Part LXIV: Rome to Montepulciano, Italy
Theater of Marcellus, Rome, Italy
Theater of Marcellus, Rome, Italy

It is my last morning for photography in the Eternal City, and like the proverbial donkey, starved, thirsty, and placed exactly halfway between a bucket of water and a bale of hay, I don't know which way to go. I could spend a year, rising every morning to shoot, and still not feel as if I had made a dent in recording Rome's riches. I pore over the map while I drink my morning cup of coffee, and then decide to head for the Theater of Marcellus. The donkey must make a choice before the sun rises.

Ponte Fabricio, Rome, Italy
Ponte Fabricio, Rome, Italy

I head south and reach the Theater later than I'd hoped. A few shots and the lights snap off. Dawn is paling the eastern sky and the buildings recede to dull gray. I walk across the street to the Tiber to see how the Ponte Fabricio is holding up in the morning light. This is the city's oldest bridge, built during the last years of the Roman Republic. More than 2,000 years old, it still stands, a testament to good Roman engineering. One shot with my camera and the lights snap off. My ill fortune is holding.

I decide to follow the course of the Tiber back to the Ponte Umberto, the bridge which stands just north of the Piazza Navona. It is a pleasant morning for a walk, a thin layer of clouds overhead with sun beginning to filter in from the east. North of the Ponte Sisto, I spy a log in the water that is moving strangely near the reeds. I study this oddity closely for a moment before realizing that I am watching a Nutria. This creature resembles an otter, and apparently there is a large population of them living in the Tiber. He paddles away before I can fix my telephoto lens on my camera, but a minute later I see a second. Ultimately I count five nutria between the two bridges, slipping among the reeds that line the towpath. I had no idea that the Tiber was such a game reserve.

Nutria, Tiber River, Rome, Italy
Nutria, Tiber River, Rome, Italy

I decide to follow the course of the Tiber back to the Ponte Umberto, the bridge which stands just north of the Piazza Navona. It is a pleasant morning for a walk, a thin layer of clouds overhead with sun beginning to filter in from the east. North of the Ponte Sisto, I spy a log in the water that is moving strangely near the reeds. I study this oddity closely for a moment before realizing that I am watching a Nutria. This creature resembles an otter, and apparently there is a large population of them living in the Tiber. He paddles away before I can fix my telephoto lens on my camera, but a minute later I see a second. Ultimately I count five nutria between the two bridges, slipping among the reeds that line the towpath. I had no idea that the Tiber was such a game reserve.

The sun decides to give me a treat as I reach the Ponte Vittorio Emanuele. For a couple of minutes it lights Castel Sant'Angelo, and I am able to compose a couple of photos. Then, as I watch through the viewfinder, the clouds stuff the sun and the castle dims. I pack up the gear and hike back to our flat.

Castel Sant'Angelo and Tiber River, Rome, Italy
Castel Sant'Angelo and Tiber River, Rome, Italy

Today is another travel day. We catch a taxi from the edge of Piazza Navona to the train station. Our driver takes us through an unfamiliar part of the city. My heart breaks as we pass the marble facades of unexplored churches and gorgeous streets. So much I still haven't seen. So much left to see and we are leaving it all behind.

With tears in our eyes we board the 11:12 train for Firenze. Rome has been wonderful, a treasure house that we've barely looted. We must find a month or (better) a year to return to this city and give it the time and respect it merits.

Our train takes us ninety minutes north of the Eternal City and drops us in the town of Chiusi. We have an hour layover waiting for the bus that will carry us on to Montepulciano. I am eager to see if one of my earliest discoveries about Chiusi still holds. On my first trip to Italy, many years ago, Mary and I had changed trains in Chiusi while traveling from Siena to Rome. In the bar I had ordered a glass of wine . Mary had ordered a glass of water. The bartender gave me a glass of red wine. “This is one of our local vintages,” he said, “grown right here in Chiusi. 3000 lira, please.” He then gave Mary a glass of mineral water and charged her 3,000 lira as well. The wine was the same price as the water; what a wonderful place Chiusi was!

Unfortunately, this time I don't receive an itemized bill for our lunch, but I find the wine is still excellent. Our big blue bus arrives and we clamber aboard for the 30 minute ride to Montepulciano. We ride through the Tuscan countryside, a painting laid down in autumnal colors: vine leaf gold, burnt umber, and siena.

We reach the Montepulciano bus station, where the owner of our flat has kindly agreed to meet us in her station wagon. Our flat is located about a mile from the historic town center. The medieval buildings of Montepulciano sprawl across the top of a nearby peak, the highest in the immediate area. We have a fine view of the town as well as the vineyards and olive groves that fall away below our house. After months of traveling, the girls are in raptures when they discover a large collection of English books as well as cable TV with English cartoons.

I wonder if we will be able to pry them out to explore Tuscany?

Autumn Vineyards, Tuscany, Italy
Autumn Vineyards, Tuscany, Italy
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