Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Day 5 - Perugia-Torgiano-Civitavecchia-Palermo

Day 5 begins with a much anticipated walking tour of Perugia. The guide is a charming woman named Donatella, a long term resident of Perugia who was recommended to us by Marina. Donatella taught at the scuola media (junior high school) when Marina was a student there. Since then she has given Marina private English classes.

Donatella is energetic and engaging, despite the freezing temperatures and leads us on a fascinating two hour walk around the historic center of Perugia and along some of the ancient gates and walls. We begin our excursion inside the Rocca Paolina, the remains of a fortification and garrison built by the Pope in 1540 in order to maintain control over Perugia. The fortification was built on top of existing buildings, the towers of which were razed, leaving a network of old streets within the structure. The effect is fascinating as you wander completely indoors through a subterranean catacomb. The scale mobile (series of escalators) that takes you from outside the city center through the city walls also takes you through the Rocca Paolina. It is worth a visit.
We traverse the perimeter of the old city, viewing ancient Etruscan walls and gates, Roman additions to the city and make a quick stop in an archaeological site just off the Corso Vannucci that is reached by climbing down an opening like a manhole.

Donatella takes us to the seats of civic power, the Priory Hall and the Palace of the Captain of the People. According to legend, 10 Priors were selected to represent their guilds in running the city, but with one caveat – while they served they were not permitted to leave the Priory Hall to visit home or attend to any personal business. As a result, the average length of service was about 3 months.

Much of the architecture of the city and within its monumental buildings has been influenced by the prevalence of earthquakes in the region. You notice archways and buttresses running between buildings all over the city, which were used to stabilize the structures. Inside the Church of San Lorenzo on the main square, tie rods keep the walls from collapsing outward and the columns at the back of the church bend noticeably outward as well.

Speaking of wells, the fountain in front of San Lorenzo is one of the best. It is beautiful in its own right, but if you have a chance, check out the sculptural scenes that run around its perimeter. There are several panels representing each month in Perugia, including December, when tradition dictates that a pig is slaughtered and served for a feast. The depictions are highly entertaining.

It is with sadness we leave Perugia. We have grown to love this city, with its quirky, exotic look and feel, its outstanding food and wine and its accessibility. It is worth a visit if even only for an hour to stroll down the Corso Vannucci. If, on the other hand, you have some time to spare, call Donatella (tel. 075-32325) to arrange a tour. You’ll have better luck if you call in advance. And make sure to arrange the price in advance.

Leaving Perugia, we decide to stop in Torgiano, about 10 minutes south of town, to have lunch at Le Tre Vaselle. This is a lovely hotel and award winning restaurant run by the Lungarotti family, one of the leading wineries in Italy and a huge presence in Umbria. We have visited Torgiano twice, taking a tour of the Museum of Olives, an interesting diversion if you have the time. We have never been able to get into the Tre Vaselle, so we hope that luck is with us today. In a way it is; the restaurant is closed for lunch so they send us down the street to the restaurant at the Albergo Siro. Lunch is a joyous affair in this simple trattoria that is full of businesspeople sharing lunch and a bottle of wine and loud, boisterous conversation. Traveling off season, we have missed the energetic atmosphere of the typical trattoria, as many of our meals have been taken in half empty rooms. Lunch is a simple affair, salad and pasta with a bottle of Rubesco. We are surprised to find that they are offering a fixed price meal today, that comes out to the bargain price of 25 Euros.

Then we are back on the road for our drive to Rome’s Leonardo DaVinci Airport (Fiumicino). We drive south through Todi to Terni and a beautiful verdant valley bounded by jutting hills and mountains that is much more scenic than our drive from Orvieto to Todi earlier in the week. We then head west toward the ocean and the port town of Civitavecchia, where we plan to spend an hour or so before proceeding to the airoprt. Unfortunately we are running late and have to head directly for Fiumicino but fortunately we didn’t see anything from the road that tempted us to stay.

We kill a little time at Fiumicino before boarding our Air One flight to Palermo. Air One is a Lufthansa-affiliated low fare airline. Low fare airlines have expanded in Europe recently, and while our flight is 57 Euros, we have seen flights as low as 0.99 Euros! Air One flights are on modern jets and they, and other low cost carriers, operate a number of routes within Italy, so you might consider flying between destinations in Italy next time you travel there.

Tomorrow we’ll tell you about Palermo and our visit to the Becchina olive oil estate. Until then

Ciao a presto!
Suzy and Bill

[After a very bumpy flight that was delayed by a horrific thunderstorm we arrived in Sicily. Got a glimpse of the island on the way from the airport and can’t wait to see Palermo and its environs in the light of day.]

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