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.


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