A view of Orvieto from the ruins on the grounds of La Badia.
June 18, 2003:
Our Italian trip is winding to a close, and I am feeling somewhat wistful about it. But, we still have some adventures yet to experience.
Today we left Venice and drove to Orvieto, our longest road trip on the vacation. We got up at around 7:30, packed up, had breakfast, and took the waterbus back to the parking garage. Fortunately, our car was there and so were all of our possessions. Our drive to Orvieto was almost entirely on the Autostrade. We drove through Padua, Bologna, and Florence, then headed due south toward Roma. Fortunately, Orvieto is only a few kilometers off the Autostrade. During the drive, we encountered some traffic snarls around Bologna and Florence, but nothing too significant. As always, we stopped at the Autogrill for lunch — where I convinced everyone to have the “toast” ham and cheese sandwich — and we pulled off the Autostrade at Orvieto at around 2 p.m.
Orvieto is one of those classic Italian towns founded in the Middle Ages (or earlier) on top of a steep hill with sheer rock on many sides. We didn’t know exactly where our hotel was, so we drove around the town and quickly became lost in a maze of narrow cobblestone streets. When we reached a square I stopped the car and went into the library to ask for directions. I asked the first lady I saw and to my surprise and delight she offered to lead us to La Badia herself. She climbed into our car and directed us to her house. She then got into her car and led us to La Badia. It quickly became clear why she couldn’t give directions, as we turned left and right on twisting streets and actually left the town. It was an amazing experience, and one that I am certain would not happen in the U.S.A. For this woman, who speaks little English, to climb into a stranger’s car and take time out of her day to help some uncertain travelers! It was a wonderful statement about the warmth and friendliness of the Italian people.
When we reached La Badia thanks to our Good Samaritan, we were even more blown away. La Badia is an ancient monastery that has been converted into a hotel, and it is a striking place. It has a keep, and crumbling walls, and looks out over a valley toward Orvieto in the distance. The courtyard is filled with coniferous trees with that scent of pine and the walkways lead around the ruins of part of the monastery. It had just rained, and the air smelled fresh and clean and felt cool on our skin as we walked around.
We decided to revisit Orvieto, but did not want to become lost again due to the winding streets. So, we parked out of town and trekked up the winding streets to the Duomo, which appears to be in the center of town. It is a large and magnificent church in view of Orvieto’s size, and like the Duomo in Siena it has a striped exterior and interior. The facade has some lovely bas relief scenes from the Bible, and inside are many frescoes and other artwork. The church appears to need lots of repair, though, as seems to be the case with many of the churches we have visited. One can only imagine that the cost of repairing these monumental edifices from another age are an equally monumental drain on municipal resources.
We had some gelato on the square surrounding the Duomo, then returned to our car. Another example of how things are done differently here — you are supposed to keep your ticket with you and pay at a cashier’s window, not as you exit. I had not kept our ticket, so I had to go to the car, get the ticket, walk back upstairs, pay, and then go back to the car to leave.
We relaxed at La Badia for a while, then had a fine, four-course meal that is part of the package deal. To our surprise, you order off a menu. I had some pate and ham, risotta al radicchio and lamb, and a kind of almond torte for dessert. Dinner was excellent!
After dinner, we walked the grounds of La Badia in the moonlight. It is a very evocative, almost mystical place . . . an excellent choice after several days of fighting tourist crowds in Florence and Venice.
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