17 November 2008

This past weekend I traveled to Perugia, Italy. (Perugia is the capital of the Umbria region and located in the mountains.) Overall, the weekend was...interesting. Just about everything that could go wrong did. Still, it had its good points and I feel that the more distance between myself and the actual trip, the fonder memories that I will have of it.

We left Oxford at 1AM on Friday. I immediately started things on the wrong foot by leaving my umbrella on a ledge on the High and only realizing it as we pulled onto the Cowley Road. Overall, the bus ride was not too bad. I managed to get some sleep and was not too tired when we arrived at Stansted at 4am. After getting a bit of breakfast, we headed to our terminal (out in the far reaches of Stansted...we were basically sitting in a trailer). I started getting an incredibly bad feeling about the entire trip and almost did not board the plane because of how anxious I was getting. However, I did board the plane and our take-off went smoothly.

We landed in Perugia around 11am. The airport consisted of three rooms: the arrivals room/waiting room, security area, and the two gates (which were really one room with a line drawn down the center). I fully expected to see chickens running across the runway. We found a shuttle bus to take us to the city center for 3.50, watched as it passed our hotel, and then had to walk partly down the mountain in order to figure out where we were staying. Surprisingly, we were staying at an actual hotel rather than a hostel. The Hotel Iris. It was an 19th century Italian villa and quite nice. We had our own room with one double bed and two singles. I got my own bed (because I share only my bed only occasionally) and marveled at the fact that we had a 'nice' bathroom. What luxury!

After having a bit of a lie-down to recover our wits, we walked up the mountain to the city center, which consisted of a giant square near a church (that, apparently, could be classified as a cathedral). Unfortunately, it got incredibly cold around this time and started to rain. I was in a dress, tights, and ballet flats, which became completely soaked after two minutes. (In my defense, it was supposed to be sunny and we weren't supposed to be doing much walking. How wrong this turned out to be.) Elysa and Tony hadn't changed their money at the airport, so we spent an hour looking for a bank. However, it was siesta time and so everywhere was closed. To add to this, Brad's bank account froze when he tried to withdraw money. So I was basically bank-rolling the entire joint for the rest of the day. We got pizza and gelato for lunch and then walked to the bus station to take a bus to Assisi. When we arrived, we were informed that the buses did not run hourly (as our travel guide had informed us) and that the earliest bus would leave at 6pm (when the basilica was closing). So we decided to walk down to the train station and take a train. On the map, it appeared to be about a mile away. However, it turned out to be five miles and completely off the mountain. So, yes, we walked down a mountain to get to the train station.

We bought tickets to Assisi and boarded the first train that arrived. Two stops later, we got off on a random platform, only to realize that Assisi was still seven or eight miles away. Luckily, we were able to jump on board the train before it departed again. When we arrived at Assisi (and the proper station), the town was still five miles from the station and it was 4:30. I was convinced that the basilica would close at 5pm, so we took a taxi up the mountain and sprinted the last 100 meters to the basilica proper. It was everything that I had remembered it to be. The sun was setting and the white stone of the church gleamed. Amazing. We walked through the lower basilica, and then headed down into the tomb of st. Francis. It was here that I basically had a breakdown and ended up sobbing for twenty minutes in one of the corner pews. I still don't know what came over me, however, I don't believe it was a 'miracle' as Brad claims it was.

By the time we had toured the upper basilica and come outside it was too dark to clearly see the 'Pax' in the grass outside, which was a bit of a disappointment. However, we took plenty of pictures of Assisi by night and started climbing further up the mountain in search of one of the two castles of Assisi. We walked down a dark and deserted road that was incredibly eerie for about twenty minutes before realizing that there was no way we were going to reach the castle in the near future. So we descended into the old medieval town, did a bit of exploring, and grabbed dinner at a pizzaria. On our way out of town, we entered a small wine store and met the owner, whose two daughters play for a chamber orchestra in Washington DC. Brad bought me a bottle of limoncello and Tony bought a bottle of wine. We were also informed by the owner that no buses ran to the train station this late at night (late being 7pm) and that we would have to walk.

Thus began our descent of the mountain. Keep in mind that I am still in a dress and soaking wet ballet flats. Elysa's feat have basically deteriorated to the point where she can barely walk. And in this state we walked five miles down twisty, completely dark roads. The cars whipped by at lightning speeds and it was always a toss up as to whether or not they were going to hit us. At the same time, their headlights provided a bit of much needed light. At some point, the side of the road disappeared and we had to walk on the muddy grass. My shoes had become so soaked by this point that they started falling off every two or three steps. At one point, they were falling off each step and became completely trapped in the mud. By the time we had descended the mountain and were in the outskirts of the town surrounding the train station, I had removed my shoes and was walking in my stocking feet. When we arrived at the station, I felt incredibly hard core and certain that I had probably contracted innumerable diseases from having walked two miles essentially barefoot. Still, I was alive and in one piece.

It was 9;45pm by the time we arrived back at Perugia's train station. As we were leaving the station, Tony dropped his bottle of wine. It had survived the trip down the mountain, but couldn't make it the last few miles home. How anti-climatic. On top of this, he had somehow lost the postcards that he had bought in Assisi. We took the bus to our hotel and I promptly collapsed in the shower as soon as we arrived in our room. Unfortunately, my shoes and stockings had to be thrown away as they were in too poor a state to ever be worn again. We relaxed a bit with some of the limoncello (so smooth going down before it burns your soul. It's even worse than vodka.) and then went to bed.

We awoke relatively early on Saturday with the intention of going to ROme. Once again, we had been informed that the trains ran frequently to Rome. However, upon arriving at the train station, we discovered that the earliest train departing Perugia for Rome was 11:15 and would arrive at 1:45, and the latest train leaving Rome for Perugia left at 7:45pm. Our 'epic day in Rome' had been incredibly shortened in a matter of minutes. Since it was 8am, we had plenty of tiem to kill before catching the train. Brad and I went to the co-op and bought apples (for me), water, and Pringles (for Brad). Elysa and Tony went in search of a place to change their money, but were unsuccessful.

We caught the train at 11:15 after having been told that we needed to simply present our tickets on the train. However, we were not told that we needed to stamp the tickets in one of the machines in the Perugia station. So, an hour into our trip, we were informed by the ticket conductor that we were going to have to pay 31 euro each when we arrived in Rome because we had failed to stamp our tickets. This dampened the mood considerably and we came to the universal consensus that we were going to try to get out of the charge any way that we could. Now, this may seem like a morally reprehensible thing to do. However, I am a poor college student and simply do not have 31 euro to spare, especially when I had no idea that I had to stamp my ticket in one of the yellow boxes. If this ends up getting me sent to hell, then so be it. You live and you learn.

Anyways, we saw a lot of the Italian countryside as we traveled on the train. It was absolutely beautiful and I have loads of lovely pictures to prove it. We arrived in Rome at 1:45 and promptly ran out of the station so as to avoid having to pay the charge. We need not have worried, however, as the station was massive and there was absolutely no one enforcing these charges. I think it was more of an honor system. I guess this means that I don't have much honor, but oh well. We returned to the station to buy our return tickets and, to our delight, discovered that there was a train departing Rome for Ancona at 8:33 and that we could catch a bus in Foligno to Perugia. This would allow us to spend a bit more time in Rome than we had previously thought.

We took the metro to the Colosseum but did not go inside. Instead, we took loads of pictures in front of it and the Arch of Constantine. Brad led us up the Palatine hill to see the ruins and then to the Forum (which was closed by 3:30...hmm. Who would have thought that you can close the ROman Forum? Oh well.) Since the boys were on a much faster than Elysa and me, we came to the mutual decision that we would split up and meet at St. Peter's Square at the Vatican at 5pm. Elysa and I got on the metro and arrived at St. Peter's by 4:30. We ended up sitting in front of the obelisk and on the stairs of the square watching the sunset over the Vatican. It was amazing. I have video footage recorded on my camera of us giving a documentary-style tour of the square in British accents. Unfortunately, the accuracy of this 'tour' leaves much to be desired as it mainly consists of things I learned four or five years ago when I traveled to Rome.

By 5:15pm, the boys had not arrived, so Elysa and I entered St. Peter's Basilica. It was wonderful to be there at night. It was much less crowded than during the day and I was able to take video footage of a mass being celebrated and of the inside of the basilica. Afterwards, we went to the gift shop and I sent some postcards to a few select individuals. We then ate pasta at a small restaurant outside the Vatican, got gelato, and then took the metro back to the train station.

As I was checking to see which platform our train would be departing from, a creepy Italian man came and started chatting up Elysa. Now, I may just be incredibly cynical, but nothing good comes from strangers approaching you, especially in a foreign country. She thought nothing of it as this was her first time in Italy. I tried to pull her aside and we walked away from him, but he followed us. After trying to invite us for coffee, he left but I could see him creeping around in the distance, so I remained alert while we tried to find a place to sit. A few minutes later, he returned again and tried to invite us for coffee and began stroking Elysa's arm (in a most forward manner). I grabbed her arm, declared that we had to meet our friends, and dragged her outside through one of the cafes in the station. In the window reflection, I could see him following us. So as soon as we were out of the cafe, I started sprinting as fast as I could down the street with Elysa following. We ducked into a farmacia and hid out for ten minutes. Luckily, when we emerged we did not see him again. Tony and Brad showed up five minutes later.

The return trip home on the train was uneventful. We got off in Foligno and took the bus to Perugia, going through Assisi as we went. When we arrived in Perugia, we took a bus to the city center and roamed around in search of entertainment (there was none since the city shuts down around 7pm). By this point, however, I was feeling pretty ill and was plagued by a steady cough. I returned to the hotel and fell asleep.

On Sunday morning, we woke early and took the shuttle back to the airport. As I was checking in, the Ryanair counter person informed me that I didn't have a return ticket booked (which I did since I paid for one) but that i might have one if I paid 10 euro. This is clear evidence of corruption, but when I attempted to fight this charge, he claimed in Italian that he didn't know what I was saying. So I paid the 10 euro and got my ticket. Still, I was horribly shaken by the entire experience and I doubt that I will be using Ryanair again. (Of course, I say this now, but the next time I want to travel somewhere on the cheap, I will probably end up using Ryanair again.) Our plane was supposed to start boarding at 10:55. However, by 11:30 we still had not even left the terminal. This wouldn't be a major problem, except that our return bus for Oxford was booked at 2pm GMT, so we had to land in London by 12:50 (1:50 Perugia time) in order to have enough time to get through customs and catch our bus. We finally took off around 12 and landed at Stansted at 1:20 GMT. Tony and I sprinted through the entire airport (staying with the underlying current of the weekend, we landed at the furthest gate from customs) in our attempt to get to customs as fast as possible. People were literally pulling each other out of our way.

Was it rude of us? Perhaps. But I was determined to catch the 2pm bus, since the next bus wouldn't leave until 4:30pm and I had no intention of staying at Stansted any longer than necessary. Luckily, since our plane had arrived late, there was no one at customs and we were done by 1:35. We grabbed a sandwich from Costa and caught the 2pm bus. We arrived in Oxford at 5:15, walked from High to St. Michael's Hall and made it just in time for dinner at St. Peter's. I was sufficiently recovered enough to go to pub quiz at Far From the Madding Crowd at 8:30pm and had a gin and tonic. We came in 14th out 15, but we weren't last. So far, I have yet to be on a losing pub quiz team. Granted, we have never won. But we have never lost either. And that is all one can hope for in life. Not to lose at pub quiz.

This morning, I went running at Christ Church. I did a large lap (the meadow plus the football fields near Corpus and All Souls), but couldn't do any more since my calves kept cramping up (due to all of the walking the past three days). I did manage to run back to St. Michael's from the meadows, so it wasn't a total loss after all. I took a shower, grabbed lunch, and then headed down to stained glass tutorial, where I applied stain to my painted glass window and began the design for my copper inclusion tiles (which will be four fleur de lis coasters). Afterwards, it was off to dinner and then to St. Peter's library for a few hours to read about Ben Jonson and his masques for Thursday's tutorial. Halfway through, Karen and I went to St. Peter's bar and grabbed a drink to help us maintain the rigorous pace of our studies, and it proved to be a nice pick me up. I finished the five books of mine that were at St. Peter's and will have to go to the Bodlean tomorrow after stained glass/dinner to finish the rest in preparation for the writing of my paper on Wednesday.

My life has assumed an insane schedule, which looks very similar to the following:
Monday: running in the AM, lunch, stained glass 1-5, dinner, St. Peter's library
Tuesday: running in the AM, chivalry seminar 10:30-12:30, lunch, stained glass 1:30-4, dinner, St. Peter's library until 2 or 3am
Wednesday: running in the AM (or sleep depending on how late I was at St. Peter's), lunch, isolation in my room as I write my paper 1-7pm, turn in paper at 7pm, make/find dinner 7-7:30, off to the pub/St. Peter's bar/O'Neills with friends to recover
Thursday: running in the AM, lunch, tutorial with Miranda 2-3, stained glass 3-4, dinner, fun at St. Peter's/pub
Friday: running in the AM, lunch, free time/attempt to do some work but mostly just recover from the past week, dinner, go out with friends
Saturday: sleep in late, lunch, Bodleian 1-4, dinner, St. Peter's/go out (depending on what I've done)
Sunday: sleep in late, brunch, St. Peter's/work, tea, dinner, Pub quiz.

Next week I go to Turkey.

Anyways, I am incredibly tired yet I have to write a one page summary of the research I've done for my chivalry paper and have to read the seminar sources for tomorrow. And I am planning on going running at 7;30am.

There is your update.

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