Saturday 27 February 2016

We've not done a lake. Let's do a lake!

Vampire avoids light.
We’ve not done a lake, let’s do a lake.


That was pretty much the conversation last night over wine/grappa and for Contrary Towers it constitutes planning. Trouble was we’d not been any more precise than that and as you may recall the former convent we were staying in was having a few teeny issues with the internet connection, a bit of a problem in this connected age, not just for us but for them as well, no new bookings!

So the plan was I’d wake early, scurry down to add more money in the car park at 8am, then breakfast, wander round town, find WiFi, finish blogs, find hotel, book hotel, drive to hotel. See, we PLAN!

So at about 8am I trundled downstairs, bid the lovely receptionist a good morning, got outside and… Realised my purse was still on my bed. So I came back in, looked humiliated, and ran back up the stairs. Collected purse, ran down the stairs, bounced out, became irritated with the first beggar of the day, topped up the meter, changed my ridiculous ballet pumps for sensible boots, marched back to the hotel, ignored the beggar totally this time as seriously this was getting old and ran back up the stairs.

My fitness regime seems to have paid benefits. Thank goodness.

Fortunately by this point missy was pretty much dressed so we scampered back down the stairs, wished everyone a good morning *again* and then walked in to the breakfast area. Which was delightfully empty so we could blag the choice table. I was remiss though as I’d managed to not take an annoying picture of food to demonstrate what a fabulous person I am for managing to eat, so instead I created a new emoji with what was to be my second course. There would have been more but let’s just say that the skirt I put on this morning was a little tighter than expected…


Arty Volterra
After breakfast we walked back upstairs - remember that tight skirt - finished packing, paid the bill, ignored the beggar, packed the Contrary Clio and marched back in to town in search of WiFi and interesting things to look at. It was during this time that we first mooted that we’d not really looked at any art, a bit of an omission for us, but surely one that would be corrected at some point soon.

Oooh, shiny!
Volterra was still fab, albeit now soggy fab, and the only truly dampener was when a commercial grade beggar really hassled us. I was a little displeased. But I was cheered when we saw the now renamed Crunchy gate as it seemed to be made out of honeycomb, the reality was more awe inspiring, the lower part was built maybe 500-400BC, but the recent addition was around 300-200BC. Modern upstarts. Eventually we found ourselves on the Piazza Martiri della Libertà and could see the promised land: a place with coffee and WiFi.

Actually, this was an ace place, it was clearly a locals place so we really fitted in. *awaits laughter*. Okay so we fitted in about as poorly as we could manage. As I stripped off my hat and coat and busied myself getting online so I could finish the blog missy was ordering coffee. It turned out that whilst the rugged looking locals were queuing to get their quick espresso the girl behind the counter has busy creating beautiful floral patterns in our lattes. Oh how they must love us now.
Fortunately Clare had her legs on show and kept twinkling at any rugged local in range so they were happy and I typed feverishly as I really didn’t want to not finish. The coffee was nice by the way and reminded me of an earlier conversation where we pondered why on earth people insist on making drinks that were so huge. Recently I’ve struggled with coffee, possibly because my HRT prescription has changed, but whatever it is I drank coffee and I felt queasy. But not here or in France. In both case where the portions were small but perfectly formed. Hmmmmm.

Coffee. Sorry locals.
Blogs finally finished and with half an hour left on the car park ticket we rushed to find, choose and book something near a lake… Oh crikey. In the end we chose the Palazzo Barbini as, well, it’s a palace. The only issue was the room we’d chosen didn’t present an option for twin beds so a quick message was fired off before we headed South. Of course the heavens decided to open which only reinforced the view that a day by the seaside would be stupid and what would be better than a relatively quickly two hour blast cross country followed by a chilled afternoon over a bottle of red and catching up with bloggage. But we’re contrary…

I've not been either!
…which is why we changed destinations en route and headed to Siena. In the pouring rain. I’ve never been before so I was quite excited at the prospect, regardless of the weather that was determinedly trying to disrupt things. Pah, we laugh in the face of rain, we’re from t’north.

An hour and fifteen minutes after rolling out of Volterra we rolled in to a car park in Siena and proceeded to head up to the town. On an escalator. And another one. And another one. It seems that not only do Italians like making tunnels, they like making escalators too! Crazy people. But it did make the trip in to town less painful.

More Volterra art
I loved the place. We’d discussed earlier about how we’d not really seen any art and the subject came up again and we agreed it wasn’t necessary as around us everything was art. Profound? Possibly, but that’s how it felt and to be honest my boots seemed to be leaking so I wasn’t going to squelch around an art gallery. Besides, we had a Palazzo to go and call home.

But not until we’d walked around lots. And it was a meandering walk, mostly off the beaten track and all it did was left you with an incredible feeling for what an amazing place this was, definitely one that you have as tapas but will return to it as a main meal. One day.

By some miracle, or more likely Clare knew where she was going we found ourselves wandering down one very steep and very long road that by some magic lead us back to the car park where the Contrary Clio was having a little rest so after we had a moment of irritation at a bloke who thought it perfectly acceptable to leave his continent covering brolly open and on the ground so we couldn’t get by we got to the4 plucky little car, shed our now soggy outer garments, jumped in and started on the final 78 minute leg of the journey out of Tuscany and in to Umbria.
The danger with the Contrary Roadtrip was always that a) we might not find somewhere to stay and b) if we did it would be an utter s*** hole. What makes things worse is that so far the skipper has managed to find some pretty good places and honestly how would we beat the former convent? In other words, we had no idea what to expect at our stop for the night…

What could possibly go wrong?

My room!
Nothing. Seriously nothing. True it transpired that they couldn’t change the bed arrangements in the original choice to twin, so instead they suggested - and we agreed - to change to a two bedroom apartment so we could have at least one night of independence, she’s my best friend and I’d like to keep it that way! Anyway, we walked up the stairs in what can only be described as slightly gloomy though impressive surroundings, lighting in the 1500s was clearly not a high priority, one entering the room, as we then thought it to be, we saw a small day bed and I wrongly presumed that was their solution, fine to be honest. Like I say, wrong. The lady patron showed us to the two bedrooms and the changed arrangement suddenly made sense. We had a mini palace for the night. With a roof terrace overlooking the lake.
And a kitchen hidden in a commode. And distressed walls. And strange religious art. This. Was. Cool.

Officially cool.

A place next to the town square, opposite the church, with space and character and we could be utterly contrary by cooking for ourselves. Perfect.

Did you say church? Oh yes, that. So yes, a working church with bells. Big ones. *sniggers*

So that’s what can possibly go wrong. However, even with that we liked it so much that we did ask whether we can stay another night as actually it would be nice to do a little walking instead of endless driving and as changing the plan was what the plan was all about then this fits the bill. Plus, it’s only about two hours from Ancona, our destination on Monday.

With this organised we went exploring and, naturally, to forage for food for the evening. Pasta, a sauce, some vegetables, a little wild boar sausage and some cheese we’d tried. Oh and wine. And grappa. Because we’re responsible like that.

*ignores flatmate*
At this point I will cut a long story short. I could talk about the fortress at the other end of town, or the lake, or the n’er do wells, or the joys of Italian parking, or how the shopkeepers pounce, or that this is a town that depends on tourism for it’s very existence now. I could talk about all of that but, actually, it would bore you all to tears and I can save that for an indulgent longer write up of all that has happened over this last week.

In the meantime I will take another sip of grappa, listen to the music, finish writing and enjoy the kind of companionable silence that can only come from being with a best friend.

Goodnight from the Palazzo Barbini.

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