March 13, 2015
We got a late start at 10 AM. Jackie was having fun talking Spanish with Spanish guest Juan at the hotel. But we finally got going.
I decided we’d take the back road to Orvieto even though it is right off the superhighway. The back road took us over rolling hills on curving roads, but the scenery was spectacular. It was like driving in the Catskills, except smaller hills. We arrived at 11:30 in Orvieto. Even though it took a long time, it was worth the scenery, although as the driver on curvy roads, it’s not so easy to take it all in.
The first task was finding where to park. I had been advised to leave the car at the train station alongside the highway and take a funicular up to the top of this hilltop town. We first approached the train station from the normal side where you would go to get a train. But we were told that the parking was on the other side of the train tracks. We finally found where to park. The road to get to the other side of the tracks obviously wasn’t direct. Driving around unfamiliar territory is hard. Once parked, you take stairs over the train tracks to the same side we started on.
First Jackie had to use the restroom. She paid an old lady guarding the railroad restroom 50 Euro cents. Still she reported it wasn’t that clean. Usually when you pay you expect a clean room. At least the lady handed her a paper towel after she washed her hands!
I had also been advised to buy a pass from the Orvieto tourist office that covered the funicular and bus as well as admission to several of the sites. 20 Euros sounded high. But, as it turned out this was absolutely the correct thing to do, as was the advice to park at the train station. The hotel which was where I was given this advice steered us right!
If we had driven, the walk up to the sights would have exhausted us. Even from the top of the funicular ride, we needed to go further. We caught a bus (included in the Orvieto ticket) the rest of the way to the top. Once we got there we weren’t disappointed!
I think we saw everything important that there was to see in Orvieto. First Orvieto has the most spectacular church I have seen in Italy. That’s saying a lot! It had mosaic murals on a Gothic façade which looked like frescos. Inside is the San Brizio Chapel with ceilings painted by Signorelli, a contemporary great to Michelangelo. This work rivals the Sistine Chapel, and is well regarded as Signorelli’s best work.
We also saw all sorts of Etruscan ruins in several museums we visited. One of which had a great restroom. It was free. We were the only ones in the museum so it was spotless.
We also visited several underground Etruscan sites including a well big enough for horses to descend to and underground rooms used by the Etruscans when they inhabited this land. The land here is made of volcanic material so it is very malleable and easy to dig into.
We took the tour offered by the tourist office of the city underground. Very interesting. The Etruscans worked under their homes. One thing they did was raise pigeons for food. You could see real pigeon holes in the walls underground. Interestingly, the Etruscans were able to figure out how much digging they could do without disturbing their houses above.
The views from the hilltop of Orvieto were stunning. You could see fields of olive trees, vineyards, and grasslands. It was the typical Tuscan landscape we are all familiar with. The weather was marvelous. All in all, a beautiful sight, and one of my favorites.
Orvieto has the aspect of a larger city. One tour guide said there are about 20,000 people living there. It is on the highway to Rome and also on the train line. It is definitely someplace I would return to.
We took the highway back to the hotel. Using the automated toll machine, we were given the wrong amount of change. But there is no one there to complain to! We racked it up to part of the experience of Italy. Everything doesn’t work just right.
As we approached the hotel, we stopped at another hotel on the way, Il Colombiao, that looked nice. I had wanted to stop for coffee, but we left Orvieto at 5 and it was getting dark. I wanted to avoid driving the dirt road to our hotel in the dark. So we just stopped to inquire about the price. That turned out to be quite an experience.
First of all there were no cars outside the hotel. It looked closed. As we approached, we saw a man inside in the dark. We inquired about the rates. He got his wife who spoke better English. Finally after figuring a lot of numbers, we were given some rates. In the US giving someone the room rate would be an easy affair. Here it took at least 5 minutes, probably longer.
Part of the price for an apartment (with kitchen) was a separate charge for electricity. There was also a charge for cleaning after we left. The price for the apartment was about the same as our hotel, $100/night. The price for the room with half board, like our hotel, was a lot more (I think). It’s hard to tell exactly as we are staying on a timeshare exchange.
Next we were shown the rooms. They looked slightly better than the rooms we are staying in, but still not a big improvement.
The hotel owners were disappointed when we said we weren’t saying this night there. When we said we were asking for our next trip to Italy, they said everything might change by then. They said Italians do things today for tomorrow. They don’t plan in advance. For example, the man said, in front of his wife, he might have a different wife next year, they might not be in business, or many other things might change! We assured him that we understood that prices would differ.
Next they tried to convince us to stay for dinner. The dining room was dark. I don’t know how they could stay in business and offer their a la carte menu (which I reviewed) when they don’t know if they will have guests for dinner.
What I am learning is that part of the Tuscan way of life is simplicity. Since it is also part of my way of life I am comfortable with that. The rooms in our hotel and in this one are simple, to say the least. But I also now understand that Italians live more in the moment than Americans, more akin to Panamanians. It’s what makes Italy so attractive to so many people who don’t like worrying about the future and like the simple life. To Italians having good food prepared with fresh ingredients is more important than having to pay a high price for it. Everything in Italy is expensive, from electricity to gasoline. Italians just learn to drive smaller cars and turn the electricity off when they don’t absolutely need it. In this way, they are certainly more ecologically friendly than Americans are.
As our trip to Italy winds down (we leave tomorrow), I’ve learned a lot.
When I first arrived I was surprised at the accommodations being called a “resort.” But now I understand it from the Italian point of view. It may be drafty and sparse, but there is a lobby with a warm fire, good food, and nice people. These are far more important to Italians than nice soap or well- lit rooms.
To them, this is a resort because they cook for you and it’s simple. There’s nothing to worry about because there is literally nothing to do. You can ride a horse or get a massage if you want, but no one pressures you to do anything. If you want to do it, you will, of course, pay a price. That’s understood here. Besides, to cover their butts, they’ve made all us guests each pay a “resort” fee to pay for the amenities which none of us, as far as I can tell, used.
It’s all part of the live and let live attitude that has made this trip such a memorable experience, even if not a true resort experience.
In the end this was a truly different and enjoyable trip. Eating dinner with fellow travelers each evening was actually refreshing as we could share experiences and make new friends. Forcing people to eat at a certain time with the other guests didn’t seem ideal, but it was actually an integral and important part of the trip, that made this part of the trip memorable and fun. It was not the resort I expected; it was more like living on a farm for a week with other city slickers. But it was very enjoyable.