Gubbio: Another Medieval City

(This post is from the evening of October 23rd)

Opening the window of my hotel room in Pietralunga the next morning, I could smell wood fires in the air from the houses trying to combat the cold.  I got my things together and went down to the bar next door to the hotel to pay my bill and eat breakfast.  Inside the bar was a group of men reading newspapers around a small table.  The woman who was fixing coffee saw me come in and asked if I had stayed there the night before.  I told her I had, and she pointed to a room behind the circle of men where I could go and have breakfast.  I went in and found a number of different pastries, and soon the woman from the bar brought me another cup of Italy’s black coffee.  I finished breakfast, paid for my room, and headed out into the cold morning.  People were just getting to church as I left town.  I continued on small roads until reaching the countryside.

The walk was largely uninteresting.  Not much climbing or anything too hard, but lots and lots of small roads that led through semi-rural communities.  There were lots of dogs on this walk, as before, but Chihuahuas seemed particularly popular in this area.  It amazes me how nasty some of these yappy little suckers are.  You’d think that a tiny dog would know better and keep its mouth shut when facing a much bigger person, but they loved to yap and bark at me viciously whenever I walked by.  By about midday, I was walking through a small town and a little girl playing in the yard of her house called out to me.

“What’s your name?”  “I’m Peter,” I replied.  “What?”  Remembering that Italians can’t pronounce my name, I changed my answer.  “Pietro, my name is Pietro.  What’s your name?”  “My name is Laura Castellini.  Do you have any friends,” she asked.  “Yes, but they are a long way away,” I said.  “Over there?” she inquired, pointing down the road.  “No, in America.  I’m from the United States.”  “Oh.  Do you speak English?”  “Yes.”  “Why?”  “Everyone speaks English in America.”  At this point the dogs—more Chihuahuas—in her yard were at the fence baring their teeth and growling at me.  I could tell they were very upset and didn’t want to cause a problem with them getting too angry so I told the girl that I had to get going and continued on my way.

Eventually, I arrived at the central intersection of a town bordering Gubbio.  I sat down in front of the church to eat my lunch opposite the town’s panificio, or bakery.  Lots of people were doing their shopping this Sunday afternoon, and would park all over the street to enter the panificio to get their bread.  I saw people who looked like they were coming from church, and others who clearly had recently returned from hunting trips, dogs in tow in cages on the trailer behind their muddied cars.  After eating, I continued on my way, and before too long I had arrived at the edge of Gubbio.  Built on the side of a small mountain, the town was easily visible to me as I approached.  It looked medieval, and had a large building in its center resembling the Palazzo Pubblico of Siena.  As I got to the foot of the mountain, I came upon a large, grassy park with the remains of a Roman theater in the middle.  I took some time to examine the structure, passing the group of old men hanging out by the surrounding fence.  It was getting quite cold, but there seemed to be plenty of interest in visiting Gubbio.  The parking lot in front of the theater was full of cars, and every new arrival brought a camera out and headed to the center of town.  The refuge I was heading towards was still on the outskirts, so I held off on visiting the town center.

After a bit of confusion about finding the refuge and running into a huge group of French tourists at the hotel next door, I was let into a slender, three-story building that was supposed to be the office of the Gubbio church parish.  A short, young man greeted me and introduced himself as Don Marco.  Although Sunday, he was not dressed like a priest, wearing jeans and sporting a fanny pack and sneakers.  When he found out that I was from the U.S. he began his halting attempts to speak English.  He’d start a sentence and I’d finish in Italian for him, but he didn’t seem to catch the hint that I knew his language until 5 minutes after we’d begun talking.  After he finally gave up on English, I found out that, even in Italian, he was incredibly careful about how to phrase what he wanted to say, and I continued to finish his sentences for him in Italian.  From what I gathered, the second floor of this building served as his home, while the third floor held a room for pilgrims and another with a table and chalkboard set up for Sunday School.  Don Marco gave me a map of Gubbio and told me some things I should go take a look at, before informing me that the shower was outside, in the back of this building.  This worried me, because it was already very cold, but I decided to go and visit Gubbio before figuring out about the shower.  Several of my hosts along the pilgrimage had told me that Gubbio was a very nice place to see, and I knew that I only had an hour or two before nightfall.  I didn’t want to miss the chance to see the historic city.

I walked back towards the city the way I had come in, and ran into more tourists entering from parking lots at the bottom of the hill.  It was quite brisk out, and all the tourists seemed to be other Italians, wearing scarves, hats, and winter coats.  It was chilly, but certainly not as cold as their clothing would have had you believe.  Walking into the city, I saw many young Gubbians(?) walking around in small groups laughing and chatting with each other.  My strategy for visiting the city was pretty undeveloped, and basically involved visiting open churches and walking in whichever direction seemed interesting.  I visited two nice churches before coming upon a long, wide street cutting through the center of town.  This seemed to be the central meeting place, filled with people—both native and tourist—walking along the street.  Looking into one bar/pizzeria, I saw it filled with tons of kids eating slices and drinking beers.  While Sunday afternoons in the States often involve finishing up (or starting) homework due on Monday, apparently Italian kids—or at least those in Gubbio—schedule themselves a bit differently.

Wandering along the street, I could see signs indicating the different quarters of the city which compete with each other in festivals throughout the year, much as Siena’s contrade do in the Palio.  One such event in Gubbio is the annual Crossbow Festival.  At the end of the long boulevard, I turned left and entered a large church dedicated to St. Augustine.  The interior was beautifully decorated, with intricately frescoed side chapels and apse.  After my visit to the church, I went inside the building next door that used to be the convent of Augustinian monks who ran the place of worship.  I followed signs labeled “PRESEPE”—a word I was unfamiliar with.  I wound up in a room off of the convent’s central courtyard that was darkened and filled with a large nativity scene.  It was a wonderfully intricate piece of work, very much like a fancy model train set-up, but with a Bible theme.  Each part was lighted in a very specific way, and there was Christmas music playing in the background.  (Italians also falsely attribute Messiah’s “Alleluia Chorus” to the Christmas season, apparently).  The presepi of Gubbio must be pretty famous because after I left, I ran into a group of tourists who asked me where to find them.  I was pretty amused that they actually took me for a local, and happy that I was able to give them an answer so as not to dispel them of that myth.  I walked around the medieval streets of Gubbio in the light of the setting sun a few minutes longer, then decided that it was getting cold and I had better head back to the refuge.

Just after exiting the historical center of the city, I saw a large food stand in front of the Roman Theater that I had not noticed before.  I looked to see what they were making, and it was HAMBURGERS!!  Excited to see something more familiar to me than the food I’d been eating for so long, I ordered a “Hamburger all’Americana” and a Coke.  “Do you want to eat now?” asked the lady behind the cash register.  “Yes,” I replied, confused—“No, I’m ordering food now but don’t want to eat until 30 minutes from now?”  Immediately I was handed a pretty sizable burger with tomatoes and lettuce—that’s the “Americana” part, apparently.  Biting into it, as I walked off in the direction of the refuge, I was a little disappointed.  It wasn’t bad, but it certainly didn’t taste right.  Maybe it was the mayonnaise—much richer than our more watery kind—or the kind of lettuce—this was better suited for a salad than a sandwich.  Maybe it was even the Coke that accompanied the burger.  Although I know that European Coke is, perhaps, more “real” than our American version because it uses actual sugar instead of corn syrup, I still think it tastes less genuine than the kind you can get at home.  Maybe it wasn’t any of these things, but the setting itself.  Somehow, the medieval city I had just walked through didn’t exactly mesh with the idea of a truly “American” meal.  After all, the hamburger was invented thousands of years after the Bronze-Age origins of this Italian city.  Either way, I was mopping up my face from the spilled ketchup when I neared the refuge and saw a sign for the “Mausoleum of the 40 Martyrs.”

I turned off to see this monument.  Initially, I thought that it referred to Christians killed in the theater during Roman times, but apparently the 40 souls now honored by a white marble church were killed near the end of World War II by the “occupying German forces.”  A sign on the locked iron gate in front of the building listed the times Mass would be held at the church and listed Don Marco as one of the presiding priests.

After seeing the “Mausoleum,” I returned to the refuge and investigated the outdoor shower situation to see if I would be able to bathe.  I found the appropriate door, and went inside what appeared to be a locker room for the small soccer field behind the building that housed the refuge.  Aside from being filthy, the room was also freezing cold, and I realized that taking a shower would be very unpleasant.  It had been an easy day of walking in the cool weather, so I figured that I could survive one night without a shower and went back upstairs to the pilgrim room to get ready for bed.  My pilgrimage was nearly at an end, and while tomorrow’s journey didn’t look too difficult in terms of climbing or making steep descents, it was the longest stage of the whole trip—34km.  I would need to get up early to make it to Valfabbrica at a reasonable hour.


~ by pminnig on November 21, 2011.

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