Tag: shopping

Goodbye dosh, plus The Museum of Sacred Art

Goodbye dosh, plus The Museum of Sacred Art

The furniture store in Navacchio still hadn’t been in touch, so we decided to check out the artist’s store and afterwards head into the less interesting looking part of Colle di Val d’Elsa to purchase a single chair.

The artist is a lady, who is wildly effusive about her work, and from looking at her work on a current piece, operates solely from memory or imagination, with no recourse to reference images.  Quite a talent to have.  Her work is relatively inexpensive, but is nonetheless pretty and colourful.  We ended up choosing a wide piece, without a frame, of a bucolic scene with lavendar and poppies, with a farmhouse and cypress in the background, all overseen by magnificently painted clouds in a cerulean sky. Lovely.  

She boggled when we bought it and was extremely grateful – we’d only been in her store maybe 15 minutes.  I’ll slap up a photo when we hang it.  We have to wait ’til the end of the first week until the first piece we bought is framed.  I’ll show you this too when it’s ready and in-place.

Then onwards to Colle.  You might recall that this is our second attempt to visit this furniture store – they had been away on holidays the last time we called out.  We arrived and the store was open.  It was also a great deal warmer than Volterra at about 33 celsius.  We went inside, where it was nicely air-conditioned.  I think we might have been in the place less than 10 minutes when we had the chair selected.  I think it was her first day back after having nearly a month off, so she probably couldn’t believe her luck!  We managed to fit it in the car (the advantages of having a hatchback), and drove home.  I took snaps on the way back.

Once home, we carried the chair between us up to our apartment.  In hindsight, we should have driven into town and deposited the chair much nearer the apartment, but oh well – lesson learned.  The tendons in my arms were sore afterwards, leading to comic instances of shakey-hands when I tried to eat lunch.  Here’s the chair!


We went to Da Beppino for lunch, where I ordered the pici with lamb sauce, and Niamh sliced grilled beef with a side of greens.  Niamh got what she ordered.  I didn’t.  But I’m kind of glad I didn’t.  Instead I got pici with a sauce of Chianina beef and it was excellent, and proof why I prefer a stock-based ragù to a tomato one.


That afternoon, I had a little siesta, and then got up to go to the Museum of Sacred Art.  Whether you’re a believer or not, I think it’s an essential visit, just to see the progression of humankind’s skill in painting and sculpture.  I  got there around 17:50 and paid the €5 to get in.  They have a couple of touch-screen sections in Italian and English, explaining a little about their masterwork pieces.

I had a good nose around, and with some of the works, the sculptures in particular, it was hard to believe that many of them were about a half-millenium old.  One in particular, of Pope Linus (the second Pope, who was born in Volterra, and succeeded St. Peter in the role).  The bust is the one in the photos below with the robes in blue lacquer.

I was almost done, when a lady approached saying that they were closing the Museum – but they could give me a few minutes to finish-up.  The closing time was 18:00, and they only gave me the bum’s-rush at 18:25.  So a 30 minute visit should be enough – unless you are a student or historian of art.  I grabbed a few evening shots of Volterra on the way home, and snuck into L’Incontro for a cone of chocolate and coffee gelati (practically the only way you can get me to ingest coffee).

What could be more Italian than spaghetti (or bucatini) and meatballs?  Quite a lot, as it happens, as that dish is an American concoction, and can only be found in Italy in the hokiest of tourist restaurants.  Meh, we were going to have it anyway!  On our last trip to Ikea, we grabbed some frozen meatballs on the way out.  Niamh cooked these up in a tomato sauce with bucatini for dinner.  Rawr!  Those meatballs are worth a purchase, should you happen to find youself in an Ikea.


My right Achilles is giving out to me a little – most likely from all the hill-climbing – so I’m resting it this morning – therefore, no walk.  My brother is a keen hiker, so I need it to be ok for whatever he might put us through when he visits on Sunday.

Thanks for reading – I hope you enjoyed it!

A Lazy Day, Mostly In

A Lazy Day, Mostly In

It doesn’t bode well for the readers’ interest when most of the photos today are from this morning’s walk.

It took me a while to draft yesterday’s blog, so after I’d showered we didn’t have much time before lunch to head out to Conad – a local supermarket. We need to get replacement trash bags – preferably clear, so the collectors can absolutely confirm what’s in the bags, rather than potentially having to read our scrawl. And if we could get those perfumed bags we got the last time, that would be aces!

Anyway, the walk there was under the midday sun, which sounds like it’s not a good plan, but the temperature (like in Ireland) increases between 14:00 and 15:00 generally, so it was a decent move. It didn’t get us the bags we were looking for, though – but the replacement ones were ok. We also got some stuff for the makings of a chicken and broccoli bake for the evening meal.

On the way back I wanted to go to La Sosta del Priore for one of their amazing burgers, but it was rammed with people, and a queue heading from their door to our street. I don’t really do queues, so instead I went to L’Hamburgheria di Volterra. You walk in, grab a ticky-box menu and tick what you want on your burger (meat, salad, topping, sauce, fries, drinks etc.) and hand it over. I opted for a beef burger, with pecorino, caramelised onions and ketchup, and a side of fries. I took it home, so I could be alone with it.


The burger was… quite good.  The fries are wonderful – they are made from fresh-cut spuds, and although their look thin, they are rather like what we call back home “chipper chips”.  The problem is the price.  The burger is the same price as the one in La Sosta, but La Sosta’s is definitely the better burger.  The onions and soy mayonnaise that they use has to be tasted to be believed.  Anyhoo – first-world problems!

We were waiting on the call from the furniture place, but it never materialised.  Niamh checked the receipt again, and it said “from the 26th”.  Oy.  Ok, we’ll have to play it by ear.  We were due to go out to an artist’s store in Volterra to see if she had anything we liked for the apartment, but instead I crashed and woke up in the middle of a thunderstorm, with bucketing rain.

So we stayed in again, and Niamh cooked up that chicken and broccoli bake, which tasted nice and gave me a veggie-fix.


I didn’t even go out that evening – just watched stuff on YouTube and Netflix.  I’ve been remiss about my writing lately, so I hope to get back into that soon.

This morning, I went a similar route on my walk, to the one that took me past the witch’s rock, but stopped off for a bit at the Chiesa di San Giusto Nuovo and took some snaps.

It’s a huge building, and pretty cavernous inside (I couldn’t go in this morning, sadly).  I stopped off at Pasticceria Migliorini to get myself and Niamh a sfogliatella (shell-like, cream-filled pastry) each.  It took a while, because a couple of Germans there seemed to be ordering the entire stock of the shop.  They kindly let me step in, so I could get away.  By that time, I was drenched in sweat, so it was a good idea.  Last time I undertook that route I was absolutely exhausted, but today I felt amazing – my fitness is definitely improving, thankfully!

We might visit that artist’s place today, and weather permitting I might go take in another museum.  Unless we get that call, of course 😉


Soup, and the ‘Ludus Balistris’ – Crossbow Competition

Soup, and the ‘Ludus Balistris’ – Crossbow Competition

A little after breakfast, we went to the Saturday market to buy some fresh veggies for a version of Zuppa alla Contadina (peasant soup).  There weren’t any fresh peasants around, so we had to settle for the vegetarian option!

We got almost all the fresh veg we wanted, except for Cavalo Nero (black cabbage; kale, essentially).  One stall at the market had it, but it was brown and dried around the edges.  Turns out nobody else had it in town either – it’s pretty much out of season.  Yet, the restaurants must get it from somewhere.  I had to go without, which is a shame, as it’s a really important part of the flavour.  Anyway, I got herbs and beans to add to the soup from the nearby supermarket, and went home to make it.

I cooked up a normal starter soffritto (a seasoned stir-fry of celery, carrot, onion), adding fresh rosemary and dried thyme.  After 8-10 mins, I added liquid and a ton of veggies (more of the same, plus potato and zucchini).  I had to add a little store-bought stock to boost the flavour. 

After 40 minutes, I threw the beans into mix, which both coloured and slightly sweetened the liquid.  Normally, you’d have another vessel in which you’d layer sliced tuscan bread and soup multiple times, leave it for a while and reboil it (a ribollita).  I couldn’t wait, so I lined my bowl with bread instead, and ladled soup over that.  It was delicious, but I think could have been so much better with the cavalo nero.  There was enough for the pair of us, and we have 3-4 portions in the freezer too.

We sat around for much of the rest of the day.  Niamh cooked up a dinner of frozen fish (we sometimes have that, and so wanted to try out similar products here – let’s just say it wasn’t Italy’s finest hour!).  I ran out and grabbed a carton of gelato from L’Isola del Gusto.  Yum – will have more of that today.

At around 20:30, after I’d taken shots of the sunset, we headed out to the main square (Piazza dei Priori), as there was a crossbow competition between several Tuscan cities, visits to three of which we have chonicled in this very blog: Volterra, Massa Marittima and Pisa – and a fourth: Lucca – a gorgeous fully-walled town about 90 minutes drive from us.

There was the usual pomp and ceremony as the nobles and teams arrived, and arrayed themselves out of the square.

Forgive the quality of some of these photos – we had a floodlight opposite us during the opening ceremony and iPhone cameras don’t handle them very well.

Each town had 12 contestants, and all would be aiming at a target from about 30-40 meters away, the bullseye of which was only 3cm across.  They had a camera set up, and were able to show the targets on a big screen.  The skill of these people was impressive, as most of them grouped their bolts neatly on the target.  After the first 6, though, it began to get a little tricky, as bolts were not cleared, and the latter contestants found it harder to find space on the target.  In fact, one of Massa’s bolts smacked off another and fell to the ground.  

There was also an individual competition going on between each person, as well as the team competition.

Afterwards, there was a display by the flag wavers (sbandieratori), while the judges attempted to figure out the score.  We went home during this phase, as we were feeling a little tired.  Do you ever get tired from doing nothing?  Isn’t that weird?!  We heard drumming for a while afterwards, and then missed a fireworks display.  I tried to make myself decent and run out to the terrace to catch it, but it was all over after 30 seconds.  There is a metaphor in there somewhere!

More annoyingly, I am going to have to find out who won the competition and let you know later!

This morning I decided to punish myself for not walking yesterday.  I took a very long route to the Co-Op Supermarket, and from there climbed back up to the city.  The first 85% of the route is downhill… the last 15% is murder.  Anyway, I survived!

We know we want to do something today, as the weather seems to have cleared up a lot, but are not quite sure what it will be.  We’ll let you know in the next one!

A Haircut and Shopping before Ferragosto

A Haircut and Shopping before Ferragosto

I wandered out for a little in the morning to get my head shaved (“Posso avere un zero, per favore?”, along with the mime of a razor going over my head from front to back).  Sadly I don’t know the name of the business, but it was on the corner of Via dei Sarti and Via delle Prigioni.  He was an older gentleman, and a few other men were hanging around inside and gossiping incessantly with him.  Is this a normal thing in older barber’s in Italy?  Anyway, it was nice to see.  When getting my head shaved, sometimes I only spend 4-5 minutes in the chair, but this old pro took his time – he was methodical and exacting, and did a great job – I spent about 15 minutes in there.  I’m not too sure about outside the old town, but a headshave is €14-€15 – a bit more expensive than back home.  Once he was done, I mumbled “Sono molto bello ancora.”, and he had the good grace to smile at my attempt at humour, and, wonder-of-wonders, he didn’t wince when I handed over a €50 note to pay!

At around 14:15, thought, I grabbed a couple of sandwiches from La Sosta del Priore for lunch.  Elena (I think that’s her name) knows me by name now – so that’s good service.  I hope to return the favour and ensure I remember hers.  On holidays, I get so fixated with sitting down in restaurants to get something to eat, when some of the best stuff you can find is street-food, and so it was a long time before I tried this place.  Anyway, if you’re in the area and are peckish – give them a shot.  Their Tripadvisor score is 4.5 after nearly 1,000 reviews.  Anyway, I got a porchetta (roast stuffed pork) sandwich, with caramelised onions and pecorino. *Drool*


When the shops re-opened in the afternoon, we realised we’d have to get the ingredients and makings for food for the next couple of days.  We knew that tomorrow (today, as of the publication of this!) was Ferragosto.  This holiday is celebrated on the 15th of August every year and conincides with the religious feast of the Assumption.  A great many Italians take the day off and spend it with friends and family.

As it falls on a Thursday this year, I suspect that many will also take the Friday off and make an extra-long weekend of it.  With this in mind, we headed out to get meat, condiments and veggies for meals.  We noted that the insurance office below us was taking advantage of an extra-long weekend, and it turns out so was our local greengrocer.  We headed up Via Gramsci to go to another one, passing the owner/manager of La Taverna della Terra di Mezzo (we’ll eat there again soon!), Roberto, was outside talking with friends.  He gave us a friendly wave and hello as we went past.  We found that one shut too, and so headed past Roberto who nodded and smiled at us again.  We had decided to look for chicken breast in the butchers, and were halfway back down Gramsci, when I suggested we just get everything in the Co-Op supermarket.  Our walk to the car, took us past Roberto yet again in a matter of a minute, who looked at us amusedly, saying “And one more time!”.  

We got almost everything we needed in the Co-Op for a beef ragú for one day, and chicken and veg stir-fry for another.  We have a residents parking permit, but it doesn’t guarantee you a spot.  We have ridden our luck a lot in our favoured car-park, and once again managed to grab the last place upon our return.  After a nice little struggle up those stairs to our apartment, we settled in for more relaxation.

That evening, I had a second go at making an all’olio, aglio e peperoncino dish, this time correctly using spaghetti.  Still a little undersalted, but better again than my last time.


It was tasty enough – and is a nice and light pasta dish to have if you’re not ravenous!

Later on that evening I went on patrol to check out what was happening about town.  It was a lot quieter than it had been over the weekend!  There was something going on in the pinacoteca (art gallery), but I’m not sure what it was.  People were dressed-up a little and stopping to pick up a brochure at a table outside.  I moved along, and somehow ended up with gelato from L’Isola del Gusto… don’t know how it happened, but I wasn’t complaining!

This morning, I decided to see if I could walk fully around the walls of the old town, and I made it.  Some days, I struggle, some days I feel great… this was one of those latter days!  Here is my route (click it to view a larger version – walking clockwise, about 4.3km):


Naturally, I took some shots along the way.

You can clearly see the Tyrrhenian on the horizon today – that’s over 30km away.

Today, being our first Ferragosto here, we have no idea what will happen, but expect that most businesses will be closed, and that the traffic will be cataclysmic around the town.  We couldn’t belive how busy it was on Pasquetta (Easter Monday), when we were over here for a couple of weeks in April.  Nonetheless, we’ll head out and about to see what’s what, and report back.

As we are collecting a guest tomorrow morning, we’ll have to tidy the house, empty some of the wardrobe in the guest room (we’ll have no wardrobe in the master room, until it gets delivered towards the end of the month).  Fun times.  It also means that there will likely be no blog tomorrow, but they will recommence on Saturday.

Ciao, and to anyone from Italy reading this: Buon Ferragosto!

The calm before the storm

The calm before the storm

After tidying ourselves up, we went outside to the market to buy sundry knick-knacks for the house. Once my head is protected, it’s not often I actively seek shelter, but while shopping there the sun was scorching, so I ducked out of the light as often as possible. Fortunately, stalls have their own covers and awnings, so it wasn’t too much trouble.

We went to other shops in town to grab some meats and veggies for dinners for the next couple of days. We both agreed that we needed a short break from pasta!

On the way back to the apartment, I grabbed myself a lemon granita from L’Isola del Gusto. It was fab. After a short time in the apartment, I went out to La Sosta del Priore and grabbed a burger there for lunch. It’s not the be-all and end-all to look at, but God did it taste so good. They put it with caramelised onions and a type of mayonnaise that tastes amazing. I will be back for one of those again next week!

We blew much of the rest of the afternoon in the apartment, in an effort to escape the searing sun.  Suddenly, around 17:15, we heard a hullabaloo outside the guest bedroom, which looks down into the main street.  It was a cacophany of drums and trumpets, so we guessed that it must have been something to do with the impending Medieval fair.

We dollied-up as quickly as possible and went to the main square.  There was a wedding there, and I think they had to be given the bum’s rush at 18:00, so the Medieval procession could start.

Anyway, shortly after 18:00, the MC, fully dressed in oldie-worldy garb, started reciting Italian poetry, and announced the lords, ladies and representatives of both the sbandieratori (flag tossers) and balestrieri (crossbow men and women) for Volterra’s 8 contrade (districts), who will be in competition.

Afterwards, there was a very impressive display by the sbandieratori, who are among Italy’s best.

When I get the time/bandwidth, I might stick up a couple of vertical, shaky, iPhone videos 🙂

Once this was all done and the festival declared open, we went home to have a meal.  We’d bought a rotisserie chicken from one of the market’s foodstalls earlier in the day, and so Niamh put together a lovely meal.  She baked rosemary fries (an oxymoron, I know), and they were fantastic.


While out on the terrace, we heard some music, and so washed the dishes and went out to have a gawk.  We found some medieval buskers.  They were great players, and had a little coterie of people following them about town.  I uploaded the video to Facebook – hopefully you can see it there.  We inadvertently joined them for a little while, as we wanted to go for a drink on Via Gramsci.  We ended up in the Antica Velathri Cafe again.  I had a fab chilled mulled wine there.  I’d give it another go!

We then went back home and vegged out on the couch for a while, before going to bed.

I slept right through ’til 05:30, which is unusual for me, and so headed out early to see if I could find if any more stuff had been set up for the festival.

It’s supposed to hit 35+ celsius today, so I, for the first time in a long time, will be showing off some ankle and calf in very fetching shorts.  We’ll probably spend a lot of time outdoors today, so I expect tomorrow’s blog will be very media-heavy – apologies in advance!  We’re both really looking forward to this!

Roll out those days…

Roll out those days…

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.

We were planning to go to Massa Marittima today, but with the market in the main carpark, those put-out residents are on-the-prowl for handy parking.  So if we left our spot, it could mean we’d have to spend a lot of time either finding/waiting for a spot, or parking in the arse-end of nowhere and having a difficult walk back to town.  We have tons of time, and so can go next week.

Thanks a lot!

August Strikes Again

August Strikes Again

We took things a little handier after yesterday‘s hectic day. When we were done hanging around the apartment, doing a little writing etc., we took ourselves downstairs and outside. We had to buy a pliers to tidy up a wire, currently suspending the net curtain over the door to our terrace. We grabbed one handily enough in the hardware store on Via dei Sarti, and had another little wander around some of the artsier stores on Via Porta all’Arco.

As we had a mind to eat out tonight, we decided, for the first time ever since we’ve been here, to grab a sandwich out of one of the few streetfood stores near us.  We chose La Sosta del Priore, just around the corner from the entrance to our apartment building.  It gets rave reviews on Trip Advisor, as do a couple of the other streetfood vendors in the area.

We both had variations on a porchetta (roast pork) sandwich.  They assemble it in front of you, and chop up the pork on a flat griddle.  I had sundried tomatoes, porchetta, pecorino with a little fig jam.  It was sensational, and we’ll be trying these streetfood sandwiches again soon.  They fill you right up, too!


I should have taken a photo side-on, as this shot doesn’t do it justice.

Niamh found a single-seater chair she wanted to buy for our living room, in a place in the industrial zone of Colle di Val d’Elsa, a town about 35 minutes drive away.  As it was after 13:00, we had to wait ’til closer to 16:00 before heading out.  Colle di Val d’Elsa also has a lovely medieval town, and a nice centre to its modern area, but we didn’t visit those today – some other time!

Anyhoo, we got there, and noticed that the carpark was suspiciously empty.  Niamh had checked the opening times online, but the message on the window nonetheless stated that they were shut from August 4th until the 27th.  Wonderful.  Back we went, but on the way home, I took some snaps of the countryside as we were driving.

Upon arriving back in Volterra, we decided not to blow our time at the apartment until it was time to eat, but did this instead:


A manly drink for a manly man, in the prime of his manly manhood.  I considered it one of my 5 a day, as it had pulped peach in it.  We got these in Antica Velathri Café (Velathri is what the Etruscans called Volterra back in the day).  There is a fabulous mixologist there, and he’s very friendly to boot.  They also have little bready canapés you can eat, if you like.

After we’d had a couple there, we went to Il Pozzo degli Etruschi for dinner.  Niamh ordered one course with a contorno (side dish) of grilled veg, and I two.  This is the second time we’ve done this, and neither restaurant has gotten the timing right, despite confirming it with us.  So I had my second dish while Niamh had to look on and wait.  We won’t make the same mistake again.

Anyway, she had roast cutlets of wild boar, and she said it was the most delicious meat-dish she’s had here.  I had a taste and had to agree – it was pretty sensational.  I had Zuppa alla Volterrana (veggies!), and after pici with lamb sauce.  The soup was ok – not as good as in a couple of other places I’ve had it, but the pici dish was great!  

As we both had very full bellies, we went home.

There was supposed to be hella rain this morning, so I had conditioned myself to not going out for a walk.  In addition, they were spraying for mosquitoes in the green areas around Volterra, and I didn’t want to be around that.  I tried to sleep in.  I really did, but there it must have been the commercial glass bin collection day today… and they must have set up a central collection point right underneath our bedroom window.  The sound of glass bottles crashing together can become unnerving after 30 straight minutes of it.  Still… it must be done to keep the town tidy.

Long story short: fat, lazy Eoin didn’t go out for a walk today.  Will do so tomorrow!


Booze and Books

Booze and Books

We drove 35 or so minutes from Volterra to La Rosa to check out (no pun intended) the MD Supermarket there. We were a little disappointed – no intrinsic fault of that supermarket itself – when we got there, and found out that it’s a bit of a reverse-tardis: it’s smaller on the inside than it looks on the outside. In fact, it isn’t much bigger than the Co-Op Supermarket we have in Volterra.

One slightly curious thing about supermarkets in Italy, and their fresh produce: it is considered both rude and unhygenic to handle fruit & veg without using the disposable plastic gloves (so nicely modelled by Niamh in the photo below), even if you’re handling stuff to put in your own basket.  


In fact, our own local grocer’s has a sign saying “No self service!” – they pick out the produce themselves for you.  I guess they know where their hands have been!

Anyway, we picked up stuff for lunch and dinner (which at least seems to have been more inexpensive than other shops) and went straight home.

Lunch was a series of cold-cuts and cheeses.  With added balsamic and a truffle-enfused honey, I had a plethora of flavours on the plate – from creamy to earthy, from fresh to salty and sour.  Yummy.


We had a bit of a kip after lunch, and then ventured outside again.  We had to get wine refills.  On the way, we stopped into a bookshop and antiquary to check what it had.  We were greeted very enthusiastically by a thin man, who took it upon himself to talk rapidly in Italian to us, while miming everything he was saying.  We told him we were Irish, and he showed us… no wait… he literally capered from shelf to shelf, indicating a map of Ireland with a shamrock-laden Leprechaun’s hat perched precariously on it; elsewhere, printed quotes by WB Yeats, one of which he discussed at length.

He was very handsy, but not suspisciously or creepily so – he’s just a really nice guy, who happens to love what he does.  I asked him if he had any books in Italian suitable for ‘an idiot’.  He cackled at this, and showed us a couple of novels.  With each one, he showed us the synopsis blurb on the back, and not only read it out, but mimed it too.  Bless him, he was like Mr. Rogers on crack.

I ended up buying a chick-lit book in Italian.  Two reasons right there why I won’t be reading it today or tomorrow – so he got his sale!  We signed his guestbook and went back outside.

I don’t know how much money he makes, but he seems a great deal happier than most people I know.  I’ll be back.

There are a couple of wineries which have stores in Volterra, which sell directly to us great unwashed.  One of these is Santa Lucia, which is a farm about a 40 minute drive, north-east of Volterra.  Not too sure about their whites, but their reds (I think) are 100% San Giovese, and so are very drinkable.  And cheap.  

You can waltz in, and sample up to 5 or 6 wines, and then take home what you fancy.  The wines are there in vats.  You can either get a bag-in-box or bring your own bottles, and fill them up like you would a car with petrol.

Did I mention how inexpensive they are.  The wines vary from €1.20 to €2.10 per litre.  We got 5 litres of red and 5 of white and paid just under €18 for the lot.  That’s 13 bottles of wine.  And it ain’t plonk either – it’s very drinkable.

There’s another place outside town (Cantina di Fabio) that does this too, but they do 8 litre bags, and given that it’s an uphill struggle to the apartment, we tend to stick with Santa Lucia.

I wrote a little bit in the afternoon, and lazed some more.

That evening, Niamh served up gnocchi, with mushrooms and smoked pancetta (bacon lardons, essentially) in a cream sauce.  It was yummy – next time we’ll had something with a fresh taste to offset the other flavours – parsely or peas, maybe.  But look how tasty this is!


I’m sorry to say we stayed in all night.  I looked at telly for a bit, finishing off the John Callahan biopic “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot”, on Amazon, and the next ep of Orange Is The New Black on Netflix.  The movie was really good – give it a go – but OITNB is still a bit rubbish (although this episode was better than the previous one).

Despite being early to bed, I woke up tired, and thought I was going to cut short my walk, but I gave it a bash anyway, and went a particularly hilly route.

Not sure what the plans are today – maybe head up to Lari to check out the producer of one of the poshest pastas in Italy: Martelli.

See you in the next one!

A walk in the park

A walk in the park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Our little herbs are coming along nicely!


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

Thanks for reading!

Hot deals, but not hot wheels

Yesterday, we drove a little outside Navacchio, to a complex of malls and stores and had a look at some furniture.

Although our rental is brand new, there’s something that rattles in it ferociously if you’re in too high a gear.  Couple that with the fact that it has all the power of an asthmatic sloth, and you have an object into which I am currently pouring much of my malice.  It gets us from A to B, and the aircon works a treat, so I suppose I should be thankful for small mercies.

We passed Peccioli on the way.  One of these days we’ll actually rock up there and explore it!  Here it is, looking very pretty by a field of sunflowers.


We were reminded how much hotter it gets several hunderd meters closer to sea-level when we got out of the car.  I think it peaked around 34 celsius.  

In Casa, we bought some bins and sun loungers, all of which we took with us and stowed in the car, and then in Mondo Convenienza we got ourselves a lovely, accessorised wardrobe and a couple of side tables, and a cabinet for the TV.  All-in-all, these weren’t too expensive and looked really nice, so it was a win/win.  The mall was great to look at and spotlessly clean.

We will have to wait until August 26th for the delivery unfortunately.  We were brought over to a desk to finalise the order (the wardrobes are modular, and can be completely designed from the inside out), and were introduced once again to peculiar Italian bureaucracy.  In order to buy furniture, we had to provide:

  1. A codice fiscale (the Italian social security number)
  2. A passport (after checking with her manager, she accepted Niamh’s passport number)
  3. An Italian phone number.  We don’t have one, so we had to give them the number of our Estate Agents, who also look after our house while we’re back in Ireland

Finally, at the cash desk itself, Niamh had to provide 8 digital signatures to accept and pay for the order and delivery.  Seems bonkers to those not living in Italy, but I guess it prevents money laundering and other nefarious activities.  However, I wonder if one of the reasons that Italian economic growth is so low is because their process and bureaucracy acts as a deterrant to commerce.  Anyway, I digress.  

After Niamh bought a nice top for herself, we did this for lunch in the mall, and I’m not one bit apologetic about it:


We went back home, the car struggling up the hills closer to Volterra.  It was still 28 degrees there, and we dragged the two sun-loungers and bins through town and up to our apartment.  We were a bit wrecked by the time we got there.  Hopefully, the loungers will get some use by us and the few guests we’re having over our stay.  Here they are on the upper terrace:


Niamh cooked again in the evening, but it was a light meal, given that we’d pigged-out earlier on.


The string beans here are so tasty and the fish was very tender and flakey.

We chilled for a while, and then I went out for a quick stroll about town.

The Irish Bar had no free tables, which was great to see.  A pair of seated gents were playing jazzy tunes on electric guitars outside another restaurant, while over-excited kids screamed and wheeled about in front of them.  I have to admit to having a little bit of ice-cream from L’isola Del Gusto on the way!  The lady behind the counter recognised me, and welcomed me back… it’s the small things in life that often make an impression.

For this morning’s walk, I took a route past the prison, on one side of a small valley, the other side of which houses both the modern-day hospital, and the closed mental hospital.  The road leads down to Porta e Fonti di Docciola, where the largest free car park for Volterra can be found (get there very early if you want a spot for a daytime visit, or if staying overnight you should be able to find parking spots after 20:00).

The font here was built in the mid-1200’s, and was an important source for water for both living, and for commerce back in medieval times.  Today, it houses both fish and pigeons!

I took the 200 steps back up to town, which gave me a decent workout.

Despite the pasta, pizza, and the occasional cakes and gelato, my belly seems to be slowly reducing, so yay!  A lot of that is down to portion control and exercise, but also to the fact that crisps and sweets simply aren’t as prevalent in the stores here, and we seem to have way less inclination to buy them as a result.

Today, we have to let our Estate Agents know that we are expecting an order for furniture, and to renew some sort of security dongle at the bank.  Other than that, it’s chillout time – we’ll proably eat out today, and I have to commit a few hundred more words of my novel to electronic paper! 

Thanks for reading this.  If you have any (polite) comments, questions or suggestions, please leave them below.