I had some stuff to do during the morning, but when it was done, it was time to check out what was happening for International Bee Day in Volterra. This day (or 2 days, really) is to celebrate all things apian, with a view to promoting both the produce and the conservation of our buzzing little friends! There were some decorations about town, entertainment for kids and shops were promoting produce made using honey.
We headed out to check out Via Gramsci, as most of the action was taking place there. I don’t have too many photos as I was filimg instead. But we got a good look at some stalls and a little bee colony they had on the main stand.
But hunger quickly overtook us, and we did something we haven’t done too often, which was go to Del Duca for lunch! It was a gloriously sunny day, and had refreshing starters followed by pasta dishes.
The food was wonderful, and while it isn’t the cheapest lunch you’ll have in Volterra, it is worth spoiling yourself for sure! We skipped dessert as we had a fair feeling that we would head out later that evening. Plus I had to be back in the apartment to do stuff for the rest of the afternoon.
When I was free again, we headed out for food. First, we made a stop at L’Antica Velathri Café, as Pietro had a special honey-based cocktail that day. He was kind and allowed me to shoot the making of it. My anxiety was peeking at me, and it sometimes makes me a little clutzy. I made a damn nuisance of myself by getting in the way of waiters as they came back and forth with orders and emptied trays. The worst was when I accidentally knocked a wooden tray to the ground – it contained a stack of cards advertising the café. Pietro’s dad had to come and pick them up and restack them while I filmed. I felt a proper idiot.
Anyway, once the humilating part was over Niamh and I enjoyed our cocktails.
Here’s a video of the day – note that some of it was shot the next day.
We headed around to La Mangiatoia, who were by now recognising us freely! I don’t think they have a booking system – you rock up and either you get seated or you queue (or you leave!). Anyway we just had the one pizza each. Yes, I have to say this is probably the greediest we’ve ever been in Volterra on holidays. Next time we have a long-haul here, we’ll have to rein in the restaurant visits and remember what it’s really like to actually live here, as ‘normal’ people.
We tried Forst lager for the first time this holiday and can’t recommend it enough. It’s from the north of Italy, and it seems to have invaded Volterra. So now I have a choice between it and Moretti – happy days. Still no cider though.
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Another day where I was not quite my own man, but enjoyed the day for all that. I had to skip my walk, as the builder arrived to take away the old fixtures from the bathroom. I gave them a hand with some stuff to keep my exercise up instead. They’d have to call back the next day to collect the last couple of pieces (and a couple of other days again, it turns out!). One thing we both found amusing: the builders mate was dressed for heavy lifting, but had a man-purse strapped around his shoulder anyway. I thought it was the weirdest thing at the time, as the holiday wore on, I was thinking about getting one myself. I didn’t this time around, but maybe next time we return. They’re handier than jacket pockets for carrying stuff around.
While I was indisposed, Niamh went to the shops early and got the makings for dinner that night: flour, cavalo nero and sausage. Intriguing! I was able to take a break during the mid-morning, and so we both went out to stretch our legs for 15 or so minutes and we grabbed a gelato at L’Isola del Gusto, naturally.
At lunchtime, we made up for a lack of a walk, but first had a lovely lunch in Pisa Province’s best sandwich shop: La Sosta del Priore. Niamh had a sausage sandwich, and I had a lovely burger. Since last year, they have had a sit-down area where they also sell produce, so we availed of that and had a drink with the food.
We then went for a bit of a walk:
When I was done doing my thing that evening (during which Niamh had made orechiette – an ear-shaped pasta native to the Puglia region), we decided that we needed a little vino to accompany our homemade dinner, so we headed out to Santa Lucia, which sells the produce of these lovely people, and bought 10 liters of bag-in-box wine for €22 (5 litres white, 5 red). We got to taste it first, and also enjoy the benefits of walking with heavy packages on the uphill walk back home. A couple of shots were taken on the way:
We got home and began to enjoy our haul on the terrace. The back of our apartment looks out and down upon a recently refurbished courtyard, which is not only lovely to look at, but offers occasional interaction with thee neighbours – even if they are just cats. There are a couple of cats nearby who poke their heads out of their apartment window and stare at us in astonishment. The first time we saw them, I swear one of their jaw’s dropped in disbelief. Funny creatures!
Right! Dinner! I grabbed Niamh’s mini-orechiette, some oil, the kale (aka cavalo nero), sausage and some parmeggiano and got to work. The orechiette were cute and small, so I had to un-skin and break the sausage up a good bit, before adding the kale. It had been a few years since the last time I attempted a similar dish, and I added salt when I needn’t have – there was already plenty in the sausages. This time I broke off a bit and fried it. It was nicely seasoned, enough so that I wouldn’t add salt, beyond what was in the cheese.
Of course, there’s always a mistake – this time I didn’t cook Niamh’s pasta quite enough. I thought it would finish off in the pan where I had been cooking the sausage and kale. It did to an extent, but not as much as I would have liked. However, it still tasted nice, and brava, Niamh, for her first attempt at orechiette – they’re harder to make than they look.
After dinner, we chilled for a while until I announced that I wanted to head out. Niamh felt less inclined, so I headed out on my own. I decided to check to see if Pietro in Antica Velathri Café was busy. If he wasn’t too much so, I’d throw a cocktail challenge at him. It was quiet enough, and it turns out I threw several challenges his way! It’s great to come here. Pietro’s parents are always so welcoming and when we pass his Dad in the street (at least we *think* it’s his Dad!), he always says hello. Pietro himself, as well as being a great mixologist, he’s really patient with me when I’m trying my Italian on him, so I can end up practicing lots – as well as drinking!
The first thing I got was an espresso martini, with a nice, frothy head – topped with a few roasted beans. Those of you who know me will be familiar with my never drinking coffee. I love the smell and sometimes the taste (gelato! cake!), but never have the drink itself. So, this was a rarity. It came with a few bread slices, accompanied with two toppings/spreads: a mascarpone-based one and a something with an olive base. Both were tasty! I really liked the martini too – it went down perhaps too easy!
The next one I will remember for a long time. My challenge to him was to create something with a hazelnut base. Pietro came up with a recipe, and declared it to be a twist on the White Lady cocktail. I have no frame of reference, so I can’t compare them. I made a note of the 3 key ingredients on my phone: Baileys, Cointreau, Frangelico (a hazlenut liqueur) – the result was sensational.
The last was a little… different. I wanted something based on an apple sour. He didn’t have much, apart from an apple mix, which he frothed-up with a vegan ingredient, which does the same thing as egg white does. I tasted it. It was nice at first, then my throat began to itch like a bugger, and ended up coughing a bit. Not sure if it was that ingredient or if it was the apple mix, but not sure I’d give it a second go. Oh well – these things have to be tried!
Anyway, I had some nibbles, some drinks and some good conversation during which I got to practice a little of my Italian. Cool. I paid my bill, and asked for four mini-morbidissimi biscuits as well, then went on my (fairly!) merry way back home.
Niamh went to bed ahead of me, while I stayed up and listened to a little music.
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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!
We got up, breakfasted (I skipped my walk), showered and headed out to the Festival. We bought the tickets, got our wristbands and waltzed through security. Or at least I did – the ladies had to have their bags checked.
The Palazzo dei Priori was our first port of call, to play dress-up and rent a costume for the day. It was one of those weird occasions where you don’t think you’d need an official piece of identification, but we did – at least our guest had her driving license with her, which she had to leave with them as collateral. I got a monk’s robe, and Niamh was a woman-of-modest-means, and our guest was a chaste peasant! I may post pics another day, but you can see us down below, having a bit of fun with the mixologist from Antica Velathri Café.
We mooched around the main area – pretty much skipping the performance by the sbandieratori, as we’d seen them a lot the previous night. Once done, we all had a killer sausage and onion sambo to stave off the hunger.
Then it was off to the park to watch the falconry exhibit again. No movies this time – you can check out Day 1 again. Niamh tried using the crossbow, and came very close to hitting the targets (the targets were tiny – apple sized – nobody was hitting them), and afterwards, both the ladies tried archery. Niamh was worryingly good at this. I’d better watch my back! Again, photos may be forthcoming later.
It was getting really warm – even though the monk’s habit was curiously insulating, and so some refreshment was in order. We left the park by the other gate, and headed to Antica Velathri Café, where we became celebs for about 3 minutes. The guy there is really sound, and is happy to help me practice my Italian. He took photos of us to put on his social media sites, and a couple of other onlookers joined-in and took pics of their own!
Of course we had a little booze – iced mulled-wine and Moretti. The mulled wine was yum.
We were roasting by then, and went back to the apartment to chill. But not only to chill, as we had an All-Ireland hurling final to watch! Tipperary, against the odds, pretty much trounced Kilkenny, which made Niamh and her family very happy indeed.
We headed out again for another wander about town, but this time we brought our costumes back. We only thought briefly of wearing them again, but we knew we were going out to eat, and if it was too warm out, if would have been too much of a trial.
We were early to our restaurant, and it wasn’t yet opened. Cursing our luck, we joyfully skipped to Quo Vadis for a swift pint to while away the time! Once sufficiently pinted, we strolled to Ombra Della Sera Pizzeria and yummied down pizzas, and a small, shared plate of fries.
About halfway through our pies, our guest and I swapped pizzas and carried on guzzling, and kept up the calorie count by creeping around to L’Isola del Gusto for a naughty cone.
Unfortunately, I think we missed the skill-at-arms competition, and maybe even an archery competition somewhere… ah well… it just means we’ll have to come back next year 😉
The market at night is cool. The stalls are nicely lit up, and different sets of jesters and performers patrol the streets. We didn’t stay for the full closing ceremony, but hung around the main square to catch a closing act.
Both ladies bought really cool masks made of leather – Niamh’s one is now on display in the apartment.
The sbandieratori closed off the whole show (we know this, because we heard them from our balcony, whilst gulping down wine).
Below are some photos and videos of the nighttime fun.
This morning, I wasn’t feeling too bad, and so both I and our guest went around by Porta San Felice, Porta San Francesco, past the Roman ruins, down to the Docciola carpark and took the arduous stairs back up to town. A shortish route, but with some challenge, especially at the end.
While our guest is out being a tourist, we have to get some shopping in, keys cut, and we might see about framing that artwork we bought.
This evening, we’ll attempt to go (and park!) to San Gimignano. The jewel in the hilltown crown. Pretty is, as pretty does, mind you – I still think Volterra has more to offer!
We took things a little handier after yesterday‘s hectic day. When we were done hanging around the apartment, doing a little writing etc., we took ourselves downstairs and outside. We had to buy a pliers to tidy up a wire, currently suspending the net curtain over the door to our terrace. We grabbed one handily enough in the hardware store on Via dei Sarti, and had another little wander around some of the artsier stores on Via Porta all’Arco.
As we had a mind to eat out tonight, we decided, for the first time ever since we’ve been here, to grab a sandwich out of one of the few streetfood stores near us. We chose La Sosta del Priore, just around the corner from the entrance to our apartment building. It gets rave reviews on Trip Advisor, as do a couple of the other streetfood vendors in the area.
We both had variations on a porchetta (roast pork) sandwich. They assemble it in front of you, and chop up the pork on a flat griddle. I had sundried tomatoes, porchetta, pecorino with a little fig jam. It was sensational, and we’ll be trying these streetfood sandwiches again soon. They fill you right up, too!
I should have taken a photo side-on, as this shot doesn’t do it justice.
Niamh found a single-seater chair she wanted to buy for our living room, in a place in the industrial zone of Colle di Val d’Elsa, a town about 35 minutes drive away. As it was after 13:00, we had to wait ’til closer to 16:00 before heading out. Colle di Val d’Elsa also has a lovely medieval town, and a nice centre to its modern area, but we didn’t visit those today – some other time!
Anyhoo, we got there, and noticed that the carpark was suspiciously empty. Niamh had checked the opening times online, but the message on the window nonetheless stated that they were shut from August 4th until the 27th. Wonderful. Back we went, but on the way home, I took some snaps of the countryside as we were driving.
Upon arriving back in Volterra, we decided not to blow our time at the apartment until it was time to eat, but did this instead:
A manly drink for a manly man, in the prime of his manly manhood. I considered it one of my 5 a day, as it had pulped peach in it. We got these in Antica Velathri Café (Velathri is what the Etruscans called Volterra back in the day). There is a fabulous mixologist there, and he’s very friendly to boot. They also have little bready canapés you can eat, if you like.
After we’d had a couple there, we went to Il Pozzo degli Etruschi for dinner. Niamh ordered one course with a contorno (side dish) of grilled veg, and I two. This is the second time we’ve done this, and neither restaurant has gotten the timing right, despite confirming it with us. So I had my second dish while Niamh had to look on and wait. We won’t make the same mistake again.
Anyway, she had roast cutlets of wild boar, and she said it was the most delicious meat-dish she’s had here. I had a taste and had to agree – it was pretty sensational. I had Zuppa alla Volterrana (veggies!), and after pici with lamb sauce. The soup was ok – not as good as in a couple of other places I’ve had it, but the pici dish was great!
As we both had very full bellies, we went home.
There was supposed to be hella rain this morning, so I had conditioned myself to not going out for a walk. In addition, they were spraying for mosquitoes in the green areas around Volterra, and I didn’t want to be around that. I tried to sleep in. I really did, but there it must have been the commercial glass bin collection day today… and they must have set up a central collection point right underneath our bedroom window. The sound of glass bottles crashing together can become unnerving after 30 straight minutes of it. Still… it must be done to keep the town tidy.
Long story short: fat, lazy Eoin didn’t go out for a walk today. Will do so tomorrow!