Chianti Country – 02/08/2020

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!

Another Stay Staycation – 01/08/2020

Soooo… Saturday means market day!

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.

Archaelogical Dig, Pomerance and Montegemoli – 31/07/2020

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.

A Tale of Two Walks – 29/07/2020

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!

Walk, work, food and me – 28/07/2020

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.

Work, Bank, Work – 27/07/2020

Back to work after the weekend – but this time with our sexy new monitors – they made everything so much easier. But beforehand, we went out for a quick walk after dropping the trash down for collection.

We had to take a break mid-morning to visit the bank to sort out issues using the access fob and code-generator for our Italian online-banking. Here’s a photo taken while we were waiting, taken from inside one of the doors..

It took a little while, but we were sorted by the dude who always deals with us there – so, thanks Signore Castelli!

Regrettably, I didn’t document what we had to eat, but I doubt we ate out. This was probably a feature of my having gastritis. I’m not as head-over heels in love with my food as I used to be. Anyway, I’m pretty sure there is more to come when we’re actually on holiday.

In the interim, here are some more pics from our afternoon walk.

As I upload these months later, I’m still blown away by how gorgeous the town is!

More tomorrow, hopefully!

Keeping it safe in Volterra – 26/07/2020

Well, I’m jiggered if I know what we did the first Sunday we spent! Pretty sure we didn’t go to mass. But anyway, we had lunch in the apartment – a selection of cheeses and salumi. That’ll do!

The baldy head on me standing over the grub, taking the photo! I remember the food was yummy (why wouldn’t it be?)!

Then for some reason, we got the bins ready for Monday morning. Sunday is the only day that bin collection doesn’t take place.

I hope it gets more interesting than this!

One thing I do remember was the waiter in the restaurant right next door to the apartment. It’s called Porgi l’Altra Pancia (meaning ‘Grow another belly’, which always makes me smile). He recognised me, having worked in Ristorante Etruria in the main piazza. We had a brief, friendly conversation wherein I, once again, felt right at home among the people.

Afterwards, I grabbed my Sandmarc phone lenses and we headed outside for a walk.

God, she’s just a gorgeous town. I grabbed a couple of shots using the macro lens – I think this might have been the only time I used the macro lens over here!

And then continued on our way…

That evening we went to Ristorante Etruria for some grilled meats and fries. I remember Niamh’s (boar cutlets) being better than mine (ribs, which were tasty, but came with a lot of gristle – and hence were quite inexpensive – I should have realised). We were given by now what is the obligatory half-bottle of Chianti by the staff. We took a couple of snaps on our way home, including this arched entrance – which is the way into our apartment block.

And then some screen-watching, followed by bed. I remember that we were a little more adventurous during our actual holiday period, so please bear with me!

A Functional Saturday – 25/07/2020

Not many photos from today, so not too many memories jogged. We got up and had a quick walk around town to look for the market. It’s usually in the main piazza, and the cathedral piazza beside it – and thought it was, as it was still July, but it wasn’t there.

Well if it wasn’t around there, it must be in the main residents’ carpark (the only one we can’t use, sadly – beside the Roman ruins)… and bingo – there it was!

It was probably only about two-thirds the size of the usual market, most likely due to Covid. We bought fresh veg for dinners for a bit less than you normally would – 0km food rules. Ok, the market has to travel more than 0km, but you know what I mean!

We also went into the local electrical store to see if we could find a decent air-conditioning unit, as Volterra is anything from 30-38 during daylight hours in July/August. The shop had one, but the people manning the store couldn’t tell us a damn thing about it, sadly. It even took them a good 5 minutes to find out the price (nearly €500). When I pointed out the unit uses gas, they said it didn’t… until I pointed it out on the box. They were surprised! I then asked them if they stocked the gas… they said no… so we left empty-handed. It would have been murder to get it up the stairs anyway.

After lunch (not a clue what we had!), we had to go into Pontadera to look for monitors for work. We both work off dual-screen setups and the first couple of days were tortuous just working off the small laptop screen. We also wanted to see if we could find air conditioning units there too. We popped into Comet (remember them?) and grabbed a couple of 24″ widescreen monitors for €100 apiece… not too shabby.

They had air-conditioning units too, but they were still very pricey, and without having consulted someone to see what kind of units we’d need to cool the sitting room and the master bedroom, we chickened out. Instead, we picked up a couple of much cheaper fan units, which use water to cool you down even further. They were also a good bit lighter and easier to carry, so we bought two!

When we got back to Volterra, we did something for very first time: we parked in the underground carpark at the viewpoint, so we could comfortably bring our loot back. I took both fans in the one trip – because that’s what blokes do – heaven forbid you fetch groceries from the car more than once! These units quickly became our new best friends:

And the monitors worked a treat too!

(Yes, that’s a photo of Niamh on my mousemat!). That mini-fan also came in super-handy from time to time.

I wish I could tell you what the heck we did for food all day. I *think* we got chicken and deep fried fritto misto di verdure (sounds posh, is actually battered, deep fried veggies). The only bit of evidence I have from the latter part of the day is this nice photo from our terrace.

A blurry day – 24/07/2020

The problem with much of the first two weeks of our stay this time, is that because we were working, we either didn’t do too much that was interesting, or I don’t remember it!

I remember a few things about today, though. Firstly, we woke to this:

What a beautiful sight it was. It meant we could work again without messing around with phone data. However, before we got back to the grindstone, we got up earlier and headed off to the CoOp supermarket to grab some stuff for lunches and dinners. We didn’t take photos of that, but we took a couple of snaps from our terrace.

We worked, and I decided to head out to La Sosta dei Priori just a short walk away from the apartment (the stairs notwithstanding).

Once work was completed, we decided to have our first walk about town. I had purchased Sandmarc lenses for my iPhone 11 Pro, and wanted to try them out. Turns out I didn’t as the standard lenses on that phone were great – the wide lens being particilarly useful. I think I tried tagging on a 2x onto the iPhone’s 2x to give me a go at a 4x zoomed shot. Here’s a bunch of photos!

I haven’t a badgers what we had for dinner, and what else we did that evening – sorry! Later days will bring back more, less work-related, memories!

First full day – 23/08/2020

Payday!

Not that we were thinking too much about that. I got up and went to the local minimarket, to see that it had been bought out by Carrefour and renamed La Bottega. We needed to get something small for brekkie. I masked-up and wandered in, and the lady at the till recognised me immediately, and despite her also wearing a mask I knew she was grinning back at me. It had been 10 months since she saw me last.

“Bentornato!” she cried (“Welcome back!”), and it was another vindication of us having chosen the right town in which to buy a property.

We had breakfast and logged on to work. As we were parked all the way down in the free carpark, we wanted to ensure that we paid our stamps to be able to use the residents carparks. The estate agents also offer property upkeep facilities, and have always been very generous with their time in assisting some of our more tricky translation needs. They weren’t open ’til 10:00 (which is pretty much the opening time of many shops in Volterra), so when that time came, we had to break away from work for a short while to meet her. We went to the tabacchi (tabbaconists/newsagents), followed by the municipal police station on Piazza dei Priori, with Alice (the rep from the estate agents) in tow.

A couple of snaps on the way:

We spent about 20 minutes at the station, and then were walking out, when the nice policeman called out to us to pay the fee! All 3 of us, embarrassed, walked back in, and in fairness the dude behind the counter had a good laugh with us.

We walked back home, and sat at our respective laptops, and…. nothing. What had happened? There was no wireless signal. We tried our phones, and the TV – but nothing. I could feel my stress rise, as one of the chief things we set out to do was prove that we could work in Volterra (or anywhere with secure wifi, dammit!). But no – the internet was down. We rebooted the router, did a factory restore – no joy. We checked the bank to see if our bills had been paid – they were (they weren’t last year, until we set up a debit!).

The problem with stress for me is that it hugely exacerbates anxiety, and it was such a disappointment after a cracking start to the day. But there it was – our internet was down. We attempted to use our phones’ data, and had some success with that, so we did actually get some work done – but slowly.

We had lunch – I honestly can’t remember what – I was too stressed, anxious and tired. We continued on as best we could in the afternoon, but then we had to face facts and had to ring Alice again to see if she could arrange a repair for us. She wasn’t there. As it happens, she had gone to the agent’s office in Lajatico, as the internet was down. Not just in all Volterra, but even as far away as Pomerance (about 12km as the crow flies)… a disaster. There were no updates as to when it might be back up either.

We finished up work, and later went out to La Taverna della Terra di Mezzo for an evening meal. Due to both my mental state and my stomach acting up, I could only have 1 course – one of my favourite meals to have anywhere in Volterra: Zuppa Volterrana – it’s my favourite way to get my veggies! Terra di Mezzo do it best, and this season they were serving it freddo (cold) – well sort of at room temperature. It’s still the best there, but I found it hard to show my enthusiasm for poor Robbi (the owner), and I had to forgo my usual red wine – a recurring theme most of the time I was in Italy, sadly, thanks to gastritis.

We left, and to try to bolster my spirits, I took some snaps and grabbed a carton of gelato for L’Isola del Gusto.

The gelato, as always, was yummy, and to make matters slightly better, we found the internet had come back. It was a good 12 hours out – God knows how much business was lost as a result of a widespread outage of that length.

Anyway, I went to bed a little happier than I’d been an hour previously!