Italy. This is a tale of two trips. The first was a wine-filled weekend in the rural countryside in Orvieto just 90 minutes north of Rome. The latter was a day in Rome and the Vatican wandering ancient streets and gazing at the Sistine Chapel.
Let's start with Orvieto. Insider tip: if you plan to see the Italian countryside, consider renting a car and staying in a bed & breakfast in the area. We stayed at a wonderful little B&B called Podre di Vitiano, which was like a castle/house off the beaten path with a pool and an absolutely incredible view. We were treated very well by the owner, who met us each morning with espresso, fresh bread, and cake from the local baker. During our stay in Orvieto, we wandered through the streets of the small town and took in the sites. As an American walking through the streets of any European city, it's striking to realize how old everything is. You can't help but imagine what happened a few hundred years ago on the steps of that 14th-century cathedral or in that cobblestoned public square. It's really incredible.
One of the highlights of our stay in rural Italy was a quick jaunt from Orvieto over to Civita, a magnificently picturesque village founded 2,500 years ago(!!), which hovers atop a steep hill surrounded by plunging valleys! It's a bit of a hike along the narrow pedestrian bridge and then up a steep path to the town (there aren’t any roads for cars across the valleys to this island hill village), and we were pretty toasted by the summer heat by the time we got to the top. (It was a bout 98 degrees Fahrenheit that day. Yikes!) But we re-charged by grabbing some ice-cold Peronis and fresh bruschetta, and it was definitely worth it. You'll see the views in the pictures below. It was awe-inspiring! Sadly, most of Civita’s permanent residents have moved away in recent years after the town was rocked by several earthquakes. In fact, the boyhood home in Civita of medieval Franciscan theologian Saint Bonaventure has since fallen off the edge of a cliff after an earthquake.
After that adventure, we made reservations for a tour of Palazone, a winery near Orvieto. We had a wonderful tour guide who kept the tour part short so we could get to the good stuff… The tasting! :) (And the incredible views. Views for days!) The rest of our time in Orvieto was spent strolling narrows streets and eating gelato on the steps of the magnificent Orvieto Cathedral, watching passersby.
Next, it was onward to Rome, just an hour-and-a-half drive away. We popped over to our AirBnB real quick (just €94. Four people. One night. Game changer!), and then we took a tram over to the Colosseum (it was huge!) and other classic must-see sites. I have to say, the highlights for me were the Sistine Chapel and Rome’s night life.
First, the Sistine Chapel. Just… wow. There's nothing like it. I was truly amazed by the many story panels and intricate symbolism. You will get a kink in your neck from looking up at the ceiling for 45 minutes straight, but it's worth it! Unfortunately, they strictly enforce their no-photographs policy, so you won’t see it posted here, but that's okay, because it did give me the opportunity to take it all in and appreciate it. To finish out our Vatican excursion, we checked out St. Peter's Square and admired the Basilica, while (not surprisingly) enjoying more gelato. Our cool treat was definitely necessary for surviving that heat!
As I mentioned earlier, Rome after dark is really something. Checking out the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain at night was pretty cool. The people-watching was on point, and I also appreciated that the darkness seemed to make some of the tourists fade away! (Although, be careful to avoid the buzz-kill whistle guys taking way too seriously their volunteer jobs of enforcing unposted rules about where you can and cannot sit at Trevi Fountain. LOL.) Anyway, after a lot of sweating and a TON of walking (seriously, like 20,000 steps), we trekked back to our AirBnB with a view and slept. Hard.
Italy is a beautiful and romantic country. The wine flows like water, the art and history abound, and there's never a shortage of gelato, fresh pasta, or basil. It's really something. I hope to go back to see what it's like in the fall or winter months.
Until then, ciao!