On our train trip from Florence, we had been surprised to find ourselves following the line of a lake, and one of the stations en route was Passiagiano al Trasimeno. So today, with map in hand, we struck off in the direction of Lake Trasimeno.
We had no idea what we would find, which is just the way I like it, another day of discovery, and this did not disappoint. We found a point on the map where a minor road hugged close to the lakeside, and we took ourselves off there. We came to a fork in the road, where a ruined church stood locked and abandoned. We parked to take a good look around it, and that led to us heading down an even smaller road which terminated at a car park.
The lake was spread in front of us, peaceful and unruffled. The storm of the night before was replaced with blue skies and fluffy white clouds. It was tranquil, except for the call of birdsong in the air. It is a huge lake – we learned later that the drive around is seventy-five kilometres. We could see the path of one or two boats, too far away for us to discern if they were passenger ferries or something else. Small towns were dotted all around the lakeside.
A short walk brought us to a road that wound down the hill to the sleepy village of Monte del Lago. The houses, like all of them we have seen in the towns and villages of Umbria, front directly to the street. At the first crossroad, an old woman sat with a younger, chatting in the sunshine. Another woman came along with a white Maltese terrier puppy, and the neighbours greeted each other effusively. We had found a tiny slice of local life, no shops or bars, just people who had lived close by for decades. An old man in a baggy trousers and a rough shirt pointed down an alleyway and swept his arm around in a wide arc – indicating that we should walk through the town in that direction.
We followed his advice, passing quaint stone houses and a dilapidated former restaurant. The houses were dressed in colourful window boxes, a very common sight in Umbria. Steps invited us down towards the lakeside. We walked along a muddy path, still sticky from the previous rain. We were surrounded by greenery and birdsong. This area is a protected habitat, and many signs referred to the care of parks and wildlife, and also to the University of Perugia. We came at last to a jetty, which gave us access to take a closer look at the lake. The lake would be fresh water, but we couldn’t see any fish or fisherman, just a few water birds shrilling at each other. The water was like glass, barely a ripple. We were not in windy Wollongong now, that was for sure.
A grinding, screaming, barking noise attracted my attention. It sounded like a type of ape I had seen at Dubbo Zoo – a gibbon or baboon or something similar, a type of ape that barks a warning through a swollen throat. I followed the source to a run down long shed-like building built over the water. There was a line of barred square windows along the length, and signs referring to the University of Perugia. “My God!” I thought, “I’ve stumbled on an animal testing laboratory!”
No such thing. It was frogs in the water around the building. Going off in a big way! Such a noise!
Further along, we came to an imposing four storied building with attractive shutters and a restful contrasting colour scheme of grey-blue and cream. A palace in such a tiny hamlet – the Palazzo Schnabl. We were later told that composers such as Puccini had spent creative time there as guests of the owners in times gone by. I can imagine that the tranquil peace and isolation of Monte del Lago, combined with the comfort and luxury of the Palazzo Schnabl, would have been an ideal place to compose or create art.
Yet just a few kilometres down the road we found the township of San Sebastián. This town is also right on the lake, but more developed with lakeside bars and parks with play equipment for children. Camping sites and hotel accommodation abound. We sat outside for a light lunch and a beer, and struck up conversation with a retired Belgian who lives there for eight months of the year. Jazz music was playing in the background, and the Belgian told us that we were in the home of the Trasimeno jazz festival. We could imagine sitting by the lake on a long summer’s evening, sipping on a beer and listening to the outdoor jazz. It would be hard to take.
Events of Monday 3rd June 2013 Garrulous Gwendoline, Assisi