While not necessarily unique from other towns in Italy getting used to Orvieto's hours of operation for most business takes some getting used to. Weekdays both businesses including banks and supermarkets are open from 8 to 12:30 then close until 1530. Supermarkets and other businesses such as rental car offices then reopen at 1530 and usually stay open to 1930 or 2000. Eating dinner can be an adjustment also for some Americans. Most restaurants do not open in the evening until 1930 or 2000. The restaurants that do open earlier are usually open just for drinks and light snacks.
I must have led a charmed life up to this particular venture to Italy, because in all the other countries I visited, English was either one of the standard languages or, in the case of France, I spoke the ambient tongue. I suppose I expected that many, if not most, of the hoteliers and shop keepers and transport personnel in Italy would speak at least a modicum of English. I didn't invest in a phrase-book (although it turned out my companion had brought one along). What arrogance! I have only myself to blame for the multiple times when language barriers led to absurd or disappointing results. (It is hard to ask for directions when you can't articulate where you want to go -- and can't understand when someone tries to help out.)
Probably no one reading this tip would make such a foolish mistake, but just in case...either learn enough Italian to get by, or keep a phrase-book or English-Italian dictionary close at hand. I promise you'll have a more enjoyable visit.
(And as one VT'er says in a very funny motto which I will badly paraphrase, speaking English slowly and very loudly does NOT make it more comprehensible!)
Not limited to Orvieto...it seems that Italians take seriously the admonition that one is to keep the sabbath day holy, at least the Italians who are involved in the restaurant trade. We had a very difficult time finding anything other than coffee shop or pizza meals (admittedly, Italian pizza is fabulous). We managed to find an Indian restaurant that was open, but it wasn't what we were anticipating! So think ahead, and get the supplies for a wonderful picnic en plein air, or call ahead before you drive out for that four-star recommendation in Frommer's, and avoid an unpleasant shock.
When you are seated at an Italian restaurant, you should anticipate paying "coperto" or a cover charge, assessed on a per person basis. This ranges from something minimal to several euros, presumably depending upon the restaurant although I never analyzed this during our trip. Since the cover charge is intended to compensate the restaurant for the cost of doing business, including the employment of the wait staff, I was told not to apply the American standard of tipping 15% or more of the bill. Rather, the tradition seemed to be to put one's excess change on top of the credit card slip or cash to cover the meal. That sometimes resulted in several euros' "tip" but it would still be a fraction of what I'd pay at home, even if one included the coperto.
Not just in Orvieto...many (perhaps most) Italian museums are closed on Mondays. This can be a spirit-killer if you're only in a city or town for a single day and the museums are unavailable, which is why the Spirit moves me to suggest that much of Italy's great art is found in its churches, virtually all of which are open every day of the week (and are generally free, to boot). So find your Caravaggios and della Robbias in the local duomo, and soak in the notion that people have been hallowing with their prayers the place where they are situated for many hundreds of years.
When I entered my room in Locanda Rosati, I noticed the beautiful wood carvings immediately. Not only was there a dormouse at the bed frame matching the one at my key fob but also the desk had carvings with little apples and the bathroom mirror was carved with fantasy decoration. Later, in Locanda Rosati’s dining area, I saw the donkeys over the door to the wine cellar and several more little objects. All were made in a way which creates a three-dimensional effect. I asked Giampiero, the Locanda’s owner, about the wood carvings and was pleased to learn that he was a famous Orvieto artist. The Michelangeli family has a tradition in making furniture which dates back to 18th century. And Gualviero, the artist, has started to create this three-dimensional effect to some objects. Sadly he passed away, but the tradition is being continued by his daughters Donatella, Raffaela and Simonetta. Their shop is located in a little street off Corso Carvour, which is named after the artist: Via Michelangeli (for exact location, see screenshot, “photo” 4). I didn’t buy anything because I was already near my luggage limit, but next time I’ll get some souvenirs or maybe a table, haha. Oh, the table, by the way: there is a similar one on their website, with carved decoration like the one in my room.
When you walk through Orvieto, no matter if you are along the main axis or in the backstreets, it is well worth to stop once in a while and look up: frescoes and little carvings are almost everywhere. I especially liked the vaulted archway in my photos with beautiful though partly faded frescoes just off Via Carvour. The little carved relief was at the entrance to Via Michelangeli.
As usual, I loved exploring Orvieto’s backstreets. But somehow I haven’t been in the city’s eastern part (east of the duomo), only in the western one. And again it proved that once I was off the main axis which is west of Piazza della Repubblica in Orvieto’s case, I was almost the only foreigner. It was so quiet, so serene and I found many surprising sights. When I walked through Via Malabranca, which runs parallel albeit at higher elevation of Via della Cava, I saw an open door (no 22) to a yard and peeked inside. Wow, what a sight! A beautiful courtyard with arcades and a fountain in the middle and flowers all over. This is Palazzo Filippeschi Petrangeli (or Simoncelli, according to the plaque) of 15th century.
As Italy is a very religious country, Christmas is very highly celebrated. And in many Italian cities and villages you will see “living” nativities, where not only puppets are displayed, but real people take over the role of Joseph, Maria and Jesus. I once saw photos of these nativities on Diana’s Vatican page and since then this concept fascinated me. But I haven’t been in Italy during Christmas time so far.
But if you happen to be in Orvieto during the Christmas season, please make sure you visit Pozzo della Cava. According to photos I saw there, they set up a nativity scene in these illuminated caves, which must be extra fascinating to see! Living nativities are called presepe viventi in Italian, by the way.
When I wandered around the piazza at Orvieto’s duomo I noticed this cute belltower at the corner of Corso Cavour. It immediately reminded me of Torre Orologio in Venezia. But instead of two figures which ring or strike the bell it is only one: Maurizio, a bronze statue of almost 160 cm height. According to the website of Opera del Duomo (see below), this was one of the first mechanical clock which was documented in Europe (if I understood it correctly; the website is in Italian only), made in 1351.
Another wonderful custom is/are the signs which mark the beginning of a new quarter. At the building with Maurizio bell on top there is one at eye level “Quartiere delle Stelle”, fairly new but made in the old style, each with the district’s coat of arms. These districts go back to the many signori who ruled Orvieto before all were merged into the Papal state.
When in Orvieto or any small town in Italy you will notice that there is a lot of people watching even among the citizens.
Below are some shots of people out and about enjoying the Spring weather.
The first photo will show you the main town square along the main shopping street. The local internet/bakery is on the right while the market will be straight ahead and down the hill a bit.