Foggy Assisi in Umbria

We woke up to rain. Snuggled up to a roaring fire, it felt romantic, a forced relaxation day. By the afternoon we had thundershowers, furious wind and I was overwhelmed with worry that we’d have rain for the last two days of our trip. So when we woke up the next morning to heavy fog instead of thunderstorms, we were delighted. We live near San Francisco and we’re used to fog – we’ll take a little fog over thunderstorms any day!

In classic cabin fever must-get-out exuberance, we decided to visit Assisi in Umbria, a two hour drive from our apartment. We assumed the crest of Assisi would reach beyond the fog. We were wrong.

Like yesterday’s rain the fog felt romantic, at first. Assisi’s curved streets and white stone buildings beautifully blurred into the white horizon. We were transported back hundreds of years into a period film. We were little kids eager to run down the roads just to peek around each corner.

Foggy Assisi in Umbria

Our excitement ended with a dire need of a restroom. Major road construction turned the main street into a two foot wide, slippery metal plank. With jackhammers ripping out stones right next to us, we followed a nervous older woman who carefully (and painfully, for us) navigated her decent.

After reaching the town center, we followed the signs for Basilica St. Francis assuming we’d find a café with a restroom. Pilgrims have flocked to the basilica for centuries; there must be a bathroom or two to accommodate their human needs. As always, if  there  are many paths to one destination , we  pick the wrong one.  Our chosen path led us away from the basilica and into a residential area – no bathrooms.

Ada is whining; Aaron and I are bickering. But thankfully, before we exploded, we turned a corner and found our own miracle : flashing through the fog a bright neon sign and blaring rock music — it’s a cafe! Whew. After we did our duties, we ordered pizza and treated Ada to her first hot chocolate.

Ada and her first hot chocolate mustache

We trekked on to the religious landmark assuming its massive size would make it easy to find. We did find a basilica, but surely it wasn’t the basilica. I took the first tour  gasped at the stunning blue and turquoise ceiling, but seeing its small size, I left and told Aaron it was too small to be St. Francis’s basilica, but worth a look.

Aaron took a long time and I couldn’t fathom what he was doing in there. When he returned he told me it was the Basilica of St. Francis. That I only saw the upper church; he found a staircase and followed it down into the lower church and the tomb of St. Francis. (To see what this basilica is supposed to look like, click here)

Later we stumbled onto St. Claire’s church. The interior was closed but the exteriors pink and white stripes and checks, bordered with an ice blue pool, was refreshingly feminine.

We attempted to find the Rocca Maggiore, the “big castle” just outside of town. But an hour of following signs supposedly leading us to it, we  landed in an empty parking lot with no castle in sight. What we later called “fog fatigue” set in. The streets were steep and even though we took turns carrying Ada her weight plus the weight of thick, moist air deflated our urge to explore. In defeat, we headed home. The fog had won.

As soon as we began our decent out of Assisi, the fog began to lift. We saw St. Francis’s entire Basilica, for the first time, from the back window of our car.

In hindsight, we should have shed our American need to “keep moving” and absorbed more of the Italian “just sit, wait awhile, it’s no big deal” attitude. If we had been patient, sat at a café nursing a cappuccino, and waited for the fog to lift, we would have enjoyed a beautiful, sunny day and Assisi in all it’s glory.