We slept well after our repeat dinner at 13 Gobbi. I had exactly the same things as last time. The place was completely full and the host and a single waiter served the whole restaurant (2 rooms) efficiently. Our host was pleased to see us again. Boris had made a reservation and he thanked us for speaking Italian. There were Italian, English, and German speakers in the restaurant that night and his language skills were being tested.
The morning was cloudy and foggy and I went about packing the rest of our things. (Yea, all the clothes dried.) Mariella arrived just before 10 am and we got the checkout business handled. We had the heater on about half the time we were here and the heating charge was $100. This was exactly the price difference from our earlier selected date, so it all came out in the wash.
With the fog, our drive to the Autostrada was not as picturesque as it has been in previous days. We drove through Tuscany, Umbria, and just after crossing into Lazio exited at Orte in the direction of Virterbo. Orte is one of those cliff-hanging cities that looks like it is about to fall down the hillside at any minute. There is also an wonderful aqueduct on the right side of the city as you head south on the A1. Orte, originally the Etruscan city of Hurta, is an important stop on the Florence-Rome railway.
At our exit, I heard the best line of the day. There was a statute of the Virgin Mary just at the exit ramp. Boris noticed too and added “Ah, Our Lady of the Autostrada.” That one I deem to be a classic.
You will notice that we didn’t visit some of the major Tuscan cities; that it not to say you should skip Florence, Siena, and San Gigmignano. All are fabulous must-see cities in Tuscany. We went to all of them on our honeymoon. We focused on the cities south of Siena and Eastern Tuscany where we had spent little time before.
Umbria is similar to Tuscany, but a little more rough and rugged. My impression is that it is less manicured, but just as special to visit. We loved both Orvieto and Assisi, and the countryside near Todi when we visited. Lazio is the region of Italy where Rome is located.
We enjoyed a nice highway drive into Viterbo, an ancient papal city. Entering was a bit of a problem with a single car-width gate with no traffic light. You were dependent on the outbound traffic to give one inexperienced in Italian driving a break. Once in, we followed one-way narrow streets through the ancient city touring by car. We found a spot only to have the proprietor come out and ask us to move. It was not a no parking zone, but it was easier to move than argue in Italian. There were people everywhere and the parking availability was nil. We were about to give up when someone pulled out and we pulled in right next to a pedestrian-only zone near the large Piazza del Plebiscito.
I have often heard that shopping was the #1 activity while people are on vacation, and the visitors to Viterbo, 50 km from Rome, were out to prove that. The stores were far busier than the historical sites. After wandering around the Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza Mario Fani while Boris read his guidebook, we returned to the Piazza del Plebiscito which has been the administrative center of the city since the 13th century, and headed south past the Piazza del Gesu and its churches and Piazza della Morte to the Cathedral.
The Cathedral and its bell tower dominate the Plaza of San Lorenzo, but it is the Loggia of the Papal Palace which draws your attention. A wide staircase leads up to the beautiful entwined arches and the fountained patio. From this hillside location, you have a wonderful view of the city below (and the construction site of a major church renovation).
Viterbo’s Cathedral is on the site of an ancient Etruscan city (some of the Etruscan ruins are marked as you enter Piazza San Lorenzo) and a reputed temple dedicated to Hercules. Viterbo became a papal residence as early as 1145, when Pope Eugene IV deemed it a safer seat for papal authority than Rome. The Papal Palace was built in 1255-1266. When Clement IV ended his papacy there, a three year vacancy lead to what is considered to be the first Conclave in the history of the Roman Catholic Church (think white and black smoke). The Conclave was held here in Viterbo.
The medieval section of San Pellegrino is near Plaza San Lorenzo just east of Piazza della Morte. One could easily spend hours roaming around it. Boris was exhausted after the climb to the Cathedral, so we opted for lunch at Piazza del Gesu instead. There were lovely outside tables connected with our restaurant which sat on the Piazza overlooking the fountain and two churches, but the weather was dreary and cold, so like all the other patrons we chose a table inside. For my last meal in Italy, I ordered a prosciutto and funghi (ham and mushroom) pizza. Boris had spaghetti carbonara (one of my favorite pasta dishes) and a pizza (and two big-but not super-beers).
After lunch, Boris had had enough and we were losing light so we went back to the car about 3 pm. In classic Italian style, all the shops were closed tight and suddenly parking spaces were available everywhere. We determined a new route to take the A12 to the airport and headed southeast to the coast. Just as we were leaving, I saw the best view of the day looking back up at the loggia to the Cathedral from the bottom of the hill. Breathtaking, but I was driving and there were cars behind me. We had no problem exiting the same city gate we came in; this time there was no traffic coming at us.
It was a pretty nice two lane road down to Civitavecchia, aka the Cruise Port city for Rome. We saw an ancient aqueduct that stretched for a quarter of a mile, only to turn and see the ruins continue. For a while we got to drive along the coast and enjoy the beautiful waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea, an arm of the Mediterranean, as we drove the A12/E80 to Leonardo Da Vinci Airport (Fiumicino).
The A roads are toll, but don’t all follow the same procedures for payment. On the A12 heading up to Tuscany, we took a ticket when we got on and paid when we got off. On the A12, you stop at two toll gates, paying a set price each time. That is unless you miss your exit and have to go again. (foreshadowing).
The A12 dumps you into a highway which goes south to the airport or north into Rome. When we got to the airport (our Hilton is inside with walkways directly into the terminals), there was no sign posting for the Hilton. We drove all around it, asked a police officer and finally went around to try again. Except, as it turns out, there was no way to turn around. Boris suggested another exit and we ended up back on the A12 headed away from the airport. At which point, we drove, got off, paid, got back on, and paid again. This time he had called the hotel. Then we wound around the cargo and remote parking areas coming to the Hilton Garden Inn and came in the employee entrance-only they wouldn’t let us in the lot. So we went around again. Boris went in and found out that we indeed were staying at the Airport Hilton, not the Hilton Garden Inn. They gave us a map.
As it turns out you have to follow the sign posting for rental car return. (The original plan had been to return the car after dropping off our luggage. If you follow the rental car return lane, returns are on your left, the hotel (easily spotted now) is on your right. We dropped off bags and the bellmen could tell our frustration, so one followed us in the courtesy van to rental car return and brought us back. It was really difficult at this point because it was already dark and the the signs are small. (If you are a regular blog follower, you know how I feel about driving after dark in Italy. Again, I was not happy.)
When we finally made it to the hotel, Boris just went straight to the room and I finished up the paperwork and took care of our driver and bellman. At least we are on the floor with the lounge with free drinks and wifi. I am still not exactly sure how I will get Boris in a wheelchair and all to the luggage to the terminal (probably two trips for me). But that is tomorrow problem. So Boris is eating a hamburger from room service (outrageously priced) and I am writing to you all with a sign off from Italy. Arrividerci.