Italy - July 2006
So let's see. Last year, Jim got married in Peru and Pete got married in Sweden. So what would be next? Chris D'Orazio in Italy, of course! Naturally I could not turn down an invitation for such a spectacular possibility, and since Chris really did find himself a great person in his now-wife Cate, I was happy to be invited and to attend their wedding in Tuscany. For the week before the wedding, Kevin Cronin decided to reprise our trip to Europe last year and we met up for a week in Italy before I would go to the wedding and he would continue to Milan.
I flew Lufthansa to Rome via Frankfurt, and two things bugged me: one, Frankfurt airport is well below the level of efficiency I expect from the Germans; and two, Lufthansa wasn't bad, but not as impressive as KLM had been in March. Anyway, after arriving in Rome, I hopped on a train for Orvieto, where Kevin would meet me. Orvieto is famous for its white wines, and actually Orvieto was the first Italian white I ever tried; I specifically recall it. They're delicious; and the city is perched on the top of a hill, so you get views like the one seen here.
Orvieto is also known for its cathedral, which was started in 1263 on the orders of Pope Urban IV. The occasion was the Miracle of Bolsena, a town near Orvieto; A visitng priest was celebrating mass, and had just began the Consecration, when blood began to drip from the Host onto the altar linen. The linen was presented to Urban, who happened to be visiting Orvieto at the time, and he subsequently ordered the cathedral be built. It took three centuries to complete.
It's a nice enough cathedral, but the story of the miracle is more compelling than the cathedral itself, except for one major exception: inside the cathedral is the Chapel of San Brizio, which is decorated by the frescoes The Last Judgement by Luca Signorelli. Photos are not permitted, so I can't print them here, but Michaelangelo took inspiration from the series before painting the Sistine Chapel, and in many peoples' opinions - mine included - Signorelli's work here may be more spectacular. The chapel alone is worth the trip to Orvieto.
Other than the cathedral, there is the Orvieto Underground, which is a series of caves hewn from the rock. Orvieto sits on a big slab of porous volcanic rock, and really I'm surprised the whole thing hasn't collapsed. Tours of the underground caves are rather interesting, though, and a good place to cool off in summer. But other than that, Orvieto is just another little hilltop town in Umbria.
We were staying in a house just outside the Umbrian town of Todi, which is, again, on the top of a hill. At the apex of the town is the Piazza del Popolo, which features the cathedral seen here, and a number of shops along the plaza. There's not much else to discuss in Todi; but the restaurant that would be behind and to the right of one taking this picture, Ristorante Umbria, is supposed to be awesome; we didn't get to try because we had other plans, but if you go, don't miss it.
From Todi, we were travelling to the famed wine city of Montepulciano, known for their red wines. Along the way the drive was gorgeous, as you can see here from this lake scene. I would ordinarily figure out which lake this is, but the atlas I bought in Italy was used by Kevin through the end of the trip, and I haven't gotten it back yet - and by the time I do, I won't be able to remember to look for it. But it's a nice lake, no?
Just before driving into Montepulciano itself, we saw this restaurant on the road that said Terraza Panoramica, which we figured meant that it had a great view of the valley below. No joke! This is the view we had from our table. The restaurant - Ristorante Fattoria Pulcino - is associated with a vineyard down the road, so we bought some of the wine there, and had a delicious lunch too. Certainly a place I would recommend to anyone!
The problem with Montepulciano is that when you get there, the public parking is at the base of the town, and the walk into the town is very steep. Given that the temperature on this day was up in the high eighties, that made the walk none too comfortable. But we had a mission to see this particular wine-tasting place that was evidently one of the must-see parts of the town. We did get there eventually, and the tasting place is just opposite this clock tower in the Piazza Michelozzo. We watched the World Cup quarterfinal between England and Portugal a bit later, and then left for Siena.
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