Passover Seder is great this year. Nathan and Sam really take part and we get through the whole Seder and also sing a bunch of songs. John grills a wonderful boneless leg of lamb and Sarah makes her delicious macaroons. The kids do a great job hiding the afikoman under the mat in the laundry room which Jonathan accidentally steps on! Nathan tries to negotiate for more than $20 but sees the error of his ways when we start lowering our bid. We all have a wonderful time.
As soon as we get home from Italy, we get to work on our new front landscaping. This will include driveway shoulder extensions, a new sidewalk and steps, new lighting and all new plants. Our landscaper, Fritz Schummer, has a great team of Carlos and Carlos. Big Carlos knows how to do it all!
Here they are hard at work in April.
We work closely with Fritz on the design and plant selection. About the middle of May it is done! It looks so much better and makes me happy every time I see it!
Leaving Orivieto we decide to make a side trip to Montefiascone on our way to the airport. It turns out to be pretty much a dud with the exception of the church of San Flaviano which was built in the 11th century and has frescoes from the 12th to the 14th centuries. The building is in the Romanesque style.
Along with the frescoes is a the grave of a traveler who died of excessive drinking of the local wine known as Est! Est! Est! Apparently his valet went to town ahead of him and wrote the word “est” on the doors of the inns where there was good wine. This wine is still made in the region.
After a frustrating search for some place for lunch, we decide since we are passing by Viterbo again that we will have lunch at the pizza place where we ate the first night. Happily it is open and has a lunch special of a whole pizza and a drink for 6 Euros.
Now it is back to Rome Airport with a just a short stop to refill the rental car. We manage to get ripped off at the gas station where you have to guess how much gas you will need and pay ahead and then there is no change if you over guess your fueling needs. We pay 12 Euros for 8 Euros worth of gasoline.
We are staying at the airport Hilton which has always been not the best accommodation but you can walk from the hotel to your plane which is a real plus. We book on the Executive floor and the experience is much better. They even let us use the wifi!
The trip home is long but uneventful, Rome to London to Dallas to San Francisco. At least this time I am not sick! We have had a wonderful trip full of many new sights, a lot of good meals, and wonderful art.
This morning we take a side trip from Orvieto to Pitigliano. Jack, our GPS makes a fairly straight-forward 35 miles into an hour and a half adventure. Since we have an appointment at a winery this afternoon, it is important to be time efficient but Jack has not gotten the message.
Much like Orvieto, Pitigliano is built on a tufa outcropping. Starting with the Etruscans in the 7th century B.C., walls were also built to fortify the town. In the picture below little caves can be seen in the tufa walls. Some of these have Etruscan inscriptions.
Giorgio from the hotel has suggested this town for a visit. Its main claim to fame is that it had a vibrant Jewish community who built a synagogue here in 1598. The town is nicknamed “Little Jerusalem.”
Jews fled from Rome to Pitigliano during the persecutions during the Counterreformation. In Pitigliano they lived harmoniously with their Christian neighbors and built a synagogue, Kosher butchery, Kosher bakery for matzoh, ritual baths, and a wool dying enterprise.
Much like the rest of Europe there are almost no Jews left in Pitigliano only guards armed with machine guns to protect the site. It is said that the Jews here escaped capture by the Nazis with the help of their neighbors but dispersed after the war.
The tour begins in the rooms below the synagogue –
Next we head upstairs to the synagogue. The synagogue was built in 1598. However, it collapsed in a landslide in 1960 and was rebuilt and reopened in 1995. There are too few Jews in Pitigliano to have it operating on a regular basis but it is still used occasionally for weddings and bar mitzvahs.
After the visit to the synagogue we spent a little while looking around Pitigliano.
Our visit in Pitigliano has lasted until lunchtime. We have no time to spare and hurry back to Orvieto by a much faster route unencumbered by listening to Jack. We stop at Simply Market and buy a few things for a quick lunch in the room.
Our afternoon’s engagement is at the Decugnano dei Barbi, a winery making primarily white wine. Sarah is staying behind as she has to man her computer to try to get a hotel room for ComicCon. (This turned out to be unsuccessful. Boo.)
We travel east of Orivieto into a rural area. The winery Decugnano dei Barbi was bought by the Barbi family in 1975 and added their name to the old name of the town that they are in, Decugnano, to come up with their label. It is on beautiful rolling hills. I am somewhat surprised that the grapes have barely broken buds yet since ours in California are much further along.
Marta from Milan is our guide and we do quite a trek around the vineyards along with a family from New Orleans. Of course, John and I have been on many winery tours and are hoping for a quick explanation and then on to the tasting. But we get a thorough explanation on how the winery works.
Finally it is time for tasting. It’s almost all whites which I really like but will leave me wheezy tomorrow. Also there’s quite the spread of meats, cheeses, and bruschetti! The family from New Orleans turns out to be quite nice and have just arrived in Italy for their first trip ever.
But the day is not over! We have booked dinner at a winery close to our hotel. The Altarocca looks like a pretty fancy place as we pull up. We are ready for some haute cuisine!
We have finally learned our lesson – order antipasti and first courses because the second courses tend to be disappointing.
Who knew that the Orvieto cathedral would be one of the most beautiful ones we’ve ever seen? This is so especially from our point of view where we are looking for Medieval and early Renaissance fresco decorated churches. It is hard for any church to compete with the shining splendor of the mosaics of St. Mark’s in Venice or Monreale in Sicily. But in the non-mosaic cathedral category Duomo di Orvieto is tops!
There is no driving in Orvieto unless you have a special permit so we park below and take 4 escalators, a moving walkway, and an elevator up to the old city. It is a lovely city – clean, with flowers hanging out of balcony baskets. There are lots of little lanes with small shops selling artisanal wares. Even a non-shopper such as myself stopped in one of the stores.
We pass by an old looking church so of course we stop in. It is the Church of Sant’Andrea (St. Andrew.) Built in the 12th century on top of an Etruscan house and later an earlier medieval church, it still has some wonderful early frescoes.
Two frescoes that we enjoyed are first, a fresco of St. Julian with his poor parents that he stabbed by mistake and second, a fresco of St. Anthony the Abbot with his devil pig nipping at his heels.
This is one of my favorite pictures of our whole trip. Sarah noticed a stream of light coming in through one of the windows so she sat down an assumed her best Annunciation pose.
After exploring St. Andrew’s we head off in search of the Duomo. You don’t even see it until the last second. You are in a dark lane and then, wow, you walk out into a sunlit piazza with this magnificent structure in front of you. The front facade is so amazing that you could spend hours just looking at it!
After buying a combo ticket for the Duomo, the Diocesan Museum, and the Archeological museum, we step inside. Again, wow, what a space! There are some frescoes on the side walls and an old baptismal font but the really amazing frescoes are in the side chapels near the front and the whole altar area.
Near the back of the church is the large baptismal font which was begun in 1390 by Luca di Giovanni and completed in 1407 by Pietro di Giovanni.
Above the baptismal font is a beautiful fresco in International Gothic style of the “Madonna Enthroned with Child” painted by Gentile da Fabriano in 1425. I love his work in the Uffizi of the Adoration of the Magi. So much gold!
One of the chapels in the cathedral is known as the Cappella del Corporale. It was built between 1350 and 1356 to house the stained linen of the Miracle of Bolsena. (That’s where we had lunch our first full day in Italy on our trip from Viterbo to Siena!) In 1263 a consecrated host allegedly began to bleed onto the cloth which the host and chalice rest on during Mass. The appearance of blood was seen as a miracle to affirm transubstantiation. Moreover it is said the dots of blood outlined the visage of Jesus. This is a miracle that the Roman Catholic Church says you can believe or not but there were plenty of believers here today in Orvieto.
The chapel is decorated with frescoes depicting on the left wall the history of the Eucharist and on the right wall miracles concerning the bleeding host throughout church history. They were painted between 1357 and 1363.
Moving on from this fabulous side chapel we approach the main altar. Here are decorations, some damaged by age, of the life of Mary on all three sides. These frescoes were painted around 1370.
And if this isn’t enough, there is another chapel, the Cappella Nuova or new chapel. After a number of false starts in the 1400’s the decoration was completed by Luca Signorelli in the early 16th century and is considered some of his greatest work. We are a little taken aback by all the naked people depicted but in the name of religion I guess this was all okay.
After our extensive viewing of the cathedral we stop in the Museum of the Cathedral. Most major churches in Italy have a museum. It is where they put a lot of the old artwork which is no longer fashionable or is not needed in the church. Among other works we see early woodcuts and the iconic figure of Mary Magdalene that is printed on the tickets and seen on posters around Orvieto.
We have had a very busy morning and early afternoon and it is time for a little sit-down and some lunch. Giorgio from the hotel has recommended a nearby restaurant, La Pergola. He says the food is like home cooking. We enjoy it.
After lunch we spend a little time basking in the sun in the piazza across from the Cathedral. The church is so beautiful and the facade so detailed that you can spend a considerable amount of time just looking at it. So we do.
Our next stop is at the deconsecrated 13th century Sant’Agostino church. It is now part of the museum complex. It houses large scale sculptures of the Apostles, Saints, and an Annunciation group made between the late sixteenth and early eighteenth centuries which used to reside in the duomo. Since this is not in our wheelhouse of interest, no one took pictures. The one shown here is off the internet.
Our final visit of the day is at Chiesa di San Giovenale or St. Juvenal. He is a saint we haven’t heard of. He was the first bishop of Narni in Umbria during the 4th century. There are conflicting reports of whether he was a martyr or merely a confessor. His legend suggests that he saved Narni from invaders by calling down a divine thunderstorm. He was removed from the Catholic Calendar in 1969.
Nonetheless he has a pretty wonderful church in Orivieto. We are met at the church by an elderly priest who speaks no English but he is quite eager to show us around and sell John a book about the church. He proudly lifts up the altar cloth so we can see a carved date of 1171 but the church is older than that. It is said to have been built in 1004 on an Etruscan temple dedicated to Jupiter. There are a lot of great old frescoes in here. It appears that the oldest ones are on the upper columns and detail the life of Christ. The first one on the right from the main door is of the Annunciation and the last one is the Crucifixion.
As you can imagine by now we are very tired from our big day of sightseeing so we cap it off by getting lost getting back to the parking lot. Finally John approaches an elderly man and asks for help. A great conversation of Italian/English ensues with another guy getting involved. Finally the first one decides that he’ll have to walk us back to where we can see the parking lot and find our way back. This includes a lot of climbing up and down hills but mostly down. What a nice guy to do all this for us!
By the time we are on our way back to our hotel no one wants to go out to dinner so we stop at the adverbially oddly named Simply Market and buy salami, cheese, crackers, and wine and have a picnic in our room for dinner.
Looking about for something to do on the way to Orvieto, we find the hill town of Todi. According to legend, Todi was founded by Hercules. Historically,Todi was founded by the ancient Umbrian people, in the 8th-7th century BC and became a Roman town in 217 B.C.
We head up the hill to Todi and when we cannot go any further without getting a ticket for driving in a special zone, we stop and take a look at Santa Maria della Consolazione. But it turns out to be a 16th century church which is a little too modern for us.
There is a path up to the main part of the old city which is too steep for me to attempt today. I seem to have tweaked something in my bad knee and I am hurting with every step. I am consigned to sit in the car while John and Sarah climb the hill up to the old city. They see the old church of San Fortunatus which is ancient looking on the outside but redone on the inside.
While we were in Assisi Sarah had a great white wine made from the Grecchetto grape. The producer of this wine, the winery Roccafiore, is nearby to Todi. While we can’t go to the tasting room because it is closed on Sunday, we can go to their restaurant for lunch. After only one false start we find it in the rural area east of Todi.
It’s a beautiful setting and the restaurant serves really fine food at a reasonable price. We decide to make lunch our main meal of the day.
Afterwards we take pictures of Todi from the restaurant’s beautiful setting.
We head to our next stop, the resort Misia, just outside Orvieto. I get some ice packs from the innkeeper for my knee which is quite swollen and sore. We decide to skip dinner and have an early night although Sarah does some exploring around the tiny town. After all, there are cats to be petted and a giant bluff behind the hotel complex to be climbed. John and I are climbed out.
We wake up this morning with renewed energy and after a breakfast of I-wish-they-made-eggs-other-than-hard-boiled we head off to the cathedral, Santa Maria dell’Assunta.
We take a circuitous route trying to use the moving walkways as much as possible. As it turns out it probably would have been a lot quicker just to walk there although considerably uphill. The cathedral is a Romanesque building constructed in the second half of the12th century. The portico and bell tower are later additions.
Unfortunately, except for the floor most of the interior has been updated to a neo-Classical form. Almost all the frescoes and paintings from the earlier church are gone so it has kind of lost its identity inside.
A couple of holdovers from the interior’s prior life are a wonderful 1187 crucifix and some frescoes in the apse by Fillipo Lippi.
One place where we might find the treasures lost from the church is the Diocesan Museum which is just uphill of the church.
In the museum we see many great works of art whose pictures I will insert at some point in the future. There is one room that has several very old crucifixes and a detailed explanation about the various poses of Jesus and what it means. The crucifix that we saw in the church (see above) is a triumphant Jesus. This is due to the fact that his feet are not nailed together and his eyes are open. Other types include the dead Jesus with eyes closed and feet nailed together and suffering Jesus. This is something we did not know.
My favorite thing in the museum is the wooden deposition group. Having these statues was very popular in the 11th-13th centuries and there have been groups found in the remote sections of Italy where current church decor was slow in coming.
I have suggested a trip to these remote churches tomorrow but a look at the treacherous roads up the mountains have dissuaded me of this plan.
After a quick look at the church of St. Euphemia where there is not much left we head to the Casa Romana. This is a Roman house excavated from under the streets of Spoleto. The house is built on the same plan as ones we have seen in Pompeii and on Sicily. It is conjectured that it belonged to the mother of the emperor.
Onward! We are doing a great job visiting the Top 10 things to see in Spoleto! Our next stop is the 11th century church of Sts. John and Paul. Here we find a saint we are not familiar with, St. Eligius. His attribute is the leg of a horse.
Lunchtime! We pick a place that looks nice, the Restaurant Sabatini, but the service is way slow and the food especially Sarah’s carbonara is not so great. The spaghetti is undercooked and the the sauce is broken. We of course are too timid to say anything.
After a brief respite at the hotel while we await the afternoon opening of the museums around 3 PM (Closed for lunch!), we head to the Museum of Textiles and Costumes. This small museum has clothing and materials from the 18th and 19th centuries. Since Sarah is a costume maker this is of special interest to her.
After this we go to the Archeological Museum where we learn a lot about the history of Spoleto from the ancient Umbrians through the Roman period and have an upclose look at the Roman theater that I posted a picture of yesterday.
The only thing left for today is to eat at the Number 1 Rated Restaurant on Tripadviser, Tiempo del Gusto. Unfortunately we are disappointed. The food is trying hard to be modern and traditional at the same time and it seems that it’s not succeeding at either.
We have really enjoyed Spoleto. It is easy to get around on the moving walkways, the people are friendly, and the art and history are astounding. The small scale of the city makes it doable in two busy days. We could have ordered better at the restaurants but otherwise we are totally happy with our choice to include Spoleto on our itinerary.
We leave our creepy hotel in Assisi on the early side after a horrible breakfast. We seem to be almost the only people in the entire hotel and the food keeps getting recycled. We are off to Spoleto where we are to spend two days. It’s less than an hour away.
Even though it is before 11 AM the hotel gives us our rooms and then we are off to start exploring. We have a Spoleto card which allows entry into 7 museums and unlimited use of public transportation.
Spoleto is a very interesting small city. There are traces of the original Umbrians whom Pliny the Elder said were the oldest people of Italy. Legend has it that they came to this area of Italy after the Great Flood. (Think, Noah) There is also a lot of Roman remains and then the Longobards followed by the Duchy of Spoleto. There are museums, churches, and ruins that put this all in perspective. It is also not crowded with tourists.
Just outside our hotel is the Roman theater. After its beginnings as a fortified town by Umbrian tribes, Spoletium was a Roman city founded around 240 B.C. (John has just pointed out to me, as I am typing this, that after Hannibal was victorious at Lake Trasimeno he went on to attack Spoleto. I will try to work this into my next casual conversation with my friends at home.)
Just around the corner from the Roman theater is San Ansano’s church consecrated in 1143. It’s made of bits and pieces of an old Roman temple and a Paleo-Christian church. In it lie the remains of St. Isaac perhaps a Syrian hermit who came to the hills around Spoleto and died here in 552. He is buried in the crypt under the church which is decorated with early frescoes (maybe 12th century?)
Coming out of the church we pass under the Arch of Drusus. Drusus and his brother Germanicus were adopted sons and the heirs apparent of Emperor Tiberius. They both died in their early 20’s and so an arch was erected here in their honor.
Lunchtime! We stop at an outdoor cafe for sandwiches and salad. Of course things turn out a little differently than we anticipate. We have a giant sandwich and a giant salad. They are only 5 Euros. Who knew?!
Spoleto is very hilly. So hilly that the city has a system of underground walkways, escalators, and elevators. It helps some but you really need to be fit to climb and descend all the hills.
Our next tourist spot is the Ponte Delle Torri. It is an aqueduct built in the 13th century on top of an earlier Roman aqueduct. It’s quite something and Sarah and John take a brief walk on it. It’s 80 meters high so no way I am venturing out.
At this, the highest point of Spoleto, is also a fortress called the Rocca Albornoziana which was built in 1359-1370. It is now a museum.
From this vantage point we can see the whole city and the walls around it.
At this point we are pretty zonked out. I suggest a siesta and then meet later for dinner. Everyone agrees.
We stop first at a restaurant which is rated #1 on Tripadviser but they are completely booked. We are able to get a reservation for Saturday night but only if we will eat early, 7:30 PM. Of course! If there is one thing Americans like to do it is to eat early by European standards.
We stop at an Enoteca that also serves food, the Enoteca il mio Vinaio.
Utterly exhausted we decide to have an early night so that we can awake with renewed vigor to explore the rest of Spoleto tomorrow.