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Spring Break in Italy

Author: soliteyah (More Trip Reviews by soliteyah)
Date of Trip: April 2003

The bus dropped us off in Carmucia at the bottom of a big hill, upon which Cortona is perched. So up we walked -- three kilometers with our enormous backpacks. (I was regretting every single tiny thing I'd ever packed by the end!) We stopped frequently to take pictures and/or catch our breath. The countryside around Cortona is beautiful, with mountains and a lake in the distance, flat green farmland, cypress trees, cute buildings and small gardens.

After our scenic hike we reached our hostel, which the guy at the desk claimed was full. "Oh, but we have a reservation," I told him, whipping out my confirmation printout. He was saying stuff in Italian, looking a little worried, mumbling about moving people from different rooms and such. He told us to come back in an hour. So we did, killing a little time on the Piazza Garibaldi. But when we went back, the guy told us he had no room; guess our reservation didn't count for much. He scribbled some stuff on a map and sent us to Betania, which he called a "monastery," instead.

Well, okay. We followed his map for a while, but then got lost when we realized there was no X marking the spot where we needed to end up -- just a line going off the map and a few random Italian words. We tried a little side street, went in a big circle, and finally asked two local ladies for help; turned out we were right in front of the driveway! We went up to the building and proceeded to knock on three or four different doors, circling the building aimlessly until we got lucky (must've been the Virgin Mary by the door) and were greeted by a young-ish guy, a 40-ish woman and a very elderly woman in a nun's headgear. They didn't speak much English, but we were finally ushered into a nice double room with soft, comfy beds. It ended up being quite a nice place to sleep...very quiet.

The next morning we went back to our original hostel to try to check in. We at least got to eat breakfast there (the most tasteless bread I've ever had, accompanied by some truly awful tea), but he again told us to "come back later." We left our bags and headed out to the ruined fortress at the top of Cortona's hill. It was a gorgeous sunny morning, and the view was incredible from the top of the hill, looking out over an old church whose bells were ringing for Sunday mass. Back in the main part of town, we visited the Etruscan Museum and explored the streets a little. We found a market where we bought lunch (this whole trip we pretty much lived out of supermarkets -- lots of bread, yogurt, cookies, nuts, cheese, apples and oranges). That afternoon I checked out the town's cathedral (pretty humble) and a large cemetery outside the city walls. I had it all to myself as I wandered among the tombstones, many of which had photos of the deceased affixed to them.

That night we were finally able to check into our original hostel -- yay!

The next day we lucked out with absolutely marvelous weather for our trip to Assisi -- sunny and warm. We got up early, hopped on a bus to the Carmucia train station (the driver told us exactly where to get off, thank goodness -- people were so nice about that sort of thing here) and had a pleasant train ride to Assisi. Then we walked up another incline (who knew it was another hill town?) to get into the town, which was similar to a lot of the ones we'd seen before -- narrow cobblestone streets, little churches, and lots of charming little corners that I wanted to explore. What was different was the high number of nuns and monks wandering around! The main draw is the big basilica where St. Francis is, so we started there. We also climbed up to the castle ruins to get an amazing panoramic view of the countryside. I also checked out a few other churches, met some American nuns and got some gelato (one of the best parts of this trip is trying the wide variety of gelato flavors available here).

On our bus ride back up to Cortona, we struck up a conversation with a Danish guy who was currently living in Italy. He was very enthusiastic about American movies and music (Eminem, Aerosmith, Mel Gibson) and spoke excellent English. I had realized the night before that I'd left my shower shoes (a $3 pair of plastic flip-flops) at the monastery, so I asked the guy if he knew how to say "sandals" in Italian. He wasn't sure, but did give me the word "scarpi," for shoes.

Armed with this knowledge, my friend and I made our journey to Betania to see if we could reclaim the lost shower shoes. The resulting conversation gave new meaning to the word "painful." No one answered the door when we knocked, so we hit the intercom button and wound up talking two different languages with the two female voices on the other end. There was a lot of "Camera doppia? You want single room?" and "I forgot my scarpi...I don't need a room...Can you aperto the porta? Open the door so I can point and talk to you? Mi scarpi?" and "Sorry...sorry..."

Finally I think they just wanted us to go away -- we must have sounded like loons, with my friend giggling helplessly in the background and my own voice unnaturally high with suppressed laughter -- so a nun came to the door. I was able to show her our receipt and point to my shoes, which seemed to get the message across. And then we heard our favorite message: "Come back tomorrow."

I did so the next morning wihout much hope; we had a train to catch, and I had visions of spending so long spouting English/Italian gibberish at the nuns that I'd miss the train. But they buzzed me in right away and led me to my long-lost flip-flops! "Grazie, grazie!"

It was the end of our stint in Italy; at that point my traveling companion went to visit a friend for a few days, while I decided to spend the last of my spring break in Ireland. But that's another trip report...

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