Vacation Archives – Day #7: Assisi

This is an entry from the Vacation Archives, a somewhat tardy report of my adventures in Croatia and Italy. On June 6th, 2012, I took a day trip from Perugia to Assisi, home of St. Francis. He was a little bit nutty, very kind to animals and big into simplicity and genuine kindness…my kind of dude.

Lesson of the Day: an iPad is worth it’s weight in USD, especially if it comes equipped with Skype.

I woke up early with my first ever room service breakfast. It was terrible, since apparently the Italian idea of a cheese omelet is a dry frittata, and nowhere I’ve been yet has offered butter or olive oil with bread. At least my croissant had orange marmalade in the center, and there’s little one can do to destroy the basic integrity of a cup of English breakfast tea.

After breakfast, I set out for the bus station to find out when the next bus to Assisi was leaving. I was a little confused on how to get there, since the online map said to take the escalator but I couldn’t find one. Finally I just started climbing down the hill, but I happened to pass a large set of open doors that opened into a mysterious cavernous place. I thought since there were no warning signs, I’d take this odd detour. It turns out that I’d found the medieval underground city as well as the escalators in one turn! I took my time getting to the bus station, and the next bus wasn’t for an hour, so I walked around a bit more. One thing I love about Italy (and Croatia) is how obedient the dogs are. Tons of people have dogs, and many are off leash in public places. While waiting for the bus I sat in the park and watched people with their dogs for a bit.

I was a little carsick on the bus. Lots of curves, and the eggs weren’t sitting well. Once we got there all was fine though. The bus stopped right outside the city walls, and I walked inside. At first I was turned off by the amount of tourist shops. But then I got to the Basilica of St. Francis, and everything else faded to the background.

It’s huge. Huge. There’s a guy who sits in a glass cubicle just saying “silencio” and “no photo” all day long, but there are so many tourists, and they keep whispering and taking sneaky shots. The place is cavernous, though, and everything echoes. The whole place is covered with frescoes, top to bottom, all things I studied in undergrad. The best part is that the chairs or pews where the monks sit (oratorio?) are all wonderfully decorated with the most ornate marquetry, and most have portraits in wood. It’s beyond anything I’ve ever seen.

There are two church museums, one with St. Francis’ relics, and another with medieval and Renaissance art and reliquaries collected by the church over the years. I was in awe over Francis’ things. Seeing his tunic and hair shirt in person, plus a note he actually wrote, that just made me feel so close to him.

I guess that for me, with other religious historical characters there’s such a divide in time and also limited availability of fact, so it’s tough to see a real aspect to the tall tales we tell ourselves. In this case, there’s still this collection of stories, but also there are some solid facts to help compare and contrast. Though some bits are just fantastic stories, other things are true. He created a new monastic order, and with it he not only helped save the church, he also helped bring about a new way of sharing Christianity. He helped people remember the original point of honest giving and cheerful charity, and even today the Franciscans lead by example and live in harmony with other religions, taking the golden rule to heart.

More tomorrow, including Assisi sights, the lovely Japanese woman, Chase troubles, dinner and gelato.

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