Tag: cathedral

The Cathedral – 14/08/2020

The Cathedral – 14/08/2020

At the time of writing this it’s new year’s eve! I’d like to wish all readers a happy, safe and prosperous new year. 2021 has to be better than 2020! I’m enjoying my second day in a row of feeling relatively normal, but I mustn’t get my hopes up, as any setbacks would affect me worse. I can only hope that it continues, and that I’m on my guard with mindfulness techniques to help live with the worst of it.

Back to August. I’d by now begun to notice two things:

  1. That I was suffering from repetitive 3-5 second earworms, most of which would make me sad (the saddest of which was Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Home Town’). I was undoubtedly upset that I would soon have to leave Volterra – and these bouts of sadness would be a feature for a while, unfortunately.
  2. Volterra was busy! I’d read that Italian tourists were forsaking larger centres of population (e.g. Florence and Siena) in favour of smaller towns, which still had decent amenities – Volterra fit the bill snugly, and later on it reported that despite Covid, it had taken hardly any hit at all. In some sectors, visits were actually higher. A problem for us came in the form of timing our meals out. Unless you had a booking, or arrived early, the chances of a walk-in were exceedingly remote. In addition, I really wanted to visit the Palazzo dei Priori to take snaps from the bell tower this trip, but I couldn’t as the queues were well outside the door, and Covid rules weren’t allowing people to be in such close proximity. Mask-wearing was now mandatory even outdoors, while within the walls of the old-town, and the Guardia di Finanza (the armed Italian finance/smuggling police force) were drafted in to enforce (albeit politely).

Niamh and I got up and took a nice walk around, culminating in the 200 steps near the Fonti di Docciola (near the biggest free carpark). I remember the steps not exhausting me too much – I was really happy with this!

I think we must have eaten at home, as I neither have memory nor photos! Anyway, later that afternoon, we strolled out again, and decided to pay the Cathedral a visit. Whilst more humble out the outside, it’s quite feature-rich on the inside.

I headed out again in the evening to pick up a lovely porchetta sandwich from La Sosta del Priore. Afterwards, I took some shots from the apartment terrace.

We screen-watched, and when I went to close the terrace doors, and discovered that Volterra was cloaked in a bank of cloud.

Inside Volterra’s Cathedral

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!


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!

Going Up in San Miniato

Going Up in San Miniato

The previous night, Niamh whipped out the pasta maker and had a crack at making it for the first time – we settled on tagliatelle.

The result was excellent pasta, and a good taste to the sauce, but it was a little dry.  This was down to a couple of things, but principally it was down to the meat we were given was far too lean, sadly – and ended up being far too crumbly.  More lessons learned!  It will be interesting to see how our cooking course goes on the 16th.

Anyway, yesterday we dropped our guest off at the airport, and decided to make use of the fact that we were on the SGC FI-PI-LI (the main artery linking Florence, Pisa and Livorno), to go to San Miniato.   It is about 35-40 minutes away from the airport, by that dual carriageway.  We drove all the way to near the outskirts – a good way up, only to drive all the way down into an inexpensive carpark (50c/hr).  There is a lift which goes all the way up to the start of the old town.  The shaft is an impressive looking thing.


We went up, and had a little explore, to get our bearings, before heading into a bar for a quick pastry for brekkie.  The ‘touristy’ part of town is banana-shaped, and is very pretty.  We went to a more modern set of buildings, which contained some community buildings, a good example of which was the library, which had what can only be described as ‘face seats’ in an outside area.  A church just lay off one of the main squares – so we had a little explore in there too.

We then went to the more ‘quaint’ (I hate that word) section.  The square there is gorgeous and is often their setting for festivals and is where they hold their Christmas markets.  The cathedral lies above up some steep steps.  The roof and artwork within is worth viewing.

They were prepping for a wedding that was to be held there later that morning.  We were lucky to see it, as about 30 minutes later, they’d closed the door.

There are a bundle of panoramic viewpoints within the town, but the two highest are up the Torre di Matilde, or on the little green where the Torre di Federico II lies.  The former costs €3 to enter, while the latter is free.  We went to the latter, as (honestly!) it was the first one we saw of the two.  The views were amazing, as the green is completely open.  A bit of a climb up some steps is required, though – and you’re not actually allowed in the tower itself.

Check out the panoramic shot above!

It was a little cloudy, but still warm.  On our way back to the car, we stopped briefly at La Pennellessa (aka Santuario del Santissimo Crocifisso – Sanctuary of the Holy Crucifix), a fat cross-shaped building topped with a dome.  Inside were pews, an altar, and yet again some wonderful artwork.  We then headed home.

Unfortunately, lunch back in Volterra was one of the worst dining experiences we have ever had.  I’m not going to name and shame the place, as sometimes you can just have a bad day – but our order was wrong, food came out at different intervals (often to be expected, but not at 20 minute intervals).  We just stared and watch each other eat.  My main was tasty enough (a veal cutlet), but Niamh’s was a travesty – a burger (on it’s own – no bun), dry, with dry grilled veggies and weirdly, slices of (dry) pecorino.  She barely touched it.  All around, people were looking pissed off with bad service and poor food.  It looked like they were completly unprepared for a busy service.  What a shame.  We’d been there before for pizza, which they’re great at (no, it wasn’t Ombra della Sera Pizzeria!), and so were shocked by how bad everything was.  They tried to make amends by not charging us for a portion of fries, but this damage is pretty much permanent – it’s doubtful we’ll ever return to that place.  

We went back to the apartment and chilled.  Later that evening, Niamh cooked herself a small meal and I just had some simple cold-cuts.  I ended up not going out at all, except to buy some sliced turkey and ham in the supermarket.  I have to get into the habit of going for a quick evening stroll again!

The day was interrupted by a hell of a thunderstorm.  We had a batten down the hatches, and wait for it to pass over.  Lightnight crackled overhead and there was the most terrific boom at one point – the windows seemed to vibrate in their frames.  And there was a lot of rain.  It looked like we were practically in the middle of the thunderhead itself.

This morning, I got up and walked down to the CoOp and took a long route back up.  It’s a loooong, steady climb up, so I got a decent workout.  I also wore my puffer jacket for the first time.  Temperatures have definitely dipped this week – but I have to admit I was a sweaty mess by the time I got back home.  Lovely cloud-lakes formed islands again in the hills below.  That always looks amazing to me.  Oh, for a camera with decent optical zoom, though.

We have a motorbike race timetrial on this weekend.  Part of the main road to Cecina/Siena will be closed, and we figure this leaves us stranded in town for the weekend.  Maybe I’ll catch some of it – might be a bit of fun.

I’m late with the blog today, as our Mondo Convenienza delivery of furniture arrived today.  Unfortunately, they had other deliveries in the area and so came with a massive truck, despite us telling them already on the delivery form that we were in a centro storico.  Our property manager even told them that a second time when the date was arranged, but still they messed it up, and will now have to phone *again* to re-arrange.  Bloody annoying, and not very professional.  The delivery lads themselves were apologetic, but I got nothing out of the lady in head office when I complained.

Anyway – there’s nothing we can change about it now, and so just have to get on with it.  

In other slightly annoying news, or wifi extender simply isn’t playing ball at all.  We’ve tried it several times, but althought it worked at first in December, it is now fiddly to get any signal – plus it often drops.  We might have to get a new one… not Asus, though.

See you in the next (hopefully happier) one!

A Trip to Pisa

A Trip to Pisa

What did we do on Ferragosto? Sweet Ferr Agosto, that’s what we did! We stayed in most of the day. For lunch, Niamh cooked herself eggs. I’m not a fan of ‘in-your-face’ eggs, and so went to La Taverna della Terra di Mezzo and had pici all’anatra (pici with duck sauce). The dish was sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and was very tasty. I noticed that many of the tourist-driven places were still open, so that was good. Most of the more functional stores were closed, though.

In the evening, we marinated the chicken we bought the previous day and cooked up a nifty little stir-fry. Now we just have to find out where we can buy more soy sauce!

The next day, we had to get up early, and I had to skip walking and blogging, as we had to pick up a friend from Pisa airport and take a trip into town to check it out.  We’d been to the cathedral square before, but it was 10 years ago, and we were long overdue a visit.

With the aid of Google Maps, it was easy enough to find the carpark – just a 3-minute walk from the tower.  It was around 10:30, and there were still plenty of spots.

We strolled around the park, looking on bemusedly at the tourists trying to get their trick-shot of the tower.  It’s an impressive site, and obviously worth a visit.  For us it’s about a 75 minute journey by car – not bad at all.

We priced tickets for visiting the three main buildings.  The cathedral is free, but you still have to queue to collect a pass.  The queue time was less than a minute at that time of day.  We also wanted to see the baptistry, and that cost us €5 per person.  There are also other attractions there, which cost you progressively less the more attractions you add to your ticket.  It’s a whopping €18 per person to climb the tower, and you only have a limited time to get up, down and wander.  Cheapskates that we are, we gave it a miss.

The cathedral is a beautiful example of Pisan-Romanesque architecture, and is home to some wonderful works of art.

It was the baptistry’s turn next.  I believe that, on the hour, a singer enters and sings a note, which echoes off the walls, and then sings a harmonising note to accompany themselves.  We didn’t catch that, unfortunately, but you might be able to find it for yourself on YouTube.  Anyway, a couple of us climbed some winding stairs to the upper gallery.

Leaving the hordes behind us, we made for a stroll along the Arno, to look for a restaurant, passing the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina along the way.

 I can’t remember the name of the place we stopped at for lunch, unfortunately, but the ladies had salads/platters, while I went for boar with paccheri (think very large maccheroni!).  The food was passable.

Onwards, then, towards Pisa’s commercial centre, and to Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II.  I really should have taken a better pic of the man himself.  The area is quite lovely and also worth a little trip if you’re in Pisa.  Remember that many shops may be closed between 13:00 and 16:00, though.

We had a long, very hot walk back to the car afterwards, even with a little gelato taken on-board.  As a result, my arms and neck are a little redder than they ought to be this morning.

Once we got home, we cleaned ourselves up, and set about giving a speed-tour of Volterra to our guest.  We stopped off at Quo Vadis (the Irish bar) for a couple of pints and a light snack, and managed to catch the sunset.  Upon arriving home, we found that a full cover-band was playing live directly under our apartment.  Fun times.  We were too wrecked to listen, unfortunately.

I didn’t sleep terribly well, and about 5 minutes into the walk, I thought that this was going to be a short one, but after a couple of steep slopes I woke up and had a decent stroll.  I was reminded that I was showing our guest yesterday that many of the streets’ flagstones have seashells embedded in them, indicating that the source rock (which is local) was at one time part of a littoral landscape, or even a seabed itself, despite being about 500m above sea-level.  Plate tectonics rock!

It’s market day today, and we’ll saunter down later on and see what we can grab.  No other plans, though.  I want to give my skin a little rest after soaking up so much radiation yesterday, and I know I’m going to crash in the afternoon.  But this is always subject to change!

Cheerio, and see you in the next one!