Friday 26 February 2016

Get thee to a convent

Day 5 on the the Contrary Roadtrip and after a wild(ish) night on the town the girls are ready to take their vows of contrariness and enter a convent. Or something like that.

I must say the faded grandeur had lovely beds. And a shower that would strip concrete. Quite powerful doesn’t quite cover it. It meant we skipped down to breakfast feeling decidedly buzzy and, as we’re sensible like that, we’d brought the iBastard so that we could book the next night’s stay, after all booking the last two nights had been a roaring success and things could only get better!

The range of things at breakfast was probably the most impressive yet, though we still think that our previous night in Grasse had the edge in the wow factor as that really was special. But still I could recommend this place with a clear conscience. Plus I did rather make a pig of myself by trying pretty much everything.


*!$$£%@^ iBastard
After repeated trips to the cake table to just-try-another-bit-to-make-sure we broke out the iBastard so Clare could hunt down the place she was interested in. Something to do with vampires, she’s a strange girl. Trouble was they just work so cue fifteen minutes of language that would make the average paratrooper blush, never mind the people of a certain type that had decided a night in a spa town was just what they needed.

In time all was booked and with the Contrary Clio packed we wandered off to have a look around before scampering to Chiantishire in search of the Islington set and make them wish they’d stayed at home and not remove properties from the people that actually want to live in the area full time. *gets off soap box*

So to town we wandered. I managed to almost ignore the bag stalls before we disappeared up enticing looking steps that lead to goodness knows where, after all children, maps are for wimps. In not time at all we found ourselves standing outside Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta so obviously we had to go in. This was now our third cathedral and the contrast was stark. The Italians really do know how to bling up a church. I couldn’t help but make comparisons with what you’d see in an English church.
As an aside, over the last couple of days we jointly came up with the term tapas tourism, it might already be a thing but the idea was that you have little snippets, morsels to whet your appetite and leave you wanting to return. No idea if it’s already a thing but our whistle stop tour is definitely the very finest of tapas.

So where was I? Oh yes, meandering around the streets of Acqui Terme. We wandered a little further and found ourselves walking in to a curious garden that was apparently connected with the museum. Whatever it was the building that the garden lay within was fascinating and left more questions than answers. It did occur to me then that maybe I needed to revisit the entire road trip in a longer form that went in to the detail of all the places we came across rather than the quick and dirty blog format that really doesn’t leave room for depth.

Our wanderings continued eventually bringing us back to the hot spring outlet where by now there were many people washing their hands in the water, or collecting it in small bottles, some even touching it to their eyes to take to the magical medicinal effects of this marvel of nature. It was certainly a curious mix and as we left with the smell of sulphur in our noses it was time to once more climb in to the Contrary Clio and head South to Volterra. Not North to wherever, please ignore anything we said in the original road trip blog from now on.


After a quick pitstop in the hotel we retargeted Tom and for once accepted that we might need to take the toll roads as otherwise it was nearly an eight hour drive. We managed all of 36 minutes before we stumbled on a Lidl in Ovada and as we needed to restock the water supply we scampered in eager to see how different Lidl was from home. We really need to get out more. Firstly… no hand baskets. Oh FFS, scusami, scusami, scusami as we pushed our way back out to collect a trolley to try again. Not the itsy bitsy trolleys they have in Burdett Road, oh no, actually bulk carriers. This would look silly. The second difference is that whilst there are similarities with the layout it was very different once you got past the first aisle. Other than that, almost the same and fortunately they had bananas to stop missy from moaning about the lack once one left blightly. This did lead to a discussion about the dearth of bananas and why we had so many in the UK, all we could decide was that it was owing to the caribbean connection or because of the song about bananas from 1923.


Off we went. Before we knew it we were on the toll road and switched the cruise control to 130KPH and quite flew along. This section deserves a blog post to itself. In fact if I ever write the book of the Contrary Road Trip it will definitely have a chapter to itself. And in the movie version I’ll be played by Sandra Bullock and Scarlett Johansen will play Clare. I digress. Tunnels. Endless, endless tunnels. It seems that tunnel making is an Italian national obsession and might explain why they are too busy to resurface their roads. After the perfection of France the Italian roads leave you endlessly worrying that your suspension has fallen apart. Even in a Clio. You should try an F-355 for the full effect.

But yes, tunnel after tunnel after tunnel. Clare was getting quite exasperated as her phone really couldn’t cope with the constant ooh-I’ve-connected-doh-it’s-gone. The interesting thing was that some really stood out, there was one in particular, I rolled out of one tunnel, the next leering from a cliff rising majestically in front of me and I actually exclaimed. It was quite something and I can’t decide what it actually was.

Eventually the middle aged bladders decided that enough was enough and we pulled over after 94 minutes at a service station just outside Brugnato for a cup of tea and, err, the other. I don’t think the blokes were used to seeing two women in there, that or we were in the wrong place as they were unusually interested in two mad english-women drinking tea and discussing, well, stuff.

Off we went again.

The tunnels by now were coming to an end and we descended in to the plains heading towards Tuscany at a steady speed, the Islington set would be so pleased to see us… Okay, maybe not. As we entered Chiantishire the weather decided to show us who was boss, it didn’t really work, as we still piled on in to the ever more beautiful countryside. I was starting to see why they liked it but it didn’t make me any less annoyed. Finally though we were on the final couple of miles and at a suitable point we stopped to take photos of the now preening countryside - plus epic weather - though this had a funny effect, we were now quite some way behind the cars that had passed us as we captured the moment. Oh.

*engages warp drive and cackles*

It just so happened the roads leading to Volterra suddenly became really interesting. Read twisty as hell. The Contrary Clio was let loose… Until we caught everyone just as they were entering the town and we had to slow to 50KPH. As we followed Tom’s instructions we realised it was taking us in to the old town. Read medieval. Read stone paving. In the rain. With narrow streets. Oh hell.

It was fun. In a sedentary pace way fun. The plucky car from Beccles has strutting its stuff through a very old town some 1293 miles from Contrary Towers. Imagine the scene from Shrek 2 where Donkey becomes a stallion and you’ll get the idea. And then… We were there. At a former convent.
Us. Convent. And? It was amazing. Truly wonderful and there might have been lots of excited little squeeeeeeeeeeeeeees. We were impressed.

The only issue was that the internet connection was broken and they had no dataz, just like being back at home! Not a worry as there were plenty of places proudly advertising free WiFi. I should point out here that we are aware that we could tether from our phones to get data, but the trouble is it’s specifically excluded from the Three At Home thing, which is not the end of the world but this was the first time the restriction bit. Before the sun could set we decided to scurry through town to get our bearings. More importantly to find out when the restaurants opened as we were hungry after no lunch.

It’s a truly fabulous place, wherever you place your eyes there is something to feast upon and with the setting sun the golden stone came alive. We didn’t stay out too long and we did pick a number of potential places to go to eat so knowing we had time to kill we headed back to the convent to gather our strength and prepare for the evening ahead. Needless to say Missy also sat and read the guidebooks to tell me a little more about the area. As the WiFi was down we decided we’d take a pooter so that we could try and decide where to go the next day, an important decision.

For dinner we’d picked a place called Il Poggio predominantly because it opened at 6:30, a good way to make a decision when hungry! We weren’t going to have pizza until we saw and smelled the epic creation that a lady was eating on her own near us. So I settled on what I imagine was the house speciality with a seafood platter to share for a starter. The wine would be a local bottle as this was a theme that was working well. Perhaps too well.

The starter arrived. Goodness it was nice, now pictures can’t do it justice so I’ll only show one of the eight or so selections that were on the platter, suffice to say we might have exclaimed quite a lot as we tried each morsel.

Poggio Pizza
Next up came the pizza and we were nicely becoming a little squiffy by now so the cackling may have got a little loud which, naturally, attracted the attention of a gentleman dining alone near us. If you happen to eat at Il Poggio and fancy pizza then do yourself a favour and and have the Poggio pizza, truly something special!

As we moved on to the inevitable grappa and endless giggling the poor chap was becoming increasingly fixated on what was going on, a fixation that meant as he left he couldn’t help but comment on how much we were enjoying the evening - we were - so, natually, being good hosts we invited him to join us for a grappa. As you do.

Poor chap.

It turned out he was German, living and working in Pisa and only happened to be in Volterra on personal business which frankly it would be rude of me to repeat here. The conversation flowed fairly easily - not that he could understand a word I said - and included such classic moments as Clare attempting to explain Marmite. Ah, cultural exchanges.

In time it was time to leave so the bill was settled and we all bounced out in to the evening and headed back down to our home for the night as the chat continued. On bidding him a good evening we retired, pulled out our respective pooters and began to write, the plan being that we’d finish posts and actually upload them as soon as we found WiFi that worked. We’re practical like that.

And we also finalised the plan of heading - again - to a completely different place, after all we’d done hills and sea and grandeur and all sorts. But we’d not yet done a lake. Something to look forward to…


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