Perugia is a pleasant city on a hill in Umbria. Originally an Etruscan settlement, Perugia today has a population of around 150,000, is too famous for its pleasant chocolates, and is well worth visiting for a day or two if you can. I've just spent three months there, and here is what I can recall.

The old centre of city is based around the Corso Vanucci, named after the painter more commonly known as Perugino, who was tutored by Piero della Francesca and who in turn was Raphael's master. At one end stands the duomo, at the other, past the palm tree lined Piazza Italia a spectacular view across the plains. On a clear day you can see right past Assisi and up into the snow-capped mountains beyond. On a very clear day you can see the sea. Sigh. Italy.

The Corso Vanucci is lined with old Palazzi, previously inhabited by rich guildsmen or nobles, now mostly shops or cafes. Most imposing is the enormous Palazzo Priori, with a facade sculpted by Pisano. Towering over the street with 15th century chic, its crenellated belltower chimes the quarters of the hour, and can be heard even when, as I sometimes was, you are sunbathing in an olive grove some distance away. Housed inside the Palazzo Priori are concert halls, offices, and Umbria's central art gallery, which has a collection of minor artworks, sculptures by Pisano, Peruginos, art I was not knowledgable enough to appreciate, and a very famous and equally beautiful Annunciation by Piero della Francesca, which has its own room. Also in this Palazzo is the Sala dei Notari: a vulgarly over-ornate room in which free concerts are sometimes held.

In between the Palazzo Priori, which marks the end if Corso Vanucci, and the pink and white facade of the cathedral lies what is probably Perugia's most famous sight: the fountain. With approximately thirty sculpted scenes around its base by Pisano and his son depicting the spiritual and seasonal cycles of the year, this fountain freezes solid in mid-flow in January and runs right through the night in March. Even at 4 am. I don't know why.

The Cathedral itself is disappointing unless you're a fan of poorly proportioned dark Italianate architecture and frescoes depicting your imminent eternal agony should you not repent. Sigh. Up past the cathedral is the view off the other side of the hill, looking north instead of south. It's just as spectacular a view, and just as fucking cold at night.

Also in Perugia is to be found the University for Foreigners, offering courses from 1 to 6 months in Italian language and culture. It's cheaper if you pay in advance. Highly recommended for people looking to fill up their gap years. If you do go to Perugia, also check out the Chiesa Rotunda for sunbathing and the Basilica di San Pietro for Caravaggio, allegedly.

Accommodation is easy to come by except in high season and during the annual Umbria Jazz festival, which is very popular. If you're looking to eat, the Osteria del Ghiottone and the Mediterranea offer good cheap food. The Shamrock pub serves Kilkenny Cream, whereas Il Birraio brews its own beer. Your choice. Buses run frequently between the station and the city centre. Take one: the walk is an utter bastard. Perugia is fucking cold and windy in winter due to its hill-type situation. About now, however, the weather is just good enough for sunbathing.

Go there for a while. Learn some italian. Lie in the olive groves. It's great.

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