Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Every which way

Today is Wednesday. Since Sunday I have experienced almost unbelievable journeys of crossing -and sometimes re crossing - tracts of Umbria and Marche. Why has this been so? It's maybe due to inadequate pre-planning on my part. Insufficient prior Internet information could be another cause. The reason, singular or otherwise, is presently immaterial. The reality is now history. 

So what am I on about? In a nutshell the vagaries of travel. On Sunday I was due to leave Assisi for Norcia. The distance is not excessive. I identified an afternoon bus service that would take about two hours. This was good. Further research, however, showed that this service did not operate during weekends. This was not good!! The only arrangement available was a train from Assisi to Spoleto, then a bus from Spoleto to Norcia. The time interval between train arrival at Spoleto and bus departure was 5 hours. Oh, no!!!

And so it happened that I revisited Spoleto. When I arrived, I learned that Sunday was the final day of the Spoleto Festival. The festive spirit was still in the air and so my time there passed easily and interestingly. The hour's bus trip to Norcia brought further interest. Now I was leaving the Umbrian plain with its hill towns and cities. We were climbing into the higher elevation of Mount Sibillini National Park. And these were real mountains!

Norcia was easy to familiarise with. As I entered through the Roman Gate I had a most pleasant surprise.

The central street was abuzz with people. The bars and restaurants were overflowing. I don't think I'd seen as much lively, joyful activity on a Sunday in any place during my time in Europe. It was great, and greatly infectious. Norcia is, perhaps, best known as the birthplace of St. Benedict. 

I had an enjoyable stay in Norcia - and in my visit to Cascia on Monday.

Yesterday was my day to move from Norcia to Ascoli Piceno. In planning this trip I'd chosen a sensible progression. From Lake Trasimeno to Assisi and thence to Norcia, Ascoli Piceno, Macerata and finally Ancona. It all looked fine up front. The distance from Norcia to Ascoli Piceno is about 50 Km. A bus service covers this in good time. But - can you truly believe this? - the bus service only operates at weekends!!! (Momentarily I was tempted to wish that travel timetables for Assisi and Norcia were juxtaposed. But wishful thinking is futile.) What was the alternative? I was faced with a bus ride back to Spoleto (my third visit) with a fairly immediate train link to Ascoli Piceno travelling - get this - via Ancona! I would be travelling about 220 Km to get to a place less than 50 Km away!!

When I finally got to Ascoli Piceno I found a most delightful place where I enjoyed the evening ambience and a tasty dinner.

How have I responded to these recent experiences? Interestingly, I've not expressed any of what I might consider to be normal reactions for me. Top of the list might have come frustration. This has not occurred. Indeed, what I've been most aware of is the fun I've had as I've crossed/crisscrossed these beautiful areas. I have truly enjoyed being "driven around". Both bus and train travel have been varied and truly enjoyable.

I think I've surprised myself a little with this reaction, but it makes a lot of sense to me. We may not need to learn from every experience in life. Sometimes, I think, God allows experience for experience sake. In these days, however, I have connected with my earlier times on the Camino. A definite learning for me there was to give God my fullest trust. Another realisation that I got was that I need to grow in patience and tolerance. I'm beginning to see progress in both these areas. These last few days have borne this out for me.

But the journey continues. Tomorrow I move on to Ancona (does that sound familiar?), my final stop before heading home on Sunday. As well as the outward travel, the inward journey also proceeds, and promises change. I give myself to them both.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Shades of Francis

Assisi really is a very special place for me. I've taken advantage of rain-free mornings to visit those places that Francis knew.

My first stop was San Damiano. I left the hotel at about 8.15am. The morning brought mist to the mountain, and the walk downwards toward San Damiano had a touch of mystery and romance about it.

Yes. I can clearly connect both those words to God and to my relationship with Him. After I'd gone more than a little way, I came across a notice advising that San Damiano would open to visitors at 10am. My progress would get me there a little before 9. I confess to getting quite miffed at God's House being closed up and locked by the human species (have I mentioned this before?). Before I got too agitated with this, I decided to continue on down. Hopefully I would find a quiet place to sit where I could spend an hour in God's company while waiting for a mere mortal to open His House. As I proceeded I was suddenly aware of the strongest sense of God's presence with me.

It was almost like He was affirming my decision and expressing His delight with it.

It wasn't too long before I faced the restored little church, solitary in its location, where Francis heard the voice of Christ calling him to conversion and urging him to restore the church.

As I approached the building, I saw an open door. Sightseers were not welcome before 10am but I had come to pay my respects and to worship, so I entered the doorway which led me into the tiny sanctuary. This was all I wanted. As I sat, alone, in quiet reflection, the Christ who spoke those centuries ago to Francis ministered to me.

Behind the altar, the seating for the monks takes a semi-circular form lining the walls. The seats seem to form a composite unit, in wood,with panelled backing and a canopy over. As I looked at this arrangement what I saw were the arms of Christ following the semi-circle of the seating and reaching out to embrace me. He's welcoming me further. He wants me to continue with Him. We will walk on together.

In time others came into the chapel. I don't know if they were worshippers or tourists. It was time for me to leave.

As I retraced my steps, now walking back up the hill, the mist still hung in the air. This was when I remembered the lines of a poem studied, years ago, at school. What came to mind was: Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. Here I was, walking up through the mist. I knew that God was with me. I had a realisation that whilst I saw mist, God did not. Where my vision might be misty, God's is clear. As long as I give myself to walk with Him, He will lead me, in His light and,  eventually, the way -and His will -shall become clear to me. God was ministering to me from a poem studied over half a century ago, for I then saw the outcome, being 'mellow fruitfulness'.

There is a present continuity with the lessons of trust that came through so clearly on the Camino. If I will trust God and give myself to walk with Him whatever the weather, be it sunny and clear or misty and perhaps a little confusing, then I will see, and receive the blessing of mellow fruitfulness. My fruitfulness will not be of my doing. It will come by God having His way in me. I will benefit by knowing the beauty of mellowness. I see it touching on the contentment that I connect with Paul. It removes any anxiety on my part and gives me a peace and assurance for my ongoing travels. My companion is ever present. I thank my God for His faithfulness and love.

Later in the day, as it was still fine and dry, I took the upward path to Eremo Delle Carceri, the hermitage site where Francis and his companions would go for retreat. The four-and-a-half kilometre walk (climb) up Mount Subiaco gives spectacular views over the Umbrian plain.

A different perspective is also seen of Assisi, viewed from the eastern side.

From my previous visit I remembered a most welcome coffee stop about half way to the hermitage. The bar was still there. I complemented my coffee with a slice of the yummiest cheesecake.

On arrival at the hermitage I skipped a tour of the buildings. I had previously done that.

My destination was the woodland, the glades and arbours where I (perhaps like Francis before me) could sit quietly at rest and commune with God. A special favourite of mine is the outdoor chapel.

I also took in the 'Altar of Francis'.

All through these woodlands the peace is pervasive. I walk with Him; I talk with Him. I feel as if I'm in heaven.

The walk back down (to earth!) seemed effortless. The ongoing journey beckons.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

The Lake and Beyond

     My move on from Perugia was to the Lake District - that is, the shores of Lago (Lake) Trasimeno. My first night was spent at Castiglione del Lago,  a delightful town on the western shore.  Again there was a walk from the railway station to the old town, and this time I had a slight shower of rain to contend with en route. And, yet again, there was what appears to be the inevitable "climb up".

The hotel was delightful and it boasted a first rate restaurant noted for the local cuisine.  The rooftop terrace gave spectacular views over the whole of the lake.

(Again apologies! I have another video but still don't know how to incorporate it into the Blog).

As I took a stroll around I was fascinated to come across the local cinema - fair and square in the middle of the castle forecourt.

My taste of "culture" for the night was culinary - and it was truly tasty. I treated myself, in the restaurant, to the Trasimeno Sapori (Flavours) menu. It was superb and, of course, rich in fish caught fresh from the lake.

My second night was spent on the other side of the lake at Passignano Sul Trasimeno.

Here the hotel had a swimming pool - the holidaymaker was pleased! A highlight of my day was a ferry trip to Isola Maggiore, the largest of the three islands in the lake.

Again I saw many old buildings which included a number of churches.

It amazes me the number (and the size) of churches in comparatively small populations. Of particular interest to me was to learn that Francis of Assisi once spent the 40 days of Lent on the island, during which time he ate just one piece of bread.

And, talking of Francis, I arrived today in Assisi.

This place truly does something to my spirit. It feels like I'm at home here. I don't take much notice of the touristy stuff, or the Franciscan headquarters; my focus and my delight is to visit the places that were significant to Francis. In the next couple of days I hope to re-acquaint myself with his haunts. I say "hope to" because the weather forecast is for thunder storms, and we had a brief taste of one this afternoon.

I will not fret. I leave it to God and, whatever transpires, I feel sure I shall enjoy further adventures with Him.


Monday, 7 July 2014

Next Stop!

Perugia did not disappoint. I arrived at lunch time on Saturday, giving me still a whole lot of the day to explore and get familiar with the old town.

After booking my hotel some months ago, I've had time to wonder if I'd actually placed myself too far out of the centre. In fact I have not. The hotel is 15 minutes walk from the centre, and what's a 15 minute walk to a seasoned veteran like me?

And the hotel? I've done it again - 4 star stuff. This is definitely not pilgrim budgeting, and I'm SO enjoying it! The pilgrim cum tourist has also morphed into a holidaymaker. My room is on the fourth floor. Next up is the roof, and the rooftop lounge area and swimming pool. I've used it liberally. I should also add there's the most splendid view of the whole area.

(I'm a bit enbarrassed because I thought I'd cleverly taken a video from the rooftop, but I don't know how to include it here. Oops!)

Yesterday (Sunday) my walking and familiarising extended beyond the old city to areas lower down on the other side of the city. To facilitate access between these two parts of the city a system of escalators takes one below ground and through the Rocca Paolina - a fascinating underground fortress.

My afternoon (on this lower side) was a little disappointing as a couple of the places I set out specifically to see were not open. However, the effort was vindicated when I spied the cutest ice cream/ gelato shop.

Here I partook of a sheer taste of heaven brought to me via two ice cream flavours (strawberry/and cream), and all for the paltry sum of euro 1.80.

Today I ventured to Gubbio, recorded in one guide as the most intact and well-preserved medieval town in Umbria.

I marvelled at the Palazzo Dei Consoli (Palace of the Consuls), a most impressive looking building that symbolised the power of medieval Gubbio. A tour of the building firmly attested to this.

After lunch I took up a serious personal challenge and achieved, I do believe, some progress. I took the cable-car from the city to the Basilica Sant 'Ubaldo at the top of Mt Ingino. As I've got older I've developed a fear of heights. This doesn't sit well with me, so action is called for. The cable-car ride was absolutely terrific. The view was superb.

A special bonus awaited me at the top where, as part of the Basilica complex, I found the delightful Cappella SS Sacramento. Truly, this was my idea of God's Abode. It was simple, clean and elegant - no musty smell, no ancient relics. I sat with The Lord in the peace and tranquility. It was wonderful.


I had a good day at Gubbio.

In this time the cultural side of life has been thriving, with quite a smorgasbord of delights.

The San Francisco Ballet at Spoleto on Friday was simply stunning. The Roman Theatre was a perfect setting - the dancers were so immediate. The Romans' engineering ability coupled with their skill in aesthetics is truly something to be admired. We are blessed that we can still do this in some parts of the world.

The Perugia events calendar showed a concert on Saturday night at the Church and Monastery of Santa Giuliana. It was given by a group from La Akademski Pevski Zbor Tone Tomsic University of Ljubljana, Slovenia (try saying that quickly!). The concert turned out to be acappella singing, and it was sublime. I readily confess to being a softie and throughout the initial items I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. I couldn't fault these extraordinary young people and their amazing (young) director.

I reflected on the talent and dedication of these young people from Slovenia. I remembered likewise the young dancers frm San Francisco - and I felt hopeful. As long as young people give themselves as I saw these do, we can have hope for the future.

On Sunday, the Tourist Information told me there were no concerts or performances. Well, I found one! I saw a simple small poster stuck to a wall announcing "De Sidera" and, as far as I was able to translate, it was a presentation of various scenarios of human behaviour. I thought it could be fun. It was! The company comprised about 50 to 60 individuals. The presentation, beginning at 10 pm, was in the garden of their drama college, and their depictions of human frailties, behaviour and it's effects were deeply insightful.

Yes, my cultural appetite is being well fed, and with such a variety of "foods".


Friday, 4 July 2014


It's now just over one week since I completed the walk to Santiago, and I'm well into the change from pilgrim to tourist. My awareness of walking with Jesus is not as keen now as it was on the Camino.  I recall the simple statement made to me over three years ago before my first Camino: "When you go to Spain all you have to do is walk." And how wonderfully simple it has been to connect with Jesus as we walked together.

Off the Camino other distractions pervade. There are timetables to be organised, checked and kept. Each destination has something special to offer and, though I'm far from an eager avid sightseer, I try to make my visit worthwhile. But Jesus has not been absent. I know He's present with me, and I'm  experiencing what I see as truly wonderful blessings.

My final days in Spain were spent in Barcelona. I had a fabulous time. I used up some shoe leather in seeing certain of the sights, though I'm really not sure what to make of La Sagrada Familia! It isn't really to my taste - reminded me a bit of Disney's fantasy land!

At the tourist offIce I picked up a leaflet that looked interesting. The Museu de la Musica was offering a tour of their collection of classical instruments, especially guitars, followed by a concert given by a guitar virtuoso. I made my way to the building and paid my dues. Imagine my surprise to find, at the start of the tour that I was the only taker. Yes, I had a private conducted tour of a most wonderful collection of classical instruments followed by a personal concert of classical guitar music (starting with Bach, and ending with Spanish composers). The brilliant performer wasn't fazed at his audience of one, and he faithfully presented and played to me for the full half hour. I felt extremely blessed. God was in it!

(Sorry about the darkness, the lights were "theatrical".)

My Italian idyll has started in Spoleto, and we're right into the festival season - more blessing. I did a major walk yesterday exploring the old city of Spoleto.


Last night I saw a fascinating presentation by a group of young people from Cracow. In a little while I'm heading off to a concert of sacred music in one of the many churches here, and later tonight I see the San Francisco Ballet perform in the ancient (and authentic) Roman theatre. Wow! Lord, I'm truly grateful.

This morning I felt that I needed some more concentrated God Time. I'd head out of the tourist bustle of Spoleto. A ten minute train ride ( after the train was 40 minutes late) got me to Trevi. I should have realised from my knowledge of Assisi that Trevi would be similar - with the railway station firmly down on the plain whilst the town/city is perched on the mountain top. Trevi, however, has a steeper ascent than Assisi. 

There was no bus waiting for me. I think there might have been a solitary taxi which I chose to ignore (how could someone who's walked 1000+ Km in Spain stoop to take a taxi up a mere hill - mountain!) I started the walk, and I walked. It wasn't long before I was back in the familiar pace and mood of recent weeks - and it was good. I was walking with Jesus. We went up

And up

And up

And up

I thought I would never reach the top. I also wondered what might be at the top for, on the way up, all I passed were houses, houses, and more houses. They look so cute in the photographs, but in reality, and on a hot day, I was hanging out to see a bar, coffee shop, cafe, or shop - !

Eventually I got to the Cathedral. It didn't even look like a house! Then, around a couple of corners, I came to a large square with various eateries and shops.

My thirst was satisfied and my shirt started to dry out from the sweat. Hallelujah!

Before leaving for the downhill jaunt I went into the Cathedral. It was peaceful and I sat in repose, but the place seemed somehow lifeless. Both here in Italy and also in Spain there is ample opportunity (when the buildings are not locked) to enter many houses of God, usually from long past origins. I know these places as God's House and in some I genuinely sense and know His presence. A warmth fills the serene atmosphere of the place. But sadly there are other places which, I'm sure, are equally consecrated and revered, yet they exude coldness and emptiness. Instead of being in God's House, I feel as if I'm visiting God's Mausoleum. I've decided, however, that His House is where I hope to meet with Him and, in keeping with my recent Camino lessons, I shall TRUST God to be there!

Tomorrow, I'm off to Perugia. More festivals? I hope so!

God Bless.