Wednesday, April 14:  Volterra

Breakfast was simple, now that the hotel is down to about 25% capacity. No yogurt as the truck hadn’t arrived yet. We got Giovanni’s advice for the scenic routes out of town and fueled up the car to head for nearby Volterra, via Giambassi Terme. It was a sunny morning and the landscapes were phenomenal. Up over one ridge, down into a valley, then a climb back up to Volterra proper. Immense fields on rolling hills, filled with foot-high green crops, forests on the ridge tops and occassional vineyards. Cyclists were in evidence, usually in ones and twos.

Volterra was my idea of a Tuscan hill-town, and at this writing tops my recommendation list. Parking was free, and easy. City map was comprehensive, labeling every street and all the streets had signs. Not too many tourists, and you felt that many of the people you saw lived and worked in the city. The Etruscan Museum was a treat, filled to capacity with thousands of artifacts from this local civilization that was contemporaneous with the Greeks and pre-dated the Romans who eventually absorbed or conquered them. And with a family discount that meant the boys were nearly free. A beautiful, green city park in the shadow of the city fortress. A simple Cathedral and Baptistry, free of charge (though the hours for the Cathedral didn’t work for us). A nearly empty central plaza. The motorized traffic didn’t aim at you either. In almost every way a contrast to Siena. (Photo 29)

Photo 29  Robert in Volterra
Photo 30  Volterra Fortress

Photo 31  Homework with a View
The museum was today’s primary subject matter, as Archeology 101 was in session. Some rooms were so filled with funerary urns or pottery that it was just stacked along the wall, and if you cared to you could touch it (or smash it if you were so inclined). We also visited the Porta L’Arch, which Giovanni told us was the world’s first stone arch. Lunch was successfully purchased to everyone’s satisfaction at the second alimentari we visited, and we ate on benches just outside the city gates at the other end of town from where we parked. Our view consisted of a memorial from the “Grande War” and the fortress now run as a prison. (Photo 30)

Our stroll back through town included the public park, the Cathedral and Baptistry, and a view from above of the old Roman amphitheater. The Baptistry was the first we have visited, since there was a charge in Firenze, Pisa and Siena. The amphitheater was notable for the still extant stage and the unique viewpoint from the road high above.

With a few hours to spare, we headed south, down off the hill where Volterra sits, then south to Pomerance. Not much there, and we’d about hit our range, so we headed back north, with a westerly bias. We got off at one point on a 10 kilometer stretch of road along a ridgetop, which our map classified as a notch above a gravel road. We saw no other traffic in either direction, and the town in the middle was, as expected, a bar and a mailbox. Back to more improved roads, the route flattened for a considerable distance and the cyclist sightings increased. Half the car fell into nap mode.

A break back at home, and then we ventured back to the cleaners in Certaldo to drop off laundry by the kilo. We hunted for a parking space and then visited the two machines in the whole town dedicated to public internet access while the boys tried to entertain themselves at the town playground. Much fiddling for Pat’s account and it was only dial-up, so I didn’t attempt to upload my web pages. Lots of spam as my cranker’s address is now fouled, and a bill-paying screw-up relayed by Carley. Not a productive or enjoyable session.

More homework back at the hotel, David is now doing some real algebra (solutions to linear equations). Robert worked on the balcony in view of the old city and the vineyard across the street. Tough duty.  (Photo 31) Dinner was pasta and dessert and Pat started Giovanni out with a request for a recommendation for where to buy jewelry in Florence tomorrow. Of course, there is but one place and he gave us the address. Later he brought us a local legume, cicerchie, which he served drowned in olive oil. David liked it, Robert didn’t. I then requested another culinary lesson: grappa. Its a rough liquor made from distilled grapes. Giovanni wasted no time in getting us samples, first the “rustica” version, which he poured out when we finished, then a smoother version (Traminer di Poli). Our waiter sneered playfully and laughed as he surveyed the scene. Giovanni told us he preferred cognac, and without asking, some of his favorite appeared (L’Aiola). The discussion continued on to Florentine Art, Jesuits vs. Dominicans, and professional cycling in Italy.