Rome is beautiful and exciting, but sometimes a little too chaotic for this small-town girl to handle. In situations like this, a day-trip to Assisi with a few friends is just what the doctor ordered. So this past Saturday, Becca, Allyson, Jordan and I headed out to explore this beautiful town.
Assisi is a 2-hour train ride out of Rome, and is known for being the birthplace (and final resting place) of San Francesco (St. Francis), the patron saint of Italy. In addition, Santa Chiara (a contemporary and friend of San Francesco) lived and died here as well. Each of these saints has their own basilica in the hillside town of Assisi, and in fact, the basilicas were built in such a way that they face each other, as a tribute to the friendship they shared in life.
Because Assisi is built on a hill, once you arrive at the train station, you have to catch a bus (or a taxi) to get to the actual town. Our first stop was the basilica di San Francesco.
The basilica was built in 1228, and is divided into two parts; the upper basilica and lower basilica. The upper basilica contains a series of frescos depicting the life of St. Francis. The lower basilica contains chapels, as well as a series of frescos depicting the life of St. Catherine of Siena (the other patron saint of Italy). Below the lower basilica is the crypt, where St. Francis is buried. Visitors are able to walk around the crypt, but photography is not allowed, so if you want to see it, you’ll have to go there yourself!
Once we had had our fill of St. Francis, we turned our attention way up to the fortress at the top of the hill, called the Rocca Maggiore. I should mention at this point that it was foggy and rainy, and for that reason I have no photos to show for our beautiful (and painful) hike up to the top.
From the top of the Rocca Maggiore, you can see everything (or you can take a few obligatory photos and then squeeze your eyes shut and pretend you are not up so high). The above picture is a view of the basilica of St. Francis, as seen from the top of the Rocca Maggiore.
This is one of the remaining outer walls of the fortress. You can actually walk inside this wall to get to that far tower. While you’re doing that, you can take advantage of the fact that the weather has driven every sane person indoors, thus leaving you and your friends all alone in a giant castle. Now is a good time to start pretending you are Indiana Jones.
Our next stop was the basilica di Santa Chiara. When we got there, the whole piazza was completely obscured by fog, as were all the breathtaking views of the countryside. Luckily for us (or probably because of us), the sun came out within 2 minutes, and the views were amazing. Inside the Santa Chiara, you can see the tomb of the saint herself. More interesting than that, however, were the display cases that contained the actual clothes that Santa Chiara and San Francesco wore! They even had a pair of San Francesco’s stockings that had a few drops of his blood on them (according to legend, St. Francis was the first Christian in history who received the stigmata), and a few locks of Santa Chiara’s hair – she was a curly-haired blonde, if you’re curious.
San Francesco, Rocca Maggiore, Santa Chiara. These are basically all of the main things to see in Assisi. But what did we eat in Assisi?
On our way down from the Rocca Maggiore to the Santa Chiara, we were soaking wet, shivering, and starving. We wanted food and shelter, and our standards and expectations were low. We stumbled into the first restaurant we found (I never actually caught the name of it, sorry!), and we were so excited to see pizza margherita for the low, low price of €4.90. Once again, we were all reminded of just how expensive Rome really is. In Rome, you won’t find a pizza margherita (always the cheapest, most basic pizza on any menu) for less than €8. And even then, there’s no guarantee it will be good. This pizza was GOOD. The crust was impossibly thin, and the cheese:sauce ratio was perfect. Well done, Assisi.
With the weather showing no signs of improving, we wanted to linger in the restaurant a little longer. In order to avoid dirty stares from the waitress, we decided we’d better order something else. Enter cioccolato caldo (hot chocolate). I think we were all expecting something similar to the milky, drinkable concoctions we get back home, but what we were brought was completely different. The best way to describe it would be piping hot chocolate pudding, only better. I suppose if you really wanted to, you could pick up a cup of this and drink it, but a spoon is really a better approach. It was rich and chocolatey and amazing – the perfect cure for a rainy day.
After we were done seeing the Santa Chiara, the rain had let up, but it was still a little chilly and gray, and we had a couple of hours to kill before our train. Pastries and cappuccino just seemed like the obvious solution, you know?
We walked a little ways up the Corso Mazzini (which seems to be one of the main streets in Assisi) before we found the Gran Caffè. They had a decent selection of gelati (but that’s not what we came for, people), and a seriously impressive pastry selection. They also had an adorable seating area in the back, and we each picked our beverage and pastry of choice, and took a seat in the cozy back room. I chose a cannoli and a cappuccino, and while the cannoli turned out to have lots of weird neon chunks of candied fruit inside, the cappuccino was perfect.
On our way from the pastry shop to the bus stop, we stumbled upon a free olive oil tasting. Right in the middle of one of the piazzas, a friendly old man was toasting pieces of bread, rubbing them with garlic, sprinkling them with salt, dousing them in olive oil, and handing them out to anyone with enough elbowing skill to manage to get to the front of the crowd. The Italians are good at elbowing. We were better.
Once we had each consumed a
disgusting delicious amount of olive oil, we finally caught our bus, only to discover that we had missed our train by a few minutes. Luckily, there was another train in a couple of hours, and we finally made it home exhausted, sore, stuffed, and shivering – all in all, a great day!