Got up late, as I was paying for drinking a bit the day before. I was too hungover to walk, but I made a promise to myself that I’d go tomorrow instead.
We went to Migliorini for a slightly sinful breakfast. Just had a rice tart, and a hot chocolate that was a bit too watery for my taste. I need the Italian gloop! Here’s a stylish slot, which summarises the state of my head at the time.
We went to the market afterwards. Wow, it was a great deal smaller than normal – but we got what we wanted: strawberries, garlic, asparagus, an eggplant. We headed to back to the Bottega after for milk and stock cubes. It really didn’t get much more exciting than this, I’m afraid!
We spent the rest of the morning writing or screen-watching. Unfortunately, (or for healing purposes, fortunately!) anxiety began flicking me in the forehead. For lunch, we went to Gallina d’Oro (our first time there). Niamh got panino, and I got a bowl of Zuppa alla Volterrana. Mine was lovely, and was for only €8.50 – nice to find another good purveyor of my favourite way to get veggies in Tuscany!
We had a slow walk around the town and said hello to a couple of people we knew. On the way back to the apartment had a gelato. Unsurprisingly, this perked me right up! Before heading back, we stopped off at what would be considered our local church: Chiesa di San Michele Arcangelo. For the past couple of years it was being renovated, so we thought we’d pop our heads in to have a look. Lovely and quiet little place, with the usual renaissance art in situ – and so cool inside too. A fab haven.
We screenwatched back at the house, and for a rare occasion on this sojourn, Niamg cooked up some of the ingredients we picked up at earlier in the day: a lovely risotto with parmesan crisp.
I was feeling a little anxious, and so went out for a walk in the evening. Volterra very quiet at night, except for a couple of pockets where there were small packs of revellers. These contrasts only make me love the place even more – there’s something for everyone here. Ok, it’s not Ibiza, but I’m down with that.
Back at home, we raided Netflix and had a look at Metal Lords. I enjoyed it a good but – worth a casual watch if you’re running short of stuff!
I know this was a short one, but I still hope you enjoyed the read. Please leave a like and a comment if you did so – I would love to hear from you!
I didn’t go for a walk that morning, as I knew we were heading off early to travel. I did take a pic from the terrace, and one on our way to the car, though.
We’d been following people from Vicopisano on Instagram for a while (Authentic Tuscany – check them out). It seemed like a nice town, but what really clinched the deal was the collectors’ and antiques market they hold the second Sunday of every month. We’d passed it by on the way to Montecatini Terme in August too (and yes, it still galls me that I lost the video footage of that trip), and there were a couple of historical features that certainly looked worth checking out.
We set Mrs. Google to the carpark that looked most promising, and got underway. The trip is about 54km and took a little over an hour. I didn’t take any photos, because I was filiming! You can scroll further down the page to check out the video of the journey and the market itself.
We arrived around 11-11:30 and found that it was only a short stroll to the market itself. And what a market! I’d heard that Arezzo had the biggest regular antiques fair in Tuscany, which is probably true – in that it is strictly antiques. But Vicopisano’s market is absolutely enormous, and so lively. I’m struggling to think of anything that wasn’t for sale! There were books/comics, toys, old wireless radios, furniture, crockery (including very fancy dinner sets), cutlery, wonderful stalls with gramaphones (being demonstrated), clothes, weapons, musical instruments, old bikes, alabaster and terracotta-ware, mirrors, glasses, genuine war memorabilia. The market wrapped around Piazza Cavalca – a large square just west of the oldest parts of the town, and snaked its way along multiple adjoining streets. We really couldn’t get over the size of it. It was so huge, that while we didn’t buy anything (we came close), we still spend a good 60-70 minutes simply strolling through it while stopping only briefly to check out a few stalls of interest.
One of the best things about Italian markets (I think I’ve noted this before), is how lively they can be – the excited chatter of Tuscan accents buzzed about us and really added to the overall atmosphere. I really couldn’t recommend this enough! There was one stall in particular that grabbed me. A man was demonstrating a gramaphone, and despite the age of the technology, the massive horn was blaring out the old tune ‘Roses of Picardy’. You can check it out in the video towards the end of this blog.
It was time for lunch, though, and perhaps we were a bit optimistic in thinking we could walk-in just about anywhere – especially during the pandemic. I saw the reviews for Ristomacelleria Testi seemed to be quite good on Google, so I chanced my arm. They looked like they were opening, and I approached who I assumed was the manager/owner, who was on the phone. I waited until he finished, and said to me ‘Dimmi!’. So I asked him in Italian if there was a table for two available now. Unfortunately, there wasn’t. In hindsight, that was probably just as well, as we were going to go out to eat at Terra di Mezzo in Volterra later that evening, so something smaller would have been better. We walked past that restaurant again after we’d explored the old town, and the smell coming from it was amazing (definitely for meat lovers!) – so one day we’ll return with a booking!
Instead, we went to Le Belle Torri, and ate inside. Our waitress was so enthusiastic and friendly, so in the end our choice was right for that reason too. We had a pizza each – they were pretty nice, and just what we needed.
We had a ramble through the old town of Vicopisano afterwards, hoping to maybe catch an attraction or two, like the Palazzo Pretorio and the recently re-opened Rocca buttress for walking over – part of the fortifications created by Brunelleschi (yes, the same lad who fashioned the dome of the cathedral in Florence).
So we walked through the town, and were delighted by its old charm. It seemed to be built on terraces, and towers dotted the views throughout. At one point I thought that it might even rival San Gimignano for its towers, but that was just my over-active imagination. But just look at the pretty:
We walked to the Rocca and found it closed to public tours. On our way back we passed by a large group of Italians outside the gate, and assumed that they had organised a special private tour. It was Sunday, and we probably should have realised that many places stood a good chance of being shut, just slightly the wrong side of the tourist season. Onwards we went to Palazzo Pretorio (pausing to let a massive 4×4 perform a complicated 17-point turn), and saw that it too had closed just after lunch on Sundays. D’oh! I had a little explore of its courtyard, and then we had a look at a sequence of switch-backing steps leading all the way down to the river. A little disappointed (as much in our lack of preparation as well as ill luck), and wandered through the more residential area of the old town.
By the time we’d gotten back to the newer part of town, I was pleasantly surprised at how the two seemed to successfully mingle. The blend is very subtly balanced. The old with the new – the border isn’t hugely evident. We entered a bar to grab a coffee/hot chocolate, but for some reason we lost confidence on the protocol on grabbing a table. Some tables seemed to be for dining – or maybe all of them, but we weren’t sure. We chickened out, sadly, and went for one final stroll past the restaurant in which we had failed to secure a lunchtime seat – the smell of grilled meat was wonderful – even after having eaten. We walked past Le Belle Torri, and saw a gate beyond which were other gravelled-and-green-area seats and a couple of other establishments. It was a lovely little mini-park. What a fine little town this is! We wandered up and down it for a few minutes before heading back to the car.
I have to say, we didn’t do Vicopisano full photographic justice, as we missed the ‘classic’ shot of the tower with sloping battlement – but it’s best captured a little way out of town. Maybe next time.
Should you wish to make Vicopisano your base, rather than Volterra, then please out these excellent people – Authentic Tuscany!
Here is the video of our journey to, and exploration of, Vicopisano:
A little while after we had returned to Ireland, and I had published the above video, Vicopisano was awarded the Bandiera Arancione (orange flag) from the Italian Touring Club – basically a recommendation to visit one of the finer towns in Italy. I’m pretty sure it was coincidence! *wink* To be honest, I was amazed it wasn’t already on their list.
But the day wasn’t over. When we got home, we found we had a fondness of our own little town, and had a little walk before heading back to the apartment.
Afterwards Robbi, the owner, handed us a bottle of dessert wine – an almond variety. We haven’t tried it yet, but I look forward to the day we can crack it open.
Before I go… a quick art update! You may remember a few blogs ago that we bought a little original painting from a lovely old gent in Montecatini Alto, just outside the funicular station. I promised I’d post a pic of it next time I got over (and remembered!), and so here it is!
Well that’s all for now. I hope you enjoyed reading it. Please leave a like and a comment or question. Thanks!
Well, it was market day again yesterday, so after breakfast we toddled down to the carpark beside the Roman ruins to have a looksee. We all got little items of clothing. I bought sandles, as we hope to rent medieval costumes today, and wearing them with modern walking shoes is not a good look.
We have stayed in Volterra 6 times, for a total of about 9 weeks, and yet we still hadn’t visited the Roman or Etruscan ruins, so we decided to remedy that finally yesterday. I think it’s just €5 in per person (our visitor bought a Volterra Card, so she could check out most of the town’s main cultural attractions over 3 days) – which gets you into both the Roman site, and the Etruscan site in the public park.
The Roman site was pretty good – although you can’t climb into the actual theatre (except if you buy a ticket during their arts festival).
The Etruscan site, however, is rather tired-looking and in need of a bit of a cash-injection. There are a couple of informational pedestals which are almost unreadable due to sun-damage, and the site itself is small. I suppose it’s not bad for €5 per person, for both sites. On the plus side, you can climb down into the Roman cistern here. It’s a dizzying climb down a narrow spiral staircase into the chill, dank room below, but it’s mad to think they were engineering these things a couple of millenia ago.
Niamh and I went to a crafts store to see if we could buy anything to start personalising the apartment, while our guest headed off to have a look at some other attractions. We found a nice little cypress tree ornament, and a limited print of a lovely, stylistic painting of the walled village of Monteriggioni, which we have not yet visitied. We’ll remedy that during this trip!
I crashed for a couple of hours, as I was still a bit bushed after yesterday’s trip to Pisa. At around 17:20, I was groggy, but heard the unmistakable sound of drums heading our way.
I’d forgotten that there would be some medieval fair stuff happening this evening. I wrongly thought that it would be a repeat of last week, and hurriedly texted our guest to adviser her to make her way to Piazza dei Priori (the main square). I got dressed and lashed up there myself.
When I got there, the lords and ladies were already arrayed at their table, and it seemed to me that the Master of Ceremonies (the same amazing riffing, rhyming guy from last week) was looking for volunteers for something.
As it happens, it was for racing cheese-wheels (well, wooden versions) around a simple course in the square. It was professionals versus volunteers, and was a bit of fun. They have their own ‘palio’ involving these cheese-wheels they race down an obstacle course in October (the ‘Palio dei Caci’). Sadly, we will be missing that. So, this was a good alternative!
You can check out a short video of a bout here:
They announced that something was going to be taking place in the square at 21:30, but my meagre Italian didn’t pick up exactly what it was. We went home and had the first set of a large batch of beef ragú Niamh made up. It was nice and coarse – I love it that way!
We went to the square, just in time to catch the entrance of the dignitaries, combatants and the teams representing their contrade for the Palio del Cero.
The teams would be contesting in a tug-of-war competition!
Once again, it was a knock-out affair, with semi-finals and a final. The sbandieratori (flag jugglers) put on a couple of shows before the semis, and the final itself. A fun evening, although we didn’t get bleacher seats and so were a little foot/backsore after nearly two hours of standing in the same spot.
The lord and lady representing the winning contrada were frocked and awarded.
And then, to bed.
I woke up, but decided on not doing a walk today, as I will be on my feet for the Medieval festival for much of the day. We also have an All-Ireland final to watch this afternoon!
I’ll tell you all about the 2nd day of the Medieval Festival tomorrow. Toodles!
After tidying ourselves up, we went outside to the market to buy sundry knick-knacks for the house. Once my head is protected, it’s not often I actively seek shelter, but while shopping there the sun was scorching, so I ducked out of the light as often as possible. Fortunately, stalls have their own covers and awnings, so it wasn’t too much trouble.
We went to other shops in town to grab some meats and veggies for dinners for the next couple of days. We both agreed that we needed a short break from pasta!
On the way back to the apartment, I grabbed myself a lemon granita from L’Isola del Gusto. It was fab. After a short time in the apartment, I went out to La Sosta del Priore and grabbed a burger there for lunch. It’s not the be-all and end-all to look at, but God did it taste so good. They put it with caramelised onions and a type of mayonnaise that tastes amazing. I will be back for one of those again next week!
We blew much of the rest of the afternoon in the apartment, in an effort to escape the searing sun. Suddenly, around 17:15, we heard a hullabaloo outside the guest bedroom, which looks down into the main street. It was a cacophany of drums and trumpets, so we guessed that it must have been something to do with the impending Medieval fair.
We dollied-up as quickly as possible and went to the main square. There was a wedding there, and I think they had to be given the bum’s rush at 18:00, so the Medieval procession could start.
Anyway, shortly after 18:00, the MC, fully dressed in oldie-worldy garb, started reciting Italian poetry, and announced the lords, ladies and representatives of both the sbandieratori (flag tossers) and balestrieri (crossbow men and women) for Volterra’s 8 contrade (districts), who will be in competition.
Afterwards, there was a very impressive display by the sbandieratori, who are among Italy’s best.
When I get the time/bandwidth, I might stick up a couple of vertical, shaky, iPhone videos 🙂
Once this was all done and the festival declared open, we went home to have a meal. We’d bought a rotisserie chicken from one of the market’s foodstalls earlier in the day, and so Niamh put together a lovely meal. She baked rosemary fries (an oxymoron, I know), and they were fantastic.
While out on the terrace, we heard some music, and so washed the dishes and went out to have a gawk. We found some medieval buskers. They were great players, and had a little coterie of people following them about town. I uploaded the video to Facebook – hopefully you can see it there. We inadvertently joined them for a little while, as we wanted to go for a drink on Via Gramsci. We ended up in the Antica Velathri Cafe again. I had a fab chilled mulled wine there. I’d give it another go!
We then went back home and vegged out on the couch for a while, before going to bed.
I slept right through ’til 05:30, which is unusual for me, and so headed out early to see if I could find if any more stuff had been set up for the festival.
It’s supposed to hit 35+ celsius today, so I, for the first time in a long time, will be showing off some ankle and calf in very fetching shorts. We’ll probably spend a lot of time outdoors today, so I expect tomorrow’s blog will be very media-heavy – apologies in advance! We’re both really looking forward to this!
Most mornings I pay what I call the ‘Volterran Sleep Tax’, and get up early to drop the trash down for collection. This must be done each morning, except Sunday, between 06:00 and 08:00. The trash is split between various types (normal, paper/cardboard, plastic and metal, organic, glass), each one having its own collection day(s).
Organico has 3 days, because, well… stinky. I think this is a fantastic idea, as it prevents the town from looking nasty for the visitors who arrive in the mornings. I’m an early riser anyway – when I’m in work I usually get up around the 05:15 mark – so it’s not a huge deal.
I usually do a walk after that, and document it here for you folks!
Yesterday, after the walk we just stayed in and Niamh threw lunch together from some odds and ends in the fridge. The thing about Italy, is that the ingredients here are so good, that food as inoccuous-sounding as I just made it, is actually pretty damn good!
I knocked half of my red wine over our lovely outdoor table. Sometimes I have the coordination and poise of a two-legged giraffe.
It was a hot one again yesterday, and we had a small stroll and topped it off with an amarena (cherry) granita each.
As I hadn’t been feeling 100%, I found myself wrecked tired after the short walk, and for the first time during this stretch I disappeared to my bed for a couple of hours, while Niamh snuck out to do some additional food shopping.
Niamh cooked again tonight, and it was a minced beef ragù, with a passata base. She began with a stir-fry of the holy trinity (celery, onions and carrot – often said to represent the Italian flag, but looking more like the Irish one!), and ended up with a nice, coarse (just the way I like it) sauce to go with the bucatini (thick spaghetti with a hole running through it). It was fab, and we have enough left over for more this evening!
Little did I know that during her sneak-shop while I was resting, she got some take-out from L’isola del Gusto – cherry (again), and their award-winning Crema d’Ersilia. We have enough left over of this too for this evening… Yummmm!
After dinner we went out for another stroll. They were setting up for a dance and music special in the Roman Amphitheatre. We caught a lovely sunset as we watched them prepare.
We went home, and watched the second episode of Orange is the New Black from the latest series. Not holding out much hope for the rest of the show after some of the dumb plot turns in that episode. Oh well.
This morning, Niamh paid the Sleep Tax, and so I was able to have a little lie in of 30 minutes before heading out for my usual walk.
Down in the valleys below, thick blankets of fog made islets of the colline (hills) below. This is the Tuscan countryside at its best.
Today, being Saturday, is market day! Instead of being in the Piazza dei Priori, it’s down in the main car-park, which might scupper our plans to visit Colle di Val d’Elsa today – but we’ll see. At least we’ll still have a mooch in the market! The Piazza is being used for a silent disco later on, so a chance to people-watch at their most primal, then.