So, last week my mother and I went to Umbria on an art tour. I met Mum at St Pancras on Monday morning and we travelled to Heathrow Terminal 5 where we met up with Catherine Fletcher, our tour leader for the week. Catherine is a history professor and provided just the right amount of information and guidance during the week. We also met Yates, who was the assistant for the trip, and was in his early 20s. The flight was fairly uneventful. Mum hadn't had much breakfast and I'd confidently told her that we'd get lunch on the flight but this turned out to be a small pastrami roll and an iced bun. I expected more from BA!
Somewhat ravenous, we landed in Rome, met up with the other people on the tour (six couples and a lady by herself) and a bus took us to Perugia where we were staying at the Hotel Brufani Palace. This is at the top of the hill, which meant we had an amazing view from our room.
We had "welcome drinks" and even more welcome canapes, and then a four-course dinner at the hotel with our fellow tourists. I'd been making jokes beforehand about how the tour would be full of old people and that did indeed turn out to be the case except that Catherine was around my age and Yates brought the average down considerably.
On Tuesday morning, we had breakfast in the hotel, which put on an extensive buffet, and I enjoyed the terrible musak - it seemed that they had just one tape which repeated itself every hour or so. Then it was time for a look round Perugia. We went down the steep Via dei Priori to the church of San Bernadino which was lovely, inside and out.
We had a quick coffee break and then visted the Board of the Exchange with some fascinating and grisly artwork, and had a trip round the National Gallery of Umbria which was stocked with treasures such as this (this is a photo of the postcard, not the real thing).
In the afternoon, we had free time, so we had lunch at a little pavement cafe and then did some further wandering round Perugia.
We had been excited beforehand about the Etruscan ruins supposedly visible from the transparent floor of the hotel swimming pool. Sadly the swimming pool was closed while we were there, but we were able to pop down and look through the floor at the ruins, and steal some much-needed water from the water cooler as opposed to paying 5.50 euros a bottle from the minibar in our room.
In the evening we gathered on the terrace of the Brufani Palace for a complimentary drink. Everyone was ordering glasses of wine but Catherine went for an Aperol Spritz and I followed suit. The arrival of these bright orange cocktails caused some excitement among the old members of the group who didn't seem to have come across them before. We then went to a nearby restaurant, Altromondo which was able to accommodate eight of us at short notice, did decent food and was good value.
On Wednesday we visited Todi to look at a church briefly. I liked the symmetry of it but the interior wasn't my kind of thing.
Then it was back on the bus for a trip along some very windy and picturesque roads to Orvieto. Mum and I liked Orvieto, possibly because we had a large glass of the stuff with lunch!
In the afternoon, we visited the cathedral which sadly had scaffolding up outside but was pretty impressive inside.
Then we wended our way back to the funicular railway. There was time for a quick shot of the vineyards.
That evening, we had dinner together as a group at La Taverna which was very jolly - another four course meal with plenty of wine!
Thursday was "Piero" day beginning with a trip to a tiny museum in Moneterchi, a little village with just one fresco which had been taken from the local church.
I have to admit I didn't know much about Piero della Francesca previously but I now see the error of my ways!
After that, it was on to Arezzo where we enjoyed wandering round the shops and regrouped after lunch for a look at the church, and in particular the Legend of the True Cross which was very impressive. There was a lot going on. This was one of the nicer bits, involving the Queen of Sheba.
Finally we stopped off at Sansepolcro to look at the Resurrection. This was in the process of being restored and first we had to wait for the lights to come on, then found that there was a sort of pulley-bucket arrangement impeding our view, which seemed rather unnecessary as nobody was actually working on it at the time. The painting is quite remarkable though.
We got back to Perugia quite late, and that evening Mum and I and the other lady travelling by herself went to a slightly shabby but honest pizza restaurant in a little alley where the pizzas were 5 euros and the Montefalco wine was 13 euros a bottle. There was a music festival going on and we walked past a brass band playing some great music. Generally the atmosphere in Perugia was quite lively and youthful, due to the university there and the good weather!
On Friday, we visited Spello to look at frescoes by Pinturrichio. We really liked these, and I bought a couple of postcards for my desk at work. I particularly like the Holy Spirit, in avian form, divebombing Mary.
There was time for a walk around the village and Mum and I enjoyed spotting this old Fiat 500 carefully parked.
Next up was Spoleto. A market was being held which meant that the bus couldn't stop where it had been planned, and we ended up going up the hill on the other side of a great ravine and then walking across the bridge. I'd been to Spoleto before, four years ago, but never made it into the centre of town on that occasion!
My cousin had recommended a restaurant called Il Tempio del Gusto, which we thought we were very unlikely to find, but amazingly we found ourselves walking past it so we went there for lunch. This turned out to be a pretty fancy place with serious food. One of my courses involved a sesame brandy snap filled with goats cheese which was particularly delicious.
The only downside was that we might still be there right now as they didn't bring the bill despite multiple attempts to make eye contact. My mother suggested that we should try to pay at the desk, and thinking of my experiences dining out in fancy French restaurants, I said we couldn't possibly do that as it would be very offensive to all concerned. About 20 minutes later one of the waitresses came over and told us to pay at the counter. Huh! The bill was a mere 50 euros for two courses, a generous glass of white wine and coffee (which came with petits fours) - can't argue with that.
In the afternoon, we visited the Roman House which we liked very much with its lovely mosaics. It was three euros well spent!
We still had some time to kill, so decided to attempt to find the Roman amphitheatre. This involved walking down about 200 steps and when we got to the bottom, we found the approximate site but it didn't seem to be open to the public. The pressure was on as either we could walk back up the 200 steps (in the midday heat) or I needed to find the escalator. Fortunately my navigation was up to it and this very welcome sight appeared, the first of about 5 escalators up the hill.
Then we met the rest of the group and had a look round Spoleto cathedral, which was wonderful.
That evening, the group went to Osteria a Priori where we sat on a long table upstairs and had the tasting menu. This was great fun and the Sagrantino di Montefalco red wine was particularly fine although on inspecting the label I discovered it was 15% alcohol!
On Saturday there was a trip to Assisi. We'd heard about Assisi from my aunt, and so when the opportunity to come back at lunchtime was presented, instead of staying there for the whole day, we grabbed it with both hands. This turned out to be a wise decision as it wasn't our cup of tea at all. It was over-run with coach parties, and there was a huge basilica with an overwhelming amount of art, but you're not supposed to talk inside, so Catherine wasn't able to explain any of it to us in situ. There were various ecclesiastical flunkies with microphones who every now and then said "Silencio" which made me think inappropriately about Mulholland Drive. The contradiction between what St Francis stood for and this ghastly theme park was startling, and we couldn't wait to get out of there.
Back in Perugia, Mum wondered what was happening with the Labour leadership election and amazingly we were able to watch the results live online on the BBC News site on her ipad. Then we had lunch at a little cafe perched on the cliff-side next to the lift which takes you down to the metro. A glass of Grechetto accompanied our slice of pizza very nicely, and I spotted a little lizard hiding in the bushes. We did some more walking around Perugia in the afternoon but also enjoyed the opportunity to have some reading/sleeping time. In the evening, we had a pre-prandial drink on the terrace. Aperol Spritzes all round!
That evening we went back to Altromondo for dinner, and found several other members of our party dining there too.
The last day of touring was Sunday, when we visited Gubbio.
It was quite a steep walk up into the town, although there were also some lifts. We visited the Ducal Palace which was impressive.
Then we wandered around a bit. Mum was looking for something depicting the story of the Wolf of Gubbio, which was a bad wolf that went around eating people until St Francis had a word with it and it saw the error of its ways. We did manage to find several really tacky depictions of this but nothing remotely tasteful!
We found a nice cafe on a square to have lunch at, and halfway through lunch a long succession of vintage cars went hurtling past, honking and causing much excitement.
Soon after that, the heavens opened, for the first time on our trip, so our lunch ended prematurely and we were quite relieved when the bus arrived to take us back to Perugia.
That evening we had a quick aperitif in the hotel bar - I had a Negroni this time just to ring the changes, and Mum had a glass of prosecco - and then we had our final dinner in the private room of the hotel restaurant. It was another jolly evening and I have to say the others on the trip were extremely nice and everyone got on well.
On Monday morning I went to check out and pay our bill, and discovered a random 35 euro bar charge. Either Mum had been ordering bottles of prosecco behind my back, or there had been some mistake. To their credit, they refunded it fairly speedily, but I think in future I'd probably pay my way rather than charging drinks to the hotel room.
Our trip back to the UK went fairly smoothly and although our flight was delayed, my mother was able to catch her train home and I returned to AduV Towers and had a final Negroni of the hols.
It had been a great week, and this beautiful view will stay with me for some time!