Tag: food

The Livorno Foodmarket (29/08/2022)

The Livorno Foodmarket (29/08/2022)

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 LibertĂ , 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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Shopping in Empoli, eating at Del Duca (26/08/2022)

Shopping in Empoli, eating at Del Duca (26/08/2022)

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?

Thanks for reading. Let us know if you have any queries or comments. We’d love to hear from you!

Lunch Nearby, but in the Middle of Nowhere (25/08/2022)

Lunch Nearby, but in the Middle of Nowhere (25/08/2022)

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!

A Manbag, A Manbag, My Kingdom for a Manbag (24/08/2022)

A Manbag, A Manbag, My Kingdom for a Manbag (24/08/2022)

Not much writing in this one!

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!

Afterwards, we had time for lunch in Torre del Porcellino, because they rock!

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.

Down by the Boboli Gardens (22/08/2022)

Down by the Boboli Gardens (22/08/2022)

You’d think we’d have had enough time on our feet after the Medieval Festival the previous day, but no – today we would be bringing our guests into Florence. As we had already been there a number of times, we would leave them at the Duomo and head off to do one of the things we had failed to do on these numerous trips: visit the Pitti Palace and the Boboli Gardens behind it.

But first: the electrician called! We opened the door, and in stepped a very young man with a tool-belt around his waist. We showed him the beeping alarm and after a quick chat on the phone with a colleague, informed us that yes, it was just a sonic repellant for birds. He clipped the wires necessary to stop it beeping – so I guess that is the end of the reign of terror for the pigeons. Hopefully next time we get to Volterra our terrace won’t be a holy mess.

As Niamh was happy with his quick work, she thought to nab him to wire up the new light over the new mirror in the new bathroom. I showed it to him, and within 10 minutes he had it done – good man! It didn’t have a separate switch, though, so now when you turn the lights on, it’s like bloody daylight in there! First world problems. He couldn’t accept payment then and there, but if I recall correctly, I don’t think the bill was for more than €20! Try getting even just a callout from a utilities guy in Ireland for that price!

When heading to Florence, we usually head straight north on the SP15, remaining north on the SP439dir until we hit larger roads past Montaione. Some of it has nice scenery, so it’s a nice way to show it off. Then we come back via the motorway as far as Colle di Val d’Elsa. However, we took the motorway route both way this time. It’s a little quicker (even though you have to head far south before you can begin to go north towards Florence), and we also wanted to show our guests the amazing countryside of the Val di Cecina and the Val d’Elsa on the way. We had a quick sightseeing stop just 3 minutes drive outside the town at one of Mauro Staccioli’s: L’Anello… one of a number of stark sculptures dotted around the nearby landscapes. This is probably the most famous and Instagrammable of them, due to the surrounding countryside and the hairpin road.

We got to our usual parking spot for a visit to Florence – the CoOp at Ponte a Greve (here in Google maps). It’s free! And you can grab the tram (don’t forget to validate your ticket on-board!) right next to it for a 10-12 minute trip to Santa Maria Novella station in the heart of the city. From there it’s a 10-minute walk to the Duomo.

Here, we left our guests to do their own thing. They wanted to shop and visit an engineering exhibition of Da Vinci’s. Niamh popped into the chemist to get herself some plasters for breaking in shoes, while I grabbed a bottle of water from a Tabbachi. Then we wound our way through the streets of Florence, through the Piazza della Republica and over the Ponte Vecchio.

We were pretty hungry by then, and wanted to find a reasonably-priced, less touristy place to eat. We had a couple of false alarms, before we grabbed a table at Trattoria de’ Guicciardini. Niamh had bruschetta (not pictured) and a nice place of fusilli pasta. I had stuffed pasta in a truffle cream, followed by Peposo – stewed beef in red wine and tons of black pepper. I have been on a quest to find a decent plate of it for some time now. Some pleaces don’t have enough wine, others barely any peppper. It seems to be a dish that’s hard to get right. When I saw the plate that came out, I have to admit I was initially disappointed, as there was an obvious lack of sauce/gravy. But then I tasted it. Absolutely delicious, and definitely the best Peposo I have ever had.

And they know how good it is too. I was halfway through my beef when a short, older lady came out and asked how my Peposo was, and was obviously very pleased at my reaction. I think she was the cook. Good service. If I had one quibble, it would be that our dishes were served according to their order of appearance on the menu. So, Niamh had her bruschetta while I looked on hungrily, then we both had our pasta, and finally I went solo with my Peposo. Served this way, however, you had a better guarantee of your food coming out as it should. Anyway, I would go to have that Peposo again tomorrow, if I could!

We saved some tummy room for gelato after we had visited the gardens.

The Pitti Palace was just minutes away by foot, and we arrived there and immediately trotted for shade. The piazza is super-exposed to the sun. The ticket office was only a few people deep, and we weren’t long in waiting. We noticed that, yet again, the palace itself was closed to the public. One of these fine years we’ll get to see it.

Anyway, we headed in, and I wasn’t allowed the use of my gimbal to shoot video, so I had to rely on my shaky hands. You can see the video farther below.

What can I say? We wandered around the gardens. They are quite lovely, but honestly incredibly warm in August. Additionally, although I’m no gardener or horticulturalist, I suspect there are better times to visit if you want to see some of the gardens within bloom. There were more tropical-style sections, as well as the opulent French-style. Some of it is quite hilly, and so if you’re not a fan of heat, your misery will be compounded with uphill slope or stair climbs. There are taps with cold drinkable water dotted around, however, and decent toilet facilities.

One great thing about them is that you can get some elevated views of the city of Florence, without having to travel out to Piazzale Michelangelo (this is recommended regardless at sunset, by the way – we’ve yet to do it, though).

So, yes – go to the Boboli Gardens – they really are beautiful, but maybe in April/May!

Here’s a short video of our trip!

We were roasting after exploring the gardens, and took a break at the cafĂ© there. This was a mistake. Go out and find somewhere else instead. The menu was overpriced – this wasn’t a surprise. What was a surprise was how awful the shakerati we bought were. Very bitter, no foam and not at all refreshing. They just threw (bad) hot coffee over ice and served. It took a while for us to get served too, as there was only one overworked waitress on duty outside.

Bowed, but unbroken, we started our journey back to the Duomo, where we said we’d meet our guests. On the way, wanted to grab a gelato at place we had been taken to beforeGelateria della Passera, but it was closed. Wah! Instead we had to head back to Gelateria Santa Trinita, where we had also eaten before (I will always remember that eye-rolling girl – she could have been world-weary professionally).

We caught up with our guests nearby the Duomo. They crossed off their two most important goals of shopping and getting to that exhibition. They had also gotten lost, and – still to my astonishment to this day – not found the Piazza della Signoria, the Piazza della Republica or the Arno banks. On the plus side, they still have tons to return to next time!

The day had gotten quite humid and energy-draining, so we left for the tram to take us back to the carpark. We had a couple of pitstops – one in the CoOp for drinks and goodies, and the other in the electronics store to buy wireless mice and keyboards. By chance, we bought a phone holder for the car. This turns out to have been an inspired purchase – it worked like a charm – who needed a infotainment screen after all?!

I also noticed this phenomenon in (I repeat) THE ELECTRONICS STORE:

We chilled for a short while back at the apartment, tidied ourselves up and had yummy pizza in Pizzeria Ombra della Sera, along with a beer or two.

After it was a sit-up for a little more beer, then bed. And a sneaky pic of our neighbour’s amazing courtyard below!

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed it. Please add comments and ask me questions – I’d love to hear from you!

Roadtrip! Our Return in August/September (19/08/2022)

Roadtrip! Our Return in August/September (19/08/2022)

We had to wait another 12 weeks before could return. It’s wrong to wish your life away. And you should try to be grateful for what you do have, no matter where you are – if you want to maintain healthy mental balance. However, it’s hard to put this all into practice when you have a little slice of heaven waiting for you just over 2 hours away by airplane.

It turns out that our usual gateway to our slice of heaven would require you going through the eye of a needle! Car rental in Pisa had become incredibly expensive, and we had an idea to shop from a different airport. We would have to ensure that the agency we rented the car with could take the car back in Pisa, as we would fly out from there. Anyway, we found that Thrifty, who also have an office in Pisa, were renting the exact same car class for the exact same period for almost €1,000 less (although see below!) in their agency in Ciampino Airport, Rome. The name ‘Thrifty’ didn’t exactly instill confidence, but we had no issues throughout our stay.

We decided that it could be a win/win if we got an early enough flight, and found a route we could enjoy. We had 2 basic choices:

  • To head immediately to the coast and take as coastal a route as possible. I love coastal drives, but planning a route would be tricky… as quite often many of the roads right next to the sea are gravelly or sandy, or simply prohibited. Often the road closest to the coasts is still several hundred meters away from the sea, which defeats the purpose. In addition, there are very few coastal towns with true ‘centro storico’ charm in Lazio and Tuscany.
  • Drive inland instead, skirting around inland lakes and exploring a couple of lakeside towns on the way. The towns on the lakeside would have a better chance of being ‘oldy-worldy’.

So we decided on the latter and I plotted, which would take is through parts of Lazio and Umbria – we’d never driven outside Tuscany before. Including a couple of scheduled stops, I estimated it would take us 7-7.5 hours.

Firstly, we had to fly!

We did exactly what we did that last time we flew out: booked the night in the Maldron at the airport so we could walk directly to the airport and get a couple of hours extra sleep. My brother kindly gave us a lift to the hotel. Our room was grand, and we ate in the bar instead of the restaurant this time. Not bad at all. We slept well enough and, with no breakfast, got up at sparrowfart and walked to departures with a nice young lad from Cork. Niamh and I just had carry-ons; he had nothing but the clothes he had on him.

We got there, positively sailed through security and walked much of the way towards the gate to an eatery that was, mercifully, open. We somehow grabbed a table – the airport was freaking mobbed at the gates – and sat by a multigenerational family of 6 or 7. I had a sandwich; Niamh a sweet breakfast – to start the time off Italian style!

Everything was going to plan. We got to our gate, were checked and began our Ryanair cattle-queue to the aircraft, close to the front. The sky was blue, the birds were singing…

So we queued and waited, and waited. We chatted for a bit with a funny older couple who were hung-over and going for Rome for their first time. Grounds-people and boarded staff wandered in and out of the craft. Several times I could have sworn we were going to be allowed to board. But then, alas, a man told us we all had to go back into the terminal. There was an issue with the aircraft, and we would have to wait an hour for another craft.

There was no waiting area in the terminal, so we had to walk past the gates again, which of course meant that we would have to be re-checked on the way out. On the plus side, the dude who said an hour was actually pretty much spot on. Any delay, however, was going to eat into our ability to wander around the couple of towns we had chosen.

Anyway, we were re-boarded an hour later and spend about 30 minutes longer than usual in the air, as we were flying to Rome, rather than Pisa. The flight was pleasant and without incident. We spotted a couple of lakes – one of those at which we would stopping. We disembarked, got through the passport check handily, and broke out Missus Google to search for the Thrifty agency to pick up our car. It had just finished raining heavily and the sun was making its reappearance. It was therefore becoming both hot and humid. Fortunately, we were at the agency in 9 or 10 minutes. We took up a couple of options, not realising one of them was an additional driver. We checked our booking, and lady was quite correct – the booking didn’t include me as an additional driver, and it would cost just under €300 more for the month. It took a little gloss off our saving, and cast a shadow over whether or not we should have flown to Rome in the first place. But was done was done, and the day and the journey ahead were still ours to make the most of.

We got the keys and checked the car out. It was a Fiat Panda and was as basic as cars get – even in these modern times. There was no infotainment screen – almost a basic requirement, but our budget was set and we gave it a shot. In truth, once we had bought the phone holder that clipped into the airvents we grew to love the old girl.

Off we went towards the ringroad around Rome, and then, quite quickly, we seemed to be doubling back before we felt he’d left the airport. And then back again. We re-checked Google and re-input the route, but it seemed to be right. We hit a roundabout that we’d hit before and took a different exit. Very odd. Anyway, we were off and in 3-lane traffic around Rome. Well, they certainly drive a little more aggressively here, don’t they! We were only on the ring road about 30 minutes, before we were back on more the more civilised 2-way roads. About 20 minutes later we entered the lovely lakeside town of Anguillara Sabazia. We very luckily got parking right by the lakeside restaurants, and had a little explore.

Not too far away from us, there was a Ferris wheel, and people lounging in the sun on the dark sand. But the town itself is gorgeous, like a mini Positano, with a pyramid of buildings crowing a nearby hill. A lovely and peaceful place. I took a little video footage you can find farther down below. Sadly, due to the lateness of our flight we had to do the thing we came here for: have lunch. There was no time for a proper explore.

Sadly, this is where things go a little pear-shaped. I have been using Google maps street view to ‘drive’ along the Italian coast, sussing out amenities, restaurants and properties. One thing I can say with reasonable accuracy is that a great many (i.e. not ALL) lakeside/seaside restaurants will force you to sacrifice the quality and price of food for the aesthetics of the location.

I’m afraid this was the case here too. I won’t name the restaurant. Niamh had a passable Amitriciana, but my Cacio e Pepe was utterly abortive. I’m usually not harsh in my food critiques, but this was a crushing disappointment. While the tonnarelli noodles were done well and toothsome (and I at least ate those with relish), the sauce was a total mess. The dish arrived with the noodles swimming in a soup with congealed cheese parked in marble-sized packets through out the serving. I finished the pasta, but left the sauce, which had by then looked like a plate of porridge. I wouldn’t have expected it to be so badly cooked halfway around the world, let alone in Italy, in the region considered to be the home of Cacio e Pepe.

Anyway, let’s move on.

We left Anguillara Sabazia and had a 10km or so pleasant lakeside drive, before we joined the main road towards Passignano sul Trasimeno. We circled around the walls of Nepi, and past tantalisingly close to Narni, Todi and Perugia – but we will have to visit those some time in the distant future. It was anethema to the explorer in me to pass them by, but our time was limited. I really enjoyed the drive, and didn’t really notice it pass by too much. I even drove this leg!

Anyway two and a half hours later we arrived at the large pay carpark to the east of Passignano itself. It lies alongside the lakeside promenade. We paid for the parking ticket and got out of the car and had a little explore.

Lake Trasimeno at around 130 square km is Italy’s 4th biggest lake and something of a boon to the otherwise landlocked, yet beautiful, region of Umbria. The photos above look a little gloomy, but the sun was on the other side of town, and we were just in time for the sunset and a gelato!

The touristic side of town has a lovely promenade lined with restaurants and shops. We only had the gelato and walked a little farther to have a look at the pier and check out the golden hour. Behind the promenade buildings there were hints of an older town, begging to be explored – but alas, we had no time.

The pier was essentially a dock for the ferries which can take people to and from a couple of other towns and a couple of islands. The other plus side to Trasimeno is that it’s not a huge drive away – a little under 2 hours, so it’s a ripe target for exploration at another time. In fact, we had planned on visiting again, but other things got in the way and we never made it.

We got back in the car and Niamh drove the last leg to Volterra. Passignano was a little larger than we expected and the more modern part had its virtues and amenities too – quite a lovely place. On the way home, we actually passed very close to Cortona – another gem of town that we’ll have to visit at some stage in the near future.

We knew much of this road, and it was multi-laned. We didn’t stop off anywhere, and once parked, we wheeled our bags to the apartment, changed the bedsheets and collapsed into our beds.

Below is a short video of some footage of Anguillara and Passignano – take a look!

I hope you enjoyed the read. Let me know what you think!

Why are people so quiet about you, Follonica? (28/05/2022)

Why are people so quiet about you, Follonica? (28/05/2022)

Back in October of last year, we took an inland route to get to Castiglione della Pescaia. On the way back to Volterra, we drove part of the way hom by the sea. Cresting over the top of a hill, we got a dynamite view of Follonica – it looked so lovely from above, and so we promised to return some day. We drove through some of its suburban areas to get to the E80 and home.

It only took us about 7 months to return! Anyway, we went by the quickest route (the aforementioned E80 from Cecina), and I think it only took us about 75 minutes to get there. I thought I had selected a nice free parking spot. It was free for sure, but sadly when walking out of the urban area, Google led us astray a little and took us too far south. I thought we’d have a 5 minute walk. It turned out to be 15-20 minutes. However, it turned out to be something of a happy accident, as we discovered the free beaches south of the main part of the city.

As we were fully dressed and had no beach gear with us, I can’t say what the water was like, but the sand was nice and golden! So, we continued farther north back towards town. There were houses right on the beach, between which we got more glimpses of free beaches. There seems to be an enormous stretch of such strands immediately south of Follonica’s main promenade – a tip for those of you who are tired of the Lido-life and don’t mind lugging your own gear. One thing negative to note is that you would have a bit of a walk to get to any beachside amenities.

Something that it puzzling to me is that I heard Tuscans extolling the virtues of Castiglioncello, Rosignano Solvay, Marina di Pisa (the south part anyway), the Gulf of Baratti, Marina di Cecina – but nobody ever mentioned Follonica. Does it have a bad reputation? Do they just want to keep it secret? I don’t know either way – comment if you do know, though! Maybe Italians just prefer beaches with all the gear ready for use.

Another thing we found, which we wouldn’t have had we paid for parking in the centre, is that Follonica has a Centro Storico (old town)! It’s far from medieval, but is maybe a couple of centuries old. There only seem to be a few blocks in it – so it’s small.

Soon after, we followed the road over and snaked around to the left to get our first view of the main promenade, before which lay yet another free stretch of beach.

There was a ton of free space on this beach, even though it was a Saturday and quite warm. We might come here next time we have a hankering for some sea. We then hit the beginning of the proper part of the promendade and went a little deeper into town, a little past one of the apartment buildings that towers over the rest of the city, and past that pierside building you can see in the distance above.

It was by now the middle of lunchtime, and we were starving. We took the opportunity of being in a bigger town and headed to an Asian restaurant, in our ongoing quest to find somewhere that serves decent stir-fries. We didn’t quite find it. We went here, and found a pleasantly familiar menu, with a few cantonese favourites – it was typically extensive. Like many Chinese restaurants in Italy, they do fried rice and steamed dumplings very well, but it all falls apart in the stir fries. The meat is cheap, the sauces seemingly flavoured with soy or salt – apart from the curries, which are barely passable. I don’t know why this is! It’s annoying and baffling! The veggies were nice and crunchy at least.

We didn’t want to eat too much as we knew we had a dinner date later that evening. The portion sizes are actually quite small, so that was good.

When done, we headed out to burn some additional calories along much of the promenade.

We stopped after about 500m, and it seemed to go on for at least another 5-700m. It was getting warm, so we stopped at a lively gelateria – Sogni Golosi (greedy dreams). On the way there, we passed by a tented area – the town was getting ready to party! I can’t remember the flavours I selected at the gelateria, but I do remember being hugely impressed. Definitely worth a go if you’re in town.

We wandered inland a bit in a rough direction back towards the our parking spot, and I once again was impressed by the centre’s pedestrian areas, packed full of eateries, shops and bars. It was quiet that day, but I can imagine it getting very busy in high-season.

We enjoyed a nice (if lengthy – thanks, Eoin!) walk back to the car, and took the same road home.

Below you can find a very short and shaky video of footage of our day out.

Needless to say, we chilled after we came back, and then we went out for our last meal of this stay in Volterra. Where better than Del Duca? We skipped aperitivi (our lunch was big enough!), and got treated like minor royalty as always! The food was pretty damn good too! I will really miss that place when it closes.

And that was that! We few home the next day and life began as normal on the Monday.

The good news, though? We came back in mid-August to mid-September… met new friends, experienced the Medieval Festival and Red Night again and enjoyed weather than was hot, but thankfully not appressively so. More to follow over the coming months!

Please let me know if you enjoyed this, or if you had any queries about travelling in Tuscany – especially west-central Tuscany. I’d love to hear from you!

A Del Duca Memory (14/04/2018)

A Del Duca Memory (14/04/2018)

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming for this little nostalgic broadcast – yes, you read the date at the top correctly!

In early November the Del Duca family will shut the doors on their restaurant for the last time. In fact, they will no longer be running a restaurant after having run one for over 30 years. Niamh and I will miss them and their wonderful enoteca very much.

We first fell in love with Tuscany back in 2008 after an organised tour brought us to the hilltop towns/cities of Montecatini Alto, San Gimignano and Siena. We were blown away by the beauty of these places, the food and the surrounding countryside. As the years went past, we had other trips to Italy (Rome, Lake Garda, the Amalfi Coast, Sicily), but it was Tuscany that captured our hearts.

Fast-forward nearly 10 years, and we decided that we had enough money saved, and were earning enough to be able to buy a property in Italy. I used Google maps to look for coastal towns in Liguria, Le Marche, Umbria and Tuscany. It turns out there aren’t many hilltop towns right on the coast! So, we looked farther inland, and settled for a deeper scan of Tuscany, as although the prices were higher, air transport there was easier at the time than anywhere else, and Tuscany was just so huge and open, with plenty of things to do and see. That research, which took us nearly 6 months, had us eventually settle on Volterra. I had not heard of it (Niamh had, thanks to the Twilight Series), but I was amazed at how beautiful it was, how central it was and that it had all the amenities we could ever need. We bit the bullet, and made arrangements to meet with VolterraCasa and Milianti. We would arrive in Volterra on April 18th, 2018.

While we waited for that date to come, we entertained ourselves with videos on Volterra, especially ones by David McGuffin and Denis Callan.

The above is Denis Callan‘s video, with a great introductory guided tour by the incomparable Annie Adair.

Below is the video which helped us decide where we’d eat as soon as we’d arrive in Volterra: Del Duca. It’s by David McGuffin.

Aaaannnnyway… we arrived in Pisa in the evening, and took a bus to the farthest car rental area (thanks, Ryanair). I cannot for the life of me remember what we drove, but I remember it was the first time either of us drove on the other side of the road! I remember (being the passenger) that we always seemed so close to the verge! I think this is a common occurence with those who first do this. You lose the fear of it eventually.

Some time later (after super-careful driving) we arrived at our hotel outside the walls – Hotel Porta all’Arco. We chose this place as it had (just!) enough parking for our car, without having to pay for it. The place had advertised a bar, but really it was tiny and rarely manned. There wasn’t much choice in breakfast, but it was adequate. What sold the place for us were the people and the rooms. They were so friendly, and the rooms were spacious, well-decorated, air-conditioned and clean, the hotel being a converted palazzo. As I had not started my blog at that point, I didn’t take as many photos then as I do now. While I can say I was hampered by the iPhone’s 7 limitations, in reality you’ll see below that sadly my shot composition was generally terrible too!

After we had settled and freshened-up, we strode confidently outside. Then we took a good look up. I’m not going to lie: we thought ‘Oh shit!’. We had been to three other Tuscan hilltowns/cities at that stage: Montecatini Alto, San Gimignano and Siena. To get uphill to those, you have a funicular, a long gently-sloped road (to the most commonly used entrance) and multiple escalators, respectively. This time, we’d be using our own legs to travel just under 250 meters, but about 50 meters up…. on average a 1/5 gradient. That’s pretty steep!

We walked the first 50m, across a zebra crossing and up steps, then more steps, then a steep gravel slope, then even more steps until we reached Porta all’Arco itself, and the very first photo (fittingly) I ever took of Volterra.

Because we had never really heard of the phrase piano piano! we powered on up Via Porta all’Arco after a short break. We were pretty breathless when we reached the top!

It was so quiet! This was ok by us, as this town, if we could find a property, would be our chill zone.

When we had reached the top, I consulted Google maps, and saw that Del Duca was 30m to our right. I said to Niamh “Let’s go to that place the beardy lad recommended!” (Sorry, David!). So, in we went. It, too, was relatively quiet. We didn’t know the family, and so can’t quite recount who we were greeted by. I can remember for certain that Claudia wasn’t there, but Genuino was. Anyway, our waitress for the night was really lovely, and settled us at a large circular table, in a corner, quite near the entrance to their wine cellar. If I recall correctly, Alessandro Calabrese, their head chef, hadn’t been too long there – please correctly me if I’m wrong! I didn’t know that at the time, and assumed Ivana was still heading things up in the kitchen.

While we waited for our first course, two amazing things happened: we were given some bread, and then an amuse bouche. The latter was one of the most extraordinary things I had eaten up to that point in my life – I remember the crispy pork belly and anchovy on the top, but I can’t remember what the central part was. Here is a picture of it from a later blog. Do you remember Willy Wonka’s Three Course Dinner gum? This was like that! I took it all in one bite. I got the crisp of the belly first, then that was followed by a savoury pesto-like flavour of the middle substance, and finally at the end was a gentle hint of fishiness from the anchovy. It was incredibly tasty! Then we destroyed everything by thinking we were sophisticates and ordered olive oil and balsamic for our bread. Brutta, brutta, BRUTTA!!

Oy! We were obliged, which was nice of them. Our primi arrived, and I grabbed my first ever taste of cinghiale – I had the pappardelle. Niamh was likewise blown away by her ravioli with their delcious sweet and sour tomato sauce, topped with crispy pancetta.

Our secondi were just as tasty. I had fish with cabbage (a first for me!) and Niamh had lamb 3-ways.

I think we both had a chocolate fontante bomb for dessert. So yummy. We actually made both the sweet and sour tomato sauce and and these desserts when we attended a cookery class in the Del Duca’s home.

We had some wines from the Del Duca’s own range, so the waitress asked us if we wanted to have a look inside the wine cellar, which is in a small cavern at the back of the restaurant. I took a photo (with reflections) from outside the door, but not inside the actual cellar itself – which is a shame, as it was impressive!

We left, fully satisfied, and took some more awful photos outside.

So that was our first ever night in Volterra! We went on to visit 3 more times in 2018, eventually sealing the apartment deal in December. We got a lovely little plate from the Del Ducas as a warming gift.

We’ll miss this restaurant hugely, and can only hope that the new owners will still offer Volterrans a fine-dining option going forward.

The Del Ducas themselves are still carrying on with their other businesses (their highly recommended agritourismo and wines), so I am sure we will still see them about the town. And we have been offered the use of their pool on more than one occasion – we’ll take them up on the offer some day! So, thanks folks for all the fun times we’ve had in the restaurant. I think you are doing the right thing in slowing down a little. Your health is your wealth, and in the Pisan colline, there is no finer place than to take as much time as you can grab and enjoy your surroundings and each other’s company. In bocca al lupo!

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 CafĂ© 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!