The one year anniversary of my grandfathers death has been lingering in my mind, like the crusted smudge of a bug on your windshield.
To celebrate his life, I thought it would be awesome if I went to a Mass service in Assisi at Basilica San Francesco, significant because his funeral Mass was held at Saint Francis of Assisi in Braintree, Massachusetts.
St. Francis was patron saint of the city of Assisi when he lived in the city from his birth in
1182 to his death in 1226. Pope George IX, just two years after his death, christened him a saint. He was the first Christian in history of the church to receive the gift of the stigmata, the marks of the crucifixion of Jesus – wounds in his hands feet and side. He carried the characteristics of Mercy, Joy, Humility, Fraternity, and Love.
I hopped off the early train I took and took a bus to the historic center of the city, which happens to be on a hill, a decently sized hill at that. I trekked towards the now claustrophobic Basilica since our most newest Pope has taken the name, Francesco. I went to Mass for the first time in Italy and I couldn’t have dreamed of a better way to celebrate this act than attending on this very special day. Though I had no idea what the Priest was saying; I could only pick up bits and pieces since he spoke so fast. Instead I took that time to have a conversation with Pa. I told him how much I missed him and what I’ve been doing this past year. I also asked him what he thought of the sauce I made, so the jury is still out on that!
After Mass I toured the upper and lower basilica as well as San Francesco’s tomb. I admired the beauty of the frescos on the walls and the ceiling, they aren’t quite Sistine Chapel quality, but they are some of the better frescoes I have seen in Italian churches. Sorry, pictures were strictly prohibited inside.
I spent almost two hours there before stopping at this wonderful caffe up the street that had one of the most amazing views for a caffe. I spent 20 minutes admiring the countryside trying my hardest to imagine what it would be like to live in Assisi. The dream could have lasted all day if I was spending more time in the city.
I made my way towards the Rocca Maggiore, the city’s very own medieval castle. Only I went outside the city walls and found myself at a cemetery built like a shrine to a rich prince. Hundreds of Assisians laid to rest here as early as the 17th century.
This was a very nice cemetery because it overlooks the valley and its essentially a kaleidoscope of color reflecting beams of sunshine in all directions. Retreating back inside the city walls I stumbled soberly around the city looking for this castle. Past all the churches (there’s like five,) and the Temple of Minerva, I breached the castle walls. No, I didn’t get pelted with arrows if that’s what you’re wondering. But I did have a nice conversation with the man who worked at the ticket office at the entrance in Italian!
I got in on a student discount. I climbed and ran and crawled through every little crevice I couldn’t squeeze into. This castle is truly a grown man’s playpen when its not being used to fight off enemy combatants. I climbed two towers overlooking the valley and the city and felt like a God. I was so high in the air, and there was no one around but me and Mother Nature. I felt a peace. I should have eaten my lunch up there or something. It was so windy, too. Perfect place for someone who is constantly sweating.
Forty minutes off the ticking clock. Time flies when you’re not being watched like you’re constantly doing something wrong. For once I was free to climb without the accusatory eyes of USAC and the vicious, Carabinieri. But the time went by too fast and it was time to catch a bus.
I hiked down this magnificent castle, which sat by itself in the highest part of town Aron Ralston style. I was back at Porta Nuova in 19 minutes to catch the bus back to the train station, which would later take me to my favorite, most inconvenient train station in Viterbo, Porta Fiorentina.
Only that didn’t happen according to how I wrote it. Since I took an earlier train, I botched transfer train and ended up in the middle of nowhere. Seriously, the middle of nowhere. When I thought I got on the right train to go to Viterbo, finally, I double checked the next stop. It was Atigliano-Bomarzo. Ok, I’m good, I thought. Nope, wrong again. By the time I looked up from reading my book, I was on my way to Florence at Chiusi. I practically dove off the train at the next stop. It was Castiglione del Lago. The middle of nowhere.
I missed my friend’s birthday party, but I did get back to Viterbo by 11pm. There are worse things that could have happened.
As an aside, Assisi is one of the most beautiful day trips you can take in Italy. Whether you like castles, churches, medieval cities, countryside views or even a refreshing granita, this is a place for you. Only three hours from Rome by train, too. Of all day trips I have taken – to Sperlonga, Bracciano, Orvieto, and Bagnoregio – this has been the best one. It could be that I was so happy to celebrate my grandfather’s passing in a way that would give me a lifetime memory, or it could simply be due to the fact that Assisi is an underrated traveler’s paradise.
Oh, and shout out to my friend, Vivian, who suggested I try to celebrate this day and not mourn. All is well. Only time will tell if April 12, 2014 can top April 12, 2013.
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