from Cumbria
to Umbria by bike

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  by Allan Nelson & Konrad Orlowski 

Day 8 - Monday May 17th

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Orvieto to SovanaOrvieto to Sovana  (60 kms)

It was a hot humid night in Orvieto and neither of us slept particularly well.  It had needed to rain. I was feeling much better thank goodness, and after some breakfast in the hotel, we left at around 9:30am under an overcast sky bound for Bolsena - by 10am  we had to stop to don our wet weather jackets.

The road (No 71) climbs for about 16kms so considering the humidity, the breathable jackets that don't (well I don't think they do) and the rain which got heavier the higher we climbed, we were well and truly soaked.   As we neared the top, it got decidedly cooler and infact it was beginning to feel down right chilly by the time we reached the top and commenced the descent into Bolsena.   we took the descent very slowly.  The road now resembled a river and the rain was absolutely belting down.  By the time we reached the bottom, to say that Konrad's teeth were chattering would be an understatement.  We rapidly needed to get some dry clothes on, but where?  We eventually plumped for a bus shelter in the middle of the town, just outside the post office.  I think it may have been 'pension day'.  I don't think we could have picked a busier time!  As we were stripping off, and donning thermal vests, and any other dry bit of clothing we could find, we got some odd looks, but an old lady came to have a chat with us.  We couldn't understand her at the time, but on looking odd words up later it turned out that she was saying something like 'You look like you need a hot bath'.  It was about this time that we found that our handlebar bags were decidedly not waterproof, and some silly people (well two actually), hadn't put their airline tickets in a plastic bag, had they.  Very carefully, I pushed the ticket (now resembling papier mache) into a plastic bag, zipped up the bar bag and stuffed it all into a pannier.  Out of sight, out of mind.  I'd sort it out somehow when we stopped for the night I thought to myself, but I couldn't come up with the 'somehow'.

Once suitably dressed against the elements, we headed for the nearest cafe and downed three or four coffees each (no doping controls you see ;-), then we headed off for San Quirico.  Of course after a few kilometres, the rain stopped and we began to heat up alarmingly, so, we both performed that well known ritual of jumping around on one leg in the road while trying to take off your overtrousers 'without' taking your cycling shoes off trick.  So, minus several layers of clothing, we headed off again for San Quirico, up a long climb through Gradoli and on to Cant.   At La Rotta, we turned right for San Quirico.  At first we thought the town was deserted, but we found a bar, and on entering the back room, it was packed with people (all men of course - the only woman in there was the one serving!).  We had a brilliant pizza each (or was it two), more coffee and then off we went again feeling much better, in the direction of Sorano, a few kilometres away.

Sorano is brilliant, and must not be missed if you're in the area.  Some places look at their best in, shall we say, less than sunny conditions, and I reckon this is definitely one of them. Half of the town appears to be literally hanging on to the tufa that makes up the hillside.  Some houses have sadly not quite managed it and are deserted and in a very precarious state, looking as though they could crash into the gorge below at any moment.  Apparently the town is prone to landslips, which puts what's left in even greater jeopardy.  The road down from Sorano to the River Lente is cut through steep walls of tufa.  Just before you reach the bridge at the bottom, on your left is a metal stairway, the sort of thing you see on buildings as fire escapes.   This leads you to some caves which were used in the 12th/13th century for breeding doves.  The walls of the caves are honeycombed with 'nest boxes' cut into the tufa.   I was amazed how 'soft' this tufa was.  Heavy rains must cause havoc. 

From Sorano, we climbed out of the valley headed for Sovana, a 'one street town' which was to be our base that night. This is a very 'old' town.  Hardly any of the buildings date from later than the 14th century.   Sovana's main claim to fame is that it was the birthplace of Hildebrand, who became Pope Gregory VII in 1073, and it's craft shops selling reproduction Etruscan jewellery and artefacts.  Hildebrand's house is still there and is now a museum (unfortunately closed by the time we arrived).

We booked into the Albergo Ristorante Scilla which was very nice, but at L140,000 for a double, rather pricey!  If you do happen to be in the area, then there are also hotels in Sorano and Pitigliano, so it may be worth shopping around.   Having said that, I had what I regard as the best meal of the trip in an excellent Trattoria there.  On the menu, it was called Aquacotta and translated read as 'Vegetable soup on toast, with an egg'.  Now that may not sound too good, but believe me it was absolutely divine.  So, after an excellent meal and probably a little too much red wine, it was back to the hotel, where the clothes were drying out nicely on the heated towel rail in the bathroom.  It was about this time I remembered the airline tickets.  I took them out and carefully tried to separate the two flimsy sheets of paper (surely airline tickets should be laminated!).  I couldn't read any of the writing on them at all, so I used the hairdryer (kindly provided in the bathroom) and started drying them off gently.  As they dried, the text began to re-appear, and after about 20 minutes, although rather crinkly, were almost legible.

All in all, a really enjoyable day.  It's funny how you can enjoy a day when you got cold and thoroughly soaked.  My queasiness had totally vanished, my appetite was back and I felt back to my old self.  Things were looking up.

sunflrbt.gif (1265 bytes) Brilliant day, despite the soaking.
sunflrbt.gif (1265 bytes) Sorano looks so 'old'.  I reckon you see it at it's best on a 'grey' day.
sunflrbt.gif (1265 bytes) I'm going to have to have a go at making Aquacotta when I get home.

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