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(Old) Mask of V Days 4-5: Civita and Sienna

(Originally posted on January 3, 2011)

Here are two more days, and I promise they are less grumpy sounding than my other entry. We’re actually on Day Six today, but I didn’t get that entry done and I’d rather go ahead and post what I have. Tomorrow is Venice!

Day Four: Civita

We slept late to recover from our late night. Also the room service never came, which was a big downer. Once everything was packed, we were still waiting on Dad (who was planning the route for the day with Tom, our GPS). Mom, Laura, Philip and I went downstairs to the bar to partake of tea, coffee and hot chocolate. I love the tea they serve here, because normally they give you lots of choices and a whole pot of hot water. The hot chocolate was very different from American hot chocolate, and was actually more like fondue—really thick, meant to be eaten with a spoon.

Once our route was planned and the car pulled around, we loaded up and hit the road, going toward Pisa. We had planned to stop in Civita and Orvieto on the way, to get a feel for small-town Italy. Civita was our first stop.

Civita was a Medieval/Escucian city, built on this little mountain in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by cliffs. A few years ago, we’d bought this old traveling book with pictures from the library and I painted a watercolor of a town on the tippy top of a huge mountain. Imagine my surprise when I rounded a corner and saw this.

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Civita. Picture taken by me.

It was the town I had painted! I’ve wanted to go ever since I saw the picture, but had no idea where it was or even what it was called.

The city used to have a donkey bridge over the canyons around it, but that was bombed during WWII. There’s a nice modern bridge that you cross over. It’s quite a hike—down into a tiny town, over the bridge and then steeply uphill. We had to pay an entrance fee because there was some sort of live nativity going on that night, but usually you can visit for free.

We popped into the little church, then set out to find somewhere to eat. Most of the restaurants were already packed, so we ate in a tiny bar (which isn’t so much a bar bar as a small sandwich shop). I got a simple swiss and bread sandwich, and it was possibly the best thing I’ve had so far just because the bread and cheese were so amazingly fresh. Philip got this rosemary bread that was like Macaroni Grill’s bread… except 20x more delicious.

Having eaten our fill, we went to explore the town. It’s basically all open for people to poke around, and it’s all pedestrian roads.

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Philip with the city gate in the background. Picture taken by me.

Dad found one shop that had a basement the British owner would let people go down in. The basement thing was carved into rock—an old cistern which the Medieval inhabitants used to catch rainwater.

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Philip in the cistern. Picture taken by Laura.

Mom found a vender selling homemade cheeses, and bought quite a bit. I found a gift store with really awesome letter openers. The shops were actually all really cool—puppet shops, book shops, wine and meat shops… It was quaint and lovely.

Later in the evening, as the time came for the live nativity, everything got much more crowded. We ended up leaving before the show started, because we wanted to get to Orvieto. But it turned out that Orvieto was also crowded and some of the roads were blocked off. At this point, it was getting late and we were still two hours from Pisa, so we decided to ship Orvieto (and their famous white wine) in favor of finding the army base and getting a room before midnight. Mom was quite disappointed.

Imagine long lengths or driving followed by getting lost even with Tom’s helped. Then we found the base (which was actually guarded by scary looking Italian men instead of American soldier babies) and, after being lost for another thirty minutes, our rooms. It was about nine o’clock and none of had eaten, so we went out in search of food. This search proved more difficult than originally conceived, so just imagine more getting lost and hungry here. At last we happened upon a McDonald’s (at this point the only place where my brother would eat—he has since widened his diet of acceptable foods to include some specific Italian dishes), and in desperation just ate there.

Then we went back to our very small and uncomfortable army room to sleep.

Day Five: Sienna

Today we had determined to go to Sienna (instead of Florence) because Mom had read that Florence is basically stuffed with people and lines and Sienna was supposed to be almost as cool. We got up and set out, again pretty late. I think we actually managed to get there without getting lost… No, I take it back, we did have to make a few U-Turns.

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Sienna. Picture taken by me.

Sienna is pretty cool because it’s a city of hills. You can look out on a high spot (like where we parked) and see rooftops and churches all spread out before you, like a very crowded map or something.

Anyway, we headed into town and made a quick stop in one church where the finger and head of St. Catherine are housed (that wasn’t why we stopped in, but it’s an interesting fact). We passed by this famous square that has something to do with Sienna being an independent republic. You can tell I retained a lot of what I read in our guide to Italy book.

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Il Campo. Picture taken by Laura.

Then we went to Il Campo, what Rick Steves calls the best square in all of Italy. This square is huge, with a castle thing on one side and shops all around the outer edge. We had to pass through pretty quickly, because we were once again coming up against the end of lunch being served at 2:00. After trying a few restaurants that were too full, we ended up at one a bit off the square. The menu was entirely in Italian, and all but one or two waiters spoke no English, so it was an adventure. We were able to puzzle out that something on the menu was chicken, so Laura and I got that. Mom got ravioli and Dad just had the waiter choose a pasta dish for him. The waiter was a very sweet older Italian man, and was quite cheerful about our language barrier. The chicken ended up being really good grilled chicken, which tasted even better with a generous coating of freshly grated parmesan on the top. We also got some “chips” (thick potato slices, cooked), which were similar to the potato wedges that come with the Mixed Grill at Olive Garden (though these were less seasoned and more fresh).

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Crazy steep roads. Picture taken by Laura.

Happily full, we set out for the Duomo, a must-see church in the city. Did I mention this city is entirely made out of hills? Because it is.

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Inside the Duomo. Picture taken by me.

The Duomo is really interesting because it’s made out of two different types of marble, so it’s striped. It’s also cool because the architect designed it to be an illusion—it’s actually smaller than it looks on the inside (as opposed to a Tardis). There were some famous pieces by Michelangelo, which was nice since we hadn’t gotten to see other stuff by him before. We were supposed to be able to see two really famous Bernini sculptures (David and Mary Magdalene), but the area was closed off for maintenance. Sadness.

After a quick stop in the excellent gift store, we headed back to Il Campo. We dropped into a mask shop on the way, and I bought a leather mask that I think resembles one of Popinjay’s. (I would like to get a green one, too, perhaps in Venice.) I was quite excited about this purchase.

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My mask. Picture taken by Laura.

We stopped in a pizzeria on the square for some dessert and hot drinks. Laura and Philip tried out white hot chocolate this time, which was a sort of white chocolate fondue (Philip really enjoyed his). We also got plain crepes, which weren’t my favorite dessert ever.

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The white chocolate. Picture taken by me.

From here, we went on a leisurely stroll towards the car, stopping to get pizza and sandwiches for dinner and for Mom to buy some wine. We drove back to Pisa, entertained the notion of going to see the Leaning Tower at night but after getting lost again we decided to return to our army housing (we had exchanged our uncomfortably tiny room for a slightly more comfortable tiny cabin).

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