Civita de Bagnoregio

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February 13th 2017
Published: May 14th 2017
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Route through Italy

December 2016

With all the places I have been in Europe, amazingly enough I have not been to Italy. So I have been looking forward to this trip for a while. We booked this anniversary trip to Civita de Bagnoregio, Italy like six months ago. We will be staying a little walled village on a plateau just south of Tuscany. How romantic, huh? But before we get there we will spend two night and a day in Rome. We were not originally planning on going to Rome, but it is the closest airport to fly to, and I figured if we are gonna be that close to Rome we have to go to Rome. I mean, it’s Rome!

Our Alitalia flight lands in Rome on-time. Then something happens that I’ve never seen before. We exit the plane through the gate and just as we are about to enter the airport we are directed down a flight of stairs. All of a sudden we are outside being herded towards a bus. Wait a minute? Did we just pull into a gate and then walk downstairs, go outside and get onto a bus? WTF!? After a 20 minute bus ride – yes, literally 20 minutes – we arrive at the baggage claim area. We hop on the direct train to Rome Central station and we are at our airbnb in no time.

We are staying in an old building that seems to have about 100 different bed and breakfast accommodations in it. It’s small, but the price is right and it’s a block from the main train station. We have a long day of sightseeing tomorrow, so for today we just want to get to the Parthenon. The sun will be setting soon though, so we better get going. We decide to take the metro to the Spanish Steps and as we exit the metro station we get our first real look at classic Rome (Nimarta has also never been to Rome). The historic buildings and structures everywhere is quite the sight to see. The only thing I can compare it to is Athens.

After some photos at the Spanish Steps we head through the main shopping district towards the Parthenon. The sun has set now so we better get moving if we want to see it before dark. After weaving through some small street we arrive in the open square of the Parthenon. Impressive! I’m always amazed by how these ancient societies built buildings like these. It’s still in remarkably good shape too. The Italians have definitely done a good job at restoring their ancient structures. As it becomes completely dark we walk around and then inside the building. Goal for day one in Rome: complete.

We stop for dinner on a street that doesn’t look too touristy near the Parthenon. It is nothing that great, but the wine is good. Pasta and red wine on a Roman sidewalk – this is the life! We are quite far from our bnb but we want to walk. There are plenty of sights to see on the way back and the city lights up the historic structures at night, so we get a cool view of a lot of the sights. We pass by the Forum, where we will go tomorrow, and it is cool to see at night. It reminds me of the Acropolis in Athens. We feel a slight jealousy of the people living in this city around all this history. It must be truly amazing to be a part of the life here, to walk by these historic landmarks every day. And to get all this good wine!

We also pass by the Basilica di Santa Maria and the Mercati di Traiano as we make our way back. Near the train station we decide to stop in a local bar for some wine. We may be the only foreigners here, but they serve us with at least a fake smile a bottle of house red wine. Again, delicious. It will be a busy two nights and day but we are already glad we decided to come a day early and explore Rome. We will have to pick and choose our destinations in the city, but it will be worth it.

The next morning after breakfast we head off to the Coliseum. We have pre-bought tickets to the Coliseum, Forum, and Vatican museum today. We decide to walk to the Coliseum as it is a nice, sunny morning, and even quite warm. As we leave a large park we get our first view of the colossus stadium. It really is a site to behold. Right in the middle of this active, cosmopolitan city is the ancient Coliseum, where gladiators used to fight. So much history in this city, and so much at this one spot right here. We are here early, and there are no lines yet. We walk right in with our tickets and begin to explore the site.

As a structural engineer this place amazes me. How did they build this 2000 years ago? It’s simply incomprehensible. As we walk around the stadium I am in awe of the engineering, architecture, and construction skill that went into creating this structure. It has been restored remarkably too. A time machine to go back to the time of the gladiators would be pretty sweet right about now. We wander around the Coliseum for about an hour or so before exiting and making our way towards the Roman Forum.

The Roman Forum is breathtaking. This ancient city was the heart of Rome in the time of Cesar. Some of the buildings are in complete ruins, but some of them remain standing. And plenty of the original brickwork is still in surprisingly good condition. The Forum is a vast area too. We don’t have enough time to walk around the whole thing, but we have enough time to hit the highlights. We are glad to be here in the winter, as it’s really not busy at all. There are people, but we can imagine a hot, crowded summer day to be pretty miserable. It’s sunny and like 15 degrees here in December though, so we will take it! As we walk we learn the history of the Forum. Again, I reiterate, a time machine would be awesome.

Our Vatican ticket is for 1:30 so we do not have to rush over to Vatican City, but we better get going. We walk back to the Coliseum metro and take the metro to the closest station to Vatican City. We stop for a quick, cheap lunch outside the Vatican walls and then head to the entrance. Nimarta is immediately turned off by the huge walls that surround Vatican City. “Do they think they are better than us” she asks. “Yes,” I respond. I am as non-religious as someone can be, but come on it’s the Vatican!

We enter the museum after literally no one checks our ticket and wander the halls. Neither of us are too into art, so we don’t spend too long. The main thing here is the Sistine Chapel, its roof completely painted by Michelangelo. After roaming the Vatican Museum for a while we enter the chapel. My first thought upon entering the Sistine Chapel is “wow it’s really small.” Of course, this is compared to the great cathedrals of Europe. This is something different though. It’s not impressive from the outside, since it is all connected to the rest of the buildings. But it has a powerful presence. I try to imagine Michelangelo hanging from a rope painting this roof for four years. Didn’t he get bored? Did he ever stop and think “is there anything else I could do right now?” Quite remarkable he could spend four straight years doing this. It’s a glorious roof, but again painting is not really my thing….

After exiting the chapel we are basically done with the museum. We don’t want to wait in line to go inside St. Michael’s so we will just observe it from the outside. Unfortunately it is pretty cloudy by now and the views are not as good. There is also a lot of construction going on so some nice views are obstructed by equipment. We manage to get a few good pictures though in the square where everyone hangs out when the Pope talks. I don’t think Francis is here though, he’s probably got a global warming seminar or something. Nimarta, still put off by the walls, says “it’s not that great.”

It’s been a busy day in Rome, but it’s actually still rather early, 3:30. A nap would be good though, so we head back to the metro and back to the bnb. The nap is amazing and we wake up hungry. We decide to walk to one of the pizza places that our host has recommended, not too far from our bnb. It’s a cold night, but walking feels good after the nap. We arrive at the restaurant and we are definitely the only tourists there. This a local place. They don’t speak much English but ordering pizza is universal. As other guests arrive they all greet the waiters and the chef. Everyone knows each other here! It’s almost like we are crashing a party. There is a priest eating next to us. The chef whips up the pizza in no time and we devour it with a bottle of house wine. A very local restaurant experience.

Tomorrow we head to the countryside for our stay at Corte della Maesta. Back at the room we pass out in preparation for our anniversary trip to the small walled village of Civita de Bagnoregio!

We are up early, as we have to take the train back to the airport to pick up the rental car. Soon after we are speeding up Highway 31 along the west coast of Italy. We have decided to go this way to avoid traffic, as I have heard driving near Rome can be a nightmare. We stop by some little town to pick up some wine and it is clear that we are the only foreigners here. Nobody speaks a lick of English, but we manage to get what we want and be on our way.

The drive through the countryside is actually quite unremarkable. So much that I start to get worried. It’s really not very beautiful here. It’s just olive tree groves and farmland. Where are the beautiful rolling hills and vineyards!? We are awfully close to Civita now and it’s still not looking too great out there. Then, all of a sudden, the landscape changes. We see the village from afar, perked on top of an eroded plateau. The hills and valleys come into sight and even some badlands. This is what I am talking about!

Our first view of Civita is glorious. The skies are not too clear, buy there is a nice view from the town of Bagnoregio, where we park for a moment. Civita sits on a mountain top that has been eroding away for hundreds of years. The only way to get to the village is to walk across a 400 meter footbridge and up a steep hill (parking is underneath the bridge). But it wasn’t always this way. Just 100 years ago there was a road that led into town. But landslides have vastly changed the town. Numerous buildings have even fallen off the cliffs of the village from these landslides. It’s all quite sad, but the people of Italy are determined and have installed hundreds of geotechnical rock anchors under the village to stop the landslides and prevent any more buildings from collapsing into the valley.

What does remain of Civita is beautiful though. It is a tiny village built hundreds of years ago atop the hill from rock masonry. The masonry blocks are a dark tan color and they give the town a unique feel. After parking and crossing the footbridge and trekking up the hill our host, Christiana from Corte della Maesta, meets us in the main square. There are very few places to stay in this village – most tourists are just day trippers – so she has no problem finding a white guy and his Indian wife. We tell her how beautiful the village is and how much we love it already and she shows us to the hotel.

Corte della Maesta is on the north side of the village behind a big wood door. The masonry walls are covered in ivy from the outside. We love the place before we even step inside. The building has been completely restored inside and given a rustic look with the decorations. Christiana makes some coffee then tells us that we are the only guests for the next three nights. There are only four rooms in the hotel, but we never thought we would be the only ones. So we have the whole hotel to ourselves! Downstairs in the “Wolf’s Lair”, a small basement with a fireplace and a piano that Christina encourages us to play. Upstairs is our room. We have booked the smallest one but it is large enough for us. There is even a small bottle of local wine waiting for us, as she know we are celebrating our first anniversary.

This place is awesome. And it’s all ours for the next three days. Christiana recommends a restaurant for us to try later and books us a table. But for now, it’s time for wine! After a glass of wine we decide to wander the village. It is tiny. A few minutes’ walk in either direction and you are at the cliff. Only nine people actually live here. Most people that work here live in Bagnoregio and make the walk each day. There are little guesthouses and shops, a large church and a few restaurants. It is the definition of charming.

After walking around the entire place we decide to step into a little wine bar and try some local wine. Surprisingly enough, the woman running it is from the UK, but has lived here in Italy for nearly 30 years. It’s nice to have a local that is a native English speaker and she recommends some nearby wineries we can go check out while we are here.

Dinner is in the basement of the restaurant next door. We are basically in a cave underground and it is pretty awesome. And a liter of house wine is only 8 EUR! We order the white to change things up a bit (good thing we did as we try the red later and it is not very good). Nimarta has been dying for fresh pasta with olive oil and peppers and this place appears to have a good one. I order some meatballs in a spinach sauce. The food is divine. Nimarta loves her pasta so much she orders a second one. In all the years we have been together I have never seen her order a second meal. She must really like this pasta!

By the end of dinner we are pretty tipsy – a solid first night in Civita. Tomorrow will be different though, as we have hired a photographer for our first anniversary, my anniversary present to Nimarta. She loves her photos!

Our room comes with breakfast that Christiana herself cooks. It’s a huge breakfast and afterwards I drop Nimarta off at a local hairdresser near the village to get her hair done for the photo shoot. While she is getting her hair done I check out the nearby town of Lubriano, where one of my coworker’s mother is from. He has recommended a restaurant and I would like to go for our actual anniversary on Monday, but it is closed on Sundays and Mondays. Damn.

Back at the hotel we have some time until the photographer arrives at 2:00. It’s a cloudy morning, unfortunately, but it’s too late to cancel now. I fall asleep on the bed while Nimarta lays belly-down so as not to disturb her hair. We meet our photographer – well there are actually two of them, a husband and wife – at the bottom of the footbridge. They have come from about an hour away to photograph us for two hours. I am in a grey suit and Nimarta is in a long, fancy evening gown. This is the third year in a row that we have done a photo-shoot on the first weekend of December. I tell Nimarta that the streak ends here!

I could go on all day describing each photo that is taken, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that Nimarta loves the photos when we receive them the next day. I don’t really like posing for photos, but the photographers are cool and easy to get along with. Plus it’s a quiet day in town since it’s Sunday and a lot of things are closed on Sundays. It’s not so bad, and when we bid farewell to Andrea and Frederica they are happy to have worked with us and we are happy to have worked with them too. Time for wine!

We eat a late lunch / early dinner at a little café over a bottle of local white wine. We have plenty of snacks, so this will probably be it for the night. After our early dinner we resign to the Wolf’s Lair for some more wine and relaxation. One year ago we were in Florida staying in separate rooms while preparing for our wedding the next day. We have come a long way from that night, and it has brought us here to central Italy in a beautiful village on a hill. We toast to that and sip wine as the night passes.

For our actual anniversary on Monday we have planned a visit to a local winery at 4:00. It’s about 20 minutes away so we have all day to do whatever we want. We decide to head to the town of Bolsena on Lago di Bolsena and get some lunch on the lake. The drive is peaceful, even if driving in Italian towns is not (I swear they just do whatever they want on the road – it’s like India). I have picked out a place on the lake that has good reviews on Google. Walking up to the restaurant though, it looks like it may not be open. There is no one there. But then a server comes by and tells us to sit down wherever we want. There is literally no one else here so we have the place to ourselves and choose a table in the corner of the deck that stretches out over the lake.

It is warm enough to strip down to a T-shirt here. After fall in the Netherlands it feels glorious. We order a bottle of wine to sip over lunch and some fresh pasta. It’s a beautiful setting, and the geese and ducks swim up to us, thinking we are going to give them some of our bread. No chance, ducks. It feel amazing to be here on our anniversary at the beginning of winter on a beautiful lake in central Italy in the warm sun. No complaints here!

Eventually other people do arrive and we are not alone in the restaurant. From the road driving in we noticed a castle, so we decide to walk over after lunch and see if we can find this castle. We wander the old town and eventually see a sign pointing to a drawing of a castle. This must be it. We start ascending stairs, a lot of stairs, and eventually we are by ourselves in a little old, walled village. This is the castle. There is a museum (we decide not to go in) and a cathedral, as well as other buildings and residences. We didn’t even know this was here when we decided to have lunch in this town! We spend a long time exploring the castle and before we know it we have to get going or we will be late to our winery appointment.

The woman from the wine bar has recommended this winery, and Christiana knows the owner so she has set up and appointment. Unfortunately the girl who speaks English is sick today, but her sister will show us around. We pull into the winery, which is off the main road quite a ways down a dirt path just after 4:00. She is waiting for us and welcomes us to the winery. Her English is very limited but we are able to communicate enough to get the general gist of things. It’s a family run vineyard that has been around for 30-or-so years. She has worked in the vineyard for as long as she can remember.

After giving us the tour of the property and the bottling plant she asks us if we want to try some wine. Of course we do! We pick four wines to try – all white for some reason – and she grabs a new bottle from the boxes and leads us into the tasting room. There are children’s toys everywhere. This isn’t just their winery, this is their home, and the brother just had a baby.

She puts the wine on the table and opens the first bottle. She pours us a taster and tells us when it was made. It’s quite good. She smiles and goes back to the kitchen. We sip our wine and soon she emerges with a plate of bread and olive oil. She returns to the kitchen and brings out a plate of cheese and prosciutto. High class wine tasting! I hope this doesn’t cost too much… The second wine is better than the first, and that pattern continues all the way to the last wine. After about the third bottle she opens I start to wonder if we unknowingly just bought all this wine. Uh oh. We leave tomorrow and don’t have a checked bag!

We finish the food and all our wine tasters. We have been here a little over an hour now and she has been very generous and gracious. But the generosity takes on a new level when she tells us that it is just 10 EUR each for the wine tasting and food and we get to keep all the bottles. No way! They must sell these bottles for a minimum of 15 each – they are nice wines. We can’t believe this. Now we wish we would have done this on the first day so we could make use of all the wine. There is no way we will drink all four of these bottles tonight. We give her an extra 10 EUR and thank her profusely for her generosity and for the amazing experience. A private tour and tasting at a local vineyard just south of Tuscany for our anniversary – you can’t get much more special than that!

Back at the hotel we try to rest for a bit before dinner. We are still in shock of all this wine we now have. We have dinner reservations at 8:00, and Nimarta decides a nap is needed before that to sleep off her buzz. I sip the bottle of my favorite wine while she sleeps. What a day this has been. Unfortunately the restaurant for dinner isn’t up to par with the rest of the day. It’s not bad, but Nimarta is not hungry after all the cheese and bread and olive oil, so she just orders a salad and we get a small half-bottle of wine. We will consider our lunch and winery experience as our anniversary dinner.

After dinner we try to make a dent in our wine, but only manage to finish off two bottles. The other two we will donate to Christiana when we leave in the morning. What an experience this place has been. From the first view of the village to the wine tasting to the fresh local olive oil our first wedding anniversary will be tough to top. The next morning we sleep in then drive slowly back to the Rome airport for our flight home, but not before stopping by a grocery store to get some local tagliolini pasta to bring home with us.

My first trip to Italy has been awesome. I know this is not the last time I will come to Italy – I still want to go to Tuscany, Venice, Naples, Sicily, Milan, the list goes on and on – but this trip will be tough to beat. Civita was amazing, and Rome is Rome. Till next time, Italy!


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