it rained solidly through the night. How do I know? Because I didn't sleep well again! Eventually morning arrived as did an early morning phone call from Stacey. It was good to hear her news but Maree is concerned about her garden due to the unseasonally hot weather in Melbourne.
As we were not meeting Salvatore till after 10am we set off to see if I could find a suitcase to replace mine with the broken wheel. The shop we saw yesterday was not open but we found another that we had not seen the day before and I purchased a new suitcase there. Returning to the hotel I transferred all my stuff and left the old case behind.
Orvieto has been a settlement since Etruscan times. The location of the city on a rocky fly topped hill with steep cliffs guarding one side made for a good defensive position. The hill is made of two types of relatively soft stone; tufa and pozzalane (hardened volcanic ash) which have been used to build most of the houses. The Romans kicked the Etruscans out and by the 5th century had established a thriving city. In the 15th century the city became a papal city.
Salvatore took us to visit the Cathedral in Orvieto which has a splendid facade. This is currently being renovated but the sections that have been fixed are simply stunning. As well as the brilliantly coloured mosaic images there are some intricate bad relief carvings on each side of the front. The first showing scenes from Genesis, the next showing other important stories from the Old Testament. After that there is a panel with stories from the New Testament while the final panel illustrates the Last Judgement. One can imagine the effect that these would have on villagers who could not read. Work on the cathedral began in the 13 century but the gothic facade was started in the 14th. It then took another 200 or so years to complete construction. Legend has it that a bishop built the cathedral to house a sacred host which he saw bleeding and took this as a sign from God.
Our next visit was to some caves under the city in what is called 'Orvieto Underground'. These are not natural caves but ones which have been dug by humans since the Etruscan times.The rock from the caves was used to build the houses above ground and the caves were then used for storage of food, for manufacturing of olive oil. Most caves are beneath houses and are not joined to each other so are used as deep cellars. In order to prevent collapse the caves must be14 metres below ground level and pillars of rock must be left every 5 metres or so. Currently there are more than 1200 caves identified under the city. The caves we were shown have in fact been abandoned by their owners and have been joined together to give an idea of what some of the larger caves would have been like. One set of caves have lots of holes dug in the walls; these were used for raising pigeons which were used for food. Those who visited with us in Turkey might remember Pigeon Wally. Although Orvieto was spared destruction in WW2 the citizens prepared some caves as bomb shelters just in case.
Next we were driven about 10 minutes from the town to the Cantine Neri winery where they make, you guessed it, Orvieto wines under yet another certification standard. Here we were given a taste of two white wines, a red and a dessert wine while snacking on some sliced meat, cheese and bread with olive oil. I must say that the wines were quite nice and both Kai and Helen were impressed enough to have a mixed dozen sent over to Canada.
Just as an aside - the winery in each region is very precious about its wines, explaining in painstaking detail about how their grapes are lovingly picked by soft handed pickers who individually select each grape. These are then gently separated from their stalks and squeezed, but not so hard as to bruise the grapes, in order to retain a balance between intensity and fruitiness. After fermenting for periods varying from a few weeks to a couple of years the wines are transferred to barrels made from "hoak" lovingly cut down by Transylvanian dwarves and transported to Italy in horse drawn carts. The wines then rest peacefully in their barrels in cellars and caves at specially maintained temperatures until they are ready for sale to the adoring public.
After lunch we were picked up by a minibus which drove us to Rome. The driver maintained a steady 145 kmh along the autostrada (signposted at 130) so it wasn't long before we were at our hotel in central Rome. As it was only 4.30 Maree and I went for a walk in the nearby area. We climbed up many stairs to the War Memorial, crossed to the remains of Foro di Cesare then across the Via dei Fori ImperialI where the ruins of Foro di Augusto, Foro di Nerva and Foro di Traiano are located. These are all fairly well signposted with explanatory notes. The most impressive feature is that the walls of some of these ruins form the walls of buildings that are still in use. The curved wall of the Foro di Traiano is particularly spectacular. We could see the Colosseum in the near distance but had to get back to our hotel to change for dinner.
Dinner tonight was in the 2* Giuda Ballerino restaurant at the Hotel Bernini Bristol about 20 minutes walk from our hotel. The dining room was on the eighth floor of this five star hotel and initially we felt a bit underdressed when we saw the wait staff all dolled up in suits. When more diners arrived we found that we were dressed just right. Our tables were white solid structures supporting marble placemats and looked very fancy indeed. For dinner we had square inch of mackerel on a ricotta base with some caramelised sugar, followed by two skewered tempura style prawns with a mortadella mousse. Next came a gigantic scallop cooked in squid ink and served in coconut milk with a tiny strip of pancetta. The two main courses were spaghetti in a cheese and pepper sauce followed by a plate with a piece of fried cod and a piece of baked cod on an asparagus jus with three stalks of roast asparagus and a roast cherry tomato. All of these were of course absolutely delicious as befits a 2* Michelin restaurant. For dessert we has a pre-dessert which was a strawberry mouse about the size of a 20 cent piece and then the real dessert of ricotta mouse on a biscuit with tiny drops of fig jam, cinzano drops and minted Greek yoghurt. The wine list, which weighed as much as a genuine Gutenberg Bible, had such a range of wines it was impossible to choose although we quickly discarded those costing 1000 euro a bottle. Kai asked the sommelier for help and eventually chose a bottle costing 110 euro (one of the cheapest). It was nice butnot that nice. All in all it was a great night for our last 'classy' meal together.