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Welcome to Volterra!

Hi there.

I am an Irish guy, who will soon be embarking on a lengthy trip to Italy with his better half. We have an apartment in Volterra, Tuscany and are taking a short break from work, to see what it might be like to live over in another country for an extended period.

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.

Palazzo dei Priori and the Etruscan Museum

I needed to look pretty for my trip back to Dublin, and went to the nearby barbers for a head-shave.  Fortunately, he was standing outside with three buddies, gossiping, and was able to see me immediately.  The dude takes his time and does an awesome job, but getting it done here is at least 25% more expensive than back at home.

Anyway, when that was done and paid for, I went to the Palazzo dei Priori.  It is reputed to be the oldest townhall in Tuscany, its construction beginning in 1208 and finishing in the middle of the same century.  It’s still the centre of local government today.

Inside, is the main seat of government, along with large areas for exhibitions.  Finally, at the top floor, there is a stairway up to the bell-tower which gives you excellent views of the town below.  It costs €6 per adult to enter.

At the time of writing this, they had exhibitions of modern sculture, and a photo-log of patients in the ex-mental hospital.

After finishing up there, I contemplated having lunch, but thought I could squeeze in a visit to the Guarnacci Etruscan museum before my belly really started to complain.

I went the shortest route, which involves a steep climb past the park, and then down some steps into Piazza XX Settembre, and then a 100m walk to the museum itself.  The museum is one of the oldest in Europe, having opened in 1761.  It is €8 in for an adult, and is housed in a lovely medieval palazzo.

Collections there include jewellery and other items found in very old funerary urns, a warrior’s burial tomb (along with his artefacts), hellenistic-style decorative urns, coins from the old Roman republics, statuary, and of course the omnipresent carved funerary urns.
If I had to level one criticism of the museum, it’s how prolific the urns are – there are rooms and rooms of them.  Most are carved in alabaster, and as they become newer, their carvings become more intricate and impressive – but the whole scene begins to bore a little after a while.
Note also, that most of the descriptions do not have translations – but you can get an audio guide with select descriptions for an extra €3.

There are some masterworks in the museum.  The first is a very creepy-looking statue called Ombra della Sera (shadow of the evening), and is of an elongated child.  It’s extremely modern-looking for something that’s well over two millenia old – this probably adds to the creep factor.  You can buy copies of it all over town.  I might get one for myself.

The second is the funerary urn top of the ‘married couple’, an exquisitely carved older couple in alabaster.  There is a school of thought that Etruscans carved people in their proper likenesses for these urns, but other scholars say that’s hogwash.

The last, and most controversial, is an early bust of (possibly) Apollo.  You may notice that written in a large font beside it is the word ‘COPIA’, meaning that this bust is a copy of the original.  The regional government in Florence saw fit to pilfer it for an Etruscan collection of their own.  So annoyed was the mayor of Volterra (at the time – there’s since been a new one) declared it the ‘second sacking of Volterra’, the first being the Medici conquest in the 1470’s.  Such language seems a little grandiose, but I totally understand it when Florence is already swimming in other cultural and historical goodies.

I met Niamh in La Mangiatoia for lunch. She had a veggie pizza, I had a burger – and a lovely one it was too – no photos of mine, I’m afraid.

Not much was done for the rest of the day, except that we went to La Sosta del Priore for sandwiches.  Niamh had their burger, while I had a fab little mix of wild boar salami, pecorino, grilled zucchini and caramelised onions.  That way you get fresh, sweet and salty one after the other.  Fab stuff.

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We did nothing else for the rest of the evening.

I got up for my last walk of this 9-week stay – we are heading home tomorrow morning.  I made it a short route, but Volterra didn’t disappoint with more fantastic cloudscapes.

We don’t have anything planned, except for packing today.  This may be the last blog, I’m afraid – but I’m toying with the idea of posting about other places I’ve been to in Tuscany, but not during this 9-week stay – there are a good number of them.

Arrivederci!

Suvereto, Campiglia Marittima and Populonia

We began our mammoth day a little earlier than usual, so we could fit in all three towns.  The route we took was largely wooded, and so wasn’t as photo-friendly as others.  On our way to Suvereto, though, we tantilisingly passed by Canneto and Monteverdi Marittimo; two other towns on my ‘list’.  However, we couldn’t be detracted from our main objective, and so parked in one of Suvereto’s free areas close to midday. 

I know nothing really of the history of any of these places, save that the first two are topped with fortress ruins, and the last was an old Etruscan area – possibly the main necropolis.  There are tombs dotted about, but we didn’t go to the archaelogical park – we’ll definitely go on a return visit.  So, with that in mind, there won’t be too much narrative, so sit back, scroll and enjoy the pretty.

There are lots of photos in this post!

It turns out Suvereto was bigger than I’d thought.   The exact same thing happened in Campiglia Marittima – the explorable area looked small, but ended up being huge, thanks to the higgledy-piggledy nature of the streets there.  The latter was very impressive: every turn we made induced an “ooh” or “ahh” out of us.  We also had lunch in Campigla Marittima in Ristorante La Tavernetta, and it was a tale of two portion sizes.  Niamh’s was correct (ravioli with ragu), mine was way too big (little gnocchi in a leek and gorgonzola sauce.  I really liked mine at first, but it just got too ‘samey’ halfway through.

The town was gorgeous, though – although it seems to be residential-heavy – only a couple of streets were devoted to shops and eateries.  Every few footsteps brought a new arched stairways, nicely-decorated homes, squiggledy staircases… definitely worth a visit (as is Suvereto, which has more amenities to offer the tourist).

We took so many photos of Campigla Marittima, it was silly.

On to Populonia, which offers a cul-de-sac with an old walled hamlet (less than half the size of Monteriggioni), a marina and a fab looking beach.  In addition, there’s a hidden rocky beach that locals use a lot, and an Etruscan archaeological park, rife with tombs.  First we visited the town.

It’s a nice place, with a couple of artsy-craftsy places and a few restaurants.  We didn’t spend too long here, and so wound our way back down to the marina area.  It has a small beach nearby, and is pretty enough.  In the distance, there’s a much larger beach, with additional facilities.  We visited that too, but briefly – being the only fully-dressed people on a beach full of half-naked people tends to make one feel a little uncomfortable – especially when you’re taking photos!

So now it’s a toss-up between this beach (which is in lovely surroundings), versus Marina di Cecina (which is closer, and has more amenities, but isn’t nearly so pretty).  There are others in the area aswell – Castiglioncello (not too much further than Marina di Cecina, is lovely, has amenities, but requires climbing a lot of steps, and is rather small), and Rosignano Solvay, which offers nice white beaches and amenities, but I’ve never been to.  Of course, possible the queen of beach resorts is Viareggio – where the beaches are overrun, but there are amenities galore… Viaraggio also holds one of the biggest Mardi Gras festivals in Europe, which surprised the heck out of me when I read it.  Plus we’re about 90 minutes from it.

Anyway – back to the photos.

We were dog-tired when we got home, and so just chilled until it was time to go out to dinner in Ristorante Etruria.  It really is a well-decorated place!  The staff and food are good here too.  I had ravioli smothered in a cinta senese (Sienese pork) ragu, followed by grilled swordfish and fries.  Niamh had mussles and some amazing wild boar chops.  They were chargrilled, and tasted wonderfully.  I had serious food envy.  We were too stuffed to have dessert, or even the free limoncelli or grappe they offered us.  Rather than let us go home empty handed, they gave us a half-bottle of Chianti.  We have three of these now!

Nothing was done for the rest of the night.

I got up and walked around the walls again this morning, but this time clockwise.  I worked myself up into another sweaty mess!  There were some lovely cloudscapes on offer, though.

No travel plans today – I might head out and visit a couple of Volterran attractions I haven’t documented here.

A domani!

Inside Volterra’s Cathedral

Lounging ’til half past noon, we then went out to Quo Vadis (the Irish bar) for a bit of lunch.  Niamh had a Milanese escalope with fries, and I had peposa (black pepper beef) and a side of beans.  Niamh’s was lovely… mine was ok… I was expecting the stew to be a little richer.  I think the strategy going forward will be to only try stews in places with much smaller (or daily) menus.  The Guinnness was nice, though!

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After lunch, on the way to the cathedral, we stopped off at a little courtyard we hadn’t been to before.

The cathedral itself (as I’ve said in other blogs) is newly re-opened and very humble looking on the outside, especially when compared to cathedrals in Pisa, Lucca, Siena and Florence.  The inside is pristine, and houses some amazing artwork.  It’s dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta (edit: I had originally said Saint Linus, the second Pope, who was born in Volterra – my mistake!)

I hope to visit Palazzo dei Priori over the next couple of days – the two of them were built back-to-back for historically political reasons – more to be revealed in that blog.  The layered marble adorning the inside is, in fact, faux – it’s been painted – but still looks fab.  The layered marble in sections on the outside is the real deal – and designates that the building is religious in nature (in the Pisan-Romanesque style).

I stopped off for a lovely caffé milkshake on the way home, where I vegetated for the afternoon.

That evening, we went to La Terra di Mezzo for a fun time with the gang there, and to have some food, of course.  It was a year to the day that Niamh and I turned up in Volterra for the second time, and Niamh’s shoulders were stiff from anxious driving, so the restaurant owner gave her a massage – and a worryingly good one it was too.  He remembered that, and also that he refused to massage the glutes I said were also sore! 

Anyway, we had a little amuse-bouche of pecorino with what I think was homemade chili jam – amazing!  Niamh then had carbonara with smoked pancetta (or guanciale – I didn’t ask), in a herb sauce.  I had tagliolini with white truffle.  White is even rarer than black, is less aromatic and more delicately flavoured.  It was the first time I’d had it, and the restaurant owner held a bag of them under my nose.  Yum!  The dish itself was nice – the truffle delicately flavoured; a bit woody.  I think I prefer the black, though – their dish of papardelle with pancetta and black truffle in a lemon ricotta sauce is a much better plate – one of the best pastas in Volterra.

You may note the lack of photos – sorry!  I was too caught up.  We had dessert – Niamh a chocolate soufflé and I some apple strudel.  We were given shots afterwards – limoncello for Niamh and grappa for me.  The grappa, while strong, goes down smooth here.  I was offered a second one, but got a shake of the head from Niamh.

Instead, we said our goodbyes and strolled a minute up to Antica Velathri Cafe for a cocktail each.  I know I’ve said it before, but the dude is a good mixologist!  Niamh had a bellini, complete with crushed peach, rather than just juice.  I often ask him to invent something for me, giving him a base flavour.  I asked him again to invent something with a coffee base.  We were waiting for our cocktails as long as we were for our first courses, but it was worth it.

He came up with Niamh’s super-looking bellini, and something under a transparent cover.  He had put together vermouth, gin and kahlua over ice, and smoked it with pine wood.  Bananas!  But it tasted of coffee, botanicals and woody smoke – I loved it.  He only charged us €10 for both cocktails together, and we also bought a few small almond cookies baked in-house.

Today we hope to go out to visit a couple of towns. Hopefully more on that tomorrow!

Who wanted to go to Navacchio anyway?

We still had heard nothing from our furniture supplier, despite promises several times that they would call our representative back within 48 hours with a delivery date. This is our last week here, so enough was enough… we would have to go to Navacchio ourselves to get a date from them. This is no fault of the property manager looking after us – I have no doubt she did her best.

The route is virtually the same as takes us to the airport, and because we’ve done it so frequently now, it was a double pain in the arse to have to use the route again just to ask for a furniture delivery date. The round trip was a little under 130km!

Anyway, we got there and, thanks to Google Translate, were able to explain the situation to the person in customer services. She got next Monday as a delivery date, but when we explained that we were leaving on the 28th, she talked them down to this Thursday (26th). However, the reason for the delay was that they were missing a couple of the internal components for the wardrobe, and the piece which would be acting as our TV cabinet. So, we will get 90% of a wardrobe and both bedside lockers. I estimate this to be about 73.28% of our furniture. The rest will be delivered on a future date that will be arranged *shudder*.

The closest thing we got to an apology was a ‘tsk’ from the customer services rep – although she was kind and helpful. I did notice, as an aside, that there were about 15 people waiting in the customer services queue behind us. If they focused more on getting shit done right, they wouldn’t have this additional expense!

Anyhoo, there was a slightly happy ending to this annoying trip, in that we had a mooch around some shops, and ended up with some groceries (they have a HUUUUUGE CoOp there), and a WiFi network extender. We have attempted to use a powerline extender throughout this period, but it is too fiddly, and requires multiple logins, and on some occasions doesn’t work at all. We configured this when we got home, and while we’re stuck with 2 network IDs, the solution works an absolute treat. We also (again, sorry not sorry) had burgers in the Old Wild West branch in the same complex. Yummy! I think we’ll be sticking with Italian for the rest of the holiday, though, as we have Buckley’s Chance of getting decent Italian food almost anywhere back home.

So that was our day, really. We just screenwatched the rest of it. I did a little writing, but not enough!

This morning’s walk was fab – I walked the whole length of the walls and arrived home a disgusting, sweaty mess. I captured some lovely photos, though. We are currently above a ton of fog banks, so it looks impressive!

A Stroll in Siena

After a shortish walk yesterday, we finally got our act together and left for Siena around 10:30.  What we’ve found very useful is to aim for this car park.  It is about 100m away from a series of escalators that takes you straight to the heart of the old town.  It’s called Parcheggio San Francesco, but it’s not labelled as such in Google Maps, for some reason.

We got there around 11:45 and assumed that we might have to queue for a parking spot, but no – there there 20-odd still remaining.  Off we went up the 5 or 6 sets of escalators.

The thing is, Siena is essentially a Super Hilltown – much larger than most you’ll come across – certainly the largest in Tuscany.  Its medieval centre is at least twice the size of Volterra’s (except it’s population is far higher).  It’s famous red-bricked buildings has given the name to a colour artists are familiar with: Burnt Siena.  

Although it has fewer attractions for the ‘gotta-catchem-all’ tourist than Florence, I think it is a far more charming place, with hodge-podge streets and hidden arched alleyways, unlike Florence, which generally has wider roads and feels a little more open.  Siena is also less infested with humans than Florence, which is a good thing, in my book.  It’s still busy, mind you!

We started off by wending our way to the older parts, taking snaps.  Note again, that we didn’t really enter any of the attractions, as we’d just been there in April this year, and had a more thorough explore last year, again in April.

Then we entered the Piazza del Campo.  To me, this is the loveliest square in Italy.  Oh, there are others more famous, and possibly grander (St. Peter’s Square, St. Mark’s Square, Piazza Navona), but the Campo is the warmest.  It’s unusual, in that it’s in the shape of the shell, and it slopes a little.  Around its centre is a border of darker tiles, upon which, twice a year, sand is placed, so horses can race around it 3 times for the honour of their contrada in a race called the Palio.The contrade, or districts, of which Siena has 17, are represented by their flag and animal statue.  In one of the photos in the gallery below the cathedral section, you can see the statue of flag of one of them: pantera (panther).

I’m loathe to give advice which impacts the business of others, but I would advise that, sure, have a drink in one of the many establishments around the piazza, but do try to look to eat elsewhere.  There are a stack of restaurants off the beaten path which offer better value.

Yes, you can climb up that tower – I’ve never actually done that – will have to remedy that on another visit.

We had another explore and documented that.

We walked past the cathedral, and had to papp that too.  Originally, it was designed to be larger than the one in Florence – measuring dicks was very important to city-states like Florence and Siena back in the day.  In fact, you can actually see how large the building was supposed to be in one of the photos below.  It is a side shot of the cathedral, with parked cars and pillars of layered marble.  That entire carpark was supposed to be just one of the transepts!  But two things happened: they ran out of money (being a perpetually warring city-state is expensive business) and people (during the construction, around two-thirds of Siena’s population was obliterated by the plague).

The frontage is still pretty spectacular, as you can see.  There is a ticket office nearby, which enables you to purchase a ticket to visit several related attractions (the cathedral, the crypts and the ability to climb up to the roofs of the extended transepts for a great view of the city).  There may be entrances to galleries you can buy there too, I can’t remember.  Anyway, if it’s your first time in Siena, purchasing these tickets is a must.

We were hungry, and (apologies to those who want to see nothing but Italian food in the blog) were still on our oriental kick, so we went to New Shanghai, and took some pics on the way.

The food was ok… generally we have found that in Italy, Chinese restaurants are about on-par with average takeaways here.  Japanese restaurants are reputed to be better.

With bellies bursting, we headed back to the car, taking more snaps, and then went home.

When we got home, we headed immediately to the Cathedral square, as we suspected that it was going to open for the first time in at least 18 months – we had never been inside, as it was under restoration.  There were crowds gathered, not least priests and nuns from different orders.  I went into the baptistry to see if there was a timetable, and found one.  There was to be a procession from another church to the cathedral with the bust of St. Linus.  It said 17:00, but we were unsure if that was departure or arrival time.  We decided to was departure, and so went to a bar to get a drink and wait.

Upon arriving back, we were disappointed to see that we’d missed the actual opening of the doors.  There were people here and there in medieval finery and wearing uniforms of office.  There was to be a mass held, so we thought we’d pop in for a look, and maybe we’d stay through to the blessing of the new altar.  But the place just filled up, and began to get uncomfortably warm.  On top of that, we’d just come from Siena, and so were ill-equipped to go without bio-breaks (I think I put that as delicately as I possibly could!).  So, we decided to head out, somewhat embarrassingly, against the influx of officials and more medieval folk.

We had an icecream instead at L’Incontro!  We’ll go back today or tomorrow to have a proper explore of the cathedral, but I got a couple of shots.  The roof, as gorgeous as it is, somehow reminds me of Windows 3.1 wallpaper!   Anyone else old enough to remember those patterns?

There were additional pennants hung up for the occasion, and also (presumably coincidentally) new (and strange) art installations in the main square.

We did nothing else for the day, except screenwatch, and vainly throw socks at trolling, roof-bound mosquitos.

I got up and had took a short walk through the gloom this morning.  There was some islands amidst lakes of cloud, and I’m sure I could have gotten some amazing shots with a decent camera and an optical zoom lens.

Our furniture still hasn’t arrived yet, so we’re giving them one further half-day to contact our representative, or this afternoon we’ll travel directly to the store in Navacchio to shout at the store manager a while.  We’d obviously rather not have to do this: the drive is dull, and neither of us like confrontation, but it’s been 8 weeks since we ordered the damn stuff!

A Walkabout in Florence

Well, we found a decent place to park in Florence, which acts as an unofficial Park and Ride for line 1 of their tram system, so I was able to bring you this update!  Note that it’s photo-heavy.  Note also that we didn’t enter any of the attractions, as we’d been in Florence a couple of times before and had already hit most of them.

We probably left a little late, and instead of taking the dual-carriageway route, we went via the Pisa road, and a scenic route.  Some parts of it are really lovely, and it offers a much less-stressy approach to the CoOp carpark, but it is a bit longer than Google Maps suggests – maybe 15 minutes longer.

I took some snaps along the way, but Mr. Sun, God bless him, did his level best to screw up my shots, as I was facing him for most of the route.

The carpark is for the CoOp on Nenni.  It is completely free, but to get to town, you have to get the tram to the central train station, and walk a little from there to the more popular attractions.  You pay for tram usage by time, rather than by number of stops.  We selected the base ticket (90 minutes) both there and back, and it only cost €1.50 per person for each journey.  What we forgot to do (on both legs of the journey) is to validate the ticket using the machines inside the trams.  You run the risk of getting a fine if you don’t.  We got lucky.

Anyway, we got off at the train station, and walked through the underground shopping centre and a street or two, to hit Piazza di Santa Maria Novella.  Despite spending 5 nights in the city a few years ago, I don’t think we’d ever been here!

Onwards, then, towards probably the series of chief attractions in Florence: the Cathedral, belltower and baptistry of Santa Maria del Fiore.  The architecture is stunning, with incredibly detailed doors and columns.  It is one of the most impressive things you’ll see in all of Tuscany – really… the outside of the Pisan square simply aren’t as impressive (although they are amazing – it’s just that the cathedral in Florence is a cut above).

The baptistry in that last photo looks bizarrely skewed… blame the camera on the iPhone.

Anyway, having been blown away by that, we marched on to Piazza della Republica.  A gorgeous square indeed.

We went on, then, to the Mercato Nuovo and the Fonta del Porcellino. You’re supposed to put a coin in the boar’s mouth, to let it fall through the grate below, and then rub the snout for good luck.  While some tourists were attempting that, a beggar woman sidled up and grabbed every coin from the font, before wandering off again.

We were both feeling a little peckish by now, but decided to go to the Piazza della Signoria – really the main square of government in Florence – or used to be in the Medici’s days.

Here you’ll find a ton of statuary, including Neptune, Hercules, a copy of David, moulded from the original, and Perseus holding aloft the head of Medusa.  As well as that, of course, you have the main building of government (back in the day at least): the Palazzo Vecchio.  If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll notice that it’s a cheap knock-off of the Palazzo dei Priori in Volterra, the design of which predates it by about 300 years.  Florence’s palazzo was begun in 1299, but owes its current appearance to the Medici, who rightly thought Volterra’s equivalent looked snazzy.  I say ‘cheap’ with my tongue planted in my cheek: it’s an impressive building, and the inner courtyard is fabulous.  We haven’t get visited it, and it sounds like it’s worth a good explore, based on what I read about it.  Maybe some other time.

What else would you dine on in Florence, but Chinese?!  Yeah, it had gotten to that stage again where we craved something oriental, and so gorged ourselves in Il Mandarino.  The soups we had (won-ton and sweetcorn) were nice, and the steamed dumplings excellent.  But the mains were so-so, with Niamh’s chicken satay not really tasting of peanuts, and my chilli beef tasting more of toasted sesame than chilli, but was still tasty.  Our accompanying veggies were nice enough.

After filling ourselves to the tops of our throats, we waddled south through the streets, until we hit the Arno river, and made our way to, and across, the fabled Ponte Vecchio.  Niamh stopped here briefly to pick up a mask to go on display with the other mask we bought during Volterra’s medieval festival.  It’s a lovely little walk, with shops hanging over the sides of the bridge, all decorated externally like medieval shops.  There is a gap halfway over, so you can look east and west along the Arno and take snaps.

The south isn’t as dramatic as the north, but a small explore is recommended, if only to at least see the enormous Palazzo Pitti.  We had thought to enter and walk around the gardens there, but lazily we gave it a miss and continued exploring the south.

It was gelato time, and up to now we had been avoiding most gelaterie in Florence, as we had a fair idea it would be sub-standard.  We’ve been told that a pretty good rule of thumb is if you see the gelati piled high, don’t go in.  We went instead to the Gelateria Santa Trinita, and if you go, you too can be served slightly above average gelato for 30% higher than you’d pay in Volterra, and have it served up by a tall, attractive young lady whose hobby appears to be eye-rolling.  Fun times.  Still, we could sit on a bench within and it did its job of cooling us down.

We’d begun clock-watching and so decided to call it a day.  We strolled back to the north side, to the train station, stopping to take photos.  We found a couple of the ‘no entry’ street signs so wonderfully ‘adjusted’ by a dude call Clet Abraham.  He gets wind of a new sign, has his changes already cut out and ready to stick to it, cycles to it and sneakily rubs it on.  It’s quite illegal, but he’s never been ‘caught’… I suspect the authorities are pleased, as it adds another bit of character to a town already overflowing with it.

We took the dual carriage way home – a road that bridges Florence and Siena.  We came out at Colle di val d’Elsa, whereupon the road became instantly familiar.  It’s a shorter route, but not as scenic and involves a bit of an annoying rat-run through some of Florence’s streets from the CoOp carpark to get to it.  As it was the evening, Mr. Sun trolled me from the other side again!

We didn’t do or really eat anything that evening, but just relaxed and screen-watched.  This morning, I got up and had my first walk in 3 days.  

You know it’s the end of holiday season, when they start setting up the Saturday market in the main and cathedral squares.  Ah well… all good things must come to and end, as they will do this day next week when we fly home 😦

Not too sure what today will bring, but thanks for reading about yesterday!

Volterra’s Art Museum

We crashed after bringing our guest to the airport, and then lazed about the apartment, screenwatching.  We headed out to Il Pozzo degli Etruschi for some lunch.  We were sat down the back, which we’d never been before, and so saw that they had a covered Etruscan well!

I had pici with lamb sauce, and Niamh had a boar chop with baked rosemary potatoes, with a side of grilled veggies.

A small thunderstorm forced us back to the apartment, where I stayed for a little sleep.  I got up around 17:00 and headed out to the town’s pinacoteca (art gallery).  It’s €8 for an adult to visit and allows entrance to the art museum and the neighbouring alabaster museum, which I visited first.  I think this museum is also covered by the Volterra Card, which you can buy for €16, which allowed entrance to many of the main attractions over a 3 day period.

As I said in one of my introductory posts, Volterra is the European centre for alabaster art, and has been for millenia, on and off.  The Etruscans carved it, which you can see in their funerary urns.  The museum here, has small mixture over a few floors of new and old pieces, spanning the near 3,000 years alabaster has been worked here.

At the top, is a reconstruction of a medieval alabaster workshop, along with a couple of nice views of the town below – including a little peek at the Roman ruins.

You can access the art gallery from the mezzanine below the top floor of the alabaster museum.  This takes you to the floor which houses the museum’s masterpiece: Rosso Fiorentino’s Deposition from the Cross.

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The red-haired, lamenting figure in the bottom right is often though to be the painter himself (‘Rosso’ being a nickname).  It’s interesting, though, that there is evidence that Judas Iscariot also had red hair, so the figure acts as a handy double.  It’s a pre-Renaissance piece, which is commonly believed to be one of the best early examples of Mannerism, which led to adoption of the style in Renaissance works. 

Most of the artworks on display are pre-Renaissance, ranging from mid 1200’s to late 1400’s, and thematically are religious in nature – inevitably, really – they were the ones with the money to commission the pieces.

There are also a couple some classic Renaissance works.

And this fresco by Daniele da Volterra (Daniele Ricciarelle), which was painted for the Medici family in the mid 1500’s.  The family crest is one of the main eye-catcher’s of the scene!

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You can also make out the coat-of-arms of Volterra on the left-hand side – the shield-mounted dragon.

There is also another room with works by a collection of Volterran artists, with works ranging from Renaissance to mid-1700’s.

I think it’s a worthwhile visit, if you have a passing interest in historical art, whether you like the theme or not.

On the way home, I stopped off in La Sosta del Priore and grabbed a couple of sausage and onion sambos for us.  We stayed in and screenwatched for the rest of the evening.  Talk about settling in!  I went to bed early, as I knew I wanted to get this blog written before we (hopefully) head to Florence in the morning.  We have two routes open to us: a slightly quicker route, two-thirds of which is on dual-carriageway, or a route through some wonderful countryside.  Hmmmmm…

Hopefully, we’ll park successfully, learn how to use the tram and tell you folks all about it tomorrow.

A Grand Lunch at Del Duca

A short one today. I didn’t get up to much beyond writing and eating. During our cookery course a couple of days ago, we booked a table in the restaurant the instructor’s family owns. We toddled up there at around 13:00, and we sat in their lovely terrace at the back.

They were having a busy service, and as we had all the time in the world, we were prepared to wait without any fuss. We got our wine (‘Marcampo’, 50/50 merlot/sangiovese), and a nice little bruschettini with finely diced tomato on top. I usually shy away from ‘obvious’ tomatoes, but gave this a bash – it was lovely. I’d had it before, when we visited last time.

We ordered, and while the food was slow to come, we didn’t mind – we had time, and the staff who knew us, also knew we had time!  They brought out their restaurant-baked breads for us to nibble on while we waited.

The starters came.  The ladies had salads (Niamh the Caprese, our guest a salad with crispy bacon and cheese).  I had a carbonara with grated black truffle, which was excellent!

Myself and Niamh swapped main courses when compared to the last time we ate here: this time she had the beef cheek, and I the fish.  Our guest also had the fish.  I really liked it, but I think I preferred the beef.

Between courses, we engaged in conversation with the mamma and the daughter (our cooking instructor), who are both lovely, welcoming people.

Pigs that we are, we also had a dessert!  I had what I had last time – twirled 70% chocolate mousse – Niamh had a coffee mousse with cherry sorbet, and our guest had a fruit plate.  I loved mine, and had a taste of Niamh’s mousse, which was amazing.  I don’t do the fruit thing, but I was told it was nice.

When finished, we were given a selection of petit fours, and a glass of extremely potent limoncello.  The latter is made by the matriarch of the family, and uses lemons straight from the Amalfi coast.  It was nice, a little thick – and easily the most buckling limoncello I’ve ever had!