Tag: food

That was the food of the week that was 2 (23/05-27/05)

That was the food of the week that was 2 (23/05-27/05)

Well it was another week where my time wasn’t my own, but I still managed to get out and about and we still stuffed our faces, so let’s go!

Monday 23rd May

I still got out for a walk! There were stairs!

Tuesday 24th May

I can’t get over how green the hills still were – althought it had signs that they were beginning to turn grey/brown. For lunch we went to a place to which we very infrequently go: I Ponti Volterra. I guess I consider it touristy given its location (by the main viewpoint). But sometimes anywhere new is good.

I was pleasantly surprised by the appearance of an Orzotto on the menu (think Risotto, but made with barley, instead of rice). I love them, but they’re damn hard to come by in Tuscany. Anyway, this one was made with sausage and cabbage. It tasted lovely, but… well… maybe my stomach was nervous on the day. Let’s just leave it at that. I’ll give it another go some day – if even just to test my, em, theory.

We carried on the theme of new places to eat (for us) that evening and ate in Life Bistrot, a plant-based restaurant at the top of the lovely Via Porta all’Arco. We were put sat in the half of the restaurant that doesn’t have the glass floors looking down on the Etruscan ruins. It gets good reviews on Google, so we thought we’d give it a bash. The service, it must be said, was friendly and their English excellent, if your Italian is lacking.

We noted that they had chefs that looked like they were from the Indian continent, noted with joy that they had a couple of Indian-influenced dishes on the menu. The Chapati was ok, I guess – it had a hint of Indian spices, but needed more kick. Niamh’s salad was merely ok too. I cannot remember what Niamh had for primi, but I had pici ‘cacio’ e pepe. Instead of using vegan cheese, they used ceci (chickpeas). While the noodles themselves were nice, the sauce was a little bland – and frustratingly the ‘pepe’ side of it – the part truly vegan – was barely there at all.

Wednesday 25th May

Another walk today, this time around the maze-like lanes just off Via Porta all’Arco.

Carrying on the theme of eating in places we’ve never tried before, we tried Il Peschereccio for lunch. I had the high end fried fish mix, and Niamh the less expensive one. I think Niamh one that round. I think next time I try here, I’ll either go with the standard fritto misto or just a bit of grilled white fish. I had white wine to wash it all down – a rarity for me!

For dinner, we went to La Vecchia Lira. I had chickpea soup to start – not sure what Niamh had – I can’t recognise it from the photo. For primi, I had my new favourite – the tortelli stuffed with shredded lamb in a savory apple sauce, and Niamh had the pici cacio e pepe – they do it very well here. Delicious. A tirimasu might have been had. I’m sure it didn’t last long!

We burned calories by taking a gentle nighttime stroll.

Thursday 26th May

Well, today was clearly not one to remember. What little I remember is that Niamh hadn’t been to the park yet this visit, so we headed out during lunch for our walk there. Dinner was a couple of yummy pizzas in La Mangiatoia. They had definitely started to recognise us there! I love their speck and mascarpone! Afterwards, a short trip to Antica Velathri Café for a couple of quick post-dinner drinkies.

Friday 27th May

A nice uppy-downy walk in the middle of, then around the outside of the town. I bumped into Volterra’s most photograhed cat on the way.

On my mid-morning walk I snaffled some gelato, because…. actually there’s no excuse needed! Thanks, as always, to L’Isola del Gusto.

We pigged out a bit that day, firstly going to our neighbours Porgi l’Altra Pancia for lunch. Unusually, we sat outside and were given a little surprise of some Prosecco on the house. Niamh had her beloved Caprese salad, and I had a vegetarian dish – paccheri with a hazelnut-based sauce. Very tasty. We had cheesecake and tiramisu for dessert.

Later that evening for dinner, we did the touristy thing and ate in the main square, in Ristorante Etruria. The food there varies from ok to good, but they usually treat us to a half bottle of Chianti when we’re done with our meal. Tonight, the food was good! I kept up my veggies with Zuppa alla Volterrana, and followed that up with 4-cheese gnocchi. Niamh just had a carbonara. We enjoyed it so much that we had our second dessert of the day (or third, in my case!).

That was that week! Our next day would lead us to somewhere new, and would be our last full day for this trip. So, more on that soon!

Bee Day Day 2, Volterra Comics and Fantasy Day 1 (21/05/2022)

Bee Day Day 2, Volterra Comics and Fantasy Day 1 (21/05/2022)

Another short one!

An unlikely clash of the International Bee Day celebration was with Volterra’s annual nerd-a-thon: Comics and Fantasy, which is more of a cosplay festival, than a full celebration of all things geek. Although it did feature a fantasy film festival for the first time this year (which I didn’t cover).

First things first, I did get up for a walk and although it was a shortish one, it did feature a climb of the stairs at Docciola, so I get brownie points for that! Although it was a downwards climb.

Once I’d returned, breakfasted and showered and had a little chill time, we left the apartment and had a look at what the Comics and Fantasy had to say for itself. Initially, not a lot. I thought I’d read that an opening ceremony was going to take place in Piazza dei Priori at 10:30, but the square was quite a little emptier than I thought it was going to be. Although there was one work of greatness on display – but more on that later. For now, we wandered from the square, up Via Roma and into Piazza San Giovanni to check out the various stalls.

We also bought a verrrry long piece of art, which we have not yet hung up – but are threatening to do so some time in late August. Once done, we brought the artwork back to the apartment and then decided to do lunch. Possibly the greatest thing for me about the festival, and maybe on of the greatest things ever to happen in Volterra, was the arrival of a Katsu Curry food truck into the main square. We got a bowl each and it was quite tasty! In fact, it was wonderful to be able to experience a different type of food in Volterra.

Whilst enjoying the curry, we people-watched the cosplayers!

We walked about the town, then, looking for people in costume.

After chilling for a little bit of the afternoon, it was time for dinner. We chose Terra di Mezzo as we had a hankering to try someone else’s Florentine Steak after our fab experience at Del Duca. We had ‘smaller’ steaks and veggies before at Terra and they were nice so we figured that all-out t-bone steak would be a good choice here too. After a little aperitivo at L’Incontro, we headed there.

The staff was busy, so there wasn’t too much interaction. Still, we enjoyed the food and had fun looking at the people going about the town in their costumes.

We walked back to the apartment full and happy!

Thanks for reading… I hope you enjoyed it – let me know what you think!

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

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

A short one!

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

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

I had some stuff to do during the morning, but when it was done, it was time to check out what was happening for International Bee Day in Volterra. This day (or 2 days, really) is to celebrate all things apian, with a view to promoting both the produce and the conservation of our buzzing little friends! There were some decorations about town, entertainment for kids and shops were promoting produce made using honey.

We headed out to check out Via Gramsci, as most of the action was taking place there. I don’t have too many photos as I was filimg instead. But we got a good look at some stalls and a little bee colony they had on the main stand.

But hunger quickly overtook us, and we did something we haven’t done too often, which was go to Del Duca for lunch! It was a gloriously sunny day, and had refreshing starters followed by pasta dishes.

The food was wonderful, and while it isn’t the cheapest lunch you’ll have in Volterra, it is worth spoiling yourself for sure! We skipped dessert as we had a fair feeling that we would head out later that evening. Plus I had to be back in the apartment to do stuff for the rest of the afternoon.

When I was free again, we headed out for food. First, we made a stop at L’Antica Velathri Café, as Pietro had a special honey-based cocktail that day. He was kind and allowed me to shoot the making of it. My anxiety was peeking at me, and it sometimes makes me a little clutzy. I made a damn nuisance of myself by getting in the way of waiters as they came back and forth with orders and emptied trays. The worst was when I accidentally knocked a wooden tray to the ground – it contained a stack of cards advertising the café. Pietro’s dad had to come and pick them up and restack them while I filmed. I felt a proper idiot.

Anyway, once the humilating part was over Niamh and I enjoyed our cocktails.

Here’s a video of the day – note that some of it was shot the next day.

We headed around to La Mangiatoia, who were by now recognising us freely! I don’t think they have a booking system – you rock up and either you get seated or you queue (or you leave!). Anyway we just had the one pizza each. Yes, I have to say this is probably the greediest we’ve ever been in Volterra on holidays. Next time we have a long-haul here, we’ll have to rein in the restaurant visits and remember what it’s really like to actually live here, as ‘normal’ people.

We tried Forst lager for the first time this holiday and can’t recommend it enough. It’s from the north of Italy, and it seems to have invaded Volterra. So now I have a choice between it and Moretti – happy days. Still no cider though.

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

Lunch in the Middle of Nowhere and Exploring Poggibonsi (12/05/2022)

Lunch in the Middle of Nowhere and Exploring Poggibonsi (12/05/2022)

I stayed in bed a little while longer this morning, but still got up and did my walk. I could have been a lazy so-and-so, but I did it, so yay me! I had a short walk in mind, just around the block to walk up the stairs at Docciola. Short, but challenging. However, from there I just went on and on, past Piazza XX Settembre, up to the park, and from there to the panoramic viewpoint. The photos speak for themselves. I was in need of a wash at the end of it, so that’s good enough for me!

I also busted out my macro lens and took some nice floral shots.

After eating and making ourselves beautiful, we refreshed some toiletries and bought some cleaning and painting supplies, as there were a few jobs Niamh wanted to do before we headed home. We didn’t quite find the paint we wanted – so we thought we’d head out to Navacchio or Pontadera to grab some. We changed our minds later on, though – more below.

I thought I’d check in on the framers to see how he was getting on with the drawing we bought. It wouldn’t be ready until the next day. No worries – we’d pick it up then.

Once done, Niamh went to a Bancomat (ATM) got some money out, while I grabbed the goodies and brought them upstairs. Three quarters of the way down, I realised I’d forgotten to bring the bag Niamh asked me not to forget, so back up I went. At least I was getting some exercise in.

We’d driven the SP4 road a bunch of times before, especially to go to Florence, Florence and Florence, and that time when we checked out Gambassi Terme and Montaione. We passed by a couple of restaurants that were in the middle of nowhere. We’d pass them by and swear that one day we’d try them. I think you can guess what’s coming next. We decided to do lunch at one of them, called Osteria del Castagno, especially since it had a large, easily accessible carpark. It was only 30 mins away, so we walked slowly to the car to build up a hunger.

When we got to the carpark, we saw that it would be closed tomorrow, so we’d have to park elsewhere overnight tonight. Bummer. Small price to live in paradise, though.

I drove to the restaurant. As promised, it had plenty of parking and lovely surroundings. We decided to sit outside, but in shade. It had lots of lovely outdoor nooks and crannies where you could enjoy your meal.

The food was nice and the service very friendly. We played a guessing game with the waitress while she guessed what nationality we were. We even threw in a few random languages to throw her off the scent. In the end, she was pleasantly surprised to discover we were Irish. A subsequent conversation saw her recommending us places to visit, and being amazed again at how we had visited not only all her recommendations (“Have you heard of San Gimignano?” we had a chuckle at that one), but tons of other less well-known towns besides all over central, west and south-west Tuscany. We had a small chats with one of the male waiters too. Everyone was disarmingly lovely.

The food was very nice, but we felt that the prices were extraordinarily high. Here are the food pics:

I think the tortellini may have cost €24 (please correct me if I’m wrong, if anyone from the restuarant ends up reading this). I have had pasta dishes with truffle for 2/3 of that price. I would recommend the place, though, if you’re flush. The food is good and the service is friendly. I imagine that the setting in the evening would be amazing; very romantic – so maybe try it then.

As we were so far from Navacchio, and the route would be a little annoying, we decided to check out Poggibonsi for the first time. We knew it had a huge shopping/industrial area to its north, and we were sure we could pick up the paint and odds and ends we needed there. So off we went. Little did we know, this is also a route to San Gimignano, and on the way we had a jaw-trolley moment when we saw said Tuscan Manhattan in the distance, the centre-point of one of those Tuscany-in-a-bottle scenes that you have to pull over for. We did just that, and took a few snaps.

We skirted around San Gimignano, and were then taken along an unfamiliar road into Poggibonsi. We got some easy and free parking at Parcheggio Vallone – some Saturdays it’s closed though, so be careful. The old town was quiet, but we both really liked it. It has a few really chill piazze, and we sat a while after our explore to wait for the shops to reopen after riposo.

There were curious little sculptures of figures made of cuboids scattered throughout some of the piazzas. We made friends with them.

We wandered some more and I kinda fell a little in love with old Poggibonsi. It was very sleepy when we visited it, but there were places to eat and drink and I’d say it turns into a lively enough place during the evening. We found more alleys, another cubic friend and then a lovely circular piazza. All the benches in the shade were taken, and at one stage we had a little race with a local to grab a recently vacated seat – we lost; probably for the best.

We got back to the car, and drove north to the ‘Industrial Zone’ which is a large series of mini-malls and strip-malls in which you can find just about anything. It’s not the most salubrious of areas, so I didn’t take shots, but from a practical standpoint it will be a fabulous place to source holdhold and hardware stuff, and get food shopping into the bargain, should we be lacking in that department too. We also noted what could be a cool Sushi place to go to should we have a mind – we’ll go there some day. We stopped off in Casa and Brico and got what we wanted – terracotta paint for Niamh’s little job, and then got back in the car for home. I really enjoyed driving that day. We avoided a mini sports-car rally at a roundabout coming out of the town, and noticed a big frantoio, should we ever decide to grow olives!

Upon getting home, we screenwatched, edited, wrote a bit, and we had a rare moment of not going out to eat again! Niamh cooked up a pork-chop dinner (yum!) and after that we headed out for gelato!

I hope you enjoyed reading this. Let me know what you think. Have you ever visited Poggibonsi?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a video of some of our day:

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

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

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

Strawberry Fair at Terricciola, lunch in Casciana Terme (08/05/2022)

Strawberry Fair at Terricciola, lunch in Casciana Terme (08/05/2022)

I was true to myself and got up early for a walk around the walls. It’s such a good (and sweaty workout), as it involves a lot of inclines and declines on the 4.5km route. I’m always looking for a way to change the route up a bit and actually found one! But first, it was out the Porta Fiorentina for a clockwise path around.

About a week earlier, I had a walk outside the walls, looking for things I hadn’t seen before (or too often), and I came across the workshop of artist Nico Lopez Bruchi. Well along the walls of the town, in the south-east on Viale dei Filosofi you’ll find another of his murals. Clever and striking it is too!

There’s a section outside Volterra I hadn’t been to before. It contains the old bus station, and an emergency helicopter pad for the hospital. The Bus carpark (if that makes sense) is there too. Now that alone doesn’t make it sound very attractive, but couple Italian architecture, sculpture and the Tuscan countryside and you could have something a little special. Not sure if hiking routes begin from here, but if anyone more familiar with hiking around Volterra is reading this, please let me know!

Once done there, I carried on with the rest of the familiar route.

I stopped off at Migliorini for a mille foglie for me and a creamy rice tart for Niamh. We spruced ourselves up good, as we wanted to check out the Strawberry Festival in Terricciola, about 30 minutes drive away from us.

We headed for the carpark we used the last time we were here. Well, that was a little too optimistic! The place was jam-packed. In addition, Terricciola a town some of whose roads are narrow, but are nonetheless 2-way. We had some fun navigating our way through the town which, incidentally, also had a market on that day. We had to drive the guts of a kilometer out of town to a carpark beside a restaurant. Not the worst thing to have happened, as we didn’t miss the lovely framed views!

The roads were initially quiet as we made our way back to the town centre. It turns out that was because people were making their way towards a park where a few stalls were set up. Outside, a menu indicated what was going to be served for the communal lunch, and sure enough, there was already a huge queue for food. Rather than queue, we wandered deeper into town, past more stalls and wonderful panoramic viewpoints (see the YouTube video below). People kept streaming past us, presumably on the way to the commmunal lunch area. We didn’t see much in the way of celebration of the strawberry outside the park – just one bar was advertising strawberry produce, and a string of cardboard strawberries were to be seen nearby. What I thought was cute, was that outside many places, people had left colurfully painted chairs, with pots of flowers resting on them. I am not sure if that’s a general thing in Terricciola, or if was just done for the festival.

We took in some more panoramic viewpoints and when on the way back to see if we could join the communal lunch, stopped instead at the marketplace and bought us some sugary goods (jellies, sugared almonds, nougat). We passed by a restaurant and were tempted, but it looked busy. Unsurprisingly, the communal lunch area still had a huge queue. It might have been fun to stay anyway, but we were too hungry – so we made the counter-intuitive move of driving while hungry instead of standing while hungry. We went back to the car (the restaurant we parked next to was closed, sadly), and headed to Casciana Terme to see if we could find anywhere to eat.

We had been there before and found it quiet. So, I was thinking (forgetting it was Sunday) that perhaps it would be a good bit busier than last time. Sadly, maybe due to on-and-off drizzle, it was even quieter! We were pushing our luck for lunch, as it was a little after 14:00, but we did manage to find a place that would serve us. Yes, many Italian restaurants close between dinner and lunch services. Inside, Il Merlo Pizzorante was pleasantly busy with couples and small families noisily enjoying their food. We experienced a nice meal – I think I enjoyed it a little more than Niamh. The one thing that will stand out, though, is the service – and for strange reasons. There was a 2-person team… I’m calling them father and son, but they could be easily much older and much younger brothers. Anyway, the father greeted us and told us our menus were online. We papped the QR code and chose. We saw the younger man, with a moustache, flit from table to table in almost all cases not saying a word to anyone at the table when he delivered food. I think a family near us got some words out of him, but he was the definition of ‘taciturn’, to the point of it actually being amusing. In fairness to the main, he was efficient at his job! He delivered our drinks – standing on Niamh’s toe in the process, not a word… – barely even looked at us. By stark contrast, the father was warm and generous with his time, and we chatted with him briefly using my broken Italian. Now the food:

Would we go back? Ah yeah – the food was nice, even though there was a large choice on the menu. There was something for everyone, and I have little doubt that just about anything you try will be well-cooked. Their pizzas might be interesting. But I would also personally come for the comedy value of the curiously quiet, moustachioed server!

Once finished, we headed out to explore the town a little again. We walked past the spa – there were a handful of people frolicking around in the pool. The weather had flitted from dry to wet and back again, but eventually setted on dry and warm. It’s a nice town, but very quiet – maybe the spa is worth a visit for sure. They had bleacher seats set up in the main square, so maybe a festival is imminent. One strange thing about the town – it seems to end abrubtly in most directions. Whereas most towns trickle out – this one seems to have hard borders.

We drove back to Volterra, but by that time there were diversions active around Terriccciola as they were having a concert to help them celebrate their festival. It added about 10 minutes to our drive home, but at least we explored roads we hadn’t been on before.

Here’s a little vlog of our day up to that point:

Back in Volterra, before we returned to the apartment, I took a couple of snaps of Via Gramsci and for the first time I saw my favourite server at L’Isola del Gusto: Giorgia. She is a truly lovely and generous person (who also happens to speak 6 or 7 different languages). She also lets me practice my Italian, but I don’t delay her too much as the queues here can be long. I was in desparate need of a granita, as although it was probably 25 celsius, the day was quite humid and I had been out a long time. Unfortunately, it was not quite the season for granite, so I had to settle for a cup rammed full of lemon sorbet instead. It did the trick!

Back in the apartment we napped, screenwatched and edited some video footage. Then we did something a little piggish: headed out for more food. Just a pizza (just!) this time, with a beer, in Ombra della Sera Pizzeria. On the way there, we bumped into the builder we had been dealing with recently – he let us know that the wine bar he was entering (Enoteca Scali) was the best one in town. It’s a nice place, and we’ve been there once or twice, but dang it, he closes around 21:00-21:30, so we rarely get a chance to visit after typical Italian eating times. He has an excellent selection though.

Back to Ombra: We skipped fries this time. For me, pizza can get samey about halfway through, so I like to break it up with the occasional mouthful of fries. Anyway… we ate and drank everything up!

We rolled out of the place, and went for a nightime walk. I captured some lovely photos!

Afterwards, we sat up screenwatching for a while, then went to bed!

I hoped you enjoyed the read – please let me know what you thought!

A Rainy Day at Home (05/05/2022)

A Rainy Day at Home (05/05/2022)

The builder who managed the updating of our bathroom was supposed to arrive this morning to grab the rest of the old porcelaine items he left in the cellar and to have a look at a couple of other things. What he thought we were going to do with them, I do not know! Sadly, we blew the morning on waiting, and this was the first of two reasons why we didn’t venture out in the car for an explore: it was raining.

We lazed in for a while and then had a short walk about town, before stopping in Dolceria del Corso for a sinful pastry and coffee… well… I had a wonderfully gloopy hot chocolate. Was chaotic at the bar, but we ordered and were told to grab a table at the back. I love the liveliness of Italian bars, but despite having sufficient Italian, I often find it intimidating – mostly down to not always knowing local protocol, but we survived and loved the fare.

After that, we had another walkabout. A few years previously, we’d stopped in Monteriggioni and I was completely captivated by the work of Fabrizio Ferrari – I bought one of his pieces there. He has opened up a studio in Volterra (on Via Minzoni), along with another favourite: Veronika. We arrived there, and while we found the place open, there was nobody actually in the gallery minding shop. We heard movement in one of the cellars, but decided to have a look without disturbing who happened to be down there. I hate to rag on Ireland, but honestly, this simply wouldn’t happen back home. In Dublin, the place would be ransacked. Anyway, we had a look around, and there are some amazing works there, but I found one of Fabrizio’s thematically similar to the one I’d bought in Monteriggioni.

We called down the stairway to the cellar, and two voices called back; neither of them female, so I guess Veronika was back in her work studio in La Sassa. Fabrizio called up, with a younger man in tow. We reintroduced ourselves to him, his broken English matching my broken Italian. He introduced us to his son, who must be following in his dad’s footsteps. We showed him a photo of the piece we’d bought from him, and he recognised it immediately. He really warmed-up when we told him we’d met his brother at their exhibition in Radda in Chianti a couple of years previously. He gave us a tour of the showroom, including what several pieces meant to him. I eventually showed him the piece we wanted. He informed us the price hasn’t changed, despite his higher profile: €50 for a piece in coloured Bic pens. Here are the two side by side.

We walked out with the work pressed between two pieces of thick, stiff board and made our way towards the framers on Via dei Sarti. On the way, I bought a meaty arancino (breadcrumbed rice-ball with fillings) and then headed into a new produce/deli store onn Gramsci, and came out with oils, salami and some truffle crisps!

After we’d spent 15 minutes select our frame (light cobalt blue?) and border (none!), we left the art with the nice framing guy, who said he’d have it next week. Then we had a rare lunch at home – I say rare, as for the rest of the holiday, we spent a lot of time eating out and putting on weight. I ate the arancino (no photo – sorry), some mixed leaves, cheeses and meats. Niamh had made herself some panzanella the previous day, so it had flavoured-up nicely for her!

We stayed in and lazed/screen-watched. Then, out of the blue, our doorbell rang. It was our builder! He collected some stuff, but had to leave the toilet and bidet until another day. He took a look at the towel-rail that needed hanging, but declared that he’d have to order in a new drill bit, because the tiles we chose would shatter if tried using the bit he currently had. He also had a look at a new large damp spot that appeared over our fridge. Heading out, we indicated that it was coming from where plaster fell away from the brickwork outside on the terrace. The terrace above belonged to another person, and so he said he’d have to come back with the building super and a geometra to see what could be done.

He said his farewell, and we stayed in, as it was raining a bit.

That evening, we went back to L’Incontro – they started recognising us by now. We had a nice little aperitivo, and then headed to Torre del Porcellino for some dinner.

We went back home after that. And that was the day that was!

Thanks for reading. Please leave a like and comment – I’d love to hear from you!

Day at ‘Leisure’ #2 (04/05/2022)

Day at ‘Leisure’ #2 (04/05/2022)

A shortish one this time around!

Another day where I was not quite my own man, but enjoyed the day for all that. I had to skip my walk, as the builder arrived to take away the old fixtures from the bathroom. I gave them a hand with some stuff to keep my exercise up instead. They’d have to call back the next day to collect the last couple of pieces (and a couple of other days again, it turns out!). One thing we both found amusing: the builders mate was dressed for heavy lifting, but had a man-purse strapped around his shoulder anyway. I thought it was the weirdest thing at the time, as the holiday wore on, I was thinking about getting one myself. I didn’t this time around, but maybe next time we return. They’re handier than jacket pockets for carrying stuff around.

While I was indisposed, Niamh went to the shops early and got the makings for dinner that night: flour, cavalo nero and sausage. Intriguing! I was able to take a break during the mid-morning, and so we both went out to stretch our legs for 15 or so minutes and we grabbed a gelato at L’Isola del Gusto, naturally.

At lunchtime, we made up for a lack of a walk, but first had a lovely lunch in Pisa Province’s best sandwich shop: La Sosta del Priore. Niamh had a sausage sandwich, and I had a lovely burger. Since last year, they have had a sit-down area where they also sell produce, so we availed of that and had a drink with the food.

We then went for a bit of a walk:

When I was done doing my thing that evening (during which Niamh had made orechiette – an ear-shaped pasta native to the Puglia region), we decided that we needed a little vino to accompany our homemade dinner, so we headed out to Santa Lucia, which sells the produce of these lovely people, and bought 10 liters of bag-in-box wine for €22 (5 litres white, 5 red). We got to taste it first, and also enjoy the benefits of walking with heavy packages on the uphill walk back home. A couple of shots were taken on the way:

We got home and began to enjoy our haul on the terrace. The back of our apartment looks out and down upon a recently refurbished courtyard, which is not only lovely to look at, but offers occasional interaction with thee neighbours – even if they are just cats. There are a couple of cats nearby who poke their heads out of their apartment window and stare at us in astonishment. The first time we saw them, I swear one of their jaw’s dropped in disbelief. Funny creatures!

Right! Dinner! I grabbed Niamh’s mini-orechiette, some oil, the kale (aka cavalo nero), sausage and some parmeggiano and got to work. The orechiette were cute and small, so I had to un-skin and break the sausage up a good bit, before adding the kale. It had been a few years since the last time I attempted a similar dish, and I added salt when I needn’t have – there was already plenty in the sausages. This time I broke off a bit and fried it. It was nicely seasoned, enough so that I wouldn’t add salt, beyond what was in the cheese.

Of course, there’s always a mistake – this time I didn’t cook Niamh’s pasta quite enough. I thought it would finish off in the pan where I had been cooking the sausage and kale. It did to an extent, but not as much as I would have liked. However, it still tasted nice, and brava, Niamh, for her first attempt at orechiette – they’re harder to make than they look.

After dinner, we chilled for a while until I announced that I wanted to head out. Niamh felt less inclined, so I headed out on my own. I decided to check to see if Pietro in Antica Velathri Café was busy. If he wasn’t too much so, I’d throw a cocktail challenge at him. It was quiet enough, and it turns out I threw several challenges his way! It’s great to come here. Pietro’s parents are always so welcoming and when we pass his Dad in the street (at least we *think* it’s his Dad!), he always says hello. Pietro himself, as well as being a great mixologist, he’s really patient with me when I’m trying my Italian on him, so I can end up practicing lots – as well as drinking!

The first thing I got was an espresso martini, with a nice, frothy head – topped with a few roasted beans. Those of you who know me will be familiar with my never drinking coffee. I love the smell and sometimes the taste (gelato! cake!), but never have the drink itself. So, this was a rarity. It came with a few bread slices, accompanied with two toppings/spreads: a mascarpone-based one and a something with an olive base. Both were tasty! I really liked the martini too – it went down perhaps too easy!

The next one I will remember for a long time. My challenge to him was to create something with a hazelnut base. Pietro came up with a recipe, and declared it to be a twist on the White Lady cocktail. I have no frame of reference, so I can’t compare them. I made a note of the 3 key ingredients on my phone: Baileys, Cointreau, Frangelico (a hazlenut liqueur) – the result was sensational.

The last was a little… different. I wanted something based on an apple sour. He didn’t have much, apart from an apple mix, which he frothed-up with a vegan ingredient, which does the same thing as egg white does. I tasted it. It was nice at first, then my throat began to itch like a bugger, and ended up coughing a bit. Not sure if it was that ingredient or if it was the apple mix, but not sure I’d give it a second go. Oh well – these things have to be tried!

Anyway, I had some nibbles, some drinks and some good conversation during which I got to practice a little of my Italian. Cool. I paid my bill, and asked for four mini-morbidissimi biscuits as well, then went on my (fairly!) merry way back home.

Niamh went to bed ahead of me, while I stayed up and listened to a little music.

Thanks for reading. Please leave a like if you enjoyed it, and I’d also love to hear from you in a comment below.

Day not at ‘Leisure’ #1.  Our First Earthquake! (03/05/2022)

Day not at ‘Leisure’ #1. Our First Earthquake! (03/05/2022)

Because my time wasn’t my own today, I got up just for a shorter walk and shot some classic scenes.

And the hits continued:

While I was indisposed, and not at my leisure, Niamh was more fortunate and cleaned the place a bit! I did manage to nip out during the mid-morning for a quick block-walk and a gelato!

We headed out to La Sacca Fiorentina and I had a ribollita, while Niamh had a salad with eggplant parmigiana. Both our dishes were reported yummy.

After lunch, we wandered over to Cappella della Croce di Giorno, a chapel inside a larger church near Porta San Francesco. I hadn’t heard this existed until I saw it in the Volterra walk by Prowalk Tours. It’s almost fully frescoed and a marvel to behold. But it’s also a little grim, as it features scenes of battle and violence, including infanticide (Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents), made all the more so by the dim lighting within. I took a couple of shots, examined the fresoces and headed back towards the apartment, via the ruins of the Roman theatre.

On the way back to the apartment, we booked ourselves in for dinner at Porgi L’Altra Pancia afterwards as last year we found that it was a good idea to book ahead, as many restaurants, particularly the good ones, or those in good locations, would fill up very quickly. Most restuarants don’t place an emphasis on turning tables over, so few become available. I was being prudent and, as it turns out, unncessarily so, as it was May, and not August!

While we were waiting for dinner time, we chilled at home and screenwatched. Suddenly, Niamh stopped watching her iPad and said to me “Is that you rattling couch?” I stopped and we both immediately noticed a rattle in the furniture, as if someone was standing behind us, gently shaking it. Niamh thought I was scratching myself or something, but I wasn’t. It continued for another 10 or so seconds, and then stopped. The next day we found out later it was an earthquake! Our first one! Awwww!

We headed out again to L’Incontro for aperitivo. They recognised us and our nibbles were upgraded! We took the long way around just for the sake of a walk for 15 minutes to the restaurant right beside our apartment entrance. They are such nice peoople there, and the food is so good too. They have an insane collection of wines there, and you’re practically tripping over boxes and bottles as you make your way to your table.

We thought we’d only have enough room for one course (with wine), but we were persuaded to have a dessert, which was followed by a free dessert wine afterwards. When done, we headed back up to the apartment and chilled by listening to music and screen-watching.

I had another day of non-leisure the next day, so I had to be rested. The end of another grand day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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