I had a lot of doubts as the date approached to leave.   Why the heck had I planned this random trip?  (Never mind that it wasn’t random)  Was I having some quarter-life crisis?  (It didn’t help that one of my friends pointed out I’ve passed my quarter-life.  Thanks.)  It wasn’t like Megan and I were off to Seattle or Maine or Florida. We were going to another country!  Were we ready? (Granted, a country both of us had lived in.  And I had lived in twice.  We weren’t novices.  But it had been awhile…)

Thankfully, little confirmations came when I needed them.  A friend reminding me to go while I could, before I was tied down by a husband or children.  Checking my bank account and remembering that I had been saving for this.  A quick look at a picture of John Paul II.  Being busy at work and watching my countdown get smaller and smaller.  Seeing Megan in the airport and realizing how much fun we were going to have.   Eventually, seeing the dome of St. Peter’s in the distance.  Even throughout the trip, the confirmations kept coming.  I suppose we call them graces.

We realized in the airport that it was the first trip we were taking that didn’t entail a wedding, a family vacation, or work.  We were going to Rome for a week.  Because we could.  And because we wanted to celebrate John Paul II.

The plane was much smaller than I anticipated — perhaps the extra money for that British Airways ticket would have been worth it.  I honestly don’t remember seats on a transatlantic flight being smaller than the seats on a regular plane… but they were.  The flight was a lot more difficult than I remember it being, although Megan was able to move to an unoccupied row, leaving both of us two seats apiece.  About three hours into the flight, I succumbed to the fetal position on the two seats and willed myself to sleep.

It’s funny how you don’t remember the difficult flight… because it’s all worth it when you land at Fiumicino.

The woman in the seat in front of me just happened to be going to Assisi as well, so we had found ourselves a traveling partner.  When we planned this trip, we thought it made sense to go straight to Assisi upon landing in Rome, rather than spending a few days in Rome and breaking it up with an overnight in Assisi.  When the jet tires hit the pavement, I was second-guessing the brilliance of that idea.  Train to Termini, regional train to Assisi (with a possible transfer), then a hike to the hotel… all on a jet-lagged, sleep-deprived mind, still a little shell-shocked by the fact that the people around us were speaking another language?  Hm, maybe not the best idea in the world.

But you might as well get the hardest part of the trip over with, right?

Megan, Sherry, and I conquered.  Train from airport to Termini: check.  Regional train tickets: check.  Locate said regional train, board, and travel to Foligno: check.  Know to stay on train in Foligno, thanks to a nice Italian man who spoke no English but could tell we were going to disembark and try to transfer trains: check.  Arrive in Assisi: check.

Sherry was united with her daughter in the Assisi train station, Megan and I were fought over by two Italian cabbies who wanted to take us to our hotel.  The young suave guy won our business.  (And a nice tip.  Hey, I’m a sucker for suaveness.  And I was sleep-deprived.  And he saved us a lonnnnng trek up a mountain with suitcases.)

For most people, Assisi is a day-trip.  It’s a doable train trip from Rome (two and a half hours, €9.40 on the regional train), so pilgrims will go up for the day, see as many churches as possible, ooh and ahh over the medieval simplicity of it all, then board their train/pullmans and head back to Rome.

This isn’t the way to see Assisi.  Of course, many of these people are barely seeing Rome — it’s just not right to see the Eternal City through the windows of a bus.

My favorite time in Assisi is the evening– the tourists are gone, the sun is setting, and the city comes alive.

Assisi is fairly untouched by the commercialism that has touched other pilgrim sites.  Yes, you can get a handful of different statues of St. Francis.  But you don’t see a lot of the cheap souvenirs that you see elsewhere.  Even so, I still love it at night, when most of the crowds have gone.

And nothing beats an Assisi sunset.


5 thoughts on “Take-off

  1. Amy says:

    Ah! My dream is to spend a night in Assisi. I’ve only been during the day…once on the day trip from Rome, once to stop for lunch on the way to Florence. Someday…
    The Italians are so nice to tourists! I’ve been helped by many, especially on the train. I hear that the French wouldn’t dream…
    And every time I fly over, I think to myself (as I can’t sleep): “WHY did I do this?” and then remember that when I arrive it will all be worth it. (A little Tylenol PM at takeoff helps too.)
    Loved this post – thank you, and look forward to more!

  2. Jane Gilmore says:

    Dear Joan, I am so jealous! I have always wanted to go to Assisi and walk in the footsteps of Sts. Francis and Clare…someday to be at San Damiano. I hope I don’t have to wait until I retire!! Be safe, and hope to see you soon.

  3. Anne says:

    Oh yay!!!! I’m so THRILLED that we get to come along on your journey – or the next best thing anyway! You write about it so wonderfully that I really do feel like I’m there. I’m trying to channeling my own pathetic memories from when my own feet were on that ground too. It IS amazing. I’m so glad you got to go, and I can’t wait to hear the rest of the story.

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