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The Ancient City of Perugia

Greetings from Rome. We have had two epic days now of walking, about 25,300 steps yesterday per our pedometer, and 33,000 today. But that is something for another entry, so, I will talk about our brief visit to the medieval city of Perugia. 

Traveling by train in Italy isn't as quick and efficient as one might think, at least when traveling on a route that doesn't have the high speed bullet trains. Often, there are multiple changes, which always makes for slower travel. Going from Cinque Terre to Perugia was no exception; we were three different trains, all of which were regional trains that stopped in most little towns. That made our trip to Perugia, for what appears to be a short distance by map, take over four hours. One side note of wisdom for those who might travel to Italy, and might find themselves on a short train ride such as the Florence-Pisa route: you must get your ticket stamped, or face up to a €50 fine. There isn't a noticeable sign anywhere in stations, nor do the tickets or the salespeople tell you so much. In what appears to be a big scam, conductors roam the aisles, looking for the folks who forget to get their tickets stamped, which are invariably tourists. It is a double system, as not only do you buy specific tickets and have them clipped by conductors, but illogically you must get this tiny stamp from a machine that of course is not on the trains, only at stations. We found this out the hard way, on New Years, but the conductor, perhaps in a celebratory mood, only charged us €5. On our way to Perugia, on between Pisa and Florence, the conductor nailed four separate groups of protesting tourists, raking in €200 in our car alone. It made me mad just to watch it, because it is really unfair. My sympathy for this country's financial woes diminished greatly watching her harass one group after another. Boo, Italy, you should know better than targeting your tourists with unfair fines.

Anyhow, we arrived shortly before dark into Perugia. Ou first sight after getting off the train was truly mind-boogling: the elevated MiniMetro going up into this hilltop city. Believe me, they are definitely needed, as hiking the 1.5km from the station to the center (probably with a 2000ft elevation gain) would be cruel and intense. So they have installed this metro type system. Hilariously, they have these tiny little cars, silvery metallic, rounded and shaped a lot like spaceships. They are hilarious to look at, very cute, and yet they area immensely useful. After my initial laugh, I was nothing but impressed.

Thusly, we were delivered to the top, right into the center. The view was incredible, but we had our packs and were tired from a day on the train. We vaguely had had a little hotel in mind near the center, and so we headed in that direction. We have a lot less stuff than we had on our last big trip, but oddly our packs feel much heavier. We trudged through the center and started down a passageway that we hoped would take us to those selected hotel. Before we arrived, though, we came across a sign that read Albergo Anna, which was also in our guide. We decided since it was the first place we had found, it must be right, so we popped in, making our time in Perugia truly unforgettable.

We were greeted at the door by an older lady, presumably Anna, short and squat and distinctly Italian. Through hand motions and half-understood statements, we negotiated a room for €50, making it clear that the size and view didn't matter much to us. Once we settled on a room and put down our bags, we looked around at the place. It seemed to take up much of the fourth floor of a large building, with multiple rooms and large living quarters. It became obvious that the family lived there, probably six to ten of them, and someone had filled the place with knickknacks, in every corner, crevice, and in the many display cases. There was also loads of crystal and dishes, paintings ranging from contemporary to bizarre hung above it all, and old carpets lined the pathways. There seemed to be several living rooms, most with TVs, which all seemed to be on in the evening. It was a bizarre arrangement, and difficult to believe that it was a hotel. It was like being at an eccentric relative's house, or perhaps more apt, at a senior citizen's center where the inhabitants all got to bring their collections. 

It might have all been too weird, except that the family was very nice. There were some real characters. Anna was like everyone's grandma, a universal relative who made sure you had better feel at home or else. An old man that I assumed was her husband shuffled through the house, as kind as he could be. He made sure to show us his brightly lit holiday manger scene, a mix of the the modern, the ancient, and a few random accents, such as a skyscraper and a tunnel with an electric car. We could hear him coming down the hallway in his loafers, and he always seemed a bit surprised when he came around the corner and saw us, as though he'd forgotten briefly that we were staying there. He'd smile, wave, and then turn on an extra light for us, even if it weren't needed. The rest of the family wasn't strange, but just themselves. We had the impression that we weren't staying in a hotel, but their home. It was great.

We stayed in Perugia for two nights, which was enough for us to see the whole of the city. It is a very old city in the ancient region of Umbria that really was the birthplace of the Italian civilization. Turning a corner or looking down a  narrow passageway, it was frequently obvious that most buildings in the center were very old, as well as beautifully preserved; indeed, a tremendous amount of history can be found in the region, beginning long before the Romans came around, and I was a bit disappointed that we didn't have the time to stop and really explore all around, to learn more about the history and the unique culture. Fortunately, I felt that during our day and a half of exploring the city, we managed to walk nearly all of its historic center. This city is built on a large hill, as I mentioned, and the views are breathtaking of the surrounding countryside. Ancient walls, medieval alleyways, and multiple churches gave us a full agenda for exploration for our time in the city, while its frequently sloping streets gave us a great workout. Fortunately, we found a pub that sold excellent as well as cheap food, as well as the cheapest beer we saw in Italy. In fact, the beer was almost exclusively strong, Trappist-style beers, such as the 9% Chimay from Belgium, which was sold for €3.80, about half of what it would sell for in the US. Since beer is very expensive in Italy, we have not really had much here, but we made up for our lacking at that pub. Sadly, it was closed our second night; we had looked forward to a plate of cheap pasta and a bottle of great strong beer all day.

We visited multiple churches, countless plazas, even some Estruscan era gates, but probably the highlight of the city was a circular church built in the 5th city. While relatively young compared to the Roman sites dating back to 500 BC or sites from other civilizations of even greater antiquity, this church had s simplicity and beauty, as well as a distinct feeling of what was a young, fervent faith in the days of its origin. We happened to arrive at the perfect time of day, the lighting spearing the shadows of the church, filling corners with a golden glow. It was beautiful, and best of all, we had the place to ourselves, yet again an example of the benefits of traveling this time of year.

Our time in Perugia passed by far too quickly, as we had to move on Rome. This would definitely be one of the areas of Italy that I would want to come back to and spend more time exploring, in particular if we were able to rent a car and check out the many small towns that are difficult to visit by public transport. Reading about them, it seems as though our three weeks we've had here in Italy could have been spent just in Umbria. Like everywhere else we've gone, I'm sure that is definitely the case.

Until next time, be safe.


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