While housesitting in Canalicchio, we took it easy, in some respects. We took car trips less frequently than we have in other areas, and I wrote no blog posts after the first impressions one in our first week. I worked quite a bit on Eastern Time covering for a vacation, which meant I didn’t shut down until about 10:00 pm (the not taking it easy part). Since my work is computer-based, the last thing I feel like doing in my off times on these days is to sit in front of a computer to write and process photos.
Since we were staying in a lovely spot in the hills of Umbria, hanging out at home and being entertained by the now-very-friendly Gusta (the cat) was no hardship. But here we were in Umbria, a drive away from some very interesting and famous places, a few of which we checked out: Orvieto, Florence, Todi, and Assisi.
We planned something different in Orvieto–a tour (€6 each) of the underground caves that were an important part of the history of some of these hilltop towns. Our tour started at the Piazza del Duomo, so we ogled the cathedral while we waited.
Our tour guide led us down the hill a little way from the cathedral to a locked gate–the caves she was about to show us can only be visited with a guide. However, some of the approximately 1,200 caves are in use as restaurants, bars, and shops, so can be seen on your own.
While walking through a few of the caves, our guide explained the many ways that they had been used–wine making, olive oil processing, and pigeon raising, to name a few. The caves were so active, she described life underground as far more productive than life above.
Pigeons were raised for eggs and meat. The image above shows a cave that likely contained the pigeons for a few families. Imagine the smell and noise!
Florence was over a two-hour drive away from where we were staying, so we knew we wouldn’t have a lot of time there. We left the house quite early, with a recommended parking destination keyed into Google Maps. Once we were in Florence, getting to the underground parkade was an adventure in itself. We were sure we were going to be in trouble as we headed down narrow passages, drove past signs that we couldn’t read fast enough warning us of who knows what, turning left and then right and then left again, coming to what appeared to be a dead end in a plaza filled with market tents, before seeing another sign that directed us around behind the tents to a tiny ramp heading beneath the Mercato Centrale building in the heart of town. This market is a happening place, and had also been recommended as a lunch stop (the top floor is filled with restaurants), which we took advantage of later in the day.
Our first stop after the mercato was at the suggestion of Sophie, one of our homeowners. She recommended Museo Nazionale del Bargello (the Bargello Museum), which is filled with sculptures, including the Michelangelo David Apollo.
Sadly for us (though possibly not for him), David had gone to New York to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and wouldn’t be back until a couple of days after our visit.
With such a short time in Florence, we had planned a visit to only one museum, with the rest of the time allocated to city exploration with our new favourite tour guide, Rick Steves, coaching us along through our earbuds. There is so much to see, so much opulence to take in, that wandering and learning just a little about each structure still overloads the senses.
The line-ups to climb Giotti’s Campanile were a little shorter than the ones for the cathedral’s dome, just a few steps away. We didn’t do either.
We could have seen the most famous David by Michelango in Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze, but opted instead to view a copy of the great work in the Piazza della Signoria, outside the Palazzo Vecchio.
The courtyard of the must-see (we didn’t) Uffizi Museum, is itself a gallery filled with bigger-than-life sculptures of famous and influential men like Leonardo Da Vinci and Galileo.
At the end of the Uffizi courtyard is the Arno River.
The Ponte Vecchio is a historic bridge over the Arno River filled with little shops and a gathering place for selfie-taking tourists.
Our drive out of Florence was almost as adventurous as our drive in. Even more difficult, though, was the price tag for our terrific parking spot right in town–€31 (about $48 CAD)! I don’t have any other recommendations for parking in Florence, but next time we’ll check it out a little more thoroughly (eg., using an article like this one) before taking a recommendation at face value. And we’ll be keeping our fingers crossed for a while that we don’t receive notice of fines for accidentally entering a ZTL zone here as well (see TripBits at the bottom of Canalicchio: First impressions).
Todi is a small hilltop town, not far from where we were staying. We went for the drive, the views, a short walk around, and a delicious lunch.
We had driven up the hill to Assisi (header image) in the first week of our stay, parked, got out of the car, and realized we were not dressed for walkabout in the chilly wind that was whipping around the top of the hill. This time, with additional layers, gloves and hats, we were ready for anything an Umbrian February could throw at us.
We plugged in our Rick Steeves tour and, after a few false starts trying to locate the tour’s starting point, we were on our way. We were parked at the top of the hill where the tour began, and throughout the tour zigzagged our way down cobbled streets and staircases, all the while knowing we would have to climb back up to the top when it was over (but hoping that we would be directed by our illustrious guide to one of the elevators we had seen signs for as we drove up the hill).
Rick, the tour guide in our ears, walked us by several shops he recommended for various items, as well as a coffee shop that sold Rocciata Di Assisi (Rock of Assisi), the traditional pastry filled with apples, dried fruit and nuts. We didn’t have any interest in purchasing embroidered baby clothes or religious items, but the pastry seemed like a good bet. We ordered two (€1.50 each) along with our coffees. They were delicious, but we could have easily shared one and still felt completely satisfied.
At the end of our tour was the target of many a Franciscan monk’s pilgrimage, Basilica Papale di San Francesco (Papal Basilica of Saint Francis). We tried to walk down the path to what appeared to be the front entrance, but the armed guards sent us down around a roadway where we could see a security screening setup. Having been inside so many cathedrals and churches in the last few months, we have been picking and choosing which ones to go into. Instead, we turned and climbed our way back up to the parking lot, enjoying the beautiful streets and views once again.
We tried to finish our time in Umbria with a country drive through the olive groves and grape vines to a few nearby wineries for tastings. The drive was lovely, but the wine tastings didn’t happen until we returned home. Once again, we were in the right place, but at the wrong time, with the wineries closed for the off-season.