11 May 2007
poppies and st. patrick
Maybe this situation sounds familiar... You're visiting a great little hill town in Umbria, a town which is known around the world for the marvelous façade of it's Duomo. The aforementioned Duomo dominates a grand open space, rising above a piazza edged with cafes and pottery shops. The façade itself is ornate and fills three+ stories with religious anecdote and narrative. And then... there's the station wagon in front of the Duomo. Right - smack - in - front - of - the - Duomo. Of all the open space in the piazza, let alone the open space in town... this station wagon (not a petite Smart Car, mind you) had to choose to park itself right in front of the world-class façade.
Not that we can blame the car. We know it had a driver because when we posed Stefano in front of the car for a photo - which was delightfully perfect in its absurdity - the driver slunk down into the seat to hide. So while we have no photographic i.d. of the driver we do have a really picturesque shot of their car parked right in front of the Duomo - and heaps of open space in every direction. Hill town magic!
Orvieto is a great town for short explorations on rainy days. An excellent mini-adventure is going down into the Well of Saint Patrick. Spiraling deep into the rock on which the town is perched, this 62 meter deep well is an engineering marvel. There are actually two twin sets of spiraling stairs in the well, ingeniously designed so that the donkeys going down the stairs to pick up water at the bottom of the well never passed the donkeys coming back out of the well with the water. Such problem-solving from the 16th century! Concerns today are more often centered around not getting hit in the head with a coin chucked by good-luck wishers higher up in the well. There was also a surprisingly angry dog in a car along the road back to our B&B but he was thankfully stopped by a well-closed window.
On Saturday morning you can go to Orvieto's market and watch aged farmers fight with aged shoppers over the value of coins that neither can really see. At the same market you can talk about the current state of affairs in bee health with a man who sits in the back of his van reading a book waiting for his small jars of honey to sell themselves. There are giant roasted pigs displayed nearly whole and freshly carved at your request - si chiama porchetta. Orvieto's market has all the makings of a decadent picnic - you simply need to go around collecting cheese and salami, prosciutto and crisp pears... And packing it all up for a bus ride to an even smaller town perched on an even smaller wedge of rock.
The bus ride to Civita is long enough to roll past fields sprinkled with scarlet poppies and cross paths lined with wind blown cypress trees. And there's more than enough winding to induce nausea and a general appreciation for the undulating drama of hilly areas.
To reach Civita after your bus ride you first must walk through Bagnoregno, a small town that although small seems giant in comparison to Civita which is reached by bridge from Bagnoregno. The bridge gets very steep as you reach the small island of a town and while you're trudging up that final incline you can easily understand why the townspeople have slowly been moving to other, more easily accessible, places to live.
Civita is known as the "dying town" which is sad but somewhat applicable. It's very quiet and empty and the reason to go to Civita is to climb the steep bridge, spend a few moments in this unique place, and to have yourself a picnic along the piazza. Also, if you've been in Orvieto for any period of time you will be sure to see the very same folks wandering around Civita. A Dutch couple with whom we shared a dining room on Friday, was the same couple with whom we shared the bridge to Civita on Saturday. These are small places - small spaces - and that may have something to do with our premature departure from Orvieto.
Not to go into details but we're apparently no good at relaxing. No good at watching old John Belushi movies dubbed into Italian in a rather large and charming Bed & Breakfast five hours from urban Milan. How do we know it's five hours from Milan? Because after we decided on the spur of the moment that we'd done about all we could do in Orvieto we managed to catch a train to Milan with three minutes to spare. This is after packing up at turbo speed, running down to the Funicular, catching the Funicular, changing our train tickets, and catching that train.
We both really enjoyed Orvieto and Civita - and Orvieto boasts some excellent food. In a way we were sorry to go. But I think we were sorrier that we hadn't rented a car. Because all of those beautiful hills, and villas, and fields full of poppies, would have been perfect for exploring with a well-tooled Smart Car. Just please leave the station wagon at home.