Tag: airport

Another trip back! (01/05/2022)

Another trip back! (01/05/2022)

For the first time in a long time we wouldn’t be flying RyanAir. Don’t get me wrong, I will always be grateful to them for flying during the pandemic, as we managed to get to Volterra in both 2020 and 2021, but a change is as good as a rest, as they say. The problem with the Aer Lingus flight was that it was at 06:00. We took the never-before-taken step of booking ourselves into the Maldron the previous day, so we could get to bed and rise early. We also had the bonus of Aer Lingus allowing you to drop your bags off the airport, should your flight be at sparrowfart the next day.

So, that’s just what we did! We got a lift from my brother on Saturday afternoon and checked our bags in. We had more difficulty walking back to the front entrance of the hotel than we did checking in the bags. It all went so smoothly. We dined in at the Maldron itself, and to be honest I was expecting a duff meal at a one-night-stay traveller’s hotel, but the food was actually pretty good! Well done, The Maldron! I was caught between wanting a pint after and just wanting to rest so I wouldn’t be destroyed the day after. The latter won out, and we went back to the room and stayed there ’til 03:30.

We got up and dragged ourselves the 7 minute walk to the airport. Truth be told we were excited, and there was no dudgery involved. We were quite hungry, however, and didn’t grab anything from the hotel (not sure if that was even possible at that point). We’d looked up the Dublin airport site, and sure it looks like there was a bunch of stuff opening at 04:00-04:30, so we’d be ok.

Because we’d checked in the big bags, we went bull-headed for security, and were stopped in our tracks by a 30+ minute wait. Not so bad, really, when you consider that a few weeks ago the queues were hours long thanks to an inept firing/rehiring policy. Anyway, we got through, and marched towards the shopping and dining area. We were stopped in our tracks again by the fact that absolutely nothing was open, but there were big queues outside everywhere. We joined the one at Starbucks, but left it after about 15 minutes, as people were busy behind the bar, and maybe it was going to open soon, but then Butler’s did open… and was instantly mobbed as we ran to it. Oh well.

We went to the gate hungry instead. Café Bar near the gate wasn’t open at all, even though it should have been. We were hangry. First world problems. On the plus side, Aer Lingus were super-efficient at getting us onto the plane, we were seated in a jiff. How nice it is not to be treated like a farmyard animal. I’ll always be grateful to RyanAir for flying during the pandemic, but I much prefer the treatment you get Aer Lingus. We had comfy seats, jacket holders, SEAT POCKETS!!

I think the flight was only about two-thirds full. We had to wait a bit before takeoff, as there was some air traffic control snafu. No biggie. We were up, up and away 20 minutes later, and as it happens more or less made up the different on the flight over.

If I had one gripe, it was that they didn’t begin their service until about an hour into the flight. We managed to get sandwiches, crisps and drinks and were happy at last. However, I believe got the last toasted sandwich, and I was suddenly reminded that Aer Lingus often run out of hot food by the time they get to you if you are sitting in the middle of the craft. I have to say, I was still surprised, given that the flight wasn’t packed. Anyway, enough of that – I got my grub and it satisfied perfectly.

We landed with no issues and with no temperatures or other checks of Covid documentation we were through passport control quite quickly, and into a 15 minute wait for our bags. All went smoothly, and off we went to Avis (for a change) to pick up our car. We love Sixt, but it was just too expensive for a full month, especially given that we’d be travelling little in the latter two weeks of our stay. It took a while to process our rental at the desk – the colleague of the person who was dealing with us had two rentals processed while we were still waiting for our keys. We weren’t in a rush, in fairness. We picked up the keys to a Citroen C3. I have to say, aside from the fact that it’s a manual, it’s one of my favourite vehicles so far. It has a little bit of power, and the hookup of to Apple CarPlay was near-instantaneous. Why doesn’t our Hyundai Kona at home play ball?!

We motored towards Volterra, and got there without any scrapes – it was just raining a little. Niamh dropped me off in Piazza dei Martiri delle Liberta with my backpack and the two large suitcases, while she had to go looking for a free parking spot in La Docciola. We had yet to renew our resident’s parking permesso, and so had to look for something else. This is something we’d have to take care of tomorrow.

Being a man, we are not given to multiple trips involving bags. This rule most often applies to dragging shopping bags from the car. The effort to wear my backpack whilst shifting two 18+ kg bags up a flight of 76 taller-than-average steps was nothing short of Herculean. I was quite wrecked by the end of it. Niamh arrived at the apartment 5-10 minutes after me – ok, she had 276 steps to manage, but only one light backpack. I took a couple of shots outside the guest bedroom to sicken a friend back home.

We rested a while, before heading out to Terra di Mezzo for lunch. It’s a general tradition that we dine here first whenever we arrive in Volterra, opening hours permitting. We said our hellos and were greeting with the same enthusiasm as always. After an antipasto sharing platter, Niamh had pasta with zucchini, I had pici alla boscaiola…. mushrooms and sausage. Tasty indeed.

We skipped dessert, as I had a very important date to keep. I hadn’t seen this in nearly 9 months!

We went back to the apartment, and burned off some of the calories by cleaning the apartment. I was on sweeping duty. We had the bathroom remodelled, and some repainting done, so the place was a little dusty. I’m glad we got it done, rather than sleeping in that overnight.

As it was our first day in Volterra, and we (believe it or not) considered our lunch rather light, we headed out to La Mangiatoia for pizza and beers. It was the first time I ordered speck and marscapone, and boy did it deliver. This place, along with Ombra Della Sera Pizzeria do the best pizzas I’ve had in town (so far).

We took a stroll around the town during the latter half of golden hour to burn off some more of those dreaded calories! The town and its surroundings are simply beautiful and video and photos rarely capure the true essence of the light there, nor the vastness of the landscape opened out in front of you.

I took some video of our journey and also included a little footage of golden hour.

We were very tired by then due to our early start, and so went to bed early enough, having thoroughly enjoyed the day (apart from those stairs!).

Picking up Guests (22/12/2021)

Picking up Guests (22/12/2021)

Bit of a short one this week, and very few photos I’m afraid!

I breakfasted, but got a little lazy and didn’t go for much of a walk – just around the local neighbourhood and back to the apartment. Here’s a snap from my favourite lane in Tuscany… Vicolo delle Prigioni.

We got to Pisa airport early and returned our smaller rental to Sixt. We walked to terminal and waited. And waited some more. We could see that our guests’ flight had landed, but there was no sign of them. We were clock-watching, as lunchtime was rapidly running out, and we had yet to get to the car rental place to pick up the vehicle big enough for four of us. Our original plan was to park at the carpark near the Field of Miracles, and walk into the centre of Pisa to look for a place to eat, but then it was thought it would be nice to get out of the city as soon as possible to grab something to eat. I found what looked like a great place (Hostaria “Il Granaio”) about 15 minutes south of Pisa Airport.

Back to the airport for now. Many people who were definitely Italian wandered out, but no sign of our guests (Niamh’s sister and her husband who were flying in from England). About 20 minutes later or so, the pasty folk began to make their way through the door, but we were waiting a good 10-15 minues more. They came out eventually, commenting that immigration took ages. Pesky Brexit wreaking its havoc once again, unfortunately.

We made our way outside and marched towards the Goldcar desk. Now we usually blow hot and cold on Goldcar, as they often try to sell you everything, and sometimes with strongarm tactics. This time, however, a pleasant slender man greeted us and before 10 minutes had passed, had handed us the keys to our car. We thought we were getting a Dacia Duster, but instead got an ‘equivalent’. I was happily surprised when I saw we had a Hyundai Tuscon instead, brand new, with a modern infotainment system. I was a little apprehensive, as parking such a beast can be problematic in many Italian hilltowns, let alone driving one around the curving, narrow roads. But we’d cross that bridge when we’d come to it. I was also surprised that it was a manual, rather than an automatic, given how new the vehicle was. Niamh and I lean towards automatics, as it’s just one thing less to have hassle about when you’re driving at night (remember, it was Winter, so the chances were that we would be driving sometimes without much light), possibly in rain on dangerous roads you may not be familiar with.

Anyway, we put the name of the restaurant into the on-board GPS and the nice robot-lady cooed that she had found a route. Niamh’s brother-in-law took the helm. He’d driven on the ‘wrong’ side of the road before, but it had been a while. Now when Niamh and I first came over, it was our first time driving a left-hand-drive car, and the first time driving on the right. We both were quite nervous at first as passengers, when the car seemed to get too close to verges and roadsigns. It didn’t take long for my inherent trust to kick in, but Niamh still gets very nervous as a passenger. Anyway, I found my nerves had returned somewhat during that first journey, wincing and shelling-up a little when it really looked like the car was going to smack off a roadsign. I was less concerned for myself, as the car is a beast, but more for the €900 deposit for the week that was paid! Anyway, minutes later I was all good again, and we drove towards the restaurant over what isn’t exactly the most enteraining terrain in Tuscany – the Arno flatlands – it’s like driving on wallpaper – featurelessness abounds.

We got to the restaurant in the allotted time, and found it closed. Damn you Google! It was 14:15, and it should have been open (just), but it was definitely shut-up and not just recently. I can only assume the owners hadn’t updated the seasonal opening times – so I can’t really blame Google. Disappointed, we decided that we’d just go straight home instead and maybe grab a sandwich. But providence often provides… which I suppose is what it’s designed to do! We got back to Volterra and walked to the apartment, and saw the Porgi l’Altra Pancia seemed to be still open. Rather than set another incorrect expectation, I checked inside and they confirmed it – still open at 15:30! Woohoo!

We went upstairs, left the guests’ luggage and before we raced out again, I remembered that we had a little box of Butler’s chocolates to give to the staff of the restaurant. What better time? We headed back down, and were shown to our seats. They were very surprised and delighted by the gift, and we found ourselves with a high-end bottle of Prosecco to start off the meal. Not too shabby! We also ordered wine, because it was nearly Christmas! Niamh’s sister had recently just completed a 3-month cookery course in the prestigious Ballymaloe Cookery School, and was eager to tear into some Tuscan goodies. Her husband, much like myself, is always keen to tuck in!

I didn’t take any photos of the meal (sorry!), as I wanted to relax with the guests without us having to feel like we were always on display. So remembering what we had becomes a bit of an issue for me. I know Niamh’s sister had a form of carbonara, and her husband some fab wild boar stew. I’m pretty certain I had peposo (beef slow-cooked in red wine and black pepper – they do it well there). I’d would put reasonable money on tiramisus too for a couple of us at the end of the meal. And I certainly remember wandering out of the restuarant a good deal more merry than when I’d wandered in!

It was dark out, so we could show our guests some of the Christmas lights in Volterra. It wasn’t a long walk, maybe 25 minutes, as I think we were all perhaps a little ‘tired’ after the meal! At least I got some shots of our meanderings this time!

We got home, chatted, screen-watched and imbibed a little, and that was that day! I hope you enjoyed the read, and I would love to hear some feedback from you! Thanks a lot. Next week: our trip to Montepulciano’s Christmas Markets!

Our Return in October (09/10/2021)

Our Return in October (09/10/2021)

Time moved along, as it always does. I began to struggle a little more with work-based anxiety, and when I look back on it now (a little anxious/sad after having just come back after a Christmas visit), I see the fault really lay with me. My workload was not crippling, although it challenged me given my condition. I took on new things, and I am glad that I have been so well-managed throughout this stage of my life.

It must be remembered that when you are anxious, the quickest route to recovery lies through you. It look me ’til late November/early December to realise that (again!)… but… I’m projecting too far ahead.

In any event, Volterra proved, as always, a haven from my most of my symptoms. Oh, I always felt it lurking over my shoulder, but exercising my toolset always takes less effort when I’m back in Italy. I cannot rely on this, however. I should be the same no matter where I am or what I’m doing, more or less… Ireland or Italy, filiming/writing or watching the box, at home or exploring – it’s all the same in mindfulness.

Sorry about that! Back to the travel stuff!

We just went alone this time. The first thing we noticed: the airport was busier again this time, than when it was in early August.

I think I had sandwich for brunch at the airport. Hard to remember – it was a functional meal anyway, as it always is in most airports! We boarded without fuss – this time opting for zero checked-in luggage, to enable us to move through Pisa airport quickly. I had taken a note of what I had and didn’t have in my inventory in Volterra – so I didn’t have much to bring with me, outside of some slightly warmer clothes and, of course, my tech.

I got some snaps from the ‘plane – well, mostly alps…

Once off, we had a little bit of a wait, as immigration officers took our temperatures (electronically), and so with only 2 officials available, they could only release us slowly for identification, in order to adhere (somewhat) to social distancing guidelines. Once through, we skidaddled outside and headed to Sixt for our car. This time, we managed to fulfil a years’-long ambition of driving a Fiat 500!

It was a manual for a change, but the tech within it wasn’t bad, and we found it super-easy to bluetooth our phones so we could use CarPlay – fair play, Fiat. We sent the email to the Volterran Municipal Police that our resident’s parking permit would be associated with a new car registration for a week. Niamh did the honours once again (she always drives from the airport – I don’t think I’ve ever driven to/from the airport, as a matter of fact!).

Because we arrived a little while after lunch, no places were open for food. We did what any self-respecting visitor to Volterra should do: we had a walk (after having left our luggage in the apartment)!

We stopped off for refreshments at L’Antica Velathri Cafe and L’Isola del Gusto, before continuing on our way.

Later on that evening, after we’d been back to the apartment, we went downstairs to Porgi l’Altra Pancia. If you’ve read my blogs before (or are Italian), you will know that the name of the restaurant means ‘grow another belly’. Both the name and their food make me smile.

The food there was as delicious as always. To cap it off, they are also such lovely and welcoming people. After growing another belly, we took in the town at night.

If I recall correctly, it was the beginning of a dry, fine week for us – which was lucky as I think the weather was quite wet the previous week. I guess someone was smiling down on us!

And that’s it again for now. Please leave a like and a comment if you wish – questions and suggestions are also always welcome!

Prison, Tournament, then Home (22/08/2021)

Prison, Tournament, then Home (22/08/2021)

It was our last day of this August trip, but seeing as our flight wasn’t until the evening, we still had time to mooch about town. The fortezza (prison) had opened its gates again (so to speak), and one of its towers was available for a guided tour. Now, I had visited it before, but Niamh hadn’t.

We walked up the ramp and along the walls to the entrance to prison gardens. If I recall correctly it was still €5 per person, but this time there was a tour in English. Due to the pandemic and the different languages on offer, there was a bit of a wait to get in – they said maybe 30 minutes. We each bought a bottle of water, and explored the gardens – including the section out front which wasn’t on offer before.

No sooner than had we walked around the gardens, when we were called to take the English tour. I think our group was referred to as gli stranieri (the foreigners) between he tour guides, rather than ‘these people’, ‘this group’, ‘the English speakers’. This rankles with me a little, but it could be just an Italian thing. No harm, no foul. We went in… my disappointment didn’t quite end there.

Last time, the tour lasted a good 30 minutes, and a lot more information was given out. This time, the guide brought us from floor to floor, giving us no more than 2-3 sentences at each stop before moving on. We had time for shots from the windows, and there are some fabulous views of the town from the tower. Anyway, we were done in 10-12 minutes and bundled out.

If you have any Italian, I’d recommend taking the Italian tour, if you feel up to it; definitely more bang for your buck.

We had a lunch I’m afraid I don’t remember much about, and then Niamh and I went to Piazza dei Priori to have a look at the ceremonial opening of a competition between the medieval crossbowmen/women (balestrieri) from several different towns. We tried to get into the piazza by Ristorante Etruria, but unfortunately, the event was limited to certain numbers, and so by the time we got there, we had to wait until people started to leave before we would have been allowed to enter. We didn’t have the patience for that, so hung around the Torre del Porceillino, trying to steal glances over the temporary meshed fence.

Each team was fanfared-in by their accompanying medieval marching band and flag-wavers (sbandieratori). We hung around for 30 or so minutes, but as our time to leave was rapidly approaching, we decided to head back to the apartment.

There’s always a melancholy when we leave the place, and this time was no exception. However, as my anxiety symptoms were relatively low, I was almost excited to return to work to see how I’d cope (sadly, for the first time in nearly 2 weeks I had a sleepless night as soon as I got home to Kilcullen). We drove the usual route, always marvelling at the farmhouses in the valleys near the town. The hilltown of Peccioli still had some sunflowers in a field nearby, albeit wilting rapidly, but they made a pretty picture.

Finally, to Sixt to drop back the car, and head into the terminal for our flight home.

But we went back! These blogs will continue, detailing our week in October. I hope you enjoyed reading this – please leave a like and a comment. I would love to hear from you.

We Came Back, Baby (04/08/2021)

We Came Back, Baby (04/08/2021)

We had a short holiday in the West of Ireland back in June, and then decided to pick our date for our return to Volterra. Looking at the vaccination schedule and cycles and waves of Covid, we made our move to book a couple of weeks in August. This time with guests: Niamh’s sister for the first week, my brother for the second.

Then the nerves set in (what else is new?).

The weeks seemed to flow at times like treacle, and other days it sped by. There were hiccups, of course, mostly around flights. Aer Lingus cancelled a ton of their European schedule, so Niamh had to scramble to re-book flights with Ryanair and re-do the booking for the carpark and carhire. Our guests had to manage some of that too. Then Ryanair shifted both outbound and inbound flights to later on in the day… cue further nervousness.

Then we finally found a bit of a saving: we’d get Niamh’s sister to drop us to the airport, and my brother to bring us home… presto! No carparking charges!

The day finally came, and everything went off without any further hitches. I think my anxiety was possibly slightly higher during this airport experience than I was last year. You never know why… it is what it is. I never really felt truly uncomfortable, though.

The airport was certainly busier than last year.

We’d arrived at the airport in plenty of time, and so were able to shop and sit *twice* for food. The ladies had sandwiches, and after I had an overpriced burger. It was nice, though – it hit the spot!

At the departure gates, there were the usual checks of passports, but really only cursory checks of our vaccination certs and passenger locator forms. Some dickhead in the line mouthed off to a staff member when he wasn’t wearing a mask, but soon piped-down and masked-up when confronted a second time.

We got on the plane, and we pretty much left on time – certainly nothing like last year.

The flight was great, if fairly packed… social distancing not a thing on these flights – although everyone was wearing a mask unless they were eating/drinking. The people density on the flight was pretty much the same as last year – although people were adhering to mask-wearing more this year.

We didn’t have any carousel cases with us – just carry-on, so we… um… waited for a longish time at passport control while they slowly funnelled about 20 people at a time. Then we were off!

And off to Sixt! These guys are expensive, but service and vehicle-wise, they’re the best we’ve tried. There are no shysters here. Although when we opted for an upgrade to an automatic VW T-Cross, we considered the initial upgrade price a little too steep, and they discounted it – I’m not thrilled with that aspect, but it goes to show that you should always refuse the first offer!

We took the obligatory half-dozen shots of the car to ensure we had no scratches that were previously. We’ve never had issues with scratches or previous damage (that wasn’t clearly documented) with Sixt. In fact, the last time we were here, we brought back a car with a very light scratch across about half the length of the car – it was a finger-paint job, but still they didn’t charge us for it.

The car journey to Volterra went well too. The sky flickered with lightning a couple of times before settling down. It reminded me of the beginning of our longer stay a couple of years ago. We arrived similarly late – at least 23:30, if not later.

We didn’t have our parking permit arranged yet, so we had to find a free spot. Almost all (not the underground carpark) public pay parking sites are free from 20:00 to 08:00, and we found a free spot in the carpark next to the Roman Theatre ruins by the Porta Fiorentina. It would mean I’d have to get up and move the car to the large free carpark the next day, but I didn’t care. I was here!

I was told by Niamh and her sister, I was practically skipping up the street. I have to admit, I was pretty damn happy at being back, and many of my symptoms seemed to have melted away. That was probably because I only had one thing on my mind:

We’d had the apartment cleaned before we arrived, so the only thing we had to do was arrange the bedwear and hit the hay, which we duly did. If I recall correctly, I slept ok, depsite the heat. We only have fans; no aircon – and August is the hottest month there.

I’ll update the blog with what we did during our days here over the next month or two, but please do also check out my YouTube Channel (Our Man in Volterra; I’m learning, be gentle!), and specifically this short music video showing our journey to Volterra.

Thanks for reading and watching – I hope you enjoyed it!

Flying out to Italy – 22/07/2020

Flying out to Italy – 22/07/2020

Two things were bothering me about the trip:

  1. We were facing issues travelling to Italy during Covid; and
  2. Spending hours on end in a mask, whilst cooped up in an airport and in an aircraft with anxiety had me dreading the day – and going through security and temperature checks at both ends.

Well, the gods smiled on us, thankfully, as Italy at the time had just been announed to be on Ireland’s green list for travel (a far cry from the way things are over here and there currently, sadly). Secondly, I woke up feeling few symptoms! I worked a half-day, and then we drove to the airport.

I’ve never seen anything like the airport. It was downright spooky.

There was nobody around. Or almost nobody. The departures schedule on display took up one-and-a-half screens for the entire day. It was mad.

Anyway, our temperature wasn’t checked at Dublin, and we breezed through security. We grabbed something to eat, and hunkered down and waited for the flight. I wasn’t too bothered by my symptoms at all, thank goodness.

We got on the plane and waited. And waited… and waited some more. The aircraft wasn’t budging. Eventually, maybe the guts of an hour later, a member of Dublin’s Fire Brigade enters, wearing full PPE gear. Amazingly, a passenger down the back of the craft burst stitches he had, and had to be re-sewn up. Jesus!

The flight was smooth, and two-and-a-half hours later we floated a landing down into Pisa. Fabulous. In addition, we had no problems with the temperature check, and we were able to grab our baggage really quickly too.

We went to Sixt to rent our car (can’t recommend them highly enough – few hidden costs, good service and selection of cars), and drove to Volterra.

We had work the next day (work laptops enable us to work remotely), and so were mindful of the fact that we were in Volterra a bit after 23:00. Our bags rattled along the paved street, and turning towards Via Gramsci, I spotted Georgina (I apologise if that’s not your name!), and she spotted us while sweeping outside L’Isola del Gusto (best gelato in town – one of the best in Tuscany) and we waved at each other happily!

Trudging up the 76 steps proved not too difficult, as for weeks I had been climbing up and down our own stairs in the mornings before work as exercise. We set our laptops up to use wireless and then went to bed!

A Grand Lunch at Del Duca

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!

We paid the bill, and there were hugs exchanged, and afterwards had every intention of going to the pinacoteca (art gallery), but changed our minds on the way.  The ladies stayed out and about for a walk, while I went back to the apartment for a bit of a snooze and some screen-watching.  I took this little curiousity on the way there – I don’t know what it is… an accident, or a weird art installation, but the colours contrast wonderfully.

IMG_6522

Nothing done again last night, and this morning I didn’t go out for a walk (again!).  We had to get up at 04:30 to bring our guest back to the airport.  We went straight to bed when we got home, and to be honest, I’m still a little tired.

Don’t think we have plans today, but there are rumblings about us attempting to go to Florence tomorrow morning, so fingers crossed!