On our final day with the AVIS car, it was pouring. We had seen the places we’d had on our list when we set out, but we needed to be on time to get the car back to the office in Foligno, and so could not go far. We decided upon Spoleto, about 30 minutes away and beyond Foligno, and we could return the car on our way back and just take the next train to Spello.
I was not at my best, in the boot cast, on some steep and slick wet streets, but I was a little familiar with Spoleto after visiting for a few days in 2006. We found parking (finally), and just wandered around, stopping for a light lunch of bruschetta with the local black truffles, and pasta with porcini mushrooms. Then, we headed for the piazza of the Duomo, the principal piazza of the city. There, the pointed roof of the bell tower is a distinct landmark in the skyline of the town, with a brilliant mosaic on the front of the church. I was once told that the gold tiles are not set level, so that their gold luster “winks” as you move and look at the art, seeming to give more dimension to the piece. (Seems like that could be true—I usually trust the people who tell me such things, and sometimes am led astray by people joking with me. Still, I rely on kind strangers and eavesdropping on guides giving tours in earshot.)
One of my favorite sites in the piazza is a very old Roman sarcophagus, from the 3rd-century and serving as a public fountain, with intricate hunting scenes carved into the sides. It is about waist height and attached to one of the walls of the piazza, where anyone can run hands over the carvings—which cannot be a good thing for the preservation of this rare treasure.
The weather and the time schedule cut our visit short, and we headed back to drop off the car, taking the train from Foligno one stop to Spello. It was a pleasure to get to see more of Umbria with a personal driver and navigator, and we found some sites to visit that were unexpected, but became favorites—like the closed winery in Montefalco with the wonderful views of the fall colors nearby.
The next day, as Birgit and Pall were leaving to return to Riomaggiore, in the Cinque Terre, we were halted at the station because all trains on the line were stopped for the special Papal Train to pass by with Pope Benedict on the way to Assisi for the day. Along with a crowd of school children holding up their handmade signs calling for peace, we waited on the platform. I suppose we should have guessed that the Pope’s train would be one of the high-speed trains, and all of the anticipation of his passage through Spello was over in seconds. His train sped by, with no chance to even figure out which coach of the short train carried His Holiness, and then it was gone to the next stop, in Assisi, where he descended from the train for a passage up to the basilica for his speech later in the day. It would not be a stretch, however, to claim that we were all within 15 feet of Pope Benedict XVI, for a fleeting second as he passed by.
The kids dispersed back to school with their teachers, and the regionale train that normally passes back and forth between Foligno and Florence arrived nearly an hour late, for passengers Pall and Birgit. Along with others waiting for the train, they boarded and were gone—a wonderful visit for me, especially with the car, some great shared meals, and both of them visiting the house where they were once the very first ones in the door after me. They helped me to purchase and transport furniture here from IKEA in a rented van, assembled chairs and dressers and a bed for a full week (while we killed scorpions and huge spiders and took cold showers, without the gas turned on in my name yet), and cooked everything outdoors on the barbeque. We three camped together here in the house for the first week after I signed the deed, but inside a nearly empty house. It was an adventure, certainly, but they were the very first guests to this house here in Spello, and helped me to get started, for which I am grateful forever.