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.
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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. “


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Eating Gelato

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Caroline Nelson © 2017 unpublished work.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

A Blonde, a Brunette, and a Red Head Take on Italy : Part 1 \ VENICE, ITALY

Our 10:30 am plane from Los Angeles to Montreal is 2 rows of 3 seats. A tight squeeze up and down the aisles for sure. It would be great to be a little skinnier but too late for that… can’t dwell on the things I cannot change now. While we were preparing for takeoff, Sydel asks me, “What are you going to watch Care?” In all seriousness I replied,” The ground sinking below me.” She started cracking up and I realized she was asking what I was going to watch on the plane’s in-flight entertainment system.  My response was the truth though! I did watch the ground go away from me, losing all remaining control of my situation. There was no turning back now, I was on my way to ITALY!

I am regretting that I drank 4 glasses of wine last night and have quite a hangover. I just feel icky. Like I need a nap. But I can’t really sleep yet because I should acclimate to the 9-hour time change I was facing. I decide then and there that I will not spend my time in Italy hung over. I wanted to remember every moment.

When the plane reaches our cruising altitude, the flight attendants begin to make their rounds and my friends order red wine. She asks my buddies, “Isn’t it a little early for wine?”, a foreshadowing of the first few wine infused days of our trip. When I order a ginger ale, she calls me the designated driver and we all laugh.  On our red eye flight from Montreal to Venice, the flight attendant graciously gives us free bottles of wine when she learned that we are 3 women on our way to explore Italy on our own. Not really wanting to drink it I offered it to the girls who instructed me to “save it and we can drink it in the morning.” The morning?! Wine breakfast?! Oh boy… this was going to one crazy trip! I decide to rest for a few hours and gave my wine up to the others.

My companions on this trip are my world traveling single niece, the brunette 2 years younger than I, and her red headed best friend who, like me, left her husband and kids at home for our half month adventure. This was a trip they had planned together, and by God’s grace, had invited me along. I was determined to hang with them and not slow them down in any way.  I had the mindset that us three fun loving San Diego women were about to take over Italy. Little did I know that Italy was going to have so much power over me, my disposition, and melancholy outlook on life that it was going to take over ME.

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The Grand Canal. View from the Rialto Bridge

In Venice, you must take water transportation from the airport to your destination since there are no roads or cars.  We took the Alilaguna shuttle for €15 to the San Marco district, where our Airbnb is located. In Venice there is something called acqua alta, or high water. It is when the city begins to flood due to high tides, etc. You can actually see the water bubbling up out of the drainage holes along the streets. On our arrival day, we found many streets to be somewhat flooded as the clouds rumbled with thunder.

I stepped into the water with my sketcher sandals, not caring that my feet were going to be wet. Wasn’t this what I had researched before coming to Venice? That the locals weren’t afraid of the high water here and my shoes would eventually dry and I had spares. Smug and proud of my “no fear” approach, I took a moment to look back at my companions who were following behind me, only to find that they had found a path, 2 feet to the right of the narrow street, that allowed their shoes to stay dry. Other locals and tourists I saw kept their shoes dry too because they either took the same path as my friends, or they were wearing waterproof boots. This, the very first day in Italy, was the reason why I had to deal with stinky sandals for my whole trip and why I eventually ditched them in Rome. In my defense, I had been traveling for about almost 24 hours at that point from Los Angeles to Venice and was extremely jet lagged with little sleep.

 LESSONS TO SHARE: Avoid the high water if you can and don’t get your shoes wet. Bring water proof shoes to Venice or buy the funny plastic bag boots they sell for €8 on every other corner.

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We settled into our lovely Airbnb near the Teatro la Fenice, a 15th century artist’s building with stained glass windows that looked down into gondolier trafficked canals who, from time to time, had accordionist and opera singers singing such melodies as an aria from La Traviata or Bella Notte as entertainment for their passengers.  This lovely 2 bedroom apartment was quite the deal and I recommend booking this for yourselves for, not only the amazing atmosphere, but it’s convenient location to everything in San Marco. We walked everywhere, except to the train station, at which point we took a water bus (how do they drive those things so accurately in so much water traffic?) The only modes of transportation in Venice are boats or your feet. There are no cars.  At the end of our 2 days visit to Venice, we are sitting at the train station so that we can get to Florence, and my niece makes an observation, “I haven’t seen any fucking cabs here.” We crack up and gently remind her, there are no cars or roads.  This is going to be such a fun trip!!

Gondolier Ride

I knew the sites that were close, as I had researched the city for my companions and knew some of the history. However, for the life of me, I could not figure out these “streets” and how which way was which so I would show the map to my niece, let her know where we needed to go, and she would get us there. I still can’t figure how the hell she did it. I would redeem myself later in Florence by becoming the navigator there.

We found our way to the many sites in the San Marco district: Ponte Rialto, Piazza San Marco, Saint Mark’s Basilica, gondolier rides, the Grand Canal and so much more. We drank cappuccinos, wine, and ate pasta at outdoor cafes while people watching and listening to the Italians speaking with their extravagant hand gestures. I left a little part of my heart in Venice those 2 days and can’t wait to come back and show my husband one day.

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Cappuccino and croissant, typical Italian breakfast
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Gnocchi and 4 cheeses. Shared carafe of house red wine.








Caroline Nelson © 2017 unpublished work. All Rights Reserved.