Travel days aren’t the most glamorous part of a tour. The best you can hope for is an interesting rest stop.
Orvieto was just that. It’s the medieval city on a hill you see in every travel guidebook – the one that announces, “Now you’re in Europe!”
(OK, technically it’s on a volcanic tuff, but you get the picture.)
Since we’re suckers for authenticity, we quickly veered off the beaten path into its narrow side streets, dragging our three kids behind us.
Poor things. All they wanted was gelato; instead, they were getting a crash course in Italian history.
After a while, the bilingual signs reverted back to Italian and the tourist-trap souvenir shops and stores selling ceramics vanished. We were in a residential part of town.
The only hazards were the random mopeds that appeared out of nowhere, seeming to take aim at our smallest child. Erysse was tethered to my leg for the rest of the afternoon.
These quiet streets are what we had hoped to see in Rome. I’m sure they exist there. I would have given anything for a moment of quiet, away from the crowd of tourists, the ever-present cloud of cigarette smoke, the swarms of Vespas – and now, finally, we had found it.
Orvieto offers a stunning 360-degree view of the Umbrian countryside: farms with olive trees and vineyards, simple but elegant homes, and the occasional castle. From up here, it looks like you stepped into a time machine and went back a century. Or, from a certain angle, a millennium.
I would like to say we came away with some profound observation about Italy. We did not.
You don’t go on a tour like this and leave with any special insight. Almost everything you do and see is carefully planned, with the possible exception of “lunch on your own.”
On our solo lunch in Orvieto, we realized that you have to get out of Rome to discover the real Italy.
Then again, is there any place where that isn’t true?