Posted by Cheryl Alexander – Italian Excursion
My Spring trip is here and there’s nothing more inviting than gazing out on pastures in May that are full of brilliant red poppies. Some just dot the side of the road, while blankets of red cover areas once entirely green. There are also smatterings of other wildflowers that present lavender, deep purple or orange flowers whose names escape me but leave brilliant impressions. If I had to time to stay through June I could witness the same in yellow when the sunflowers come to replace the poppies. Italy in the spring is a flower fest!
I am in alto Lazio which borders both the Tuscany and Umbrian regions. This trip is a true vacation for me and I will spend time with friends; find new sights and scenes to take future guests to visit; check out new villas, lodgings and restaurants. Here are just some of the events and adventures this trip has held for me, so follow along if you can keep up…
First two days: Arrival is mostly about getting settled in Orvieto so I can adjust to the slow travel pace, get settled from the long flight and sleep, eat, drink wine and sleep!
On the third day: I contact all of my friends from north of Florence to south of Rome and set up some times for getting together to catch up, etc. This is also the day that I go into Bagnoregio to pick up the apartment key from my dear friend Marcella. She has the sweetest two level apartment in the historic center where I will stay for the rest of the first week. Its windows overlook the lush farm valley where my property full of olive trees sits. I sit on the bedroom window sill with my morning coffee and just take in the verdant greenery of the farmland below. Somehow it’s so healing for the body and soul….The symphony of the many song birds which one notices throughout Italy reminds me that life is full and abundant here.
Day four/five: One of the highlights of this trip was getting together with Bill and Kristi Steiner who are colleagues of mine in the small group tour business. (Read about them and their art tours on this site). We exchanged ideas, compared notes and shared resources over food and wine under the blue skies of Orvieto. Saturday, dinner at my favorite organic winery/boutique hotel in Civitella d’Agliano (La Tana dell’Istriche). After wine tasting and a tour of the 800 year old wine cellar where the sparkling wine is aged for ten years, we had an incredible meal prepared in the local style. A new taste for me was the sage leaves, lightly battered and cooked in olive oil that was served with the wine tasting. I made plans with four friends to spend the following day showing them Civita d’ Bagnoregio and some other local sites. It was such a hot day we spent the better part of lunch and the afternoon in the Old Olive Mill in Civita, drinking local wine and eating bruschetta cooked over the open fire place with six different toppings.
The next couple of days, having gotten into the rhythm of the Italian countryside, slow and unhurried, I visited some of my other Italian friends in the area, had long delicious meals with the fresh seasonal ingredients of the area and wines paired to perfection with the food. Took a drive to visit my property and check on the olive trees, admire the view, snap a few pictures. My friend Mauro and his wife discussed their desire to visit the US and asked for my help in planning their first outing to our country. My Italian skills are limited but the people are so kind and forgiving that we somehow manage to communicate.
Day eight: I said good-bye to the Orvieto area and went to stay in Civita Castellana, a tiny, sleepy town about an hour northwest of Rome, south of where I’d been staying. The next week was spent with my ex-pat friends, Alison and Neal, who restored part of a palazzo in Civita, creating a beautiful, comfortable home. This little town is a gem because very few tourists are aware of it. It has a long history dating back even before the Etruscan civilization, a fantastic castle and a sweet church very unlike most in other towns. It’s a unique setting and not far from major sites.
Day nine and ten: Alison and I take a road trip to Ravenna to see the incredible Byzantine mosaics left behind there a couple of millennia ago. What a contrast this city is to the hill towns I have been staying in! It is a flat port city with wide sidewalk/streets, where cars are limited to just a couple of hours a day. Everyone rides bikes to get around. And the tourist office offers free bikes for the day if you go in and ask. (Of course, I won’t mention the slight mishap I had riding around town on a bike that caused me some bruises and blood)!
If you are an art enthusiast this is a city to visit. The church and its tiny chapel which house most of the mosaic work are not to be rivaled anywhere. Brilliant colors and dynamic scenes depicted to tell the stories of ancient times.
Day ten: When we returned home to Civita Castellana we had an invitation to the patron saint festival for a small hill town in the area, Otricoli. We joined Italian friends there for a feast of 6 courses that the city hall sponsored to raise funds for the play that would re-enact the events of the saint’s life later that evening. After a loud and long dinner we walked, in the dark, the two mile candle lit pathway through the local national park to a field beside the
Tiber River (also lined with candles to light the way for the actors to enter on a barge). There in a huge field were 300 other townspeople looking down at a stage set with sound and light where the two hour drama unfolded. It was spectacular!
Day eleven: One more elegant dinner at the Mottura’s which just happened to be on a day that Italian television was interviewing the vintner about his recent nomination (one of only 3) for the coveted wine Oscar of Italy. Our group was asked to be part of the video taping to be used when announcing the winners at the end of May. Now I’m an Italian television star, too! You just never know what will happen on a trip to this beautiful county. Italy always has a way of surprising me.
Day twelve: Rest, read, wander the city, eat, drink wine and write in my journal…….
Day thirteen: We decided to go see the Tarot Garden in Capalbio and what an amazing treat that turned out to be. Niki de Saint Phalle’s work is indescribable as you can see here. These mosaics are the contemporary match to the work in Ravenna, turning out the perfect juxtaposition for modern and ancient art.
It’s my last day in Italy, so I had to head for Rome and the airport early in the morning which turned out to be unnecessary as the flight was delayed by many hours. I’ve learned not to expect things to go according to plans when traveling these days, just go with it as it turns out. And I was rewarded this time by being offered a hotel room for the night and first class travel home. It pays to have patience and treat people with kindness! This was another memorable trip for me. There’s not room to mention all of the wonderful people and places I experienced during my stay in Italy this time but since I carry it in my heart I can recall those moments later when I need a little hit of Italy. And if you wish to hear or see more, join us for a week or so when the next journey is scheduled.
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Cheryl has been traveling to Europe, particularly Italy, for more than fourteen years. Her interest in Italy, its history, art and rich culture led her to purchase property near Orvieto, allowing her to spend more time there. Cheryl’s exploration of Italy include the regions of Tuscany, Umbria, Lazio, as well as the areas around Venice and south towards Sorrento. She continues to travel into Italy’s less traveled regions, and enjoys sharing her discoveries with others. Relaxed, leisurely tours are her specialty with an emphasis on the comfort of her guests.
Cheryl spends the rest of her time near the beach in San Diego, cavorting with her two small grandchildren. She’s an avid reader, health advocate and community volunteer. Her career as a social worker brings an understanding of people’s needs to the tour business.