So many amazing things to discover. We left Orvieto early today, just us and the man sweeping the front steps of the Duomo were in the piazza. We took the bus to the funiculare, and then had a few minutes to take a look at St. Patrick’s Well. Orvieto needed a water source within its walls in case of siege, but down far enough the mountain to provide a good source. Built in the mid-16th century, the well is an engineering marvel. There are two spiral ramps in a double helix, accessed by two doors, which allowed mules to carry empty and full water vessels separately up and down. The well is 175 ft with 248 steps and 70 windows. Just looking down from the top made me dizzy.
We left Orvieto by train exactly on time and got to the ancient Etruscan city of Arezzo right before lunch, always a good thing. The major site we wanted to see here was the Basilica of San Francesco with the fresco cycle Legends of the True Cross.
This was billed as the closest thing you will see to a medieval cartoon strip showing how the cross progressed, from its planting on the grave of Adam by his son Seth, to its ultimate destination. And this is something we always wanted to know! However, we were hard-pressed to see how to read this lovely but confusing series of paintings. Decided to just enjoy them and learned later that the painter felt no need to tell the story in a linear manner. Also learned that so many celebrities of the ancient world were involved that the slim thread of credibility this story might have had became strained to the breaking point. The Queen of Sheba? King Solomon? Constantine? Jeremiah? Heraclius? Let’s just say that faith must have carried the day, along with a deeper knowledge of the past than we will ever have. Lovely stuff, though.
We also wandered the old city and admired its hilly setting. The Piazza Grande is where the annual jousting displays are done, which look magnificent in pictures. The rest of the city has real charm and romance.
Don’s Food Corner
Whenever a restaurant bills itself as taking the local traditional cuisine and then “updating” or “reconsidering” it, you know what that means: Big plates, little portions and foam. That’s what we experienced today. Not that it wasn’t wonderful. It was. But perhaps a little too self-conscious. We’re interested in sampling the regional cuisine in its ORIGINAL form. But we thought we’d try a different approach today.
The restaurant, on the piazza of Basilica di San Francesco, was an elegant affair. No double tablecloths. Instead, very classy paper placemats.
The menu was a challenge. All Italian and some of the terms not in our menu translator. The server had very limited English. For our first course, we ordered what we thought would be a salad with some type of ricotta: ricottina, rape rosse, scamorza e balsamico. Instead, it was a hot timbale of custard surrounded by a balsamic vinegar reduction. We were assured that no ricotta was involved. Actually, the suggestion that it was in the custard seemed almost to appall our server. It was very fine. Very REfined.
Next, Jo went for a pasta dish featuring a pasta called paccheri. Or menu translator said it was a type of pasta in the shape of large tubes that are filled. What arrived seemed to be a deconstruction of a dish using the pasta. The large tubes of pastas were there, but they were empty. Instead, what I guess would have normally been in the tubes was underneath, around and on top of the pasta — cheese, pureed peas, tomatoes, basil. Like the first course, it was very delicately prepared.
I ordered ravioli, mainly because I noticed that it featured fava beans and I know how time-consuming preparing fava beans can be. While I could have used a few more of the cheese-filled ravioli, it was all exquisitely prepared and presented. A beautiful dish.
Still, I think we’ll stick with something more cucina tipica, although finding a good one in a tourist location is challenging.