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!
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!
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!
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!
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:
Crusty, rustic bread;
A soufflé of zucchini (courgette);
Filled pasta with tomato sauce;
Stuffed guinea fowl breast;
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!
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.
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.
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.
We lazed about in the morning. For lunch, I put together a selection of meats and some cheese we had in the fridge. Niamh tried out a couple of slices from one of the pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice) places. She gave me a bit of a ham and mushroom slice – I found it pretty insipid, to be honest. Niamh seemed happy with them, though.
After Niamh had a nap (and I ‘rested my eyes’), walk to the car and drove to La Rosa, to a discount department store called Magazzini Mangini. Niamh wanted some extra bed clothes, and more pillow cases besides. I just wanted out of the apartment! We got some nice stuff there, and then (of course) went around to see what else might we need. I’m kinda glad we did now.
The black puffer jacket I bought in Volterra last year, has a lot of frayed threads, and it probably won’t be too long before it starts unravelling. In addition, I have a heavy red overcoat, which acts as my walking winter duvet. It’s not very good at keeping out the rain, and has a large rip in the inner lining in one of the sleeves. I got a replacement for both coats, and will probably leave the black one behind in the apartment when we leave.
We stopped off in Conad in Volterra on the way home, to pick up some bits and pieces, including the rest of the ingredients Niamh needed to make a chicken curry.
After another couple of hours of screen-watching, we had the aforementioned curry. I love Italian food, make no mistake, but you need a break from having the same flavour palette over and over again. When we were in Hong Kong, we went to an Italian for lunch one afternoon! So a curry was just the thing, and it was fantastic!
We slept the sleep of the just after that (and a couple of glasses of wine each!).
This morning, I took a walk past the Cathedral (among other places). Niamh told me that they had removed the scaffolding, and looked like they were in the process of tidying up and getting ready to ship the construction gear away. It could only mean that the Cathedral will open soon – it’s one of the few places we haven’t seen yet.
No mad plans today, although it’s our last day before guests arrive, so we might get something done. A lot depends on our property manager being able to contact the furniture delivery folks – apparently it’s proving tricky. Fun times!
Due to unforeseen circumstances, I was not in a position to be able to write anything yesterday, so I’m back with a bang today. As well as being cooped up in the apartment for the weekend, we just needed to clear our heads and get out for a while. Niamh suggested going to La Rosa to check out a cheap department store there. Turns out it’s closed on Mondays (new opening hours), and so we sat thumb-twiddling looking for things to do next.
We decided to go travelling!
Terriciola was not too far from La Rosa, and we’d driven past it before on the way to Lari. Parking was handy enough, and was only about 100m away from the older part of town. It’s a nice looking place, but given that this is September, and it’s not a major tourist destination, it was as quiet as a mouse. We found only two food places open – an antipasto and wine store, and a bread baker (panificio).
Once we were finished there, we caught the bug and scoured Google Maps for other places to go. I spotted Castelalfi, but dropped it in favour of Castelfiorentino. I happened to note, though, that the route suggested took us through Castelalfi anyway, and we stopped there too.
What I was not prepared for was what Castelalfi was. I knew it looked to be only a couple of streets, but the carpark was three-quarters full, and the town began with a couple of hotels.
It turns out that Castelalfi is a manufactured resort village. It may well have been converted from a previously existing town, but most of the buildings are apartments for holidaymakers. There were a few shops and a couple of eateries (only one of which was open yesterday). Don’t get me wrong, it was a gorgeous, pristine (not one speck of trash found) place, surrounded by lush countryside, and a wonderful view onto a golf course. But it just lacked a little character as a result – it isn’t a ‘lived-in’ place. Oh, if you like swanning by the pool or golfing, then I probably couldn’t recommend a better venue, though! It is lovely, but what the hell do you do if you have no transport and are stuck in Castelalfi?! Admire the views, I suppose…
They have a restaurant at the top of the area that looks pretty amazing – but it would want to be for the prices! Anyway, it was closed. All-in-all, we saw a sum total of about 9 people in Castelalfi, half of whom were booted and suited for a conference in one of the hotels.
We ended up skipping Castelfiorentino in the end, and instead backtracked to a small hilltop village called Montefoscoli. It is almost the diametric opposite of Castelalfi. It is very much a lived-in town, which I suspect gets very little in the way of tourist traffic. Regardless, it had lovely, if occasionally shabby, clustered buildings and a higgledy-piggledy layout that reminded me of the back end of Amalfi town, or Atrani. It was their market day, and four stalls were decked out with simple goods. Niamh and I stopped to grab some sweeties, as we hadn’t had lunch, and were a little on the hungry side.
Down one road, a table was laid out, with half-empty bottles of water, which suggested we missed a mini street-party. There were also some fab views to be seen from here. A lovely, gentle place.
Google took us down another back road we hadn’t been on before to get home. I love it when this happens, and in this case, we saw some amazing scenery, which, it turns out, is only about 20 minutes drive from Volterra! The pics don’t really do it justice – it’s a case of visiting the place, really.
We chilled for a while at home, before heading out to a place we’d only been to once before: La Vecchia Lira. The owner is sound, and very enthusiastic. We both had pasta primi – Niamh had amazing ravioli, while my pici with Chianini beef ragu was pretty good. For meats, Niamh had sliced steak, with a side of grilled veggies, and I had a really well put-together plate of pork medallions with a vin santo jelly, vin santo sauce, almonds and raspberry pulp, served with perfectly seasoned spinach. We liked the food enough to each have a tirimasu afterwards!
We went straight home again after that (we eat quite late in Italy, and were finished around 21:15 there).
This morning, I got up slightly earlier and went on a walk. It was great to clear the cobwebs, but I finished off with the 200 steps at La Docciola, which damn near killed me!
No plans today – except maybe to ask our property manager to phone the furniture place to drag a date for delivery of our stuff out of them. The service from them (the furniture people, not the property managers) has been a little incompetent. Hopefully, we get the stuff before more guests arrive on Thursday!
We went to the butchers and the market yesterday, to pick up some chicken for the next couple of days’ dinners, and some bits and bobs for lunch. At one of the rotisserie vans, we got a roasted chicken, some chicken kebabs and mixed battered veggies – we had the latter two for lunch. The kebabs were nice, but the jury’s still out on the veggies. They were nicer when we had them from the Neopolitan streetfood store in town.
I wrote a few hundred words in the morning and afternoon, finishing off a tricky chapter, so yay!
While we vegetated for the afternoon, I occasionally heard some cheers coming from Piazza dei Priori (the main square). I immediately assumed that the motorbikes were finishing their run there and were being cheered on by some folks. I went out to have a nose, but nope. It was a wedding. Feeling a little disappointed (not for them; for me), I went to the view point to see if they were finishing there too. Again, nope – but I heard them racing somewhere – the engines of these bikes are loud. I squinted at the road leading from Saline to Volterra, and saw that it was lined with alternating red and white barriers along the bends. And finally, I saw them racing – but barely. They went behind a treeline, and then disappeared, not coming anywhere near Volterra itself. I couldn’t see where the finish line was, so for all intents and purposes, they could simply have fallen into a black hole.
On the plus side, it might mean that the roads aren’t as closed as we had previously thought.
I had set a reminder for myself to check out some musical event being held in the Museum of Sacred Art, but I got there too early, and I suspect it might have been for kids. So, I went home and grabbed a coffee milkshake from L’Isola del Gusto.
Later, Niamh reheated the rotisserie chicken, cooked up the veggies we bought at the Saturday market and had put together a lovely little gravy. We’ve been craving white meat, I guess – and a decent break from pasta dishes. It may look pretty average, but it was delicious!
During the evening I heard the strains of a live band playing in the square, while I was enjoying a beer. I went to check it out that night, but I was too late: they’d almost completely packed everything away by the time I got there.
There is a huge difference in Volterra between Saturdays in August and Saturdays in September. It was eerily quiet.
I was a hairsbreadth away from getting up at 05:00 to look for a blanket to spread over my legs, such is the sudden change in temperature! There was no rubbish collection today, and the sky looked a bit bleak, so I took advantage of that, and stayed in bed rather than going for a walk. I still got up at 07:40, though.
Instead, Niamh went out and had a cheery jog by the cemetary! She got caught in a shower too, unfortunately, but she struggled though it – fair play to her, and took a few pics.
No plans today – but with the road seemingly only blocked in one direction, we might be able to do something.
The previous night, Niamh whipped out the pasta maker and had a crack at making it for the first time – we settled on tagliatelle.
The result was excellent pasta, and a good taste to the sauce, but it was a little dry. This was down to a couple of things, but principally it was down to the meat we were given was far too lean, sadly – and ended up being far too crumbly. More lessons learned! It will be interesting to see how our cooking course goes on the 16th.
Anyway, yesterday we dropped our guest off at the airport, and decided to make use of the fact that we were on the SGC FI-PI-LI (the main artery linking Florence, Pisa and Livorno), to go to San Miniato. It is about 35-40 minutes away from the airport, by that dual carriageway. We drove all the way to near the outskirts – a good way up, only to drive all the way down into an inexpensive carpark (50c/hr). There is a lift which goes all the way up to the start of the old town. The shaft is an impressive looking thing.
We went up, and had a little explore, to get our bearings, before heading into a bar for a quick pastry for brekkie. The ‘touristy’ part of town is banana-shaped, and is very pretty. We went to a more modern set of buildings, which contained some community buildings, a good example of which was the library, which had what can only be described as ‘face seats’ in an outside area. A church just lay off one of the main squares – so we had a little explore in there too.
We then went to the more ‘quaint’ (I hate that word) section. The square there is gorgeous and is often their setting for festivals and is where they hold their Christmas markets. The cathedral lies above up some steep steps. The roof and artwork within is worth viewing.
They were prepping for a wedding that was to be held there later that morning. We were lucky to see it, as about 30 minutes later, they’d closed the door.
There are a bundle of panoramic viewpoints within the town, but the two highest are up the Torre di Matilde, or on the little green where the Torre di Federico II lies. The former costs €3 to enter, while the latter is free. We went to the latter, as (honestly!) it was the first one we saw of the two. The views were amazing, as the green is completely open. A bit of a climb up some steps is required, though – and you’re not actually allowed in the tower itself.
Check out the panoramic shot above!
It was a little cloudy, but still warm. On our way back to the car, we stopped briefly at La Pennellessa (aka Santuario del Santissimo Crocifisso – Sanctuary of the Holy Crucifix), a fat cross-shaped building topped with a dome. Inside were pews, an altar, and yet again some wonderful artwork. We then headed home.
Unfortunately, lunch back in Volterra was one of the worst dining experiences we have ever had. I’m not going to name and shame the place, as sometimes you can just have a bad day – but our order was wrong, food came out at different intervals (often to be expected, but not at 20 minute intervals). We just stared and watch each other eat. My main was tasty enough (a veal cutlet), but Niamh’s was a travesty – a burger (on it’s own – no bun), dry, with dry grilled veggies and weirdly, slices of (dry) pecorino. She barely touched it. All around, people were looking pissed off with bad service and poor food. It looked like they were completly unprepared for a busy service. What a shame. We’d been there before for pizza, which they’re great at (no, it wasn’t Ombra della Sera Pizzeria!), and so were shocked by how bad everything was. They tried to make amends by not charging us for a portion of fries, but this damage is pretty much permanent – it’s doubtful we’ll ever return to that place.
We went back to the apartment and chilled. Later that evening, Niamh cooked herself a small meal and I just had some simple cold-cuts. I ended up not going out at all, except to buy some sliced turkey and ham in the supermarket. I have to get into the habit of going for a quick evening stroll again!
The day was interrupted by a hell of a thunderstorm. We had a batten down the hatches, and wait for it to pass over. Lightnight crackled overhead and there was the most terrific boom at one point – the windows seemed to vibrate in their frames. And there was a lot of rain. It looked like we were practically in the middle of the thunderhead itself.
This morning, I got up and walked down to the CoOp and took a long route back up. It’s a loooong, steady climb up, so I got a decent workout. I also wore my puffer jacket for the first time. Temperatures have definitely dipped this week – but I have to admit I was a sweaty mess by the time I got back home. Lovely cloud-lakes formed islands again in the hills below. That always looks amazing to me. Oh, for a camera with decent optical zoom, though.
We have a motorbike race timetrial on this weekend. Part of the main road to Cecina/Siena will be closed, and we figure this leaves us stranded in town for the weekend. Maybe I’ll catch some of it – might be a bit of fun.
I’m late with the blog today, as our Mondo Convenienza delivery of furniture arrived today. Unfortunately, they had other deliveries in the area and so came with a massive truck, despite us telling them already on the delivery form that we were in a centro storico. Our property manager even told them that a second time when the date was arranged, but still they messed it up, and will now have to phone *again* to re-arrange. Bloody annoying, and not very professional. The delivery lads themselves were apologetic, but I got nothing out of the lady in head office when I complained.
Anyway – there’s nothing we can change about it now, and so just have to get on with it.
In other slightly annoying news, or wifi extender simply isn’t playing ball at all. We’ve tried it several times, but althought it worked at first in December, it is now fiddly to get any signal – plus it often drops. We might have to get a new one… not Asus, though.