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I'm a 21-year-old journalism student. I spent last semester living in Florence, Italy. These are my adventures.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


This is the rest of my weekend with Amy. We traveled to Assisi and Orvieto. I divided the two cities into separate posts. If you didn't read about Assisi, please do!

After one train change in Terontola-Cortona, we made it to Orvieto around 3:30 p.m. We took the Funicular up to Piazza Cahen. We walked through a park, enjoying another view of the countryside below. The entire town is built on the top of a large butte surrounded by mountains.

We wandered through the piazza for a bit before walking to Pozzo di san Patrizio, a historic well built between 1527 and 1537 for Pope Clement VII. Orvieto would have been a place of refuge in case of disaster or siege.
We climbed down one of the two spiral ramps (one for ascending and one for descending each built wide enough for Donkeys to carry water up).

After 248 stairs, we reached the bottom, tossed in coins followed by wishes and climbed back out.

Then we visted the Albornoz Fortress, inside which is a public garden. Even covered in snow it was pretty. Amy and I were about to go up to a tower, but a teenage couple evidently claimed it as their make-out spot. Public displays of affection are graphic and often in Italy, so we decided to leave them be and walk around the other parts of the fortress. It was gorgeous.

This is the top of Saint Patrick's Well!
We walked around for a while in some drizzling rain before finding Osteria Numero Uno. We walked inside and sat down at a table for two. There were several open around us, but the waiter came and asked us to move to a different room as that was for reservations only. Slightly embarrassed, we gathered our coats and purses and followed him through a children's play room and into another dining area. The menu was written on the wall with different colored chalk. Toys were strewn about the room and children were running in circles around a big table with a few adults sipping wine. It felt like a family reunion, only Amy and I were at the kids table — or the American table rather.
It was a very different environment from other restaurants I've been in so far, but I loved it. And to fit the mood, I tried a dish very different from anything I've had. In her limited but understandable English, a waitress helped me find a vegetarian option: beans and eggs cooked in bread.
I was expecting something like the child of a calzone and an omelet. I got this dish of some sort of mashed beans (green in color), with a raw egg and cheese, then covered with bread crumbs seasoned almost to be sweet. It was delicious. I was really worried abou the raw egg, but I never got sick.

She recommended "Zuppa Inglese" for dessert, which I know translates to English Soup. She said it was very popular for the area. Confused and intrigued, we ordered it. It was custard-based and delicious. If I had to compare it to something American, I'd say it was a bowl of delicious chocolate pudding, a layer of cake and a cream/custard topping with chocolate chips. Yum.

We went back to our hostel, which was much warmer than in Assisi, crawled into bed. I stayed up reading for a while by the light of my Kindle before dozing off.

By the time I got out of the shower the next morning, our breakfast had been delivered. We foolishly thought that a bed and breakfast would include breakfast in the price. It didn't. So Saturday night we had to pay €3 each to pick our meal. They redeemed themselves slightly by delivering it.
We got our stuff together and left the room around 10 a.m. Not having too many clothing choices in my backpack (or really none), I didn't even think about the weather before leaving the hotel. It was gloomy and drizzly. We were bummed but didn't have much of a choice other than to put up our hoods and move forward.
We visited the duomo first. Since it was Sunday, only those entering for mass were welcomed.
We just enjoyed it from the outside until the tourist center for Orvieto Underground opened.

We signed up for the 11:15 a.m. English tour and waited around. Finally, our tour guide greeted us and lead us toward the opening. Apparently being the only English-speakers interested in going underground Sunday morning, we essentially got a private tour.

The Orveito Underground is a system of thousands upon thousands of underground caves, all entirely man-made. They have been modified, expanded and added to over the course of 3,000 years! Unbelievable.
It's hard to believe these were entirely man-made, starting around 900 B.C. Since then, the "rooms" have been used for various purposes from storage, to cattle housing, to pigeon breading, to a potential war bunker beneath the old hospital. The first two pictures below were where we entered. This area was used for olive oil production. It saved space since the surface area above ground in Orvieto was limited, and the temperature of the cave stayed at the ideal temperature for the process year-round.

Today, 90 percent of the caves are individually owned. There aren't really specific laws for owning the caves. She said if you're digging in your back yard, or find one below your cellar, it's yours. 
A nice finders-keepers kind of a deal.
Throughout our tour we found countless rooms with rows of holes in the wall and stairs that likely used to lead up to a home (most of the hallways and entryways have largely since collapsed). The holes were used for pigeon breeding. The owner of the cave would be able to walk down to their "basement," collect their eggs and either use or sell them. There was a window on the opposite wall that pigeons flew in and out of. 

Many of the pigeon rooms were later used for storage. Some people added water basins and used the space for leather-tanning. We found kilns for ceramic making.
It was incredible and elaborate, and we had only skimmed the surface of this underground city.

When we were in caves closer to the edge of the butte of Orvieto, we could see staircases that lead directly outside to the face of a cliff. She said one third of Orvieto is gone. The cliffs deteriorate, rocks erode and fall. Nature has been slowly chiseling away at the city for centuries. It's a little bit depressing.
We left the tour a little after noon, where cats greeted us. Italy has cats everywhere. Many cities have sanctuaries for them where hundreds of cats roam freely. They are well-fed and very happy. Our tour guide said it's like cat heaven.
Although I'm allergic, I couldn't help put to play with them.

As all cats do, they knew I was allergic and therefore immediately flocked to me. They climbed into my lap, circled my legs and rubbed against my sides and arms. I wasn't even petting them, and they loved me. Amy sat down next to me, hoping to also make some feline friends, but they didn't so much as look at her. Fickle felines.
She instead documented my 15 minutes as a cat lady.


We walked around the city some more.

Eventually we reached the edge. We snacked in silence and looked out over the view.

We walked back to the Albornoz Fortress and finally saw the view from this tower, now void of overzealous teenage lovers.

Before we went into the fortress, we sat on a bench as the sun began to dry out the morning rain and warm us up. As we were sitting there, a man walked over and began talking to us. He just decided we needed to know his life story. He told us the history of a couple structures nearby as he spit on Amy. We sat there nodding, but largely unresponsive. He kept going. Eventually he said "oh, well I've been talking too much. Have a nice day," and walked off. We sat there awkwardly, waiting for him to be far enough away for us to get up and go into the fortress. Apparently we waited too long. Less than a minute later, another man came up. He was less of a chatter and more of a starer. He slurred some Italian words at us through yellowish brown teeth and slimy lips, then just stared at us expectantly with large, watery blue eyes. He was blocking our way from going anywhere and continued to mutter incoherent Italian words. Amy and I eyed each other nervously and just repeated "Non lo so. Non lo so." (I don't know. I don't know.)
"Americani?" he asked, the first word we could understand.
Then he just started laughing, accused us of only knowing "poco poco poco" italian and left.
I looked at Amy and said "well I think that's our sign it's time to go."
So we got up and started walking into the fortress, where of course, blue-eyes was sitting in his car. I froze, and Amy nearly ran into me. We bowed our heads and rushed into the fortress. Not looking ahead, I almost ran into our first "friend."
"Nice to meet you again!" he said cheerily. We muttered some form of agreement and walked up to the tower. There are no words for the Italian countryside.

We turned around and started to walk the perimeter of the fortress, which sits on the edge of the cliff. Every bit of the path offers a breath-taking view. Apparently our friend though so too. We passed him twice more, and he apologized, saying "it's a small fortress!"
Then he popped up again. We didn't realize he was still around until I saw him on the other side of the barrier, standing on what seemed like nothing. It was like he was floating on the other side of the fortress wall, which as far as we knew only plummeted own a cliff.
We gasped in shock. He assured us it was OK because he's a firefighter. And that began another lengthy conversation about his life. Or monologue more than a conversation. After we rejected his request to get coffee together, he wandered off. But not before he insisted we take a picture together.

We took a couple of final pictures before sneaking our way to the funicular, being sure to walk behind blue-eyes car and not run into "beanie hat."

We sat on the funicular waiting for enough people to join us so it would descend. A couple of people joined, and it sputtered to life. We sighed in relief and relaxed as the doors started to close. We had escaped beanie hat! And then out of absolutely nowhere, he dove through the door like Indiana Jones right before it closed. He looked at us and feigned being startled. "I'm not stalking you. I swear!" We whispered obscenities to each other under our breaths. As soon as we got off at the bottom, he headed into the train station, so we booked it in the opposite direction. We still had more than three hours before our train would leave. We wandered through neighborhoods and eventually found a park that gave us a good view of the city above:

We walked back to the train station. As we crossed the street, I saw him crossing the opposite way, looking around. We darted into the station and looked at each other in disbelief. But that was the last time we saw him.
We spent the next two and a half hours playing cards, listening to music and reading books until the train came and took us home.

Except the final nerve-wracking hour or two in Orvieto, it was a great city. And a great weekend.

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