In a world that moves at the speed of roughly 940 Megabits per second, it would be easy to overlook a small, medieval town tucked into the rolling hills of Italy’s Umbria region. It would be easy for such places to go the way of route 66 in the US and simply be a fond memory of days of yore, and yet, somehow, life finds a way here. Tucked under the tired arms of a fading castle, Assisi, Italy, continues to thrive as a historical and religious outpost for pilgrims of the arts, history and Catholicism.
In the name of honesty, I must say I cannot comment on what the trip is like to get there (all hail Dramamine), and with that in mind, when I tell you that climbing off the bus at the base of a hill was not my favorite way to start a trip, that would be a bit of an understatement. However, as the day progressed the age-old magic of Assisi slowly consumed me. As we wandered up the old stone roads, twisting and turning through the narrow streets, dodging the occasional car that was our sole indication that we hadn’t simply time travelled, it was all so peaceful; provided you ignored the labored breathing coming from at least half the student body. They insisted we begin our tour by starting at the top of Assisi and working our way down, I’m fully convinced this was a way to weed out the weak and make us too tired to run away once they finally gave us our lunch “free time”.
Leading up to lunch we saw several very beautiful churches including the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva which is a Catholic chapel that functioned to aid the local populace in making the conversion from polytheism (with the Roman god Minerva) to Christianity. What it lacked it size it made up for in the beautiful art. The frescos and gilding were right out of a romance novel. The chapel was probably only the size of a middle-class American families living room, and yet thanks to the art it felt like stepping into the sky itself.
From here we continued on to the Basilica of Saint Francis. This very large and multi-level basilica is a complete 180 from the small Church of Minerva. It functions as the mother church for the Order of Friars Minor Conventual which is a subgroup of Roman Catholic Christianity. The upper nave is worn but still very beautiful. You can see the shadows and whispers of what was once an exquisite example of art in a church setting. However, the upper level does not hold a candle to the explosion of color that resides below. Around every corner stood more murals, painted stories just waiting to be seen. The ceiling was by far my favorite part, the deep lapis blue dotted with gilded stars always leaves be a bit awestruck.
Departing the church, we were released for free time. Magically, as if coordinated, sack lunches appeared left and right and were quickly devoured. From here the students parted ways in pursuit of sweets, adventure, and the all-important Harry Potter merch. After getting in enough altitude change for a week’s worth of fitness goals it was time to return to the bus and head on to our next destination.
Leaving the peace of Assisi, we were once again thrust into the modern day. Upon arrival in Perugia, we headed straight to the Perugina chocolate factory (Perugina in Perugia, say that 5 times fast). We headed in to tour the factory and most importantly obtain the snackies, after all, as we all know, the best way to keep a college students’ attention is with the promise of food. They started off by showing us a short documentary style film piece on the history of Perugina. I think this allowed all of us to have a better appreciation for the work that goes into Italy’s favorite chocolate. From here we headed into the museum. They had many photos and chocolate tins from throughout the company’s history. One of the standout pieces was definitely the Guinness Book of World Records largest individual chocolate. At 2.15m tall and 7.26m wide, there were definitely some students who were drooling just a little bit.
After a lap around the factory via an above the suspended walkway, it was on to the gift store. Surely an outsider must have assumed this wiley herd of students had never seen chocolate before. Bulk bags were filled all around and memorabilia was purchased. As the mouths filled with spoils of war the ambient volume of the room slowly decreased. With full stomachs and the sugar high not yet hitting, it was time to get back on the bus and return to Florence.
by: Lydia Krueger, Walla Walla University