Sunday, November 02, 2003


We went to the SlowTrav GTG in Orvieto on Saturday. In addition to meeting Cheryl, who is practically our neighbor, it was a good excuse to visit Orvieto, one of our favorite cities. We had not been to Orvieto since last November, when we made a quick stop on the way to the Rome airport. That trip was our house-hunting trip, and although we had seen this house several times, we had not yet made the final decision to buy.

We first saw Orvieto from the tour bus in September, 2000. As the bus whizzed down the A1, I remember asking our guide, "wow! What city is THAT?!" When we stayed at Brigolante in March of 2001, we drove to Orvieto and fell in love with the city. We bought our dishes there...dishes that we paid a small fortune to have shipped to the US. Now we are paying to have the same dishes sent back to Italy. Who knew?

Some may argue that Orvieto is too touristy, and they may have a valid point. Unfortunately, most medieval cities that are well preserved and have a gorgeous doumo are going to attract tourists. For us, Orvieto never crosses the line to tacky. The many shops are all high quality, and as long as you know your spending limits, you'll be okay. If you fall in love with some of the ceramics, you may be in trouble. Anyway, we love the size of the city. It's so easy to stroll and window shop, stop for a gelato, and then head to the next site. In addition to the doumo, which is STILL undergoing renovation, there are several museums, and a personal favorite of mine, caves. These caves are man-made, carved out of the tufa and are quite extensive. We also were amazed by the engineering required to build St Patrick's Well. So by now, you get the point...we love Orvieto!

We also loved the drive to Orvieto, although our drive is not the one we thought it would be. We had read about a very scenic drive, and found it to be entirely too twisting and dense to be enjoyable, especially for the driver. The road we really liked was the S448, from Todi to Orvieto. We were surprised and dismayed to see how low the river and lake were, but still enjoyed the drive. Umbria is experiencing a drought, although I don't know much about the specifics.

Once we arrived in Orvieto, we drove up to the city. If you are arriving by train, or just passing through, it might be smart just to park at the train station and take the funicular up. Gary and Trish tried that route, and found out that the luggage lockers have been removed, as they have been in so many train stations. Larger stations usually offer the option of an attended left-luggage facility, but Orvieto is too small for that.

We arrived about an hour before our 12:30 meeting time, just so we would have time to stroll and window shop. We were a little surprised to see how many shops were open, but, it IS a tourist town. As we walked towards the doumo, our scheduled meeting place, we kept seeing people carrying large, flat, white packages. As we walked on, we started to hear the sound of machinery. A rhythmic clackety-clackety-clackety sound. Then I saw was a pasta shop and the sound was that of the machines stamping out fresh pasta, and the white packages contained the fresh pasta on paper trays, wrapped in white paper. We started continue on our way, when I stopped and asked Art "wouldn't you like to take some fresh pasta home?" So, we bought some fresh tortellini, and some pasta that looked like gemmelli (sp?). Anyway, it was a short, twisted strand of pasta, and was available con uova, or sensa uova. It was obvious by the yellow color of the pasta which one was made with eggs!

We continued until we reached the doumo, stopping to buy an English language newspaper and a few postcards. At about 12:25, a girl walked up to us on the doumo steps and asked "are you waiting for someone?" and Art said "yes, slow travelers", and that was our first meeting with Cheryl Alexander. We were joined by Trish and Gray from Baton Rouge after another minute or two, and that was the group, except for Cheryl's friend Carlo, who had gone to park the car. Cheryl is building a house in Bagnnoreggio, after renting from Carlo several years ago and falling in love with the area. Carlo is now helping with her new house, since Cheryl still lives in the states.

We headed off to the restaurant, and it turned out to be one that Art and I had wanted to try, but we had arrived too late that day. The staff quickly put together a table for the 6 1/2 of us...Carlo's adorable four year old son was also joining us. We had a great lunch, and great conversation. We discovered that we share similar politics and philosophies, and we discovered that Carlo is a die-hard Frank Zappa fan! Carlo is a German who has lived in Italy for fifteen years or so. He said he learned English by listening to American rock 'n roll!

After lunch, I was hoping to get some gelato at the place around the corner from the Duomo. I knew from last year that even though it was November, and many of the smaller shops have stopped making gelato until next spring, this place would have it. Art said, "why would you want to do that when we have the best gelateria in Umbria right in Marsciano?" I knew he was right...Stefania"s has the most fabulous gelato. My usual, and all time favorite, is a cup with two flavors...chocolate and banana. If they don't have banana, I get chocolate with strawberry. The chocolate is dark and incredible experience. I never was much on dark chocolate, but I have changed since coming to Italy. As for the fruit flavors, they are so intense and wonderful that you feel as if you are in a strawberry patch, or that you have just peeled the greatest banana ever. Award plaques line the walls, and your first taste will explain why! Amazingly, Stafania's is right across the street from Ternana's. Ternana's has won pizza awards, and we definitely concur! And that was the end of our adventure that day...except that we still had the wonderful fresh pasta to enjoy!