Tag: pasta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onwards:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More screen-watching, music-listening and bed!

Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think!

Market Day at Colle di Val d’Elsa and Meeting New Friends in Del Duca (06/05/2022)

Market Day at Colle di Val d’Elsa and Meeting New Friends in Del Duca (06/05/2022)

I waited in again without a walk this morning, as the builder was due (again) to come (again). This time he did! He and his mate took the rest of the junk from the cellar away. Niamh was pretty much asleep when this happened, so she was pleasantly surprised when I told her that they’d already been. She had been settling in for a wait, but now we could head out somewhere instead. I suggested going to Colle di Val d’Elsa – the newer part of town, as we hadn’t really explored it fully. She agreed, and we headed out!

We drove past the old town on the ridge, and down into the newer old part of town to a carpark. Not sure how we avoided the ZTLs, but we weren’t fined so we must have done our job correctly. We parked at first in a carpark with white lines, which caused alarm bells to ring. That usually means that they are for residents only. The signs weren’t terribly obvious, so when we’d parked I ran back to the carpark entrance and saw that unfortunately, yes, it was for residents. Right next to this carpark was another with far fewer spots available. Luckily, a couple of cars pulled out, so by the time we got to it we found a handy place near the back. I put my filming rig together and we headed back into town to have a little explore.

We parked at these coordinates. Google says the carpark is closed, but it’s not: it’s the lift to the old town that’s currently closed (or was at the time of writing this – Mid June). We walked through to the main part of town, only to be immediately confronted by about a 9 or 10 market stalls in a small open area. Niamh was in the market for a small basket for our newly remodelled bathroom, and there happened to be a stall there that sold exactly that! Baskets, not remodelled bathrooms.

We bought a basket, and I thought that was the extent of the market… until we moved to the next open space. Then we saw more stalls. Which, when we reached the main square, turned into even more, with many more spider-webbing throughout the sidestreets leading from the square. The market was immmense – probably the biggest I have visited to date. There aren’t many photos of it, as I was filming instead – you can catch the video of it below. It was a regular market, rather than a collectible/antique market. It was mostly about food (local produce from farms, cooked food), clothes, electronics etc. It was super-impressive and many of the food stalls looked amazing – however, we really wanted a sit-down place.

We had been to a nice restaurant in the new town before under which flowed a stream, and it had a little water mill and everything… but we found out that it was now permanently shut. I’m not sure why – maybe it was another victim of the awfulness of the pandemic.

Colle di Val d’Elsa is famous for its crystalware, and I was hoping to visit the Museum dedicated to the glassware before we ate. Unfortunately, it was closed for renovation on the day. There was no other thing left for us to do except stuff our greedy faces.

We found a place up a side street called Trattoria Bel Mi’ Colle. Our initial impression was that they weren’t particularly experienced with handling tourists. The service initially felt quite odd, a little stand-offish, but they soon warmed-up. I didn’t want another Coca Zero, and accepted a recommendation from the lady managing the restaurant. I wish I’d taken a photo of it – it seemed like a form of cedrata (clear, light citrus-based drink), and was really refreshing.

Niamh had a rigatoni pasta dish with a beef ragù, and I had a white ragù (usually one or more of pork, rabbit, hare or very occasionally chicken) with pappardelle, but the pasta was made with the flour of ancient grains – which is a great alternative for those seeking gluten-free options. Personally, I found the dish just a fraction dry, but I liked the texture and flavour. I would recommend the restaurant for travellers, but would suggest you practice your Italian a little! Our dessert was lovely, but was served on a hilariously outsized plate… not matter – we really liked it.

When done, we checked to see if we could get the elevator up to the old town, but it was closed. Niamh wasn’t in the mood to to traipse all the way uphill to visit the place (we have visited it before 3 or 4 times) in spitting rain. In hindsight, I can’t say I blame her! In the end, we ended up going home to place our basket in the bathroom and chill a while.

You can watch our video of our exploration of the market here!

We had been in touch with David McGuffin, a tour operator working out of Florida, who specialises in tours to Europe, especially Ireland and Italy. If you’re reading this in the U.S. I can say David has such a love of Europe and is super-knowledgeable about the places he tours, and is well connected too. On top of that – he’s just a good guy to hang out with too!

We met him in L’Incontro for an aperitivo drinkie, which turned into two or three. We mentioned that we were going to hop off to Ombra della Sera to grab a pasta, after having had lunch earlier. Out of the blue, he invited us to join is tour group in Del Duca for a set meal. We were hesitant at first, as we didn’t want to cramp anyone’s style, plus we weren’t sure that we could put away a Del Duca dinner! However, when he said that one of the courses would be a shared Florentine steak, we couldn’t say no. Neither of us had had it before, unbelievably – so we nodded enthusiastically and agreed. He left us to have another drink on our own, while he gathered his troop together and we met him at the restuarant. He generously offered to pay for our meal too… again, our protestations were not as strong as they could have been. The guy is a mensch, what can I say?

The rest of the people in David’s group were lovely, and some lively conversation was struck up between the 5 courses, most of which were paired with Marcampo’s own wines (the Del Duca family run the winery with with their agritourismo). Here’s the grub, including the fabled Bistecca alla Fiorentina!

Claudia was away in Sweden (if I recall correctly), but we got a warm welcome from Ivana and Genuino, and the waiting staff. The wine flowed pretty freely, and at the end of the meal we were given grappa. Now I am rarely one to turn my nose up at post-dinner amari, but this grappa was a nope for me… it was incredibly strong. We had a dessert wine instead… followed by a couple of other drinks. Truth be told we left the place quite merry.

Of course, one person often overlooked, was this time not forgotten. Niamh and I are huge fans of Del Duca’s head chef: Alessandro Calabrese, and when the restaurant was closing up and we were being kicked out (in a friendly way!), we came out and like a bunch of fanbois got our picture taken with him.

We all walked past our apartment entrance as a group, Niamh and I being somewhat gratified by the ‘Oohs’ and ‘Ahs’ when they saw we lived slap-bang in the middle of town.

We got home, and I stayed up a while listening to music, as I often do when a little merry.

David, thanks again for a wonderful evening. We still owe you and Charlotte a return dinner!

Return to Volterra for Christmas (20/12/2022)

Return to Volterra for Christmas (20/12/2022)

Hot diggity! Volterra time!

The past few months felt up and down with respect to my anxiety, but I always know in my heart that the condition is in a decline, and although I still have some rough months ahead I will be fine in time. I just have to have patience.

Anyway, back to the healing holidays. For the first time ever, we had decided to leave the country for the first time to spend Christmas in Volterra. We had been there in December 2018 to pick up the keys of the house, and it was coooold! We stayed for a couple of weeks, and witnessed the turning on of the lights, but we left a good week shy of Christmas itself. The wind cut right through us when we were outdoors. But we didn’t mind. The town is lovely during all weathers. I know that people who have lived in Volterra tend to get tired of the winter months, the cold and the fog – but for now, Niamh and I find them enchanting. We packed for multiple layers each day. The ceilings in most rooms in the apartment are quite high, so we were unsure how well the central heating worked. The radiators get piping hot, but the volume of the rooms might be too much. We would probably have to look at getting a convection/air heater or two.

We’d also have to make sure that our guests were comfortable. That’s right! We’d have guests for Christmas – Niamh’s sister (who’d just successfully finished a cookery course in Ballymaloe School) and brother-in-law (with whom I go to an annual Prog Rock festival (pandemics not withstanding)). It would be fun!

And because it was our first Christmas in the apartment, we’d have to get Christmas decorations. We picked up the first of these from Robbi – the owner of Terra di Mezzo restaurant – in August, and some others in Valdichiana back in October, but more were needed.

The airport was a great deal busier than I remember it being in July 2020, that was for sure! It still didn’t take us long to get through security. We bought tubes of Bailey’s truffles for various folks in Volterra, and grabbed breakfast, and of course the obligatory bottles of water for the flight and initial stage in Italy. I rarely have an Irish/British breakfast, but today I felt like it. Pork products abound!

We boarded with no issues – I think a cursory glance at our tickets and and passports is all it took. There may have been a check of our vaccination certs, but certainly nobody looked at our Passenger Locator Forms (PLF). We landed on time and with no issues – a good flight!

Because we would be picking up guests two days later, we didn’t go all-out on the rental car. We grabbed something small from Sixt – I think it was some sort of Kia, but I’m not sure. Our guests would pick up something larger. Always good service from them (both Sixt and our guests!).

We didn’t have too far to drive to our first stop: Navacchio! We went to the CoOp first to see if there was anything there we could pick up. We were a little disappointed by what was on offer there. Not keen on the decorations, and the trees were too large for our need, so on to Casa instead. We picked up a bunch of tiny baubles, and a modern spindly tree – the kind that is often used outdoors, but we would use inside the apartment anyway. I was modestly successful in my use of Italian with the shop assistant, but one was soon called who had lived in London for a year, and who could converse more fluidly with the pair of us. She was very helpful, in fairness. They boxed up the tree we selected (it was the last one, and they had to raid their stockroom for the box), and once again we had to explain that we can’t tap for larger transactions (Irish cards max out at €50 per transaction for tapping). Anyway, we were on our way, and with festive goodies in tow.

I am proud that we didn’t stop in Old Wild West this time for a dirty burger/ribs. I am less pleased that we also walked past CoOp’s gelato stall – which was still operating. I think I whimpered. My only real problem with Volterra is that all artisanal gelato stores shut for the off-season – so it becomes a ‘dry’ town. First World problems.

Anyway, we got to Volterra at an awkward time. As we were hungry (and the apartment was cold), we turned the heat on – checked that it was working – and headed out to grab something smallish for lunch, as we generally favour larger meals at night. There was something about the security gate inside the apartment entrance, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. It’s often left open during the day so people can get to the insurance office above, and today was no different – but something was off.

We had a brief walk around town to take it in.

They had a tree this year in the piazza. Last year they had an alabaster display instead. I love alabaster creations, but really at Christmas, you can’t beat a tree. I really liked the constellation theme this year, and I think they may still be left up in the main square. I think they look fab. Somehow, even if understated, the Italians dress up their shops at Christmas better than they do back home. Each one is worth examining.

Anyway – back to the food – fortunately, Volaterra was still open. I asked if we could have a snack, but got a strange look. It wasn’t until literally weeks later I discovered that I had pronounced ‘merenda‘ as ‘meranda‘. Oops. Fortunately the latter isn’t offenesive, or even extant! Anyway, we fumbled through it and I got a yummy bean and mushroom soup, and Niamh some bruschette. A glass of wine was also had.

On the way back, it had begun to get dark. We wanted, for the first time ever, to try some genuine artisanal panettone. It’s a kind of sweet bread – I think with the consisency of donuts (but better), and with some sort of finely diced filling – frequently fruit. We popped into Pasticceria Migliorini to see if they had prepared any. Indeed they had – a few varieties. We opted for chocolate and candied orange peel. It was pre-boxed, and we knew we would have to exercise God-like restraint in not opening and devouring it before our guests arrived.

We thought it chilly in the apartment, and so we thought to give our central heating a boost. There is an appliance store 20 seconds walk away from the pasticceria, so we grabbed a fan-heater in there and brought it back to the apartment (yes, we paid for it!). Marvelling at both Vicolo delle Prigioni and the amazing lilac-lighted tree just inside the foyer of our apartment block.

After mooching about the apartment for a couple of hours (what was it with the security gate – it was bugging me!), it was dinner time. We didn’t go to some of our favourites, as we had booked them for later in the week. However, we had another favourite up our sleeves, and we wouldn’t have to brave the cold for too long in order to get to it!

Porgi l’Altra Pancia (the name always makes me smile – Grow Another Belly) is right beside the entrance to our apartment block, and the people who run it are just lovely, and we always get a warm welcome. They might even change the seating configuration to accomodate us during busy periods, or even grab a reserved table, knowing how quickly we can eat! But most of the time, and I especially during off-season, we can take our own sweet time in a set-up that looks like a deli, then becomes a wine-sellers (it’s down as a wine bar in Google for some reason), then finally a restaurant. It’s a great place. We got a seat no problem, and said hello to the waiter who always recognises us… I swear that next time I will actually ask the guy his name. I’m a devil for not doing that.

We walked to the security gate. It was closed. We pushed the button to escape and it duly obliged. Then we noticed what we failed to notice before: the gate’s lock had been completely changed. We checked to see if we could unlock it from the outside anyway. Of course we couldn’t – the lock was changed! We stood like a pair of idiots for a couple of minutes until I had the bright idea of heading all the way back upstairs and asking our neighbours (the people who sold us the apartment) to see if they had a key. There were in, fortunately, and I managed to use my Italian successfully! They have absolutely no English, but I managed to grab a spare key from them, and not only that – the man of the house said he’d get a bunch of copies cut for us and deliver them the next day. They are lovely people! Anyway, with key-in-hand (yes, we tested that it worked), we took the fifteen more steps to the restaurant!

We discovered that we were still a little full from our meal in Volaterra, so we decided just for a pasta course each. Of course, by the time that had finished, dessert was also on the cards. We had opted for a bottle of Rosso di Montepulciano – Niamh rarely goes for red, but she joined me this time. I was to buy a bottle of this in Montepulciano itself a couple of days later – but you’ll read all about that in a few weeks’ time. Our food, unsurprisingly was great!

We said our goodbyes, and although we were fit for our beds, we thought it better to begin the digestion process by having another little walk around to check out the Christmas lights at night.

When we had our fill, we put up the tree, put lights and baubles on it, wrapped lights around our weird upright lamp and toasted the beginning of our Christmas!

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

Long and Lovely Lunch at Terra di Mezzo (05/08/2021)

Long and Lovely Lunch at Terra di Mezzo (05/08/2021)

As it was just after our first night, we had no trash to take down, so I could afford to take my time. I still had to move the car by 08:00, though. I grabbed my phone, grip and mic and headed to the carpark.

I got in and drove down to the free carpark, at Docciola. At that hour, I found a spot with no hassle. However, the downside of that carpark is that you have to climb up a couple of hundred steps to get back into town. When there, I walked along Via Gramsci, and stopped off at Pasticceria Migliorini for some pasticcini for breakfast. Italians’ breakfasts are usually sweet, so I just wanted to fit in.

I have a little video about my little walk here:

Once done, I yummied down the pasticcini, had a shower and headed out to meet Alice from our estate agents, who have a great property management service. We gave them a gift of a ton of drink-themed chocolate, and we were given a quick tour of their new office; a great upgrade from their previous one! Very nice indeed.

We had to renew our parking permit, so Alice brought us to the municipal police station in Torre di Porcellino. We waited in line here while the queue slowly moved along.

While we waited, I ran to a tabacchi to buy stamps to affix to the permit… a sort of mini-tax to be affixed to the permit itself.

It was finally our turn, and we were served by a dapper young gent in civilian clothes. For some reason, and we’re still not sure why, our permit was downgraded from ‘R’ (pretty much full resident’s permit – you can park almost everywhere, and drive through town on designated roads), to ‘F’, which allows us park in 3 areas – and we’d have to ask for permission to drive through town. Now, it annoyed me, but in practical terms it didn’t really impact us, as we were still able to park in our usual carpark.

Anyway, next year, we’ll see if we can get upgraded again… but maybe not get so upset if we can’t pull it off.

One of the traditions Niamh and I have is to try to have our first major meal in La Taverna di Terra di Mezzo – largely down to the time we were welcomed back by them at the beginning of our second ever visit to Volterra. So, we went there for lunch! And we weren’t disappointed.

The food was amazing! We also doused ourselves in the house red and white. When all was done, Aurora opened a bottle of limoncello, and left it and three glasses with us! We weren’t abusive, and just had maybe five shots between the three of us. I ended up leaving satisfied and perhaps just a little tipsy!

The lunch took over 2.5 hours…. but I loved every minute of it. Afterwards, to burn off the calories (and some boooze), we had a stroll around the town a little. This was cool, as I so rarely take photos of it at this time… most of mine are taken in the morning. Anyway, here’s a selection!

We chilled for a little while, before inexplicably getting a little hungry again! So I said I’d pop out to Ombra della Sera pizzeria and grab a couple of pizzas to share. But on the way, sure I had to stop off in L’Antica Velathri Cafe for a quick aperitivo!

I ordered at the pizzeria, and was told it was a 20 minute wait, so I had a quick stroll.

I collected a veggie pizza and a 4-cheese…. I love Ombra’s 4-cheese!

And then to bed! Or maybe some time out on the terrace, then some TV, then bed!

Thanks for reading!

Lari and the Pasta Factory

Lari and the Pasta Factory

We have two guests with us for a short while, so we decided to take them to Lari. We had been there before, but the Martelli pasta factory tours were closed in August (when many Italians go on holiday). We wandered up to the carpark, only to see that they’d strung some brollies over Gramsci. Tonight is Volterra’s culture night (La Notte Rossa), where there are a ton of acts playing around the city, and many of the major attractions are open for free from 21:00 to 24:00. Why do they call it The Red Night? They light up the city with red lamps – like they do near Christmas. It will be a late night, but I’m looking forward to it. Below is a pic of one of our favourite restaurateurs, from La Terre di Mezzo – getting ready for the festivities.

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We went to Lari by way of La Sterza, and Terriciola.  Why Google Maps changed our route to take is through Terriciola, rather than go around it is a mystery.  We were rewarded with a different set of sights this time around, as we were driven through village after village, past vineyards and olive groves.  It was pretty cool… except maybe for the driver, who insisted we travel a different route going home!  The roads were quite narrow in parts and can’t have been fun to navigate.

We parked near the old town, with about a 250m walk uphill to the archway which leads into the main area.  It was a warm day, and the climb was understandably a little draining.  There was an organised tour group ahead of us, but we only had to wait about 15 minutes for the next opening.  This afforded us a mooch around the town for a bit, including a trip to a jewellers who could only give us a price for an 18-carat bracelet after he’d weighed it.  I’d never seen that before!  When the price was given, we excused ourselves and left.

A large group of people had gathered from Ireland (including a pair of people other than ourselves), Germany, the US, the Netherlands and Switzerland to go in.  The tour was only about 15 minutes long, but you got to go into the areas where pasta (specifically spaghetti here – the rest of the pastas are made in the castle in the middle of the town) is dried and cut – and you were given a small sample of pre-cut pasta.  Martelli pasta is cut with bronze dies, which give it a very rough texture.  As the pasta is only made from durum wheat and water, there isn’t a flavour difference, but the sauce sticks beautifully to the pasta in the pan during the final stages of cooking.

The dude that came out to deliver the tour (in English) was dressed in video-game racial stereotype overalls, but he knew his stuff and was friendly.  The main area was really warm… maybe 35-36 celsius, and I wondered how hot it could get in August-heat!

Afterwards, we had a lunch with Martelli pasta.  We had done so before in the same restaurant, but the only new dish was the one I got – maccheroni with a tuscan ragu.

Our guests were a little tired, so we forewent trips to other towns, and headed home – capturing some lovely scenery on the way.  We had an obligatory stop at the ‘O’ on the road just past Volterra, on the way to Siena.

Apologies… you can see reflections in some of the photos.  On the way back to apartment, we grabbed some gelati, because we could!  We pretty much stayed in for the rest of the day, except when I nipped out to grab a little shopping, and Niamh went out to get takeaway pizza for herself and the other ladies.  

I’ve ceased being a fan of pizza at night (acid stomach), and instead got something even more trashy, but strangely nice for a change – a fishburger.  The fish was flaky inside the rough crumb, so it wasn’t the worst thing at all – I might try the burger in the same place (Attutapizza) some other time.

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Afterwards, we watched Wine Country on Netflix, which was mis-labelled as a comedy.  Ah, I’m being unfair – it wasn’t a bad flick (although I left about 10 mins before the end).  The Napa Valley looks a bit like Tuscany, so that was a plus – and the characters in it were amiable enough.

Anyhoo, this morning I got up earlier than usual, and compounded by the fact that it is later in the year, the town was a little darker than usual.  I found a new part of the route (well… Niamh had gone that way before me), which made the walk a little more interesting.  I also captured a wide shot of Volterra’s buildings I’d never been able to capture before.  It almost looks like another town from that angle.

The guests are having a mooch about town today, so I will use some of this day to put a hole in my writing project.  I hope to stay out much of the night to capture as much as I can on La Notte Rossa too, so I’m really looking forward to that!

We are bringing one of the guests to the airport tomorrow mid-morning, but I hope to have a blog up before we go tomorrow.

Cheerio!

Monteriggioni and Colle di Val d’Elsa

Monteriggioni and Colle di Val d’Elsa

Warning: this post is photo-heavy!

With my stomach all better, we decided to head to a town we’d been meaning to travel to for a long time: Monteriggioni.  It’s a fully-walled medieval village, and is only about a 45 minute drive from where we are.  We drove off and stopped off at the ‘O’ for the usual photos!

We got there, and parked handily enough – just a bit of an uphill walk into the town.  And gorgeous it is!  It’s certainly a bit of a tourist trap, but if you’re ever in the Siena area, it’s a must-visit.  There are a few spots at the wall you can climb to and take snaps over.  It costs €4 per person, but you can climb up to any of the spots around the wall for that fee.  The whole village is tiny – you could walk it briskly in about a minute from gate to gate.  But, as the saying goes, it’s small but perfectly formed.

After some gelato (naturally), there was a bit of impromptu shopping at Pratesi, where Niamh bought herself some nice boots.  I was looking at a cool pair of shoes, but they didn’t have them in my size – and don’t seem to be available in their online store either.  It was suggested that we go to their main outlet store in Ambra to try.  It’s a bit of a drive, but we might give it a go one day.

I also bought a fabulous ink drawing (from this dude), which I’ll frame and position.  I won’t show it ’til it’s in its rightful place!  The artist either paints in oils on wood, or draws using everyday ball-point pens.  When he heard that we had an apartment in Volterra (and so shipping wasn’t an issue), he said that he was due in Volterra to sell out by the viewpoint, but for some organisational reason couldn’t go at the last minute.  Some things happen for a reason, I guess!

Before we left, we had lunch in Ristorante Il Pozzo.  We all went for a pasta course, but were rewarded with a gorgeous mini-carpaccio amuse bouche to begin with.  The winner was our guest, who had the pappardelle with wild boar sauce.

Instead of going directly home, we stopped off for an hour in the old part of Colle di Val d’Elsa.  When we first visited Volterra, this town had completely escaped my notice, so when we decided to visit Siena early on, our jaws dropped when we rounded a bend and saw this long, town, atop a narrow ridge – but surprises like this are frequent in Tuscany.  We drove through Badia A Passignano quite by chance, when we were on our way to the Chianti region, back in December.  Anyway, I digress – we walked up and down the narrow town, stopping in the Cathedral and it’s crypt underneath.  In a way, the town mirrored the crypt, in that it was almost completely devoid of people!

Then back home for some deserved R&R!  Later that evening we spoiled ourselves further by going out for pizza and beer, but found ourselves completely unable to do anything else after, except watch a bit of telly before bed!

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This morning, our guest and I got up to do a walk around the walls, albeit a bit of an abbreviated one.  We left by Porta Fiorentina (the gate nearest us), and then walked anti-clockwise until we hit Porta a Selci (by the prison).  A good distance of the way through that 3+km, we saw Niamh jogging on the other side of the road and gave her a wave.

Today, we might go to Pontadera, to see if they have any mobile air-cooling units.  There is a certain irony in that, as the temperature has dipped somewhat today, and may only peak at 24 celsius.  We had to close the door to the terrace due to the temperature, for the first time today!  Anyway, the unit will definitely come in handy.  I just hope it’s not too expensive or to heavy to haul up those stairs!

I’ll let you know how we get on in the next one!

The Original Sword in the Stone, and Casole d’Elsa

The Original Sword in the Stone, and Casole d’Elsa

Warning: the following post is photo-heavy.

It is the popular opinion of folklorists that the Arthurian legend of the Sword in the Stone was inspired by Saint Galgano, who plunged his own weapon through rock, in an act of piety.  And there, today, it still rests, in the rotunda of a chapel on the hill of Montesiepi.

We tidied ourselves up, and decided to head towards this relic.  Just before we left, the electricity went in our apartment.  We left anyway, hoping it would come back, but noted with some trepidation that the lights were working fine outside in the stairwell.

Our original route was to go there, and then to the old town of Chiusdino, but I couldn’t get a firm grasp of the parking situation there, plus it seems to have been a festival day – so it would have been a bit of a nuisance.  Instead we went home the way we came, and stopped off briefly at the cute little town of Casole d’Elsa – a bit of an artists’ haven.  There is some lovely countryside on the route, and we came across what seems to have been some sort of agricultural show in the middle of nowhere.

Apologies for the window reflections in some of these pics!  One of these days I’ll remember to lower the passenger window before taking shots – I just don’t want to cheese off the driver at the same time!

Anyway, we got to the rotunda, and had a nose around the sword, and a couple of semi-preserved hands, which are said to be those of a man who attempted to pull the sword from the stone.  It’s one of those tourist attractions where you rarely hear any English spoken.  We are a rarity in some of these out-of-the-way places.

You might be able to catch the town of Chiusdino in the background of the pic above.  In addition to the rotunda, you have the ruins of the old Cistercian abbey of San Galgano, along with a couple of places to eat.  We both had pici with different sauces (Niamh’s was nicer), and explored the abbey (€4 per person).  We got there just in time, as guests began to arrive for the wedding of an English couple as we were leaving.  Hey, the ruins are nice, but they’re no Holy Cross Abbey.

We got back in the car, which scalded both bums and hands, and made our way to Casole d’Elsa, taking snaps as we went.

Casole d’Elsa is a fab little place, which can be reached from Volterra in about 30-35 minutes, along some very snake-like roads.  Unlike Volterra, it does favour those with physical disability, in that you can reach the upper old town by using the lifts available.  At the top is a sequence of (more or less) 3 parallel streets, literally lined with artwork.  As well as sculpture being everywhere, ceramics are painted by local artists (children seem to be encouraged too), and displayed outside on the walls of houses.  It just makes the town all the prettier for it, and it’s always a nice little visit – we must eat there sometime (gelato doesn’t count!).

We got out of the car, and checked the parking machine, but were told by a cop, who serendipitously happened to be passing on his motorbike, that it was free today.  We took the lifts up to the old town, grabbed a nice gelato and had a little explore.  We are on the lookout for artwork to put on the walls of the apartment, and so we stopped by into one of the only open stores, owned by a lovely German lady and her husband.  We chatted to her for a while.  Her stuff is really good and colourful; exactly what we’re after, but the prices are too steep for us at the moment.

As you can see above, we got a fair warning that the weather was on the turn, and so hightailed it back to Volterra, where it began to peal thunder when we got out of the car.  It takes about 7 minutes to walk from the carpark to our apartment, and the thunder was constant.  It would be nice and safe indoors, though.

Except that we still had no electricity. Bugger.  The problem with having no power and being 3 tall floors up is that we require the use of a water pump.  The pump works brilliantly, but it happens to require electricity.  So, no electricity means no light, no entertaiment, no fans to cool us, no water and no sanitation.  A disaster.  We unplugged everything and toggled our trip switches off and on.  Nope.

Fortunately, I had an idea.  I was pretty sure, from memory, that there were master-trips for each apartment located downstairs, and so cycled back through all the photos on my phone, back to December of last year, when we were first given the keys to the apartment – and a tour of the building’s utility cabinets.  I found a photo with a trip switch cabinet – plus our trip switch!  We raced down to the restaurant beside us, but they had no key to the cabinet – as they are not really part of our building (our section is two blocks stuck together, each one having it’s own electrical system).  They did, however, attempt to get in touch with people within the building who might have the key, or know who had the building Super’s number.

No joy after 10-15 minutes, so I ran to Elena in Sosta del Priore, but her master trip is in her shop.  Damn.  Good of her to help, though – and of the lady in the soft furnishings shop opposite who helped translate a bit.

In the end, we knocked on the doors of neighbours until one of them answered.  She was remarkably easy to understand, and she understood my Italian too – so I managed to get the name and number of the Super.   With a little embarrassment, we called back down to the guy in the restaurant who made the call for us and explained the situation.  It turns out there’s a little hidey-hole that contains the key for the cabinet!  D’oh!  He wrestled it out for us, and opened the cabinet, and sure enough, our trip was in the ‘off’ position.  We flicked it on, and went back up and presto!  We were in civilised country again.  The joy of internet and simply being able to flush the toilet!

Afterwards, we heard the drummers again in the main square.  Something was going on, but we were a little too tired to leave our apartment and gave it a miss.  According to the city timetable, it was a little bit about the Medici – reality vs. fiction.  A lot of the 3rd series of the Medici TV show was shot in Volterra last year.  Ah well – that was the last showing of it.

That evening, we decided to eat in that restaurant and leave a decent tip, as a way of saying thanks.  The restaurant’s name is Porgi l’Altra Pancia – which always makes me smile – it more or less means ‘Grow Another Belly’.

We both ordered different types of bruschette, and then a pasta.  We really shouldn’t have ordered the second course, as the bruschette portions were big enough, and we had to leave about a third of the pasta – which were also big – their restaurant name is fully justified!  That aside, while I know Niamh liked her bruschetta, mine was one of the best things I’ve had in Volterra so far – strictly for fungus-lovers: a hot bruschetta, with porchini, fior di latte (cow mozzerella, as opposed to buffalo mozzerella), all done in a truffle cream sauce, topped with tuffle oil and truffle shaving.  It. Was. Amazing.  I’ll be back!

We were too full to do anything other than go for a 10-minute walk afterwards.

This morning, I got up, left a host on bins downstairs and went on a shorter walk.  It did, however, culminate in the epic climb of 200 steps from the Porta Docciola.  

At the bottom of those steps, a wasp started hassling me, and wouldn’t leave me alone.  Pure adrenaline got me up the first half, as I performed what must have looked like a sort of aggressive style of interpretive dance, as I careened and spun up the steps like a demented dervish.  I don’t think too many people saw.  It had a benefit of making me feel fine by the time I’d reached the top of the stairs.  Or maybe I’m just getting fitter. I hope it’s the latter, as my brother will be visiting us soon, and he is a keen hiker.

Plus I bought a bunch of stuff, including a six-pack of 1.5 litre waters, so I got some extra exercise lugging that up the stairs. *flex*

No plans today, as we are expecting a phone call to let us know that the furniture store in Navacchio are ready to deliver our wardrobe and TV cabinet!  Hopefully.

Cheers!

Nothing Much Happened Here Today

Nothing Much Happened Here Today

The departure of our guest means that we are settling back into main pattern of living, rather than holidaying – so we can see how much one can survive on here per day.  This means that (a) we do not work, and (b) we sit on our fat cans for much of the day.

In fairness to us, we often go out exploring, but the weather is supposed to be dismal for nearly the next week, so it would make exploring a bit of a chore.  

Yesterday after my walk, I wrote a blog, showered and settled in for some screen watching – occasionally examining the cloudscape outside.  When it came close to lunch, Niamh stayed behind, while I went outside to do some shopping for food.  I bought some cold cuts and tomatoes for Niamh, drinks for the pair of us and went into one of the touristy produce stores to pick up a wheel of pecorino, aged in walnut leaves (yum!).  I’d been wondering about other types of Italian street food, and so strolled to one of the eateries on Minzoni, and grabbed myself an arancino (deep-fried rice-ball, with cheese and minced beef) and some sort of roll I thought was stuffed with bacon and cheese.  It wasn’t, it had a little bacon, but was very bready.  I’d skip that next time, but I’d have the arancini again! 

There’s a place on all’Arco which serves granite, and other Neopolitan street food – I might give that a go today.

That afternoon, we pretty much did what we did in the morning – chilled.  The most exciting thing to happen was that the thunder kicked-in, but there was no rain – instead, we lost power for about 15 seconds.  Not awful, but I was in the middle of streaming a movie on SkyGo.  It honestly took 30 minutes to get all our devices working again after multiple phone, TV, laptop and router reboots when the power came back.  That was the worst of the forecasted storms, though.  It got a little cooler, but that was welcome!

We used up another portion of the ragú Niamh made a while back, with large shell pasta.  The ragú was nice, but the pasta (although nice and toothsome), was not the right shape – the sauce definitely works better with long, string-type pastas.  We’d been a little naughty the previous day and bought bottles of Disaronno (an almond liqueur – like liquid cake!), and Limoncello.  I poured myself a decent measure of the Disaronno, and after finishing both it and the dish-drying went out on my own.

I stopped off in Antica Velathri Café for a Moretti and had a conversation about why the barstaff in Marina di Cecina didn’t know what I meant when I asked for an Amaretto (of which Disaronno is an example).  It turns out two things are important:

  1. The Disaronno brand is so prevalent, that it’s more common to ask for it rather than an Amaretto; and
  2. An Amaretto is also a small biscuit, made with almonds, and so asking for one would cause confusion.  In order to avoid this confusion, I should ask for an ‘Amaretto di Saronno’, as the Amaretto liqueur originated in Saronno town – a bit north of Milan.  You learn something new every day.

Anyway, he generously gave me a couple of samples of Amaretto biscuit to go with the cantuccini (hard biscuits) with Vin Santo (dessert wine that often tastes not unlike communion wine) I ordered.  The cantuccini were made in-house and were nice.  

I got to practice a littler Italian, but I had to resort to translation and English.  I need more opportunities like this with someone as generous as the bartender!

We watched an episode of Orange is the New Black when I got home.  Too many characters, with storylines spread too thinly.  Probably a good thing it’s ending – watching it has become a labour of love.

This morning, I forgot my water bottle, and so just went on a quick walk around the centre of town.

There’s another yellow weather warning here today, so nothing huge planned.  I didn’t get any writing done yesterday, so I hope to get some done today.  A young Italian lady contacted me re my blog, and has a project she’s trying to finish – she’s asked me some more questions about my impressions of Tuscany and how I’m integrating, so I’ll help her with that today too.

See you in the next one!

We Blitz-Visit 4 Hilltowns

We Blitz-Visit 4 Hilltowns

Warning! This page is photo-heavy!

We showered and made ourselves pretty, then went to the bank (Cassa di Risparmio di Volterra) to renew our online banking security token. They are our mortgage provider. We had to go to an Italian bank, as Irish banks at the time (and still maybe today) were refusing to grant mortgages for foreign properties. Anyway, we were super-lucky that a local bank was willing to assist, and we felt comfortable with them from the get-go.

We entered, took our ticket and glanced at the digital display of which number was being served next, and at which teller. There are many institutions and stores at which you have to take a ticket and wait for your number to be called. It’s not a bad idea, as it means you can find somewhere comfortable while waiting, and not be worried about being queue-jumped.

Our number was called, and we explained that we didn’t have much Italian, and then showed them a Google Translate of what we wanted. Fortunately, she gave us an immediate appointment with the representative with whom we were dealing for our mortgage. He greeted us enthusiastically, and in about 15 minutes we were done and dusted. Excellent!

With that done, we stopped to get a quick bottle of water each and headed to the carpark. We drove a familiar route (which takes us to the airport) for much of the way to Lari, before Google Maps showed us an alternative route. We took it, and were glad we did. There were some fantastic views to be had. Unfortunately, as we didn’t know the road, I didn’t take any photos, as I was fixated on the route displayed on the phone (our Lancia POS does not have on-board GPS). In addition, there were no points on the road at which you could stop and take a few snaps in comfort. It can be frustrating sometimes, but we will take this road again and do our best to capture it for you at another time.

We got handy parking (with just a short walk), and wandered up to the main walled part of the town, which is quite small. The whole area is dominated by the fortress, which lies in the middle, atop huge, conical walls. The views from there were impressive.

One of the main reasons we visited Lari, however, was to check out the Martelli pasta factory.  Unfortunately, the August curse struck and the place was closed until September.  Generally, unless you’re in an area likely to be swamped with toursists, you take your holiday in August if you’re Italian.  This was a bit of a recurring theme later on.  Almost everything was closed, including the factory.  We’ll go again in September with guests, so all is well.  Plus, we consoled ourselves with food in a nearby restaurant.  Niamh had a salad and spaghetti all’aglione, and I had a carbonara, but with sausage instead of pancetta or guanciale (the latter is pork jowl, and is the preferred cut to use for carbonara).  The pastas were Martelli and were nice and toothsome.  

I then had a chargrilled pork steak in one of the most unusual sauces I’ve ever had: gorgonzola, green peppercorn and paprika.  I’m still not sure what to make of it… I think I liked it, but I might have to have it again to be sure!  

We decided to wait for dessert until the next town.  This was a mistake.

Seeing nowhere open we could actually buy Martelli pasta, we headed back to the car, and contemplated just heading home, but then I suggested we visit the spa town of Casciana Terme, as it was only 20 or so minutes’ drive away.  We arrived from a height and saw the town neatly nestled below us.  It is not an old medieval town, but still has its charms.  It was getting very warm, and so we hunted for a place near the spa itself for gelati.  We found one, and sadly it was one of the worst ones I’ve ever had.  The lemon sorbet had a sort of cardboard-like undertone… not pleasant at all.  I won’t name the place.  At least it did it’s job of cooling us down.

Casciana Terme also fell foul of both August holidays and the afternoon siesta.  There was virtually nobody on the streets.  It might be an idea to try again in September, complete with a visit to the spa itself (which, in fairness, was open).

We returned to the car, and I spotted that a couple more places were nearby: Rivalto and Chianni.  We drove to the former, almost via the latter thanks to a bum-steer by me.  I must say, that while all the literature proclaims Volterra to be the highest hilltop town in Tuscany, Rivalto can give it a run for its money.  Maybe it’s not included in the list, as it’s really more of a village.  But the views were impressive, especially as you could see Volterra on its plateau way off in the distance.

Onwards to Chianni.  I’m sorry to say we didn’t spend nearly enough time in it – maybe only 20-30 minutes, as we were seriously beginning to cook under the sun at that point.  It was about 32-34 again yesterday.  Chianni looks gorgeous, and we will definitely be back soon for a better mooch.

We drove home after that, and chilled.

In the evening we used up some perishables in the fridge and Niamh cooked a little vegetable pasta dish, which was nice – althought I wasn’t especially hungry after my afternoon meal.  I then went out for a passeggiata (a stroll, usually taken en-masse by Italians in the evening), and took some snaps.  There was a jazz orchestra playing in the Roman amphiteatre, so I stayed a while and listed to that.

This morning I headed to the balze (the cliffs and bluffs of the Volterran plateau), and realised that I was very near the Witches Stone.  Here, it is said, the mother of all witches, Aradia the daughter of Diana, held her masses, during which orgiastic and sapphic pleasures occured with avatistic abandon.  Sadly, today there was only an old font 😉