This morning we woke up with the intention of checking out the Thursday market, then heading over to Perugia to go to the Bacci chocolate factory. The Bacci factory has tours and at the end one is supposed to get endless amounts of chocolate to taste, so is there any doubt we would miss that?? We did, but I’ll get to that later.
Once we were out the door, we walked out the main gate, down the hill, past the Conad, and over to the bus station parking lot where the market sets up on Thursday. I was a bit taken back. I was visualizing a few fruit and vegetable vendors. What I found was not only could you buy fruit and vegetables, but also meat, sausage, salamis, prosciuttos, cheeses, fresh seafood of all sorts, clothes, shoes, all types of household items and get your knives sharpened while you wander. It was pretty amazing. The market supplies all the normal every day stuff one needs that isn’t supplied in the tourist shops or the Conad. After experiencing the market, we understood how one could live in Montepulciano and not have to drive to a bigger city to buy necessaries.
While we were there, we noticed there were three or four deli-type food trucks where you could buy sliced meats and various varieties of pecorino cheese. There was an American woman ordering a panini at one of the trucks. At another truck, there were two older Italian couples ordering paninis. You know where we went. Yep, follow the Italians. They have the inside scoop. They were having an animated conversation with the two deli truck ladies, lots of friendly banter going back and forth. I kind of got the feeling the two couples were regulars with the deli truck ladies. When it was our turn to order, deli truck lady #1 pointed to the two huge hunks of meat wanting us to choose which we wanted. G-man winged it and asked in broken Italian what the difference was between the two. Deli truck lady #1, using words and gestures, described the smaller of the two as being from the belly of the pig and the larger one comes from the haunches. We went with meat sliced from the haunches. And then it happened. G-man said something about cheese for the panini. Deli truck lady #1 and #2 looked at us in horror. You would think someone just pointed out a bug in the food. Quickly realizing the faux pas, G-man astutely asked what Italians customarily put on their Panini. Good save! Both ladies broke into big smiles and we all laughed it off. Whew. International incident averted. Cheese does not adorn one’s Panini. Bread and sliced meat. That’s it. That is completely and totally it. No mayonnaise, no mustard, and no smashing it in a toaster to warm it up. The bread, actually its a huge roll, has a rock hard crust and is flavorless. The sliced meat is wonderful and is the star of the Panini show. We bought a half kilo of pecorino on the side and that was wrapped up in brown paper. Smiles, waves, and good-byes and we were off to Perugia.
Side note – We could see our apartment from the bus station parking lot so we had to take a picture. We are the one with the two green shutters that are open.
I know I’ve gone on and on about how beautiful and quaint everything is. We found ugly the closer we got to Perugia. Italian post-World War II architecture is not attractive. The buildings look like tenement buildings. They are just hideous and depressing. Every big city in every country on the planet has its unattractive side. We just did not want to be confronted with any realistic views, thank you very much! We were enjoying our pretty little bubble and didn’t appreciate having it burst so abruptly! Oh, well. No biggie.
We made it within a few blocks of the chocolate factory only to discover we had to have reservations to get into the tour. Hhhmmmm. What to do. We pulled into a little parking lot in San Sisto to eat our paninis and come up with a quick Plan B. We weren’t far from Assissi and decided if we can’t eat chocolate we might as well go check out Saint Francis’ town. As we were to find out, when one door closes and the next one opens, it can be pretty darn awesome.
Assisi sits not on top of a hill, but more on the side of it and as such, we could not miss it on approach. The gorgeous and massive churches are certainly attention grabbers. The town itself, constructed of a light, almost white, stone stretches out along the side of the hill. Just picture a green hill with an off-white village built along a horizontal plane about midway up the side of the big green hill. That’s Assisi. We parked outside the historical center and walked into the town oblivious of what was happening. As we strolled along the ancient stone-paved streets, our heads began their customary swiveling as we gaped at the beautiful and incredibly old residences on both sides of us. As we got closer to the town center, we noticed more and more people. Not an unexpected sight, as we imagined many other people would be interested to see the place of the birth and life of Saint Francis. But when we entered the main piazza, we knew something out of the ordinary was going on. This wasn’t just the usual mass of tourists and those on pilgrimage to Assisi. It looked like someone was setting up for the Beatles to start a reunion tour and the place was crawling with security.
Then, these two rocket scientists noticed a poster announcing the Pope’s visit the very next day.
Duh. I’m pretty sure we were the only two people in Assisi at that very moment that had no idea the Pope was coming to town. After we got on the same page with the other 10 million people in Assisi, we got caught up in the revelry. How cool to think the Pope would be there the very next day. We could feel the spirit in the air. Given our backgrounds, we were both interested in the security aspect of his advanced party. We could not imagine what all was involved in attempting to secure the area for the Pope’s arrival. Fascinating. After we caught on to what was going on, we did our best to keep to the back streets in an attempt to get a feel for the town where Saint Francis was born and raised. Being around the mass of people made me think more Saint Francis of Disney than Saint Francis of Assisi. It was a bit over the top.
Even though it was mobbed with people, we went inside the Basilica of San Francesco. Photography is not allowed, but I found a picture online that gives you an idea of the interior. Every wall, the ceiling, every surface was painted. Trying to imagine the work that went into the painting alone is mind boggling.
Assisi, the town, is beautiful in its own right. The light-colored stone used for the buildings is different from that we have seen in Montepulciano. Different aspects of the construction gave us a sense of the age of the place – shorter doorways, odd windows, buildings that bowed out and tilted forward over the street just like The Shambles in York, England. We would like to go back and spend more time there when there is less hustle and bustle.
We left just as the sun was starting to set and headed back to Montepulciano. We were both happy that our original plans in Perugia had not worked out.