Our first morning in Assisi we had an 8 a.m. hike to the top of the mountain to see the Rocca Maggiore, and the most stunning view of the countryside. As I looked down into the hazy valley below us at all of the stone and stucco homes and churches, I was struggling to grasp that what I was looking at was real, and not just a photograph. I thought that feeling would go away in time, but even now, almost four weeks in I continue to have moments where I have to pinch myself. The entire town of Assisi is the quintessential small Italian town. With it’s picturesque views no matter where you went, winding, store lined cobblestone streets, and beautiful white and pink stone churches, it looked like a movie set or a painting.
Each morning in Assisi we would meet in our hotel at 8:00 for a small breakfast of pastries, yogurt, and cappuccino. Most days this would be followed by a tour of some sort; the trips were to the Basilica of St. Francis, Santa Chiara, and San Damiano. My favorite was the first one I visited, the Basilica of St. Francis, for it’s incredible, towering pinkish white walls, and the surprisingly spiritual experience of visiting the crypt below the church. Following our morning tours, we would usually have the most of the afternoon and evening free, and then meet for lunch and dinner at the Cittadella Ospitalita. I always looked forward to the meals, not necessarily for the food, but for the conversation. We were randomly placed at tables with different people for each meal, and it was such a great opportunity to get to know everyone. There’s just about every personality type here and everyone comes from such different backgrounds, but we all got along great and I really couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to share this experience with. In the evenings after dinner we would either gather in the adorable little courtyard at our hotel, walk through the town, or just hang out in the piazza.
My greatest memory from our trip to Assisi was a completely random event. As my friends and I sat in my room chatting on our last full day before heading to Rome, we heard the sound of drums. At first we ignored them, but as they grew closer and became louder we decided we needed to go investigate. We followed the sound which led us to a group of probably ten drummers who were walking and playing through the winding streets of Assisi, surrounded by other curious people such as ourselves. As the music went on, the crowd grew and we followed them as they continued through the town. It was so cool and unexpected. After a couple of songs, we stopped following them, and stumbled upon yet another group of musicians. This one was made up of a huge variety of instruments and had a really fun vibe, playing all kinds of music including a lot of American songs. It was impossible to pull ourselves away from it, so we followed them as they walked up to the Piazza. Just as we thought it couldn’t get any better, the original band of drummers approached and the two groups began to play together in the most ridiculously awesome performance ever! I keep trying to find the words to describe everything about the moment, but words simply won’t do it justice. As I stood there with a group of my new friends, surrounded by beautiful old buildings and scenery, in the midst of such a fabulous impromptu gathering, I couldn’t help but recognize the greatness of the moment and be completely and utterly happy.
That evening we ate our last dinner at the Cittadella, grabbed some fabulous gelato and pastries, and headed to the piazza for another fun evening, before heading off to Roma the next afternoon. A massive peace march was set to take place on Sunday, after our departure, but it began sooner than expected and we were rushed from our lunch in the dining room to a group of vans waiting to transport us down the mountain to our bus. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I felt like a total celebrity as our vans drove through the crowds trying to get us out of the city before the march began. Our bus ride back seemed to go by much more quickly than the one there, thanks to some good chitchat, being somewhat caught up on sleep, and the excitement of being so close to what we had been waiting all of these months for. As soon as we arrived and got settled in I was able to look at Assisi in a new light. While the beginning of my stay there was marred by extreme jet-lag and wanting nothing more than to be in Rome and have contact with the outside world, once I arrived in the fast paced city, I was able to fully appreciate how lovely and quaint Assisi was. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why the program would send us there first, but now I can see that it served as a chance for us to slowly ease into life in a new country, and gave us the opportunity to really get to know the other students on our program. Starting with day one, we’ve now seen each other at our absolute sweatiest, most jet-lagged, and most disgusting, and I suppose you can really only go up from there. Very sneaky SMC … very sneaky.
To be continued …