Seven hours is a long day in a smallish car with five people. Even longer when you don’t get on the road until after noon. But when you wake up to the sounds of a waterfall in the Swiss Alps – hike you must. A quick disclosure: Brett does all road trip driving. There are many reasons for this, but the simplest of which is: It’s better for everyone. It’s possible that I got my driving skills from my Italian side.
After 450 mind-numbing kilometers going South on the A-1 through Italy, we finally exited the toll road in Orvieto. Orvieto is a spectacular Umbrian hilltown set up on a volcanic turf which is perfectly placed between Rome and Florence, making it a popular tourist destination. It was also the closest big town to where we were staying 35 minutes away in Morruzze (a town of 30 people.)
The owner (an American living in London) of the place we were staying in Morruzze recommended a pizzeria in Orvieto for dinner. The recommendation came with the warning that despite its bad name and website, the pizza was really good. Thank goodness for that disclosure because after hours dreaming of our first bite of authentic Italian pizza, a place called “Charlie” would not have hit our radar. “Betty” (our GPS) freaked out when we punched in Charlie’s address, taking us up narrow cobblestone streets/alleys that didn’t appear meant for cars or cars with concerned passenger wives.
As Orvieto is an old hill town, cars are more or less prohibited. The guidebooks told us so. Our American host told us so. And even if you were to try, finding a (legal) parking space is a gamble you’d only take when desperately hungry and tired. Also, there were bikes on top of our car and a driver with dogged belief in his ability to find a parking space. Betty (though she was doubted) proved reliable once again bringing us to the summit. After a brief search, we found an (illegal resident only) parking space. Conflicted about whether to stay or go, a jovial gentleman resident greeted us and sanctioned our short term parking stay. We Italians may not be able to drive, but we sure do know how to make someone feel welcome.
(Note: We went back to Orvieto a couple of times during our visit. The second time we went back, we parked at the train station and took a funicular up to the top. That was easy, until we tried to come down and discovered that the funicular closes at 7:30pm and taxi drivers aren’t interested in the fare to bring you back down. There is a shuttle bus that apparently goes down hourly, but they must have been off schedule (or off duty) that night. When all else fails (and it did), stick out your thumb and when that fails, have your son stand next to you and stick out his. The third time we went back, we parked below the city on the other side of town and took a series of escalators up to the top. The escalators were also closed when we tried to come down, but we found the elevator! We tried not to think about how far our elevator was going and how likely it was to get stuck. Transit mishaps aside, we found Orvieto to be a town with just the right balance between urban center and tourist center. Unlike Todi which we thought much more touristy, Orvieto is a must do if you are in Umbria and if you are traveling to Rome or Florence probably even worth the 1+ hour and 1.5 hour train rides, respectively. If you go, take the escalators!)
Back to our first night in Orvieto... Unlike the previous
night in Switzerland, we found Charlie within ten minutes of parking. And it
WAS perfect. Well-cooked wood oven
pizza with fresh toppings on a slightly doughy crust with a crisp glass of
Orvieto Classico white wine eaten outside in a large outdoor dining courtyard … we would have loved this place had it been called Godfathers. It was so good, we came back another night (or two.)
As we were inhaling our pizzas over candlelight in the
courtyard, Lawton leaned it to say: “I decided something. I want …” Another pizza, I thought? “I want
to make a commitment to Jesus.” There
had been no talk about God leading up to that moment, no dinner time prayer, no
Crucifix within sight. It seemed to come
out of the blue, and yet his words and eyes were earnest. “What made you decide that now?” Brett
asked. “Because I want to stop making mistakes,” he
said. Now there are days that Lawton has his fair share of getting in trouble. This was not one of them, which made the decision and confession that much more sincere.
If only we could make our mistakes go away. But a life without mistakes is a life without grace. I made my commitment to Jesus as a youth, back when I had a shallow understanding of my sin and barely a hint of God’s unconditional love for me. After all these years walking with Him, I’m more aware of my sin and shortcomings but also more convinced of his unconditional love. He does make all things new every morning, and so with that explained in our best six year old vocabulary, we all put our pizza down and Lawton prayed to commit his life to Jesus. Over candlelight at a place called Charlie.
After dinner, we found gelato and Brett pulled up the car in this plaza to pick us up. The surrealness of this photo – an illegal car on a cliff-edged remnant of where four volcanoes erupted years ago – a hint that though we should be banned, God invites up out of the mess to the hilltop to see what we couldn’t see before. Some of us take the speedy funicular up, some of us take the slower escalator up, and some of us follow a person like Betty we aren’t sure is going to get us to the top. But however we get here, the view from the summit is worth the journey.