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Aug 21, 2006 | Part 2 of 3 – Roadtrip Italia

7/29 Perugia – Assisi – Perugia
We headed off to Saint Francis’ home town, Assisi (from which you hear Saint Francis of Assisii). The hilly town some 20 kilometres from Perugia is the pilgrim’s stop for the patron saint of Italy, whose remains are interred in the lower basilica. According to an audio-visual guide my dad and I listened to, the double basilica (one constructed on top of the other) was built in merely two years, from 1228-1230, for “practical purposes’, probably because of Saint Francis’ death two years prior. The frescoes adorning all walls and the ceilings are amazingly well-maintained, and also bear witness to the splendor and artistic genius of Giotto, the “Master of St. Francis”, who evokes in simple colors but with vivid images St. Francis’ life.

Later in the evening, after a fulfilling dinner at the restaurant I had found, we came across a group of performers wearing traditional clothing selling Russian-esque wooden dolls and other interesting items in front of a large stage at the town square (near the Fontana Maggiore) as though they were getting things ready for a show they were going to put up. Seeing rows of plastic chairs already filling up with people, we thought it might be worthwhile to sit down and wait.

The show, from the moment it started, had me blown away to bits and smithereens. The performers were from the Russian city of Dom, and they gave a splendid rendition of Cossack dancing. With beautiful dress after beautiful dress, the women, about ten in all, twirled about like ballerinas, and the men, coming onstage with Cossack uniforms or other traditional clothes, made stunning and impossible moves to accompany the music.

The surprise came midway through the first half of the performance, when a man dressed rather simply in a suit appeared onstage and said a few words in broken Italian as though he were some MC welcoming the troupe. To the surprise of no doubt many gathering around (there must’ve been at least 150 people now in the square), he began singing arias in tenor like no other. He had a lot of people applauding just a few seconds into his singing, and to call it impressive would be an understatement in its gatest degree. It was a highlight of high quality.

7/30 Perugia – Passignano – Montepulciano – Siena
With it being a Sunday, we thought it might be wise to dedicate to the day to travelling. Bidding farewell to Perugia we headed west, to the Trasimeno lake, where we stopped for a bit, admiring the blue-green colors reflecting the clear, cloudless sky. The vastness of the lake would have had me thinking it was an ocean if I hadn’t known more about where we were.

Off towards Siena, but we spot Montepulciano on the map and take a 20-some kilometer detour that brings us to the vineyards of the pretty famous, relatively cheap wine. The fact it was Sunday did not seem to deter stores from proudly displaying the wine bottles from their respective estates. A brief stop, and back to our Renault.

Once at Siena, we have considerable difficulty both finding a hotel and getting to the city centre, in large part because the best-located hotels were located within the historic city’s walls. We settled for a bed and breakfast a small distance from the town. I walk to town for a bit of a brief tour and then rest for the night.

Podere Le Vigne €90

7/31 Siena – San Gimignano – Piombino
A quick breakfast and off we go again, though I can’t help but feel dissapointed in leaving such a picturesque town so early, without having done sufficient justice to the Duomo and the Piazza del Campo. We decide that a detour to San Gimignano is worthwhile (for the wine, and as I would later find out, its numerous stone towers) and stop there for a morning’s tour before the hoard of tourists arrive. A snapshot of town, a glimpse of the breathtaking panorama of the valley that extends below us, and then we’re off again. As we roll along the narrow and curved paths that will lead us eventually to the western coast, I can’t help but notice the number of cars with Dutch license plates. I envisaged a sort of mass exodus, for I counted at least 30 vehicles with the distinctive yellow front plates.

Upon our arrival at the port city of Piombino, we find a well-situated hotel that sets us back a hefty sum, but given the fact that we all sleep best with a cool temperature, we decided it would be worth it.

Hotel Centrale €120

8/1 Piombino
I have realized that Italians, like the French, aren’t very big breakfast-eaters. After that and a trip to the port to find out about prices of the ferry that would take us to the Isle of Elba tomorrow (about €50 each way for three and an average-sized car), we headed into town for a walk and a bit of shopping before having lunch at the seaside. I took a bit of a dip in the beautifully crystal clear ocean after lunch, enjoying the sunshine and the warm upper surface of the sea. It was a bit lonesome considering that my parents weren’t going to join in the blissfull fun, but I guess that’s that.

Hotel Centrale €120

8/2 Piombino – Portoferraio – Lido di Capoliveri
Taking the 9:30 Toremar ferry line out of Piombino, filled to capacity, I relished every moment of the hour-long trip. It was the first time I’d been on a car that drove into a boat, so the whole experience was enthralling. The sun shone ever brightly in the sky, rendering the ocean, even at its darkest, deepest depths, a sort of comfortably acceptable navy color.

I can never stop being fascinated by the sea, from the waves that create white creamy foam that seems to skim the surface of the ocean like glass marbles on a polished floor to the seagulls drifting peacefully on the waves, watching us as we steam by in the mammoth of a sea-faring machine.

From Portoferraio we headed south towards Capoliveri, stopping a slight distance before to arrive at our hotel. Located at Lido di Capoliveri, it offers ‘villas/residences’ located just about 10 minutes from the beach, at relatively reasonable (for the season on this island) prices. We had lunch by the beach and I went for a small dip, before spending a quiet afternoon. With half-board, a hearty dinner was served at the hotel.

I’ve observed that there are an extraordinary amount of cars that have Dutch license plates, and it all seems like a massive exodus is taking place at a place so distant and foreign.

Residence Villa Giulia €187.5 half-board

8/3 Lido di Capoliveri
With clouds in sight and an overall gray, spottedly rainy atmosphere, we drove around the island in search of pockets of sunlight and beautiful (if not darkened) beaches and for hotels to stay in, for we had planned to stay on the island through the weekend, and our hotel was fully booked for Sunday. We rested a bit on the north end at Scaglieri, which lies next to Biodola, which we had picked because we had previously purchased a postcard with a picture of it. Quite naturally, whatwith the weather and the fact that places don’t quite look like the postcards that have them on the front, the beach and the ocean looked rather forlorn and disappointing.

I don’t recall when this almost ritualistic hobby of mine started, but I began collecting postcards and, since the fit perfectly well, I would slide them into photo albums. The postcards would not have any writing on them, and they would be bought on their artistic/phone/event-based merit. Cheaper and easier than taking photographs, postcards provide a lasting memorable souvenir to keep and are fun to go looking for, especially on car trips where stops and visits to various places are often frequent and brief.

The hotels we came across were all rather expensive or fully booked, so we changed plans later in the evening, deciding instead to leave the island on Saturday. The ferry fares fluctuate wildly depending on demand, and though we were told that ferry trips on Friday, Saturday and Sunday would be exorbitantly expensive (i.e twice a one-way trip on any other day of the week) we calculated it still would be cheaper to go ahead rather than spend another night on the island.

I lament our change of plans, and feeling slightly guilty for not having taken full advantage of the previous day’s sun, go off to the beach in front of our hotel and go for a swim, despite the clouds.

Residence Villa Giulia €187.5 half-board

8/4 Lido di Capoliveri
Much to my relief, the day dawned bright and sunny, and we head down to the beach shortly after breakfast. Feeling the need to have some evidence of having been on a beach, however briefly, I sit down on a deck chair with Sartre in full sunlight, while my parenting relish the comfort of the shade. Little would I realize then how fast one can literally burn in the sun. Lunch, a few snapshots, and I come up with another wacky idea (must’ve been the pizza): to walk to the five kilometers to Capoliveri, a larger hilltop town we had passed by the day before yesterday without much appreciation. Setting out a 14:30, I arrive at Capoliveri at 16:00, following the paved roads. After noting that stores here only open from 17:00 (most Italian stores follow a divided schedule where they open in the morning, clOse for several hours after lunch, and reopen in the early evening hours; on the mainland most stores reopen at 16:00) I decided that rather than being bored sitting somewhere I’d visit Madonna della Grazie, a church nearby that was listed on the map. The winding roads take me out of my way for another 40 minutes, though the spectacular ocean view I had was worth it all (the church, beautiful and simple from the outside, was closed) and the additional 40 minutes to return to Capoliveri.

On the way back, I come across my dad walking in the opposite direction and we head back together to the hotel, the two lone travelers who dare risk their lives walking so near to Italian (and a few German ones tio, thankfully) cars whizzing past us on the winding, narrow paths.

Residence Villa Giulia €187.5 half-board

8/5 Portferraio
We had planned to return to land today partly because hotel prices increase significantly from this evening for the height of the tourist season, and partly because our hotel hadn’t a space for us Sunday, and we thought that rather than pay more and have to move out tomorrow, we would do better to move to the mainland and start spending less. As misfortune would have it, the ferry line we had reserved for our return on Monday (we thought it wouldn’t be as hard as it eventually turned out to be to find a hotel, and ferry lines are cheaper on weekdays) had no available spots for our return, despite the fact that we had arrived at the ticketing office at 10. We had to resort to changing our ticket to a departure tomorrow morning, and we spent a good hour searching for cheap hotels along the nirth coast. I never would’ve imagined it would be this hard to leave an island!

After some bargaining, we managed to find a hotel within Portoferraio, and settled there. I went for an afternoon swim and a brief walk around the historical center of the city. It’s nice having access to a beautiful beach like the one at Capoliveri, but it’s also nice to be able to walk around town for a change. There are lots of tourists here too, and I spotted an unbelievably exquisite cruise boat (not one of those large commercial lines) from London, with the name of Lady Ann Magee.

Crystal Hotel and Residence €160 w. bf

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