Tag: volterra

Markets, Crossbows and another guest! (27 & 28/08/2022)

Markets, Crossbows and another guest! (27 & 28/08/2022)

Market day! Yes, Saturday means market day in Volterra. During the tourist season, it sends to be on in the Vallebona carpark outside the walls, rather than in Piazza dei Priori, Via Roma and Piazza San Giovanni. It tends to be a little smaller as a result – not just as a result of a lower real-estate space, but people are on holidays. Plus this year, the remnants of Covid were still hitting. Still, they’re usually pretty lively events, and a great place to buy cheaper ingredients.

We picked up some foodie bits and bobs. Niamh checked out shoes and something light to wear to a beach, should we venture – but came away with nothing.

We had a light lunch of cuts, leaves and cheeses. In fact, I think this was possibly our lightest day of the holiday, apart from the first day, when we drove from Ciampino. Afterwards I went out to scout for a handbag for a friend (who visited us in 2019). I was an expert by now, so I was happy to advise.

I sent her the photos from the shop, and a day or two later I bought it for her! With one thing and another (mostly Covid and return to office) I didn’t get it to her for another couple of months – in fact, I had to drive to her house to get it off my hands!

Good deed done, I rewarded myself!

That evening, Niamh made a super little risotto, complete with parmesan crisp. It was delicious. And just the fare we needed for the attraction that evening!

It was time for one of the medieval sports events of the year – the crossbow competition – Ludus Balistris. There were a representatives (ballistrieri – crossbowmen/women) from towns across Italy (mostly Tuscany – Lucca, Massa Marittima, Pisa, Pisa Porta San Marco, San Marino and Volterra), all of whom had a squad of people aiming from 70 meters (guess) to try to hit a small target. Hint: they were all bloody marvellous at it. There were two trophies up for grabs: for the team, and the best crossbowman/woman.

I have some photos, but not much of the opening cerermony because I was shooting it live – videos below.

As you can see in the last couple of shots, no bolts are removed from the targets between rounds. This makes it progressively more difficult for the team members featuring later in the competition.

When the entertainment was over, the best of the group competition were selected for the indivual competition, and they had a shoot-off on a single target. You can see that in the last of the photos above.

When all was done, and judged. The winners were announced: Volterra had won the team competition, and one of the Luccan contingent won the individual. Yay us!

To close out the competition, there was some pyrotechnics!

Below are the videos of the opening ceremony.

The next day, we collected another guest from Pisa airport, but before we did that – I didn’t walk! We picked up my brother, who had been with us previously and drove home.

We also did something for lunch we hadn’t done in a long time, and there is no good reason why: we went to Don Beta, just a couple of doors up from the arched entrance to our apartment.

When looking at the menu you’d be forgiven, if you were an Italian purist, for thinking the menu was more than a little touristic. And it kind of is. There is something for everyone here – be it pizza, pasta, meat or fish – the menu is fairly enormous. In addition, they do something most other Italian restaurants don’t do: foreign food! Yes, they do Poke Bowls here. Now, I have no frame of reference with these, so I don’t know how good they are – but I appreciate that they’re giving it a go. I think it’s a progressive move.

Now, with such an extensive menu you’d think the food would be so-so, but it’s actually pretty good. It’s by no means ostentatious, but it’s tasty and honest, and the service is friendly and pretty fast for a Tuscan restaurant. We had pici with ragu and pappardelle with wild boar.

My brother’s all about the chilling, and we would have a busy day tomorrow (more in the next blog!). So, chill we did. Before dinner that evening, we had a short walk.

Food! We went to Pizzeria Ombra della Sera and had some food and a couple of beers apiece. I had been missing my veggies over the previous few days, so I had a Zuppa alla Volterrana, while the other two had pizza. Once done – it was TV and music time back at the apartment and to all a good night!

Thanks for reading this far. I hope you enjoyed it. Please drop me a comment with any queries. I’d love to hear from you!

Shopping in Empoli, eating at Del Duca (26/08/2022)

Shopping in Empoli, eating at Del Duca (26/08/2022)

Glad to say we got out of the town today, and explored somewhere we’d never been before! Equally gladly, I got out for a walk that morning too. I left the town via the Porta Fiorentina (the gate nearest us) and walked anti-clockwise around the walls a bit.

The views across the road from San Felice were nice too.

I carried on, and avoided the temptation of cutting the walk short at Porta all’Arco.

I carried walking around the walls – taking fewer snaps, chickened-out of taking the steps at Docciola and re-entered the same way I came out, a full circuit of the walls complete! A gold star for Eoin!

A year previously, we had a wine-tasting session in Marcampo, and met a British couple there. We were talking about places to shop, and they told us to give Empoli a go. Empoli is a moderately large town just off the FI-PI-LI motorway, and with a train station, so it’s easy to get to. We decided to give it a go.

It took us a little over an hour, and we drove through some suburban areas before we got to the town proper. We had aimed towards a large car park in the middle of town – here. It was a pay carpark, but if I remember correctly, it was quite inexpensive. The town seemed quiet to us. Then, of course, we remembered that we were still in August. Moreover, it had just hit lunchtime, so maybe we wouldn’t be doing much shopping after all!

We still had an initial explore of the town:

As we were in a large town, we decided to continue our quest for good Asian food, and found Ravioli Dong. We wanted something a little lighter, and steamed dumplings over in Italy are usually pretty good. It’s just their stir-fry dishes suck. We just went for some spring rolls, fried rice (or Cantonese rice, as it’s known over here) and a collection of mixed dumplings. For some reason, I didn’t take any pics of the dumplings, but at least you get the rice and the menu.

It was nice – we would definitely come here again next time we’re in Empoli. Even their bathroom made us smile!

To the shops! Except… most of them were closed. This didn’t come as a huge surprise to us. While we searched for some open stores, we had a little explore.

We did stop in a household store and Niamh bought… long grater/zester. I remember the young lady behind the being very nice and giving us a discount we had missed. We also checked out a clothes store, but we didn’t find anything that suited us (read: fit us). We had another nose around the town:

We still wanted to do something shop-wise, but too little was open here. Make no mistake, there are still things for us to do in Empoli – explore the rest of the town, the park, dine in a kick-ass Indian restaurant, enjoy a nice river walk along the Arno. We skipped the centre and drove towards Centro Emploli, a decent-sized mall on the outskirts. Getting there was easy and parking was also simple – plenty of spots available at the time of year and day.

Anyway, we wandered around there until we found an OVS. Niamh bought herself a nice blue puffer-jacket, and we explored a bit more. Not being inspired to shop-til-we-dropped, we went to the food court. I was going to get some gelato, but the place we stopped at had mass-made stuff, and I was happy with having an ice-cold coke.

I didn’t take shots of the mall, as although it was nice and clean, there was little interesting in it, by way of design – except for this cool installation outside the gym.

What I would say about it, is that it’s a fab one-stop for most of your shopping needs: clothes, electronics & gadgets, bars, household goods and a big CoOp to boot. It’s also easy-in, easy-out if you fancy skipping town-shopping and stress about parking.

A good, relaxing time was had, so we headed home, satisfied. We chilled a while, and made our way to the second highlight of our day: dinner at Del Duca! We sat outside and unsurprisingly, had delicious food!

Afterwards, Niamh had a coffee, and I had an amaro – a digestiv – one of the most famous examples of something like an amaro is the much-maligned Jaeger. Amari can be hit and miss, sometimes tasting medicinal, but my favourites are ones that have a hint of chocolate in them. This one did! The last time I found an excellent amaro, I forgot to take a snap of the bottle. This time I did!

On the way out the door, we had a quick chat with Ivana, the Del Duca matriarch, and she slipped me a glass of her famous limoncello. It’s usually very strong, but this was more typical of the drink and was delish!

Afterwards, a short walk to help burn away the calories, then telly/music and bed. What else is new?

Thanks for reading. Let us know if you have any queries or comments. We’d love to hear from you!

Lunch Nearby, but in the Middle of Nowhere (25/08/2022)

Lunch Nearby, but in the Middle of Nowhere (25/08/2022)

Another short one – possibly the shortest ever – as we stayed in an around Volterra.

I went for a walk that morning.

As you can see, I kept it within the walls.

I have to admit that we really must have had a seriously lazy day. Thankfully, we did get out of the main town by going to lunch at a resort called Tuscany Forever. To get to it, we had to drive the winding way to Saline di Volterra, then head out of the town, toward the north-west before turning left at a gravel road which is a 1.7km drive to the carpark of the resort. As the crow flies, you’re almost halfway back to Volterra by the time you hit the carpark!

And this was the only thing wrong with it, for me, anyway. That blasted road is an uncomfortable drive – there and back. The resort itself looks lovely, and well-maintained. There are a couple of pools for residents among the mini-villas used for lodgings. The place is smack bang in the middle of the hills of the Val di Cecina – and commands some stunning views, so if you were looking for a place to chill for a while, without feeling the need to travel, this would seem to be a good solution. If it weren’t for that road. I understand that the road is not private, but the owner has been unable to successfully lobby to get the road properly paved/asphalted. You have to have your wits about you driving there and back.

Anyway, the restaurant there is called Osteria Etrusca, and given that it’s located in a resort, it’s very family-oriented and its dishes are what we would call at home ‘Italian’… i.e. there are common pasta classics, pizzas and steaks – just about everyone should find something here to eat. I hear that at nights they have live music and light the place up impressively.

Here’s some of the surrounding area:

Below is the food. I had a double-carb set of pasta and pizza. Niamh had fritto misto and a pizza. I think I was happier with my choices – I think most diners would be happy enough with the fare. The only thing that put me off while eating was being assaulted by wasps!

We drove back home on the bumpy track and slept off the calories and the heat of the day.

Our guests, bless them, had left a bunch of beers with us, and I had this little beauty:

We watched the sunset, and I finally found some space left in my stomach for my evening ‘meal’:

I had a traipse around the town a bit, watched the telly an then hit the hay!

A Manbag, A Manbag, My Kingdom for a Manbag (24/08/2022)

A Manbag, A Manbag, My Kingdom for a Manbag (24/08/2022)

Not much writing in this one!

It was our guests’ last day, but they weren’t leaving until the early evening. It gave them a chance to pick up some souvenirs before they left, including an elusive boar-themed t-shirt.

But first, I had a walk on my own that morning, to and from the archaeological dig site, back and around the town a bit.

Then back to town and the rest of the walk!

After I had tidied myself up and eaten, then we wandered out and did some shopping. We split up into multiple ranks and went hunting.

We met up with our guests at a souvenir store on Via dei Sarti, where, if I recall correctly, a t-shirt of a boar on a motorbike was finally bought by our guests. Both couples bought also walked away with a pro corkscrew – one with a double-flanged lever that we’ve seen all the waiters use here… by touristy themed!

Oh yeah, and this happened:

They are super-handy, especially for lugging around water and my filming tools (gimbal, microphones). Would I wear it anywhere? Absolutely not. If I were to attempt to wear this bag at home, especially, near where I work, I would have seven shades of snot beaten out of me. Dublin is fun!

Afterwards, we had time for lunch in Torre del Porcellino, because they rock!

We then had the sad task of bring our guests back to the airport. Never a fun time, not least because we’ve travelled that road a few dozen times already! But really, we enjoy showing people about the region. A short enough visit, but plenty of scope for a re-visit!

Unsurprisingly, I took no photos of the airport. You only have 10 minutes to get in and get out of the drop-off carpark without charge. This leads to us looking like we’re giving our guests the bum’s rush. Which is pretty much what’s happening. “Bye, then!”, “Buh-bye… bye-b-b-byebyebye!”. Cue validating our card and running for the exit.

What *IS* surprising is that we finally stopped at a store in La Rosa we had been threatening to stop in for 4 years. It has a huge hiking boot outside it and, to our embarassment, spent almost all of those 4 years wondering what the shop sold. Shoes. It sells shoes. In fact, it is a shoe outlet store, and a pretty damn big one at that!

The less we have to pack going over, the better – so I wanted to build a small stock of footwear so one day, all I’d have to bring over is my laptop bag! There is about a half a column of men’s shoes, a half a column of kids’ and 2 columns of ladies’. ‘Twas ever thus. Anyway, Niamh found flip-flops and other shoes for herself, and I found a nice pair for Bugatti’s for myself. I had found another pair too, but what they have on the floor is what they have in stock, and sadly they didn’t have them in my size. Still, I’d put a hole in my goal and was happy enough.

We carried on towards home, rested and then went to Ristorante Etruria for a slightly windy meal outdoors.

And that was that for the day. We were alone again, naturally.

A Tiny Market, Casale Marittimo and Querceto (23/08/2022)

A Tiny Market, Casale Marittimo and Querceto (23/08/2022)

It’s been a while coming. I have spent so much time editing a compilation video, that everything else (apart from my job!) has been put to one side. Sorry about that! But I’m back, and going to continue our August/September trip.

It was the last full day for our guests, and Niamh had to work and therefore couldn’t leave the apartment. They were keen on seeing an Italian-style market. They also didn’t want to drive halfway across the region to find one, understandably – they would have a day of travel ahead of the them tomorrow. I looked up Tuesday on this Market Days in Tuscany site – so useful if you’re looking for a market yourself, by the way! Peccioli was one of my suggestions, and it’s not an awful drive if it happened to be closed that day – it’s just that I didn’t know where it was in the town itself. San Miniato was perhaps too far away. Then, BOOM, at the end of the Pisa section they said that there was a market just 8km away in Saline di Volterra! We picked that, said our goodbyes to Niamh and headed out.

It can take a little while to drive 8km in Tuscany – more than you’d reckon. The road from Volterra to Saline begins with a large series of hairpins (switchbacks), and it can take about 20 minutes. Anyway – the scenery is fab and there were no complaints.

We arrived and parked, and I had to admit to being a little excited myself. It was going to be fun to show new people the buzz and clamour of an Italian market. Except, oh dear. Usually you would see people returning from a market with bags of produce and household goods, and you’d hear the excited calls of hawkers and customers as they exchanged. We saw one lady. When we turned the corner, I counted the stalls and just about ran out of fingers on one hand. It was incredibly quiet. I don’t know if it’s always like that, or if it was because that Saline is a genuine working town, and a lot of people (both stall-owners and customers) may have been on holidays during August, which is frequently the case in Italy.

I grimaced an apology to my guests. They had a quick look around, and gave me some kind words to placate my embarassment. We then had a debate about what to do. It was still early enough, so I played my 2 Aces: Casale Marittimo and Querceto. I definitely picked the right hand, but I definitely picked the wrong order to play them in.

We went first to Casale Marittimo, and parked in the free carpark there. We strolled to the central piazza, which has many lanes and ramps leading from it, promising an explorer’s dream. It is impeccably clean and as quiet as a funeral home.

We had a wander from one side, to the other, up and down through multiple layers of the town and gave ourselves a decent workout in the heat.

It is, in my opinion, one of Tuscany’s most beautiful villages, and after having talked with our guests since, it certainly left a hugely positive impression – they were blown away by it.

Towards the end of the walk, we stopped off at a leatherworker’s shop. Inside we bought belts and masks. He fitted and worked the belts while we were there. I’m wearing the belt as I type this. Tuscan leather is saving me from public scandal! Here is the mask I bought – Niamh added it to her creepy collection.

We breezed past the church and realised we had a gently sloping walk back down to the carpark. Before heading there, we had a debate about what we’d do for food. It was just after lunch time, but we weren’t quite hungry yet. We agreed to heading to Querceto for an explore of that small hamlet, and then go for lunch there, as Niamh and I had done previously.

We got back in the car, and it took us 20 minutes on a very narrow, winding road to get to Querceto. We parked here, just before the road into town. As we hit the place, we say one of the places you could book a degustation was locking up for riposo. Damn. They wouldn’t be back for a few hours. Anyway, I trotted to Locanda del Sole and found it shut too. Noooooo! We consoled ourselves with a look around the place anyway.

I love Querceto, but after Casale Marittimo and the disappoinment of lunch, I don’t think the guests were quite as enamoured of it was I am. The clock was pushing 14:00. I don’t think we’d get a table at Casale Marittimo if we flew back, so I googled places that were opened.

On the plus side, I got to drive some back roads I hadn’t driven on before, looking for a place to eat. I almost jammed on the brakes when I saw a place on a bend, but wasn’t too sure if it was just an agritourismo with food for its guests. When I look at it now (it’s Locanda Le Giunche), I’m a bit annoyed I didn’t bite the bullet and stop there. We drove to another place, and when I put saw it I didn’t at first recognise its name or the area where it was located.

It was La Baracchina, and Niamh and I had driven past it a ton of times on the way to/from Cecina and other towns on the coast. Parking was handy, made even more so by the availability of shade on a hot day. We approached the restaurant, and saw that it was not a table-service place. It wasn’t buffet either – they had tons of salumi for sandwiches and tasting plates, and a menu of pasta and meat from which you order at the till, take your number and wait for your order to be cooked, so you can bus it back to your table. Hand enough arrangement, and what followed was simple enough fare. I thought my pasta was ok, and the roast chicken was said to have a good flavour, even if it was a little dry. It was fine for lunch – not a meal to remember, but fine. And reasonably inexpensive!

Once done we headed back to Volterra, but we had a stop at the Veronika and Fabrizio’s art gallery (as Niamh and I had done on a few occasions). I ended up buying another of Veronika’s pieces, and the guests came close to buying something of Fabrizio’s but relented at the last minute.

Then home for a rest. We were a little boiled by the time we got home, and Niamh was finishing up in work too. As it was our guests’ last night, and the lunch we had earlier notwithstanding, we headed out for a little walk and ended up in La Vecchia Lira to make pigs of ourselves once more.

Then the meal:

I have no memory of what occurred afterwards, other than I must have drifted into a food coma. It was a fun day, but sadly our guests would be leaving tomorrow.

A Long Expected Party (21/08/2022)

A Long Expected Party (21/08/2022)

Righto, this post contains a decent amount of media!

Back in 2019, we attended both of Volterra’s Medieval Festivals, the second time with a guest – where we also played dress-up. The instances of the festival are only a week apart in mid-August. We missed the first week, but we really wanted to catch the second. I think you can already guess what happened to the 2020 and 2021 festivals – that stupid pandemic! Anyway, we were going to party like ’twere 1398 (sort of).

But first, a walk!
I wanted to check out what kind of preparations were being made that morning for the festival, so I took my gimbal and phone with me and did a little filming, pausing to take photos too. I tried recharging my microphone receiver, but it overheated massively – to the extent that the charging jack melted a little, so that was that system broken. At the time of writing this (mid November), I still don’t have a mic system – roll on Christmas!

There really wasn’t anyone additional about beginning to set up the festival, so I assume that the people involved are so used to it now, that they have it running like clockwork.

One of my favourite things about the landscape surrounding Volterra is that if the climate conditions are right, fog will descend in the shallow valleys between the rolling hills, giving the latter the appearance of islands amidst a foamy sea. It’s so awesome looking. Hence, most of the photos in the gallery below are of this phenomenon.

I filmed, as I already said, so here’s a link to the (long-ish) video too.

The Festival – The City
We thought we left the apartment in time to avoid a large crowd, and we did so… at the ticket office. The ticket system is a 2-staged affair. Firstly, pay your fee at one desk to get your ticket. Secondly, present your ticket at another desk to get your wristband for showing at at any of the border gates. I presume this is to keep things motoring when lots of people arrive at once. Once adorned, we presented ourselves at the nearest gate which led to the square. It turned out that getting there early seems to have been a popular decision: there was a large crowd already in the square enjoying a display by the sbandieratori (flag jugglers) and their accompanying musicians.

There aren’t really any photos of this, as I was filming – so you can catch that near the bottom of this post. After having taken in the spectacle, headed straight to the costume hire shop, which was no longer through the main doors of the Palazzo dei Priori, but through the Via Turazza entrance. I wanted to hire another monk’s costume (see the blog about the second festival in 2019), and managed to find one. I changed there and then, but eventually regretted not also losing my shorts. Note – you must have some photo ID (driver’s license or passport) to hire the costumes. Everyone’s was hired with my driver’s license. The other three wanted to preserve their dignity and instead change back up in the apartment. After a little confusion about what was and what wasn’t paid for, we headed out, me in my monk’s robe. Being linen, it was quite breathable, and not too warm. I was comfy enough in it.

While I waited for the return of the others, I headed to La Sosta del Priore to buy a couple of bottles of water. I was given an enthusiastic welcome by Ilenia and I got a chance to practice my shoddy Italian. I stuck the bottles in my pouch and headed back to the main square. Something happened to me on the way back: I fell in love with man-bags. The monk’s costume came with a large over-the-shoulder pouch, and it not only was handy for holding the water, but my phone and gimbal when I needed to. I vowed later that I would buy myself a man-bag later during my stay!

I sat on the ledge outside Palazzo dei Priori and people-watched while I waited for the others to return.

I was waiting for ages for some reason. My guess is the 76 steps up to/down from the apartment. I had to call to find out they were at the side of the palace again and ready to start their walk about the first festival area. So we did just that! We contemplated exchaging our money for the fair’s own currency, and that can be fun alright, but we stuck with the slightly more convenient modern cash. We checked out some of the stalls, and signed our name on parchment using old-school quills.

There were stalls which were demonstrating various trades such as jewellery crafting, salt-making, wood cutting and carving, and a barbeque pits were dotted here and there too. The locals added to the atmosphere by playing ‘parts’ while walking around of hawking wares. One guy was hobbling about with a bandaged foot on a crutch.

In other parts, there were games and activities for kids (including a hobby horse and a medieval merry-go-round) – some of these were usurped by (probably tipsy) adults. No photos of that – but see the video near the bottom of this blog.

We wound our way to the abbey on Via Roma. It is usually closed to the public, but it opens on during the medieval festivals, and some of the monks participate in demonstrations. Some of the ‘monks’ are also townspeople, as we met our regular contact in our Bank (Cassa di Risparmio di Volterra) dressed as a monk and demonstrating bread-making. The monk on the way in asked if I was from the north. I assumed he was referring to my pasty skin, and I declared that I was from Ireland. He was actually referring to my ‘fur’-lined hood… duh! We had a chuckle at my idiocy, and checked out a couple of other things going on there (art, old sheets of music and gospels and mosaic-making). The courtyard was not accessible, but you could see it through a shut gate.

When done, we headed back out onto Via Roma. It was a little quieter than in 2019 – there were simply fewer stalls; maybe only half as many as usual. This is a shame, as when it’s fully-lined, there is no street that looks as medieval when looking south-west to north-east, taking in the arch that spans the Buonparenti house towers. I know I keep harping on about this, and not producing the photographic goods – but you can see it all in the video below.

By now we were back at the main square, and were hungry. We headed to Voltaterra and grabbed some wine, beer and sausage sandwiches. We people-watched as we deveroured and drank. The pyrotechnical group (see the festival’s closing section below), marched through with their drummers.

The Festival – The Rustic Village
We’d had enough of city-life for now, and leaving this section of the festival, we headed over to the main part, which was in the town’s municipal park (Parco Enrico Fiumi), a lovely green above the town, which used to contain Etruscan temples and palaces of nobility. Now it’s a lovely relaxing green area, with a circular path surrounding a dell around which people can sit for performances and demonstrations. Essentially they had set up a village with eatieres, armories, games for people to play and participatory activities.

There were animals there for the kids to watch (and everyone to eat), bottle fishing where the prize was a fritella dolce – a sort of sweet donut-like little ball. A tasty treat, but you could pick up a nice big cone of them for €2. There were suits of armour on display, and lots of townspeople wandering about in medieval costume adding to the ambience.

Trumpets blared, heralding the approach of a nearby town’s marching band, with flag throwing. We settled underneath a large tree and watched them do their stuff. They were a smaller troupe, and so weren’t as polished as a Volterrans, but you can’t say they didn’t give it their best.

We took to the path, acknowledging the bowmen who were having lunch – so that would be no archery for us, sadly. However, the ballistrieri (crossbow men/women) were facilitating target practice. A few Euros for 3 shots. We had a go – and astonishingly one of our guests hit the tiny target. We all came at least close, but his shot was fabulous. The targets are a good 20 meters away and tiny. First time I’d ever seen someone hit it. The crossbows you’re given probably have seen better days and the bolts not properly weighted (so they don’t kill people!)…so yeah – very impressive. You can watch all that footage on the video below.

August in Italy gets stinking hot, so by now we were gasping for a nice, cold drink. We left the village and went to L’Antica Velathri Café. Last time we were here during the festival in 2019 we had some delicious chilled mulled wine. This time we had some cocktails – the star of which a variation of a Mojito with bitters and ginger beer. The outdoor bar they had this year was far bigger and was very busy. The drinks were absolutely delicious!

The Evening Meal
It was time for riposo – a mid-afternoon break. We went back up to the apartment and rested a while. We weren’t going to be wearing the costumes again, and I wanted my driver’s license back – so we left the apartment an hour or so later. The two ladies were champs and took the costumes back while us lads waited around the main square. We then went on a short walk, including a little walk into Vicolo Mazzoni, where the manhole which is said to be the entry to the home of the Volturi – the vampires of the Twilight series. I love this lane. It is gloriously spooky, but you do play a little pigeon roultette there, and hope you don’t get crapped-on whenever you go there. Niamh made her now signature move of frightening the bejesus out of our female guest!

After laughter and apologies, we found ourselves in L’Incontro for aperitivi. We had nibbles there too… always a nice welcome there!

You can see in the pic above that we were still wearing our wristbands, as we had the closing ceremony to go to.

Anyway, hunger was the new order of the day, and we decided on somewhere close to home – next door, in fact – to the always lovely Porgi L’Altra Pancia (literally, ‘grow another belly’). We might have had too much.

The Festival’s Closing
Nice and stuffed, and perhaps a little wined, we headed back home again for a while to let the tummies settle, before the festival closing show at 23:00. I was disappointed when I remembered that we had missed the falconry exhibition in the park. We caught it in 2019. The birds were a little uncooperative then, but regardless we would have to wait until next time.

Anyway, after a short walk to check out the main panoramic viewpoint we hit the square on time, but it was packed. We managed to get close to the fence at the corner where it met the bleachers. I filmed a little and shot a little. It was a fun event. The sbandieratori put on a display, and after that, the band that we had seen traverse the square at lunchtime had brought all sorts of pyrotechnic paraphernalia with them and began to do their thing!

They ate fire, whipped with it, danced and hoola-hooped with it, all to the unceasing tattoo of their drummers. Right at the end they lit numbers ‘1398’ (AD1398 is the official name of the festival), which blazed in front of the seated audience. We could only catch it from the side.

I have to confess something. I missed the last 5 minutes of the show, as my feet and back were protesting terribly. Fortunately, Niamh’s constitution proved better on the day, and she managed to capture video of it. You can check it, and all of what we got up to, in the video (finally!) linked below:

If you’ve gotten this far, firstly fair play to you – secondly, thank you! Drop me a line if you like this, and I’d love to hear from you if you have questions or comments!

Collecting Guests and Showing Volterra off (20/08/2022)

Collecting Guests and Showing Volterra off (20/08/2022)

Shortish one this week!

We had been informed that some sort of alarm had been beeping on our terrace. Apparently, a couple of people from Napoli lodged a complaint, so our building super arranged to have our electricity cut off. Lovely. It had no effect, so we were reconnected before we arrived back. We lost food in the fridge and freezer. Thanks, Napoli!

Anyway, that morning after we had dragged ourselves out of bed, we checked it out. Yes (and we had noticed this the previous night), the thing was beeping avery few seconds – very annoying! To me, it sounded like a smoke alarm whose battery is about to run out. We cracked open the large circular frame and had a look inside.

I think that the large grey cuboid near the top of the ‘stuff’, held in by the large metal bracket, is the battery. Anyway, we were too chicken to play around with it, even though it really looked like it wasn’t connected to any mains wire). We contacted our property manager, who arranged for an electrician to call over on Monday (today was Saturday).

Back to the fun parts!

Volterra was to hold it’s first Medieval Festival in 3 years the next day, and we had to drive to Pisa to pick up a couple of guests – people from our workplace – as they would be staying over with us for a few nights. I think Pisa is a hugely underrated town, and honestly believe that people with access to a car could make it a good base for a week’s holiday – particularly if you have already been to Florence and Siena. The problem we have with it, is that people new to Tuscany always want to see the Leaning Tower. I know it sounds like sour grapes, and certainly is a first-world problem, but if I were to be truthful, we accept their visit to that over-visited square with something approaching an eye-roll. But we do it. And we try to be as gracious as possible, but if you were to listen deeply to us, you would hear us sigh when people decide not to climb up the tower. Having said that: it’s a must-see if you haven’t seen it before!

So, we were delighted when the people staying with us had actually stayed the day previously, andd so had already seen it. Their hotel was nearer the east side of the square, so we figured we’d have to park the car in our favourite spot, and walk to meet them. However, as we were running a little late as a particular artery nearby was clogged with traffic, we spotted them waiting by a corner at the west side of the square. Yay! We signalled to them; they saw us and we were able to take a left and double-park while they bundled themselves and their luggage inside.

We took off and headed back to Volterra. We stopped at the Conad in Capannoli and bought essentials (salad, cheese, salummi, beer!). Rather than take the left after La Sterza, we continued straight on the SR439 – the sexy route to Volterra. The SR439dir route is nice in spots, but the former takes you so much closer to the rolling colline, through scenery that – to my biased eyes at least – rivals that of the Val d’Orcia. Here’s the route we took:

A couple of weeks previously, there had been a serious heatwave in the area, which sparked a couple of forest fires. We saw the devastation first-hand and for a couple of kilometers, the road cut through dead woods, the trees charcoaled by flame. Here and there, roadsigns were blackened and twisted. That was a sorry, if fascinating, sight. But then the road broke out into the open hills. The Torre dei Belforti standing sentinel over Montecatini Val di Cecina could be seen for miles around. Lone trees decorated the tilled fields, and you could see sculptures in some others. You can see some examples in this blog from back in May, when the hills were somewhat greener, but you’re always better off seeing these things for yourself. I think our friends were suitably impressed! As they were with the view from our terrace (they were less-impressed with the steps!).

We debated about whether we should lunch on our CoOp purchases, or head out to a restaurant. Our puppy-like exhuberance for showing the town won-out, and we headed to La Taverna della Terra di Mezzo instead!

We had a pasta course each and a little vino. I usually like the house red here – only one year out of four has it been a little iffy. I think the white fares about the same. Both are dangerously drinkable, but light.

With fattened bellies, we took the guys on a calorie-busting tour of… hmmm… maybe half of the town. I have to profess that Niamh and I really are like toddlers when we remember yet another vista we haven’t shown guests yet.

That evening, we had the Conad purchases as a light dinner/supper and drank a little and chatted. We took things quite easy, as we knew we would have a hell of a fun and long day ahead of us tomorrow!

Good night! The next one will be a little longer. Please leave a comment or like.

Why are people so quiet about you, Follonica? (28/05/2022)

Why are people so quiet about you, Follonica? (28/05/2022)

Back in October of last year, we took an inland route to get to Castiglione della Pescaia. On the way back to Volterra, we drove part of the way hom by the sea. Cresting over the top of a hill, we got a dynamite view of Follonica – it looked so lovely from above, and so we promised to return some day. We drove through some of its suburban areas to get to the E80 and home.

It only took us about 7 months to return! Anyway, we went by the quickest route (the aforementioned E80 from Cecina), and I think it only took us about 75 minutes to get there. I thought I had selected a nice free parking spot. It was free for sure, but sadly when walking out of the urban area, Google led us astray a little and took us too far south. I thought we’d have a 5 minute walk. It turned out to be 15-20 minutes. However, it turned out to be something of a happy accident, as we discovered the free beaches south of the main part of the city.

As we were fully dressed and had no beach gear with us, I can’t say what the water was like, but the sand was nice and golden! So, we continued farther north back towards town. There were houses right on the beach, between which we got more glimpses of free beaches. There seems to be an enormous stretch of such strands immediately south of Follonica’s main promenade – a tip for those of you who are tired of the Lido-life and don’t mind lugging your own gear. One thing negative to note is that you would have a bit of a walk to get to any beachside amenities.

Something that it puzzling to me is that I heard Tuscans extolling the virtues of Castiglioncello, Rosignano Solvay, Marina di Pisa (the south part anyway), the Gulf of Baratti, Marina di Cecina – but nobody ever mentioned Follonica. Does it have a bad reputation? Do they just want to keep it secret? I don’t know either way – comment if you do know, though! Maybe Italians just prefer beaches with all the gear ready for use.

Another thing we found, which we wouldn’t have had we paid for parking in the centre, is that Follonica has a Centro Storico (old town)! It’s far from medieval, but is maybe a couple of centuries old. There only seem to be a few blocks in it – so it’s small.

Soon after, we followed the road over and snaked around to the left to get our first view of the main promenade, before which lay yet another free stretch of beach.

There was a ton of free space on this beach, even though it was a Saturday and quite warm. We might come here next time we have a hankering for some sea. We then hit the beginning of the proper part of the promendade and went a little deeper into town, a little past one of the apartment buildings that towers over the rest of the city, and past that pierside building you can see in the distance above.

It was by now the middle of lunchtime, and we were starving. We took the opportunity of being in a bigger town and headed to an Asian restaurant, in our ongoing quest to find somewhere that serves decent stir-fries. We didn’t quite find it. We went here, and found a pleasantly familiar menu, with a few cantonese favourites – it was typically extensive. Like many Chinese restaurants in Italy, they do fried rice and steamed dumplings very well, but it all falls apart in the stir fries. The meat is cheap, the sauces seemingly flavoured with soy or salt – apart from the curries, which are barely passable. I don’t know why this is! It’s annoying and baffling! The veggies were nice and crunchy at least.

We didn’t want to eat too much as we knew we had a dinner date later that evening. The portion sizes are actually quite small, so that was good.

When done, we headed out to burn some additional calories along much of the promenade.

We stopped after about 500m, and it seemed to go on for at least another 5-700m. It was getting warm, so we stopped at a lively gelateria – Sogni Golosi (greedy dreams). On the way there, we passed by a tented area – the town was getting ready to party! I can’t remember the flavours I selected at the gelateria, but I do remember being hugely impressed. Definitely worth a go if you’re in town.

We wandered inland a bit in a rough direction back towards the our parking spot, and I once again was impressed by the centre’s pedestrian areas, packed full of eateries, shops and bars. It was quiet that day, but I can imagine it getting very busy in high-season.

We enjoyed a nice (if lengthy – thanks, Eoin!) walk back to the car, and took the same road home.

Below you can find a very short and shaky video of footage of our day out.

Needless to say, we chilled after we came back, and then we went out for our last meal of this stay in Volterra. Where better than Del Duca? We skipped aperitivi (our lunch was big enough!), and got treated like minor royalty as always! The food was pretty damn good too! I will really miss that place when it closes.

And that was that! We few home the next day and life began as normal on the Monday.

The good news, though? We came back in mid-August to mid-September… met new friends, experienced the Medieval Festival and Red Night again and enjoyed weather than was hot, but thankfully not appressively so. More to follow over the coming months!

Please let me know if you enjoyed this, or if you had any queries about travelling in Tuscany – especially west-central Tuscany. I’d love to hear from you!

A Del Duca Memory (14/04/2018)

A Del Duca Memory (14/04/2018)

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming for this little nostalgic broadcast – yes, you read the date at the top correctly!

In early November the Del Duca family will shut the doors on their restaurant for the last time. In fact, they will no longer be running a restaurant after having run one for over 30 years. Niamh and I will miss them and their wonderful enoteca very much.

We first fell in love with Tuscany back in 2008 after an organised tour brought us to the hilltop towns/cities of Montecatini Alto, San Gimignano and Siena. We were blown away by the beauty of these places, the food and the surrounding countryside. As the years went past, we had other trips to Italy (Rome, Lake Garda, the Amalfi Coast, Sicily), but it was Tuscany that captured our hearts.

Fast-forward nearly 10 years, and we decided that we had enough money saved, and were earning enough to be able to buy a property in Italy. I used Google maps to look for coastal towns in Liguria, Le Marche, Umbria and Tuscany. It turns out there aren’t many hilltop towns right on the coast! So, we looked farther inland, and settled for a deeper scan of Tuscany, as although the prices were higher, air transport there was easier at the time than anywhere else, and Tuscany was just so huge and open, with plenty of things to do and see. That research, which took us nearly 6 months, had us eventually settle on Volterra. I had not heard of it (Niamh had, thanks to the Twilight Series), but I was amazed at how beautiful it was, how central it was and that it had all the amenities we could ever need. We bit the bullet, and made arrangements to meet with VolterraCasa and Milianti. We would arrive in Volterra on April 18th, 2018.

While we waited for that date to come, we entertained ourselves with videos on Volterra, especially ones by David McGuffin and Denis Callan.

The above is Denis Callan‘s video, with a great introductory guided tour by the incomparable Annie Adair.

Below is the video which helped us decide where we’d eat as soon as we’d arrive in Volterra: Del Duca. It’s by David McGuffin.

Aaaannnnyway… we arrived in Pisa in the evening, and took a bus to the farthest car rental area (thanks, Ryanair). I cannot for the life of me remember what we drove, but I remember it was the first time either of us drove on the other side of the road! I remember (being the passenger) that we always seemed so close to the verge! I think this is a common occurence with those who first do this. You lose the fear of it eventually.

Some time later (after super-careful driving) we arrived at our hotel outside the walls – Hotel Porta all’Arco. We chose this place as it had (just!) enough parking for our car, without having to pay for it. The place had advertised a bar, but really it was tiny and rarely manned. There wasn’t much choice in breakfast, but it was adequate. What sold the place for us were the people and the rooms. They were so friendly, and the rooms were spacious, well-decorated, air-conditioned and clean, the hotel being a converted palazzo. As I had not started my blog at that point, I didn’t take as many photos then as I do now. While I can say I was hampered by the iPhone’s 7 limitations, in reality you’ll see below that sadly my shot composition was generally terrible too!

After we had settled and freshened-up, we strode confidently outside. Then we took a good look up. I’m not going to lie: we thought ‘Oh shit!’. We had been to three other Tuscan hilltowns/cities at that stage: Montecatini Alto, San Gimignano and Siena. To get uphill to those, you have a funicular, a long gently-sloped road (to the most commonly used entrance) and multiple escalators, respectively. This time, we’d be using our own legs to travel just under 250 meters, but about 50 meters up…. on average a 1/5 gradient. That’s pretty steep!

We walked the first 50m, across a zebra crossing and up steps, then more steps, then a steep gravel slope, then even more steps until we reached Porta all’Arco itself, and the very first photo (fittingly) I ever took of Volterra.

Because we had never really heard of the phrase piano piano! we powered on up Via Porta all’Arco after a short break. We were pretty breathless when we reached the top!

It was so quiet! This was ok by us, as this town, if we could find a property, would be our chill zone.

When we had reached the top, I consulted Google maps, and saw that Del Duca was 30m to our right. I said to Niamh “Let’s go to that place the beardy lad recommended!” (Sorry, David!). So, in we went. It, too, was relatively quiet. We didn’t know the family, and so can’t quite recount who we were greeted by. I can remember for certain that Claudia wasn’t there, but Genuino was. Anyway, our waitress for the night was really lovely, and settled us at a large circular table, in a corner, quite near the entrance to their wine cellar. If I recall correctly, Alessandro Calabrese, their head chef, hadn’t been too long there – please correctly me if I’m wrong! I didn’t know that at the time, and assumed Ivana was still heading things up in the kitchen.

While we waited for our first course, two amazing things happened: we were given some bread, and then an amuse bouche. The latter was one of the most extraordinary things I had eaten up to that point in my life – I remember the crispy pork belly and anchovy on the top, but I can’t remember what the central part was. Here is a picture of it from a later blog. Do you remember Willy Wonka’s Three Course Dinner gum? This was like that! I took it all in one bite. I got the crisp of the belly first, then that was followed by a savoury pesto-like flavour of the middle substance, and finally at the end was a gentle hint of fishiness from the anchovy. It was incredibly tasty! Then we destroyed everything by thinking we were sophisticates and ordered olive oil and balsamic for our bread. Brutta, brutta, BRUTTA!!

Oy! We were obliged, which was nice of them. Our primi arrived, and I grabbed my first ever taste of cinghiale – I had the pappardelle. Niamh was likewise blown away by her ravioli with their delcious sweet and sour tomato sauce, topped with crispy pancetta.

Our secondi were just as tasty. I had fish with cabbage (a first for me!) and Niamh had lamb 3-ways.

I think we both had a chocolate fontante bomb for dessert. So yummy. We actually made both the sweet and sour tomato sauce and and these desserts when we attended a cookery class in the Del Duca’s home.

We had some wines from the Del Duca’s own range, so the waitress asked us if we wanted to have a look inside the wine cellar, which is in a small cavern at the back of the restaurant. I took a photo (with reflections) from outside the door, but not inside the actual cellar itself – which is a shame, as it was impressive!

We left, fully satisfied, and took some more awful photos outside.

So that was our first ever night in Volterra! We went on to visit 3 more times in 2018, eventually sealing the apartment deal in December. We got a lovely little plate from the Del Ducas as a warming gift.

We’ll miss this restaurant hugely, and can only hope that the new owners will still offer Volterrans a fine-dining option going forward.

The Del Ducas themselves are still carrying on with their other businesses (their highly recommended agritourismo and wines), so I am sure we will still see them about the town. And we have been offered the use of their pool on more than one occasion – we’ll take them up on the offer some day! So, thanks folks for all the fun times we’ve had in the restaurant. I think you are doing the right thing in slowing down a little. Your health is your wealth, and in the Pisan colline, there is no finer place than to take as much time as you can grab and enjoy your surroundings and each other’s company. In bocca al lupo!

That was the food of the week that was 2 (23/05-27/05)

That was the food of the week that was 2 (23/05-27/05)

Well it was another week where my time wasn’t my own, but I still managed to get out and about and we still stuffed our faces, so let’s go!

Monday 23rd May

I still got out for a walk! There were stairs!

Tuesday 24th May

I can’t get over how green the hills still were – althought it had signs that they were beginning to turn grey/brown. For lunch we went to a place to which we very infrequently go: I Ponti Volterra. I guess I consider it touristy given its location (by the main viewpoint). But sometimes anywhere new is good.

I was pleasantly surprised by the appearance of an Orzotto on the menu (think Risotto, but made with barley, instead of rice). I love them, but they’re damn hard to come by in Tuscany. Anyway, this one was made with sausage and cabbage. It tasted lovely, but… well… maybe my stomach was nervous on the day. Let’s just leave it at that. I’ll give it another go some day – if even just to test my, em, theory.

We carried on the theme of new places to eat (for us) that evening and ate in Life Bistrot, a plant-based restaurant at the top of the lovely Via Porta all’Arco. We were put sat in the half of the restaurant that doesn’t have the glass floors looking down on the Etruscan ruins. It gets good reviews on Google, so we thought we’d give it a bash. The service, it must be said, was friendly and their English excellent, if your Italian is lacking.

We noted that they had chefs that looked like they were from the Indian continent, noted with joy that they had a couple of Indian-influenced dishes on the menu. The Chapati was ok, I guess – it had a hint of Indian spices, but needed more kick. Niamh’s salad was merely ok too. I cannot remember what Niamh had for primi, but I had pici ‘cacio’ e pepe. Instead of using vegan cheese, they used ceci (chickpeas). While the noodles themselves were nice, the sauce was a little bland – and frustratingly the ‘pepe’ side of it – the part truly vegan – was barely there at all.

Wednesday 25th May

Another walk today, this time around the maze-like lanes just off Via Porta all’Arco.

Carrying on the theme of eating in places we’ve never tried before, we tried Il Peschereccio for lunch. I had the high end fried fish mix, and Niamh the less expensive one. I think Niamh one that round. I think next time I try here, I’ll either go with the standard fritto misto or just a bit of grilled white fish. I had white wine to wash it all down – a rarity for me!

For dinner, we went to La Vecchia Lira. I had chickpea soup to start – not sure what Niamh had – I can’t recognise it from the photo. For primi, I had my new favourite – the tortelli stuffed with shredded lamb in a savory apple sauce, and Niamh had the pici cacio e pepe – they do it very well here. Delicious. A tirimasu might have been had. I’m sure it didn’t last long!

We burned calories by taking a gentle nighttime stroll.

Thursday 26th May

Well, today was clearly not one to remember. What little I remember is that Niamh hadn’t been to the park yet this visit, so we headed out during lunch for our walk there. Dinner was a couple of yummy pizzas in La Mangiatoia. They had definitely started to recognise us there! I love their speck and mascarpone! Afterwards, a short trip to Antica Velathri Café for a couple of quick post-dinner drinkies.

Friday 27th May

A nice uppy-downy walk in the middle of, then around the outside of the town. I bumped into Volterra’s most photograhed cat on the way.

On my mid-morning walk I snaffled some gelato, because…. actually there’s no excuse needed! Thanks, as always, to L’Isola del Gusto.

We pigged out a bit that day, firstly going to our neighbours Porgi l’Altra Pancia for lunch. Unusually, we sat outside and were given a little surprise of some Prosecco on the house. Niamh had her beloved Caprese salad, and I had a vegetarian dish – paccheri with a hazelnut-based sauce. Very tasty. We had cheesecake and tiramisu for dessert.

Later that evening for dinner, we did the touristy thing and ate in the main square, in Ristorante Etruria. The food there varies from ok to good, but they usually treat us to a half bottle of Chianti when we’re done with our meal. Tonight, the food was good! I kept up my veggies with Zuppa alla Volterrana, and followed that up with 4-cheese gnocchi. Niamh just had a carbonara. We enjoyed it so much that we had our second dessert of the day (or third, in my case!).

That was that week! Our next day would lead us to somewhere new, and would be our last full day for this trip. So, more on that soon!