For what felt like the first time in a long time, J and I headed inland and away from the sight of the sea, all our stuff loaded into a hired 1.2litre Fiat Punto, a car that lacked many things (USB ports, Bluetooth, a working radio, anything that passed as an engine etc). Our mission: get to the historic town of Volterra and spend two days doing very little other than sit in a square, drink wine and organise the Tunis/Egypt/Jordan part of the trip whilst watching the world go by.
We were adamant that we wanted to do nothing but on the way up, stopped just outside Piombino at Baratti, an archeological site containing ruins of villages and burial sites dating back to pre Roman occupation. Once again we found ourselves marvelling at the way humans have developed and just what they were capable of, though they did seem to make life a little more difficult than it needs to be at times.
We have been seeing huge modern mausoleums on our travels and concluded they were a way of ensuring unloved off-spring had less money to enjoy as parents insisted huge amount of cash would be spent on these mini-houses. I think there was an equivalent act of revenge in ancient Baratti:
Dad “It won’t be long now son. I can feel myself slipping away”
Son “I’ll miss you Dad”.
Dad “Will you come and visit my grave, so I don’t get lonely?”
“Of course Dad. I will miss you Dad”
“Yes Dad, everyday. I promise”
“You promise? You won’t leave me all on my own”
“Grand. Thanks son. By the way, you’re to bury me up the hill”
“The hill? You mean the little hill out the back?”
“No son, the other hill”
“The other hill?”
“Yes son, the other hill”
“The big, steep, fuck-off hill that takes hours to get up”.
“Ay son. The view ‘ll be great”
“FFS Dad! Really?”
“Really. And I want you to chisel through the rock to make me a nice deep tomb”
“I did. Fuck”
Dad mutters under breath “Worthless little twat”
So J and I found ourselves marching up a bloody big hill to visit impressive tombs undoubtedly sited out of hatred and spite. It the relatives chuntered half as much as one of us did, the woods would have been alive with chuntering.
They were impressive though, and the view from the top was lovely. We then visited its sister site, 10 mins drive away but were rather less enthusiastic by then, and the visit of the two took about 4 hours.
We drove through the beautiful Tuscan countryside rather later than planned and arrived in the hilltop town of Volterra resigned to only one day sitting in squares drinking wine.
Volterra is lovely. The hill it is on is by far the biggest for miles and the views over the rolling countryside are exceptional. You can’t take cars inside the walls (though we missed that sign on day 1 and had to navigate some very narrow streets whilst trying not to squash tourists) and it is properly old. We arrived on a Sunday and were a bit overwhelmed by the busyness of the place, but it was much more laid back on Monday and we really liked it. There is great food to be had, in lovely settings and plentiful wine, Aperol spritz and Gelato. Perfect marathon prep.
From Volterra we drove to Bologna for our last few days in Italy. Bologna was chosen due to the fact we could get a train to Berlin from there. Rather wonderfully our friends Taniya and Clive were able to join us there, on their return from Monza and a cycling holiday (we realised that when we looked a weirdos who spent hours cycling up hills in hard to get to places, we were looking at people like Taniya and Clive).
I met Taniya on a course in the army in 1998. The course was to train officers to be staff officers, so it was brains rather than about ones ability to lug large amounts of kit over long distances on foot that differentiated good from bad. I was in an infantry regiment, so it really was all about the physical stuff…… and the ability to have ones webbing and beret looking good.
Taniya excelled in the brain stuff and was the catalyst in changing my view of women in the forces. At the most senior levels, it’s not about being macho, fit or looking good, it’s about achieving hard objectives in the most intelligent manner whilst keeping casualties to a minimum. At the time women could not get the most senior positions and we were dominated by stereotypes from combat arms. I realised we were missing a trick. So did Taniya and she left the Army. Shame.
Taniya and Clive also excel at a good night out, even more so after I introduced them to Negroni (2 weeks in Italy and no Negronis……l what a missed opportunity). J found a small restaurant down a street that you wouldn’t venture down unless google was pointing you to a good restaurant down it and we enjoyed some wonderful food in a wonderful little, local place. We drank far too much wine, laughed a lot, and woke the next morning with cotton wool for brains. I had to get up and run 8km (I think I may have still been drunk as I did it rather quickly) and T & C had to drive 750km……. in a camper van. My run was the easy option I think.
We had a couple of days to get to know Bologna and it was rather lovely. It doesn’t get any significant tourist attention but should. The centre is historic, lively and relaxing. It is very much a living city and has a big city feel whilst being small enough to get around very easily. There are huge churches, its own leaning tower, another, really tall, tower that you can walk up for great views, lots of squares with cafes and restaurants and a really comfortable atmosphere.
They also have barbers, so I decided to try to get over the trauma of my haircut by Denzil in Lisbon (6 weeks before) and get a new cut. After much deliberation, I chose a place where a guy spoke enough English to understand that “I don’t want to look like a twat again”. The barber took his job very seriously and got out a book of pictures of men’s hair for me to choose a style from. I don’t do style…. I just want a haircut. He consulted J. Not too much more productive than talking to me. He showed me a picture of Eminem……. Close enough……..
Getting up early exposed me to a lovely morning routine. Pretty much every corner has a small coffee shop / bar on it and everyone’s commute involves popping into the local one, having a coffee and a quick chat whilst standing at the counter, then continuing on their way. Not too far removed from the Aussie commute but without disposable cups & staring at smartphones plus much more human interaction. It seemed a great way to start the day.
The pasta is also, almost without fail, lovely. I ate lots of it (on the marathon training plan), washed down with good wine (not so much on the plan).
If you like history, cities, Italy, motorbikes (Ducatti made here and has a museum), pasta, wine, or walking up big towers, put Bologna on your places to go.
Next stop: Berlin.