Bike Across Italy - Day 8 - Todi to Orvieto (29 miles)

The spectacular Duomo in Orvieto - so massive, no ordinary point and shoot camera captures it all ...

May 19, 2007: 20,000 caves under the ground and a Duomo to die for


Today felt like riding on the turrets of a medieval castle.

We climbed for a many kilometers and not so many miles, staying high on a ridge with great views of Todi, the hill town gradually receding behind us, and looked forward to glimpses of Orvieto, our next hill town. I could almost fantasize my bike was one of those a bleached blonde horses carrying me and a billowing pointy flag from one medieval town to the other.

I spent a lot of the day trying to get good shots of the riders in action. This is not an easy thing to do when you yourself are riding. If you shoot from your moving bicycle, you tend to get people only from behind, which gets old after a while. When passing them and attempting to shoot, the road is never quite wide enough, and you end up cutting off their head or wheels. Circles, like a head or a wheel, have no flat sides, so it always looks wrong to cut them off. Even a setting sun makes you think of the other half disappearing over the horizon, and a rising sun makes you wonder about the part that is yet to appear.

If you want to shoot people coming towards you, you have to get in front of them, get off your bike, and lay in wait. It helps to use the multi-shoot function so you don't miss a beat, especially with this chronically slow digital cameras. Then, when they pass, you are always playing catch-up to get ahead of them again. If you're not particularly fast, like me, it's a bit tiring. On a supported tour, getting in the van is the easiest option to get ahead of the pack, if it's there when you want it and you can deal with people who've paid to do miles endlessly asking 'aren't you feeling well?'

Then there's the question of composition. It's easy to shoot too much pavement, guardrails, overhead powerlines, dull foliage, uninspiring road markings and the sun in the wrong place. Those wondrous National Geographic and Outside Mag shots must be carefully staged to some degree. In my amateur and 'getting everything you can out of all you've got' way of doing things I decided that 'you get what you get' and that's what I got.

Lunch was at a little bar in a quiet spot called Prodo. The Senor behind the bar happily washed cups by hand as our group descended on him for a caffeine shot, This is where an expresso costs 0.65 Euro, or 85 cents, and a cappuccino 0.95 Euro, or $1.25.

Paul wanted to try my Bike Friday. I put the seat up as high as it would go but a Pro Petite is a Pro Petite. I didn't come on this tour to sell Bike Fridays, but people end up asking you about them - especially smaller women, and people who hate the hassle of traveling with a regular bike. Meanwhile, our guide Andrea, a die-hard Bianchi fan (but of course) hovered in the background muttering something about small wheels that I'm glad I didn't hear :o)

On arriving in Orvieto some of us passed on the trafficky corkscrew climb to the top and took the Finicular, a cable car-train which zips you skywards and plops you up into the town center.

Orvieto is a tourist magnet, thanks to its commanding presence high on a plateau, and a magnificent grey and white striped duomo (cathedral). It's the biggest and most jaw-dropping Church I've seen yet, rising up from the ground like a sphinx.

Dana gave us a tour of the church, including a timed visit to the Chapel where every square inch of the walls and domed roof were riotously decorated with murals of the resurrection et al. You're not allowed to take pictures but I assume many photographers have done just that judging from the books you can buy on this duomo.

Next, Andrea accompanied us on a tour of the labyrinth of caves that Orvieto sits on. There are some 20,000 underground tunnels and caves carved out of the soft volcanic rock, and many more that have yet to be mapped. The original townfolk used their privately owned sections of the labyrinth as cool work spaces. It is too damp to live there. Pigeon holes lined the walls in caves where the locals raised those birds. Some plummeting chutes led to medieval trash cans which are full of fascinating artifacts - well, fascinating to archaeologists apparently. The contents of the trash cans are government property.

The evening meal was a spectuacular, simple mediterranean menu.

Tomato slices with buffalo mozarella and olive oil, smoked salmon, bruschetta with several different pastes, and an incredible wafer thin pizzas strewn with grilled vegetables, proscuitto, truffles, artichokes - whatever you want. Interestingly there seems to be no need to evenly distribute small chunks of topping a la a Papa Guiseppe pizza. A single stick of grilled zucchini, and small handful of olives, a smattering of mushrooms ... and it's a work of art.
The very covetable ceramics of the region, found in every town on the route


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