Beautiful Orvieto

I had never heard of Orvieto prior to my VBT trip.  What a charming little town!  Founded by the Etruscans, it sits atop a pile of volcanic rock.  It is a very walkable town, with enough to see and do to keep us all quite happy and occupied for several days.

Orvieto-one mile long and a half a mile wide

The VBT pre-trip package included a guided walking tour.  Manuela explained that Orvieto’s three main squares corresponded to the three important functions: religion, commerce and government.  We are standing in the “commerce” square.  Deserted on a Friday morning, but bustling on Saturday, which is market day.

Manuela in the Piazza del Popolo

Sally and I had wandered the streets the day we arrived, but what a difference it made having our guide. (Or maybe being jet lagged had something to do with it.)

The market was a major disappointment, more like a low-end flea market. For example, they sold what my Grandma called “house” dresses. I thought that style died with her, decades ago.

Fortunately the little streets were lined with delightful shops loaded with crafts, ceramics, unique clothing, wine, cheese. You too can own one of these tee shirts if you have 125 Euros you don’t know what to do with!

The Government square wasn’t all that interesting, except for the tower that dates back to the 1000’s.

We said goodbye to Manuela after our visit to Orvieto’s main attraction, the Duomo.

The Duomo, as seen from one of the side streets

It was surprising to see such a grand church in a rather small town. There is quite a story behind it. Any guesses? I’ll tell all in the next post.

Star of David pattern on pavement in front of Duomo
Side view of Duomo
Detail from Duomo facade. Are these the damned?

By now, you’ve probably seen quite enough of the church, so off we go to the next attraction, Orvieto’s underground tour, the perfect place to hang out during the hottest part of the day. The Uniticket brochure describes Orvieto as the city of a thousand caves. That is likely true, however most of the caves are below people’s houses, and are not open to the public. They make the ideal wine cellar, staying at a uniform temperature.

The tour consisted of a couple of caves that have been linked together by some rather narrow passages. I am more than slightly claustrophobic, so when I saw the tiny, winding staircases carved in the rock, I had to take a deep breath and remind myself that I had passed through a birth canal once, I could do it again.

The caves functioned as bomb shelters during World War II, and in ancient times they were used as pigeon houses (pigeons were considered food in this area), for olive oil pressing and for storage. Because the volcanic rock is relatively soft, the Etruscans were able to dig down to the water table, so the caves were the source of their water. And no, I have no idea who the cute little girl was; she just made the photo more interesting.

The pigeon housing in the caves.

The “other” caves, Pozzo Della Cava were discovered in the 1500’s when Pope Clement VII
decided to hang out in Orvieto while Rome was being sacked. He determined the city needed a reliable source of water so it could withstand sieges, so he had the Etruscan well enlarged, and in the process, the workers uncovered burial chambers and artifacts.

The Etruscan well, in Pozzo Della Cava
Etruscan artifacts

More to see, but it will have to wait till the next post.

Living the Dream in Lucca

I’ll never be rich (at least not in monetary terms) or famous, but for the next two weeks, I’ll be living as if I were.

Our villa in Lucca is exquisite. Because of bed type and bathroom preferences among the other villa mates, I ended up with this fantastic room.  I’m so glad Sandy is joining me here on July 4th, to share this amazing experience with me.  Get ready, everyone–once little sister arrives, the blog will likely become much more exciting (or maybe not, so it can keep its PG rating.)

Half of our room
The rest of our room

Check out that terrace, right outside our room.

The terrace on the 2nd floor
The view from the terrace
Our bathroom

I’m quite proud of myself.  I actually figured out how to use the shower on my own. Usually Mike does all the hard stuff. This shower has knobs galore to control overhead, side and hand sprays. The door reminds me of Star Trek, except it has a seat, so you can be comfy while being beamed up?

Ours is the only shared bathroom, (with the “twin bed” room) but there is also a bathroom on the first floor. The three other bedrooms (two on the third floor) have their own, equally magnificent bathrooms. So, five bedrooms in total, and five baths.

The kitchen

There is also a large, shady terrace on the first floor.

Terrace dining room
Living room, as seen from dining room
Third floor living room
The pool, viewed from the second floor
The pool, yet again

Goodbye Orvieto, hello Tuscany

Orvieto was wonderful; its wi-fi connection was not. So we will save the narrative and photos for that leg of our journey until uploading is not so arduous.

Those on the tour that were not doing the Orvieto pretrip arrived on Saturday night. Becky, who came from California, arrived minus her luggage. She and the thunder storms hit the east coast around the same time, so her journey was by far the most exciting, although Bud and Ruth also had a story to tell about their flight from Philadelphia. Seasoned travelers all, they took their adventures in stride. I, on the other hand, was quite glad to have been spared the experience.

We stopped on our way out of Orvieto for a photo-op.

Lunch was in the little fortress town of Pitigliano, and offered yet another departure photo-op.

Next stop, our beautiful 4 star resort, Antica Fattoria La Parrina. This “farm” produces its own wine, cheese, yogurt, vegetables, oil, balsamic vinegar, organic pasta, jams and sauces which we would soon be sampling.

We were greeted by Astrid, who served us wine and cheese while our luggage was being deposited in our rooms. I’m not normally a white wine fan, but their’s is delicious. So is their red, so I drank both.

Check out my gorgeous room.

I’m a little mystified by the table and chairs in the bathroom. Am I supposed to invite my two best friends in for tea while I take a bubble bath?

We met our team leaders, Franco and Angelo for a safety briefing. After they finished telling us about the fast moving traffic, I looked at Beth to see if she was as terrified as I was. When they said fast moving traffic, I visualized NYC, but fortunately their definition of traffic is quite different from ours.

There are 20 of us bikers, and as with our last VBT trip, it didn’t take long for us to feel like we had been friends for years. Getting lost is a particularly bonding experience. Plus the wine helps.

We had a short introductory ride to get used to our bikes. Well, short for some, longer for those that are directionally challenged. Can you guess which group I fit in?

Dinner was a typical Italian event that lasted for hours with glorious food, lots of wine, great company. This could be habit forming!

Today’s ride took us through the Tuscan countryside. This is postcard worthy scenery.

Those hills are beautiful, but they are a bit of a challenge for some of us.

Orvieto- Day 1

I don’t know whether it was yesterday’s back to back yoga sessions or the glasses of red wine, maybe both, but all of the normal air travel irritants fazed me not one bit. I would just “breathe into it, take another sip” and contemplate how mellow I was feeling as I floated across the Atlantic Ocean. Maybe I’m finally getting the hang of this traveling thing.

It took us a while to reach our hotel today and a bit longer to get into our rooms. I was definitely “runnin’ on empty” by the time I collapsed onto my bed for a one hour nap.

My room is lovely, on the first floor, which, by the way, us Yankees would consider the 2nd floor. It’s in an old building with all of the conveniences: air conditioning, little refrigerator, or as I like to think of it “wine cooler”, a bidet, located within spitting distance of the cathedral (the hotel, not the bidet–although technically, i suppose it is both). Not that I would ever spit. But if I did, I could probably score a bull’s eye.


Okay. It is official. My connection with the Internet is a lot like my high school dating experiences–on, again, off again. So, I will quickly get some photos up before the Internet breaks up with me.

The Duomo

No, that was not the interior of the Duomo. You can’t take pictures inside. Well, you aren’t supposed to, but i noticed some tourists boldly ignoring the rules. Didn’t they see that fresco of Jesus passing judgement? Didn’t they see what happens to the rule breakers? I did. And let me tell you, I wasn’t taking any chances.

The second photo is actually the staircase in one of Orvieto’s little shops. If I had 120 euros that I didn’t know what do do with, I would definitely have bought one of their Miss Piggy tee shirts. I may return, just to take a photo of one of those suckers–they are quite unique! Something to anticipate in future posts.

I wandered around town by myself, then later with Sally, while we waited for our fellow companions to awaken and for the restaurants to start serving dinner. 7:30 is the earliest, and is an accommodation to those of us from across the pond. Italians dine later.

This is such a lovely little town, full of interesting alleys, with shops, restaurants, wine stores, museums. Sally and I ducked into a wine store and had our own private tasting. We determined that white was the way to go, after tasting three reds, en chose our favorite from among four whites. Time to weave our way back to join the others for a fantastic dinner and a good night’s sleep.



Tuscany by the Sea with VBT

Us “biker chicks” are off for another VBT adventure, this time in Italy.  Yep, five of last year’s group will soon be mounting up.  We’ll be minus Marilyn this time, which is a disappointment, because when she’s along, the fun quotient increases.  I hope she’ll be keeping up with us electronically.

My least favorite part of traveling is the overnight plane ride. Although I’ve packed my “comfort” items: Noise cancelling headset, iPod, sleeping pill,  I still don’t make a smooth transition across time zones.

My flight leaves at 5 PM today, arriving in Rome at 7 AM.  Orvieto, the starting point for our trip is a 2 hour ride away.   Fortunately, all I have to do is get my luggage, get through customs and find the VBT rep who will transport me to our hotel.   That’s probably all I’ll be able to handle.  Did I mention that I’m not good at crossing time zones?

We have a few days in Orvieto to get acclimated and see the sights before we climb on our bikes. We will be riding to places that I had never heard of before signing on for the trip, so click on the blue print for the Map of the Tuscany Bike Tour if you want to know where we’ll be going, because odds are I’ll have forgotten the names by the time we get home.  So, don’t even bother asking.  (I”m taking to you, Sue).

We will finish the VBT portion of our adventure on June 30th, and will then head north for two weeks in Lucca.  I’ll be flying home on July 15th.

Why all of the details?  Well, I just got off the phone with my mother who accused me of not telling her that I’m leaving today.  Of course, I had told her multiple times,  but her response was that she can’t keep track of my travels.

Additionally, I’ve learned to anticipate internet complications. On my last trip, I fell far behind in my blog, confusing friends and family who thought that because my blog was still out west,so was I.  So.  Onward and upward.