I was woken up by church bells and roosters crowing in Assisi, and I had never been so happy to be woken up an hour early.
We arrived to Assisi at around 8:30 pm on Tuesday night. Megan and I had planned on taking the bus and walking to the hospitality house where we were staying, but we decided to split a taxi with two American men who were on our train. It was a smart decision, because Assisi’s streets are quite the maze. Plus it was dark and we were not in the mood to get lost after a long day of traveling.
We stayed at La Casa d’Ospitalità Maria Immacolata, which was the perfect place. Central location, super kind religious sisters, and beautiful rooms.
We tried to find a bite to eat, and the best we could do at 9pm in our tired state was a €5 salad. I had this plus half of Megan’s, since she wasn’t feelin’ hers anymore.
Our room had a balcony with a panorama of Assisi, which looked like this in the morning:
I ate some breakfast biscuits and mixed nuts before we explored Assisi. Just like Padua, it involved a lot of church visits, wandering semi-aimlessly, and waiting for restaurants to open.
We loved it so much though. Assisi is a movie set. None of it seems real, but the best part is that it IS REAL. The buildings are rustic, and the signs look like Disney World tried to make a European Epcot exhibition.
Obviously, we had to visit the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi. Pictures weren’t allowed (there were two Italian guards with big guns outside, so I wasn’t gonna try to pull a fast one), but again, it was exquisite. St. Francis’ tomb was in the basement!! (Getting excited over dead people, I know.)
We spent a good chunk of time there before going to a random (yet impressively high-tech) museum of a Franciscan mission to the Amazon, followed by the Basilica of St. Rufino.
Poor Megan was getting hangry, but we had 20 minutes to spare before lunch opened, so I tried to walk us to Rocca Maggiore (the fortress at the very top of Assisi) for a nice view. Too bad Assisi is really hilly and steep — great if you have energy to exercise, horrible if you’re hangry.
The views were worth it (IMO. But I ate more than she did for breakfast too, so..).
Working up an appetite for lunch at Osteria Piazzetta dell’Erba was also worth it. My friend Joe recommended it to me, and the menu looked fantastic, so we went for it.
They gave us a bread basket PLUS this onion focaccia, which was divine.
Megan and I shared the beef tartare to start. We called them “raw meatballs”, but they were seriously amazing. There were black truffle shavings and some sort of yogurt sauce.
Then we both ordered the gnocchi for our main. It came with a lamb ragu sauce, pecorino cream, and CHOCOLATE! The chocolate definitely elevated the dish to a new and unique level.
Dead. This was definitely the best meal of my entire trip.
We popped into a gelateria for lunch dessert, because…we were in Italy.
Each cup came with three flavors, so I went with caramel, mint chocolate chip, and pistachio. Weird combo, but I enjoyed it a lot.
I was so full of good Italian food at that point, so we slowly made our way to the Basilica of St. Clare, where her tomb was located as well. Her body is partially incorrupt, which means it is decaying more slowly than usual and no one can explain it scientifically. Creepy crazy cool.
We headed back to our room to change into something other than jeans, since it was actually pretty warm that day. I also needed to lay down on a bed and digest from lunch still.
Then it was time for a hike! We walked about 1.5 hours to St. Francis’ old hermitage, called Eremo delle Carceri, which I think means hermitage of the prisons? It was a great walk, but it was also a great workout. It was all uphill, so my hamstrings and butt were feeling it as I huffed and puffed up the double backs of the mountain.
We were the only valiant walkers as many cars passed us by. #fituniversity?
Once we arrived, we walked around the beautiful and serene hermitage. We checked out the grottos and prayer spaces of St. Francis and his companions.
We spent a good couple of hours here, marveling in the beauty and meditating ourselves. It was another good workout going down this trail…and then back up.
We stayed so long at the hermitage because we wanted to go to adoration and vespers (both are special forms of prayer) at the chapel at 6pm. We knew it would get dark, but we figured we could get a cab or just walk with our phone flashlights back down the mountain, no big deal.
Adoration and vespers were lovely. I was exhausted, but it was so cool to be praying with priests and religious brothers and sisters at the top of a mountain in Assisi, where St. Francis once prayed.
Once the prayers were over though, we realized that it was pitch black outside and thunder storming… Not really great conditions for walking 1.5 hours down a mountain, eh? At first, I assured the priest that we would be able to get a taxi by the entrance of the hermitage, but when we got outside, there was not a soul in sight, and we knew there would be no taxis passing by until the morning. So we scurried back to the hermitage to ask the priest, Fr. Marco and the religious sister, Sr. Violet, there to call a cab for us.
God is good. Another religious sister, Sr. Elisabetta, and her friend were heading back down the mountain with their car, so the priest asked them if they would be willing to give us a lift, and they agreed! It all sounds very nice and perfect as I type this, but in reality, Megan and I were so frazzled and helpless.
“Guess we’re staying at the hermitage tonight.” -Megan
We are beyond grateful for such kind people though. We got to talk to Fr. Marco and Sr. Violet while we waited for our ride to be ready. All of a sudden though, the room started shaking.
Megan and I were just looking around like, “Hm, the room is moving. Must be some strong thunder or something.” But Sister Violet took my arm and calmly but firmly led me out of the room we were standing in to stand under a small archway.
We must have looked confused at that point, because all she said was, “Earthquake. Terremoto.” WHAT!? Megan and I are clueless. Thankfully, it was not a big or long earthquake.
Anyway, Sr. Elisabetta and her friend very kindly drove us back to town, where it started raining torrentially.
If we tried to walk back down a mountain in the dark with thunderstorms, pouring rain, and earthquakes, I think we would have died. We are forever grateful for the compassionate and joyful people of Eremo delle Cercari.
We ran into the closest open restaurant once we got out of the car. It was a random hotel restaurant, but we were hungry and it was pouring outside. I ordered the veal steak and side of grilled vegetables.
I got the biggest stomachache after this, probably because I ate too fast and the meal was just very oily overall. Too many fats in a very short period of time after a long hike and a little stress was not a good combo.
By the time we finished dinner, it had stopped raining (thank God), so we walked back to our rooms to just be done with the day. But it wasn’t quite over.
I had just showered and Megan was sitting on the ground using her phone. The room started shaking again, and we looked at each other. We didn’t say anything but we weren’t taking this earthquake seriously, since the other one was so short and mild. But then the shaking kept going, and it was getting harder. Our eyes widened and we realized, “Oh, earthquakes are natural disasters and we should be concerned. !!!!”
All I learned in school was to go under a doorframe, so that’s what we did. We were totally fine, but the epicenter must have felt it big time. 😦
We felt one more shake while in our beds a little later, but nothing woke us up while we were actually sleeping.
The next morning, the sun was out and the view from our balcony got even prettier.
I could cry.
We checked out of our hospitality house and moseyed our way down to St. Damian, which was a church rebuilt by St. Francis and used by the Poor Clares.
Look at how touristy we are. Backpack/frontpack for me + hiking boots hanging off of Megan’s hiking backpack.
Besides Megan mildly twisting her ankle, the walk to lunch was lovely, and these views from the bottom of Assisi were stunning. I could not take my eyes off this place.
We ate lunch at Casa Norcia, which gave us some delicious pasta (naturally). I had the mixed salad + tagliatelle with prosciutto and hazelnuts. YUM.
There were about 45 minutes to kill before the Mary of the Angels Basilica reopened for the day, so I blogged on my phone for a bit outside. The wifi was THE BEST in that area.
Then it was time to catch our train to Rome. We both finished Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone that evening, and we are officially HP fans now. It happened.
So we shed a tear because we left Assisi and because we finished the first HP book. Assisi is my new favorite place in the world, and my heart longs to return.
A few more adventures to share coming up!