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Unbelievable Umbria

Unbelievable Umbria

I’m going to be completely honest with you.

I almost ripped off the title of our campus-sanctioned orientation trip itinerary to use as the title of this blog post. “Ultimate Umbria”, the faculty called it. Well, I think the adjective “unbelievable” does this place more justice. Hopefully, by the end of this post, you’ll agree.

For those of you who have never heard of Umbria (it’s okay, I’m a newbie as well), it is the region that lies just north of Lazio, which is the region that contains Rome. In fact, here’s a relatable yet accurate simile: Rome is like Chicago, Lazio is like Illinois, and Umbria is like Wisconsin.Umbria vineyard 2

And just like Wisconsinites, those Umbrians really know how to farm! At Passignano sul Trasimeno, we kneaded dough from flour and water, thrashed fragole beans, and stomped grapes (now I can finally cross grape-stomping off my bucket list!). We also walked through vineyards, plucking fresh grapes from vines and savoring their fresh (pesticide-free) juiciness.

Now every time I drink some delicious wine, devour some yummy pasta, or pour some smooth olive oil in Rome, I will think about the farmers out in rural Umbria who distilled that wine, formed that pasta, and crushed those olives!Umbria church

At this point, I will borrow a phrase from our brilliant and hilarious tour guide Stefano (please imagine this in a deep voice with a thick Italian accent for the full effect)…

1. Many Catholic saints lived their lives and ministered their miracles in Umbria. One of the most famous saints, Francis of Assisi, and my personal favorite saint, Rita of Cascia, both hail from this region.

2. In Spoleto, at Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta (Cathedral of the Assumption of Saint Mary), the ornate murals on the walls depicting the life of the Blessed Virgin looked incredible…especially after Stefano informed us that the painter used a brush with only one bristle!

Umbria mural 2

3. Stefano pointed out that on the outside of one church in Todi, the sculptor chiseled a small depiction of a gynecological appointment underneath a statuette of Mary because he had his doubts about her virginity! How scandalous! I wonder…did the Bishop of Todi ever seek vengeance…or did the sculptor take his secret to the grave? You decide.

4. We saw a bridge in Spoleto made of hollow aqueducts. Legend has it that the infamous Lucrezia Borgia buried her husband’s mistress there…alive!

Umbria bridge

5. Contrary to popular belief, the famed Cascate delle Marmore (Marble Waterfalls) aren’t naturally occurring. They were man-made by the ancient Romans! It baffles me that such early civilizations successfully constructed such mind-boggling feats of engineering.

Umbria waterfall 2

6. The Marble Waterfalls aren’t actually made of marble. The Romans made a mistake. Oops!

Now do you understand why “unbelievable” is the far better adjective?

It’s unbelievable that a place like Umbria–with its charming provincial aesthetic devoid of the Americanization that plagues many European cities—still exists! Instead of spotting the ubiquitous McDonald’s (yes, the golden arches stretch all the way to Rome), we spotted the occasional CASTLE.  Instead of drinking boxed wine, we crushed the grapes ourselves.

Umbria was unbelievable…yet more authentic than any place I’ve ever been.

Umbria landscape 2


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