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.

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!

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.

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.  🙂

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.

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.



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.)

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


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!
Dinner for Two!



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

Day 40: June 3, 2016

Our full day in Santiago. 

Today was a wonderful, relaxing day. We slept in, then had a late coffee and croissant and went for a walk in the park where we could see some nice views of the city. 

We had a late lunch at Casa Felisa, recommended by Elena who owns our apartment, and it was beautiful. We sat out on the terrace, until a big tree that was covered in what looked like roses. It was warm and sunny. 

We ordered a jarra of Sangria, and three plates to share – asparagus with goat cheese, ‘cockles’ (baby clams, and a half order of assorted meat (chorizo and dried ham).  It was all delicious and very relaxing. As we were finishing up, Ana and Carlos came to join us and so we bought them a glass of wine and chatted for another hour. 

After lunch, Erik had a nap and I transferred a bunch of photos to my laptop and then we headed over to the cathedral for the pilgrim’s mass. We got there an hour early and snagged two of the last seats. The mass itself was about an hour long and all in Spanish but it was interesting to see them swing the Botafumeiro at the end. After the mass, we checked out St James crypt and then met Wolfgang and Rüdiger outside. 

They took us to the bar at their pension and we had a few beers and wine while the bartender kept bringing us free snacks to eat. 

It was close to 11 when we finally said our goodbyes, exchanging contact info before we left. We were really happy to have spent our last evening with “the boys”.

On our way back to the apartment, we passed through the cathedral plaza and took some photos. There was a group of musicians singing and playing guitars and other instruments so we stopped to listen for awhile. A perfect end to a wonderful day!

Tomorrow we check out of the apartment at 11, store our bags for the day, and hang out until we take the bus to the airport around 6pm. Our flight to Rome leaves at 9:00 and we stay the night near he airport and take the train to Orvieto the next day. 

And so the next leg of our journey begins!

View from the park
Our apartment was on the ground floor
Erik is praying that the mass starts soon

Day 39: June 2, 2016

Destination: Santiago de Compostela

Distance: 20km

Time: 5 1/4 hours,  8:45 am to 2:00 pm

Terrain: rolling, gravel and paved road, several km through the city

Weather: Sunny and hot. It hit 26-28C today

Total distance walked: 730 km

Total distance travelled by foot, bus, and taxi:  793 km

Well we made it!

Erik and I decided to treat it like the last day of the TDF and just take our time and relax. It was as if we were riding down the Champs Élysees.  The walk itself was not particularly challenging but it was fairly hot out and we were anxious to arrive once we got to the edge of town, so the last hour seemed long.

We didn’t set an alarm and had our usual routine in the morning, hitting the road at 8:45am as we always seem to do.

Early on we met a father and son team from Toronto who were walking Sarria to Santiago together and we walked and chatted with them for awhile. Dad was George and son was Guillaume. When they stopped for coffee, we said goodbye and walked on our own.

After that we tried to gap other pilgrims so we could have time to think and reflect on this last day of walking. Normally we enjoy chatting with other pilgrims because it makes the time go faster but today we wanted to appreciate every moment.

About 7-8km before Santiago, we climbed up Monte de Gozo which was originally the first place you could see the city in the distance (although the view is obscured). There was a large sculpture on the hill and lots of tourists taking pictures of pilgrims as if we were animals in the zoo.

From there on we began to enter the city and walked on the hot pavement. It seemed we’d never get there and my feet felt sore and my legs tired.

We saw Wolfgang and Ruediger several times along the way and then ended up walking into the city right behind them.  When we got close to the center, we saw Irvin (Netherlands) sitting in a cafe drinking white wine as he always does. It was good to see he had made it today as well.

Just before the cathedral plaza, we walked through a tunnel where a man was piping us in. I took a video and will try to upload it below. As we arrived in the plaza, I couldn’t help being overcome with emotion and then almost immediately, April and Sam (sisters from Victoria), and Ana and Carlos (a couple from Brazil) came running up to meet us. They had been waiting for us to arrive! More tears and lots of hugs and of course photos.

Soon Carolyn (Calgary) arrived, followed by Rudy and Wolfgang (Germany). We’d all been together since the first 1-2 days and have been seeing each other off and on the entire way. Wow, it was amazing to all be together again in this final day!

After we took loads of people photos, I set up our backpacks for a picture and then left them there while we chatted. Tourists kept coming by to take pictures of our backpacks sitting in the middle of the plaza. I’m sure they’ve become quite famous now. 🙂

We said our goodbyes and then Erik and I walked 1 km to get our suitcases that had been transferred here 39 days ago. Thankfully everything was in order.

We walked another 1 km back to the cathedral, wearing our backpacks and dragging our suitcases along the cobblestones and then checked into our studio apartment which is absolutely lovely. We showered and I changed into a sun dress and sandals and blow dried my hair and put make up on. Who hooo – I’m a girl again!

We walked around a bunch trying to find a place to eat but most places didn’t open until 8 so we had a beer and an awful empañada and went to see how the line up was to get our Compostela (certificate). It wasn’t too bad so we stood in line for 40 minutes and got our two certificates – one is the official Compostela in Latin and the other is our distance certificate which shows our start and finish dates and the total distance we walked – 730 km!!

By then it was almost 7 and we were exhausted so we went back to the apartment. We must have walked an extra 5-6 km today on top of the 20 we did to get here!

At 8, Erik was hungry so we went out to find our friends. It turned out they were watching an outdoor symphony concert so we watched for awhile and then grabbed a quick burger and beer instead of going out for a nice dinner. We were just too tired. We have all day tomorrow and Saturday to enjoy ourselves and have a great meal so we decided it can wait.

It’s 9:30 pm now, Erik is asleep, and I am so tired but determined to get my blog up for the night. I have much more to say and many reflections to make about this trip but they will have to wait a day or so.

Thanks again for all of your encouraging comments, posts, and emails today. They have been wonderful – we really felt all of your enthusiasm and positive thoughts and they helped us along our way.

For those of you who say you will miss my daily posts, you may be sorry you said that because I will be continuing to blog regularly (maybe not daily though) as we begin the final leg of this adventure in Italy!

Stay tuned!

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Day 38: June 1, 2016

Destination: O Pedrouzo

Distance: 22 km

Time: 6 hours, 9:00 am to 3:00 pm

Terrain: Easy dirt and paved trail, minor rolling hills

Weather: Sunny, blue sky, warm

Total distance to date: 710 km (+12k taxi, 14k bus, 15k bus, 20k taxi = 773 km)

We both had a good sleep and didn’t wake up until after 8am. Had coffee, juice, and croissant at the bar down the road, then packed up and hit the road by 9am.

It was a gorgeous morning with blue sky and sunshine and sparking dew on the grass. We both felt MUCH better than we had yesterday and any aches and pains and swelling that we’d has seemed to be gone within 15 minutes of walking.

Despite that, we agreed to take it easy and walk slowly today. We are in no rush and we have a pension booked so we don’t have to hurry.

We stopped around 11:30 for a cold drink and I stood in line for 15 min to use the bathroom.  The newbie pilgrims seemed to have spread out a little more now and we have more peace and quiet when walking but the roadside stops are definitely busier.

As we were finishing up, Wolfgang and Ruediger arrived so we chatted for awhile and then exchanged email addresses so we could connect in Santiago. They are staying in O Pedrouzo tonight and will arrive in Santiago tomorrow as well.

The walk was quite beautiful today though more oak forests draped in ivy and many pretty farms. The closer we get to Santiago, the more prosperous the farms seem to be.

We only stopped for a 5-10 minutes a couple of times and arrived in O Pedrouzo around 3:00pm. We found our Pension Estrella Dorado and it is lovely.   When we booked it, there were no double rooms left so we had to book a triple (50€ instead of 40). However we ended up in a quad room with 4 beds and a beautiful big bay window and antique couch and chairs.  No problem!

We had a quick shower and then walked down the street for beer and pizza. I was starving having only eaten an orange and a banana all day but despite half a pizza, the two beers went straight to my head and I had to weave back to our room afterwards.

While we were at the bar, we saw Pam from Australia who we met two days ago. She is a small feisty woman slightly older than us who walked twice as fast. However today as she came close to town, she fell and dislocated her shoulder and broke a bone. She told us that everyone around her was super helpful and called an ambulance. They took her to the hospital in Santiago and fixed her up and then she took a taxi back to Pedrouzo because she fully intends on getting up tomorrow to walk the last 20km. She started out walking with a friend but the other woman got injured and has been bussing from one town to the next. I have no doubt Pam will suck it up and make it to Santiago tomorrow. I hope we see her along the way!

We have been getting at least 3 stamps every day now and my goal is to completely fill my credencial on this trip. Today we stopped at a Farmacia to buy some more ibuprofen and I asked the pharmacist if she could stamp my credencial. I don’t think she gets asked that very often because she was really interested in looking at all the stamps, especially when she saw how far we’d come. It seems fitting that we get at least one Farmacia stamp since they’ve helped us so much along the way.

Several of our friends arrived in Santiago today – big cheers for Ana and Carlos from Rio de Janiero, Carolyn from Calgary, and April and Sam from Victoria. We can’t wait to see you all again in Santiago! We heard that Chris and Sharon from Ontario made it today too but they are heading out tomorrow so we won’t be able to reconnect. And of course Wolfgang and Ruediger will be in Santiago tomorrow.
Today we talked a little about what the Camino has meant to us and how it has compared to our expectations but  I think I will need another day or two to be able to write about that coherently. I blame the beer from our late lunch. 🙂

We plan to treat tomorrow like any other day – get up when we wake up, and walk our usual pace. We will get there when we get there.

We know the lineups at the Pilgrim office are always long as there are more than 1000 pilgrims arriving every day now. We may wait until Friday morning to get our Compostela.

Well my friends, we only have one day left and it’s less than 20km. We expect to be  in Santiago before 3pm (6 am BC time). I will post a photo on Facebook and Instagram as soon as we arrive! Thanks for reading my blog and following along our journey. A special thank you for all the comments – they have helped immensely to buoy us along.

We’ve had a Buen Camino!

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Day 37: May 31, 2016

Destination: Ribadiso da Baixo

Distance: 26 km

Time: 7 1/2 hours, 8:45 am to 4:15 pm

Terrain: Relentless up and down rolling hills, nice gravel and dirt trail, a couple of dodgy muddy sections, lovely deciduous trees to shade the path

Weather:  beautiful blue skies, warm, almost too warm

Total distance to date: 688km (+12k taxi, 14k bus, 15k bus, 20k taxi = 751 km)

Although we both had a good sleep, today seemed like a death march most of the day. Our feet and legs were sore from yesterday and we both felt inexplicably tired.  We are happy that it’s our last long day of the Camino. Our next two days are 22 and 20km. Yay!

Our day started with getting locked out of our pension. We had gone down to the bar below for breakfast but when we headed back up to pack, the exterior door had been closed and we didn’t have a key. We tried ringing the bell but there was no answer. Eventually we were able to explain our dilemma to the waitress in the bar and she contacted someone who had a key to let us in.

We were on the road at 8:45 and the sun was shining in a blue sky. It promised to be a beautiful day.  My feet were sore when I first got up with sharp pain at the point where my second toe meets my foot. But once we started walking, it stopped hurting and just felt like I had a cotton ball stuck to be bottom of my foot.

The first two hours went fairly quickly and we stopped for a quick drink. However it didn’t take long for both of us to feel very tired and we walked pretty slowly most of the day.

We had a lot of climbing up and down today and the downs made my foot hurt. Luckily they were never too long so we just slogged it out.

At one point we crossed a stream so I stopped to put my hot throbbing feet into the cold water for a few minutes. It felt wonderful and lasted at least 15-20 minutes after we started walking again.

We ran into Phillipe and Chantal again and then later had a drink with Jason and Tina. Neither of them are staying in the same village as us tonight.

In Melide, the largest town we hit today, we stopped at a supermercado and bought ham and cheese and had a quick snack in a park. Erik has not been eating enough and I think he’s lost too much weight so he’s trying to make sure he gets enough calories in during the day.

We trudged on and on until after 4pm when we finally got to Albergue Los Caminates and checked into our room with a bath (35€).

Erik has a couple of blisters starting so he put some bandiada on them and I got ice for my swollen feet. We had a big beer at the bar across the street and then came back to shower. We also put a load of laundry on – our last for the trip.

Now I am sitting in the sun, on the back patio of our Albergue, while I write my blog. All around me are green fields and trees. It’s very pretty here.

Tomorrow we walk 22km and stay in our last pension. I can’t wait to get to Santiago on Thursday!!!!

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