Our own Church of St. Peter...

One of the most dramatic buildings one sees when arriving in Spoleto, from the south, is La Chiesa di San Pietro, one of the greatest religious monuments in Umbria.  The church was founded on the spot of a necropolis of the Bronze Age in 419 AD, to host the relics of the chain of St. Peter, and was probably the first cathedral of Spoleto since it contains the tombs of many early bishops. The splendid façade is rich in low reliefs and decorations probably in the style of the Lombard masters of the early 13th century representing St. Peter's life, other biblical stories and common fairy tales.

What we found incredibly interesting is the graffiti.  This amazing façade is 'decorated' with signatures and dates from over 100 years ago.

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A stop in Assisi before the airport...

The location of the Umbria International Airport S. Egidio, in Perugia, allowed us to do a high speed tour of Assisi.  It seemed there was quite a bit of St. Francis this week so why not visit his birthplace and final resting spot.  He is, after all, the patron saint of Italy, founder of the Franciscan order, and one of the most popular Catholic saints in history.

The opulent Basilica is a rather conflicting memorial to a man who preached and lived a simple life of poverty, abstinence, and renunciation of worldly goods in search of greater spirituality.  When we entered the upper church (1280), the most glorious organ music was playing that seemed to intensify the light-filled, airy, joyful, and alive with color Italian Gothic interior.

When we approached the crypt holding the tomb of St. Francis (carved out of the rock to allow visitors access) we heard a choir of hymns being sung in English.  In the chapel, before the tomb, a service was occurring with a large group of men in white robes.  Since people from all over the world make pilgrimages, hearing beautiful music we understood was not a surprise, but definitely a true delight.

It was a fitting way to end the visit with my girlfriend, Jean.  A woman who embarks upon a new life.  One that she now has faith in her ability to live to the fullest.  Buon viaggio!

"A real friend is someone who walks in
when the rest of the world walks out."
-St. Francis of Assisi

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Scenes from Eggi...

Pronounced "Edgy", this little borgo has cast its spell on me.  It doesn't hurt that fields of "Corn" Poppies announced our arrival.  I have waited to find a field in which to prance amongst the papaveri.

Interestingly, the seed of the corn poppy has been used for centuries for the flavoring of bread and deserts and its leaves can be used in salads/garnishes and can even be boiled and served rather like spinach. The poppy's intrinsic, if not somewhat menacing relationship with man could, at the very least, earn this plant some respect for its survival tactics, and the dazzling appearance of this humble yet stunning beauty in a season that so longs for hot color can only instill admiration in its onlooker. However this 'simple' annual, who's seed can wait patiently for up to 40 years or more before germinating, who has evaded all of man's attempts to eradicate it over the past 3,000 years and who still has the audacity to choose, very precisely, in which field it would prefer to grow in... remains, and will probably always remain- a beautiful, though as yet, unsolved, natural mystery!

St. Sebastian, in the beautiful church of San Giovanni Battista, seemed to stand out.  How can you not appreciate a guy who, after being healed from multiple arrow impalements,  goes on to  harangue the emperor and then be clubbed to death in 288 AD?

The village's motto is "Livin' Life on the Eggi".  Seems pretty appropriate on so many levels.

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A taste of asparagus in Eggi...

It is wild asparagus season here in Umbria and what better way to celebrate the start of a season than with a Sagra.  Interestingly, La Sagra degli Asparagi, in the Spoleto frazione of Eggi, is the very first sagra of the season.

In normal Haerr style, we arrived before the event was to begin but in true "pinch me" fashion, Luigi (the president of the Amici di Eggi) and his father, Mario, invited us to stay for lunch.  And what a lunch it was:  strangozzi con asparagi - rossi, roast beef con salsa di asparagi, frittata con asparagi and finally crostata alla crema di asparagi...yes even dessert with asparagus.

The uniqueness of the day, along with the kindness of strangers truly did make it unforgettable.  We will return in the evening, when the event is really occurring.  If it was this amazing, not ready, I can't imagine how great it will be in full swing.  If you're anywhere near Spoleto get to this sagra before May 8th.  You'll be glad you did.

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Hi from California!!

We have delighted in meeting Wwoofers from the farm.  Molly wrote the following note and had to share it with you...

Hi Denise and Steve!  I made it back to California yesterday, after four amazing days in Perugia. I just wanted to say hello and thank you again for the amazing hospitality you extended to me in Spoleto. Meeting you was a reminder of what it means to travel, the people one meets while traveling are, I think, more inspirational and memorable then the places one set out too see in the first place. Plus, you guys are a total inspiration, I'm jealous of your life, and I hope I can be like you when I grow up :) I read some of your blog, the picnic you went to the other day looked amazing!!

I'm not sure if you've seen it, but there's a really great documentary called 180 degrees South that came out last year that has an awesome quote about traveling that says, "The best journeys answer questions that in the beginning you didn't even think to ask".

Anyway, I hope that the two of you continue to find answers, have great adventures and meet many new friends along the way!!  Keep in touch and safe travels!! :)

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Le Cose italiane che mi fanno sorridere...

Every now and then, I come across something that makes me smile.  The orange bumblebee was so unique, Jean and I stood admiring it at work for several minutes alongside an Umbrian roadway.  I had never seen such a fat, fuzzy, completely orange bee before. 

The three sweet Italians sitting on a wall, chatting, seemed oblivious to anyone around them.  Their faces are classic. 

The last photo, is the best bathroom sign I have yet to see, and I'm a connoisseur of "Toilet" indicators.  So, as you can see, I'm a simple girl who delights in the little things.

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Santuario di San Francesco...

A roadtrip with Steve can find us in many different places.  Today we ended in Monteluco, a place we've been before but one that demanded a more thorough explore.

The Sanctuary of St. Francis, in Monteluco, is a place of great spiritual, as well as scenic interest. St. Francis stayed here for a short while in 1218 and founded a primitive convent at the edge of the "sacred wood".  Preserved are the rooms the monks
lived in, clearly representing most of his eight values:  love, compassion, peace, trust in God, respect, simplicity, service and joy (simplicity especially).

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My two favorite Marys...

This fresco in the church in Spello almost made me weep.  Never had I seen Mary look so sad.  There was something about her holding her grown son, so lovingly, that evoked incredibly strong emotions within me.  Perugino painted Pietà San Giovanni Evanglista, e la Maddalena in 1521, one of his very last works.
This is the Mary I find to be the most beautiful I've ever seen (and after being in Italy as long as we have, I've seen a large number of The Madonna).  This one by Bernardino di Betto (Pinturicchio, a paid assistant to Perugino) is here in Spoleto and was painted in 1497.

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Sleep has been pretty nonexistent since Tuesday when I began having an intense night time cough.  Yesterday, we threw in the towel and went to the farmacia.  The question I have to ask myself is, "What were you waiting for?"

The number and opening hours of Italian Pharmacies are regulated by law. Pharmacies operate on a "rota" system designed to ensure an open pharmacy (or one which can be opened in a medical emergency) in each general area at night, holidays (Liberation Day even) and Sundays. Each Pharmacy displays a card with its own opening hours, emergency telephone number, and where to go outside of those opening hours for emergency services.

Pharmacists in Italy are allowed more leeway in dispensing health advice and selling pharmaceuticals than in the US. If you can describe your condition well, you may be able to procure a prescription directly from a pharmacist in Italy. Likewise, if you need a prescription filled on an emergency basis, you may be able to do so--if you know the scientific or generic name of the medicine you need and can make a good case for the pharmacist to dispense it.  from http://goitaly.about.com

We went in with very specific needs and a few coughing gestures.  The farmacista knew exactly what to give me.  She typed into her computer and through a chute in the wall, my gocce orali was dispensed.  Steve and I were enthralled with the efficiency and uniqueness of it all.  AND even better than that, the 25 drops of medication prescribed allowed all of us to sleep through the night.

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La Festa della Liberazione

I felt a bit of Italian patriotism today as Jean and I observed Liberation Day here:

Celebrated on April 25th, it commemorates the liberation of Italy by Allied troops in the Second World War. After Italy surrendered, Nazi Germany considered it as a new enemy and intensified the anti-partisan operations against Italian freedom fighters (Resistenza partigiana). The holiday is meant to honor all those who died during the war. The lives of those who served as partisans in the Italian Resistance are especially honored.

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Buona Pasqua...

Our Easter is keeping with the ancient Haerr tradition of  chocolate for breakfast.  It will be decidedly calm due to the current state of our colds but it will be wonderful anyway.  Church bells chiming.  Birds singing.  Togetherness.  Scrabble and a good book.  Oh, and did I mention chocolate?

Wishing you the most happiest of Easters.  May your day be just what you need!

"There's more to life than chocolate, but not today."

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Picnic under the olive trees...

Jean and I had a rather unique lunch experience today in a quaint neighboring town. Pic & Nic...is an event designed to "link all participants to the Trevi land, to the agricultural food production of oil,  and to the cultural and artistic potential of the area".   Truly a dining adventure, under the olive trees, that I've been anticipating for months (Steve and I are both fighting colds and he chose to sit this one out). 

We purchased our "Hobo knapsack" on a stick and meandered the grounds of the 16th century Villa Fabbri.  A path was created through the scenic olive grove with food stations serving typical foods of the Umbrian region while big band sounds floated through the air.  Grandparents laughed with their nipoti.  Young lovers strolled hand-in-hand.  Even though it wasn't sunny, and at times the rain fell, everyone seemed to delight in the wonderment of it all.

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A stranger with really great "buns"...

While waiting for all the Good Friday celebrations to happen, I began talking with a delightful woman, Bonnie, who explained to me what to expect with the Processione del Venerdì.  She was informative and very helpful.  After the first of 14 stations was concluded, she turned to us and said that she had just taken out a batch of buns you are traditionally suppose to eat on Venerdì Santo and would we like to go to her new home and have tea and Pan di Ramerino

Pan di Ramerino is a large roll delightfully flavored with rosemary and raisins and eating it in this generous woman's home (the former stable of the ancient house above it) was the highlight of our Friday.  Bonnie is a professional photographer, retired UC Davis professor, author of an amazing blog http://oldbroadabroad.com/blog/ and someone I hope we will know for a very long time.

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Processione del Venerdì Santo

Throughout Italy, Good Friday is celebrated with a Procession through the streets.  The toughest decision is "Where do we go to view this tradition?"  We decided on the intimate town of Spello, a beautiful yet densely-inhabited town, built of stone, enclosed in a circuit of medieval walls on Roman  foundations.  It is one of the most gorgeous of the small hilltop towns in Umbria.

After a wonderful dinner, al fresco, we adjourned to Santa Maria Maggiore (1159), an exquisite church with a Romanesque façade and a 13th century bell tower.  The pilasters next to the apse have frescoes by Perugino (1512) yet the feature Spellani are most proud of is the chapel, Cappella Bella, frescoed by Pinturicchio.

Music, tradition, candles and most of the town joined us as we followed only one of the fourteen Stations of the Cross,Via Crucis.  We learned this refers to the depiction of the final hours (or Passion) of Jesus, and
the devotion commemorating the Passion. Interestingly, the tradition as chapel devotion began with St. Francis of Assisi and extended throughout the Roman Catholic Church in the medieval period.

It was an evening of education, camaraderie and all things Italian.

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