Tag: medieval festival

Medieval Festival – Day 2

Medieval Festival – Day 2

Warning! This post is media-heavy!

We got up, breakfasted (I skipped my walk), showered and headed out to the Festival. We bought the tickets, got our wristbands and waltzed through security. Or at least I did – the ladies had to have their bags checked.

The Palazzo dei Priori was our first port of call, to play dress-up and rent a costume for the day. It was one of those weird occasions where you don’t think you’d need an official piece of identification, but we did – at least our guest had her driving license with her, which she had to leave with them as collateral. I got a monk’s robe, and Niamh was a woman-of-modest-means, and our guest was a chaste peasant! I may post pics another day, but you can see us down below, having a bit of fun with the mixologist from Antica Velathri Café.

We mooched around the main area – pretty much skipping the performance by the sbandieratori, as we’d seen them a lot the previous night. Once done, we all had a killer sausage and onion sambo to stave off the hunger.

Then it was off to the park to watch the falconry exhibit again.  No movies this time – you can check out Day 1 again.  Niamh tried using the crossbow, and came very close to hitting the targets (the targets were tiny – apple sized – nobody was hitting them), and afterwards, both the ladies tried archery.  Niamh was worryingly good at this.  I’d better watch my back!  Again, photos may be forthcoming later.

It was getting really warm – even though the monk’s habit was curiously insulating, and so some refreshment was in order.  We left the park by the other gate, and headed to Antica Velathri Café, where we became celebs for about 3 minutes.  The guy there is really sound, and is happy to help me practice my Italian.  He took photos of us to put on his social media sites, and a couple of other onlookers joined-in and took pics of their own!

Of course we had a little booze – iced mulled-wine and Moretti.  The mulled wine was yum.

We were roasting by then, and went back to the apartment to chill.  But not only to chill, as we had an All-Ireland hurling final to watch!  Tipperary, against the odds, pretty much trounced Kilkenny, which made Niamh and her family very happy indeed.

We headed out again for another wander about town, but this time we brought our costumes back. We only thought briefly of wearing them again, but we knew we were going out to eat, and if it was too warm out, if would have been too much of a trial.

We were early to our restaurant, and it wasn’t yet opened. Cursing our luck, we joyfully skipped to Quo Vadis for a swift pint to while away the time! Once sufficiently pinted, we strolled to Ombra Della Sera Pizzeria and yummied down pizzas, and a small, shared plate of fries.

About halfway through our pies, our guest and I swapped pizzas and carried on guzzling, and kept up the calorie count by creeping around to L’Isola del Gusto for a naughty cone.

Unfortunately, I think we missed the skill-at-arms competition, and maybe even an archery competition somewhere… ah well… it just means we’ll have to come back next year 😉 

The market at night is cool. The stalls are nicely lit up, and different sets of jesters and performers patrol the streets. We didn’t stay for the full closing ceremony, but hung around the main square to catch a closing act.

Both ladies bought really cool masks made of leather – Niamh’s one is now on display in the apartment.

The sbandieratori closed off the whole show (we know this, because we heard them from our balcony, whilst gulping down wine).

Below are some photos and videos of the nighttime fun.

This morning, I wasn’t feeling too bad, and so both I and our guest went around by Porta San Felice, Porta San Francesco, past the Roman ruins, down to the Docciola carpark and took the arduous stairs back up to town.  A shortish route, but with some challenge, especially at the end.

While our guest is out being a tourist, we have to get some shopping in, keys cut, and we might see about framing that artwork we bought.

This evening, we’ll attempt to go (and park!) to San Gimignano.  The jewel in the hilltown crown.  Pretty is, as pretty does, mind you – I still think Volterra has more to offer!

Volterran Antiquities and Medieval Fest Opening 2

Volterran Antiquities and Medieval Fest Opening 2

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.

Afterwards, we went to La Terra di Mezzo for lunch – wine and limoncello was had.

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.

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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!

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After dinner, we had a couple of glasses of wine, and I managed to catch this gorgeous panoramic shot of the sunset from our upper terrace.

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!

Volterra AD1398 Festival, Day 1, Part 2

Volterra AD1398 Festival, Day 1, Part 2

We felt it had cooled down sufficiently to go back outside.  In addition, we really wanted to attend the combat competition and the falconry exhibition.  We headed towards the main square (Piazza dei Priori), and found we had managed to catch the end of the medieval dance lesson activity.  We grabbed good seats at the top of the bleecher’s and started watching.

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It looked like great fun, but with my coordination I could forget trying it. It would take about 5 pints of Moretti before I’d give it a go. You can watch some of it here:

The Master of Ceremonies began announcing the commencement of the combat competition.  He was the same guy who ran the opening ceremony, and his speeches rhymed and were delivered with tremendous skill.  I realised yesterday that he is riffing his speeches – most of it was off-the-cuff, making it hugely impressive.  What a talent to have!  He was interrupted a couple of times by drummers, church bells and stilt performers, but handled it with grace and humour.  

Here’s a quick video of those stilt performers!

The men representing Volterra’s 8 contrade (town districts) were introduced to the crowd, and kids lined up to grab (I think) stickers with the contrada emblems printed on them.  They were paired off and fought each other.

I’m not 100% sure of the rules, but it looked like you scored a point if you hit the armoured part of the head, or the heavily padded torso, and it was the best of 3.  You face disqualification if you hit an illegal area (e.g. the face – as one combatant did with a pike – no injury was caused, but he was still disqualified). 

While they fought, the drummers thundered out a tattoo, which added to the urgency and excitement of the bouts.

It was effectively a knockout competition, and eventually the two finalists fought, but it was the best of three matches, each match having different weapon-sets (pikes, sword and buckler, club and shield).  It was a close competition, but eventually the favourite of the ladies in the crowd, representing Cingiale (the Boar) had his hand raised.

We also caught some action on video, here:

After we’d recovered from that, we made our way (slowly – it was very crowded), to the park to check out the falconry exhibition.  It was a fabulous location to have it, as there is a natural hollow in the green around which people can sit and observe – and a few hundred did just that!

It began a bit poorly, as the first falcon they released didn’t want to play the humans’ little game, despite the promise of food, and the handler’s whooping and crying.  So they let him alone and loose for a while, and tried a second bird, who duly obliged by wheeling and skimming, sometimes inches, over the heads of the excited audience.  Fun for adults and kids alike!  Eventually, he was done, and was rewarded by his master with a few tidbits.

It was only then that the other fellah got a little bit jealous of all the attention and food, and began to perform for us.  He wheeled overhead, much higher than the other, and flitted from tree to tree.  At one point, however, the handler threw a morsel high into the air, and the bird swooped and, with a barely perceptable pause, caught the food mid-flight.  Amazing to see.  

I also got some video of the second, more compliant, bird here:

After that excitement, it was time to eat!  We went to the Torre del Porcellino, and opted to eat inside, on the basis that we thought it had air conditioning.  We were right: it did, but only for about 2 tables – we were sat at the back and began to stick to the furniture.  The food was fab, though!  Niamh had spinach and ricotta ravioli in a tomato sauce, and I had similar, but mine was stuffed with pecorino cheese and served in a mushroom brodo (broth).  We both had the same main course: stewed beef cheek with red and white cabbage, and we got a couple of sides.  Always delicious food there,  but damn it was too hot!

We went back to the apartment then. 

As it was also the last night of the arts festival in the Roman amphiteatre, I wanted to check it out, so I headed out alone.  On the way I snuck in some gelato from L’isola del Gusto, of course!  Even at 10:45 they had queues 7-8 people deep.

I can’t quite describe what the act in the amphiteatre was – it seemed to be some spoken word between jazzy piano numbers.  Not my thing, although the pianist was very talented.

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I didn’t hang around for long, but instead checked out the Festival in both the square and the park, getting a good walk into the bargain.  

The stalls in town were lit up, some with candles, and looked lovely.

You heard the piazza before you saw it, as it was jammed with people, looking at the jester group perform acrobatics and fire-tricks.

All-in-all, it was a brilliant day, and we will have a guest with us next week to go through the whole thing again.  I honestly can’t wait.

I surprised myself this morning, by being wide awake well in time for dropping the trash downstairs and going for a walk.

It was a great deal quieter than it was yesterday!

We have no real plans today, and so might end-up taking a break from the blog tomorrow, but you never know.

I hope you enjoyed the read!

Volterra AD1398 Festival, Day 1, Part 1

Volterra AD1398 Festival, Day 1, Part 1

I’ve had to split this into two parts – both are reasonably photo-heavy. I’ve linked to some movies in public posts on Facebook.

I took to wearing shorts for the day, which is nearly unheard-of for me, but it was just as well – it was a very hot day.  We took ourselves outside and marched up to the ticket booth, after which we had to present ourselves for our re-entry band.

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And then we went off to explore the stands.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  You hear of Renaissance Fairs in the US, and I suppose this is something akin, but when you have the setting of an actual medieval town, it makes it so much more special.  At times it was like walking through a movie set.  And fair play to the townsfolk, they were so into it, and many of them dressed up for their stalls, but also to just wander the streets, adding flavour and believability to the whole festival.  We exchanged some Euros for Grossi, the currency of the day, and used for purchases in the festival.

There were costumes for hire for the day.  We didn’t hire them today, but maybe it will be cooler next Sunday and we might be persuaded to grab some then.

There were stalls for food, and then various craftsmen showed how goods were made all those years ago – from hammering out delicate earrings, to demonstrating how salt was extracted from the source not too far from the town.  Volterra is still well-known for its salt.  Some scribes were drawing and performing delicate lettering, and there was even a medieval hospital set up!

Turning the corner to Via Roma, you could see stall after stall of wares, food and drink.  When you add in the backdrop of the arch between the two towers (everything has a name, I sadly can’t remember what the names of those two towers are – sorry!), it all felt more real.

Then we went off to the park.  There was a similar setup there, but in a more bucolic setting, along with more unique stuff like smithing, and crossbow and shortbow ranges (which I never got around to trying, dammit – maybe next week).  

The layout of the itinerary looks foreboding at first, but you see that many of the items are repeated, allowing you to stay in one location for much of the day to view most of what’s on offer, or alternatively bounce between locations to catch repeats.  In addition, there were a couple of marching bands who roamed the roads between acts, keeping everyone entertained (and on their toes), as well as stilt performers and a jester/magic act.

But there were some specialised performances that demanded either the square (dancing lessons) or the park (falconry exhibition) – see Part 2 for these, so sometimes you just had to travel.  It’s murder on your Achilles getting up that slope to the park!

You can see a couple of brief movies on this public Facebook post.

We were both roasted by this stage, and so went back to Via Porta all’Arco for  a granita, and then grabbed sandwiches to see off our hunger.  My one (in the background, with sausage meat and fried onion) was particularly yummy.

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We needed a bit of a break, as it was getting extremely warm, and so went back to the apartment. It was so hot, that the fan was on the cusp of turning from friend into enemy. We struggled through our ‘rest’, and eventually headed out for the early evening part of the show. See all this in Part 2!

The calm before the storm

The calm before the storm

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.

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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!

Bibbona, Bolgheri and Prepping for the Medieval Festival

Bibbona, Bolgheri and Prepping for the Medieval Festival

Erratum: Volterra has 8 contrade, not 6.  Always double-checks facts using multiple sites.  *Sigh*

We took the Lancia POS southwest along the SR68 (and its many hairpin turns immediately after Volterra), and cut off after Casino di Terra towards Bibbona.  We passed tantilisingly close to Casale Marittimo, my favourite hilltop village, passed some nice scenery, until we found handy parking, just outside the town’s Zona Traffica Limita (or ZTL – the area which, if you pass its boundaries without licensed permission, will ensure you are fined a three figure sum). 

It was a sleepy, pleasant place – probably affected by the August holiday, as we arrived there around 12:15.  We wandered around the old part of town, which is almost all residential and took some snaps.

It was a cloudier day yesterday, with high humidity, and so it was draining to be out in for a good length of time.

We were hungry, but the only place open in Bibbona was a family pizza place, so we took off for Bolgheri.  It’s only about a 6km drive, and I’d sussed out where to park, so it should be a cinch, right?  Oy… We got there and found car-parks rammed.  We had to drive the guts of a kilometer around the town, and park in an overgrown sports field, just beside the town cemetary.  I couldn’t believe it.  Bolgheri has a beautiful looking frontage – an arched entrance, which forms part of a well-kept castle.  I knew it was famous for its wine, and Niamh knew about Acqua di Bolgheri, an eau de toilette linked with the town.  But was I missing anything else?  Well, we’d see.  But first – food!  

We strolled past the first restaurant and headed down the street until we hit Enoteca Tognoni.  I stuck my head in and saw that it, too, was jam-packed.  A group of four got a table ahead of us, and so we thought we’d try our luck.  We got in!  They put us at a table with 6 other people.  They had used low-dividers to split out large tables for multiple smaller parties.  And it really worked!  They had no printed menu, and so brought the blackboard in from outside.  Niamh opted for ravioli and I went for tagliolini with wild pigeon sauce.  With a tourist-driven place like this, they probably could have thrown out any sub-par crap on the table, but they didn’t.  Both our dishes were superb – so it’s a high recommendation from me, should you wish to brave the parking!

Lunch complete, we set about exploring the town.  And this is where my puzzlement came to the fore.  Sure, it’s a pretty enough place – but it’s a small, more or less unwalled village, of three parallel, short asphalt streets.  If it weren’t for the castle frontage, or the many cute arts & crafts stores and eatieries you would wonder how it gets the number of tourists it does.  The stores were pretty, and the quality of products very high (which was reflected in the prices!) – so maybe that was it.  Dolly-up your shops to get the visitors.  Maybe the real heros of the piece are the people who make the products, and the people who market the town!  I don’t wish to belittle it – and it’s definitely worth a visit… but I feel that’s because it’s so close to other towns in the area (Bibbona, Casale Marittimo), which are sufficient to make it a fun day out.  Just go early in the morning, late in the evening, or maybe an hour after lunch.  Arriving in time for lunch was a mistake on our part.

One other good reason to visit: Bolgheri Ti Amo/Caffe della Posta – a café and gelateria.  The gelato here was fantastic – take a bow, guys!  

Here are some snaps of Bolgheri.

One of the highlights (see photo directly above) of Bolgheri is a 4km of perfectly straight, cypress-lined road. It’s impressive. We drove back and I took some distance-shots of Casale Marittimo and Volterra. We’ll go to Casale when we have guests with us.

As we approached Volterra, it began to spit rain – but it didn’t last long.  We chilled and Niamh cooked what was left of the mushrooms, panchetta and cream with bucatini.  I ran out to get some peas, so we’d have some freshness to cut through the richness of the other ingredients.  The result was better than the previous dish – it was really lovely!

We stayed at home all evening – sorry!

I got up this morning, and decided to keep my walk about town, specifically to check out the preparations that were being made for the medieval festival held this and the next weekends.  Some props were out and looked impressive.  I also took snaps of what I think are some of the contrada flags.  A contrada is a district within Italian towns.

You might have heard of the Palio of Siena – the twice-annual horserace?  Well Siena is split into 17 contrade (plural of contrada).  10 of these contrade are represented in the horserace, but the representative of the contrada is actually the horse, not the horse and rider together.  There is a fab documentary on Il Palio – check it out.  Anyway, the horse wins it – whether it is riderless or not – and the winning contrada goes a bit mad in celebration.

Volterra has a similar competition between the contrade, of which it has 8 (there used to be 12 or so 800 years ago).  It’s not a horserace – although it has its own Palio in October (racing a cheese-wheel through an obstacle course down one of Volterra’s many sloped streets).  We’ll sadly miss this – might have been a laugh.

Instead, there are flag waving/tossing and crossbow competitions to decide the winning contrada.  In addition, many of the townsfolk dress up in medieval gear and there are stalls featuring medieval skills (e.g. blacksmithing) and food & drink.  You have to change your Euros for a special currency upon arrival. We have limited experience of what happens, as it’s our first time here, but we’re excited to check it out!

You can see in some of the lower pics that they are putting together some of the props to give the town even more of a middle-ages feel to it.  Exciting 🙂

As I concentrated on the town, I didn’t check out what natural marvels were awaiting outside.  Niamh fortunately did, and captured Volterra on the edge of a layer of cloud.  Pretty spectacular!

No mad plans today, except to maybe go to the local Co-Op supermarket.  I have been tasked with cooking too.

See you in the next one!

A walk in the park

A walk in the park

We got lazy. There’s no two ways about it. After breakfast, we lay in front of the TV for an hour or two, and then went out and had a couple of serviceable pizzas in L’Antica Taverna.

Feeling a little guilty about how much time we spent indoors thus far, we had a little walk about town.  We stopped in Antica Dolceria Via di Sotto and bought some cantuccini (for Niamh) and brutti ma buoni (for me).  Both are a form of hard biscuit.  Cantuccini are often dipped into Vin Santo (a wine not a million miles from communion wine) as a dessert.

Brutti ma buoni (are so-called because they look ugly, but taste lovely). Anyway, after that, we mosied to the Parco Enrico Fiumi, which is Volterra’s public park.  I never get to take shots of it in the morning for you, because it’s usually closed until 08:30.  

The townsfolk are getting ready for the upcoming Volterra AD 1398 medieval festival occuring on August 11th and 18th.  I’ve heard good things about it, and it will be our first time to experience the atmosphere.  They’re currently building stalls for all the different shops and exhibitions in the park.

IMG_3802On the way home, we stopped off for a little bit of gelato in one of the newer gelateria off Piazza Martiri della Libertà – not bad at all – and sat in the main square to people-watch.

After doing a spot of writing, I crashed for the afternoon, and then watched the telly.  We had the lovely ragù Niamh had made a couple of days previously.  The flavours had fused even more, and so it was actually lovelier the second time around!

Niamh stayed in after, but I went to the Irish bar for a couple of pints.  Although you could have used the head on my second pint as a yardstick, the Guinness still tasted nice and smooth.

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This morning, I thought I’d give the old ticker a workout.  So I took the quickest route down to the Co-Op supermarket (maybe 90 meters down), and then walked all the way back up by a longer route.  My calves are killing me, but I got good exercise.

Some of the pics may not be especially sexy, as below the old, walled town, you still have a thriving modern area.

Our little herbs are coming along nicely!

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This morning, we are going to drive to La Rosa to go to a larger supermarket, just to see if it has much more available than the two closest to us – and of course stock-up.

Thanks for reading!