Month: August 2019

Blogflash: Take a bow, Querceto!

Blogflash: Take a bow, Querceto!

Seeing as I won’t be posting tomorrow, and that we actually changed our plans today – I have a quickie for you.

Ever since I came to Volterra and scanned the neighbouring villages, I’ve been wanting to go to Querceto.  It’s a beautiful hamlet on the edge of a densely forested area (on a hilltop, naturally!).  I thought it looked lovely in Google Maps, but as usual, no justice is done in comparison to actually being there.

We did a quick shop at the CoOp, and made our way there.

The place is 30-35 minutes drive from us, so a full day-trip isn’t required.  We parked about 150 meters outside the hamlet, and as the place slowly unveiled itself, it was beyond expectation.  It is gorgeous, if extremely quiet.

We stopped here for food, at Locanda del Sole.  Niamh had speghetti in a rabbit sauce (light and tasty), and I had a dish that I thought couldn’t possibly work, it was so bonkers – but it was yummy!  It was pici (thick spaghetti) in a carbonara sauce, with smoked goose breast, topped with grated bottarga (which is a Sardinian delicacy of solidified, cured mullet (usually) roe – which can be grated over dishes).  The bottarga worked really well with the smoked meat.  Give the chef a medal, and maybe a few weeks’ therapy!  We both had a chocolate tart to finish, which was broken up for some reason, but was still tasty enough.  We won’t have much to eat tonight!

Now we’re in the middle of this afternoon’s thunderstorm.  In the last 6-7 days, we’ve entered a sub-tropical loop of hot weather in the morning, followed by thunderstorms and rain for 90 minutes in the mid-afternoon, followed by slightly lower temperatures.

Anyhoo – see you Monday!

An Anniversary Meal at Del Duca

An Anniversary Meal at Del Duca

The title of this blog isn’t only the highlight, but it about the only thing we did all day!  We lounged and watched telly.  Carnival Row has started streaming on Amazon Prime, so we watched the first episode of that.  Seems good so far: excellent visual production quality, writing and acting – just the music is a bit of a let-down.  It sounds like it’s been produced on a cheap synth.

I had pecorino aged in walnut leaves and salami for brekkie, for a change (it’s usually cereal), and I just had two slices of the best cooked prosciutto I’ve ever had.  So by the time our anniversary dinner came (early – our anniversary is actually on monday – 15 years!) around at 20:00, I had a sore belly and head from hunger. 

We were early, so had a wander around the viewpoint first.

We were shown to the garden seating at Del Duca.  It was the first time we’d eaten in that area, and it’s really lovely.  It backs onto 20 metre walls which form part of the boundary of the public park.  We sat, and were offered aperitivi; Niamh had prosecco, I had an Aperol spritz.  We also totally accidentally (not) asked for a bottle of wine each.  We ordered our food, and after a short time an amuse-bouche arrived: a mini bruschetta, topped with a little basil sauce.  I usually don’t do ‘obvious’ tomatoes, but yummied it down anyway – it was excellent.  I forgot to take a photo, I was that hungry!

Next came a series of breads, baked in-house, all of which were excellent, and arrived in time for our first courses.  Niamh had fusilli pasta in a tomato-based minced pork sauce with thinly-sliced green peppers, and I had restaurant-made gnocchi with mushrooms and a salsa verde.  I thought mine was nice, although Niamh wasn’t a fan.  We both agreed that Niamh’s was the winner, though.  It was lovely.

Next came the seconds: Niamh had a fillet of white fish, and I had beef cheek in a rich jus, with an eggplant sauce.  It’s testament to the cooking at Del Duca that we were both jealous of each others’ dish, while also lusting after our own!  The fish was perfectly flakey, and you could have cut the beef with a spoon.

Finally, we ordered dessert.  Niamh’s was a chocolate-bomb style tart, with a melty middle, served in a creme that countained some sort of booze – Niamh wasn’t sure, although she loved it enough to say that she thought she was going to cry it was so nice.  Mine was a dessert of chocolate cremes, both 73% Peruvian chocolate, with tangerine jam filling served with homemade ricotta ice-cream.  Absolutely amazing, and the best dessert I’ve ever had in Volterra, and possibly Italy itself!

The courses were interspersed with friendly service from several waiters, and from the restaurant’s somelier – the daughter of the owner/manager – who also came over to press the flesh.  They have an agriturismo about 5.5km outside town, wherein they produce their own wines (of which we had a bottle each!).  The somelier, being aware that we are undertaking a long-term stay, kindly offered us the use of their swimming pool, which was a lovely gesture.  We also enquired about a cooking class there, and she described a 3-hour affair, during which 4 courses will be cooked (which included breads, stuffed pasta, guinea fowl).  Niamh and I will definitely go, but we are waiting to hear from guests to see if they also want to attend.

On our way out, what was left of our wines was re-corked, and we took them home with us.  A live band were playing outside a restaurant beside the entrance to our apartment – we didn’t stay long.  All-in-all, it was a wonderful evening!

Note, that the pictures of the restaurant seating area were taken towards the end of the night – most tables were full when we first entered.

No walk this morning – I didn’t get up until a little after 09:00.  There will be no blog tomorrow, as we have to pick up another visitor from the airport early in the morning!

Montegemoli and a Cheat Meal

Montegemoli and a Cheat Meal

Later in the morning, we walked to the car and made for Montegemoli. I knew it was only a little hamlet, but it’s supposed to have a fabulous restaurant: Osteria dell’Ultimo Carbonaio (Hostelry of the Last Charcoal Pile – I’m thinking BBQ, although it’s not a BBQ place).

I got in the car and selected the restaurant in Google Maps. When I ask for directions and hit ‘Start’, it promptly tells me that it will probably be closed when I get there. Sure enough, the opening time (again, according to Google – the place doesn’t have a website of it’s own) is 18:00. We thought we’d give it a bash anyway, as there are a number of places we could drive to from there.

We got there, and parked in the car park, and of course the place was closed., and actually doesn’t open on Thursdays ’til 18:30 But the village… it’s absolutely gorgeous. It stands on a hill of its own, with a vista to Volterra is blocked by another intervening hill, but there are panoramic views to elsewhere. It was like a ghost town. We did not see one more soul as we wandered around. We will definitely be back to sample the restaurant, and to show the town off. Here are some pics:

With lunch impossible here, I had a look at Google Maps to see where we might be able to go.  Querceto is a lovely little hamlet we haven’t visited yet, and was a 22 minute drive away, but then I had to go and mention the Chinese place in Marina di Cecina, which is 37 minutes from Montegemoli.  We hadn’t had Chinese in over 5 weeks, and so pell-melled it there (Grande Cina), and had so much grub that we had nothing else for the rest of the day.  As Chinese restaurants go it’s ok when compared to back home, but it was just the change in flavours we needed.

We drove home with satisfied bellies, and lounged there, literally for the rest of the day.  On the plus side, I got a few hundred words written, so the day wasn’t completely lost!

I polished off Santa Clarita Diet (which I have since learned has been cancelled by Netflix), and Archer.  Carnival Row is out on Amazon, which both Niamh and I might be interested in, and I have yet to start Mindhunter!

Anyway, I got up this morning after a fitful night’s sleep, and decided to keep it within the walls.

Nothing planned for the daytime today, but this evening Niamh and I are celebrating our anniversary early by going to Del Duca for dinner.  Should be yummy!

Bye for now!

A Couple of Walks and the Trouble with TIM

A Couple of Walks and the Trouble with TIM

I dropped the bin down yesterday, and bumped into our neighbour, who’d been at the seaside for the last month.  His skin was as brown as an oak’s.  Fair play to him.

While I sat in and wrote, (the guts of 1,000 words – yay me!) Niamh went out for a walk.  She took a route I’m unfamiliar with (there aren’t many of those), in and around the south-end of the urban stretch, near the hospital.  She found that there are plenty of abandoned/closed buildings around there.  I guess these all must have been part of the overall complex that comprised the mental hospital – as there were 6,000 patients/inmates in there at one stage.  She took some pics.

For lunch, Niamh had some mixed meats and salad.  I continued my quest to sample as many street-food vendors as I could.  I stopped on the way, at Ristorante Enoteca Del Duca to book a table for two for Friday night, to help us celebrate a special occasion.  I’m looking forward to this – Del Duca has the best technical cooking in Volterra, and a fab selection of wines.  Anyway, my eventual destination was far from Del Duca; it was Mesopotamia, to be exact… Mesopotamia Doner Kebap!  It’s a simple Turkish kebab style place, but unlike other eateries, this place often stays open super-late.

I grabbed one of their kebap sandwiches and took it home.  The photo makes it look a little dry, but it was quite tasty – I added a little cabbage, salad, hot sauce and sour cream.  The meat isn’t bad at all – definitely a couple of steps up from the savaloy we’re used to over in Ireland.  For €4, I’ll be having one again!


We crashed for a while that afternoon – while boggling over the news in Britain – and then had to call into our property managers to see if she could assist us in setting up a direct debit for our internet service provider (TIM).  We thought we’d set one up before, but when we arrived back in April to spend 2 weeks in the apartment for the first time, we found that we’d been cut off, and had to go to a Tabacchi to pay the outstanding bills manually.

We got partially set up, but they have a blocker on completing the process, unless it’s done from our own Wifi connection with them.  We went home and did this, and we *think* we’re set up!  The lady at the property managers also called the furniture store in Navacchio to see when our stuff might be delivered.  They (eventually!) said that they would call back within 48 hours with a date.  They used the fact that we are in a Centro Storico (historical centre) to add bureaucracy, even though we pointed this out to them when setting up delivery in the first place.  Anyway… fingers crossed the delivery occurs soon.

We had our evening meal (some of the soup I cooked a couple of days ago) earlier than usual – around 18:30 – and sat in for a while, before heading out to Antica Velathri Cafè for a drink.  I had a couple of cocktails (Long Island Iced Tea variant (without tequila) and an invented cocktail with Kahlua.  He made the latter fun by attempting to roast coffee beans in the foam at the top of the drink, but the torch burned them and made them a little bitter.  Still, we had a good laugh with it, and the drink itself was nice.  Niamh had yummy Moretti – one of the few beers I actually will drink.  I still lament that Volterra (indeed, much of Italy) is devoid of cider.

This morning, I decided to do a full walk of the walls again (about 4.5-4.7km).  Halfway through, Niamh (who was jogging) frightened the living crap out of me by tapping me on the shoulder, as she moved past – the disadvantage to wearing noise-cancelling earphones!

And after having just completed it, I feel fantastic, but am in desparate need of a shower!

No plans today.  I might suggest somewhere out-of-town for lunch, but we’ll see.


Goodbye dosh, plus The Museum of Sacred Art

Goodbye dosh, plus The Museum of Sacred Art

The furniture store in Navacchio still hadn’t been in touch, so we decided to check out the artist’s store and afterwards head into the less interesting looking part of Colle di Val d’Elsa to purchase a single chair.

The artist is a lady, who is wildly effusive about her work, and from looking at her work on a current piece, operates solely from memory or imagination, with no recourse to reference images.  Quite a talent to have.  Her work is relatively inexpensive, but is nonetheless pretty and colourful.  We ended up choosing a wide piece, without a frame, of a bucolic scene with lavendar and poppies, with a farmhouse and cypress in the background, all overseen by magnificently painted clouds in a cerulean sky. Lovely.  

She boggled when we bought it and was extremely grateful – we’d only been in her store maybe 15 minutes.  I’ll slap up a photo when we hang it.  We have to wait ’til the end of the first week until the first piece we bought is framed.  I’ll show you this too when it’s ready and in-place.

Then onwards to Colle.  You might recall that this is our second attempt to visit this furniture store – they had been away on holidays the last time we called out.  We arrived and the store was open.  It was also a great deal warmer than Volterra at about 33 celsius.  We went inside, where it was nicely air-conditioned.  I think we might have been in the place less than 10 minutes when we had the chair selected.  I think it was her first day back after having nearly a month off, so she probably couldn’t believe her luck!  We managed to fit it in the car (the advantages of having a hatchback), and drove home.  I took snaps on the way back.

Once home, we carried the chair between us up to our apartment.  In hindsight, we should have driven into town and deposited the chair much nearer the apartment, but oh well – lesson learned.  The tendons in my arms were sore afterwards, leading to comic instances of shakey-hands when I tried to eat lunch.  Here’s the chair!


We went to Da Beppino for lunch, where I ordered the pici with lamb sauce, and Niamh sliced grilled beef with a side of greens.  Niamh got what she ordered.  I didn’t.  But I’m kind of glad I didn’t.  Instead I got pici with a sauce of Chianina beef and it was excellent, and proof why I prefer a stock-based ragù to a tomato one.


That afternoon, I had a little siesta, and then got up to go to the Museum of Sacred Art.  Whether you’re a believer or not, I think it’s an essential visit, just to see the progression of humankind’s skill in painting and sculpture.  I  got there around 17:50 and paid the €5 to get in.  They have a couple of touch-screen sections in Italian and English, explaining a little about their masterwork pieces.

I had a good nose around, and with some of the works, the sculptures in particular, it was hard to believe that many of them were about a half-millenium old.  One in particular, of Pope Linus (the second Pope, who was born in Volterra, and succeeded St. Peter in the role).  The bust is the one in the photos below with the robes in blue lacquer.

I was almost done, when a lady approached saying that they were closing the Museum – but they could give me a few minutes to finish-up.  The closing time was 18:00, and they only gave me the bum’s-rush at 18:25.  So a 30 minute visit should be enough – unless you are a student or historian of art.  I grabbed a few evening shots of Volterra on the way home, and snuck into L’Incontro for a cone of chocolate and coffee gelati (practically the only way you can get me to ingest coffee).

What could be more Italian than spaghetti (or bucatini) and meatballs?  Quite a lot, as it happens, as that dish is an American concoction, and can only be found in Italy in the hokiest of tourist restaurants.  Meh, we were going to have it anyway!  On our last trip to Ikea, we grabbed some frozen meatballs on the way out.  Niamh cooked these up in a tomato sauce with bucatini for dinner.  Rawr!  Those meatballs are worth a purchase, should you happen to find youself in an Ikea.


My right Achilles is giving out to me a little – most likely from all the hill-climbing – so I’m resting it this morning – therefore, no walk.  My brother is a keen hiker, so I need it to be ok for whatever he might put us through when he visits on Sunday.

Thanks for reading – I hope you enjoyed it!

A Lazy Day, Mostly In

A Lazy Day, Mostly In

It doesn’t bode well for the readers’ interest when most of the photos today are from this morning’s walk.

It took me a while to draft yesterday’s blog, so after I’d showered we didn’t have much time before lunch to head out to Conad – a local supermarket. We need to get replacement trash bags – preferably clear, so the collectors can absolutely confirm what’s in the bags, rather than potentially having to read our scrawl. And if we could get those perfumed bags we got the last time, that would be aces!

Anyway, the walk there was under the midday sun, which sounds like it’s not a good plan, but the temperature (like in Ireland) increases between 14:00 and 15:00 generally, so it was a decent move. It didn’t get us the bags we were looking for, though – but the replacement ones were ok. We also got some stuff for the makings of a chicken and broccoli bake for the evening meal.

On the way back I wanted to go to La Sosta del Priore for one of their amazing burgers, but it was rammed with people, and a queue heading from their door to our street. I don’t really do queues, so instead I went to L’Hamburgheria di Volterra. You walk in, grab a ticky-box menu and tick what you want on your burger (meat, salad, topping, sauce, fries, drinks etc.) and hand it over. I opted for a beef burger, with pecorino, caramelised onions and ketchup, and a side of fries. I took it home, so I could be alone with it.


The burger was… quite good.  The fries are wonderful – they are made from fresh-cut spuds, and although their look thin, they are rather like what we call back home “chipper chips”.  The problem is the price.  The burger is the same price as the one in La Sosta, but La Sosta’s is definitely the better burger.  The onions and soy mayonnaise that they use has to be tasted to be believed.  Anyhoo – first-world problems!

We were waiting on the call from the furniture place, but it never materialised.  Niamh checked the receipt again, and it said “from the 26th”.  Oy.  Ok, we’ll have to play it by ear.  We were due to go out to an artist’s store in Volterra to see if she had anything we liked for the apartment, but instead I crashed and woke up in the middle of a thunderstorm, with bucketing rain.

So we stayed in again, and Niamh cooked up that chicken and broccoli bake, which tasted nice and gave me a veggie-fix.


I didn’t even go out that evening – just watched stuff on YouTube and Netflix.  I’ve been remiss about my writing lately, so I hope to get back into that soon.

This morning, I went a similar route on my walk, to the one that took me past the witch’s rock, but stopped off for a bit at the Chiesa di San Giusto Nuovo and took some snaps.

It’s a huge building, and pretty cavernous inside (I couldn’t go in this morning, sadly).  I stopped off at Pasticceria Migliorini to get myself and Niamh a sfogliatella (shell-like, cream-filled pastry) each.  It took a while, because a couple of Germans there seemed to be ordering the entire stock of the shop.  They kindly let me step in, so I could get away.  By that time, I was drenched in sweat, so it was a good idea.  Last time I undertook that route I was absolutely exhausted, but today I felt amazing – my fitness is definitely improving, thankfully!

We might visit that artist’s place today, and weather permitting I might go take in another museum.  Unless we get that call, of course 😉


The Original Sword in the Stone, and Casole d’Elsa

The Original Sword in the Stone, and Casole d’Elsa

Warning: the following post is photo-heavy.

It is the popular opinion of folklorists that the Arthurian legend of the Sword in the Stone was inspired by Saint Galgano, who plunged his own weapon through rock, in an act of piety.  And there, today, it still rests, in the rotunda of a chapel on the hill of Montesiepi.

We tidied ourselves up, and decided to head towards this relic.  Just before we left, the electricity went in our apartment.  We left anyway, hoping it would come back, but noted with some trepidation that the lights were working fine outside in the stairwell.

Our original route was to go there, and then to the old town of Chiusdino, but I couldn’t get a firm grasp of the parking situation there, plus it seems to have been a festival day – so it would have been a bit of a nuisance.  Instead we went home the way we came, and stopped off briefly at the cute little town of Casole d’Elsa – a bit of an artists’ haven.  There is some lovely countryside on the route, and we came across what seems to have been some sort of agricultural show in the middle of nowhere.

Apologies for the window reflections in some of these pics!  One of these days I’ll remember to lower the passenger window before taking shots – I just don’t want to cheese off the driver at the same time!

Anyway, we got to the rotunda, and had a nose around the sword, and a couple of semi-preserved hands, which are said to be those of a man who attempted to pull the sword from the stone.  It’s one of those tourist attractions where you rarely hear any English spoken.  We are a rarity in some of these out-of-the-way places.

You might be able to catch the town of Chiusdino in the background of the pic above.  In addition to the rotunda, you have the ruins of the old Cistercian abbey of San Galgano, along with a couple of places to eat.  We both had pici with different sauces (Niamh’s was nicer), and explored the abbey (€4 per person).  We got there just in time, as guests began to arrive for the wedding of an English couple as we were leaving.  Hey, the ruins are nice, but they’re no Holy Cross Abbey.

We got back in the car, which scalded both bums and hands, and made our way to Casole d’Elsa, taking snaps as we went.

Casole d’Elsa is a fab little place, which can be reached from Volterra in about 30-35 minutes, along some very snake-like roads.  Unlike Volterra, it does favour those with physical disability, in that you can reach the upper old town by using the lifts available.  At the top is a sequence of (more or less) 3 parallel streets, literally lined with artwork.  As well as sculpture being everywhere, ceramics are painted by local artists (children seem to be encouraged too), and displayed outside on the walls of houses.  It just makes the town all the prettier for it, and it’s always a nice little visit – we must eat there sometime (gelato doesn’t count!).

We got out of the car, and checked the parking machine, but were told by a cop, who serendipitously happened to be passing on his motorbike, that it was free today.  We took the lifts up to the old town, grabbed a nice gelato and had a little explore.  We are on the lookout for artwork to put on the walls of the apartment, and so we stopped by into one of the only open stores, owned by a lovely German lady and her husband.  We chatted to her for a while.  Her stuff is really good and colourful; exactly what we’re after, but the prices are too steep for us at the moment.

As you can see above, we got a fair warning that the weather was on the turn, and so hightailed it back to Volterra, where it began to peal thunder when we got out of the car.  It takes about 7 minutes to walk from the carpark to our apartment, and the thunder was constant.  It would be nice and safe indoors, though.

Except that we still had no electricity. Bugger.  The problem with having no power and being 3 tall floors up is that we require the use of a water pump.  The pump works brilliantly, but it happens to require electricity.  So, no electricity means no light, no entertaiment, no fans to cool us, no water and no sanitation.  A disaster.  We unplugged everything and toggled our trip switches off and on.  Nope.

Fortunately, I had an idea.  I was pretty sure, from memory, that there were master-trips for each apartment located downstairs, and so cycled back through all the photos on my phone, back to December of last year, when we were first given the keys to the apartment – and a tour of the building’s utility cabinets.  I found a photo with a trip switch cabinet – plus our trip switch!  We raced down to the restaurant beside us, but they had no key to the cabinet – as they are not really part of our building (our section is two blocks stuck together, each one having it’s own electrical system).  They did, however, attempt to get in touch with people within the building who might have the key, or know who had the building Super’s number.

No joy after 10-15 minutes, so I ran to Elena in Sosta del Priore, but her master trip is in her shop.  Damn.  Good of her to help, though – and of the lady in the soft furnishings shop opposite who helped translate a bit.

In the end, we knocked on the doors of neighbours until one of them answered.  She was remarkably easy to understand, and she understood my Italian too – so I managed to get the name and number of the Super.   With a little embarrassment, we called back down to the guy in the restaurant who made the call for us and explained the situation.  It turns out there’s a little hidey-hole that contains the key for the cabinet!  D’oh!  He wrestled it out for us, and opened the cabinet, and sure enough, our trip was in the ‘off’ position.  We flicked it on, and went back up and presto!  We were in civilised country again.  The joy of internet and simply being able to flush the toilet!

Afterwards, we heard the drummers again in the main square.  Something was going on, but we were a little too tired to leave our apartment and gave it a miss.  According to the city timetable, it was a little bit about the Medici – reality vs. fiction.  A lot of the 3rd series of the Medici TV show was shot in Volterra last year.  Ah well – that was the last showing of it.

That evening, we decided to eat in that restaurant and leave a decent tip, as a way of saying thanks.  The restaurant’s name is Porgi l’Altra Pancia – which always makes me smile – it more or less means ‘Grow Another Belly’.

We both ordered different types of bruschette, and then a pasta.  We really shouldn’t have ordered the second course, as the bruschette portions were big enough, and we had to leave about a third of the pasta – which were also big – their restaurant name is fully justified!  That aside, while I know Niamh liked her bruschetta, mine was one of the best things I’ve had in Volterra so far – strictly for fungus-lovers: a hot bruschetta, with porchini, fior di latte (cow mozzerella, as opposed to buffalo mozzerella), all done in a truffle cream sauce, topped with tuffle oil and truffle shaving.  It. Was. Amazing.  I’ll be back!

We were too full to do anything other than go for a 10-minute walk afterwards.

This morning, I got up, left a host on bins downstairs and went on a shorter walk.  It did, however, culminate in the epic climb of 200 steps from the Porta Docciola.  

At the bottom of those steps, a wasp started hassling me, and wouldn’t leave me alone.  Pure adrenaline got me up the first half, as I performed what must have looked like a sort of aggressive style of interpretive dance, as I careened and spun up the steps like a demented dervish.  I don’t think too many people saw.  It had a benefit of making me feel fine by the time I’d reached the top of the stairs.  Or maybe I’m just getting fitter. I hope it’s the latter, as my brother will be visiting us soon, and he is a keen hiker.

Plus I bought a bunch of stuff, including a six-pack of 1.5 litre waters, so I got some extra exercise lugging that up the stairs. *flex*

No plans today, as we are expecting a phone call to let us know that the furniture store in Navacchio are ready to deliver our wardrobe and TV cabinet!  Hopefully.


Soup, and the ‘Ludus Balistris’ – Crossbow Competition

Soup, and the ‘Ludus Balistris’ – Crossbow Competition

A little after breakfast, we went to the Saturday market to buy some fresh veggies for a version of Zuppa alla Contadina (peasant soup).  There weren’t any fresh peasants around, so we had to settle for the vegetarian option!

We got almost all the fresh veg we wanted, except for Cavalo Nero (black cabbage; kale, essentially).  One stall at the market had it, but it was brown and dried around the edges.  Turns out nobody else had it in town either – it’s pretty much out of season.  Yet, the restaurants must get it from somewhere.  I had to go without, which is a shame, as it’s a really important part of the flavour.  Anyway, I got herbs and beans to add to the soup from the nearby supermarket, and went home to make it.

I cooked up a normal starter soffritto (a seasoned stir-fry of celery, carrot, onion), adding fresh rosemary and dried thyme.  After 8-10 mins, I added liquid and a ton of veggies (more of the same, plus potato and zucchini).  I had to add a little store-bought stock to boost the flavour. 

After 40 minutes, I threw the beans into mix, which both coloured and slightly sweetened the liquid.  Normally, you’d have another vessel in which you’d layer sliced tuscan bread and soup multiple times, leave it for a while and reboil it (a ribollita).  I couldn’t wait, so I lined my bowl with bread instead, and ladled soup over that.  It was delicious, but I think could have been so much better with the cavalo nero.  There was enough for the pair of us, and we have 3-4 portions in the freezer too.

We sat around for much of the rest of the day.  Niamh cooked up a dinner of frozen fish (we sometimes have that, and so wanted to try out similar products here – let’s just say it wasn’t Italy’s finest hour!).  I ran out and grabbed a carton of gelato from L’Isola del Gusto.  Yum – will have more of that today.

At around 20:30, after I’d taken shots of the sunset, we headed out to the main square (Piazza dei Priori), as there was a crossbow competition between several Tuscan cities, visits to three of which we have chonicled in this very blog: Volterra, Massa Marittima and Pisa – and a fourth: Lucca – a gorgeous fully-walled town about 90 minutes drive from us.

There was the usual pomp and ceremony as the nobles and teams arrived, and arrayed themselves out of the square.

Forgive the quality of some of these photos – we had a floodlight opposite us during the opening ceremony and iPhone cameras don’t handle them very well.

Each town had 12 contestants, and all would be aiming at a target from about 30-40 meters away, the bullseye of which was only 3cm across.  They had a camera set up, and were able to show the targets on a big screen.  The skill of these people was impressive, as most of them grouped their bolts neatly on the target.  After the first 6, though, it began to get a little tricky, as bolts were not cleared, and the latter contestants found it harder to find space on the target.  In fact, one of Massa’s bolts smacked off another and fell to the ground.  

There was also an individual competition going on between each person, as well as the team competition.

Afterwards, there was a display by the flag wavers (sbandieratori), while the judges attempted to figure out the score.  We went home during this phase, as we were feeling a little tired.  Do you ever get tired from doing nothing?  Isn’t that weird?!  We heard drumming for a while afterwards, and then missed a fireworks display.  I tried to make myself decent and run out to the terrace to catch it, but it was all over after 30 seconds.  There is a metaphor in there somewhere!

More annoyingly, I am going to have to find out who won the competition and let you know later!

This morning I decided to punish myself for not walking yesterday.  I took a very long route to the Co-Op Supermarket, and from there climbed back up to the city.  The first 85% of the route is downhill… the last 15% is murder.  Anyway, I survived!

We know we want to do something today, as the weather seems to have cleared up a lot, but are not quite sure what it will be.  We’ll let you know in the next one!

The Psychiatric Hospital Exhibit

The Psychiatric Hospital Exhibit

We’re still settling into a lifestyle here, which borders on ‘normal’.  The threat of bad weather still looms and we’re a little wary of travelling at the moment.  At the time of writing this, it’s actually raining and I’ve had to skip my walk.

Anyway, we fluted about most of yesterday, but did go to that place which serves Neopolitan street food after we’d done a little shopping.  We both got a cuoppo fritto, which essentially a collection of fried, bite-sized snacks (mini-arancini, battered stuffed olives, tempura veg, cheese balls, stuffed croquettes).  It was actually pretty tasty!  They have other stuff there, like deep-fried hot-dog rolls, and fried pizzas.


We settled in for the afternoon.  I had a short nap, and afterwards went out alone to the Ex Manicomio (abandoned psychiatric hospital) exhibition they had on in town (Niamh went on her own walk).  I’ve already written a little about the facility here.  As well as some general stuff on the hospital, they focused on one of the patients: Oreste Fernando Nannetti, also known as NOF4, who, using only a belt-buckle, wrote his personal exegesis on hospital walls, over hundreds of square meters.  There’s a brilliant article in English about him here.  It speaks of a man who must have been fabulously imaginitive and intelligent, but whose skills were harnessed in an incorrect and unjust way.

The exhibition was really well put together, and there was a sense of sadness as readings from letters (I think) to relatives were read over a PA, to piano accompaniment. There were some good, progressive years in the hospital, but when it was bad, it was very bad. These poor souls were stripped of everything that identified them as being a unique, self-actualised person and were homogenised into a system which kept them hidden from the outside world, including friends and family.

In particular there was a heart-breaking display of some letters which were posted by inmates to friends/family, but were intercepted by the institution and never actually sent to their destination. They did show some of the more progressive stuff, in particular where patients (inmates?) were able to express themselves through painting, drawing or sculpture.

Above this exhibition, there were a bundle of rooms containing donations of the works of early-to-mid 20th Century local artists, and a mini-exhibit of local Etruscan burial sites. More Etruscan ruins were found below the main exhibition wall. All-in-all, it was €6 extremely well-spent. The facility is beautiful and modern, and a credit to the townsfolk.

I hope I’m ok with posting all of these photos.  Signs only warned against flash photography, and the exhibition ends on November 1st, so I’m thinking reader won’t get a chance to visit, unless they are local, or are coming over to Volterra soon for a visit. 

Sadly, I don’t think I’ll get a chance to get a tour of the hospital itself.  I think tours are in Italian, and require a minimum of 8 persons.

They had some cool-looking books and t-shirts there.  Unfortunately, their largest size of XL over here is like an L slim-fit back home.  Basically, it would have been a belly-top on me!

I grabbed a nice cone from L’isola del Gusto, before heading back to the apartment, which was probably acting-out, given my issue with t-shirt sizes!

Later that evening, we continued to eat like teenagers, and fried up store-bought burgers and had some of Niamh’s patented rosemary fries.  They were really excellent, but today I am in need of some veggies.  I then went out for a brief walk, to see if I could locate a live band I could hear – they were playing some Dad-rock classics and didn’t sound too bad.  I’m pretty sure they were in Albergo Etruria, just across the road from us.  There seemed to be a cover-charge in, and I just wanted to mooch for a while.  I skipped it and went back home.


Some parts of Volterra get spooky at night!

So, with my walk skipped, that’s me done for today.  I’d like to make a veg-heavy soup as I feel I’m missing the vitamins.  I’ll post the results tomorrow!

I’ve been told that tonight there’s a Tuscan-wide crossbow competition in the main square, so we’ll definitely go to that, once we’ve found out the time it starts.


Nothing Much Happened Here Today

Nothing Much Happened Here Today

The departure of our guest means that we are settling back into main pattern of living, rather than holidaying – so we can see how much one can survive on here per day.  This means that (a) we do not work, and (b) we sit on our fat cans for much of the day.

In fairness to us, we often go out exploring, but the weather is supposed to be dismal for nearly the next week, so it would make exploring a bit of a chore.  

Yesterday after my walk, I wrote a blog, showered and settled in for some screen watching – occasionally examining the cloudscape outside.  When it came close to lunch, Niamh stayed behind, while I went outside to do some shopping for food.  I bought some cold cuts and tomatoes for Niamh, drinks for the pair of us and went into one of the touristy produce stores to pick up a wheel of pecorino, aged in walnut leaves (yum!).  I’d been wondering about other types of Italian street food, and so strolled to one of the eateries on Minzoni, and grabbed myself an arancino (deep-fried rice-ball, with cheese and minced beef) and some sort of roll I thought was stuffed with bacon and cheese.  It wasn’t, it had a little bacon, but was very bready.  I’d skip that next time, but I’d have the arancini again! 

There’s a place on all’Arco which serves granite, and other Neopolitan street food – I might give that a go today.

That afternoon, we pretty much did what we did in the morning – chilled.  The most exciting thing to happen was that the thunder kicked-in, but there was no rain – instead, we lost power for about 15 seconds.  Not awful, but I was in the middle of streaming a movie on SkyGo.  It honestly took 30 minutes to get all our devices working again after multiple phone, TV, laptop and router reboots when the power came back.  That was the worst of the forecasted storms, though.  It got a little cooler, but that was welcome!

We used up another portion of the ragú Niamh made a while back, with large shell pasta.  The ragú was nice, but the pasta (although nice and toothsome), was not the right shape – the sauce definitely works better with long, string-type pastas.  We’d been a little naughty the previous day and bought bottles of Disaronno (an almond liqueur – like liquid cake!), and Limoncello.  I poured myself a decent measure of the Disaronno, and after finishing both it and the dish-drying went out on my own.

I stopped off in Antica Velathri Café for a Moretti and had a conversation about why the barstaff in Marina di Cecina didn’t know what I meant when I asked for an Amaretto (of which Disaronno is an example).  It turns out two things are important:

  1. The Disaronno brand is so prevalent, that it’s more common to ask for it rather than an Amaretto; and
  2. An Amaretto is also a small biscuit, made with almonds, and so asking for one would cause confusion.  In order to avoid this confusion, I should ask for an ‘Amaretto di Saronno’, as the Amaretto liqueur originated in Saronno town – a bit north of Milan.  You learn something new every day.

Anyway, he generously gave me a couple of samples of Amaretto biscuit to go with the cantuccini (hard biscuits) with Vin Santo (dessert wine that often tastes not unlike communion wine) I ordered.  The cantuccini were made in-house and were nice.  

I got to practice a littler Italian, but I had to resort to translation and English.  I need more opportunities like this with someone as generous as the bartender!

We watched an episode of Orange is the New Black when I got home.  Too many characters, with storylines spread too thinly.  Probably a good thing it’s ending – watching it has become a labour of love.

This morning, I forgot my water bottle, and so just went on a quick walk around the centre of town.

There’s another yellow weather warning here today, so nothing huge planned.  I didn’t get any writing done yesterday, so I hope to get some done today.  A young Italian lady contacted me re my blog, and has a project she’s trying to finish – she’s asked me some more questions about my impressions of Tuscany and how I’m integrating, so I’ll help her with that today too.

See you in the next one!