Wow. After our little Twilight Stroll with Walks of Italy last night, we decided that we wanted to try to retrace our steps and take pictures of some of the things we saw on the walk. We also decided that Rome is so full of things that interest us that we would make ourselves insane trying to get to all of them. No kidding here. If you have never been to Rome, you just can’t imagine what it is like to walk a few blocks and come across something of interest or historically significant or both. We decided we really needed to limit ourselves to a small area and take our time exploring and enjoying it.
For breakfast this morning, we went back to Espressamente Illy, the place we had coffee yesterday afternoon. I had a cappuccino and G-man had an espresso. Here, they call espresso coffee. He ordered a plain cornetto and I ordered the one with cream. He should have gone with the cream one. He got another plain one and I got one with nuts and cream. Oh wow! I should have gotten about 15 of the ones with nuts and cream. Delish!
After breakfast, we spent the day walking and taking pictures and being totally overwhelmed by Rome. Rome is packed with people just like any other big city on the planet. The main streets have sidewalks. The other streets may or may not have a white line painted along the outer two feet designating that space for pedestrians. Scooters and motorcycles seem to be more popular than cars, but whatever they are driving they are battling each other for position on the road. Yes, Roman drivers are as insane as the stereotype indicates. The exhaust fumes are awful. Either Italy doesn’t have any emissions laws and/or testing or the majority of the populations chooses to ignore them. The buildings are black from the air pollution so I can just imagine what everyone’s lungs look like. And speaking of lungs….everyone smokes. OK, maybe not everyone. We counted four people who weren’t smoking at the time we saw them, but three of them were in strollers and the fourth was getting a diaper change. After having spent two weeks in a small town in Tuscany, we were dealing with extreme culture shock.
Here’s a bit of what we saw as we wandered the city.
This isn’t a column. It is an obelisk. But if you’re a country big on columns and you have an awesome army and you conquer another country that is big on obelisks, you can take their obelisks back to your column loving country. Italy has more obelisks than Egypt.
When you aren’t making columns, make some statues. Oh, skilled statue makers they were! The intricate detail a person can carve into stone boggles the mind.
Crests. Crests are very important. If you want people to remember you, slap your crest up everywhere. They, too, are fantastic stone works. What skill.
As if all that stone beauty wasn’t enough, they do fountains, as well. Here’s a thought to ponder while you are looking at these…what did they do when they messed up? I don’t mean when they might have hit the chisel one too many times. I mean when something fell off. What’d they do??? I imagine stone isn’t a very forgiving medium.
And no matter where you go, you can always find pigeons.
We were up early this morning as we were turning in the key to the apartment at 0815. It was pouring rain when we woke up which did not bode well for all the walking we were going to have to do within the next few hours. I checked the weather radar and all of central Italy from coast to coast was covered with a big rain cloud. Ugh!
We had to have the rental car back to Hertz in Orvieto by 1000. G-man was able to make that little Fiat 500 break the sound barrier. We made it to the Hertz place with minutes to spare! The turn in went smoothly even with the language barrier. From the Hertz office, we had an easy three minute RAIN FREE walk over to the Orvieto train station to take the train to Rome! I just have to say those little tiny wheels on suitcases were not made for stone roads and sidewalks with granite curbs. Just wanted to point that out. We managed the self-serve ticket machine all by ourselves and after a bit of trial and error and trying three separate machines managed to validate our tickets so we wouldn’t get slapped with the big 50€ fine. Yes, boys and girls, the conductor walks the train between stops and checks tickets. We watched one couple have to fork over some euros due to the error of their ways. The train ride was uneventful other than we bought first class tickets and sat in second class because there wasn’t a first class car on the train. Meh. Right after we got off the train, it started to rain again.
Hello Termini station. We aren’t in Montepulciano anymore. Sheesh. Termini station is a mess. There are two groups of people in Termini station. The group who are trying to get from point A to point B and the group trying to sell a bunch of junk. This is the one time I’ve been thankful for being born with a mean face. If I’m not smiling, I look angry. For once, it was a good thing. No one would approach us. We got a few looks, but then they would turn and go after someone else. Brilliant! Loved it.
By the time we made our way out of the station, the rain had stopped. This time it was permanent. YAY US! We had a quick walk to our apartment in Monti. Turned out there was a bit of a snafu about what time we were meeting our new landlord, Fabio. It was entirely my fault. I had somehow told him we would be there at 1500 and here we were standing in front of the door to the apartment at 1300. God has smiled on us this entire trip. What happened? Our new landlord happened to be walking up the street. He was meeting the cleaning guy for the apartment. He threw our suitcases in the apartment and, even though it was my fault, he treated us to a coffee down the street. We agreed to meet him back at the apartment at 1500, so after coffee G-man and I wandered around the neighborhood. Wandering around the neighborhood lead to turning a corner and catching a glimpse of the coliseum. Goosebumps, people! Yes, imagine looking down the street and seeing a part of a world famous landmark framed by the buildings lining the street. It took our breath away. Needless to say, we managed to keep ourselves distracted until 1500 by strolling around the coliseum.
At 1500, we met with Fabio. He walked us through the apartment, showed us the ins and outs, and gave us the keys to our home for the next four days. This apartment may be the smallest of the three we have stayed in over the course of our trip, but it many ways it is the best. Everything is brand new. The shower is big enough that I can raise BOTH arms to wash my hair. The kitchen is a hoot! It is so tiny – as in, I’ve seen campers with bigger kitchens – that when G-man stands at the sink one shoulder touches the wall and one shoulder touches the cabinet. But, it has absolutely everything we need. Fabio has got “use of space” down to a science. I’ll post some pictures soon.
After Fabio left us, we got our stuff organized, freshened up, then set off across town to meet our tour at the top of the Spanish Steps. This was our first of three tours I scheduled through Walks of Italy. It was the Twilight City Stroll with Gelato. Our group consisted of two sisters from Belfast, two sisters from Australia, a family of four from Australia, a young woman from Long Island, New York, and our tour guide, Georgia from England. Georgia was dynamite and adorable and I wanted to adopt her! She’s probably in her mid 20s and is a walking fact machine on Rome. She told us about the Spanish Steps, then took us to the Trevi Fountain (yes, we did throw our coins in the fountain), and then Pantheon. After the Pantheon, she introduced us to Della Palma gelato! The place has 150 flavors of gelato. It was a madhouse! It was a madhouse not because there were 150 flavors, but because the gelato is delicious. Truly the best gelato we have had all trip. After gelato, we went over to the Piazza Navona where she taught us everything there is to know about the Fountain of the Four Rivers. She is just brilliant. There was not a single question we asked that she could not quickly answer with authority. We finished up the tour about two hours later at Campo dei Fiori.
Taking this tour was one of the best accidental ideas I had planning this trip. Honestly, the only reason I signed us up for it was because Walks of Italy was running a special. I got a discount for signing up for three tours. The discount made this tour almost free. I figured it would be an easy way to get our bearings on our first night in town. It was, indeed. So, that idea worked out perfectly. Georgia, however, was the cherry on top. Her depth of knowledge made the whole event so much more than a simple walk-about tour. I cannot praise her enough. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, Georgia is returning to England next month. The tour world will never be the same.
I’d love to show you all pictures from today, but we didn’t take our cameras around with us. Fear not, we will make up for it over the next few days.
Thursday was an easy going day in Montepulciano. We took a food inventory, figured out what we needed to make two more breakfasts, two more lunches, and two more dinners. We made our list and walked over to the Conad. I managed to put only one extraneous chocolate thing in our basket! We came back to the apartment, where we spent most of the day taking care of odds and ends in preparation to going to Rome on Saturday morning. Finally by about 4:00 in the afternoon we were both getting stir crazy and needed to get out. The G-man suggested going for a gelato. Who would argue with genius?? I love this guy. We went up the hill (everything is UP the hill) and both got a large cup. G got all pistachio, which he did not think was as good as La Musa in Orvieto, and I got part chocolate chip, part hazelnut, and part tiramisu. I liked the tiramisu and the chocolate chip, but the hazelnut tasted exactly like a hazelnut, of course, and not like Nutella. I kind of think everything should taste like Nutella. After gelato, we decided it was so nice out we should go get our cameras because there might have been one or two stones or windows we had not yet photographed. We spent a few hours snapping, then went up the hill to the west side of the wall to watch the sun set. The clouds were magnificent!
Friday, we have been preparing to leave for Rome tomorrow. We washed all our laundry. Laundry is quite an event. Each load in the washing machine takes two hours. The inside of the washing machine is about the size of a Dutch oven, so we can’t wash a bunch at one time. Until today we were hanging our clothes out to dry, but because of the rain and humidity it can take two days for the clothes to dry completely. On one of our walks earlier in the week, we discovered a laundry mat with dryers! So we took all our wet clothes to the laundry mat and splurged on the dryers at 4€ each. It was money well spent as all the clothes were dry within 30 minutes. After laundry time, we can home and the G-man prepared fresh pici and Bolognese for lunch. I promise we could eat that stuff every day for a while before we ever got tired of it! We ate lunch then packed all our stuff. We are ready to dash off in the morning for Orvieto where we will turn in the rental car then catch a train to Rome!
This evening we are meeting Jennifer for dinner one more time at the La Bottega. Ok, later. G-man just made toast with Nutella.
We had a beautiful day in Montepulciano. The weather cooperated for the most part. Actually, the rain stayed away until about 17:00. We had just been sitting at a table in the grand piazza talking to Jay from Texas, said our good-byes and the drops started. The grand piazza is at the very top of Montepulciano. Our apartment is at the very bottom! We ran down the streets until we got to the coffee shop at Piazza Erbe. We dashed in only to join others who had sought shelter. We were greeted with big smiles and lots of Ciao Ciao Ciao (you aren’t allowed to say it just once) from our barista. We really like this place. They are such sweet people and the espresso is the cheapest in town at 1 euro a cup. Also, they make fantastic hot chocolate! We threw back a quick espresso and waited a few minutes to see if it would let up. Not much luck, so we ran a little further down the street to the wine bar that is right around the corner from the apartment. Yep, we had a lovely glass of the local super Tuscan while we waited for the rain to let up. Finally, we got a reprieve and made it the rest of the way home. Here are some of the hundreds (no exaggeration) of pictures we took today.
This morning we hit the coffee bar around the corner for a quick espresso and pastry before heading off to Orvieto. This was our third time there and our last unless every other coffee place shuts down unexpectedly. The espresso isn’t that great and bartender is young and snobbish. If the guy can’t make eye contact, I can take my euro elsewhere. Enough said.
Pile in the car and head toward the A1 southbound for Orvieto. The G-man totally channels his inner Mario Andretti in the racing Fiat 500! I’ve actually had to ask him to slow down on more than one occasion…this coming from a person who used to drive lights and sirens (shout out to Robbie, Robert, Ty and Ty), he scares me. I’m the designated navigator and accidently navigate us right into the limited traffic zone of the ancient city. Fortunately, we don’t get caught by the police and make it back out to a proper parking area.
Our primary reason for visiting Orvieto….brace yourselves….is not for the Duomo. Tops on our list was the National Archeological museum. There was supposed to be an excellent display of Etruscan and early Roman artifacts. We bought tickets to see both the museum and the necropolis. We were rather disappointed. The museum did, in fact, contain quite a few Etruscan and Roman artifacts. However, the information reference said artifacts was limited at best and non-existent in most cases. The Etruscan artifacts were unearthed at the burial grounds discovered just outside the city wall. The majority of artifacts were in stunningly good condition. Most of them look like they were just in use the day before. There were two unmarked rooms in the museum that contained frescos from the Etruscans tombs. Had it not been for G-man snooping around in an area that could easily have been mistaken for an employee-only area, we would have never seen them. The one attendant on duty happened to see him looking around and offered to turn the lights on so we could take a look. The one highlight of the whole museum experience was the one and only attendant on duty. She enthusiastically suggested a place for us to have lunch and even went so far as to write on our tourist information map to tell Giam Piero at Trattoria La Palomba that Gabriella sent us. We made a beeline for La Palomba only to discover that it was full by the time we got there. The biggest disappointment of the day. We were sure it would have been a wonderful experience. We ended up eating at another place around the corner only because they had tables available.
After lunch we wandered around, heads on a swivel, taking in all the ancient-ness. The Duomo is stunning, that goes without saying. We, just like everyone around us, stood staring. Such beautiful feats of construction are mind boggling and breath taking and just make you pause to take it all in.
But, at the risk of getting struck by lightening, I am not as attracted to the grandiose eye catchers as I am to the average everyday places. I would rather see how the common man lived hundreds of years ago than where the rich folks hung out. As such, we tend to stick to the back alleys and Orvieto has lots of back alleys to explore. We love looking at a medieval building where people are STILL living and see where the original doors and/or windows have been bricked in and modern doors and/or windows inserted. There are examples everywhere! We are big on the old architecture, which is obvious when I download the cameras at the end of the day. How many pictures of doors, windows, balconies, can a person take? Well, apparently not enough by the looks of our photo collection!
In the middle of our meandering, it started to rain. Fortunately for us we were right outside of La Musa Gelateria! We went in and were greeted by a round happy-faced older woman who gladly over-filled our gelato cups! What a perfect reprieve from the rain.
Our take on Orvieto? We liked it and would love to have had more time to explore it. I think next time we come to this area, we will base in Orvieto and spend much more time exploring it.
On our way out of town, we stopped at the Etruscan necropolis to check out the tombs. Hhhhmmm. If you have Etruscan tombs in your backyard, don’t you think you ought to really go a bit over the top to protect them? Yeah, not so much. I hate to sound critical, but there wasn’t so much as a fence around the place. We parked in the “Happy Food” parking lot, walked down a path to an unmarked, one-room building where there were two women ensconced behind a couple of desks. We assumed we might ought to check in with them even though there was no signage to indicate we needed to stop. They tore our tickets and pointed us further on down the path. No pamphlet, no information of any sort to advise us what we were about to see. What we saw, and sorry we left the cameras in the car, were stone chambers one after the other below ground level. On some of the stone lentils over individual doorways were Etruscan inscriptions. We can only assume the inscriptions were the names of the individual or individuals interred in that particular chamber. We were completely on our own to wander among the tombs. We rubbed our fingers over the individual letters engraved in the stone and tried to wrap our heads around the idea that about 2,600 years ago another human being chiseled these letters. That is just too much to take in.
Just before sundown, we started back for Montepulciano. The rain chased us for a while before we finally got ahead of it and could see the clouds parting to let in the last rays of the sun.
We weren’t in the mood to fix dinner when we got back so we nipped down to La Bottega del Nobile. We had a “mixed Tuscan” appetizer which was various types of bruschetta, none of which carried anything related to liver, smeared across the top. For our primi, we shared Cacio e Pepe and YUM!! Delicious!!! There are a bunch of recipes on the internet to make this. It’s basically cheese and pepper. Simple, but wonderful. Actually, I think what makes Italian food so wonderful is that it IS simple and the few ingredients are fresh and full of flavor. Our second course was sliced beef from the chianina ox. It is so tender you can leave your teeth at home.
After dinner, not because we were still hunger but because I have a sweet tooth that needs therapy, we went up the hill to our Café Poliziano where I like to fulfill all my dolce needs! I am totally in love with what we have come to call the Nutella tootsie roll. It’s a short little pastry tube filled with Nutella. Y U M. We both ordered an espresso and chatted with the bartenders. These guys are great. They teach us Italian. We teach them English and between the four of us we have actual conversations. The younger of the two studied Spanish in school so we incorporated that in, as well. It’s kind of fun being able to have our questions about Italy answered by them and we answer their questions about the States. Every night we go to Café Poliziano for our “night cap.” I’m starting to have serious concerns about fitting into the airplane seat for the return trip.
It was supposed to rain today but we woke up to a beautiful blue sky!! Yay us! We got dressed and ran up the hill to try out a new coffee bar that I read about, but sadly it was closed on Sunday. A man standing around the corner heard me groan when I read the note about being closed on Sunday. He laughed and suggested another place back down the hill. It turned out he, Jay, is an American and he and his wife own a little apartment in town and live here part-time. They are originally from Austin, Texas. We ended up spending quite a while talking to him while he waited for his wife to return from the Conad. He recommended several restaurants and different places to try. We headed back down the hill to get coffee at the place he recommended. It was ok, not quite the experience we were anticipating. I’m pretty sure newbies are treated a bit differently than the regulars. Tomorrow, I think we will try the one we originally set out to experience.
After our Italian breakfast of a cappuccino and a cornetto, we walked back up the hill to the civic museum. The museum is housed in a 14th century palazzo. Unfortunately, the interior of the building has been so restructured to accommodate the museum that it is unrecognizable as its original residential purpose. The first floor and basement contained Etruscan artifacts found in the area of Montepulciano. The second and third floors were all very old religious paintings and paintings of important people from long ago. I’d love to give you more information than that but all the informational signage was in Italian. Still, we enjoyed looking at what was on display.
After the civic museum, we went to the torture museum. Yep, that’s right. The torture museum. I won’t go into detail. Suffice it to say it was rather unsettling. It boggles the mind to think that people put so much thought into how to be so cruel and inflict so much pain, and in many cases eventual death, to another human being often in the name of religion. Ugh. I think we were both left feeling a bit dark when we left. Oh, yeah. As we were leaving, some woman had just come in with her two young daughters who appeared to be about 6 and 8 years old. What a moron.
As soon as we step out of the macabre museum, we run right into a auto club coming down the street. There were a variety of different cars,
Our appetites were not deterred after the torture museum. We went to a place Jay recommended this morning, Osteria de Conte. We were greeted by an young girl who spoke to us in Italian with an obvious English-speaker’s accent. Turned out she was from Ireland. Cool! We ordered a bottle of water, half a bottle of the house red, and a bruschetta variety plate as a starter. The different types of bruschetta were delicious until we got to the last one which was some kind of pate. Non molto buono. Sorry, neither one of us can take eating liver in any form and this just served to confirm we still had not developed a taste for it. For our main course, we each ordered a different type of pasta. Why fight it? Pasta here is out of this world and we have always loved it so why not indulge when we are in the pasta mecca of the planet. G-man ordered a tagliatelle with a wild boar sauce and I had tagliatelle with porcini sauce. Both were molto buono!! We finished our meals with our eyes rolled back in our heads. Then, what happened? Dolce time, baby! Bisogno dolce!! I need dessert!! We shared a tiramisu and a crostata with plum jam. We ordered the tiramisu just to make sure that, in fact, Italian tiramisu is not the same as American tiramisu. Our scientific research has confirmed our suspicions. Italian tiramisu does not contain any lady fingers. We were quite sated when we left.
The weather was still being amazing, so we went back to the apartment and grabbed our cameras. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking the streets of Montepulciano. We climbed the tower to the highest possible point in the city and took pictures while ooing and aahhing over the breathtaking views. Then we searched out every alley we had not yet discovered and snapped pictures of every stone, every brick, and all the other things that struck us as being gorgeous, old, and oh so Italian. Stuff like this –
As the sun started to dip, the winds picked up and the rain returned. We just made it back to the apartment in time to get our clothes off the line.
G-man sliced a little mozzarella and tomato and poured the wine. Ah, the dolce vita. About 9:00 pm, we ran up the street to Café Poliziano perche bisogno dolce! Buonanotte!!
Today, it poured all day. Staying inside wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Days like this let us catch up on laundry, emails, photographs, and such. In the early evening, the rain stopped long enough for us to walk down to the Conad to buy more breakfast and dinner supplies. Somehow we bought more things with chocolate in or on them than real food. Most importantly, we splurged on an umbrella.
After we put away our groceries, we decided to go out for dinner as the weather was still holding out in our favor. We’ve only been out to eat twice since we got here, once for lunch the day we arrived and once for dinner several nights ago. Other than that, we have fixed all our meals in the apartment. We traipsed up the hill and stopped in what happened to be the same place we ate dinner at the first time, Trattoria di Cagnano. The only other place we passed that was open was full. After we were seated, we reviewed the menu. Eating out in Italy works a bit differently than in the States. When you are seated, you are given a menu for food and a menu for wine. You are allowed plenty of time to study the information and usually the server does not return to take your order until they get some kind of signal that you are ready. And then unlike in the States, the server doesn’t take your drink order, then return to take your food order after they deliver your drinks. When the server comes to take your order, they take the entire order. Oh, and, getting water isn’t automatic. You have to order water and decide if you want mineral water or natural water. We ordered a bottle of natural water, a bottle of the house red, and in order to keep our weight in check because we have a lot of chocolate we just bought at the grocery store, we shared our first and second courses. For the first course, we had risotto with a mushroom cream sauce. For the second course we shared a steak filet with mushrooms. The risotto was fantastic! The sauce was flavorful and so very creamy! If we go back, we will order buckets of it and won’t be sharing with anyone. Love you, babe. Get your own bucket. The steak filet….well, let’s just say we finished it. Nothing to write home about. Meh. Again, unlike back home, one must ask for the check. We really enjoy the whole dining experience in Italy. (It was the same custom when we lived in Germany.) The server isn’t rushing you from the table to flip it for the next tip. You really can make an evening of your dining experience. It’s just lovely.
Because dessert is more important to me that breathing, we stopped by our favorite little spot on the way home. Café Poliziano has many, many sweet things in the dolce case and we’ve I’ve made a habit of choosing five or six different little sweets to have with our nightly espresso. We’ve almost become regulars. I think we have been there at least once every day since we got here so I think that makes us regulars. Put it this way. They’ve grown accustom to our faces and are kind enough to give us nightly Italian lessons. Like tonight, they taught me how to say, “I need dessert.” Not I want, but I need! Huge difference, people, and I sure don’t want anything getting lost in the translation.
Given the rain, we don’t have pictures of the day’s events to share. Because I don’t want you all to go without some kind of visual something, I’ll leave you with this. Just so you know, every time I walk in the bathroom I start singing to myself….
Some people call me the space cowboy yeah
Some call me the gangster of love
Some people call me Maurice
Cause’ I speak of the pompetous of love
Let that little ditty get stuck in your head for a day. What is now a shower originally started out as a transporter in the original Star Trek series. After the series ended, it became a soundproof booth on various game shows in the ’70s. When you are in the thing you cannot hear anything at all. No lie. And just so you know how much I love you, I had to sit in the bidet to take this picture. The damned bidet turned on and wet the back of my pants. No lie.