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Sunday 16 May

Friday yet another gear shift: uncertain about just how many days I really have left (the trips to Chioggia and Treia look to eat up almost all the time I have left), and whether I'd be able to do my walk from Marsciano to S. Venanzo after the expected return of Barb & Art from the States (the 22d?), I decided I'd better be safe and do it right then. Trains put me in Ammeto station, where I'd been at least three times before over the years, at 11:11; with my last trains at 1726 and 1834 (Fratta) or 1733 and 1841 (Marsciano-Ammeto): plenty of time to see Marsciano, walk to S. Venanzo, poke around, and get back to the train preferably by a different route — Rotecastello and Collelungo to Fratta — or if worse came to worse, back the same way to Ammeto.

Marsciano not much, or at least not that I saw: disappointingly the church is modern; but I did pay the 3E00 to visit the "Museo Dinamico del Laterizio e delle Terrecotte": not worth it. Despite the fanfare for the recent March opening, it's empty — most of the rooms are quite literally empty presumably awaiting material — and what there is is of very middling interest, unless of course one has an overriding passion for brick, which is rather the reverse of my case. Still, no point in going to a town if you're not going to look at what it has.

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One of the better parts of the exhibit in Marsciano's Brick and Terracotta Museum:
a collection of large storage jars, called orci (19c).

Longish stop at the caffé behind the Teatro Comunale, two aranciate amare for the quinine and a tramezzino to hold me for the day, and took onboard three Gatorades for the road and the potassium (gosh that was a nasty zeugma) — and off I went: maps say 10.6 km, road signs say 11 from the outskirts of Marsciano, but the distance is in fact about 10.0 from center to center by the milestones, always more trustworthy.

The walk to S. Venanzo, my 92d of the 92 comuni, was bland but with good weather, sunny, not too hot, and as soon as you get away from Marsciano and the plain the scenery improves of course; actually Marsciano itself not bad, reminds me rather of Bastardo and Umbertide: busy, commercial/industrial, but not at all the ghastly blot for example of the N side of Gubbio, the Castello-S. Giustino corridor, Foligno or the conca Ternana. The road itself though is very narrow, with no shoulders, and not that untravelled: I had to be careful.

[and if you need it, here's help in using the map,
including my own symbols & added information.]

Other walks in the area, see Walking in Umbria.

Views to my left on Rotecastello, a small medieval-looking place in a dip between my hill and the hill of Collelungo; at km 27.1, a surprise: the chapel of the Madonna dei Monti, a small square room but well sited and a pleasant break in the rather empty countryside — and from the front door, a view onto the tall square tower of Civitella dei Conti. Along the road, in part because of the season, in part maybe because there was little else to attract my attention, dozens of species of flowering plants, among which thistles just starting now, and one single pink orchid I'd never noticed before; poppies and various yellow things — mustard and hawkweed mostly but others — and pimpinella (now that I've read a lot of Trevi de Planu, for a few plants I know the Italian name but neither the English nor the French).

[image ALT: A single-room building of mixed stone and brick masonry, set on a small grassy rise and flanked by trees. Its door, taking up a third the width of the little building, is surmounted by a semicircular window; both door and window are edged in brick. It is a view of the chapel of the Madonna dei Monti, NE of S. Venanzo, Umbria (central Italy).]

On top of a little hill, miles from any town,
the chapel of the Madonna dei Monti.
As much as I love Italy, I wish they'd be more careful about the placement of electric lines:
here, as elsewhere, quite thoughtless; a recurring problem for the photographer.

S. Venanzo announced itself with a bang: medieval towers in a park, a pretty nice park too, despite restoration work; a tiny older area of town maybe 4 small blocks — then nothing much: the large modern church of S. Venanzo (or Venanzio), with a bar in front — obligatory stop, drink, and by way of celebration a little cup of ice cream. In an ideal world, champagne and a reception committee, but I even made a special point of not telling anyone this was my 92d comune, although I came close to forgetting!

Actually I did sort of get my celebration, typically Umbrian in its low-key: after I pumped some neighbors for information on what I was photographing (the church of the Madonna Liberatrice) and a bit of chat, they — a group of three old women and two old men — invited me to sit down with them on their bench on the street; the first time that had ever happened, and sunburned wizened old Booby I guess became officially another old Umbrian geezer hisself.

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S. Venanzo: the church of the Madonna Liberatrice,
on the edge of town.

We sat and talked about various things — one of my fellow Sanvenanzites had relatives in Canada among other topics, who come here from time to time — but finally I had to leave. I couldn't have made it to Fratta via the longer route, even without the time of the sit, so wound up retracing my exact route, which I rarely do and don't much like; so I'll never have been to Rotecastello, which really did look nice: it'll have to be for next time, he says. The 12.5 km back to the station at Ammeto with nothing of note, and fifteen minutes to spare; and home, tagliatelle, bed.

Yesterday, as every May 15, was the Corsa dei Ceri in Gubbio. I really don't like crowds much — and spent the day with Franco in as deserted a place as there is: the hills to the NW of Trevi, pit stop first at S. Niccolò di Matigge, then Manciano and Ponze, so lost that even Franco got a bit lost.a S. Stefano inº Manciano must once have been such a beautiful church, but the vault has started caving in, and a pal of Franco's in the neighborhood, whom we met by chance working his fields, told us of a group of hooded people seen very recently in the area: Mariella at lunch (at 1) said that Umbria was, after Piemonte, the worst area of Italy for Satanic lunacies — although how do they measure this?

[image ALT: zzz]

S. Stefano in Manciano: the collapsing vault of the nave.
This is a particularly well-built, beautiful church; she just needs to be taken care of.

The whole area behind Trevi and Foligno, so difficult to get to, is now one of the biggest "holes" in my Umbria, even if I've zipped thru it a few times in cars and buses; now that I've seen most of Umbria on a macro level, I told Franco that I may very well stay next time in Trevi or at least close to the station in Borgo Trevi. (Trevi and Spello are prime candidates, being right on the train line, and train connections are in fact better at Trevi for most purposes.)b At any rate the arc from Spello to Bevagna and Montefalco and Trevi, with its extensions along the train line S to Baiano and the whole interior centered on Bastardo, is by and large my favorite area, even though Norcia — where I haven't been this time, regretfully — remains my favorite town and I have my usual spot-favorites, among which now from this trip Corciano and Monteleone di Spoleto.

Franco, after lunch, made noises about me not wasting precious time and shouldn't we be scouring the countryside for my instruction? but, winding down my stay, I was perfectly happy to sit in the sun on his terrace with some of Mariella's cedrina and gaze on out over the stupendous view that by now despite everything he must surely take for granted but I don't yet, even if I could pick out dozens of memories and walks from Spoleto to Assisi (and even most of Monte Acuto in the distance!)c and from the nearby Cannaiola to Gualdo and Giano and beyond.

Train in the Borgo at 4:50 P.M.; I hope I'll be back soon; and a quick thru train straight to PSG and a fast change to Umbertide, time enough to pick up my shirt at the cleaners, then go back out and give Angelo and Arianna their book on Chicago, they've really been super with all my questions and stuff (Pauline's Circles, as amended by Booby: "Circle 0" is the house you live in, and your alimentari); I'll actually say goodbye on Monday, but I might be in a horrific hurry what with packing and cleaning and Irene and the mayor and all.

Today (wow! I'm finally caught up — it must be over a month I haven't written about the same day) was part of this goodbye process; I'd connected a coupla days ago with Judith but we got cut off, as often happens with cellphones; and she called at 9 this morning, did you get my note in the door? No — wrong door: someone told her, oh he always comes in by the back door (which I've not done so much as once), so of course I'd seen no note; would I have lunch with her today? Delighted, yes, and scuttled a very lukewarm plan of walking to and from Preggio, or at least from, since Angelo yesterday'd suggested he could drive me out there and save me half the walk — Called Angelo, rearranged my expectations for the day as I've almost continually been doing now, and at 12:20 trying to beat Judith to our 12:30 appointment failed, she wuz already in the Piazza XXV Aprile.

And another quiet day: she surprised me by taking me to Mimmi's in Mercatale, the same she'd told me (which was confirmed by locals in Lisciano) had declined. We had a relaxed, middling-priced, uneven meal which rated a B, but Judith a C (explaining that the quality of the pasta had slithered down): ravioli of I think nettles and ricotta with sage, A- by me; cannelloni B+ and lasagne C+ in different tomato sauces; mix of chicken, pork, and thin grey slices of beef C with excellent potatoes A; a commercial strawberry "shortcake", i.e., of the kind that passes for shortcake in the US now but isn't, which I redeemed by a second dessert, the homemade tiramisú A-; and an outstanding homemade limoncello A+. The restaurant empty except for us and another couple of English-speakers whom Judith had met once;d the famous Mimmi in the kitchen although she didn't seem to be doing any cooking, various members of her family back there too, mostly having their own lunch in their own dining-room on the other side of the kitchen. Wine, something called Orbaio (IGT Toscana, 1999), lightish though tannic, not bad. Judith telling me lots of stories about back home in Maine, and cooking she's been doing recently —

Though Judith had invited me (which in fact I hadn't quite understood either), as she was parking in front of the restaurant I misadvised her about the room she had on the right, and an awful scraping sound, a thin scratch over a foot long on my door, I could have dived under the seat — I insisted on the check, the least I could do; still feel bad and prolly will for weeks —

The post-prandial drive and walk: Pierle, that Judith had described to me as "Sleeping Beauty's castle" but in my mind Arthurian, so it wasn't 'til we wuz nearly there we realized I'd been there, but we walked around anyway: I told her, which is quite true, that a beautiful place always bears revisiting. A sweet little black dog, old, low-slung of the pot roast type, filthy coat, followed us all around getting petted, then after finding a nice dead lizard in the street to roll around on, abandoned us —

Ever watchful for this kind of opportunity, I suggested we get back to Umbertide via . . . Preggio . . . hey, it was on the way, more or less. I'm glad I didn't spend 35 km energy walking there: it's not much; traces of its castle, plus a huge pseudo-medieval building which I failed to ask what it was; a gritty little bar, coupla coffees; and off to Umbertide via S. Bartolomeo de' Fossi, sort of: on a first stab, I sent her down a worsening strada bianca, a bit too brecciata for comfort for the under-carriage of the car, I hope I didn't cause more damage yet — we talked about astrology — reversed course and this time found the right road out of Preggio.

[and if you need it, here's help in using the map,
including my own symbols & added information.]

Other walks in the area, see Walking in Umbria.

S. Bartolomeo a disappointment, although I sorta suspected it wasn't much, else the books would talk about it more: an early 19c church, huge, with important annex buildings on a spectacular panorama, yet now totally abandoned, most depressing.

[image ALT: A wide and rather low barrel-vaulted hall of three bays closed at the end by a flat wall pierced with a small circular window. The vaults spring from square pilasters, and in the bays nearest us, left and right, are two facing altars each with a large niche over it. An electric wire and light dangel disconsolately from a steel brace across the hall, the brick floor is damaged in spots, and a single wooden pew juts out from the left side at an angle. It is the interior of the abandoned church of S. Bartolomeo de' Fossi near Umbertide, Umbria (central Italy).]

The nave of the church.

What one would like here, though, is a photo of the view (visitors: from the back of the church), but that's pretty much impossible. The "Fossi" are two creeks on either side of the church, which thus sits in isolation on a high ridge, something like being on the prow of a battleship, and equally difficult to capture on film, though the eye takes it in.

Home, thanks a lot, who knows when I'll come back alas — I'm at the other end of a computer — and here I am (11:30 P.M.) caught up, at last, and having more or less planned my trip to Chioggia tomorrow and my return via Treia to shave some time: Plan B's in case of various possible accidents; all involve a swing thru Norcia, all a bit hectic but I have the clean clothes for it, I'll see what happens.


Later Notes for the Web:

a Here the diary compresses things a bit too much, making it sound like S. Stefano is the only church in Manciano, and leaves us wondering about Ponze. In fact we stopped first at the principal church of Manciano, S. Martino, right in town: it was closed but attractive (see my webpage); and after finally finding S. Stefano, we did drive on several kilometers to the hamlet of Ponze, also within the frazione of Manciano but 400 meters higher up on a windswept brow of hill where you feel like you're at the end of the world, although there too a little medieval church: see my 2 pages.


[image ALT: A map of Umbria (central Italy), showing the railroad lines.]
Schematic railway map of Umbria
(A clickmap, by the way)
b To anyone considering a first or second stay in Umbria and relying on public transportation, this is one of the most useful implicit bits of advice in my entire diary; let me dot my I's here, with the help of a map.

Umbria is served by 5 train lines:

The 2 main lines, part of the national rail (Trenitalia) system, both come from Rome, and diverge at Orte.

An additional Trenitalia line connects Florence to Perugia, Assisi and Foligno: one or two trains a day on this line go on to Rome, but most do not, stopping in Foligno.

2 private lines, belonging to the FCU, run from Perugia: one N to Sansepolcro, the other S to Terni. Despite appearances, this is not one continuous line from Terni to Sansepolcro: you must get off at Perugia (Ponte S. Giovanni), and change trains, with a wait of up to 1h40m.

Of the 92 comuni of Umbria, not that many have train stations; and some of those stations are several miles from the actual town. For exhaustive detail, along with other useful information, see Towns of Umbria: Accessibility; on the map you see here, though, the most convenient places, i.e., those with stations, either in town or within a kilometer or so, are shown in red. Assisi and Deruta's stations are several miles from their town, but each has a shuttle bus that meets the train, so I've shown them in red as well. On the other hand, if you're tracking this with a printed schedule or the Trenitalia or FCU website, you'll notice that some towns apparently served by the trains are not marked in red here: Corciano, Torgiano, Fratta Todina, Montecastrilli, Nocera Umbra, and several other places have lent their names to a train station but are, as I said, nowhere near it.

The FCU lines are generally slow and inconvenient; for the first- or second-time visitor to Umbria, though, this isn't that important, since most of the principal sights are on the main lines.

Put all this information together, and the four most useful train stops are marked by the large blue dots: Terni and Foligno, where you can change lines; Trevi and Spoleto, with only one line.

Of these, Terni is rather far south and not one of the more interesting towns for the visitor; similarly, Foligno, while considerably more central to such places as Assisi, Spello, Bevagna, and Montefalco, is in itself not the visitor's best choice. Spoleto is a good base — but the train station, while nominally in town, sits in an unattractive and peripheral area: you step out of the train onto a trafficky road with a large military barracks compound along one side, and have a 2‑ to 3‑km walk before you reach the old center of town.

This leaves Trevi: as your luck would have it, one of Umbria's most attractive hilltowns, and with an unusual number of good restaurants. The one drawback is that the center of town is at the top of a steep hill, not a place to be dragging suitcases around: as in Spoleto, mind you, there are buses to the center, if admittedly not as frequent; the difference is that in Trevi within 200 m of the station you've hit a pretty place to stay, and I can't say the same for Spoleto.

c That mountain overlooks Umbertide, 53 km (33 miles) from Trevi as the crow flies.

d Judith tells me I got this quite wrong: definitely more than once. 
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