Sunday, January 25, 2004

Day 1 and 2 - Arrival - Rome - Orvietto - Perugia

We depart National Airport for Philadelphia where we board a nonstop US Air flight to Rome. We arrive early Sunday morning in Rome after a surprisingly good night sleep, having recently adopted a transatlantic strategy of trying to drop off to sleep as soon as possible. This seems to buy us about 4 or 5 hours of activity upon arrival until the drowsiness begins to set in.

We pick up our rental car from Avis (booked through Autoeurope, which seems to have consistently better rates than what the majors themselves offer, although that price advantage has seemed to diminish over the past several years) and head toward our evening’s destination – Perugia, the capital of Umbria, situated about two hours north of Rome, off the A1 autostrada. We decide to head to Orvieto, a beautiful hill town about an hour and a quarter north of Rome, for some sightseeing and lunch. This part of Italy is much less crowded with tourists at this time year, but perhaps that is for a reason – it is cold, gray and snowing and our warmest clothes were packed securely in the bottoms of our suitcases.

Strangely, we are not the only distinguished American visitors in Orvieto today - when we arrive at the main piazza we find it teaming with Italian police and a host of American Secret Service agents, who are arranging for a visit by Vice President Cheney. We wait in the snow for nearly two hours to get some video of him arriving, stills of which we are posting on the website. We’re not sure whether to attribute the DC license plates on the motorcade vehicles to jetlag or déjà vu, but we can confidently say we have never seen DC plates in Italy before, and probably won’t ever again.

Unfortunately for the Italian press contingent, who have been ordered to stand behind barriers for two hours and who have been subjected to at least two searches (one from a very unfriendly looking german shepard) they get nowhere near the Veep. Perhaps we can interest Corriere della Sera or La Repubblica in some of our photos!

Cheney’s first stop is at an impressive ceramics store that honestly is remiscent of Bella Italia (regardless of your political views, you must admit Cheney knows a good thing when he sees it). Upon leaving the store we immediately go in to see what he liked and whether he bought anything. The owner, still beaming from 43.5’s visit replies “si” (“yes”), but when pressed admits that while Cheney liked everything, he needed to check out the goods in a couple of other stores before deciding what to buy. Feeling a certain bond with our Italian peers we decide that when both the Vice President and we return home to DC, we’ll invite him to Bella Italia to close the deal!

We thaw out over lunch at a simple, yet heated establishment called La Buca di Bacco (Corso Cavour, 299/301, Orvieto, tel: 0763-344792, closed Tuesday), enjoying an appetizer of assorted Umbrian hams and sausages, followed by an Argentinian Angus steak covered with a mushroom truffle sauce and arucola and a wild boar stew with polenta. Comfort food that warms the heart, as well as frozen toes and fingers.

Then onward to Perugia, one of our favorite towns. We arrive at the Hotel Sangallo, a modern-ish hotel in a favored position just below the main historic square of Perugia. The square is accessed by a series of escalators running through a network of ancient tunnels that run through the town. You exit the escalator in the basement of an ancient palace and work your way through a maze of catacombs until you emerge on Corso Vanucci. We hope to take a walking tour of the center of Perugia on Wednesday to learn more about its history and architecture.

That’s all for now. We’re off for a quick bite to eat and then to bed. Tomorrow we see our good friend Javier Casuso (proprietor of D’Arna Ceramics) and Josephine Durkin, business manager at Geribi Ceramics who is also introducing us to some cousins of the Lungarotti wine family, who run a beautiful bed and breakfast as well as a number of specialty tours of Umbria.

Ciao a presto!
Suzy and Bill

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