Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Day 1: Orvieto

The plane trip is bearable...we are flying American through New York using frequent flyer miles. The plane is crowded. As usual, I sleep and Diana doesn't. The staff is pleasant and the meal tolerable. But we are back in Italy for a month....which makes us very happy, although I am taken aback by the rainstorm that greets us as we land. Somehow I have become convinced that we only have warm sunny weather in Italy, even when there is evidence to the contrary. We quickly retrieve our luggage (it all arrives) and get the car. Since it is only now 8:30 am and it is likely that we will not be able to get in our hotel room if we go directly to Orvieto, we decide to head take the slower route there.

We spend an hour or so wandering around the vicinity of the airport....I have been wanting to check out the locations of some the hotels in the area that have been used by people for the last night in Italy before an early flight out of Rome. After circling in the area of the towns of Fiumicino and Ostia, we both agree that there can't be an uglier area of Italy anywhere--both the towns and the beach area look grimy and uninviting...probably compounded by the rainy and overcast weather. We do pass a number of the hotels I am looking for, so some of the research purpose is accomplished.

After getting caught in a pretty good traffic jam near the airport, we finally break free and get on the autostrada heading north along the coast. My plan is to take the A12 past Tarquinia and then head inland towards Lake Bolsena and on to Orvieto. It is a pleasant enough drive on the autostrada, even in the rain--the countryside is rolling, lush green hills although the Mediterranean is nowhere in sight. As we leave the autostrada, the rain stops and the drive across is quite pleasant. We pass an old Roman aqueduct near Vulci and drive through a jungle of olive trees around the olive oil center of Lazio, Canino. We get a good view over the large circular Lake Bolsena from its western heights and make a wonderful approach to Orvieto from the southwest...even though Orvieto is set up on a high bluff, the whole town is laid out beneath us and the Duomo looks spectacular as we descend from the opposite hill.

Since we have visited Orvieto many times, we find our way to our hotel my--the Palazzo Piccolomini--without difficulty. Unfortunately our room is not ready yet (it is about 12:30) so I take a quick stroll around the neighborhood (the weather has turned clear and sunny) and Diana waits in the lobby-dozing. Orvieto is a stunningly beautiful town and I enjoy my short walk through one of the closeby residential neighborhoods. The room is still not ready when I get back but I am able to use the computer with internet access set up in the lobby to check my e-mail while we continue to wait.

We finally get into the room about 1:30....the room is very pleasant with a separate sitting area; no decorative touches but attractive. The view from the window is a typical Orvieto picture....stone walls, tiled roofs, and flowers in windowboxes. We get settled, I take a shower and Diana sleeps. I then spend some time on the computer downstairs... trying to make a dent in some unfinished work.

Around 3, we head out for stroll around town and stop for sandwiches at the Cantina Foresi, a winebar right on the Piazza Duomo. We have eaten here on all our visits to Orvieto since 1993 and feel very attached to it. The weather takes a turn for the worse after we have our first gelato of the trip (lemon and strawberry for me, pine nut and crema for Diana) and it begins to rain. Our expedition is cut short but we make it back to the hotel before it starts to rain heavily.

Back in the room, I try to connect to the internet using my Italian dialup accounts, but the wiring in the hotel permits only a frustratingly slow connection...this is one of the dangers if you depend on the internet while traveling in Italy....so I return to the computer in the lobby to get some work done during the bad weather. I am feeling a little overwhelmed by all the work that I need to get done in the first week of our trip...this is the first time I have really had client work with deadlines while traveling in Italy.

It is still gray and threatening at 6 pm but the rain has stopped so we take our umbrellas and head out for a walk. I am looking for internet places where I can hook up my laptop directly and we take a walk in another new neighborhood for us. Unfortunately by the time we get to the first place recommended by the tourist office, it is closed. But serendipitously right across the street is a one of my targeted restaurants--Antica Cantina--with several appealing menu options posted outside. Since jet lag was likely to attack at any time, we decided to eat--even at the unfashionable hour of 7 pm--and get back to the hotel reasonably early.

The food was almost uniformly excellent, but the service deteriorated as the meal went on. The proprietors--apparently a husband-wife team--became more and more disengaged as the meal went on and by the end they were both ignoring us. Which is a real shame because we would have returned to this place based on the food....I had a soup (velluta) of fava beans with a piece of pecorino cheese toast floating in it, which was velvety and tasted like the essence of fava beans. Diana had the seasonal menu which featured a wonderful crepe with artichokes, bresaola (air cured beef) wrapped around an arugula/cheese filling, tagliolini with asparagus and an artichoke risotto (both delicious). Our final courses match the downturn in the service...Diana's asparagus omelet and my fried baccala were just OK. I finished with a lackluster panna cotta. It was one of those experiences that start out on a high plane but for some inexplicable reason, crash land by the end. With a bottle of Orvieto white, the bill came to about Euro 50 (around $64.00 US), pretty reasonable for what we ate, but we left with a bad taste in our mouths.

We stroll back to the hotel through a wet and empty Orvieto, spend a little more time on the internet (even Diana is doing some work) and call it a day.


Pauline said...

Fiumicino and Ostia looked just as bad to me on a sunny day. Not a place I would want to spend a "last night". Have a great trip Jim - and keep posting!!

11:30 PM  

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