Tag: exploring

A Wet Florence and another Farewell (26 & 27/12/2021)

A Wet Florence and another Farewell (26 & 27/12/2021)

It was St. Stephen’s/Boxing Day, and I was tasked with driving to Florence. We had a mission: the ladies wanted to buy some gloves. I went with our usual idea of going the country route there, and parking in the Coop Carpark, and then going back via mostly the autostrada. I was thinking to myself “Gosh, wouldn’t it be great to be able to show Lily and Mark (Niamh’s sister and her husband) some of the wonderful countryside, in particular between Volterra and Montaione!” Three unfortunate things occurred, which somewhat spoiled the journey:

  1. The weather. It was foggy in Volterra, then we got further down to a corner of the Val d’Era where it was relatively clear, but the climb began again into more fog. Well…. dang! Then came the rain, which further reduced visibility. It’s a shame, as some of the countryside is beautiful – so reserve it for a sunnier day if you ever wish to explore.
  2. I was perhaps driving a little too quickly. Niamh and I are usually so used to both the road and having no people in the back seats, but about 20-25 minutes into the drive, I was informed that the ladies in the back were feeling queasy, so I had to slow down (sorry, ladies!).
  3. I joined a much busier road a little after we passed Montaione. I took a left onto the route, and saw a huge puddle in the road – a lane wide, which chunks of asphalt aroud the rim of it. I had no doubt that if I had driven into the puddle, I’d have probably hit a hidden pothole – a bad one. I swerved to avoid it, but didn’t properly notice a mini-cooper coming up behind me in the other lane. He was still a little away from me, but made a show of his anger by blasting me out of it with his horn. Almost a kilometer down the road at a roundabout, he blasted me again as we parted ways. I can never get over the fact that Italians are so chill, but put a good number of them behind a steering wheel they can turn into demons!

We got to the Coop carpark in the end, and from there hopped onto a tram into the centre. We were hungry, and somehow all had a simulataneous hankering for pizza, not having had any while Lily and Mark were with us. I tend to lean away from restaurants where the staff are selling seats outside the door, much preferring to let the food do the talking. However, we were ravenous, and the establishment into which we were being ushered had some pretty good reviews (Lorenzo di Medici), so in we went and had our pizzas. They were delicious! In fairness, the service was good and the staff friendly too.

It was damp when we got out, and getting damper. Fortunately, we dressed for the occasion! We wended our way towards the Duomo, passing a few landmarks on the way, both old and new.

On the outside of the Basilica, at its north-eastern an alternative presepe (nativity scene) had been set up, but instead of a stable, it was a medical facility where doctors and nurses working to exhaustion in surgical PPE. This was a wonderful mark of respect to them during these past couple of years when the pandemic had put us, and them in particular, to the sword.

This is not my photo – it belongs to Firenze Today.

We reached the Piazza del Duomo, and wandered about the front of the cathedral. We had never seen the presepe there, nor the Christmas Tree, so it we covered off visiting Florence in yet another season. You’ll see that the town was pretty busy!

We then wandered to the Piazza delle Signoria. The city still looked great in the rain, and there were no complaints about the weather. I’ve seen videos of Florence’s Christmas lights in the evening, and they look amazing, so some of the following photos don’t really do them justice.

On the way to the Ponte Vecchio, Lily pointed out a shop where they were selling what looked like artisanal gelato. I checked the window briefly, and saw that they were serving the creamy goodness from little sunken tins (I forget what they’re called). I hopped straight in, without checking the awning on the store. I’d made my order when I noticed that it was a well-known brand of coffee (and despite trawling the map, I’m having difficulty locating the brand), who just so happened to be selling gelato in their store ‘on the side’. Too proud to cancel my order, took a goodly sized cup of it away. It was ok – not really artisanal, but ok – but it was still ok gelato, right? Yay!

We wandered over the bridge, all the way over to Palazzo Pitti, and guess what? Well if you’ve been following these blogs for a while, you’ll be pleased(?) to know that we kept up our habit of not actually going in! One of these days, I swear!

We were happy walking around and exploring though. Staying on the Altr’Arno, we headed over to the Piazza Santa Spirito. We were overdue a coffee (me, a hot chocolate), and found a place with indoor seating (Café Cabiria), and were promptly greeted by a lady with a Dublin accent! The world is too small. She sounded pretty fluent when she was talking to Italian customers, and had been over here a while. We had a 20 minute pause for refreshment, to chat with the Irish lady and to use the facilities.

Once finished, we had one more errand before the trip back home: the ladies needed to buy some gloves at Martelli on Via Por Santa Maria. It was only a trip of a few hours, but we really wanted to limit the time we would be driving in the dark. Anyway, we re-crossed at the Ponte Santa Trinita and made our way there. The ladies went in. Mark and I waited outside. And waited. And we waited a little more, a little more impatiently. It began to rain again, so Mark waited across the road, by the awning of a fancy men’s shop while I stood outside Martelli.

Then I was accosted by one of those African doo-dad sellers. Listen, I agree that every person needs to make a living, but the hucksterism some of these guys pull-off really try my patience. It began well, and we fist-bumped and chatted for a minute. Then out of nowhere he held out his hand to shake. This is where you back off, or move on etc. What happens here is that they attempt to pull and bracelet over onto your wrist and get aggressive when you refuse to buy it. I refused the handshake and immediately moved away, despite some weak protestations from him. He wandered off, while I joined Mark on the other side of the road to wait some more.

The ladies certainly spent way more time in that shop than we did in th café… not much fun, I have to say, when it’s grey and drizzling. But we bucked-up (glove-buying was our #1 mission after all), and waited stoically. They came out eventually, mission accomplished and very happy – and even a little apologetic. Satisfied, we walked back towards the tram.

We had a couple of unscheduled stops on the way. First, we paused briefly at Piazza di Santa Trinita to admire the conical Christmas tree there.

The one thing I regret this trip (no, not not Palazzo Pitti!) is not going to check out the lights at Piazza delle Republica. I saw videos of them afterwards and they are spectacular! Anyway, we instead continued farther north, and stopped in the vestibule of the Strozzi Palace to check out Jeff Koons’ balloon bunny. We didn’t go into the exhibition proper, as it was beginning to get dark.

Time for one final touristy photo-op before we boarded the tram. Yet another visit to Florence with too much time spent outdoors. We really have to pop inside some of these landmarks!

Mark had to drive home in the dark and rain… not the most pleasant of drives, but we got through it! We didn’t head out that night, but instead we had antipasti bought at La Bottega and the market a couple of days previously. Then Lily made a wonderful risotto with the blue cheese and kale, topped by a parmesan crisp (we picked up everything for this at the market). It was absolutely delish. Below is a photo of an adulterated one: Niamh doesn’t like blue cheese.

Unfortunately, the next morning it was time for us to once again leave Volterra. At the time of writing this blog we haven’t been back yet since, but are looking forward to going some time in May. Our guests were staying another couple of nights on their own, so we were more than a little jealous – but we had to head home to get our booster shots, which was more important in the grand scheme of things.

It was actually quite a nice day in Pisa itself, and Mark and Lily joined Niamh and I for one last cup of something hot and a slice of cheap pizza before we headed into the airport for the flight home. It was at a circular kiosk outside. The coffee and pizza were ok, but the hot chocolate I almost spat out. I had taken one watery mouthful that was barely tepid and left it at that. In hindsight, I should have taken it back to complain, but at the time I didn’t want to end the holiday on a downer.

So, this wraps-up this series of blogs until some time in May. I will have another one or two in the offing, in particular about Volterra being Tuscany’s inaugural capital of culture, so keep an eye out for that!

I hope you enjoyed reading this and admiring Florence’s beauty, even in the rain. Please leave a like and a comment to let me know, and please ask any questions. I’d love to hear from you.

Christmas Markets in Montepulicano and Dinner at Del Duca (23/12/2021)

Christmas Markets in Montepulicano and Dinner at Del Duca (23/12/2021)

I didn’t feel like a walk the next day – which should have been my trigger to take one, but them’s the breaks. In fairness to me I didn’t want to tire myself out, as I knew I’d be driving to Montepulciano. It’s about an hour and three-quarters, but only a smaller portion of it would be on unfamiliar road. Still, I had two more people in the car I had to keep safe, so it adds to the pressure a little bit. We got in the car and fired up Mrs. Google. I prefer Google Maps to on-board GPS, as Google has a far better chance of being up-to-date, plus we know she does a bang-up job of keeping us out of ZTLs (Zona Traffico Limitato). We’ve never been fined whilst using our phones to navigate.

I was hoping the latter part of our drive would take us through the Crete Senesi, or maybe even part of the Val d’Orcia, but sadly this wasn’t the case. We had chosen to go on the highways, as to take the purely country route would have taken us at least 30 minutes more – no thanks! The result was that about half the journey was on dull, multi-lane roads. Still, these are first-world problems when you have a chance to spend some more time in a new (new to us) hilltown in Tuscany. The last 20 or so kilometers was by country route, but wasn’t terribly interesting until you began to see Montepulciano in the distance. In any event, I didn’t take photos of the journey, because I was driving. The only issue I had with driving was with a seriously stubborn 3rd gear… until we got to the very end of the journey.

The carpark. It was full. Literally. There was a market where my GPS target lay. Slightly panicked, I had to backtrack a little and follow the ‘P’ signs to another free carpark somewhat below the one I had chosen. This was handy – I didn’t see this carpark on Google (most likely my fault, not Google’s). It was a short climb back up to the market.

I can’t remember if Niamh’s sister bought anything (she’s a foodie and chef), but we wandered about at least. It looked like it was beginning to shut down, though. It was still busy with people buzzing about both here and the nearby bus station. This must have been where all the people were, because the town itself was very quiet!

We went past the bus station and spotted stairs leading up to the walls. There was a lift beside those stairs. A bundle of cigarette-smoking mid-teen girls sat on the first flight of steps, and informed us that the lift was broken. I find myself a little untrusting, but trudge upstairs nonetheless. When we reach the top and enter a park (Giardino di Poggiofanti), in which lies the top ‘floor’ of the elevator. I push the button, and am immediately remorseful as there is no electric whirring of the gears and pullies. The button doesn’t light up. Next time give the younger folks a little more credit, dude.

We walked past some lovely views of the surrounding countryside (photos later), and entered the old town via Porta al Prato. I know some people say that the hilltowns are very ‘samey’ and while I totally get why they say that, the need to look more beyond the superficial, past the bricks and flagstones on the road. Take a look into the shops, look at the local produce they’re selling. Often, the foods can be different, the stones of different hues, the surnames just that little bit more regional. Italy is so incredibly segmented that even a 30 minute jaunt in a car can find you looking at dishes you haven’t seen before, new histories and art to discover. It’s what makes Italy such a dream to explore. So, yes – hilltowns can look the same – but please inspect and observe, rather than just cast your eyes briefly from one pretty thing to the next.

Anyway, rant over. We were soon to also discover that we were at the lowest end of the old-town and had a heck of an uphill journey to reach the main square (Piazza Grande), where the Christmas market stalls were. I did at least take some pics on the way, but I will still filming a lot too.

All the while, I was looking for an open gelateria, but no joy.

About 15 minutes or so later, our epic uphill struggle was at an end! We heard the unmistakable tingling of Christmas music. We scouted the stalls briefly, as we were hungry.

In the square iteself we only found one team selling wurst. There were very few people about browsing, which was a little disappointing, but it was lunchtime on a Thursday.

The ladies were looking for a sitdown lunch, but Niamh’s brother-in-law and preferred I a dirty wurst! Ultimately, we settled on something of a compromise. We saw a sign for an open-air foodcourt and headed towards the Fortezza Medicea, but swung a left just at the gates which promised no ends of adventure in Santa Land. The food stalls had annexed another one of the carparks. The teams were lined around the edges, with partly-covered open-air bench-seating placed in the middle. We scouted around, and 3 of us were too tempted by a BBQ burger stall, while Niamh’s sister went for the fritto misto of fish and veg. Wine was had by three of us, the fourth would be driving.

Once we had our faces fed, we moved back to the square, with a couple of brief stops:

  • A little walk around the garden of the Fortezza Medicea – and no, we didn’t either check out the wine seller’s there, nor pay the fee to go to Santa Land!
  • We stopped at a stall where the ladies indulged themselves with cups of fabulously gloopy (and tasty) hot chocolate. I had a quick taste of Niamhs; it was delicious. But I still had gelato in mind.

I raced to the Laboratorio del Cioccolato, as I’d heard they also sell gelato there, but sadly a lady was literally locking up as I approached the entrance. It was time for her riposo, I guess. Oh well. I sulkily trudged back to the square. (It turns out they seem to only sell ice-pops/ice-lollies/popsicles anyway, so I didn’t really miss out.) There were a few more people wandering about than before, which was nice to see. The first stall I saw there was selling chocolate truffles. I was given a sample of a pistacchio one (samples!), and to compensate for the gelato absence I bought eight of those, and four each of milk chocolate and white chocolate. They were big truffles! And tasty too.

Niamh was looking for me in the main square, as she wanted me to sample(!) some cheese at one of the stalls there. We ended up getting a chunks of parmigiano, and a sort of grana padano from Sardinia. Both of these went back to Ireland with us. You can get parmigiano reggiano at a pinch in Irish supermarkets, but the quality isn’t the same as is in Italy. The good stuff doesn’t make it beyond the border, unless you wish to scour the countryside looking for specialist cheese shops.

Remembering we had failing light and lengthy journey home ahead of us, we decided to go back to car. We hadn’t really gotten out of the piazza proper, before we saw the cellars of Cantina Contucci were open to outside visits. We had our temperatures taken, and scrubbed our hands, and dived in.

At the end of the self-guided tour, the inevitable selling occurred, but once again successful due to us having a couple of samples. I bought a Rosso di Montepulciano, and discovered that that there are a bundle of names for the sangiovese grape variety. When people say that there are 1,000 varieties of grape in Italy, do they take these synonyms into account, I wonder? Niamh’s sister bought both a red and a white, but I don’t remember the variety I’m afraid. Once done we wandered back (downhill at least!) to get to the car.

I was still looking for a gelateria, but still had no luck, and sadly let the grumps get the better of me for a short while. The ladies stopped in a fancy haberdashery/accessory store (down on Google maps as ‘af luxury‘) for 20 or so minutes. I headed down on my own to see if there was a gelateria (nope), and to get some cash out (Bancomat out of order). My mood sadly detiorated while we waited for the ladies to be done. They seemed happy – which ultimately is the most important thing!

Once outside the town we entered a bar which proclaimed itself to be a gelateria, but left when we saw it’s just pre-packaged factory-made stuff. On a dime, I ashamedly told myself to cop on, and by the time we reached the car, I was back to being my contented self!

Below is the video of our trip!

The car journey home was a little stress-inducing – it got rainy and foggy, and when you’re unfamiliar with the road you find yourself tensing up, but thankfully it only was dark for us during the last quarter of the trip when we could see Volterra cresting on its butte. Niamh’s brother-in-law doesn’t seem to have been too stressed – he even noticed the headlight feature in the car where the lights light up the direction you’re aiming on corners, bends etc.

We were turning onto the road on which our resident’s carpark lies, when I did something unfortunate. I sneezed. I’ve been told I’m a loud sneezer sometimes (like a cross between a shout and a cough), and our unfortunate driver jumped when one leapt out of me. He didn’t know if I was shouting a warning or if he’d just run over something. Niamh was in tears laughing. I guess he was a little tense after all!

We rested back at the apartment for a few hours, before heading out to L’Incontro for an aperitivo – thankfully a table was found at the back for us. Some minor nibbles of bread a chips/crisps were had. Sometimes they do cooked nibbles, but not today. Probably just as well, as we were going to splash out on a dinner in Del Duca!

We arrived, and were greeted warmly by the matriarch of the family, Ivana – especially after we gave them a little present of Bailey’s truffles! If I recall correctly Claudia, the daughter and wine-making somilier, was out with friends that evening (she texted us to thank us for the chocolates the next day).

We ate well at Del Duca (what else is new?!). Niamh’s sister was so enamoured of the artichoke pasta dish she had, that we had to ask for the recipe. We got it a few weeks later, and it was pretty detailed! Alessandro not only covered the artichoke preparation, but covered the sauce and pasta-making too – what a gent! To say nothing of Claudia, who translated it for us. They really went out of their way to make us feel special. I got permission to post it, so I’ll post it separately for you.

Our poor guests had to put up me taking the obligatory photos!

We did something then I don’t think I had ever done before: a cheeseboard after dessert. It was mostly varieties of pecorino in varying stages of maturity. All of it so lovely.

Afterwards, some of us had their homemade limoncello. It is thick and tasty, and also the most uncommonly strong limoncello I’ve ever had, but I’d had it before and enjoyed it! Once done, we were just fit for our walk back, screen-watching and finally our bed.

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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!

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The Lovely Castiglione della Pescaia (15/10/2021)

The Lovely Castiglione della Pescaia (15/10/2021)

There’s a bit of write-y stuff in this one, but there are photos and a video below – I promise!

The town of Castiglione della Pescaia is one of those rare coastal places which has an old-town feel to it. This is because there was a profusion of dwellings settled nearby a large fortress, protecting them from potential raiders. The possibility of Saracen (and others) attacks was so high, that people tended to settle on hills inland, rather than risk slaughter. Perfectly understandable. Tuscan towns with an old-charm feel are incredibly rare in Tuscany, with many places with beaches having become more settled in post-war Europe. So, it’s always cool to find something that matches the tastes of the culture-vulture, the history-hound and the beach-baby. The foodie? Well… see below…

But first, bathroom remodelling! After our failed attempt to engage the builder, our appointment was properly set up for this morning. Our nice lady from Milianti (estate agents and property managers), Alice, arrived early, and although she’s young and slender she commented that climbing the 76 steps to our apartment whilst wearing a face-mask was tricky! A few minutes later, there was another ring at the door, and we let two gentlemen in: one was the builder, the other was an older man. This latter guy turned out to be the consulting geometra. What is a geometra? They are essentially internal building surveyors. One of their responsibilities is carrying out technical reviews of buildings for extensions and changes etc. We took them through the changes we want, with Alice translating all the way. All was tickety-boo.

Once gone, we headed out and took our 8 minute walk to the carpark, to our little stick-shift Fiat 500. Definitely one of our favourite rides we’ve rented since coming here. We stuck on Missus Google, and headed down SS68 towards Siena.

I don’t have any photos of the journey, because I was filming! You can catch the video towards the end of the blog. We decided to head the ‘country’ route, rather than along the coast. That made the journey very long, but it was interesting to see new towns appear on the signposts. I love to explore, so even new signposts alone sometimes give me an endorphin rush.

We passed tantalisingly close to Casole d’Elsa. We have visited it a few times (blogged about it once), and it’s a lovely little borgo, but we had a schedule! We blasted past it. Other highlights include also blasting past the Instagrammable Ponte della Pia. We didn’t stop. You can hear me squeal about it in the video below. We drove through the lovely Rosia, and shortly afterwards the 12 year-old in me was pleased by seeing signs for a town called ‘Orgia’ (literally ‘orgy’ in Italian). I imagine the property prices there are quite steep, but the people fit and healthy. Just outside Rosia, we were stopped for the third time this year, by a randomly parked police checkpoint. Once they found out we were tourists, they waved us on – but we found it prudent to carry identification documents with us at all times just in case. Just past Siena earlier in the year, they had us pulled over checking passports and licenses for a good 15 minutes.

When we were in the latter stages of the journey, on the multi-laned SS223, we flew past another hilltown. I checked my phone, and I’m pretty certain it was Civitella Marittima – one on my list to visit… but we ploughed-on!

If there’s one thing I really enjoyed about the journey, it was it showed us how hugely varied the countryside is in Tuscany. From the typical undulating hills and olive groves and vineyards, to winding valley roads with streams. Sometimes, yellow-golden, sometimes grass-green. Here and there farmhouses dotted throughout, with the occasional castello or hamlet crowning a lonely hilltop. It is beautiful land.

We knew we were getting close to the coast when we started seeing the coastal pines (I think they’re sometimes called Stone Pines) – tall trees topped with wide, flat foliage. They began to line to roads, once we left the highways.

I think that the journey took us a good two hours. Blame me… I just wanted to see more of the countryside. It took us 20 minutes less on the route home. Anyway, we got handy parking here, and had a quick stroll by the marina before heading up into the town itself.

It was close to lunchtime, so we just wanted to explore a little before having food. We strolled up the what we considered to be the main tourist drag, checking out some restaurants and a gelateria (for later!) on the way.

Now for some much-needed controversy. I have often considered my blog to be something of a hagiography of Italy, so a little criticism is overdue. For a while, I have been exploring the Italian coast on Google Maps (yes, I have a sickness). So far, I have gone from the French border, and have just past Naples. It takes a long time! Anyway – one of the chief observations I have made is that generally, restaurants in touristy coastal towns are poorer than you will find a little inland – especially those along promenades. There are, of course, exceptions – but many… hmmm… I would say most, would seem to rely on seasonal, transient trade. My chief point is: do your research on Tripadvisor, Google etc. before selecting a place to eat, if you have a definite preference of quality over location.

Despite the time of year, there were still a few restaurants still open. We went to Pane e Vino on Corso della Libertà. It was open and seemed to be getting favourable reviews. We were shown to our outdoor table and were attended very quickly and enthusiastically. We needed the bathroom, and apart from a little lighting issue, all was good – the bathroom was nice and clean. We had a little struggle with the menu, as we aren’t huge seafood fans – mostly whitefish, salmon and mussels – I sometimes eat tinned mackerel too. Although, one of the nicest things I have eaten – in fact the very first thing I ever ate in Volterra – was an amuse bouche in Del Duca, of which anchovies were a part. I also kept hearing how anchovies in Italy were way better than they are elsewhere. Anyway, we found stuff we thought would be interesting and ordered. The results were…. mixed. The ingredients were cooked well, and some of the ideas novel, but in the main, they just missed the mark – one in particular was frankly bizarre. I laud restaurants for trying to experiment, and I think these guys were trying to do that – so, hats off on that front. One thing that bugged me outright, was that I had wanted a fritto misto, but didn’t see it on the menu. Nonetheless, a couple of parties came in after us and were served plates of it. Grrr! Off-menu items annoy me. Anyway – back to what we *did* get:

The staff were lovely I have to say, and attentive, but we left in something of an unsatisfied daze. If you love seafood, good presentation and experimentation (and what looked like amazing fritti misti – grrr!) then this place could be for you. I have to stress again, that the cooking was good. And Niamh’s coffee was great too.

Once we were done eating, we decided to delay our gelato fix until we were done exploring the old fortress part of town. What a lovely place it was. And hilly. Also, cats – cats everywhere! On our way we passed by an Irish bar – Tinakilly Pub. At first I thought that was a bit of a spurious name, as Irish town/townland names often derive from an Irish name that actually means something. However, I see that there is a Tinakilly House Hotel just a little over an hour from us – so it’s the real deal! Tinakilly is derived from the Irish words ‘Ti’ (house), ‘na’ (of/of the) and ‘Coille’ (woods) – so ‘House of the Woods’. There you go – very interesting! Of course, having blown a paragraph on that, I now have to tell you that we didn’t go in.

We briefly and indadvertently walked outside town through a porta at the top end. Beyond it was a carpark and what looked like a school, plus a hint of the bay view to come.

Next, we returned back into the town, and found a church. It was nice and cool inside, but not as decorated as many you’d find. There was another cat guarding the door.

Upon leaving the church, we walked uphill past some lovely houses – passing by yet another cat – an enourmous fluffy lad, and then looked left. Wow. The view of the gently curving bay was amazing. I think you could also make out Monte Argentario farther along the horizon. The closer mountain I think is the Parco Rgionale della Maremma.

We walked over the hill to the other side of the village, and down to another porta in the fortress walls. We jostled for our space with some other tourists there to get our shot by it. There wasn’t much beyond that porta, so we headed all the way back town to the newer part of town. It was gelato time! We grabbed some yumminess from Bar Gelateria Angolo Gelato and sat on a bench around the corner in the shade.

We headed back to the car after our gelato and, driving past the cemetary we saw earlier behind the church, opted to go home via the more coastal route. It was a good bit quicker. I was too slow to grab a shot of Follonica and its bay as we crested a hill to look down upon it. It was a gorgeous sight. Follonica itself looks to be an interesting place to stop for a modern beach-city – I have read that it’s promenade is nice (remember the tip about restaurants, though!). We skirted around the outside of the town, through its more suburban areas, and shortly after there joined the multi-laned E80. We turned off just before Cecina, and headed through Saline di Volterra back to our home-from-home.

You can watch a video of that part of our day here:

I took a couple of shots of Volterra on our way back from the car to the apartment. I do this because all too often I only catch some shots during my morning walk when the light favours some scenes, but not others.

We weren’t quite done with the day yet, though.

We wanted some way to help celebrate my writing competition win (see last week’s blog), and it was going to be our last night for this trip. We decided pizza and beer was in order. We headed out later than usual and were very lucky to find La Mangiatoia still open – they closed shortly after we left. Many Italians eat very late when compared to the Irish – often at 21:00 or 22:00 – but La Mangiatoia looked like it was closing around the 22:00 mark. They looked a little worried when we ordered, but brightened up when we selected pizza – I presume we’d be told that a lot of the stuff was off the menu otherwise. I like their pizza – it’s second only to Pizzeria Ombra della Sera. The didn’t have any Moretti left, so we had one of their own beers. I wish I had taken a photo of it – it wasn’t bad at all!

Once done, we had a walk to the Piazza dei Priori, and then thought… No! We’re not done yet!

I wanted something sweet, but already had a gelato that day – so we went to Antica Velathri Café and had a couple of cocktails (ok, I had an amaro). But then I saw a homemade panacotta on their menu, with a variety of different sauces. I think I grabbed one with a chocolate sauce, or it might have been caramel… I do remember it being eye-rollingly delicious, though!

And then we were fit for our beds. Thanks for reading – I really hope you enjoyed it. Please leave a comment below – I’d love to hear from you!

Separate Walks and a trip to Chianni (21/08/2021)

Separate Walks and a trip to Chianni (21/08/2021)

A short one, this!

While my brother and I walked together, Niamh took a separate walk. I took some pics of my walk – how much of a surprise is this to you by now?

And Niamh’s photos are below. There is one in particular which is incredibly striking.

After having had a couple of longer trips recently (to Val d’Orcia and Chianti), we decided to stay a little closer to home, and drove to the town of Chianni. As we were still in August, it was still quite sleepy. We had a short wander around. I decided not to film, just so I could have a break from it and enjoy the day more mindfully.

It is a cute little town, and worth a little walkabout. But we were hungry (what else is new?!), so we found a hotel still open. Now, I blow hot and cold on hotel-based restaurants, but I’m glad we stopped at Le Vecchie Cantine.

The welcome at first seemed a little indifferent, as we were shown to our table (inside because, you know, blasting furnace outside), but it turns out they had a couple of other groups there, who must have arrived shortly before us, so they were a little busy. Once we got personal attention for our order, normal Tuscan service had resumed and our waitress was warm and enthusiastic.

We made our choices, and it seemed that I would be driving back home, which was fair enough. I think I had one glass of red. Only I had both an antipasto and a primo. Niamh had a Caprese salad she raved over, and my brother went for a pasta.

I have a vague memory of having had a a tiramisu too… but I’m not certain. It sure sounds like the kind of thing I would have done.

Afterwards, we got a little lost in Chianni. Ok, not so much lost as not being able to find our way to the church, the apse-end of which met flush with cliffs at the end of the town. Google was throwing us everywhich way and back again, so we eventually abandonded the idea in the heat, took a few more snaps and headed back to the car.

We drove past the church on the way home. Sadly, I don’t have much of a memory of what else happened that day, apart from the ubiquitous:

I hate to leave on a bitter note (sorry!), but I hope you enjoyed this shorter blog. Please leave a comment!

Who wanted to go to Navacchio anyway?

Who wanted to go to Navacchio anyway?

We still had heard nothing from our furniture supplier, despite promises several times that they would call our representative back within 48 hours with a delivery date. This is our last week here, so enough was enough… we would have to go to Navacchio ourselves to get a date from them. This is no fault of the property manager looking after us – I have no doubt she did her best.

The route is virtually the same as takes us to the airport, and because we’ve done it so frequently now, it was a double pain in the arse to have to use the route again just to ask for a furniture delivery date. The round trip was a little under 130km!

Anyway, we got there and, thanks to Google Translate, were able to explain the situation to the person in customer services. She got next Monday as a delivery date, but when we explained that we were leaving on the 28th, she talked them down to this Thursday (26th). However, the reason for the delay was that they were missing a couple of the internal components for the wardrobe, and the piece which would be acting as our TV cabinet. So, we will get 90% of a wardrobe and both bedside lockers. I estimate this to be about 73.28% of our furniture. The rest will be delivered on a future date that will be arranged *shudder*.

The closest thing we got to an apology was a ‘tsk’ from the customer services rep – although she was kind and helpful. I did notice, as an aside, that there were about 15 people waiting in the customer services queue behind us. If they focused more on getting shit done right, they wouldn’t have this additional expense!

Anyhoo, there was a slightly happy ending to this annoying trip, in that we had a mooch around some shops, and ended up with some groceries (they have a HUUUUUGE CoOp there), and a WiFi network extender. We have attempted to use a powerline extender throughout this period, but it is too fiddly, and requires multiple logins, and on some occasions doesn’t work at all. We configured this when we got home, and while we’re stuck with 2 network IDs, the solution works an absolute treat. We also (again, sorry not sorry) had burgers in the Old Wild West branch in the same complex. Yummy! I think we’ll be sticking with Italian for the rest of the holiday, though, as we have Buckley’s Chance of getting decent Italian food almost anywhere back home.

So that was our day, really. We just screenwatched the rest of it. I did a little writing, but not enough!

This morning’s walk was fab – I walked the whole length of the walls and arrived home a disgusting, sweaty mess. I captured some lovely photos, though. We are currently above a ton of fog banks, so it looks impressive!

A Stroll in Siena

A Stroll in Siena

After a shortish walk yesterday, we finally got our act together and left for Siena around 10:30.  What we’ve found very useful is to aim for this car park.  It is about 100m away from a series of escalators that takes you straight to the heart of the old town.  It’s called Parcheggio San Francesco, but it’s not labelled as such in Google Maps, for some reason.

We got there around 11:45 and assumed that we might have to queue for a parking spot, but no – there there 20-odd still remaining.  Off we went up the 5 or 6 sets of escalators.

The thing is, Siena is essentially a Super Hilltown – much larger than most you’ll come across – certainly the largest in Tuscany.  Its medieval centre is at least twice the size of Volterra’s (except it’s population is far higher).  It’s famous red-bricked buildings has given the name to a colour artists are familiar with: Burnt Siena.  

Although it has fewer attractions for the ‘gotta-catchem-all’ tourist than Florence, I think it is a far more charming place, with hodge-podge streets and hidden arched alleyways, unlike Florence, which generally has wider roads and feels a little more open.  Siena is also less infested with humans than Florence, which is a good thing, in my book.  It’s still busy, mind you!

We started off by wending our way to the older parts, taking snaps.  Note again, that we didn’t really enter any of the attractions, as we’d just been there in April this year, and had a more thorough explore last year, again in April.

Then we entered the Piazza del Campo.  To me, this is the loveliest square in Italy.  Oh, there are others more famous, and possibly grander (St. Peter’s Square, St. Mark’s Square, Piazza Navona), but the Campo is the warmest.  It’s unusual, in that it’s in the shape of the shell, and it slopes a little.  Around its centre is a border of darker tiles, upon which, twice a year, sand is placed, so horses can race around it 3 times for the honour of their contrada in a race called the Palio.The contrade, or districts, of which Siena has 17, are represented by their flag and animal statue.  In one of the photos in the gallery below the cathedral section, you can see the statue of flag of one of them: pantera (panther).

I’m loathe to give advice which impacts the business of others, but I would advise that, sure, have a drink in one of the many establishments around the piazza, but do try to look to eat elsewhere.  There are a stack of restaurants off the beaten path which offer better value.

Yes, you can climb up that tower – I’ve never actually done that – will have to remedy that on another visit.

We had another explore and documented that.

We walked past the cathedral, and had to papp that too.  Originally, it was designed to be larger than the one in Florence – measuring dicks was very important to city-states like Florence and Siena back in the day.  In fact, you can actually see how large the building was supposed to be in one of the photos below.  It is a side shot of the cathedral, with parked cars and pillars of layered marble.  That entire carpark was supposed to be just one of the transepts!  But two things happened: they ran out of money (being a perpetually warring city-state is expensive business) and people (during the construction, around two-thirds of Siena’s population was obliterated by the plague).

The frontage is still pretty spectacular, as you can see.  There is a ticket office nearby, which enables you to purchase a ticket to visit several related attractions (the cathedral, the crypts and the ability to climb up to the roofs of the extended transepts for a great view of the city).  There may be entrances to galleries you can buy there too, I can’t remember.  Anyway, if it’s your first time in Siena, purchasing these tickets is a must.

We were hungry, and (apologies to those who want to see nothing but Italian food in the blog) were still on our oriental kick, so we went to New Shanghai, and took some pics on the way.

The food was ok… generally we have found that in Italy, Chinese restaurants are about on-par with average takeaways here.  Japanese restaurants are reputed to be better.

With bellies bursting, we headed back to the car, taking more snaps, and then went home.

When we got home, we headed immediately to the Cathedral square, as we suspected that it was going to open for the first time in at least 18 months – we had never been inside, as it was under restoration.  There were crowds gathered, not least priests and nuns from different orders.  I went into the baptistry to see if there was a timetable, and found one.  There was to be a procession from another church to the cathedral with the bust of St. Linus.  It said 17:00, but we were unsure if that was departure or arrival time.  We decided to was departure, and so went to a bar to get a drink and wait.

Upon arriving back, we were disappointed to see that we’d missed the actual opening of the doors.  There were people here and there in medieval finery and wearing uniforms of office.  There was to be a mass held, so we thought we’d pop in for a look, and maybe we’d stay through to the blessing of the new altar.  But the place just filled up, and began to get uncomfortably warm.  On top of that, we’d just come from Siena, and so were ill-equipped to go without bio-breaks (I think I put that as delicately as I possibly could!).  So, we decided to head out, somewhat embarrassingly, against the influx of officials and more medieval folk.

We had an icecream instead at L’Incontro!  We’ll go back today or tomorrow to have a proper explore of the cathedral, but I got a couple of shots.  The roof, as gorgeous as it is, somehow reminds me of Windows 3.1 wallpaper!   Anyone else old enough to remember those patterns?

There were additional pennants hung up for the occasion, and also (presumably coincidentally) new (and strange) art installations in the main square.

We did nothing else for the day, except screenwatch, and vainly throw socks at trolling, roof-bound mosquitos.

I got up and had took a short walk through the gloom this morning.  There was some islands amidst lakes of cloud, and I’m sure I could have gotten some amazing shots with a decent camera and an optical zoom lens.

Our furniture still hasn’t arrived yet, so we’re giving them one further half-day to contact our representative, or this afternoon we’ll travel directly to the store in Navacchio to shout at the store manager a while.  We’d obviously rather not have to do this: the drive is dull, and neither of us like confrontation, but it’s been 8 weeks since we ordered the damn stuff!

A Little R and R

A Little R and R

After the previous day’s fun and excitement, we took things handy yesterday. There were still a couple of sights our guest hadn’t seen, so another explore was on the cards.

Niamh and our guest went out ahead of me, as it took me a loooong time to put together blog yesterday. I showered and headed out. I don’t often take shots of the town outside of early morning.

After a little walk – through tons of schoolchildren and their parents – Volterra is a lived-in town, and younger kids were being picked up from school – we went to Fornelli for lunch.  This was the first time we’d eaten there this journey.  It was expensive for lunch, but we knew it would be.  The food was fabulous, though.

Our guest had some pork which looked to have been sealed in the pan, then finished off in the oven, with potato, apple sauce and jus.  Niamh had a chicken salad, and I had a crisp lasagne, which looked more like a large oven-baked raviolo – it was stuffed witha white cinta senese (pork from a type of pig bred near Siena) sauce, and was amazing.

The ladies went on to do a bit of shopping, while I stopped off at L’Isola del Gusto to grab some gelato to have with the chocolate soufflés we were given when we completed the cooking course.  I then settled in to watch some screen for the afternoon – I should have been writing, but that’s me all over.

An hour later, I heard the sbandiertori drums roll up our street towards the main square.  I’d seen the show a good few times already this year, so I skipped it, but it was new to our guest.  Turns out there may have been heralding the arrival of classic Ferraris, which then remained parked in Piazza dei Priori.

Later in the afternoon, Niamh and I went out to get some petrol for the car, and stopped off at the CoOp for some food shopping.

That evening the ladies had cold cuts – I craved something even slightly oriental, and had Teriyaki quick noodles.  Sorry, not sorry.  We then had the soufleés.  They didn’t turn out well, due to oven issues… still it was the damn nicest chocolate sauce I’d ever had with that gelato!

More screen watching, followed by bed.  No walk this morning, as the sky-god looked angry.  It doesn’t look too bad now, but I really have to get some writing done.  We are going to Del Duca for lunch today, so I have that definitely to look forward to!

A Tuscan Cooking Class

A Tuscan Cooking Class

We got up, went to the car, and travelled to Podere Marcampo, about 5.5km outside town, as we had a cooking class booked for much of the day. We arrived early, and had a little explore of the outside of the property.

The podere (farm) owners also run Del Duca restaurant in the heart of town.  The class was led by the somelier of the restaurant, who herself is a pretty good cook.  We were brought inside to their private quarters, and given a small cookbook and apron each (all of which we could take home with us).  It was explained to us that we would be making 5 things:

  1. Crusty, rustic bread;
  2. A soufflé of zucchini (courgette);
  3. Filled pasta with tomato sauce;
  4. Stuffed guinea fowl breast;
  5. Chocolate soufflé

The class itself was about 3 hours long, and I immediately wondered whether we’d be able to accomplish everything within the alotted time.  Towards the end of the class the instructor told us that they used to do one course after another, which led to time issues, but she had the timing now down to a fine art.  A little of the pre-measuring and prep had already been done, and ingredients gathered (all local, most 0km).  We would be doing a lot of the prep work, but largely observing during the actual cooking.  This was fine by me.  

The timetable, then, was a solid 3 hours, with only a short break about 80% of the way through to try their own vermintino (white wine variety), wild boar salami and capocollo (cured pork, a cut from the back of the neck).  The meats were sensational, and cured by the patriarch of the family.

For the zucchini soufflé, a full medium red onion was sliced and fried in a lot of extra-virgin olive oil to soften them.  This took about 10-15 minutes, during which time we sliced the zucchini and prepped the bread dough from scratch.  Unlike traditional Tuscan bread, we would be using salt – which is my preference.  It was my first attempt at making bread, and… yeah… it was a mediocre effort.

The dough was left to prove, and then we went back to the kitchen to deposit the zucchini slices into the onions, after the instructor had demonstrated that the onions had sufficiently softened.  One thing of note, was that I don’t think salt was used to extract the moisture from the onions, but water was squirted in every now and again.  Once the zucchini was in, then she used a mixture of salt and pepper (which they keep together in a single container to ensure consistency in seasoning). 

We went back out to make dough and filling for our ravioli.  It was an egg-pasta, and we made it from scratch, making use of an electric pasta maker (but only to flatten dough into sheets – we didn’t use any of the cutters).  The filling was the instructor’s nonna’s recipe – sweet ricotta with cinnamon and marjoram.  Niamh mixed that up – and we could have happily spent the afternoon eating that alone.  I noted that they had bought the ricotta, and left it drain for the guts of a day before using it.  An egg and a tablespoon of parmesan were used to bind.

The instructor’s mamma came in and demonstrated how to make various pasta shapes (largely using my dough!).  It’s easy when you know how.  We then made our own ravioli.  Not bad for our first attempts.  Once they were done and floured, we went back out to the kitchen to drain and coarsely mash the courgette – which we could have eaten as was!  

Our dough had proved, and we shaped it without further kneading, floured it and put in the oven.  Then the instructor set about making the tomato sauce.  This was all down to the quality of the ingredients.  They used their own small (pre-chopped) tomatoes, and aromatics, which cooked down quickly.  While they cooked, we had some salumi and white wine, and then were brought out to butterfly our guinea-fowl breasts (which had the skin on) and stuff them with sausage and wrap them in pancetta.  We then made a clever use of a two-tiered, tapered plumbing pipe to force the breasts into a net, ready for sealing.

The tomato sauce was ready, and we used a winding sluicer to smoothen the consistency of the sauce, and to ensure that no tomato skin was included.  We had a taste of the sauce, and I almost fell over it was so good.

The bread was also fully baked, and was left outside to cool.  Spinach was boiled for a minute, before being doused in cold water and drained, so it would keep its colour.

We then observed as the guinea-fowl was sealed in a pan – with olive oil enfused with garlic (which was removed when the enfusion was complete).  Aromatics, olives and white wine were added (the latter of which added serious steam!).  After about 5 minutes, the meat was taken out and left to breathe for a bit, while the sauce left in the pan cooked down and thickened.  It smelled yum.

While we were doing other prep, mamma had melted chocolate (70% Ecuadorian, I think) and butter (they use French butter, not Italian – Italian butter is a little lacking, sadly, but their cheese is killer!).  In went flour and sugar to the mix, and then egg yolks were added too.  The egg whites were vigorously whipped by our guest, until very stiff (enough to keep the whisk upright) in and then gently folded into the mix by Niamh.  I could cheerfully have buried my face in the mixing bowl when all was done.

While this was going on, I buttered and floured (semola flour only – so it wouldn’t join the mix, nor add its flavour to it) some aluminium cups.  We filled the cups with the mix when done – they would eventually be cooked in a Bain Marie (Bagna Maria in Italian, believe it or not) for 5-6 minutes.

Anyway, that was the end of the course.  We had prepped way more than we’d eat, so a lot of it would be used by the restaurant staff to feed themselves.  We were ushered out to the outdoor seating area while all our work was being cooked.

We ate Niamh’s bread (lovely!), before our first course came out.  Each savoury course was complemented by one of their own red wines.  

The first course was the zucchini soufflé, drizzled with a little olive oil.  Those of you who know me know that I’m not a fan of veg which goes a little ‘mushy’, preferring instead root and floret veg, served with a little crunch.  However, this dish was stunning.  Our instructor said that we should try it with potato and turnip, if I didn’t like zucchini – but I don’t have to; it was just beautiful!

The next was our own ravioli with the tomato sauce.  I usually skip tomato sauce-based dishes, but again I was shown up as a fool, as this was amazing.  The sweet pasta filling went perfectly with the almost sour tomato sauce, which had hints of all the aromatics and garlic – it was an intensely rich sauce. 

Our third course arrived (again with another wine) – the guinea-fowl breast, sliced.  I’d never had it before, and I hate to say it, but it tasted like chicken!  It was perfectly moist, and the sauce was fab.  The bird went well with both stuffing and coating and I could have had two of them!

Finally, we had the chocolate bomb soufflé, which was served with a bitter orange marmalade.  It was perfectly melty in the middle.  We made 15 of them, and might have yummied down 2 or 3 each had we been let.

What an amazing meal, in a wonderful, bucolic surroundings… in 30 degree heat!  The temperature didn’t really bother us, though.  After we’d settled and were ready to go, we were given a brief tour of their wine plant and cellar below.

They grow a variety of grapes for their wines, but chiefly grow merlot and sangiovese for their reds.  Their merlot harvest would be taking place tomorrow (today as I’m typing this – good luck, guys!), with the sangiovese harvest occuring in early October.  A culinary aside: they were expecting 20 people to assist with the harvest, and so they had browned quartered duck, and were slow-cooking it in a vat of tomato sauce to feed them tomorrow!

Upon leaving, we were given some of our bread and soufflés, along with a plate of freshly-picked figs Niamh and our guest had tried (and loved!).

All-in-all, it was an amazing day out, and highly recommended if you’re in the area.  Being an agritourismo, they offer B&B and have a lovely pool – which they again invited us to use when we wanted.  One might balk at the price of €150 per person for the class, but that includes manual, apron, all the ingredients, 4 glasses of wine and a 5-course meal (including the salumi course).  We all thought it brilliant value by the end of the instruction.  Well done to our hosts!  As Niamh said, it was one of our best days here ever.

We were told that a kids fair was on in the main and cathedral squares.  It turned out to be a normal Saturday market, with more candy stalls for the kids.  Nice and colourful, and with some shopping to interest the adult partaker.

We stayed in the whole evening.  I had nothing else to eat for pretty much the rest of the day (save for a granita on my way back to the apartment after visiting the fair).

This morning, I took a ciruitous route past the witches rock and was a sweaty mess by the time I got home.

I might visit the pinacoteca today (the art gallery).  I’ll let you know if I do!

Lari and the Pasta Factory

Lari and the Pasta Factory

We have two guests with us for a short while, so we decided to take them to Lari. We had been there before, but the Martelli pasta factory tours were closed in August (when many Italians go on holiday). We wandered up to the carpark, only to see that they’d strung some brollies over Gramsci. Tonight is Volterra’s culture night (La Notte Rossa), where there are a ton of acts playing around the city, and many of the major attractions are open for free from 21:00 to 24:00. Why do they call it The Red Night? They light up the city with red lamps – like they do near Christmas. It will be a late night, but I’m looking forward to it. Below is a pic of one of our favourite restaurateurs, from La Terre di Mezzo – getting ready for the festivities.

IMG_6180

We went to Lari by way of La Sterza, and Terriciola.  Why Google Maps changed our route to take is through Terriciola, rather than go around it is a mystery.  We were rewarded with a different set of sights this time around, as we were driven through village after village, past vineyards and olive groves.  It was pretty cool… except maybe for the driver, who insisted we travel a different route going home!  The roads were quite narrow in parts and can’t have been fun to navigate.

We parked near the old town, with about a 250m walk uphill to the archway which leads into the main area.  It was a warm day, and the climb was understandably a little draining.  There was an organised tour group ahead of us, but we only had to wait about 15 minutes for the next opening.  This afforded us a mooch around the town for a bit, including a trip to a jewellers who could only give us a price for an 18-carat bracelet after he’d weighed it.  I’d never seen that before!  When the price was given, we excused ourselves and left.

A large group of people had gathered from Ireland (including a pair of people other than ourselves), Germany, the US, the Netherlands and Switzerland to go in.  The tour was only about 15 minutes long, but you got to go into the areas where pasta (specifically spaghetti here – the rest of the pastas are made in the castle in the middle of the town) is dried and cut – and you were given a small sample of pre-cut pasta.  Martelli pasta is cut with bronze dies, which give it a very rough texture.  As the pasta is only made from durum wheat and water, there isn’t a flavour difference, but the sauce sticks beautifully to the pasta in the pan during the final stages of cooking.

The dude that came out to deliver the tour (in English) was dressed in video-game racial stereotype overalls, but he knew his stuff and was friendly.  The main area was really warm… maybe 35-36 celsius, and I wondered how hot it could get in August-heat!

Afterwards, we had a lunch with Martelli pasta.  We had done so before in the same restaurant, but the only new dish was the one I got – maccheroni with a tuscan ragu.

Our guests were a little tired, so we forewent trips to other towns, and headed home – capturing some lovely scenery on the way.  We had an obligatory stop at the ‘O’ on the road just past Volterra, on the way to Siena.

Apologies… you can see reflections in some of the photos.  On the way back to apartment, we grabbed some gelati, because we could!  We pretty much stayed in for the rest of the day, except when I nipped out to grab a little shopping, and Niamh went out to get takeaway pizza for herself and the other ladies.  

I’ve ceased being a fan of pizza at night (acid stomach), and instead got something even more trashy, but strangely nice for a change – a fishburger.  The fish was flaky inside the rough crumb, so it wasn’t the worst thing at all – I might try the burger in the same place (Attutapizza) some other time.

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Afterwards, we watched Wine Country on Netflix, which was mis-labelled as a comedy.  Ah, I’m being unfair – it wasn’t a bad flick (although I left about 10 mins before the end).  The Napa Valley looks a bit like Tuscany, so that was a plus – and the characters in it were amiable enough.

Anyhoo, this morning I got up earlier than usual, and compounded by the fact that it is later in the year, the town was a little darker than usual.  I found a new part of the route (well… Niamh had gone that way before me), which made the walk a little more interesting.  I also captured a wide shot of Volterra’s buildings I’d never been able to capture before.  It almost looks like another town from that angle.

The guests are having a mooch about town today, so I will use some of this day to put a hole in my writing project.  I hope to stay out much of the night to capture as much as I can on La Notte Rossa too, so I’m really looking forward to that!

We are bringing one of the guests to the airport tomorrow mid-morning, but I hope to have a blog up before we go tomorrow.

Cheerio!