Weekend p. 2: Comune di Orvieto


We emerged from St. Patrick’s well tired and quite ready for a rest—seriously, I’m not lying when I say that I almost collapsed, kneeling on the ground after we reached the surface. Having decided to keep moving, we walked back to the other end of the city to see Orvieto’s crown jewel—its Duomo (pronounced, as I informed Joonho, DWO-MO, not, as most American tourists ignorant of Italian phonology trisyllabically and incorrectly reckon, DU-O-MO—yes, I know, I’m picky when it comes to pronunciation). Usually Joonho and I needed to check the street map every 30 seconds to navigate through the windy streets, but, on this leg, all we used was the cathedral’s bold and towering mass. We approached from the side—although not the intended direction, it was thoroughly impressive nevertheless. Layers of white and black stone piled on top of each other constituted the church’s sides. The closer we came, the more intricate we realized the structure’s construction was. Although the sides were attractive enough, when we turned the corner to see its façade, we were truly stunned. It was so ornate, in Joonho’s words, that it truly needed an HDI photo to capture its ornamentation. There were so many scenes depicted on the bronze doors that we couldn’t even figure out what was going on—not to mention the even more complex images carved on both sides. For minutes we stood face to face with the marble, observing the golden tiles and painted mosaic pieces embedded in. After having our photo taken by a friendly Chinese couple, we sat down on the steps around the cathedral and reflected.

Soon after, though, another exhibit caught our eye—an old church, the Chiesa di San Giacomo, was adorned with red and blue banners advertising a temporary exhibit: Etruschi 3D. I remembered that the cashier at the tower had recommended this exhibition, and we were interested in the Etruscans, so we decided to enter, with high expectations of virtual reality tours, cool artifacts, and eye-popping effects.

Our expectations were not met.

As soon as I put my 3D glasses on, I could notice no difference besides everything being red and blue—nothing was popping of the walls. Perhaps my regular glasses were dampening the effect, I thought, but even after I took those off the picture did not change. All of the text was in Italian so Joonho couldn’t read anything and I could only pick up the gist—not enough for learning precise historical facts about a misty (but not as misty as the 3D effects) civilization. My hopes were raised when I saw something that looked like an artifact, but it turned out to be a mere hologram that didn’t even work when you approached too close. One of the screens even broke when I touched it. Although we did learn one interesting tidbit—that the Etruscans apparently loved to barbeque, according to the talking digital Etruscan canopic jar—Joonho was still skeptical. Overall, this was the only of the day’s experiences not fully worth it.

Afterwards we were so tired of exhibits and walking around that we decided to sit down someplace. Walking down Via del Duomo, Joonho’s eyes caught a television screen and we immediately gravitated towards. It was the second game of the UEFA Euro Cup 2016 in France and, both of us being fans of international soccer, we desired to watch Switzerland and Albania duke it out. It was interesting for many reasons—Albania was appearing at a major international tournament for the first time; one of Switzerland’s best players, Xherdan Shaqiri, was originally from Albania; and there were a pair of siblings, the Xhaka brothers, playing on opposite sides (side note—I’ve heard it said that if all players of Albanian descent played for the Albanian team itself, the team would be among the strongest).

So we sat down at this BarDuomo, ordered a pizza margherita and two cokes, and watched the calcio, in typical Italian fashion. Around us were some Italian as well as British spectators eagerly following the match. Switzerland, likely taking advantage of the initial shock for Albania of being on the worldwide stage, scored early in the game at the five minute mark, but the Albanians continued to play with gusto and it was an entertaining spectacle. Their goalkeeper particularly stood out for his many wonderful saves. Although Albania ended up losing 0-1, I must say that this match somewhat sparked an interest in such an unknown and mysterious country—neither Joonho nor I could really come up with anything about the place as we watched. After I read a bit more about the country, it seemed to have the two elements of a vacation I would enjoy the most—a peculiar historical heritage with plenty of Greco-Roman ruins, and great beaches: basically Greece without the mobs of tourists. Maybe we’ll have to visit some day! (Looking at you, Exeter Classics department and your Behr Fund). Meanwhile, Joonho and I marveled at the fresher taste than in America of our margherita pizza and the corn-syrup-less coke. Everything’s better in Italy I guess!

After the game ended we decided to walk back to the park to catch the evening view and to visit an Etruscan structure we hadn’t seen earlier. In other words, we still needed two and a half hours to kill before our 7:30 restaurant reservation. Walking through an overgrown meadow, we sat on a bench and viewed the surrounding valley, red-roofed houses, and Umbrian hills. The Etruscan platform, although overgrown, was interesting and much more real than the things found in Etruschi 3D.

On the way back, we found another tourist attraction we had missed on our first sweep across town: the Teatro Mancinelli. Given Joonho’s interest in music we decided to stop at this scantily-advertised building to observe a true Italian theater à la Cinema Paradiso (which is, in fact, one of my favorite movies, and next on the list to watch with Joonho). We were the only visitors at the time, a good thing because it meant less crowded and therefore better photo opportunities. The theater was your typical perception of an opera house, with velvet seats, balconies dotting the oval shaped walls like the external pattern of the Colosseum, and an immense ceiling painting. We walked through the whole theater to take many photos: from the ground into the stage, from the stage onto the ground, from the balconies onto the stage, panoramic views from the balconies, panoramic views OF the balconies, etc.. Basically, we simply felt classy while in the building. If only movie theaters in America were this nice, I remarked. Or Fischer Theater (perhaps, after the renovations)! Departing, we felt satisfied at finding such a hidden gem.

Although this took some time, we left the theater at 6 with still an hour and a half until dinner. Therefore, Joonho and I decided to watch another soccer match when we saw another bar with a flat-screen TV set up outdoors. Although we weren’t hungry, we knew it was etiquette to buy something if we were to sit, so we both ordered pineapple juice, or succo di ananas, as the Italians say (quite a peculiar word for pineapple, I think). The second match of the day was Slovakia vs. Wales, an interesting feature because Gareth Bale, one of Joonho’s favorite players and a very strong footballer, was playing for Wales, a team, like Albania, making its first appearance. Joonho remarked that it was admirable that Bale chose to play for his homeland rather than take the opportunity to start for a stronger side such as England. It paid off for Wales, as they scored on Bale’s free-kick within 15 minutes. Meanwhile, Joonho and I struggled to pronounce the consonant-loaded Slovakian names such as Škrtel and Hrošovský—although the Welsh language, as I explained to Joonho, is no easier to pronounce, featuring words such as llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, among others. Joonho responded that we should learn Welsh some day (it’s on Duolingo for anyone interested!). Thus it was a relief when, during the second half, a Slovakian player with the easily-spoken last name of Duda subbed in and scored immediately, tying the game. Although we had to leave right after Duda’s volley, Wales ended up winning 2-1. As you can see, I really love watching European international soccer because it provides a way for small countries like Albania, Wales, and Slovakia to increase their international prominence and spark the curiosity of spectators like me. Moreover, it is great to see the fans’ energy in supporting their homeland, a nationalistic sentiment that transcends even club-team loyalties.

Although the match immediately became quite suspenseful, we left with no regrets so we could make it to our 7:30 reservation on time. Our restaurant, Trattoria dell’Orso, was rumored to be the best in Orvieto and we were greatly looking forward to it. We were not disappointed. Although our waiter seemed somewhat upset that Joonho and I ordered the same main course, a grilled fillet of manzo, or beef—it was well worth it. Our appetizer was the restaurant’s house special pasta, served with tomato sauce, parmesan, and scamorza, a special fresh cheese similar to mozzarella. To use a clichéd expression, it truly melted within our mouths. We moved through the pasta quite quickly and, soon enough, our meat was here. The streak was so perfectly grilled that it needed nothing more than a bit of olive oil, pepper, and lemon—I cut mine into very small bits to savor each and every bite. Our dessert course was equally respectable: Joonho ordered a tiramisù and I a tart, which were both excellent as well. Throughout the meal I communicated with the waiters in a mix of 70% Italian and 30% English—it seemed to work quite well and effectively avoided embarrassing ourselves like the loud, typically American tourist group audible from the other room. Overall, this dining experience was well worth the multiple-hour wait, and I am immensely satisfied with our two meals here and at Cibus.

We were truly exhausted from our long day of sight-seeing, yet we still had the two and a half kilometer walk back to the convent. Walking alongside the road in the sun’s twilight rays, we reflected over how Orvieto’s small size allowed us to truly explore the town in a day and gain a real sense for its atmosphere without rushing. Although we were planning to visit Florence today, on Sunday, we decided not to because we did not want to wake up at six to walk multiple kilometers to the train station. Instead, we would have a day to write these extremely long blog posts, catch up on Hindi studying, do laundry, and finally, rest.


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