Orvieto: Lesson no.1, remember where you park

The fun and games driving in Italy with my crazy family continue.  Mum, Dad, Susie, Zorba and I all decided to head to the nearby hilltop medieval town of Orvieto.  Ben was tired from jet lag, as were the kids, so they opted to hang out at our Umbrian palazzo.  We thought we’d be gone for about 2 or 3 hours…. hmmm…read on.

The drive to Orvieto was easy enough, the town is well sign posted and the windy roads and distant rolling hills made it a pleasant and pretty drive. When Orvieto came into view, we were all astounded – a gorgeous looking medieval town perched on top of a hill, church spires and castle towers striking the sky, surrounded by rolling hills of vineyards and trees.

Orvieto in the background

There was a bit of debate as to where to park.  Walter (Dad) wanted to us to drive direct into the centre of the old town of Orvieto, probably because it was 36 degrees, uphill and baking hot.  Zorba and I were more cautious, warning Walter that in old historical towns there were often restricted zones where after a certain point only registered resident cars were allowed to enter and everyone else would be issued with a fine.  We had learnt from experience as it happened to us in Lucca, Tuscany in 2010.

Walter was being fairly insistent about driving in to the town, “Let’s just go up and have a look, if there’s no parking, we’ll come back down.” Fine. If that’s what you want to do Walter, that’s what we’ll do – but you are paying the infringement if we get one!

We drove through the Porta Maggiore – the old city walls – into the old centre of Orvieto. It looked fabulous. And low and behold, there was a free parking spot – whoo-hoo!  The sign had a little picture of man with a trolley and an 1-hour sign.  Hmm, was this a loading zone?  We were all umm-ing and ahh-hing about whether to park and risk it or move the car when a local polizia (policeman) pulled up. I asked him in my most polite Italian if we could park there for one hour? The response from him was — well, normally this is a loading zone, but today is Sunday and it will probably be ok.  Ok, I’ll take that! Let’s park and check this place out!

Orvieto is as cute as you like. A gorgeous medieval town with narrow streets, beautiful flower boxes filled with coloured blooms everywhere you look, portico and arch ways, and pretty cobbled streets.  It is very agreeable.  

We walked to the Duomo and were all utterly amazed at the sheer size and intricate detail of the structure.  From the side, it reminded me of the Duomo in Florence with the striped dark blue and cream brick work. Inside it was breathtakingly beautiful.  Frescoes, marble pillars and flooring, statues, artwork, stain glass windows – the Duomo had it all.  A Mass was in progress, so we couldn’t really look around too much.

The front of the Duomo was stunning.  Built in the 1200s and finished in the 1400s, mosaic images adorned the front and were finished with gold leaf and the usual ornate marble statues and decorations really made the Duomo an impressive structure that you could stare at for ages and ages. Absolutely magnificent.

By this stage, we were starting to feel peckish and lunch was calling.  Knowing how fussy I am with food and eating – well, fussy is the wrong word, I consider myself particular – I took charge of choosing a lunch place.  I hate eating sub-standard food in tourist traps, especially in Italy, a country that has so much good food (as soon as you are away from the tourist spots).  So, a turn here, a turn there, and we stumbled upon a nice looking restaurant off the main streets with an private courtyard covered in shade, thanks to the overhead growing vines. Simply gorgeous! And so lovely and cool on a blazing hot day.  It was a little bit expensive compared to other restaurants we have eaten at in Italy, but Dad was paying and the cool gorgeous setting seemed to be worth it. And we were right.

I ordered for us to share grilled vegetables and a caprese salad with buffalo mozzarella. Oh yes, a delicious start. For mains, we all had something different.  We all enjoyed our meals as much as we enjoyed tasting each other’s.  Ravioli with porcini mushroom sauce, spaghetti amatricana, four cheese lasagne, papadelle with cream and pancetta sauce, local salami-like sausages – all really beautiful.

After lunch Dad decided he wanted to see the famous well in Orvieto that dates back to the 16th century that is 15 metres wide, 62 metres deep and has 248 steps on the spiral staircase along the inside of it.

In the steaming hot sun, it was hard work walking around with a full tummy that was also holding a beer or two.  Curling up in a shady spot was far more appealing.  We didn’t know where the well was and Dad was happy to abandon that idea and get back to the car.  Yes, the car.  Now where did we park the car?

We walked up and down the main hilly street – and up and down again looking for where we parked the car.  Oh dear.  Everyone insisted it was this way, or that way, or the other standard frustrating reaction of, “No no, I remember walking past this shop, that theatre, that church…”. Sigh.

Far out. It was getting hotter and hotter, if that was even possible, and my patience was wearing thinner and thinner.  I had to just sit tight and butt out and let them all argue about the direction we had first entered the town from.  You know, too many cooks and all that. Plus, I had no clue where we had parked the car. None.

Inside the well

A tourist overhead our confusion and helped our plight by giving us her map. She said the famous well was a little way down the hill and worth a look – don’t disappear because there was a local bus that would take us back up the hill once we were done.  We decided to visit the well, after all, we were there in Orvieto and may as well.  Bom-bom, pun intended!

The well was great. It is amazing to think that something as complex as a deep underground structure was capable of being built 800 or so years ago.  It was so lovely and cool inside the well too.  But bloody hard work climbing all those stairs to get back up to the top!

Ah the top, yes, now back to the original problem. Where was the car?  After the sixth time walking past the Massimo Theatre, Zorba cracked it and instructed us to wait there while he checked out a side street to see if that lead to our lost car.  We waited and waited. And waited and waited.  Thank God there was shade on the steps of the Massimo Theatre. There was also the most awful stench of horse manure that keep invading our space every couple of minutes.  Where the hell was that coming from?  We didn’t know, there wasn’t a horse in sight.  It was gross, but what could we do? We couldn’t really move to another spot because firstly there was no shade, and secondly Zorba would never be able to find us.

In the meantime, Susie went through her photos she had taken on her camera and closely examined the first photo she took when we arrived into Orvieto. Between that, asking several locals, “where is this?” and the map the nice Canadian tourist had given us, Dad worked out the general area of where the car must have been parked.

After 40 minutes or so, Zorba finally returned completely and utterly hot and flustered, almost in a panic and declared that the car was nowhere to be seen. He was almost implying that it has been towed away. I wasn’t convinced. But I was cranky.

We were all together again and off we charged up the hill. Seriously, if only we had walked another five minutes up the hill the first time, we would have never have been lost and would have saved ourselves about three hours of inconvenience and stress in the blistering hot summer sun.  Susie kept saying, “Oh no, we are the Griswalds!”  I was in denial. No were weren’t. She might be, but not me. I wasn’t a Griswald. Nope.

It was only when we were trying to find our way back from Orvieto to our lovely Umbrian palace the that I had to concede and agree with Susie after we went around a round-about three times because the stupid GPS couldn’t make its mind up which way we should go.  Grrr.

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Our 2 to 3 hour trip look almost 7 hours.  Yep. We are hopeless.  That’s two days in a row we have been lost.  I hope this is not setting the scene of things to come. Please God no!  But somehow I think it already has.

Ben and the kids were the sensible ones that opted to stay home, and as a result, missed the complete chaos of the Bortoletto’s / Griswalds on tour. Speaking of Ben, he has actually been pretty nice to me thus far.  Normally he stirs me to the point of a snappy reaction (something he takes great pleasure in doing!), but I think he is feeling a bit sorry for me.  After all, holidaying with the Griswalds is no easy feat!

For dinner we had the best BBQ ever at our Umbrian palace consisting of local sausages made by the butcher in Castel Giorgio, veal scallopine steaks (same butcher) that soaked in the beautiful smokey flavour of the coal BBQ, served with a mixed fresh salad. Healthy and delicious and in a setting that offers a view – with matching sunset – to die for.  A great end to an eventful day, oh thank you Umbria!

Arrivederci! xx

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