So many people have asked us what our favorite place was. The kids are all quick to answer with their favorite: Croatia. Lisa and I hesitate to name one place because we had so many incredible experiences, but if I had to choose the most perfect 18 hours, that would go to our stay in Assisi.
We arrived on a Friday mid afternoon and left on a Saturday mid morning. Friday morning we rented a car to leave Rome. After 20 minutes of driving, I had to subdue a growing urge to run over a scooter rider – they swoop and swarm by the dozens, unconcerned with traffic laws, personal space or any form of courtesy. One even had the audacity to beep at us on a sidewalk because he was using a pedestrian side walk to drive and we were in his way. I wanted to push him off and get into a head butting contest, helmet and all. But there are no scooters in Assisi, and no traffic. Assisi is a classic hilltop village in Italy 2 – 3 hours out of Rome, built around 1000 AD and of course made famous by St Francis, one of the most fascinating of church saints.
Before our trip I had occasion to meet with an older franciscan and when he heard that we’d be visiting Assisi, he literally started dancing like a child. He said, “Assisi! It is one of the great thin places! You can’t take a bad picture and you can’t eat a bad meal.” All three of those turned out to be true.
Assisi is simply stunning, both buildings, cobble stoned pathways and country side:
Our boys were ready for some friend time, so they joined some locals for pickup soccer. Only one of the kids spoke english and as far as I could tell, his vocabulary was around 2 words. He used them well. “My friend! My friend!” he would shout, asking for the ball to be passed to him. I love that they’re playing in the shadow of a 12th Century Church. Got a chance to snap a casual shot of my ladies. How in the world does a guy get so blessed as to be surrounded by a family like this in a place like this?
We chose a random Trattoria and sat down to one of the top 3 meals of our whole trip. Incredible pasta and heavenly dessert. Assisi turned me into a Panna Cotta fan. I’m pretty sure it is calorie free 🙂
We stayed at Hotel Ideale which we highly recommend. They had a beautiful front porch dining area overlooking the region and a home made breakfast of tarts and fruit pies, with cold meats and cheeses and of course, cappuccino to die for. I even scored a free refill from our friendly hotelier.
Breakfast was also enhanced by our kids who shared what they’d been learning about St Francis – a hero of mine since my seminary days and a wonderful renegade follower of Jesus. Our kids really got into the challenge of researching him and enjoyed sharing about his exploits including the famous incident of nudity in front of the magistrate!
Finally a tour of St Francis’ Basilica, complete with a local St Francis impersonator who was happy to talk all about him. Note the correct outfit, including bare feet and rope for a belt. Francis wasn’t one for the fancier things.
St Francis is buried in the basilica and we watched as dozens of nuns held their jewelry up to touch the concrete box holding his remains and pray a prayer. Praying to whom? Francis, I suppose. I’ll stick with praying to Jesus and came away with the same thoughts in tension about Basilicas as before. The Basilica is gorgeous and Francis himself would not recognize his simple message of revolutionary love anywhere in it. Still, I was thrilled to spend some time in Assisi and will look back on it as an almost dream like experience.