The jury is still out on Orvieto

If you find yourself contemplating a few days in Rome, I hazard that any guidebook will mention Orvieto as a possible day trip.  It isn’t far.  Unlike much of Tuscany, it is easy to access by train (so I’ve been told.)  It’s a beautiful city that can provide a nice contrast to Rome, particularly if you are short on time.

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After scrapping our plans for a bigger trip because of the weather, we headed to Orvieto on the Monday of MLK weekend.  The weather had finally cleared and, even though it was still chilly, we could see glorious sunshine.

It took us a minute to make sure we were in the right parking area.  It took us several more minutes to locate where to purchase tickets for the funicular.  (I think you can usually get them at the ticket office, but everything was closed, and we purchased them in the cafe through the train station.)  That’s right–for this hill town, you get to funicular on up into town.  This was probably the highlight of Henry’s visit.  I was a little disappointed, but that’s on me because I, for no good reason, associate funiculars with gondolas and would have been thrilled by nothing less than sailing through the air.

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We funicular-ed up along with, what seemed to be, a middle school tour group.  Granted, they were probably in college, but wow, kids look so young now.  Do you ever do that?  Look at people that can drive or order booze with disbelief and then start wondering where your walker is?  No?  Anyways, these kids were unleashed on the town with only an hour to wander.  That’s something I really like about living here.  Maybe my kids make it harder to travel and I’m not seeing everything, but I have time.  If I don’t get to see everything I want on one trip, I can come back.

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Strike 1.  There is a shuttle from the top of the funicular into the center of town.  We should have taken it.  We didn’t.  I’m used to Tuscan hill towns that are teeny tiny.  Orvieto is not as small.  It would have been a fine walk for any able-bodied person, but we blew a lot of toddler good will on the trek.  For some reason, we opted not to stroller on this outing.  Mistake.

Orvieto has caves that sound pretty sweet, but we opted not to brave those this time.  It was cold enough above ground.  That was Strike 2.  I was crazy excited about the sunny weather, but the buildings were just tall enough that everything was in the shade.  This would be great in the summer.  Less ideal in January.

We did hit the Orvieto Cathedral, a shockingly large undertaking given the size of the town.  The facade closely resembles the Duomo in Siena.

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It was very beautiful and impressive, but I think we are starting to suffer from a bit of church ennui.  Trust me, I know it sounds very bratty to say it, but if you see lots of amazing, ridiculous churches, you start to become a little immune to them.  It takes something really, truly impressive to blow your socks off.  I know other travelers would tell you the same.

The town itself was nice.  Winding alleys, beautiful homes.  It is definitely different than Rome.  It just wasn’t a town that grabbed me.  It didn’t feel as charming some other places we’ve visited.  I don’t know.  I don’t want to knock the town.  It really is something.  But if I had one day trip opportunity from Rome, I don’t think this would be it.

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Strike 3.  I had big lunch plans.  A friend mentioned that she had out of this world pasta with pecorino and honey.  Umm, yes, please.  We stalled until 12:30 and then headed to Trattoria del Moro Aronne.  After a few twists and turns, we found it.  We also found a handwritten sign stating that they were closed until February 20.  (Remember – we went in January.)  WHAT?  No pasta oozing cheese and honey?

I pulled it together.  After learning my lesson before, I had a backup.  We headed to Trattoria la Grotta.  SAME SIGN.  Nooooooooooooooooo.  At this point, everyone was melting down.  The troops needed food.  I was melting down and getting snippier than I’d like to admit.  Knowing that the kids–particularly the baby–are hungry is a big pressure point for me.

Thankfully, there was a backup to the backup.  Caffe Montanucci to the rescue.  They have premade pastas and sandwiches in a spacious cafe.  We got food fast and James snagged a carafe of an excellent Orvieto Classico.  They even had a high chair.

Overall, it was a fun adventure.  Not the adventure we had planned for that weekend, but I was glad to see something new and check something off the list.

But I couldn’t get that pasta out of my head.

So I did what any rational person would do, and I took to the internets.  I found a few people waxing nostalgically about the pasta.  The Internationalista took it a step further and got the recipe from the very restaurant that had denied me my cheesy, honey goodness.

I finally got around to making it this weekend.  I want to tell you that this story has a happy ending.  Girl doesn’t have perfect day in Orvieto but gains exotic new pasta recipe for life.  I want to make that true for you.

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It was a bechamel fail.  I don’t know if I added the flour too fast or the pan was too hot, but instead of sauce, I had a gloppy mess.  Even after I added the milk and cream, it more sticky than sauce-y.  I kept adding milk and cream but it was all for naught.

Then I forgot to save some of the “sauce” to pour on top.  I probably could have used more cheese.  (Because when is more cheese never not the answer?)  In the end, the pasta was sort of tasty, but definitely not a creamy, cheesy pasta to write home about.

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But I don’t think I can call Orvieto a three strikes and you’re out situation.  If you look at my strikes, two are because nobody expects sightseers in January and the other is because of our own stupidity.  I feel like we didn’t give the town a fair shake.  So we’ll be back.  I’ll have to go for the pasta at least.  Because goodness knows I’m not having any luck recreating that one on my own.

Been to Orvieto?  Have you had any travel destinations that redeemed themselves on a second visit?