any of the modern soap operas. He was born in the late 1100s to wealthy cloth merchant, and while working in the market one day selling cloth, he was compelled to give all he had to a local beggar. After this event, he joined the military, spent a year as a POW, and shortly thereafter, had a serious illness. At some point during this time, he faced a crisis in his spiritual life convicting him to nurse the ill and renounce material things (all material things, including shoes and soft clothing) in order to rebuild the churches. The final straw for his folks (or at least his dad) came when he sold a bunch of his dad's wares and gave the money to the local priest for rebuilding the church. Dad retaliated by beating him, then taking him to interesting take on the parental "I'm going to teach you a lesson" lesson. St. Francis (then known only as Francis) left Assisi, founded his new order (the Franciscans) and lived in the valleys around Assisi repairing churches as well as doing some travel preaching. In his travels, he attempted a peace treaty with the Muslim world, and so impressed the Muslim leaders that the Franciscans were the only ones allowed to stay in the region as the token Christian representatives.  To this day, 1000 years later, the Franciscans are still the ones charged with responsibility for the Christian sites of the Holy Land. St. Francis was pretty radical for his time - he believed everyone (even poor people) should be allowed to talk to God in their own language, not just in Latin (gasp!). And a final fun fact, St. Francis set up the first (known) live nativity at Christmas. I left out all the other drama, such as being shipwrecked, having visions, getting his very own mountain to use for meditation, and the stigmata that plagued him for his final years. So there's your very unofficial guide to the life and times of St. Francis. The church built in his memory is one of the most beautiful I've ever seen. The insides are covered in frescoes. There was a terrible earthquake in the region about 30 years ago, which severely damaged the fresco - one of them was broken into so many pieces that only (only) 200,000 of them were found...and put back together.
Unfortunately, this is NOT the hotel where we stayed; but I love the red scooter up against the ancient, stone walls.

The 2nd church is the Church of St. Clare. St. Clare was a woman quite taken with the ideals of St. Francis. She ran away from her parents because they wanted her to marry a wealthy young man.  This seems preferable to a wealthy, old man, however, one may assume that said young man was "che bruto" since it doesn't seem like she even gave the guy a chance. St. Clare, like St. Francis, also founded an order. Hers was called the Order of Poor Ladies, and after her death, it was renamed the Order of St. Clare. The nuns of this order are today known as the Poor Clares, and it is still a cloistered order. Only three of the women are allowed to leave the cloister. They can't even participate in mass in their very own church, which is attached to the cloister. I seem to recall something about a room opening onto the sanctuary but blocked off with an iron grate.

We only had time for a quick jaunt down the main street of Assisi, which had tantalizing, little alleys begging for exploration, colorful flowers in window boxes set against old, crumbling stone walls, monks wandering around, lovely shops, and finally, finally, finally, the chance to walk around a gorgeous street with no fear of death by speeding Vespa. How disappointing it was to then return to our hotel, which was one of the worst hotels I've stayed in. However, my roommate was great - just moved here from DC, so we had a lot to talk about and stayed up late into the night. This and the fact that my bed had clean sheets were the only redeeming qualities of the night. I take that back - the dinner was also fun. Food was only so-so, but the companionship was fantastic. My table was all women, most of them moms on weekend getaways, and we had such a fun time.
From now on, while we're on trips like these, I'll be updating an on-the-go travel journal separate from this blog. The blog is to update our loved ones on our life here, to act as a diary for me, and to be somewhat informational for anyone out there moving to or visiting the region. The Everlater is very different. It has actual details, such as name of hotel, where we ate, what tour we took, etc., plus it will have quick thoughts - a place to record a sentence or two on what we're seeing, experiencing, eating, one or two photos, etc. I've added a link to "My On-the-Go Travel Journal" on the right side of the blog, under the title "Blogs and Links I Love." Below is also a link:

Since I just wasn't able to stop writing about St. Francis, I'll have to leave Perugia and the Chocolate festival (the actual reason for the trip in the first place!) for tomorrow.
Just a little decoration on the walls in Assisi to enjoy as you wander down the street

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