Tag: drink

International Bee Day, Day 1 (20/05/2022)

International Bee Day, Day 1 (20/05/2022)

A short one!

I got up early before I had to give my time to other tasks and went out for a walk. What else is new. I am glad that I’ve gotten into the habit of doing this again, though.

You can find the full-sized version of it here.

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.

I hope you enjoyed this blog. Please leave a like and a comment – I’d love to hear from you!

Fun Lunch at a Flowery Vicopisano and Dinnner at Del Duca (15/05/2022)

Fun Lunch at a Flowery Vicopisano and Dinnner at Del Duca (15/05/2022)

I had no walk this Sunday – sure even God rested on the seventh day, so cut me some slack! We were to head to Vicopisano to attend their flower festival, and film it a little. It’s funny how car journeys seem to shorten the more often you do them, especially when you know you’re going to enjoy the destination. It’s only a little over an hour (if even) from Volterra, and we got parking in the massive overflow field they had opened for the event.

I got out and started filming/papping.

It didn’t take us long to bump into Marie and Lorenzo of Authentic Tuscany (Instagram, website), who offer some wonderful accomodation options throughout the town. They work really hard and giving their guests an opportunity to experience life in small-town and rural Tuscany. They offer guided hikes and experiences of produce-tasting (wine, cheese, olive-oil, truffles) with locals, with whom they have established a fun relationship.

Met Marie and Lorenzo soon after. Amazing couple. Even though it comes naturally to them, they work so hard at keeping people happy. Not many jobs are better.

So we were led by Marie and Lorenzo to a restaurant called 30metriquadri (because it’s the area of the indoor space!), and is run by a couple of Roman lads. 

We settled down and slowly, but our group began to grow, from the 4 of us, then to 6 as a couple Marie and Lorenzo knew joined us.  The man was a retired pilot and knew Marie from when she was an air Stewardess with British Airways. The lovely lady was a wonderful abstract artist (Instagram). Then three more came, including Chef Celine, who you might know from Nicki Positano’s content if you watch her.  She’s a private Chef in the Lucca region, so if you’re in the area and are in the need of one, look her up (Instagram).  Celine was joined by another British ex-pat couple.  Everyone knew each other, so it was a little overwhelming at first for Niamh and me – and we remained relatively quiet (improving our listening skills, as I imagine it!), but everyone was so lovely, that their manner (plus a glass or three of wine) put us at our ease. 

We then proceeded to have one of those wonderful Tuscan lunches that was about 1.5 courses of food, but lasted almost 4 hours.  If a few people in the party hadn’t been short on time it would have been a little more relaxing, but Niamh and I weren’t in a hurry!  We had little veggie balls of goodness, bread and pasta to accompany our wine – all very delish.  A couple had desserts after, but we held back as we were heading out to dinner that evening. 

Halfway through the wait/food, Marie had to meet up with a couple of ladies from Cork, who she introduced to the table. They looked to be enjoying the hell out of themselves. More happy clients for Marie and Lorenzo!

To be honest, I had always been worried about meeting more ex-pats and being enveloped in an ex-pat ‘bubble’, as we had wanted to try to integrate with locals primarily, but after this encounter we felt no more worries about that. Most of their Italian is fantastic, and it has just given me further impetus to learn and integrate more. On top of that, we met a bunch more interesting people we would never have met otherwise. More people equals more stories!

Once done, we headed out to explore the flower festival a little more.

It was a fun little festival. They combined it with their collectors market, and so there were a lot of people. A little brass-based marching band were playing throughout the town adding to the fun. The fact that the weather was pleantly warm and clear was just the icing on the cake.

You can watch a video of our trip to Vicopisano here:

We had a nice drive home, and were a bit naughty at L’Isola del Gusto (it was beginning to get busy), and sat out with our ill-gotten gains by the Church of the Archangel Michael.

We rested at home for a while, urging on our digestive systems to allow more food to be crammed in. Thankfully, they complied.

What else can I say about Ristorante Enoteca Del Duca that I haven’t already said? It’s not just the food, it’s the welcome, the service, the sense of belonging. I think that sums it up.

We were granted another lovely welcome, and as always the food flipping rocked!

We were plied with offers of after-dinner drinks, but we had to turn them down, as we had to be compos mentis for the next day. The next 5 days, in fact. No more on that, I’m afraid. We were also offered the use of the pool at Marcampo. I had every intention of taking them up on the offer, but I never actually did. We still intend this again in August when we return. A day out by the pool may be just the thing. Despite my hydrophobia and creamy whiteness.

We said our goodbyes, took the shot below and headed home.

The Devil’s Bridge and Bagni di Lucca (11/05/2022)

The Devil’s Bridge and Bagni di Lucca (11/05/2022)

Plans! Sometimes they fall apart, and sometimes they not only come to fruition, but you find yourself adding to them as the day progresses. I am pleased to say that it was the latter for us – it was a good day!

I think that you can’t beat a good walk to start the day off, especially in a hilltown. I usually wait ’til mid-morning for a walk when I’m back home in Kilcullen, but early walks are best when the weather is going to be stinking hot!

I kept it within the walls at first, but then had a quick exit as I decided to batter myself with a walk out of the town through Porta San Felice and down past the CoOp and schools, finally entering by Portal all’Arco. It’s not too punishing a walk, but is still fab for cardio vascular. I was at first rewarded with views of colline islands and cloud lakes.

I approached and went through Felici, and didn’t take many photos until I hit the old Etruscan gate again.

After that walk, I was intending being a good boy, breakfast-wise, but Niamh had already kindly bought me a massive, cream-filled donut, not unlike a Roman maritozzi. I didn’t complain as I yummied it down. Once I had stuffed myself, we headed out to the carpark.

Tuscany’s landscape is so incredibly varied that at times it almost beggars belief. Vineyards and olive groves, crest along smooth rolling hills, flirting with ancient hilltowns and hamlets. You have other-wordly terrains like you would find in the Val d’Orcia, the Crete Senesi and Volterra’s own Balze area. Hills and mountains transform into plains and deltas on the coast where sea meets sand that varies is colour from black to yellow to pure honest-to-God white. There are islands with tropical-style waters. There are forests, mini-desert like regions, geothermal areas and, of course, alpine mountains in the north. You can ski in the Winter, and sunbathe in the summer. All within one region (for Irish readers, Tuscany is only about 90% of the area of Munster). Today, we would be heading northwards towards the more mountainous areas, and I would experience my first taste of ‘environment envy’ – once you get past the more heavily populated belt north of the FI-PI-LI highway (so-called, as it is the main free transportation artery that joins FIrenze (Florence), PIsa and LIvorno on one route). For a while you’ll find yourself drving in areas where one town merges into another.

The last time we drove to the Lucca province, back in December 2018 (before I started blogging), the drive was somewhat spoiled by us getting stuck behind trucks the whole time on the approach roads to Lucca. No such ill luck this time, we got to our first destination in good time – a little over an hour and a half. The Devil’s Bridge (aka in Italian as Ponte del Diavolo or Ponte della Maddalena – very poor form to associate Mary Magdalene with the devil, but there it is) spans the River Serchio, near the town of Mozzano. Mountainsides, lushly carpeted with forest and bushland, surround the whole area, making you wonder if you’re actually still in the same country, let alone the same region. The bridge itself is a bit of a jaw-dropper, with a larger arch towards one end of the bridge, giving the construction something of a lopsided appearance. It also makes it viciously sloped too. Nonetheless, it’s something of an engineering marvel, as well as an aesthetic masterpiece – and a practical boon to those needing to cross the river cenuries ago whilst on the Via Francigenca pilgrimage. It began life in the late 11th century, and has reuquired renovation throughout the centuries. Have a look at it!

The road from which the best shots can be taken is somewhat busy, so be careful, as on the one edge there is no footpath, and trucks power by. We spent about 20 minutes there and then drew the conclusion that we were both hungry. Now, there are a couple of places at the bridge, but we didn’t try them – they just seemed like tourist traps, and the Google review scores seem to indicate that too. We head back the way we came, and went over the more modern bridge into Mozzano.

We pulled into a supermarket carpark (second time of asking), and did a little shopping there at first. Seeing no warnings about being towed or needing a pay-and-display ticket, we left the car there and had a quick walkabout to see if there was somewhere we could have a sitdown lunch.

Sadly, one promising Osteria wasn’t open for lunch (remember this was in mid-May, on a Wednesday), and we couldn’t find anywhere else. We walked back to the car, and found another restaurant called Ristorante La Lanternina in a town about 6 or 7 minutes away called Fornoli, and Google proudly declared that it was open for lunch! We hopped in the car and got a parking spot immediately opposite the restaurant. It was getting quite warm at this stage – maybe pushing 27 or 28. We went to the restaurant and found it closed. I guess the owners hadn’t updated the times in Google – what a pity. We had a walk about the town.

We found Bar La Ruota Di Riccardo Franchi, which was one of those rare places where you could get drinks, sandwiches, salads, pizzas and gelato.  During our meal there, I grew a strange fondness for Fornoli.  It’s a modern town, and so you could argue that many of the buildings have little intrinsic charm-value, but it has a kickass bridge that looks like something off a steampunk movie set.  I can’t put my finger on it – I just really liked the place.  Maybe being at the bar and being treated so well helped. Sometimes you can’t explain the vibes you get. Niamh ordered a Caprese salad, and I got a speck and mascarpone pizza – both were tasty.

When we got back to the car, we had a decision ahead of us: go home, or head on to the town of Bagni di Lucca. We chose the latter, and had a lovely drive along the river, past Fornoli’s kickass bridge (why didn’t we stop there?!) and we hit the town maybe 10 minutes later. It seems to be in two parts. The first part is at Ponte a Serraglio, at one end of which is a cute piazzetta where a bar gives you a great view of the nearby bridge – we didn’t stop there, but headed on to the ‘main’ part of town.

Then there’s something of a lull in structures, before the town begins again around an elongated bend a couple of minutes later. We parked in the nearly-empty Conad carpark, prayed to the gods of free parking that we wouldn’t be clamped, and had an explore of the main part of town. But it was in the first part where I began to get my first bout of ‘environment envy’. I thought the place beautiful, and if there is one thing I miss ing Volterra it’s being able to be by running water (the fonts don’t count!). The second part sealed the deal. I would strongly recommend this place for a visit. We didn’t do a thorough explore, as we had blown a lot of the day, and still had a longish drive ahead of us.

We still enjoyed a lovely riverside walk, an explore of the town, we hit the communal park, and found a viewing point which gave us a vista over the rooves of the town. Below, you could hear the sounds of screaming schoolchildren as they enjoyed an afternoon break. Niamh was stopped by a couple of Austrian tourists as they were looking for a panoramic viewpoint from a supposedly nearby church. But she had to apologise, saying we were in the same boat – new to the area.

We headed back to the car after our walk, and drove home. We covered the other side of the river, and parts of it were equally nice. We got home in good time, though. We will definitely do this trip again!

Here’s a video of some of our day:

Once back in Volterra, we immediately took to a mini bar-crawl, which is rare. Firstly, we had a beer in Brasseria del Grifone. We rarely eat in Piazza XX Settembre, as it’s tourist-central, but you can’t argue against a cool drink there under the shade provided by the trees there. My ginger-infused white beer was fab, but we got no nibbles. We headed then to enjoy a spritz/prosecco at Enjoy Cafe (Cafe Etruria was closed, sadly – we’ve never been there and we’re practically neighbours!). Not bad, but also no nibbles! On to Volaterra… could we strike out on snacks? No! We had nice wine and a spritz, and champion aperitivi food too – well done, gang! Finally, we had primo and dessert with wine at another of our neighbours: Porgi l’Altra Pancia.

We just about manged to haul ourselves upstairs for screen-watching a music-listening – anything to ensure digestion had begun before we headed to bed!

Thanks for reading this… if you have any questions or comments, please let me know! I’d love to hear from you.

A Walk and Some Stunning Pasta at La Vecchia Lira (02/05/2022)

A Walk and Some Stunning Pasta at La Vecchia Lira (02/05/2022)

Got up for my first morning walk of the holiday! I intend to walk in the morning more often than not. Today, I headed down towards San Giusto to see if there some sights I’d rarely or never seen. I hit a couple of minor jackpots! The day broke with better weather than the previous day, that was for sure! Of course, to get out to try to find some obscure stuff I would have to go through the humdrum of walking to a perennially beautiful medieval town.

I stopped briefly at a Tabbaccheria to pick up a stamp for €16 to pay the annual renewal for our property-owner’s parking/ZTL permit.

I had a wander down Borgo Santo Stefano, to the fork and found a water font I had never seen before. Ok, it’s not hold-the-front-page news, but I find it amazing that there are still little secret niches in Volterra after over 4 years of coming here.

I headed from there downhill (I knew I would pay the price on the way back!) towards a section of Etruscan wall, that I’ve even see some Volterrans wonder where it is.

I walked onwards past the liceo and the retirement home, into Borgo San Giusto, towards the huge church also bearing his name. It’s rarely open when I visit (usually the early morning) and today was no exception, but I always marvel at the size of it, for an ‘ordinary’ church.

The church’s grounds run parallel to the SP15, along which some old Etruscan wall also runs. I walked along a bit of a greenway I hadn’t explored before – some lady was walking her dog, and there were narrow trails created by previous walkers there. I got an impressive shot of the surrounding countryside there, slightly spoiled by the sun being in the wrong place.

Between the church and Pizzale XXV Aprile, there are a couple of things: firstly, a few underground Etruscan mini-crypts, and secondly an open space where soccer practice or celebrations can take place. It was May 1st the previous day, so the town was out celebrating on it. May 1st is a big deal in many parts of Italy, and in Volterra they celebrate it with Trippa alla Volterrana: a tripe dish cooked in a tomato-based sauce – always accompanied by red wine. The former is not my bag, the latter certainly is. Anyway, there were signs of partying in this area, and the food and drink stalls were still there. I didn’t take photos of that, because a tidy-up job was sorely needed. Instead, I took a photo of some street art celebrating the alabaster workers of the city.

On the uphill slog back to the town, I spotted the mural below. I hadn’t seen it before – I think it was only painted recently, as I had walked past the place a bunch of times – it’s near the Conad supermarket. The artist’s name is Nico Lopez Bruchi, a self-proclaimed oneironaut (one who travels within dreams) and I think he has been responsible for a few murals around the town.

I went home via Vallebona carpark, and climbed up a the steep slope there to the walled part of town. I gazed back towards Santa Giusto, and took the shot of the magnificent church dominating the midground skyline.

I was on my way back to the apartment when I got a message from Niamh asking me what I wanted to do for breakfast. She suggested Migliorini, and who am I to say ‘NO!’ to that? We had a wonderful breakfast there where I completely undid all my good work on the walk!

Once we had loaded our bellies, we headed over to the Municipal Police to renew our parking permit. This was the first time where we wouldn’t have to ask Alice from Milianti (our estate agents and property managers) to come with us. Everything went smoothly, until we had to fill out an official form. We got through it though, and I did well by grabbing the stamp earlier on in the day. On top of that was a €20 admin fee, and Lo! We had a permit which allowed us to travel on a couple of the streets inside the walls, and park in a few nearby residents’ carparks. I was a big boy today!

On the way back to the car, we snapped a little more, including in a courtyard which usually remains behind shut doors on our street.

Once done, we celebrated by going to the Coop to do some shopping (we sure know how to celebrate), and grabbed some antipasti for lunch. Everything tastes better over here, most probably because everything *is* better over here. The Italians selfishly (and cleverly) hold on to their best ingredients. We had salumi, cheeses and rocket. All fab. We then settled down for some vegetating in front of various screens!

After resting and screenwatching, it was time for dinner. But first: aperitivi! This time, I thought to myself, we are going to add a ‘Cheers!’ factor to a local place. Somewhere where someone would shout “Norm!” (or equivalent) whenever I walked in the door. We went to L’Incontro. It’s only about 50 meters away. We had a prosecco and an Aperol Spritz, and nommed on some crisps (potato chips) that came with the drinks.

Yummy! And we only had a quick hop across the road to La Vecchia Lira. This is a restaurant we seriously under-used until last year. If you’re a reader of the blog, then you may remember this is where we had Christmas dinner last year. We were greeted warmly and joked with the owner that, once again, we had made no reservations. He replied that he’d always find a spot for us. Awwww! We are devils for not making reservations, but felt we didn’t need to in early May on a Monday evening!

I was looking forward to having their cod and leek-filled ravioli in a shellfish veloute, but sadly I didn’t see it on the menu. Instead there was ravioli filled with lamb, with a light stewed apple sauce and crispy pancetta. I wasn’t too sure about this, but my adventurous side took over and I opted for it in the end (fruit not being my friend, or really vice-versa). What an inspired choice it was. Rather than the apple having been stewed sweetly, it was stewed in a savoury broth, and the result was simply the nicest filled pasta dish I have ever had. Just when I thought they couldn’t beat last year’s cod and leek! Wow! At one stage I remember saying after I’d had the first one “And there are four more!” with glee! Niamh had their cacio e pepe, which she had been looking forward to for the past 5 months. For secondi, Niamh had stewed wild boar and I had duck done porchetta style. All very nice.

We had the necessary quarter litres of wine too, of course.

Once done and fully satisfied, we headed out for a brief walk before going back to the apartment for screen-watching/music-listening and bed.

An Extraordinary Christmas Lunch! (25/12/2022)

An Extraordinary Christmas Lunch! (25/12/2022)

Happy Christmas everyone! Sorry – it’s just the timing and nature of these blogs. I have a busy working life, and between that, social balance, blogging, vlogging and writing fiction I just don’t have enough time to post more frequently. As it is, this blog may be going on hiatus for about a month after a couple more weeks… we’ll see.

Anyway, we got up and exchanged gifts – that was fun! I got my main Christmas present early: a gimbal to help me shoot video more steadily with my phone. I got a fab bottle of Jo Malone from Niamh’s sister and brother-in-law. I will wear any scent if it smells good on me, whether traditionally male or female. I love what I was given, and will buy another bottle of it for meself in Dublin airport next time I fly to Italy!

Here’s what Christmas looked like from our terrace this year:

We had another breakfast of cereal and panettone, and settled in for a couple of hours screen-watching or reading. A good few weeks previously, I had booked Christmas lunch with La Vecchia Lira. Their main fare is traditional Tuscan, but they do have some modern twists. Both of us have a few favourite pasta dishes there, and we couldn’t wait to show them off to Niamh’s cheffy sister. Unfortunately, none of them were on the menu. The menu itself seemed a little small, only offering what we thought were a few choices for each course. None of us would be going for the tongue, we joked. I saw that it included wine, and surmised that whatever we will choose would be cooked excellently. And it was all for only €60 per person.

Irish and English people might balk at the idea of not having roast turkey or goose for Christmas, but it really does pay to expand your horizons. Here’s the menu:

We arrived slightly ahead of time, and gave our now ubiquitous cylinder of Bailey’s truffles to the owner, whose name we sadly don’t know (yet!). He was extremely grateful, and thanked us for coming to his restaurant today. It was at least half full, but he was disappointed, because a few tables had cried off, leaving some space empty. Later on in the meal, I saw he actually also turned over a couple of tables with new families/couples, so it wasn’t that bad a day for him, attendance-wise. The owner’s English is pretty good, but he has waiting staff there with excellent English. I still tried my hand at Italian!

We were sat at a decent table in the back where it was warmer, and were given a printed menu each, and then set about deciding what we’d have. We had a glass of prosecco each… very nice!

Anyway, we were wondering where the waiting staff were to come and take our order when the first dish arrived: fried pumpkin fritters. I began to wonder.

We were then given a glass of red each. And when we were done with the fritters, the artichoke came out, and finally the penny dropped: we would be getting everything on the menu! I still marvel at the value of it all, not least the amount of work put into it all by the chefs. I had never eaten in Italy on a celebration day such as Christmas, New Year’s or Easter – so I now assume that all restaurants that pubish a special menu mean for customers to experience everything on it. Please correct me if I’m wrong. If I’m right, I’ll be doing this again!

To round out the antipasti, we had a carpaccio of Chianina beef. Very tender and lovely. The salad was perfectly dressed.

Next up – the first primo: a beautitful onion veloute/soup. It was souper flavourful (sorry!). But it really was!

Ok, it isn’t the sexiest looking morsel, but the heck with that – it went down very well! I could have downed a pint of it (I like soup – always have – what can I say?).

Then we had the pasta course. People who aren’t familiar with Italian cuisine, please take note. That’s one pasta course, out of nine courses. And not a pizza in sight. See? It’s not just a carb-fest in Italy! It was agnolotti (a filled pasta), stuffed with cinta senese, with a sauce of mostly chicory. Now I’m not a fan of chicory – I find it bitter, but don’t mind a little bit of it. If the stuffing and sauce had been swapped, I would have been a bigger fan. Having said that I know the others liked it, so it was a matter of personal preference. What I *will* say is that the pasta was, of course, cooked to perfection.

Then it was on to the first secondo, and the most contentious dish of the night. Certain among us Irish and English – those of us of a certain age – may remember offal being used much more frequently back home than it is today. In particular, I remember my grandmother having tripe with milk, onions and bread, and to this day I have rarely seen anything so gross. This is why I shy away from Trippa alla Volterrana and Lampredotto. For the ladies with us today, it was tongue. They couldn’t do it. In fairness they gave it a quick go, but pushed their plates towards me and Niamh’s brother-in-law. We both yummied down both portions!

I can sort of see why it might not be to some peoples’ tastes… again it’s a texture thing. It was very soft, but at least it wasn’t gristley or chewy. To me it was gently, broke down very quickly in the mouth and had a fabulous beefy flavour. The sauce complemented it really well.

Another thing slightly contentious in certain circles is veal. I almost never order it when I see it on menus, as there is rumoured cruelty involved in raising veal-cattle. However, I think modern methods are supposed to be more humane than they used to be. The Irish and British are also voracious consumers of lamb, so the ‘baby’ aspect has to be somewhat muted. Anyway, we all got a plate of it, and we all ate it!

I think we’d well moved onto our second bottle of wine by now, and to be honest, I think we were beginning to get a little bit merry. The veal was tender and delicious, and served with fanned, roast pear and pomegranate seeds. These added alternated hits of sweet and sour to the meat.

Finally, there was my favourite dish of the night. Roast fillet pork with a light gravy and delicately curried creamed potatoes.

Niamh’s sister isn’t a huge fan of pork, so there was more for her husband, the lucky b….. blighter! I loved the meat, and the creamed potatoes were sublime – I could have eaten a kilo of the stuff, despite it being the eighth savoury course. It was so delicious.

The final course was lovely and light – a nougat mousse and a local vermouth. I then asked for an amaro, and was was given a shot glass of it. I asked what it was and when the waitress (whose English is excellent) told me it was Jaeger and asked if I’d heard of it, I couldn’t suppress my laugh. The poor girl asked if I would rather something else, and I said no – that it was perfect. Jaeger is a fine digestif, but has become much maligned because of how it’s been abused in British and Irish drinks cultures. You basically drink it to get pissed. In this situation, however, it’s absolutely fine.

The mixture of prosecco, wine and digestivi were bolstering my bravery somewhat. As you may recall, Niamh’s sister had just completed a 3-month intensive course in the prestigious Ballymaloe cookery school, with distinguished results. I knew she would have loved a tour of a busy Italian kitchen, so I got up out of my chair and asked the owner if he wouln’t mind. He was only too delighted, but given the space in the kitchen and the need for a translator (the waitress), I wouldn’t be able to accompany. That was ok – she couldn’t believe her luck and spent about 20 minutes in there, having a good look and a good chat.

Incidentally, she has her own business as a private chef, so if you’re planning a stay in Suffolk and want to impress your friends, family, or colleagues please do check out Noble Prawn‘s feasts!

We finally left and left a pretty big tip, which, much to my embarrassment, the owner trumpeted all over the restaurant. You have to be careful with tipping in Italy. I do it frequently, but I have made a mistake on at least one occasion where I left a tip with someone who was in fact offering a gift to me – that still haunts me, although she was ok about it – if a little mock-grumpy at first.

On the way out, the owner offered Niamh’s sister a chance to volunteer in the kitchen for a week or two, and she grabbed at that with both hands. I tried my best to let the guy know that this wasn’t an offer made ‘to be nice’; she really wanted a shot at this, so I told him so. He still seemed amenable, so she has that to look forward to now too.

We went for a walk through the town in an attempt to burn off the excess alcohol. It was mostly misty and very quiet. There were one or two breaks in the cloud, but then the sun dropped very quickly. I remember that when I’d posted these shots in Instagram and Facebook, that a couple of the residents were upset at how quiet it was. I reminded them their town is still lovely, no matter what, and that it was in the early evening; not quite passeggiata time. And it is lovely, and always will be.

We then went back to the apartment, where we bloated and still had room for wine and the occasional chocolate or olive. I was last up, as I’d found Ed Wood (the biopic of the worst ever film director) and watched it through. I hadn’t seen it in years – a good little movie!

I hoped you enjoyed this oddly-timed Christmas-themed blog. Please share it with your friends if you did. If you have any other recommendations for spending Christmas Day in Tuscany, please let me know!

Christmas Eve in a foggy Volterra – a meal at Terra di Mezzo (24/12/2021)

Christmas Eve in a foggy Volterra – a meal at Terra di Mezzo (24/12/2021)

‘Twas the day before Christmas! We decided to stir, but only stay in Volterra for the day. We had our breakfasts (including some yummy chocolate and orange panettone). It was market day too. It’s usually held on a Saturday, but that would have been Christmas day, so they brought it forward.

Out we went out to a very misty Volterra. I know many locals were lamenting the weather, but to me it made the whole town look enchanting, even mysterious. The first thing we saw was that the market was somewhat lighter that it usually is.

The food market is in Piazza San Giovanni, where the cathedral and baptistry lie. We turned into the square…. and there were only a few stalls available, much to our disappointment. However, it turned out that these stalls had everything we needed.

You might remember in the last blog, that samples are the way to go when operating a stall, and the lady working the fruit and veg one below very much subscribed to that school of thinking.

She had several different types of olives and nuts, and almost everything we sampled, we bought. We had good fun there too. We ended up buying some olives, including some chili-enfused ones which were delicious. We also grabbed a couple of hundred grams of some amazing roasted almonds, and some grapes. I was just a little annoyed with myself that I didn’t film at the time.

We went over to the salumi and cheese stall, and sampled some more! We ended up buying a boar salami (if I recall correctly) and several cheeses (pecorino, parmiggiano, a creamy gorgonzola). We then left the market and extended the walk.

The cathedral beckoned, and we went in. Earlier in the year, they were charging €7 for entry. This is a recent thing, and annoyed me somewhat. Today, the stall was inside the door, but it was unmanned, so we skipped inside. They’re not keen on filming there, and because I’d been there a couple of times before, I just took the one photo.

We continued our stroll.

On the way back to the apartment, we stopped in L’Incontro for a coffee and cake. I had a hot chocolate, not being a coffee-drinker. I also threw a cornetto con crema into me. Ahhh… I wish we had more bakeries where we lived, although in fairness Armelle (a French lady who moved to Kilcullen) makes some amazing treats, so I can’t be too upset!

After having had a lunch of what was bought at the market, plus a few other salumi from the local mini-market, we thought that to spend the day vegetating wouldn’t be a good use of our time, so we took another stroll. Niamh’s brother-in-law was wondering if the Irish bar (Quo Vadis) was open. I was wondering too, as when I took my morning walk a few days previously, I’d noticed that there was a bunch of recycleable boxes left there for collection.

Unfortunately, it was closed, but the Roman Theatre by the pub entrance gave me an idea.

Would our guests fancy a look-see at the new archaeological site of the newly found amphiteatre? Turns out the answer was ‘yes’! We headed through the Porta Fiorentina, and wandered down towards the cemetary. You can’t enter the dig site itself without a a guide, but we were able to have a good look anyway.

They have secured a ton more funding for the dig, so hopefully we’ll soon see a colosseum-like ruin someday in the next few years.

When we’d finished checking it out, we went inside the cemetary grounds. I rarely get a chance to do this, as almost all of my walks are early in the morning, and the cemetary is never open. Anyway, we went inside and had a look. The cemetry here is typically Italian. Some are buried in the ground with ‘traditional’ tombstones, but many are in drawers in the walls of the grounds. This is really typical throughout Italy.

I noticed a couple of things about these “drawers”. Firstly, they were very well taken-care of. Many had lights and fresh flowers. The other thing I noticed was that of those that had photos, almost none of them featured people smiling. I found these two, and one of them moved me somewhat.

That young girl. She was only 14 or 15. It looks like she died during the war. I wondered what her story was. Was it by disease, misadventure or was she a casualty of the war itself. It’s such a wonderful photo, that it was upsetting to think she died so young. If someone from Volterra is reading this by any chance, I’d love if you left me a comment or mailed me to let me know.

We left and headed back up towards the apartment. I took a few shots of the town’s distant skyline on the way back. She is lovely from any angle!

We rested back at the apartment, dollied oursselves up and then headed out to Terra di Mezzo for our Christmas Eve dinner. I had booked it a couple of months previously. We took one of our cartons of Bailey’s truffles with us to give to Robbi and Aurora. We got there and found the restaurant quite empty. We were nonetheless welcomed warmly, and asked where we’d like to sit. It was cold out, and the only table large enough for us is pretty near the door, so I suggested we head down to the cellar. In hindsight (in fact, not just in hindsight) this was a mistake. The cellar here dates from Roman times, and was probably used to keep foods fresh etc. It was cold and a little damp down there. They hadn’t been open all week, so the sting of cold hadn’t been taken out of the air by the time we arrived, and there were heaters and dehumidifiers working overtime there.

Still, aside fromt that, it’s a really nice environment – it’s not often you get to eat in a near 2,000 year-old cellar! We’d eaten in the cellar a couple of times before, and so were not expecting the cold. Anyway, we got settled-in, a couple of us throwing on a scarf or light jacket as an extra layer and presented our gift. Robbi came back down to thank us, but said “Next year two, eh?” which made us crack up. Fortunately, the tube of sweets have separate bags of truffles within, so sharing wouldn’t be a problem.

I had to go back up to Robbi before our food landed, to see if we could do anything about improving the heat situation. He adjusted and moved a couple of heaters, and it did get a little bit better. I did notice, however, that there was only one other table occupied upstairs. I had been expecting the restaurant to be a bit more full, but remembered then that Italians often celebrate Christmas at home on Christmas Eve. I wasn’t going to let the lack of bodies reduce our enjoyment.

We ordered, and got an antipasti sharing platter. I followed that up with some Zuppa alla Volterrana (che sorpresa!) and a pici cacio e pepe with truffle. I think the winners of the night were Niamh and her brother-in-law who order a beefsteak, each about the size of an adult face! I’d had it before in August, and it was very tasty.

I didn’t take photos, as I knew tomorrow was going to be a day for food photographs, and I didn’t want to make a nuisance of myself. Although I did grab another bad selfie!

When finished, we said our goodbyes (and tipped well for Christmas). I saw that the restaurant was still so empty, and not only did I feel a little bad for Robbi – and I hoped he hadn’t opened just for us – but I was beginning to wonder about our Christmas lunch the next day. Would it be similarly quiet?

Thanks a lot for reading – I hope you enjoyed it. Please leave a comment to let me know!

A Volterran Walk, Art in La Sassa and a Cloudy Sunset in Micciano (21/12/2021)

A Volterran Walk, Art in La Sassa and a Cloudy Sunset in Micciano (21/12/2021)

I got up that morning to leave the trash out and film a walk around the town. On the way out of the apartment door, I bumped into the neighbour who was taking down his trash too. I offered to take it down for him, but he said he’d walk with me instead. We had a bit of a broken conversation, but he was saying he was surprised to see us as there are so many businesses closed for the season. I told him that it didn’t matter to us; that Volterra was lovely no matter the time of year, no matter the weather. He seemed pleasantly surprised by this. We said our farewells, and I went walking.

I didn’t take many photos, because I spent almost the whole time filming.

Here is the video I recorded – it’s a long one!

After I’d gotten home, showered and breakfasted, the neighbour called in again. He brought with him 4 shiny, freshly cut keys keys for the new lock on the apartment gate (see the previous blog). I paid and thanked him. He seemed hesitant to leave, but awkwardly spun on his heels and marched next door to his own apartment. That’s odd, I thought, but then head a revelation 30 seconds later: I’d forgotten to give him his own original back. I grabbed it, rushed to their door and knocked on it. I handed them the key back, denouncing myself as a mad idiot or somesuch, and got polite smiles (they are lovely, quiet people).

We hung around the apartment until we had an early lunch at La Sosta del Priore (as said in other blogs, this place was voted the best sandwich shop in the Pisan province). Ilenia (the owner) had advertised a burger with speck, and it looked lovely, so that’s what I had. Niamh had a split sausage sandwich. For the last year, Ilenia had owned the premises opposite, so people could buy her packaged produce, plus have a place to sit down and enjoy her fare. So, Niamh and I checked it out, and yummied down our sandwiches there.

Afterwards, we headed to the car. Why? We were going to another town I’d wanted to visit, but had never been to: La Sassa. But we had a mission there. An artsy one. We try to support artists in the region, and have begun a small selection which we have hung about the apartment. So far, we have art from:

  • Vanna Spagnolo, who has since left her premises in Volterra, to enjoy life in different ways. We have a couple of her lovely, colourful landscapes.
  • Fabrizio Ferrari, who produces abstract pieces. He sometimes uses acrylics, but frequently uses coloured Bic pens too – he produces some fantasticly detailed works – mostly sociological/political in theme, but not always.
  • Isabella Bisa – who produces some wonderful portraits, but mainly sells landscapes. She paints on canvases, handbags and purses. Although based in Pienza, she has a sales shop in Volterra.

This time we would be going to see Veronika, whose studio and shop is in La Sassa, in the Valdicecina – about 40 or so minutes drive from Volterra. On our way to the car, we stop off (yet again – they must have been tired of us by now) at our neighbours, to give them a little Christmas gift of Irish earthenware. It’s nice to be nice! Once again their apartment smelled wonderfully of slowly-cooking food.

We arrived at La Sassa, and as soon as we got out of the car, were immediately greeted by a local. The only person we saw at the time. Friendly place. La Sassa is perched improbably atop a narrow ridge, and the road heading up is winding and swirly, as you’d expect. The resulting views are wonderful though.

The town is small, but has a lot of higgledy-piggledy lanes throughout. Even though it’s barely larger than a hamlet, we were struggling to find Veronika’s studio.

I was on the verge of calling her when Niamh finally saw a tiny sign over a door in a hidden laneway which indicated the artist’s studio. We were greeted warmly (in Italian, although she is a Czech lady) and immediately ushered in to her small but busy studio where dozens of works lay leaning or piled throughout. We saw the work she had advertised on Facebook recently and offered the asking price. We had a look at a couple of other pieces, but decided we’d see how the one would do in our apartment for now. Here it is:

We left with work and had another potter about the village.

There was another little town I wanted to check out – Micciano. It looks like it’s nearby, but those pesky winding Tuscan roads make it otherwise. We bravely drove past the signs for Querceto (my favourite hamlet) and insisted we’d drive to our intended destination. There was a bar there which Google swore was open, but alas, it was still closed. Shame, as I was looking forward to interacting with locals a little and getting a chance to practice my Italian a little bit more. Plus there’s the “What they hell are these Irish people doing here?!” factor about it. Maybe it would open after – but it certainly hadn’t by the time we’d left.

Micciano is high up, and we manage to capture views of Saline di Volterra, from the other side – which isn’t something that happens with us too often. Sadly it was very cloudy, so the sunset was barely visible, but the colours were promising.

We then drove home. Not much happened on the way! You can see a very short video of La Sassa and Micciano below. I’d love to revisit both in sunnier weather some day.

Back home we chilled for a while, and hung the picure up. We were well-pleased with it. At the time of writing this, it seems that Veronika and Fabrizio have opened up a joint-venture store in Volterra, so we will definitely be visiting next time we’re over.

Then, as folk always do, we got restless and semi-hungry. We decided to head to Osteria Fornelli, and walked through the damp town to get to it. It was lit up so well and looked so inviting, but sadly it was hosting a private Christmas party, so back we went to Il Sacco Fiorentino.

Il Sacco Fiorentino is one of those places we don’t visit often enough – but I kind of know why. They used to serve the best wild boar burgers and fries, but seem to have taken them off their menu. Instead of still being huffy about that, we thought we’d finally give them another go (it’s been 18 months, Eoin – get over it!!).

We weren’t disappointed! If I had one complaint to make, it was that the portion of Zuppa alla Volterrana I got was freaking HUGE!

If I recall correctly, I had to finish off Niamh’s pasta. The sandwiches in La Sosta del Priore can leave you feeling fullish for a while. We rolled, groaning, out of the place… and took our shortest route home.

We got home, and Niamh went to bed while I stayed up for a bit and listened to music. Tomorrow, we would have to go to Pisa to pick up our guests!

Thanks for reading – please leave a comment or query – I’d love to hear from you!

Il Teatro del Silenzio, Lajatico, Ghizzano (11/10/2021)

Il Teatro del Silenzio, Lajatico, Ghizzano (11/10/2021)

There are a fair few photos in this blog – you have been warned! It’s pretty long too – it was a busy day!

Every year, Tuscan tenor Andrea Bocelli plays a couple of concerts in late July near Lajatico, the municipal centre of the area he was raised. He was actually brought up in small town just north of there: La Sterza, and there you can see several buildings bearing his name: a restaurant, a cantina and, most improbably, a farm machinery outlet.

That day, we decided to take a look at where his performances take place: Il Teatro del Silenzio (the theatre of silence). So called, I assume, not because Signore Bocelli has a sense of sarcasm, but that it is completely outdoors, away from the town, in nature. I guess wind doesn’t count on the decibel scale. The surroundings were supposed to be lovely, and so we were looking forward to the trip, and maybe getting some lunch in Lajatico itself.

But first – the morning walk. Looks like we got lucky with the clarity of the sky, if not the actual temperature that day.

I walked to the panoramic view at Piazza Martiri della Libertà, down viale dei Ponti, re-entered at Porta a Selci and carried on home from there.

Once done, washed and breakfasted we took the all-too-familiar road towards Pisa. The first part of this road always enthralls us, with views of sweeping valleys dotted here and there with agriturismi and tiny hamlets, surrounded by olive groves, cypress and vineyards. As soon as you have entered Molina d’Era, however, the road bores a little as it flattens, although you will still see glimpses of Tuscany-in-a-bottle scenes such as farmland, small homesteads on hills and distant borghi atop ridges. 98% of the time at the end of this section of road we turn right towards La Sterza, whether we’re going to Pisa, Pontadera, La Rosa etc. for shopping or actually heading back to Ireland. This time we were turning left! Excitement!

A couple of kilometers later, we turned right at San Giovanni di Val d’Era towards Lajatico. If you went straight on instead, you could take an alternative route to Volterra, on a road plagued by subsidence, but offering views easily rivalling the Crete Senesi, or even the Val d’Orcia itself. Maybe more on that another time, though. For now – onwards towards Lajatico!

The theatre itself lies on the outskirts of the town – to the southeast – so, we followed Missus Google’s advice and wound up at the near-empty carpark. We got out, and were glad of our jackets. The base temperature wasn’t so bad, but the wind howled about us like banshees, doing the day a little injustice.

There were only a couple of other small groups of people here (three nuns and an older couple), and one or two workmen who where tending the immediate area. It took a minute, but once we had gotten used to the gales of the exposed region, we took in the landscape. And it astonished.

As you can see above, we spotted Volterra in the far distance, crowning the butte.

We headed down farther, to take a look at some of the sculptures on display, as well as the theatre itself, taking snaps and filming all the while!

And finally, two of my favourite ever photos:

Captions not needed!

I would recommend a visit to the Teatro for sure, but maybe during the off-season, like we did – and you can forget it in late July, unless you’re actually attending the concerts. The road to the place is narrow, and I can only imagine how insanely busy it can be. I know from a local that, although they are grateful for the business that is brought, Lajatico becomes a little unbearable during the gigs. It’s a small place, and I can imagine hordes of people would spoil it.

We had been to Lajatico before (before I had started this blog – although I’m sure I still have photos), and found it lovely, but it was during a cooler day, and the town was shrouded in mist. Today was bright and sunny, and the light made the colours of the town pop with extraordinary clarity. This time, we found Lajatico utterly captivating. We had no idea that there was so much art placed in and around town, on the walls, hidden inside buildings with doors which, at a distance, seemed randomly left open. They had placed coloured lanterns over the street lights, and I imagine the town looks amazing at night.

We arrived at the main church in the town, dedicated to San Leonardo Abate and had a look inside and in the nearby park.

Once done there, we headed back up the town to see if we could find somewhere to eat a place of pasta, snapping furiously on the way.

At first we checked out a recommended restaurant – different to the one in which we’d already eaten – but it was closed that day for lunch (Il Marmaldo). In fact, it looked like it only opened at weekends for lunch, and during the evening for most other days. A pity. But, at least we had Ristoro Da Nello – where we had eaten before and had good food and tons of geniune small-town charm. Right? Well… no. Sadly, they were on holidays for a few weeks while we were there, and so were closed too. Another pity. So, I had a flick around Google Maps and remembered that we had never visited Ghizzano, and it certainly looked big enough to have a restaurant, so we headed back to the carpark and drove there.

Ghizzano is a small town nestled atop a hill (quelle surprise!), aways north and a little west of Volterra. What makes it different to the other hilltowns of Volterra? Well it is down to the inhabitants, of course, but also three artists: Alicja Kwade, David Tremlett and Patrick Tuttofuoco. You can read more about them here. But essentially, parts of the town are outdoor art installations – the most notable of which are the buildings of Via di Mezzo – all it seemingly just took is paint. You won’t find many streets in Tuscany looking anything like Via di Mezzo.

At the time of writing this, Google Street View last visited this street in 2011, before the installation was implemented. You can check it out here.

After having a brief tour of Via di Mezzo, we went in search of a restaurant. Not finding one, we instead headed into a cute little bar, attached to a really old-school looking alimentari (food store) called Bar Alimentari Campani. The foodstore, although very clean, looked designed out of the 1950’s, with simple wooden square shelves linging the walls from floor to ceiling. At the deli end, we cheekily asked the young lady there if there was a restaurant in the neighbourhood. She shook her head and pointed us in the direction of Peccioli and Legoli, both about 15 minute drives away. We didn’t feel like another trip in the car to quest for a restaurant, so we looked hungrily instead at the wonderful produce behind the glass counter. We shrugged and thought, sure a change is as good as a rest and went for sandwiches. I had a baguette with cooked prosciutto and fresh pecorino (the latter is the kind of pecorino that has a very short shelf-life and is much softer than the harder, more aged, pecorino you may find in Ireland. Niamh more had the same with added tomato.

We thanked the lady and went back out to the bar section to pay for the sandwiches, a couple of accompanying drinks and a small bag of BBQ crisps (potato chips). Amusingly, that took us about 15 minutes in a non-existant queue. Anyway, we managed to escape, and went in search of a bench on which we could sit and watch the world go by. We found one, near a church and an artist’s studio. By God it was quiet in Ghizzano, but lovely.

We broke out our food and started eating. Well, it was a minor revelation. I enjoyed that simple sandwich like I had enjoyed few others. The ham was wonderful and the textures of the cheese and crunchy crust contrasted wonderfully. It really was good for a change, rather than putting yourself under pressure to find a place that does good hot food.

As we ate on the bench, the crusts cracking and crumbling to the stone flags below, a larger vehicle pulled up near us and a father and son climbed out and headed into a building beside us. The father left the car completely unlocked. I’m not sure anyone in Ireland, even in the smallest of towns, would leave their car unlocked beside a couple of strangers. He saluted us and they both disappeared.

Anyway, once done with lunch, we disposed of our trash in a bin beside a big blue ball (see photo above)!

Our carpark, as it happened, was beside a modern cooperative mill where people take their olives for pressing into oil. There was a small (currently closed) colourful bar area where people could wait while their green gold was being pressed. Wandering about outside, very randomly, was a peacock. Just one of the more unusual sights of the day.

We got in the car, and it was my turn to drive. I punched in the instruction for going back home to Volterra – much of it on roads we’d never travelled before, which is usually what I enjoy. Except that the first part of the road back wasn’t enjoyable – not at all. It quickly crumbled from asphalt to one of those bumpy gravelled roads, made worse by the previous week’s rain. At one stage, we both winced as we heard the brief crunching of the underside of our rental being scraped by a ridge in the middle of the road. It was another kilometer at least before we managed to find a proper way again, but it was plain sailing from there.

Have a look at our video of our day out below.

Our day wasn’t done. To treat ourselves after our lunchtime forebearance, we decided to head out to La Vecchia Lira for dinner. This would be no sandwich, so we had a bit of a golden-hour walk before we headed into the restaurant itself.

We headed into the restaurant, and the waitress there (whose English was really good) recognised us, and both her and the owner gave us a cheery welcome. We settled in, and ordered our food and drink.

And that was our day. I hope you enjoyed the read. Please leave me a comment and/or a question below. I would love to hear from you!

The Vicopisano Market (10/10/2021)

The Vicopisano Market (10/10/2021)

I didn’t go for a walk that morning, as I knew we were heading off early to travel. I did take a pic from the terrace, and one on our way to the car, though.

We’d been following people from Vicopisano on Instagram for a while (Authentic Tuscany – check them out). It seemed like a nice town, but what really clinched the deal was the collectors’ and antiques market they hold the second Sunday of every month. We’d passed it by on the way to Montecatini Terme in August too (and yes, it still galls me that I lost the video footage of that trip), and there were a couple of historical features that certainly looked worth checking out.

We set Mrs. Google to the carpark that looked most promising, and got underway. The trip is about 54km and took a little over an hour. I didn’t take any photos, because I was filiming! You can scroll further down the page to check out the video of the journey and the market itself.

We arrived around 11-11:30 and found that it was only a short stroll to the market itself. And what a market! I’d heard that Arezzo had the biggest regular antiques fair in Tuscany, which is probably true – in that it is strictly antiques. But Vicopisano’s market is absolutely enormous, and so lively. I’m struggling to think of anything that wasn’t for sale! There were books/comics, toys, old wireless radios, furniture, crockery (including very fancy dinner sets), cutlery, wonderful stalls with gramaphones (being demonstrated), clothes, weapons, musical instruments, old bikes, alabaster and terracotta-ware, mirrors, glasses, genuine war memorabilia. The market wrapped around Piazza Cavalca – a large square just west of the oldest parts of the town, and snaked its way along multiple adjoining streets. We really couldn’t get over the size of it. It was so huge, that while we didn’t buy anything (we came close), we still spend a good 60-70 minutes simply strolling through it while stopping only briefly to check out a few stalls of interest.

One of the best things about Italian markets (I think I’ve noted this before), is how lively they can be – the excited chatter of Tuscan accents buzzed about us and really added to the overall atmosphere. I really couldn’t recommend this enough! There was one stall in particular that grabbed me. A man was demonstrating a gramaphone, and despite the age of the technology, the massive horn was blaring out the old tune ‘Roses of Picardy’. You can check it out in the video towards the end of this blog.

It was time for lunch, though, and perhaps we were a bit optimistic in thinking we could walk-in just about anywhere – especially during the pandemic. I saw the reviews for Ristomacelleria Testi seemed to be quite good on Google, so I chanced my arm. They looked like they were opening, and I approached who I assumed was the manager/owner, who was on the phone. I waited until he finished, and said to me ‘Dimmi!’. So I asked him in Italian if there was a table for two available now. Unfortunately, there wasn’t. In hindsight, that was probably just as well, as we were going to go out to eat at Terra di Mezzo in Volterra later that evening, so something smaller would have been better. We walked past that restaurant again after we’d explored the old town, and the smell coming from it was amazing (definitely for meat lovers!) – so one day we’ll return with a booking!

Instead, we went to Le Belle Torri, and ate inside. Our waitress was so enthusiastic and friendly, so in the end our choice was right for that reason too. We had a pizza each – they were pretty nice, and just what we needed.

We had a ramble through the old town of Vicopisano afterwards, hoping to maybe catch an attraction or two, like the Palazzo Pretorio and the recently re-opened Rocca buttress for walking over – part of the fortifications created by Brunelleschi (yes, the same lad who fashioned the dome of the cathedral in Florence).

So we walked through the town, and were delighted by its old charm. It seemed to be built on terraces, and towers dotted the views throughout. At one point I thought that it might even rival San Gimignano for its towers, but that was just my over-active imagination. But just look at the pretty:

We walked to the Rocca and found it closed to public tours. On our way back we passed by a large group of Italians outside the gate, and assumed that they had organised a special private tour. It was Sunday, and we probably should have realised that many places stood a good chance of being shut, just slightly the wrong side of the tourist season. Onwards we went to Palazzo Pretorio (pausing to let a massive 4×4 perform a complicated 17-point turn), and saw that it too had closed just after lunch on Sundays. D’oh! I had a little explore of its courtyard, and then we had a look at a sequence of switch-backing steps leading all the way down to the river. A little disappointed (as much in our lack of preparation as well as ill luck), and wandered through the more residential area of the old town.

By the time we’d gotten back to the newer part of town, I was pleasantly surprised at how the two seemed to successfully mingle. The blend is very subtly balanced. The old with the new – the border isn’t hugely evident. We entered a bar to grab a coffee/hot chocolate, but for some reason we lost confidence on the protocol on grabbing a table. Some tables seemed to be for dining – or maybe all of them, but we weren’t sure. We chickened out, sadly, and went for one final stroll past the restaurant in which we had failed to secure a lunchtime seat – the smell of grilled meat was wonderful – even after having eaten. We walked past Le Belle Torri, and saw a gate beyond which were other gravelled-and-green-area seats and a couple of other establishments. It was a lovely little mini-park. What a fine little town this is! We wandered up and down it for a few minutes before heading back to the car.

I have to say, we didn’t do Vicopisano full photographic justice, as we missed the ‘classic’ shot of the tower with sloping battlement – but it’s best captured a little way out of town. Maybe next time.

Should you wish to make Vicopisano your base, rather than Volterra, then please out these excellent people – Authentic Tuscany!

Here is the video of our journey to, and exploration of, Vicopisano:

A little while after we had returned to Ireland, and I had published the above video, Vicopisano was awarded the Bandiera Arancione (orange flag) from the Italian Touring Club – basically a recommendation to visit one of the finer towns in Italy. I’m pretty sure it was coincidence! *wink* To be honest, I was amazed it wasn’t already on their list.

But the day wasn’t over. When we got home, we found we had a fondness of our own little town, and had a little walk before heading back to the apartment.

Later that evening, we went to one of our favourite places for food: La Taverna della Terra di Mezzo. We were welcomed warmly, as always, and then had a three-course dinner.

Afterwards Robbi, the owner, handed us a bottle of dessert wine – an almond variety. We haven’t tried it yet, but I look forward to the day we can crack it open.

Before I go… a quick art update! You may remember a few blogs ago that we bought a little original painting from a lovely old gent in Montecatini Alto, just outside the funicular station. I promised I’d post a pic of it next time I got over (and remembered!), and so here it is!

Well that’s all for now. I hope you enjoyed reading it. Please leave a like and a comment or question. Thanks!

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!