A Blonde, a Brunette, and a Red Head take on Italy. Part 3 – Orvieto


On a whim, the three of us agreed that, at least one of our unplanned days, would be spent in Orvieto, taking us out of Tuscany and into Umbria. We knew Orvieto was on a train line and it would be easier to get to than some of the other medieval hill towns we considered (Montepulciano, Cortona, and Montalcino to name a few.) Our train, although dubbed a slow train, got us from Florence to our destination in two and a half hours. The countryside had several fortresses and we could spy small towns perched upon hills in the distance. I loved seeing the small Italian cities demonstrating their thriftiness, and attachment to the old days decorating yards, terraces, decks, etc. with hanging linens and clothes drying in the sun on their respective lines. I thought to myself about how I was going to work on saving resources and respecting Earth more when I got back to America (recycling, clotheslines, yard sales, more walking, etc.)
The Orvieto train station is small and mostly vacant. Across the street is a building with the words “Funicolare” on the front. I walk in and, to my surprise, find that the funicolare is a trolley which rides up a steep hill, through paths cut into the cliffs, diagonally up to this hill town. Very cool! I had seen a you tube video about this while researching my Italy trip, but hadn’t recalled that this was one of the cities where one was located. I felt like a kid in a candy store, clapping my hands giddily. I was delighted, and my friends were laughing at my reaction. The town is in Southwest Umbria in Central Italy built on tuff volcanic rock 1000 feet above valley floor. We were on our way up, to Piazza Cahen, where our hosts were going to pick up and take us to our apartment.  (Funicolare you tube video)
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Right off of the Piazza Cahen
Piazza Cahen is where the Funicolare drops you off in Old Orvieto, next to Medieval city gates. You can walk through the Fortezza Albornoz and see an awesome view of the cliffs the city is built on.  The Pozzo di San Patrizio (Well of St. Patrick) is near here and is a recommended architectural wonder worth the short walk.
Our lodging is close to the city center adjacent the Maurizio Clock Tower. We ate at an over 100-year-old restaurant named Bar Montanucci where I had one of my favorite meals in all of Italy. It was a freshly made pasta with 4 cheeses off their special menu while the girls ordered some more authentic Etruscan eats (see photo).  It was divine, and I still dream of it.  We purchased a delicious Chianti from here to take back to the apartment, where we went back and enjoyed the tranquility of our evening listening to the thunder outside.
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Bar Montanucci deliciousness. Orvieto, Italy
In the morning, for €6, we took a one hour long underground tour and were surprised to learn that the city is built over 1200 tunnels, 3 of which we explored. Many houses have their own tunnels. Some dating before Christ.  The Etruscans originally began digging them out and the continued inhabitants continued over a 2500-year span, using them for businesses such as oil making, pigeon farming, ceramics, etc. It was very fascinating, and I enjoyed it immensely. The tour guide made a good point stating that any visitor to Orvieto ought to take the underground tour before anything else because of the wonderful history lesson you are provided about the whole town.  From there, your piqued interests may take you to the Pozzo di San Patrizio (famous well), or the cloth from the Miracle of Bolsena that started the feast of Corpus Christi and encouraged the building of the grand Cathedral.
Orvieto (50)
Orvieto Underground Tour

Afterwards, we strolled into the Duomo (1290 AD), with its gold and mosaic façade, and marveled at the frescoes inside. That evening we had our first taste of Brunello (the best of the best Chianti) at the Enoteca al Duomo which had a quaint little patio adjacent to the Duomo itself.
Our time in Orvieto was a true opportunity to really observe the culture, buildings, and the people, without being rushed. We spent a lot of time just relaxing, closing our eyes, and listening to the town around us. It felt like the first time we just stopped and soaked it all in. We were in ITALY!!
Journal Entry Day 2 Orvieto, Italy:  “Currently, I sit on our rented apartment’s terrazza (terrace) in the sunlight with a breeze going by. Neighborhood cats approach me, meowing their requests to come inside or for me to bring them some snacks. I hear the doves and pigeons cooing. The Duomo looms above me, with only one small building between it and our terrace. The apartment is called Apartment Casadarte (Casadarte on booking.com ) and, I’m guessing, is about 400 years old. The ceiling is wood beams and you can see the brick floor for the apartment above through the spaces between the beams. I love that every building I have laid my head to rest in here is older than anything I’ve been in before. The history of each of these buildings must be positively fascinating.
This city honors the Italian tradition of taking siestas, where the shops close for a few hours and re-open later (usually around noon to 4pm). The other, bigger cities we have gone to, we stuck to the areas that were heavy with tourists and found that the stores there seemed to not observe this tradition. So, when we saw this in Orvieto, we knew we had really found an authentic hill town. We also had observed that the tourists who came to town seemed to spend maybe 1 or 2 hours total here and then they were bussed out of town. I had the pleasure of walking around at night hearing nothing but Italian being spoke. It was a surreal, calming moment and I took it all in, taking pictures with my mind and hoping I would never forget the memory. “


Orvieto (54)
Eating Gelato

Eating Gelato
Caroline Nelson © 2017 unpublished work. All Rights Reserved.

A Blonde, a Brunette, and a Red Head take on Italy : Part 2 / Florence, Italy

Caroline Nelson © 2017 unpublished work. All Rights Reserved.

Florence is the capital city in the dreamy area called Tuscany (Tuscania) and is the birthplace of the Renaissance. Most of you can recall the movie and book, “Under a Tuscan Sun” by Frances Mayes. Us three women were really looking forward to this part of the journey and were imagining similar adventures for ourselves here. We planned on sampling Tuscan wines while in this area, infamous for being the home of, arguably, the best wine in the world from the Sangiovese grape, Chianti!

We arrive at the Firenze Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence after a memorable 2 nights in Venice, and all Sydel and Michele are craving is some McDonald’s Cheese burgers and fries. The main allure for Michele and myself was that we could actually purchase beer at McDonald’s, which you cannot in the U.S.  I find this incredibly humorous due to the fact that I had planned on eating authentic Italian cuisine on this trip for both myself, and for the ladies who I feared I might disappoint if I appeared to be too picky about food. I was far too concerned about other’s opinions.  I had promised myself I would say YES to foods that were put before me and I was going to be brave about trying new foods, and here we were looking for a McDonalds!  This was a turning point for me. I realized that I would stop worrying so much about what people thought about me but, for my own personal growth, I would make it a point to try different foods here.  On my trip of all trips, my very fussy palate tried foods such as artichokes, eggplant, mushrooms, fish, spritz, toast (proscuito and cheese), Lemoncello, Tagliera, Cantuccini with Vin Santo (biscotti with sweet wine), Sicilian Arancini, and so much more. Incidentally, we did go to the Firenze McDonald’s a total of 3 times, at least one of those times I was a reluctant participant.


Florence (5)

Wednesday : Arrived around 4pm to discover my husband and daughter had a floral bouquet, Baci Chocolates, and some Orvieto white wine delivered to our Airbnb as a surprise and to let me know they were thinking of me and missing me.  It was reminiscent of the movie, “P.S. I Love You”.  So Romantic!!  We sampled wines at Da Fiaschino (an Enoteca), found the Conad grocery store at stocked up on snacks, and ate Lasagna and Pizza at a nearby restaurant.

Thursday : We walked to the Duomo (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore) which was absolutely breath taking. We stopped for our first gelato and then visited the Ponte Vecchio, which had amazing views of the river Arno. Next, was lunch at the Piazza della Signoria where we saw the many beautiful sculptures.  We went back to Da Fiaschino ( Link to tripadvisor for Da Faschino) and tried Vino Nobile for the first time. It was heavenly.


Friday: We got up super early in the morning and quickly walked to the Train Station to meet up with Walkabout Florence Tours and join our group for the Tuscany in One Day Sightseeing tour (Link to trip advisor site where we purchased our tour) . We were embarking on a 12 hour long adventure to see some of the major sites in Tuscany : Siena, a winery for lunch with wine tasting, one hour of personal time to tour San Gigamano on our own, and Pisa. It didn’t take long for Michele to befriend Jenn, a woman who had been traveling solo through Europe celebrating her divorce, and we quickly adopted her. At the wine tasting, I made it a point to speak to our neighbors at the long picnic table to get to know others.  We sat near a couple from Chicago, another couple from London, and a family from Australia among others. Sydel made new friends there as well, a married couple from Florida who were an absolute crack up.

In San Gigamano, Jenn went with us walking around the ancient city and it started to storm. We found a table at a café and I had my first Spritz, they drank wine.  We saw the married couple looking for shelter and invited them to squeeze in on our table since all tables were scooped up quickly by tourists trying to avoid the rain. We all ended up clicking and became the “fun” group on the tour bus going forward.  They were an absolute blast!

When we got to Pisa we all took the obligatory photos of each other holding up the leaning tower. These were unique photos we were going for here, not the generic holding up Pisa pics. We were going for flavor! Plus we were definitely in a wine induced fun loving spirits. Unfortunately, they are not on my camera. 😦

12.5 hours later, our tour was over. We had some planning to do as we had yet to decide where our next destination was going to be. We purposely did not book the next 3 nights because we wanted to be open to what ever adventure presented itself to us. We went back to our apartment, exhausted, and contemplated where our journey would take us from here, over a little bit more Chianti, of course!

Caroline Nelson © 2017 unpublished work. All Rights Reserved.