The tourist information states that Orvieto is one of the principal sights of the region of Umbria. It exhibits traces of every phase of history for the past three thousand years, culminating in its magnificent cathedral. The tufa butte on which Orvieto is located is itself riddled with tunnels and wells dating from Etruscan times to only a couple of hundred years ago.
Orvieto is a charming hilltop town with car access only available to residents. We stayed in a b'n'b on a piazza close to the centre of the town and certainly close enough to hear the town's bell that rang every 15 minutes (24/7) to let the whole town know the time.
Across the region we also came directly into contact with more recent history - the damage and consequences from WW2 bombing raids and ground fighting are still evident.
That's enough of the official guff.
Our stay in Orvieto was based around a Camera Etrusca photography workshop with Patrick Nicholas, with an extra night's stay before and after. The workshop experience was a delight - although at times seeming to be a weird mix of cultural tour being taken to interesting and out of the way locations that had some vague photographic potential. To get to some of these locations was like being in boot camp as we had to scramble down cliffs, over rocks in addition to some interesting off road experiences in Patrick's occasionally problematic Land Rover.
Off the beaten track
We were the only fulltime attendees for the week, joined occasionally by Albert (a Dutch former World Bank employee who had retired to Italy) and his wife Henrietta for a couple of half days. There were some useful photographic tips but none of the in the field instruction of the sort that Lou and I do in the Flinders, nor the evaluation and feedback until the last day. Patrick's professional experience is in commercial, advertising and glamour photography, but his knowledge and passion for the history and culture of Orvieto and surrounding districts is endless.
We hit the traditional tuscan food styles for the first time, and started weaning ourselves off Spritz - the reds were starting to improve and we found we could again trust the 'house red'.
We seriously had a great introduction to the etruscan, roman and papal states history of the region, including photographing the Barabatta Festival - a kind of harvest festival - in which all the food producing trades in Marta, on the shores of the volcanic Lake Bolsena, paraded floats through the village and up the hill to the church.
Barabatta Festival, Marta, Lake Bolsena
The trades involved are the fishermen; the shepherds; the ‘butteri’, the cowboys of the Maremma on their fine horses; the herdsmen with their oxen and the villani, the villains or peasants, all dressed in their traditional costume. Everything is accompanied by loud cheering of “Evviva Maria, evviva il santisimo sacramento, Evviva la Madonna!”.
There is nothing like appropriating a pagan festival for a Christian ceremony every 14th May for last 550 years.
Barb has renewed her love affair with truffles and we have ventured bravely into the 'tipica' cuisine - including the wild boar (chingiale), pigeon, rabbit, hare, stinging nettle sauce (with beef) - mostly with success. Cantucci and vin santo have also reappeared in our lives like long lost friends - life on the road is as they say tough - but we are soldiering on.
And let's not forget the furry friends that Barb especially keeps making as we travel through Italy.
We hope that all are well and happy back home. Our next report will cover a return to Tuscany and the beginnings of our time in Chianti, depending on the availability of effective wifi access.
We have now picked up our hire car from Orvieto and will be independent for our travel arrangements now until we finish our holiday. More on that in the next edition.