Thursday, May 19, 2005

Day 3: Orvieto

The sky is blue and the sun is shining this morning....when I speak to the desk clerk about the "bella giornata", she replies "Yes, at least for now."

Today we are going to visit Lake Bolsena, a large lake in Lazio about a half hour drive from Orvieto. The lake is volcanic and fed by underground springs and is reputed to be one of the cleanest lakes in the world. The local authorities have constructed an elaborate system to catch runoff from local farms so that pollutants don't reach the lake. They say that you can even drink the lake water and lake water is used in the local recipe for fish stew--sbroscia.

The drive from Orvieto is very pleasant....even more so with the beautiful weather. Our first stop is the town of Bolsena, a medieval village with a castle, Roman excavations, and a striking boulevard lined with plane trees, that connects the town with the lakefront. We park right on the lakefront and walk over to the port where we want to find out about the schedule for the boats that make the trip to Bisentina Island. It seems that we've missed the 10 am boat and on non-summer weekdays ,boats only go with groups of ten people.. We'll check this out further at the Tourist Information office on the main piazza, but a boat trip may not be in our immediate future.

We walk back into town, hearing lots of German along the way. The gentleman at the "I" is most unhelpful - read the brochure, he advises - or check at the kiosk on the waterfront. I had already told him what the kiosk said - my question was, is there a number to call or another location from which boats depart. His English was excellent - this seems to be a matter of that occasional I phenomenon - the information guy without information or the inclination to pursue it. I use my cell phone to call the boat people at the town at the other end of the lake - the same thing applies - perhaps we can find eight other tourists who want to go on a boat ride.

I've picked up an excellent book about Bolsena at the hotel in Orvieto - written in a very readable but classy English, by a woman named Fern Kennison who is clearly enchanted by Bolsena. We follow one of her suggested walks - a steep climb through medieval alleyways up to the castle at the top of the town.. After the climb, we rest on a bench and enjoy the view over the lake. Just above us is the Mondelscalchi castle which houses the local museum with archeological finds from the area as well a section about the lake and the local fishing industry. There is an English translation (called "The Polyglot Museum Guide) which translates every one of the detailed explanations about the exhibits. It is too dense for us, so we try and hit the highlights....we don't want to miss too much of the beautiful sunshine. I climb up to the top of the castle for an even more panoramic view of the lake and the village and then we walk back down by a different route.

We pass an inviting porchetta truck parked in the main piazza, but we are on on our way to a lakefront restaurant to sample the local fish speciality--coregone. The restaurant...Il right on the edge of the lake next to a park. A family of ducks is playing yards from our table and our view of the lake is terrific. The local white wine is fresh and delicious. The only disappointment is that there is no fresh coregone available today. The lunch is pretty good....I have the marinated coregone (like herring), and fritto misto (calamari and shrimp) and very good spinach. Diana has gnocchi with crabmeat in a cream sauce and fried fillets of lake perch which are a little bland. But the setting is so idyllic that lunch is a success anyway and it is hard to get up and leave.

After lunch, we set out to circumnavigate the lake by car. The road climbs away from the lake as we drive down the eastern side and we get good views over the almost perfectly circular lake. The Bolsena area has very controlled development policies, so most of the landscape is rolling hills and olive trees. We see a sign for the Bolsena War Cemetery and pull over to take a look. The small cemetery is long downhill walk from the road; it is placed close to the lake between olive trees and an expansive meadow filled with red poppies and yellow flowers. It is a small cemetery (one of three in the area) and the 400 men (many really boys) who are buried there are mostly English and South African who were killed in the battles around Lake Trasimeno as the Allies pushed north from Rome in June 1944. As in the cemetery we visited in Siracusa last year, it is beautifully kept up and very moving.

We continue our drive and get back to the lake shore near Montefiascone, which is the largest town on the lake and dominated by a very grandly domed cathedral. The road along the lake is mostly gravel and is part of the network of bicycle trails all around the lake shore. The Bolsena area appears to be very concerned about careful development of the many of the towns, the lake front is well tended parkland with benches, playground equipment and picnic tables, interspersed with some restaurants, bars and beach concessions. We stop for a gelato in Capodimonte at Il Re
di Gelato (The Gelato King) right on the harbor....good gelato in a very pleasant setting. The western shore is more deserted and has fishermen's shacks set right in the lake with boats tied up to the shacks. We see netting hung out to dry on lines strung between the trees and we pass a number of bicyclists and joggers on the road. The ride around the lake takes just over an hour, even with our stops; it is a very nice excursion. And we still have two things left to do on our next trip to Bolsena--make the boat trip to the island and eat the local fish speciality, coregone.

Back in Orvieto about 6 pm, we catch up on e-mail and I try to get some work done. We decide to go back to the trattoria where we had eaten lunch yesterday, La Grotta. When we arrive at 8:00 pm, we are the only customers....we are not positive that we are recognized by the proprietor but he greets us warmly. The restaurant does fill up over the next hour and many of the customers--both Italian and foreigners---appear to be regulars. Before we order, the owner brings out a large platter of lamb chops for us to see...this is the special for the evening--fried lamb chops. Dinner is excellent--a plate of the special prosciutto, and tagliolini with artichokes (both delicious) for me; Diana has the prosciutto and melon (the melons are wonderful this year) and spaghetti all'Amatriciana (served with the traditional pecorino romano cheese instead of parmigiano reggiano).........We share one order of the lamb chops which are tender and meaty. We also have a half bottle of the same Umbrian red we had yesterday, again good and still a great bargain at Euro 5.00. The bill comes to Euro 60.00...this seems to be the usual price for the full meals we have been eating so far.

Just as we are finishing dinner, I notice an American walk into the restaurant, speak to the proprietor, look around and then walk out. He looks very familiar and then I realize that it is Rick Steves. I hurry out the door to try and catch him. I introduce myself and tell him that we have used his books since 1993 on our first trip to Italy. I give him my card, explaining that I am now an Italian travel consultant and travel to Italy twice a year to do "research". His friend, who waiting for him outside says "You both have very good jobs." I recommend La Grotta to him and he says he has had good reader feedback about it...but he is trying to decide which place in Orvieto to eat in as he is now updating his Italy book.

The evening is very pleasant as we walk back to the hotel. We are hopeful that tomorrow's weather will be as beautiful as it was today.


Post a Comment

<< Home