I had a shorter walk this morning, up Gramsci, bumping into Robbi, the owner of Terra di Mezzo, towards the end of it. We exchanged pleasanteries and I carried on. Only a few shots today:
My time wasn’t my own for most of the day, so I had to stay in. Niamh got to ‘enjoy’ the outdoors a little more on the terrace while she repainted the terrace railings and that lovely terracotta orange on the outside walls. Honestly, I dread almost anything DIY, so I was somewhat happy to have been stuck indoors while Niamh carried out this task. Thanks, hon!
We grabbed a quick mid-morning mindful walk around the park with a gelato. On the way back, we waved hello to Massimo, the owner of La Vecchia Lira. Our lives, you might have noticed, seems to revolve around food.
For lunch, Niamh made penne with an aubergine and tomato sauce she had cooked up previously and frozen. It was toothsome and rich. I usually shirk tomato-based sauces (which is why I enjoy Tuscan cooking so much – yes, that’s right, Stanley Tucci! Tomatoes are NOT actually a major staple ingredient in Tuscan cuisine), but this sauce was tasty indeed! I went to the framers to finally pick up the drawing I bought from Fabrizio, but discovered he only works half days. D’oh! I’ll guess I’d have to wait another day.
That evening, after I became a free man again, we had to choose between the two men I met earlier in the day. We chose over aperitivi in L’Incontro. We chose La Vecchia Lira as Massimo had seen us again from his restaurant and waved. Also, in the end, we over-ate.
We had a short walk to burn off calories and to catch the sunset, before heading home to screen-watch.
I had another walk this morning. I’m so proud of myself, to be honest. I had shirked somewhat on my previous few stays, so I’m glad to be back in the saddle, so to speak. This time, I walked a little longer than I had intended, but kept it mostly within the walls of the town.
After breakfasting and tidying myself up, I FINALLY managed to get Fabrizio’s drawing. We hung it up in the kitchen.
We just lazed about all morning, and then had lunch in Ristorante Etruria, in Piazza dei Priori. It’s a bit touristy, and is one of the few places that insists on limited table time during busy periods, which is rare. But there’s something for everyone here, and the food isn’t bad. In addition, they recognise us and treat us well – often presenting us with a half-bottle of Chianti to take home when our meal is over. If you’re ever there, and have someone who is a little picky with food with you, you should try it. Also, the inside seating area is lushly decorated and worth a quick view!
We then, rather unusually, spent some time walking about town. I say ‘rather unusually’ as (a) we know better than to walk around town during the hottest part of the say, and (b) we spent a couple of hours doing it! I took some snaps, sure – but most of the time was spent going from one part of town to another, and people-watching as the sun began to dip in the cloudless sky. It may not be the only way to enjoy Tuscany, but it’s one of the best: just sit back and enjoy the present.
I think I began to doze a little while sitting in the bench at Piazza XX Settembre! We had a gelato at L’Isola del… no, wait. We actually had it at Enjoy Café! I think they’ve upped their gelato-game in a the last year or so – it was actually quite good!
We rested back at the apartment, and when hungry again headed out to La Mangiatoia. I love the pizza at Pizzeria l’Ombra della Sera, but it just isn’t as lively as La Mangiatoia. To be honest, I don’t think I could have put a pizza away after the lunch I had. And you can’t share pizza in Italy. It’s a mortal sin. Although in La Mangiatoia, they actually make massive, family-sized pizzas, with multiple sections similar to a Quattro Stagioni (the family at the table next to ours was chomping on one). Anyway, I wasn’t up for it. Niamh was, but I had a burger instead. For those reading in Ireland, the burger here is the closest you can get to a chipper-style burger in terms of taste, if you fancy that!
Once re-stuffed, we headed back to the apartment for audio-listening and screen-watching.
I was true to myself and got up early for a walk around the walls. It’s such a good (and sweaty workout), as it involves a lot of inclines and declines on the 4.5km route. I’m always looking for a way to change the route up a bit and actually found one! But first, it was out the Porta Fiorentina for a clockwise path around.
About a week earlier, I had a walk outside the walls, looking for things I hadn’t seen before (or too often), and I came across the workshop of artist Nico Lopez Bruchi. Well along the walls of the town, in the south-east on Viale dei Filosofi you’ll find another of his murals. Clever and striking it is too!
There’s a section outside Volterra I hadn’t been to before. It contains the old bus station, and an emergency helicopter pad for the hospital. The Bus carpark (if that makes sense) is there too. Now that alone doesn’t make it sound very attractive, but couple Italian architecture, sculpture and the Tuscan countryside and you could have something a little special. Not sure if hiking routes begin from here, but if anyone more familiar with hiking around Volterra is reading this, please let me know!
Once done there, I carried on with the rest of the familiar route.
I stopped off at Migliorini for a mille foglie for me and a creamy rice tart for Niamh. We spruced ourselves up good, as we wanted to check out the Strawberry Festival in Terricciola, about 30 minutes drive away from us.
We headed for the carpark we used the last time we were here. Well, that was a little too optimistic! The place was jam-packed. In addition, Terricciola a town some of whose roads are narrow, but are nonetheless 2-way. We had some fun navigating our way through the town which, incidentally, also had a market on that day. We had to drive the guts of a kilometer out of town to a carpark beside a restaurant. Not the worst thing to have happened, as we didn’t miss the lovely framed views!
The roads were initially quiet as we made our way back to the town centre. It turns out that was because people were making their way towards a park where a few stalls were set up. Outside, a menu indicated what was going to be served for the communal lunch, and sure enough, there was already a huge queue for food. Rather than queue, we wandered deeper into town, past more stalls and wonderful panoramic viewpoints (see the YouTube video below). People kept streaming past us, presumably on the way to the commmunal lunch area. We didn’t see much in the way of celebration of the strawberry outside the park – just one bar was advertising strawberry produce, and a string of cardboard strawberries were to be seen nearby. What I thought was cute, was that outside many places, people had left colurfully painted chairs, with pots of flowers resting on them. I am not sure if that’s a general thing in Terricciola, or if was just done for the festival.
We took in some more panoramic viewpoints and when on the way back to see if we could join the communal lunch, stopped instead at the marketplace and bought us some sugary goods (jellies, sugared almonds, nougat). We passed by a restaurant and were tempted, but it looked busy. Unsurprisingly, the communal lunch area still had a huge queue. It might have been fun to stay anyway, but we were too hungry – so we made the counter-intuitive move of driving while hungry instead of standing while hungry. We went back to the car (the restaurant we parked next to was closed, sadly), and headed to Casciana Terme to see if we could find anywhere to eat.
We had been there before and found it quiet. So, I was thinking (forgetting it was Sunday) that perhaps it would be a good bit busier than last time. Sadly, maybe due to on-and-off drizzle, it was even quieter! We were pushing our luck for lunch, as it was a little after 14:00, but we did manage to find a place that would serve us. Yes, many Italian restaurants close between dinner and lunch services. Inside, Il Merlo Pizzorante was pleasantly busy with couples and small families noisily enjoying their food. We experienced a nice meal – I think I enjoyed it a little more than Niamh. The one thing that will stand out, though, is the service – and for strange reasons. There was a 2-person team… I’m calling them father and son, but they could be easily much older and much younger brothers. Anyway, the father greeted us and told us our menus were online. We papped the QR code and chose. We saw the younger man, with a moustache, flit from table to table in almost all cases not saying a word to anyone at the table when he delivered food. I think a family near us got some words out of him, but he was the definition of ‘taciturn’, to the point of it actually being amusing. In fairness to the main, he was efficient at his job! He delivered our drinks – standing on Niamh’s toe in the process, not a word… – barely even looked at us. By stark contrast, the father was warm and generous with his time, and we chatted with him briefly using my broken Italian. Now the food:
Would we go back? Ah yeah – the food was nice, even though there was a large choice on the menu. There was something for everyone, and I have little doubt that just about anything you try will be well-cooked. Their pizzas might be interesting. But I would also personally come for the comedy value of the curiously quiet, moustachioed server!
Once finished, we headed out to explore the town a little again. We walked past the spa – there were a handful of people frolicking around in the pool. The weather had flitted from dry to wet and back again, but eventually setted on dry and warm. It’s a nice town, but very quiet – maybe the spa is worth a visit for sure. They had bleacher seats set up in the main square, so maybe a festival is imminent. One strange thing about the town – it seems to end abrubtly in most directions. Whereas most towns trickle out – this one seems to have hard borders.
We drove back to Volterra, but by that time there were diversions active around Terriccciola as they were having a concert to help them celebrate their festival. It added about 10 minutes to our drive home, but at least we explored roads we hadn’t been on before.
Here’s a little vlog of our day up to that point:
Back in Volterra, before we returned to the apartment, I took a couple of snaps of Via Gramsci and for the first time I saw my favourite server at L’Isola del Gusto: Giorgia. She is a truly lovely and generous person (who also happens to speak 6 or 7 different languages). She also lets me practice my Italian, but I don’t delay her too much as the queues here can be long. I was in desparate need of a granita, as although it was probably 25 celsius, the day was quite humid and I had been out a long time. Unfortunately, it was not quite the season for granite, so I had to settle for a cup rammed full of lemon sorbet instead. It did the trick!
Back in the apartment we napped, screenwatched and edited some video footage. Then we did something a little piggish: headed out for more food. Just a pizza (just!) this time, with a beer, in Ombra della Sera Pizzeria. On the way there, we bumped into the builder we had been dealing with recently – he let us know that the wine bar he was entering (Enoteca Scali) was the best one in town. It’s a nice place, and we’ve been there once or twice, but dang it, he closes around 21:00-21:30, so we rarely get a chance to visit after typical Italian eating times. He has an excellent selection though.
Back to Ombra: We skipped fries this time. For me, pizza can get samey about halfway through, so I like to break it up with the occasional mouthful of fries. Anyway… we ate and drank everything up!
We rolled out of the place, and went for a nightime walk. I captured some lovely photos!
Afterwards, we sat up screenwatching for a while, then went to bed!
I hoped you enjoyed the read – please let me know what you thought!
It was St. Stephen’s/Boxing Day, and I was tasked with driving to Florence. We had a mission: the ladies wanted to buy some gloves. I went with our usual idea of going the country route there, and parking in the Coop Carpark, and then going back via mostly the autostrada. I was thinking to myself “Gosh, wouldn’t it be great to be able to show Lily and Mark (Niamh’s sister and her husband) some of the wonderful countryside, in particular between Volterra and Montaione!” Three unfortunate things occurred, which somewhat spoiled the journey:
The weather. It was foggy in Volterra, then we got further down to a corner of the Val d’Era where it was relatively clear, but the climb began again into more fog. Well…. dang! Then came the rain, which further reduced visibility. It’s a shame, as some of the countryside is beautiful – so reserve it for a sunnier day if you ever wish to explore.
I was perhaps driving a little too quickly. Niamh and I are usually so used to both the road and having no people in the back seats, but about 20-25 minutes into the drive, I was informed that the ladies in the back were feeling queasy, so I had to slow down (sorry, ladies!).
I joined a much busier road a little after we passed Montaione. I took a left onto the route, and saw a huge puddle in the road – a lane wide, which chunks of asphalt aroud the rim of it. I had no doubt that if I had driven into the puddle, I’d have probably hit a hidden pothole – a bad one. I swerved to avoid it, but didn’t properly notice a mini-cooper coming up behind me in the other lane. He was still a little away from me, but made a show of his anger by blasting me out of it with his horn. Almost a kilometer down the road at a roundabout, he blasted me again as we parted ways. I can never get over the fact that Italians are so chill, but put a good number of them behind a steering wheel they can turn into demons!
We got to the Coop carpark in the end, and from there hopped onto a tram into the centre. We were hungry, and somehow all had a simulataneous hankering for pizza, not having had any while Lily and Mark were with us. I tend to lean away from restaurants where the staff are selling seats outside the door, much preferring to let the food do the talking. However, we were ravenous, and the establishment into which we were being ushered had some pretty good reviews (Lorenzo di Medici), so in we went and had our pizzas. They were delicious! In fairness, the service was good and the staff friendly too.
It was damp when we got out, and getting damper. Fortunately, we dressed for the occasion! We wended our way towards the Duomo, passing a few landmarks on the way, both old and new.
On the outside of the Basilica, at its north-eastern an alternative presepe (nativity scene) had been set up, but instead of a stable, it was a medical facility where doctors and nurses working to exhaustion in surgical PPE. This was a wonderful mark of respect to them during these past couple of years when the pandemic had put us, and them in particular, to the sword.
We reached the Piazza del Duomo, and wandered about the front of the cathedral. We had never seen the presepe there, nor the Christmas Tree, so it we covered off visiting Florence in yet another season. You’ll see that the town was pretty busy!
We then wandered to the Piazza delle Signoria. The city still looked great in the rain, and there were no complaints about the weather. I’ve seen videos of Florence’s Christmas lights in the evening, and they look amazing, so some of the following photos don’t really do them justice.
On the way to the Ponte Vecchio, Lily pointed out a shop where they were selling what looked like artisanal gelato. I checked the window briefly, and saw that they were serving the creamy goodness from little sunken tins (I forget what they’re called). I hopped straight in, without checking the awning on the store. I’d made my order when I noticed that it was a well-known brand of coffee (and despite trawling the map, I’m having difficulty locating the brand), who just so happened to be selling gelato in their store ‘on the side’. Too proud to cancel my order, took a goodly sized cup of it away. It was ok – not really artisanal, but ok – but it was still ok gelato, right? Yay!
We wandered over the bridge, all the way over to Palazzo Pitti, and guess what? Well if you’ve been following these blogs for a while, you’ll be pleased(?) to know that we kept up our habit of not actually going in! One of these days, I swear!
We were happy walking around and exploring though. Staying on the Altr’Arno, we headed over to the Piazza Santa Spirito. We were overdue a coffee (me, a hot chocolate), and found a place with indoor seating (Café Cabiria), and were promptly greeted by a lady with a Dublin accent! The world is too small. She sounded pretty fluent when she was talking to Italian customers, and had been over here a while. We had a 20 minute pause for refreshment, to chat with the Irish lady and to use the facilities.
Once finished, we had one more errand before the trip back home: the ladies needed to buy some gloves at Martelli on Via Por Santa Maria. It was only a trip of a few hours, but we really wanted to limit the time we would be driving in the dark. Anyway, we re-crossed at the Ponte Santa Trinita and made our way there. The ladies went in. Mark and I waited outside. And waited. And we waited a little more, a little more impatiently. It began to rain again, so Mark waited across the road, by the awning of a fancy men’s shop while I stood outside Martelli.
Then I was accosted by one of those African doo-dad sellers. Listen, I agree that every person needs to make a living, but the hucksterism some of these guys pull-off really try my patience. It began well, and we fist-bumped and chatted for a minute. Then out of nowhere he held out his hand to shake. This is where you back off, or move on etc. What happens here is that they attempt to pull and bracelet over onto your wrist and get aggressive when you refuse to buy it. I refused the handshake and immediately moved away, despite some weak protestations from him. He wandered off, while I joined Mark on the other side of the road to wait some more.
The ladies certainly spent way more time in that shop than we did in th café… not much fun, I have to say, when it’s grey and drizzling. But we bucked-up (glove-buying was our #1 mission after all), and waited stoically. They came out eventually, mission accomplished and very happy – and even a little apologetic. Satisfied, we walked back towards the tram.
We had a couple of unscheduled stops on the way. First, we paused briefly at Piazza di Santa Trinita to admire the conical Christmas tree there.
The one thing I regret this trip (no, not not Palazzo Pitti!) is not going to check out the lights at Piazza delle Republica. I saw videos of them afterwards and they are spectacular! Anyway, we instead continued farther north, and stopped in the vestibule of the Strozzi Palace to check out Jeff Koons’ balloon bunny. We didn’t go into the exhibition proper, as it was beginning to get dark.
Time for one final touristy photo-op before we boarded the tram. Yet another visit to Florence with too much time spent outdoors. We really have to pop inside some of these landmarks!
Mark had to drive home in the dark and rain… not the most pleasant of drives, but we got through it! We didn’t head out that night, but instead we had antipasti bought at La Bottega and the market a couple of days previously. Then Lily made a wonderful risotto with the blue cheese and kale, topped by a parmesan crisp (we picked up everything for this at the market). It was absolutely delish. Below is a photo of an adulterated one: Niamh doesn’t like blue cheese.
Unfortunately, the next morning it was time for us to once again leave Volterra. At the time of writing this blog we haven’t been back yet since, but are looking forward to going some time in May. Our guests were staying another couple of nights on their own, so we were more than a little jealous – but we had to head home to get our booster shots, which was more important in the grand scheme of things.
It was actually quite a nice day in Pisa itself, and Mark and Lily joined Niamh and I for one last cup of something hot and a slice of cheap pizza before we headed into the airport for the flight home. It was at a circular kiosk outside. The coffee and pizza were ok, but the hot chocolate I almost spat out. I had taken one watery mouthful that was barely tepid and left it at that. In hindsight, I should have taken it back to complain, but at the time I didn’t want to end the holiday on a downer.
So, this wraps-up this series of blogs until some time in May. I will have another one or two in the offing, in particular about Volterra being Tuscany’s inaugural capital of culture, so keep an eye out for that!
I hope you enjoyed reading this and admiring Florence’s beauty, even in the rain. Please leave a like and a comment to let me know, and please ask any questions. I’d love to hear from you.
Buon Ferragosto! Or so it was. Ferragosto is a national holiday in Italy, which is held the same day as the Assumption of Mary. It has Roman roots, in that it is thought that the holiday is dervived from one celebrating Caesar Augustus. Who knows?
What we did know, is that we weren’t going to leave town and brave the usually crazy traffic that day. So we had a nice day pottering about in Volterra instead.
We started off with the morning walk. This time, my brother came with me, as he is an avid hiker, and weathers the hills and steps of Volterra very well. Some snaps ensued!
Then we screen-watched, gamed, wrote until lunch time. Then we wandered out to the flea market. Niamh subsequently went back there later and might a coupld of sets of drinking glasses (I broke one later that week – d’oh). I spotted this little piece of art, but we didn’t go for it in the end – it was a bit mismatched with most of the other pieces we had in the apartment.
Getting a table without a booking was proving tricky in Volterra again this year. It wasn’t in 2019, but since the pandemic Volterra’s tourist numbers have risen. Fortunately, we were able to find a table for three in La Vecchia Lira at a pinch… it was the second-last table in the place.
Niamh and I had been there a couple of times, and remembered enjoying the food, and that the owner was really enthusiastic. But it was this visit for me that really caused its star to shine. It leapt up mightily in our estimation.
I went for ravioli stuffed with cod and leek in a seafood bisque, while Niamh had cinghiale (wild boar) stew with grilled veggies and my brother a plate of pappardelle al cinghiale. We were all astounded by the quality and taste of our dishes – everything was simply amazing. As it was lunch, our plan was just for one course, but we had tirimasu afterwards, and it was superb too. Put La Vecchia Lira on your map.
After lunch, we had another stroll about the town. It was (unsurprisingly) a warm day. Our stroll took us to the ‘modern’ theatre (Teatro Persio Flacco), a whippersnapper with a birth-year of 1820, as opposed to the older Roman Theatre, which was in the 70’s AD.
Apparently Niamh had already been inside the theatre with her sister on an earlier day, and so opted not to go in.
Once inside, we gave a decent donation and proceeded to the first exhibit. It seemed to be a modern art show. A man was sitting down, and he seemed to perk up when I showed an interest, so I asked him if he was the artist. I guess my Italian was so broken, that he immediately sought help, which arrived in the guise of one of the museum’s volunteers. I thought it a little comedic at the time that we proceeded to completely skip the modern art exhibition, and continued onto the next two. The first of these was an alabaster exhibition, the highlight being band instruments made from alabaster (Volterra being very famous for its alabaster works) which were arrayed in front of the proscenium. Escepcially impressive was the complete drumkit forged in that delicate medium.
The next exhibition was the one I wanted to see: a series of perfectly-made sculptures of Volterran buildings and ruins by Mauro Parenti. We were led along by the guide with whom I conversed in my awful Italian (it’s getting better, though, I swear!). He was kind to give us his time, and he definitely gave us some useful information, but like many things imparted verbally, much of it is lost to me now.
The miniatures looked so perfect, that afterwards my brother and I searched for broken stones in the real versions to see if they matched the miniatures. They didn’t but the sculptures were a marvel, nonetheless.
Later that evening we went to La Mangatoia, and had pizzas. I like the pizzas there, and wolfed-down a lovely 4-cheese! And yes, it included Gorgonzola… if there isn’t blue cheese on your 4-cheese pizza, then you’re doing it wrong.
Finally, to walk off the essentials carbs and fats we had a walk around town.
Once home, I took a couple of shots from our upper and lower terraces – one featuring a fun bit of shadow-play by my brother. Then it was beer, screen and bed.
Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it. Please leave a comment and I’ll answer any (sane) question you send my way.
Today was the day when we said goodbye to one guest and hello to another. But before we had our trip to Pisa airport, I had time to get up and have a nice walk that morning. Unsurprisingly, I took some photos!
Near Porta San Francesco, there’s a small square, Piazza Marcello Inghirami. Tucked inside one of its corners there’s a modern-looking covered laneway, which leads to Viale Franco Poretti, where the main residents carpark and the Roman theatre ruins lie. It used to be covered in graffiti, but it looks like they coated over most of it. I’m conflicted by this, as some street art can be amazing, but I don’t have any strong memories of anything jumping out at me. But I hope they allow controlled access to the more serious street artists this time around.
I didn’t go through the lane, but continued past the piazza up Via San Lino, and onwards into the Piazza dei Priori before heading back to the apartment.
We dropped Niamh’s sister off at Pisa Airport. I silently marvelled that we might get away without having to visit the Cathedral and tower this trip! Don’t get me wrong, it’s wonderful, but we’ve done it a bunch of times over the past few years.
My brother was arriving in later that evening, so we had a fair few hours to burn. We didn’t want to go back to Volterra and make the trip all over again, so we decided to head off to Montecatini Terme.
Now comes the hazy part. I *think* we needed to go to Navacchio to buy something or other – I think I was looking for a gorilla grip for the phone I could leave over in Tuscany, so I didn’t have to carry it through security again. I didn’t find one there. I think we ended up eating in Old Wild West again…. a burger each, and then I offered to drive us to Montecatini.
This place holds a special place in Niamh’s and my hearts. In 2008, we went on a Travel Department tour to Tuscany: I think this was our first visit to Italy. The Travel Department had been occasionally scoffed at by people of our own age (as old as we were at the time), as being a holiday agent for crocks and fuddy-duddies. Well, we met some wonderful people on that tour, and another subsequent one to China, so don’t believe everything you hear – if you think you’ll fancy it, go on and do it. They offer taster day-trips from a central base, and it gives you a good idea of the place you’re visiting, and instills a longing to return (or it did for us, anyway). If I had one complaint about such tours, is that the food included is often sub-par.
Anyway, our home base for the 2008 tour was a hotel in the northern part of Montecatini Terme called The Grand Hotel Panoramic. It lies in the leafy ‘burbs of town, but the best thing about it was that it was just a couple of hundred metres away from the funicular that took up to the old town: Montecatini Alto.
I drove from Navacchio, through several towns, bypassing the lovely looking Vicopisano (which I have since visited in October), and we parked at the free ‘L’-shaped carpark directly opposite the hotel where we stayed. Funnily, I don’t remember the carpark having been there, but I remember the trees that provided much needed shade in near-40 degree heat. It was as hot today as it was then, and I was actually wearing shorts that day as a result. Shorts-wearing is something of a rarity for me, but it’s a habit I’ll have to break.
Anyway, we got out of the car and headed directly towards the funicular. We were hoping that the Funi Bar would be open, as we were in dire need of refreshment. Sadly, it was closed for riposo (Italian siesta), but we managed to grab a couple of bottles of water from a vending machine instead.
We bought our return tickets, and then had a 10-15 minute wait for the next funicular. Once on, I began filming. And here’s the unfortunate part. When I was done with the day’s filming I transferred the Pink Floyd tribute act movies (see later) to my laptop so I could edit the movie for YouTube. Then I purged my phone to ‘free up space’, which I really didn’t need to do. Unfortunately, that meant I ended up deleting all the Montecatini footage, and I was back home in Ireland when I discovered this. I cursed myself for a fool. On the other hand, it means I very much have a valid reason to return someday soon!
I at least grabbed some photos while filming.
The funicular finally thundered and groaned its way to its destination. We got out and marvelled at the views looking back over the plains, and the new town.
While there, we were accosted by a small, older gentleman who was selling his artwork by the railings. He was full of chat, both Italian and broken English, and had a typcially Tuscan charm about him. He was retired and was painting scenes of villages in the area on flat, smooth pieces of wood, and framing them in wood too. I asked him if he was a salesman before retiring, which he had a good laugh at, and declared that selling yourself is an important skill in life. I had to agree, and then bought a piece from him for €30. I think he was selling it for €20, but it was too low a price for a unique piece of work. Stupidly, I don’t have a photo of it, but will take one and post it next time I’m over.
With my art packed away, we headed up to the main square, and were immediately reminded of the first ‘real’ slow Italian food experience we had there. It was during one evening, and we’d had enough of the prescribed food at the hotel. We had been given a brief tour by Laura, our young Italian tourguide, whose shrill calling of our room number during roll-call we still remember and mimic to this day (“TWO TWO THREEEEEEE!”). I can’t remember if we made a booking through the tour, or if we just headed up and got lucky in finding a table. I think it was the latter. Anyway, 4 courses and 3 hours later, and I was pretty sure I could live happily in Tuscany. Actually, it wasn’t until we visited San Gimignano for the first time (on the same tour), that the deal was fully sealed. I was mesmerised.
Anyway, back to that night in 2008. We were sitting on the edge of outdoor seating of a restaurant on one side on the square. Behind us, not 10 yards away, was a large group of ladies seated at another restaurant. Without warning, they all stood up and began singing. Niamh and I looked at each other, doubly surprised. There were definitely Celtic undertones to what was being sung, and it was done with such perfectly layered harmonies, time seemed to stop. At the end of it, everyone in the piazza stood up and applauded. To me it was a perfect slice of life; like it was hand-crafted for a movie. It turned out that they were a choral group from Galway! They weren’t on our tour, so it was completely serendipitous.
The heat was crippling, so the first thing we did was head for a gelateria I remembered being in one of the corners of the piazza. I seem to have a memory for gelato and good food generally! I had lemon sorbet – just the thing to cool you down on a day where you feel like you’ve just opened a hot oven’s door.
When done, we filmed about the town, heading into a church, and to a nearby park. I could kick myself for losing the footage, as the only photo I took was inside the church itself.
It’s a lovely place, so please go there if you ever find yourself in Montecatini Terme. Once done, we headed back to the piazza, where I grabbed a couple of bottles of frosty water from the gelateria – having to coax the owner back inside so I could pay. He was nice about it… I just wouldn’t have been comfortable to just leave the €2 on the counter and scoot out.
We were still parched, however, and so went to the bar on the other side of the piazza, and asked for a table (always ask for a table, don’t just sit randomly!). It was so baking, I think we each had two drinks: me, two lemon sodas (probably the greatest soft drink in the world), and Niamh a Coke Zero and a shakerato – an ice-cold coffee, served in a martini glass. I had a taste of it; it nearly made me want to take up the habit. The barman was super-friendly too.
We just missed the funicular back down, but were happy to wait the 15 minutes for the next one. Lovely views, and it was great to see families, three generations, all out and being normal during this crisis. We headed back down, opting to stand outside the hindmost carriage.
The next stop was the neo-Romanesque spa in the new part of town which gives it the monicker ‘Terme’. We were blown away by it the first time we were there, and it didn’t disappoint 13 years later. I think it was €6 per person in, but you could have as much spa water as you wanted. There are several types, but the one most people were taking has an acquired sulpurous taste – no thanks. Instead, we had a mooch and went ‘oooh’ and ‘aaah’ a lot at the spotlessly clean architecture.
There is a classy bar within, and once again we were succumbing to the heat of the day and grabbed a couple of drinks. We sat inside for about 30 seconds, before grabbing our gear and going for a table in the shade.
Once done, we had another quick mosey aroud a couple of other parts of the
The hours passed pleasantly, but it was time to head back to Pisa to pick up my brother from the airport. All went according to plan, except that there was an adult taking care of a bunch of kids – one of whom left his rucksack behind customs. He tried to go get it anyway and set off all sorts of alarms. No sign of customs police, so he tried it again, before the ‘responsible’ adult decided to ring the door to engage with the authorities. Unattended baggage at an airport tends to be frowned upon. Anyway, we didn’t witness the outcome, because my brother arrived and we headed home!
The powers that be were kind enough to welcome my brother back to the town with an imprompu show. Playing were Magic Regoli’s Band were playing a Pink Floyd tribute show in the main piazza. We thought that (a) we’d be too late for the beginning, and (b) there was no chance of tickets.
Fortunately, (a) proved false as the band began fashionably late, but (b) was bang-on. Fortunately, Ristorante Etruria had some seating outside, and while the view to thre stage wasn’t epic, the sound certainly was! The Piazza dei Priori really acts as a fantastic natural theatre. We grabbed a table, and enjoyed some pizzas (Niamh had pasta)… then after dessert, Niamh left us, and my brother and I held onto the table, guzzled down some Moretti and enjoyed the show. They really were fantastic, especially the female vocalist who blasted Great Gig in the Sky out of the park. Well done, that lady!
At the end of the gig, there was a minute-long firework display, and after that we were off to bed!
That was the end of one of my favourite days in Italy to date. I captured some of the music act on video, and you can catch it below.
Thanks for reading this. I hope it wasn’t too long. Please leave a like, and a comment!
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!
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!
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!
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!
I took a day off blogging yesterday – apologies! You didn’t miss much from the day before yesterday… we stayed in town all day. We had food we’d had before and just lazed about. No wait… we will have a guest on Friday, so we had to buy and assemble a second fan. That’s as exciting as it got.
Moving on to yesterday, I skipped my usual morning walk and did a little writing, and after we’d breakfasted and showered, we got in the ‘car’ and headed off towards Massa Marittima – a gorgeous little town in The Maremma, an area in south-west Tuscany less frequented by tourists, but no less beautiful. It had been so hot the past couple of days, that, after we’d turned on the aircon, I sighed in huge relief; it was great to have some sort of ambient temperature controller, rather than just having to rely on fans!
I took a few snaps of the countryside on the way. You’ll see silver pipes running throughout the landscape in a couple of the shots. The area is geothermally active, and energy companies are using this natural resource. There is a hot debate (pun intended), between the locals in the area and the government in Rome as to whether geothermal energy is actually ‘renewable’, and therefore deserving of certain tax-breaks being given for renewable sources. I hope that the Tuscans win out, or it could spell trouble for the employment and businesses of thousands in the area.
We drove by Pomerance, Montecerboli and Castelnuovo Val di Cecina, and half-promised to stop in one of them on our return journey (we didn’t – sorry – some other time!). You’ll have to forgive the occasional reflection in the car window, and the filth of the windscreen.
We arrived, and parked in an area that was free-of-charge last year, but was €1 p/h this year. We bought enough time for a little over 3 hours’ parking, and attempted to guess where the sun was going to go, in the hope that we’d parked in a spot that would soon be in the shade. Then we headed up to the town… more hills!
We got up to the main square, and saw that works were ongoing on bleecher seats for their own medieval activities here. In fact, there were drummers and pennant-folders marching within the town, but I failed to get a good shot of them.
We had a mooch around the shops to see if we could pick up any quirky, artsy objects for our apartment. There was some nice stuff there, and not too expensive, but not fully to our taste.
Yes, that 13th century painting of a fertility tree does have penises for fruit hanging off of it. Can we all be adults about it? No? Good 😉
A couple of cute restaurants were nestled up one of the characterful, narrow side lanes. We chose one called Il Gatto e la Volpe (The Cat and the Fox – it’s not the most brilliantly kept website, sadly), you can see in the large picture above. We sat outside at one of the small tables. Niamh had bruschette and I had ribollita (a twice-boiled soup, thickened with bread). Both were excellent. Then we waited for our mains. And waited. And waited some more. We always appreciate we are on ‘Italian time’ over here, and are usually chill about lengthy mealtimes. However, that’s usually when we know we can have a few drinks and get back to our apartment. Niamh was driving, and we had our minds on the parking ticket aswell.
About 45 minutes later we were told that our food would be arriving subito (immediately), and it came 2 minutes later. Phew – well in time for getting back to the car in the end. Niamh had large pasta parcels (I don’t recall their name), stuffed with ricotta, smothered in a minced beef ragú and I had pici with a white ragú – the meat was rabbit. Again, the food was fab – I just had to watch out for bones in my ragú, which is often the problem with slow-cooked, stewed sauces, I have found.
We got back to the car, and found it in open sunlight. I guess I’ll never make a navigator! The temperature guage read 43 celsius in the car, so we had to let it cool down in the aircon, while we readied Google Map’s GPS for the journey home.
Again, I took snaps – including one of part of the older quarter of Pomerance. When we got home (taking a quick photo of the workshop of probably Volterra’s finest alabaster sculptists), I had an icecream from L’Incontro. They had coconut – one of my faves! It was needed too, as the forecast was for 29 degrees, but it was 33 when we returned.
Tired, we lazed about the apartment and watched a bit of telly. I’ve started watching Santa Clarita Diet on Netflix. Not bad at all, although if you’ve got a queasy disposition, maybe give it a miss!
Still, it wasn’t enough to put me off my food. We wondered what we were going to eat in the evening. There was pasta and some leftover veggies in the fridge – and some vacuum-packed grilled peppers. But while I am not a fan of wasting food, I also hate just throwing crap together on a plate to get rid of it. Recipes were invented for a reason, and I want to enjoy what I eat! Sooooo… we, um, did this:
Our first evening take-out. Sorry, not sorry!
After more telly, we went to bed.
I got up, put the smelly organic trash out, and walked a route I’d walked before – past the prison gate, down through some shortcut steps to the road that would lead me to Volterra’s best free carpark (by the Docciola font). I walked up the steps and was reminded of something else I’d seen on my previous walk of this route.
On the Friday before the Medieval Fair, I’d walked up some of the steps that led to Docciola, when I saw two women at work near the top of the flight of 200 stairs. They were pulling weeds in time for the large influx of fair-attendees. Turns out they did it for the other staircase too. That was a pretty Herculean labour – well done to all who managed to do this in the time allotted!
No firm plans today, except that I might get my hair cut. The experiment to see how we could live, and I guess all the mundane stuff is part of life.
Nat King Cole once sang “Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer…”. I guess two out of three ain’t bad, to quote another song. Yes, we had a slow day yesterday.
After screen-watching, we went to the Co-Op to buy food for the next couple of days, and refil our Chariot of Fire… well, it’s more a like a smouldering dustcart… with fuel. Fuel is damned expensive in Italy. In Volterra it’s about 20% more expensive on average than it is in Ireland.
We got prezzemolo (flat-leafed parsley) and peperoncini (chilies) for tonight, and stock cubes for future attempts and making Zuppa alla Volterrana or risotti/orzotti (the latter is like a risotto, but it’s made with pearl barley). Amongst other stuff, I also bought some deodorant, which I wore for the first time this morning for my walk – in order to prevent me being chased by flies. For a while I couldn’t put my finger on what it smelled like to me – then I had a revelation. It’s like the spice mix you get in digestif liqueurs – specifically Amaro or Jägermeister. Er, lovely?
About an hour after dropping shopping back up to the apartment, we went out to La Mangiatoia for pizza and beer!
I had a 4-cheese and Niamh a cappriciosa, both were lovely – the second-best 4-cheese I’ve had here (Ombra della Sera Pizzeria being the best so far). The Moretti were lovely as always. They have large 660ml bottles of beer over here – slightly larger than your pint bottle of Bulmers (568ml). I’m not a huge beer drinker, but Moretti hits the spot. A Sardinian beer, Ichnusa, is pretty good too. But if anyone who lives local is reading this, could you please tell me where I could find some cider?! I can’t believe it’s not popular over here, given the weather in summer!
Afterwards, we had a stroll around town and got some gelato from L’Isola del Gusto. I got nutella & marscapone, and nocciola (hazlenut) – the first was great, but their hazlenut is a.m.a.z.i.n.g. So creamy.
And so back the apartment, pretty much until the sun went down. It took us a while to work up a hunger after the pizza, but at around 20:30, I rustled up my first all’olio, aglio e peperoncino dish (oil, garlic and chili respectively). We had bucatini to use up, so we used that instead of spaghetti – but ideally you should use spaghetti. I had a dread fear of over-salting since my last dish, and so didn’t salt the ingredients in the pan. The result needed salt, but that was easily recified after serving it up. It was yummy and I was well-chuffed! Certainly better than I’ve ever had it in Ireland.
Niamh stayed in, while I went outside in search of free entertainment and a shnakey pint. They had a band playing jazzed-up folk and avante-garde pieces in the Roman amphitheatre. They were pretty good, so I hung around for a little while.
This moring I went on a shorter walk (about 2.75km) around, and just outside, the town. In the cathedral square, a bunch of guys were unloading more props for the medieval festival, and the market was just about to kick off in the Vallebona carpark. Bleecher seating was out in Piazza dei Priori, presumably for the performances of the sbandieratori (those who practice the art of throwing and juggling large, medieval flags). They will be performing this Sunday, so I hope to get pics or movies. For the very first time, I also walked through the graffiti-lined shortcut that cuts out an entire corner of town.