Orviety, Italy – in the heart of Umbria
Since my arrival in Italy, I have taken once weekly Italian classes with my wonderful colleague, Chiara–a Genovese local who I adore. In the beginning, our class had six teachers, yet by the end, it was me, Louise (Maths), and Peter (History/TOK). School days for teachers can be long and hectic, with a constant barrage of questions and tasks, prepping and grading, followed by tutoring, more prepping, and more grading after school. Yet, we nearly always made it at 3:45 for Italian and our slow and steady progress tackling a new language. Sometimes we’d surprise our classmates with wine and/or cheese and snacks, and often we’d add an extra class down by the sea during aperitivo to practice Italian language, inviting others to join for 5 euros each. The combination of structured lessons, games and grammar (oh, grammar is so hard for me in foreign languages — why? I have a stellar memory!) and these “Italian-only” speaking sessions have really pushed my language skills.
My language is not fluid or beautiful or quick, yet I can say what I need to in many situations. For my last hair appointment, I even found myself chatting with my stylist. I can order food and drinks (let’s be honest–I took care of that in the first week); call Vodafone regarding problems with my internet; flirt with a cute guy; ask for hiking recommendations; order tickets at the train station with special requests; and most recently, I was able to cancel my bancomat (ATM card) at my bank all in Italian, received instructions on how to go to the police station to report it lost, then filled out the report with the Caribiniari all in Italian. This was an inconvenient and stressful situation that led me to realize that I’m acclimating to the language quite well and know more than I realize. While listening and reading are much stronger, I am finally able to speak.
For the past year or so, Chiara has mentioned that she wanted to do a trip for Italian class. “Let’s go somewhere!” she said enthusiastically. “Let’s speak Italian on a trip.” We checked our busy schedules (and as you can imagine, free weekends for me are really rare). Yet finally, we coordinated the first weekend of April hoping for the bloom of Spring. I suggested Orvieto, Italy. Orvieto is a gorgeous hill town in the heart of Umbria (near Perugia, which you may know for both chocolate and Amanda Knoxx). I know Orvieto because my alma mater, Fordham University, used to have a summer program in Orvieto. I could have studied creative writing or film for a stunning month, but I didn’t want to give up my amazing lifeguarding job that was a decent hourly rate to be in the sunshine plus 20 bucks a half hour for swim lessons. 40 bucks an hour for a college student in 1999? Bella! But I remember the gorgeous Duomo on the cover, and the tales of beauty from my friends who did study there. It stayed in my mind, yet somehow over my dozens and dozens of European trips over the years, I never made it. My colleagues were enthusiastic about Orvieto, and Chaira hadn’t been, so we began planning.
We invited anyone who had taken Italian with Chiara over the past four semesters as well as the other after school Italian teacher, Manuela. (We were in the Beginner Plus class, those who had some prior familiarity with the language before. I studied it for one afterschool program in 5th grade as well as one year of college “Spoken Italian.” I’m sad to say that while the first semester went well, the second semester, my professor was a flake who rarely showed up, and we found ourselves trying to teach ourselves spoken Italian with a book. Suffice it to say, my language skills were lacking. So you can imagine how thrilled I was to have the ever optimistic, great and fun Chiara!) Ultimately, it was me, Chiara, Manuela, Louise, Peter, Etmae (grade 3), Nick (IT), and his girlfriend Kelsey (Kindergarten). Group trips can be so fun!
So, we bought our tickets online for two-for-one Saturday specials, and headed off for the 7.5-hour journey, but the time passed very quickly with sleeping, laughing, sharing stories, and gazing at the ever- impressive views along the way.
I’m glad I made the train! I had a scooter accident the evening before, on my way out for “American Style” burgers with friends, I had opted to keep my heels on, even though it was chilly. I was going up my street, and a speeding car darted out and cut me off, giving me no other option but to cut to the right to avoid hitting him. When you do that on a scooter, you’re gonna tip. I was lucky I was going slow, although I smashed the right side mirror with my upper thigh, broke the buckle of my shoe with the road and the top of my foot, and scraped my foot and ankle for a super nasty road rash. I also scratched my right elbow through my blue Mango peacoat. I was sad things got ruined, and I was in a lot of pain, but I was able to get up and walk away. The jerky driver sped away from the accident he caused, yet two men who were on scooters nearby ran over to help me up, get my bike started again, and ask if I was ok. “A posto? A posto?” In my frenzied state, I answered in English “Yeah, I’m fine” but then switched to Italian after noting their quizzical looks. In any case, I went off to dinner after cleaning my wounds at a friend’s house, and the next day I felt like I was hit by a truck, even though it was a scooter. I was lucky I didn’t break any bones, and Stella was still rocking, so all good. I did, however, improperly fill the gas tank after the accident (probably because I was shaken up), so I ran out of gas on the main road to the train station. I had to roll the scooter, then ditch her on a side street, hail a cab, and made it to the platform just in time!
So, we had a brief stop for lunch in Florence. It wasn’t the main station, so we had to wander a bit for food, yet were delighted with some Kebab and Falafel as well as beers, why not?
The laughter and chaos had already started, although the Italian conversation had not. Shortly after, the rolling hills and sunflowers of Tuscany gave way to the rugged and more dramatic hills of Umbria. Then finally, Orvieto.
I had organized the booking at an adorable villa/B&B with views of the city perched on its hill. It was a short walk to the funicular up to the city, or a long winding walk.
Fun fact: This Neopolitan song was written in 1800 for the opening of the first funicular on Mount Vesuvius! How very Italian! And it’s hard not to think of it when riding one.
We rode the funicular and were in awe of the stunning views, savoring the peaceful feeling, the fresh air, the calm, and the excitement of being away. It was also fun to all be together, a group that normally wouldn’t travel together, yet a group that got along quite well. We spent much time taking photos, and noting our hotel in the distance. Whenever we were facing that direction, inevitably, someone would call out “There’s our hotel!”
We visited the Duomo, with its bold and stunning frescoes and gilded mosaics, explored inside where they had a relic. Apparently, a doubting priest broke the Eucharist for mass, and the bread bled all over his white vestment. The brown-stained vestment is on display inside the Church for many to view and wonder. Chiara had explained this along with other sites, food and history via readings she had selected for us to study in the classes prior to our trip. Fun.
The inside also had the image and words of many famous Italian writers. It was lovely to be inside, and my admission was a treat from Chiara. Only a few of us went inside. The rest were basking in the sunshine, content to just be. We then wandered the quaint and well-kept medieval streets. I ducked into a pharmacy to get some better coverings for my wounds, then we had amazing gelato. My cone had a surprise chocolate center, that I apparently couldn’t stop talking about.
Later, we visited St. Patrick’s well, for a long vertigo-fueled walk down. At night, we went to wine tasting, where they brought delicious local treats while we sampled several wines from the region–all amazing. Our group grew more and more tipsy, although we still didn’t use our Italian. Every time I’d say “Ok, solo Italiano per quindici minuti” – a minute later someone would say something in English and it would all be over. Nobody seemed to mind.
Then our group wandered the streets, looking for dinner. It appears our antics were unwanted in several locations, although we were welcomed into one where I had one of my favorite meals in Italy. The food in Orvieto is fantastic! I had Mezzaluna pasta stuffed with something amazing and in a buttery, savory sauce that I can’t describe. It was delightful. More wine, more fun, and then a bunch took a cab home. A few of us wanted to walk.
We found the trail that took us down the cliffs under the stars, yet it was so dark we could barely see. I worried about wild boars attacking us. Nick thought it would be funny to say “There’s one!” and I shrieked. Finally we made it down and onto the road towards our hotel. Unfortunately, the road didn’t have a pedestrian lane, and one of my colleagues tripped and fell into the road, just before a car that stopped just in time. My colleague was more worried about the wine bottled that had rolled into the street, yet I’m happy to say that both are unharmed.
The next morning, we enjoyed a sumptuous breakfast spread with peaceful views, walked along the cliffs and to ancient Etruscan ruins framed by the blossoms of spring, a ladybug landed on me (good luck!), and then back to the train for the long journey back. It was a gorgeous and peaceful getaway with great company. We still say “I miss Orvieto,” when we see each other. Orviet OH MY!