European Adventures
2004-02-29 14:22:17 (UTC)

Weekend of February 27

Friday February 27, 2004

Today’s journies were decided on late Thursday night, after
examination of the Lonely Planet Italy travel guide.
Orvieto is an Umbrian city 126km Northeast of Rome. I was
drawn by the description of the gothic cathedral of the
hill-town. It seemed like a good day trip.
I reached Termini just after 8am and was determined to
figure out these trains. The automated ticket machine was
definatly a great stop, as it allowed me to locate a train
headed to Orvieto and print it. I avoided a train station
entrepreneur; he approached me offering help, but would no
doubt be expecting a big tip. They had large mechanical
screens with the train departures times that flipped as the
schedule was updated. At first I was distressed because
none of the trains said “Orvietto.” However, I soon
realized that my inter-city train was just a northbound
train that stops briefly at my destination. It is
comforting to know that train travel is not difficult. I
spent the ride reading up on the history of Orvieto and its
famous Cathedral.

Not far from the train platform at new Orvietto was the
station for the furnicular, a century old tram that ascends
to the historic city-centre. It was at this time, I was
struck with a strong sense of déjà vu –I had been here
almost four years ago! Yes, this indeed was one of the few
visits sights the Walsh Jesuit High School Latin Class
visited in the journey between Rome and Florence! This
provided a lesson in the value of recording one’s travels.
I had wanted to revisit that town in which we had stopped
on our class’ busride from Rome to Florence. Ironically, I
had just stumbled into it!

The furnicular was memorable. Two small cars depart every
fifteen minutes, one from the base and one from the top.
As we ascended the force of the descending car pulled us.
It was like the cars played chicken since we were on the
same track. There was a switch in the middle, allowing us
to neatly avoid collison. It all seemed overly dramatic
like something out of Indiana Jones Temple of Doom.

My suspisions regarding my previous trip were confirmed
when I located the La Rocca public park. It had walkways
like battlements and I remembered the group pictures we
took with the backdrop of rolling hills. It was that
moment in 2000 when I knew I wanted to come back and spend
more time here. Although we visited many more well-known
cities like Paris and London, this Italian region was
intoxicating to the senses. Again, even though the view
obscured by dark clouds, the scene took me aback.

Unfortuantly, a good deal of the cathedral was covered by
scaffolding. The church itself is made of black and white
striped marble. The façade was this amazing mix of
sculpture and mosaic that comes unexpectadly comes into
view with a rainbow of colors. My favorite was the bas
relief depiction of the final judgment. The cathedral was
founded to commemorate a supposed miracle in which a host
bleed during consecration. Inside was an elaborate vessel
to hold the relic, a blood-stained altar linen.

My favorite stop was at the Moorish Tower. It was a large
belltower situated in the center of the city. Apparently a
portion of the structure had been converted into an art
exihibition. My 1.72 euro combined ticket allowed me to
visit the top of the tower and the current photography
visit. The “Mostre Fotografiche” was really an unexpected
find. The theme Musica and Fotografiche was tackled by
about half a dozen artists. I liked Gianni Berengo Gardin,
in particular and his “Sguardi d’autore.” I am not sure if
I will be able to locate any of this online later.
Apparently much of the acclaimed Umbrian Jazz Festival
occurs in Orvieto.

Unfortunatly after looking at photographs for forty
minutes, I had only sixteen minutes to climb the 250 steps
and take in the view before closing. I made it up before
the bells came off at a quarter to the hour (I really flew
up the stairs) and got to see it from the exposed bellfry.
Amazing view. My favorite stop in every city have to be
the belltowers.

Saturday February 28, 2004

Weird weather today with varying moments of sunshine, rain,
and hail. A good day to see a museum. I left after lunch
with Eric and took the Metro to Barberini. Unfortunately
we found a sign outside Convento d. Cappuccini that the
display was closed for renovations. I still remember my
visit from 2000 to the strange and macabre art made out of
the bones of 4000 Cappucini monks and orphans.

We entered the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica on Via
Barberini. The gallery was in the old mansion of the
Barberini family. Rivals of the Medici they had several
popes and their legacy remains for their patronage of the
arts. Their symbols (found in a lot of the art they
commissioned) were the sun and the more distinctive bees.
There was a good deal of Bernini, he was favored by the
Barberini pope that commissioned the new St Peters
Basilica. Indeed there were few art exhibits that were not
exclusively Christian. Thus there was a good number of
busts by the artist of the Popes. Several of the rooms had
really amazing ceiling frescoes. In one room there was a
sofa and I lied down to stare up at it. There were a few
Carravagios, most notably the beheading of…(can’t remember
the full title at the moement). There were certainly a lot
of common themes represented: St. Jerome, St. Sebastian
grouped with saints like St. Francis of Assisi, a whole lot
of pictures featuring Jesus and St. John the Baptist, and a
plethora of the holy family. There were also paintings by
El Greco, Titian, and Raphael.

I split off from Eric who had plans to meet up with his St.
Mary’s girl, Katie. Walking a block north, I reached Sta.
Maria della Vittoria, the church with a number of Bernini
commissions. The famous “St. Theresa in Ecstasy” was there
and I got some decent pictures.