07.24.2008 - 07.27.2008
It was as if I was in some romantic movie. Golden hills of sunflowers. An occasional rustic villa surrounded by hay fields and vineyards. Medieval castles at the peak of forested mountains. It was picturesque in every scene I laid my eyes on.
Our driver, Fabio, met us at Roma Termini (the train station in Rome) and drove us out of the city and into the country, up narrow, twisting roads to our first destination Orvieto, where we viewed the Duomo (nearly every city has a Duomo, or domed church) and the church of St. Mary. We had only a short visit there and then we were off to Assisi – you may have heard of St. Francis of Assisi? On Bardstown road there is a church with that name and I think there may even be a school attached to it. The complex that the basilica was on was an enormous monastery. We saw monks walking around but to our dismay, never heard their chants. (I love to hear Gregorian chant.) The basement of the basilica held the tomb of St. Francis and above that was a small chapel (but small is a relative term; it was actually a very large church by American standards) and above that was the larger church. The whole church was decorated in frescoes displaying bible stories and portraits of saints, martyrs and prophets. Mallory was thrilled to be there because she has studied St. Francis extensively; it was dream come true for her!
Everyone was in good spirits during the trip and we giggled like little kids the entire car ride. I’m sure Fabio probably was growing annoyed with us because we couldn’t stop being silly.
The next morning we headed to Siena to view the Duomo, Bapistry and a few other places. We climbed up a very narrow staircase to view the entire city from the Facciatone or the big façade of the church. It was incredible. Dan was uncomfortable being so high up. So we went back down. Inside the Duomo, I was partially awe-struck by the degree to which I felt dwarfed by the monumental architecture; but I also partially felt disgusted at how ornate the church was. Although beautiful and breath-taking, I couldn’t help but think about how much everything must have cost and how that money could have been given to a better cause, such as feeding the hungry or clothing the poor. It made me angry to see where the priorities of the Catholic Church were.
We stopped by a few medieval towns to eat and shop for souvenirs. I found an Italian leather purse/backpack that I knew I wanted the moment I saw it. It was 36 euro but it was totally worth it! On the drive back to the train station to leave, I found myself with eyes wide open, even though I was very tired from our hurried trip. It was as if I wanted to remember everything. I wanted to absorb every hill, every house. I wanted to soak up every morsel of Tuscan and Umbrian life. It was some place I’ll make it back to someday, I’m sure.
We ended our trip with Fabio back in Rome, right where we had met him. There was only 40 minutes until the train departed for Siracusa so we needed to hurry to purchase tickets (something that should have been done the day before when we arrived). We stood in line for more than 20 minutes and by the time it was our turn to get tickets, the train was sold out. We could either buy tickets for the next train at 11:30 but we’d have to make a connection on the very toe of Italy (the layover would be 6 hours!) or we could stay in Rome overnight and get on the 11 am train but we’d have to stand…for 11 hours! We decided to take the layover route.
Our ride back eventually resulted in hysterical laughter, which covered up our desire to weep at our conditions. We started off the night in a very cramped cabin: the three of us, (for Erin took a separate train back to Naples, where she lives with her mother) plus a couple and their two small children. Each cabin has a total of 6 seats, three seats facing each other; having just 5 bodies in one cabin is uncomfortable enough. Seven is almost unbearable. We searched for another cabin and found one in the next car down. Dan was concerned that the cars could disconnect and go off in different directions. But we reassured him, what are the chances that our number 8 car would disconnect from the number 7, where we found an empty cabin? The decision was made and so we packed up and went to the number 7 car.
We straightened out all of the seats (which laid out like lazy boy chairs, though not nearly as comfortable) and made a bed of sorts in which the three of us could lay. It was gross and dirty but we were tired. So we attempted to sleep. The cabin window was down, which was nice at first because it was pretty stuffy. But soon, the air got really cold and we began to shiver. I pulled out a long scarf I bought in Siena and it was so long it covered me from head to toe and was just wide enough to cover me from arm to arm. Dan created a blanket of t-shirts to cover him and Mallory did the same. But it was not enough to keep us from being terribly cold. Meanwhile, since we were traveling through tunnels often, the noise was incredibly loud. And it was startling each time we went into a new tunnel so I couldn’t sleep. Mallory attempted to shut the window several times but it wouldn’t lock into place and kept falling back down – which also made a really startling noise when it fell. At one point, I got up too and tried to shut it with her with no luck. She took a look at me, with my long scarf-blanket and took a look at Dan with his shirt-blanket and we began to laugh at how ridiculous the situation was. NOTE: bring a pillow and blanket when you’re going to be on a train for 12 hours!
When we arrived in Villa San Giovanni train station to make our connection, we hopped off the number 7 car and looked behind us. All of the other cars (1-6) were missing. Gone. Left at some previous stop and on their way to some other destination. We looked at Dan and laughed. If we had gone any further, to any other train car, we would have waken up in some other city and then we would have needed to buy another ticket to get home and we would have spent another undetermined amount of hours getting to Siracusa. We got lucky.
Finally after a long layover spent in a coffee shop and a long train ride with strangers, we made it back to Siracusa. I was happy to ‘home.’