Rome Travel Guide

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Thursday, February 27, 2020

The Delights of Spoleto - Hiking, St. Francis, Hermitages, the Town

The Spoleto most people see: wonderful churches - here the Duomo and an ad for a De Chirico show (which seemed to fit right in with the piazza here.

Our view from the mountains above Spoleto.
Spoleto is a gorgeous Umbrian town, dating back to the 5th century BC at least and famous for its arts festival.  We, as is our wont, went there to hike - and the hike was as rewarding as the town and its arts festival. Ancient ruins, abandoned churches, the St. Francis way (via Francigena), the path of the hermitages (via degli eremi), the ability to get lost and do it a little on your own, and the final passing across an immense bridge that is basically a 13th-century aqueduct - and all accessible in a day-trip from Rome by train.
These were our directions.

In front of the train station, one is greeted by this improbably
contemporary sculpture ala Calder.
Along with a crude map we
 photographed from the Internet.

We have done this hike twice. The first time we found it on the Internet, clipped and pasted the description of the hike (in Italian), took photos of it for my iPhone and off we went.

The second time we forgot we had directions and did it from memory (!).

First thing off the train, an obligatory
 coffee stop  at the commonly-named
 bar  - L'angolo del caffe
("coffee corner").

And for those of you who want to skip the woods, menacing dogs, getting lost, etc., just scroll down to photos of the hermitages and the town.
Signage helps - until it runs out.
We'll see the rocca (fortress) on top
later on - we'll look down on it.
The hike is partly signed, partly not.

Maps along the way -
even with bullet holes
 in them - 
are helpful.

It starts in an unassuming place on the side of the town that is decidedly not historic-looking - though we have yet to figure out what this dry waterway is (it was dry 3 years later as well) - it's a large space that seems outside the town walls at right.

Selfie on the Cima.
One is treated to the ruins of a monastery on top of the first hill, then some gorgeous paths and views (the one at the top of this post), some unattractive logged areas, and finally the top of the hill - more than 3,000 feet above sea level.

And from the top, one can see the ruins of a castle not far below.

Castle ruins (apologies, can't recall the century!).
On our self-guided second time, we got confused as to which path to take from the base of the cima, the signage there (and many animal tracks) failing us.  But, we were rescued by a man on a horse - literally! - who guided us to the right path - we were too discombobulated to take his photo.

"Truffle gathering reserve"

After a short wild-ish stretch, the path enters more civilized zones, including farms, complete with menacing dogs, and a park.
Farm houses - the path goes right past them.

Menacing dogs - one walks right
next to them. Fortunately the
Italian description of the hike assures
one they are fenced in.

Improbably situated park - the second time we took this hike,
I think it was a Sunday, and
Italians were grilling on this outdoor grill.

Unfortunately,  logging has destroyed some of these
gorgeous forests.

An adjacent chapel - I believe honoring a St. Francis follower,
 Saint Bernardino.

We reached - not knowing it was there the first time - the revered sanctuary for San Francesco - St. Francis - on a high hill (called "Monteluco") above Spoleto, next to the "sacred wood" ("sacro bosco") he - and his fellow monks - loved.

 The sanctuary was apparently founded in the 5th century by Syrian Christians fleeing their homeland and turned over to St. Francis in the 13th century.

Italians hanging out at the bar below the sanctuary on the edge
of the sacred wood. They do know how to relax.
The monks had this cool walk from their hermitages up to the sanctuary and down to the town.  Via degli eremi. Now, all of the hermitages and churches on the walk are private homes, bed-and-breakfasts, or abandoned. They remain beautiful as they stand in the woods.

Monks' walk.
Abandoned church #1.

Abandoned church #2.

Hermitage now a private home.

Tourists hanging out at pool at hermitage now a B&B.

Perhaps an excess of signage.

signs show the "via Francigena" - the
St. Francis way (that goes into France
and England) - it's noted by its yellow
and blue signage. We are often on it,
even very close to Rome (on Monte
Mario, for example).

At left, the yellow-and-blue marker for the via Francigena has had some additions to it:

The view looking to the town of Spoleto, before
crossing the bridge, with the rocca we had
seen when we started at the top.
Several hours later, our path seems to end - in a magnificent bridge. We were somewhat like "the stupids go to Spoleto" - we didn't know the bridge (or the sanctuary or the hermitages) existed. We delighted in it, had some trepidation crossing it, and were disappointed on our second trip that it was closed (apparently it is frequently closed because of safety concerns!). There is another path to the city that is considerably longer, along the cliffs of Monteluco. It too was gorgeous - so not a bad result; tho' we were not expecting the extra miles.
It doesn't look scary from this point
of view, but it's a precipitous and long
drop off the right.
"Bridge of the towers - 13th century,
80 meters high; about 230 meters long"
It's called the "Bridge of  towers." In this view, I'm
looking back at the hill we came down from (Monteluco),
and one of the towers. The cliffs at left are what one skirts on
the path to be taken when the bridge is closed.
Our disappointment on our last hike. The bridge was closed.

And, finally, some of you will be happy to learn, we reached
the town of Spoleto - and these magnificent walls - no doubt

The town of Spoleto is full of steep streets, lovely
churches and piazzas.  The Duomo is
richly decorated.

Apse of the Duomo, with a fresco cycle begun by
Fra Lippo Lippi

Here, some street scenes from Spoleto.

A medieval bathroom.

Our second time in Spoleto we were desperately hungry and, of course, hit the town when everything is closed - after 3 p.m. on Sunday.  We found one small bar open, and the one person working there served us a kind of filled focaccia (as I recall she was an immigrant and the bread was that of another country - but my memory can't bring back the country) that was wonderful - it turns out she had made the focaccia herself.


Thursday, February 20, 2020

Graffiti Writers at Work: An Unusual Sighting

"Love and Revolution," via del Mandrione
The rear of the unused Casilina train station, via del Mandrione

Graffiti--and its lowest form, tagging--is all over Rome. One gets the impression that "writers"--the young people who do most of this stuff--must be constantly at work to mark up the city so thoroughly.  What's curious, then, is how seldom one observes a graffiti writer at work, given that we have spent, literally, thousands of hours walking the streets of Rome and environs.

I can recall only two sightings of graffiti writers engaged in the act. One was years ago, while walking the Ponte Milvio, when I saw a young man wielding a spray can while decorating one of the Tiber River embankments.  I took a photo--too difficult to locate now--and was momentarily enraged (we yelled at him, but that didn't stop him).

The second sighting was last year.  Dianne and I were walking a desolate (partly because it parallels a railroad track, which limits access, and partly because portions of it have been blocked off from automobile traffic) section of the via del Mandrione, out in Tuscolano. Parts of the street to the south were a favorite haunt of the poet Pier Paolo Pasolini. We were searching--as unlikely as it sounds--for a bank building where we hoped to attend a jazz performance.  It was late afternoon.  Both of the photos at the top of this post were taken that day, on via del Mandrione.

Around a bend, perhaps a hundred meters ahead, three young men, spray paint cans in hand or at the ready, were quite clearly writing graffiti. I took one photo, uncomfortably, because what they were doing was illegal, and I did not want to threaten them by revealing that I was recording their activity. And as we passed, their body language suggested a bit of discomfort, as if there was a possibility that we were not sympathetic, that we might turn them in to the authorities.

Still, they continued their work and, just around the next bend, we found our concert (it could have been the worst jazz band we've ever heard.


Thursday, February 6, 2020

Cute Cat Clickbait - Roman style

We're not immune to cute cat photos, having owned several cats in our lifetimes - all of them wonderful in their own ways (yes, Zelda, the last, you were the best). So we have shot a few cat pix in Rome, along with shooting Bill's graffiti and my daily chronicles.

Rome is a cat-loving city.  There are its gattori - the women (mostly) who put out food for the cats, and the cat sanctuaries at the Pyramid and in Largo
Inside the cat sanctuary at Largo di Torre Argentina.
di Torre Argentina, the latter where Caesar supposedly was killed (talk about iconic places). Bo Lundin, who is the author of the Swedish guide to Rome, wrote on RST about Nelson, the one-eyed cat who hung out in those Roman ruins.
Cats chilling out on scooters are our favorites.  At the top of this post and immediately below are two from last year.

Our scooter was parked right next to this guy; so we had to take care not to disturb him (or her).
Just to show our long-lived interest, the photo below is from 2007.

Then there's this cyclist - whom we saw in both 2018 and 2019 - so we know the cat survived at least one year riding on his shoulders (and the cat obviously is no kitten).

In Villa Borghese.
We conclude with a few favorites - below, eating a potato chip on the terrazzo of Lo Zodiaco on Monte Mario (this one made it into the print edition of RST - p. 132):

That's me giving this bold cat a non-nutritious treat (the chips
came free with our drink).
And these wonderful cat/ghosts from, I recall, Trastevere.  I can't recall the graffiti artist's name, but in looking for it, I discovered lots of graffiti cats, including those by 215 and Alice (who once were a couple) and Diavù (Anna Magnani with cat). Bill says he has more photos of cat graffiti in his files as well - so there likely will be another "cute cat clickbait" post in RST's future.