Dave the motorhome would be sitting with his hands over his ears, if he had any (hands or ears that is) at the official sosta in Orvieta (N42.72590 E12.12646). The reason being that some clever soul decided to place the sosta between two train tracks, the local and express lines between Florence and Rome. The express trains are the loudest, blasting past every 10 minutes or so.
Last night was suitably silent tucked away in the small town of Ficulle and we slept well – possibly helped by a little bit of our wine stash. This morning we were up and at ’em. Our weekly budget was done (and we were under again – whoop!), breakfast eaten, pots washed and pooch walk before we hit the road around 10.30. As we continued along the winding road we were on yesterday, brown mud patches stood out among the green grass banks lining the road, signs of land slips were all around us. Temporary road work and ‘JCB in the road’ signs were dotted all along the road as crews tried to stabilise the banks and clear the mud away.
A series of turns like a snake took us down to the valley floor, here the fields around us were thick with fresh mud. Orvieto town is perched high up on a volcanic outcrop, it came into view as we crossed a bridge over the Paglia river, but our eyes were drawn to the river itself. Huge trees, hundreds of branches and other detritus, all thick with mud lined its banks. Driving through a tunnel under the railway line the posters and graffiti had been washed from the walls with mud. We turned into the sosta and weren’t really surprised we were the only ones here, but things seemed a little strange. The barriers were up, the tarmac is covered in a thin film of mud, the electric hook-up points are muddy and the contents of the reception/shop were all outside the building.
We’d heard on the BBC news about the flooding in Tuscany a couple of weeks ago, people had emailed to ask us if we were OK, we were fine just fed up with all the rain. When Jay spoke to the woman running the sosta, clad in wellies and hosing things down, she told him how the town of Orvieto wasn’t so fine, the river had burst its banks and submerged a large part of the lower town, including the sosta. Looking at the building you can clearly see a waterline, a high waterline. She explained that the electric points were all underwater, but are working now, but the showers are out of action. The sosta is €18 a night, normally we’d have asked for a discount, but looking at her hosing mud off her possessions Jay quietly paid and let her get back to her work. It’s been nearly two weeks and most stuff is coming back to normal. The street lights are on, but the escalators up to the train station are all off, but after all the mascarpone we’ve been eating the steps were good for us.
Taking the funicular from the valley floor up to the tabletop plug of volcanic lava that the historic town sits on, we headed across to look out over the valley to see the extent of the flood damage. A wide brown streak cuts its way through the valley floor, lined with the remains of thousands of trees.
Our Rough Guide hadn’t been too kind about the town itself, but did have a lot of praise for the Duomo, well more specifically its façade so we made our way through the narrow streets and alleys to the main square. Making the buildings around it look like miniature models, we approached the Duomo from the side, our only view was of its black and white candy stripes.
As Pope Leo XIII had once said that on Judgement Day the Duomo would float up to heaven carried by its own beauty, we made a pact not to look at the front until we were in a place where we could see it all in one go. As we turned around the sun glinted on the gold mosaics and we were met with a decorative richness, just the right side of overkill. No wonder it took thirty years to agree a design for the building, three centuries to build it and exhausted 33 architects, 152 sculptors, 68 painters and 90 mosaicists!
As we drew closer it was the carving that amazed us. The bottom of its four pillars depict scenes from the old and new testaments in staggering detail – plague, famine, martyrdom grotesque mutilation, the massacre of the innocents, and Cain slaying Abel to name but a few. The final panel making it clear that the damned go to hell while the righteous go to heaven.
After sitting and staring for ages, we finally headed off to explore the rest of the town, getting ourselves lost in its warren of alleyways – using the sun and viewpoints off the edge to guide ourselves back to the main street. Ice creams were needed to power us on, Jay had a super rich rum and dark chocolate while I tried pine nut flavour (the woman in the shop wasn’t sure what it was called in English), but it did taste good.
The sun was setting and the air cooling, so it was time to head back to Dave. We took the footpath back down, a steep, slippy, shining stone challenge with flatten trees and more bare patches of mud showing where land had slipped away down into the town.
We’re back in Dave now with the heating on and hoping the trains stop at some point, one thing is for sure, I’ll have my earplugs in tonight.
Bonus pic – well it is Friday, so we all deserve a treat!