Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Italian Restaurants

Now that we are back in Canada and have had a few days to acclimatize and to become re-acquainted with North American food, some reflections on Italian cuisine might be in order.
Eating lunch or dinner in an Italian restaurant is very different from Canada.
A full Italian meal consists of an (1) apertivo (pre-meal drink),  (2) antipasto (an appetizer), (3) the primo (first course, almost always pasta in one of its hundreds of variations or risotto),  (4) the secondo (the second course--typically fish or meat),  (5) contorni (a side dish such as seasonal vegetables or roasted potatoes, etc. If you order meat, that is all you will get on the plate--you order the contorno to accompany the secondo. Sometimes the secondo will come with a salad, but not always.),  (6) formaggio e frutta (the first dessert, literally cheese and fruit),  (7) dolce (main dessert which is sweet--tiramisu is very popular), (8) caffe (post-dinner coffee or espresso (but never cappuccino--Italians never drink coffee with dairy products after lunch! They believe the dairy product interferes with digestion. You mark yourself as a tourist if you order a post-dinner cappuccino; in some restaurants, the waiter might refuse to serve it to you, so great is your culinary faux pas.),  (9) digestivo (a post-meal drink such as limoncello which is quite pleasant, or grappa which can substitute as jet fuel. It is made from the grape skins left over from the wine production--certainly an acquired taste.
Few people, Italians or visitors, order all courses. It is quite acceptable to order antipasto and dolce, or antipasto and secondo. Waiters are very obliging and will gladly bring a second plate if you want to share a course. For example, the antipasto is quite a generous serving and is nice to share, especially if it is an assortment of seafood or dried meats.

Gelato (Italian ice cream served in special shops that typically sell nothing else) is simply delicious. It comes in almost infinite flavours (always natural and fresh in the best gelateria where owner take enormous pride in their product). Gelato uses milk compared to North American ice cream. Unlike North American ice cream, real gelato never uses additives, preservatives or other noxious chemicals found on labels of ice cream in Canada.
Italian restaurants never rush customers. You have to ask for your bill; otherwise, the waiter assumes you are simply relaxing and enjoying yourself after your meal--and it would be impolite to disturb you.
Many restaurants automatically add a cover charge to your bill. That takes care of the tip. You can leave a couple of Euros on the table if you really liked the service and the meal--but it is not expected, and certainly the waiter does not glare at you as you leave. Instead, you are always sent on your way with a cheery and sincere comment or farewell. Waiters do not hover like they do in Canada, pestering you with "How are the first bites tasting?".  They are attentive but not overly so. 
Waiters will always ask if you want water (still or fizzy), but it costs you extra since it comes in bottles--sometimes ones that they simply refill in the kitchen. Wine is quite inexpensive--a glass of good house wine is about 3-4 Euros ($5). Typically, waiters will set a basket of bread on your table, whether you ask for it or not. It, too, costs extra--usually about 1.5 Euros per person.
Prices in Italian restaurants vary--they are higher in Rome and Florence, and much higher in tourist spots as we discovered when we paid over 30 Euros for an appetizer and a drink in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence. Wine is less expensive than soft drinks. A coke may cost you 5 Euros ($6-7). 
Many restaurants have tables outside, a nice alternative if it is very hot and there is no air-conditioning inside. Even if there is, it is not always up to the task and its efficiency is compromised by the fact that doors and windows are open!  On very hot days, there are large fans pointed at the patrons that blow a fine, refreshing mist to cool you off if you are sitting outside.
A meal in an Italian restaurant is always a pleasure. Waiters are helpful explaining dishes, especially when the menu has no English subtitles. They always want you to fully enjoy the meal and do everything then can to make sure that happens. An occasional waiter might seem a bit abrupt, but most are friendly and helpful. And when I say waiter, that's what I mean: there are very few waitresses. About the only place we saw women serving tables was at family-owned establishments where everyone pitches in.
Italian eating places use different labels, depending on the type of food and service provided. A bar or caffe serves only drinks and coffee. An osteria serves local food, sometimes with no written menu. The chef uses local produce that is available that day. A paninoteca is a sandwich shop (but infinitely better than Subway!). You grab a slice of pizza at a pizzeria. A trattoria is the place to go for informal dining (they are often family owned). A ristorante is more upscale and has printed menus and tablecloths. 

A seafood appetizer. The seafood is lightly fried in batter and served very hot and crispy.
Pasta with mussels.
Eggplant (aubergine) and seafood combination.
A wonderful restaurant around the corner from our apartment in Florence. 
We ate there twice!
Bruschetta pomodoro with olives--a typical appetizer.
Pasta with wild boar sauce.
Pear cake with chocolate.

Steak Florentine with pepper sauce. Steak is always served rare. To ask for it otherwise will result in bewildered looks or refusal to comply.
Contorni, in this case, grilled seasonal vegetables. 
Gnocchi with pesto sauce
Tortelli with asparagus
Seafood secondo. Notice the absence of vegetables on the plate. 
They are ordered separately. 
A very popular appetizer: Caprese salad (tomatoes and basil with buffalo mozzarella - a wonderful, fresh cheese - tastes nothing like mozzarella cheese in Canada).
Ricotta cheese mousse appetizer with bean puree
A hearty bean and lentil soup
Wild boar cacciatore 
Ravioli with sage
Spaghetti Amatriciana--a popular pasta dish

Friday, 27 July 2012

Some Thoughts on Arrival Back in Canada

As we have a long layover in Toronto Airport on our way to Saskatoon, perhaps a few reflections on Italy and Italians would not be amiss. At least it will be helpful to write a few thoughts while they are still fresh in our minds.

Our flight to Toronto was one hour late leaving Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci Airport.  Our Air Canada aircraft, an Airbus, accommodates just over three hundred passengers. Not surprisingly, the waiting area at Gate G 8 had seating for perhaps 30 or 40 people. The result, when it became apparent that the flight was going to be delayed, was like an absurd mosh pit. Fortunately, we were on the perimeter and avoided the jostling and evil looks when passengers intruded into others’ personal space. Interestingly, there was no announcement explaining the delay—and certainly no apology. Air Canada's motto; Never explain, never apologize! Air Canada wonders why it has so much trouble making a profit. The explanation is self-evident. The experience reminds one of the heydays of the notoriously passenger-unfriendly Russian airline Aeroflot when the officials simply opened the plane’s doors and it was every man, woman or child for themselves as people raced across the tarmac, up the stairs to the aircraft and attempted to seize empty seats. When all the seats were occupied, the doors were slammed shut and the hapless passengers who were not so fleet of foot returned to the departure lounge, hoping for better luck the next time a plane appeared.

Our experience wasn’t quite so grim, but it was certainly an eye-opener that passenger comfort seemed so low on the airline’s priority list.

On the bright side, we had one less hour to wait at Toronto Airport to catch our connecting flight to Saskatoon.

Our driver to the airport from the Rome hotel this morning had a heavy foot, but not nearly so heavy as Sandro who met us on July 6. It’s amazing that the streets of Rome aren’t littered with wrecked cars. In many instances, there are no lanes painted on the streets, and cars and motorbikes weave in and out of imaginary lanes—of course, without signaling! Applying makeup, texting and talking on cell phones is a common practice.

On the subject of mobile phones, everyone seems to have one—but Italians mostly talk on them, not text.

Overall, the Italians are very polite, kind people. Everyone seems delighted to see their friends—and even strangers—and the resulting conversation is almost always lively and animated. When someone says Buongiorno or Buona sera it is genuine.
On the few occasions when we shopped in fruit and vegetable markets, we discovered that there is a protocol. You never touch the produce—instead, you point at it and tell the merchant how many or how much you want.  The assumption is that everything is fresh and wonderful—hence, squeezing the fruit is an implied insult that the merchant would sell anything less than perfect produce. The only people who get away with handling the fruit are elderly ladies who choose their fruit and vegetables with great care. Italians seem to have learned not to cross the matriarchs.

It seems that many Italians smoke. The streets are littered with cigarette butts. When regional trains stop at stations, smokers rush for the exits to catch a few puffs before the train pulls out of the station. Mostly, they stand in the doorway, unintentionally impeding passengers who are trying to get onto the train.  By the way, Italian trains are very good: they are quite cheap, most often punctual, and run frequently. The high speed ones are a pure pleasure!

We were told by a very scholarly guide in Siena that Italians hate three things: air-conditioning , clothes dryers (hence laundry hanging from balconies all over the place), and ice cubes.  Our experience with the non-existent air conditioning at the Florence apartment confirms the former.

Italians seem to revere elderly people and babies. We saw several instances where grandparents on the street doted over their beloved grandkids. Italians also love dogs. Everywhere we saw people walking dogs at all times of the day.  

The hill towns are jewels. Our experience was limited (Cortona, Siena, San Gimignano, the five villlages in the Cinque Terre, and Orvieto). Vehicle traffic is strictly restricted in the towns. Visitors with cars must leave them outside the walls and walk into town. The towns are walker friendly—although the steep hills and staircases are a test of one’s endurance on hot days. Both Siena and Orvieto have sets of escalators that help to get people from the parking lots to the town above.

The inhabitants regard tourists with bemused expressions but genuine hospitality (not surprising since tourism is a major prop of Italy’s economy).  Their warmth made communication possible when we spoke only English and they spoke only Italian. We sensed that even our clumsy attempts at Italian were appreciated and always resulted in a friendly exchange. The least helpful people we met were employees in the tourist information office in Rome!

It should be no surprise that Italy produces such great wine and so much of it. During our journeys through Tuscany and Umbria endless hillsides were lined with beautiful rows of grape vines. When there weren’t grapes, the hills had groves of olive trees. Both the wine and the olive oil are splendid.

A series of storms along the eastern USA and Canada had a cascade effect on air traffic in Toronto, causing flights to be delayed or cancelled. Our flight to Saskatoon was 90 minutes late leaving, but the pilot must have put the jets into overdrive because we were only 60 minutes late into Saskatoon.  It was 2:30 am by the time we got home to Outlook. Because our biological clocks have not reset, we were awake at 6:00, and out weeding the garden by 7:00 a.m. I imagine we’ll need an early bedtime tonight. 

Our dog Quinton was glad to see us, although he is always a bit standoffish when we leave him for extended periods—a sort of “Now, tell me again, who are you guys?” attitude. Cathy Morrow looked after Quinton while we were away. He loves being with her. Quinton spent his mornings at the golf course enjoying morning toast and coffee with Cathy, chasing rabbits and otherwise having fun. I'm afraid he finds us rather dull company by comparison--although he is far too polite to say so. After all, he knows who pays for his dog food and treats--and his overpriced haircuts!

Thanks to Carrie, we arrived home to find our yard and vegetable garden in wonderful shape!

Calendula grows on its own.

Lots of lush green in the vegetable garden.

We have healthy basil plants for bruschetta al pomodoro.

Everything looks good.  As much as we loved Italy, it is good to be home among familiar surroundings.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Last Day in Rome

 The Gardens at the princely Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, a private residence 
that houses an excellent art gallery.

The Eternal Flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

 Equestrian statue of Vittorio Emanuele II at the famous Rome landmark.

 Giordana Bruno, a Dominican friar who was burned at the stake in 1600, looks down on the market vendors in Campo de Fiori.

The famous Spanish Steps are adjacent to the John Keats house 
(salmon-coloured building to the right).

Our final day in Rome was spent doing two things: Cathy and Kendra shopped (and met John for lunch at Vittorio Emanuele II monument), while John squeezed in visits to two museums: The Pallazzo Doria Pamphilj and the Keats-Shelley Museum.
The Pallazzo Doria Pamphilj is said to have 1000 rooms. It is the private residence of a powerful family which traces its roots back to the middle ages. Over the years, the family  increased its power through strategic marriages and close alliances with the Vatican. Today, the art work is open to the public--and what a collection it is! As you walk through what used to be private chambers, the walls seem to be papered with paintings. Gorgeous, opulent, almost decadent that such a collection could have been amassed by one family: Carravaggio, Valazquez, Raphael, Titian, the Flemish painters... the list goes on. Jonathan Doria Pamphilj, heir to the family fortune and art collection, seems to be a nice fellow as he narrates each room and describes his favourite paintings on the audio guide that goes with the price of admission. It was a pleasure to view the gallery: in many of the rooms I was the only person. There are leather chairs where you can sit and enjoy individual paintings at leisure. It was glorious to know that outside the palazzo the traffic was roaring and tourists were frantically rushing from famous site to famous site--while I was basking in almost compete silence in the magnificent palatial rooms.
After lunch, I visited the Keats-Shelley House which is adjacent to the Spanish Steps. Keats lived here briefly before he died tragically at the age of 25. The actual museum is pretty much as it was when Keats lived there, although the city authorities ordered that all the furniture etc be burned when Keats died in 1821 of consumption (tuberculosis). They thought that burning the furnishings would prevent the spread of the disease. The museum has original letters and manuscripts, some of which are very touching as Keats faced his death which he knew was inevitable. A professor from Baylor University delivered a paper in the small library--it was merely a coincidence that it happened at the same time as my visit. Frankly, it was not very good: there was a singular lack of logic and originality. Much of it sounded like to could have been cribbed from Wikipedia.
Meanwhile, Kendra and Cathy shopped. It appears that most stores in Rome (Italy, for that matter) are having sales.
We will splurge at a restaurant tonight, get a good night's rest, and set off at 8:30 tomorrow morning in a car that has been arranged to take us to the airport.
We are not looking forward to a long flight, and a 5 1/2 hour layover in Toronto! However, it will be good to sleep in our own beds after three weeks on the road.

Arrivederci from Rome.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Sad to Leave Orvieto for the Noise of Rome

As our Italian holiday quickly draws to a close, we regretfully left Orvieto at noon today, to make the hour-long train journey to Rome. It was drizzling when we left (good for Simona's vegetable garden), but by the time we reached Rome the sky had scattered clouds and the temperature had edged up, but not nearly like it was when were here two weeks ago.
Our hotel is a short taxi ride from Termini Station. Hotel Residenzia Cellini is a bit unusual in a number of ways: (1) there is no prominent sign on the outside announcing its presence--just a small brass plaque and a buzzer system to get the attention of the desk staff, (2) the actual hotel is situated on the 3rd and 5th floors of a building that appears to have both businesses and residences on other floors, (3) guests check in at the third floor and are either directed to rooms there, or shown to the fifth floor. One thing that isn't unusual is the size of the elevator. It took two trips to get the three of us and our bags up to our room which has a double bed and a single bed. The hotel is very nice. The furnishings are elegant, the floors in the halls are marble, the floor in our room is inlaid hardwood, the bathroom is marble and modern, there are fancy 19th century type curtains--and best of all, the air-conditioning works! We'll be very comfortable here for our last two nights in Rome.
Led by Cathy's map reading skills we took a long walk down the via Nazionale where we came upon the Victorio Emanuelle II Monument. By that time we were both hungry and thirsty, so we found our favourite Irish Pub in Rome (it's close to the monument; Cathy and John had visited it previously and had to recommend it to Kendra) and recharged our batteries.
We returned to the hotel on via Corso which turns into via Condotti--the premier shopping district for Rome's elite and well-heeled travellers. All the snobbiest fashion and jewelry stores are to be found here. Needless to say, we limited our activities strictly to window shopping.
We have been told about some good restaurants in this district of Rome, so will seek one of them out for our second last dinner in Italy (on this vacation). 

Victorio Emanuelle II Monument. Romans who don't like it call it the Giant Typewriter. 
 Kendra has plans to shop here tomorrow.
 John has no plans to shop here tomorrow!
 . . . or here!
 . . . and certainly not here!
This is likely as close as Kendra will get to Dior. The jacket on the model costs 3000 Euros ( close to $4000).

Monday, 23 July 2012

Wine and Cheese in the Gorgeous Umbrian Countryside

Emanuele, Alessandra and their children Francesco and Anna, at their organic farm.

Our first stop of the day was at la Fattoria dell Secondo Altopiano, a hillside farm where Emanuele makes exquisite goat cheese.  He and his wife Alessandra have about 70 goats which are milked twice a day to produce unique, wonderful cheeses.
The cheeses are matured in a cellar where temperature and humidity are carefully monitored.

We sampled seven different cheeses, ranging from young to well matured.

A sharp, earthy mature cheese that goes well with honey which was harvested from Emanuele's father's bee hives. 

Orvieto seen from across the valley.

A huge oak cask to mature red wine at Palazzone Vineyard, our second stop of the day.

The wine tasting on a beautiful patio overlooking the vineyards featured five wines (three white, one  red, and one dessert)

The view from the beautifully groomed grounds of Palazzone, Vini Classico Di Orvieto winery.

In an age where so much of our food is mass produced and, therefore, not as good as it could be, it was such a pleasure to meet Emanuele and Alessandra who operate an organic farm that produces milk for the excellent goat cheese that is produced. It is clear that Emanuele is passionate about making cheese and is constantly working to produce new and interesting  cheeses. When we arrived and went into the goat barn, we were greeted by the sound of classical music. Emanuele loves classical music--a passion he shares with his goats. From the moment we arrived, we knew we were in for a special experience. 
After meeting some of the younger goats in the barn--they all have names--Alessandra took us up a path to the pen where three rams are kept. She explained how important it is for her and her husband to keep careful records of the family history of each goat. Just like dairy farmers or beef producers in Canada keep meticulous records of the bloodlines of their animals, this couple does exactly the same with their herd of goats. A bit farther up the hill, the herd of goats that are milked twice a day were straining at the gate, waiting for us.  Goats, unlike cattle, or even horses, are very friendly and curious animals that like to be petted and have their heads scratched. They were so eager to see us that one, Merengue, managed to get over the gate to greet us. Francesco, six, had to run to get his father to put the goat back in with the herd. 
Then came the tasting. In total, we sampled seven cheeses that ranged from very young and relatively mild to more mature cheeses. Alessandra explained that, unlike commercial farms where the cheese is always uniform and tastes the same, Emanuele loves to experiment, so that the various cheeses he makes are never exactly the same. The only consistent thing about the cheeses is that they are all consistently good. We had a choice of salted or unsalted bread with the cheese and a very nice red wine. Also, there were three tiny jars containing honey, a ribes rosso (red currant) jam, and a marmalade with eggplant, apricots and pistachio. The sweetness of the honey and jam is a wonderful complement to the cheeses, especially the more mature ones. It is accurate to call Emanuele an artist; he is passionate about cheese making and uses his creativity to produce wonderful cheeses that we can only dream of in Canada! 

Simona, who kindly made all the arrangements for the day, took us next to Palazzone, makers of Vini Classici Di Orvieto, where we met Isobelle who took us on a tour of the winery. She explained the varieties of grapes that are produced on the sloping hillsides that surround the estate. The production facilities are very modern but the wine master still follows the age old traditions that have served Italian winemakers for centuries. She spoke of the close bond between winemaker and nature--and how the weather can have such a powerful influence on the grape production. For example, in a wet growing season the grape vines don't have to work as hard and there is a lesser alcohol content in the grapes. With each wine we sampled, Isobelle talked about the soil, the varieties of grapes, the age of the wine and so on. We certainly knew a lot more about wine and its production by the time we left. We even arranged to have a case shipped to Canada!

Orvieto has been such a wonderful part of our Italian holiday. The day trip to Cortona, the wonderful cooking lesson with Simona, the visit to the caves, the Duomo, and today's tour of the goat cheese farm and the winery--they have all been unique experiences. We are grateful to our new friend Simona for the time she has taken picking us up in her car and driving us into the countryside. Her kindness and thoughtfulness have become part of our memories of this beautiful region of Italy. We have promised to email pictures of what a Saskatchewan winter looks like!

Tomorrow we are back into the noise and excitement of Rome where we will pack in as much sightseeing and shopping as possible before we fly back to Canada on Thursday.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Sunday in Orvieto

 Cathy and John chose an early morning walk around Orvieto. Kendra caught up on the sleep debt from her recent Contiki tour. The walk took us both above and below the ramparts that protected this ancient hilltop town from invaders. At the time, there was only one entrance to the city--a narrow stairway. Today, there are five gates to allow citizens and visitors access.

One of the gates that allows entrance only to drivers with resident permits.

The views are spectacular in every direction from the Rupe.

 We went on an hour-long tour of the only two caves that are open to the public. Pictured above is a deep well to supply water in times of siege. The other 1200 caves are private-- meaning they are under homes and businesses.

Enterprising residents raised pigeons by the thousands as a source of food during sieges. Pigeons cost nothing to raise as they fly out to forage for food and then return to their nifty private homes or the cooking pot. Pigeon is a part of the local history and is often found on menus in Orvieto.

Cathy and Kendra catch their breath after climbing a long set of narrow stairs in the cave.

A street musician entertained us at lunch. He must have spent the money his mother gave him for music lessons elsewhere. Still, he played with enthusiasm and in the hope that some tone-deaf passersby would drop a few coins into his hat.

Orvieto is mostly a sleepy hillside town (at least in the tourist off-season), no more so than on an early Sunday morning. We walked most of the Rupe--a quiet, three-mile path that circles the town. Always on one side are the ancient ramparts, while on the other are wonderful views of the Umbrian countryside steeped in mist and clouds in the early morning. At many places on the path, the only sound was from birds. Even the traffic below was only a quiet hum. The experience was very peaceful.
Strolling back to our apartment, we encountered a few people out walking their dogs or visiting with neighbours. Otherwise, we had the path to ourselves.

We breakfasted back at the apartment, relaxed a few minutes, and then set out with Kendra to take in the Underground Orvieto Tour. The present day town of Orvieto was almost entirely built from materials dug from the ancient ruins. First the Etruscans, then the Romans occupied the area. The actual town is perched on the remains of an ancient volcano that spewed up tufa and potsilano (the two building materials used then and today). The material is relatively soft (at least compared to marble or granite) and can be dug into with hand-held tools like picks. It would have been very labour intensive, but if one had the energy and patience, a cave could be dug.  The citizens made a primitive, cave hospital. Only recently have any of the over 1200 caves that lie under the town been opened to the public, although archeaologists have been scouring them for decades.
The tour consists of quite steep descent into about 100 metres of tunnels that have been opened up. The guide pointed out an olive press, a deep Etruscan well (over 130 feet deep), and a series of niches in the walls that housed pigeons in the days when the town might come siege for weeks on end. Each family dug a passageway under their dwelling to store wine and olive oil, and to house the pigeons that provided a source of food. Other animals used for food would have required food and water--not easily available in wartime, whereas the pigeons simply flew above the invading army, found food in the valley, and returned home to the roost (as pigeons instinctively do) each evening. Each family had its own pigeon coop and used the birds for food. Pigeon became a staple of the diet, and even today pigeon (piccione) is featured on the menus of many Orvieto restaurants.

During the dying days of World War Two, the Nazis bombed the aircraft hangers and railway station in Orvieto as they retreated back to Germany. The local citizens used their personal caves as bomb shelters. Today, in some shops there will be a section of glass on the floor through which customers can see caves.

In many ways Orvieto's Duomo is more impressive than larger, more famous cathedrals we've seen in other cities, such as St. Peter's in Rome and the Duomo in Florence. Certainly the facade is much more interesting. The structure, begun in 1290, took almost three centuries to complete. The facade, which has been restored a number of times,  is astonishing. Entire scenes from the Bible are done in bas-relief on marble, including some grim characterizations of the Last Judgement where figures entwined with snakes suffer in Hell. On the top of the four pillars are bronze statues of Matthew, Mark, John and Luke. Most amazing of all are the mosaics. The one of Mary being crowned is stunning with its gold background.

Inside, at first, the church seems unimpressive. The Duomo is dominated by empty space and black and white striped columns--all of which direct your gaze to the glorious  high altar framed by an original 14th century stained glass window. The organ has over 5,000 pipes--although they cannot all be seen. The single most impressive art in the church is a Pieta carved in 1579 by artist Ippolito Scalza. There are four figures: Mary holding the body of Christ, Joseph with his carpenter tools, and a figure at Christ's feet--likely Peter. The agony on the brilliantly carved face of Mary is moving.
There are two main side chapels: Chapel of the Corporal and Chapel of San Brizio.
In the former, the famous altar cloth stained with blood is encased behind glass and framed in turquoise. According to church orthodoxy, a priest, Peter of Prague, who doubted the concept of transubstantiation had his doubts removed when the host he held above his head during Mass began to bleed profusely enough to stain the altar cloth. The event was declared a miracle and the pope ordered a cathedral to be built to display the sacred relic. 
The second chapel is much more dramatic. Local artist Luca Signorelli was commissioned to paint frescoes on much of the interior of the church. The ones in the Chapel of San Brizio are spectular--both for their visual impact and their originality. He captured vivid scenes of the Resurrection and the Last Judgement. The Last Judgement scenes are grim. Devils torment sinners and winged angels stand guard lest any of the souls try to escape. The details are amazing--a bit fanciful perhaps--but drive home the religious point. The room is awesome (in the true sense of the word), especially when you consider that Signorelli completed the complex work in five years. There is a poignant scene with Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary with the dead Christ who is the image of Signorelli's son who died from the plague when the artist was working on the frescoes.
The bronze doors of the Duomo are recent--they were finished in 1970 by Emilio Greco. They too depict religious scenes.

Altogether, Orvieto's Duomo deserves as much attention as St. Peter's.

Photos are not allowed inside the Duomo, but the following may give some idea of the scope of the facade.

Detail from bronze door by Emilio Greco.

Bas-relief scene of the temptation in the Garden of Eden.

Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden.

Scenes from the upper facade of the Duomo.