I moved this post to our “DailyBlog”
One leg of our proposed trip next spring had me puzzled. How do we get from Prague to Belgrade efficiently. I’ve seen flights that go through Rome and even Paris. There is no direct connection. The most common path is through Budapest, but we start in Budapest and would prefer visiting a “new” city.
Looking at a map of central and eastern Europe, there are two cities to the east that look interesting: Bucharest, Romania and Sofia, Bulgaria.
Tarom, Romanian Airlines, has a direct flight from Prague to Bucharest! It’s a two hour flight at a reasonable price. Air Serbia has a direct flight from Bucharest to Belgrade at a reasonable price. What about a hop to Sofia? There are direct flight Bucharest to Sofia and Sofia to Belgrade. A stop over in both Bucharest and Sofia is possible.
I know nothing about either Serbian Airlines or Tarom. Time to get informed.
From Belgrade we plan to take the train to Podgorica, Montenegro and rent a car.
City Hall, Bamberg on the river Regnitz
The more I study our alternatives for Spring 2019, the more I am convinced we will have a fantastic time. The only certain piece of this puzzle is our river cruise from Budapest to Prague. I’ve been juggling what to do when before and/or after the cruise. I know we want to visit Berlin, Croatia, and Slovenia. Then there’s Germany’s Castle Route which is a drive through Germany’s castle region.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Franconia, Bavaria
To the extent that I can, I hope to keep our costs for connections to a minimum while balancing travel time. One train route caught my attention, the Balkan Express that runs from Belgrade, Serbia to Bar, Montenegro with the option of cutting out at Podgorica. I’m having some difficulty finding an “easy” connection between Prague and Belgrade. RyanAir does not service the Dalmatian Coast countries at all. Most flights connect through another city (some as far as Paris!). There are no direct trains, though a connection through Budapest is possible. Next up is seeing if there are direct connections from a city closer to Prague. RyanAir does service Bari, Italy with ferry connections to Albania, Montenegro, and Croatia, but the ferry is a 10 hour trip.
Stock Images, The Balkan Express
If you search images for Montenegro, you cannot help marveling at the picturesque small island, Sveti Stefan. The island is owned by Aman Resorts. It is private and open to guests only. A one night stay on the island is pricey at $1000.00. We will marvel at when we stop by on our way to Kotor Bay. I have found lovely romantic bay side apartments right on the water near old town Kotor that are reasonably priced at $35 per night! Granted we will not have a pair of 60 minute spa treatments included, but that’s OK.
Orthodox Church Saint Jovan Vladimir, Bar, Montenegro
Stock Image Kotor, Montenegro
We are changing our focus from Ireland/Spain/Portugal to Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia perhaps with a jaunt to Berlin. For some reason I find it much easier to be excited planning for the Dalmatian Coast than I did for Ireland and Spain. I have no idea why; clearly I would like to visit Ireland, Spain, Portugal, and Morocco. It could be the passing familiarity with Croatia we have from our retirement cruise that included the Adriatic Sea that’s luring us back.
We’re now thinking of flying round trip to Budapest and making a grand loop or flying into Berlin, and flying out from Ljubljana, Slovenia. This change of plans came about when Ron suggested we join him and Christ on a 12 day Danube River cruise from Budapest to Prague. Sure, we’d love to. We enjoyed their company in Florence; we travel well together.
We’ll either fly into Berlin then get to Budapest for the cruise or head to Berlin after Prague. In either case we expect to spend a few days in Budapest, Prague, and Berlin before flying to Podgorica, Montenegro. We plan to rent a car (probably a Citroen) and drive the coast from Montenegro to Slovenia with inland excursions here and there. After a few weeks exploring Montenegro, Croatia, and Slovenia; we’ll fly back from either Ljubljana or Budapest.
I considered a Gate 1 tour of Croatia and Slovenia, but I know I would rather follow my nose through these countries. I’ll look into private tours here and there along the way. We met fellow who manages a bespoke shoe shop in Florence who is Slovenian and “would love to show us around his country”. That could be and adventure, assuming he was serious and has the time. Italians are well known for their graciousness, and sometimes less follow through. I fondly reminisce over our time in Florence. Having a screensaver with random photo popups feeds my nostalgia.
I’ll post a single image.
The Bay of Kotor, Montenegro
Reservations for our trip to the Norwegian Fjords and Sweden are complete. I am certain that January will be cold. We plan to dress accordingly with no plans to freeze. I hope the Northern Lights are aglow for us. We loaded up on cruise ship daytime excursions and we’ll take two activities while at the Ice Hotel: a night-time Northern Lights photography outing and a visit with reindeer (thanks to Cynthia for this suggestion)
Now I can “relax” and “simply” plan an RV excursion to Yellowstone NP, Montana, Idaho, Washington State, and an excursion into Canada for this fall. At some point ahead of our RV trip, I do need to plan out our trip to Europe in the Spring. With the Blue Danube river cruise prepaid, we’ll shift our attention to Eastern Europe and book-end the cruise with time in Croatia, Slovenia, and perhaps Berlin.
This year (2018) we installed a solar system and that put a crimp in our travel plans. We’ve talked about an RV trip to Montana, Washington, and Victoria BC, but have no solid plans as yet. I have to get that planned out or it may not happen.
Last year we took a very inexpensive trip to Vietnam through Gate 1 Travel. To our surprise, we thoroughly enjoyed that trip. Since then Gate1 has regularly sent teaser brochures advertising their “specials” for the week or the quarter. Most times we glance through them thinking some would be fun to do in the future. Last week Ellen pointed out a Northern Lights cruise offered by Gate1 in Norway. It is unusual for Ellen to get excited about trip planning in the early stages. Further research was in order!
The “Gate 1” cruise would be on either MS Richard With, MS Nordlys, MS Nordkapp, or MS troljiford in a standard inside cabin. Look up any of these ships and you’ll find they are operated by Hurtigruten. Hurtigruten is a Norwegian cruise line that operates a fleet of ferries that plies the Norwegian Fjords. All are working ferries that make numerous stops up and down the coast. They feature stops at a few ports of call with excursions. A few of their cruises are billed as “Adventure”, “Northern Lights”, or “Astronomy”.
I got all excited that I could book directly with Hurtigruten, get an outside berth, and opt for excursions at some of the destinations. Great. Now for the logistics: which destination city should we fly into: Bergen, Oslo or Stockholm? What time of year is best to go? Some research showed that Stockholm is located on islands and is much more picturesque than Oslo. Bergen is the port of departure and a direct flight there with an overnight might be preferable. There are regular flights from Stockholm, Sweden to Bergen, Norway where we would board a Hurtigruten ship. There is also a flight from Oakland Ca to Bergen with a stop over in Paris. Cool.
Northernmost Tram Ride in the World, Trondheim Norway
During my research Ellen mentioned wanting to visit the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjarvi, Sweden. This complicates things. We now have three legs of a potential “Northern Lights” vacation: 1. Stockholm, 2. Hurtigruten Cruise, 3. Ice Hotel. In which order do we do this and during which month? If we save the Ice Hotel for the last “leg”, do we fly to Bergen and do the cruise first or fly to Stockholm and spend a few days there before taking the cruise. Do we do a round trip cruise.
Arctic Ice Park, Kirkenes, Norway
Initially I thought we’d visit the IceHotel in November and actually booked a warm and cold room and a few excursions. Then I realized that there would be little snow on the ground for dog sled rides and a November cruise would push our return up against our prior plans for Thanksgiving. On Monday of this week (6/25) I called the Ice Hotel and cancelled our reservations with no penalty. The fellow I spoke with was most gracious stating because I called within the two week window after booking there would be no problem with a full refund.
The Northernmost Town in the World, Hammerfest, Norway
My thinking now is to book the Ice Hotel in January after our “Astronomy” cruise on Hurtigruten and either before or after spending a few days in Stockholm. Also of interest is a side trip to lulea, Sweden. Lulea is the most northern city in Sweden. It lies on the coast and is becoming a tech hub for the country. We’ll most likely fly from Stockholm to Lulea and take a train from Lulea to Kiruna and the Ice Hotel the following day.
Art Suite 365, Ice Hotel Jukkasjarvi, Sweden
Today it looks like a round trip flight Oakland to Bergen, overnight Bergen, take a 12 day Norwegian Fjord cruise with a zodiac trip in the arctic for the Northern Lights. Then we’ll fly from Bergen to Stockholm and tour Stockholm for a few days before flying on to the Ice Hotel. We’ll stay first in a warm room, then in an “Art Suite 365”, a new addition to the hotel. It is a cold room with an attached warm bathroom and seating area. A warm room right off the Ice Room? It seems far to civilized!
All arrangements are now booked except a hotel for an overnight in Bergen and one in Stockholm for two nights. We’ll be in Trondheim on new years day!
We have been living in Firenze for a month now; two weeks in a rustic hillside house and two weeks in an palace apartment. You would think with so much time, I would be writing about our experiences. When we are home, I am enjoying relaxing and reflecting on the day. I plan to write a compendium of our experience in Firenze when we arrive back in Hercules.
We are having a wonderful time. I am sure people wondered how we could endure six weeks in Florence. Most tourists visit for a few days, four at the most, and move on. Florence is steeped in history and its art. It is one of the most storied cities in the world, and was home to an unrivaled list of genius’. Every day holds something new for us: sometimes a bit of historical information, often something more contemporary.
Then there is the food. Think of Italy and most Americans think pizza. We have ordered our share of pizza in Italy; it is quick, tasty, and inexpensive. It is not what I consider Italian cuisine. I have had fresh ravioli, cone shaped and stuffed with Porchetta, bread, mussles, and pop pig. I have no idea what pop pig is, but it was delicious. Spaghetti cacio e peppe and spaghetti alle vongole verace are both wonderful. The antipasti can be surprisingly tasty with unusually paired flavors. Along the coast, the seafood is marvelous. Italian wines and artisan beers are quite easy to drink.
Everywhere we have gone we have had fun talking to the people in our small but expanding Italian vocabulary. Most everyone speaks English, but they love to see us speak their language. Sometimes we get a barrage of Italian in response! Then we sheepishly have to respond in English, popping the illusion that we can actually speak Italian. It’s fun. We are learning every day and that’s fun too.
The food is so good and so varied, it is impossible not to gain weight. As Antonella said over dinner last night,, “Italians do not eat like this every day. We typically eat a light lunch, maybe a salad.” We do not eat like this every day either, not “at home”. Visiting Italy, now that’s an entirely different beast. Overindulging for a week’s vacation is one thing. We are staying for two months. We have gained some weight. I hate dieting, I enjoy food far too much to deny myself this simple pleasure. I do see an extensive exercise program in my future.
We have taken an massive gallery of photographs. If I had to guess, I’d say we have taken six thousand photos and videos. Some simply document meals and restaurants. Some chronicle ancient ruins we have visited. Others picture expansive views of the sea or cities we have visited. Some are spectacular. It takes time to sort through them, culling the best and posting those. For now, I claim laziness! I will post photos and an in-depth description of our stay in Florence some other time.
A quick note. Somehow our WiFi connection failed when Day 15 should have been posted and I did not notice it until days later. It’s the nature of a blog that each entry is sequential, hence my re-submission of day 15 is out of chronological order. We had a great time in Sperlonga, in fact we’ve had a great time wherever we’ve gone!
We are now in Florence and I’ve been very remiss in updating our blog. Given a choice of enjoying Florence or writing about it, I must admit writing takes a distant second place. We’ve had a wonderful time at the outskirts of Florence in a charming farmhouse and an equally wonderful time in San Niccolo near Oltrano.
One day I’ll feel the muse, but for now we are simply having fun re-discovering Firenze.
Our hosts have been wonderful.
We had breakfast at the hotel. Fair cappuccinos, ok cornetti, good scrambled eggs and a bacon like ham thing. We ate comfortably, meaning we did not gorge ourselves. Photos of the hotel make it appear to sit on the water. It is actually a block from the sea. The dining area overlooks a parking lot and the sea.
The manager handling the breakfast buffet was two faced. He was gracious to the guests and rude to his workers. I think he was eastern European, though he could easily have been Italian. He ruled the dining area with intimidation and an iron fist.
I do recommend Hotel Poseidon. It is comfortable, close to Pompeii, close to exquisite sea food, and has a parking garage.
Torre del Greco: Getting a Boat to the Marina
We left Torre del Greco for Gaeta around 10:30. Getting out of Torre del Greco was a trip. Our GPS guided us along the coast on a road that grew increasingly primitive. At one point it led us to a dirt parking strip fronting a repair shop. An ancient wall rose up to our right, the sea and old unkempt buildings to our left. There was a very tiny opening in the wall. That was the road. I had to back up to negotiate that turn and the immediate left turn that followed. Eventually we found a road that took us to the autostrada. Did I mention driving in Italy is both fun and challenging?
You wouldn’t think it’s a bridge, but for the tower and cables
It was a gloriously sunny day driving the coast north. We had roughly three hours drive to get to Sperlonga. Time was tight; we decided to skip driving to Bacoli. This way we avoided Napoli entirely.
Mondragone, on the Road to Gaeta
Parked in a Blue Pay Parking Space, *SAFE*
A bay curves into a point of land that is Gaeta. Most interesting geological formations along Italy’s coast are home to ancient towns that grew into modern towns that harbor a centro storico, or historical district. Gaeta is one of those places.
We Parked Just Off This Small Square
We drove into Gaeta and immediately found an expansive parking lot across from the bay. It is Saturday, the day before Easter.. Most people are home visiting family and relatives. Great. I parked. Another rookie mistake. It is a better idea to drive around a small town some to reconnoiter. Check out where the points of interest are and the scale of the town. This works if the town is small. It can backfire if the town is large.
Ellen at Gaeta Along The Shore
We parked and walked along the sea promenade. We were very hungry at this point; many (most) Italian restaurants close after lunch then open again after setting up for dinner. We’ had been caught looking for la pranza (lunch) at 2:15 with no luck. Not this time! We walked by Antica Pizzeria Ciro, which was open and had lunch there. We both ordered spaghetti vongole. We cannot get enough clams on the Italian coast! My glass of house white wine was “ok”, and the vongole was fresh and tasty, but probably yesterday’s catch. While good, it was noticeably different. There were more clams that didn’t open when cooked indicating they had died prior to going in the pot. Lunch was just ok.
Ristorante Ciro, 1923
Spaghetti con Vongole
We had a table by the Plexiglas and canvass windows and had a wonderful view of the bay. Toward the end of our meal, a group of six or eight people, friends of the owner arrived. They apparently complained of the heat in the room. The owner opened our Plexiglas/canvass window/door such that the Plexiglas rolled up and away and the canvass rolled up blocked our view. Worse, now the bottom of our “window” was open to the wind that immediately made our table frigid.
Moments later our waiter dropped by asking if we wanted anything more, dessert, coffee, espresso… “Yes, could you ask the owner to close our window so we don’t freeze and can see the bay?”, but of course that went unsaid. Instead, we asked, “il conto per favore” and made as if to leave. The waiter had watched the entire fiasco. He actually went to the owner to mention they were losing business having the window open. The owner could care less. Italy has pluses and minuses. This was a minus for us, but only because we had not engaged the owner earlier. It was no big deal, we were planning to leave then anyway.
What, Gaeta Has No Centro Storico?
Continuing our walk along the promenade, we first came to a marina, then parking, then a “centro storico” sign, and the old part of the city built into the hillside. There were a few ristoranti open, some bars too. We walked the historic center and enjoyed the view from high above the sea. Gaeta is well worth a stop for lunch and to walk the old city. I know I will look further along the promenade and skip Ciro next time.
Where We Should Have Parked and Eaten?
The Fort, Gaeta, Played a Role in the Unification of Italy in 1860.
Details of a Bell Tower of St. Erasmus, Gaeta
Church of St Francis of Assisi, Gateta
Duomo, Centro Storico
A Stairway, Let’s See What’s Up There!
Everywhere You Go, Stairways
Some Stairways Are More Historic
Find Your Place in the Sun.
The drive from Gaeta to Sperlonga is about thirty minutes. With this in mind, we lingered in Gaeta.
On the Road To Sperlonga
Sperlonga from Tyberius’ Villa
The drive into Sperlonga is along narrow two way streets that are not that intimidating. We found the hotel by driving past the street twice, parking, and using Google on our Italian phone to get us the last 100 meters. “Here is your room key, breakfast is served on floor zero. Your room is on the 2nd floor. Park anywhere in back.” As with every room we have stayed in thus far, the room was clean and outfitted with brand new Italian fixtures. We took the elevator to the 2nd floor and didn’t find room 215. It was one floor down on the first floor. Breakfast must have been served of floor –1! We unpacked what we needed from what little we had and headed out to explore Sperlonga.
A Very Nice Shower Fixture
Sperlonga has two long, beautiful beaches divided by a high spit of rock that juts into the sea. The old city of Sperlonga sits atop this rock and has steep narrow staircases between very old buildings. Pathways lead to pathways that go up or down; up to the piazza or down to the sea. There are boutique hotels and B&B’s hidden away in dead-end stairways or closed off gates. In the old town cafes and ristoranti line the piazza. Further from the sea, is a piazza that local children use to play. Soccer balls fly here and there, most are run down. Children show off their skills or mess up trying a new skill.
The Spit and Tower that Divide the two Lidos
The More Developed and Lively North Lido, Sperlonga
The Less Developed South Lido, Sperlonga
We walked the pathways (street conjures up the wrong image) coming to know Sperlonga’s ins and outs. Hungry again, even after a good spaghetti lunch. We vowed not to eat pizza tonight! While pizza is tasty, Italy has so much more to offer. Local cuisine varies so much from region to region, it seems a travesty to just have pizza. Eat local.
The Slow Food Sign, Sperlonga
Sperlonga is a “slow food” city. Italy’s slow food movement began in Rome when McDonalds attempted to open a store right beside the Spanish Steps. That store was opposed by residents who feel that a fast food chain is anathema to the concept of Italian life. “Slow Food” is a movement trying to preserve the best of regional foods by encouraging the use of local ingredients and promoting cooking, eating, and enjoying a meal SLOWLY. Piano Piano, as the Italians say.
Stairs From the Sea to Centro Storico, Sperlonga
I wanted to try local cuisine, but at the same time have a light meal. It was the day before Easter and many ristorante were closed. Then it was too early for others to open. We walked up to the main piazza, around the upper town, then back down another route, not settling on any place to eat.
Sperlonga’s Central Piazza
Sunset Walking To The Sea
Sunset on Sperlonga’s Lido Nord
Back at sea level, we walked the lido toward home, Viriglio Grand Hotel Sperlonga. I whipped out my trusty Italian phone and looked up restaurants near me. Up popped “Tropical Pizza” rated #1 for cheap eats. Pizza? Well ok. It was busy, though we were seated quickly as were a hoard of people behind us. The place was overflowing with good natured talk among family and friends. They had an astounding variety of pizza. As Julia Roberts said, “There are only two kinds of pizza, Margherita and Margherita with double buffalo mozzarella.” I ordered a Margherita pizza, Ellen had vegetables of her choice grilled and half of my pizza. It seems just a bit weird to be eating pizza in a slow food town.
We were hungry and the pizza was good. Tropical Pizza had a Tropical Bar next door that played loud music. Inside, the pizza place played a low volume mix of Italian ballads and U.S. mellow rock (think Beach Boys).
Tivoli and B&B Il Gardino
B&B Il Gardino’s Entrance, Tivoli
Common Area, B&B Il Gardino, Tivoli
We awoke early for us, enjoyed a leisurely shower, and went down for breakfast. The buffet breakfast was quite varied. “Would you like coffee?” “Due cappuccino, per favore.” though we could have spoken English. I really appreciated the fresh fruit that greeted us at table. The cappuccinos were great.
As we often do we walked the town of Tivoli in the morning. There were a few people out for a morning stroll or coffee. The town felt deserted. We left for Civita Bagnoregio around 10am.
Bagnoregio on an Italian National Holiday
Bagnoregio is Perched on a Small Hilltop
Traffic on the autostrada was unusually heavy today and moving as congested traffic does. We came to a near stop or a full stop innumerable times. Sometimes traffic would zoom at the speed limit and two kilometers come to a complete halt for minutes at a time. I’d expect to come upon an accident, but there would be no indication that anything was wrong aside from the traffic.
Our GPS piped up with “take slick road on right in 2 kilometers toward…” I pulled to the right lane saw that traffic was queuing in the break down lane for the exit and pulled in line just in time. Traffic moved at a snail’s pace. After an hour we were approaching the turnoff and one of the holdups became apparent. For every car in line that exited the autostrada, here were two cars who cut the very head of the line. That was infuriating.
The second bottleneck was traffic merging from the left accessing the toll booths. There were two lines of traffic darting in, around, and through each other.
Third up? The toll gates themselves. Two were closed and two were open; one open for cash, the other for telepass. Cars accessing the cash lane were blocking the telepass lane and telepass holders were blocking the cash lane. Madness.
Finally my turn after cutting of a guy trying to cut in front of me. That’s not going to happen after waiting 90 minutes. Up to the booth attendant with my ticket. He’s on the phone. He takes my ticket and 3,40 shows on the display. Great I hand him a 5 and fish for 40 cents. He takes the five, still talking on the phone and does nothing. I found the 40 cents to get an even 2 euros back a tried to hand it over. He’s still talking on the phone. “Sigonore, per favore” nothing, this guy is “busy”. “Signore, please take this 40 cents” nothing.. I’m sure traffic behind me is convince I’m a total idiot by now. “Allora, Signore, please take this 40 cents too” It wasn’t a shout, but I did raise my voice. He moved the phone away from his ear, glowered at me, and released a stream of Italian the gist of which was I’m on the phone talking about this traffic backup. You could wait. He did take the 40 cents and give me 2 euros. I was free…
The back roads to Bagnoregio were traffic free! I had this haunting feeling that something was happening that I was not aware of. Why so much traffic on the autostrada? We we approached Bagnoregio, I could not believe what I saw. Driving toward the lower parking area, the streets were lined with parked cars. In the lower part of the new town, there were people milling about every where. Car parking areas were full. We eventually found a parking yard with an opening and grabbed it.
The pay kiosk was broken another dilemma. Do we park elsewhere and not get ticketed for sure, or do we simply walk on hoping for the best? We walked on, joining a stream of people headed to Bagnoregio. Now Civita Bagnoregio is a very small town that sits on a precipice. Access to the town is across a long picturesque pedestrian bridge. To access that bridge, you first park, walk up steps to the upper town, walk through the town eventually to access to that pedestrian bridge. The crowds were staggering. Walking through the town we joined a throbbing throng of people moving toward the pedestrian bridge; with another stream of people returning. It’s about a 1 kilometer walk through the town. This was like being at a world fair, it was so crowded. Everyone was speaking Italian.
Bagnoregio is Quite Dramatic
Crowded? Pieno, Pieno, Pieno!
Look closely at the crowd crossing the footbridge to the city in the photo above. It turned out that today, the day after Easter, is a national holiday. Half of Rome had come to visit Bagnoregio. We eventually reached access to the pedestrian bridge, but seeing the crowd crossing the bridge it became apparent that a relaxed lunch in Bagnoregio admiring the town and its views was not going happen. There was no way we could stand the crowds. We left having taken a few photos of the town and the crowds.
The Foreground Appears Uncrowded, a Bus had just Gone Past!
Upper “Bagnoregio” men’s & women’s Line
We both needed to use a Toilette. The line near the Bagnoregio foot bridge was excessively long. We moved quickly back through the new town and down the stairs to find a men’s and woman’s line. Predictably the men’s line was four deep, the woman’s nearly twelve. Ellen, “is there a door in the men’s room?” After checking, “yes” and she waited in the men’s line with me to the shock of one fellow in particular.
The Lower Women’s Line
Ellen used the Men’s Room, One Guy was Not Amused!
Back at the alfa, we had no parking ticket. There was traffic! There were people looking for parking and those leaving. We left and dialed in Orvieto as our destination. We were off. Ellen asked if I was ok leaving Bagnoregio without actually seeing the city. Of Course, the mass of people was a complete disaster. No way would I have wanted to continue.
We stopped at a service center on the autostrada to get gas and maybe a bite to eat. I drove past the entrance for the food court and drove through the exit to park. No harm done, nobody was coming out. The food selection at the food court was extensive, from pizza by the slice to made to order pasta dishes. A fellow overheard us talking about the pizza and he said, “the pizza is good”. We opted for a slice of pizza. Crust makes a pizza. My pepperoni/salami pizza slice was good, but the crust was not crunchy. Ellen’s was crunchy and much better. Full up, we filled the car up too.
Orvieto, Prominent in the City is the Duomo
The drive to orvieto went very smoothly until we reached Orvieto. Rick Steves had recommended parking at the funicular and taking it up to the city. Parking in the city is limited and expensive. Right. So we drove up a winding road looking for the funicular. I stopped and asked an attractive woman police woman (comment about Italian Woman discreetly left out) where we would find the Funicular. She was very helpful and precise.”a sinistra, allora diretto e a destra” motioning in the general direction of left. Off we went following her directions and surprisingly we did not find the funicular, but we found a parking garage. We parked, dragged our luggage out of the car, and headed out in search of the Funicular.
The policemen directing traffic either did not understand English or couldn’t be bothered. Ellen approached a group on a corner and asked were we would find the fu NIK u lar. They looked at each other, clearly not understanding what Ellen was asking. I have no idea where this sprang from but I blurted out, “FU nick u LA re” Instant recognition sprang upon one gal’s face. She pointed down the hill, “e la”, she said proudly. In Italian accent is everything. The difference between so prah SEt to and so pra SAH to is the difference between getting a blank stare or a great sausage.
Down we trundled over cobblestone, Ellen dragging her suitcase, me with my duffle bag over my shoulder. We found an expansive parking lot, the entrance to the Funicular, and a ticket office. “due biglietti, per favore” and we stepped into a crowded car with standing room only. Ellen and I were separated in the car. Eventually there was a beep, the doors closed, and the Funicular lurched downward. DOWN? We are going DOWN? It occurred to me that we probably drove up to parking in the city. There was no need to take the Funicular. None. I didn’t want to look at Ellen; didn’t want to know what she was thinking!
When the Funicular hit bottom, we stayed aboard as others boarded. A bit later the doors closed and we were headed back to Orvieto.
We took no photos of the Funicular. We were disgusted with it/us.
We dragged our bags up past our parking area, up and up. Eventually Ellen approached a good looking Italian fellow and asked where the Grand Hotel Italy was. He said, in very good English, this street takes you to a square. The hotel is just past the square on this street I believe. We had arrived, almost. Those last 200 meters were torture.
Orvieto and Grand Hotel Italia
We Found Orvieto’s Duomo
The hotel is well located in Orvieto’s centro storico. It is a comfortable if modest hotel situated just off Piazza del Popolo. We had a standard room of moderate size with a nicely appointed bathroom. Lunch was a vague memory, we were hungry again. We asked at the desk where we could get an authentic local meal. “On Piazza del Popolo, just nearby, is Mamma Angela’s. That is the best.”
It Was Too Cold to Sit Outside
We walked had walked past that piazza on our way to the hotel. Finding the restaurant was no problem, but it did not look open. Approaching a fellow setting up outside seating, I asked, “E aperto?” to which I heard “No, aperto alle sette quindici. Vuoi una prenotazione allora?” “Si, alle otto?” and the waiter made a gesture saying I’ll remember you while saying, “recordo”. We had forty minutes time to walk some of Orvieto. The church on the square is interesting, though we had seen a clock tower nearby. Off we went in search of something. That something was the Orvieto’s duomo. It is an impressive structure in white and gray stone similar to Firenze’s duomo. It was closed. We returned to Osteria da Mamma Angela at 7:15 sharp, hoping to be seated early. “Buongiorno, interno all’esterno?” “La, per favore” I said pointing inside while avoiding the whole interno issue. We were seated and given menus in Italian. Ellen asked his name. “Luca” Ellen asked “Luca, with two ‘c’s’?” “no, one c, Luca”. Luca is one of the owners.
Mamma Angela’s Italian Menu
Cool, We were well into translating the menu with my “Italian phone” when a waitress came over and asked if we would like an English menu. Sure, let’s do that. Apparently, I had spoken enough Italian convincingly that the first fellow thought I spoke Italian. Cool, if counter productive!”
Mamma Angela’s Ravioli
Mamma Angela’s Osso Bucco
The English menu was so much easier to decipher, though we still had questions about ingredients. Included on the menu was Osso Bucco. I love osso bucco. Ellen even commented that it was on the menu. Ellen ordered Mamma Angela’s Ravioli. We had house wine which was exceedingly good. My osso bucco was not nearly as tender I had expected. Like the pasta, the beef was al denti. It was perfectly seasoned with just the right touch of finely chopped carrots. I assume celery and onion as well, though they mostly dissolved in the sauce. I have since learned that chianina is the local breed of Tuscan cattle. It is a tougher meat than angus. The Italians prefer a chewy beef to the tender beef we eat in the U.S. My osso bucco was no doubt from Chiania beef. It was very tasty and very resilient! The osso bucco was good. Ellen’s really enjoyed here ravioli.
Cheese Cake, and the Topping? Excellente!
Our waitress tempted us with a desert list. We settled on cheese cake. The cake was wonderful, but the fruit topping was amazing.
Inside Mamma Angela’s
Italy and Wines
A word about Italy and wines. Italy has more acreage cultivated for grapes than any country in the world. It produces more wine than any other country. Surprisingly, most of Italy’s wine is produced by small family wineries producing wine for local consumption, akin to Germany’s local breweries. Most of these do not produce wine in sufficient quantities for a large export market. The wine is consumed locally. Therefore Italian wines are virtually unknown in the U.S. Only people who travel to Italy and sample the wines from the various regions come to appreciate both the quality and variety of these wines. I have had some extremely good glasses of house wine produced locally in small volume I’m sure. No doubt I will have a mixed case of wine (or two) shipped back home.
Typical for us, we left Mamma Angela’s happy, tired, and sated. Unusual for us, our walk back to the hotel was short, flat, and with no stairs.