An Italian Paradise – Weekly Travel Photo

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

Italy’s charm never ceases to amaze me.  There’s just something about the storied Italian towns as they sit perched atop ancient hills that oozes romantic thoughts.  It is always somewhat shocking to me how the gritty charm of a city like Orvieto can make something as simple, benign, and uninteresting as drying laundry charming and memorable.   While Italy’s large cities (Rome, Florence, Milan, etc.) may draw the biggest crowds, my favorites have always been the smaller and mid-sized towns.  Many of which have been inhabited for hundreds, if not thousands of years.  This photo from the hilltop city of Orvieto showcases one such city.  The contrast between beautiful brick and stone buildings, the charm of crumbling and oft repaired plaster, of teaming flower pots, and of course of freshly washed laundry drying in the Italian spring air ignites my imagination and tugs at my heart strings.

In far too many parts of the world travelers have the opportunity to see history, but find themselves feeling detached or disconnected.  The beauty of these wonderful Italian towns is that they offer that rare and unusual opportunity to feel like you’re not just a casual observer in passing, but actually an active participant in history.  I captured this photo during a far-too-brief spring visit to the city.  It’s history as a pivotal defensive city is rich, and influential.  At times it has been nearly destroyed, served as a papal residence, and  was once home to one of early Rome’s most challenging opponents.  It layers history like layers of delicious delight in a layer cake.  Each new layer adds to the flavor, the depth and the richness of the overall experience.

This photo was made possible in part by the travel experts at  Directline-holidays.co.uk.

Would you like to see previous Friday Photos? View past travel pictures here.

2012 – A Year of Travel In Photographs

Traditional Souks - The Spice Market

2012 was one of my best travel years to date.  In it I added two new continents, four brand new countries and scratched some pretty major destinations off my bucket list.  In addition to completing my first year in Copenhagen I made it to the United Arab Emirates, Scotland, England, Germany, Sweden, Zambia, Botswana, Italy, Turkey, Canada and the Czech Republic.  Experiences ranged from my first time back in North America in 15 months where I came nose to nose with wild polar bears to an incredibly awkward Turkish Hamam experience to a week spent cooking over a charcoal brazier in rural Zambian villages.  2012 also saw me upgrade from my trusty Canon G11 to a Canon 600D, my first ever dSLR.

I feel like you have all been there with me throughout my many adventures.  Your readership, support, comments, feedback and advice really means a lot and is part of what makes the hours, money, blood sweat and tears I put into this blog worth it.  So, thank you.

Without further delay, I give you 42 of my favorite photos from 2012 in no particular order.

Lion Cubs Playing at Sunset

Lion cubs relaxing – South Luangwa, Zambia

Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Snow

The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) – Istanbul, Turkey

Lilac-breasted Roller - Chobe Safari - Botswana

A Lilac-Breasted Roller – Chobe, Botswana

Polar Bear and Setting Moon in Churchill

Full moon setting as the sun rises – Churchill, Canada

Lazy Leopard in South Luangwa, Zambia

A large leopard in the grass – South Luangwa, Zambia

The Streets of Stockholm

One of many beautiful streets – Stockholm, Sweden

Rainbows - Victoria Falls - Zambia

The last of my big three – Victoria Falls, Zambia

Elephants - South Luangwa - Zambia

A young male pausing to stare us down in South Luangwa, Zambia

Traditional Souks - The Spice Market

Spices at a traditional souk in Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Faces of Zambia

Children clowning for the camera in a small village in Luapula Province, Zambia

Zebra - South Luangwa - Zambia

A Zebra relaxing just before sunset in South Luangwa, Zambia

Berlin - Beautiful Marbles

One of my favorite marble statues – Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany

Beautiful Sunset in Istanbul

A mosque at sunset during Istanbul’s worst storm in 25 years – Istanbul, Turkey

Faces of Zambia

Children showcasing their zeal for life – Luapula Province, Zambia

Streets of Perugia

A particularly beautiful street – Perugia, Italy

Hamish the Highland Cow

Hamish the world famous Highland Coo (Cow) – Kilmahog, Scotland

Turkey-3006

Fishing boats in Antalya harbor – Antalya, Turkey

One Eyed Leopard

This beautiful male leopard has survived with only one eye – South Luangwa, Zamiba

Wild Polar Bears in Churchill

Dancing or fighting?  Perhaps a bit of both – Churchill, Canada

Dubai at Night from the Burj

Dubai from the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building – Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Wild Leopard at Night - South Luangwa, Zambia

A large leopard warning a nearby hyena not to come closer – South Luangwa, Zambia

Cappadocia Region in Winter

The famous rock chimneys that decorate and define the Cappadocia region – Goreme, Turkey

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

A moment of love and companionship – Orvieto, Italy

The Streets of Stockholm

The historic streets of Gamla Stan – Stockholm, Sweden

Elephants Posturing - South Luangwa - Zambia

Elephants posturing near a watering hole – South Luangwa, Zambia

Sunset over Samfya Lake

Fishermen at sunset – Samfya Lake, Zambia

Elephants in a Line - Chobe Safari - Botswana

An elephant convoy walking single file – Chobe National Park, Botswana

Wild Polar Bears in Churchill

Polar Bears play fighting while waiting for the ice to freeze – Churchill, Canada

The Quirang, Isle of Skye

View out over the Quirang – Isle of Skye, Scotland

Lioness Feeding on Hippo

A lioness chewing on a baby hippo’s head – South Luangwa, Zambia

Bikes in Stockholm

A Swedish bike with a traditional twist – Stockholm, Sweden

Luapula Province, Zambia

The night sky over the village of Chisunka – Luapula Province, Zambia

Lion Stalking Impala - Chobe National Park

A lion casually stalking alert Impala – Chobe National Park, Botswana

The Isle of Skye, Scotland

An abandoned boat – Isle of Skye, Scotland

Perugia's Rooftop Textures

Looking down on Perugia’s beautiful rooftops – Perugia, Italy

Polar Bear Tears

Polar Bear tears – Churchill, Canada

Mother and Child - Chobe Safari - Botswana

A baby Baboon preparing for launch – Chobe National Park, Botswana

Geese Families in Stockholm

A mother and her babies resting – Stockholm, Sweden

Faces of Zambia

Hard at work preparing and seperating corn kernels for sale – Chisunka, Zambia

Old Painting from the Archaeology Museum

A close up of a beautiful piece of art in the Antalya Archaeological Museum – Antalya, Turkey

Alert Impala - South Luangwa, Zambia

A very alert Impala – South Luangwa, Zambia

Luapula Province, Zambia

d’Artagnan, my brother’s cat – Luapula Province, Zambia

It was nearly impossible to select 42 of my favorite shots from the last year.  There are a lot which I absolutely love that didn’t make this post. If you enjoyed these shots, please head over to my flickr albums and continue browsing.  You may have noticed that this post only includes one photo from Berlin, and does not include any shots from England, the Czech Republic or Denmark.  I wasn’t doing much shooting in England or Germany and I have not edited my photos from the Czech Republic yet so you’ll have to stay tuned for those!  I chose to exclude Denmark because it is my current place of residence. I’ll be doing a special post featuring 10-20 shots from the past year dedicated specifically to my life here in Copenhagen.

The photo at the start of the post (technically #43) is from the traditional spice markets in Dubai, UAE.

Most of the photos in this post were shot on a Canon T3i (600D) while using either a 18-135mm lens, 55-250mm lens, or a 50mm f1.4 lens.

I would LOVE to know which of these shots is your favorite, or if you have other photos I’ve taken over the past year which you think should have made the list but did not.

Thank you again so, so much for all of your support.  Your comments mean a lot to me!  I cannot wait to see what adventures 2013 brings!

Glorious Sunsets Combined With Delightful Fish, Fowl and Truffles

Life In Umbria, Italy

Following a wonderful walking tour of Orvieto we found ourselves checking into la Penisola country resort and restaurant. The resort is situated on a small peninsula along the shore of Lake Corbara in the heart of Umbria. It is located about halfway between Todi and Orvieto. A wonderful place to rest after a long and exhausting day.

Life In Umbria, Italy

The drive to the hotel had been short but pleasurable. Slightly footsore from a day spent wandering the city and my mind overflowing with history and rich cultural imagery, we wound our way through the countryside passing old manor houses and rolling vineyards.

Life In Umbria, Italy

The hotel was located just across a narrow bridge opposite an old olive orchard. The lake served as a beautiful, reflective backdrop abruptly, but not unattractively, cut across by the low lip of the nearby dam.

Life In Umbria, Italy

After casually dumping my backpacks in my room and hastily checking e-mail I felt a glimmer of life still to be had in head and feet. Eager to enjoy the misty haze rising off the lake as the sun set I snagged my camera, hopped a fence and made my way back down by the road. I can’t remember the songs that were playing, only that they were vintage and from another era. The road was quiet, and the sunset combined with the empty road and blooming flowers left me at the mercy of the music which dragged me out of time and place.

Umbria in Bloom - Italy

While most roads are often a blight on nature and little more than ugly paved charcoal lines smeared unattractively across the face of the countryside, I’ve always felt that there are moments, special moments, where they can be something more. Roads are like the lines on a map or a door left slightly ajar. They are portals, conveyors that transport us towards new adventures and far off places while simultaneously bringing the exotic to our doorstep.

Umbria in Bloom - Italy

As I waded into a sea of yellow blossoms and carefully lowered myself until my face and shoulders were floating on a sea of yellow turned gold by the last rays of sunset I found myself grateful the road was there. With each photo I snapped it added to the charm, to the moment, and to the full bouquet of sensation.

Umbria in Bloom - Italy

Each piece of the whole added to the ambiance and captured my mood, but it was in the combined stimulation of each of my senses that I found myself swept away. The gentle tingle of a soft breeze teasing my hair, the potent aroma of the flowers and grass as I knelt, the charming notes of a long dead performer crooning in my ears, and then the chorus of color, lines, and shapes that filled my eyes and burned themselves into my synapses. This was Italy. This was life.

Eating in Umbria

As the sun slipped below the rim of the dam and the light gently faded I found myself slowly return and re-sync to the world around me. My throat was dry which reminded me that dinner would no doubt start soon. After washing up I made my way to the dinner reception that the resort a mixture of local business folks, and political functionaries had assembled for us. As I entered the dining room I was pleasantly surprised to find a gentleman playing a mixture of traditional and modern pieces on a narrow-bodied fiberglass violin.

Eating in Umbria

A beautiful table had been set and I found myself taking stock of my appetite. It had been a full day, an active day, but also a day that was already full of food. After the amazing three hour lunch I had enjoyed earlier in the day I knew that the meal they had planned would likely be a bit of a challenge to tackle. I couldn’t help but chuckle at the stark contrast. When traveling as a budget backpacker the never-ending series of monotonous kebabs, gyros and pasta that make up one’s diet is crushing. When traveling as a blogger and guest of the region the opposite holds true. Overwhelmed not by monotony and small portions, but course after course of delicious, rich Italian food.

Eating in Umbria

Never one to neglect the opportunity to embrace local food or turn away heartfelt hospitality I set to the delightful task at hand. As we gathered, there was a delightful mixture of Italian meats and cheeses set out, including a crispy suckling pig! The wild boar sausage, salami, and suckling pig were fantastic and could have easily been a meal in and of themselves. The gentlemen serving us were warmhearted characters and set to their task with attention and passion. The display and presentation was wonderful, with a mixture of local ingredients and objects from the surrounding countryside displayed in simple but elegant form.

Eating in Umbria

As the last stragglers made their way into the room we filled our glasses with wine and gathered around so our hosts could introduce the region, the food, the wine, and the olive oil. Make sure not to miss my post about the olive oil tasting lesson we enjoyed.  Through it all the local wine flowed freely and I’ll admit that most of us were likely a bit tipsy by the time we assumed our seats.

Eating in Umbria

The meal started on a rather intense note with a fried pike and chub embellished with crispy zucchini flowers.  Which is to say, an interesting mixture of chunks of fish, zucchini, and whole fried minnows.  While somewhat common around the Mediterranean and in other parts of the world, the presence of whole minnows as part of a meal is quite unusual by American standards. In the past I had tried them sparingly, mostly in Spain, as a curiosity.  Those attempts had been met with mixed success as I found that most of the fish I had tried had tended to be far too strongly flavored for my taste.  The overpowering fish taste combined with the exotic visual nature of the dishes had left me somewhat hesitant to dive into the small mound of friend fish I was presented with.

Eating in Umbria

But…when near Rome, do as the Umbrians do…right?  So, I tentatively took one of the minnows by its battered tail and mouthed it. To my delight, the overwhelming wave of fishiness I had encountered in the past was nowhere to be found. Instead I was greeted by a wonderful mild fish taste with just enough salt to set off the flavor. In short, they were delicious! In short order I’d quickly leveled what had previously looked like a small mountain and likely relaxed visibly as the part of the meal I had been somewhat concerned about had turned out to be quite positive.  I’m not sure if it was the minnows used, that the oil was obviously quite fresh and pure, or the wonderful preparation, but I was quite impressed.  The pike fillets were also quite good, and again they were mild, fresh, and not over cooked.

Eating in Umbria

Located as we were beside a freshwater lake, the theme for the evening was local and fresh with a fish theme. The next course was, “A nest of water and flour Umbrichelli with perch pomodorino tomato and basil ragu”. After the slightly salty flavor of the previous dish, the salsa and ragu provided a wonderful sweet and slightly spicy contrast. The perch was fresh, had a wonderful taste and was perfectly cooked. It had subtle hints of garlic, a slight taste of olive oil, and the aroma of fresh tomatoes, a pinch of chili pepper and basil.

Eating in Umbria

By the start of our third course we were also well into our third local wine for the evening. With a slight rose hue taking to most of the group’s cheeks, voices grew louder, gestures began to become slightly more exaggerated and the group transitioned from talking exclusively about the fish, to discussing the region, life, travel adventures and similar stories. For the third course the chef left behind fish, temporarily, and instead offered another local delight – a fantastic black truffle tagliatelle. The tagliatelle used local black truffles harvested in the nearby town of Norcia for a delicious plate that did a wonderful job emphasizing the earthy flavor of the truffles. Of the different plates served over the course of the meal, I think that this was likely my favorite while the first course was the most fun. The tagliatelle’s slightly nutty flavor and the buttery rich, olive oil and salt undertones of the pasta combined beautifully.

Eating in Umbria

The tagliatelle and wine that had been paired with it soon gave way to the next course…. and the next wine. This was “Coregone in a a potato and rosemary shell on a piano bean sauce”. The Coregone is a type of (I believe) whitefish found in Europe and one of the local fish that is common in Lake Corbara.  The fish had a mild taste that was wonderfully accented by the rosemary bean cream.  The circular shapes you can see in the photo above are actually thin potato slices where were laid out and cooked on top of the Coregone fillet.  These did a lot to keep the fish moist and to help lock in the flavor.

Eating in Umbria

I hate to say it, but by the final course I was so full I could barely move and likely was incapable of properly appreciating the course. Despite this the rich scent of the “Roast Guinea-Fowl with traditional Umbrian stew and rustic crostone bread” left me little choice. Served with a side of parboiled asparagus salad the guinea-fowl was delicious. Cooked skin-on with a rich crust of salt, spices and bacon, each bite of the bird was an explosion of flavor. The wild asparagus was properly salted and had a slight hint of mint to set the flavor off. Both went well together and despite my better judgement I found myself clearing my 5th and final plate. The meal was prepared by the chef in charge of the resort’s Life School: Live Italian Food Experience and I have to admit, if I had the time, I definitely would have enjoyed a lesson or two.

Eating in Umbria

The remainder of the evening was a delightful mixture of wine, music and conversation rounding out the 2.5-hour-long meal and what had been a fantastic and absolutely jam-packed taste of what Umbria has to offer. However, with an early morning ahead of us we all found our way to bed with full stomachs and heavily-laden eyelids. I suppose the glow of the wine in our cheeks helped as well.

The Fortress City – Orvieto, Umbria, Italy

Life In Umbria, Italy

My shoulders drifted forward slightly then slammed back into the padded bus seat as our forward momentum temporarily slowed and the driver slipped the bus into gear.  We were crawling up a steep, winding road towards the fortress city of Orvieto.  The road snaked away behind us winding down toward the open valley and the green fields below.

Life In Umbria, Italy

The road was relatively new. For hundreds of years the city had remained largely impregnable and isolated. Aloof on a mostly flat butte, it was encircled entirely by  sheer cliffs. The city was a castle but in place of large stone walls that crawled towards the heavens, Orvieto’s were sheer stone and crumbling boulders which plunged down and into the region’s strong bedrock.  Craning my neck and pressing my face against the glass, I fought to look up at the city as we traced our way up and through the city’s gates.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

As a testament to the power, defensible nature, and storied history of Orvieto, the town’s residents hadn’t been content to simply let nature’s fortress stand as-it-was.  Instead a series of impressive walls were added to the tops of the cliffs further securing the city’s perimeter. This provides a stable series of walkways and viewing platforms for defenders, residents, and visitors alike to traverse in search of one of the many amazing views the city offers.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

Orvieto with its battlements and wonderful winding streets has a vibrant history which dates back at least to Etruscan times. While the specifics of history are somewhat murky, it is likely that the city dates back to the 8th century BC and stood as a long-lasting thorn in the side of early Roman dreams of expansion and control. With its proximity to Rome and its position  on the road between Rome and Florence, it likely served as a cornerstone of Etruscan defense during the early Roman/Etruscan wars. Most modern evidence suggests that the city was the Etruscan town of Velzna which played a fundamental role in shaping, trading with, and threatening early Rome.  However, as with most things Roman, persistence and resilience eventually won out and what we know as Orvieto was incorporated into the growing Roman Empire around 250 BC when the city was conquered and razed to the ground.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

Once incorporated into Rome the history books go relatively silent about Orvieto’s role, though the location was considered as an alternative to Rome during some of the early Republic’s more flavorful disasters.  Nearly 1,000 years later Orvieto would crash back into history when it was occupied by the Goths. By 600 AD however things started to look up once again for the city as it grew and began to attract wealth.  By the early 1100s the city-state had been heavily reinforced by the now wealthy nobles who quickly sought to curry favor with the Pope.   In the imperial/papal wars the city fell decidedly on the side of the Guelphs or papal faction and was involved in heavy fighting.   This close relationship eventually resulted in the construction of the main cathedral and papal palace. It eventually served as the papal seat in the late 1200s.   This continued in various forms until 1860 when the then Italian Kingdom annexed the city state into what would later become the Italian Republic.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

While this turbulent and violent history was no doubt horrible to live through, it did a lot to shape the city we get to enjoy today. One of Orvieto’s most fascinating and unusual features dates back to the papal rule of Popes Clement VII and Paul III between 1527 and 1537. While taking refuge in the city during the sack of Rome in 1527 Clement decided to build a massive well to ensure the security of the town’s water supply while under siege. The result? The Pozzi di San Patrizio, a 10-year project that dug a 175 foot deep well through the butte’s solid rock. At its bottom, the well’s diameter is 43 feet and it has 248 steps in addition to intertwined stairwells (one to go up, one to go down).

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

As I slowly made my way down the 248 steps which were worn by the passage of tens of thousands of feet over the years I found myself acutely aware that I’d have to re-trace each and every one of those steps on my ascent. Keep in mind that while 175 feet doesn’t sound like THAT large a distance, it’s actually the equivalent of a 17-story building. For perspective, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is only 186 feet tall. The well, with its two wrapped staircases and series of windows in many ways feels like an inverted tower except the walls are symmetrical and straight.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

 The entire experience, especially as I neared the bottom and looked back up towards the tiny pinhole of light at the surface, was fantastic and humbling.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

In addition to Pozzo di S. Patrizio, one of my favorite parts of Orvieto was, well, Oriveto.  The city is a warren of winding narrow streets and beautiful alleyways.  While the city walls and the sheer cliff faces that supported them were ample defense in most cases, the city’s rulers decided not to take any risks.  The result is a series of winding streets which while somewhat confusing also do a brilliant job of adding charm and character to the town.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

Character which the city’s residents seem to accidenttly complement brilliantly. While I did observe some young people, the majority of the Orvietians I saw around the city were older folks. In typical Italian form they were dressed sharply despite the rain. Some were just out for a casual stroll, others running errands. The result, though, was a city full of people who seemed to reflect and embody the beauty, history, depth and charisma of their city.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

It’s hard to express why specifically but with each of these individuals I felt a slight sense of sadness at the lack of opportunity to pause and explore a piece of their story. To the slight vexation of our guide I found myself continually falling behind to pause and snap a furtive photo before lowering my camera to my side as I  paused and soaked in the personality of the city and its wonderful people.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

However, of all the streets and people I saw in my time in Orvieto, and perhaps Umbria as a whole, the one that truly stole my heart and made me smile most was this wonderful couple. As they slowly made their way up the street, the older gentleman with a cane in hand and his partner’s arm in the other, took slow but careful steps.  Showing the wear of age, it was obvious that each step took him some effort. As they walked slowly both would sway side to side mirroring his steps.  What caught me in particular was the rhythm they seemed to naturally fall into. With each step they would seamlessly and effortlessly sway one way and then the other.  I couldn’t help but muse that this must be a regular ritual, one that they had repeated for years.  They were in sync with each other.  Aligned. It was a wonderful moment to share, even as an outsider looking in, and one I wouldn’t mind finding myself living some 60 or so years from now.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

For me a special part of Italy’s charm is its age. I just adore the well-maintained, oft-repaired but still crumbling, nature of the cities. Perhaps it’s just because I’m from the American West and I have a novel draw to tangible representations of human history. Perhaps, and I should think far more likely, it is adoration based in the fundamental nature of who we are and how we relate to identity, humanity and society. Of the many doorways I passed as I made my way towards Orvieto’s central cathedral, this one caught my attention: reinforced by metal beams, doors ajar and poorly aligned, bricks showing signs of wear and abuse. This is the type of thing I travel for. A small, easily-overlooked piece of a far grander city but one that entices the passerby who pauses to dream; to embrace fanciful musings and to ponder the history of the door. Who were the men and women who built it, who used it, who abandoned it, and who will some day reclaim it. Doors like this one, perhaps more than others, show the vivid fingerprints of history.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

Before long I found myself looking up from my camera viewfinder roused from delightful daydreams only to note that the rest of the group was vanishing down a far alley. It was time to leave Orvieto’s winding vibrant streets behind in favor of an intimate look at the city’s crown jewel: Oriveto Cathedral.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

Those familiar with Italy may note that the Cathedral mirrors the feel of Siena’s famed Cathedral which was completed in 1263. In many ways the two are siblings. The Duomo di Orvieto was begun in 1290 but it wasn’t officially completed until 1591. Now, how’s that for extended construction delays?

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

As we slowly explored the fantastic detail of the front facade, I was taken by a wonderful series of carvings depicting the embrace of temptation in the garden of Eden. I am always amazed by the masterful control of fine detail and expansive complexity that marks these types of works. While this picture captures a roughly 1 foot by 1 foot section of the wall, the entire piece towered over our heads at least some 15-20 feet.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

The Cathedral features the banded travertine and basalt stripes that make the region’s cathedrals so unique. It always impresses me just how effective the alternating brickwork is in bringing simple, clean, and powerful decoration to what might otherwise be massive but somewhat sterile stone walls.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

The colors of the alternating horizontal stones combine with the Cathedral’s plentiful stained glass windows to cast a veritable rainbow of different colors and shapes on the walls of the building.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

…and then there is the size.  The Orvieto Cathedral is built in a cruciform shape and focuses on a wide open and spacious feel with high, graceful arches and long, narrow windows. The builders knew exactly what they were doing and the end result is you feel small.  Very small.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

An assortment of additions, add-ons, and refurbishments have been done over the years. Perhaps the most noteworthy of which was the Papal Palace which was built immediately next to, and attached to, the Cathedral. Today the Papal Palace has an equally important, if far less powerful role as home to a small museum.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

The highlight of the Cathedral’s interior is the beautifully preserved Chapel of the Madonna di San Brizio. Added in the mid-1400s it features vividly colored depictions of doomsday scenes on the walls while Jesus and wise men look down in judgement from the room’s vaulted ceiling. The scenes are by the famous painter Luca Signorelli.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

This wall depicts “The Elect in Paradise” and shows Signorelli’s depiction of paradise with friendly angels relaxing and playing music for the assembled souls.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

Another depicts the “Preaching of the Antichrist”. Apparently this was designed to highlight the execution of Savonarola, who was executed in Florence in 1498 for heresy. Of the figures depicted it is believed that Boccaccio, Dante, Petrarch, Raphael and even Christopher Columbus are all present.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

Signorelli’s mastery of the human figure (though at times somewhat awkward…some of the women look like they have breast implants) is fantastic. Particularly in the diverse nature of each individual’s features. I find that far too often art from this period and in this type of setting tends to take on a sameness. Not so with these. Each could easily be broken down into small sub-scenes and be hailed as a masterpiece in and of itself.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

Then there are, of course, the brutal depictions of violence being meted out upon the damned. While I’ve always found these depictions fairly distasteful and morbid, they definitely do succeed in making their point. The vomited laser beams are definitely a nice touch.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

Nothing says disaster like people trampling each other in fear, right? The depth of focus, varied body positions and musculature in this scene are fantastic and the seemingly 3D codpieces definitely elicited a slight chuckle from my inner five-year-old.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

My final stop in the Cathedral was the Chapel of the Corporal which serves as home to the blood-stained corporal from the miracle of Bolsena. In addition to the corporal it also boasts a number of beautiful frescoes from the mid-1300s.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

The partial afternoon I had to explore Orvieto was not nearly sufficient.  Of the many streets I saw and wandered there were many more I missed.  I also missed the opportunity to explore Orvieto’s expansive underground city.  The fortress city is the stuff of legends and a wonderful destination for a visit. The view from the fortress walls is engaging and I think you’ll find the city giving flight to your imagination, especially if you catch it on a day when it isn’t clogged with visiting tourists.

Oasi di Alviano – Umbria’s Rich Nature Preserve

Oasi di Alviano - Umbria, Italy

Situated a few miles outside of Orvieto and Terni the Oasi di Alviano, or the Oasis of Alviano, is a wonderful natural habitat and WWF Nature Reserve.  Our visit started early in the morning after a somewhat groggy departure from the nearby town of Citta della Pieve.   Despite an overcast sky and light rain we decided to press forward and to proceed with our birding and nature walk around the lake.

Oasi di Alviano - Umbria, Italy

As is usually the case when presented with these types of situations, I was glad we decided to brave the rain and press forward.  While gray and a bit wet the colors were vibrant, and the vegetation incredibly rich.   The vibrant red of the poppy blossoms had just begun which served as a delightful contrast against the rolling green of the fields that surround the oasis.

Oasi di Alviano - Umbria, Italy

In addition to two local cats which served as slightly sleepy but utterly adorable volunteer hosts, a wonderful local guide and researcher met up with us and began to explain the history of the lake and region.

Oasi di Alviano - Umbria, Italy

As it turns out the lake is actually artificial and was created in the early 60s when the Tiber River was dammed. By 1978 the Oasis of Alviano was officially established with an area of 800 hectares of land set aside.

Oasi di Alviano - Umbria, Italy

The shallow waters of the reservoir quickly attracted a wealth of migratory birds and before long had become one of the best places in the area for bird watching. In 1990 the WWF took over the wildlife reserve, and since that time they have made a number of improvements and additions.

Oasi di Alviano - Umbria, Italy

These include the creation of a number of birding blinds, camouflaged pathways and a resource center with information about the local flora and fauna.

Oasi di Alviano - Umbria, Italy

While most of the birds we saw were non-migratory and fairly representative of your typical lake birds it was wonderful to see them in the rich, natural environment of the Oasis. There were large, gorgeous swans, heron, ducks, and a wide assortment of water birds.

Oasi di Alviano - Umbria, Italy

While we were technically there to watch the birds, I found myself more drawn in by the local flowers and vegetation. The rich greens, diverse mixture of flowers and plants, and marshy nature along the path allowed me to re-connect with nature in a way I don’t get to enjoy often. Living in a major city, like Copenhagen, it’s always fascinating to me how quickly you end up feeling disconnected from true nature.

Oasi di Alviano - Umbria, Italy

Add to that the rich colors that the rain brings out of plants, and the added texture of raindrops dotting the plants and flowers and the final equation is one that left me eager to take deep breaths of fresh, clean air while soaking up the small details that made the walk something special.

Life In Umbria, Italy

At one point I discovered this oddity. As far as I can tell the quick growing marsh grass grew up, and through an old dead leaf. The end result was this otherwise impossible combination of new/vibrant and old/dead growth. It looks a bit like the main plant wanted a a scarf, doesn’t it?

Life In Umbria, Italy

While far from idea for walking and photographing, the rain ended up being light enough that it didn’t drench us, and still heavy enough to allow for moments like this with water laden leaves greedily struggling to soak up as much water as they can before giving up their prized catch to gravity and the ground below.

Life In Umbria, Italy

I know it is a bit silly to say, given that it was a nature preserve but it was delightful how alive everything in the park was. While there were the usual greens, browns and grays the wealth of different types of flowering plant and Lilly presented the eyes with a feast of color and contrast.

Life In Umbria, Italy

At one point our guide paused at a small pond surrounded by flowers. She pulled out a big net, and began to scoop moss and floating debris from the nearby pool. Then with a skilled hand she carefully upended the nets into a water filled tub. This allowed us to look at and learn about all of the micro-organisms that call the local waters home.

Life In Umbria, Italy

If you’re a fan of birds and nature I highly recommended the Oasi di Alviano…yes, even or perhaps especially if its raining.  The opportunity to spend time immersed in the local nature while still being in such convenient proximity to Umbria’s nearby towns was a welcome treat and one I’d gladly repeat given the chance.

Friday’s Weekly Travel Photo – Love That Lasts

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

I recently had the opportunity to spend an afternoon in the stunning hilltop city of Orvieto in the heart of Italy’s Umbria region. Located in the province of Terni, Orvieto rests atop a natural rock mesa with imposing cliffs on all sides.  It is, for lack of a better word, a fortress city.  Over the years this natural advantage allowed the city to thrive and serve as a regional powerhouse that has played a significant role in Italy’s history.  The city is home to wonderful picturesque streets that seem created explicitly for movies and postcards showcasing stereotypical Italy.

As we walked the city shortly before dusk, I managed to catch this couple as they walked down a side street.  Though not easy to see in the photo, they were swaying in sync as they walked. While I can only guess as to their relationship and back-story, I like to think that after a lifetime of walking together, they’ve become so connected that the sway in their steps now lines up perfectly.

Would you like to see previous Friday Photos? View past travel pictures here.