Something awesome and something terrible happened this week, but all will be revealed in the blog after this one.
We had another week of work (or so we thought) this week, and sure enough the Monday and Tuesday went swimmingly enough!
Monday 12th I’ve been well proud of myself looking back on this time away, as I got right back into the habit of walking in the morning again. Today, I carried on with that.
The light that morning was spectacular, so I carried on farther around the walls.
We worked through the morning, and went to Osteria La Pace, a lonely little place, just at the prison end of town. This makes it sound unattractive, but really that small section is also quite lovely – the ‘Cool shot!’ photo above is taken right next to it. They have some lovely home-cooked Tuscan favourites here. Niamh had the the strozzapreti (a twisted pasta shape that literally means ‘priest-strangler’) with wild-boar and olives. I didn’t want to have anything quite so heavy, as I wanted to have their killer tiramisu after, so I had their version of zuppa alla Volterrana (because veggies).
They used to serve the tiramisu in an outsized coffee cup, but it was just in a massive dessert cup instead. Still tasted lovely – one of the best in town. Afterwards, we took a brief walk about town before heading back to work. The light was still being fantastic.
That evening we went to La Vecchia Lira that evening. It was my turn for wild boar, while Niamh took the lighter option of (I think) seabass. Neither of us are fans of whole-fish, but Niamh made no bones about it (sorry)!
Home, then bed and ready for another day’s work!
Tuesday 13th Another morning, another walk!
We worked dutifully again (so haaaard for the money), and grabbed a sandwich shop in Pisa Province: La Sosta del Priore. Tuscans sure love their sandwiches. You’d see what I mean if you went to Florence and checked out the queues at All’Antico Vinaio (or any of their branches). However, Volterra has its own queue-generator in La Sosta del Priore! The food is excellent.
And of course a quick walk to burn the calories!
That evening we tried a place we’ve only ever gone to a couple of times in 4 or so years: Antica Taverna. It’s one of those places that has everything on the menu (i.e. pizza and pasta), so we kinda shunned it for maybe being a bit too touristy. However, we thought we’d give it another shot as places can change. We were glad we did. While the food didn’t light up the night, it was still pretty good, and the service was super-friendly. They had a little display of fresh porcini, so I went over to check it out – the smell of fresh porcini is amazing!
Home and bed.
The next day we met friends and had them stay over – but then something pretty catastrophic happened. More on that next week!
Well, Marie and Lorenzo had guests to greet that morning, so it was a quick goodbye before they headed back to Vicopisano. We agreed to meet for lunch that day. We were also going to meet Marisa and David, who have their own YouTube channel, there too, so there was a modicum of excitement! In addition, it was also Collectors Market day in Vicopisano – a triple-treat.
We wandered out to main Piazza to walk Marie and Lorenzo back to their car, only to be greeted by a few dozen classic cars. There seems to be some sort of car rally in Volterra nearly every month, and there were some beauties.
I shot and edited a shortish music-video style thing too.
After seeing them to the gate, we wandered back and spent a couple of hours in the apartment. We had to meet the gang for lunch, and so it wasn’t much of a wait before we had to get to the car for our journey to Vicopisano. It’s only an hour there.
We were soon reunited and first met Marisa and David near the centre of town. They were in town to shop for furniture and oddities for their new place in Chianni. Before we assisted them, it was time for lunch! Lorenzo and Marie brought us to Aurora Taverna Toscana – it was an all-in-one bar, patisserie and restaurant. Heck, they even own the gelateria next door – the full gamut… you’d never have to leave!
We had a lovely 3-course lunch, and took our sweet time about it too, which was great as we had a great time just getting to know each other and having some laughs. They are all such super people! The food was delicious, especially the pork steaks I got, which were cooked in a yummy peppercorn sauce.
At the end of lunch, I caught one of the most fabulous smells you can ever smell: fresh porcini. It was the beginning of the season. Let me tell you, dried porcini have absolutely nothing on fresh! They smelled amaaaazing.
A couple of hours later (a long Tuscan lunch!), we wandered up one of the streets to check out the collectible stalls. Marisa found a nice mirror and table and I played the role of boy scout and helped carry it back to her car.
Why not check out Marisa’s own video of the day, guest-starring yours truly and Niamh!
We got back to Volterra, and arriving at Piazza XX Settembre we heard some wonderful close-harmony singing from the old cathedral, which is now the Museum of Sacred Art. I’d been to Volterra on and off for a little over 4 years by then, and I’d never heard of the Blessing of the Salt, but this is exactly what we caught. We listened to the wonderful voices for a while (I am a sucker for harmonies), but couldn’t enter the church, as it seems you had to book. I got a little footage, which I edited into mini-video:
We stayed in that night, as we were quite full from the big lunch. We just chilled and screenwatched. Next week we’d be back in work!
This weekend was a weird one and no mistake. I genuinely have next to no memory of what we did that day. I see the photos, but they are something of an abstract collection. I know we stayed in Volterra and had something to eat. That is the extent of my memory of that Saturday.
Here are some photos. Make of them what you will.
Sunday, September 4th
Ok, this day was more like it!
I got up and walked to the entrance of the abandoned psychiatric hospital. I didn’t take many photos because, by golly, I filmed the walk instead. It was actually shorter than I thought it would be.
So that was cool, but what would be cooler is if I finally somehow make it inside the grounds. The stairs pictured above I’m pretty sure lead there, but what isn’t pictured is a collapsed fence which might be only slightly tricky to climb over on the way up, but would be a total cow on the way back.
It is possible to arrange a tour at least to the inner grounds, but I simply haven’t done so yet. Some day, I swear!
Anyway, as handy as it was getting there, I would have to climb back…
After I’d tidied myself up and hung around ’til lunch time we went to La Sosta del Priore – they have a new website, with a shopping area! Congratulations, Ilenia!
You can’t go wrong here – the burger was so yum. Hard to imagine that soy mayonnaise would taste so good!
The Etruscan museum (aka the Guarnacci Museum) is one of the oldest museums in Europe, and also one of the most important Etruscan museums. It had been renovated recently, and I wanted to return to it to show my support. It’s lovelier than ever now, and besides having Etruscan artefacts, it also houses pre-historic and Roman era goodies.
There are still rather a lot of Etruscan sarcophagi/funerary urns, but it’s interesting to see how they progressed from actual urns, to mini-sarcophagi, and became more and more intricately carved.
I have been before, so I won’t expand any further on it, except to say that it is a must-visit and is one of the attractions covered by the Volterra visitors card. You can pick this card up at either of the tourist information offices in Piazza dei Priori. It allows you to visit a bundle of places at a discounted rate.
However, they did have a couple of new things: items from the new dig site of the Roman Amphitheatre and the a kick-ass attic room, which affords you some fab views from above much of the city.
But we didn’t stop there for the day, oh no!
The Astiludio is a medieval-style, flag waving/juggling competition held between cities. Volterra’s team are actually pretty dang good at it. We managed to grab some seats at a temporary set of bleachers and watch the opening ceremony as the teams marched into the square. There were a senior and junior categories. I don’t think Volterra won either category this time around, although it looked to us that the senior squad were the best on offer that day. Sure what do we know?
As you will see in the live-streamed videos below, the Volterran’s are really into it and are proud of their squad.
You’ll also see a special appearance by Geralt of Rivia. Hehe.
And there are a smattering of pics too.
Afterwards, we went for a little stroll and enjoyed aperitivi at Osteria dei Fornelli, the prime spot for enjoying the sunset in Volterra.
Of course, we had food there too, with me occasionally running out to grab some snaps of the slowly-descending sun.
Afterwards, we strolled through the night to our beds.
I hope you enjoyed the read, and watch! Let me know what you think!
My brother had an early flight home, so we all got up at sparrowfart and drove to Pisa airport. We dropped him off under a golden sky, as the sun had only been peeping above the horizon for 20 or so minutes. As always with goodbyes at Pisa airport, we feel like we’re giving people a bit of the bum’s-rush as free parking in the drop-off carpark only lasts 10 minutes and God forbid if we have to spend a couple of quid on parking. The brain is a funny thing!
Anyway, we waved goodbye and had a think about what we could do for breakfast. I suggested Marina di Pisa, as we’d heard generally that it was nice. I drove there. I love to drive, especially on roads I’ve never been on before. We travelled to where looked sort of built up right next to a carpark by a marina, on the northern side of the town. Unfortunately, everywhere was still shut at that hour, and the carpark was barriered – and probably for boat-owners anyway. Thanks, Google! (In fairness, she doesn’t let us down often).
We found another pay-spot farther south, on a street surrounding a small green area. We got out and headed for the promenade. How rocky it all was; not what we were expecting. It turns out that the premium sandy beaches are much farther south, pretty much beyond the town. Still, the walk was pleasant, and refreshing.
We stopped off at a large kiosk-like place – Il Barrino – for a pastry and a cup of something hot (coffee for Niamh, hot chocolate for me), and we were hugely impressed by the cornetti we got there. The pistacchio cream was awesome!
We carried on our walk until the town began to disappear. There were people (with dogs – lots of dogs) out and about strolling and chatting, but the town itself was still quite quiet. It was the last day before tons of Italians returned to work, plus it was still super-early and a Sunday.
We turned back, and walked on the shadier side of the street, to see if we could get a good nose in at a couple of bars that were open. Hey, it’s gelato-time somewhere on Earth, am I right? Alas, no – no gelato in sight, but we got our steps in. Also, I earned a scouting merit badge by helping a little old lady cross the street. That was my Karma sorted for the year!
We got back to the car and discussed what we’d do for the rest of the morning. We had zero alternative plans, so I suggested we drive the coast all the way to Cecina, and from there turn back towards Volterra.
Being the chief photo-taker of us, it meant that no photos would be taken on the trip, unless we stopped off somewhere – which was likely given that we might have lunch, plus new places to explore on the way. We turned off tolled and motorway routes in Google and let rip! We headed south, and drove past tons of premiere lidi (pay-beaches) on the way – I guess this is where all the sandy beaches are in Marina di Pisa.
The sun was out much more strongly by now, and people and vehicles were beginning to mill about. I found myself having to be extra-vigilant on this drive, as people were walking across roads with little warning as they crossed to and from the beach and water-park entrances. Some roads were multi-laned and the Italians (bless them) seem to not know what an indicator is when it comes to navigating lanes and roundabouts. I had to be careful for sudden lane-switching too. Mildly stressful, but I still enjoyed the drive.
The coast is relatively densely populated, and in stretches it’s not uncommon for a town to pretty much merge into another. It wasn’t too long before we hit the busy town of Tirrenia. We drove through a large circular ‘square’, and almost stopped, because they had some sort of market or festival one. There were a lot of stalls and, if memory serves me correctly, a mini ferris wheel or other carnival rides set up. The place was thick with traffic and people, though, and I couldn’t see any signs of obvious parking, so we continued our journey farther south.
Tirrenia became Calambrone, which brought us to the northern outskirts of one of my favourite places to be: Livorno. Today, however, we wouldn’t be stopping – we would drive past it. I was curious as to the route that Google would take us through Livorno. Well… it took us not quite through, but around – clockwise. Livorno is a port town, and therefore is something of a distribution centre for many physical goods. We drove past oil and chemical refineries galore, warehouses and a few massive spaces where hundreds, if not thousands, of new cars were parked awaiting transport.
It was an… interesting part of the city, if not the most flattering – but every city has industry somewhere. We circled around the city, and were eventually spat out near the coastal route again, after a few adjustments. After a while the road closely followed the coast, with hints of towns here and there. Cars and scooters were parked on the side of the road for those people hitting the beaches. There weren’t as many as I’d seen before, given the time it was.
I wanted to stop off in one or two places, but we settled instead on stopping somewhere for lunch. As we approached Cecina, we went through the fabulous Castiglioncello, which we’d already been to a few year previously. I had planned to stop in Rosignano Solvay, as we hadn’t been there before, and I wanted to check out the famous white beaches. However, it wasn’t quite lunch yet and I was having difficulty finding a place to park. So, on we went – me, a little disappointed.
The next town up, Vada, was also somewhere we’d never been before. As soon as we’d driven in, I was determined we’d stop this time, as once again there were stalls everywhere. We slowed to a crawl and kept our eyes peeled for places to park. We found one – a quarter circle off a side street and got a space with little problem.
We walked up and down the main market street. It was wonderfully colourful in the sunshine, and unlike Volterra’s market, there was actually a stall selling fresh pasta. I wouldn’t mind a permanent shop like that in Volterra itself! Other than that, it was pretty much a standard market, but it’s always fun to walk around them. The best thing: the sounds: the cries of the hawkers, and the general buzz of the Italians as they request, bargain and pay.
We walked around the town a bit and found another part of the market in a gravelled town square, along with a church and a monument to Garibaldi. The day was quite hot by then, and we were also a little on the hungry side. Niamh, being a fan of all things littoral (admittedly, I love the coast too), we decided to forego the chance of excellence in favour of location.
Vada doesn’t have an old-town, per se (like most Italian towns directly on the coast), but we wandered past an old fortress tower, which seemed to be the last thing around that was more than a century old. We also bypassed a gelateria I wanted to try later!
Anyway, we got to the beach, but the call of our tummies was louder than the roar of the sea. We had a choice of two places by strand entrace. We went to the one that scored a little highly on Google. Due to my theory on promenade-based restaurants, I lowered my expectations and I guess they were met. Niamh was a bit disappointed with her seafood pasta, and I thought my pappardelle al cinghiale was passable. As always, though, the staff were lovely. Although it looks empty in the photo below, a group of young men who obviously knew the waitress joined nearby and added a bit of buzz about the place.
We briefly took to the strand shortly after lunch. It was cute and small, but large enough for a dad to play frisbee with his young son. It had golden sand too, which is always a bonus.
You can watch a video of our day here:
After we’d wandered about the beach, we headed back to the car, via the gelateria we saw earlier. Except that despite the weather, it was still closed. It looked like there was movement in it, but it was past its opening hour on Google. Rather than wait around, we went to another gelateria/bar on the other side of the square (Bar Gelateria Firenze). Its scores weren’t as high, but it was open!
We grabbed our tubs of selected flavours, and camped in one of the covered tables outside. The gelato was lovely, but this moment was also a bit of a highlight for me too. It was just so chill, people-watching and listening to a cool Italian blues playlist. I Shazam’d one of the songs (D. Man – Ain’t Enough Whiskey – fab and moody guitar work) and it’s on my phone. We hung around for just a little while after, before recommencing our journey home.
Rather than skirting directly around Cecina, we instead to take a backroad route for the rest of the way, only we didn’t quite manage it. In fact, maybe 20 minutes in I recognised some of the backroads we took leaving from Riparbella a couple of days ealier.
Side Note: Riparbella. I had completely forgotten we drove to Riparbella the same day we explored Casale Marittimo with my brother. I’d always seen it from afar, about three quarters of the way up a hillside, but I’d never been there. Anyway, we trundled up and found a carpark, but it was a bit outside the town, so we got back in, drove up the ferocious slope and into town. We found the commmunal free carpark, but had to squeeze between buildings to get to it. It snaked in single file down a couple of levels, and I was mildly traumatised getting the spot, but grabbed one and had to fight may way through a little undergrowth, as the driver, getting out of the car. The carpark looks like it was being ugraded at the time, so perhaps it’s in better shape now.
I cannot explain why, but I didn’t take any photos. That is not a reflection of Riparbella. The centre part of the old town is perfectly nice and peaceful. We saw a number of cyclists tackle the roads, and I think it’s an ideal stop along a tough route, to be possibly only attempted by experienced/fit practitioners. I remember some of us needed a bathroom, and we had seen an opened bar at a piazzetta (around here). The owner was sitting at a table outside, but we opted for a table inside and were afforded the blessed relief of some well-working air-conditioning – a real rarity in Tuscany!
While we took turns using the facilities, we grabbed some drinks and snacks and enjoyed a 20 or so minutes in the place – and enjoyed a little slice of Tuscan small-town life, as a woman brought a couple of her kids in and the bar-owner treated them to some sweets.
On the way back from Riparbella, I decided to head farther up the hill, to see where else we could explore. Once out of town, the roads became quite narrow – very narrow, in fact, but we enjoyed looking out for the well-groomed tenute along the route. I was tempted to call into one or two to try their wines, but home was calling.
Anyway, back to the ‘present’. We found ourselves back on one of these back-roads, and again we hadn’t travelled as far as I thought, coming out maybe only 15 minutes past Cecina, and back on the main road (the SS68).
We chilled for a while, before heading out to a few places to try their aperitivi.
We ended up camping at the Enjoy Cafè Bar Sportivo – a jazzband was playing right in our faces, but they were a tight combo. The nibbles were nicer than the drinks, but we were happy enough. Indicentally, this place has upped its gelato game too!
Finally, after the slight disappointment that was lunch, we over-compensated by once again heading to Del Duca for dinner. Edit: It was because it was our anniversary! lol. Huge irony that I forgot that! Anyway, Del Duca it never disappoints. At the time of writing this, they have since sold the establishment on, and we have yet to try the fare there now. We’re returning in mid March, and will do just that!
As always, we enjoyed the food tremendously and had a little digestivo afterwards. They’re so good at alleviating that full-belly feeling. And we must have been full – where are the desserts?!
Back to the apartment for chilling and bed.
I hope you enjoyed the read – please let me know what you think in the comments below.
About 15 kilometers away from Volterra, across the valley, lies the old mining town of Montecatini Val di Cecina (hereinafter simply referred to as Montecatini – but not to be confused with the town of Montecatini Terme, which is somewhat farther north in Tuscany – also lovely).
We had visited it back in December 2018, when we first picked up the keys to the apartment – but before I started blogging. Resting in a hill, it too commands superlative views of the rolling hills and woods, but that last time, it was completely foggy and we couldn’t see past 100 meters. It was well past time that we made another visit, and I can say that after having done so, it won’t be that long before we visit again.
Is was essentially a mining town – chiefly copper – but the mine is now exhausted, but some of it is still open for exploration… well…. as part of a guided tour, anyway. So that’s what we were going to do today.
We drove through the town itself (we would back for an explore later) and directly to the free carpark of the mine itself. There should be loads of parking there, and you could potentially use it as a base from which you can explore the surroundings on-foot, without attending the mine museum at all.
We wandered into the ticket-office and had a family of Dutch people step in front of us – it turns out they had booked. We were still lucky enough to buy tickets upon walking-in. So do please book in advance if you’re going. I linked the site above. We all had to wear a hard-hat. As usual, the strap had to be adjusted to its max so it would fit my ENORMOUS head. Seriously, it’s deceptively cantaloupe-like. It surprised the heck out of the man fitting it. Anyway, the cost of the tour was €7 per adult. That sounded pretty good value, but we didn’t realise how good it was
The tour was split into two groups: English-speaking and Italian-speaking. The lady who delivered the Italian tour had great English and she was very engaging. She gave us the history, and we had a walking tour around the first level. We passed by the stairs to the second level. They were lit up and just deemed to go down endlessly, but were blocked off\. We hit a chamber which was a little warmer, because the shaft (railed and safe!) went down the entire depth of the mine, so warm air was circulating up, as it does (thanks, Science!). If I had one complaint about the tour, is that we didn’t get to go down to the second level. However, we were taken outside to the sifting and mining equipment and shaftworks.
It’s a fascinating place, and I strongly recommend a visit. At the end, the guide passed around some ore for us to weigh up. By the end of the tour we realised that the tour took around 80 minutes. Not too shabby for for €7 a head! We were unlucky in one other way, but you’d have to see it in the video below (basically the German and Dutch families accompanying us were a basketball team – I’ve never felt so much like a Hobbit in all my life!).
If it looks like I didn’t take too many photos, you’d be right – I spent most of the the time filming. You can catch a chunk of the tour below:
Lunchtime! We scrambled into our tiny Fiat Panda, marvelling at the towering Continentals as they drove off. We needed some food. There are a few places to go in the village of Montecatini itself, hanging off the main square. Last time we visited, we parked in a carpark leading off the main square up a lofty ramp. Going up wasn’t a problem. Coming back down inevitably meant we scraped the underside of our bumper. This time, we parked in the much more level, free place on the edge of town and walked in.
Because we had much better visibility, we were able to see that the village from the western approach looked absolutely gorgeous! Wow!
We went to Ristorante Pizzeria La Terrazza sul Borgo on the square. I was hungry enough for two courses, so I ordered two primi – a bean and kale soup, and a sausage and mushroom pici dish. Niamh got an amatriciana and my brother a pappardelle with wild boar (not pictured below). Because I’d ordered two primi, by golly I *got* them as two primi. In fairness, that doesn’t happen very often – restaurants will servce one after the other as separate courses. So, I had two dishes to juggle at the same time.
The food was nice. I really enjoyed my pici.
We left the restaurant and then took a stroll around the residential part of town – which is the hilltown proper, really. And like most hilltowns, offers several rewards for those who like to explore these urban mini-mazes. It’s a hilly walk up to one of the town, and as usual when walking about in a medieval place on a hill, always look behind you in case you miss some amazing views.
We strolled up and down through town, pausing to stroke the occasional cat, and to allow me to go astray to grab an epic shot of Volterra from across the valley. One of the best shots I’ve ever taken, I think.
We finished our walk in the Campo Santo Vecchio. It offers some grand panoramic views, provided you are over 165cm tall!
We went back through town, past the square.
As you may have spotted in the two galleries above, the light had gotten poorer, as clouds began to gather over the town. By the time we’d gone past the village proper on the way to the car, it had begun spitting rain. And then it absolutely tipped down when we were within 100 meters of the carpark, so we trotted there and hid safely from the rain. It was like actually being in a carwash. Mad rain altogether!
It didn’t let us spoil our time in Montecatini Val di Cecina, though. I would strongly recommend you visit if you’re in the area. A car is certainly required.
Below is a video I took of our walk of this special place.
We didn’t do much else for the rest of the day, except look for a place to eat in the evening. We chose Quo Vadis for the Guinness, the view over the ruins of the Roman theatre, and for food that suits most palates. It was fine.
Home, relaxation and bed. Thanks for reading to the end. Please let me know what you think by leaving a comment!
My brother and I got up and had a walk, mostly inside the walls. We walked past Del Duca, up by the park walls and along the prison fences. We then walked back towards town on the road, but ducked right towards our carpark, before swinging a left at the Alab’Arte workshop. I don’t come here too often, as it’s purely residential – but a change is a good as a rest. We then took the stairs down towards Docciola, before swinging back on stairs to the left. My brother is a hiker, so I wanted to take him on an uppy-downy route (I think that’s what they’re officially called!).
The light that morning was strange, and somehow brighter and more yellow than normal than it usually is on a morning – perhaps some haze diffused the bright sun. Some of the photos as a result (I think!) are wonderful.
We wandered around the carpark in the north-eastern corner of the walls, before taking a look at the Roman theatre ruins and the hills and Apuan Alps beyond. Then we went to Porta San Francesco and from there to Porta San Felice. Finally, what killed us off was the monster climb up Via della Pietraia, at the top of which I took the last shot of the rainbow. It’s a good route, as it takes you all over the town, and keeps cardio going with hillclimbs. We were suitably sweaty by then and headed back to the apartment to eat and shower.
I used to get folded and battered weekly by a Thai lady (they call it massaged), and found it enormously beneficial. I hadn’t had one in a long time, and I felt a little tight after recent walks around Volterra. The problem is, you can’t find a Thai massage place within 20km of Volterra. In fact, the one I found that seemed reputable and was getting good scores on Google (Ban Thai) in Pontedera. We left our guest behind us, as we had every intention of returning in time for lunch.
We parked and I left Niamh off while I went to the place. Niamh crossed the railway tracks into the older part of town (recommended, by the way) for shopping. The shop was closed… d’oh! I called and found out she was open for appointments only. I managed to talk her into giving me an hour. She arrived a few minutes later, and I was suitably chastised into remembering to book in advance next time. In fairness to her, her anger didn’t show in the massage, and I was out an hour later – suitably energised and limber.
I found Niamh about 20 minutes later, and looking at the clock and feeling the aching emptiness in our tummies we decided to forsake my brother and go to lunch. A quick call later (we’d let him know he should take care of lunch himself), we went to a nearby Chinese place. If you are a regular reader, you’ll know that we are on an eternal quest to find a Chinese restaurant in Tuscany that does Western-Chinese stirfries tolerably well (fried rice and dumplings are pretty good). After talking to several ex-pats and Italians about this, it would seem that our quest is in vain – but we are nothing if not stubborn (and hungry), and so we carry on regardless.
So now we took our fight to Pontedera. We completely bypassed the Piaggio Museum (Piaggio being the manufacturer of the Italian ‘Vespa’ scooters and ‘Ape’ 3-wheeled mini-mini-vans. We’ll have to go there for another vlog and blog. La Felicità is tantilisingly opposite the museum, but we were just too focused on our bellies.
Some of the resulting meal was nice – again, the dumplings and rice – but the curry was ok, and the chicken with peppers we ordered was like so many other stir-fries: soy and salt. Cheap. I figure that Italians don’t particularly like their veggies mixed in with their meat, so Chinese restaurants tend to give less of a crap about stir fries. It bothers me! Still, there are worse things happening in the world!
Once fed, we waddled back to the car and headed home. I snuck a granita in from L’Isola del Gusto, and then chilled for the afternoon.
That evening we went to the piazza for dinner – to Ristorante Etruria to be precise. As we had all been fed that afternoon just had a single course. They gave us some nice salted flatbread to whet our appetites. It is a touristy place, but sometimes it’s nice to eat in the square, and it has something for everyone.
Ok, maybe more than one course!
We finished off a relaxing evening with a short stroll to Antica Velathri Café for a couple of beers/cocktails.
Home and screen-watching! Thanks for reading to the end. Please leave a comment or question, I’d love to hear from you!
My brother likes to hike, so that day we started from the apartment (well, duh!), and went to the main viewpoint at Piazza Martiri della Libertà, and continued downhill all the way to the bus parking station.
We went back uphill a little to Viale dei Filosofi and circumnavigated along the walls as far as the Docciola free carpark. This was about halfway around. Normally we’d do the full circuit, but we had a busy day ahead of us, so to compensate, we took the less severe stairway at Docciola!
I was pretty huffy by the end of that, but we carried on back towards Piazza Settembre XX and down Gramsci and home again. Not a bad morning’s walk, when taking all the hills into account.
Today, we were going to explore a couple of the main attractions in Livorno we had never fully experienced before: the food market (aka Mercato Centrale) and the fortress. We had been to Livorno on a Sunday back in May, but the market was closed. It’s open all other in the morning ’til about 14:30. We drove a slightly different route, setting Mrs. Google to avoid both tolls and motorways – maybe only 10 km of it was different – we still had to head towards Cecina and bypass it. Still it’s always nice to drive in new areas, and we saw a couple of hilltop towns we hadn’t seen before (we didn’t stop – tight schedule!).
We parked in Parcheggio Moderno. I honestly didn’t think there would be space on a market day, but there were still a good number of spots left. And best of all – it’s just a couple of blocks north of the market. We walked (duh!) from the carpark to the market. What surprised me was that outside the food market building was another market; a more traditional town market. And it was huge. I think that it too is open every morning (exlcuding Sundays). You won’t see as many photos as you might have thought you’d see, as I was filming at the time. You can find the video of our trip to Livorno below.
Now, depending on the entrance you take, you might be hit with a strong fishy smell, but you’ll soon get used to it – and it’s not all over the stalls – mostly in one section.
The central stalls in the fish market area were empty, so I am assuming they operate earlier in the morning. The other sections inside were for fruit, meats, and a few were for breads and pastries. There were even one or two packed alimentari and household goods stalls. We stopped to look and smell at a great many, but only really bought some pastries – mini cannoli. Sadly, these were nothing to write home about – but the stall was lovely to look at. The Italians really do make good with whatever sales space they’re given, especially indoors.
When we’d finished exploring and filming there, we walked to the hippodrome-shaped Piazza della Republica, and from there to the mini-canal system around the fortress. We entered the fortress at the south-western corner, thinking it might be some sort of museum, but it turns out to be a pretty public space. There was a bar on the way in, and a few (closed) food stalls were clustered about, waiting for accompanying food and music festival that were advertised on posters about the place. There was a kids play area beside a short leafy pathway where you could amble along, or park yourself on a bench and watch the world go by.
At the northern end, there is another space by the surrounding wall, which gives a lovely evelated view of the surrounding canal, bridges and colourful buildings. Boats occasionally whizz past, or carefully steer back towards their berthing. A fabulous and peaceful space to chill a while – with plenty of shading from the August sun under its trees.
Now hungry, we walked towards the sea, and along the canals in an effort to find somewhere to have a little bit of lunch. I was breaking one of my own rules (about sacrificing cost and quality of food for a nice view), but maybe me (and Google) would be proved wrong.
We weren’t. They were friendly enough at L’Ancora, but Niamh’s and my fried fish didn’t quite live up to the Livorno promise. My brother, on the other hand, is a reasonably conservative eater and his pasta al ragu was the best of the dishes by a considerable way. As for the compensating view? Well, I got the rough end of the stick… I was looking at dockside trashcans and dumpsters, but Niamh and my brother had this instead.
It reminded me of the contrast that is Livorno: grit and glam. I didn’t take a photo of my view!
When lunch was over, we contemplated heading towards the seaside promenade to show my brother the amazing Terrazza Mascagni, and the aquarium there. We looked at it on the map, but it was a 3km round-walk in little shade, and we just didn’t have the appetite. We *did* however have an appetite for gelato, and once again stopped at L’orizzante for some tasty frozen deliciousness.
And so, home again. Livorno has a bunch of things to see, and that market is right up there with them. Don’t overlook this fun city!
Here’s the video of our trip:
We screen-watched and chilled a while back at the apartment, before building up an appetite to go to Terre di Mezzo for our evening meal. We had pasta and followed that up with dessert. My brother had his expensive beer, making us remember the last time he’d been here and was happy to pay extortionate prices for craft beer (they weren’t extortionate – we misunderstood the pricing!).
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Glad to say we got out of the town today, and explored somewhere we’d never been before! Equally gladly, I got out for a walk that morning too. I left the town via the Porta Fiorentina (the gate nearest us) and walked anti-clockwise around the walls a bit.
The views across the road from San Felice were nice too.
I carried on, and avoided the temptation of cutting the walk short at Porta all’Arco.
I carried walking around the walls – taking fewer snaps, chickened-out of taking the steps at Docciola and re-entered the same way I came out, a full circuit of the walls complete! A gold star for Eoin!
A year previously, we had a wine-tasting session in Marcampo, and met a British couple there. We were talking about places to shop, and they told us to give Empoli a go. Empoli is a moderately large town just off the FI-PI-LI motorway, and with a train station, so it’s easy to get to. We decided to give it a go.
It took us a little over an hour, and we drove through some suburban areas before we got to the town proper. We had aimed towards a large car park in the middle of town – here. It was a pay carpark, but if I remember correctly, it was quite inexpensive. The town seemed quiet to us. Then, of course, we remembered that we were still in August. Moreover, it had just hit lunchtime, so maybe we wouldn’t be doing much shopping after all!
We still had an initial explore of the town:
As we were in a large town, we decided to continue our quest for good Asian food, and found Ravioli Dong. We wanted something a little lighter, and steamed dumplings over in Italy are usually pretty good. It’s just their stir-fry dishes suck. We just went for some spring rolls, fried rice (or Cantonese rice, as it’s known over here) and a collection of mixed dumplings. For some reason, I didn’t take any pics of the dumplings, but at least you get the rice and the menu.
It was nice – we would definitely come here again next time we’re in Empoli. Even their bathroom made us smile!
To the shops! Except… most of them were closed. This didn’t come as a huge surprise to us. While we searched for some open stores, we had a little explore.
We did stop in a household store and Niamh bought… long grater/zester. I remember the young lady behind the being very nice and giving us a discount we had missed. We also checked out a clothes store, but we didn’t find anything that suited us (read: fit us). We had another nose around the town:
We still wanted to do something shop-wise, but too little was open here. Make no mistake, there are still things for us to do in Empoli – explore the rest of the town, the park, dine in a kick-ass Indian restaurant, enjoy a nice river walk along the Arno. We skipped the centre and drove towards Centro Emploli, a decent-sized mall on the outskirts. Getting there was easy and parking was also simple – plenty of spots available at the time of year and day.
Anyway, we wandered around there until we found an OVS. Niamh bought herself a nice blue puffer-jacket, and we explored a bit more. Not being inspired to shop-til-we-dropped, we went to the food court. I was going to get some gelato, but the place we stopped at had mass-made stuff, and I was happy with having an ice-cold coke.
I didn’t take shots of the mall, as although it was nice and clean, there was little interesting in it, by way of design – except for this cool installation outside the gym.
What I would say about it, is that it’s a fab one-stop for most of your shopping needs: clothes, electronics & gadgets, bars, household goods and a big CoOp to boot. It’s also easy-in, easy-out if you fancy skipping town-shopping and stress about parking.
A good, relaxing time was had, so we headed home, satisfied. We chilled a while, and made our way to the second highlight of our day: dinner at Del Duca! We sat outside and unsurprisingly, had delicious food!
Afterwards, Niamh had a coffee, and I had an amaro – a digestiv – one of the most famous examples of something like an amaro is the much-maligned Jaeger. Amari can be hit and miss, sometimes tasting medicinal, but my favourites are ones that have a hint of chocolate in them. This one did! The last time I found an excellent amaro, I forgot to take a snap of the bottle. This time I did!
On the way out the door, we had a quick chat with Ivana, the Del Duca matriarch, and she slipped me a glass of her famous limoncello. It’s usually very strong, but this was more typical of the drink and was delish!
Afterwards, a short walk to help burn away the calories, then telly/music and bed. What else is new?
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Another short one – possibly the shortest ever – as we stayed in an around Volterra.
I went for a walk that morning.
As you can see, I kept it within the walls.
I have to admit that we really must have had a seriously lazy day. Thankfully, we did get out of the main town by going to lunch at a resort called Tuscany Forever. To get to it, we had to drive the winding way to Saline di Volterra, then head out of the town, toward the north-west before turning left at a gravel road which is a 1.7km drive to the carpark of the resort. As the crow flies, you’re almost halfway back to Volterra by the time you hit the carpark!
And this was the only thing wrong with it, for me, anyway. That blasted road is an uncomfortable drive – there and back. The resort itself looks lovely, and well-maintained. There are a couple of pools for residents among the mini-villas used for lodgings. The place is smack bang in the middle of the hills of the Val di Cecina – and commands some stunning views, so if you were looking for a place to chill for a while, without feeling the need to travel, this would seem to be a good solution. If it weren’t for that road. I understand that the road is not private, but the owner has been unable to successfully lobby to get the road properly paved/asphalted. You have to have your wits about you driving there and back.
Anyway, the restaurant there is called Osteria Etrusca, and given that it’s located in a resort, it’s very family-oriented and its dishes are what we would call at home ‘Italian’… i.e. there are common pasta classics, pizzas and steaks – just about everyone should find something here to eat. I hear that at nights they have live music and light the place up impressively.
Here’s some of the surrounding area:
Below is the food. I had a double-carb set of pasta and pizza. Niamh had fritto misto and a pizza. I think I was happier with my choices – I think most diners would be happy enough with the fare. The only thing that put me off while eating was being assaulted by wasps!
We drove back home on the bumpy track and slept off the calories and the heat of the day.
Our guests, bless them, had left a bunch of beers with us, and I had this little beauty:
We watched the sunset, and I finally found some space left in my stomach for my evening ‘meal’:
I had a traipse around the town a bit, watched the telly an then hit the hay!
It was our guests’ last day, but they weren’t leaving until the early evening. It gave them a chance to pick up some souvenirs before they left, including an elusive boar-themed t-shirt.
But first, I had a walk on my own that morning, to and from the archaeological dig site, back and around the town a bit.
Then back to town and the rest of the walk!
After I had tidied myself up and eaten, then we wandered out and did some shopping. We split up into multiple ranks and went hunting.
We met up with our guests at a souvenir store on Via dei Sarti, where, if I recall correctly, a t-shirt of a boar on a motorbike was finally bought by our guests. Both couples bought also walked away with a pro corkscrew – one with a double-flanged lever that we’ve seen all the waiters use here… by touristy themed!
Oh yeah, and this happened:
They are super-handy, especially for lugging around water and my filming tools (gimbal, microphones). Would I wear it anywhere? Absolutely not. If I were to attempt to wear this bag at home, especially, near where I work, I would have seven shades of snot beaten out of me. Dublin is fun!
We then had the sad task of bring our guests back to the airport. Never a fun time, not least because we’ve travelled that road a few dozen times already! But really, we enjoy showing people about the region. A short enough visit, but plenty of scope for a re-visit!
Unsurprisingly, I took no photos of the airport. You only have 10 minutes to get in and get out of the drop-off carpark without charge. This leads to us looking like we’re giving our guests the bum’s rush. Which is pretty much what’s happening. “Bye, then!”, “Buh-bye… bye-b-b-byebyebye!”. Cue validating our card and running for the exit.
What *IS* surprising is that we finally stopped at a store in La Rosa we had been threatening to stop in for 4 years. It has a huge hiking boot outside it and, to our embarassment, spent almost all of those 4 years wondering what the shop sold. Shoes. It sells shoes. In fact, it is a shoe outlet store, and a pretty damn big one at that!
The less we have to pack going over, the better – so I wanted to build a small stock of footwear so one day, all I’d have to bring over is my laptop bag! There is about a half a column of men’s shoes, a half a column of kids’ and 2 columns of ladies’. ‘Twas ever thus. Anyway, Niamh found flip-flops and other shoes for herself, and I found a nice pair for Bugatti’s for myself. I had found another pair too, but what they have on the floor is what they have in stock, and sadly they didn’t have them in my size. Still, I’d put a hole in my goal and was happy enough.
We carried on towards home, rested and then went to Ristorante Etruria for a slightly windy meal outdoors.
And that was that for the day. We were alone again, naturally.