Easter Monday, the day after Easter, is a holiday in Italy. Not only are museums closed, but also banks and many shops that normally cater to tourists. That requires avoiding the crowds in Rome, where many locals are celebrating a holiday and Italians from outside the city are using the day off to travel to leisure destinations.
Again, we chose to sponsor a private tour outside the city into the countryside of Umbria. On Cruise Critic we found 5 others interested in sharing our agenda.
We found “Driver in Italy”, a company we had used for our previous tour of Rome with Katherine and Jim, willing to provide a driver and van to visit Orvieto, Montefiascone and the Lake Bolsena region of Umbria. As we disembarked the Rotterdam in Civitavecchia, the closest port to Rome, Alberto was waiting right at the gangway as promised. Our vehicle, however, was a Fiat van, not a Mercedes, which proved to be less than satisfactory. The roads in the Italian countryside could use a large dose of infrastructure investment and the Fiat was lacking the suspension system necessary to minimize the bumpy ride. Space for the 7 of us was not an issue, but comfort during the 10 hour day was definitely a problem. Having accepted what could not be changed we found the day to be as promised – a day to remember in Umbria.
Arrival at sunrise to the port of Civitavecchia, a bit over an hour from Rome. The port is a large commercial port and, in addition to all the working ships, we shared dock space with 4 other cruise ships. Another reason not to be going to Rome today.
Our first stop was Montefiascone, a beautiful small village an hour and a half east of the port and somewhat north. The view from the old town was memorable.
The old section was narrow streets, some only as wide as a single car. An attempt to view the local church from above was a hair-raising experience.
Approaching the dome of the church to see it from an unusual perspective, our tour could have ended in disaster. Just beyond the curve to the right was a locked gate. No room for a turn around. Our only option was to back down the way we came, with the wall on our right and a guardrail with a sheer drop off on our left. Alberto hugged the wall on the right, but neglected to see a concrete divider, about 2 feet high, on the left. Minus the left tail light, we backed down the hill, white knuckles all around. In retrospect, getting out of the van while he backed down the hill might have been a better idea, except the wall on the right prevented opening the door to exit. The door on the left opened to the drop off. Neither choice was a good option. The good news is …………………………………………………….. we’re still here to continue the blog.
We found the church on a narrow street below and it was, indeed, worth the search. It was a 400 year-old church in the round. Actually, a half-round is a better description.
The main altar is ornate with the side altars almost as much or more.
Here’s the inside of the dome that almost ended our tour/cruise/lives.
We eventually exited the town, but it required waiting for 2 parked cars to move to give us enough space to pass. Narrow streets in Italy can be REALLY narrow streets. A short side-trip, not on our itinerary, gave us an up close look at Civita di Bagnoregio, an Italian hill town. The entry is through a cut in the rock made by Etruscans 2,500 years ago. Civita is a traffic-free community of 45 inhabitants, totally dependent on tourism. We chose not to make the walk into the village (it’s about a half-hour each way) because of time constraints, but the view from our vantage point was sufficient. I doubt any community could be more isolated.
Alberto drove another 45 minutes on the same unimproved roads and we finally reached Orvieto, and it’s cathedral, parts of which date from 1350. The stone was obviously quarried from the same area as the cathedral in Siena (or the architect should sue for copyright violation).
The interior main altar is beautiful, but the two side altars (which form the arms of a cross), are stunning. The one on the right, however, was visited by Michelangelo, and served as inspiration for this work in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican. The frescos date from 1406-1444.
Christ in Judgement
The ceiling is easy to translate into the views seen in the Sistine Chapel.
What amazing artwork, painted in a most difficult location, over 600 years ago!!
The left cross arm is more ornately carved in stone, the frescos less detailed.
We found lunch in the square outside the duomo. The eggplant parmesan was the best EVER!
Can you guess why we chose this spot?
Jacqui and Paul agreed with Judy that the wine was excellent.
We left Orvieto to head for Bolsena, a village on Lake Bolsnea, and my personal choice for retirement in Italy. It had everything, minus the tourists.
Our group assembled for a pic before heading back to the Rotterdam, an hour and a half away, and a most welcome sight after a very full 10 hour day.
Judy, Claudia, Ken, Jacqui, Paul and Jose. Bottom photo: add Michael.
Our weather remains the biggest surprise of the trip. We have been blessed with calm seas, blue skies and temperatures between 65 and 75. If we were to be packing now for this trip, I’d bring more shorts, more short sleeves and fewer socks. Another beautiful day in Italy!