Atlantic Canada: The Plan

For many of us, travel means visiting other countries but at some point I believe we all need to see what our own country has to offer.  We get a unique perspective on life when we meet people whose way of life is different from our own and yet we seem to assume that our fellow Canadians (or Americans…) have a similar life experience simply because we live in the same country, yet nothing could be further from the truth.

My parents believed that it was important for our family to see the rest of Canada and so not once but twice, my dad took five weeks of his vacation time in one block, pulled us four kids out of school, and drove us across Canada from Vancouver to Halifax and back. The experience was the greatest Social Studies lesson we could ever have and one that I will remember forever.

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Yes, my Dad did have to change a flat along the way.

Our first trip was in 1972, when I was 12 and my siblings were 11, 9, and 8.  The four of us were packed into our black Chev (three in the back and one in front), along with my mom and dad, and our young Lab, Goldie, on the floor under my mom’s feet. We pulled a tent trailer and camped the entire way, with only a handful of stops at cheap motels when absolutely we had to. We stayed in Provincial or National Parks wherever possible and only stayed in private campgrounds when nothing else was available. We camped through the sun and rain, black flies and mosquitoes, capital cities and green forests – what an experience!

And as if that wasn’t enough, we did the same trip once again in 1975 when our ages ranged from  11 to 15.  This time we had a little more seating room in our Volkswagen van and we got to alternate seats every 100 miles so every one had a turn in the coveted front seat (thanks Mom!). On that trip, we brought two orange pup tents as well as our tent trailer, and my siblings and I each had a job to do when we arrived at the site.  We were able to have the entire site set up in 15 minutes if everyone did their job.

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Dad catches a few winks after a long day’s drive

Travelling for over a month with four kids and a dog takes a special kind of crazy, and it’s hard to believe my parents made the decision to do this trip twice, but I can tell you that those two trips had a tremendous impact on all of us – not just the knowledge and experience gained from visiting nine Canadian provinces (we couldn’t make it to NFLD) and sleeping under canvas (ok nylon) in many of the most famous Canadian parks – but also in the experience gained in having only your siblings to hang out with for more than a month (and this was pre-techology). I’m not saying we always got along, but there is something special about spending so much time bonding with your family.

The 1975 trip was our last camping trip as a family, as my Dad was killed in an industrial accident at work the following December and so it was poignant to have had those memories to hang on to after he was gone.

I was never able to take my own children on a similar trip, so one of the first things I wanted to do when I retired, was to visit the Maritime Provinces in fall, when most of the tourists were gone, and the  beautiful fall colours would be at their peak.

Erik had never toured Eastern Canada, with the exception of his arrival in Halifax in 1956, when he and his family emigrated from Denmark.  Although they took a train from Halifax to Alberta, as a six year old he had little memory of the trip. So for Erik, this would be his first true visit to the Maritimes.

We talked about several different options for this trip. In my dream trip, we would drive from home in a camperized van and stay in the myriad of provincial and national parks that Canada has to offer. But alas, we have no such vehicle and once we factored rental, gas, and an extra 10 days or so that it takes to drive to Ontario and back, it just didn’t make financial sense.

We also considered flying east and then renting a camper for a month but again, the expense of rental, extra gas, and campsite costs, outweighed the costs of staying in inexpensive hotels and eating in restaurants.

Ultimately, we decided to fly to Halifax, rent a car, and drive around Nova Scotia, PEI, and New Brunwick over a three week period, dropping the car in Quebec City, and flying home from Ottawa. We had four weeks in total and would leave just after school started, travelling from September 8 – October 6.

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For the purposes of this blog, I will call it our “Atlantic Canada” trip and write about each province we visited. However, I do recognize that the last two cities are actually in Quebec and Ontario, not Atlantic Canada.  :)

Next up, Nova Scotia!

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Not exactly sure where this was taken but I suspect around the Great Lakes – Mom and us four kids, 1972. I’m hidden until the hat and glasses, sitting next to my mom.

Post Camino Bits and Pieces

img_0201Here are few final thoughts about our Camino and answers to a few questions people have asked that just didn’t fit anywhere else – dealing with wet hair, what would I do differently, what did it cost, and would we do it again?

One Unexpected Problem

One unexpected problem that I had on the Camino was with drying my hair.  I know this may seem like a very unimportant problem to some people, but for me, it ended up being a pretty big deal.

When we arrived at our accommodations for the night, we were always anxious to shower and go out to eat, especially if we arrived before 3pm when the restaurant kitchens usually shut down for 3-4 hours.  Because I’d been sweaty walking all day, I really did need to change out of my dirty clothes and wash my hair. The trouble was, then I’d have to sit around for an hour or more, waiting for my hair to be dry enough to go out. In addition, I often got chilled while waiting for my hair to dry, and then it would take forever for me to warm up later.  It really did become a big problem for me. I tried wearing a hat or a scarf over my wet head but it just wasn’t enough.  On really warm sunny days, I could sit outside and let my hair dry in the sun, but it was  often too cool to do that most of the time.

So what’s the solution?  I’m really not sure. I could get my hair cut really short so it dries faster but I prefer shoulder length hair that I can put into a pony tail.  I could also look for the smallest possible blow dryer and carry it.  I have seen some weigh just under 10 oz – it might be worth it.  I rarely carry a blow dryer with me when I travel any more because most hotels have them now. However I found most of the the inexpensive accommodations we stayed in on the Camino did not have blow dryers.

What would I do differently?

Apart from the post gear list changes I’ve already written about in a previous post here, there are only a couple of things I’d do differently. One is to have more time. Forty days is not long enough to do the kind of walk we’d like to do.  It would be great to have no specific end day and then when we are not feeling well or having a bad day, we could just stay put instead of having to take a bus or a taxi in order to keep on schedule.

Also, we’d love to average about 15 km per day and never go over a 20km day. We would need to give ourselves about 55 days in order to accomplish that. With only 15k to walk each, I think we would almost always feel relaxed, be less likely to get injured, and yet still feel sufficiently challenged by the walk. We would still carry our own back packs and we’d still book accommodations ahead of time but we would stay two nights in more places and not feel rushed to get to Santiago by a specific date. To me, that would be ideal.

I think I’d do it at the same time of year again as well.  I loved the green fields and spring flowers. The weather in May was lovely.  Starting any earlier than April 25 risks not being able to do Napoleon’s Way over the Pyrenees on the first 2 days but that might be ok now since we’ve already done that.

What did it cost?

I know this is of interest to most people so I will openly share how much money we spent on our Camino.  All money will be expressed in both Euros and Canadian dollars so do the conversion for yourself if necessary.

It is very important to realize that EVERYONE WALKS THEIR OWN CAMINO.  There is no one “correct” way to walk it.  You can walk the entire thing with bare feet and nothing on your back, or you can book a tour company to carry your bags.  You can camp along the way. You can stay in albergues. You can stay in hotels.  Do what you want to do.

So – if you are wondering about costs, I can only tell you what WE spent on the kind of Camino we chose to walk.  We carried our own bags and we likely spent more on accommodations and less on food than many people.

Cost of Accommodations

Here is a list of the place we stayed and the prices we paid.   Accomodations list

The  albergues (communal hostels) are noted with the number of bunks to a room.  The rest of the places were for a private double room in private albergues or small hotels and B&Bs.

We averaged about 47 euros per night for accommodations over 38 nights. We only stayed in less expensive albergues four times and we stayed in more expensive hotels a few times which bumped up our overall average cost.  It would be fairly easy to keep under 40 euros per night for two people if you wanted to and still have a private room most of the time.

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Stopping for lunch

Cost of Food on the Camino

Everyone is different but here is how we ate.

Breakfast was always coffee and usually a croissant. Sometimes it came with the accommodations, but often we bought it at a bar.  About 3 euros each.

Lunch – we rarely stopped for lunch. I tended to eat bananas and bags of peanuts along the way.  Erik often picked up snacks like a Tortilla (egg/potato pie), a bocadillo sandwich etc. Once in awhile, we stopped for a bowl of soup.  We usually spent about 5-6 euros for him, less for me. I drank Nestea (iced tea) and he drank beer. Both were about 1-2 euros each. Also, we usually each had a beer when we arrived in town.

Dinner – most often we had the pilgrim meal which was big and filling. You could get it during the day 1-3pm, or after 6-7pm in most places. It ranged from 8-12 euros, most often 10 euros each.  For that price you got a two course meal with 2-3 choices for each course, plus bread, water, wine, and dessert. I got tired of the fried meat (pork or chicken, and sometimes fish) with french fries so I often ordered two first courses (soup and salad, or salad and pasta etc).

Overall, we paid about 35-40 euros per day for food for two people and 45 euros per day for accommodations. If you stay only in albergues, you can average 20 euros per day for two people for accommodations, often less, depending on whether you stay in municipal (cheap) or private albergues.  The private hostels tend to be cleaner, less crowded, and have more amenities but there are plenty of nice municipal or church albergues along the way.

Cost of Transportation – Because we were on an extended trip, our transportation costs aren’t really relevant.  We flew to Paris and flew home from Rome.  If we were only doing the Camino, and not travelling before and after, we would likely fly to Madrid and take a train and bus to St Jean Pied de Port. Another option would be to fly to Marseille or Biarritz. I would just look for the best deal at the time. Generally, the earlier you book, the cheaper the flight.  We were able to find return flights from Kelowna to Paris and home from Rome for under $1000 each including seats, baggage, and taxes.

We took taxis a couple of times – they were about 20-30 euros per 15km trip – it really depends on where you are – often the taxi has to drive out from the city you are heading for in order to pick you up..  The two busses were much less expensive, under 5 euros per person. I can’t actually remember – might have only been 2-3 euros each.

Would We Do the Camino Again?

To be honest, when we finished the Camino we had both loved the experience, but neither of us thought we’d want to do it again.  At least not the same route.  We did think we’d want to do another long walk, but most likely a different route such as the one in Portugal, or walking from Le Puy to St Jean Pied de Port in France, parts of the Via Francigena in Italy, or one of the many trails in the UK.

But as time passes, and photos jog our memory, we both find ourselves returning to the idea of walking the Camino a second time.  Often we start a sentence with “If we did it again, we’d….”.  The very fact that we keep on talking about what we’d do differently makes me think that walking the Camino Frances a second time is not out of the realm of possibility.  Who knows?  We have many travel plans on our bucket list and no where near enough time to do them all in the next 5-10 years (retire young if you can!), but I don’t think we can discount the idea completely.

Well, I think that’s all I can think of to discuss regarding our Camino and this will likely be my final post unless I ever get around to putting together a good slideshow of our photos.

Do you have any questions?  Ask them in the comment section below and I will do my best to answer them.

Next up:  Barb and Erik spend the month of September travelling around the Atlantic Provinces of Canada.

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Post Camino Reflections

2016-04-24-15-12-08Well it’s been four months since we finished our Camino, and three months since we returned back home after our post-Camino R&R visit to Orvieto, Italy.  Erik and I have had plenty to time to reflect, contemplate, and rehash our walk so I guess it’s time that I finally put some of those thoughts down on “paper”.

After you’ve walked the Camino, people often ask you if the experience has changed you.  After all, they say, how can you walk 800 km and not be a different person when it’s all over? I suppose for most people, the obvious answer would be yes, but I have to admit, “change” is not a word that I would use to describe my Camino experience – instead I think of Contemplation, Observation, Appreciation, and Affirmation.

Contemplation and Observation

Obviously you have plenty of time to contemplate life while on the Camino and even if you are walking with a partner, it’s likely you aren’t together all the time. Whether walking with Erik, or on my own 100m behind him, I was often lost in my thoughts.

I thought a lot about how reality was matching up with my expectations of the Camino. I thought about what changes I might see in myself while walking the Camino. I thought about the physical and mental challenges I was experiencing and figured out ways to work through them. I tried to be “one” with my environment and to experience living “in the moment”. (And as usual, I stressed and obsessed about crap because that is what I do best – I just tried to do less of it.)

I did find it really interesting to have so much time alone with my thoughts, and I found I enjoyed that.  I would try hard to be mindful and pay close attention to every little detail so I could truly appreciate everything around me. One day, I was walking alone and I made a point to verbally point out every single thing I noticed -from mountains, to trees, to rocks, to birds, to flowers, to bugs. I began to notice how the grass along the trail grew in little tuffs, and how the poppies were actually many different shades of red.  It was interesting to pay really close attention and observe the small things around me – things that we often miss in our hurried lives. Normally, I find it really hard to “live in the moment” so the Camino was a wonderful opportunity to put mindfulness into practice on a consistent basis for 40 days.

I began to think of the Camino as one long meditation and so when negative or irrational thoughts entered my mind, I would try to accept them and then let them go. But as I mentioned in my post about “Moments of Bliss“, I can’t say I really had a single moment where I felt an awakening or a realization of change within myself. It was a gradual process of growth and acceptance of who I am.

Appreciation

Last year, I wrote a post, “Slow is Good”, where I talked about the importance of slowing down and appreciating things in life, rather than taking them for granted.  As I walked, I began to think about that post and make connections to my Camino journey.

While I walked, I appreciated that I was in a position to be able to take this journey in the first place – I appreciated that I had the money, the time, and the willingness to get out there and just do it.

I also had a great appreciation for the simpleness of the Camino – the repetition of each day made life easy in many ways. No work, house, car, or family to worry about. You just get up and walk. When you’re hungry, you eat. When you’re thirsty to drink. When you’re tired, you rest.

I appreciated that my body allowed me to walk 20-30 km each day. I appreciated that my physical pains were relatively minor and short lived. I appreciated that I had a partner who was of like mind and body and that we travel so well together so that we could experience this journey together. We met a lot of people walking on their own because their spouse was uninterested or unable to walk the distance. I’m not saying that there’s not value in walking alone, but for me, it was a treat that Erik and I were able to take this journey together and continue to build our relationship.

I began to appreciate that everything I needed was on my back and that there was a certain simplicity in having only two sets of clothes and minimal material objects. In fact, upon returning home, I felt a need to purge a lot of “stuff” I had collected over the years.  I enjoyed living a simple life and that feeling continued during our month living in the small town of Orvieto, Italy.

I appreciated the beauty of Spain and of the ever-changing scenery – from isolated mountains, to busy downtown city streets; from muddy farmland tracks, to rocky trails; from noisy highways, to quiet country roads.  We walked through three distinct climate areas of Spain and every day was a new view. I  loved them all.

I appreciated (mostly) the simple food, especially a cafe con leche and croissant for breakfast, and a banana, a bag of peanuts, and a freshly squeezed orange juice from a tiny bar in the middle of nowhere for lunch, a crusty ham and cheese bocadillo or a bowl of  thick lentil soup when I was hungrier.  And a cold beer at the end of a long walk. A BIG cold beer.

I appreciated a hot shower or a hot bath more than I ever have before. I appreciated clean socks, ibuprofen, dry shoes, a good rain jacket, my blue scarf… so many little things. On the Camino, life was broken down into moments and I tried to be mindful, think about, and appreciate every one of them.

Affirmation

My transformation as a human being is constant. I am always learning and evolving in small ways and I hope I will continue to evolve until the day that I die. However, I think that the big inner change that many people experience when doing the Camino is something I did before I started.

While I was open to new ideas while I was walking, and fully expected to have a “wow” moment of realization, that didn’t  really happen for me.  In my post about the Cruz de Ferro, when I decided to leave my rosary at the cross instead of my stone, I wrote about my thoughts on religion and spirituality. I guess if there was one moment of clarity, it would have to be that moment, but even then, it was ultimately an affirmation of what I had believed all along, although I did find I was able to broaden my concept of “spirituality” and accept that I am a “spiritual being”, something that I had struggled with up until that moment.

While walking the Camino, I affirmed my belief that I can do anything I set my mind to. It affirmed my belief that I can always walk another step, no matter how tired or cold or wet I am. It affirmed my belief that I need to slow down my life, and my mind, and not worry about my pace – just enjoy being fit and healthy.  It affirmed the old saying that “it’s the journey, not the destination”.

Arriving in Santiago was somewhat emotional to think that we had actually made it, but really, it was the every day walking that I loved, that I contemplated, that I appreciated, and that I’ll remember the most.  I never once thought that I wouldn’t be able to finish the Camino. Not once, did I wake up and think “I don’t want to walk today”. I allowed myself to walk my own Camino and tried to make smart choices along the way (like taking a bus or taxi a couple of times when the situation dictated it).

Walking the Camino didn’t really change the way I think about life, nor the way in which I will approach my life in the future.  However, it did affirm many of the beliefs and understandings I’ve developed over the past 10 years or so, as I have attempted to slow down, savour the moment, appreciate what I have, and always try to look for the positive.

img_0626Next Up – Camino Bits and Pieces – a few final thoughts on the ins and outs of walking the Camino. If you have any questions you’d like me to respond to, now’s the time to ask in the comment section below!

Camino Packing List Follow Up

I promised to write a post about the gear I took on my Camino and let you know what I would do if I did it again, so here it is.

First of all, gear is very dependent on weather (time of year) and personal preference, so no matter how many gear lists you look at, you still need to do what works for you.

Here’s a link to my original list for a more detailed comparison.

For the most part, I was very happy with the gear I took and I would change every little. We were lucky that we only had a few days of heavy rain, and about 4 days where we had to walk in heavy mud at some point, so overall, my shoe choice worked well.

If I was going to go again, in the same month (April 24 – June 2), I would make one minor clothing change, and there are a few things I wouldn’t bother to take next time.

Some General Thoughts on My Gear 

Shoes – I had two identical pairs of Saucony Peregrine 5 trail shoes and I was very happy with this choice. They were lightweight, about 1 pound per pair, and I was glad to have the second back up pair on days when my shoes were wet or very muddy and didn’t dry overnight. Erik carried my backup pair so weight wasn’t an issue (for me😉.

In a perfect world, I would prefer to take a single pair of lightweight hikers with good tread and no mesh top (like my trail shoes) but I haven’t been able to find any that fit my feet so I had to stick with what I knew worked. Light hikers would be slightly sturdier and give a little more ankle support plus they’d be a little better in the rain and mud. In addition, I wouldn’t have to carry two pairs of shoes. However, overall, I was very happy with my shoe choice. I also took a super lightweight pair of flip flops.

Fleece and Rain Gear – I loved my Patagonia R1 Fleece and my Marmot Precip Jacket. I wore them almost every day for at least part of the day.  There were two days that I would have liked rain pants but not often enough to carry them for the rest of the trip. I’m glad I didn’t bother with a poncho – my jacket was perfect and kept me dry but comfortable, and it doubled as a jacket in the evenings, and as a wind breaker when it wasn’t raining.

Shirts – I had two tech t shirts which I alternated every day, one long sleeved merino wool shirt, and one Columbia long sleeved button down shirt.  Next time, I’d leave the button shirt and take two long sleeved Merino wool shirts instead.  The merino wool was lighter to carry and I liked wearing it a lot more than the Columbia shirt.

Pants – I LOVED my RAB Helix pants.  They repelled water and were super lightweight but warm enough. They dried relatively quickly but I was glad I had two pairs because clothes don’t always dry overnight and they were constantly getting dirty or muddy. I was usually able to wear them for several days before washing them.

The RAB pants had a built in button for rolling up to capri length – I much preferred this to the hassle and discomfort (to me) of zip off pants. (Erik loved his zip off pants). The weather was such that I really didn’t need shorts and I definitely could have managed with either my Outdoor Research Leggings or my Columbia Saturday Trail Capris.  I did wear both but I didn’t really need to. I think I’d leave the capris at home since the leggings were more comfortable to wear around in the evenings, and also to bed if it was cold.

Underwear – I had 3 pairs of very comfy Patagonia underwear that dried overnight and 3 pairs of Merino wool socks that kept getting holes in the big toe. I had to darn them constantly. Next time, I might research a higher quality sock.  I had one sports bra and one regular bra. I wore the comfy Patagonia sports bra the first day but it didn’t dry overnight so I never wore a bra the rest of the walk.🙂 I wore my regular bra in the evenings depending on what shirt I was wearing. Next time, I would only take one regular bra. I fricking hate bras anyway.

Other gear

  • I wouldn’t bring my hydration pack again. I used it for a few days and then just bought a 500ml bottle of water and then kept refilling it when needed.  When it got grimy, I tossed it and bought a new bottle. I wouldn’t bring a water bottle – they are heavier and too hard to clean really well.  Much better to reuse a disposable bottle for a week and then throw it away. (I’m not normally a fan of bottled water but…)
  • I wouldn’t take my lightweight down vest again. It wasn’t heavy and I did wear it a couple of times, but I could easily have managed without it.
  • I would leave my swim bottoms at home. Never had a chance to use them
  • Freshette – this was very handy and not heavy to carry but I could survive without it.
  • Silk liner -I used this about 6 times I think. Lightweight and useful.
  • Lightweight pack towel – I only needed it a few times, but was glad I had it.

Stuff I couldn’t live without

  • My rayon pareo scarf from Maui – I wore this scarf everyday for multiple purposes.  I usually had it wrapped around my neck or head and I loved that I could loosen it when I got warm, as opposed to a buff.  When I wasn’t wearing it, I looped it through the belt of my backpack so it was always accessible.  It could double as a towel, a sarong, a privacy curtain, and could be used to wipe the sweat from my face. It was easy to wash and dried quickly.
  • My dollar store mittens and my $45 North Face waterproof mitt covers. Both were super lightweight and easy to carry.  I wore the mittens in the mornings quite often because I was using poles so couldn’t keep my hands in my pockets.  The waterproof mitts covered the fuzzy mitts when it rained or was very windy. I bought them as a treat with a gift card but was SO happy I had them.
  • My Black Diamond Ultra Distance Z Poles.  Super lightweight, and easy to fold up and put into backpack pocket instead of having to leave them at the Albergue door. In my opinion, poles are essential on a long hike. I used them all day, every day.  There were many times when I saved myself from a sprained ankle or a bad fall simply because I could catch my balance with my poles. They were really helpful on the hills, both up and down. I wore out the metal tips on mine but was able to buy new rubber tips at an outdoor store for 3 euros.
  • I’m glad I had a water proof pack liner as well as a pack cover.  I put the cover on whenever it threatened rain rather than wait until it was raining and the MEC pack liner kept everything super dry inside. My gear was stored in large ziplock bags inside the pack liner for easy retrieval.
  • My $8 water proof MEC phone bag was well worth it. I kept my phone and credenciel in it during the day and had it hanging from the front of my pack, clipped to my waist belt. I took photos all day so I needed something easy to access yet out of my way.
  • My super lightweight fold up shopping bag that I used as a “purse” during the evenings. It weight almost nothing, and rolled into a small bag and clipped to my backpack when I wasn’t using it.
  • My iClever EU Boostcube with two ports 2.4A, 24 W – a 2 port USB plug with builtin EU adapter.  I bought this on Amazon and I loved that I didn’t have to worry about a separate adapter for my iPhone charger. Plus we could charge both devices on the same plug. Make sure you get 2.4A because it charges faster. I also had a ministick portable backup charger that I only used once.  I wouldn’t take one again because my phone always held a charge all day, unless I had a GPS app running during the day.
  • Camino Frances – A Wise Pilgrim Guide app for my phone. This was SUPER useful for mapping and for finding accommodations or info about the trail and the towns.  Well worth the $6.99 CAD.
  • Photo of every page of the Brierely Guide, put into a photo folder on my iPhone. Very handy as I could zoom in if needed and was zero weight.
  • My iPhone 6s with 125gb of hard drive space. I bought a SIM card in Pamplona and used my phone to take 2000 high res photos, make reservations, check the guide book, find accommodations, check the map, stay in touch with my kids, and blog every night. I also had a couple of books on my Kindle App on the phone and enjoyed reading in the evenings some times.I could have managed with a 64gb hard drive.
  • I was happy with my choices of toiletries and first aid supplies. If I was going again, I’d take my own sunscreen because I ended up having a buy some and they only had giant bottles which were fairly expensive. I would have much preferred to have carried my own brand in a smaller container.  I’d take a tensor bandage if I went again. You can buy them along the way, but now I’m certain I need one so I would bring a good one right from day one.

 

Stuff I’d leave at home next time and save 765 grams.  Nice. 

  • Columbia Long Sleeved button shirt, bring an extra Merino Wool – save 50g
  • Hydration pack – 160g
  • Lightweight down vest – 160g
  • Swim bottoms – 75g
  • Capri pants – 205g
  • Compression Calf Sleeves – didn’t need them – 50g
  • Back up power stick – 65g

So – that’s the adapted list.  It worked for me.  If I was doing the same route, at the same time of year, and staying in the same kind of accommodation, those are the changes I’d make.

Did I forget something?  Got any questions?  Just leave a comment below, or email me at the contact link on the side!

Next up – Our Post Camino Reflections

Umbrian Winery Tour and Cooking Class

One of the highlights of our month in Orvieto was a four hour tour, cooking class, and meal at a local winery – a wonderful retirement gift from my daughters.  There are many winery tours and cooking classes available in Tuscany and Umbria, but Decugnano dei Barbi is one of the most highly rated and I cannot agree more.

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It was a showery day but the views were still spectacular.

We booked our late June date (2-6pm) several months in advance, and a quick peek at the website let us know we were going to be in for a treat. The winding 30 minute drive to Decugnano dei Barbi took us into the countryside, where the winery perched about 300m (1000′) above sea level at the top of a limestone hill. From the main dining table, the town of Orvieto is perfectly framed in the arched window.

When we arrived at the gate, the owner buzzed us in, and we drove in to the first parking lot.  Anna Rita, our guide, met us at the car, and introduced herself. She spoke excellent English and was a friendly and informative guide. We had expected to be joined by a group of other people but were pleasantly surprised to find we had a private tour!

The winery has been owned by the Barbi family since the 1970’s, but wine has been produced on this vineyard for centuries.  On the site, were a number of production outbuildings, the private Barbi family home, a lovely villa available for rent, and the old chapel that has been converted into a dining room with attached kitchen for the cooking classes.

img_1546Anna first took us for a walk around the grounds and explained that the area soil is clay and the rock is sand stone, with fossils and shells left behind from the Pliocene era when central Italy was covered by a shallow sea. They believe that the unique minerals in the soil help to give their wines its flavour.

The first written proof of the vineyard was in the early 1200’s when the wine was made for the clergy of Santa Maria di Decugnano. The original chapel is now part of the winery tour. The caves date back at least 500 years, possibly longer.

In Italy, wines are named for their region, not for the specific grape used, and the DOP (Protected Designation of Origin, which includes DOC and DOCG wines) determines exactly where and how each wine must be made. Production is strictly regulated, but vintners also have the option of making any other kinds of non-DOP wine as well. Orvieto Classico is the regional white wine, but the Barbi’s grow over a dozen different grapes and produce seven different red and white wines, all without chemicals or fertilizers.

We were first shown how the grapes are pressed in a large tank which uses a balloon inside to gently squeeze out the juice without releasing too many tannins from the stems. Depending on the kind of wine, the juice sits in the tank for a few weeks or is piped into large tanks inside the storage building. We toured through these buildings and even watched the vintner get things ready to bottle some wine the next day.

IMG_1517Next, we walked through the vineyard and down a hill to the ancient limestone caves where the wine is aged in bottles or barrels. The constant temperature of 12-14 degrees celsius and the high humidity, make this a perfect place to store the wine. As we entered, we passed row upon row of bottled wine, each section a different type and/or vintage. Then we visited the room where the oak barrels are stored and next to that, the bottling area for the sparkling wine.  It was really interesting to hear how they do it.

The bottles have been stored with the neck down so that the sediment accumulates in the neck of the bottle.  Three skilled people hand cork the bottles in assembly line fashion. The first person puts the neck of the bottles into a liquid that flash freezes the top, then puts it into a little machine that shoots the cork and the frozen sediment out of the bottle. The next person in line quickly refills the bottle with enough wine and a little sugar to bring it back up the correct level, and then passes it to the last person who quickly recorks it.  It has to be done very quickly so the bottles don’t lose their fizz.

After our tour of the winery, we walked up to the old chapel to wash up and put on aprons and went into the kitchen where met Rosanna who would be teaching us how to prepare our four course meal. We used all fresh seasonal ingredients, and Anna even picked some fresh mint from the field as we walked up the path. Anna interpreted and helped as we all cooked together.

First we made pizza dough and put it aside to rise. Then we made fresh pasta dough, rolled it out as thinly as possible, gently folded it over several times, and cut it into 1 cm ribbons called tagliatelle.  Next, Erik cut up tomatoes, onions, eggplant, and zucchini for a fresh veggie pasta sauce while I mixed up a fresh sausage of ground beef and pork with herbs and spices and then rolled thinly sliced veal around the little logs of sausage and secured them with a toothpick.  Rosanna sautéed the rolls in oil and sage briefly and then added white wine to braise them slowly. The leftover sausage meat was formed into balls and cooked in the oven.

Once the meat and sauce prep was done, we made cookies with flour, sugar, olive oil, and dessert wine, and then we pressed the pizza dough into 4 rectangular plans, drizzled it with olive oil, and topped each pan with a different topping.  One was with zucchini flowers, one was thinly sliced zucchini, one was quartered cherry tomatoes and parsley, and the last was tomatoes and mozzarella cheese.

I stuffed some more zucchini flowers with a thin piece of anchovy and mozzarella cheese and then dredged them in beer batter for Rosana to fry up.  I also dipped big sage leaves in the same batter for her to fry.

By this time, all the prep was done, so we washed up and moved to the dining room while Anna and Rosana finished up the preparations and served us our meal. We started with our little pizzas for Antipasti with a glass of sparkling white wine (Brut) similar to champagne. They were all so good, I could have had my fill but we knew we had to save room for three more courses.

The Primi course was our tagliatelle with the veggie sauce and wow, was it delicious!  I could not believe the simple sauce could be so tasty.  With this course, we had a glass of Orvieto Classico, the white wine of the area. Anna offered to refill our glasses when we finished the wine before the food, and it was hard to say no, but we did have to drive back to Orvieto after so we sadly declined.

For Secondi, we had our meat rolls which had been sliced on the plate with some of the sauce over top, the fried zucchini flowers and sage leaves, some green beens and sautéed chicory.  All of it was delicious but man, I was getting full.  There was enough food to last three meals! With this course we had a glass of Decugnano’s red wine – a blend of Sangiovese, Montepulciano, and Syrah. The wine was so good, I could easily have had another glass but we did end up buying two bottle to take back with us (only 13 euros each).

Dolce was our little doughnut shaped  wine cookies called Ciambelle al Vino. They were similar to biscotti, so we dipped them into our Pourriture Noble, a sweet white dessert wine for our fourth course.

By the time we were finished it was almost 6 o’clock and I was full to bursting, but oh so content. Anna and Rosana packed up all of the leftovers in 3 big containers along with two bottles of red and one of white that we had purchased, the recipes, and our aprons, and we said our thanks and goodbyes.  It was definitely a highlight of our time in Orvieto and I will remember it for years to come.

Because this day was a gift, I have no idea what it cost, and I don’t think I want to know, but you can check the Decugnano website and contact Anna Rita to get a price. Now that we are home, we owe my daughters an amazing Italian dinner as a thank you!

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Click the image to get to the website.

Orvieto Underground

Arguably the most fascinating site in Orvieto is a guided tour of the extensive underground tunnels built into the Tufa rock on which the city sits. And when I say extensive, I mean extensive. To date, over 1200 caves and tunnels have been discovered underneath the city, many of which were unknown until a landslide in the 1970’s opened up one side of the cliff.  IMG_8568

Orvieto’s human history goes back at least 3000 years, and the geological history, millions of years more. Sitting in the middle of the valley, the massive rock, whose sheer cliffs reach up 100m, is topped by a medieval city of ancient buildings, towers, and churches. Looking around the rolling hills of the Umbrian countryside, you have to wonder how that rock came to be.

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A map of Orvieto.  Red lines are underground tunnels.

Several million years ago, most of central Italy was covered by a shallow sea and indeed, many fossils and even complete seashells can still be found buried in the valley clay bottom and the sandstone hills nearby. About 500,000 years ago, as the sea drained, the area had many active volcanoes and it is believed that a giant volcanic plug was blasted from what is now Bolsena Lake, about 20 km southwest of the city, and landed on the clay sea bed. The rock is primarily made up of two kinds of rock – the porous brown tufa stone as well as a friable grey rock made of compressed ash called Pozzolana.

The first people to inhabit this plateau were the Etruscans as far back as the 6th century BC, whose name gave the province of Tuscany its name.  Etruria covered a large territory in Italy and due in part to its strategic location and rich valley soil, Velzna, as Orvieto was then called, was one of the most important cities of the region.

The Etruscan people had a fairly advanced civilization as is evidenced in their art, pottery, bronze work, and black earthenware called bucchero which has been excavated from the tunnels as well as the burial sites and can now be found in many museums and galleries in the area.

Because the city was built on solid rock, the only way to find water was the dig wells by hand to depths of up to 130 feet.  The inhabitants found it relatively easy to dig in the rock and they dug many caves, grottos, storage areas, and even garbage dumps below ground. When the Romans invaded in 264BC, the Etruscans were able fight them off for 2 years because of the protective underground tunnels they had built, the easy access to water, and steep, impenetrable walls of the rock. Eventually however, they lost their battle and the Romans forced them out of the city and destroyed most signs of their civilization.

After the fall of the Romans, the city passed through several hands, until around 1000AD when the first church San Giovenale was built.  Orvieto enjoyed a resurgence during the middle ages, with the population expanding to over 30,000.  The underground tunnels were revitalized and expanded and were used for the storage of food and wine because of the constant cool temperatures, as well as for housing animals. Many caves along the outer edges of the cliffs had access for pigeons and the caves are still dotted with small holes that were used as nest.  Pigeon is still a popular regional dish in Orvieto – I did not try it.  :)

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Looking up from the bottom of Pozzo di San Patrizio

In the 1200’s, the incredible Pozzo di San Patrizio (St Patrick’s Well) was built with a double-helix staircase wrapping around it.  The complex staircase allowed a pony to walk all the way down to the bottom, fill up with water, cross the bridge at the bottom, and then walk up the other stair case without meeting another coming down. For a few euros, you can walk down the staircase to the bottom of the well and it’s hard to imagine how the people could have built such an amazing structure during that time period.

Most of the tunnels were undiscovered until a massive earthquake in the 1970’s sheared off the side of a cliff near the Duomo and opened up the side of the hill.  Subsequent investigations found over a 1000 tunnels and caves throughout the entire city. They are built on three levels of the stone with staircases and tunnels connecting the levels.

Most of the tunnels are private property of the homes or stores above them but several are available for tours. One self-guided tour is owned privately, and the other is owned by the city. As part of our “Key to the City” ticket, we took the guided tour of three levels of tunnels near the main Piazza Duomo.  The tour is offered in Italian and English several times a day and you need to sign up ahead of time at an office across from the Duomo. The tour takes about 45 minutes and the guide was knowledgable and interesting. All signs of Etruscan life are gone now, but we were able to see some remnants of life in the middle ages including an ancient stone used to press olives. Several sections were steep and narrow so if you suffer from claustrophobia, you may only want to visit part of the caves.

We also paid 3 euros to walk through the tunnels and the old well of Pozzo Della Cava which contained a number of interesting artefacts and pottery reproductions. The information signs were in Italian and English (possibly more?)  and at the end of the tour, the owner pulled me into his small restaurant adjacent to the tour to show me a glass floor  view a view of the caves under one of the tables. I was confused at the time and thought he was just trying to get me to come in to buy lunch so we had a good laugh as well.

If you walk along the base of the rock, you can often see access to caves, most with locked gates, and apparently many are still used by the locals as cool storage for food and other items. In addition, some of the tunnels found a new use as bomb shelters during WWII and so they have been an important part of Orvieto’s history for three distinct time periods.

If you only have a short time in Orvieto, the underground cave tour should definitely be on your to-do list.  It is interesting for all ages and then later, you will be amazed to think about what is under your feet as you wander through the city nibbling on your gelato.

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Etruscan Necropolis

If you have more time, and are interested in learning more, several of Orvieto’s museums have a wide variety of pottery and other artefacts from both the Etruscan time period as well as the middle ages.  On the north side of the city, you can also visit the Etruscan Necropolis to see where, and how, they buried their dead.

As a final note, look closely at the buildings in Orvieto. Most are built with the same porous tufa rock on which they stand.

 

Sources

http://www.inorvieto.it/en/taste/orvieto_s_wine_itineraries/the_wines_of_the_tufa_cliff.html

http://www.orvietounderground.it/index.php/en/orvieto-underground-en/the-discovery

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Bolsena

http://www.orvieto-info.com/history_of_orvieto.htm#.V20p62N2CqE

http://www.mysteriousetruscans.com/art/pottery.html

http://www.italyguides.it/en/umbria/orvieto/pozzo-di-san-patrizio

Shopping in Orvieto

It’s mid-morning on a Thursday as Erik and I wander through Orvieto’s bi-weekly fresh food market, in search of a meloni. I’ve seen the sliced cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto crudo on the menu at several restaurants and it seems like it might be a manageable appetizer to put together in the kitchen of my little apartment. I smile at the farmer with a “Buongiorno!  Vorrei uno meloni per favore.”  “Si Signora,” he replies and then turns and walks to the back to choose just the right one.  He weighs it and asks “Poi?” Anything else?  “Basta, grazie.” That’s all thanks, I reply.  It’s fun to have a chance to practice my Italian.

Erik digs in his pocket for the correct change as I put the melon into the shopping bag I brought with me, and we are off to find our next purchase.  We need some more prosciutto, and perhaps some more pecorino, as I quickly devoured the first wedge we bought.  Or maybe should get some fresh asparagus to eat with our dinner tonight?

The market is filled with choices – from fresh fruit and vegetables, pork, sausage, cheese, nuts, dried fruits – as well as countless tables filled with household items and clothing.  Twice a week, the vendors come to hawk their wares, and hordes of locals and tourists alike come to shop. It can get quite busy at times, and at certain tables, you need to wait your turn in a disorganized line to make your purchase. I wonder why some farmers have longer lines than other as all of the produce looks lovely and fresh.

final-3I still haven’t quite mastered the art of shopping yet, often resorting to pointing and grunting a few words in Engl-italian, but the vendors are always smiling and patient and try to help with a little English despite my mangled attempts at their language. But wherever we go, they always seem to appreciate when we try to speak their language.

Salame, prosciutto, and pancetta are plentiful
Pecorino, from the sheep’s milk, is typical of the region.
Fresh produce, in season of course!

On most days, we shop at Meta, the small grocery store a few blocks for our apartment, and on other occasions, when we’ve been out in the car, we stop by the LiDL, a discount grocery store down the hill.  I admit I find it easier to shop when I can take my time to look at items and read the printed information, plug unfamiliar words into google translate on my phone, and figure out what I want to buy. Nevertheless, even at the Meta, I am forced to get out of my comfort zone and interact with the salespeople when I want to buy something from the deli counter.

Bulk nuts for sale.

The first time I tried to buy some ham – prosciutto in Italian – I learned there were two types – crudo and cotto.  Crudo is the dry-cured ham that we call prosciutto in North America, and cotto is what we call regular cooked ham, very similar to the Tuscan ham I buy at the deli at home.  I wanted to order 200 grams so I asked for due cento grammi. The young man replied something back to me in Italian which I couldn’t comprehend so I told him I didn’t speak Italian and we had a bit of a song and dance before we both made ourselves understood. Not only do I not speak Italian well enough to ask for something but often I don’t even know what I’m looking for or how it is done in this country.

When I went home, I googled “how to buy meat in Italy” and I learned that I should have asked for uno etto, or due etti,, instead of due cento gram.  Italians call 100g uno etto and 200g is due etti.  The next day I went in to buy more ham – this time I was prepared.  I surprised the young man at the counter when I confidently ordered “due etti di prosciutto cotto per favore!” and when I responded with ‘basta‘ when he asked if there was anything else, his eyes lit up and he congratulated me.  I think I am finally getting all the Spanish out of my head and I’ve finally stopped saying Hola when I walk into a shop.🙂

There are actually more clothes for sale than food.

When we finally picked up our car and ventured out to the LiDL store in the neighbouring “suburb” of Orvieto, we were amazed to see the low prices.  The discount store is actually a chain originating in Germany but found all over Europe. We were most excited about the price of alcohol and came home with four bottles of wine, including a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino that we picked up for 14 euros, significantly more than the other wine we’ve bought in Italy, but a lot less than it would cost in Canada ($35+).  (We drank it with our Veal Piccata a few days later and it was wonderful.)

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We bought two roast pork sandwiches (porchetta panini) for our picnic lunch at the lake.

 

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You can even buy a hat at the market!

Daily Life in Orvieto

Another sunny morning, another croissant and cappuccino in our pretty kitchen. What shall we do today, we wonder? There are so many options, so many nooks and crannies to discover in this little town. I want to do them all and yet, I don’t want to do anything. It feels decadent to have 4 weeks to relax and explore.

Today I decided I would blog my journal instead of hand writing it as I usually do.  My hand gets tired when writing so I tend to keep things brief, and I find it harder and harder to read my writing, which never was legible to begin with, and now has transformed into a scribbled mix of cursive and printing. Typing is so much easier and for the first time, I have both my iPad and my laptop while travelling so it seems natural that I should record my trip on my blog instead of on paper.

And so now, here I sit on my terrace on Wednesday afternoon, catching up on three day’s of journal writing, while listening to the kids having recess next door. It is a comforting sound as I do miss teaching to some degree.  The clouds are rolling in once again and so I can actually write on my iPad out here without the sun making it impossible to see the screen. I suspect it might thunder again this afternoon so I am happy to find a few moments to sit outside.

And so back to yesterday, Tuesday, our second full day in Orvieto.  Because we spent three days here last August, we feel we know our way around to some degree but there are many things we didn’t have time to see then and we saved a number of them for this trip, knowing that we would be returning.  My feet are still sore and so I am avoiding doing too much walking until I have recovered fully.

I decided to cook chicken for dinner so we went to the Meta and bought chicken thighs, new potatoes, and more wine and beer. I wanted some inexpensive wine to use for cooking and easy drinking so we bought a package of three bottles for €8.50 – one red, one rosé, and one white Orveito Classico, which the town is famous for.  The white turned out to be pretty decent so we may buy more.

In the afternoon, I did yet another load of laundry (hopefully the last for awhile now), and Erik went over to Piazza Duomo to take photos of people.  Later I joined him and we sat in the piazza and watched people.  (The photo of me sitting cross legged against a grey wall was actually taken in this piazza last summer.) It was interesting to see two soldiers with machine guns patrolling the front of the Duomo now. I don’t remember them last year but I guess the cathedral could be a target for terrorists and they have to be more cautious now. Afterwards, we went for a walk into the medieval section of town and found a few places we hadn’t seen before and want to explore further. We also noticed there is some kind of big medieval festival on June 17, 18, and 19th so we are hoping to attended part of it.

We came back home and had a glass of wine of the terrace and then later I browned the chicken in oil and garlic, and tucked them into a roasting pan with baby potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, and more garlic.  Sprinkle with olive oil and a big squeeze of lemon juice, S&P, and bake at 350* for about an hour.  We had a green salad, crusty bread, and white wine.  What a simple yet delicious meal!

We don’t have a TV (and wouldn’t watch on even if we did) so the evening passed quietly reading and writing.  The apartment comes equipped with a number of games and a deck of cards if we choose to play.  So far, we have not gone out for La Passagieta (evening walk), because the weather has been more threatening in the evenings.  Maybe another day.  We have so many!

Looking down towards the entrance to our apartment
I love this view of our walkway
These soldiers are protecting the church

Another dinner

June 6, 2016

OK this apartment has the most comfortable bed I’ve slept in since I left home! I think it might be a memory foam bed.  Our room is dark and quiet and I slept like a log.  After sleeping in a different bed almost every night for the past two months, I am SO happy that I can sleep well here.

I woke up after 8, and Erik was just heading out to the bakery called Panificia which is literally around the corner from our apartment.  In a few minutes, he was back with an assortment of fresh croissants and was soon busy figuring out how to use the cappuccino maker in our kitchen.

I got up and began opening the shutters and windows of our apartment to let in the sunshine. It’s already sunny and warm out – promising to be a beautiful day, or at least until the predicted thunderstorms roll in.

After breakfast, I did another load of laundry and hung it out on the back porch so that it would be dry before the storms came.

We both worked on our Duolingo Italian for a little while – we plan to do our “homework” every day –  and then we walked over to the tourist info office, which is next to the Duomo.  We got a bunch of brochures and then decided to purchase a “Key to the City” card for 20€ each.  This will get us into all of the major sites and museums, the Duomo, and a guided tour of the Orvieto Underground (more info on that later). In addition, we get a free return trip on the Funicular which is kind of like an angled elevator that takes you up and down the side of the hill.

Orvieto old town, where our apartment is located, is perched on the top of a 300m high”tufa” (porous volcanic rock) bluff, and the rest of the town sprawls below.  The total population is about 20,000 but only a small percentage live up on the hill.  The upper town is about 1 1/2 km long and just under 1 km wide so it’s easy to navigate.  At the bottom of the Funicular is the train station which takes you north to Florence or Milan, or south to Rome.

At about noon, we decided to head down to the lower part of town to get some groceries.  It’s about a one km walk to the Funicular, then the trip down (1.30€ each), and another 1 1/2 km further to the big Co-op store.  We could buy groceries up top but there isn’t as much selection and the prices are higher (kind of like shopping at 7/11) so we want to do at least one bigger shopping trip for basics at the Co-op.

We won’t have a car until next Monday, so I emptied my Camino backpack and hauled all of our groceries back home in it.  It’s a good thing Erik insisted that we buy liquids (beer, wine, pop, juice) up at the top or I never would have fit it all in, nor been able to carry the weight.  As it was, it felt like it weighed at least 20 lbs.  It was hot and my feet hurt by the time we got back up to the top of the funicular so we jumped on the free bus that took us up to the Duomo, which shortened our walk home.

I unpacked the groceries while Erik went to buy drinks and then we had a late lunch of prosciutto, pecorino cheese, tomato, and lettuce sandwiches.  After all of the dry bocadillos we ate on the camino, having a sandwich with lettuce and tomato, butter, mayo and mustard felt decadent.

The clouds began to gather in the late afternoon and around 5pm we had a violent thunderstorm with strong wind, heavy rain, and hail.  It was quite exciting and I took a video from our back terrace. But just as quickly as the storm came up, it was gone again. The sun came out and the skies began to clear a little.

Erik had a long nap and I worked on my blog and read for the rest of the afternoon until it was time to make dinner (salad, wine, bread, and pasta bolognaise – homemade of course!).  I was happy to be able to cook fresh food again – I’ve missed cooking! We had a great dinner and a decent bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. I think I am going to love it here!

 

Our terrace sitting area
Our terrace along the kitchen.
View of the elementary school playground from our terrace
The Duomo restoration is finished now!
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Dinner for Two!
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Cheers!

 

 

Travel Days – Santiago to Orvieto – June 4/5, 2016

We had almost a full day in Santiago before our 9pm flight on Saturday so we checked out of our apartment at 11, stored our bags at the post office (Correo) for the day, and hung out in the city for the day. We visited the market where we watched a man prepare fresh Pulpo (octopus) and there we ran into Alain and Juliette, who had arrived in Santiago the day after us.  I’m glad we had a chance to touch base and say goodbye before we left. 

Later, we had some lunch then we lay on the grass in the park for the afternoon. Around 5:30, we picked up our suitcases and headed to the bus stop to the airport. On the way, we finally saw Philippe and Chantal! I had been watching for them everywhere, knowing they should be arriving in Santiago today, so I yelled with joy when I saw them on the street!  They are staying overnight and then walking to Finisterre before they head home to Corsica. We exchanged contact information and said goodbye. I forget to get a photo but I do have pictures of them on other pages of the blog so that’s ok.

Our flight was late, so we didn’t arrive in Rome until midnight and it wasn’t until about 1:00am before we were out on the street, looking for a cab. Finally we found there was a lineup so we joined it and waited our turn. We were only going to a hotel 8km away in Ostia, near the airport, so when the regular taxi drivers asked if we were going to Termini station in Rome and we said no, they would bypass us and move to the next people. Then the guy who was directing people to the taxis told us this line was only for people going to Termini (I think he was lying though) and he told us we had to go up the steps to the local taxis. We were suspicious but we went up to see.  

The man there called a driver over and he said he’d take us to Ostia.  I pointed to his car and said “but that’s not a taxi!”  (We’d be warned that locals come to the airport to make a few bucks driving people, kind of like Uber but with no controls.) The man said the white taxis (regular cabs) are too expensive and we should take this one. Erik asked how much and he said 40€. I gasped and said no way, we are only going to Ostia, it’s only 8km!  Then the guy said it’s a flat rate but offered to drop to 35€ and Erik said no, we’ll only pay 30€, which they accepted. We were just happy to have a ride because there was no other way to get to the hotel, but we know we still paid more than we needed too, and I was still a little worried about getting into an unlicensed taxi. Once we got into the car, he couldn’t even start it in the first try, but he did take a direct route and got us to our hotel so we were relieved. We were exhausted when we finally got to bed close to 2am. 

Our hotel was right across from the beach, which is where lots of the people from Rome come to relax. However, we weren’t staying and didn’t see it except the nice view from our room the next morning. We had a decent (for Italy) breakfast at the hotel and then walked 10 minutes to the local train station.  It was only 1.50€ each to get a train ticket into Rome Termini station.  It was fairly simple, one train change and just 45 minutes to get there. We had a bit of a wait until our 1pm train to Orvieto so we just hung out and relaxed. I saw two soldiers with big machine guns walking around for protection. This is a big train station and probably a likely spot for terrorism so it was nice to see the protection. 

The train to Orvieto was 20 minutes late and we sat in 2nd class which has a bit less space than 1st class but it was only a 90 minute ride for under 8€ each so we didn’t mind. During the trip, we chatted with a nice young man from Edinburgh.  As we approached Orvieto, we could see a thunderstorm developing. Mandy, the property manager, had texted me to confirm our arrival time and then she suggested she meet us at the station so we didn’t have to walk 1 km in a rainstorm.  

When we arrived at the apartment, Mandy, and the owner, Susan, gave us a thorough rundown of everything we need to know and gave us a welcome gift of wine and pastries. We absolutely love the apartment, and it completely meets our expectations and is even prettier than all of the pictures we saw.  

We enter through a small courtyard off a side street and up two short flights of stairs to the third floor. Inside, we find ourselves in a large square main room that has a kitchen on one side and the living room on the other. There are two glass French doors off the kitchen to a small terrace with a table and 2 chairs.  The kitchen also has a window on another wall as well.  The floors are wood and tile.

Off the living room is a long bathroom with a washing machine and a shower, and window that looks out towards the Duomo. Also off the living room, next to the bathroom, is a big bedroom with a queen size bed, a table and chairs, and an entire wall of built in cabinets. The bedroom has the same view of the Duomo which you can see if you are laying in bed.  The bells ring to mark the time of day. 

Our kitchen has a 4 burner gas stove, a small electric oven, a full size fridge and freezer, a cappuccino maker and a full set of dishes and pots for cooking, and includes oil, balsamic vinegar, and a set of herbs and spices. I am looking forward to cooking again!

From our bedroom, we can see part of the playground of the elementary school next door, and this morning we saw a bunch of little kids playing, they actually looked like pre schoolers, and they were all wearing blue or pink smocks over their clothes – maybe to keep them clean? I’m not sure but they were really cute.  

After our tour of the apartment, Susan took us on a walk around town to show us the best bakery, a grocery store, and a few good restaurants. While we were out, we stopped at the CittaSlow market (Orvieto is one of the Italian cities that started the Slow Food movement), and later we went back and bought some delicious spread for our bread. 

We also bought bread, cheese, prosciutto, and tomatoes from the grocery store and had a simple dinner at home tonight. We were both very tired from being up so late the previous night so we went to bed early, listening to the 10 o’clock bells rings us to sleep.  I think we are in heaven.

Our street, via Sant’Angelo. Access to the courtyard is down the road, on the right
Entrance to the courtyard
Top window and terrace is part of our apartment
View from the bedroom