On our first full day together, the parents and I venture out of Orvieto and into central Italy. Before the day is done we will hit Spoleto, Assisi and finally Perugia. Although the main reason for going to Spoleto is that it is en route to Assisi, we also wanted to visit because it is another ancient city built on a hill that dates back to Roman times and is now famous for its annual music festival (which we miss by a couple weeks). We park the car at the bottom of the city, find a way to the top stopping along the way for espresso and snacks, and eventually complete our circle back to the car among its narrow streets and cute buildings. I wish all long car rides could have stretch breaks as pleasant as Spoleto.
Assisi of the famous Saint Francis of Assisi is our second destination of the day. Logically, because it was the birthplace of St. Francis, founder of the Franciscan religious order, it is now home to the Franciscan monastery and an upper and lower church of St. Francis. Both churches are beautiful with their frescos depicting the lives of St. Francis and of Jesus. Between exploring some of the tourist hotspots, we enjoy a great meal at Trattoria Pallotta thanks to a little 3G plus TripAdvisor. The restaurant is a bit tricky to find despite my phone indicating our moving blue dot is directly over the restaurant’s pin. We look around for a bit and then notice that there is the sound of dishes coming from a window upstairs. We walk to the side of the building, notice some steps leading upwards, and eventually stumble upon our restaurant.
Our last and most lively stop of the day is in Perugia. Every year, Perugia holds a summer Jazz Festival, and out of luck, we have timed it so that we are there in the middle of this year’s festival. Along with big crowds of people, we find small bands set up on the side of the street, a keyboardist and a guitarist improvising together near a cafe, someone painting on the sidewalk using chalk, a marching band dancing its way down the cobblestone, and stages set up in every plaza. The energy of the city is exciting, and although we do not sit down to watch an entire performance, we stop for a short time at each performer we pass and enjoy their tunes. The energy of Perugia is the perfect way to cap off our full day around central Italy.
We find our car in the Sixt Rental parking lot, and I immediately indicate to my dad that the car might a little on the big side. I know that we will be going to small, old towns with narrow cobblestone streets and I fear that this car might want to make wider turns than the space provided. Once we arrive in Orvieto, some of these concerns become realized, and they continue to be reinforced as we drive around central Italy.
That said, it is this same small town, cobblestone feel of the old Italian cities that gives them their charm. Imagine an old hill-top Roman city with paved two-lane roads, stop lights and sidewalks, and part of the magic of stepping back in time is lost. In the end, we consider maneuvering the car on roads meant for people, horses, and maybe the occasional carriage as just part of our Italian adventure, and getting out of the car to minimize 10-point turns down to 5-point turns only adds extra excitement. Other than in a couple of the smaller, older towns, having a car (and a spacious car) is very convenient as almost all of central Italy becomes accessible to us.
Almost five months after being dropped off at Los Angeles International Airport, I see my parents again. We try to time it so that we both arrive into Rome’s FCO airport at the same time, and if I hadn’t been flying on the generally delayed EasyJet, our timing would have been very close. After collecting my backpack from baggage claim, I meet my parents in front of the rental car counters. With their family’s worth of luggage and their Italy maps already unfolded, my parents and I embrace and simply enjoy the reunion.
Our first stop in Italy is Orvieto, so we immediately bypass Rome as we will be returning in about a week, and head north to Orvieto. Located in Italy’s Umbria region, Orvieto’s history dates back to the Etruscan era from when there is proof of an ancient city. Later, the city was annexed by Rome and eventually held under Papal rule until the unification of Italy in 1860. Today, this walled city has much to offer to tourists such as me and my parents. Between the walls surrounding Orvieto the striped Duomo (or Main Cathedral), and the underground city, Orvieto is full of sites to see and history to learn.
The three of us enjoy a fun and delicious first meal in Orvieto celebrating all being together, and we begin to develop a plan of what the next week will look like before meeting up with the rest of the family.