Saturday, October 6, 2007

Day 5: Soriano nel Cimino-Cortona

Another nice day in Soriano. This morning we pack up and get ready to leave. Michael brings his car up and we load the luggage. While he is waiting for us, a car pulls in back of him (the road is too narrow for a car to get past) and Michael asks him to wait a few minutes. While waiting, the driver (who Michael doesn’t know at all) pulls out two cell phones and asks if Michael can help him switch the SIM card from one to the other. That mission accomplished, we load his car and take the luggage to our car in the parking lot.

Before leaving Soriano, we go back to the piazza for a last coffee at Caffe Centrale and say goodbye to all our “friends” in Soriano. The piazza here is sort of like the Champs d’Elysee…if you sit long enough, it is said you will eventually meet everyone you know. Michael offers to drive us back to the parking lot, which is only a few hundred yards away from the piazza. But since he is parked just below the piazza, the one-way traffic patterns force him to make a complete circuit of the town on the “ring road” (maybe 2 miles) in order to get back to the piazza going the right way to get to the parking lot.
We say our final goodbyes and as I begin to pull out of my space, a young Italian man comes up and courteously asks if we can wait before pulling out while he calls his friends who are circling Soriano in their car looking for a parking space. We happily agree and they are very appreciative.
We are meeting our friends Franco and Maureen in Orvieto just before noon, where will eat “lunch” (which will last all day) at the Slow Food sponsored event called “Orvieto con Gusto”. The event is an Italian progressive meal “A spasso con gusto” where you have appetizers at one location in town, walk to another for the pasta course, then to a third place for the secondo and to a fourth setting for dessert. You are given a wine glass and bag on a string to carry around your neck, and you present the glass at each location for more wine. Diana thinks this is the quintessential Italian event…combining eating, drinking, socializing and walking and making a meal last all day.
It is an easy drive to Orvieto on the autostrada and we park in our “regular” parking lot on the far side of town where we then take the escalator into the centro. We hook up with Franco and Maureen and their friends Joel and Trish in front of the town hall where Franco is meeting the mayor who is accompanying us on the food expedition. (Franco does a lot of consulting with Orvieto on traffic issues and, in fact, the mayor officiated at Maureen and Franco’s wedding.)

En route to the “antipasto”, we are joined by the Mayor’s wife and his five year old son. The antipasto course is held in an old army barracks on the other side of the town so we are able to do some sightseeing and build up an appetite on the way. The antipasto plate is excellent (guanciale, soft salami, cheese, etc.)–it turns out to be the best course–and the Orvieto white wine is a nice accompaniment. The second course–a chickpea and chestnut soup–requires a walk across Orvieto back to the opposite side of the city.
More wine and then a march past the magnificent Duomo.
to the Underground Orvieto park where we have some tasty “beef stew” and polenta made of farro (we both think that corn is better for polenta), drink some local red wine and enjoy the gorgeous view over the countryside.
Thankfully the rain that is threatening holds off (after a few drops) and we make our way back to the Piazza del Popolo for dessert–chocolate cake, candied orange peel coated in chocolate and some dessert wine. Four hours later, lunch is finished. We say goodbye to everyone and head back down to the parking lot. We will see Maureen and Franco tomorrow for lunch near Cortona.
We arrive in Cortona - over the border in Tuscany - about 6:30 pm and drive up a very steep street to the centro. Our hotel–the San Michele–is just below the main piazza and we have to unload quickly because we don’t want to block traffic. Diana checks in and I drive back down the hill, park in the lot outside the walls and climb back up to the center. After unpacking and getting settled, we take a quick stroll down the main street–the Via Nazionale–which is jammed on this Saturday evening with mostly English-speakers, in the roadway and in the cafes.
We decide that we want a light dinner (after the full afternoon of eating) and head for a place–Pane e Vino–where they serve light meals. However, it is Saturday night and they are fully booked. We try two other places before getting seated at the Trattoria Dardano, which turns out to be a good choice. My small plate of salami is delicious, Diana’s caprese has good cheese but so-so tomatoes. The pastas–ravioli with sage and butter for Diana and fettucine with mushrooms for me–were both good, and the service–after a slow start since the place was so crowded–was very good. It was also very reasonably priced ….Euro 28.00 (about $40.00 US).
We stop for a quick gelato on the way back to the hotel…..the crowds have disappeared for the most part and the town is now pretty quiet.


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