Tag: crossbow

Soup, and the ‘Ludus Balistris’ – Crossbow Competition

Soup, and the ‘Ludus Balistris’ – Crossbow Competition

A little after breakfast, we went to the Saturday market to buy some fresh veggies for a version of Zuppa alla Contadina (peasant soup).  There weren’t any fresh peasants around, so we had to settle for the vegetarian option!

We got almost all the fresh veg we wanted, except for Cavalo Nero (black cabbage; kale, essentially).  One stall at the market had it, but it was brown and dried around the edges.  Turns out nobody else had it in town either – it’s pretty much out of season.  Yet, the restaurants must get it from somewhere.  I had to go without, which is a shame, as it’s a really important part of the flavour.  Anyway, I got herbs and beans to add to the soup from the nearby supermarket, and went home to make it.

I cooked up a normal starter soffritto (a seasoned stir-fry of celery, carrot, onion), adding fresh rosemary and dried thyme.  After 8-10 mins, I added liquid and a ton of veggies (more of the same, plus potato and zucchini).  I had to add a little store-bought stock to boost the flavour. 

After 40 minutes, I threw the beans into mix, which both coloured and slightly sweetened the liquid.  Normally, you’d have another vessel in which you’d layer sliced tuscan bread and soup multiple times, leave it for a while and reboil it (a ribollita).  I couldn’t wait, so I lined my bowl with bread instead, and ladled soup over that.  It was delicious, but I think could have been so much better with the cavalo nero.  There was enough for the pair of us, and we have 3-4 portions in the freezer too.

We sat around for much of the rest of the day.  Niamh cooked up a dinner of frozen fish (we sometimes have that, and so wanted to try out similar products here – let’s just say it wasn’t Italy’s finest hour!).  I ran out and grabbed a carton of gelato from L’Isola del Gusto.  Yum – will have more of that today.

At around 20:30, after I’d taken shots of the sunset, we headed out to the main square (Piazza dei Priori), as there was a crossbow competition between several Tuscan cities, visits to three of which we have chonicled in this very blog: Volterra, Massa Marittima and Pisa – and a fourth: Lucca – a gorgeous fully-walled town about 90 minutes drive from us.

There was the usual pomp and ceremony as the nobles and teams arrived, and arrayed themselves out of the square.

Forgive the quality of some of these photos – we had a floodlight opposite us during the opening ceremony and iPhone cameras don’t handle them very well.

Each town had 12 contestants, and all would be aiming at a target from about 30-40 meters away, the bullseye of which was only 3cm across.  They had a camera set up, and were able to show the targets on a big screen.  The skill of these people was impressive, as most of them grouped their bolts neatly on the target.  After the first 6, though, it began to get a little tricky, as bolts were not cleared, and the latter contestants found it harder to find space on the target.  In fact, one of Massa’s bolts smacked off another and fell to the ground.  

There was also an individual competition going on between each person, as well as the team competition.

Afterwards, there was a display by the flag wavers (sbandieratori), while the judges attempted to figure out the score.  We went home during this phase, as we were feeling a little tired.  Do you ever get tired from doing nothing?  Isn’t that weird?!  We heard drumming for a while afterwards, and then missed a fireworks display.  I tried to make myself decent and run out to the terrace to catch it, but it was all over after 30 seconds.  There is a metaphor in there somewhere!

More annoyingly, I am going to have to find out who won the competition and let you know later!

This morning I decided to punish myself for not walking yesterday.  I took a very long route to the Co-Op Supermarket, and from there climbed back up to the city.  The first 85% of the route is downhill… the last 15% is murder.  Anyway, I survived!

We know we want to do something today, as the weather seems to have cleared up a lot, but are not quite sure what it will be.  We’ll let you know in the next one!

Medieval Festival – Day 2

Medieval Festival – Day 2

Warning! This post is media-heavy!

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!

Bibbona, Bolgheri and Prepping for the Medieval Festival

Bibbona, Bolgheri and Prepping for the Medieval Festival

Erratum: Volterra has 8 contrade, not 6.  Always double-checks facts using multiple sites.  *Sigh*

We took the Lancia POS southwest along the SR68 (and its many hairpin turns immediately after Volterra), and cut off after Casino di Terra towards Bibbona.  We passed tantilisingly close to Casale Marittimo, my favourite hilltop village, passed some nice scenery, until we found handy parking, just outside the town’s Zona Traffica Limita (or ZTL – the area which, if you pass its boundaries without licensed permission, will ensure you are fined a three figure sum). 

It was a sleepy, pleasant place – probably affected by the August holiday, as we arrived there around 12:15.  We wandered around the old part of town, which is almost all residential and took some snaps.

It was a cloudier day yesterday, with high humidity, and so it was draining to be out in for a good length of time.

We were hungry, but the only place open in Bibbona was a family pizza place, so we took off for Bolgheri.  It’s only about a 6km drive, and I’d sussed out where to park, so it should be a cinch, right?  Oy… We got there and found car-parks rammed.  We had to drive the guts of a kilometer around the town, and park in an overgrown sports field, just beside the town cemetary.  I couldn’t believe it.  Bolgheri has a beautiful looking frontage – an arched entrance, which forms part of a well-kept castle.  I knew it was famous for its wine, and Niamh knew about Acqua di Bolgheri, an eau de toilette linked with the town.  But was I missing anything else?  Well, we’d see.  But first – food!  

We strolled past the first restaurant and headed down the street until we hit Enoteca Tognoni.  I stuck my head in and saw that it, too, was jam-packed.  A group of four got a table ahead of us, and so we thought we’d try our luck.  We got in!  They put us at a table with 6 other people.  They had used low-dividers to split out large tables for multiple smaller parties.  And it really worked!  They had no printed menu, and so brought the blackboard in from outside.  Niamh opted for ravioli and I went for tagliolini with wild pigeon sauce.  With a tourist-driven place like this, they probably could have thrown out any sub-par crap on the table, but they didn’t.  Both our dishes were superb – so it’s a high recommendation from me, should you wish to brave the parking!

Lunch complete, we set about exploring the town.  And this is where my puzzlement came to the fore.  Sure, it’s a pretty enough place – but it’s a small, more or less unwalled village, of three parallel, short asphalt streets.  If it weren’t for the castle frontage, or the many cute arts & crafts stores and eatieries you would wonder how it gets the number of tourists it does.  The stores were pretty, and the quality of products very high (which was reflected in the prices!) – so maybe that was it.  Dolly-up your shops to get the visitors.  Maybe the real heros of the piece are the people who make the products, and the people who market the town!  I don’t wish to belittle it – and it’s definitely worth a visit… but I feel that’s because it’s so close to other towns in the area (Bibbona, Casale Marittimo), which are sufficient to make it a fun day out.  Just go early in the morning, late in the evening, or maybe an hour after lunch.  Arriving in time for lunch was a mistake on our part.

One other good reason to visit: Bolgheri Ti Amo/Caffe della Posta – a café and gelateria.  The gelato here was fantastic – take a bow, guys!  

Here are some snaps of Bolgheri.

One of the highlights (see photo directly above) of Bolgheri is a 4km of perfectly straight, cypress-lined road. It’s impressive. We drove back and I took some distance-shots of Casale Marittimo and Volterra. We’ll go to Casale when we have guests with us.

As we approached Volterra, it began to spit rain – but it didn’t last long.  We chilled and Niamh cooked what was left of the mushrooms, panchetta and cream with bucatini.  I ran out to get some peas, so we’d have some freshness to cut through the richness of the other ingredients.  The result was better than the previous dish – it was really lovely!

We stayed at home all evening – sorry!

I got up this morning, and decided to keep my walk about town, specifically to check out the preparations that were being made for the medieval festival held this and the next weekends.  Some props were out and looked impressive.  I also took snaps of what I think are some of the contrada flags.  A contrada is a district within Italian towns.

You might have heard of the Palio of Siena – the twice-annual horserace?  Well Siena is split into 17 contrade (plural of contrada).  10 of these contrade are represented in the horserace, but the representative of the contrada is actually the horse, not the horse and rider together.  There is a fab documentary on Il Palio – check it out.  Anyway, the horse wins it – whether it is riderless or not – and the winning contrada goes a bit mad in celebration.

Volterra has a similar competition between the contrade, of which it has 8 (there used to be 12 or so 800 years ago).  It’s not a horserace – although it has its own Palio in October (racing a cheese-wheel through an obstacle course down one of Volterra’s many sloped streets).  We’ll sadly miss this – might have been a laugh.

Instead, there are flag waving/tossing and crossbow competitions to decide the winning contrada.  In addition, many of the townsfolk dress up in medieval gear and there are stalls featuring medieval skills (e.g. blacksmithing) and food & drink.  You have to change your Euros for a special currency upon arrival. We have limited experience of what happens, as it’s our first time here, but we’re excited to check it out!

You can see in some of the lower pics that they are putting together some of the props to give the town even more of a middle-ages feel to it.  Exciting 🙂

As I concentrated on the town, I didn’t check out what natural marvels were awaiting outside.  Niamh fortunately did, and captured Volterra on the edge of a layer of cloud.  Pretty spectacular!

No mad plans today, except to maybe go to the local Co-Op supermarket.  I have been tasked with cooking too.

See you in the next one!