Italy Stories and Tips

Hill Towns of Umbria

Gubbio, Italy Photo, Gubbio, Italy

The next day we boarded our bus with our driver Franco and guide Muris. Off we went, first stop Padua to have a look in St. Anthony’s Basilica (in the rain). Very nice. You can’t take pictures inside most of the churches (duomos) in Italy though. We later had time to peruse the souvenir and bookstores in the small square (piazza) and I went into a little bar to use the toilet. Surprise! A porcelain bowl set into the floor with two treaded tiles, one on either side for your feet! Actually it wasn’t as much of a surprise as normally would have been as our Italian language instructor had warned us before we left! Ok, how low can you squat’’’’ I managed not to pee all over myself and get back up without losing my balance. There’s a trick to that I think.

Back on the bus, on to Urbino, our first hill town. These towns were built on top of high hills and mountains for defence since in medieval times, most were independent from each other. Italy has only been a unified country for about 100 years (or a little more I think). All these great cities, Florence, Venice, Orvieto, were city-states that usually tried to conquer all the little independent towns. The Popes in the medieval and Renaissance times were just as bad, trying to rule over as much of Italy as possible.

Urbino is where the artist Rafael was born but the house/museum of his birth was closed that day. The buildings in the walled city of Urbino were made of a stone that seemed to have almost a golden-pinkish tone. Would probably be very pretty under a sunny blue sky or at sunset. We saw Urbino under a cloudy sky, having driven away from the rain in Padua. We had a cup of tea in a cafe overlooking a busy square after inspecting the duomo and a few side streets before we had to go back down the hill to the parking lot.

Ah, yes, the hill. Although there are vehicles allowed in most of these towns, larger vehicles like busses are not, mainly because the streets are too narrow and twisty to navigate so the bus has to park outside the town and we had to walk into the historic center which usually included climbing one or two pretty steep streets. We were not warned about this! It wasn’t too much of a problem for us but we had one tour member who walked with a cane and she found it difficult and very tiring at times. There was one man, about 70 years old, however that usually beat the rest of us up each and every hill, including the steepest one which was in Siena!!! Good for him!

We drove back into the rain on the way to the hill town of Gubbio whose buildings were of a gray stone, made darker by the rain. We lunched in a little place near the main square and Denise and I decided to find the duomo but the hill was quite steep. We made it to a piazza near the top but didn’t quite make it all the way. Going down on the wet cobblestones was a bit slippery. Nothing much to really exclaim over in Gubbio. We saw a few nice antique and ceramic shops whose wares were displayed outside to brighten up the dreary day.

Last stop was San Marino. No rain but still overcast. San Marino was on the top of Monte Titano and is an independent principality/state. The bus climbed and climbed though some towns that looked like nothing special, lots of commercial signs and stores and other buildings and we thought this wasn’t going to be an enjoyable stop. We were wrong.

The historic center of San Marino proper is a walled medieval city with three towers on one side overlooking the valley which we couldn’t see because of the fog and cloud, unfortunately. It only started clearing up as the sun went down. We were staying here for the night in the Titano hotel which was quite nice. The room was very pretty with green cast iron bedsteads and a long narrow bathroom with the shower head installed right in the ceiling. We didn’t have much of a view from our room but one other couple had a balcony that overlooked the valley and they sat and watched the sun set! We explored up the city by the towers and in some of the many many shops. San Marino looked very medieval in the fog except for the bright electric lights glowing out of the shop windows!

San Marino specializes in postage stamps. Most of the shops sold their postcards already stamped with enough postage for North America though from being on racks displayed outside, the cards were mostly curved and I think that was why I didn’t get any of those. One surprise was that the leather was dirt cheap there! I bought a beautiful big bag with two compartments and a thick leather strap that can also convert the bag to a sort of back pack that you carry over one shoulder and it only cost me $50 Canadian! Every where else I went and saw similar they were at least $150 or more and I know I would pay $200 plus for it here at a good shop so I was really pleased with my ‘deal’! I also bought a shaving-kid sized case for my father for $13. Dinner at the hotel restaurant was actually pretty good though it wasn’t included in the tour price. Denise and I couldn’t find a little restaurant open by the time we decided we were hungry so she picked up a few snacks at a store to have in our room. I decided to eat in the hotel anyway where there was a tourist fixed price menu and I sat at a long table with some of the other tour members. Denise indulged herself in a long bubble bath instead!

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