Tag: wine

The Devil’s Bridge and Bagni di Lucca (11/05/2022)

The Devil’s Bridge and Bagni di Lucca (11/05/2022)

Plans! Sometimes they fall apart, and sometimes they not only come to fruition, but you find yourself adding to them as the day progresses. I am pleased to say that it was the latter for us – it was a good day!

I think that you can’t beat a good walk to start the day off, especially in a hilltown. I usually wait ’til mid-morning for a walk when I’m back home in Kilcullen, but early walks are best when the weather is going to be stinking hot!

I kept it within the walls at first, but then had a quick exit as I decided to batter myself with a walk out of the town through Porta San Felice and down past the CoOp and schools, finally entering by Portal all’Arco. It’s not too punishing a walk, but is still fab for cardio vascular. I was at first rewarded with views of colline islands and cloud lakes.

I approached and went through Felici, and didn’t take many photos until I hit the old Etruscan gate again.

After that walk, I was intending being a good boy, breakfast-wise, but Niamh had already kindly bought me a massive, cream-filled donut, not unlike a Roman maritozzi. I didn’t complain as I yummied it down. Once I had stuffed myself, we headed out to the carpark.

Tuscany’s landscape is so incredibly varied that at times it almost beggars belief. Vineyards and olive groves, crest along smooth rolling hills, flirting with ancient hilltowns and hamlets. You have other-wordly terrains like you would find in the Val d’Orcia, the Crete Senesi and Volterra’s own Balze area. Hills and mountains transform into plains and deltas on the coast where sea meets sand that varies is colour from black to yellow to pure honest-to-God white. There are islands with tropical-style waters. There are forests, mini-desert like regions, geothermal areas and, of course, alpine mountains in the north. You can ski in the Winter, and sunbathe in the summer. All within one region (for Irish readers, Tuscany is only about 90% of the area of Munster). Today, we would be heading northwards towards the more mountainous areas, and I would experience my first taste of ‘environment envy’ – once you get past the more heavily populated belt north of the FI-PI-LI highway (so-called, as it is the main free transportation artery that joins FIrenze (Florence), PIsa and LIvorno on one route). For a while you’ll find yourself drving in areas where one town merges into another.

The last time we drove to the Lucca province, back in December 2018 (before I started blogging), the drive was somewhat spoiled by us getting stuck behind trucks the whole time on the approach roads to Lucca. No such ill luck this time, we got to our first destination in good time – a little over an hour and a half. The Devil’s Bridge (aka in Italian as Ponte del Diavolo or Ponte della Maddalena – very poor form to associate Mary Magdalene with the devil, but there it is) spans the River Serchio, near the town of Mozzano. Mountainsides, lushly carpeted with forest and bushland, surround the whole area, making you wonder if you’re actually still in the same country, let alone the same region. The bridge itself is a bit of a jaw-dropper, with a larger arch towards one end of the bridge, giving the construction something of a lopsided appearance. It also makes it viciously sloped too. Nonetheless, it’s something of an engineering marvel, as well as an aesthetic masterpiece – and a practical boon to those needing to cross the river cenuries ago whilst on the Via Francigenca pilgrimage. It began life in the late 11th century, and has reuquired renovation throughout the centuries. Have a look at it!

The road from which the best shots can be taken is somewhat busy, so be careful, as on the one edge there is no footpath, and trucks power by. We spent about 20 minutes there and then drew the conclusion that we were both hungry. Now, there are a couple of places at the bridge, but we didn’t try them – they just seemed like tourist traps, and the Google review scores seem to indicate that too. We head back the way we came, and went over the more modern bridge into Mozzano.

We pulled into a supermarket carpark (second time of asking), and did a little shopping there at first. Seeing no warnings about being towed or needing a pay-and-display ticket, we left the car there and had a quick walkabout to see if there was somewhere we could have a sitdown lunch.

Sadly, one promising Osteria wasn’t open for lunch (remember this was in mid-May, on a Wednesday), and we couldn’t find anywhere else. We walked back to the car, and found another restaurant called Ristorante La Lanternina in a town about 6 or 7 minutes away called Fornoli, and Google proudly declared that it was open for lunch! We hopped in the car and got a parking spot immediately opposite the restaurant. It was getting quite warm at this stage – maybe pushing 27 or 28. We went to the restaurant and found it closed. I guess the owners hadn’t updated the times in Google – what a pity. We had a walk about the town.

We found Bar La Ruota Di Riccardo Franchi, which was one of those rare places where you could get drinks, sandwiches, salads, pizzas and gelato.  During our meal there, I grew a strange fondness for Fornoli.  It’s a modern town, and so you could argue that many of the buildings have little intrinsic charm-value, but it has a kickass bridge that looks like something off a steampunk movie set.  I can’t put my finger on it – I just really liked the place.  Maybe being at the bar and being treated so well helped. Sometimes you can’t explain the vibes you get. Niamh ordered a Caprese salad, and I got a speck and mascarpone pizza – both were tasty.

When we got back to the car, we had a decision ahead of us: go home, or head on to the town of Bagni di Lucca. We chose the latter, and had a lovely drive along the river, past Fornoli’s kickass bridge (why didn’t we stop there?!) and we hit the town maybe 10 minutes later. It seems to be in two parts. The first part is at Ponte a Serraglio, at one end of which is a cute piazzetta where a bar gives you a great view of the nearby bridge – we didn’t stop there, but headed on to the ‘main’ part of town.

Then there’s something of a lull in structures, before the town begins again around an elongated bend a couple of minutes later. We parked in the nearly-empty Conad carpark, prayed to the gods of free parking that we wouldn’t be clamped, and had an explore of the main part of town. But it was in the first part where I began to get my first bout of ‘environment envy’. I thought the place beautiful, and if there is one thing I miss ing Volterra it’s being able to be by running water (the fonts don’t count!). The second part sealed the deal. I would strongly recommend this place for a visit. We didn’t do a thorough explore, as we had blown a lot of the day, and still had a longish drive ahead of us.

We still enjoyed a lovely riverside walk, an explore of the town, we hit the communal park, and found a viewing point which gave us a vista over the rooves of the town. Below, you could hear the sounds of screaming schoolchildren as they enjoyed an afternoon break. Niamh was stopped by a couple of Austrian tourists as they were looking for a panoramic viewpoint from a supposedly nearby church. But she had to apologise, saying we were in the same boat – new to the area.

We headed back to the car after our walk, and drove home. We covered the other side of the river, and parts of it were equally nice. We got home in good time, though. We will definitely do this trip again!

Here’s a video of some of our day:

Once back in Volterra, we immediately took to a mini bar-crawl, which is rare. Firstly, we had a beer in Brasseria del Grifone. We rarely eat in Piazza XX Settembre, as it’s tourist-central, but you can’t argue against a cool drink there under the shade provided by the trees there. My ginger-infused white beer was fab, but we got no nibbles. We headed then to enjoy a spritz/prosecco at Enjoy Cafe (Cafe Etruria was closed, sadly – we’ve never been there and we’re practically neighbours!). Not bad, but also no nibbles! On to Volaterra… could we strike out on snacks? No! We had nice wine and a spritz, and champion aperitivi food too – well done, gang! Finally, we had primo and dessert with wine at another of our neighbours: Porgi l’Altra Pancia.

We just about manged to haul ourselves upstairs for screen-watching a music-listening – anything to ensure digestion had begun before we headed to bed!

Thanks for reading this… if you have any questions or comments, please let me know! I’d love to hear from you.

Market Day at Colle di Val d’Elsa and Meeting New Friends in Del Duca (06/05/2022)

Market Day at Colle di Val d’Elsa and Meeting New Friends in Del Duca (06/05/2022)

I waited in again without a walk this morning, as the builder was due (again) to come (again). This time he did! He and his mate took the rest of the junk from the cellar away. Niamh was pretty much asleep when this happened, so she was pleasantly surprised when I told her that they’d already been. She had been settling in for a wait, but now we could head out somewhere instead. I suggested going to Colle di Val d’Elsa – the newer part of town, as we hadn’t really explored it fully. She agreed, and we headed out!

We drove past the old town on the ridge, and down into the newer old part of town to a carpark. Not sure how we avoided the ZTLs, but we weren’t fined so we must have done our job correctly. We parked at first in a carpark with white lines, which caused alarm bells to ring. That usually means that they are for residents only. The signs weren’t terribly obvious, so when we’d parked I ran back to the carpark entrance and saw that unfortunately, yes, it was for residents. Right next to this carpark was another with far fewer spots available. Luckily, a couple of cars pulled out, so by the time we got to it we found a handy place near the back. I put my filming rig together and we headed back into town to have a little explore.

We parked at these coordinates. Google says the carpark is closed, but it’s not: it’s the lift to the old town that’s currently closed (or was at the time of writing this – Mid June). We walked through to the main part of town, only to be immediately confronted by about a 9 or 10 market stalls in a small open area. Niamh was in the market for a small basket for our newly remodelled bathroom, and there happened to be a stall there that sold exactly that! Baskets, not remodelled bathrooms.

We bought a basket, and I thought that was the extent of the market… until we moved to the next open space. Then we saw more stalls. Which, when we reached the main square, turned into even more, with many more spider-webbing throughout the sidestreets leading from the square. The market was immmense – probably the biggest I have visited to date. There aren’t many photos of it, as I was filming instead – you can catch the video of it below. It was a regular market, rather than a collectible/antique market. It was mostly about food (local produce from farms, cooked food), clothes, electronics etc. It was super-impressive and many of the food stalls looked amazing – however, we really wanted a sit-down place.

We had been to a nice restaurant in the new town before under which flowed a stream, and it had a little water mill and everything… but we found out that it was now permanently shut. I’m not sure why – maybe it was another victim of the awfulness of the pandemic.

Colle di Val d’Elsa is famous for its crystalware, and I was hoping to visit the Museum dedicated to the glassware before we ate. Unfortunately, it was closed for renovation on the day. There was no other thing left for us to do except stuff our greedy faces.

We found a place up a side street called Trattoria Bel Mi’ Colle. Our initial impression was that they weren’t particularly experienced with handling tourists. The service initially felt quite odd, a little stand-offish, but they soon warmed-up. I didn’t want another Coca Zero, and accepted a recommendation from the lady managing the restaurant. I wish I’d taken a photo of it – it seemed like a form of cedrata (clear, light citrus-based drink), and was really refreshing.

Niamh had a rigatoni pasta dish with a beef ragù, and I had a white ragù (usually one or more of pork, rabbit, hare or very occasionally chicken) with pappardelle, but the pasta was made with the flour of ancient grains – which is a great alternative for those seeking gluten-free options. Personally, I found the dish just a fraction dry, but I liked the texture and flavour. I would recommend the restaurant for travellers, but would suggest you practice your Italian a little! Our dessert was lovely, but was served on a hilariously outsized plate… not matter – we really liked it.

When done, we checked to see if we could get the elevator up to the old town, but it was closed. Niamh wasn’t in the mood to to traipse all the way uphill to visit the place (we have visited it before 3 or 4 times) in spitting rain. In hindsight, I can’t say I blame her! In the end, we ended up going home to place our basket in the bathroom and chill a while.

You can watch our video of our exploration of the market here!

We had been in touch with David McGuffin, a tour operator working out of Florida, who specialises in tours to Europe, especially Ireland and Italy. If you’re reading this in the U.S. I can say David has such a love of Europe and is super-knowledgeable about the places he tours, and is well connected too. On top of that – he’s just a good guy to hang out with too!

We met him in L’Incontro for an aperitivo drinkie, which turned into two or three. We mentioned that we were going to hop off to Ombra della Sera to grab a pasta, after having had lunch earlier. Out of the blue, he invited us to join is tour group in Del Duca for a set meal. We were hesitant at first, as we didn’t want to cramp anyone’s style, plus we weren’t sure that we could put away a Del Duca dinner! However, when he said that one of the courses would be a shared Florentine steak, we couldn’t say no. Neither of us had had it before, unbelievably – so we nodded enthusiastically and agreed. He left us to have another drink on our own, while he gathered his troop together and we met him at the restuarant. He generously offered to pay for our meal too… again, our protestations were not as strong as they could have been. The guy is a mensch, what can I say?

The rest of the people in David’s group were lovely, and some lively conversation was struck up between the 5 courses, most of which were paired with Marcampo’s own wines (the Del Duca family run the winery with with their agritourismo). Here’s the grub, including the fabled Bistecca alla Fiorentina!

Claudia was away in Sweden (if I recall correctly), but we got a warm welcome from Ivana and Genuino, and the waiting staff. The wine flowed pretty freely, and at the end of the meal we were given grappa. Now I am rarely one to turn my nose up at post-dinner amari, but this grappa was a nope for me… it was incredibly strong. We had a dessert wine instead… followed by a couple of other drinks. Truth be told we left the place quite merry.

Of course, one person often overlooked, was this time not forgotten. Niamh and I are huge fans of Del Duca’s head chef: Alessandro Calabrese, and when the restaurant was closing up and we were being kicked out (in a friendly way!), we came out and like a bunch of fanbois got our picture taken with him.

We all walked past our apartment entrance as a group, Niamh and I being somewhat gratified by the ‘Oohs’ and ‘Ahs’ when they saw we lived slap-bang in the middle of town.

We got home, and I stayed up a while listening to music, as I often do when a little merry.

David, thanks again for a wonderful evening. We still owe you and Charlotte a return dinner!

Day at ‘Leisure’ #2 (04/05/2022)

Day at ‘Leisure’ #2 (04/05/2022)

A shortish one this time around!

Another day where I was not quite my own man, but enjoyed the day for all that. I had to skip my walk, as the builder arrived to take away the old fixtures from the bathroom. I gave them a hand with some stuff to keep my exercise up instead. They’d have to call back the next day to collect the last couple of pieces (and a couple of other days again, it turns out!). One thing we both found amusing: the builders mate was dressed for heavy lifting, but had a man-purse strapped around his shoulder anyway. I thought it was the weirdest thing at the time, as the holiday wore on, I was thinking about getting one myself. I didn’t this time around, but maybe next time we return. They’re handier than jacket pockets for carrying stuff around.

While I was indisposed, Niamh went to the shops early and got the makings for dinner that night: flour, cavalo nero and sausage. Intriguing! I was able to take a break during the mid-morning, and so we both went out to stretch our legs for 15 or so minutes and we grabbed a gelato at L’Isola del Gusto, naturally.

At lunchtime, we made up for a lack of a walk, but first had a lovely lunch in Pisa Province’s best sandwich shop: La Sosta del Priore. Niamh had a sausage sandwich, and I had a lovely burger. Since last year, they have had a sit-down area where they also sell produce, so we availed of that and had a drink with the food.

We then went for a bit of a walk:

When I was done doing my thing that evening (during which Niamh had made orechiette – an ear-shaped pasta native to the Puglia region), we decided that we needed a little vino to accompany our homemade dinner, so we headed out to Santa Lucia, which sells the produce of these lovely people, and bought 10 liters of bag-in-box wine for €22 (5 litres white, 5 red). We got to taste it first, and also enjoy the benefits of walking with heavy packages on the uphill walk back home. A couple of shots were taken on the way:

We got home and began to enjoy our haul on the terrace. The back of our apartment looks out and down upon a recently refurbished courtyard, which is not only lovely to look at, but offers occasional interaction with thee neighbours – even if they are just cats. There are a couple of cats nearby who poke their heads out of their apartment window and stare at us in astonishment. The first time we saw them, I swear one of their jaw’s dropped in disbelief. Funny creatures!

Right! Dinner! I grabbed Niamh’s mini-orechiette, some oil, the kale (aka cavalo nero), sausage and some parmeggiano and got to work. The orechiette were cute and small, so I had to un-skin and break the sausage up a good bit, before adding the kale. It had been a few years since the last time I attempted a similar dish, and I added salt when I needn’t have – there was already plenty in the sausages. This time I broke off a bit and fried it. It was nicely seasoned, enough so that I wouldn’t add salt, beyond what was in the cheese.

Of course, there’s always a mistake – this time I didn’t cook Niamh’s pasta quite enough. I thought it would finish off in the pan where I had been cooking the sausage and kale. It did to an extent, but not as much as I would have liked. However, it still tasted nice, and brava, Niamh, for her first attempt at orechiette – they’re harder to make than they look.

After dinner, we chilled for a while until I announced that I wanted to head out. Niamh felt less inclined, so I headed out on my own. I decided to check to see if Pietro in Antica Velathri Café was busy. If he wasn’t too much so, I’d throw a cocktail challenge at him. It was quiet enough, and it turns out I threw several challenges his way! It’s great to come here. Pietro’s parents are always so welcoming and when we pass his Dad in the street (at least we *think* it’s his Dad!), he always says hello. Pietro himself, as well as being a great mixologist, he’s really patient with me when I’m trying my Italian on him, so I can end up practicing lots – as well as drinking!

The first thing I got was an espresso martini, with a nice, frothy head – topped with a few roasted beans. Those of you who know me will be familiar with my never drinking coffee. I love the smell and sometimes the taste (gelato! cake!), but never have the drink itself. So, this was a rarity. It came with a few bread slices, accompanied with two toppings/spreads: a mascarpone-based one and a something with an olive base. Both were tasty! I really liked the martini too – it went down perhaps too easy!

The next one I will remember for a long time. My challenge to him was to create something with a hazelnut base. Pietro came up with a recipe, and declared it to be a twist on the White Lady cocktail. I have no frame of reference, so I can’t compare them. I made a note of the 3 key ingredients on my phone: Baileys, Cointreau, Frangelico (a hazlenut liqueur) – the result was sensational.

The last was a little… different. I wanted something based on an apple sour. He didn’t have much, apart from an apple mix, which he frothed-up with a vegan ingredient, which does the same thing as egg white does. I tasted it. It was nice at first, then my throat began to itch like a bugger, and ended up coughing a bit. Not sure if it was that ingredient or if it was the apple mix, but not sure I’d give it a second go. Oh well – these things have to be tried!

Anyway, I had some nibbles, some drinks and some good conversation during which I got to practice a little of my Italian. Cool. I paid my bill, and asked for four mini-morbidissimi biscuits as well, then went on my (fairly!) merry way back home.

Niamh went to bed ahead of me, while I stayed up and listened to a little music.

Thanks for reading. Please leave a like if you enjoyed it, and I’d also love to hear from you in a comment below.

Day not at ‘Leisure’ #1.  Our First Earthquake! (03/05/2022)

Day not at ‘Leisure’ #1. Our First Earthquake! (03/05/2022)

Because my time wasn’t my own today, I got up just for a shorter walk and shot some classic scenes.

And the hits continued:

While I was indisposed, and not at my leisure, Niamh was more fortunate and cleaned the place a bit! I did manage to nip out during the mid-morning for a quick block-walk and a gelato!

We headed out to La Sacca Fiorentina and I had a ribollita, while Niamh had a salad with eggplant parmigiana. Both our dishes were reported yummy.

After lunch, we wandered over to Cappella della Croce di Giorno, a chapel inside a larger church near Porta San Francesco. I hadn’t heard this existed until I saw it in the Volterra walk by Prowalk Tours. It’s almost fully frescoed and a marvel to behold. But it’s also a little grim, as it features scenes of battle and violence, including infanticide (Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents), made all the more so by the dim lighting within. I took a couple of shots, examined the fresoces and headed back towards the apartment, via the ruins of the Roman theatre.

On the way back to the apartment, we booked ourselves in for dinner at Porgi L’Altra Pancia afterwards as last year we found that it was a good idea to book ahead, as many restaurants, particularly the good ones, or those in good locations, would fill up very quickly. Most restuarants don’t place an emphasis on turning tables over, so few become available. I was being prudent and, as it turns out, unncessarily so, as it was May, and not August!

While we were waiting for dinner time, we chilled at home and screenwatched. Suddenly, Niamh stopped watching her iPad and said to me “Is that you rattling couch?” I stopped and we both immediately noticed a rattle in the furniture, as if someone was standing behind us, gently shaking it. Niamh thought I was scratching myself or something, but I wasn’t. It continued for another 10 or so seconds, and then stopped. The next day we found out later it was an earthquake! Our first one! Awwww!

We headed out again to L’Incontro for aperitivo. They recognised us and our nibbles were upgraded! We took the long way around just for the sake of a walk for 15 minutes to the restaurant right beside our apartment entrance. They are such nice peoople there, and the food is so good too. They have an insane collection of wines there, and you’re practically tripping over boxes and bottles as you make your way to your table.

We thought we’d only have enough room for one course (with wine), but we were persuaded to have a dessert, which was followed by a free dessert wine afterwards. When done, we headed back up to the apartment and chilled by listening to music and screen-watching.

I had another day of non-leisure the next day, so I had to be rested. The end of another grand day.

Volterra 2022 – Tuscan City of Culture – What’s On?

Volterra 2022 – Tuscan City of Culture – What’s On?

Last year, Italy announced its 2022 Capital of Culture. There were a bunch of cities in the final mix, and Volterra was among them. Unfortunately for Volterra, Procida, the colourful little island in the Bay of Naples, was given the honour. Well done Procida! Tuscany decided to not let the campaign money go to waste, and got behind its candidate, and for the first time ever announced a Tuscan Capital of Culture. This is no mean feat, as Tuscany could be considered a cradle of western culture, given its association with the Renaissance.

The committee that was put together has recently published its event schedule. There are a whopping 500+ event instances from March1st to the end of the year. Many of them are repeated, and the site (https://volterra22.it/) has listed them all. The site lists them all when you visit the page, so it can take a while to load. There are filters you can use to assist your search for something in which you have a particular interest. My job here is to attempt to pick out the nuggets and look for specials which may appear infrequently – looking from May onwards.

Note that the number of events rapidly drops off after September!

Without further ado, we’ll start with the repeated ones.

  • Guided Tour of Palazzo dei Priori. The oldest townhall in Tuscany (and the highest!). As well as the main civic hall, there are museums and spectacular panoramic views from the top of the bell tower. I am unsure if the guided tour covers the bell-tower, but it doesn’t hurt to ask if you’re thinking of going on the tour. This seems to be available every Saturday and Sunday and runs from 11:00 to 13:00.
  • Guided Tour of the Pinocoteca (art gallery). Some wonderful works here, especially some mannerist works, the most famous of which is Rosso Fiorentino’s Deposition. Every Sunday from 16:00 – 18:00.
  • Guided Tour of the Roman Theatre. Excavated in the 1950’s, largely by inmates at the psychiatric hospital, this complex of theatre, temple and baths is one of Volterra’s most popular sites. Every Saturday and Sunday from 15:00 – 17:00.
  • Volterra Through the Ages. Running every Sunday until October 31st, this is a guided tour which aims to uncover Volterra’s many layers of it’s 3000-year history from Villanovan and Etruscan, to Roman and Medieval times. The rub here is that no time is mentioned on the site, bookings can be made by contacting volterratour@gmail.com or by Whatsapp on +39 347 5749818. This is one I’d like to go on myself, once I figure out the times!
  • Experience Volterra – the faces and the stories. A family-oriented tour, taking a more interactive look at Volterran history culture. No time is mentioned on the site, bookings can be made by contacting volterratour@gmail.com or by Whatsapp on +39 347 5749818.
  • Children Under the Clouds. An outdoor art class for kids with their parents. Held every Thursday in Piazzetta dei Fornelli from 16:30 to 19:00.
  • Guided tour of the ex psychiatric hospital of Volterra. This is available by appointment (seemingly) all year round. Email: info@volterratur.it, phone: 0588 87257 or email: onlusigp@gmail.com, phone: 379 1868622. I’ve been *DYING* to do this for nearly 4 years. Will this year be my year?
  • English Language Walking Tour of Volterra (in season only) – every day from April to October. Leaves from Piazza Martiri della Libertà, in front of Ali Alabastri. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 12.30 and Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 18.00. Only €10 per person; no booking needed – just show up. These are a fabulous introduction to the city.

Events Elsewhere – See the main Volterra 22 site for further information

I don’t embellish much on these – please feel free to investigate them yourself. Many of the commune will have their own sites, as may some of the events. Google is your friend!

Date(s)Where?Event
May 8thButiMay of the Passion of the Palms
May 13th, 14thVicopisanoFlower Festival. Not on the site, but I happen to have heard that this is when the festival takes place.
April 2nd to May 15thCastelfranco di SottoTheatre Festival – remaining dates are 30/04, 07/05, 15/05.
April 8th to May 17thMontopoli in Val d’ArnoInclusive series of art exhibitions
April 2nd to May 28thCastelfranco di SottoTheatre Award ceremonies
May 27th-29thRadicondoliMusic events dedicated to Maestro Luciano Berio
May 27th, 28th and June 2nd-5thLariSagra of Cherries – might be fun!
May 1st-31stMarina di BibbonaMountain biking event
May st to June 5thCalcinaiaRegatta event and sagra for a local dessert. Intriguing!
June 11th, 12thRiparbellaLiterary competition
June 17th-19thSan Miniato BassoThe Blue Moon. Family fun shows in the historical centre.
June 25thSan GimignanoFestival of Bright Nights. Music, theatre, visual arts festival with a strong youth bent.
June 25thCasole d’ElsaThe beautiful Casole d’Elsa hosts a Film Festival.
July 7th, 14th, 21st, 28thRivaltoMarkets of local produce in this quiet village near Chianni.
June 27th to July 10thForcoliA theatrical performance in this ghost-village.
July 9th, 10thMonteriggioniTheir medieval festival. I imagine this will be fun!
July 13th-16thCertaldoMerchantable crafts and visual arts performances abound in this annual event in the gorgeous Certaldo.
July 15th-17thRiparbellaEvent celebrating local produce, especially olive oil, wine and other foods.
July 17th-18thRivaltoRetro evenings celebrating the 80’s and 90’s. Food and wine will assist in the merriment. It’s all going on in Rivalto!
July 21stCasale MarittimoEcological discussions and arts in my favourite Tuscan village.
July 22nd CrespinaA classical orchestra plays well-known pop and rock tunes
July 23rdPomeranceStefano De Lellis fashion show
July 20th-27thSan MiniatoOutdoor theatre festival
July 29thLajaticoAndrea Bocelli in concert in the stunning surroundings of the Theatre of Silence, just outside the lovely village of Lajatico
July 29thSanto Pietro BelvdereSummmer concert
July 15th to August 1stRadicondoliRadicondoliFestival. Contemporary art exhibitions and performances
August 4th, 11th, 18th, 25th
RivaltoMarkets of local produce in this quiet village near Chianni.
August 5th, 6thRocca SillanaStreet Music Festival, held within the amazing surroundings of the fortress Rocca Sillana
May 7th to August 7thCasole d’ElsaArt Exhibition on Francesco Rustici, known as il Rustichino (Siena, 1592-1626)
August 11thElbaThe Iron Island. Historical festival on the theme of Etruscan origins and ironwork
August 14thSanta Maria a MonteFeast of the Assumption’s Eve
August 1st-15thCapannoliMusic Festival
August 25th-28thLa CaliforniaFestival celerbating Chianina beef. Family oriented (and food!).
August 25th-29thSan GimignanoVertical Horizons. Festival for the performing arts.
June 1st to August 31stSan GimignanoIN3C Intrecci Festival… they seem to give the same description as the Vertical Horizons festival above. Best check it out yourselves.
July 1st to August 31stCastelmaggioreCalci – VerrukARTfestival. Unsurprisingly, an arts festival!
Sept 3rd, 4thMonteverdi MarittimoHistorical re-enactment
Sept 3rd, 4thVicopisanoVicopisano’s medieval festival! It would be great to be there. I imagine it will be great fun!
Sept 4thStaffoliAnother medieval festival!
July 1st to Sept 10thCapannoliFestival of the Stars, Villas and Wonders. This sounds like it might be similar to Volterra’s Red Night (see September below), but I’m not sure.
Sept 9th – 11thCastelfranco di SottoLET’S Festival. Youth-oriented festival of music, art and food!
Sept 10th, 11thPomeranceA Palio between the neighbourhoods in Pomerance, but rather than it being a physical Palio, it is based on theatrical performance. Sounds very interesting.
Sept 10th, 11thMontopoli Val d’ArnoAnother medieval festival. Fun!
June 15th to Sept 15thVicopisano, CapronaSummer in Vicopisano. This year’s series of events of all types.
July 1st to Sept 15thCastelmaggioreCertosa Festival. Multi-disciplined arts festival, promoting new people.
Sept 16th-18thCecinaFOMO Festival. Youth-oriented fun and arts, with civic-mindedness as its theme
Sept 23rd-25thGuardistalloEmbracing Europe. Arts festival with international participants.
Sept 2nd-20thGelloArts festival; music, literature, theatre.
July 1st to 30th SeptLajaticoArtinsolite: exhibition and reviews of contemporary art
July 1st to 30th SeptCalcinaiaCalcinaia – Chiare, fresche e… dolci sere – XXII edizione. It’s summer schedule of events.
Oct 1st, 2ndCastelnuovo d’ElsaFestival celebrating that monster hike from Canterbury to Rome: the Via Francigena
Oct 9th, 10thPonsaccoSan Costanzo Fair. Funfair, markets, culture, food… what more do you want?
May 14th to Oct 14th CastelfiorentinoOutcrops: Art/sculpture exhibition featuring the works of Brunivo Buttarelli
Sept 15th to Oct 31stSignaExhibition around the manufacture of the straw hat.
Oct 1st-31stUlignanoCinema in Ulignano (the one nearer San Gimignano). Not sure if this is outdoor movies, a movie festival, an exhibition.
Nov 12th, 13th and 19th, 20th and 26th, 27thSan MiniatoThis town is famous for its white truffle, and this is the annual festival they have to celebrate that! Would be awesome to attend!
Nov 7th-20thChianniIt’s a Wild Boar sagra! God I wish I could attend – it will be fantastic, if you fancy a bit of game!
Dec 4th, 11thSanta Croce sull’ArnoShow of “Il Baule dei Sogni”. I have to expose my ignorance here and declare not to know what this is.
Dec 8thSanta Croce sull’ArnoAmaretto festival. Niamh, take note! This celebrates the biscuits, not the liqueur. I think!
Dec 19th, 20thRadicondoliChristmas market! This is great to know! I wish Volterra had one 🙂 This is a good deal closer than Montepulciano for sure!
All YearComune di Cascina – MarcianaThe annual theatre and music programme for the locality. See here.
March 19th – Dec 31stCastelfranco di SottoIndoor and outdoor art exhibitions about in Castelfranco this year, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of painter Antonio Puccinelli.
Dec 24th to January 6th (2023) RiparbellaYouth themed nativity-scene art competition (art, music, poetry)

Specials and Once-offs

I can’t codsense the whole site, so here is a list of stuff I can recommend or have interest in attending. It may have a strong focus on language-agnostic fun, or exhibitions and tours where knowledge of Italian isn’t paramount. This removes a couple of items I would have otherwise liked e.g. a day around studying the new archaeological discoveries – in particular the amphiteatre, a half-day discussing Carlo Levi (of “Christ Stopped at Eboli” fame), but which will be delivered in Italian – and technical/difficult Italian at that. Also not covered, very sadly, are the items dealing with the progressive programmes they have in place in the prison in Volterra. I would love to catch these, and if your Italian is good, I would strongly recommend them – look for the blood red items on the main site.

I’ve also removed the items which are designed for Italian schools and universities only.

I will continue to add the rest of the months when I get the chance on an on-going basis.

May

  • Labour Day Celebrations – May 1st. Something will be happening in Borgo San Giusto. If I am not wrecked from travel, I hope to tell you exactly what it is.
  • Exhibition of Ancient and Contemporary Art – May 6th to May 8th. An exhibition designed to compare and contrast the art styles through the ages. In the Consortini Museum in Borgo San Giusto, opposite the (enormous) church.
  • Exhibition of Eva Fischer’s (mixture of styles, much of it abstract) works – April 14th to May 10th. In Palazzo dei Priori, you might be able to combine it with the guided tour of the Palazzo.
  • Corsa di Alcide – May 14th. One of the legs of this Classic Car racing tournament begins in Piazza dei Priori.
  • Exhibition of Luciano Sozzi’s (modern, mixture of styles) works – April 30th to May 15th. In Palazzo Pretorio, opposite the Palazzo dei Priori in the main square.
  • Guided walk of the Forest of Tatti – May 15th. Starts in the Volterra hospital carpark at 09:00. The walk is free, lunch is provided for €15. Mentioning this, as you can enjoy the walk in safety without having to understand the Italian.
  • Exhibition of Beatrice Lari’s (iconography, gilded iconography) works – May 7th to May 16th. On Via Turazza, not far from Volaterra and Il Sacco Fiorentino restaurants.
  • International Bee Day – May 20th and 21st. Heck yeah! Down with waspzzzzz! A celebration of all thingzzzz ‘bee’, with market stallzzzzz within Volterra, fun thingzzzzz for kidzzzzz to do and muzzzzzical entertainment in the evening. Not been to this before, and unsure if it’s a recurring thing, but it sure sounds like fun!
  • Beauty and the Beast live musical – May 21st. In the Persio Flacco theatre from 21:15 to 23:30. Ticket prices and booking details unknown for now. Will update when I know more. The proceeds are given to charity, so that’s pretty cool.
  • Volterra Comics & Fantasy – May 21st and 22nd. One of the big calendar dates for Volterra, this is essentially its Comicon, and celebrates all things comics and cosplay, and features a fantasy film festival for the first time ever. This weekend is shaping up to be a ridiciously busy and fun one in Volterra.
  • Modern Antiques markets – May 20th to May 22nd. Stalls within the historic centre. Sounds like a slight oxymoron, but if it’s anything like Vicopisano’s market, then include me in (I doubt it will be of the same scale, but we’ll see). Volterra will be crawling with folks this weekend with all the other stuff going on!
  • Public opening of historic houses – May 22nd. This usually happens during Red Night in September (which I’ll detail below). The description of this event is a little confusing. It seems to suggest multiple Palazzi are open, but then just mentions Palazzo Dello Sbarba Ricciarelli on Via Ricciarelli, so I suspect it’s just this one. It will be open from 10:00 to 18:00. Maybe a different one opens every month…. we’ll see!
  • Weigh some Salt – May 28th. Ok, I’ve broken my rule here, as this event will be held in nearby Saline di Volterra, famous for its salt production. But what this event is, I have no clue, but I am intrigued, as we’ve never set foot out of the car in Saline – and I’ve been wanting to visit the salt production facility there.
  • Renault Classic Car rally – May 28th. Kicking off in Piazza dei Priori.
  • Paralympic sports day – May 28th. The location of the event isn’t known yet. The exent to which it may include practical demonstrations, or be a series of talks is also unknown. I’ll have to complete this entry when I have more information.
  • Exhibition of Giancarlo Barsotti’s (photographer) works – May 13th to May 29th. This is in the Saletta del Giudice Conciliatore. I need to locate precisely where this is, but the site’s map is pointing towards the southwest corner of the public park – this doesn’t make sense to me. I strongly suspect it’s in the Palazzo dei Priori!
  • Crossbow men and women – May 29th. Most likely in the Piazza dei Priori, I am unsure if this is a demonstration, or a competition – but it’s a must-see, especially if you’ve never seen them in action before. Some of these folks can hit a euro coin from 50 metres.
  • Painting exhibition: Between Fantasy and Reality – May 16th to May 31st. Featuring the works of Riccardo Muci, Emanuele Garletti and Fabrizio Ferrari. I’m a big fan of Fabrizio’s work and have bought an item of his before. The other’s should be interesting too. Looking forward to this!
  • Frames: An exhibition of Mario Matera and Giuseppe Scarangelli’s (painter, photographer, cinematographer) works – May 18th to June 7th. On Via Turazza, not far from Volaterra and Il Sacco Fiorentino restaurants, from 10:00 – 13:00 and 16:00 – 19:00 each day.
  • Terra: An exhibition of the sculptures (ecological theme in clay/terracotta) of Monica Mariniello – April 30th to June 30th. This is on in the Sotterranei Pinacoteca, which is part of the main Pinocoteca.
  • Exhibition of Raffaello Gambogi’s (theme of psychiatric patients, portraiture, late impressionism(?)) works – April 16th to July 9th. In Palazzo dei Priori. So much you can cover by visiting this Palazzo!
  • Exhibition: the Treasures of Alabaster – April 10th to November 1st. In the Santa Maria Maddalena Study Centre, in the sqaure where you can find the cathedral and baptistry.

June

  • Guided tour of the Restoration of Rosso Fiorentino’s Deposition – June 1st, and every Wednesday until the end of July. By reservation only – phone 0588 87580. Two tours – one at 17:00 and one at 18:00 at the main Pinocoteca.
  • Palio del Cero – June 2nd. This is the annual tug-of-war competition between the contrade (neighbourhoods) in Volterra. Fun to be had in the main square! Time not yet known.
  • Cerimonia dell’Avvinta – June 4th. Religious festival. This is in honour of the death of San Giusto (Volterra’s patron saint), this is evening is part 1 of the event, where in the light of torches, a waxed rope will be made, which will surround the church of San Giusto. Subsequently some ladies, discouraged by the knights, will bring to the church a casket containing some gold cords, which will then used to surround the altar. Usually starts at 20:00, but that’s not cast in stone for sure – I’ll have to find out.
  • Processione del Patrono – June 5th. Part 2 of this religious event, again at the church of San Giusto held on the day of the death of the saint. The rope surrounding the church will but cut into wicks and distributed among the people for use at home. Not sure of the time this kicks off at. I’ll have to find out more.
  • Youth Choral Festival – June 6th. Held in Piazza dei Priori. Time is unknown right now.
  • Frames: An exhibition of Mario Matera and Giuseppe Scarangelli’s (painter, photographer, cinematographer) works – May 18th to June 7th. On Via Turazza, not far from Volaterra and Il Sacco Fiorentino restaurants, from 10:00 – 13:00 and 16:00 – 19:00 each day.
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream – outdoor dance interpretation – June 11th. This will be to the music of Ennio Morricone. To be held in the not often opened Parco di San Pietro behind the School of Dance, about 80 metres past the Porta al Selci. From 21:00 to 23:00. Reservations and contact detail status unknown at the moment. This sounds like a fab evening!
  • Exhibition of Giusi Velloni’s (exotic animals, colourful) works – June 1st to June 15th. In the Palazzo dei Priori in the main square.
  • Astiludio Federale. Medieval-style flag waving/tossing competition with other cities – 18th June. In Piazza dei Priori. Not sure of the time, but it’s usually the mid-afternoon. If you’ve never seen Volterra’s amazing sbandieratori in competition before, now is your chance!
  • Guided walk indicating new urban trekking routes in Volterra – 18th June. Starts in the Coop carpark outside the walls of Volterra. Goes from 15:00 to 19:00. Will probably clash with the Astiludio above, sadly – but we’ll see. If I were around I would definitely do his – I’m always up for new walks, as you would know if you’re a regular reader of this blog.
  • Photographic exhibition of the Artisans of Alabaster – June12th to June 19th. In Palazzo Pretorio, opposite the Palazzo dei Priori in the main square.
  • Exhibition: the Treasures of Alabaster – April 10th to November 1st. In the Santa Maria Maddalena Study Centre, in the sqaure where you can find the cathedral and baptistry.
  • Exhibition of Arno Studio Art Association (multiple disciplines) – June 17th to June 26th. In the Palazzo dei Priori.
  • Terra: An exhibition of the sculptures (ecological theme in clay/terracotta) of Monica Mariniello – April 30th to June 30th. This is on in the Sotterranei Pinacoteca, which is part of the main Pinocoteca.
  • Exhibition of Raffaello Gambogi’s (theme of psychiatric patients, portraiture, late impressionism(?)) works – April 16th to July 9th. In Palazzo dei Priori. So much you can cover by visiting this Palazzo!
  • Participatory art project: Imaginary correspondence – dates in June to be defined. This may well be in Italian, but if you can excuse yourself as a non-Italian-speaking foreigner (if you are that!), you may be able to observe. The reason why I mention it here is that it appears that it will be held in the ex-psychiatric hospital, and am more than a little jealous of those who may be able to attend. I will post more detail when I have it.
  • Participatory Art: Artists under the clouds – June 5th to September 4th. This is Exact days and times to be decided. This will be held on the road by the wall, south of Piazzetta Fornelli.
  • Exhibition of art celebrating the female soul – artists Erica Conti, Michela Giachin and Mariarosa Stigliano (mixed style, performance) – June 8th to September 11th. On Via Turazza, not far from Volaterra and Il Sacco Fiorentino restaurants.
  • Exhibition of the works of Mauro Staccioli – June 12th to September 18th. If you’ve driven around Volterra’s countryside, you won’t have failed to notice occasional scultures of ring/circle and other shapes dotting the landscape. This exhibition is a ways outside Volterra in the charming hamlet of Mazzolla (nice traditional Tuscan restaurant there, by the way – Trattoria Albana – you’ll see photos of one of Staccioli’s works in that blog too!).

July

  • White Nights in Volterra – July 1st to July 3rd. Alabaster-themed open air shopping and open air exhibition in the main square (Piazza dei Priori). Seems to culminate in an outdoor dinner, for which diners should be dressed all in white. Should be a good event – I doubt I’ll be there. but will be jealous of anyone who is!
  • Guided tour of the Restoration of Rosso Fiorentino’s Deposition – June 1st, and every Wednesday until the end of July. By reservation only – phone 0588 87580. Two tours – one at 17:00 and one at 18:00 at the main Pinocoteca.
  • Music under the Clouds – July 6th. A family-oriented night of music and arts. On Via Lungo le Mura, just sloping down towards the Porta all’Arco from Piazzetta dei Fornelli.
  • Exhibition of Raffaello Gambogi’s (theme of psychiatric patients, portraiture, late impressionism(?)) works – April 16th to July 9th. In Palazzo dei Priori. So much you can cover by visiting this Palazzo!
  • Vintage Cars in Piazza dei Priori – July 9th. The title says it all, really. No time mentioned, but I suspect the late morning would be the best time to attend.
  • Punto Arte Festival, Day 1 – July 11th. The first of 4 days of classical music and opera. An opera: Comique Rita, or The Beaten Husband by Donizetti, with the Symphony Orchestra of the Netherlands. In the Villa Palagione. If Google Maps is correct, this is a few kilometers outside Volterra, so car or taxi needed. Ticket purchases found here: https://www.puntoarte.eu/.
  • Punto Arte Festival, Day 2 – July 12th. Brahms’ Clarinet Quinter in B minor. In the Villa Palagione. In Palazzo Ricciarelli, Volterra, from 11:30 to 13:00. Combine it with a dinner in Trattoria Albana! Ticket purchases found here: https://www.puntoarte.eu/.
  • Punto Arte Festival, Day 2 – July 12th. Mozart’s Flute Concert #2 in D Major. In the Villa Palagione. In the gardens of Villa Viti, in Mazzolla – again a car will be needed to visit this gorgeous hamlet. From 19:00 to 21:00. Combine it with a late dinner in Trattoria Albana! Ticket purchases found here: https://www.puntoarte.eu/.
  • Punto Arte Festival, Day 3 – July 13th. Bach’s Coffee Cantata. In the gardens of the Pinacoteca, from 11:30 to 13:00. Ticket purchases found here: https://www.puntoarte.eu/.
  • Punto Arte Festival, Day 3 – July 13th. Gustav Mahler’s Symphony #4. In the Volterra’s main theatre: Teatro Persio Flacco, from 19:00 to 21:00. Ticket purchases found here: https://www.puntoarte.eu/.
  • Punto Arte Festival, Day 4 – July 14th. Alessandro Marcello’s concert for trombone and strings. In the Volterra’s main theatre: Teatro Persio Flacco, from 11:30 to 13:30. Ticket purchases found here: https://www.puntoarte.eu/.
  • Art Exhibition: Emotion in Pencil – July 1st to July 14th – the works of Daniele Campoli (photorealistic pencil drawing). On Via Turazza, not far from Volaterra and Il Sacco Fiorentino restaurants.
  • Volterra Project – inaugural concert – July 16th. Volterra Project is a group of classical guitarists that have had this group going for some time now. It would be nice to see them perform in public. Place and time to be decided. Here’s their YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/Volterraproject).
  • Art Exhibition: artwork by Carlo Delli – July 1st to July 17th (photgraphy, mixed media). In Palazzo Pretorio, opposite the Palazzo dei Priori in the main square.
  • Visit to the Consortini Museum (sculpture) – July 20th, 22nd, 23rd, 27th, 29th, 30th. In the Consortini Museum in Borgo San Giusto, opposite the (enormous) church – 15:30 to 18:30.
  • Anti-Social Social Club – July 22nd. This began life during the pandemic as a way to enable younger adults to get together for a bit of a bop and a drink. Circles were drawn on the ground in the main park, indicating the social disancing boundary each person could inhabit. A fun idea… I presume this time it will be without the circles, and so will effectively be an outdoor nightclub! It’ll still be in the main park (Parco Fiumi).
  • Dance Festival dedicated to Astor Piazzolla – Day 1 – July 23rd. Tango lessons by reservation in Palazzo Dello Sbarba Ricciarelli, from 15:00 to 19:00. Booking contact details unknown at the moment.
  • Dance Festival dedicated to Astor Piazzolla – Day 1 – July 23rd. Tango dance evening in the main square (Piazza dei Priori), 21:30 to 23:30.
  • Volterra Project – concert by the students of the project (Classical Guitar) – July 15th – July 24th. Held in the Scornello agriturismo. I think this is the Fattorie Inghirami – really only reachable by car. Time and booking details not yet known.
  • Dance Festival dedicated to Astor Piazzolla – Day 2 – July 24th. Showing of the ‘Milonga’ video dedicated to Piazzolla, in Palazzo Dello Sbarba Ricciarelli, from 15:00 to 19:00. Booking contact details unknown at the moment.
  • Art Exhibition: the works of Alberto Martini – July 16th to July 26th (surreal/illustration). On Via Turazza, not far from Volaterra and Il Sacco Fiorentino restaurants.
  • Anti-Social Social Club – July 29th. This may not be the nightclub version, but a more sedate project-oriented item. Time unknown.
  • International Arts Festival at the Roman Theatre – July 9th to August 7th. One of the chief events every year in Volterra. This is their main site. Sadly, I cannot see the programme they’ve put together – the website seems a little light. I will keep an eye on it and update accordingly. The programme is usually very extensive – here’s what they had last year, for example.
  • Alabaster exhibition focusing on the works of Aulo and Velio Grandoli – July 19th – August 11th. In Palazzo Pretorio, opposite the Palazzo dei Priori in the main square.
  • Second Hand market for Uganda – July 28th to August 18th. A worthy cause – plenty of potential treasures for sale, to aid the pediatric surgical centre in a Ugandan hospital.
  • Extraordinary Opening of the Church of San Dalmazio – July 1st to August 31st. I’m given to believe it’s not normally open, and has some interesting art in situ. It’s an abbey near the Porta San Francesco, on Via San Lino.
  • Participatory Art: Artists under the clouds – June 5th to September 4th. This is Exact days and times to be decided. This will be held on the road by the wall, south of Piazzetta Fornelli.
  • Sculpture Exhibition: Timeless encounters – July 8th to September 4th. Contrasting and comparing contemporary art with Etruscan art. From 10:00 to 19:00 each day in the Palazzo dei Priori.
  • Exhibition of art celebrating the female soul – artists Erica Conti, Michela Giachin and Mariarosa Stigliano (mixed style, performance) – June 8th to September 11th. On Via Turazza, not far from Volaterra and Il Sacco Fiorentino restaurants.
  • Exhibition of the works of Mauro Staccioli – June 12th to September 18th. If you’ve driven around Volterra’s countryside, you won’t have failed to notice occasional scultures of ring/circle and other shapes dotting the landscape. This exhibition is a ways outside Volterra in the charming hamlet of Mazzolla (nice traditional Tuscan restaurant there, by the way – Trattoria Albana – you’ll see photos of one of Staccioli’s works in that blog too!).
  • Art Exhibition: Fatal Error – July 1st to September 30th. The works of Gianni Lucchesi. In the underground rooms in the Pinacoteca.
  • Art Exhibition: Rosaforte – July 1st to September 30th. The works of Giada Fedeli. In the cloister in the Pinacoteca.
  • Exhibition: the Treasures of Alabaster – April 10th to November 1st. In the Santa Maria Maddalena Study Centre, in the sqaure where you can find the cathedral and baptistry.
  • Sculpture Exhibition: the works of Mino Trafeli – July 8th to January 8th 2023. Within the Palazzo dei Priori, some may be at the ex-psychiatric hospital too.


August

  • The Spiritual Way: Musical experiment – August 2nd. Inside the Roman Cistern in the main park. Saxophone solo, with natural echoes.
  • Visit to the Consortini Museum (sculpture) – August 3rd, 5th, 6th, 10th, 12th, 13th, 17th, 19th, 20th, 24th, 26th, 27th, 31st. In the Consortini Museum in Borgo San Giusto, opposite the (enormous) church – 15:30 to 18:30.
  • International Arts Festival at the Roman Theatre – July 9th to August 7th. One of the chief events every year in Volterra. This is their main site. Sadly, I cannot see the programme they’ve put together – the website seems a little light. I will keep an eye on it and update accordingly. The programme is usually very extensive – here’s what they had last year, for example.
  • Anti-Social Social Club – August 5th and 6th. This began life during the pandemic as a way to enable younger adults to get together for a bit of a bop and a drink. Circles were drawn on the ground in the main park, indicating the social disancing boundary each person could inhabit. A fun idea… I presume this time it will be without the circles, and so will effectively be an outdoor nightclub! It’ll still be in the main park (Parco Fiumi).
  • Argentinian Tango concert – August 9th. Held in the main art gallery from 21:00 to 23:00. I don’t think this is participatory. Admission is €15. Not sure if it’s by reservation, but I suspect it will be on the night on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • The Etruscan Jazz Orchestra in Concert – August 10th. Seems to be free, and held in the main square (Piazza dei Priori). Exact time not yet known, but I suspect will be in the evening.
  • Jazz Concert with dinner – August 11th. Again in the main square, but again time unknown as are the details for food. Will post more when I know.
  • Alabaster exhibition focusing on the works of Aulo and Velio Grandoli – July 19th – August 11th. In Palazzo Pretorio, opposite the Palazzo dei Priori in the main square.
  • A Guided Observation during the night of the Shooting Stars – August 12th. Italian language or no, I’ve included this here for those who are fond of star-gazing. It is being held at the Volterran Astronomical Observatory and surrounding area, which can really only be reached by car, and is on the way to the lovely hamlet of Mazzolla. Other details not yet known.
  • The Feast of San Lorenzo – August 13th. A fun day and night to be had in Mazzolla, a ways outside Volterra. If I am around, I’ll go to this for sure!
  • A Baroque Music Masterclass – August 6th – 13th. Held in St. Peter’s Theatre, near the Porta a Selci (the prison gate). Not sure if this is participatory of a series of demos and concerts.
  • Volterra AD 1398 – August 14th and 21st. Yesssss! It’s finally back after the pandemic. This is definitely one of the chief events in the whole Volterran calendar. I have blogged about it a couple of times. It’s incredibly fun, and I might be over for at least one instance of it myself. People dress up in mediaval costumes, spend medieval currency, play themed games, watch shows, eat and drink and go to medival-style markets etc.
    https://ourmaninvolterra.com/2019/08/12/volterra-ad1398-festival-day-1-part-1/
    https://ourmaninvolterra.com/2019/08/12/volterra-ad1398-festival-day-1-part-2/
    https://ourmaninvolterra.com/2019/08/19/medieval-festival-day-2/
  • Second Hand market for Uganda – July 28th to August 18th. A worthy cause – plenty of potential treasures for sale, to aid the pediatric surgical centre in a Ugandan hospital.
  • Crossbow men and women – August 27th, 28th. Most likely in the Piazza dei Priori, I am unsure if this is a demonstration, or a competition – but it’s a must-see, especially if you’ve never seen them in action before. Some of these folks can hit a euro coin from 50 metres.
  • National Finals of the Historical Archery Competition – August 28th. It’s somewhere in the walled city, but exactly where and when not yet known.
  • Extraordinary Opening of the Church of San Dalmazio – July 1st to August 31st. I’m given to believe it’s not normally open, and has some interesting art in situ. It’s an abbey near the Porta San Francesco, on Via San Lino.
  • Participatory Art: Artists under the clouds – June 5th to September 4th. This is Exact days and times to be decided. This will be held on the road by the wall, south of Piazzetta Fornelli.
  • Sculpture Exhibition: Timeless encounters – July 8th to September 4th. Contrasting and comparing contemporary art with Etruscan art. From 10:00 to 19:00 each day in the Palazzo dei Priori.
  • Exhibition of the works of Mauro Staccioli – June 12th to September 18th. If you’ve driven around Volterra’s countryside, you won’t have failed to notice occasional scultures of ring/circle and other shapes dotting the landscape. This exhibition is a ways outside Volterra in the charming hamlet of Mazzolla (nice traditional Tuscan restaurant there, by the way – Trattoria Albana – you’ll see photos of one of Staccioli’s works in that blog too!).
  • Art Exhibition: Fatal Error – July 1st to September 30th. The works of Gianni Lucchesi. In the underground rooms in the Pinacoteca.
  • Art Exhibition: Rosaforte – July 1st to September 30th. The works of Giada Fedeli. In the cloister in the Pinacoteca.
  • Exhibition: the Treasures of Alabaster – April 10th to November 1st. In the Santa Maria Maddalena Study Centre, in the sqaure where you can find the cathedral and baptistry.
  • Art Exhibition: Valerio Paltenghi (graphic artist) – August 25th to September 5th. On Via Turazza, not far from Volaterra and Il Sacco Fiorentino restaurants.
  • Exhibition of art celebrating the female soul – artists Erica Conti, Michela Giachin and Mariarosa Stigliano (mixed style, performance) – June 8th to September 11th. On Via Turazza, not far from Volaterra and Il Sacco Fiorentino restaurants.
  • Sculpture Exhibition: the works of Mino Trafeli – July 8th to January 8th 2023. Within the Palazzo dei Priori, some may be at the ex-psychiatric hospital too.

September

  • Tuscan Festival of Ancient Music – September 1st. Held in the cloister of the main gallery (pinacoteca). No times given. You’ll have to pay to get into the pinacoteca to get to the cloister, but I am presuming this is the only charge.
  • Visit to the Consortini Museum (sculpture) – September 2nd, 3rd. In the Consortini Museum in Borgo San Giusto, opposite the (enormous) church – 15:30 to 18:30.
  • Participatory Art: Artists under the clouds – June 5th to September 4th. This is Exact days and times to be decided. This will be held on the road by the wall, south of Piazzetta Fornelli.
  • Astiludio – flag tossing competition with medieval pageantry and processions – September 4th. Always the first Sunday in September, at around the 15:15 mark – this is definitely worth attending if you’re in the area. Sadly, we only partly covered the one in 2019, due to it being temporarily interrupted by a storm.
  • Sculpture Exhibition: Timeless encounters – July 8th to September 4th. Contrasting and comparing contemporary art with Etruscan art. From 10:00 to 19:00 each day in the Palazzo dei Priori.
  • Art Exhibition: Valerio Paltenghi (graphic artist) – August 25th to September 5th. On Via Turazza, not far from Volaterra and Il Sacco Fiorentino restaurants.
  • Guided tour of the Restoration of Rosso Fiorentino’s Deposition – September 7th, and every Wednesday until the end of September. By reservation only – phone 0588 87580. Two tours – one at 17:00 and one at 18:00 at the main Pinocoteca.
  • The Red Night – outdoor art exhibition and visits to medieval palazzi – September 10th. It’s back! To me, this is second only to the medieval festival. Maybe a bit less family-friendly, in that really only adults would be interesting the majority of what’s going on. Volterra comes alive at night, with many artistic exhibitions, including live demos. Owners of private palazzi open their doors to the public, and within the buildings and their gardens you will experience many local musicians playing while you take a breather and experience the moment. Much of the walled town is worth an explore for hidden little artistic troves. There may be a jazz concert in the main square later. It generally starts around the 19:00 mark, and ends around 23:00, but palazzi will close their doors around 21:00-22:00, so wandering early will help. I’ve blogged about our 2019 experience. Combining this with the 5 Senses night on the 11th will make this a weekend to remember!
  • Meeting of Dance – September 10th and 11th. Tango festival, in Palazzo Ricchiarelli. Dates and times are TBD, and I’m unsure as to the extent to which it’s participatory.
  • Classic Car Meet – September 11th. If you’re into your classic autos, then a visit to Piazza dei Priori is in order! I suspect a mid-morning visit may be required to avoid disappointment.
  • Exhibition of art celebrating the female soul – artists Erica Conti, Michela Giachin and Mariarosa Stigliano (mixed style, performance) – June 8th to September 11th. On Via Turazza, not far from Volaterra and Il Sacco Fiorentino restaurants.
  • Volterra of the 5 Senses (culture and gastronomy) – September 11th. This is a new one on me, and sounds intriguing. Interactive sensory exhibitions and gastronomic experiences outwill be scattered throughout the town, so another explore is in order. This weekend sounds like it will be fantastic, with the Red Night having been on the previous night.
  • The Saline to Volterra Motorbike Race – September 17th and 18th. Best experienced actually from Saline di Volterra, and on the SS68 from there, leading up to Volterra. This annual event attracts motorcycle racers from all over Italy. The road is twisting and winding, but also has some wonderful views along the way – not that they’ll be slowing down to appreciate them!
  • Choco Volterra – September 16th to 18th. Well now I’m pretty certain that between the Red Night, 5 senses and Choco Volterra, I will try my level best to make it back over for the entire month of September. This seems to indicate a participatory chocolate school, but I’m pretty certain that given that it is on Via Gramsci, there will be market stalls there too, chock full of… well… choc. Yes, please.
  • Exhibition of the Astrofili Group – September 8th to 18th. The site’s graphic screams ancient alabaster works, but Astrofili are astrophiles – astronomy-buffs, so I’m confused. I’m pretty sure it’s the latter. On Via Turazza, not far from Volaterra and Il Sacco Fiorentino restaurants.
  • Photographic exhibition (40th anniversary of the photography group) – September 8th to 18th. On Via Turazza, not far from Volaterra and Il Sacco Fiorentino restaurants.
  • Exhibition of the works of Mauro Staccioli – June 12th to September 18th. If you’ve driven around Volterra’s countryside, you won’t have failed to notice occasional scultures of ring/circle and other shapes dotting the landscape. This exhibition is a ways outside Volterra in the charming hamlet of Mazzolla (nice traditional Tuscan restaurant there, by the way – Trattoria Albana – you’ll see photos of one of Staccioli’s works in that blog too!).
  • Sculpture Exhibition of Mino Gabellieri (modern) – September 8th to 22nd. In one of the halls of Palazzo dei Priori.
  • Art Exhibition: Fatal Error – July 1st to September 30th. The works of Gianni Lucchesi. In the underground rooms in the Pinacoteca.
  • Art Exhibition: Rosaforte – July 1st to September 30th. The works of Giada Fedeli. In the cloister in the Pinacoteca.
  • Guided Visits to the newly discovered Amphitheatre – throughout all of September. Oh my God, yes. This seals a September visit. Along with guided visits to the ex-psychiatric hospital, I have been waiting for this. Back in 2015, a Colosseum-style amphitheatre was found just outside Volterra’s walls (albeit on a smaller scale). All other amphitheatres have been known about and knocked down, used for purpose or sold as a tourist attraction. Volterra’s is the world’s first where people simply didn’t know it existed. If fact it is known as ‘L’anfiteatro che non c’era’ (the amphitheatre that was never there). It is a huge and exciting discovery. I can’t wait to go there. I will post more details when I have them.
  • Art Exhibition: the works of Claudio Ciompi (photorealistic paining) – September 20th to October 3rd. On Via Turazza, not far from Volaterra and Il Sacco Fiorentino restaurants. I’m very fond of photorealism. Would be nice to catch this.
  • Art Exhibition: the works of Adriano Fida, Gianluca Sità and Michelino Iorizzo (modern, mixed media) – September 10th to October 5th. Within the Palazzo dei Priori.
  • Art Exhibition: the works of Mark Brasington (ummm… neo-impressionism?) – September 15th to October 5th. Near the top of Palazzo dei Priori.
  • Art Exhibition: the works of Franco Benvenuti (modern, abstract I think) – September 15th to October 15th. In the Palazzo dei Priori.
  • Exhibition: the Treasures of Alabaster – April 10th to November 1st. In the Santa Maria Maddalena Study Centre, in the sqaure where you can find the cathedral and baptistry.
  • Sculpture Exhibition: the works of Mino Trafeli – July 8th to January 8th 2023. Within the Palazzo dei Priori, some may be at the ex-psychiatric hospital too.
  • Art Exhibition – WorkWalk (LavorareCamminare) – October 15th to January 8th 2023. Types of work – possibly sculpture given that (I think) he’s based in Pietrasanta. It’s on from 09:00 to 19:00 in the underground gallery of the main pinacoteca.

October

  • A walk among the Volterran foothills, with lunch – October 2nd. I would love to do this. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the colline around Volterra rival those of the Val d’Orcia, but simply are not marketed. This walk is leaving from the Balze carpark at 09:30. The walk is free, but lunch is €30. This is a total guess: but maybe lunch will be in an agritourismo – an experience of itself!
  • Art Exhibition: the works of Claudio Ciompi (photorealistic paining) – September 20th to October 3rd. On Via Turazza, not far from Volaterra and Il Sacco Fiorentino restaurants. I’m very fond of photorealism. Would be nice to catch this.
  • Art Exhibition: the works of Adriano Fida, Gianluca Sità and Michelino Iorizzo (modern, mixed media) – September 10th to October 5th. Within the Palazzo dei Priori.
  • Art Exhibition: the works of Mark Brasington (ummm… neo-impressionism?) – September 15th to October 5th. Near the top of Palazzo dei Priori.
  • Saline di Volterra’s town festival – October 7th to 9th. Ah man… so much on – I would love to go to this too. Maybe I should just retire early! This will be scattered throughout town, but largely focused in the main square (Piazza dell’Orologio). If you’re staying over in Volterra that weekend, I would strongly recommend a trip to Saline. Bus or car will do you – it’s about 8-9km away on a wonderfully twisty road with amazing views.
  • Motocross Competition final – October 8th & 9th. A grand couple of days out for 2-wheeled petrol-heads! The guide says it’s in the Palazzo dei Priori. That would be a strange course indeed. A lot of rallies kickoff in the main square, so that’s probably what they mean!
  • Art Exhibition: the works of Franco Benvenuti (modern, abstract I think) – September 15th to October 15th. In the Palazzo dei Priori.
  • San Luca degli Alabastrai (alabaster-themed art festival) – October 14th to October 16th. Although alabaster-themed, this celebrates the artisans through music, art, food, installations and pop-culture. This is in Borgo San Giusto somewhat outside the walls of the town. This would be very interesting to visit if you’re about.
  • Marcia Rosa – a non-competitive walk through Volterra in support of Female cancer victims – October 16th. Starts in the main square (Piazza dei Priori) at 09:30 and is due to carry on until 13:00.
  • Wheels in History – classic car exhibition – October 15th and 16th. This will be in the main square. Mid-to-late morning attendance suggested.
  • Mounds of the Colombaie – archaeological exhibition – October 15th to October 20th. This exhibition will be in the Palazzo dei Priori.
  • Volterragusto – October 22nd and 23rd, and October 29th-November 1st. This is another premier fixture in the Volterran calendar, and one of the yummiest. It’s the annual gastronomic festival! I *still* haven’t attended this, and this year isn’t looking too good for me either, but never say never. I would love to attend, and would strongly recommend it to anyone staying in cenrtal Tuscany.
  • The Volterra to San Gimignano footrace – October 23rd. Starts in Piazza dei Priori, ends (unsurprisingly) in San Gimignano. Cheer the competitors on! I am unsure if the race is open to those who wish to compete – try looking at this site closer to the date.
  • Palio dei Caci – October 30th. Who wants to race a wooden ‘cheese’ wheel down one of the steepest streets in Volterra, dodging haybales? Well, not me – but it would be super fun to watch. This annual event is back after the pandemic. I’ve never attended, but would love to!
  • Alabaster Exhibition: the works of Luisa Bocchietto – October 1st to 31st. Unsure where this is, sadly. Hopefully details to follow.
  • Exhibition: the Treasures of Alabaster – April 10th to November 1st. In the Santa Maria Maddalena Study Centre, in the sqaure where you can find the cathedral and baptistry.
  • Sculpture Exhibition: the works of Mino Trafeli – July 8th to January 8th 2023. Within the Palazzo dei Priori, some may be at the ex-psychiatric hospital too.
  • Art Exhibition – WorkWalk (LavorareCamminare) – October 15th to January 8th 2023. Types of work – possibly sculpture given that (I think) he’s based in Pietrasanta. It’s on from 09:00 to 19:00 in the underground gallery of the main pinacoteca.


November

  • Volterragusto – October 29th-November 1st. This is another premier fixture in the Volterran calendar, and one of the yummiest. It’s the annual gastronomic festival! I *still* haven’t attended this, and this year isn’t looking too good for me either, but never say never. I would love to attend, and would strongly recommend it to anyone staying in cenrtal Tuscany.
  • Exhibition: the Treasures of Alabaster – April 10th to November 1st. In the Santa Maria Maddalena Study Centre, in the sqaure where you can find the cathedral and baptistry.
  • Mycological Exhibition (Mushrooms!) – November 5th to November 8th. The Italians sure do love their mushrooms. This is an exhibition of the local stuff. In Palazzo Pretorio, opposite the Palazzo dei Priori in the main square.
  • Rally Liburna – modern car competitive rally – November 11th, 12th. It mentions the Palazzo dei Priori. Not sure if racers begin or end there. Or both. Might still be fun, and possibly your chance to finally appear on television. Who knows?
  • Public Opening of the Restoration of Rosso Fiorentino’s Deposition – throughout November. Before it was only available by private tour (see prior entries above), but now it’s open for all.
  • Art Exhibition: the works of Mark Brasington (ummm… neo-impressionism?) – October 30th to November 30th. Near the top of Palazzo dei Priori.
  • Sculpture Exhibition: the works of Mino Trafeli – July 8th to January 8th 2023. Within the Palazzo dei Priori, some may be at the ex-psychiatric hospital too.
  • Art Exhibition – WorkWalk (LavorareCamminare) – October 15th to January 8th 2023. Types of work – possibly sculpture given that (I think) he’s based in Pietrasanta. It’s on from 09:00 to 19:00 in the underground gallery of the main pinacoteca.

December

  • Exbition of Classic Motorbikes – December 4th to 10th. In Palazzo Pretorio, opposite the Palazzo dei Priori in the main square.
  • Christmas Concert – December 23rd. Family oriented fun in the Persio Flacco Theater from 21:15 to 11:30. Booking details unknown as of yet.
  • Christmas in Saline – all through December. Some fun in the nearby town of Saline di Volterra, small market included.
  • Charity Market – December 12th to 31st. On Via Turazza, not far from Volaterra and Il Sacco Fiorentino restaurants.
  • Sculpture Exhibition: the works of Mino Trafeli – July 8th to January 8th 2023. Within the Palazzo dei Priori, some may be at the ex-psychiatric hospital too.
  • Art Exhibition – WorkWalk (LavorareCamminare) – October 15th to January 8th 2023. Types of work – possibly sculpture given that (I think) he’s based in Pietrasanta. It’s on from 09:00 to 19:00 in the underground gallery of the main pinacoteca.
An Extraordinary Christmas Lunch! (25/12/2022)

An Extraordinary Christmas Lunch! (25/12/2022)

Happy Christmas everyone! Sorry – it’s just the timing and nature of these blogs. I have a busy working life, and between that, social balance, blogging, vlogging and writing fiction I just don’t have enough time to post more frequently. As it is, this blog may be going on hiatus for about a month after a couple more weeks… we’ll see.

Anyway, we got up and exchanged gifts – that was fun! I got my main Christmas present early: a gimbal to help me shoot video more steadily with my phone. I got a fab bottle of Jo Malone from Niamh’s sister and brother-in-law. I will wear any scent if it smells good on me, whether traditionally male or female. I love what I was given, and will buy another bottle of it for meself in Dublin airport next time I fly to Italy!

Here’s what Christmas looked like from our terrace this year:

We had another breakfast of cereal and panettone, and settled in for a couple of hours screen-watching or reading. A good few weeks previously, I had booked Christmas lunch with La Vecchia Lira. Their main fare is traditional Tuscan, but they do have some modern twists. Both of us have a few favourite pasta dishes there, and we couldn’t wait to show them off to Niamh’s cheffy sister. Unfortunately, none of them were on the menu. The menu itself seemed a little small, only offering what we thought were a few choices for each course. None of us would be going for the tongue, we joked. I saw that it included wine, and surmised that whatever we will choose would be cooked excellently. And it was all for only €60 per person.

Irish and English people might balk at the idea of not having roast turkey or goose for Christmas, but it really does pay to expand your horizons. Here’s the menu:

We arrived slightly ahead of time, and gave our now ubiquitous cylinder of Bailey’s truffles to the owner, whose name we sadly don’t know (yet!). He was extremely grateful, and thanked us for coming to his restaurant today. It was at least half full, but he was disappointed, because a few tables had cried off, leaving some space empty. Later on in the meal, I saw he actually also turned over a couple of tables with new families/couples, so it wasn’t that bad a day for him, attendance-wise. The owner’s English is pretty good, but he has waiting staff there with excellent English. I still tried my hand at Italian!

We were sat at a decent table in the back where it was warmer, and were given a printed menu each, and then set about deciding what we’d have. We had a glass of prosecco each… very nice!

Anyway, we were wondering where the waiting staff were to come and take our order when the first dish arrived: fried pumpkin fritters. I began to wonder.

We were then given a glass of red each. And when we were done with the fritters, the artichoke came out, and finally the penny dropped: we would be getting everything on the menu! I still marvel at the value of it all, not least the amount of work put into it all by the chefs. I had never eaten in Italy on a celebration day such as Christmas, New Year’s or Easter – so I now assume that all restaurants that pubish a special menu mean for customers to experience everything on it. Please correct me if I’m wrong. If I’m right, I’ll be doing this again!

To round out the antipasti, we had a carpaccio of Chianina beef. Very tender and lovely. The salad was perfectly dressed.

Next up – the first primo: a beautitful onion veloute/soup. It was souper flavourful (sorry!). But it really was!

Ok, it isn’t the sexiest looking morsel, but the heck with that – it went down very well! I could have downed a pint of it (I like soup – always have – what can I say?).

Then we had the pasta course. People who aren’t familiar with Italian cuisine, please take note. That’s one pasta course, out of nine courses. And not a pizza in sight. See? It’s not just a carb-fest in Italy! It was agnolotti (a filled pasta), stuffed with cinta senese, with a sauce of mostly chicory. Now I’m not a fan of chicory – I find it bitter, but don’t mind a little bit of it. If the stuffing and sauce had been swapped, I would have been a bigger fan. Having said that I know the others liked it, so it was a matter of personal preference. What I *will* say is that the pasta was, of course, cooked to perfection.

Then it was on to the first secondo, and the most contentious dish of the night. Certain among us Irish and English – those of us of a certain age – may remember offal being used much more frequently back home than it is today. In particular, I remember my grandmother having tripe with milk, onions and bread, and to this day I have rarely seen anything so gross. This is why I shy away from Trippa alla Volterrana and Lampredotto. For the ladies with us today, it was tongue. They couldn’t do it. In fairness they gave it a quick go, but pushed their plates towards me and Niamh’s brother-in-law. We both yummied down both portions!

I can sort of see why it might not be to some peoples’ tastes… again it’s a texture thing. It was very soft, but at least it wasn’t gristley or chewy. To me it was gently, broke down very quickly in the mouth and had a fabulous beefy flavour. The sauce complemented it really well.

Another thing slightly contentious in certain circles is veal. I almost never order it when I see it on menus, as there is rumoured cruelty involved in raising veal-cattle. However, I think modern methods are supposed to be more humane than they used to be. The Irish and British are also voracious consumers of lamb, so the ‘baby’ aspect has to be somewhat muted. Anyway, we all got a plate of it, and we all ate it!

I think we’d well moved onto our second bottle of wine by now, and to be honest, I think we were beginning to get a little bit merry. The veal was tender and delicious, and served with fanned, roast pear and pomegranate seeds. These added alternated hits of sweet and sour to the meat.

Finally, there was my favourite dish of the night. Roast fillet pork with a light gravy and delicately curried creamed potatoes.

Niamh’s sister isn’t a huge fan of pork, so there was more for her husband, the lucky b….. blighter! I loved the meat, and the creamed potatoes were sublime – I could have eaten a kilo of the stuff, despite it being the eighth savoury course. It was so delicious.

The final course was lovely and light – a nougat mousse and a local vermouth. I then asked for an amaro, and was was given a shot glass of it. I asked what it was and when the waitress (whose English is excellent) told me it was Jaeger and asked if I’d heard of it, I couldn’t suppress my laugh. The poor girl asked if I would rather something else, and I said no – that it was perfect. Jaeger is a fine digestif, but has become much maligned because of how it’s been abused in British and Irish drinks cultures. You basically drink it to get pissed. In this situation, however, it’s absolutely fine.

The mixture of prosecco, wine and digestivi were bolstering my bravery somewhat. As you may recall, Niamh’s sister had just completed a 3-month intensive course in the prestigious Ballymaloe cookery school, with distinguished results. I knew she would have loved a tour of a busy Italian kitchen, so I got up out of my chair and asked the owner if he wouln’t mind. He was only too delighted, but given the space in the kitchen and the need for a translator (the waitress), I wouldn’t be able to accompany. That was ok – she couldn’t believe her luck and spent about 20 minutes in there, having a good look and a good chat.

Incidentally, she has her own business as a private chef, so if you’re planning a stay in Suffolk and want to impress your friends, family, or colleagues please do check out Noble Prawn‘s feasts!

We finally left and left a pretty big tip, which, much to my embarrassment, the owner trumpeted all over the restaurant. You have to be careful with tipping in Italy. I do it frequently, but I have made a mistake on at least one occasion where I left a tip with someone who was in fact offering a gift to me – that still haunts me, although she was ok about it – if a little mock-grumpy at first.

On the way out, the owner offered Niamh’s sister a chance to volunteer in the kitchen for a week or two, and she grabbed at that with both hands. I tried my best to let the guy know that this wasn’t an offer made ‘to be nice’; she really wanted a shot at this, so I told him so. He still seemed amenable, so she has that to look forward to now too.

We went for a walk through the town in an attempt to burn off the excess alcohol. It was mostly misty and very quiet. There were one or two breaks in the cloud, but then the sun dropped very quickly. I remember that when I’d posted these shots in Instagram and Facebook, that a couple of the residents were upset at how quiet it was. I reminded them their town is still lovely, no matter what, and that it was in the early evening; not quite passeggiata time. And it is lovely, and always will be.

We then went back to the apartment, where we bloated and still had room for wine and the occasional chocolate or olive. I was last up, as I’d found Ed Wood (the biopic of the worst ever film director) and watched it through. I hadn’t seen it in years – a good little movie!

I hoped you enjoyed this oddly-timed Christmas-themed blog. Please share it with your friends if you did. If you have any other recommendations for spending Christmas Day in Tuscany, please let me know!

Christmas Markets in Montepulicano and Dinner at Del Duca (23/12/2021)

Christmas Markets in Montepulicano and Dinner at Del Duca (23/12/2021)

I didn’t feel like a walk the next day – which should have been my trigger to take one, but them’s the breaks. In fairness to me I didn’t want to tire myself out, as I knew I’d be driving to Montepulciano. It’s about an hour and three-quarters, but only a smaller portion of it would be on unfamiliar road. Still, I had two more people in the car I had to keep safe, so it adds to the pressure a little bit. We got in the car and fired up Mrs. Google. I prefer Google Maps to on-board GPS, as Google has a far better chance of being up-to-date, plus we know she does a bang-up job of keeping us out of ZTLs (Zona Traffico Limitato). We’ve never been fined whilst using our phones to navigate.

I was hoping the latter part of our drive would take us through the Crete Senesi, or maybe even part of the Val d’Orcia, but sadly this wasn’t the case. We had chosen to go on the highways, as to take the purely country route would have taken us at least 30 minutes more – no thanks! The result was that about half the journey was on dull, multi-lane roads. Still, these are first-world problems when you have a chance to spend some more time in a new (new to us) hilltown in Tuscany. The last 20 or so kilometers was by country route, but wasn’t terribly interesting until you began to see Montepulciano in the distance. In any event, I didn’t take photos of the journey, because I was driving. The only issue I had with driving was with a seriously stubborn 3rd gear… until we got to the very end of the journey.

The carpark. It was full. Literally. There was a market where my GPS target lay. Slightly panicked, I had to backtrack a little and follow the ‘P’ signs to another free carpark somewhat below the one I had chosen. This was handy – I didn’t see this carpark on Google (most likely my fault, not Google’s). It was a short climb back up to the market.

I can’t remember if Niamh’s sister bought anything (she’s a foodie and chef), but we wandered about at least. It looked like it was beginning to shut down, though. It was still busy with people buzzing about both here and the nearby bus station. This must have been where all the people were, because the town itself was very quiet!

We went past the bus station and spotted stairs leading up to the walls. There was a lift beside those stairs. A bundle of cigarette-smoking mid-teen girls sat on the first flight of steps, and informed us that the lift was broken. I find myself a little untrusting, but trudge upstairs nonetheless. When we reach the top and enter a park (Giardino di Poggiofanti), in which lies the top ‘floor’ of the elevator. I push the button, and am immediately remorseful as there is no electric whirring of the gears and pullies. The button doesn’t light up. Next time give the younger folks a little more credit, dude.

We walked past some lovely views of the surrounding countryside (photos later), and entered the old town via Porta al Prato. I know some people say that the hilltowns are very ‘samey’ and while I totally get why they say that, the need to look more beyond the superficial, past the bricks and flagstones on the road. Take a look into the shops, look at the local produce they’re selling. Often, the foods can be different, the stones of different hues, the surnames just that little bit more regional. Italy is so incredibly segmented that even a 30 minute jaunt in a car can find you looking at dishes you haven’t seen before, new histories and art to discover. It’s what makes Italy such a dream to explore. So, yes – hilltowns can look the same – but please inspect and observe, rather than just cast your eyes briefly from one pretty thing to the next.

Anyway, rant over. We were soon to also discover that we were at the lowest end of the old-town and had a heck of an uphill journey to reach the main square (Piazza Grande), where the Christmas market stalls were. I did at least take some pics on the way, but I will still filming a lot too.

All the while, I was looking for an open gelateria, but no joy.

About 15 minutes or so later, our epic uphill struggle was at an end! We heard the unmistakable tingling of Christmas music. We scouted the stalls briefly, as we were hungry.

In the square iteself we only found one team selling wurst. There were very few people about browsing, which was a little disappointing, but it was lunchtime on a Thursday.

The ladies were looking for a sitdown lunch, but Niamh’s brother-in-law and preferred I a dirty wurst! Ultimately, we settled on something of a compromise. We saw a sign for an open-air foodcourt and headed towards the Fortezza Medicea, but swung a left just at the gates which promised no ends of adventure in Santa Land. The food stalls had annexed another one of the carparks. The teams were lined around the edges, with partly-covered open-air bench-seating placed in the middle. We scouted around, and 3 of us were too tempted by a BBQ burger stall, while Niamh’s sister went for the fritto misto of fish and veg. Wine was had by three of us, the fourth would be driving.

Once we had our faces fed, we moved back to the square, with a couple of brief stops:

  • A little walk around the garden of the Fortezza Medicea – and no, we didn’t either check out the wine seller’s there, nor pay the fee to go to Santa Land!
  • We stopped at a stall where the ladies indulged themselves with cups of fabulously gloopy (and tasty) hot chocolate. I had a quick taste of Niamhs; it was delicious. But I still had gelato in mind.

I raced to the Laboratorio del Cioccolato, as I’d heard they also sell gelato there, but sadly a lady was literally locking up as I approached the entrance. It was time for her riposo, I guess. Oh well. I sulkily trudged back to the square. (It turns out they seem to only sell ice-pops/ice-lollies/popsicles anyway, so I didn’t really miss out.) There were a few more people wandering about than before, which was nice to see. The first stall I saw there was selling chocolate truffles. I was given a sample of a pistacchio one (samples!), and to compensate for the gelato absence I bought eight of those, and four each of milk chocolate and white chocolate. They were big truffles! And tasty too.

Niamh was looking for me in the main square, as she wanted me to sample(!) some cheese at one of the stalls there. We ended up getting a chunks of parmigiano, and a sort of grana padano from Sardinia. Both of these went back to Ireland with us. You can get parmigiano reggiano at a pinch in Irish supermarkets, but the quality isn’t the same as is in Italy. The good stuff doesn’t make it beyond the border, unless you wish to scour the countryside looking for specialist cheese shops.

Remembering we had failing light and lengthy journey home ahead of us, we decided to go back to car. We hadn’t really gotten out of the piazza proper, before we saw the cellars of Cantina Contucci were open to outside visits. We had our temperatures taken, and scrubbed our hands, and dived in.

At the end of the self-guided tour, the inevitable selling occurred, but once again successful due to us having a couple of samples. I bought a Rosso di Montepulciano, and discovered that that there are a bundle of names for the sangiovese grape variety. When people say that there are 1,000 varieties of grape in Italy, do they take these synonyms into account, I wonder? Niamh’s sister bought both a red and a white, but I don’t remember the variety I’m afraid. Once done we wandered back (downhill at least!) to get to the car.

I was still looking for a gelateria, but still had no luck, and sadly let the grumps get the better of me for a short while. The ladies stopped in a fancy haberdashery/accessory store (down on Google maps as ‘af luxury‘) for 20 or so minutes. I headed down on my own to see if there was a gelateria (nope), and to get some cash out (Bancomat out of order). My mood sadly detiorated while we waited for the ladies to be done. They seemed happy – which ultimately is the most important thing!

Once outside the town we entered a bar which proclaimed itself to be a gelateria, but left when we saw it’s just pre-packaged factory-made stuff. On a dime, I ashamedly told myself to cop on, and by the time we reached the car, I was back to being my contented self!

Below is the video of our trip!

The car journey home was a little stress-inducing – it got rainy and foggy, and when you’re unfamiliar with the road you find yourself tensing up, but thankfully it only was dark for us during the last quarter of the trip when we could see Volterra cresting on its butte. Niamh’s brother-in-law doesn’t seem to have been too stressed – he even noticed the headlight feature in the car where the lights light up the direction you’re aiming on corners, bends etc.

We were turning onto the road on which our resident’s carpark lies, when I did something unfortunate. I sneezed. I’ve been told I’m a loud sneezer sometimes (like a cross between a shout and a cough), and our unfortunate driver jumped when one leapt out of me. He didn’t know if I was shouting a warning or if he’d just run over something. Niamh was in tears laughing. I guess he was a little tense after all!

We rested back at the apartment for a few hours, before heading out to L’Incontro for an aperitivo – thankfully a table was found at the back for us. Some minor nibbles of bread a chips/crisps were had. Sometimes they do cooked nibbles, but not today. Probably just as well, as we were going to splash out on a dinner in Del Duca!

We arrived, and were greeted warmly by the matriarch of the family, Ivana – especially after we gave them a little present of Bailey’s truffles! If I recall correctly Claudia, the daughter and wine-making somilier, was out with friends that evening (she texted us to thank us for the chocolates the next day).

We ate well at Del Duca (what else is new?!). Niamh’s sister was so enamoured of the artichoke pasta dish she had, that we had to ask for the recipe. We got it a few weeks later, and it was pretty detailed! Alessandro not only covered the artichoke preparation, but covered the sauce and pasta-making too – what a gent! To say nothing of Claudia, who translated it for us. They really went out of their way to make us feel special. I got permission to post it, so I’ll post it separately for you.

Our poor guests had to put up me taking the obligatory photos!

We did something then I don’t think I had ever done before: a cheeseboard after dessert. It was mostly varieties of pecorino in varying stages of maturity. All of it so lovely.

Afterwards, some of us had their homemade limoncello. It is thick and tasty, and also the most uncommonly strong limoncello I’ve ever had, but I’d had it before and enjoyed it! Once done, we were just fit for our walk back, screen-watching and finally our bed.

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Picking up Guests (22/12/2021)

Picking up Guests (22/12/2021)

Bit of a short one this week, and very few photos I’m afraid!

I breakfasted, but got a little lazy and didn’t go for much of a walk – just around the local neighbourhood and back to the apartment. Here’s a snap from my favourite lane in Tuscany… Vicolo delle Prigioni.

We got to Pisa airport early and returned our smaller rental to Sixt. We walked to terminal and waited. And waited some more. We could see that our guests’ flight had landed, but there was no sign of them. We were clock-watching, as lunchtime was rapidly running out, and we had yet to get to the car rental place to pick up the vehicle big enough for four of us. Our original plan was to park at the carpark near the Field of Miracles, and walk into the centre of Pisa to look for a place to eat, but then it was thought it would be nice to get out of the city as soon as possible to grab something to eat. I found what looked like a great place (Hostaria “Il Granaio”) about 15 minutes south of Pisa Airport.

Back to the airport for now. Many people who were definitely Italian wandered out, but no sign of our guests (Niamh’s sister and her husband who were flying in from England). About 20 minutes later or so, the pasty folk began to make their way through the door, but we were waiting a good 10-15 minues more. They came out eventually, commenting that immigration took ages. Pesky Brexit wreaking its havoc once again, unfortunately.

We made our way outside and marched towards the Goldcar desk. Now we usually blow hot and cold on Goldcar, as they often try to sell you everything, and sometimes with strongarm tactics. This time, however, a pleasant slender man greeted us and before 10 minutes had passed, had handed us the keys to our car. We thought we were getting a Dacia Duster, but instead got an ‘equivalent’. I was happily surprised when I saw we had a Hyundai Tuscon instead, brand new, with a modern infotainment system. I was a little apprehensive, as parking such a beast can be problematic in many Italian hilltowns, let alone driving one around the curving, narrow roads. But we’d cross that bridge when we’d come to it. I was also surprised that it was a manual, rather than an automatic, given how new the vehicle was. Niamh and I lean towards automatics, as it’s just one thing less to have hassle about when you’re driving at night (remember, it was Winter, so the chances were that we would be driving sometimes without much light), possibly in rain on dangerous roads you may not be familiar with.

Anyway, we put the name of the restaurant into the on-board GPS and the nice robot-lady cooed that she had found a route. Niamh’s brother-in-law took the helm. He’d driven on the ‘wrong’ side of the road before, but it had been a while. Now when Niamh and I first came over, it was our first time driving a left-hand-drive car, and the first time driving on the right. We both were quite nervous at first as passengers, when the car seemed to get too close to verges and roadsigns. It didn’t take long for my inherent trust to kick in, but Niamh still gets very nervous as a passenger. Anyway, I found my nerves had returned somewhat during that first journey, wincing and shelling-up a little when it really looked like the car was going to smack off a roadsign. I was less concerned for myself, as the car is a beast, but more for the €900 deposit for the week that was paid! Anyway, minutes later I was all good again, and we drove towards the restaurant over what isn’t exactly the most enteraining terrain in Tuscany – the Arno flatlands – it’s like driving on wallpaper – featurelessness abounds.

We got to the restaurant in the allotted time, and found it closed. Damn you Google! It was 14:15, and it should have been open (just), but it was definitely shut-up and not just recently. I can only assume the owners hadn’t updated the seasonal opening times – so I can’t really blame Google. Disappointed, we decided that we’d just go straight home instead and maybe grab a sandwich. But providence often provides… which I suppose is what it’s designed to do! We got back to Volterra and walked to the apartment, and saw the Porgi l’Altra Pancia seemed to be still open. Rather than set another incorrect expectation, I checked inside and they confirmed it – still open at 15:30! Woohoo!

We went upstairs, left the guests’ luggage and before we raced out again, I remembered that we had a little box of Butler’s chocolates to give to the staff of the restaurant. What better time? We headed back down, and were shown to our seats. They were very surprised and delighted by the gift, and we found ourselves with a high-end bottle of Prosecco to start off the meal. Not too shabby! We also ordered wine, because it was nearly Christmas! Niamh’s sister had recently just completed a 3-month cookery course in the prestigious Ballymaloe Cookery School, and was eager to tear into some Tuscan goodies. Her husband, much like myself, is always keen to tuck in!

I didn’t take any photos of the meal (sorry!), as I wanted to relax with the guests without us having to feel like we were always on display. So remembering what we had becomes a bit of an issue for me. I know Niamh’s sister had a form of carbonara, and her husband some fab wild boar stew. I’m pretty certain I had peposo (beef slow-cooked in red wine and black pepper – they do it well there). I’d would put reasonable money on tiramisus too for a couple of us at the end of the meal. And I certainly remember wandering out of the restuarant a good deal more merry than when I’d wandered in!

It was dark out, so we could show our guests some of the Christmas lights in Volterra. It wasn’t a long walk, maybe 25 minutes, as I think we were all perhaps a little ‘tired’ after the meal! At least I got some shots of our meanderings this time!

We got home, chatted, screen-watched and imbibed a little, and that was that day! I hope you enjoyed the read, and I would love to hear some feedback from you! Thanks a lot. Next week: our trip to Montepulciano’s Christmas Markets!

Return to Volterra for Christmas (20/12/2022)

Return to Volterra for Christmas (20/12/2022)

Hot diggity! Volterra time!

The past few months felt up and down with respect to my anxiety, but I always know in my heart that the condition is in a decline, and although I still have some rough months ahead I will be fine in time. I just have to have patience.

Anyway, back to the healing holidays. For the first time ever, we had decided to leave the country for the first time to spend Christmas in Volterra. We had been there in December 2018 to pick up the keys of the house, and it was coooold! We stayed for a couple of weeks, and witnessed the turning on of the lights, but we left a good week shy of Christmas itself. The wind cut right through us when we were outdoors. But we didn’t mind. The town is lovely during all weathers. I know that people who have lived in Volterra tend to get tired of the winter months, the cold and the fog – but for now, Niamh and I find them enchanting. We packed for multiple layers each day. The ceilings in most rooms in the apartment are quite high, so we were unsure how well the central heating worked. The radiators get piping hot, but the volume of the rooms might be too much. We would probably have to look at getting a convection/air heater or two.

We’d also have to make sure that our guests were comfortable. That’s right! We’d have guests for Christmas – Niamh’s sister (who’d just successfully finished a cookery course in Ballymaloe School) and brother-in-law (with whom I go to an annual Prog Rock festival (pandemics not withstanding)). It would be fun!

And because it was our first Christmas in the apartment, we’d have to get Christmas decorations. We picked up the first of these from Robbi – the owner of Terra di Mezzo restaurant – in August, and some others in Valdichiana back in October, but more were needed.

The airport was a great deal busier than I remember it being in July 2020, that was for sure! It still didn’t take us long to get through security. We bought tubes of Bailey’s truffles for various folks in Volterra, and grabbed breakfast, and of course the obligatory bottles of water for the flight and initial stage in Italy. I rarely have an Irish/British breakfast, but today I felt like it. Pork products abound!

We boarded with no issues – I think a cursory glance at our tickets and and passports is all it took. There may have been a check of our vaccination certs, but certainly nobody looked at our Passenger Locator Forms (PLF). We landed on time and with no issues – a good flight!

Because we would be picking up guests two days later, we didn’t go all-out on the rental car. We grabbed something small from Sixt – I think it was some sort of Kia, but I’m not sure. Our guests would pick up something larger. Always good service from them (both Sixt and our guests!).

We didn’t have too far to drive to our first stop: Navacchio! We went to the CoOp first to see if there was anything there we could pick up. We were a little disappointed by what was on offer there. Not keen on the decorations, and the trees were too large for our need, so on to Casa instead. We picked up a bunch of tiny baubles, and a modern spindly tree – the kind that is often used outdoors, but we would use inside the apartment anyway. I was modestly successful in my use of Italian with the shop assistant, but one was soon called who had lived in London for a year, and who could converse more fluidly with the pair of us. She was very helpful, in fairness. They boxed up the tree we selected (it was the last one, and they had to raid their stockroom for the box), and once again we had to explain that we can’t tap for larger transactions (Irish cards max out at €50 per transaction for tapping). Anyway, we were on our way, and with festive goodies in tow.

I am proud that we didn’t stop in Old Wild West this time for a dirty burger/ribs. I am less pleased that we also walked past CoOp’s gelato stall – which was still operating. I think I whimpered. My only real problem with Volterra is that all artisanal gelato stores shut for the off-season – so it becomes a ‘dry’ town. First World problems.

Anyway, we got to Volterra at an awkward time. As we were hungry (and the apartment was cold), we turned the heat on – checked that it was working – and headed out to grab something smallish for lunch, as we generally favour larger meals at night. There was something about the security gate inside the apartment entrance, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. It’s often left open during the day so people can get to the insurance office above, and today was no different – but something was off.

We had a brief walk around town to take it in.

They had a tree this year in the piazza. Last year they had an alabaster display instead. I love alabaster creations, but really at Christmas, you can’t beat a tree. I really liked the constellation theme this year, and I think they may still be left up in the main square. I think they look fab. Somehow, even if understated, the Italians dress up their shops at Christmas better than they do back home. Each one is worth examining.

Anyway – back to the food – fortunately, Volaterra was still open. I asked if we could have a snack, but got a strange look. It wasn’t until literally weeks later I discovered that I had pronounced ‘merenda‘ as ‘meranda‘. Oops. Fortunately the latter isn’t offenesive, or even extant! Anyway, we fumbled through it and I got a yummy bean and mushroom soup, and Niamh some bruschette. A glass of wine was also had.

On the way back, it had begun to get dark. We wanted, for the first time ever, to try some genuine artisanal panettone. It’s a kind of sweet bread – I think with the consisency of donuts (but better), and with some sort of finely diced filling – frequently fruit. We popped into Pasticceria Migliorini to see if they had prepared any. Indeed they had – a few varieties. We opted for chocolate and candied orange peel. It was pre-boxed, and we knew we would have to exercise God-like restraint in not opening and devouring it before our guests arrived.

We thought it chilly in the apartment, and so we thought to give our central heating a boost. There is an appliance store 20 seconds walk away from the pasticceria, so we grabbed a fan-heater in there and brought it back to the apartment (yes, we paid for it!). Marvelling at both Vicolo delle Prigioni and the amazing lilac-lighted tree just inside the foyer of our apartment block.

After mooching about the apartment for a couple of hours (what was it with the security gate – it was bugging me!), it was dinner time. We didn’t go to some of our favourites, as we had booked them for later in the week. However, we had another favourite up our sleeves, and we wouldn’t have to brave the cold for too long in order to get to it!

Porgi l’Altra Pancia (the name always makes me smile – Grow Another Belly) is right beside the entrance to our apartment block, and the people who run it are just lovely, and we always get a warm welcome. They might even change the seating configuration to accomodate us during busy periods, or even grab a reserved table, knowing how quickly we can eat! But most of the time, and I especially during off-season, we can take our own sweet time in a set-up that looks like a deli, then becomes a wine-sellers (it’s down as a wine bar in Google for some reason), then finally a restaurant. It’s a great place. We got a seat no problem, and said hello to the waiter who always recognises us… I swear that next time I will actually ask the guy his name. I’m a devil for not doing that.

We walked to the security gate. It was closed. We pushed the button to escape and it duly obliged. Then we noticed what we failed to notice before: the gate’s lock had been completely changed. We checked to see if we could unlock it from the outside anyway. Of course we couldn’t – the lock was changed! We stood like a pair of idiots for a couple of minutes until I had the bright idea of heading all the way back upstairs and asking our neighbours (the people who sold us the apartment) to see if they had a key. There were in, fortunately, and I managed to use my Italian successfully! They have absolutely no English, but I managed to grab a spare key from them, and not only that – the man of the house said he’d get a bunch of copies cut for us and deliver them the next day. They are lovely people! Anyway, with key-in-hand (yes, we tested that it worked), we took the fifteen more steps to the restaurant!

We discovered that we were still a little full from our meal in Volaterra, so we decided just for a pasta course each. Of course, by the time that had finished, dessert was also on the cards. We had opted for a bottle of Rosso di Montepulciano – Niamh rarely goes for red, but she joined me this time. I was to buy a bottle of this in Montepulciano itself a couple of days later – but you’ll read all about that in a few weeks’ time. Our food, unsurprisingly was great!

We said our goodbyes, and although we were fit for our beds, we thought it better to begin the digestion process by having another little walk around to check out the Christmas lights at night.

When we had our fill, we put up the tree, put lights and baubles on it, wrapped lights around our weird upright lamp and toasted the beginning of our Christmas!

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Bathroom Remodelling and Winning Writing Competitions (14/10/2021)

Bathroom Remodelling and Winning Writing Competitions (14/10/2021)

I walked! Despite what I said in a recent blog, O Miracle of Miracles: I walked! I must have had to drop down some trash for the usual morning collection. I walked around some of the walls clockwise, and found an interesting surprise on the way.

We chose to stay in Volterra that day, as we (well, Niamh mostly) had to take time out to research how we wanted to remodel our bathroom, and we had to meet a builder with our translator. There is a smidge of guilt we have for wanting to do so, as our neighbours (the couple from whom we bought the apartment are now our neighbours), only remodelled it a few years previously, but it wasn’t to our taste. This remodelling should be completed soon, and when it is, I will create a mini before-and-after blog. I joined in the research a little, so it could be said I was consulted!

Then I went out, as I wanted to buy a Vespa for a friend. What can I say? I’m a generous guy!

When we were both done, we decided to go for lunch. I’d noticed earlier that, for a change, the wind was less severe than usual, and coming from the east/south-east. With the sun shining high, we went to Osteria Fornelli – the restaurant with possibly the best view in Volterra. There are usually residents’ cars parked most of the way along the wall there. Fortunately, the piazzetta was devoid of vehicles that day!

There was also little wind, as I had foreseen, so it must have been a good 23 celsius out there. I almost regretted not having a hat. Not too shabby for October, when you’re 570 meters above sea-level!

What there were, were a few kids running screaming around the square. That doesn’t alone bother me so much – it’s great to see kids play together – but a lot of the time they were balancing precariously on the alabaster rocks and jumping off. The anxiety rose in me a little as I catastrophised the worst: one of them slipping an opening their heads on the slabs. Their parents didn’t seem to mind, so after a while I ceased caring too, and was able to relax a little better. Although the half bottle of wine each helped buoy my mood somewhat!

We just had the one course, plus a selection of their delicious breads. The food was yum, as it always is. We really like Osteria Fornelli, but every time we go there it feels like the first time, in that the staff never seem to recognise us. They’re always friendly, mind you!

We had a short walk afterwards. We stopped off at Bottega del Pecorino to pick up some pecorino, as Niamh wanted to have a go at making cacio e pepe later that evening. Niamh had had a beautiful one in La Vecchia Lira a few days previously and wanted to give it a go. Unfortunately, I led her astray, as I thought we needed a full stagionato (fully matured), hard percorino. We should have picked out a semi-stagionato. Oopsie. Niamh went back to the apartment, and I did too, but only after having a gelato at L’isola del Gusto!

We went back to the apartment to meet the builder who would be working on our bathroom. Unfortunately, there was a mixup in the time for the appointment, and our translator from our property manager, and she didn’t show up. I tried using my Italian, but it wasn’t up to scratch. He checked out the bathroom… and got a rough idea of what we wanted, but then left and we had to re-arrange for the next day. Actually a couple of days later, I saw him working on the restoration of the Etruscan museum (Guarnacci), so he had been chosen well for us!

Here are some janky stills of the bathroom from a video we took back in December 2018.

We waited further while until (a) the booze from lunch wore off, and (b) until shops had re-opened from riposo before heading to a fab little bathroom, fireplace and kitchen place in La Sterza called Bitozzi. We strolled in (parking was easy), and found ourselves relying more on the nice lady’s English, rather than my Italian. I got to use it a little bit more than the last time we were here, but I really need more regular practice with speaking. In the grand scheme of things, picking out a toilet, bidet, wall tiles, floor tiles, not to mention the sink, drawers, shower tray, head and doors – all in one visit – that wasn’t bad going. We’re going for plain enough wall tiles, and some wonderful mismatched patterns for the floor. We had planned on a matte finish for the shower tray, sink, toilet and bidet, but they were not available if we wanted our (revised twice) timetable adhered to. So we went for largely glossy – in hindsight, that is kinda better, as it’s most likely easier to clean. And if there’s one thing you need to clean properly it’s your bathroom (ok, two: your kitchen too!).

The lady who assisted us was super-helpful and patient. She took down the details, drew little pictures for us, grabbed measurements, consulted catalogues and all-in-all made her money for the 70-80 minutes we were there!

At the time of writing this, the builder has stripped down the tiles and sent us photos. More on the progress in the unveiling episode.

We were hungry when we got back, and we had bought cheese for a cacio e pepe earlier during the day (yes, the wrong cheese). It didn’t deter Niamh, so she gave it a go. Admittedly, the cheese congealed a little, but that’s because I chose the wrong one – but the flavour was good!

There was a good reason why we didn’t go out to eat that evening! I wanted to attend the final and award ceremony of the Michael Mullan Writing Competition. I had entered into two categories: Short Story (2,000 words or fewer) and Micro Fiction (500 words or fewer). I was long-listed in both, and the short-listed in Micro Fiction. So, I joined in the online final via Zoom… and I won! Yay me! It was one of my proudest achievements, not least because I showed myself that I can still do worthwhile things even when blitzed with anxiety. Also, I was representing out writer’s group (Naas Creative Writers Group). We’re going through something of a purple patch these last 2 years, with competition wins and publications, so go us!

Most categories in the Michael Mullan competition are open to worldwide entry, so if you dabble in a bit of creative writing it’s a great way to practice, and you’d be helping out a great cause. I’ll notify you when the 2022 competition is open!

Anyway, apart from screen-watching and maybe a little (more) wine-drinking, we were done for the day.

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