Tag: tuscany

A Walk and Some Stunning Pasta at La Vecchia Lira (02/05/2022)

A Walk and Some Stunning Pasta at La Vecchia Lira (02/05/2022)

Got up for my first morning walk of the holiday! I intend to walk in the morning more often than not. Today, I headed down towards San Giusto to see if there some sights I’d rarely or never seen. I hit a couple of minor jackpots! The day broke with better weather than the previous day, that was for sure! Of course, to get out to try to find some obscure stuff I would have to go through the humdrum of walking to a perennially beautiful medieval town.

I stopped briefly at a Tabbaccheria to pick up a stamp for €16 to pay the annual renewal for our property-owner’s parking/ZTL permit.

I had a wander down Borgo Santo Stefano, to the fork and found a water font I had never seen before. Ok, it’s not hold-the-front-page news, but I find it amazing that there are still little secret niches in Volterra after over 4 years of coming here.

I headed from there downhill (I knew I would pay the price on the way back!) towards a section of Etruscan wall, that I’ve even see some Volterrans wonder where it is.

I walked onwards past the liceo and the retirement home, into Borgo San Giusto, towards the huge church also bearing his name. It’s rarely open when I visit (usually the early morning) and today was no exception, but I always marvel at the size of it, for an ‘ordinary’ church.

The church’s grounds run parallel to the SP15, along which some old Etruscan wall also runs. I walked along a bit of a greenway I hadn’t explored before – some lady was walking her dog, and there were narrow trails created by previous walkers there. I got an impressive shot of the surrounding countryside there, slightly spoiled by the sun being in the wrong place.

Between the church and Pizzale XXV Aprile, there are a couple of things: firstly, a few underground Etruscan mini-crypts, and secondly an open space where soccer practice or celebrations can take place. It was May 1st the previous day, so the town was out celebrating on it. May 1st is a big deal in many parts of Italy, and in Volterra they celebrate it with Trippa alla Volterrana: a tripe dish cooked in a tomato-based sauce – always accompanied by red wine. The former is not my bag, the latter certainly is. Anyway, there were signs of partying in this area, and the food and drink stalls were still there. I didn’t take photos of that, because a tidy-up job was sorely needed. Instead, I took a photo of some street art celebrating the alabaster workers of the city.

On the uphill slog back to the town, I spotted the mural below. I hadn’t seen it before – I think it was only painted recently, as I had walked past the place a bunch of times – it’s near the Conad supermarket. The artist’s name is Nico Lopez Bruchi, a self-proclaimed oneironaut (one who travels within dreams) and I think he has been responsible for a few murals around the town.

I went home via Vallebona carpark, and climbed up a the steep slope there to the walled part of town. I gazed back towards Santa Giusto, and took the shot of the magnificent church dominating the midground skyline.

I was on my way back to the apartment when I got a message from Niamh asking me what I wanted to do for breakfast. She suggested Migliorini, and who am I to say ‘NO!’ to that? We had a wonderful breakfast there where I completely undid all my good work on the walk!

Once we had loaded our bellies, we headed over to the Municipal Police to renew our parking permit. This was the first time where we wouldn’t have to ask Alice from Milianti (our estate agents and property managers) to come with us. Everything went smoothly, until we had to fill out an official form. We got through it though, and I did well by grabbing the stamp earlier on in the day. On top of that was a €20 admin fee, and Lo! We had a permit which allowed us to travel on a couple of the streets inside the walls, and park in a few nearby residents’ carparks. I was a big boy today!

On the way back to the car, we snapped a little more, including in a courtyard which usually remains behind shut doors on our street.

Once done, we celebrated by going to the Coop to do some shopping (we sure know how to celebrate), and grabbed some antipasti for lunch. Everything tastes better over here, most probably because everything *is* better over here. The Italians selfishly (and cleverly) hold on to their best ingredients. We had salumi, cheeses and rocket. All fab. We then settled down for some vegetating in front of various screens!

After resting and screenwatching, it was time for dinner. But first: aperitivi! This time, I thought to myself, we are going to add a ‘Cheers!’ factor to a local place. Somewhere where someone would shout “Norm!” (or equivalent) whenever I walked in the door. We went to L’Incontro. It’s only about 50 meters away. We had a prosecco and an Aperol Spritz, and nommed on some crisps (potato chips) that came with the drinks.

Yummy! And we only had a quick hop across the road to La Vecchia Lira. This is a restaurant we seriously under-used until last year. If you’re a reader of the blog, then you may remember this is where we had Christmas dinner last year. We were greeted warmly and joked with the owner that, once again, we had made no reservations. He replied that he’d always find a spot for us. Awwww! We are devils for not making reservations, but felt we didn’t need to in early May on a Monday evening!

I was looking forward to having their cod and leek-filled ravioli in a shellfish veloute, but sadly I didn’t see it on the menu. Instead there was ravioli filled with lamb, with a light stewed apple sauce and crispy pancetta. I wasn’t too sure about this, but my adventurous side took over and I opted for it in the end (fruit not being my friend, or really vice-versa). What an inspired choice it was. Rather than the apple having been stewed sweetly, it was stewed in a savoury broth, and the result was simply the nicest filled pasta dish I have ever had. Just when I thought they couldn’t beat last year’s cod and leek! Wow! At one stage I remember saying after I’d had the first one “And there are four more!” with glee! Niamh had their cacio e pepe, which she had been looking forward to for the past 5 months. For secondi, Niamh had stewed wild boar and I had duck done porchetta style. All very nice.

We had the necessary quarter litres of wine too, of course.

Once done and fully satisfied, we headed out for a brief walk before going back to the apartment for screen-watching/music-listening and bed.

Another trip back! (01/05/2022)

Another trip back! (01/05/2022)

For the first time in a long time we wouldn’t be flying RyanAir. Don’t get me wrong, I will always be grateful to them for flying during the pandemic, as we managed to get to Volterra in both 2020 and 2021, but a change is as good as a rest, as they say. The problem with the Aer Lingus flight was that it was at 06:00. We took the never-before-taken step of booking ourselves into the Maldron the previous day, so we could get to bed and rise early. We also had the bonus of Aer Lingus allowing you to drop your bags off the airport, should your flight be at sparrowfart the next day.

So, that’s just what we did! We got a lift from my brother on Saturday afternoon and checked our bags in. We had more difficulty walking back to the front entrance of the hotel than we did checking in the bags. It all went so smoothly. We dined in at the Maldron itself, and to be honest I was expecting a duff meal at a one-night-stay traveller’s hotel, but the food was actually pretty good! Well done, The Maldron! I was caught between wanting a pint after and just wanting to rest so I wouldn’t be destroyed the day after. The latter won out, and we went back to the room and stayed there ’til 03:30.

We got up and dragged ourselves the 7 minute walk to the airport. Truth be told we were excited, and there was no dudgery involved. We were quite hungry, however, and didn’t grab anything from the hotel (not sure if that was even possible at that point). We’d looked up the Dublin airport site, and sure it looks like there was a bunch of stuff opening at 04:00-04:30, so we’d be ok.

Because we’d checked in the big bags, we went bull-headed for security, and were stopped in our tracks by a 30+ minute wait. Not so bad, really, when you consider that a few weeks ago the queues were hours long thanks to an inept firing/rehiring policy. Anyway, we got through, and marched towards the shopping and dining area. We were stopped in our tracks again by the fact that absolutely nothing was open, but there were big queues outside everywhere. We joined the one at Starbucks, but left it after about 15 minutes, as people were busy behind the bar, and maybe it was going to open soon, but then Butler’s did open… and was instantly mobbed as we ran to it. Oh well.

We went to the gate hungry instead. Café Bar near the gate wasn’t open at all, even though it should have been. We were hangry. First world problems. On the plus side, Aer Lingus were super-efficient at getting us onto the plane, we were seated in a jiff. How nice it is not to be treated like a farmyard animal. I’ll always be grateful to RyanAir for flying during the pandemic, but I much prefer the treatment you get Aer Lingus. We had comfy seats, jacket holders, SEAT POCKETS!!

I think the flight was only about two-thirds full. We had to wait a bit before takeoff, as there was some air traffic control snafu. No biggie. We were up, up and away 20 minutes later, and as it happens more or less made up the different on the flight over.

If I had one gripe, it was that they didn’t begin their service until about an hour into the flight. We managed to get sandwiches, crisps and drinks and were happy at last. However, I believe got the last toasted sandwich, and I was suddenly reminded that Aer Lingus often run out of hot food by the time they get to you if you are sitting in the middle of the craft. I have to say, I was still surprised, given that the flight wasn’t packed. Anyway, enough of that – I got my grub and it satisfied perfectly.

We landed with no issues and with no temperatures or other checks of Covid documentation we were through passport control quite quickly, and into a 15 minute wait for our bags. All went smoothly, and off we went to Avis (for a change) to pick up our car. We love Sixt, but it was just too expensive for a full month, especially given that we’d be travelling little in the latter two weeks of our stay. It took a while to process our rental at the desk – the colleague of the person who was dealing with us had two rentals processed while we were still waiting for our keys. We weren’t in a rush, in fairness. We picked up the keys to a Citroen C3. I have to say, aside from the fact that it’s a manual, it’s one of my favourite vehicles so far. It has a little bit of power, and the hookup of to Apple CarPlay was near-instantaneous. Why doesn’t our Hyundai Kona at home play ball?!

We motored towards Volterra, and got there without any scrapes – it was just raining a little. Niamh dropped me off in Piazza dei Martiri delle Liberta with my backpack and the two large suitcases, while she had to go looking for a free parking spot in La Docciola. We had yet to renew our resident’s parking permesso, and so had to look for something else. This is something we’d have to take care of tomorrow.

Being a man, we are not given to multiple trips involving bags. This rule most often applies to dragging shopping bags from the car. The effort to wear my backpack whilst shifting two 18+ kg bags up a flight of 76 taller-than-average steps was nothing short of Herculean. I was quite wrecked by the end of it. Niamh arrived at the apartment 5-10 minutes after me – ok, she had 276 steps to manage, but only one light backpack. I took a couple of shots outside the guest bedroom to sicken a friend back home.

We rested a while, before heading out to Terra di Mezzo for lunch. It’s a general tradition that we dine here first whenever we arrive in Volterra, opening hours permitting. We said our hellos and were greeting with the same enthusiasm as always. After an antipasto sharing platter, Niamh had pasta with zucchini, I had pici alla boscaiola…. mushrooms and sausage. Tasty indeed.

We skipped dessert, as I had a very important date to keep. I hadn’t seen this in nearly 9 months!

We went back to the apartment, and burned off some of the calories by cleaning the apartment. I was on sweeping duty. We had the bathroom remodelled, and some repainting done, so the place was a little dusty. I’m glad we got it done, rather than sleeping in that overnight.

As it was our first day in Volterra, and we (believe it or not) considered our lunch rather light, we headed out to La Mangiatoia for pizza and beers. It was the first time I ordered speck and marscapone, and boy did it deliver. This place, along with Ombra Della Sera Pizzeria do the best pizzas I’ve had in town (so far).

We took a stroll around the town during the latter half of golden hour to burn off some more of those dreaded calories! The town and its surroundings are simply beautiful and video and photos rarely capure the true essence of the light there, nor the vastness of the landscape opened out in front of you.

I took some video of our journey and also included a little footage of golden hour.

We were very tired by then due to our early start, and so went to bed early enough, having thoroughly enjoyed the day (apart from those stairs!).

A Volterran Walk, Art in La Sassa and a Cloudy Sunset in Micciano (21/12/2021)

A Volterran Walk, Art in La Sassa and a Cloudy Sunset in Micciano (21/12/2021)

I got up that morning to leave the trash out and film a walk around the town. On the way out of the apartment door, I bumped into the neighbour who was taking down his trash too. I offered to take it down for him, but he said he’d walk with me instead. We had a bit of a broken conversation, but he was saying he was surprised to see us as there are so many businesses closed for the season. I told him that it didn’t matter to us; that Volterra was lovely no matter the time of year, no matter the weather. He seemed pleasantly surprised by this. We said our farewells, and I went walking.

I didn’t take many photos, because I spent almost the whole time filming.

Here is the video I recorded – it’s a long one!

After I’d gotten home, showered and breakfasted, the neighbour called in again. He brought with him 4 shiny, freshly cut keys keys for the new lock on the apartment gate (see the previous blog). I paid and thanked him. He seemed hesitant to leave, but awkwardly spun on his heels and marched next door to his own apartment. That’s odd, I thought, but then head a revelation 30 seconds later: I’d forgotten to give him his own original back. I grabbed it, rushed to their door and knocked on it. I handed them the key back, denouncing myself as a mad idiot or somesuch, and got polite smiles (they are lovely, quiet people).

We hung around the apartment until we had an early lunch at La Sosta del Priore (as said in other blogs, this place was voted the best sandwich shop in the Pisan province). Ilenia (the owner) had advertised a burger with speck, and it looked lovely, so that’s what I had. Niamh had a split sausage sandwich. For the last year, Ilenia had owned the premises opposite, so people could buy her packaged produce, plus have a place to sit down and enjoy her fare. So, Niamh and I checked it out, and yummied down our sandwiches there.

Afterwards, we headed to the car. Why? We were going to another town I’d wanted to visit, but had never been to: La Sassa. But we had a mission there. An artsy one. We try to support artists in the region, and have begun a small selection which we have hung about the apartment. So far, we have art from:

  • Vanna Spagnolo, who has since left her premises in Volterra, to enjoy life in different ways. We have a couple of her lovely, colourful landscapes.
  • Fabrizio Ferrari, who produces abstract pieces. He sometimes uses acrylics, but frequently uses coloured Bic pens too – he produces some fantasticly detailed works – mostly sociological/political in theme, but not always.
  • Isabella Bisa – who produces some wonderful portraits, but mainly sells landscapes. She paints on canvases, handbags and purses. Although based in Pienza, she has a sales shop in Volterra.

This time we would be going to see Veronika, whose studio and shop is in La Sassa, in the Valdicecina – about 40 or so minutes drive from Volterra. On our way to the car, we stop off (yet again – they must have been tired of us by now) at our neighbours, to give them a little Christmas gift of Irish earthenware. It’s nice to be nice! Once again their apartment smelled wonderfully of slowly-cooking food.

We arrived at La Sassa, and as soon as we got out of the car, were immediately greeted by a local. The only person we saw at the time. Friendly place. La Sassa is perched improbably atop a narrow ridge, and the road heading up is winding and swirly, as you’d expect. The resulting views are wonderful though.

The town is small, but has a lot of higgledy-piggledy lanes throughout. Even though it’s barely larger than a hamlet, we were struggling to find Veronika’s studio.

I was on the verge of calling her when Niamh finally saw a tiny sign over a door in a hidden laneway which indicated the artist’s studio. We were greeted warmly (in Italian, although she is a Czech lady) and immediately ushered in to her small but busy studio where dozens of works lay leaning or piled throughout. We saw the work she had advertised on Facebook recently and offered the asking price. We had a look at a couple of other pieces, but decided we’d see how the one would do in our apartment for now. Here it is:

We left with work and had another potter about the village.

There was another little town I wanted to check out – Micciano. It looks like it’s nearby, but those pesky winding Tuscan roads make it otherwise. We bravely drove past the signs for Querceto (my favourite hamlet) and insisted we’d drive to our intended destination. There was a bar there which Google swore was open, but alas, it was still closed. Shame, as I was looking forward to interacting with locals a little and getting a chance to practice my Italian a little bit more. Plus there’s the “What they hell are these Irish people doing here?!” factor about it. Maybe it would open after – but it certainly hadn’t by the time we’d left.

Micciano is high up, and we manage to capture views of Saline di Volterra, from the other side – which isn’t something that happens with us too often. Sadly it was very cloudy, so the sunset was barely visible, but the colours were promising.

We then drove home. Not much happened on the way! You can see a very short video of La Sassa and Micciano below. I’d love to revisit both in sunnier weather some day.

Back home we chilled for a while, and hung the picure up. We were well-pleased with it. At the time of writing this, it seems that Veronika and Fabrizio have opened up a joint-venture store in Volterra, so we will definitely be visiting next time we’re over.

Then, as folk always do, we got restless and semi-hungry. We decided to head to Osteria Fornelli, and walked through the damp town to get to it. It was lit up so well and looked so inviting, but sadly it was hosting a private Christmas party, so back we went to Il Sacco Fiorentino.

Il Sacco Fiorentino is one of those places we don’t visit often enough – but I kind of know why. They used to serve the best wild boar burgers and fries, but seem to have taken them off their menu. Instead of still being huffy about that, we thought we’d finally give them another go (it’s been 18 months, Eoin – get over it!!).

We weren’t disappointed! If I had one complaint to make, it was that the portion of Zuppa alla Volterrana I got was freaking HUGE!

If I recall correctly, I had to finish off Niamh’s pasta. The sandwiches in La Sosta del Priore can leave you feeling fullish for a while. We rolled, groaning, out of the place… and took our shortest route home.

We got home, and Niamh went to bed while I stayed up for a bit and listened to music. Tomorrow, we would have to go to Pisa to pick up our guests!

Thanks for reading – please leave a comment or query – I’d love to hear from you!

Going Home Again – A Meal in Kilcullen (16/10/2021)

Going Home Again – A Meal in Kilcullen (16/10/2021)

Extremely short one this week!

The very worst thing about going to Italy is having to come home again. Again, like last time, the flight was in the early evening, so we had time to mooch about in Volterra for a while before having to head to the airport.

I got up for a walk again, and just for you folks took a bunch of snaps.

My walk continued!

I wandered out later with Niamh to check out some of the market. We didn’t get anything this time. It was so busy in town, for some reason – great to see. It’s the life I miss the most – and the food, wine, gelato, towns, beaches, history, gentle lifestyle…. you get the picture. Here are some more:

What do you do when you have to head home, assuming you don’t permanently live in Italy? How does it affect you? For me, it’s always a sad time. They may seem obvious to most, but with my having to deal with general anxiety disorder over the guts of 18-24 months, it becomes a greater challenge. I’m always better when I’m back in Volterra. But, when I think about it, why should I be? Mindfulness dictates that we should be unaffected by our state and place. Acknowledging the change in circumstance and location, and accepting it fully means that by rights I should be able to be happy anywhere. I think this is key. I had to learn to be happy in Kilcullen too. Strangely, this has become easier for me as the lockdowns, particularly the ones early on, only allowed us out to walk in our respective locales. Up to then, I really had thought of Kilcullen only as a functional place to live. However, on exploring every day for the last nearly 2 years, I now realise that it is a lovely place, with huge potential. I really can be happy anywhere, and be content with what I’ve got – and not compare the current me with the old me, or my current place of living with those able to live permently in Italy. Every place has its merits and demerits.

If you like, please follow me on my Instagram account – I post photos and video stories from Ireland there frequently enough. I hope you’ll like my homeland as much as I’ve come to learn to like it.

On the flight home, Niamh took a couple of shots – one over Italy and one over Ireland.

The next day, to compensate, we realised one of our favourite eatieries in Kilcullen: Fallons was open. I even celebrated my homecoming with a pint of ‘plain’. That’s the way – acceptance and gratitude.

Of course…. it has to be said, that it really helped that I knew we were returning to Volterra for Christmas. During the intervening period, I booked meals for the evening of the 24th and Christmas lunch itself on the 25th. So, I start all over again next week with our return to Volterra. Something I, again, gratefully accepted.

See you then!

Thanks for reading. Please leave a like and/or a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

To See a Friend in Florence (12/10/2022)

To See a Friend in Florence (12/10/2022)

I chose not to walk that morning, as I thought we’d have a full day of it in Florence. We still didn’t leave ’til mid-morning. There are two main routes to Florence – one takes you through the countryside for the first two-thirds of it, as you head through some wonderful rural scenery, and emerge on more modern roads somewhere between Gambassi Terme and Montaione. We took the other route, which, although shorter in terms of time (just), is a little bit more dull. If you haven’t driven it before, then it’s a fine route, but annoys anyway, because it takes you so far south so you can join the Florence-Siena Autostradale, before taking you all the way north again. At least it takes you past Colle di Val d’Elsa, which always impresses.

As usual, we parked by this Coop. It’s free parking there, and is just beside the tram station which will take you into the heart of Florence in 12-15 minutes. There’s more about it in the video later on in the blog.

This time was a little bit special for us, though: it would be the first time we had taken any form of public transport since we started working from home due to the pandemic – around mid-March 2020. It turns out we weren’t freaked out about it. It wasn’t packed, but there were a still goodly number of people on it, and everyone was adhering to the mask-wearing protocol. I regret I didn’t take any illustrative photos.

We got off at Alamanni (the station for Santa Maria Novella), and it was another 10 minute stroll to the Duomo. Once there, unless you actually work beside the thing, it’s almost impossible not to be impressed by it. We papped our little hearts out!

We noted for the first time that there were armed soldiers outside the bell tower. We neatly skirted around them, and headed to the back of the Duomo. From there, we wandered around some back streets, stopping in a quirky stationery shop, in which (of all things) we bought some Christmas tree baubles. We were hoping to come back in December, and get a little tree for the apartment, so these would do splendidly. Then onwards towards Piazza della Signoria.

We had a look around (we’ve been there before) the square, and then went inside the Palazzo Vecchio to see what could be seen. The courtyard is pretty impressive, and it’s such a huge building. We didn’t have the time to go on one of the tours, as we had a lunch date!

We did have time to check out the Ponte Vecchio. That and the riverside were both busy and beautiful!

It was almost time to meet my friend. We wandered back towards the square on back streets, bypassing it altogether and heading down a narrow lane to find the osteria: Vini e Vecchi Sapori. It’s tiny on the inside, and seemingly with no space for seating outside. It was also almost completely full, so I wondered if my friend had taken the booking correctly.

I should explain the ‘friend’ part. I had actually never met this guy face-to-face. For years, we had played World of Warcraft in the same guild together, and kind of had similar senses of humour. I had his number and so gave him a call. He assured me he was only minutes away, and, a man of his word, arrived soon after. By ‘eck was he tall! That’s the problem with online friends – they’re like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. But within seconds we had bumped elbows (me reaching up slightly), and all three of us were comfortable. He then entered the restaurant and began rattling in Italian – pretty much fluent, which raised an eyebrow. I didn’t know he could speak Italian. I had assumed that, yes although he worked in Florence, he did much of his work online, and chose to settle in a town in which English was spoken by many. It turns out he’d spent many of his formative years in Rome.

Anyway, the restaurant staff recognised him immediately and gave him an effusive welcome, in cajoling Italian. He confirmed the booking, and said that we could eat inside, but that they also had a part of the north-east corner of the Piazza della Signoria cordoned off for diners. It was such a nice day out that we decided to eat outside and people-watch.

We had lunch for almost two hours. Three full courses and a glass of wine. We just chatted about personal stuff, how we found Italy, what we were doing generally, how the pandemic had treated us, and so on. I skirted around my anxiety issue, as I didn’t want to bum everyone out – we were having a good time. Working-from-home inevitably cropped up, and he was adamant he was staying in Florence, even after his boss asked him to work in the London office. He pointed out to his boss that he himself was working in Spain! I lamented that we might not be able to work in Italy, as most employers didn’t want the hassle of having to register for tax in the various countries in which employees were thinking of settling. Even if that country was also in the EU. Not that we are thinking of settling, as our Italian isn’t up to snuff yet, but it’s good to have options. He pointed out that after his employer registered in a few countries, they realised they had the unexpected benefit of now being able to hire people at will within those countries – thereby expanding their market for a potential labour force exponentially. An interesting point.

The food was excellent, but sadly I didn’t take many photos. There were pastas, fried chicken and zucchini, boar stews and tiramisu.

You know you’ve eaten well, when you get up for a multi-course meal, and only feel comfortably full – and this is how we felt. My friend brought us to a bancomat (ATM), as we needed to grab some cash. He pointed out the opening times of the bank – it only opened for 45 minutes after a lunch break that day. Nice work if you can get it, I guess. We got what we needed and headed back towards the Arno for a stroll. He gave us little tidbits of information in his very English accent. I have to admit I was a little jealous of both his skill with Italian, as well as his height!

We headed over the Ponte Santa Trinita to the less touristy Oltrarno, where he promised us gelato that, while may not be the creamiest, was among the most flavoursome you can find in Florence. We struck a south-eastern route at a 5-road intersection and wandered down a narrow lane until we entered a lovely, almost hidden, piazza – so small it could have been called a piazzetta, where a couple of bars’ outdoor seating was stationed. At another end was our destination: Gelateria delle Passera.

We got ourselves some gelato (unsurprisingly), and it was here that my friend pointed out Zabaione for the first time to me. I’d never heard of it up to then, and now since Christmas has passed, I can’t stop hearing about it! It’s a sort of a thick, alcoholic eggnog – thick enough to be eaten rather than drunk – and also used to dunk biscuits into. Niamh got a scoop of that, and it tasted nice enough. To be honest, while Niamh liked the gelato, I thought it merely ‘good’. The portion sizes were certainly small for the money, but the flavours natural and fine. Not as good as L’Isola del Gusto, but maybe I am biased when it comes to my favourite Volterran gelateria. In fairness, the setting in which it was enjoyed was lovely.

Shortly after, we walked back to the Ponte Santa Trinita, and said goodbye to my friend. It was a merry meeting, and I’ve no doubt we’ll see each other again in Tuscany! He did recommend Palazzo Pitti to us. We chuckled and said we were all too unfamiliar with it. We have wandered in front on it several times, and for some reason or another have never either entered it, nor it’s wonderful Boboli Gardens. But we would rectify that this time! Oh yes!

But oh no – we didn’t.

Once again, we wandered outside, and looked at the remaining light of the day, and the queues outside and decided against it, preferring not to drive home in the dark. We took some snaps, and with a shrug of our shoulders, Niamh and I vowed to each other not to visit it again next time we’re in town!

We decided to cross the Arno at the Ponte Vecchio – photography ensued here too.

We walked back to the train station and got on the tram back to the Coop carpark. It was much busier, as we figured some people were heading home from work (office workers, maybe), or shopping. Everyone was still wearing masks. We took a seat near the front, and an older lady soon sat beside Niamh. She was looking through printed photos, but let the envelope holding spill the contents to the floor of the tram. Naturally, Niamh gave her a hand to gather them back together (Covid bedamned!), and was then caught up in a mostly 1-way conversation in staccato Italian about the older lady’s family, where they were from (Calabria – followed by an explanation of where Calabria was), what they did on holidays etc. It was a lovely encounter, but a shame our Italian wasn’t up to speed enough to reciprocate.

Here’s the video of our day:

The journey home wasn’t eventful, save that Niamh slowed down outside a Chinese/Japanese restaurant in Colle di Val d’Elsa to see if I could snap the opening times. We never ate there in the end, but maybe some other time.

Instead, with bellies still a little full, we had sandwiches from Sosta del Priore.

And that was the day that was! Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think in the comments section – I hope you enjoyed the read.

Dedication – In Memory of my Father
I would like to decicate this piece to my Dad, who recently passed away. The last couple of years of his life were rough, as he was coping with Vascular Dementia. He always loved reading these blogs, and more towards the end the vlogs I recorded in Italy. His eyes lit up whenever he saw the old Italian towns, and always had high praise for the beauty and architecture of the places I visited. He never got a chance to visit Florence, and would have loved to have seen David. But at least he got to Rome.

I will miss showing him how much I love Italy, and I will miss him too.

The Vicopisano Market (10/10/2021)

The Vicopisano Market (10/10/2021)

I didn’t go for a walk that morning, as I knew we were heading off early to travel. I did take a pic from the terrace, and one on our way to the car, though.

We’d been following people from Vicopisano on Instagram for a while (Authentic Tuscany – check them out). It seemed like a nice town, but what really clinched the deal was the collectors’ and antiques market they hold the second Sunday of every month. We’d passed it by on the way to Montecatini Terme in August too (and yes, it still galls me that I lost the video footage of that trip), and there were a couple of historical features that certainly looked worth checking out.

We set Mrs. Google to the carpark that looked most promising, and got underway. The trip is about 54km and took a little over an hour. I didn’t take any photos, because I was filiming! You can scroll further down the page to check out the video of the journey and the market itself.

We arrived around 11-11:30 and found that it was only a short stroll to the market itself. And what a market! I’d heard that Arezzo had the biggest regular antiques fair in Tuscany, which is probably true – in that it is strictly antiques. But Vicopisano’s market is absolutely enormous, and so lively. I’m struggling to think of anything that wasn’t for sale! There were books/comics, toys, old wireless radios, furniture, crockery (including very fancy dinner sets), cutlery, wonderful stalls with gramaphones (being demonstrated), clothes, weapons, musical instruments, old bikes, alabaster and terracotta-ware, mirrors, glasses, genuine war memorabilia. The market wrapped around Piazza Cavalca – a large square just west of the oldest parts of the town, and snaked its way along multiple adjoining streets. We really couldn’t get over the size of it. It was so huge, that while we didn’t buy anything (we came close), we still spend a good 60-70 minutes simply strolling through it while stopping only briefly to check out a few stalls of interest.

One of the best things about Italian markets (I think I’ve noted this before), is how lively they can be – the excited chatter of Tuscan accents buzzed about us and really added to the overall atmosphere. I really couldn’t recommend this enough! There was one stall in particular that grabbed me. A man was demonstrating a gramaphone, and despite the age of the technology, the massive horn was blaring out the old tune ‘Roses of Picardy’. You can check it out in the video towards the end of this blog.

It was time for lunch, though, and perhaps we were a bit optimistic in thinking we could walk-in just about anywhere – especially during the pandemic. I saw the reviews for Ristomacelleria Testi seemed to be quite good on Google, so I chanced my arm. They looked like they were opening, and I approached who I assumed was the manager/owner, who was on the phone. I waited until he finished, and said to me ‘Dimmi!’. So I asked him in Italian if there was a table for two available now. Unfortunately, there wasn’t. In hindsight, that was probably just as well, as we were going to go out to eat at Terra di Mezzo in Volterra later that evening, so something smaller would have been better. We walked past that restaurant again after we’d explored the old town, and the smell coming from it was amazing (definitely for meat lovers!) – so one day we’ll return with a booking!

Instead, we went to Le Belle Torri, and ate inside. Our waitress was so enthusiastic and friendly, so in the end our choice was right for that reason too. We had a pizza each – they were pretty nice, and just what we needed.

We had a ramble through the old town of Vicopisano afterwards, hoping to maybe catch an attraction or two, like the Palazzo Pretorio and the recently re-opened Rocca buttress for walking over – part of the fortifications created by Brunelleschi (yes, the same lad who fashioned the dome of the cathedral in Florence).

So we walked through the town, and were delighted by its old charm. It seemed to be built on terraces, and towers dotted the views throughout. At one point I thought that it might even rival San Gimignano for its towers, but that was just my over-active imagination. But just look at the pretty:

We walked to the Rocca and found it closed to public tours. On our way back we passed by a large group of Italians outside the gate, and assumed that they had organised a special private tour. It was Sunday, and we probably should have realised that many places stood a good chance of being shut, just slightly the wrong side of the tourist season. Onwards we went to Palazzo Pretorio (pausing to let a massive 4×4 perform a complicated 17-point turn), and saw that it too had closed just after lunch on Sundays. D’oh! I had a little explore of its courtyard, and then we had a look at a sequence of switch-backing steps leading all the way down to the river. A little disappointed (as much in our lack of preparation as well as ill luck), and wandered through the more residential area of the old town.

By the time we’d gotten back to the newer part of town, I was pleasantly surprised at how the two seemed to successfully mingle. The blend is very subtly balanced. The old with the new – the border isn’t hugely evident. We entered a bar to grab a coffee/hot chocolate, but for some reason we lost confidence on the protocol on grabbing a table. Some tables seemed to be for dining – or maybe all of them, but we weren’t sure. We chickened out, sadly, and went for one final stroll past the restaurant in which we had failed to secure a lunchtime seat – the smell of grilled meat was wonderful – even after having eaten. We walked past Le Belle Torri, and saw a gate beyond which were other gravelled-and-green-area seats and a couple of other establishments. It was a lovely little mini-park. What a fine little town this is! We wandered up and down it for a few minutes before heading back to the car.

I have to say, we didn’t do Vicopisano full photographic justice, as we missed the ‘classic’ shot of the tower with sloping battlement – but it’s best captured a little way out of town. Maybe next time.

Should you wish to make Vicopisano your base, rather than Volterra, then please out these excellent people – Authentic Tuscany!

Here is the video of our journey to, and exploration of, Vicopisano:

A little while after we had returned to Ireland, and I had published the above video, Vicopisano was awarded the Bandiera Arancione (orange flag) from the Italian Touring Club – basically a recommendation to visit one of the finer towns in Italy. I’m pretty sure it was coincidence! *wink* To be honest, I was amazed it wasn’t already on their list.

But the day wasn’t over. When we got home, we found we had a fondness of our own little town, and had a little walk before heading back to the apartment.

Later that evening, we went to one of our favourite places for food: La Taverna della Terra di Mezzo. We were welcomed warmly, as always, and then had a three-course dinner.

Afterwards Robbi, the owner, handed us a bottle of dessert wine – an almond variety. We haven’t tried it yet, but I look forward to the day we can crack it open.

Before I go… a quick art update! You may remember a few blogs ago that we bought a little original painting from a lovely old gent in Montecatini Alto, just outside the funicular station. I promised I’d post a pic of it next time I got over (and remembered!), and so here it is!

Well that’s all for now. I hope you enjoyed reading it. Please leave a like and a comment or question. Thanks!

Our Return in October (09/10/2021)

Our Return in October (09/10/2021)

Time moved along, as it always does. I began to struggle a little more with work-based anxiety, and when I look back on it now (a little anxious/sad after having just come back after a Christmas visit), I see the fault really lay with me. My workload was not crippling, although it challenged me given my condition. I took on new things, and I am glad that I have been so well-managed throughout this stage of my life.

It must be remembered that when you are anxious, the quickest route to recovery lies through you. It look me ’til late November/early December to realise that (again!)… but… I’m projecting too far ahead.

In any event, Volterra proved, as always, a haven from my most of my symptoms. Oh, I always felt it lurking over my shoulder, but exercising my toolset always takes less effort when I’m back in Italy. I cannot rely on this, however. I should be the same no matter where I am or what I’m doing, more or less… Ireland or Italy, filiming/writing or watching the box, at home or exploring – it’s all the same in mindfulness.

Sorry about that! Back to the travel stuff!

We just went alone this time. The first thing we noticed: the airport was busier again this time, than when it was in early August.

I think I had sandwich for brunch at the airport. Hard to remember – it was a functional meal anyway, as it always is in most airports! We boarded without fuss – this time opting for zero checked-in luggage, to enable us to move through Pisa airport quickly. I had taken a note of what I had and didn’t have in my inventory in Volterra – so I didn’t have much to bring with me, outside of some slightly warmer clothes and, of course, my tech.

I got some snaps from the ‘plane – well, mostly alps…

Once off, we had a little bit of a wait, as immigration officers took our temperatures (electronically), and so with only 2 officials available, they could only release us slowly for identification, in order to adhere (somewhat) to social distancing guidelines. Once through, we skidaddled outside and headed to Sixt for our car. This time, we managed to fulfil a years’-long ambition of driving a Fiat 500!

It was a manual for a change, but the tech within it wasn’t bad, and we found it super-easy to bluetooth our phones so we could use CarPlay – fair play, Fiat. We sent the email to the Volterran Municipal Police that our resident’s parking permit would be associated with a new car registration for a week. Niamh did the honours once again (she always drives from the airport – I don’t think I’ve ever driven to/from the airport, as a matter of fact!).

Because we arrived a little while after lunch, no places were open for food. We did what any self-respecting visitor to Volterra should do: we had a walk (after having left our luggage in the apartment)!

We stopped off for refreshments at L’Antica Velathri Cafe and L’Isola del Gusto, before continuing on our way.

Later on that evening, after we’d been back to the apartment, we went downstairs to Porgi l’Altra Pancia. If you’ve read my blogs before (or are Italian), you will know that the name of the restaurant means ‘grow another belly’. Both the name and their food make me smile.

The food there was as delicious as always. To cap it off, they are also such lovely and welcoming people. After growing another belly, we took in the town at night.

If I recall correctly, it was the beginning of a dry, fine week for us – which was lucky as I think the weather was quite wet the previous week. I guess someone was smiling down on us!

And that’s it again for now. Please leave a like and a comment if you wish – questions and suggestions are also always welcome!

Prison, Tournament, then Home (22/08/2021)

Prison, Tournament, then Home (22/08/2021)

It was our last day of this August trip, but seeing as our flight wasn’t until the evening, we still had time to mooch about town. The fortezza (prison) had opened its gates again (so to speak), and one of its towers was available for a guided tour. Now, I had visited it before, but Niamh hadn’t.

We walked up the ramp and along the walls to the entrance to prison gardens. If I recall correctly it was still €5 per person, but this time there was a tour in English. Due to the pandemic and the different languages on offer, there was a bit of a wait to get in – they said maybe 30 minutes. We each bought a bottle of water, and explored the gardens – including the section out front which wasn’t on offer before.

No sooner than had we walked around the gardens, when we were called to take the English tour. I think our group was referred to as gli stranieri (the foreigners) between he tour guides, rather than ‘these people’, ‘this group’, ‘the English speakers’. This rankles with me a little, but it could be just an Italian thing. No harm, no foul. We went in… my disappointment didn’t quite end there.

Last time, the tour lasted a good 30 minutes, and a lot more information was given out. This time, the guide brought us from floor to floor, giving us no more than 2-3 sentences at each stop before moving on. We had time for shots from the windows, and there are some fabulous views of the town from the tower. Anyway, we were done in 10-12 minutes and bundled out.

If you have any Italian, I’d recommend taking the Italian tour, if you feel up to it; definitely more bang for your buck.

We had a lunch I’m afraid I don’t remember much about, and then Niamh and I went to Piazza dei Priori to have a look at the ceremonial opening of a competition between the medieval crossbowmen/women (balestrieri) from several different towns. We tried to get into the piazza by Ristorante Etruria, but unfortunately, the event was limited to certain numbers, and so by the time we got there, we had to wait until people started to leave before we would have been allowed to enter. We didn’t have the patience for that, so hung around the Torre del Porceillino, trying to steal glances over the temporary meshed fence.

Each team was fanfared-in by their accompanying medieval marching band and flag-wavers (sbandieratori). We hung around for 30 or so minutes, but as our time to leave was rapidly approaching, we decided to head back to the apartment.

There’s always a melancholy when we leave the place, and this time was no exception. However, as my anxiety symptoms were relatively low, I was almost excited to return to work to see how I’d cope (sadly, for the first time in nearly 2 weeks I had a sleepless night as soon as I got home to Kilcullen). We drove the usual route, always marvelling at the farmhouses in the valleys near the town. The hilltown of Peccioli still had some sunflowers in a field nearby, albeit wilting rapidly, but they made a pretty picture.

Finally, to Sixt to drop back the car, and head into the terminal for our flight home.

But we went back! These blogs will continue, detailing our week in October. I hope you enjoyed reading this – please leave a like and a comment. I would love to hear from you.

Castellina and Castelnuovo Berardegna in the Chianti area (20/08/2021)

Castellina and Castelnuovo Berardegna in the Chianti area (20/08/2021)

This was a another fairly packed day, with a lot of driving involved. First of all, of course, we got up for a walk about town. Volterra was partly surrounded by a sea of milky clouds – it looks just beautful in the dawn light.

It must have been a pretty short route – to the Punto Panoramico and back!

In fairness to me, it wasn’t down to laziness, but because I knew we had a decent journey ahead of us. Once again, there aren’t any shots of the journey, but you can find a video of our day towards the end of this blog. Just be patient!

We set out for a place we had visited before – Castellina in Chianti – as we found it the loveliest of the towns within the area. When we got there, we parked in a carpark which I thought used to be free, but this time there was a parking meter in it. I may be mistaken. Anyway, the fates were kind to us, as there were a small group of ladies ahead who seemed baffled by the machine. After they shrugged and left, I had a look, and it was broken. Yay! Free parking!

We took the pic, as it was proof that the machine was out of service, in case we need to explain our case to the Municipal Police. We ignored the poor machine and continued on up into the town instead.

If you’ve ever bought a Chianti bottle of wine, you’ll notice not only the DOCG label on the cork (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita – an indication that you’re getting the genuine article, from the genuine region), but that there’s a large rooster emblem printed somewhere on the vineyard’s own labelling. Why is that? Check out this article – it explains the whole history very well. No point in me plagiarising it! In it, there’s a cool story of how the city-states of Florence and Siena used roosters to decide their borders between each other.

Chianti should be made with at least 80% Sangiovese (meaning Blood of John, rather than Saint John) grapes. Many so-called ‘table wines’ in the area are made the same way, but being outside the designated region, they don’t get the famous badge. Many taste just as good, in my opinion, and being on the dry side, they’re excellent for cooking with too.

Anyway, we wandered about the town prior to lunch, seeing if there was a restaurant that took our fancy.

We wandered down a small collection of tunnels that ran parallel to the main street, and found a restaurant there (Ristorante Sotto le Volte), and the menu looked so good. There was lady outside who was folding napkins and generally busying herself about the tables. A friendly sheepdog was napping under one of the tables outside, but was happy to acknowledge our few rubs with wags of his tail. Unfortunately, despite the lady’s presence and work-effort, she declared that the restuarant wasn’t opened for lunch, so we had to continue our quest.

There were a number of restaurants opened, but we found it hard to take our minds of the previous year’s meal in Taverna Squarcialupi. And so it called to us. We were welcomed by friendly staff, who looked at our Covid vaccination certificates, and sat the three of us in the lovely slightly air-conditioned dining room. It was far too hot to eat outside on their panoramic balcony, sadly. This was confirmed a little while later when a family who had been sat outside ran back in and asked for a table near us, which they got. Such a big difference between Castellina and Volterra at lunchtime. Volterra was getting so busy that most restaurants couldn’t accept walk-ins, even during lunch.

The meal

We took one more look at the chuch and the main medieval square (see the video).

We left then, with no parking fine(!) and amazingly came close to genuinely earning another ticket by, immediately driving the wrong way down a one-way street. Thanks, Missus Google! (Yes, I was driving!) Thankfully, it was a short street, and the driver ofthe 4×4 I met was understanding and able to move out of the way. I was guided by a kindly local the feck out of his town. And on towards the southern border of the Chianti area, to a town we’d never visited before: Castelnuvo Beradegna. We went by a rural route, so it took us the guts of an hour, but it was a fun drive.

We got parking easy enough just outside the old town. The town had an interesting effect on me. I have to say I really liked it, even though it was a ghost town when we arrived (in the middle of riposo). It had such a lovely residential area atop the main hill.

Wonder of wonders, however, we found a bar open – it had gelato, and we were baked, and in need of some cooling off. We grabbed a cone or cup each and sat outside in shade and devoured it. It was nice to see a couple of people other than ourselves. It is a lived-in town, rather than a tourist destination, but with everything more or less closed, it was time to head home. We captured a couple more shots on the way back to the car.

It was only a few kilometers to the motorway, so we headed in that direction, as we didn’t mid a quicker rather than lovelier route home. On the way, we stopped to refuel the T-Cross (not the most economical of cars). Niamh got out and managed to decipher the instructions in a couple of minutes. She got back in not a moment too soon, because the heavens opened. A cyclist stopped at the garage to take shelter underneath the pump canopy, while we headed home. Rain was rare in Tuscany during July/August, so it was a ‘Dear Diary’ moment.

There’s a video of our day below!

The only other thing I have to report from the day, is that I enjoyed this wonderful piece of deliciousness from La Sosta del Priori.

I hope you enjoyed the read. Please leave a like and let me know what you think – and also please ask me stuff!

A rest day in Volterra (19/08/2021)

A rest day in Volterra (19/08/2021)

Well, after our epic day yesterday, we took it easy today, which is reflected in the blog size! My brother and I got up, and left the trash out and went for a walk about the town.

Someone had taken a photo of a statue rumoured to be within Volterra, but none of the locals had seen it before. The photo was one much closer than the one I’ve shown above, and people were puzzled as to where it was. New statue fever, mixed with a treasure-hunt!

Anyway, I found it near Porta San Felice, on top of the wall, staring wistfully out to sea over the colline. She must be staring from someone’s private backyard, as I don’t see any way to get to her to take a similar closeup photo.

We finished up with the steps. In comparison to previous visits, I have been finding them less of a challenge, as 3-4 days a week, just before I start work back in Ireland, I climb up and down our first flight of stairs 12 times in a row – that’s a total of 164 steps. It’s left me in good shape to tackle both these, and the steps leading up to our apartment. Well worth doing!

Then the laziness set in, and we stayed in the apartment (me possibly gaming or writing), the others reading or screenwatching), until it was time for lunch. Again, we hadn’t booked anywhere, but we all had a hankering for pasta with wild boar. For a change, we went to Osteria La Pace, and had some of their killer pasta with said pig. They usually throw in some black olives as little treats within the sauce, but I swear that this time we literally only got one each!

When lunch was done, we had a quick afternoon stroll, via Café Etruria. One of these days, we will actually sit in their garden and have a little something, but once again, we fought past a small horde of tourists to take this shot.

And then another bunch of laziness kicked in. So uneventful was much of the afternoon and evening, that sadly I don’t remember what we had to eat. We may have stayed in, we may have gone out… those engrams may well be lost forever.

We *did* go out for a walk that evening, though!

So that was that. We would have to do something the next day to make up for this! And we did… more next week!

Thanks for reading this. If you enjoyed it, please share it with your friends, and give us a like and a comment. I would love to hear from you.