Welcome to Volterra!

Hi there.

We are an Irish couple, who have an apartment in Volterra, Tuscany. While we still mostly live and work in Ireland, we still manage to get over to Italy a few times a year.

This blog will diarise our time over there. I hope to cover not only life in Volterra itself, but musings on Italian culture, language and food. As we will have our own (rented) transport, the blog will also feature trips around Tuscany, especially central and west-central parts. I hope you enjoy reading it, and if you have any questions about living life in Tuscany, please let me know.

A Tricky Journey Home – Airtravel Wheelchair-bound (17+18/09/2022)

A Tricky Journey Home – Airtravel Wheelchair-bound (17+18/09/2022)

We had finished work for this holiday, and so it was time to start packing for home. I did most of that, due to Niamh having a broken leg or something.

I did also get out for a walk in the afternoon, to find out it was one of the clearest days I’ve ever seen in Volterra.

Later that day, Niamh phoned Pisa airport and booked passenger assistance for the next day.

That evening, I had to go out again to get some takeaway, as obviously Niamh couldn’t enjoy her time in any restaurant. I opted for pizza instead of pasta, this time.

Well, the morning to go home came. We called upon the misericordia one last time to bring Niamh downstairs. We asked them to bring her to our carpark, but they said they needed to use the ambulance again quickly. So, Niamh hobbled towards the seating in Piazzetta San Michele, which I marched towards the car. We can drive through the town because we have a resident’s permit.

I got the car, drove through Porta a Selci, and up to where Niamh was. She struggled into the car and we made our way to Pisa Airport. We parked in the short term, and I helped Niamh struggle into the departures area. She was in pain using the crutches, and we just had the worst time, until she found a sear in a café she could use. I had to run back out and bring the rental car back, and walk back from that area to the terminus.

She was still in distress, so I had a walk around to see if there were any wheelchairs we could grab. I found chairs alright, but they were behind a barrier. The Customer Service booth was also unmanned, so I was beginning to get a little bit desparate.

Niamh suggested I bite the bullet and jump the Aer Lingus check-in queue to see if someone there could help us. Jumping any queue is hell to me, but I went up there anyway and thankfully the people at the top of the queue were sympathetic. The check-in lady called for the assistance, and I had to wait a seeming age until the assistance lady arrived with a chair. She was so lovely, thankfully. We got Niamh to the top of the Aer Lingus queue again, and got us checked-in. (At the time, Aer Lingus was making people physically check in for flights, even though they had already checked-in online and had a ticket in their phones – is this still happening? ‘Cause if it is, it’s terribly offputting!).

From there, it was easy-street. We hopped every queue in the airport! Finally, out on the apron, we waiting for Niamh’s special vehicle which would raise us up to the aircraft. It’s a weird beast of the thing – essentially a maxi-van on extendable trellised stilts. It raises the compartment up to door-height and allows entry onto the plane.

They brought us to the back entrance of the plane, and we managed to grab our seats – not too far from the back-entrance, thankfully. The flight was otherwise uneventful for me – but I imagine was hellish for Niamh. She had to be given blood-thinners for the flight, due to her leg, as she had to keep it down. We weren’t given any special seating with extended legroom.

When we landed, matters were somewhat reversed. We were more or less last off the plane, and for some flipping weird reason, the groundstaff in Dublin brought the extender vehicle to the front of the plane. They then asked “Why did they put you in the back?!”. Anyway, they weren’t moving it, and Niamh had to struggle all the way back to the front.

We waited just inside a part of the terminus at Dublin and waited for care assistants. A couple of ladies arrived with alternative chairs, but declared that they were there for an old couple coming in from Las Vegas. Their flight were delayed. As a courtesy, they checked our names on their roster, but we weren’t to be found. Sigh. Their couple was a no-show in the, so they took our details and made a roster entry. We were seen to all the way to our car from there – a good service once the booking logistics can be sorted out!

Anyway, that was the end of our September 2022 holidays. We didn’t return for another 6 months, and the blog will continue from there!

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed it. Please leave me a comment 🙂

Happiness and Disaster (14-16/09/2022)

Happiness and Disaster (14-16/09/2022)

I don’t really split this out using date headers, as the days merged into one another.

Well, it begins. The most trialling sequence of days we’ve had to endure in Volterra yet.

It began well, though. We were having guests that evening! But first, it was a working day, so we had to do our duty. I remember very little of the day up to the evening, I have to admit. The only two photos I have are, unsurprisingly, food-related.

Once work was done, we were to meet Marisa and David at the free car park at Docciola. Bless them, I don’t know how they do it (and I hope I’m not shaming them here, and that they see the funny side of it), but they unfailingly manage to get lost every time they use an app that I’m going to call Schmoogle Maps, coz it sure isn’t Google Maps. It never plays ball. Today was no exception. A call or two later and they were set on the right path.

We parked (a little bit naughtily) near the Docciola gate itself so we could drive them up to town without them having to climb the 200 steps with their luggage. A municipale police car drove past and clocked us. They slowed down, but we indicated that we’d only be there a couple of minutes as a pick-up and they drove one. As well as driving into the carpark by entrances flush with the road, there is a ramped entrance which, if you’re not careful, will cause you to smack the underside of your bumper. A crunching sound announced the arrival David and Marisa. Their white Panda bore the brunt and Niamh and I both winced at the same time. Fortunately, the car didn’t looked marked. Anyway, we greeted with hugs and we drove them up to the resident’s carpark and walked back to the apartment.

We showed them around the town. They were lovely and suitably enthusiastic. Out by the main panoramic viewpoint at Piazzi dei Martiri, we met our friend Mary. During the course of conversation she mentioned that it was going to rain about 02:00 tomorrow morning. This is important for the happening later on (ooo, foreshadowing!).

I didn’t take many photos of video, as Marisa was filimg for her own channel and I wanted to be a bit more present for that. You can catch her footage here:

We entered the theatre to check it out, but also to look at the miniatures exhibition I visited with my brother before. I took some pictures of that at least.

That evening, we went to the seasonal restaurant Torre del Porcellino. The food there is damn good, and if you get a seat on the outside, you’ll have some pretty views of Volterra’s premium laneways. We got a seat inside, but had a fun time regardless. We may have had a few courses. As we were walking out I caught the unmistakeable smell of fresh porcini. The aroma is incredible – you just don’t get it with the dried/reconstituted variety. Another little explore followed, but it was mainly around the square.

And then home, to sleep, perchance to dream. Except something happened.

Not too shortly after 02:00, I was woken by the bedroom door opening, and Niamh gasping as she slowly hopped her way into the room. It frightened the crap out of me, as it really sounded to me that her breathing was laboured. So the light was switched on and it took me a moment or two to clear my mental cobwebs.

I soon realised that it wasn’t catastrophic in the real sense. No heart or pulmonary issue. She was limping heavily, however. Unfortunately, and this is nobody’s fault other than Fate’s, she’d left a nightie out on the washing line on the upper terrace and had remembered that it was going to start raining. So, she got it into her head to go up and grab it off the line to save her having to do another wash. She’d left the lights off and was relying on her nightsight. This was a harsh lesson to learn, in the harshest way possible. She missed one of the steps going from the terrace down into the kitched and fell awkwardly. She thought she heard a crack, and assumed it was a flip-flop hitting the floor (more foreshadowing).

Niamh had sprained her ankle badly once before, and the pain she felt was similar, so she assumed it was a sprain, and said that the hospital wasn’t necessary. She managed to get into bed and take a paracetamol, but then she started to shiver. It was definitely shock, so I threw a blanket over her. Niamh has an uncanny ability to sleep, certainly in comparison to me. Amazingly, she was asleep minutes later. It was me that spent the night catastrophising and being unable to sleep.

We got up and Niamh’s ankle wasn’t any better really. She thought it felt a little better, but there was absolutely no way she could put weight on the bad leg without serious pain. She got dressed with assistance and somehow managed to give our guests breakfast options, and saw them off with me – we had warned them that they’d have to leave the apartment early enough in the morning, as we were due to work that day. They were understandably sympathetic and lovely towards Niamh and wished her the best. At that stage we were both convinced that all she had was a sprained ankle. There were times that she thought it was getting better. We had one eye on the calendar, as we were due to fly back to Ireland in a few days.

We worked through the day, but I had to go to the pharmacy and pick up more painkillers, a pair of crutches, some bandaging and an icebag. I’ll spare you (and Niamh) pictures of the bruising.

Pain would come and go, and Niamh had to tell her work that she’d have to dip in and out as pain would often get the better of her.

I had to escape the apartment, not least to get food. There was a a Chocolate Fair, and I bought a stack of comfort choccies for us both.

We read up on flying home with an injury, and were informed that we’d have to get a doctor’s note that Niamh was safe to fly. Ok, we were goosed. We’d have to either get to a doctor, or go to A&E (don’t translate directly – it’s known as pronto soccorso in Italian) in Volterra hospital.

We opted on the latter and contacted our property manager to see how best this could be facilitiated, as there was no way Niamh would be able to walk to the car, crutch or no crutch. We were told that the brilliant Misericordia service would bring us by ambulance to the hospital. We agreed a time for that afternoon, and our colleagues in work were very understanding, thankfully.

A couple of guys from the Misericordia arrived at the apartment front door, and had a contraption with them. I had seen something like this once before in our apartment block, and assumed that they’d need the same to get Niamh down the 4 floors of stairs. It is essentially a wheelchair, which can also motivate by adjusting caterpillar-style (i.e. tank) threads from the back. The last one of those I saw was powered by combustion engine and it was extremely noisy, especially given the sound could bounce around our cavernous stairwell. Fortunately, this one was electric.

Many towns have their own ‘Misericordia’ – essentially a voluntary ambulance service – and have had for centuries. In fact, there is a mini museum dedicated to the Volterran misericordia next to the cathedral. Anyway, they assisted Niamh into the chair, and off they went!

I travelled in the ambulance with her to the side of the hospital grounds we’d never wanted to see!

She was taken inside, while I waited outside. Covid fears were still around, so I couldn’t join her, sadly. Niamh recounts that the whole process only took about 3 hours. I was thinking that this put our own A&E in Ireland to shame, but was informed weeks later by my Italian teacher that Volterra’s pronto soccorso is never as busy, because the town is so small. Anyway, Niamh also remembers them being very gentle and kind.

During the three hours, I messaged her and watched the sky turn some glorious colours.

The photos that Niamh came out with, however, were as interesting, on of them far more interesting!

Yep, her leg was broken – the fibula was, to be precise. They put her in a backslab cast so movement would be restricted.

We’d also have to go back the next morning, as the specialist wasn’t there to give her the note she needed to fly. We were delivered back to the apartment, including the upstairs climb, and paid the guys €50 (€25 per trip!). Well worth the money.

Soooo, we went back the next day. Same The specialist was busy, and so Niamh had to content with being left on her own for over an hour while other patients came and went. She didn’t quite know what was happening, and didn’t have sufficient of the language to be able to find out, so it began to be a little upsetting. Eventually an order/nurse took her to the specialist who typed up the letter for flying, plus a diagnosis for specialsts back home. He also said he could operate in one or two days. Niamh seriously considered it, but thought she’d find being back in Ireland more comfortable.

With a few clicks of a button, and a modicum of pride, he produced the letter and handed it to Niamh. She had a look at it, and couldn’t understand it. But she also could. It took her a few moments to realise the letter was in Irish – I guess translation was a feature of the tool he was using. Niamh had to inform him that most Irish people didn’t speak Irish, and so the nearby staff all had a good laugh at his expense. He good naturedly re-printed the letter in English and then sent her on her way.

Where was I? Well, I decided to walk certain areas around the hospital and on nearby roads to explore. I’m like a cat that way.

Then I began to walk some lonely roads indeed. I think my anxiety was a little above normal, thinking about Niamh’s predicament, hoping she was ok, and not least because some of these areas that were new to me had delapidated, sad looking buildings.

At the end of this particular road which was lovely, despite the collection of dead buildings, there lay a large house that was actually in-use and which had a garden attaching. I think you can hire parts of it to run new-age and alternative therapy sessions.

I took a different road back to the hospital area, and got some fab views of Monte Voltraio and the Val d’Elsa beyond.

I went back to the hospital, and picked Niamh up (metaphorically) and went back to the apartment.

Our friend, Mary, who gave us the weather portents of doom visited us with more chocolate gifts. We weren’t complaining. She also gave us some suggestions to promote healing. It was a very kind-hearted gesture. I’d texted all our Tuscan friends about our predicament, and they were so supportive – thanks, guys!

That evening, I took a stroll just to get out again, and for dinner I grabbed a couple of pastas for takeaway from Porgi l’Altra Pancia – it just lies at the apartment building entrance. We munched on that and spent our time screen-watching ’til bedtime.

The next blog is the last accounting of our time in Volterra that September, and will recall the last day, and the tortuous journey home, but until then thanks a lot for reading.

Please leave a comment or question – I’d love to hear from you.

The Calm Before A Disaster (12&13/09/2022)

The Calm Before A Disaster (12&13/09/2022)

Another brief one!

Something awesome and something terrible happened this week, but all will be revealed in the blog after this one.

We had another week of work (or so we thought) this week, and sure enough the Monday and Tuesday went swimmingly enough!

Monday 12th
I’ve been well proud of myself looking back on this time away, as I got right back into the habit of walking in the morning again. Today, I carried on with that.

The light that morning was spectacular, so I carried on farther around the walls.

We worked through the morning, and went to Osteria La Pace, a lonely little place, just at the prison end of town. This makes it sound unattractive, but really that small section is also quite lovely – the ‘Cool shot!’ photo above is taken right next to it. They have some lovely home-cooked Tuscan favourites here. Niamh had the the strozzapreti (a twisted pasta shape that literally means ‘priest-strangler’) with wild-boar and olives. I didn’t want to have anything quite so heavy, as I wanted to have their killer tiramisu after, so I had their version of zuppa alla Volterrana (because veggies).

They used to serve the tiramisu in an outsized coffee cup, but it was just in a massive dessert cup instead. Still tasted lovely – one of the best in town. Afterwards, we took a brief walk about town before heading back to work. The light was still being fantastic.

That evening we went to La Vecchia Lira that evening. It was my turn for wild boar, while Niamh took the lighter option of (I think) seabass. Neither of us are fans of whole-fish, but Niamh made no bones about it (sorry)!

Home, then bed and ready for another day’s work!

Tuesday 13th
Another morning, another walk!

We worked dutifully again (so haaaard for the money), and grabbed a sandwich shop in Pisa Province: La Sosta del Priore. Tuscans sure love their sandwiches. You’d see what I mean if you went to Florence and checked out the queues at All’Antico Vinaio (or any of their branches). However, Volterra has its own queue-generator in La Sosta del Priore! The food is excellent.

And of course a quick walk to burn the calories!

That evening we tried a place we’ve only ever gone to a couple of times in 4 or so years: Antica Taverna. It’s one of those places that has everything on the menu (i.e. pizza and pasta), so we kinda shunned it for maybe being a bit too touristy. However, we thought we’d give it another shot as places can change. We were glad we did. While the food didn’t light up the night, it was still pretty good, and the service was super-friendly. They had a little display of fresh porcini, so I went over to check it out – the smell of fresh porcini is amazing!

Home and bed.

The next day we met friends and had them stay over – but then something pretty catastrophic happened. More on that next week!

Turnabout is Fair Play (11/09/2022)

Turnabout is Fair Play (11/09/2022)

This will be a short one!

Well, Marie and Lorenzo had guests to greet that morning, so it was a quick goodbye before they headed back to Vicopisano. We agreed to meet for lunch that day. We were also going to meet Marisa and David, who have their own YouTube channel, there too, so there was a modicum of excitement! In addition, it was also Collectors Market day in Vicopisano – a triple-treat.

We wandered out to main Piazza to walk Marie and Lorenzo back to their car, only to be greeted by a few dozen classic cars. There seems to be some sort of car rally in Volterra nearly every month, and there were some beauties.

I shot and edited a shortish music-video style thing too.

After seeing them to the gate, we wandered back and spent a couple of hours in the apartment. We had to meet the gang for lunch, and so it wasn’t much of a wait before we had to get to the car for our journey to Vicopisano. It’s only an hour there.

We were soon reunited and first met Marisa and David near the centre of town. They were in town to shop for furniture and oddities for their new place in Chianni. Before we assisted them, it was time for lunch! Lorenzo and Marie brought us to Aurora Taverna Toscana – it was an all-in-one bar, patisserie and restaurant. Heck, they even own the gelateria next door – the full gamut… you’d never have to leave!

We had a lovely 3-course lunch, and took our sweet time about it too, which was great as we had a great time just getting to know each other and having some laughs. They are all such super people! The food was delicious, especially the pork steaks I got, which were cooked in a yummy peppercorn sauce.

At the end of lunch, I caught one of the most fabulous smells you can ever smell: fresh porcini. It was the beginning of the season. Let me tell you, dried porcini have absolutely nothing on fresh! They smelled amaaaazing.

A couple of hours later (a long Tuscan lunch!), we wandered up one of the streets to check out the collectible stalls. Marisa found a nice mirror and table and I played the role of boy scout and helped carry it back to her car.

Why not check out Marisa’s own video of the day, guest-starring yours truly and Niamh!

We got back to Volterra, and arriving at Piazza XX Settembre we heard some wonderful close-harmony singing from the old cathedral, which is now the Museum of Sacred Art. I’d been to Volterra on and off for a little over 4 years by then, and I’d never heard of the Blessing of the Salt, but this is exactly what we caught. We listened to the wonderful voices for a while (I am a sucker for harmonies), but couldn’t enter the church, as it seems you had to book. I got a little footage, which I edited into mini-video:

We stayed in that night, as we were quite full from the big lunch. We just chilled and screenwatched. Next week we’d be back in work!

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 CafĂ© 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 CaffĂ© 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 CafĂ©.

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!

A Saturday to Forget, a Sunday to Help Remember (03+04/09/2023)

A Saturday to Forget, a Sunday to Help Remember (03+04/09/2023)

Saturday, September 3rd

This weekend was a weird one and no mistake. I genuinely have next to no memory of what we did that day. I see the photos, but they are something of an abstract collection. I know we stayed in Volterra and had something to eat. That is the extent of my memory of that Saturday.

Here are some photos. Make of them what you will.

Sunday, September 4th

Ok, this day was more like it!

I got up and walked to the entrance of the abandoned psychiatric hospital. I didn’t take many photos because, by golly, I filmed the walk instead. It was actually shorter than I thought it would be.

So that was cool, but what would be cooler is if I finally somehow make it inside the grounds. The stairs pictured above I’m pretty sure lead there, but what isn’t pictured is a collapsed fence which might be only slightly tricky to climb over on the way up, but would be a total cow on the way back.

It is possible to arrange a tour at least to the inner grounds, but I simply haven’t done so yet. Some day, I swear!

Anyway, as handy as it was getting there, I would have to climb back…

After I’d tidied myself up and hung around ’til lunch time we went to La Sosta del Priore – they have a new website, with a shopping area! Congratulations, Ilenia!

You can’t go wrong here – the burger was so yum. Hard to imagine that soy mayonnaise would taste so good!

The Etruscan museum (aka the Guarnacci Museum) is one of the oldest museums in Europe, and also one of the most important Etruscan museums. It had been renovated recently, and I wanted to return to it to show my support. It’s lovelier than ever now, and besides having Etruscan artefacts, it also houses pre-historic and Roman era goodies.

There are still rather a lot of Etruscan sarcophagi/funerary urns, but it’s interesting to see how they progressed from actual urns, to mini-sarcophagi, and became more and more intricately carved.

I have been before, so I won’t expand any further on it, except to say that it is a must-visit and is one of the attractions covered by the Volterra visitors card. You can pick this card up at either of the tourist information offices in Piazza dei Priori. It allows you to visit a bundle of places at a discounted rate.

However, they did have a couple of new things: items from the new dig site of the Roman Amphitheatre and the a kick-ass attic room, which affords you some fab views from above much of the city.

But we didn’t stop there for the day, oh no!

The Astiludio is a medieval-style, flag waving/juggling competition held between cities. Volterra’s team are actually pretty dang good at it. We managed to grab some seats at a temporary set of bleachers and watch the opening ceremony as the teams marched into the square. There were a senior and junior categories. I don’t think Volterra won either category this time around, although it looked to us that the senior squad were the best on offer that day. Sure what do we know?

As you will see in the live-streamed videos below, the Volterran’s are really into it and are proud of their squad.

You’ll also see a special appearance by Geralt of Rivia. Hehe.

And there are a smattering of pics too.

Afterwards, we went for a little stroll and enjoyed aperitivi at Osteria dei Fornelli, the prime spot for enjoying the sunset in Volterra.

Of course, we had food there too, with me occasionally running out to grab some snaps of the slowly-descending sun.

Afterwards, we strolled through the night to our beds.

I hope you enjoyed the read, and watch! Let me know what you think!

Marina di Pisa and a Drive Along the Coast, and a Riparbella Memory (02/09/2022)

Marina di Pisa and a Drive Along the Coast, and a Riparbella Memory (02/09/2022)

My brother had an early flight home, so we all got up at sparrowfart and drove to Pisa airport. We dropped him off under a golden sky, as the sun had only been peeping above the horizon for 20 or so minutes. As always with goodbyes at Pisa airport, we feel like we’re giving people a bit of the bum’s-rush as free parking in the drop-off carpark only lasts 10 minutes and God forbid if we have to spend a couple of quid on parking. The brain is a funny thing!

Anyway, we waved goodbye and had a think about what we could do for breakfast. I suggested Marina di Pisa, as we’d heard generally that it was nice. I drove there. I love to drive, especially on roads I’ve never been on before. We travelled to where looked sort of built up right next to a carpark by a marina, on the northern side of the town. Unfortunately, everywhere was still shut at that hour, and the carpark was barriered – and probably for boat-owners anyway. Thanks, Google! (In fairness, she doesn’t let us down often).

We found another pay-spot farther south, on a street surrounding a small green area. We got out and headed for the promenade. How rocky it all was; not what we were expecting. It turns out that the premium sandy beaches are much farther south, pretty much beyond the town. Still, the walk was pleasant, and refreshing.

We stopped off at a large kiosk-like place – Il Barrino – for a pastry and a cup of something hot (coffee for Niamh, hot chocolate for me), and we were hugely impressed by the cornetti we got there. The pistacchio cream was awesome!

We carried on our walk until the town began to disappear. There were people (with dogs – lots of dogs) out and about strolling and chatting, but the town itself was still quite quiet. It was the last day before tons of Italians returned to work, plus it was still super-early and a Sunday.

We turned back, and walked on the shadier side of the street, to see if we could get a good nose in at a couple of bars that were open. Hey, it’s gelato-time somewhere on Earth, am I right? Alas, no – no gelato in sight, but we got our steps in. Also, I earned a scouting merit badge by helping a little old lady cross the street. That was my Karma sorted for the year!

We got back to the car and discussed what we’d do for the rest of the morning. We had zero alternative plans, so I suggested we drive the coast all the way to Cecina, and from there turn back towards Volterra.

Being the chief photo-taker of us, it meant that no photos would be taken on the trip, unless we stopped off somewhere – which was likely given that we might have lunch, plus new places to explore on the way. We turned off tolled and motorway routes in Google and let rip! We headed south, and drove past tons of premiere lidi (pay-beaches) on the way – I guess this is where all the sandy beaches are in Marina di Pisa.

The sun was out much more strongly by now, and people and vehicles were beginning to mill about. I found myself having to be extra-vigilant on this drive, as people were walking across roads with little warning as they crossed to and from the beach and water-park entrances. Some roads were multi-laned and the Italians (bless them) seem to not know what an indicator is when it comes to navigating lanes and roundabouts. I had to be careful for sudden lane-switching too. Mildly stressful, but I still enjoyed the drive.

The coast is relatively densely populated, and in stretches it’s not uncommon for a town to pretty much merge into another. It wasn’t too long before we hit the busy town of Tirrenia. We drove through a large circular ‘square’, and almost stopped, because they had some sort of market or festival one. There were a lot of stalls and, if memory serves me correctly, a mini ferris wheel or other carnival rides set up. The place was thick with traffic and people, though, and I couldn’t see any signs of obvious parking, so we continued our journey farther south.

Tirrenia became Calambrone, which brought us to the northern outskirts of one of my favourite places to be: Livorno. Today, however, we wouldn’t be stopping – we would drive past it. I was curious as to the route that Google would take us through Livorno. Well… it took us not quite through, but around – clockwise. Livorno is a port town, and therefore is something of a distribution centre for many physical goods. We drove past oil and chemical refineries galore, warehouses and a few massive spaces where hundreds, if not thousands, of new cars were parked awaiting transport.

It was an… interesting part of the city, if not the most flattering – but every city has industry somewhere. We circled around the city, and were eventually spat out near the coastal route again, after a few adjustments. After a while the road closely followed the coast, with hints of towns here and there. Cars and scooters were parked on the side of the road for those people hitting the beaches. There weren’t as many as I’d seen before, given the time it was.

I wanted to stop off in one or two places, but we settled instead on stopping somewhere for lunch. As we approached Cecina, we went through the fabulous Castiglioncello, which we’d already been to a few year previously. I had planned to stop in Rosignano Solvay, as we hadn’t been there before, and I wanted to check out the famous white beaches. However, it wasn’t quite lunch yet and I was having difficulty finding a place to park. So, on we went – me, a little disappointed.

The next town up, Vada, was also somewhere we’d never been before. As soon as we’d driven in, I was determined we’d stop this time, as once again there were stalls everywhere. We slowed to a crawl and kept our eyes peeled for places to park. We found one – a quarter circle off a side street and got a space with little problem.

We walked up and down the main market street. It was wonderfully colourful in the sunshine, and unlike Volterra’s market, there was actually a stall selling fresh pasta. I wouldn’t mind a permanent shop like that in Volterra itself! Other than that, it was pretty much a standard market, but it’s always fun to walk around them. The best thing: the sounds: the cries of the hawkers, and the general buzz of the Italians as they request, bargain and pay.

We walked around the town a bit and found another part of the market in a gravelled town square, along with a church and a monument to Garibaldi. The day was quite hot by then, and we were also a little on the hungry side. Niamh, being a fan of all things littoral (admittedly, I love the coast too), we decided to forego the chance of excellence in favour of location.

Vada doesn’t have an old-town, per se (like most Italian towns directly on the coast), but we wandered past an old fortress tower, which seemed to be the last thing around that was more than a century old. We also bypassed a gelateria I wanted to try later!

Anyway, we got to the beach, but the call of our tummies was louder than the roar of the sea. We had a choice of two places by strand entrace. We went to the one that scored a little highly on Google. Due to my theory on promenade-based restaurants, I lowered my expectations and I guess they were met. Niamh was a bit disappointed with her seafood pasta, and I thought my pappardelle al cinghiale was passable. As always, though, the staff were lovely. Although it looks empty in the photo below, a group of young men who obviously knew the waitress joined nearby and added a bit of buzz about the place.

We briefly took to the strand shortly after lunch. It was cute and small, but large enough for a dad to play frisbee with his young son. It had golden sand too, which is always a bonus.

You can watch a video of our day here:

After we’d wandered about the beach, we headed back to the car, via the gelateria we saw earlier. Except that despite the weather, it was still closed. It looked like there was movement in it, but it was past its opening hour on Google. Rather than wait around, we went to another gelateria/bar on the other side of the square (Bar Gelateria Firenze). Its scores weren’t as high, but it was open!

We grabbed our tubs of selected flavours, and camped in one of the covered tables outside. The gelato was lovely, but this moment was also a bit of a highlight for me too. It was just so chill, people-watching and listening to a cool Italian blues playlist. I Shazam’d one of the songs (D. Man – Ain’t Enough Whiskey – fab and moody guitar work) and it’s on my phone. We hung around for just a little while after, before recommencing our journey home.

Rather than skirting directly around Cecina, we instead to take a backroad route for the rest of the way, only we didn’t quite manage it. In fact, maybe 20 minutes in I recognised some of the backroads we took leaving from Riparbella a couple of days ealier.

Side Note: Riparbella. I had completely forgotten we drove to Riparbella the same day we explored Casale Marittimo with my brother. I’d always seen it from afar, about three quarters of the way up a hillside, but I’d never been there. Anyway, we trundled up and found a carpark, but it was a bit outside the town, so we got back in, drove up the ferocious slope and into town. We found the commmunal free carpark, but had to squeeze between buildings to get to it. It snaked in single file down a couple of levels, and I was mildly traumatised getting the spot, but grabbed one and had to fight may way through a little undergrowth, as the driver, getting out of the car. The carpark looks like it was being ugraded at the time, so perhaps it’s in better shape now.

I cannot explain why, but I didn’t take any photos. That is not a reflection of Riparbella. The centre part of the old town is perfectly nice and peaceful. We saw a number of cyclists tackle the roads, and I think it’s an ideal stop along a tough route, to be possibly only attempted by experienced/fit practitioners. I remember some of us needed a bathroom, and we had seen an opened bar at a piazzetta (around here). The owner was sitting at a table outside, but we opted for a table inside and were afforded the blessed relief of some well-working air-conditioning – a real rarity in Tuscany!

While we took turns using the facilities, we grabbed some drinks and snacks and enjoyed a 20 or so minutes in the place – and enjoyed a little slice of Tuscan small-town life, as a woman brought a couple of her kids in and the bar-owner treated them to some sweets.

On the way back from Riparbella, I decided to head farther up the hill, to see where else we could explore. Once out of town, the roads became quite narrow – very narrow, in fact, but we enjoyed looking out for the well-groomed tenute along the route. I was tempted to call into one or two to try their wines, but home was calling.

Anyway, back to the ‘present’. We found ourselves back on one of these back-roads, and again we hadn’t travelled as far as I thought, coming out maybe only 15 minutes past Cecina, and back on the main road (the SS68).

We chilled for a while, before heading out to a few places to try their aperitivi.

We ended up camping at the Enjoy Cafè Bar Sportivo – a jazzband was playing right in our faces, but they were a tight combo. The nibbles were nicer than the drinks, but we were happy enough. Indicentally, this place has upped its gelato game too!

Finally, after the slight disappointment that was lunch, we over-compensated by once again heading to Del Duca for dinner. Edit: It was because it was our anniversary! lol. Huge irony that I forgot that! Anyway, Del Duca it never disappoints. At the time of writing this, they have since sold the establishment on, and we have yet to try the fare there now. We’re returning in mid March, and will do just that!

As always, we enjoyed the food tremendously and had a little digestivo afterwards. They’re so good at alleviating that full-belly feeling. And we must have been full – where are the desserts?!

Back to the apartment for chilling and bed.

I hope you enjoyed the read – please let me know what you think in the comments below.

The Pretty Deep Montecatini Val di Cecina (01/09/2022)

The Pretty Deep Montecatini Val di Cecina (01/09/2022)

About 15 kilometers away from Volterra, across the valley, lies the old mining town of Montecatini Val di Cecina (hereinafter simply referred to as Montecatini – but not to be confused with the town of Montecatini Terme, which is somewhat farther north in Tuscany – also lovely).

We had visited it back in December 2018, when we first picked up the keys to the apartment – but before I started blogging. Resting in a hill, it too commands superlative views of the rolling hills and woods, but that last time, it was completely foggy and we couldn’t see past 100 meters. It was well past time that we made another visit, and I can say that after having done so, it won’t be that long before we visit again.

Is was essentially a mining town – chiefly copper – but the mine is now exhausted, but some of it is still open for exploration… well…. as part of a guided tour, anyway. So that’s what we were going to do today.

We drove through the town itself (we would back for an explore later) and directly to the free carpark of the mine itself. There should be loads of parking there, and you could potentially use it as a base from which you can explore the surroundings on-foot, without attending the mine museum at all.

We wandered into the ticket-office and had a family of Dutch people step in front of us – it turns out they had booked. We were still lucky enough to buy tickets upon walking-in. So do please book in advance if you’re going. I linked the site above. We all had to wear a hard-hat. As usual, the strap had to be adjusted to its max so it would fit my ENORMOUS head. Seriously, it’s deceptively cantaloupe-like. It surprised the heck out of the man fitting it. Anyway, the cost of the tour was €7 per adult. That sounded pretty good value, but we didn’t realise how good it was

The tour was split into two groups: English-speaking and Italian-speaking. The lady who delivered the Italian tour had great English and she was very engaging. She gave us the history, and we had a walking tour around the first level. We passed by the stairs to the second level. They were lit up and just deemed to go down endlessly, but were blocked off\. We hit a chamber which was a little warmer, because the shaft (railed and safe!) went down the entire depth of the mine, so warm air was circulating up, as it does (thanks, Science!). If I had one complaint about the tour, is that we didn’t get to go down to the second level. However, we were taken outside to the sifting and mining equipment and shaftworks.

It’s a fascinating place, and I strongly recommend a visit. At the end, the guide passed around some ore for us to weigh up. By the end of the tour we realised that the tour took around 80 minutes. Not too shabby for for €7 a head! We were unlucky in one other way, but you’d have to see it in the video below (basically the German and Dutch families accompanying us were a basketball team – I’ve never felt so much like a Hobbit in all my life!).

If it looks like I didn’t take too many photos, you’d be right – I spent most of the the time filming. You can catch a chunk of the tour below:

Lunchtime! We scrambled into our tiny Fiat Panda, marvelling at the towering Continentals as they drove off. We needed some food. There are a few places to go in the village of Montecatini itself, hanging off the main square. Last time we visited, we parked in a carpark leading off the main square up a lofty ramp. Going up wasn’t a problem. Coming back down inevitably meant we scraped the underside of our bumper. This time, we parked in the much more level, free place on the edge of town and walked in.

Because we had much better visibility, we were able to see that the village from the western approach looked absolutely gorgeous! Wow!

We went to Ristorante Pizzeria La Terrazza sul Borgo on the square. I was hungry enough for two courses, so I ordered two primi – a bean and kale soup, and a sausage and mushroom pici dish. Niamh got an amatriciana and my brother a pappardelle with wild boar (not pictured below). Because I’d ordered two primi, by golly I *got* them as two primi. In fairness, that doesn’t happen very often – restaurants will servce one after the other as separate courses. So, I had two dishes to juggle at the same time.

The food was nice. I really enjoyed my pici.

We left the restaurant and then took a stroll around the residential part of town – which is the hilltown proper, really. And like most hilltowns, offers several rewards for those who like to explore these urban mini-mazes. It’s a hilly walk up to one of the town, and as usual when walking about in a medieval place on a hill, always look behind you in case you miss some amazing views.

We strolled up and down through town, pausing to stroke the occasional cat, and to allow me to go astray to grab an epic shot of Volterra from across the valley. One of the best shots I’ve ever taken, I think.

We finished our walk in the Campo Santo Vecchio. It offers some grand panoramic views, provided you are over 165cm tall!

We went back through town, past the square.

As you may have spotted in the two galleries above, the light had gotten poorer, as clouds began to gather over the town. By the time we’d gone past the village proper on the way to the car, it had begun spitting rain. And then it absolutely tipped down when we were within 100 meters of the carpark, so we trotted there and hid safely from the rain. It was like actually being in a carwash. Mad rain altogether!

It didn’t let us spoil our time in Montecatini Val di Cecina, though. I would strongly recommend you visit if you’re in the area. A car is certainly required.

Below is a video I took of our walk of this special place.

We didn’t do much else for the rest of the day, except look for a place to eat in the evening. We chose Quo Vadis for the Guinness, the view over the ruins of the Roman theatre, and for food that suits most palates. It was fine.

Home, relaxation and bed. Thanks for reading to the end. Please let me know what you think by leaving a comment!