Saturday 27 February 2016

Getting steamy...

Being on the road for so many days, especially after such a long journey the previous day, takes its toll physically. I’d planned some exercise but Italian roads/pavements aren’t ideal. The morning I woke up in Acqui Terme, I felt like I could do with a run, a swim or something seriously drastic. Like a few hours on a rack. Although I’m not hugely fit, or a complete gym addict, I really enjoy being out in the open, stretching my legs and letting off some steam.

The only steam being let off here was to be found in the main square.

I couldn’t even have a swim as sadly we had no time to explore the hotel’s pool. Still, unlike the last few places we had stayed, we were within easy reach of the town centre. This makes wandering around much easier, as evidenced the previous night. Given that we were no longer wearing pretty evening dresses, but the usual (me: jeggings, boots, sensible coat; her: summer frock and cardy – bloody geordies), and it was quite fresh out, we took a brisk stroll up the main street.

Well we tried, once again, there was a market clustered around the marble fountained street. Taking a detour and conscious of the huge breakfast, we opted for the steps up, which ended up at the cathedral. The door was wide open and with a hazy hushed step we entered.

I must admit, I wasn’t feeling my best. The late night and sheer
travel exhaustion had made me feel light headed and irrational. So much so, I actually said some words of thanks for the safe journey up and down the mountain; also, I lit a candle for a number of personal reasons. I don’t think it had to be in a church specifically, but there was a moment of quiet acceptance and peaceful reflection on this journey. The cathedrals we’d visited in France had had a different effect on me; majestically remote and awe inspiring like the mountains we’d traversed. However this squat friendly Romanesque felt like family.

So onwards we went, and upwards to a wooded area around the archaeological museum. I was initially drawn to a marble sarcophagus, in the shape of an old fashioned bath tub, but then the thoughtful and nature-sympathetic garden layout drew us in further. The roman columns and pieces of viaduct added a romance to the shrubberies, and I sat and enjoyed the view over the town. Birdsong and green quietness was quite as peaceful as the church had been.

This was not helping the dreamy head. I thought perhaps some healing sulphur would help, given the energy it had given me the night before. We really needed to be heading back to the car because although we had a relatively short distance to go, it had been pleasant to arrive somewhere before dark. So we headed back down the hill into the centre of town, taking in the roman theatre, which had been set out to include the hot spring below. Moderns had just put a building in front of it, which had ruined the view somewhat.

The effect of the steam was still magical. The brisk day enhanced the theatrics, and locals filled their bottles. Reading the properties of the water had me wondering what sulphur-bromine and iodine water could do to my sensitive tummy…so I bought some nice bananas and Lidl fizzy water instead. Given I’d got this far borrowing the flatmate's toothbrush, it was also time I bought my own. Which I did. Thank goodness for Lidl.

Returning to the car, we knew we had a place in Volterra for the night, so relaxed into a shortish drive. There were plans to visit the seaside at La Spezia but the weather decided to play dirty. After such a wonderful stroll at Cagnes-sur-Mer, we didn’t want to stare at the sea from under sodden umbrellas; what would be the point? So we pushed on, tunnel after tunnel, gloriously phone signal trolling, and extremely scary at times. The clouds were also quite happy to come down close and have a look at the cars too…

Turning inland the weather definitely improved, and I had the privilege of seeing the Piazza dei Miracoli at Pisa as we whizzed past on the Auto-bumps-strada. Lit up in the sun, it truly made me want to visit again. I had the oddest feeling as I went past Pisa Airport; given that is my airport of choice for Italy, it finally felt like I’d arrived in the country. That I was truly here. I can’t explain it but the wise one said it was all about context.

The roads leading up to Volterra had that clichéd beauty that has been featured in every posh glossy magazine, which has me slightly nauseated. I wasn’t hankering after the sexy dirtiness of previous journey stretches, but perhaps I wanted something slightly more honest. Still, we were now stuck behind the slowest truck whilst climbing the hill. Earpopping should be an Olympic sport…

You know those really annoying people who drive through medieval streets? Trapping pedestrians at the side of the road, between fruit stalls and marble statues? Yes, well that was us. The most direct route to the hotel was through this gem of a town, down slippery stone streets, so we squeaked around every corner…until we arrived at La Laconda. I popped in to find out about parking and we made the little car secure. We returned, to be shown a stunning room with a high tiled and oak beamed ceiling, with two tiny windows with a view to make you weep.

Tired-fuzzy head had now disappeared as we trotted off into town for an immediate look round. The
sun was out and given the poor forecast, we needed to take advantage of the weather. So of course I went shoe shopping; not only had I forgotten a toothbrush, but my boots were falling apart. So when I passed a shoe shop with some boots in the sale, I couldn’t resist. I am now the proud owner of the most stylish Italian leather boots you’ve ever seen. And given the weather today, they have already done me proud.

I’m not going to wax lyrical about the pizza, but the wine was lovely, and the golden grappa lovely. The flirty one had been making eyes at this sweet innocent young man, so he was very happy to join us for drinks. Proof, if any was needed, that I can actually speak excellent English, was confirmed by the gentleman being able to understand me. They don’t teach northern in German schools, clearly. Anyway after a discussion covering everything from Brexit to marmite, the journey, and what people do in Volterra – tourism and geothermal energy, mostly – we let the poor man go, and headed home. Personally I think he was up for a proper night out…

Sensibly we went home to write!

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