Market day! Yes, Saturday means market day in Volterra. During the tourist season, it sends to be on in the Vallebona carpark outside the walls, rather than in Piazza dei Priori, Via Roma and Piazza San Giovanni. It tends to be a little smaller as a result – not just as a result of a lower real-estate space, but people are on holidays. Plus this year, the remnants of Covid were still hitting. Still, they’re usually pretty lively events, and a great place to buy cheaper ingredients.
We picked up some foodie bits and bobs. Niamh checked out shoes and something light to wear to a beach, should we venture – but came away with nothing.
We had a light lunch of cuts, leaves and cheeses. In fact, I think this was possibly our lightest day of the holiday, apart from the first day, when we drove from Ciampino. Afterwards I went out to scout for a handbag for a friend (who visited us in 2019). I was an expert by now, so I was happy to advise.
I sent her the photos from the shop, and a day or two later I bought it for her! With one thing and another (mostly Covid and return to office) I didn’t get it to her for another couple of months – in fact, I had to drive to her house to get it off my hands!
Good deed done, I rewarded myself!
That evening, Niamh made a super little risotto, complete with parmesan crisp. It was delicious. And just the fare we needed for the attraction that evening!
It was time for one of the medieval sports events of the year – the crossbow competition – Ludus Balistris. There were a representatives (ballistrieri – crossbowmen/women) from towns across Italy (mostly Tuscany – Lucca, Massa Marittima, Pisa, Pisa Porta San Marco, San Marino and Volterra), all of whom had a squad of people aiming from 70 meters (guess) to try to hit a small target. Hint: they were all bloody marvellous at it. There were two trophies up for grabs: for the team, and the best crossbowman/woman.
I have some photos, but not much of the opening cerermony because I was shooting it live – videos below.
As you can see in the last couple of shots, no bolts are removed from the targets between rounds. This makes it progressively more difficult for the team members featuring later in the competition.
When the entertainment was over, the best of the group competition were selected for the indivual competition, and they had a shoot-off on a single target. You can see that in the last of the photos above.
When all was done, and judged. The winners were announced: Volterra had won the team competition, and one of the Luccan contingent won the individual. Yay us!
To close out the competition, there was some pyrotechnics!
Below are the videos of the opening ceremony.
The next day, we collected another guest from Pisa airport, but before we did that – I didn’t walk! We picked up my brother, who had been with us previously and drove home.
We also did something for lunch we hadn’t done in a long time, and there is no good reason why: we went to Don Beta, just a couple of doors up from the arched entrance to our apartment.
When looking at the menu you’d be forgiven, if you were an Italian purist, for thinking the menu was more than a little touristic. And it kind of is. There is something for everyone here – be it pizza, pasta, meat or fish – the menu is fairly enormous. In addition, they do something most other Italian restaurants don’t do: foreign food! Yes, they do Poke Bowls here. Now, I have no frame of reference with these, so I don’t know how good they are – but I appreciate that they’re giving it a go. I think it’s a progressive move.
Now, with such an extensive menu you’d think the food would be so-so, but it’s actually pretty good. It’s by no means ostentatious, but it’s tasty and honest, and the service is friendly and pretty fast for a Tuscan restaurant. We had pici with ragu and pappardelle with wild boar.
My brother’s all about the chilling, and we would have a busy day tomorrow (more in the next blog!). So, chill we did. Before dinner that evening, we had a short walk.
Food! We went to Pizzeria Ombra della Sera and had some food and a couple of beers apiece. I had been missing my veggies over the previous few days, so I had a Zuppa alla Volterrana, while the other two had pizza. Once done – it was TV and music time back at the apartment and to all a good night!
Thanks for reading this far. I hope you enjoyed it. Please drop me a comment with any queries. I’d love to hear from you!
Righto, this post contains a decent amount of media!
Back in 2019, we attended both ofVolterra’sMedieval Festivals, the second time with a guest – where we also played dress-up. The instances of the festival are only a week apart in mid-August. We missed the first week, but we really wanted to catch the second. I think you can already guess what happened to the 2020 and 2021 festivals – that stupid pandemic! Anyway, we were going to party like ’twere 1398 (sort of).
But first, a walk! I wanted to check out what kind of preparations were being made that morning for the festival, so I took my gimbal and phone with me and did a little filming, pausing to take photos too. I tried recharging my microphone receiver, but it overheated massively – to the extent that the charging jack melted a little, so that was that system broken. At the time of writing this (mid November), I still don’t have a mic system – roll on Christmas!
There really wasn’t anyone additional about beginning to set up the festival, so I assume that the people involved are so used to it now, that they have it running like clockwork.
One of my favourite things about the landscape surrounding Volterra is that if the climate conditions are right, fog will descend in the shallow valleys between the rolling hills, giving the latter the appearance of islands amidst a foamy sea. It’s so awesome looking. Hence, most of the photos in the gallery below are of this phenomenon.
I filmed, as I already said, so here’s a link to the (long-ish) video too.
The Festival – The City We thought we left the apartment in time to avoid a large crowd, and we did so… at the ticket office. The ticket system is a 2-staged affair. Firstly, pay your fee at one desk to get your ticket. Secondly, present your ticket at another desk to get your wristband for showing at at any of the border gates. I presume this is to keep things motoring when lots of people arrive at once. Once adorned, we presented ourselves at the nearest gate which led to the square. It turned out that getting there early seems to have been a popular decision: there was a large crowd already in the square enjoying a display by the sbandieratori (flag jugglers) and their accompanying musicians.
There aren’t really any photos of this, as I was filming – so you can catch that near the bottom of this post. After having taken in the spectacle, headed straight to the costume hire shop, which was no longer through the main doors of the Palazzo dei Priori, but through the Via Turazza entrance. I wanted to hire another monk’s costume (see the blog about the second festival in 2019), and managed to find one. I changed there and then, but eventually regretted not also losing my shorts. Note – you must have some photo ID (driver’s license or passport) to hire the costumes. Everyone’s was hired with my driver’s license. The other three wanted to preserve their dignity and instead change back up in the apartment. After a little confusion about what was and what wasn’t paid for, we headed out, me in my monk’s robe. Being linen, it was quite breathable, and not too warm. I was comfy enough in it.
While I waited for the return of the others, I headed to La Sosta del Priore to buy a couple of bottles of water. I was given an enthusiastic welcome by Ilenia and I got a chance to practice my shoddy Italian. I stuck the bottles in my pouch and headed back to the main square. Something happened to me on the way back: I fell in love with man-bags. The monk’s costume came with a large over-the-shoulder pouch, and it not only was handy for holding the water, but my phone and gimbal when I needed to. I vowed later that I would buy myself a man-bag later during my stay!
I sat on the ledge outside Palazzo dei Priori and people-watched while I waited for the others to return.
I was waiting for ages for some reason. My guess is the 76 steps up to/down from the apartment. I had to call to find out they were at the side of the palace again and ready to start their walk about the first festival area. So we did just that! We contemplated exchaging our money for the fair’s own currency, and that can be fun alright, but we stuck with the slightly more convenient modern cash. We checked out some of the stalls, and signed our name on parchment using old-school quills.
There were stalls which were demonstrating various trades such as jewellery crafting, salt-making, wood cutting and carving, and a barbeque pits were dotted here and there too. The locals added to the atmosphere by playing ‘parts’ while walking around of hawking wares. One guy was hobbling about with a bandaged foot on a crutch.
In other parts, there were games and activities for kids (including a hobby horse and a medieval merry-go-round) – some of these were usurped by (probably tipsy) adults. No photos of that – but see the video near the bottom of this blog.
We wound our way to the abbey on Via Roma. It is usually closed to the public, but it opens on during the medieval festivals, and some of the monks participate in demonstrations. Some of the ‘monks’ are also townspeople, as we met our regular contact in our Bank (Cassa di Risparmio di Volterra) dressed as a monk and demonstrating bread-making. The monk on the way in asked if I was from the north. I assumed he was referring to my pasty skin, and I declared that I was from Ireland. He was actually referring to my ‘fur’-lined hood… duh! We had a chuckle at my idiocy, and checked out a couple of other things going on there (art, old sheets of music and gospels and mosaic-making). The courtyard was not accessible, but you could see it through a shut gate.
When done, we headed back out onto Via Roma. It was a little quieter than in 2019 – there were simply fewer stalls; maybe only half as many as usual. This is a shame, as when it’s fully-lined, there is no street that looks as medieval when looking south-west to north-east, taking in the arch that spans the Buonparenti house towers. I know I keep harping on about this, and not producing the photographic goods – but you can see it all in the video below.
By now we were back at the main square, and were hungry. We headed to Voltaterra and grabbed some wine, beer and sausage sandwiches. We people-watched as we deveroured and drank. The pyrotechnical group (see the festival’s closing section below), marched through with their drummers.
The Festival – The Rustic Village We’d had enough of city-life for now, and leaving this section of the festival, we headed over to the main part, which was in the town’s municipal park (Parco Enrico Fiumi), a lovely green above the town, which used to contain Etruscan temples and palaces of nobility. Now it’s a lovely relaxing green area, with a circular path surrounding a dell around which people can sit for performances and demonstrations. Essentially they had set up a village with eatieres, armories, games for people to play and participatory activities.
There were animals there for the kids to watch (and everyone to eat), bottle fishing where the prize was a fritella dolce – a sort of sweet donut-like little ball. A tasty treat, but you could pick up a nice big cone of them for €2. There were suits of armour on display, and lots of townspeople wandering about in medieval costume adding to the ambience.
Trumpets blared, heralding the approach of a nearby town’s marching band, with flag throwing. We settled underneath a large tree and watched them do their stuff. They were a smaller troupe, and so weren’t as polished as a Volterrans, but you can’t say they didn’t give it their best.
We took to the path, acknowledging the bowmen who were having lunch – so that would be no archery for us, sadly. However, the ballistrieri (crossbow men/women) were facilitating target practice. A few Euros for 3 shots. We had a go – and astonishingly one of our guests hit the tiny target. We all came at least close, but his shot was fabulous. The targets are a good 20 meters away and tiny. First time I’d ever seen someone hit it. The crossbows you’re given probably have seen better days and the bolts not properly weighted (so they don’t kill people!)…so yeah – very impressive. You can watch all that footage on the video below.
August in Italy gets stinking hot, so by now we were gasping for a nice, cold drink. We left the village and went to L’Antica Velathri Café. Last time we were here during the festival in 2019 we had some delicious chilled mulled wine. This time we had some cocktails – the star of which a variation of a Mojito with bitters and ginger beer. The outdoor bar they had this year was far bigger and was very busy. The drinks were absolutely delicious!
The Evening Meal It was time for riposo – a mid-afternoon break. We went back up to the apartment and rested a while. We weren’t going to be wearing the costumes again, and I wanted my driver’s license back – so we left the apartment an hour or so later. The two ladies were champs and took the costumes back while us lads waited around the main square. We then went on a short walk, including a little walk into Vicolo Mazzoni, where the manhole which is said to be the entry to the home of the Volturi – the vampires of the Twilight series. I love this lane. It is gloriously spooky, but you do play a little pigeon roultette there, and hope you don’t get crapped-on whenever you go there. Niamh made her now signature move of frightening the bejesus out of our female guest!
After laughter and apologies, we found ourselves in L’Incontro for aperitivi. We had nibbles there too… always a nice welcome there!
You can see in the pic above that we were still wearing our wristbands, as we had the closing ceremony to go to.
Anyway, hunger was the new order of the day, and we decided on somewhere close to home – next door, in fact – to the always lovely Porgi L’Altra Pancia (literally, ‘grow another belly’). We might have had too much.
The Festival’s Closing Nice and stuffed, and perhaps a little wined, we headed back home again for a while to let the tummies settle, before the festival closing show at 23:00. I was disappointed when I remembered that we had missed the falconry exhibition in the park. We caught it in 2019. The birds were a little uncooperative then, but regardless we would have to wait until next time.
Anyway, after a short walk to check out the main panoramic viewpoint we hit the square on time, but it was packed. We managed to get close to the fence at the corner where it met the bleachers. I filmed a little and shot a little. It was a fun event. The sbandieratori put on a display, and after that, the band that we had seen traverse the square at lunchtime had brought all sorts of pyrotechnic paraphernalia with them and began to do their thing!
They ate fire, whipped with it, danced and hoola-hooped with it, all to the unceasing tattoo of their drummers. Right at the end they lit numbers ‘1398’ (AD1398 is the official name of the festival), which blazed in front of the seated audience. We could only catch it from the side.
I have to confess something. I missed the last 5 minutes of the show, as my feet and back were protesting terribly. Fortunately, Niamh’s constitution proved better on the day, and she managed to capture video of it. You can check it, and all of what we got up to, in the video (finally!) linked below:
If you’ve gotten this far, firstly fair play to you – secondly, thank you! Drop me a line if you like this, and I’d love to hear from you if you have questions or comments!
We began our mammoth day a little earlier than usual, so we could fit in all three towns. The route we took was largely wooded, and so wasn’t as photo-friendly as others. On our way to Suvereto, though, we tantilisingly passed by Canneto and Monteverdi Marittimo; two other towns on my ‘list’. However, we couldn’t be detracted from our main objective, and so parked in one of Suvereto’s free areas close to midday.
I know nothing really of the history of any of these places, save that the first two are topped with fortress ruins, and the last was an old Etruscan area – possibly the main necropolis. There are tombs dotted about, but we didn’t go to the archaelogical park – we’ll definitely go on a return visit. So, with that in mind, there won’t be too much narrative, so sit back, scroll and enjoy the pretty.
There are lots of photos in this post!
It turns out Suvereto was bigger than I’d thought. The exact same thing happened in Campiglia Marittima – the explorable area looked small, but ended up being huge, thanks to the higgledy-piggledy nature of the streets there. The latter was very impressive: every turn we made induced an “ooh” or “ahh” out of us. We also had lunch in Campigla Marittima in Ristorante La Tavernetta, and it was a tale of two portion sizes. Niamh’s was correct (ravioli with ragu), mine was way too big (little gnocchi in a leek and gorgonzola sauce. I really liked mine at first, but it just got too ‘samey’ halfway through.
The town was gorgeous, though – although it seems to be residential-heavy – only a couple of streets were devoted to shops and eateries. Every few footsteps brought a new arched stairways, nicely-decorated homes, squiggledy staircases… definitely worth a visit (as is Suvereto, which has more amenities to offer the tourist).
We took so many photos of Campigla Marittima, it was silly.
On to Populonia, which offers a cul-de-sac with an old walled hamlet (less than half the size of Monteriggioni), a marina and a fab looking beach. In addition, there’s a hidden rocky beach that locals use a lot, and an Etruscan archaeological park, rife with tombs. First we visited the town.
It’s a nice place, with a couple of artsy-craftsy places and a few restaurants. We didn’t spend too long here, and so wound our way back down to the marina area. It has a small beach nearby, and is pretty enough. In the distance, there’s a much larger beach, with additional facilities. We visited that too, but briefly – being the only fully-dressed people on a beach full of half-naked people tends to make one feel a little uncomfortable – especially when you’re taking photos!
So now it’s a toss-up between this beach (which is in lovely surroundings), versus Marina di Cecina (which is closer, and has more amenities, but isn’t nearly so pretty). There are others in the area aswell – Castiglioncello (not too much further than Marina di Cecina, is lovely, has amenities, but requires climbing a lot of steps, and is rather small), and Rosignano Solvay, which offers nice white beaches and amenities, but I’ve never been to. Of course, possible the queen of beach resorts is Viareggio – where the beaches are overrun, but there are amenities galore… Viaraggio also holds one of the biggest Mardi Gras festivals in Europe, which surprised the heck out of me when I read it. Plus we’re about 90 minutes from it.
Anyway – back to the photos.
We were dog-tired when we got home, and so just chilled until it was time to go out to dinner in Ristorante Etruria. It really is a well-decorated place! The staff and food are good here too. I had ravioli smothered in a cinta senese (Sienese pork) ragu, followed by grilled swordfish and fries. Niamh had mussles and some amazing wild boar chops. They were chargrilled, and tasted wonderfully. I had serious food envy. We were too stuffed to have dessert, or even the free limoncelli or grappe they offered us. Rather than let us go home empty handed, they gave us a half-bottle of Chianti. We have three of these now!
Nothing was done for the rest of the night.
I got up and walked around the walls again this morning, but this time clockwise. I worked myself up into another sweaty mess! There were some lovely cloudscapes on offer, though.
No travel plans today – I might head out and visit a couple of Volterran attractions I haven’t documented here.
Well, we found a decent place to park in Florence, which acts as an unofficial Park and Ride for line 1 of their tram system, so I was able to bring you this update! Note that it’s photo-heavy. Note also that we didn’t enter any of the attractions, as we’d been in Florence a couple of times before and had already hit most of them.
We probably left a little late, and instead of taking the dual-carriageway route, we went via the Pisa road, and a scenic route. Some parts of it are really lovely, and it offers a much less-stressy approach to the CoOp carpark, but it is a bit longer than Google Maps suggests – maybe 15 minutes longer.
I took some snaps along the way, but Mr. Sun, God bless him, did his level best to screw up my shots, as I was facing him for most of the route.
The carpark is for the CoOp on Nenni. It is completely free, but to get to town, you have to get the tram to the central train station, and walk a little from there to the more popular attractions. You pay for tram usage by time, rather than by number of stops. We selected the base ticket (90 minutes) both there and back, and it only cost €1.50 per person for each journey. What we forgot to do (on both legs of the journey) is to validate the ticket using the machines inside the trams. You run the risk of getting a fine if you don’t. We got lucky.
Anyway, we got off at the train station, and walked through the underground shopping centre and a street or two, to hit Piazza di Santa Maria Novella. Despite spending 5 nights in the city a few years ago, I don’t think we’d ever been here!
Onwards, then, towards probably the series of chief attractions in Florence: the Cathedral, belltower and baptistry of Santa Maria del Fiore. The architecture is stunning, with incredibly detailed doors and columns. It is one of the most impressive things you’ll see in all of Tuscany – really… the outside of the Pisan square simply aren’t as impressive (although they are amazing – it’s just that the cathedral in Florence is a cut above).
The baptistry in that last photo looks bizarrely skewed… blame the camera on the iPhone.
Anyway, having been blown away by that, we marched on to Piazza della Republica. A gorgeous square indeed.
We went on, then, to the Mercato Nuovo and the Fonta del Porcellino. You’re supposed to put a coin in the boar’s mouth, to let it fall through the grate below, and then rub the snout for good luck. While some tourists were attempting that, a beggar woman sidled up and grabbed every coin from the font, before wandering off again.
We were both feeling a little peckish by now, but decided to go to the Piazza della Signoria – really the main square of government in Florence – or used to be in the Medici’s days.
Here you’ll find a ton of statuary, including Neptune, Hercules, a copy of David, moulded from the original, and Perseus holding aloft the head of Medusa. As well as that, of course, you have the main building of government (back in the day at least): the Palazzo Vecchio. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll notice that it’s a cheap knock-off of the Palazzo dei Priori in Volterra, the design of which predates it by about 300 years. Florence’s palazzo was begun in 1299, but owes its current appearance to the Medici, who rightly thought Volterra’s equivalent looked snazzy. I say ‘cheap’ with my tongue planted in my cheek: it’s an impressive building, and the inner courtyard is fabulous. We haven’t get visited it, and it sounds like it’s worth a good explore, based on what I read about it. Maybe some other time.
What else would you dine on in Florence, but Chinese?! Yeah, it had gotten to that stage again where we craved something oriental, and so gorged ourselves in Il Mandarino. The soups we had (won-ton and sweetcorn) were nice, and the steamed dumplings excellent. But the mains were so-so, with Niamh’s chicken satay not really tasting of peanuts, and my chilli beef tasting more of toasted sesame than chilli, but was still tasty. Our accompanying veggies were nice enough.
After filling ourselves to the tops of our throats, we waddled south through the streets, until we hit the Arno river, and made our way to, and across, the fabled Ponte Vecchio. Niamh stopped here briefly to pick up a mask to go on display with the other mask we bought during Volterra’s medieval festival. It’s a lovely little walk, with shops hanging over the sides of the bridge, all decorated externally like medieval shops. There is a gap halfway over, so you can look east and west along the Arno and take snaps.
The south isn’t as dramatic as the north, but a small explore is recommended, if only to at least see the enormous Palazzo Pitti. We had thought to enter and walk around the gardens there, but lazily we gave it a miss and continued exploring the south.
It was gelato time, and up to now we had been avoiding most gelaterie in Florence, as we had a fair idea it would be sub-standard. We’ve been told that a pretty good rule of thumb is if you see the gelati piled high, don’t go in. We went instead to the Gelateria Santa Trinita, and if you go, you too can be served slightly above average gelato for 30% higher than you’d pay in Volterra, and have it served up by a tall, attractive young lady whose hobby appears to be eye-rolling. Fun times. Still, we could sit on a bench within and it did its job of cooling us down.
We’d begun clock-watching and so decided to call it a day. We strolled back to the north side, to the train station, stopping to take photos. We found a couple of the ‘no entry’ street signs so wonderfully ‘adjusted’ by a dude call Clet Abraham. He gets wind of a new sign, has his changes already cut out and ready to stick to it, cycles to it and sneakily rubs it on. It’s quite illegal, but he’s never been ‘caught’… I suspect the authorities are pleased, as it adds another bit of character to a town already overflowing with it.
We took the dual carriage way home – a road that bridges Florence and Siena. We came out at Colle di val d’Elsa, whereupon the road became instantly familiar. It’s a shorter route, but not as scenic and involves a bit of an annoying rat-run through some of Florence’s streets from the CoOp carpark to get to it. As it was the evening, Mr. Sun trolled me from the other side again!
We didn’t do or really eat anything that evening, but just relaxed and screen-watched. This morning, I got up and had my first walk in 3 days.
You know it’s the end of holiday season, when they start setting up the Saturday market in the main and cathedral squares. Ah well… all good things must come to and end, as they will do this day next week when we fly home 😦
Not too sure what today will bring, but thanks for reading about yesterday!
We got up early together to travel to Pisa to pick up another visitor: one of my brothers. It was the same flight as our previous visitor, and, as before, it landed 15 minutes early. He arrived safely, and had my long-lost wallet with him, so off we went to Hertz to get me added as a driver – to finally save Niamh from having to do all the driving.
We went to Pisa (again!), but this time just had a quick wander around the square. I only took a few pics this time.
On the way home, we stopped off at the Conad supermarket in Capannoli to grab some groceries, snacks and beers, as our guest isn’t a wine drinker. Back in Volterra, we had lunch at La Terra di Mezzo before we dropped all our bags at the apartment. We had a caprese salad, beef ragu with tagliatelle and I had pappardelle with truffle and a ricotta sauce – one of the best plates of pasta in town, in my opinion! A couple of us had desserts afterwards, along with a freebie shot of limoncello.
We went home to chill, as our guest had been up since about 03:00, and was a little tired. We just chilled and dozed. At around 15:30, there was a hubbub outside our window – drummers were approaching the main square, but they were not recognisable as being Volterra’s own.
We went downstairs and out to the square, with the afternoon’s thunder booming off in the distance. There was definitely an event on, but I couldn’t see it in Volterra City‘s list. If anyone local is reading this – could you give me a definitive source for these events, please? Anyway, it seems to have been a competition of sbandieratori (flag jugglers/wavers) from Volterra, Florence and Pistoia. People were sat in the metal bleacher seats provided, and watched the entrance of each team.
About halfway throught, fat drops of rain began to fall. Moments later, there was a flash, followed by an immediate booming – one of the loudest sounds I’ve ever heard. We couldn’t have been more than a hundred meters away from a lightning strike. People began immediately moving off the bleachers, and the restaurant in the square suddenly found a half-dozen people to take away tablecloths and fold up parasols of their outside seating! Still, the sbandieratori remained in position, with their flags held high.
Nobody moved until the rain started coming down heavily. Then all three teams scarpered under the archways of the civic buildings lining the east side of the square. We stayed for a little while, but there was no sign of them coming back out, so we toddled back to the apartment. I didn’t hear anything recommence until about 17:00, and it lasted until we were going out for dinner – around 19:30. A cannon sounded off to announce the end of the competition.
I’m not sure what the results were, but I’ll have a look-out. I still don’t know what the results of the crossbow competition were from the previous week!
Anyway – we headed out to Il Sacco Fiorentino for dinner, stopping off at the viewpoint for a couple of snaps.
Niamh had eggplant parmagiano, and I the zuppa alla Volterrana to start. Our guest’s single course was a burger, and looked amazing – but for some reason, I didn’t take a photo. Niamh liked her’s – mine was merely ok. Afterwards, Niamh had seabass and I had a sliced pork steak, served with cheese onions and cavalo nero (kale, more or less). Niamh’s fish was well-cooked. Mine was tasty, but the pork a little overdone. We both had a side of fries, as they are amazing here.
I went home with a full, but worryingly, grumbling stomach. I had contracted some sort of unpleasant gastric issue, which upset my sleep overnight. I don’t think it was anything I ate yesterday, but perhaps the previous day. We re-heated some chicken and broccoli bake – this might have been it, but Niamh had it and she was ok! So who can say? Either way, my tummy hasn’t settled properly yet, and I didn’t go out for a walk this morning – I just left the trash downstairs. I need to remain close to the apartment until I can shake this thing off!
Apologies for ending on an unpleasant note – but that’s life. Hopefully, I’ll feel better today and have something interesting to post tomorrow!
A little after breakfast, we went to the Saturday market to buy some fresh veggies for a version of Zuppa alla Contadina (peasant soup). There weren’t any fresh peasants around, so we had to settle for the vegetarian option!
We got almost all the fresh veg we wanted, except for Cavalo Nero (black cabbage; kale, essentially). One stall at the market had it, but it was brown and dried around the edges. Turns out nobody else had it in town either – it’s pretty much out of season. Yet, the restaurants must get it from somewhere. I had to go without, which is a shame, as it’s a really important part of the flavour. Anyway, I got herbs and beans to add to the soup from the nearby supermarket, and went home to make it.
I cooked up a normal starter soffritto (a seasoned stir-fry of celery, carrot, onion), adding fresh rosemary and dried thyme. After 8-10 mins, I added liquid and a ton of veggies (more of the same, plus potato and zucchini). I had to add a little store-bought stock to boost the flavour.
After 40 minutes, I threw the beans into mix, which both coloured and slightly sweetened the liquid. Normally, you’d have another vessel in which you’d layer sliced tuscan bread and soup multiple times, leave it for a while and reboil it (a ribollita). I couldn’t wait, so I lined my bowl with bread instead, and ladled soup over that. It was delicious, but I think could have been so much better with the cavalo nero. There was enough for the pair of us, and we have 3-4 portions in the freezer too.
We sat around for much of the rest of the day. Niamh cooked up a dinner of frozen fish (we sometimes have that, and so wanted to try out similar products here – let’s just say it wasn’t Italy’s finest hour!). I ran out and grabbed a carton of gelato from L’Isola del Gusto. Yum – will have more of that today.
At around 20:30, after I’d taken shots of the sunset, we headed out to the main square (Piazza dei Priori), as there was a crossbow competition between several Tuscan cities, visits to three of which we have chonicled in this very blog: Volterra, Massa Marittima and Pisa – and a fourth: Lucca – a gorgeous fully-walled town about 90 minutes drive from us.
There was the usual pomp and ceremony as the nobles and teams arrived, and arrayed themselves out of the square.
Forgive the quality of some of these photos – we had a floodlight opposite us during the opening ceremony and iPhone cameras don’t handle them very well.
Each town had 12 contestants, and all would be aiming at a target from about 30-40 meters away, the bullseye of which was only 3cm across. They had a camera set up, and were able to show the targets on a big screen. The skill of these people was impressive, as most of them grouped their bolts neatly on the target. After the first 6, though, it began to get a little tricky, as bolts were not cleared, and the latter contestants found it harder to find space on the target. In fact, one of Massa’s bolts smacked off another and fell to the ground.
There was also an individual competition going on between each person, as well as the team competition.
Afterwards, there was a display by the flag wavers (sbandieratori), while the judges attempted to figure out the score. We went home during this phase, as we were feeling a little tired. Do you ever get tired from doing nothing? Isn’t that weird?! We heard drumming for a while afterwards, and then missed a fireworks display. I tried to make myself decent and run out to the terrace to catch it, but it was all over after 30 seconds. There is a metaphor in there somewhere!
More annoyingly, I am going to have to find out who won the competition and let you know later!
This morning I decided to punish myself for not walking yesterday. I took a very long route to the Co-Op Supermarket, and from there climbed back up to the city. The first 85% of the route is downhill… the last 15% is murder. Anyway, I survived!
We know we want to do something today, as the weather seems to have cleared up a lot, but are not quite sure what it will be. We’ll let you know in the next one!
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.