Arrivederci, Toscana!

Even in writing, I’m having a hard time leaving Buonconvento.
However, the time had come for us to move on to Perugia, capital of the Umbrian region and home to famous chocolate (except some of it now belongs to Nestle, sigh). We were originally scheduled to get a ride to the train station in Siena, go back down those dozens of escalators, take the train to Florence since every train trip seems to have to go through Florence; and from there to Perugia. The more I looked at those train tickets, the more I didn’t want to spend an entire vacation day on trains.
I can’t believe we were bold enough to do this, but since our bicycles were going to be picked up at the hotel and returned to Perugia, we finagled our way into riding with them. It was going to cost a few euro, of course, but so what? Why not get to Perugia in two hours instead of six?
Imagine our delight when Marco – who’d delivered our bikes to us in Siena – was the designated bike transporter! We had a non-stop commentary from this Perugia native about every interesting thing we saw in every tiny hamlet along all the winding country roads he navigated en route. Not to mention the state of politics and the economy in Italy. If I hadn’t been sitting in the back seat putting all my energy into maintaining smooth communication between my eyes and my inner ears, I would have taken a few pictures. As it was, looking down to get my camera out of my backpack would have been a very, very bad idea.
I must say, it was fun to check into our fancy Perugia hotel looking like Marco was our driver, and he played the role perfectly. He dealt with the desk people, helped me have a conversation with the doorman about where to eat, and just made it look like we were the kind of people who traveled with our own personal driver. Marco also told us where to eat pizza in Perugia (Mediterraneo. The pizza-maker there is from Napoli!) and directed us to a building across from the hotel. You must take that escalator down and go into every room!
 
With that, Marco hurried to his illegally parked car, disappeared into the Perugia traffic and was gone. We consoled ourselves with the possibility of visiting his bike shop in a couple of days; but for now we were on our own. What to do? Why, take the escalator down and stop in every room, of course.
Like so many of the places we visited, the current city is built atop ancient ruins. In this case, what looked like an entire Etruscan city – lanes, archways, homes, great holes in the roof for rainwater, and a dense coolness that made us wonder what life was like down here in winter. Again, it’s difficult to provide scale.
The city of Perugia has done an amazing job of making these ancient ruins accessible, bit by bit. Excavation appears to be ongoing, and some posters made me think that the arts community uses this space for exhibits and events. It looked like the locals walk through here as a way of getting from one side of the old city to the other.

This is Floyd, of course, not one of those locals. However, as we shall see, Floyd would not mind becoming a local by moving into an apartment right above the shop that makes and sells his favorite gelato of all the ones we tasted.

In some places, signs gave indications of
real people who lived their lives here.
This was most welcome, as many of the
sites we visited were sadly lacking in such
intimate historical details.

I felt like we could walk right down and knock on the
Baglionis’ door.

I also felt as if I could hear these stone streets jammed with people, carts, donkeys, pigs, chickens, and children running around shouting. We tried not to imagine the smell.

Up on the surface, two things about Perugia: the apparently endless series of mazes that make up the old city’s neighborhoods –

(keep in mind that most of these alleyways allow motor vehicle traffic. Perugia is the one place where we saw a delivery truck scrape itself on a wall. The truck in the photo below is competing for space with a gaggle of school kids who had to duck into doorways to get out of its way. As you might imagine, there aren’t that many vehicles in perfect condition in Perugia, and it’s not unusual to see people step out of the car they just parked and fold in their side-view mirrors.)

– and, of course, the piazze. 

Piazza IV Novembre was named to commemorate the signing of the armistice between the Kingdom of Italy and Austria – even though the armistice was actually signed on November 3rd. It was near our hotel, so we spent a good deal of time there exploring every side street and conducting extensive and methodical gelato research. Romans and Etruscans gathered there in the Middle Ages, and all kinds of people gather there now.

Fontana Maggiore stands on the same end of the piazza as the cathedral. Built to celebrate the construction of Perugia’s aqueduct and the arrival of abundant water, it’s a real beauty.

At this end the piazza stands the Catedrale di San Lorenzo, under construction between 1395 and 1490. The interior is ornate and impressive. I have no photos of the interior because the sign said no photography. I witnessed multiple tourists disobeying this dictum, and can only imagine the fate of their immortal souls. It was amusing, watching school kids filing in, to see the guard having to remind the boys to take off their hats. In my day, the nun in charge would have smacked them off the offenders’ heads.


Perugia is a college town, too. Every afternoon mobs of young people collect on the broad steps of the cathedral to talk, smoke lots of cigarettes, and drink vast quantities of beer. My Italian skills obviously aren’t up to eavesdropping, but given the extensive and amazing powers of my imagination, and having taught college for all these many years, I figured they were complaining about classes and upcoming exams.

In one of the little streets off Piazza IV Novembre, un capello molto sportivo was waiting for Floyd. Who knew?

It’s terrible, after the level of self-sacrifice involved in Floyd’s comparative gelato study, not to be able to remember the name of his favorite gelateria. But if you are ever in Perugia, in Piazza IV Novembre, with your back to the Fontana Maggiore, walk all the way down to exit the piazza on a little street on your right. A few steps after you exit the piazza, a little while before you see that blue sign with the hats, you will find a gelateria on your right. Try the amarena.

On our one rainy day in Perugia we decided to try to find a Deruta 1282 pottery showroom because I have a sick compulsion to look at pretty things I can’t afford. Deruta 1282 is a consortium intended to preserve the hand-painted craftsmanship that’s been practiced by the Deruta pottery since then. Since 1282, that is. They make that colorful ceramic ware – from thimbles to dining tables – that bears the familiar Italianate designs. There were some great pieces on display in several cases at our hotel.

Here are two views of Perugia from our hotel room, looking out over the ancient part of the city:

And here is one view of our hotel room, offered not only to remind us all of how fun it is to have someone else come every day to make the bed, but also how places have their colors, just like Deruta pottery.

To visit the showroom, all we had to do was find Piazza Umbria Jazz 1 – Uscita Madonna Alta Pian di Massiano Terminal Mini Metro. Cake-walk. After consulting at least three print maps and all the maps we could find online, we felt we had a reasonably good bead on the location. Our hike would serve another purpose, too: Marco had talked about meeting Floyd for the bike shop visit at one of the Mini Metro stops. We’d figure out the Mini Metro and test my will power vis-a-vis pretty things I can’t afford all at the same time.

The outbound hike was often very pretty. We saw lovely old buildings, parks and gardens, and picturesque rainy stairways. Lots and lots of stairways.

It is not the best idea, while on such an outbound hike, to look behind oneself.
Naturally, many old walled cities were built on hills. All the better to see the enemy coming, and all that.
See the little line of trees on the horizon, directly under the street lamp? Lucky I’d brought along the telephoto lens. That’s where our lovely Perugia hotel stands. And here is where we were standing:
I must say that walking around Perugia was a very inspiring experience. It inspired me to visit Venice.
We never did find the Deruta 1282 showroom. But it was a great long walk and we did figure out how to work the Mini Metro, a collection of genius little computer-run cars like ski area gondolas, that pull you smoothly and silently along elevated tracks. A very handy thing in a town like Perugia. Unfortunately, you need euro coins to work the turnstiles; it always made Floyd very sad indeed to part with euro coins. They are very difficult to come by. Even the banks will tell you they don’t have any.
One last advantage to such a great walk. You get to go back to Mediterraneo for pizza.

And at Mediterraneo, you don’t even have to share: everybody gets a pizza all their own.

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