DM and MM's Italy Trip Diary

Day 14 - Firenze to Perugia

Saturday, 12 May, 2001

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The morning gave us no time to dawdle, since we had to be at Stazione Santa Maria Novella in time for our train at 10:00. We ate another breakfast of very good crusty bread, spread with various jams and honey. Then we packed and checked out of Hotel Casa del Lago and walked the few blocks to the station.

When we arrived, the departure board showed our train leaving from platform 14. We walked over to the platform (at the far side of the station) and stopped at the end of it, since the small board at the platform showed no destination yet, although there was a train waiting there. We were somewhat reluctant to walk down the platform after the previous times when the platform number of our train had been changed on us. After a while we decided to risk it and wander down to the carriages, since so many other people were doing the same, though nobody was getting on board yet. We stopped at the second carriage, where I noticed that it was labelled with a "SNCF" logo, the French national trains, and consisted of sleeping cars. Thinking this an unlikely choice for a local run from Florence to Rome I was wary of believing it to be our train. Asking a station worker confirmed that it was indeed not heading to Rome.

A few minutes later the PA system announced that the train for Rome due to leave from platform 14 had been changed to platform 12. Of course this was announced in Italian first, and we only get the general gist without the exact details but we could tell what the announcement was about by the sudden movement of people back down the platform to the terminal area. By the time the announcement was made in English and we walked over to platform 12, the train was pulling in. We boarded as soon as the arriving passengers got off. Not having reserved seats, and the train typically being made up of carriages half smoking and half non-smoking (though with a door in between - not really much use when people keep walking through it), we bagsed seats as far to the front of the carriage as possible. The train was mostly full by the time we left, though the seat opposite me remained empty the whole way and the old man opposite Michelle got out about halfway to our destination.

Italy from train 1
View of Tuscany from the train window

We passed once again through the beautiful Tuscan countryside, heading south. I tried to take some photos from the moving train as we saw vistas of rolling hills covered in vineyards with villas on hillsides, but for most of the trip the best scenery seemed to be out the windows on the opposite side of the train. It was interesting to note that we crossed over several braided rivers, similar to ones we saw on our trip to New Zealand - which a woman there said were not often found outside Europe.

After several stops on this so-called "Diretto" service to Rome, we arrived at the small town of Terontola, where we got off for our connecting train to Perugia. We had about a 20 minute wait, so Michelle walked over to the small shop on the entrance platform and bought some potato chips for a snack. Then I went to use the facilities while Michelle watched the bags and, when I got to the shop she waved at me across four lines of tracks and tried to indicate something to me using gestures, which I interpreted as "buy some more chips". So I did. I walked back and found Michelle had eaten most of the bag she had bought already, so I tucked into the corn chips I had found in the shop.

Italy from train 2
View of Tuscany from the train window

Our train pulled in and we boarded the short four-car local service. Our carriage only had a handful of other people in it, and we had plenty of room. One odd thing was that with the windows open the carriage filled with floating, swirling masses of fluff which on inspection turned out to be like small, soft dandelion seeds, clumped together into fuzzy balls and strands. These things swirled about the carriage the whole trip, filling the air quite densely at times and getting in faces and up noses annoyingly.

Italy from train 3
View of Tuscany (or maybe Umbria) from the train window

We passed by Lago di Trasimeno, seeing the island and many boats and yachts in the distance. The train made a few stops and reached Perugia in about 40 minutes. After getting off and walking out through the exit of Stazione Perugia Fontevegge, we bought bus tickets for the ride up the hill to the town centre. We missed a bus in the time it took to get the tickets, but another came along within a few minutes.

The ride up the hill was impressive enough, with the bus climbing long stretches of steep streets, gaining elevation the entire journey until we arrived at Piazza Italia, in the old medieval part of the town. As the bus climbed the last stretch we passed the Albergo Aurora, which our Lonely Planet had suggested would be a good place to find a room for the night.

After alighting at the piazza we walked back the short way to the hotel and asked if they had a spare room for the night. A middle-aged woman who apparently only spoke Italian in a frantic, fast, and loud manner (i.e. the normal Italian way) managed to communicate to us that we could indeed have a room, checked us in, gave us a key, and showed us to our room, which turned out to be very nice indeed.

View of Umbria, overlooking rooftops of Perugia

After unloading our heavy backpacks we loaded up with our day gear and headed out for a walk around historic Perugia. The view down the hill and across a vast expanse of beautiful Umbrian countryside stopped us in our tracks as we turned up the street to walk back to Piazza Italia. We paused for a few photos, finding an enthusiastic German couple who took our picture for us. The guy really seemed to know photography, as he posed us and moved around to get the best photo. Then we continued on our way through the historic section of the town. We actually walked down a secondary street until we turned inwards to the centre of the town and the Duomo, known as Cattedrale Metropolitana di San Lorenzo.

We were really there
Our photo, thanks to the German tourists

From there we walked north down what we thought was Via Ulisse Rocchi, looking for Pizzeria Etrusca, which the Lonely Planet had recommended for take-away slices of pizza. When the street starting heading downhill at a steep slope and turning sharply, we asked for advice from a local, who indicated we were on Via Bartolo. We backtracked towards the Duomo and cut across to the right street where the pizzeria was sitting as expected. Michelle had a Margherita pizza slice and I tried the cuscino, which was a calzone-style affair stuffed with cheese, ham, and sausage. Era squisito!

Perugia Duomo
Perugia Duomo, Cattedrale Metropolitana di San Lorenzo

After eating at a tavola calda in the pizzeria (table service nearly doubled the price of the items!), we headed back to the Duomo again to take another street for the Porta Sole lookout at Piazza Rossi Scotti, which afforded a fabulous view over the northern landscape surrounding Perugia. From there it was backwards once again to the main square, Piazza IV Novembre, where the best gelato in Perugia was to be found at La Boutique del Gelato. I had the lemon, peach, and interesting new fig flavours. The peach and fig were excellent, but I've still yet to find a better lemon than at Giolitti in Rome.

View from Perugia
View from Porta Sole

We walked back towards our hotel along Corso Vanucci, noting most of the shops were still closed for siesta, not re-opening again until 16:00. We poked our noses into the Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria to see the impressive medieval stonework interior with vaulted ceiling, but declined to pay the entry fee for the artwork collection (being a little arted out after yesterday's Uffizi visit).

Perugia Piazza
Piazza della Repubblica, looking towards the Duomo

Right near our hotel lay the ruins of the Rocca Paolina, a fortress built in the 16th century by Pope Paul III. We walked around to the side entrance to the now subterranean chambers of this huge edifice, and wandered around freely in the maze-like interior. Interestingly, a series of escalators now runs through the middle of the ruins and serves as a commuter transport between the top of the medieval hill town and the sprawling modern suburbs below. They were in heavy use as we passed through.

Stone Horse
Horse sculpture in the Rocca Paolina

Leaving the ruins via an exit on the street just a few doors down from our hotel, we headed back for a late afternoon refresher and rest before an evening outing.

At about 18:10 we left to find a place to have a genuine Umbrian style dinner. The Lonely Planet had mentioned that the local cuisine included mushrooms such as the tartufi neri truffles and the giant porcini, both recommended, and a particular type of thick squarish spaghetti called strangozzi. It also recommended a restaurant named La Vecchia Perusia for a good example of these regional dishes, so we trekked north towards it through the town centre (it was right near the Pizzeria Etrusca).

We arrived at about 18:40. The door was open and a table full of antipasti was all laid out ready, but there was nobody in sight. We poked our heads in, then walked in a few steps until we could see into the kitchen, where a chef was busy stirring things in pots. A waitress appeared and called the chef when she figured out we didn't speak much Italian. The chef explained the restaurant wasn't open until 19:15, which sort of begged the question of why the door was wide open.

Wanting to catch the sunset for photos, we didn't want to wait quite that long, so we started walking back towards the hotel, hoping to find some other place open along the way. It seemed however that no restaurant worth the name was open yet, so we decided to head back to La Vecchia Perusia and simply wait so we could try some authentic local cuisine.

The wait was well and truly worth it. We started with strangozzi each: Michelle had all'arrabbiata and I tried al tartufi. The truffle sauce with little bits of the black mushrooms in it was delicious, and I used some of the bread to soak up the remaining juices. Michelle's pasta was also very good, with the hottest chili she'd had so far. The strangozzi itself was clearly hand-made and cooked to perfection. I followed up with a second course of scallopine ai porcini, which was thin veal fillets in a sauce of the porcini mushrooms. The flavours were quite delicate and unusual, with a hint of a lemony taste to the mushroom. Definitely a worthwhile experience, though not something I would order with any regularity.

Umbrian umbra
Dusk view from lookout near our hotel

Dinner done, we hurried back to the hotel to pick up camera and tripod for some shots of the sunset, which had unfortunately mostly taken place while we were in the restaurant. It was not a complete loss however, for the sun had only just disappeared, and it was behind some buildings anyway from the lookout near our hotel. I got some shots of the surrounding town and countryside in the twilight, then we walked the few steps back to the Albergo Aurora and relaxed a bit before crashing for the night.

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