Saturday, April 30, 2005

Lago Trasimeno and Isola Maggiore - At the Lake

Friday, April 29, 2005

Lago Trasimeno is the largest lake in Italy and it is surrounded by the hills and mountains of Umbria. It's less than one half hour away from Perugia by train, so yesterday, at the suggestion of Professoressa Anna Commodi from the Universita per Stanieri, we took the trip. When we saw her at the University on Wednesday (she is helping us get our class all arranged), she asked if we had been there and even assisted us with train schedules. She told us where to go and how to get there - how nice for us! So, at 9am we were on the bus at Piazza Italia for a 10-minute ride down to the stazione (the main train station) buying our tickets and getting on the train. We traveled out of the city passing the apartment buildings below and into the outlying countryside with its farms and rolling hills. By ten we were walking along the beautiful lakeside. There is a ferry that takes you out to the island, Isola Maggiore (Big Island, basically - there is a smaller one called Isola Minore and a third, Isola Polvese, but Maggiore is the only one inhabited). We bought our tickets for the ferry and then decided to explore the little city of Passignano sul Trasimeno first. The streets nearest to the lake are filled with restaurants and shops - the ever-present gelaterie, cafes and souvenir shops. Some of the houses had little gardens and window boxes with geraniums spilling out. Growing wild were purple iris about to bloom and these wonderful clusters of yellow bouquets bursting out of the stone walls. Climbing above the shorefront, the ancient town rises, with 3 stone towers, and the twisty, turny streets that bring you to the summit of the village and breathtaking views of the lake. There is a plaque on one of the crumbling walls with words like "bombardamento" and the "Guerra" (bombardment and the war) with reference to World War II and the 1940s and the names of the local boys who had died. It's hard to imagine what those years must have been like for these people, their precious ancient cities being destroyed before their eyes.

We continued on, exploring and taking photos and then around noon got on the ferry to the Isola. A lovely, tranquil journey, our fellow passengers were almost entirely from a German tour group so the language around us was even more foreign than usual and became a soft blurr of background noise as we sailed away from the harbor out onto the lake. It is about a 20-minute leisurely cruise and I felt comfortable enough to take out my journal and do a quick watercolor sketch of the approaching island with the clouds above and the water below. Lost in my painting, I watched the island come closer and closer.

The weather was warm and sunny, as these past few days have been and I honestly think I appreciate it more having had so many cold and rainy days. We followed the path out to the Church of St. Francis. History has it that in the year 1211 he spent his Lenten season here and they erected a church and a monastery in his name. Many years later, they built a castle around the complex of buildings. Today it is in complete disrepair, with crumbling ceilings and the painted canvases on the walls (like wallpaper) hanging in shreds. It's like a lost little city. The feeling was quite surreal, like the prince in the fairytale coming upon the castle of Sleeping Beauty amid briars and brambles, a shadow of its former self. An old woman tends to the place and in Italian explained to us that the church was indeed molto vecchio (very old - ancient, in fact) and much in need of restoration. The other churches on the island had been restored, so our hope is that they will eventually get to this one. It was incredible really to be left alone to explore the dark and mysterious castle and see the vast rooms and little corners, the huge vaulted ceilings. Piles of rubble and broken tiles lay everywhere, window frames hanging in front of the most breathtaking scenery, as the lake appears below.

We met an Australian tourist and wandered around chatting with him for a while. We laughed when he said we shared a common language - and he meant Italian, not English - although we understood each other very well. We shared our stores about why we were both there. I told him about Jessica's trip to Australia and that we had friends in Phoenix from his country. He was an archivist from Sydney and had recently been offered early retirement and was traveling around Italy.

Back on Passignano by 3:30 or so, we had a slice of pizza and a coke and then watched 3 young Italian boys jump off the pier and into the lake. One of them - the one with the longish curly hair who had run, bare-chested down the path towards the water, jumped in over and over again. His other friend (the one who had his jacket on and walked slowly, made one valiant and beautiful dive and immediately came out of the water, once being enough for him. The third fellow landed somewhere in between.

By 5 we were on the train headed for home, exhausted as we used to be after a day at the beach, but very content and happy. A truly buona giornata.

Rosemary & Bob

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