October 10, 2012

I decided to get out of the city for a day to visit Orvieto, a tiny hilltop town north of Rome, and Joe came along. Though this meant having to navigate someone else’s traveling style, Joe and I wound up being very compatible travelers, with an interest in similar activities. Today these activities turned out to be climbing on old fortified walls for excellent views of the Italian countryside, exploring the narrow streets of the village, and church spotting (there are over 40 churches in Orvieto!).

On the train ride into north, Joe and I chatted while looking at the rolling farms and vineyards and counting hookers. Yep. Many of the prostitutes in Rome walk along the highways in mini skirts and high heels (in the middle of the day), and just wait for customers to pull up beside them. They’re apparently all freelance. So, that’s good I guess?

Orvieto is busy little town built squarely on a high hilltop, with mountain cliffs and fortified walls all around. Its streets are cobblestoned and adorned with hanging laundry, flower pots, and cats. Every square foot of the place looked like a postcard. It was amazing. We gradually walked uphill, choosing the most entrancing looking streets to explore, exclaiming lots of look-at-that’s! and mama-mia’s! with one another.

There was a big old theatre in the village, Teatro Manicelli, and I went inside. Beautiful stalls and plush boxes ringing a stage under a marble proscenium arch. The carpenters were loading in the next set, and it was great to see that Theatre is Theatre everywhere. I always feel at home in a theatre, no matter where in the world I am.

We continued walking toward the cathedral at the top of the hill, until we were (literally) stopped in our tracks by the Most Delicious Smell I Have Ever Smelled in My Life. Really, it was like one of those cartoons where the scent of a freshly baked pie on a windowsill lifts the passing character by the nose. We were both like “ohmygodwhatisthatsmell” and cast about to find the source. And so, following our noses, we came upon a chocolate shop. OK, but this wasn’t any chocolate shop. There was a big kitchen loft at the back, where the chocolatiers were making masterpieces, the scents of which poured down over the front counter and displays of sinful delicacies. It was like walking into a vat of thick drinking chocolate, the scent covering every last bit of us, causing a sudden stillness as we stood and breathed and were utterly intoxicated by an absolute ecstasy.

I basically asked the chocolatier for “one of each,” and then we reluctantly left the shop, stopping every few feet to breath in its lingering scents. Honestly, I’m not sure I have ever been closer to the divine.

We climbed a couple hundred wooden steps to reach the very top of the village bell tower, with astounding views of the rooftops, valleys, and mountains beyond. Every single direction was more beautiful than the last, and we kept walking around and around the giant bell, feasting our eyes.

On two separate occasions, the bells rung out the time, causing us both near-deafness and heart attacks. The huge bell rung out the hour, and a smaller bell rung out the quarters. It was funny. And also terrifying. We climbed down the steps and moved on to the village’s cathedral.

The Orvieto Duomo is massive, its façade painted in glowing colors and ornamented with gold leaf. The nave was airy and bare, primarily decorated with horizontal zebra stripes of white travertine and black basalt, but the transepts were elaborately frescoed with Renaissance-era comic book cells, illustrating the stations of the cross and uplifting things like Judgement Day and HOW AWFUL IT IS TO GO TO HELL.

After visiting the Duomo, we walked downhill catching more views and then eventually hopped aboard the funicular to get to the main train station on the valley floor. A train ride through the darkening twilight, storm clouds rolling in, and then we were back at Joe’s flat on the outskirts of Rome. A good day indeed.