Tag: italy

A Trip to Livorno, Volterra Comics and Fantasy Day 2 (22/05/2022)

A Trip to Livorno, Volterra Comics and Fantasy Day 2 (22/05/2022)

No walk today either… sorry!

We thought we had seen most of what the Volterra Comics and Fantasy had to offer on the first day. We were only a little wrong – we had the awards ceremony and further costumes to come – more on that later.

We had been intrigued by Livorno during our first visit there a couple of years ago, and wanted to go back to at least experience the food market. I remembered the humidity then, and my promise to wear shorts next time, but wussed-out over sun-cream maintenanced and went fully-trousered. This time parked in the Parcheggio Moderno, just a couple of blocks north of the market. We missed a couple of turns in the middle of town, but Livorno is strangely forgiving, and we just had an extra spin around a few blocks and the hippodrome-shaped Piazza della Repubblica. Not much fuss, only a little muss! It’s a storeyed car-park, and so the vehicle would be shaded. We found a spot quite handily just one floor up. Did I mention this was a Sunday?

Anyway, we got out of the car, and headed immediately towards the market. Again, did I mention this was a Sunday? Of course it was closed. Shrugging, as we weren’t hugely surprised, we instead went on an explore of the city. I have to say, Livorno is one of the most underrated cities in Tuscany. Yes, it has an air of dirt of grit about it, but it is also quite lovely in places and it is a genuine city – you are looking at Tuscans and work and play there. While the tourist count is increasing (lots of UK people, strangely), it’s still quite uncluttered. I think we are going to make it a must-visit for most of our stays in Tuscany.

I love Livorno’s ‘Venetian’ quarter – we hadn’t seen it the first time around, so the return trip had already paid us in gold, with or without the market. We skipped the fortezza, not knowing it could be entered. As we had left around the 11:00 mark, we had become a little hungry. We were still on our Asian food kick, and so looked out for whatever Chinese/Japanese/Thai food place we could find.

Google (eventually) led us to ZEN Livorno. We settled in and had what turned out to be pretty decend food.

What wasn’t photographed was some tasty (to us, we hadn’t had it before, but had seen YouTubers rave about it) okonomiyaki – a sort of omlette made with cabbage, flour and eggs. There might have been meat in this one; I can’t remember – but I do remember the dancing fish-flakes. It was all tasty enough and we left satisfied. I am still (even at the time of writing this – Sept 14th, 2022) on my quest to find a decent Cantonese-style food – but after having tried places in Florence, Siena, Poggibonsi, Colle di Val d’Elsa, Cecina, Pontedera and Empoli. We have drawn the conclusion that Cantonese food here is at very best about equivalent to your average takeaway (with far fewer choices of dish), at worst Godawful. But they do dumplings reasonably well (sold as ‘ravioli’ on their menus). If you know of any good Cantonese restaurants in Tuscany, or north Lazio/west Umbria please let us know! There could be a virtual cookie in it for you! 🙂

Anyway, food done satisfactorily, we continued our walk about the town. It wasn’t insufferably hot, so my choice of trouserware was adequate for the day!

We stopped off at a gelateria and sat down to eat our bounty. Literally! I had bounty gelato. It was nice enough. We then headed back to the car and high-tailed it back to Volterra. We decided to head back on a more scenic route, when we got closer to Volterra.

It was still remarkably green in May. Amazing to think how it changes in the hotter months!

After a brief chill at the apartment, we headed back out to see what the cosplayers were up to that afternoon. There were definitely some cool costumes on display. There was a guy there dressed as Sean Connery as Indiana Jones’ dad in The Last Crusade. He blew me away… looked so much like him… even had the same dimples when he smiled.

The talent spotting continued. We hit up Bar Priori for an aperitivo while we people-watched.

Later on we watched the awards ceremony. I didn’t know who most were dressing up as, but Wolverine was my standout, as he sprinted up to the stage to get his award. He had fabulous spirit, and looked pretty damn good too.

After the weekend we had been told by someone living in the town that it wasn’t nearly as well-attended as in previous years. That could have been down it being held 3 weeks or so earlier than usual, or that it was just post-pandemic – who can say? I hope it picks up again next year.

I have a youtube video of some of the festival down below. Take a look!

Later on in the day, I had a walk about to check out the sunset and grabbed a burger from L’Hamburgheria and ate it whole!

Screenwatching and bed! Not exactly detail-filled, but we enjoyed ourselves!

That was the (food of the) week that was – Photolog (16-19/05/2022)

That was the (food of the) week that was – Photolog (16-19/05/2022)

This week saw me have little in the way of daytime free time, so in lieu of a verbose blog, here is a collection of photos with commentary for the above dates.

Monday 16th May

Some food today from La Terra di Mezzo.

Tuesday 17th May

Firstly a little walk down by the archaeological digsite.

Lunch from La Sosta del Priore – always tasty. We then met another ex-pat friend – John – for an aperitivo or three, before heading to Porgi l’Altra Pancia for dinner.

Wednesday 18th May

I went on some walks! First a morning one:

Followed by an afternoon one during lunch:

A rare trip to lunch to La Carabaccia. This is a cute place in Piazza XX Settembre (and to be honest, the only place worth eating there – the rest are rather touristy, but in fairness to them have fine outdoor seating). They have a tiny menu (2 primi, 2 secondi), and some desserts. They will also knock up an antipasti plate for you on demand. The cooking is nonna-style and tasty.

And we had a homecooked pasta meal from Niamh that evening:

Thursday 19th May

No walk today… had… not the most nutritious lunch, but it was tasty, then had a walk about the town to burn off some calories afterwards.

During the evening we had a severe hankering for some Asian style food. I’ve gone on the record before as loving SE Asian flavours, even over Italian – so after several weeks of the latter, we were gumming for something different. We’d noted the place in Poggibonsi and contemplated it, but instead opted for a place in Colle di Val d’Elsa – Ristorante Sugoi.

We got there and parked in the supermarket carpark just down the road. Turns out we didn’t read the signs properly and only got away with it by the skin of our teeth. But first the place. We walked into a narrow place that looked small and intimate. Then we were ushered into a much larger side room, and from there into a pretty big semi-covered outdoor space. Wow! This place could cater for 150! And the food:

Look, I am seriously considering paying someone cash money if they can show us a good Chinese/Japanese place that does decent stir-fry sauce-based dishes. All the ones we’ve had in Italy are so insipid. It’s the same pattern: the starters are pretty good, but the mains are chronic. Halp! Ok, the curry here wasn’t too bad, but the other dish was decidely ‘blah’. The quality of Asian restaurants in Italy seems to be no better than a mediocre takeaway back home. Bit of a shame. We had an ok one in Livorno (more another time) and a nicely flavoured Katsu curry from a truck the visited Volterra during the Volterra Comics and Fantasy festival (again, more another time).

In fairness to the restaurant, the service was nice, the food was ok and the setting was great. We left and headed back to the car, and only then spotted the carpark was about to close and we were one of the last people to go. Phew!

Next blog will be slightly more normal!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting Stuffed at La Pace (10/05/2022)

Getting Stuffed at La Pace (10/05/2022)

This will be a short one, as we stayed in Volterra all day.

One of the things I like most about my morning walks outside of the summer season are the clouds that form lakes between the colline (hills) in the surrounding countryside. They burn off in the mid-morning enough, so you have to get up early enough to catch them. I caught some!

I generally stuck to inside the walls and leisurely papped what ticked my fancy.

I got home a cleaned myself up, and we both had to wait for visitors. We had a ring at the door, and let in the apartment building superintendent and our (very much out of breath) geometra. Think of a gemoetra as a cross between an architect and building inspector. You have to engage one when you need work done on your property. They had a look at our damp patch on the kitchen wall, and again at the neighbour’s balcony where the problem originates. They drew the conclusion that they will have to get in touch with the owner of the apartment – he rarely lives there. At the time of writing this (July 119th 2022), they have gotten in touch, but it remains to be seen what the next step is. I’m not too worried right now, but we’ll need it fixed before it gets cold and rainy.

We probably were a little lazy in deciding that too much of the morning had gone for us to travel out of the town, so we stayed in for a while, and then treated ourselves to lunch (what else is new?) at Osteria La Pace down the other end of town, by Pota a Selci (the gate beside the fortress). But first, we had a bit of a stroll around the town centre to work up an appetite!

La Pace do lovely homemade pasta there, with a boar and black olive stew that is outstanding. But we made the mistake of ordering two courses. You see, their pasta dishes are incredibly filling. But we gave it our best shot!

Although they do a killer tiramisu there (served in a huge coffee cup), I just wanted a little gelato as dessert.

We lazed about it bit – we couldn’t do much else with full bellies. For a while now I had wanted to go on one of Annie Adair‘s tours of the town. She does them a couple of times a day, a few times a week. I waited outside her usual spot at the alabaster and artisinal goods store opposite the leather good shops at Piazza Martiri della Libertà. What Annie doesn’t know about Volterra probably isn’t worth knowing. Ordinarily, I would have been excited, but for some reason my anxiety had kicked in and I unfortunately didn’t have the wherewithal to reframe it. Them’s the breaks. So, Annie, if you’re reading this and were wonding why I was a litte quiet – that’s the reason. Nothing to do with you (or me, directly), it just rears its head from time to time. Anyway, it turns out I was the only one there today, so I excused her the tour.

But we did chat for a good 20-30 minutes instead about the new Roman amphitheatre, the sad and slow demise of alabaster craftsmastery (I thought the seams of alabaster were running out, as well as the youth not particularly wanting to do ‘manual’ labour). She corrected me on the former point, but confirm the latter. Also she said that a lot of the alabaster also comes from Spain (if I recall correctly), as that stone is easier to work. We chatted about San Gimignano (wondering why the more genuine Volterra was often overlooked in favour of San Gimignano). We found out we both have the same fear/wanting relationship with Volterra potentially becoming a UNESCO site. I think I used the phrase “But you can’t wipe your bum without contacting the UN if you’re UNESCO.” She agreed. It might be best if Volterra was left independent of UNESCO, but if it happens, it happens. It was a nice chat, and it helped me with my stupid cortisol.

I had mentioned that Niamh and I had met with David McGuffin, and told her that she, David and a guy called Denis Callan featured in videos about Volterra, which helped us make up our minds where to buy. When we were saying our goodbyes, she indicated that she could ask David if Niamh and I could one of his group’s tours with her – the fee was flat for the group, so there would be no charge. Nice! We made a date, with me having to ok it with David later on. It would be the latter 2 hour tour, which would take us into Alab’Arte – one of the chief alabaster workshops in town. Yay!!

Met Annie Adair for a tour at 18:00. Sadly I was the only one to turn up, but we had a good chat for 30 mins or so, before suggesting I join David McGuffin’s group on May 21st for a good 2 hour tour that would take us into Alab’Arte – one of the premier alabaster workshops in the town.

On the way back home, I stopped off for a couple of smallish arancine (stuffed rice balls), as I knew Niamh was going to have some cold cuts and cheeses as a light evening meal.

Back home, we ate, drank and screenwatched. Niamh went to bed earlier than I, so I streamed ‘Joker’ on Netflix. My third time seeing it – a great movie! Zzzzzzzz.

Thanks for reading – please send any questions and comments my way!

We Climbed a Tower in San Gimignano (09/05/2022)

We Climbed a Tower in San Gimignano (09/05/2022)

Now here’s a thing: we both hopped out of the bed, left down the trash and took a walk. She was intrigued by my little diversion by the bus station, and I was more than happy to have a hiking partner.

The route wasn’t too brutal. We went to the panoramic vewpoint, and took Viale dei Ponti, down past the fountain, past the Garibaldi and war monuments and straight to the bus station. I didn’t take any more shots around there.

From there, we took a road we’d never taken. It led to a quiet residential area, which had cul-de-sacs everywhere, but which eventually led to the sports stadium. During our second ever visit to Volterra, we stayed in Park Hotel le Fonti near the stadium, which has a swimming pool, but also has a fairly savage uphill walk to the walled town. We took that route, up to Porta all’Arco and up again towards the centre of town.

We were a bit socially bold: instead of going home to tidy ourseleves up, we headed straight for L’Incontro for a cornetto con crema and a cappuccino (Niamh)/hot chocolate (me). Delish!

We went home and showered and beautified ourselves, and did a little screenwatching. What to do for the day, though? We settled on going to San Gimignano. I am sometimes a little down on SG, but really if it weren’t for our visit to that town years ago, plans to buy a property in Tuscany may never have germinated. We have over-visited it, but there was one major thing we still hadn’t done there: climb one of the towers for which the town is famed.

We hoped for a plum parking spot in P2, but had to settle once again for P4. The town was busy, but there were a lot of spots in P4. First order of the visit? Lunch! We had wanted to try La Mangiatoia (unrelated to the restaurant of the same name in Volterra!), but it was closed, and we settled for Osteria Delle Catene instead. ‘Settled’ is probably an unfair word. There were a couple of older gentlemen waiting on us, and they were so nice. An English family near us had a baby with them, and they doted on it. They served us up some rural Tuscan food, and very nice it was too!

Once done, we stopped off in two places before we hit the famous Piazza della Cisterna. Firstly, we stopped at a gelateria. It was priced highly and not bad… the lady serving had great English, and kindly offered us samples. Certainly no L’Isola del Gusto, but it was ok. The second stop was at a perfume store, in which a man was selling his artisinal perfumes and eaus de toilettes. We must have tried about a half a dozen mixes before settling on a 100ml bottle of his black pepper unisex scent. We both liked it, but Niamh has since worn it a great deal more than I have, lest we become Mr. and Mrs. Stinksthesame.

Onwards:

We found where you head up to buy tickets to climb the tower. The tickets doubled as an entry fee for a small museum too. We climbed the tower first. American travel guide, Rick Steves, had said it was 400 steps, but when we asked the guide, she said it was 217. So maybe Rick mean 200 up and 200 down. Anyway, the climb was interesting:

They never tell you, but frequently you have to contort yourself in some way, shape or form to actually get outside to the top of a tower. In this case, you have to climb a ladder, and watch your head and arms as you make your way through the opening. The hassle is worth it, but if you had issues with flexibility you might find the ladder a bit of a pain. And it’s a little awkward coming down, especially if you’re carrying stuff; you really have to watch your head, shoulders and arms. Anyway, back to the pretty of the topside:

You have to squat underneath a bit of structure to enjoy all sides of the tower. When we were done, we braved the ladder (glad nobody was filming me!), and had a mosey around the museum there. It may have been the old town council building. Not sure why I have no photos of it, but heck the whole experience is worth a visit.

Our mission complete, we headed back to the car (after a quick bio-break), via San Gimignano’s charming main square (the aforementioned Piazza della Cisterna), and saw parts of the town we hadn’t seen before.

We drove back in the rain to Volterra. Instead of going directly to the apartment, however, we stopped off at Antica Velathri Café for cocktails and nibbles. Pietro (the owner-mixologist) brought us our drinks, then gasped. He told us not to even take a sip, and then ran back downstairs. He came back up seconds later with the sexy garnishes he had forgotten to add! We had a good laugh at that. It’s all about the bella figura!

Later on, after watching our respective screens, we had a small hunger on us. We didn’t want to go out for a full meal, so I suggested L’Hamburgeria for burgers and fries. I headed out, and grabbed order forms. You ticky-box what you want (type of bun, meat, salads, cheeses, sauces, fries, other nibbles) and hand the chits back over and wait. There were a bunch of U.S. kids there creating lively noise while I waited. It was good seeing people being normal, and helping us to reshape this post-pandemic world.

I brought them home and we gobbled them down. Very nice. And for those reading in Ireland, the fries are like chipper chips! Just a little skinnier. Yum.

More screen-watching, music-listening and bed!

Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Rainy Day at Home (05/05/2022)

A Rainy Day at Home (05/05/2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day at ‘Leisure’ #2 (04/05/2022)

Day at ‘Leisure’ #2 (04/05/2022)

A shortish one this time around!

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

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

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

We then went for a bit of a walk:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the hits continued:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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