Rome-ing : sometimes in the gloaming.

Such a lovely word – gloaming; it reminds me of my Scottish ancestry and not just because of its insertion in the song of the same name. I am nowhere near the “bonny banks of Clyde” though I will be in September! Meantime in recent times I have been enjoying that special gloaming time of day (you can look it up !!) here near Orvieto in Umbria.

But first la bella Roma.
I spent just a day or two there – getting spectacularly lost every day. I feel sure my telephone was reversing or turning the map around every time I switched it on.  As a result, I walked many more km  than I intended. In fact I can tell you that I walked exactly 11 km that day (12,106) steps. To my surprise, my iPhone has an App that has been monitoring me all this time but only yesterday did a clued up youngster alert me!! Anyway, I did a bloody lot of walking. If I never see the Presiential Palace again that’s fine by me.

I could not resist a quick look at at St Peter’s Square – and was surprised it wasn’t as crowded as past visits indicated. Despite being July and the height of tourist season, it allowed me a few minutes in the shade. Now don’t ask why but – as a memento – I bought a small set of rosary beads in a nearby air-conditioned store.  Not out of any religiosity on my part – solely because they seemed to have beads coloured in the shades of the rainbow and that gave me an ironic laugh. I also bought a little booklet which explained how they worked (you could call that a refresher as I have not “done” a rosary bead for 50+ years but me being me, I needed to know). Price ? A grand total of 6 Euros.  A bargain. Or so it seemed.

As I left the area and retraced a path through countless souvenir and snack stands, my eye was taken with a notice repeated everywhere: Rosaries 12 for 10 Euros!!  Ten whole sets – and bigger than mine by far – for only twice what I had paid for One! My Scottish blood surged as I contemplated adding  dozen to my shopping (and my over-full luggage) but divine intervention intervened, reminding me that NO-ONE I know would thank for for a set of rosary beads. Some might even try to strangle me with them … so I moved on.  With a quick pic or two.

That is a very smartly attired young Swiss Guard in his everyday clothes on the right, by the way.

My brief Roman holiday at an end, I returned – once again overloaded with luggage – to my travels. Having now mastered the Rome Metro system and with train tickets already downloaded onto my computer for presentation at Roma Termini (as the main station is called), I left my friend Rosie’s suburban apartment by taxi to metro to Termini, all in perfect time. Indeed, early enough for a short pit-stop overlooking some of Mussolini’s vanity station building, though I was more interested in some water and a snack. Treating myself to a 1st class rail ticket (as prices as surprisingly cheap here) I sat back and relaxed for my hour’s run to Orvieto. Only to realise as we were at the point of departure that somewhere between Rosie’s and the railway I had lost a little wallet and note book. So what, you might say, and fair enough. But the wallet also held my driving licences – both Australian and UK.

It’s a sinking feeling is it not, when something goes amiss? First thoughts, of course: pickpockets! But since my wallet was adjacent to the little notebok in a particular section of my “man-bag” I was pretty sure I had simply let it drop out in the taxi, on the metro, at the cafe, wherever. I gritted my teeth and resisted the temptation to retrace my steps since the lovely Dutch couple I was headed to stay with would already been en route to pick me up at Orvieto and I did not want our first meeting to start with me being an hour late!
To be honest I was actually more miffed with the fact that the notebook and its pen are from Mont Blanc – and therefore not cheap and, more importantly, a souvenir and happy reminder of the Butler course I did some years back. I could sort out the licences. Which I did – and you’ll be delighted to hear I won’t bore you with the online and telephonic ramifications that followed. Suffice to say I have a printed out Interim Licence from Australia and a form awaits me in the UK which will restore that licence in a week or so!

As for the Mont Blacn wallet and pen, my birthday is October 13th, thanks.

Now, the lovely Dutch couple, Edith & Willem have lived near Orvieto for over 10 years. They are retired judges from The Netherlands and I know they are lovely because we have “Skyped”. Even though he is some years older than I am, and she is about the same age as me, modern technology has left none of us behind. We can Skype, Spotify, WhatsApp and Google with the best!  I am undertaking what is called a Workaway project. I provide a few hours labour a day (tasks to be negotiated) in return for B&B and other meals. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Indeed, I could not possibly be roaming around Europe in this cavalier fashion if hotel bills were on the agenda. My first workday (so to speak) was Friday but – since there is a fellow Workawayer here (Robert is also Dutch, but virtually a grandchild to us) – it has been decided that he has been working too hard and therefore we are having Saturday and Sunday doing touristy things! A delightful drive followed on Saturday thorugh various Umbrian / Tuscan villages with a lunch stop in one of the innumerable hilltop towns – today is was Citta della Pieve.

It’s claim to fame being the painter they called Perugino (after the Umbrian capital city – Perugia).  They have most of his works, but Citta has two things : a church with his work on the walls that cannot be moved, and a self portrait of the man himself. Which could be moved, but there would be a great bit Italian fight I suspect.


I feel sure he will appear again before this weekend is over. But onwards to Sunday and to Orvieto.

Which is an Etruscan city set – as most of their cities are – on an outcrop of the local, quite soft stone called Tufa or tufo. A volcanic limestone that remains when other stone is washed away over the centuries, leaving a readily-defendable outcrop.  The Etruscans preceded both the Greeks and the Romans and were resident in the areas we now called Tuscany, Umbria and art of Lazio, around the 8th to 3rd centuries BC. They have left art and their use of the tufa landscape for building their homes and excavating caves. Here at Edith & Willem’s they have at least two Etruscan caves dug into the hill behind the house, the front parts of which have been modernised, but the back – cool and dark as you would expect a cave – is unchnaged and still bears the tools marks of the arched carved ceilings. Too dark for my camera pictures, but you’ll see some cave pics from Orvieto instead.

A Cave! Plus on the right, the smallest street (in the world, it says!!). Called – my translation – Kiss Alley – since if you meet a lady coming the other way, both must squeeze by each other and grab a quck kiss as you go! Allegedly. I would not fancy trying it on a 21st century Orvietana! Good old sexism still alive here, I fear. My request for what you did if you met a man in the Alley was not helpfully answered!

Moving on – it is a wonderful city – once an ally of Sienna, and of Florence and favoured by Popes (etc etc – as is Everywhere!). But we visited on a special fair day:  that of Corpus Christi when the whole town it seems turns out in medieval gear to parade around the old city. Divided into various contrada – quarters/areas – each has a special flag, colours and they are fiercely supported. Each contrada marches with a drum band, and dignatories through the ages follow, as do all the town trades (something like the Merchant Guilds seen in the UK). Followed by today’s Mayors, Councillors, local Fire, Police etc and and more or less the world and his wife,

The Festa starts allegedly at 10 am – but actually nearer 11.30. Mercifully, after an early start, my hosts parked us near a convenient Funicular (since cars are banned from the upper town) and by 10.30 we were neatly stowed in a pavement cafe on the parade route and enjoying the endless passing by of locals, visitors and the sundry nutter (see below).

In case you’re thinking otherwise, the ‘nutter” is not me ! I happened upon an ancient and beautifully restored Moto Guzzi motorbike. The Italians will tell you these far surpass Harley Davison or Enfield bikes – it certainly was very stylish.  Here’s the nutter:


Dressed as one would wish a Franciscan barefoot brother, with a goat, a sheep, some chickens, three geese and a dog.  I could not resist a pic, but fled when I thought that (a) he was going to ask me for money or (b) entice me along with the group!

We had a very lovely lunch – thoughtfully pre-booked by Willem – since we would have been hard-pushed to find a place anywhere. But we were in Locanda del Lupo – in a shaded spot in the back garden with special attention from several bright and breezy waiters. Edith & Willem not only visit in the summer, but as residents they also support the place in the colder, darker months and clearly that support is appreciated, if the open-hearted hospitality was the result. There’s a local dish of what is basically roast pork complete with crackling which set me up for ther afternoon’s jaunting……..

We covered most of the city in an hour or two – including the caves you saw earlier which extend through the under-tufa of several adjacent buildings. Probably down 60 20 meteres (60 feet or more).
The Duomo (Cathedral) is a magnificent riot of pink, white and black stone on the front, cascading with statues and carvings, whilst the side are plain black and white stone / marble stripes. We can see this building from the garden at Willem & Ediths – some 25 miles away!

cat!cat 2

A typical gate entry to a city like Orvieto  – and a lovely balcony that Juliet herself would have been proud of. Had she been real!   Though who knows what is real : I had the strangest moment inanother church today – in front of a painting caled Our Lady of the Rosary (I kid you not) there stood a life-size figure of another Madonna. In grey, carved in wood and probably 700 / 800 years old. She had such a lifelike exression of gentle sadness on her face, I could not resist standing and looking at her. I wanted to touch her hand, since I became convnced she would breathe or even speak if I did so. I could not resist bringing my fellow tourists back later to look at her. A strangely wonderful moment.
This same church has inscribed on the memorial tablet of a long-deceased Bishop:
“I leave my heart to my diocese; The poor have nothing to leave”.  Not sure I understand quite what he means, but it seems like a noble sentiment!

And so, dear reader I will leave you!  I realise I haven’t yet started on what I am actually doing for my supper etc. Certainly not singing, though Willem has a huge collection of CDs from all over. His favourite is Blues / Jazz.  But we also get what he says is Australian outback folk music, south american salsa, blue grass, Credence Clearwater Revival and a host of others. They also have almost every vinyl record from the 60s and 70s – just as I once did. Every sleeve I pulled out from the shelves was an album I knew. By chance they are all stored in the little cabin (beside the pool) where I sleep. But more of that next time.

I can’t finish without saying that my home city – London – doesn’t need reciprocating attacks as seems to have happened in Finsbury Park against Muslims at or near a community mosque. That cannot be a way to go forward, otherwise how are we any different?

As it happens – it is now 8.30pm and by coincidence, the time of the gloaming. Goodnight.

Love and Light.


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