You can still learn life lessons at age 61 ! - Spoleto and Assisi

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April 22nd 2013
Published: April 24th 2013
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As the title may suggest to you we were to be reminded that even at our venerable age (Gretchen is almost there) we can still learn valuable lessons on the road. More of that later.

We woke in Teramo to a partly cloudy morning which looked substantially better than the thunderstorm and rain from last night. The road sweeper was out keeping the streets cleaned which we are finding is more obvious now we are further north in Italy. Shame that the towns in the southern part of the country haven’t invested into these machines.

Breakfast was good and the coffee strong (one morning coffee Ruth and Owen and you would have your equivalent for a whole year!)

We knew that the journey from Teramo to Spoleto was going to take over some lesser, country roads and we had only just got to the outskirts of the city and found the road ahead over a bridge under repair closed and no instructions on the diversion road to take.

We turned around and went further up the hill thinking that we were at least heading west which we needed to. Vicky got really confused and kept telling us to do a u-turn and then after giving up on us on that instruction kept flashing ‘recalculating route’. But all was well in the end and navigator Gretchen took the right roads at each turn in small villages and we were eventually back on the road we wanted. Looking back down the valley we worked out we had gone up one side and returned down the other and came out on the other side of the bridge under repair.

There was still quite a bit of snow on a 2450mt mountain to one side of the road but the sun was shining and driving through the forested countryside pleasant.

After the riverside settlement of Spelonga the road turned off from the A4 to Rome and we quickly started climbing passing a sign that appeared to say that the road was only open from mid Apr to mid Nov.The trees were certainly only just getting their leaves.

Just before a tunnel came into sight another road branched off and we soon learned that that one was the one only open for 7 months of the year and must have been the original road through the area before two very long tunnels were built.

Both were 4 kilometres long and single lanes in each direction. Both twisted and turned and we counted down the distance to go on signs on the walls as there were no escape doors in the event of a fire and just one parking bay in the middle of each if you broke down. There were green lights every so often and presumably they would change red if there was a problem ahead. Half way through the second tunnel we noticed a sign on the wall to show we had entered Umbria.

The roadway in the second tunnel started to descend over the last kilometre and we emerged at 965 metres above sea level into a spectacular valley with grand scenery, a real surprise!

Part way down we passed the other end of the road only open for 7 months and were soon whizzing past the walled town of Norcia. It looked like an interesting place to explore but we had two other places to visit before the end of the day and we had to keep going.

The guide book had said we would see the Ponte del Torrie as we entered Spoleto. What the guide book didn’t refer to was the direction you had to come from to see it as you arrived and of course we came from the opposite side of the town.

This is where the first lesson for the day kicked more instructions before you leave your accommodation when you have internet connection. Luckily Serena had the tourist office in her memory and we headed up to the old town to find it and get more instructions as she didn’t have the Ponte for some reason in her POI. We spotted a policewomen directing traffic and asked her the way and after driving through streets even narrower than Sicily we made it to the car park of area to see the Ponte.

We parked and paid for a couple of hours and headed off into the old town along narrow lanes in what we thought was the direction to be able to view the Ponte. Lesson number two for the day...........Look around for information or directional signs of what you are there to see.

After realising that we weren’t going to find what we wanted we headed back to the car park by retracing our steps (we have learnt that lesson!)

Lesson three for the day....when you actually get some directional signs, don’t walk pass them but read them. We didn’t and ended up riding 7 or 8(can’t remember exactly as there so many) escalators down the hill to an overflow car park to walk to see the Ponte. We realised by the time we almost got to the bottom that this wasn’t where we needed to be so rode the escalators back up again to the car park. At least there was some escalator music to bop to as we saved our legs and got back to the car park again.

Finally we had learnt our lessons for the day, read the directional board and within 2 minutes the sight of the grandest Ponte or bridge we have ever seen was before us. How this structure, the Ponte del Torrie, was ever built across the valley in the 13th century is hard to figure out, but for man in those days, it was quite an achievement. We had discovered that you can see the Ponte from various angles and did so before it was back in the car and onto Assisi. However not before we had to stop for a red light so that we could let uphill traffic through the narrow lane we had come up. And we hadn’t even noticed a traffic light on the way up!!Just as well there was no traffic opposing us on the way up.

The weather started to close in and rain fell as we drove the short distance to the hillside town of Assisi.

This attraction was an easier exercise to find than the Ponte had turned out to be and with the rain holding off we found a large car park and became pilgrims again heading for the 13th century Duomo with the font that was used to baptise St Francis.The Duomo was not damaged as much as the Basilica was in the earthquake of 1997 which required restoring to a large extent.

We began wondering where all the people were from the buses in the car park and soon found them in the Basilica of San Francesco where the tomb of St Francis is in the crypt. Thank goodness we came here on a Monday which would be quiet compared to a weekend. As it was there were at least a couple of large school parties and several groups of bus tourists being guided around by genuine looking monks complete with sandals as St Francis would have worn. We did try and see if they were Nike brand but it was too difficult to see any labels!

The upper church had a very inspiring interior with stunning frescoes on the life of St Francis while the quiet (even with all those people about) of the crypt and St Francis tomb was poignant.

The town’s businesses are all geared to St Francis and there were shops selling just about everything you would need as a pilgrim of one of the world’s best known saints.

Our last hour of the drive took us thankfully around the large city of Perugia and out in to the Umbrian countryside and the area of Castiglione del Largo.

We found our accommodation for the night and Gretchen immediately she declared that she was staying here for a week! More tomorrow.

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