Rome to Borgo Santinova: Our first day was so delightful, I was sure that we were in for some stress on day two. We checked out of the charming Hotel Serena and got a taxi to schlep us and our bags to the EuroCar pickup location, which, unfortunately, was in the heart of Rome.
We waited quite a while as the clerk slowly took care of the guy in front of us. At last it was our turn. With barely a glance at our drivers’ licenses, he handed us a GPS, keys, and gestured vaguely outside. We had no help with the car, which was now double-parked on a very narrow, congested road in a busy, bustling area. With no time to orient myself to the car controls and barely a chance to adjust the seat, I was forced to get in and drive, with a pile of cars behind me honking like a chorus of deranged geese. We swung blindly into traffic, and it took both of us and the damn GPS to find our way out to the ring road and, from there, to the A1 Autostrada.
Once on the Autostrada, things got much easier. I was enjoying the drive and the changing scenery, when suddenly the skies opened and we were in the midst of one of those spectacular thunderstorms that can sweep across Rome. Wow. Visibility was reduced to a few meters and I tucked myself in behind a big semi just to have something to follow. It was a real white-knuckle driving experience, but it eased up after about 25 minutes, and we arrived safely in Orvieto.
I had picked Orvieto as our halfway spot simply because it was, in fact, about halfway between Rome and our destination farm-house, plus because it was supposed to have an interesting cathedral. We found parking in the modern part of the city (free and only about 150 meters from the funicular station), got our tickets, and rode up to the top of the high plateau where this Medieval city perches.
It only took a few minutes to get to the top…
Orvieto was charming. We strolled along narrow stone-paved streets, still sparkling from the downpour. There were a few other tourists wandering around, but for the most part, we felt as if we had all the room in the world, especially after the exciting bustle of Rome. Of course, despite the story-book old-world look this is a real town with real people, who go to school, do grocery shopping, get their computers fixed, and sign up for Tai Chi classes.
The streets all wound up to the main piazza which is dominated by the cathedral.
Plenty of cute ceramics shops and restaurants geared for the tourists…
We meandered around, aiming towards the tall spires on the cathedral, which we could glimpse from time to time through little alleys.
But nothing prepared us for that cathedral. I didn’t even bother trying to take a picture, as nothing my little phone camera could capture would do justice to this insane frenzy of a facade. It was as if a bunch of stoned monks had tried to cram every chatchka they could get their hands on onto the front. (It may actually have been designed by one stoned monk…)
Then it was time for food. We had stumbled onto a town that was in the heart of truffle country, plus it was the peak season for both porcini and black truffles. David picked out our little traitoria…
We sat on their tiny terrace and stuffed ourselves with two types of mushroom-slathered pasta (porcini for David, black truffle for me). I’m afraid that I made little moaning sounds as I ate. The little traitoria seemed to be mostly populated by locals…
With the sun shining and our bellies full, we were happy to wander around a bit more, look at the ceramics, and peek into the food shops, most of which sported taxidermy boar heads to advertise the very scary-looking wild boar haunches, cured (and sold) with the hair intact.
By then, it was almost 15:30, and I wanted to hit the road so that we could get to the farm-house before dark. We walked back to the funicular station and rode down (both of us surprised when a young teenage boy, plugged into his music, instantly got up and offered his seat to David). In fact, all through the trip we were impressed with how nice the teenagers were! They were all slim, trim, and stylish, and were quite well-behaved.
From Orvieto, David drove, and we hit our first major snag. First, the winery (Borgo Santinova) was not on the GPS, nor were any of the towns nearby. We aimed for Siena and tried to follow the written directions. As we approached the toll gate to leave the Autostrada at Siena, I discovered to my horror that I had lost the ticket. No way to get off! (We never did find the ticket; it was as if it disolved into thin air.) Luckily, a highway worker was there, we told him that we got on at Orvieto, he punched a bunch of buttons, took our money, and even ran to get us change. When we drove off, the car stalled, we headed out the wrong way, and David suddenly realized that his credit card was gone. Disaster! We looped back around a few traffic circles, pulled over to the side, and found where the card had slipped down into the seat.
But our worries were not over. We spent the next hour or more trying to find our place, getting quite lost. I finally was able to get through on my cellphone. The owner speaks almost no English, but her son (who is now the main wine maker) handed the phone to his girlfriend, the lovely Elizabetta, who gave us accurate and useful instructions. We were soon there, but several hours later than I had originally intended.
The farmhouse apartment was very simple, very rustic, but comfortable enough. It quickly took on the feel of “home” and was a welcome haven for the next six days as we returned each evening from our day trips. But that first evening, we were too shattered to appreciate it much. We got directions to the nearest restaurant, a pizzeria in Graciano, a little town about five minutes from the winery. It turned out to be homey, charming, and tasty. The waitress spoke almost no English, but we managed just fine. It was the first time we had experienced a four-zone pizza, which was topped with strange things like potato and peas! Very yummy, though!
The silence of the country-side was almost annoying after noisy Rome. It took both of us another day before we adjusted and slept well.