Yes, this is the final travelogue (for now only, I hope!) as we are on our way home tomorrow but Kev has left, for our 'finale', one of the best places we have been to so far...Orvieto!! This town is now vying for my #1 top places from all our travels, competing with Prague and Lecce (Italian city we did 2 years ago), I've always preferred the smaller cities or towns!! Clever Kev always takes me to somewhere spectacular at the end so that even though I am looking forward to getting home after 6 weeks of travelling, he instils in me the thought that other little gems await to experience on our next (already in the pipeline) yearly trip!
This medieval city of Orvieto, Umbria (south-east of Tuscany) is just plain fantastic!! It is only a one hour train ride north of Rome and a must next time you are in or near there, even if only for one day but luckily we had three! The locals have been very industrious and provided a funicular (opposite the railway station) with connecting buses to get you to the main town for about $2, so even the start of your visit is fun and a hell of a lot easier than mountain climbing!
I'll try not to rave too much, but that's not really in my nature (some would say) and this town deserves it! It has geology, history, architecture, wine making, ceramics, Italian food, great shopping and much more! This 900 year old town was built on a plateau created by a volcanic eruption ('geology 101') which, through millions of years, has eroded to leave a raised oval shaped plateau made of two different coloured substances, one grey and solid on the base and one white and porous on the top. For an example of this look at the photos of the cathedral for which this town is famous and you will see what happened to some of the underground part of this plateau (note: the detailed front facade is also incredible!).
The entire town's buildings are built from stones quarried from beneath the town which has left over 3000 caves (some which we explored on a cave tour) and, no, you don't have to worry about anything collapsing as, from the beginning, there was in place a strict plan that demanded pillars of natural rock be left in regular strategic places to support the growing town above! ('Architecture 101'). These caves, for centuries, have been used to shelter animals and house industries such as olive oil mills, wine making and general storage, they remain at a constant 14-15 degrees C throughout the year. Some were dug as far back as 600 BC by the Etruscans who also built about 50 perfectly rectangular wells 80 metres deep to get to the non- porous grey stuff (see that's why I told you about it) where water was trapped (how they did this or even knew it was there no one knows) to provided unlimited water, so if ever put under siege (as was the thing to do in those days) they could survive! Great idea but in 284 BC the Romans invaded and destroyed the entire original city, filled in the wells and left the town empty for the next 1100 years! Very beneficial to all...NOT!! That was 'History 101'! See, I actually listened to the tour guide!!
The above was supposed to impress the guys, now for the girly stuff!! This town is just fabulous looking, tiny alleyways to get lost in, cobblestone or paved courtyards with wells, statues, giant flower pots and the (up to) 900 year old buildings (each with their own cave) that are still here and still functioning well! Every corner you turn you see something quaint, different or fun! (like Boar's heads mounted on walls). Add the fact that this city is now an artisans paradise where many of the shops house one-off designer's fashions, leather bags and shoes, carved woodwork from olive tree timber, ceramics, amazing deli's with many specialised local produce (hare, wild boar, pigeon and other strange Etruscan fare), handmade jewellery, linens, woven items and, of course, their famed specialty, a white dry wine called Orvieto Classico which is absolutely delicious! Many tiny bars, restaurant and coffee shops abound, just don't try to find the one you went to yesterday, even with a map this place is a maze! The whole town is completely walkable and you are best directed by, guess what, the many churches and the spires of the Duomo.
Now if you think that is all, well no, there is more! As this high plateau is in the middle of rural Umbria it is surrounded by the most spectacular countryside encasing vineyards and other century old farms and farmhouses, huge abbeys and castles, ridges with dozens of tall straight poplars and a patchwork of green pastures for as far as you can see!
All I can add is that an afternoon sitting on a 900 year old balcony with a glass of wine and some cheeses, possibly a boar sandwich (maybe not) on the outskirts of this town overlooking the view after a morning's shopping and cave tour has (now) to be on everybody's bucket list! No, I am not being paid by the Umbrian Tourist Bureau, but I'm open to offers!
We didn't even have great weather, first day clear and cold (9 degs!!) 2nd (thankfully for photos and Kev's sanity) sunny and clear (16 degs) and our last featured scattered rain and we both still loved it. We were told it does snow here and that would look beautiful but maybe June-Aug a better bet! Did I say something about not raving!! Oh well, you should know me by now!
I am writing this from Bangkok which is a beautiful 35 degs, Kev is off having his final massage and we will be winging our way back tomorrow which is a good thing as the 88 year old Thai King (reigned for 70 years!) died the day before we arrived and there is a month's mourning in place where no alcohol is to be sold!! Thank goodness for duty free! I have decided to rename Bangkok "Dodgem City" because as much as we love the place, time or our ages means we are constantly dodging everything....hawkers, raised footpaths, pot holes in the roads, cars everywhere and the worse of all, death defying motorbikes on roads, footpaths and basically anywhere they think they can fit!! Kev got hit (luckily not badly) as he thought he had more right to the footpath than a motorbike rider! How silly of him!.....time to come home!!
Hopefully we will catch up soon!!!!