Travel Journal

Italy Road Trip, 11/24-12/1: Calcata & Orvieto

(Thursday 25 November 2010) by Joanne Chang
Yikes, I can't believe I'm taking off tomorrow on this road trip, I'm super excited and completely terrified! Mostly terrified of crashing the car, getting completely lost, not being able to navigate AND drive while Italian cars are coming at me from every angle, honking because I have no idea where I'm going. Ay. Well, here we go. I've spent hours (and hours) planning this trip, from itinerary to hotels and winery visits. If I can just get to where I need to be when, it will be a smashing success.

I didn't get full insurance...God help me.
I didn't get full insurance...God help me.

11/24: Calcata (to see how Italian hippies live)
11/25: Orvieto (wine and art)
11/26 to 11/28: Chianti (wine)
11/28 (day): San Miniato (truffle festival!)
11/28 to 12/1: Montalcino & Montepulciano. (more wine)

***Calcata, 11/24***
I'm trying to love Calcata, I really am. But the room I'm staying in is freezing cold (no heat), dirty (dishes in the sink, cigarette butts -- I booked ahead but they forgot to expect me), and costs more than I paid in Rome if you count the wood I bought for the fireplace, but it won't light and I've been trying for over an hour. Everything smells like campfire and I'm eating beans out of a jar because all the restaurants are closed. I can see my breath! I feel like an idiot, why can't I start a fire?? I think everything in here is a little damp. Even the cardboard won't light. I have my boots on and my toes are starting to feel numb. I have a bottle of wine and am tempted to drink the whole thing so I can pass out. It feels like 40 degrees in here. At least there's no wind, ha ha. I am actually partially having fun, partially miserable. I give myself credit for being here, many people would have bolted by now. But this is how traveling goes, you get lucky and unlucky. It was fun to try to light the fire, not fun failing. Fun sitting here bundled up writing, not fun wondering how I'm going to sleep tonight. Fun being here alone so I don't have to listen to anyone complain.
Streets of Calcata
Streets of Calcata

The town itself is adorable, extremely old, and perched high, high above a national park and river, kind of like a chimney coming out of the ground. Several decades ago, hippies and artists discovered it abandoned (the town had been evacuated by the government, deeming it unsafe after an earthquake) and they colonized it. It's still a really quiet place (especially in the winter, maybe because there's no indoor heating here), little artists studios and dimly lit alleyways, a little church and, well, that's about it. I came here to see the Italian hippies, but it seems they're all grown now. The streets are empty and dark. I meet Guiseppe though, while wandering on the outskirts of town, he's lived here 30 years and has the biggest smile on his face as he tells me in Italian how magical this place is. His enthusiasm may be the highlight of Calcata.

***Orvieto, 11/25-11/26***
After Calcata I don't feel compelled to visit another nearly-uninhabited hill town, and I'm exhausted from the night before so I skip Civita di Bagnoreggio and go straight to Orvieto. Orvieto is another hill town, perched up on, well, a hill! It's like the little sister of Siena, typically Italian with the narrow winding cobblestone streets, charming shops and cafes, wine everywhere and a huge Duomo in the center. Also touristy but because it's November and really cold and rainy, there are few people around but more than Calcata. I get there at lunch time, and I need to eat! The restaurant just to the side of the Duomo has steak tartare on their menu and I can't resist -- I've yet to have it in Italy -- so I put off the tagliatelle with truffles decide to save that for dinner. The tartare is delicious, with parmesan cheese and a black olive tapenade, and toasted bread and olive oil. I enjoy it with a glass of Umbrian Sangiovese/Cabernet, appreciating everything about my meal. It's a nice restaurant, and there are several tables full of couples and groups of people eating multi-course meals and thinking back I wonder if I looked strange to them, dining alone. Dining alone has become a natural pastime for me, a respite from bopping around, being able to sit and relax, and read, write or study a map with a glass of wine while someone feeds me. It's a treat. But I wasn't always able to do it so comfortably. I like that I can.

During lunch it starts pouring outside, and I decide to head to my hotel just outside the center and return in the evening to treat myself to a nice Thanksgiving dinner (I actually forgot today was Thanksgiving until I received an email from Vicky, thanks Vick!). The hotel is great, just a few euros more than what I paid in Calcata but luxurious in comparison -- modern, clean, large and heated. I turn the heat on high and get so toasty and comfy I can't seriously consider going back out in the cold and rain, even if it is Thanksgiving. All I want to do is cozy up and rest, and George reminds me that that's what Thanksgiving is all about -- a day of rest to do nothing if you want to. Yay.

  • Happy Thanksgiving by Joyce Chang

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