Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Day Five -- Volterra

Wednesday, March 25

It was somewhat difficult sleeping last night until we regulated the room temperature.  We couldn't seem to get the room cool enough to sleep (which is a rarity for me) and instead just shut the vents off and opened both windows, sleeping with them wide open from 12:30 onward.

It was fairly quiet most of the night, despite our room being on the front of the building. There is next to no automobile traffic in Volterra, but what there is inevitably goes past the hotel, since it's the "main street" of the town.  Still, I slept pretty solidly until 6:25.  

The breakfast here isn't as extensive as what we had in Rome. A few pastries, a little cereal, some cold cuts and cheese and bread.  No cappuccino, which I sorely missed.  We had to meet our guide at 9, so we squeezed ourselves into a table with others on the trip.  It's a very small breakfast room not capable of handling all 29 of us plus other guests at once, so we ate in shifts.

It was raining and somewhat damp feeling today.  Not heavily raining, but enough to be a nuisance.  During our first break in the tour, we zipped back to the hotel to put another layer on as we weren't warm enough in the jackets that were too warm for us yesterday in the Forum.

I've been watching the weather for the end of this week since we left home.  I will give up any decent weather any other day of this trip, but for the day we hike Cinque Terre, I want beautiful blue skies and sun, and it looks like we might just get that.  So I'll shut up and suffer through this and hope travel karma pays off.

Our guide Annie took us through the main sights here in Volterra.  We started at the city hall, which was the model for other city halls like those in Siena and Florence.  Then the Duomo, which, oddly, used to front the square until the locals built the city hall and built that right in front of the Duomo, showing that city government came before religion.

We then walked on to a panoramic overlook which on a clear day I'm sure would reveal a splendid view of the Pisan countryside.  Right under that overlook though is one of the only remaining Roman theaters built from stone.  Even though building the theater out of stone was illegal at the time, they got around it by building a temple to Jupiter there, which using stone was allowed for.  So even then, finding loopholes was ok.

The history of the Etruscans is incredibly interesting, and while I can't give particulars of time and date based on a limited lesson this morning, it seems to me that they were different for their time, perhaps ahead of their time, and that perhaps they were seen as odd, especially by the Romans who of course tried to invade.  Volterra was a powerhouse in its day, with a population of over 25,000 at one point (right now it's about 12,000).  They weren't afraid of defying current fashion or social mores, like letting women read and write as well as teach.  Hey, they weren't half bad.

Our next stop was an alabaster workshop where we watched a craftsman make a bowl from scratch.  That was really interesting and a memorable experience, especially for DS, who teaches a section on alabaster at the museum at home and who was lucky enough to be able to buy the bowl from the craftsman.

The Etruscan Museum here is really the big draw, and I found the highlights that Annie took us through to be interesting enough but I grew weary of urn lids and pitchers pretty quickly.  Annie was a wonderful guide, who is very passionate and excited about her subject matter, so it was easy to get pulled along in her presentation, which was great.

We did a bit more window shopping on the way to finding lunch.  We stopped in the alabaster shop run by the two craftsmen we saw this morning, and bought some trinkets (fortunately small enough to squeeze into my wee suitcase) and then at an Etruscan jewelry shop where I bought still more trinkets in the form of jewelry.

Lunch on our own was at a little pizza place near the Etruscan museum.  I had a goronzola and sausage pizza and a glass of orange Fanta.  It really hit the spot.  We had a limoncino shot for dessert.  

We are trying to strategically plan our clothes for the rest of the trip and decided with the rainy and now windy weather we'd try to do laundry here rather than waste precious time in Cinque Terre or Florence.  That was certainly an experience!  Our guidebook mentioned a self service laundry near the main square so we went to that and I managed to navigate the menus on the washing machine and dryer to completely restock us for the days to come.

So now that we had a full week's worth of clean laundry to get by on, we set out on still more shopping.  We both stumbled upon gorgeous Italian leather handbags that caught our eyes, so we bought them, vowing to find a way to get them home even with our restricted luggage capacity.  I also found a ring and a Tuscan ceramic tile that says "Attenti al gatti" (beware the cats) which will go nicely with my "beware the cat" that I got for Morley.

There is an exhibition on here at the Pinacoteca of a painting by an artist from 1540 of Christ's descent from the cross.  It is notable because the artist, at the time, was considered mentally unstable and painting way beyond the style of the day.  The thing is, the way he painted then, nearly 500 years ago, was a style that is very much in fashion today (and very out of the ordinary then).  In all seriousness, he could have been any of the contemporary artists we see at home now.  This particular exhibition included that one painting of his, and then at various other locations in the city, there were other artists' interpretations of that  piece. It was really very cool to walk around and see how others saw it.  And it was another exhibition for our list this year.

We met back up with most of the group at 6:00 for a wine tasting with Francesco, who is Annie's (from this morning) husband.  He was fabulous, and I've taken wine classes before.  I still learned a lot.  We sampled four wines, a San Gimignano white, a Chianti Classico, a supertuscan and a Brunello di Montalcino.  They had antipasti there to go with the tasting and to show how the wines changed taste as we ate.  It was a great hour and a half.  So glad that was included as part of the tour.

Dinner was on our own so we went to Ristorante Enoteca del Duca, which I had researched but not reserved ahead of time.  This was meant to be one of those white table-clothed, romantic, well-dressed restaurants but we went in our tour garb and were served a fabulous meal.  We both started with the pecorino souffle with black truffles, and I had the ricotta and spinach gnocchi with gorgonzola and black truffle sauce.  Yes, there is a theme here, but I can't shake it.  I figure we'll be eating seafood up in Cinque Terre so I have to get my pasta and my truffles while I can.  The waiters gave us prosecco to start and their own homemade limoncello at the end as a courtesy.  The service was outstanding and it was one of the best meals I've had, easily in the top 5.  The souffle was simple and lightly seasoned, so it was a great, light starter.  The gnocchi were unreal.  They were like gumball sized bubbles that just melted in my mouth into ricotta goodness.  I can't even explain how delicate they were.  It was just perfect.  We both finished with a chocolate mousse that was a nice way to end.  Well, that and the limoncello.

I've managed to pack all of my clothes and all my purchases, so we're in good shape.  Moving on to Lucca and then Levanto tomorrow.  Weather improving once we leave here.

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