Sunday, 16 May 2010

Assisi is just as good as it looks (apart from some of the shops)

About 30 kms away from Gubbio is Assisi. The two towns are linked together not only by geography but also by the history of Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone (aka St Francis of Assisi) who lived from approximately 1181 to 1226. A detailed account of the life of St Francis can be found in Wikipedia by clicking on the link.

When the town of Assisi first comes into view, it stands alone on a hillside


Assisi from below

surrounded by its walls and then by open countryside. All recent

Plain below Assisi

The plain below Assisi

developments have been confined to an area some distance away, perhaps this is because the town is a Unesco Heritage site.

Basilica di San Francesco

The Basilica di San Francesco is the most important church within the city in that it has the tomb of St Francis and more frescos than you can possibly absorb including a very famous and beautiful set by Giotto which describes the life of St Francis. Photography is forbidden inside the Basilica so if you want to see the frescoes click on the link.

Inside the city walls, all buildings have been restored to perhaps a better standard than when they were originally built.

Shop and House Assisi House 1

Never-the-less, the streets and their buildings give a very good feel for what the city would have been like back in history.

Alley Way Path leading to birthplace of St Francis

Assisi House 2   

The fact that Assisi is one of the jewels in the crown of the Italian Catholic Church has not stopped the local shops selling some “interesting” ecclesiastical souvenirs. Take your pick from any of the following:

Tat 9 Tat 3

Tat 1  Tat 6 

and a Giraffe

Tat 10

actually this is not a souvenir, it is a prompt to give money to support missionary work in Africa. Even so, one might question using a stuffed Giraffe as a prompt.

Despite the reappearance of the Icelandic Volcanic Cloud, our RyanAir flight back was only delayed by 1 hour.

Assisi is wonderful, Gubbio is even more wonderful. If you get the chance you should go there.

Thank-you Laura and Toni for a wonderful time.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Gubbio is one of the jewels of Umbria

Gubbio is a somewhat idyllic hill town in Umbria – imagine an old Italian town built on a hillside with numerous churches, narrow alley ways, small

Alley Way 1 Alley Way 2

shops, bars, quiet public spaces etc surrounded by a high stone wall and

Gate Fountain

a church to the patron saint of the town on the top of the hill (Mount Ingino) and you have Gubbio.

The town has held the Ceri Festival on the 15th of May every year since the

Ceri Poster

12th Century. The festival started to commemorate the death of Bishop (now Saint) Ubaldo Baldassini but has now assumed a wider significance. If you click on the Ceri Festival link above, you will get taken to the official web site of the festival which also has a detailed history and videos etc.

In summary: religious icons related to St Ubaldo (patron and protector of the city) for the builders, St George for the shopkeepers and St Anthony for the country folk are paraded around the town. There is a lot of general merry making and festival spirit, then in the evening three teams race each other up the mountain carrying a Cero. That of St Ubaldo is always in the front and the objective is for his team of carriers to get to the church at the top of the mountain sufficiently far ahead of the other two teams so he can get inside and the door can be slammed shut before the other two teams arrive. Having then had 10 minutes of parading around the church and its courtyard to himself, the doors are opened and the other two saints allowed in. After a bit more parading around, the three saints are united in the church for some final hymn singing. Everybody then goes back down the mountain and the party continues.

So: On the evening before the race, everyone went into town to the Piazza Grande  to hear the town bell (aka the Campanone" - the big bell) rung with great enthusiasm.

Town Bells

Many of the houses in the town opened their front doors and offered free wine to anyone who called by and some fountains were converted to wine.

Free Wine

The following day, wet revellers gathered in the streets and marched

Wet Revellers

around preceded or followed by a number of bands (equally wet)


and made their way to the town square to await the appearance of the

Awaiting the ceri

three cerio from the town palace to the sound of fanfares


This video shows some aspects of the Ceri madness – really great fun, you should go there if you ever get the opportunity. During the afternoon 9before the race) the Cero are individually raced around the town at high speed – and dear reader, your reporter was offered the opportunity to assist in the carrying of two of the three Cero for a short period and can reliably report that they are very very heavy.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Trains for Sam

 Low Platforms

Sam – train stations in Italy are a bit different to those in England. The platforms are much lower which means you have to climb up into the train.

Here is a picture of Nana Pat sitting on the platform waiting for the train

Nana Pat on the Station

She has got our lunch in the plastic bag (sandwiches and fruit).

If you look at this carriage (which is from a German train which happened

German Railway Carriage

to be in Bologna station) you can see the steps you have to climb to get into the carriage.

Can you see the letters DB on the side of the train? This means the carriage comes from Germany? Ask Dada what DB means – he might know.

On each platform is a large yellow train timetable – this tells you which platform a train will use.


This is an Italian engine pulling an express train coming into Bologna Station.


It is an electric train just like the ones in York.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

You can never tell what is around the next corner

Blog readers may have been wondering about the lack of travel activity – there are too many reasons for this to make an explanation worth reading but fear not, the 2010 travel season has just started. It will be less adventurous than last year but enough (we hope) to keep you interested.

0530 am on a cold May morning sees us getting into a taxi on the way to the airport for a few days in Italy – first Bologna and then Gubbio in Umbria. Despite RyanAir being the airline that everyone loves to complain about, one cannot fault their prices and usually their time keeping. Today is no exception and our cheap flight to Bologna takes off on time and arrives slightly ahead of schedule to the usual horrible RyanAir fanfare. Travelling hand luggage only (sacrifices were made by Mrs P), means that within 20 minutes of landing we are on the bus heading into town which is only 6 kms from the airport. One more impressive thing is that the Italian bus driver speaks English – the reverse would be a little unlikely in the UK.

Why Bologna? It has the world's oldest university (1069);  Mozart, Rossini and Donizetti trained there; an opera house (1763) older than La Scala; food markets; three works by Michelangelo; one of the oldest operating theatres in the world; two major towers dating back to the 1500’s one of which leans more than the one in Pisa; and ice cream. It is also on our list of places to visit before we fall apart.

On a short trip such as this, it is always better to stay as close to the centre as you can, Trip Advisor offered a number of hotels in the city centre, we

Allbergo Drapperie Front Door

chose L'Albergo delle Drapperie because of its price, its location and the fact that most of the reviews were favourable.

As an aside, using reviews to assist a choice can be a risky business because they are all personal and subjective. I take every review with a pinch of salt, ignore those which are very gushy and seem to have been written by a member of the hotel staff (or a close relation) and take an averaged view of the rest. Negatives again have to be noted with care  but sometimes common themes at least give a warning. Another factor is how many reviews the reviewer has submitted – if this is their first then keep the salt handy, if this is their thirtieth then they are likely to be an experienced traveller and both more objective and reliable. Many travellers do use reviews to assist them, our review of a hotel in Bristol was read over 100 times within a few weeks of posting.

The Italian love of food is well known, our hotel is in the middle of one of


the numerous food and flower markets in the town where2010_0512australia0003

lots of very small shops around every corner selling incredibly fresh and mouth watering food.


fish so fresh it is almost still wriggling

hand made tagliatelli

hand made tagliatelli

We passed a few hypermarkets on the way into the city but within the city


centre it seems that fresh, locally grown food is still available


the great pity of course is that we have no way of cooking anything. This freshness and love of food does however pass right down the food chain. Our hotel advised eating at nearby pizzeria that evening, the salad was one of the freshest we have eaten and the pizzas were superb and with good draught Italian beer, the bill came to 15 euro each.

Bologna is the home of Bolognese Sauce (no surprise) but here they do not have it with Spaghetti (surprise) but with Tagliatelle and in the area around the hotel are many cafes boasting home cooking – it is indeed good as our dinner on the second night at a local restaurant around the corner proved to us. We were the only tourists eating there which is surely a good sign.

Our general plan when we make a short visit to a city is to roughly follow one of the numerous walks you can find in guide books or on the internet but also to dive down any interesting alley ways which you pass on the way. Because (as the title of this blog says) you never know what is around the corner.

Around the corners we dived down, we found a variety of rather interesting art-deco / French influenced shop signs / old wall furniture

Farmacia Sign


Hitching Hook

Lamp post

Some buildings (here the Casa Azzoguidi) still in regular use whose woodwork dates from the 13th century (and shows it)

Casa Azzoguidi 1

Casa Azzoguidi 3 

The original soffit decorations are still visible Casa Azzoguidi 2

In the Jewish Ghetto quarter, the reason for the design is said to be that the Jews were forbidden from living outside of the Ghetto (dating from the

Building in Jewish Ghetto

1500s) and therefore they built upwards and outwards. 

Bologna is of course full of the most ornate churches Italian Catholicism can devise – most churches close for lunch, perhaps a statement about Italian values – stomach before faith? You can read about the churches in any guide book so the general details will not be repeated here.

However within on of the side chapels of the Basilica of St Petronius,

Basilica St Petronius

is a working Foucault’s Pendulum which was used by Foucault to prove that the earth rotates.

Also on the floor of the church is a meridian line (dating from 1655) marked off with longitude and latitude which functions as a sundial in It was designed by Giovanni Domenico Cassini who was teaching astronomy at the University. At 66.8 metres long, it is the longest sundial in the world. If you want to know how it works, click here.

In the middle and late middle ages it was the done thing (if you were wealthy) to build a tall tower as a part of your house and at one time there were over 200 of them. It is said that straight tall towers became so common that it became the fashion to build them with a slight lean.

The towers and gateways of Bologna feature in a number of paintings

Gateway Two Towers

dating from the early 16th century as this details from an enormous painting

Guido Reni 1575 to 1642 

in the Bologna National Gallery by Guido Reni shows:

 towers in old bologna

One of your intrepid travellers climbed the tallest of the towers in the picture above, the 97.1m Asinelli Tower (all 520 steps) to get a view of the city from its highest point. The staircase (which is not really wide enough for the person going up to pass a person coming down) is an example of a brave wooden construction with more faith than engineering in its design. Climbing it is

Internal Staircase

hard work and psychologically you are not helped by the fact that as you climb, you see a platform above and think that is the top but it is not and you have to keep climbing. There are five of these platforms to negotiate on the way up. The view from the top is well worth the effort:

View from Top 1 View from Top 2

Gradually the towers have been demolished (four as recently as the early 1900s) and currently only 21 remain.

The Italian love of ice cream is not a secret and just adjacent to these towers is one of the most famous ice cream shops in the city – four

Mrs Ice Cream

flavours later, we were ready to continue our tour.

The National Gallery is tucked away at the end of the University Quarter and it a great 4euro experience and a good example of a well designed gallery. What was particularly nice was that it was not crowded and you could get really close to the paintings and browse without hassle. The gallery has art dating from the mid 1200s and the majority of it has a religious theme. Amongst our favourites were this 15th Century extract from a Fresco by Ercole Roberti (1450-1496)

Fresco extract

Volto di Maria Maddalena planganta painted around 1480

and Negazione di Pietro by Gall8i painted around 1610


and this cross by Andrea di Bartolo dating from around 1420.

Bartolo Cross

There were hundreds more.