Saturday, July 20, 2013


DAY 6, July 13, 2013
The travel part of traveling is never the best part of a journey. It's either cramped on a plane next to some guy who thinks it's alright to board a plane in a sleeveless t-shirt and dirt shorts sprouting hair out of places no other passenger should have to look at or rub up against, or having to rent a car from the friendly people at AVIS in the Rome airport. Let me explain the later. Once again I thought I had all my ducks in row. I had prearranged through Orbitz our car reservation, an economy automatic. I have never learned how to drive a stick even though I've been offered many opportunities to learn from driving aficionados who thought they had the hutzpah to meet the challenge and then decided once they had me behind the wheel that I was totally unteachable. We arrived at the airport in plenty of time for our appointed reservation but our cab driver's pigeon English only got us to the car pick-up and return area, not the rental desk. We're not very good packers (I'm giving Emmy and Rick the benefit of including myself in that category only to avoid what I know would be a major argument I'd never win and only regret). So the three of us had to traipse across one elevated walkway and three long corridors of conveyor transporting people movers with three suitcases that had all maxed out on the weight limit for airplane shippable luggage, three carry-ons also now extended to the oversized category, a bag of gifts that we had only begun to collect and a folio with all our documents and reservations to the rental area. The rental area was packed with disgruntled travelers all waiting to confirm their reservations or hoping against hope that they could persuade the cantankerous agents behind the rental counters that they didn't think they needed a reservation and there must be cars available. Needless there was a lot of yelling and Italian hand gesturing going on. We wove our way through the mass of sweaty humans, many of the shirtless kind I mentioned before, saying, "Scusei scusi" as we tried to maneuver through the crow with all our big black luggage in tow. Once at the desk we grabbed a number and waited our turn. The attendant we ended up with was one of those smiley types wanting to squeeze every dime out of you on your rental. "Oh, you havea so much luggage, you needa bigger car" "I havea nice one and it's only twelve more euro a day." We bought into it all including a wifi gadget she assured us was a good buy we could hook up to our iphone and use it as a GPS. "It'sa very simple, the attendant at the pick-up desk will show you how ita works."
With our rental agreement in hand and I have no idea of how many hundreds of euros now attached to our new agreement we set off back through the sweating crowd, down the three corridors, over the elevated walkway and back to the point we had originally been dropped off at. When we were first dropped off at the then wrong desk there was barely a sole in sight. By the time we returned we were fourth in line and directly behind a family trying to rent two vans with booster seats and no Italian to help them make a distinction between a booster seat and a baby carrier.
When we finally got our car the first thing we tried to do was connect the wifi device, no luck. The plug they had given us at the other desk was for plugging the device into a wall socket. I don't know about you but I haven't seen many cars with wall sockets built into them. We needed one that would plug into a cigarette lighter. I can't believe they still put these lighters into cars but we are in Europe and apparently most Europeans haven't got the message about cigarette smoking being hazardous to your health. At this point my troop were getting restless and very, very hot. It was time to start the car and get the air conditioning going. I had a key that was more like a big lozenge than a key and a slot that sort of matched up. I stuffed that lozenge in to that hole in every way I could imagine but there was no way I could make that lozenge turn or engage the ignition. I had to get out and see if I could find someone who could explain how to start the car. I'm surprised they didn't grab the key out of my hand right there and then and tell me I was completely unqualified to drive their vehicle. It turns out you have to press on the brake when you simultaneously insert the lozenge and then somehow the car knows it's time to engage.
We still weren't ready to leave, no. We weren't going to leave until we could get the wifi to work or we could find that nice attendant we had been promised would be there to help us with the wifi even though the wifi was "very simple". We did spot one attendant who knocked on our hood and with two fingers pinched on his nose told us to turn the damn car off before we asphyxiated him and all other people trying to pick-up or drop off their cars.
It was back to the desk one more time. By now the line of people waiting for their cars had grown to around twelve. I busted in unable to face a wait at the end of the line or the wrath of my family sitting in an un-air conditioned car we could no longer turn on without the fear of a burly Italian putting his fist through the windshield of our asphyxiation machine. It turns out there is no kind attendant at the pick-up desk as promised by the attendant at the rental desk. The exasperated woman behind the desk finally told me the wifi wouldn't work in the confines of the garage. It would only work once we were outside. This, of course, was a ruse to get rid of me because once we were outside and no longer in earshot of any helpful attendant, try as we might, we couldn't get the device to recognize the password they had given us or even find a network to connect to. AVIS beware of the phone call you are about to get once we get back to a place were English swear words will be completely understood.

Once we had given up on the wifi we let memory take its course and I am very proud to say we made it all the way to our destination with only one slight miss turn. We were even able make a detour into the beautiful hill town of Orvieto for lunch and a little photo taking.
We were all pretty famished by this time so we stopped at one of the first restaurants we came across. The menu was regional and unbelievably delicious. The walls of the Antica Cantina were lined with framed placemats signed by what appeared to be Italian Opera Singers and Porn Stars, an odd but amusing mix. The interior was unusually well air-conditioned and the special of the day menu was filled with a gastronome's fantasy.
Emmy started out with crostini coated with a black truffle sauce
and Rick began with a panzanella of dried bread and vegetables that didn't sound all that appetizing but was incredibly savory and lite. Then Rick had a second appetizer as a main course of fried zucchini flowers stuffed with cheese and anchovies. It was crunchy and salty and burst with flavor the minute you bit into it. Emmy regretted here safe choice of spaghetti pomodoro that was fine but too sublime in comparison to our dishes.
I had the crowning jewel of the meal, an ombrichelli pasta alla norcina bathed in a crumbled sausage and black truffle sauce that made me lick my plate and give up any hopes of keep the ten pounds I lost to take this vacation off for the duration of this trip.
After lunch we waddled around the little alleys and cobblestone streets of Orvieto popping into a lavender store
and passing a small shop selling local goods. Mounted next to the entry was a boars head sporting a jaunty hat that would be the envy of the Bloggess, Jenny Lawson.
Of course the photogenic highlight of Orvieto is its Duomo
wrapped in alternating stripes of white and gray marble.
We happened to catch a group of preteen jeune fille marching to have their look at the cathedral atop the hill.
I made Emmy stand for a portrait to match one we had taken of her almost twelve years ago. She did the manipulation of the image. It's what she enjoys.

We reached Armena around five in the afternoon, the last to arrive. Our Dutch friends were already there. Alessandro and Stefania stood waving to us behind their new automatic gates leading into the farm.
Every time we come some new upgrades have been added to the grounds.
This time the entry into our apartment had been fenced in with its own entry gate and an amazing planter overflowing with petunias and guiding lights to illuminate the night.
Stefania had prepared a huge dinner for all of us that evening beginning with a plate of local appetizers, a first course of simple pasta and then chicken and vegetables followed by barbequed ribs. We finished off the feast with a raspberry tiramisu and Stefania's own lemoncello. What a way to start our time in Armena.

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