Tag: irish

Palazzo dei Priori and the Etruscan Museum

Palazzo dei Priori and the Etruscan Museum

I needed to look pretty for my trip back to Dublin, and went to the nearby barbers for a head-shave.  Fortunately, he was standing outside with three buddies, gossiping, and was able to see me immediately.  The dude takes his time and does an awesome job, but getting it done here is at least 25% more expensive than back at home.

Anyway, when that was done and paid for, I went to the Palazzo dei Priori.  It is reputed to be the oldest townhall in Tuscany, its construction beginning in 1208 and finishing in the middle of the same century.  It’s still the centre of local government today.

Inside, is the main seat of government, along with large areas for exhibitions.  Finally, at the top floor, there is a stairway up to the bell-tower which gives you excellent views of the town below.  It costs €6 per adult to enter.

At the time of writing this, they had exhibitions of modern sculture, and a photo-log of patients in the ex-mental hospital.

After finishing up there, I contemplated having lunch, but thought I could squeeze in a visit to the Guarnacci Etruscan museum before my belly really started to complain.

I went the shortest route, which involves a steep climb past the park, and then down some steps into Piazza XX Settembre, and then a 100m walk to the museum itself.  The museum is one of the oldest in Europe, having opened in 1761.  It is €8 in for an adult, and is housed in a lovely medieval palazzo.

Collections there include jewellery and other items found in very old funerary urns, a warrior’s burial tomb (along with his artefacts), hellenistic-style decorative urns, coins from the old Roman republics, statuary, and of course the omnipresent carved funerary urns.
If I had to level one criticism of the museum, it’s how prolific the urns are – there are rooms and rooms of them.  Most are carved in alabaster, and as they become newer, their carvings become more intricate and impressive – but the whole scene begins to bore a little after a while.
Note also, that most of the descriptions do not have translations – but you can get an audio guide with select descriptions for an extra €3.

There are some masterworks in the museum.  The first is a very creepy-looking statue called Ombra della Sera (shadow of the evening), and is of an elongated child.  It’s extremely modern-looking for something that’s well over two millenia old – this probably adds to the creep factor.  You can buy copies of it all over town.  I might get one for myself.

The second is the funerary urn top of the ‘married couple’, an exquisitely carved older couple in alabaster.  There is a school of thought that Etruscans carved people in their proper likenesses for these urns, but other scholars say that’s hogwash.

The last, and most controversial, is an early bust of (possibly) Apollo.  You may notice that written in a large font beside it is the word ‘COPIA’, meaning that this bust is a copy of the original.  The regional government in Florence saw fit to pilfer it for an Etruscan collection of their own.  So annoyed was the mayor of Volterra (at the time – there’s since been a new one) declared it the ‘second sacking of Volterra’, the first being the Medici conquest in the 1470’s.  Such language seems a little grandiose, but I totally understand it when Florence is already swimming in other cultural and historical goodies.

I met Niamh in La Mangiatoia for lunch. She had a veggie pizza, I had a burger – and a lovely one it was too – no photos of mine, I’m afraid.

Not much was done for the rest of the day, except that we went to La Sosta del Priore for sandwiches.  Niamh had their burger, while I had a fab little mix of wild boar salami, pecorino, grilled zucchini and caramelised onions.  That way you get fresh, sweet and salty one after the other.  Fab stuff.

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We did nothing else for the rest of the evening.

I got up for my last walk of this 9-week stay – we are heading home tomorrow morning.  I made it a short route, but Volterra didn’t disappoint with more fantastic cloudscapes.

We don’t have anything planned, except for packing today.  This may be the last blog, I’m afraid – but I’m toying with the idea of posting about other places I’ve been to in Tuscany, but not during this 9-week stay – there are a good number of them.

Arrivederci!

Inside Volterra’s Cathedral

Inside Volterra’s Cathedral

Lounging ’til half past noon, we then went out to Quo Vadis (the Irish bar) for a bit of lunch.  Niamh had a Milanese escalope with fries, and I had peposa (black pepper beef) and a side of beans.  Niamh’s was lovely… mine was ok… I was expecting the stew to be a little richer.  I think the strategy going forward will be to only try stews in places with much smaller (or daily) menus.  The Guinnness was nice, though!

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After lunch, on the way to the cathedral, we stopped off at a little courtyard we hadn’t been to before.

The cathedral itself (as I’ve said in other blogs) is newly re-opened and very humble looking on the outside, especially when compared to cathedrals in Pisa, Lucca, Siena and Florence.  The inside is pristine, and houses some amazing artwork.  It’s dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta (edit: I had originally said Saint Linus, the second Pope, who was born in Volterra – my mistake!)

I hope to visit Palazzo dei Priori over the next couple of days – the two of them were built back-to-back for historically political reasons – more to be revealed in that blog.  The layered marble adorning the inside is, in fact, faux – it’s been painted – but still looks fab.  The layered marble in sections on the outside is the real deal – and designates that the building is religious in nature (in the Pisan-Romanesque style).

I stopped off for a lovely caffé milkshake on the way home, where I vegetated for the afternoon.

That evening, we went to La Terra di Mezzo for a fun time with the gang there, and to have some food, of course.  It was a year to the day that Niamh and I turned up in Volterra for the second time, and Niamh’s shoulders were stiff from anxious driving, so the restaurant owner gave her a massage – and a worryingly good one it was too.  He remembered that, and also that he refused to massage the glutes I said were also sore! 

Anyway, we had a little amuse-bouche of pecorino with what I think was homemade chili jam – amazing!  Niamh then had carbonara with smoked pancetta (or guanciale – I didn’t ask), in a herb sauce.  I had tagliolini with white truffle.  White is even rarer than black, is less aromatic and more delicately flavoured.  It was the first time I’d had it, and the restaurant owner held a bag of them under my nose.  Yum!  The dish itself was nice – the truffle delicately flavoured; a bit woody.  I think I prefer the black, though – their dish of papardelle with pancetta and black truffle in a lemon ricotta sauce is a much better plate – one of the best pastas in Volterra.

You may note the lack of photos – sorry!  I was too caught up.  We had dessert – Niamh a chocolate soufflé and I some apple strudel.  We were given shots afterwards – limoncello for Niamh and grappa for me.  The grappa, while strong, goes down smooth here.  I was offered a second one, but got a shake of the head from Niamh.

Instead, we said our goodbyes and strolled a minute up to Antica Velathri Cafe for a cocktail each.  I know I’ve said it before, but the dude is a good mixologist!  Niamh had a bellini, complete with crushed peach, rather than just juice.  I often ask him to invent something for me, giving him a base flavour.  I asked him again to invent something with a coffee base.  We were waiting for our cocktails as long as we were for our first courses, but it was worth it.

He came up with Niamh’s super-looking bellini, and something under a transparent cover.  He had put together vermouth, gin and kahlua over ice, and smoked it with pine wood.  Bananas!  But it tasted of coffee, botanicals and woody smoke – I loved it.  He only charged us €10 for both cocktails together, and we also bought a few small almond cookies baked in-house.

Today we hope to go out to visit a couple of towns. Hopefully more on that tomorrow!

Who wanted to go to Navacchio anyway?

Who wanted to go to Navacchio anyway?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Stroll in Siena

A Stroll in Siena

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We had another explore and documented that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Walkabout in Florence

A Walkabout in Florence

Well, we found a decent place to park in Florence, which acts as an unofficial Park and Ride for line 1 of their tram system, so I was able to bring you this update!  Note that it’s photo-heavy.  Note also that we didn’t enter any of the attractions, as we’d been in Florence a couple of times before and had already hit most of them.

We probably left a little late, and instead of taking the dual-carriageway route, we went via the Pisa road, and a scenic route.  Some parts of it are really lovely, and it offers a much less-stressy approach to the CoOp carpark, but it is a bit longer than Google Maps suggests – maybe 15 minutes longer.

I took some snaps along the way, but Mr. Sun, God bless him, did his level best to screw up my shots, as I was facing him for most of the route.

The carpark is for the CoOp on Nenni.  It is completely free, but to get to town, you have to get the tram to the central train station, and walk a little from there to the more popular attractions.  You pay for tram usage by time, rather than by number of stops.  We selected the base ticket (90 minutes) both there and back, and it only cost €1.50 per person for each journey.  What we forgot to do (on both legs of the journey) is to validate the ticket using the machines inside the trams.  You run the risk of getting a fine if you don’t.  We got lucky.

Anyway, we got off at the train station, and walked through the underground shopping centre and a street or two, to hit Piazza di Santa Maria Novella.  Despite spending 5 nights in the city a few years ago, I don’t think we’d ever been here!

Onwards, then, towards probably the series of chief attractions in Florence: the Cathedral, belltower and baptistry of Santa Maria del Fiore.  The architecture is stunning, with incredibly detailed doors and columns.  It is one of the most impressive things you’ll see in all of Tuscany – really… the outside of the Pisan square simply aren’t as impressive (although they are amazing – it’s just that the cathedral in Florence is a cut above).

The baptistry in that last photo looks bizarrely skewed… blame the camera on the iPhone.

Anyway, having been blown away by that, we marched on to Piazza della Republica.  A gorgeous square indeed.

We went on, then, to the Mercato Nuovo and the Fonta del Porcellino. You’re supposed to put a coin in the boar’s mouth, to let it fall through the grate below, and then rub the snout for good luck.  While some tourists were attempting that, a beggar woman sidled up and grabbed every coin from the font, before wandering off again.

We were both feeling a little peckish by now, but decided to go to the Piazza della Signoria – really the main square of government in Florence – or used to be in the Medici’s days.

Here you’ll find a ton of statuary, including Neptune, Hercules, a copy of David, moulded from the original, and Perseus holding aloft the head of Medusa.  As well as that, of course, you have the main building of government (back in the day at least): the Palazzo Vecchio.  If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll notice that it’s a cheap knock-off of the Palazzo dei Priori in Volterra, the design of which predates it by about 300 years.  Florence’s palazzo was begun in 1299, but owes its current appearance to the Medici, who rightly thought Volterra’s equivalent looked snazzy.  I say ‘cheap’ with my tongue planted in my cheek: it’s an impressive building, and the inner courtyard is fabulous.  We haven’t get visited it, and it sounds like it’s worth a good explore, based on what I read about it.  Maybe some other time.

What else would you dine on in Florence, but Chinese?!  Yeah, it had gotten to that stage again where we craved something oriental, and so gorged ourselves in Il Mandarino.  The soups we had (won-ton and sweetcorn) were nice, and the steamed dumplings excellent.  But the mains were so-so, with Niamh’s chicken satay not really tasting of peanuts, and my chilli beef tasting more of toasted sesame than chilli, but was still tasty.  Our accompanying veggies were nice enough.

After filling ourselves to the tops of our throats, we waddled south through the streets, until we hit the Arno river, and made our way to, and across, the fabled Ponte Vecchio.  Niamh stopped here briefly to pick up a mask to go on display with the other mask we bought during Volterra’s medieval festival.  It’s a lovely little walk, with shops hanging over the sides of the bridge, all decorated externally like medieval shops.  There is a gap halfway over, so you can look east and west along the Arno and take snaps.

The south isn’t as dramatic as the north, but a small explore is recommended, if only to at least see the enormous Palazzo Pitti.  We had thought to enter and walk around the gardens there, but lazily we gave it a miss and continued exploring the south.

It was gelato time, and up to now we had been avoiding most gelaterie in Florence, as we had a fair idea it would be sub-standard.  We’ve been told that a pretty good rule of thumb is if you see the gelati piled high, don’t go in.  We went instead to the Gelateria Santa Trinita, and if you go, you too can be served slightly above average gelato for 30% higher than you’d pay in Volterra, and have it served up by a tall, attractive young lady whose hobby appears to be eye-rolling.  Fun times.  Still, we could sit on a bench within and it did its job of cooling us down.

We’d begun clock-watching and so decided to call it a day.  We strolled back to the north side, to the train station, stopping to take photos.  We found a couple of the ‘no entry’ street signs so wonderfully ‘adjusted’ by a dude call Clet Abraham.  He gets wind of a new sign, has his changes already cut out and ready to stick to it, cycles to it and sneakily rubs it on.  It’s quite illegal, but he’s never been ‘caught’… I suspect the authorities are pleased, as it adds another bit of character to a town already overflowing with it.

We took the dual carriage way home – a road that bridges Florence and Siena.  We came out at Colle di val d’Elsa, whereupon the road became instantly familiar.  It’s a shorter route, but not as scenic and involves a bit of an annoying rat-run through some of Florence’s streets from the CoOp carpark to get to it.  As it was the evening, Mr. Sun trolled me from the other side again!

We didn’t do or really eat anything that evening, but just relaxed and screen-watched.  This morning, I got up and had my first walk in 3 days.  

You know it’s the end of holiday season, when they start setting up the Saturday market in the main and cathedral squares.  Ah well… all good things must come to and end, as they will do this day next week when we fly home 😦

Not too sure what today will bring, but thanks for reading about yesterday!

Volterra’s Art Museum

Volterra’s Art Museum

We crashed after bringing our guest to the airport, and then lazed about the apartment, screenwatching.  We headed out to Il Pozzo degli Etruschi for some lunch.  We were sat down the back, which we’d never been before, and so saw that they had a covered Etruscan well!

I had pici with lamb sauce, and Niamh had a boar chop with baked rosemary potatoes, with a side of grilled veggies.

A small thunderstorm forced us back to the apartment, where I stayed for a little sleep.  I got up around 17:00 and headed out to the town’s pinacoteca (art gallery).  It’s €8 for an adult to visit and allows entrance to the art museum and the neighbouring alabaster museum, which I visited first.  I think this museum is also covered by the Volterra Card, which you can buy for €16, which allowed entrance to many of the main attractions over a 3 day period.

As I said in one of my introductory posts, Volterra is the European centre for alabaster art, and has been for millenia, on and off.  The Etruscans carved it, which you can see in their funerary urns.  The museum here, has small mixture over a few floors of new and old pieces, spanning the near 3,000 years alabaster has been worked here.

At the top, is a reconstruction of a medieval alabaster workshop, along with a couple of nice views of the town below – including a little peek at the Roman ruins.

You can access the art gallery from the mezzanine below the top floor of the alabaster museum.  This takes you to the floor which houses the museum’s masterpiece: Rosso Fiorentino’s Deposition from the Cross.

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The red-haired, lamenting figure in the bottom right is often though to be the painter himself (‘Rosso’ being a nickname).  It’s interesting, though, that there is evidence that Judas Iscariot also had red hair, so the figure acts as a handy double.  It’s a pre-Renaissance piece, which is commonly believed to be one of the best early examples of Mannerism, which led to adoption of the style in Renaissance works. 

Most of the artworks on display are pre-Renaissance, ranging from mid 1200’s to late 1400’s, and thematically are religious in nature – inevitably, really – they were the ones with the money to commission the pieces.

There are also a couple some classic Renaissance works.

And this fresco by Daniele da Volterra (Daniele Ricciarelle), which was painted for the Medici family in the mid 1500’s.  The family crest is one of the main eye-catcher’s of the scene!

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You can also make out the coat-of-arms of Volterra on the left-hand side – the shield-mounted dragon.

There is also another room with works by a collection of Volterran artists, with works ranging from Renaissance to mid-1700’s.

I think it’s a worthwhile visit, if you have a passing interest in historical art, whether you like the theme or not.

On the way home, I stopped off in La Sosta del Priore and grabbed a couple of sausage and onion sambos for us.  We stayed in and screenwatched for the rest of the evening.  Talk about settling in!  I went to bed early, as I knew I wanted to get this blog written before we (hopefully) head to Florence in the morning.  We have two routes open to us: a slightly quicker route, two-thirds of which is on dual-carriageway, or a route through some wonderful countryside.  Hmmmmm…

Hopefully, we’ll park successfully, learn how to use the tram and tell you folks all about it tomorrow.

A Grand Lunch at Del Duca

A Grand Lunch at Del Duca

A short one today. I didn’t get up to much beyond writing and eating. During our cookery course a couple of days ago, we booked a table in the restaurant the instructor’s family owns. We toddled up there at around 13:00, and we sat in their lovely terrace at the back.

They were having a busy service, and as we had all the time in the world, we were prepared to wait without any fuss. We got our wine (‘Marcampo’, 50/50 merlot/sangiovese), and a nice little bruschettini with finely diced tomato on top. I usually shy away from ‘obvious’ tomatoes, but gave this a bash – it was lovely. I’d had it before, when we visited last time.

We ordered, and while the food was slow to come, we didn’t mind – we had time, and the staff who knew us, also knew we had time!  They brought out their restaurant-baked breads for us to nibble on while we waited.

The starters came.  The ladies had salads (Niamh the Caprese, our guest a salad with crispy bacon and cheese).  I had a carbonara with grated black truffle, which was excellent!

Myself and Niamh swapped main courses when compared to the last time we ate here: this time she had the beef cheek, and I the fish.  Our guest also had the fish.  I really liked it, but I think I preferred the beef.

Between courses, we engaged in conversation with the mamma and the daughter (our cooking instructor), who are both lovely, welcoming people.

Pigs that we are, we also had a dessert!  I had what I had last time – twirled 70% chocolate mousse – Niamh had a coffee mousse with cherry sorbet, and our guest had a fruit plate.  I loved mine, and had a taste of Niamh’s mousse, which was amazing.  I don’t do the fruit thing, but I was told it was nice.

When finished, we were given a selection of petit fours, and a glass of extremely potent limoncello.  The latter is made by the matriarch of the family, and uses lemons straight from the Amalfi coast.  It was nice, a little thick – and easily the most buckling limoncello I’ve ever had!

We paid the bill, and there were hugs exchanged, and afterwards had every intention of going to the pinacoteca (art gallery), but changed our minds on the way.  The ladies stayed out and about for a walk, while I went back to the apartment for a bit of a snooze and some screen-watching.  I took this little curiousity on the way there – I don’t know what it is… an accident, or a weird art installation, but the colours contrast wonderfully.

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Nothing done again last night, and this morning I didn’t go out for a walk (again!).  We had to get up at 04:30 to bring our guest back to the airport.  We went straight to bed when we got home, and to be honest, I’m still a little tired.

Don’t think we have plans today, but there are rumblings about us attempting to go to Florence tomorrow morning, so fingers crossed!

A Little R and R

A Little R and R

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Tuscan Cooking Class

A Tuscan Cooking Class

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Red Night and the Prison

The Red Night and the Prison

Not a bad title for a novel!   Anyway – this post is a little media-rich – so beware.

It was more of an eventful night than day… I sat in and wrote a bit (maybe 600 words), and Niamh went out to mooch around town with our guests.  They went to the market, bought goodies and then went to lunch in I Ponti.  I’d never eaten there before.  They had a selection of panini and antipasti, and the reports were good!  Niamh also saw a waiter there who used to work in Da Beppino – he always recognised us.  A lot of waiters seem to circulate in Volterra from season to season.

I had a veg soup in a carton by Knorr.  This may sound blech, but as far as packaged soups go, don’t compare to what we get at home… it wasn’t bad at all!

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We crashed and screen-watched in the afternoon, and had the last of the beef ragu that I made, with added oompf by Niamh.  It was nice and tasty!

A little after 21:00, a few of us ventured out to sample what the Red Night (La Notte Rossa) had to offer.

If the Medieval Festival appealed to the child in me, the Red Night appeals to the creative adult.  Throughout the town, there were art installations, gentle jazz/world bands and many of the museums were open free of charge until midnight.  As well as that, some of the town’s more well-to-do families opened their palazzi to the public – which is something they’d never do, except on nights like this. 

Firstly, we entered the main square (Piazza dei Priori), to a little bit of magic!

The walls of the buildings were lit up red and indigo, and a video of local hilltowns was being projected onto Palazzo dei Priori.  A band played soft jazz, while a young man used aerosol paints to create a stylised profile.  Just wonderful.  If I’d been here before on such a night, I might have stayed here and chilled with some wine or cocktails.

We instead moved on to have a look at the first palazzo, which was somewhere definitely lived in.  It was beautifully decorated and furnished, and a couple of ladies with a piano and melodica were performing some Italian jazz numbers in one of the rooms.

Another couple of places had also opened, revealing lovely, intimate gardens.

After exploring there and listening to a little music, we went to the Porta San Felice – where the crossroads of steps was all lit up with lamps, the oils of which were gently perfurmed.  It looked so gorgeous.

We had another final little explore together, before we broke company in Volterra’s sweet little theatre.