Volterra – A Winter Delight

Volterra is a place I hadn’t visited before so when the opportunity arose to go and see this very medieval hill top town, as usual, I jumped at the chance.

You may have heard of it. It is an important location in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series  although  most of the important scenes were actually shot in Montepulciano, another place on my must visit and report on list.

After the fabulous views all around this place, I was struck initially about how sensible it was organised. I mean, there is actually a carpark (paid parking) under the town. We had no trouble in parking and it was easy to find our way into the main part, inside the walls.

First impressions, alabaster. There is a lot of alabaster here. There is the Alabaster Museum to visit where there are over 300 pieces of art from the 18th and 19th centuries. There are also more than a few alabaster shops where you can buy some quite classy pieces for the house or just a simple holiday souvenir. You also have the chance to see the alabaster being worked in one of the workshops there.

There is also a museum of torture which greets you with a huge werewolf. You may think is fun to visit as I did, but I found it to be quite heavy going due to the subject matter. It is, however, very well organised and interesting although afterwards, I was more than ready for a tasty glass of wine in one of the chic wine bars that dot the place.

Torture museum Volterra Tuscany Italy

 

Lunch was in a lovely trattoria down one of the little cobbled side streets, tagliatelle al tartufo washed down with a local glass of white wine and finished off with a slug of espresso.

I visited Volterra in winter time. This place gets pretty crowded in the summer and in winter you get a feel for the real town. There is a traditional Saturday market too. In the the winter it is in the Piazza dei Priori and in the summer in the Vallebuona in front of the Roman theatre. Yes Volterra has a bit of everything. Roman and Etruscan history and remains. It even has a state prison, cleverly disguised as what I thought was some sort of ancient and well-preserved castle. I hurried away when I realised!

 

What did I like about Volterra in winter? I like the fact that you could feel the medieval ambience there. It is a well organised place but with chic little bars down fascinating streets as well as some cool up-market shops there. You wouldn’t have the same intimacy in the summer when the crowds are pulling you in all directions and the heat can be stifling.

Summer? Yes, actually I can’t wait to go in the summer and see the change, and of course report back.

Volterra, Tuscany Italy

Are Italian Men Really Sexy? Read this report.

Part 1

Are Italian men sexy? Well, I should know, after all I’ve lived here since 2005, AND I have a lot of Italian girlfriends so I think I am well qualified to give you the low down.

I was going to wait a little longer before committing to writing about Italian men since I have such a lot to say, I thought it would be, and it will be, very time consuming. I did feel that I ought to at least start for you may curious people out there and I was almost thrown into writing it when I was feeling angry at my current, if very part-time partner who suggested getting together on New Year’s Eve only to spoil things by saying to me “of course at mid-night, I will have to go outside and phone my other lady friends to wish them a Happy New Year” on my evening? I don’t think so, so I turned him down. Come on you Italian guys, have a little respect please, we ladies are human and we do have feelings.

Back to the subject at hand. Just imagine those sexy, tanned, sultry looking Italian men you see in the ads lounging across a big soft bed and looking, well, sexy. The harsh truth is that they sleep in jersey boxer shorts with either old t-shirts or sweatshirts on the top. Their aim is to keep warm. Heaven help them if they have a shoulder sticking out from under the duvet and it catches cold. You’ll never hear the end of it.

My ex used to get dressed the next morning, still wearing the said boxer shorts but he did, at least change the shirt. He even wore a pair of ladies pj’s (his mother bought them and didn’t understand the English, very girly, motto on them) just to keep warm. Sexy Italian man? I don’t think so.

Yes, they can certainly charm you. Who doesn’t melt at the heavily accented “I’m from Italy” initial chat up line and that oh so charming kiss on the hand but whoa there ladies, he has only one objective, to charm himself into your bedroom, where, according to him, you belong, and he knows it works!

Society here in Italy is very sexist with women being shown in the media as decorative items with no brains required thanks. It is very reminiscent of 1970’s Britain and the Benny Hill show. Ladies flutter and flaunt and only say silly unimportant things. The men are important and they are allowed, by society, to treat women as baubles for their pleasure. I have seen couples discussing how beautiful, or otherwise a woman, young or otherwise, is. The lady half of the couple having to give her, usually generous opinion, without jealousy, in agreement with her other half. Of course, the men themselves are all “handsome” in their own eyes, and very much available to any opportunity that may come their way.

My girlfriends, all had fathers who were serial womanisers, their wives turning a blind eye. They went on to marry men who were serial womanisers too, only they didn’t turn a blind eye and separated. They do not  have a single good word to say about Italian males, many preferring to pin their hopes on foreign men who are seen as more trustworthy and reliable.

Are Italian men dangerously reckless and sexy?

No. Everything is bad for you and you shouldn’t do it.

Will they take you on an adventure, to dinner, to anywhere?

No – they will often dine with their male friends and adventures are expensive. All the Italian males I have dated have been a little short in the arm when it comes to reaching into their pockets for their wallet to treat their date like a special person.

Are Italian men fun?

Yes – if you don’t pressure them into committing to you (that takes years) and you try to take each encounter as it comes and don’t, what ever you do, believe what he is telling you about being the most beautiful, fabulous, incredible creature he has ever met. He’s probably just been saying the exact same thing to someone else just half an hour before you met.

End of part 1

Christmas Italian Style

Christmas Italian style, I love it. It is still old fashioned, traditional and atmospheric.

I like nothing more than to go into nearby Lucca and wander up and down the narrow cobbled streets looking at the wonderfully warm and Christmassy window displays.

I love it because it doesn’t start too early. No tacky cards on display from August. Nope. Here it starts after All Saints’ Day which is on 1 November.

Christmas in Italy, life in Italy

Whilst there aren’t really any shopping bargains to be had, it is lovely to go into a little, traditional shop and see your purchased goodies carefully wrapped up into the most glorious package usually at no extra charge. The assistant asks “è un regalo?” Is it a present? One nod of the head sees them bringing out richly coloured wrapping paper and ribbons galore for curling into divine, festive ringlets.

I have said so before but I love to take a delicious Italian hot chocolate in winter. It is thick and rich. You eat it with a spoon, there’s no drinking this stuff and you can take it with or without panna (whipped cream).

Italian life, Italian chocolate

My current favourite is cioccolato fondente con menta e senza panna, that is dark chocolate with mint and without cream, it is too luxuriously fabulous to describe, and is always finished too soon.

Before Christmas Italians go to friends houses to wish them best seasons withes. The process involves drinking (well it does in my zone) a warm mandarin punch or two and eating a little cake.

The nativity is on display in every Italian home. Some towns have lavish displays. Ours, an old hilltop town,  prefers a living nativity where, two days before Christmas, the locals, dress up in historical costume for displays of life in olden times. As you wind your way up and down the tight medieval streets, you can see traditional crafts, sample old local foods and partake of a vin brulée or two whilst hoping to get a glimpse of Mary and Joseph and the “real” donkey as they make their way up to the church on the summit.

Roman nativity, life in Italy

Food-wise, nothing is really prepared in advance of Christmas in Italy. I was always used to starting my Christmas cake in October and being well prepared for our festive eating but in Italy, Christmas day food is prepared fresh in the morning. In my 11 years living here, I have spent 7 of them living in an Italian home with an Italian family and Italian traditions.

Christmas lunch menu was usually, crostini, tortellini in brodo followed by lasagne. I used to roast a turkey and serve vegetables but many households have roast pork which is eaten a lot. There is often also another pasta with a sauce before the meat course.

Pudding was usually simple with an up-market panettoni or pandoro and coffee.

Santa or Babbo Natale is fairly new here in Italy. The Christmas tradition here was and still is, La Befana who comes on Epiphany to give the good children toys and the naughty children, coal.

Babbo Natale, Life in Italy

 

Italian Countryside, Fresh Air, Flowers and Funghi

I live in a tiny village on top of a mountain. There are few people here and we are surrounded by nature. There is no sound except for the birds, or sometimes after rain we can hear the river at the bottom of our mountain when it’s full and flowing fast.

This part of Tuscany is dramatic with snow-topped mountains standing majestic against a deep blue springtime sky.They change colour throughout the year, green in spring and summer, with the grey tips bare and grand. In autumn the colour starts to change to a rich gold and purple as the leaves lose their fresh look and the mountain heather shows itself.

One of the most spectacular natural phenomena that I love about this part of Italy, is the wonderful perfume that floods the air in late May and early June. There is nothing like it, exotic, mysterious and intense. You know that you live in a special part of the world.

This area is particularly famous for farro, an ancient spelt which is wonderful as a salad in the summer and, for me anyway, even more appetising in the winter as a thick and warming soup made with vegetables and beans and served with a spot of garlic bread. It is also a great place to find porcini mushrooms, with mushroom hunters keeping their “patch” secret and if asked if they found a lot after a day in the woods, they usually answer, “I found just enough to eat,” meaning not really. I have seen locals exclaiming in delight at a huge porcino on display outside of a local green grocer’s. Picking it up and holding it high for all to see. People are known for their porcini finding prowess and it is quite an honour to be considered a good finder.

Walking and  hiking in Tuscany

We are also famous here for chestnuts. We are surrounded by chestnut woods and from late October on wards, the literally fall from above, as you drive or walk down the roads, they just drop from the trees. Chestnut flour is milled and can make a rich pasta, which is particularly good for those who can’t tolerate gluten. Goodies such as castagnaccio, a heavy flat cake type of dessert, made with pine nuts, rosemary and a hint of orange, or necci, a chestnut flour pancake usually served as a rolls, a bit like a cannelloni but stuffed with creamy ricotta. I love the castagnaccio, although it does look as though it is made from chocolate and so disappointed me with my first taste. The necci, I prefer without the ricotta, otherwise it’s too heavy.

This area is a spectacular one for walking and hiking. Everywhere you look there are unbelievable views. You can see for miles, even, on a clear day the island of Elba or as far as Sardinia. The best time to come walking is between April and June, then September to November. July and August are just too hot to be comfortable and the winter months mean that you can’t go up high due to the snow.

This is a truly stunning place to live, and I am grateful every morning when I wake up and look out of my window in the sky at those mere mortals below.

Walking in Tuscany

No Sweat, Just a Bella Sudata!

Here in Italy, you are risking life and limb if you sweat.  Not just full blown running down your face I’m too hot, sweaty, but the slightest hint of sweating and you risk the possibility of getting the notorious “influenza” and expiring.

I remember one summer’s day. It was beautifully hot. I was with my ex. Italian partner and we decided to do a spot of shopping in a local house and home type store.

We arrived and parked the car and I rushed to go in, I love shopping by the way. My partner pulled me back, very concerned. No you must wait here for a while. It was at that point I noticed about four of five other couples just hanging around. The entrance was up an escalator and they were all staring anxiously at the entrance.

I of course asked how long we had to wait. “Oh” he said, “about 15 minutes” what???

When I asked him why and if there was anything wrong. Maybe there was some strange Italian custom or law that meant that the store could only hold a certain number of people.

He replied that our bodies had to adjust as there was air conditioning inside and if we went straight in from the hot car, we would surely get the dreaded influenza.

Can you believe it? Maybe being English, I’m super human and strong but please, we have to add on 15 minutes every time we want to go in to a shop? No thanks, I’ll take the risk.

The dangers of air conditioning are taken very seriously. You have to sizzle in cars because if you are in any way, just a little bit, maybe sticky and you turn on the “aria fredda” (cold air) then you’ll not only get influenza but ” mal di collo” (achy neck) too. Good heavens, you’re taking a huge chance there!

I often see groups of people seriously discussing their health. They may have been somewhere hot, or have done sport and they exclaim in horror, “ero tutto sudato!”, I was all sweaty to which the replies come, ohh no, you need to be careful, watch it etc.

So those pictures of gorgeous Italian guys, wiping the sweat from their brow, looking oh so sexy? Forget it, that’s far too dangerous.