Tag Archives: Duomo

Orvieto After Hours

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Many say the Umbria region of Italy is what Tuscany was 30 years ago, but when we arrived midmorning in Orvieto, it felt like a crowded town of daytrippers from Rome.  That’s because that’s exactly what it was, until about 5 pm P1050898when the city became ours.  Orvieto, famous for its ceramics and its Duomo, P1050944is about an hour from Rome but worlds away come evening.  During our two nights here, we stayed at the wonderful B&B La Magnolia http://www.bblamagnolia.it/ with a perfect location on a pedestrian street just off the main piazza.  We had a huge, fabulous room with frescoed ceilingP1050882 and a bathroom as big as our whole room back in Siena.  Serena is a wonderful host and breakfast was at the family café on the ground floor, where we sat on the sidewalk and took in the namesake magnolia tree and views of the Duomo.P1050908

Orvieto is perched atop a large butte of volcanic tuff.  On the first day here, we explored the town on foot and at the end of town we saw a sign for a walking trail that rings the butte know as Anello della Rupe, or simply The Rupe.  This trail offers spectacular views of the countryside. P1050901

The guidebook said the entire trail was three miles around, but after walking on this strenuous trail for an hour, we were only about a third of the way around.  Whoever posted the distance must have also been in charge of the signage along the trail as there was little to none and only by sheer luck did we stumble onto a path that led us back up into the town.  With Russell’s knee still healing from his injury, he was not in the best of spirits when we returned to our B&B, so to cheer him up, the rest of our group headed to the Enoteca Barberani , facing the Duomo, and educated ourselves on the local libation of choice, Orvieto Classico.  Needless to say after we returned with a few bottles, Russell’s knee felt much better and we were ready for venture out for an amazing dinner at Antico Bucchero http://www.ristoranteorvietoanticobucchero.com/ where we feasted on a farro salad with fresh mozzarella P1050910and a roll of rabbit with fennel, potato, raisin, and spinach.  P1050915Divine!

The following day we opted to do some sightseeing of the monuments. We had purchased a Carta Orvieto Unica which included admission at all of the important sites in Orvieto—a great deal.  We started inside of the Duomo P1050925where we saw the famous corporal stained from the blood of the communion in the Eucharistic Miracle (origin of the Feast of Corpus Christi) of 1263.  From there we crossed the piazza and checked out the Civic Museum where I came out onto the balcony and had my Evita Peron moment.  P1050946Then it was on to the MODO Museum and the National Archeology Museum, which paid homage to the Etruscans, and finally the Pozzo della Cava (Well of the Cave) where the octogenarian docent took a fancy to me.  Ciao, Giovanni!

After some more Orvieto Classico back at the B&B, it was time to once again enjoy some evening strolling in post-daytrip Orvieto.  As we waited for Trattoria del Moro Aronne http://www.trattoriadelmoro.info/en to open with many other visitors with the same idea, we must have disrupted the otherwise tranquil alley as this woman same to her window and starred at all of us with disdain. P1050962 Adorable.  Enduring her scorn was worth it though after the doors opened and we scored one of the few unreserved tables.  The specialty here is the nidi, P1050966homemade pasta with warm pecorino cheese and honey.  This is a culinary creation like no other and cannot be missed!  The evening concluded with a final stroll in the piazza and some step sitting in front of the Duomo to watch all the play of the local children and enjoy the nighttime calm of this great Umbrian hill town.   Our morning train the next day would bring us to Rome and all of its frenzy, so this experience on the steps was the calm before the storm.  We were thankful to have stayed a few days here as those who do just daytrip here miss out on the real Orvieto, which I guess you could call the “Orvieto Classico”.P1050981

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Siena: Tuscan Hills, A Preserved Head, and Cyndi Lauper

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Nothing screams, “I’m in Tuscany!” like the city of Siena.  The scene that came into view from our room at Albergo Bernini http://www.albergobernini.com/ really brought us back in time.  P1050781This inn is a real find with a homey feel and two great terraces for the evening wine ritual. P1050826 Although there’s plenty to do in Siena, part of the magic is just being on the streets and becoming part of the daily life.  A must is the nightly passeggiata, when locals and visitors alike do the slow stroll through the winding city streets. P1050830 My favorite part of this ritual was watching a group of elderly men leaning on “their window”.  This cast of extras from the Sopranos oversaw all of the goings on of the intersection.  And the stunt double for Paulie Walnuts was less than amused when Russell moseyed over and took his place leaning next to one of the guys.  img_1466Talk about upsetting the pecking order, but a great way to weave yourself into the fabric of the city.

Some highlights of a trip to Siena include the food, the Duomo, and Il Campo.  We ate so well in Siena that months later I am still trying to shed those pounds!  From the incredible salad and pizza (with my new favorite topping: porcini mushrooms) from Il Pomodorino http://www.ilpomodorino.it/en/index.html to the “epic” (my waiter’s words) osso buco P1050860and bistecca alla Fiorentina P1050861from Antica Trattoria Papei, there is no shortage of impressive eateries with food as awe-inspiring as the views.

Once your taste buds are satisfied, head over to the Duomo, P1050820one of the most ornate in Italy.  In fact, the level of décor inside this cathedral could almost trigger a seizure.  There is no area left untouched.  P1050842During your visit you may even be witness to a local procession passing through from one of the 17 districts of Siena. P1050852 And don’t forget the gift shop with a setting that would be a museum itself in any other city!P1050857

On a side note, don’t end your church visit with the Duomo—be sure to check out San Domenico which houses the relics of Saint Catherine of Siena.  On the right side of the nave you can see not only her thumb, but her entire head!  You’ll thank me later.

The final part of Siena that will suck you in is Il Campo, the piazzaP1050803This landmark slopes downward, amphitheater-style toward the city hall and its beautiful, and unreinforced, tower reaching almost 300 feet.  Great people-watching abounds here.  On our last evening we saw a band setting up there and after seeing a musician tuning his bass, I was looking forward to returning later and hearing what I assumed might be jazz.  You know what they say about the word “assume”…

After dinner as we strolled back into the piazza, I was shocked to hear the band belting out the Cyndi Lauper classic “Time After Time”.  This tune was followed by “Ironic” by Alanis Morissette and “With or Without You” by U2.  It wasn’t the perfect ending to our day that I was imagining, but as I looked around at all the Italians singing along to these English songs, I had to chuckle.  All of the past efforts of walled cities like Siena to keep out invaders and now international influence had surged all the way to the center of the city.  Isn’t it ironic…

Fine Art and Feasting in Florence

Many people dream of visiting the Renaissance capital of Florence (Firenze), Italy.

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Where else can you spend days seeing art from Michelangelo, Da Vinci, and Botticelli and taking afternoon gelato strolls beneath the Duomo and across Ponte Vecchio?P1050491

Our two week trip to Italy began in Florence, but not before that long, miserable flight to Europe.  I know they have sedatives they give animals on airplanes—why not humans?  I want to give a shout out to the Vienna, Austria airport where we had a four hour layover.  Whereas most airports do not know the meaning of comfortable seating, Vienna has nailed it!  Not only do they have rows of seats without armrests so people could actually lie down, each gate also contained the most amazing piece of furniture I have ever seen—I call it Layover Heaven Sofa.  P1050423

Thanks to this sweetheart, we arrived in Florence later that day not totally exhausted.

While in Italy we were interested in doing a convent or monastery stay for some of the time and Sanctuary B&B Firenze http://www.sanctuarybbfirenze.com/ worked perfectly for us.  An excellent location a few blocks behind the Duomo was accompanied by a beautiful courtyard gardenP1050424 and attentive service by a group of adorable nuns.  Spartan rooms and breakfasts were easily overlooked because 1. Why are you spending much time in your room in Florence? and 2. With all of the food you will be eating, do you really need an excessive breakfast?  What’s wrong with some Nutella-covered biscotti with Tang-esque juice?

The highlights of Florence for me can be broken into three categories: art, food, and views.  With only three days to spend in Florence, we purchased the Firenze Card, which gives admission into several museums, but more importantly, lets you skip the line!  A visit to the Academia to see Michelangelo’s famous David is a requirement for a visit here.  Get a load of his huge hands! P1050447

Outside the museum you can buy a variety of David-themed gifts, some more tasteless than others, but all in good fun.  I liked the aprons with the body of David on them…maybe not the most appropriate for Thanksgiving dinner with Grandma.

Also, the visit to the Uffizi Gallery with its overwhelming collection including Birth of Venus P1050481and more works by Michelangelo,P1050492 Da Vinci, and other Renaissance masters left us in a constant state of awe.  The artistic interiors of other Florence attractions like the Medici Chapels and the Duomo and even Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise P1050516outside the Baptistery left my head spinning.

Another work of literary art celebrated in Florence was Dante’s The Divine Comedy and his famed Inferno.  After reading the Dan Brown book Inferno, a must read before and after a trip to Florence, we paid a visit to the House of Dante where I found the best books:  a series that is a children’s illustrated version of The Divine Comedy.  You can’t make these titles up: Dante for Fun– Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise.  P1050547

Greatest. Collection. Ever.

All of this museum time and walking around Florence gave us a healthy appetite.  On a trip like this, the Rick Steves’ Italy book became our bible, but we also had amazing meals at non-Steves restaurants, including pecorino and pear ravioli P1050466 at Coquinarius http://www.coquinarius.it/  and spaghetti frutta di mareP1050431 at Ristorante Zio Gigi, both located near the Duomo.  Make sure you eat lunch around 1:00 so you are hungry for the mandatory gelato hour at 5:00!  I got really good at my Italian during our daily gelato runs: Un cono piccolo di stracciatella, per favore.  Never mind that most people in the service industry speak great English, I was bound and determined to awe the local people with my mad pronunciation skills.  At least that is what I will keep telling myself…

The final category of views could go on and on.  Everywhere you look is beautiful, whether it is gazing up at the Duomo or Palazzo Vecchio, looking down the Arno River at all the bridges, or overlooking the town from the Boboli Gardens.P1050528P1050537

One afternoon we tried to go up to the Piazza Michelangelo, but the bus stop we were directed to did not have a stop on Sunday, which we discovered after a very long walk and failed Italian conversation with an elderly couple.  Oh well, the climb to the top of the Campanile next to the Duomo during an afternoon rainstorm made up for any sweeping views we may have missed.

Is three days in Florence enough?  If you run from sight to sight, yes.  But it is important to take a bit more time to sit in different piazzas, lingering over a Chianti or a gelato.  Sure we missed quite a few museums and churches we would have liked to visit, but we did take time to sit, people watch, and soak up the ambiance of this great Tuscan city.  And if we had not done that, we would have missed out on the Grease flash mob on the Piazza della RepubblicaP1050509 An homage to Travolta—how much more Italian can you get?