Tag: walking

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!

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.

Not very expensive drinks at Terre di Mezzo (17/08/2021)

Not very expensive drinks at Terre di Mezzo (17/08/2021)

We had another relatively light day today. No travel at all, apart from the morning walk. I dragged my brother all over town! Check out the shots.

If I recall correctly, I actively sought hills on the inside of the walls we could go up and down for a cardiovascular challenge. There are no shortage of those in Volterra!

And although our coverage of kilometers was light, we got a good workout!

We even took in the park, before heading back to the apartment, via the fountain and panoramic view.

We stayed in and vegged. My brother and I were brave enough to venture out for the team later to grab some lunch at La Sosta del Priore. I introduced my brother to Ilenia and had reasonable success conversing in Italian. I still have a long way to go, though!

We didn’t eat the sandwiches in the street, but took them back to the apartment to have outside on the terrace. Then we did what we do best: vegitate.

That evening we hit Terra di Mezzo for a bite to eat. I love this place. The food is good, and we have good rapport with the owner, Robbi, and the waitress, Aurora. Most of the time something memorable happens – and tonight was no exception.

I got the Zuppa alla Volterrana, and a steak. Sadly, I can’t remember what the others had. However, what I *do* remember is what we drank. Niamh and I each had 500ml (un mezzo) of white and red, respectively. My brother isn’t a wine drinker, and the restaurant only had craft beers available, so he opted for one of those.

It came out in a pretty fancy bottle, and had a slightly citrusy tang, the kind you might expect of a wheat beer. It was really nice. Because he liked the drink, and that the prices weren’t on the bespoke menu, my brother looked it up on the web. He found that the brewers were selling it for €48. Our jaws dropped, and I just kept thinking there’s no way Robbi would let us order one of those without telling us first! And to be honest, a little of my anxiety kicked in. I looked up the site, but it was a little poorly laid out and seemed to confirm that was the price. Anyway, we enjoyed the meal and had a bit of a laugh at my brother’s expense. So much of a laugh, in fact, that he ordered another one halfway through the food!

I couldn’t believe it. He was thinking ‘In for a penny, in for a pound!’

I stopped eating to have a look at the shopping page again. I climbed back up, from that page and saw that the main shopping site indicated that 6 bottles came in a crate, and the crate was €48. To be sure, I called Robbi over, and asked him for the price of the beet. If I recall correctly, he said it was €8.50. Expensive for a beer, but not the kingly price we had originally thought. I explained to Robbi what happened in my broken Italian, but he must have understood me, because he cracked-up laughing.

At the end of the meal, Robbi came out to us when we had paid the bill, and told us to wait. He came back out a couple of minutes later with a little cube of a parcel. We thanked him and got home, and then opened it.

Of all the things we could have guessed was in it, I would never have guessed this in the middle of a stinking-hot August: it was a snow-globe. Then I remembered that we had told him of our plans to return for Christmas, so it was actually quite a thoughtful little gift – and it is the first Christmas decoration we owned for our apartment!

We went to bed soon after, as we had a cool day of travelling planned ahead for tomorrow: the Crete Senese and the Val d’Orcia.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed it, please leave a comment – I would love to hear from you.

Miniatures at the Theatre (15/08/2021)

Miniatures at the Theatre (15/08/2021)

Buon Ferragosto! Or so it was. Ferragosto is a national holiday in Italy, which is held the same day as the Assumption of Mary. It has Roman roots, in that it is thought that the holiday is dervived from one celebrating Caesar Augustus. Who knows?

What we did know, is that we weren’t going to leave town and brave the usually crazy traffic that day. So we had a nice day pottering about in Volterra instead.

We started off with the morning walk. This time, my brother came with me, as he is an avid hiker, and weathers the hills and steps of Volterra very well. Some snaps ensued!

Then we screen-watched, gamed, wrote until lunch time. Then we wandered out to the flea market. Niamh subsequently went back there later and might a coupld of sets of drinking glasses (I broke one later that week – d’oh). I spotted this little piece of art, but we didn’t go for it in the end – it was a bit mismatched with most of the other pieces we had in the apartment.

Getting a table without a booking was proving tricky in Volterra again this year. It wasn’t in 2019, but since the pandemic Volterra’s tourist numbers have risen. Fortunately, we were able to find a table for three in La Vecchia Lira at a pinch… it was the second-last table in the place.

Niamh and I had been there a couple of times, and remembered enjoying the food, and that the owner was really enthusiastic. But it was this visit for me that really caused its star to shine. It leapt up mightily in our estimation.

I went for ravioli stuffed with cod and leek in a seafood bisque, while Niamh had cinghiale (wild boar) stew with grilled veggies and my brother a plate of pappardelle al cinghiale. We were all astounded by the quality and taste of our dishes – everything was simply amazing. As it was lunch, our plan was just for one course, but we had tirimasu afterwards, and it was superb too. Put La Vecchia Lira on your map.

After lunch, we had another stroll about the town. It was (unsurprisingly) a warm day. Our stroll took us to the ‘modern’ theatre (Teatro Persio Flacco), a whippersnapper with a birth-year of 1820, as opposed to the older Roman Theatre, which was in the 70’s AD.

Apparently Niamh had already been inside the theatre with her sister on an earlier day, and so opted not to go in.

Once inside, we gave a decent donation and proceeded to the first exhibit. It seemed to be a modern art show. A man was sitting down, and he seemed to perk up when I showed an interest, so I asked him if he was the artist. I guess my Italian was so broken, that he immediately sought help, which arrived in the guise of one of the museum’s volunteers. I thought it a little comedic at the time that we proceeded to completely skip the modern art exhibition, and continued onto the next two. The first of these was an alabaster exhibition, the highlight being band instruments made from alabaster (Volterra being very famous for its alabaster works) which were arrayed in front of the proscenium. Escepcially impressive was the complete drumkit forged in that delicate medium.

The next exhibition was the one I wanted to see: a series of perfectly-made sculptures of Volterran buildings and ruins by Mauro Parenti. We were led along by the guide with whom I conversed in my awful Italian (it’s getting better, though, I swear!). He was kind to give us his time, and he definitely gave us some useful information, but like many things imparted verbally, much of it is lost to me now.

The miniatures looked so perfect, that afterwards my brother and I searched for broken stones in the real versions to see if they matched the miniatures. They didn’t but the sculptures were a marvel, nonetheless.

The real-deals:

Later that evening we went to La Mangatoia, and had pizzas. I like the pizzas there, and wolfed-down a lovely 4-cheese! And yes, it included Gorgonzola… if there isn’t blue cheese on your 4-cheese pizza, then you’re doing it wrong.

Finally, to walk off the essentials carbs and fats we had a walk around town.

Once home, I took a couple of shots from our upper and lower terraces – one featuring a fun bit of shadow-play by my brother. Then it was beer, screen and bed.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it. Please leave a comment and I’ll answer any (sane) question you send my way.

Goodbye, Hello, Pink Floyd and Montecatini (14/08/2021)

Goodbye, Hello, Pink Floyd and Montecatini (14/08/2021)

Lots of photos in this loooong blog!

Today was the day when we said goodbye to one guest and hello to another. But before we had our trip to Pisa airport, I had time to get up and have a nice walk that morning. Unsurprisingly, I took some photos!

Near Porta San Francesco, there’s a small square, Piazza Marcello Inghirami. Tucked inside one of its corners there’s a modern-looking covered laneway, which leads to Viale Franco Poretti, where the main residents carpark and the Roman theatre ruins lie. It used to be covered in graffiti, but it looks like they coated over most of it. I’m conflicted by this, as some street art can be amazing, but I don’t have any strong memories of anything jumping out at me. But I hope they allow controlled access to the more serious street artists this time around.

I didn’t go through the lane, but continued past the piazza up Via San Lino, and onwards into the Piazza dei Priori before heading back to the apartment.

We dropped Niamh’s sister off at Pisa Airport. I silently marvelled that we might get away without having to visit the Cathedral and tower this trip! Don’t get me wrong, it’s wonderful, but we’ve done it a bunch of times over the past few years.

My brother was arriving in later that evening, so we had a fair few hours to burn. We didn’t want to go back to Volterra and make the trip all over again, so we decided to head off to Montecatini Terme.

Now comes the hazy part. I *think* we needed to go to Navacchio to buy something or other – I think I was looking for a gorilla grip for the phone I could leave over in Tuscany, so I didn’t have to carry it through security again. I didn’t find one there. I think we ended up eating in Old Wild West again…. a burger each, and then I offered to drive us to Montecatini.

This place holds a special place in Niamh’s and my hearts. In 2008, we went on a Travel Department tour to Tuscany: I think this was our first visit to Italy. The Travel Department had been occasionally scoffed at by people of our own age (as old as we were at the time), as being a holiday agent for crocks and fuddy-duddies. Well, we met some wonderful people on that tour, and another subsequent one to China, so don’t believe everything you hear – if you think you’ll fancy it, go on and do it. They offer taster day-trips from a central base, and it gives you a good idea of the place you’re visiting, and instills a longing to return (or it did for us, anyway). If I had one complaint about such tours, is that the food included is often sub-par.

Anyway, our home base for the 2008 tour was a hotel in the northern part of Montecatini Terme called The Grand Hotel Panoramic. It lies in the leafy ‘burbs of town, but the best thing about it was that it was just a couple of hundred metres away from the funicular that took up to the old town: Montecatini Alto.

I drove from Navacchio, through several towns, bypassing the lovely looking Vicopisano (which I have since visited in October), and we parked at the free ‘L’-shaped carpark directly opposite the hotel where we stayed. Funnily, I don’t remember the carpark having been there, but I remember the trees that provided much needed shade in near-40 degree heat. It was as hot today as it was then, and I was actually wearing shorts that day as a result. Shorts-wearing is something of a rarity for me, but it’s a habit I’ll have to break.

Anyway, we got out of the car and headed directly towards the funicular. We were hoping that the Funi Bar would be open, as we were in dire need of refreshment. Sadly, it was closed for riposo (Italian siesta), but we managed to grab a couple of bottles of water from a vending machine instead.

We bought our return tickets, and then had a 10-15 minute wait for the next funicular. Once on, I began filming. And here’s the unfortunate part. When I was done with the day’s filming I transferred the Pink Floyd tribute act movies (see later) to my laptop so I could edit the movie for YouTube. Then I purged my phone to ‘free up space’, which I really didn’t need to do. Unfortunately, that meant I ended up deleting all the Montecatini footage, and I was back home in Ireland when I discovered this. I cursed myself for a fool. On the other hand, it means I very much have a valid reason to return someday soon!

I at least grabbed some photos while filming.

The funicular finally thundered and groaned its way to its destination. We got out and marvelled at the views looking back over the plains, and the new town.

While there, we were accosted by a small, older gentleman who was selling his artwork by the railings. He was full of chat, both Italian and broken English, and had a typcially Tuscan charm about him. He was retired and was painting scenes of villages in the area on flat, smooth pieces of wood, and framing them in wood too. I asked him if he was a salesman before retiring, which he had a good laugh at, and declared that selling yourself is an important skill in life. I had to agree, and then bought a piece from him for €30. I think he was selling it for €20, but it was too low a price for a unique piece of work. Stupidly, I don’t have a photo of it, but will take one and post it next time I’m over.

With my art packed away, we headed up to the main square, and were immediately reminded of the first ‘real’ slow Italian food experience we had there. It was during one evening, and we’d had enough of the prescribed food at the hotel. We had been given a brief tour by Laura, our young Italian tourguide, whose shrill calling of our room number during roll-call we still remember and mimic to this day (“TWO TWO THREEEEEEE!”). I can’t remember if we made a booking through the tour, or if we just headed up and got lucky in finding a table. I think it was the latter. Anyway, 4 courses and 3 hours later, and I was pretty sure I could live happily in Tuscany. Actually, it wasn’t until we visited San Gimignano for the first time (on the same tour), that the deal was fully sealed. I was mesmerised.

Anyway, back to that night in 2008. We were sitting on the edge of outdoor seating of a restaurant on one side on the square. Behind us, not 10 yards away, was a large group of ladies seated at another restaurant. Without warning, they all stood up and began singing. Niamh and I looked at each other, doubly surprised. There were definitely Celtic undertones to what was being sung, and it was done with such perfectly layered harmonies, time seemed to stop. At the end of it, everyone in the piazza stood up and applauded. To me it was a perfect slice of life; like it was hand-crafted for a movie. It turned out that they were a choral group from Galway! They weren’t on our tour, so it was completely serendipitous.

The heat was crippling, so the first thing we did was head for a gelateria I remembered being in one of the corners of the piazza. I seem to have a memory for gelato and good food generally! I had lemon sorbet – just the thing to cool you down on a day where you feel like you’ve just opened a hot oven’s door.

When done, we filmed about the town, heading into a church, and to a nearby park. I could kick myself for losing the footage, as the only photo I took was inside the church itself.

It’s a lovely place, so please go there if you ever find yourself in Montecatini Terme. Once done, we headed back to the piazza, where I grabbed a couple of bottles of frosty water from the gelateria – having to coax the owner back inside so I could pay. He was nice about it… I just wouldn’t have been comfortable to just leave the €2 on the counter and scoot out.

We were still parched, however, and so went to the bar on the other side of the piazza, and asked for a table (always ask for a table, don’t just sit randomly!). It was so baking, I think we each had two drinks: me, two lemon sodas (probably the greatest soft drink in the world), and Niamh a Coke Zero and a shakerato – an ice-cold coffee, served in a martini glass. I had a taste of it; it nearly made me want to take up the habit. The barman was super-friendly too.

We just missed the funicular back down, but were happy to wait the 15 minutes for the next one. Lovely views, and it was great to see families, three generations, all out and being normal during this crisis. We headed back down, opting to stand outside the hindmost carriage.

The next stop was the neo-Romanesque spa in the new part of town which gives it the monicker ‘Terme’. We were blown away by it the first time we were there, and it didn’t disappoint 13 years later. I think it was €6 per person in, but you could have as much spa water as you wanted. There are several types, but the one most people were taking has an acquired sulpurous taste – no thanks. Instead, we had a mooch and went ‘oooh’ and ‘aaah’ a lot at the spotlessly clean architecture.

There is a classy bar within, and once again we were succumbing to the heat of the day and grabbed a couple of drinks. We sat inside for about 30 seconds, before grabbing our gear and going for a table in the shade.

Once done, we had another quick mosey aroud a couple of other parts of the

The hours passed pleasantly, but it was time to head back to Pisa to pick up my brother from the airport. All went according to plan, except that there was an adult taking care of a bunch of kids – one of whom left his rucksack behind customs. He tried to go get it anyway and set off all sorts of alarms. No sign of customs police, so he tried it again, before the ‘responsible’ adult decided to ring the door to engage with the authorities. Unattended baggage at an airport tends to be frowned upon. Anyway, we didn’t witness the outcome, because my brother arrived and we headed home!

The powers that be were kind enough to welcome my brother back to the town with an imprompu show. Playing were Magic Regoli’s Band were playing a Pink Floyd tribute show in the main piazza. We thought that (a) we’d be too late for the beginning, and (b) there was no chance of tickets.

Fortunately, (a) proved false as the band began fashionably late, but (b) was bang-on. Fortunately, Ristorante Etruria had some seating outside, and while the view to thre stage wasn’t epic, the sound certainly was! The Piazza dei Priori really acts as a fantastic natural theatre. We grabbed a table, and enjoyed some pizzas (Niamh had pasta)… then after dessert, Niamh left us, and my brother and I held onto the table, guzzled down some Moretti and enjoyed the show. They really were fantastic, especially the female vocalist who blasted Great Gig in the Sky out of the park. Well done, that lady!

At the end of the gig, there was a minute-long firework display, and after that we were off to bed!

That was the end of one of my favourite days in Italy to date. I captured some of the music act on video, and you can catch it below.

Thanks for reading this. I hope it wasn’t too long. Please leave a like, and a comment!

Wine Tasting at Marcampo (13/08/2021)

Wine Tasting at Marcampo (13/08/2021)

I got up and had a nice walk. Here are some shots:

When we last ate in Del Duca, we were invited to a wine tasting by somelier, Claudia, and took her up on her offer. We’d been at their farm before for a cooking course, and so we knew that both their wine and their food are great. Who could resist?

Podere Marcampo is about a 5km drive from Volterra, and down a dusty, gravelled driveway, that is a little bit steep at times. We got to the house, and saw a few other cars already parked there. We waved hello to mamma Ivana, who was heading off to the restaurant for the evening service. In fact, she used to be head chef there, but those duties are now carried out by talented young Cypriot, Alessandro Calabresi.

Claudia greeted us then, and I saw she was wearing shorts, which is unusual for her. Why was that? Well, because down in the valley where the house is, it was pushing 38 degrees, and she informed us that further down into the valley it was 42. She couldn’t remember it being so hot! Despite the heat, they still live a little slice of paradise:

We waited inside their tasting room, while Claudia assisted some guests who were staying at the agritourismo. Waiting with us was an Italian gentleman (from the south, if I recall correctly) and a young couple from The Netherlands.

We all had a snifter of Marcampo’s wines, interspersed with a cheeses and salumi. They have a bunch of lovely reds – an award-winning Merlot, but I like the Merlot and Sangiovese mixes they have too. They start off with chocolate and cherry undertones, and if you’re having rich food, almost have a buttery finish. So yummy. Niamh in particular is a fan of their Vermentino. I won’t regurgitate all about them here. Instead, you can read about them directly on their website!

Later on during the tasting, a British couple came in, who were well-known to Claudia. They had a house on a hill somewhat north of Volterra, in lovely countryside. They also have a pool. As soon as I heard that, I joked with Niamh about how important it was to get to know people! They took it in good humour, and gave us good tips on where to explore and shop.

I didn’t take shots of the tasting (which was delivered in English), as you should go there yourself to experience it. When we were done, Claudia showed us their remodelled winery and cellary. It was certainly different to the last time we’d visited.

It was certainly much cooler than it was in the tasting room, which was surrounded on all sides by glass. Although there were a couple of air-conditioning units, it was still very warm there!

Then from there, we were allowed to roam between the vines. The soil was so loose, so you we had to watch our footing. I broke out my macro lens and took a few shots of the grapes. Claudia insist I send them to her, which I duly did.

At the end of it all, I bought a bottle of Marcampo (Savgiovese/Merlot mix) and Niamh a bottle of Terra-Blu (the Vermentino). We had a fun time, and we’d recommend it to anyone.

That evening, we didn’t stray farther than Porgi l’Altra Pancia, where I had pici with a Chianina beef sauce, and unsurprisingly topped that off with a little gelato!

Finally, a chat and a little drink on the terrace, and then to bed.

I hope you enjoyed the read. If so, please leave a like and comment. Thanks!

Massa Marittima and a nice Night Walk (09/08/2021)

Massa Marittima and a nice Night Walk (09/08/2021)

Niamh’s sister had friends who said that if they had the resources, they’d buy a place in Massa Marittima, and so her interest was piqued. Happily, this town is also one of my and Niamh’s favourites: it’s main square is beautiful, and is worth checking out if you happen to be in the Maremma. You can climb to the top of a steep street, and then at the top, find a tower, pay a small price and climb to the top of that too for some exquisite views. We didn’t do that this time around, as we left it a little late in the day to start the trip.

And therein lies one of the problems: the drive. It is about 80 minutes or so from Volterra, and about a third of it is through forested hills, which sounds lovely, but in actuality is a little dull. Having said that, there are some interesting towns that you drive through first (the outskirts of Pomerance, Monetcerboli and Castelnuovo Val di Cecina). Along the way, you’ll drive through part of Tuscany’s geothermal area, with which energy is derived. Strung throughout this part of the drive are space-age silver pipes, which somehow contrast amazingly well with the more natural views.

We got there shortly before lunch, and had a potter about the main shopping drags and the square. I took some snaps along the way.

It was a relatively walkabout, as we were hungry! We asked Niamh’s sister’s friend for a recommendation for a place to eat. They said they were only there a couple of times, and sat outside and ate at Cafe Le Logge. The ladies shared classical bruschette, whereas I had blended chicken liver on crostini.

They tasted nice enough. It was followed by pasta. Niamh had ravioli alla Maremma (essentially ravioli slathered in a meat ragù. She enjoyed it. I think I had carbonana, and sis-in-law a tuna salad. The food was adequate. I did really enjoy the gelato I had after, though. It was in the mid-30’s there… a hot one!

Afterwards the ladies did some shopping. We spotted some nice art that Niamh’s sister wanted to take home. The young man at the front of the shop took her number and said he’d call to let her know how much it would be to ship it back to Ireland. (The call never came, by the way – but she found something else in Volterra she took home herself another day). Niamh bought a pretty glass carafe, with a really narrow spout that we would use to dispense olive oil.

We had another short wander around, visiting the penis tree fresco (yes, you read that right), and the Pisan-Romanesque cathedral.

We were heated sufficiently to consider retreating back to the apartment in Volterra, and so took off. I took a few shots of outside the town walls before we left.

In the wooded part of the drive home, we were pulled over by the police – for the second time this trip. I didn’t mention it the first time (when we were leaving Siena), as it was my hundreth blog and I remember my anxiety spiking at the time. The first time, the cop took a couple of our passports and licenses back to the car, and spent 15 minutes with them, before finally handing them back and letting us go.

This time, they pulled us over, but let us go after a minute without further interaction. We assume that was because the Sienese police had already checked us out a couple of days previously. These were our first encounters with Italian road police, and I had no idea why it was happening… whether it was purely random, or they were running a specific operation. Anyone, no harm done.

So that was our trip to Massa Marittima. I captured a bit of it on video, which you can see here.

We spent some time cooling off (as best as you can in a space with no air-conditioning) back at the apartment, and then had a simple dinner of cold-cuts and salad back on the terrace.

I went out myself after to check out the town at night, and to take snaps. This culminated in passing by La Sosta del Priore, and chatting to Ilenia (the owner) about the new seating area and the new purchaseable stock she has on the shelves there. I was hoping to buy some stuff from her to take back to Ireland, but I was under the mistaken impression that my brother would be coming over having purchased additional large baggage – sadly, he didn’t. I’d forgotten he had to change flight carrier. Maybe some other time.

Thanks for reading… please leave a like and a comment to let me know what you think!

Etruscan Tombs and Another Day in Volterra (08/08/2021)

Etruscan Tombs and Another Day in Volterra (08/08/2021)

This morning’s walk took me through the Porta alla Fiorentina, past the new archaeological dig for the recently discovered Roman amphiteatre, past the cemetary and out of the town limts to visit a couple of Etruscan tombs.

Here’s a video of my trip:

The walk back is the trickiest part, as it is all uphill for a few kilometers. I took the macro lens with me and took some shots on the way home.

The Cathedral in Volterra has started charging people to see inside both it and the baptistry. I’m not in love with that idea. It’s a place of worship, so it should be free in. I know that the Cathedral had undergone a few years’ of restoration work (we were there when it reopened in 2019 – you can see inside it here), but I hope this is just a temporary measure to ensure numbers are choked for Covid reasons.

Anyway, Niamh and her sister went to check it out, but were put off by the notion of paying in, and so decided to go to mass there instead today – for free! (Pro-tip!). While they were away, I stayed at home and worked on video editing (and ok, I admit it, gaming).

Afterwards, the ladies wanted wanted salad and cold-cuts for lunch, but I wasn’t into it that day. Instead, I went to La Carabaccia, and had some pasta with guinea fowl and a drop or two of their amazing red.

There are a team of a mother and her two daughters, who cook what’s fresh – (generally their pasta is alos homemade) generally limiting their menu to a selection of two primi and two secondi. All home cooked. Their food is wonderful.

Naturally, I had to cool down on the way home.

We stayed at home for the rest of the day, and then headed out to dine at Ristorante Etruria in Piazza dei Priori. It was packed, but we managed to get a seat outside. Now, I know sometimes this site could be accused of being a hagiography of Volterra, where nothing untowards is said… but I have to say I was a little put out by the restaurant that night.

I was the only person who ordered two courses, and they both arrived at the same time: a Zuppa alla Volterrana and a steak. The food tasted well, but our whole service just seemed very rushed. It’s rare that Italian restaurants want to turn over their tables, but this was the impression I got. A bit of a shame, as we’d had some good times there before.

In fairness, we had a good night there later on in the holiday, thanks to them allowing us to sit at a table post-meal, drinking beer so we could watch a concert in the Piazza. More on that another time, though.

Here’s my meat dish.

After that, I we had a wander around town.

I hope you enjoyed reading this. Please leave a comment if so.

Of Markets and Fine Food (07/08/2021)

Of Markets and Fine Food (07/08/2021)

Well, I got up and left the trash out (organico, aka compostable bio waste on Saturdays). Bio waste always has to be taken out, as things get stinky in 35+ degree heat!

I was on my own for the walk, so I decide to go anti-clockwise around the outside of the walls. On the way, I pass by Serena – one of the ladies who works for our property managers, who greets me with a cheerful yell and wave – she was out jogging. Minutes later we pass by Enrico – also out for a trot – the man from the bank who held our hand through the mortgage process – and still is our man contact in the Cassa di Risparmio di Volterra (the bank who gave us our mortgage). It took a few moments for us to recognise each other, and wave a greeting. A wonderful feeling of belonging washes over me – I feel like I’m at home again. I pass by him again on the other side of the town, still running.

Saturday is also market day, and early on in the walk I get to see a little bit of the market setting up in the carpark beside the Roman Theatre.

You can find a video of the walk, followed by a walk around the market I took later on.

Some shots of the walk too:

After I was done and had breakfast, we chilled for a while and then headed out to the market. The wonderful thing about the market, and about Italian markets in general, is the noise. The mingled sounds of laughter, chatter and cries of stall-owners, as they try to capture the attention of shoppers, just warms my soul.

Markets are great to shop at, because not only is the produce generally fresher, as it has travelled far less than it has to get to a supermarket, but it is also usually a good deal cheaper! A complete win-win.

I didn’t get anything, but the ladies got some fruit, and then we walked back to the apartment.

The previous day (I forgot to blog this!) I had ducked into Ristorante Enoteca Del Duca to book a table for us this evening. I was hungry for something for lunch, though.

I decided to head to La Sosta Del Priore for a sandwich. You may have read in a previous blog, that they were recently voted the best sandwich bar in Pisa county (province), so I had to queue for about 20 minutes. Eventually, I grabbed a mortadella with truffle sandwich on focaccia. They added fried fresh pecorino cheese to it. It was so tasty.

We had a lazy afternoon in. I honestly don’t remember what we did, so I assume it was napping, gaming, video-editing and screen-watching!

However, come the evening, we were heading out to dinner! We decided to leave the apartment early to grab an aperitivo at L’Incontro. We sat inside, and if I recall correctly, it was the first time (outside of an airport) we had been asked for our ‘Green Pass’ – which was the Italian name for the Covid Vaccination Certificate. We had our digital versions, and they were scanned quickly enough.

I had an Aperol Spritz (manly!). L’Incontro service nice mini sausage rolls and pizzette (tiny bite-sized pizzas) with the aperitivi. They were yum, as was the drink! It got us in the mood for dinner, which is exactly what it should have done. I don’t go into L’Incontro often enough – and this visit was no difference – this was our only time there. We were going to go in another time, but they had music blaring inside, and we didn’t fancy it. But it’s so good at what it does: drink, sandwiches, pastries. A shame it doesn’t seem to do gelato any more, as used to be lovely there.

Onwards we went to Del Duca for dinner, after a brief stop at the panoramic viewpoint to burn some time and calories. Then we went in, and got our usual warm welcome. In addition, the talented head chef, Alessandro, recognised me from Instagram and Facebook, and smiled and waved at us.

We had food and wine… quelle surprise. It was wonderful, and while we were eating, we had a quick chat with Claudia Del Duca, and we agreed to visit their farmstead (Podere Marcampo) later in the week. Here’s most of the grub!

We had attended a cookery course at Marcampo a couple of years ago, and Ivana – Claudia’s mom and ex head-chef at Del Duca, asked us if we had baked any bread since. We had to tell her no, with a little mortification – she just chuckled. At the end of the meal, we were presented with a glass of her legendary limoncello – it’s the without a doubt the strongest limoncello I’ve ever had, but I yummied down two glasses of it (I had mine and someone else’s, if I recall correctly!).

We were certainly fit for bed after that, and that’s exactly where we went.

Thanks for reading. Pleae leave a comment below if you liked the blog, and if you have any questions about Volterra, or staying nearby.

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

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

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

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

I have a little video about my little walk here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!