Tag: medieval

Suvereto, Campiglia Marittima and Populonia

Suvereto, Campiglia Marittima and Populonia

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.

A domani!

A Walkabout in Florence

A Walkabout in Florence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Visitor

Another Visitor

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!

Ciao!

Soup, and the ‘Ludus Balistris’ – Crossbow Competition

Soup, and the ‘Ludus Balistris’ – Crossbow Competition

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!

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.