Month: June 2022

A Quiet one on Market Day (07/05/2022)

A Quiet one on Market Day (07/05/2022)

Got up late, as I was paying for drinking a bit the day before. I was too hungover to walk, but I made a promise to myself that I’d go tomorrow instead.

We went to Migliorini for a slightly sinful breakfast. Just had a rice tart, and a hot chocolate that was a bit too watery for my taste. I need the Italian gloop! Here’s a stylish slot, which summarises the state of my head at the time.

We went to the market afterwards. Wow, it was a great deal smaller than normal – but we got what we wanted: strawberries, garlic, asparagus, an eggplant. We headed to back to the Bottega after for milk and stock cubes. It really didn’t get much more exciting than this, I’m afraid!

We spent the rest of the morning writing or screen-watching. Unfortunately, (or for healing purposes, fortunately!) anxiety began flicking me in the forehead. For lunch, we went to Gallina d’Oro (our first time there). Niamh got panino, and I got a bowl of Zuppa alla Volterrana. Mine was lovely, and was for only €8.50 – nice to find another good purveyor of my favourite way to get veggies in Tuscany!

We had a slow walk around the town and said hello to a couple of people we knew. On the way back to the apartment had a gelato. Unsurprisingly, this perked me right up! Before heading back, we stopped off at what would be considered our local church: Chiesa di San Michele Arcangelo. For the past couple of years it was being renovated, so we thought we’d pop our heads in to have a look. Lovely and quiet little place, with the usual renaissance art in situ – and so cool inside too. A fab haven.

We screenwatched back at the house, and for a rare occasion on this sojourn, Niamg cooked up some of the ingredients we picked up at earlier in the day: a lovely risotto with parmesan crisp.

I was feeling a little anxious, and so went out for a walk in the evening. Volterra very quiet at night, except for a couple of pockets where there were small packs of revellers. These contrasts only make me love the place even more – there’s something for everyone here. Ok, it’s not Ibiza, but I’m down with that.

Back at home, we raided Netflix and had a look at Metal Lords. I enjoyed it a good but – worth a casual watch if you’re running short of stuff!

I know this was a short one, but I still hope you enjoyed the read. Please leave a like and a comment if you did so – I would love to hear from you!

Market Day at Colle di Val d’Elsa and Meeting New Friends in Del Duca (06/05/2022)

Market Day at Colle di Val d’Elsa and Meeting New Friends in Del Duca (06/05/2022)

I waited in again without a walk this morning, as the builder was due (again) to come (again). This time he did! He and his mate took the rest of the junk from the cellar away. Niamh was pretty much asleep when this happened, so she was pleasantly surprised when I told her that they’d already been. She had been settling in for a wait, but now we could head out somewhere instead. I suggested going to Colle di Val d’Elsa – the newer part of town, as we hadn’t really explored it fully. She agreed, and we headed out!

We drove past the old town on the ridge, and down into the newer old part of town to a carpark. Not sure how we avoided the ZTLs, but we weren’t fined so we must have done our job correctly. We parked at first in a carpark with white lines, which caused alarm bells to ring. That usually means that they are for residents only. The signs weren’t terribly obvious, so when we’d parked I ran back to the carpark entrance and saw that unfortunately, yes, it was for residents. Right next to this carpark was another with far fewer spots available. Luckily, a couple of cars pulled out, so by the time we got to it we found a handy place near the back. I put my filming rig together and we headed back into town to have a little explore.

We parked at these coordinates. Google says the carpark is closed, but it’s not: it’s the lift to the old town that’s currently closed (or was at the time of writing this – Mid June). We walked through to the main part of town, only to be immediately confronted by about a 9 or 10 market stalls in a small open area. Niamh was in the market for a small basket for our newly remodelled bathroom, and there happened to be a stall there that sold exactly that! Baskets, not remodelled bathrooms.

We bought a basket, and I thought that was the extent of the market… until we moved to the next open space. Then we saw more stalls. Which, when we reached the main square, turned into even more, with many more spider-webbing throughout the sidestreets leading from the square. The market was immmense – probably the biggest I have visited to date. There aren’t many photos of it, as I was filming instead – you can catch the video of it below. It was a regular market, rather than a collectible/antique market. It was mostly about food (local produce from farms, cooked food), clothes, electronics etc. It was super-impressive and many of the food stalls looked amazing – however, we really wanted a sit-down place.

We had been to a nice restaurant in the new town before under which flowed a stream, and it had a little water mill and everything… but we found out that it was now permanently shut. I’m not sure why – maybe it was another victim of the awfulness of the pandemic.

Colle di Val d’Elsa is famous for its crystalware, and I was hoping to visit the Museum dedicated to the glassware before we ate. Unfortunately, it was closed for renovation on the day. There was no other thing left for us to do except stuff our greedy faces.

We found a place up a side street called Trattoria Bel Mi’ Colle. Our initial impression was that they weren’t particularly experienced with handling tourists. The service initially felt quite odd, a little stand-offish, but they soon warmed-up. I didn’t want another Coca Zero, and accepted a recommendation from the lady managing the restaurant. I wish I’d taken a photo of it – it seemed like a form of cedrata (clear, light citrus-based drink), and was really refreshing.

Niamh had a rigatoni pasta dish with a beef ragù, and I had a white ragù (usually one or more of pork, rabbit, hare or very occasionally chicken) with pappardelle, but the pasta was made with the flour of ancient grains – which is a great alternative for those seeking gluten-free options. Personally, I found the dish just a fraction dry, but I liked the texture and flavour. I would recommend the restaurant for travellers, but would suggest you practice your Italian a little! Our dessert was lovely, but was served on a hilariously outsized plate… not matter – we really liked it.

When done, we checked to see if we could get the elevator up to the old town, but it was closed. Niamh wasn’t in the mood to to traipse all the way uphill to visit the place (we have visited it before 3 or 4 times) in spitting rain. In hindsight, I can’t say I blame her! In the end, we ended up going home to place our basket in the bathroom and chill a while.

You can watch our video of our exploration of the market here!

We had been in touch with David McGuffin, a tour operator working out of Florida, who specialises in tours to Europe, especially Ireland and Italy. If you’re reading this in the U.S. I can say David has such a love of Europe and is super-knowledgeable about the places he tours, and is well connected too. On top of that – he’s just a good guy to hang out with too!

We met him in L’Incontro for an aperitivo drinkie, which turned into two or three. We mentioned that we were going to hop off to Ombra della Sera to grab a pasta, after having had lunch earlier. Out of the blue, he invited us to join is tour group in Del Duca for a set meal. We were hesitant at first, as we didn’t want to cramp anyone’s style, plus we weren’t sure that we could put away a Del Duca dinner! However, when he said that one of the courses would be a shared Florentine steak, we couldn’t say no. Neither of us had had it before, unbelievably – so we nodded enthusiastically and agreed. He left us to have another drink on our own, while he gathered his troop together and we met him at the restuarant. He generously offered to pay for our meal too… again, our protestations were not as strong as they could have been. The guy is a mensch, what can I say?

The rest of the people in David’s group were lovely, and some lively conversation was struck up between the 5 courses, most of which were paired with Marcampo’s own wines (the Del Duca family run the winery with with their agritourismo). Here’s the grub, including the fabled Bistecca alla Fiorentina!

Claudia was away in Sweden (if I recall correctly), but we got a warm welcome from Ivana and Genuino, and the waiting staff. The wine flowed pretty freely, and at the end of the meal we were given grappa. Now I am rarely one to turn my nose up at post-dinner amari, but this grappa was a nope for me… it was incredibly strong. We had a dessert wine instead… followed by a couple of other drinks. Truth be told we left the place quite merry.

Of course, one person often overlooked, was this time not forgotten. Niamh and I are huge fans of Del Duca’s head chef: Alessandro Calabrese, and when the restaurant was closing up and we were being kicked out (in a friendly way!), we came out and like a bunch of fanbois got our picture taken with him.

We all walked past our apartment entrance as a group, Niamh and I being somewhat gratified by the ‘Oohs’ and ‘Ahs’ when they saw we lived slap-bang in the middle of town.

We got home, and I stayed up a while listening to music, as I often do when a little merry.

David, thanks again for a wonderful evening. We still owe you and Charlotte a return dinner!

A Rainy Day at Home (05/05/2022)

A Rainy Day at Home (05/05/2022)

The builder who managed the updating of our bathroom was supposed to arrive this morning to grab the rest of the old porcelaine items he left in the cellar and to have a look at a couple of other things. What he thought we were going to do with them, I do not know! Sadly, we blew the morning on waiting, and this was the first of two reasons why we didn’t venture out in the car for an explore: it was raining.

We lazed in for a while and then had a short walk about town, before stopping in Dolceria del Corso for a sinful pastry and coffee… well… I had a wonderfully gloopy hot chocolate. Was chaotic at the bar, but we ordered and were told to grab a table at the back. I love the liveliness of Italian bars, but despite having sufficient Italian, I often find it intimidating – mostly down to not always knowing local protocol, but we survived and loved the fare.

After that, we had another walkabout. A few years previously, we’d stopped in Monteriggioni and I was completely captivated by the work of Fabrizio Ferrari – I bought one of his pieces there. He has opened up a studio in Volterra (on Via Minzoni), along with another favourite: Veronika. We arrived there, and while we found the place open, there was nobody actually in the gallery minding shop. We heard movement in one of the cellars, but decided to have a look without disturbing who happened to be down there. I hate to rag on Ireland, but honestly, this simply wouldn’t happen back home. In Dublin, the place would be ransacked. Anyway, we had a look around, and there are some amazing works there, but I found one of Fabrizio’s thematically similar to the one I’d bought in Monteriggioni.

We called down the stairway to the cellar, and two voices called back; neither of them female, so I guess Veronika was back in her work studio in La Sassa. Fabrizio called up, with a younger man in tow. We reintroduced ourselves to him, his broken English matching my broken Italian. He introduced us to his son, who must be following in his dad’s footsteps. We showed him a photo of the piece we’d bought from him, and he recognised it immediately. He really warmed-up when we told him we’d met his brother at their exhibition in Radda in Chianti a couple of years previously. He gave us a tour of the showroom, including what several pieces meant to him. I eventually showed him the piece we wanted. He informed us the price hasn’t changed, despite his higher profile: €50 for a piece in coloured Bic pens. Here are the two side by side.

We walked out with the work pressed between two pieces of thick, stiff board and made our way towards the framers on Via dei Sarti. On the way, I bought a meaty arancino (breadcrumbed rice-ball with fillings) and then headed into a new produce/deli store onn Gramsci, and came out with oils, salami and some truffle crisps!

After we’d spent 15 minutes select our frame (light cobalt blue?) and border (none!), we left the art with the nice framing guy, who said he’d have it next week. Then we had a rare lunch at home – I say rare, as for the rest of the holiday, we spent a lot of time eating out and putting on weight. I ate the arancino (no photo – sorry), some mixed leaves, cheeses and meats. Niamh had made herself some panzanella the previous day, so it had flavoured-up nicely for her!

We stayed in and lazed/screen-watched. Then, out of the blue, our doorbell rang. It was our builder! He collected some stuff, but had to leave the toilet and bidet until another day. He took a look at the towel-rail that needed hanging, but declared that he’d have to order in a new drill bit, because the tiles we chose would shatter if tried using the bit he currently had. He also had a look at a new large damp spot that appeared over our fridge. Heading out, we indicated that it was coming from where plaster fell away from the brickwork outside on the terrace. The terrace above belonged to another person, and so he said he’d have to come back with the building super and a geometra to see what could be done.

He said his farewell, and we stayed in, as it was raining a bit.

That evening, we went back to L’Incontro – they started recognising us by now. We had a nice little aperitivo, and then headed to Torre del Porcellino for some dinner.

We went back home after that. And that was the day that was!

Thanks for reading. Please leave a like and comment – I’d love to hear from you!

Day at ‘Leisure’ #2 (04/05/2022)

Day at ‘Leisure’ #2 (04/05/2022)

A shortish one this time around!

Another day where I was not quite my own man, but enjoyed the day for all that. I had to skip my walk, as the builder arrived to take away the old fixtures from the bathroom. I gave them a hand with some stuff to keep my exercise up instead. They’d have to call back the next day to collect the last couple of pieces (and a couple of other days again, it turns out!). One thing we both found amusing: the builders mate was dressed for heavy lifting, but had a man-purse strapped around his shoulder anyway. I thought it was the weirdest thing at the time, as the holiday wore on, I was thinking about getting one myself. I didn’t this time around, but maybe next time we return. They’re handier than jacket pockets for carrying stuff around.

While I was indisposed, Niamh went to the shops early and got the makings for dinner that night: flour, cavalo nero and sausage. Intriguing! I was able to take a break during the mid-morning, and so we both went out to stretch our legs for 15 or so minutes and we grabbed a gelato at L’Isola del Gusto, naturally.

At lunchtime, we made up for a lack of a walk, but first had a lovely lunch in Pisa Province’s best sandwich shop: La Sosta del Priore. Niamh had a sausage sandwich, and I had a lovely burger. Since last year, they have had a sit-down area where they also sell produce, so we availed of that and had a drink with the food.

We then went for a bit of a walk:

When I was done doing my thing that evening (during which Niamh had made orechiette – an ear-shaped pasta native to the Puglia region), we decided that we needed a little vino to accompany our homemade dinner, so we headed out to Santa Lucia, which sells the produce of these lovely people, and bought 10 liters of bag-in-box wine for €22 (5 litres white, 5 red). We got to taste it first, and also enjoy the benefits of walking with heavy packages on the uphill walk back home. A couple of shots were taken on the way:

We got home and began to enjoy our haul on the terrace. The back of our apartment looks out and down upon a recently refurbished courtyard, which is not only lovely to look at, but offers occasional interaction with thee neighbours – even if they are just cats. There are a couple of cats nearby who poke their heads out of their apartment window and stare at us in astonishment. The first time we saw them, I swear one of their jaw’s dropped in disbelief. Funny creatures!

Right! Dinner! I grabbed Niamh’s mini-orechiette, some oil, the kale (aka cavalo nero), sausage and some parmeggiano and got to work. The orechiette were cute and small, so I had to un-skin and break the sausage up a good bit, before adding the kale. It had been a few years since the last time I attempted a similar dish, and I added salt when I needn’t have – there was already plenty in the sausages. This time I broke off a bit and fried it. It was nicely seasoned, enough so that I wouldn’t add salt, beyond what was in the cheese.

Of course, there’s always a mistake – this time I didn’t cook Niamh’s pasta quite enough. I thought it would finish off in the pan where I had been cooking the sausage and kale. It did to an extent, but not as much as I would have liked. However, it still tasted nice, and brava, Niamh, for her first attempt at orechiette – they’re harder to make than they look.

After dinner, we chilled for a while until I announced that I wanted to head out. Niamh felt less inclined, so I headed out on my own. I decided to check to see if Pietro in Antica Velathri Café was busy. If he wasn’t too much so, I’d throw a cocktail challenge at him. It was quiet enough, and it turns out I threw several challenges his way! It’s great to come here. Pietro’s parents are always so welcoming and when we pass his Dad in the street (at least we *think* it’s his Dad!), he always says hello. Pietro himself, as well as being a great mixologist, he’s really patient with me when I’m trying my Italian on him, so I can end up practicing lots – as well as drinking!

The first thing I got was an espresso martini, with a nice, frothy head – topped with a few roasted beans. Those of you who know me will be familiar with my never drinking coffee. I love the smell and sometimes the taste (gelato! cake!), but never have the drink itself. So, this was a rarity. It came with a few bread slices, accompanied with two toppings/spreads: a mascarpone-based one and a something with an olive base. Both were tasty! I really liked the martini too – it went down perhaps too easy!

The next one I will remember for a long time. My challenge to him was to create something with a hazelnut base. Pietro came up with a recipe, and declared it to be a twist on the White Lady cocktail. I have no frame of reference, so I can’t compare them. I made a note of the 3 key ingredients on my phone: Baileys, Cointreau, Frangelico (a hazlenut liqueur) – the result was sensational.

The last was a little… different. I wanted something based on an apple sour. He didn’t have much, apart from an apple mix, which he frothed-up with a vegan ingredient, which does the same thing as egg white does. I tasted it. It was nice at first, then my throat began to itch like a bugger, and ended up coughing a bit. Not sure if it was that ingredient or if it was the apple mix, but not sure I’d give it a second go. Oh well – these things have to be tried!

Anyway, I had some nibbles, some drinks and some good conversation during which I got to practice a little of my Italian. Cool. I paid my bill, and asked for four mini-morbidissimi biscuits as well, then went on my (fairly!) merry way back home.

Niamh went to bed ahead of me, while I stayed up and listened to a little music.

Thanks for reading. Please leave a like if you enjoyed it, and I’d also love to hear from you in a comment below.