Niamh started the day of in artsy fashion by taking the two masks we’d bought (one last year at the medieval festival on the right, and the fancier one in Florence on the left), and hanging them in the corridor between the living room and bedrooms.
Then we had a challenging walk, partly around the walls, and then up the 200 steps at Portal di Docciola. I found them less challenging this time around because (a) I’d lost weight, and (b) I’d been walking up and down our stairs 10 times in a row as early-morning exercise before work, almost every workday.
Then it looks like I insisted on our particular lunch venue:
We went to Ristorante Enotect Del Duca! Yay! This place features the best technical cooking in Volterra. I had home-made gnocchi with mushroom, drizzled over by a barley-laden broth. I could have drunk a pint of that broth! Niamh settled for the lasagne, and once again, had me beaten. It was amazing.
Afterwards, we headed to Antica Velathri Cafe, and had a couple of cocktails each. I can only assume I was having a good day, health-wise, as I’d been keeping away from drink up to now.
As always, we got a lovely welcome from the guy who runs the place… he’s a fantastic mixologist. He had a helper-lady with him this time, who was very friendly too.
I have no other record of what we did for the rest of the day, so I assume Niamh rustled something up to eat, and the pair of us screenwatched.
We both got up, left the trash down (I presume!), and Niamh took me on a walk she’d done before. There were parts of it I hadn’t been on before, so that was pretty cool.
We walked to Volterra’s hospital, and were greeted by the art installation that had graced the cathedral square a couple of years ago. It’s an interesting display, but perhaps a little depressing, given its location.
On we went, past apartment buildings I was unfamiliar with (including an abandoned one), and past a church I’d only seen in photos. To pay Niamh back, I took her to the entrance to the old psychiatric hospital, and then back through town again. A good, long stroll!
We hung around the apartment screenwatching until lunch. We made good on our promise to visit the waiter in Porgi l’Altra Pancia – handy too, as it is just down the steps from us. Niamh had a form of Caprese salad, and I just stuck with my usual Zuppa alla Volterrana. I remember the soup being yummy.
And back upstairs for a lazy day in the apartment. It just gets too warm in August to go wandering.
In the evening, I was sent out to grab some takeaway pizza at Pizzeria Da Nanni. I’d heard good things about it, but while the resulting pizzas were taste enough I guess, they was a little overdone. Ah well. I’ll have to give them another chance at some stage, but my favourite pizzeria in Volterra remains Pizzeria Ombra della Sera for now.
After we’d eaten back at the apartment, I dollied myself up and headed out to try out the iPhone 11 Pro’s night-time photo capabilities. I was impressed, but the ambient lighting is very much overstated. Pale greens come out as ‘very’ greens etc. Still, a million times better than the grainy efforts I used to get using the iPhone 7.
It all seems very quiet in Volterra. But things were about to change.
First day of the holidays! What to do, what to do. We decided to head out late morning for Navacchio, about 45 minutes away north to look for paints and lights… and maybe someone who knew a thing or two about air-conditioning units – although we figured that we were getting on grand with the cooling units we bought a while back.
We stopped quickly in La Rosa on the way, to scope out a cheap department store called Magazzini Mangini to see if we could cut short our journey and just buy lights. The stuff they had wasn’t to our taste, so onwards to Navacchio shopping centre!
We masked-up and went to Casa, and bought some knick-knacks and some gently glowing balls (bedside lamps). Happy with our lot, we decided to head down to OBI. Spotting a lift, we got inside, thinking it would take us down a full level to where OBI is. However, we quickly discovered that the lift was for disabled access to the store and just went down about 7 feet to the same level as the bottom of the stairs into Casa. Thoroughly humiliated, but laughing, we went on our hunt for OBI.
OBI had paints, but not the ones we wanted… it had nice air-conditioning units too – but I chickened out.
Quickly nipping into Euronics to confirm we had no impulse to shop for electronics, we had a big flip-off lunch in Wild West. A nice burger and fries for both of us, but damn we had to wait 20+ minutes for a table – although it was still (albeit barely) Covid-compliant. It also had yapping dogs. Italians love their dogs and they are frequently welcome in restaurants.
Afterwards, we went back to La Rosa, and picked up a couple of heavy terracotta decorated boxy-type things, which we’d use to hold the doors to terraces open. Handy! We also checked out the opening hours of a second-hand type store – Il Mercatino Dell’Usato (which I nicknamed ‘tutta la merda’ due to little bit of everything it seemed to have in stock behind its locked gates).
Then back home. I don’t think we ate much, as we’d had a big lunch, but not so big that we didn’t head back out into town to take some snaps. I also indulged in a lemon granita from Isola del Gusto to cool me down.
Another day in paradise, which is to say we spent Bank Holiday Monday in Volterra. I’m pretty sure we went food shopping in Conad City that day. We must have spent an awful lot of it screen-watching, before heading out for a walk.
We headed towards the prison, and then doubled-backed towards the municipal park, admiring a huge beetle on the way (maybe a Rhino Beetle?).
There’s a small snack cabin and seating area just off the park, which we have rarely used. It was closed that day, but lately some work had been carried out on a tall stacked fountain called La Fontana dei Ponti – it’s visible from the road (Viale dei Ponti) leading up to the famous Volterran vista. Some restoration work had begun on it, and I’m pretty sure that walkways which were previously unavailable were reopened. They started off this snack area, so Niamh and I had a walk around the parts of the fountain we could.
Sadly some of it is still defaced by graffiti, so I hope they can do something to clean it up.
Afterwards we went home, and Niamh cooked up some ravioli with sage and butter sauce. It was yum!
Screen-watching and bed – we were back in work tomorrow for a couple more days before our actual holiday kicked in.
Right! It was time to spend the bank holiday the right way again. We took the car out and drove to the Chianti area. Much of the drive was lovely, but there were no obvious spots to pull in and take shots, sadly.
The first town we visited was Castellina in Chianti, and for me, it is the best town in the area (we also visited Greve and Montefioralle before – the latter is a hamlet and is gorgeous – I didn’t blog about them, sadly). We found a handy carpark near the old town, but it was at the bottom of a slope – so we winced when we heard the bottom bumper scrape a little off the asphalt.
We got out, and took a stroll around. It seems to embrace its position in the Chianti area a bit more readily than some other towns. The Chianti Cockerel was to be seen everywhere.
We found a restaurant (Taverna Squarcialupi), with a lovely view outside (although we ate indoors due to them having air conditioning). The highlights were Niamh’s stuffed zucchini flowers and my pici with Chianina beef ragu. The latter came with a mini-jug of Chianti sauce on the side. Yum, although my gastritis and anxiety were preventing me from enjoying myself fully.
After we ate, we had a look at their wine cellar – nifty!
Their wine-tasting room (above, bottom left) was lovely!
We explored a little bit more of the town afterwards.
We got back in the car, then, and drove 20 minutes to Radda in Chianti – a smaller town, but lovely for all that.
There was an art exhibition in the town hall. Last year, we encountered the artist in Monteriggione, and were delighted he seems to be coming up in the world. His was exhibiting with his brother. He paints, but he also draws exquisitely just using Bic pens. We bought the one on the left from him last year – the medium was a Bic pen. It’s hanging in our apartment. The other was part of the exhibition. A talented guy. Unfortunately, he was busy with prospective clients, so we didn’t get a chance to talk to him – but we chatted with his brother for a moment.
After we stopped off at a gelateria, and I had a lemon sorbet – Niamh opted for nothing. It tasted so-so, but it did its job of cooling me down.
On the way home we stopped for two photo-ops. One on the way back to Castellina:
And yet another stop at the O, on the Siena road, much closer to home. The views were gorgeous there, as always.
Check out the hi-res version of the pano shot here.
And then home, and a night in watching telly… and cooling down!
And then, to our chagrin, we must have stayed in all the live-long day, until the evening, when we went for a stroll after having some pizza in the Irish Bar (Quo Vadis). My drink was a virgin Mojito (gastritis), and it was incredible refreshing – top marks there!
The pizzas were tasty too. I had the house pizza (a pizza bianca) another day, and it was fab. I digress… we toddled around, and I tried to snap things that I hadn’t captured too often before (as well as some usual sights, of course).
And that was all she wrote! Sorry about that… but we had a more exciting day on Sunday. I’ll post that up over the next day or two.
As you may remember from the end of my previous blog, I told you that our employer gave everyone an additional company day as a holiday, which led into the August Bank Holiday weekend. It was a wonderful gesture, and we grabbed the opportunity to do stuff with both hands. Up to now, we’d barely left the town, except to pick up monitors and coolers.
We got up and did a reasonable walk. We went from our apartment to Porta San Francesco, around to near Porta Fiorentina (the town entrance actually closest to us), and then walk by the cemetary, when I remembered something pretty exciting.
The cemetary is well-kept, and looks nice – a few snaps to follow. The second most interesting thing about it used to be that there is a free carpark opposite it. Now things have changed.
Back in 2015, a discovery was made of a large Roman oval theatre near the cemetary. This caused enourmous excitement, as all Roman theatres until then were known about, and were either kept for posterity (and tourism), or were re-purposed (for example the oval Piazza dell’Anfiteatro in Lucca, which is now an oval piazza surrounded by apartments and shops/restaurants). This theatre, however, was a new kid on the block. It is estimated that it had not been known about for maybe 400-500 years. In archaeological circles it made headline news. Now I can’t do it full justice, as I have never been to the dig site (there are photos that follow from outside it), but you can read all about it in Annie Adair’s stellar account here.
I’m still following the story on Instagram and Facebook, and it’s amazing to see it unfold. Anyway, there is another curio on the road – Porta Diana. I call it the sister gate to Porta all’Arco. It’s another Etruscan gate, which is sadly missing it’s arch. Beyond it, and a ways downhill are Etruscan tombs. We didn’t explore them today – but I recount them here.
We stopped off at Pasticceria Migliorini for a sweet Italian breakfast. Note the crest of the Medici family over the Porta Fiorentina.
We decided to go somewhere we’d driven past about a dozen times, but never stopped: Pomerance. We drove by the other ‘O’ on the way, but didn’t stop as the parking spot was taken.
We googled our way to a carpark, that was free, if I recall correctly. It was stinking hot – that much I remember for sure – push 36-37 celsius. We walked around the old part of town. It’s a nice place – much nicer than I thought it was going to be. It also had a nice cafe which had some oriental-style food on their menu. This is probably our biggest disappointment with Volterra. As much as we love Italian food, we probably love south-east Asian food even more – and have to travel 30-40km to find Chinese or Thai restaurants. And we have yet to find a restaurant that we’d consider great. So far, they have been… ok. Food on-par with what you’d get in a takeaway back in Ireland. Now we found a place that it might be worth a shot some day (we didn’t on this trip – sorry!).
We were a little too early to have food anyway, and hanging around probably wasn’t a great idea, due to the temperature. I suggested to Niamh that we try to see if Osteria dell’Ultimo Carbonaio in Montegemoli. We’d tried going there before, but sadly it was shut.
We got there and saw it was open. We sat outside underneath a covering, along with another, younger couple. We were joined again by a dude who rode a noisy motorbike into the hamlet. Basically, the only obvious business in Montegemoli is this restaurant. The village is worth a trip to see, though – and the restaurant certainly is. Both it, and Trattoria Albana in Mazzolla, are worth a trip outside Volterra itself if great food is what you’re after.
The food was wonderful! The antipasti were a tasty mix, and I was mad jealous of Niamh’s lasagne. I usually stay away from lasagne in Italy, as I (used to) consider them pedestrian. That’s a attitude I have to kill. A good lasagne in Italy is amazing. My own dish (pappardelle with wild boar sauce) was really good… just not as good as the lasagne.
Then home… Unfortunately, I didn’t make much of a record of what we did, so I assume that we ate light at home, and screen-watched. The sunset, however, was sublime – and capped off a great day.
The hump of the working week. What we did, I can’t say… at least pre-dinner time. We must have eaten in for lunch. Before, we started, though, we went for a walk.
As we are an hour ahead, we have to work ‘later’ than we normally do while over in Italy. Due to the early start with having to bring out the trash almost every morning, it can make the working day seem very long (but perfectly fine for holidays!). We went to Da Beppino for dinner that night. I had been hoping they still had the lamb ragu on the menu, but sadly they didn’t. Instead, I had pici with a Chianina beef ragu, and Niamh had pici carbonara. I thought mine was pretty good. Sadly, Niamh’s was way too heavy (in hindsight pici is a thick and heavy noodle, and served with carbonara isn’t a great idea) and the egg had split in the sauce – she maybe just ate a third of it. She declared her distaste to the very surprised waiter. I don’t think we got anything off the bill! My dish is pictured below.
Afterwards, we had a happy walk around the usual sights, and managed to catch the sunset. I remember being genuinely happy that evening, the indifferent food notwithstanding.
I might skip a separate blog for the 30th, as I only have a handful of photos from the evening. I must have been testing out the nighttime ability of the iPhone 11’s camera. It really is excellent, compared to the old iPhone 7’s:
I must have been in a bit of a state that day, to have skipped on the walk. Sadly, anxiety can sap your will to do anything recreational or creative.
In happier news, our company had given everyone an extra day off leading into the August Bank holiday weekend, and so we actually went somewhere new on the 31st! More on that soon!
Same problem with these workdays – we didn’t do much beyond working and walking. Here are some photos from our morning walk.
I love the camera on the iPhone 11 Pro!
Anyway, for lunch I remember going out to what I would have considered a fast-food style cafe near us. I walked in, missed the step and nearly jarred/dislocated my knee. That was sore and humiliating. Anyway, I had their Zuppa alla Volterrana, for a good bit better than you get it in regular restaurants. And I was super-impressed. Get in me, veggies!
And the only other thing I can find in my photo gallery for today was a photo of me! I am attempting to smile out on our terrace, but I was probably burning with mid-range anxiety.