Month: April 2023

Red Night with Friends (10/09/2022)

Red Night with Friends (10/09/2022)

Back in 2019, we experienced Volterra’s outdoor arts festival, La Notte Rossa (the Red Night) for the first time. Outdoor art installations and musical performances are dotted throughout the town, as private palazzi open for an explore. In the lead up to it, there are often some performances or talks you can attend. I covered off a couple of these in the last blog. If there was one thing that worried me a little about this year’s (even though Volterra was Tuscany’s capital of culture), there was a distinct lack of outdoor installations being worked on. In 2019 there were a bunch of them, but I didn’t really see any. In fairness, the world was still trying to pick itself up after Covid, so that too might be a reason.

Anyway, we were still excited as we would be celebrating it this year with our first Italy-based overnight guests. We mentioned Marie and Lorenzo before. They are a couple who live in Vicopisano, and manage properties as holiday-rentals as Authentic Tuscany. They are super-nice and very enthusiastic in showing their guests Tuscan delights, such as wine and oil tastings, truffle-hunting and cookery classes. They are definitely worth looking into if you want somewhere different and less-frequently visited (but nonetheless very lovely!) than the big names – Vicopisano is a gorgeous little town. While they had been to Volterra a number of times, they had never seen the Red Night, and so we were only too happy to show them around. One thing to note: I was probably a little shy in asking them if I could include them in photos/video, and didn’t assume either way, so you won’t see them in this blog, but you’ll see them at the above website and, of course, their Instagram accounts. Also, I was happy to limit video-taking, as I wanted to be more present at the festival.

But what did we do in the lead-up? I honestly haven’t a clue! There are no photo-memories, nor actual human memories available.

So, on with the main event! We met the guys at a corner outside the west part of the walled town and walked them back through Porta San Francesco, through the main square, where a band was tuning up for the evening. It’s uphill all the way, baby, but they hike quite a bit outside Vicopisano, and didn’t find it too taxing. As they had been to Volterra a bunch of times before, I we kept the tour stuff to a minimum. We had quick tour of the square and the streets near our apartment. Then we gave them a quick tour of the apartment. They weren’t exhausted by the steps up either, so that was a bonus!

When we were ready, we made for L’Incontro for aperitivi. The service was a little slow, but I think we had time enough for a couple of drinks and some nibbles, before heading directly across the road to La Vecchia Lira for a dinner before exploring the festival.

We enjoyed the grub, and skipped dessert.

We headed for the Piazza dei Priori to see how the festival was progressing. It’s a late-starting affair (21:00), and it was dark when we got there. The first thing I noted was that the band still wasn’t playing, and nor were there any demos or installations on display. I did like the projection on the Palazzo dei Priori, and the fabulous lighting.

As soon as I had the snaps taken, I ran towards the private palazzo that runs perpendicular to Del Duca. I just missed being able to explore it in 2019, and got stupidly scorpy as a result. I jogged there. And, of course, it was closed. Anyway, it was what it was, and with a shrug of the shoulders I went back to the rest of the gang and continued the exploration.

We went clockwise around the square, so I could check out northwestern end of Via del Mandorlo to see if there was any nice artwork installed outdoors. The town is set up so that wherever you see a red blobby asterisk, you will be assured of some sort of treat. The street had the sign, but nothing outside it. However, it was signed because one of the palazzi on the street was open – or at least their backyard was.

After a quick visit there, we wandered to Porta San Felice. It’s paths and stairs were lined with tons of little oil lamps, as it was in 2019. It looked stunning. From there, it was a climb up one of the steepest streets in Volterra: Via della Pietraia. At the top of it was the piazzetta where Osteria Fornelli can be found. It had a display of alabaster lit up from within – not just for the festival – it seems to be a permanent fixture now.

We completed a circuit by heading back to the Piazza San Giovanni, where the baptistry and cathedral can be found, as well as Volterra’s fab exhibition centre. There was a cool jazz band playing outside the exhibition centre, so we hung around for a couple of tunes before moving on.

Onwards towards the art museum, but you had to book it that night, so we had a brief glimpse. Luckily, we did get into a piano blues concert inside the beautiful Teatro Persio Flacco. While he was an excellent player, he didn’t have the gravelly voice needed for blues. He was a technically good singer – very clean with wonderful tone, but would have excelled in a different genre.

From there, we had a long walk up our street, then wandered past Del Duca again and up towards the park. We ambled along the prison walls to Porta al Selci. Near the ramp that leads to the prison entrance, there lies a large building which is also rarely open to the public – an arts building, which chiefly seems to be the resident to a dancing troupe. We had a nose around inside, while our guests chatted a little with the ladies who where hostessing the evening there.

At the back, there is a large space, with enormous trees – a backyard which few again see. In 2019, I was allowed to explore the garden fully. This year, the safety dance was in full effect, and we couldn’t wander farther than 5 or so meters. Still gloriously spooky!

We stopped off at L’Antica Velathri Café for a quick libation, before heading to Piazza Settembre XX, through Gramsci and back to Piazza dei Priori to witness the festival-closing fireworks display!

And now for some blog-exclusive content! Here is video footage of the fireworks display. It get’s pretty spectacular towards the last minute or so.

Thanks for reading, all. I hope you enjoyed it – please let me know in the comments!

Another Working Week (05/09 to 09/09/2022)

Another Working Week (05/09 to 09/09/2022)

Well, so began a week where we would work during the day. Because of the time difference, there’s still plenty of time for a decent walk first thing in the morning. And because of the location, there was ample opportunity to believe we were still on a form of part-time holiday. This is so useful when having to return to work. It’s why I always ask if we can finish off the holiday with a period of working. Instead of taking the double-whammy of having to go back to work AND having to leave your holiday place, you cushion the blow somewhat. I have found it’s much easier to take it in stages this way.

Anyway, back to the week.

Monday, 5th September

Well, I went for a walk and took some snaps on the way (what else is new?). Looking at this pics, there is a stark difference in the colours of the landscape between then and when we were just on holidays there recently (late March). They are both beautiful in their own way.

For lunch we did somthing we’d never done before: eat at the Caffé del Teatro, on Via Sarti. It always looked a little under-utilised to us, but has some inexpesive panini and Zuppa alla Volterrana on its menu. No prizes for guessing which one I went for. The place itself is nice, but (most likely because we were new there) the service was a little impersonal. Still, I’d go again for a €6 zuppa, thank you very much!

We sat and people-watched people in the main square for a while, and bought some cornstarch for sauce-thickening before returning to work.

That evening, I had to do something that I’d put off for too long – finding a better place for the new super-sexy wifi extender we’d bought from Amazon Italy. We had it delivered to Ireland, then brought it back over to Italy! Anyway, with our previous extender, we were getting about 65mbps from the main wifi network, and a lowly 17mbps on our bedroom/bathroom extended network. It was barely enough to work with.

It took a while to set up, as the two main methods (browser and app) didn’t work, so I went with a WPS button pairing, and it worked a treat. It took us a few goes to find a better location for the extender. We put it in our bedroom the first night, because that’s where the previous one was. However, the lights on it burn with the fury of a thousand suns (slight exaggeration), so we placed it in the corridor just outside the living room the next night. It still worked amazingly well!

To celebrate, Niamh made a chicken which went down a treat, and we watched as the sun sank below the horizon.

Tuesday, 6th September

Skipped the walk this morning, and worked through to lunch. We went to Bistrot Lo Sdrucciolo, on the north-western corner of the square. Although it gets modest scoring in Google, both Niamh and I enjoyed our food.

We finished off with a little walk and a sit beside our local church with a gelato (sadly not pictured).

Niamh made us a lovely chops and veggies dinner during the evening, which we had out again on our terrace. Sometimes you just need a break from same flavour palette!

Wednesday, 7th September

Well I got up for a walk that morning, so yay!

For the past few years, I have been religiously taking a mid-morning walk (at around 10:30) for about 15 minutes. It’s good as it clears the head, and is a cool way to soft-reset. Anyway, for this walk I poked my head inside an alabaster artificer’s workshop, and grabbed a coffee milkshake from L’Isola del Gusto to enjoy at my desk. I don’t drink coffee, but their coffee gelato is amazing!

Lunch! And this time, believe it or not, it was my turn to cook. So, I made the simplest pasta I possibly could: spaghetti all’aglio, olio e peperoncino.

Pour a lot of olive oil into a pan making sure it is not yet on the flame (this is important), add thinly sliced garlic and chilli. Ensure your pasta is on the boil. Then put the pan on medium, and slowly heat up the ingredients in the pan. This allows the oil to be enfused with the garlic and chilli. The timing is important here. You want your spaghetti to be slightly underdone while ensuring your garlic doesn’t burn. Burnt garlic is very bitter, and would ruin the dish. It should be sweet, still a little pungent, and have the consistency of a waxy potato. Anyway, once your spaghetti is ready, take all pans off the heat and transfer the spaghetti to the enfused oil. For freshness, feel free to add some coarsely chopped flat-leafed parsely – not usually part of the recipe, though. Add pasta water to emulsify while you’re tossing (or mixing, in my case!) the pasta in the enfused oil. Then serve! Some like to add parmesan – up to you.

We enjoyed ours on the terrace!

Here’s a video of me cooking it at home another time.

We went out for a quick walk at lunchtime, and were glad of doing so, as we caught some amazing painterly clouds.

That evening, we continued our quest for good Asian cuisine, and headed to Poggibonsi. On the northern side of town, you can find a massive selection of electronics, white-goods and home/hardware stores. Consider going there if you’re nearby, rather than going to larger towns.

There is also a Japanse/Chinese fusion place called Wok Me (at the time of writing this – April 2023 – it has since changed its name to Insoo Sushi). I liked the chicken curry here, so returned home happy.

Thursday, 8th September

Not a lot happened during the daytime. I worked, but I *did* sneak in a little lunchtime beer at L’Antica Velathri Café.

I can’t recall the meals, but I do have photos of a pair of burgers.

I either got these from L’Hamburgheria or Atuttapizza – I am not 100% sure. I suspect the latter, and I suspect I had both!

That evening I heard a band play in the piazza and went to have a look. I was also rewarded with a bank of cloud passing close over the town, giving the place a deliciously eerie feel.

Here’s a recording of a livestream I made at the time.

Friday, 9th September

This day, I began with a walk to the archaelogical digsite of the ‘new’ Roman Amphitheatre that was first discovered in 2015.

I did a livestream of the walk too!

I worked, and we went to Porgi L’Altra Pancia where I yummied down a pici in Chianina beef sauce, while Niamh had one of their epic bruschettone (really large bruschetta-style topped toast). Of course, we had a little walk, so I could burn off a milkshake from the usual place!

Later that evening we went for pizzas in La Mangiatoia.

Afterwards, Niamh went home, but I went to the Cathedral! Yes, you read that right. It was the night before Volterra’s annual open-air arts night: the Red Night (more about that in the next blog). They had a Bach recital in the Cathedral than night, so I went to enjoy and live-stream a bit of it!

When all was done, I rambled home, taking in the beauty of the Piazza dei Priori and the corner of Via delle Prigioni and Vicolo delle Prigioni, where people sat eating at the Torre del Porcellino restaurant.

I hope you enjoyed reading about this week. When we’re working, we rarely get the chance to get out of the town, hence the lack of exploration. Anyway, let me know what you thought!