Friday, 8 April 2011

Rag Bag of Tales

Piazza del Duomo, Orvieto
This post will be a bit of a rag-bag of tales as it's a month since the last entry. Time flies. A piece about a visit to the splendid cities of Orvieto and Montepulciano has been gestating for a couple of weeks, so it makes sense to begin there.


Lower rungs of hell - God loves you!

You know when you reach our sleepier neighbour Umbria, because as soon as you pass the border sign the roads are narrower, pock-marked and pot-holed. Infrastructure maintenance isn't a priority there probably because they invest a lot in maintaining some magnificent towns and cities. Living in Eastern Tuscany we are only twenty minutes from the border making gems like Assisi, Gubbio, Perugia and Orvieto very accessible.

Orvieto is laid out on a 325m high plateau of volcanic tufa. This makes the entrance to the city quite extraordinary. You ascend from the car parks through tunnels in the porous rock on a series of escalators or else take the funicular at the eastern end of the town. Heaven knows what they did in the days of yore! There are several routes up all around the city and the buildings at the top are identical so make a careful note of where you emerge. If you don't you might find yourself wandering around trying to find the way back to the car or the station. The streets are narrow, which makes GPS navigation unreliable. This is experience talking!

It's position between Rome and Florence means Orvieto is very firmly on the tourist trail. It's lively and bustling, morning, noon and night in a way that many Umbrian towns are not. Shops, cafés and restaurants are aimed at the tourist as you would expect, but there are some good artisan shops and a couple of high class stationery shops, where they sell those gorgeous bottles of coloured inks with wax seals and books of handmade paper. It's lovely just to wander the ordinary residential streets and soak up the atmosphere. It's impossible to get lost as all roads eventually lead back to the very Gallic Piazza del Duomo.

If it's a fine day it's do as we did and sit in one of the pavement cafés with a glass of the local crisp white wine and marvel at the Duomo.

The monumental façade of the Duomo is spectacular – the best I have ever seen here. 52m high and recently spruced up it's resplendent with columns, spires, bas-reliefs, sculptures and dazzling colours. We stood at the top of the steps admiring the helical columns with their quasi-Islamic mosaic patterns – vivid golds, blues, greens and reds. Then on turning 'round and looking down the steps, I noticed the Star of David inlaid in the marble pavement. This bringing together of the three dominant monothestic religions made me think that Dan Brown might have a field day here spinning it into a barmy theory probably involving an ancient soroptomist conspiracy. No sooner had the thought occurred than we were accosted by an elderly Italian gentleman. The conversation started off quite reasonably as he made the point that the Duomo didn't belong to the Catholic Church but to the commune. He told us how the harvests were bartered for stone and how the masons were paid in produce and then suddenly took a Dan Brown turn throwing in demons, dragons and papal conspiracies. He continued to regale us with the one true path to Jesus as we retreated muttering, “Non capisciamo” (We don't understand). He moved on to his next victim.

Montepulciano at Dusk
We left Orvieto and returned to Tuscany taking the back roads and swinging past the renaissance perfection of Pienza. It was built by Pope Pius II who thought his birthplace of Corsignano was a bit too modest so it replaced it with Pienza. Today the town is practically wall-to-wall Pecorino. There must be a dozen cheese shops here all selling the same sheeps cheese in various stages of maturity with the older ones on the highest shelves looking quite sooty. The town actually smells of cheese – no kidding. We arrived in Montepulciano at sunset, just in time to get a couple of photos of castellations against the reddening sky.

The euro-breakfast
Guests have been trickling in since mid-march. So far we've had folks from Brazil, Germany and England. We thought it might be very tricky to get breakfast right for such a diverse audience. We make our own fresh juices, wholemeal bread, fruit bread, fruit puree, and granola. We also have local organic yoghurt on offer, butter, vegetable spreads and fruit spreads. People always seem to drink the fresh juice and will also usually have coffee or tea, but nobody has yet taken everything on offer. A little perturbed we asked if anything was wrong and it seems that just like me, nobody eats very much breakfast at all. One thing is clear though, for Italians breakfast might be short but it is always very sweet!

Jodie & Andy after their big day out
  Wedding bells
Two of our guests – still here at the time of writing – went to Rome for the day on Wednesday where, at the Trevi fountain, Andy got down on one knee and asked Jodie to marry him to thunderous applause from on-lookers. Fortunately she said yes. I dread to think what the rest of the holiday would've been like if she'd said no! Congratulations to them.

No comments:

Post a Comment