The hills – so big! The roads were winding. We zigged, we zagged, we oooh’d and we aaaah’d at the gorgeous scenery. That’s what I recall about our bus ride through the Apennine mountains to get to Volterra.
We arrive at Albergo Villa Nencini, which is an easy walk to the center of Volterra. Our bus drops us off near our hotel and we take our bags over. The villa dates back to the 17th century just outside the Etruscan walls of the town. My bedroom had windows with wooden shutters that opened up onto an amazing view. In the foreground was the hotel pool area. In the background were the Apennine mountains. It is owned and run by a family so service is a priority. My only complaint was the bed. While comfortable, it was assembled in such a way as if in a sling. If I moved, the mattress moved within the bed frame. Not a big deal, just a bit odd. The furnishings were a bit dated.
The breakfast room was cheery even though the walls were stone. The breakfast buffet had great variety as in Rome. The sliced meats were even more delicious here. There were better quality ingredients. Something that I had started in Rome was having espresso to start my day. Of course, I needed plenty of sugar, but I just really enjoyed having a couple of tiny cups to put me in the Italian holiday spirit. The breakfast room had a wonderful café bar.
After getting all settled in my hotel room, I join my fellow travelers for a little cocktail gathering. We all have a beverage and are arranged in a circle, roughly. Elena leads us in a game in which we each have to tell how we got our name. After saying your name and story, everyone repeats your name and the names of everyone who spoke before you. I always find ice breaker games like this so cringe worthy. I hate going through it. But the prosecco I was drinking certainly helped. We had a variety of wines to choose from. While I really don’t like this exercise, it truly was helpful for me. I don’t think I would have remembered everyone’s names, at least not so quickly, without doing the game. Twenty-five names are a lot! Plus, members had some really funny stories. We all had some great belly laughs by the time we were done.
On our way to Tuscany we stopped at a rest stop. Besides the need to stretch our legs, there was a very necessary need. Our bus did not have a rest room. Bio breaks were essential. An Italian rest stop is unlike anything I have experienced here in the states. First and foremost, it is clean! It feels like it is new construction. Second, there is a full coffee shop with a barista on hand. Third, the amount of food choices is enormous. Tasty, affordable food that is ready to be eaten on the go.
If you get something at the snack bar, you pay the cashier first and then show the receipt to the attendant at the service counter. Just like the rest of the rest stop, the rest rooms are super clean and taken care of by an attendant.
Today, we stopped at a Chef Express. Elena seemed to indicate that whether it is Chef Express or Autogrill it is the same company.
I was still experiencing issues with my innards so I played it safe and just had peach ice tea and a bottle of water. No solid foods for me.
The gate to Albergo Villa Nencini
The view from my room
Playing the name game
Dinner in Volterra
Andiamo! We climbed uphill on a path into the center of Volterra for dinner as a group. Up, up, up we go to the restaurant, La Carabaccia. Before leaving home, I tried to make a reservation here and wasn’t able. Hmmm, I wonder why. I had taken Imodium and it was doing its job superbly. I was no longer having any issues. Our dinner started with the Italian flag which consisted of sliced tomatoes, mozzarella, and lettuce. This was followed by prosciutto wrapped around cantaloupe melon. Next was a vegetable dish with breading. We had 2 pasta dishes, not just one. First, a spaghetti with a simple tomato sauce followed by a ravioli. A tasty pork dish was next and we finished with a refreshing dessert of custard topped with fresh fruit. At this point it is a given that the wine flowed and flowed. Grazie mille to the three sisters who are behind this restaurant. After dinner it was getting late and I basically crashed back at the hotel.
La Carabaccia Photo Gallery
Our local Volterra guide - Annie
Wednesday, 5 September 2018
Annie and the Etruscans
At 8:45 am we met in front of the hotel to walk to Piazza dei Priori. Up, up, up the hill we go. In the shadow of Palazzo dei Priori we met our local guide for the day, Annie. After some stories about the palazzo, Annie led us in a walking tour of Volterra. Being led by Annie Adair is like taking a class with your favorite history professor. She is an ex-pat from DC who fell in love with an Italian and has lived in Volterra for 20 years.
As Annie told stories of Volterra’s past, she definitely took on the perspective of a local at the time of her story. Like a good actor, she made you understand what they felt. Her stories were very detailed with incredible background to provide context to events that took place. Often as she would speak I would have a question but soon she would spin her tale further and managed to answer my question before she had the chance to take a breath. Annie made Volterra’s past come to life with stories about its life as an Etruscan, Roman, and medieval hill town.
We walked out to the wall of the city, the 13th century wall. The Etruscan wall went much further out, today there are only remnants. Stories of the Etruscan arch, the Palazzo dei Priori, the duomo, the Tuscan tower filled our morning.
Annie took us to the Guarnacci Etruscan Museum. It seems so much of what we know about Etruscan life is surmised from what they buried. This museum is filled to the brim with funerary urns which date from the 7th to the 1st century BC. I love museums and when left to my own devices I really enjoy reading every plaque and getting into the nitty gritty. But I’ve got to say this was over kill when it came to funerary urns. Thank goodness Annie was there to provide just the highlights and insights into what we were seeing. Once our tour of the museum ended it was time to say good-bye to Annie.
Photo Gallery of Albergo Villa Nencini
Elena brought us to an alabaster workshop, Alab’Arte. Here we got an incredible demonstration of how craftsmen work with alabaster. Within eight minutes we got to see a block of alabaster stone transformed into a bowl that was so thin that light could partially come through creating a translucent quality. It definitely was a treat to see a master craftsman at work. Personally, I would not want to disturb craftsmen, so I was glad that this demonstration was scheduled and didn’t take away from his work for the day. It was rather ridiculous the amount of alabaster powder that was everywhere. I was glad to hear that they have examined the artists and have not discovered any poor health effects. Their lungs are operating just as well as anyone else’s. The workshop was littered with finished alabaster sculptures from floor to ceiling. It was a challenge for our group to find room to watch the master at work.
The Joy of Eating
Video of a master alabaster craftsman at work. Apologies for the orientation issue
At noon we are set free to explore Volterra on our own. We were given the Volterra Card which covers admission for most of the main sights in town. Bud, Linda, and I were hungry and head a few doors down from the alabaster workshop to a new pizza place that Annie had recommended. We decided we would have one red pizza and one white pizza. We all agreed that the white was the superior pizza. It was four cheeses. I was in heaven. The red was good, but we loved the white. As I recall the pizza was about €13 each. The ambiance was a stone walled casual eatery. The staff was pleasant and easily worked with our limited Italian.
I was committed to my ‘a gelato a day’ plan. I forced Bud to join me for a cone at L’Isola del Gusto. Today’s flavors were chocolate mascarpone and Nutella. Excellent gelato! I’m ready to take a flight back for another chance at some other flavors. I am so grateful for Bud and Linda inviting me to lunch. It’s nice to feel included. On top of that I just have so much fun with them. All we do is laugh. We were probably too loud for a stone walled restaurant where sound can reverberate
My father’s stories of visiting Italy always included gelato, especially when he’d had too much of museums. I wanted a special goal for my trip, over and above the itinerary. In his honor, I would plan to daily indulge in this treat. After all, our tour book shared locations of the best gelato in every destination. But was that enough of a challenge? I thought not. Therefore, my additional goal was to taste as many gelato flavors as possible. I was entirely successful! I tried 17 flavors in just eight days with pistachio and hazelnut my fast favorites. Although, limoncello, dark chocolate, and Volterra’s fresh mint still call to me. And the best part was enjoyably walking off every calorie. I think I did my Dad proud!
- Contributed by fellow tour member, Debbie
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Linda was adamant that she wanted to go jewelry shopping. She had spotted a particular jewelry shop on our walking tour with Annie. So long Linda and Bud!
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App of the Day
Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous
I wanted to visit Palazzo Viti. However, as is the case for much of Italy it was closed for a couple of hours for lunch. I wandered around Volterra and reached the city wall for some incredible photo opportunities. Before you knew it, Palazzo Viti was open again. I must have been the first to arrive. I had the place to myself! This place is so incredibly beautiful. In 1850 Giuseppe Viti, an alabaster trader, purchased the palace and carried out extensive restoration work. In the numerous rooms open to the public it's as if you stepped out of a time machine and get to experience the magic atmosphere of centuries past. It is “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” Tuscano style. Chandeliers, ornately painted ceilings, grand oil portraits, lots of gilded frames filled the palazzo. Why am I not living like this?! Each room of the palazzo has its own theme! Salon of Battles, Red Room, Yellow Room, King’s room. Why don’t my rooms have names? I’ll have to remedy that. Even though this wasn’t covered by the Volterra Card it was totally worth the €5. As I’m leaving there is a little gem of a surprise. Thank you Rick Steves guidebook for alerting me to what seemed like a secret hideaway. As I exited there were stairs leading to the cellar that I’m sure most people just miss. In this old stone cellar is a wine bar. My natural inclination is to be like the energizer bunny and go, go, go. Sitting down and enjoying a glass of wine, a little cheese, and samples of salami forced me to just breathe. A few teenagers were there but were exiting when I arrived. It is kind of cool both literally and figuratively to relax in an old Roman cistern. Best of all it was all totally free when I showed my Palazzo Viti ticket. Granted, the salumi and cheese were small portions. But I didn’t need much more than that since I was just taking a breather. It was one of those moments that just say “Aaaaaah, Italia!”.
Palazzo Viti Photo Gallery
Photos from wandering around Volterra while I waited for the Palazzo to open
What was covered by the Volterra Card was my next destination, the Pinacoteca. Sadly, no pino coladas here. It’s a 15th century palace turned museum of paintings. The highlight was The Deposition from the Cross by Giovan Battista di Jacopo better known as Rosso Fiorentino. Significant was the contrast of static figures below against the figures tending to Christ who indicated movement. The choice of skin color for Jesus is interesting. Not too often have I seen a sickly, green Jesus. I wonder how much blood was lost during the crucifixion? It is a small museum and I didn’t take much time to explore.
Next on the hit parade was Parco Archeologico. It is a grassy park in which children play, flowers bloom and I slowed down. As I went back and forth trying to find the Archeological dig, I saw what looked to be a flimsy temporary fence. Fences mean ‘keep out’. So, I kept away. When I got closer, I discovered this is what I wanted to see. No sign. Here was the ancient Volterra acropolis. Kind of crazy to discover the remains from the 7th century BC.