Tuesday October 13th, 2015
Tuesday was our last full day and we were not expecting great weather for our walking, but on the whole, it worked out perfectly. Patches of sun-light warmed us up; cool breezes, when the clouds dominated, cooled us down. We did more uphill walking on this hike than other days, but it was gentle inclines over long distances, much easier even than walking within some of the hill towns.
It would be repetitious to repeat yet again, the course of our walking and the wonderful conversations we had along the way, either with ourselves or with the others in the group. But, let’s stop here for a moment though and consider my great epiphany on this trip: Exercise can be relaxing! A vacation that includes miles and miles of walking every day is really restful to the soul. It is refreshing and invigorating. Certainly a sore muscle will squeak with outrage upon occasion, but on the whole, the gentle aches were badges of accomplishment. Easy conversation, contemplation of the wider world, introduction to new foods and people – life slowing down to the pace of walking – it made for an excellent trip.
From our starting point that morning, we had a huge panoramic view of the entire area stretching from Perugia to Assisi to Todi, and even a hint of Gubbio hiding way back on the horizon. The walking was mostly through rural areas, a cluster of houses might peak from the surrounding olive groves. The last part of the walk, we were shuttled into the town of Montecastello de Vibio. Propitiously so! I managed to hop in and get a ride just as it started raining.
The group reconnoitered in a local bar, the rain stopped and we ventured forth to see “the smallest theater in Italy.”
Named “Teatro della Concordia” this tiny theater is a jewel. It seats 99 people, and has two levels of galleries. Painted decorations are whimsical and happy, yet still convey the feeling of (albeit faded) elegance of real wallpapers and draperies. Would you believe that Gina Lollobrigida got her start, age 16, on this very stage?
After this visit, we drove to Todi for lunch at a place called Pane e Vino. Oops! The restaurant wasn’t expecting us…though how with instructions like “13 on the 13th,” could you get confused? Wasn’t a big problem fortunately. We have never lacked for sufficient food, and again, maybe the restaurant having only 2 of their famous pork shanks was not entirely all bad! The food was far from bad, unless you think of it as “bad” like the radio in a Grand Am we bought almost three decades ago. We found everything delicious; that there were lots of vegetables made my heart sing…
After lunch, some of us took a last walk, down through the trees that surround Todi, about a hour’s worth on a gravel road and path. One final arch and a photo, and we hang up our walking shoes.
Dinner was the result of a three hour cooking class that six of our group took with the chef. They made home-made pasta, cutting it on a “chitarra” and stewed wild boar. Naturally, there was wine. There were toasts and thanks yous – and even a birthday cake for Gerry who will be 60 on Friday.
Wednesday, October 14th, 2015
We had our final breakfast and said goodbye to our guides. The van trip to Orvieto took about a half an hour, and left us at the Hotel Piccolomini, where we could leave our luggage. (Our friends, Jon and Galina are spending the night there, which helped, but also our walking tour guides called ahead and arranged with the hotel to store our luggage for the day.)
From there we set out to explore Orvieto and, of course, go to see the Duomo. As another grey and rain-promising day unfolds, I am strengthening in my view that October may be just too late in the year to travel. Constantly overcast skies do not make interesting pictures, especially in a place where the rural landscapes are those that hold the most charm. City pictures are only slightly better, assuming you can frame a good shot with no sky in it…but what about those old bell towers? Can’t leave those out!
The town of Orvieto was comfortably busy in the late morning. Neither over-run with tourists, nor lacking them completely, those we did meet and see were pretty understated. Orvieto is not on the fast track for tourists but for those who go, there is the treasure of the Duomo façade and wonderful shopping. We did both.
Though the central part of the Duomo façade was covered by scaffolding, the beautiful gold mosaics of both lateral portions were fully visible. Memorable as those mosaics are I was pleasantly surprised by the black and white stripes of the stone of the building, and wonderfully carved reliefs at the base of the walls of the façade, neither of which were housed in my memories. Inside we were greeted by a large simple and empty nave, lit by windows of onyx-like stone, topped with stained glass. The frescoes from the side chapels and niches are nearly gone, but the chapels in transept and the apse are restored and beautiful. We spotted work from the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, etc. centuries. It is almost an art museum in itself.
Sure to please the engineers and techies among the visitors (PS it costs 3 euros to get in) would be the source of the little blue dot we watched cross the arch in front of the apse. Certainly a guide’s laser pointer, I thought at first, except that it seemed to follow the same route again and again. It was a scanner! The light was moving over every inch of the arch to record the condition of the structure, and note cracks, fissures, weak areas. There were a couple of towers of computer equipment on the floor, catching all the data…maybe they will be able to make tiny repairs that won’t cause years of scaffolding.
When we came out of the Duomo it was actually raining, but again (!) I have my trusty, and colorful, blue poncho to protect me. Once donned, I was ready to look through the shops.
Years ago, 15 to be more precise, I bought a set of dishes in Orvieto and had them shipped to me. I was hoping to be moved to the same impulse purchase this time, but, though I saw many things that I liked, no “have to haves.” I did splurge on a beautiful tablecloth and napkins, a set of twelve that I plan to use for Thanksgiving. I also got one ceramic tile – Attenti ai Gati – with a black one and a grey one. Seemed apt!
We found an out of the way place for lunch (Al Saltapicchio) – the only tourists in sight – food was delicious and unpretentious, the main plates nicely served with contorni (side dishes we did not have to order separately.) We ordered the fixed price meal, which I always find to be a good value, no matter what country I am in. Usually they are targeted to locals, so offer a better value and better nutritional balance than ordering a la carte.
After lunch, the city was wrapped in siesta time, not a soul was out in the streets. Can you imagine how nice it was to walk through those quiet, deserted streets, no competition for studying the shop windows, and dreaming of all those beautiful Italian wares in my own home. Priceless.
But, that lovely time waster had to come to an end. We said goodbye to the last friends from the hiking trip – took a cab to Hertz near the train station, picked up a rental car and started driving northward.
This next leg of the trip we were meeting more friends in Tuscany for a few days. The drive took about an hour and a half, between missed turns and a Google Map route that left us next to a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. A second Google search got us to the correct place without another hitch. Our destination was an Agriturismo property near Pienza, called Cerreto. What a welcome we received! Friends with wine glasses (filled). We spent the first part of the evening sipping local wines with international fame under a wooden pergola, the Tuscan countryside resplendent in fall all around us.
For dinner we all piled into our Fiat 500 (extended version obviously!) having found two jump seats under the floor of the trunk space. It was sardine-y for the hapless way-back-seated, but the drive was short. Our destination restaurant was closed (Hmmm? Is that why we couldn’t make a reservation by phone?) The second place turned us away. But in the way of all good things, the third was the charm – and charming, La Buca delle Fate. Our waiter was patient with our Italian, tolerant of our boisterousness, and helpful with wine suggestions and food choices. A wonderful evening, topped off by one final glass of wine before bed.