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Streets and Doors in Umbria

This is a simple photo essay. The photos were all taken in medieval towns in Umbria. ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

Medieval Arts and Crafts

Between winery stops I am going to tell you about a visit to another medieval town. Umbria has these beautiful little towns on hilltops wherever you go. They are just far enough apart that one can imagine a person living in the 15th century in Assisi or Bevagna for their entire life and never traveling to the other. I would need to bone up on the local history to know who they had to fortify the villages against, but each one is surrounded by formidable walls with solid gates.

This post will center on Bevagna.

Bevagna

Info sheet at the gates to Bevagna. I could only imagine what it said.

bevagna

Once you get inside the gate (no passport needed) you start to climb toward the center of town. That is just the way it is in these medieval cities. It seems that you must climb going in or out!

bevagna

Once you have reached the center of the city,things level out. The 15th century is alive and well. One guide we had told us that these walls inside the city were once covered with plaster and painted pastel colors. Indeed if you look at old paintings you see that. She told us that in the 18th century this was somehow a cause for concern and that the plaster was removed. I don’t buy that. I think the artists were using artistic license.

This church supposedly contains the rock from which St. Francis preached when he had to ask the birds to be quiet. It is a major legend, you can look it up.

Every year in June the town has a celebration, reminiscent to me at least, of a renaissance faire.  The entire town dresses in medieval costumes. This celebration is not intended to be a tourist attraction, they do it for themselves to celebrate their heritage. That being said, I think it would be a wonderful time to visit Bevagna for a day during a longer stay in Umbria. Included in Bevagna’s celebration is a contest for the best recreation of medieval crafts. We visited two past prize winners. A papermaker and a candlemaker.

Paper making in Bevagna

This guy was really cool. He has won the town’s competition for preserving the art of paper making. He demonstrated it to us. It is a long, time consuming process, but he seems to love his work.

paper making in Bevagna

The first step is the mulching of a combination of cast off clothing and hemp into a sloppy paste which then gets pressed onto a screen type of thing (hey, I am not a techie). The paper receives a watermark, and is then dried. Altogether from rags to paper the process can take three months. I pruoudly own a sheet of his paper. It is anything but modern. I’ll never use it because you need a quill to write on it and forget about a laser printer!

paper make bevagna

This is Mary Ann leaving the paper makers abode, asking me, “what the heck are you going to do with the paper you bought?”

Lapis lazuli

We stopped at an artist compound that does mostly religious art. Beautiful stuff. They use the medieval methods, including creating their own colors from natural elements. The blue stone in the box is Lapis Lazuli. This stone is the original blue. Michelangelo and Raphael used in in their frescoes. It was and is still is an expensive way to make the color blue. I asked how much this stone cost. I realized I could finance a trip to Italy if I filled my suitcase withe Lapis I can buy here in the UAE for a lot less money!

candle maker Bevagna

We then went to a candle maker. He uses pure bees wax to make some wonderful candles. I got a chance to make my own. I can now say I made the world’s ugliest candle!

We also went to a Olive oil producer. I will cover that in a future post, so stay tuned.

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Assisi’s Best Hospitality

If you are ever lucky enough to get to Assisi, do yourself a favor and stay at San Crispino. In fact if you are ever in Italy, go to Assisi so you can stay at San Crispino. Take this all the way and just plan a trip to Italy specifically to stay at San Crispino. Honestly, I liked it that much.

It is more than a hotel. It is more than a hotel and a spa. It is a hotel, a spa and a wellness center all wrapped up in two beautiful facilities.

Deep into the medieval city of Assisi on quiet cobblestone streets San Crispino has a small hotel which is actually a historical mansion. It has theme rooms designed to add to the feeling of living in the 15th century, only as a noble. Each of the rooms has a private garden. I’m not talking a few plants on a balcony here,oh no. This hotel provides you with a big lush garden you could play sports in!   The rooms we saw were sumptuous.

San Crispino

The bedroom in one suite.

San Crispino

The dining area in the same suite with the door to a garden bigger than most of yours.

Lunch spread which included their own wines, yum yum.

Just outside of Assisi they have a large farm that has another set of nice rooms, The farm has been in the family for a few generations and is productive and beautiful. This facility has a big dining hall where you eat family style in front of a fireplace, a fully equipped spa and this pool. The view is of Assisi on the hill.This is where the wellness center is. The owner is a dermatologist that has a line of products to make your skin look younger. Too late for me!

Maybe one of the reasons I liked this place so much was the gorgeous daughter of the owner. She is a classic Italian beauty and as personable as she is pretty. Ciao Bella!

Thank you to San Crispino for a wonderful afternoon in Assisi!

Assisi Italy

Assisi is perhaps the most visited site in all of Umbria. This is deservedly so, even though Umbria is spotted with wonderful places for all kinds of travelers and tourists.

Assisi is the birthplace of St. Francis, born in 1182. Yup, that makes him older than me. I grew up knowing about St. Francis of Assisi and his love of animals and peace on earth, and I’m not even Catholic.

St. Francis of Assisi, street art

Just a piece of street art on a side street in Assisi, says it all.

When I signed up to go to Umbria, I started looking at the web, and I was thrilled to know that Assisi was a spears throw away from where we would be headquartered. TBU and the Umbria tourism people did a wonderful job of making a pre-conference tour to this medieval city available.

Assisi is strategically located on top of a small mountain, or high hill, depending on your perspective. In fact, throughout Umbria there are medieval cities, surrounded by walls, occupying defensive positions in elevated areas.

Assisi

My first view of this city on the hill, from a bus window. Not much of a photo, but somehow I hope it conveys my enthusiasm.

The towns, although constructed before anyone dreamed of the new world, are still vibrant homes to hundreds of people. Residents go about their days, walking streets laid out in the 12th century. The reason we were guests here is so that we would blog to the world and promote tourism. I hope we help a little but it would be a shame if thousands of google-eyed, awe struck people like me wandered the cobblestone streets which are actually someone’s proud home. So, only half of you go, OK?

assisi alley

This is what it is like in a medieval village in 2012. You can wander these streets at your own pace without any hurry, or hawkers. You can imagine people doing the same for hundreds of years . The effect is describable only as magical.

The centerpiece attraction in Assisi is the Basilica of St. Francis. There are two levels to this structure. They actually make up two churches. The upper was built in 1230 to 1253 on top of the lower that was finished in 1230. Both levels are wondrously decorated by the greatest artists of the 13th and 14th centuries and have fantastic stained glass windows.

The Basilica as it stands today. Partially damaged by an earthquake about 20 years ago, money flowed in from around the world to restore it.

St. Francis of Assisi frescoe denouncing his wealth

We were not allowed to take pictures inside the Basilica so I took this picture of a picture, sorry. The real frescoe is much nicer of course. This is a depiction of St. Francis denouncing his wealth to his father. His father was a wealthy cloth merchant. St. Francis wanted something different. He went off to do battle, but he found great fault with that lifestyle. He then lived as a beggar for a year, and then became a friar. He was never ordained as a preist, but his legacy is one of the greatest in Christiandom.

So what is a Basilica I hope you are asking?

In the Roman Catholic Church, a basilica is a designation for an important church building. A basilica is designated by the Pope to buildings that carry special spiritual, historical, and architectural significance. Once a basilica — always a basilica. This is a Papal Basilica, and it has a Papal throne. Every Pope since 1230 has visited here, except John Paul I of course. The throne is there for viewing, but I was not allowed to go sit in it.

There is also a monestary attached to this Basilica where the Order of Franciscan Friars is based. They are a humble group and you see them walking the ancient streets to this day.

Monastery of Franciscan Friars

The monastery attached to the Basilica.

St. Francis’ tomb is in the lower level and many make a pilgrimage to pray for perhaps a miracle. I prayed that he give our cat a brain.

tomb of St. Francis

Many people make the pilgrimage here and pray. Besides a brain for my cat, I prayed for world peace.

PAX

The garden in front of the Basilica contains our wishes and a nice way to close this post. PAX

My next post will still be in Assisi at a wonderful hotel/spa/wellness facility called San Crispino that treated us to a spectacular afternoon. Stay Tuned!

Travel Bloggers Unite in Umbria!

I do not know where to start about my last ten days in Italy, so I guess I’ll start at the start.

Back in December ’11 I ran across a website called Travel Bloggers Unite. Dyslexic as I am I thought it said Travel Bloggers Untie, so I perused it. Oliver, the head honcho (maybe the sole honcho) at TBU was touting the third TBU conference. This one was to take place in Umbria, which is a region of Italy largely lost to the tourist trade.  It should not be. Umbria is one of the prettiest and hospitable places on the entire coconut.

Coat of arms of Assisi (Perugia), Italy França...

Coat of arms of Assisi

Travel Bloggers United Umbria contest

The Canadian tourism board was there to invite bloggers to Canada. They gave away these little "polar" bears and had a contest to go see polar bears in Canada. I soaked mine in wine

Umbria from Assisi

Although I like this foto of the Valle de Assisi from Assisi, for a real pro view check out another blogger ( a professional photographer) http://blog.kenkaminesky.com)
The weather was like this for the entire conference. For my wife and me fresh from the Arabian desert, it was wonderful. A very green valley, spotted with red poppies and grey olive trees.

The conference attendees were people I was very glad to meet. With a couple exceptions, I was the senior member of the circuit. I never meet these people travelling because they are mostly young enough to be my children. With that said, we have a huge thing in common; we all love to blog about traveling the world. With THAT said, I had one big difference with the majority of them. They support their travels by blogging, I do it for fun, and hopefully to entertain you my faithful readers. Maybe I am just too lazy to find sponsors, or maybe I do not want my blog to look like a NASCAR, whatever. I just do not “Monetize” (a blogger buzz word) my blog. I have nothing against those who do. In fact I admire people who can travel incessantly, and get paid by everyone from Ray Ban to American Express to support the wanderlust. It is just not my style or my need.

Amazingly the conversations did not center on war stories from different destinations. Oh there was the occasional “once upon a time in…” stories but they were more in passing than anything else. There were a lot of conversations about maintaining a blog, length of posts, how often you post and building readership. On the last point, it seems that Facebook and Twitter are the main avenues for finding new readers. I am late to both games, but since the conference I have managed to double my presence on the two of them.

Travel Boggers Unite, Umbria

This is me at what I called the speed dating session. Here we were able to meet potential sponsors, or for me better yet, people who represented locations that need more tourism. They look for people like me to go there and write about what we see and do. We were only allowed a few minutes at each table, hence my speed dating reference. I talked about a cross continental train ride in Canada and a trip to Oman to write about the new opera house. We'll see.

TBU arranged this conference, but it was the Umbria agencies for tourism and wine that hosted us in an incredible fashion.

Umbria

The Umbrians came out waving flags to welcome us at our first dinner together.

Travel Bloggers Unite, Umbria

There were about 250 of us and we ate quite well.

Perugia, chocolate

They even made us fresh chocolate goodies to promote their chocolate industry which is right behind the wine and olive oil businesses. Extremely good stuff.

After the conference Oliver arranged with The Umbrian Tourist people to take six groups off on amazing, beautiful, educational and fun trips. Ours was to wineries where we were treated like royalty. I’ll say more on that, much more, in upcoming posts. Let us just say, that when people treat me the way we got treated in Umbria, I am going to tell you about it. Hopefully it will plant the idea in your head that the region is an excellent destination for a vacation.

I want to Thank Oliver Gradwel, TBU and the region of Umbria for one of the best travel experiences of my life, AND the fact that I did not reach for my wallet once in 5 days. SWEET!

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