Tuesday, 25 January 2022

Volterra in Black and white

We arrived in Volterra at the worst time of the day for taking photos, around mid-morning, when the sun is at its brightest, throwing everything not in its path into the deepest shadow. But I've learnt that in such circumstances the trick is to shoot in black and white. And so I did (but I promise to include a few photos in colour here and there). 
Sincerely Loree: Volterra. Italy

Sincerely Loree: Volterra. Italy


A short history of Volterra

Volterra has been settled since the Bronze-age and is believed to have been continuously inhabited since the 8th century B.C. It was an important Etruscan centre and two of its gates, Porta Diana and Porta all'Arco, date back to this time. Some defence walls from this era also survive to this day.
Sincerely Loree: Volterra. Italy

Volterra was allied to Rome in the 3rd century B.C and in the fifth century AD it became the seat of a bishop and its importance in this sphere lasted until the 12th centur,y when it captured the interest of the Republic of Florence, whose forces conquered the city. Florentine rule was not always popular and several rebellions broke out. When the Republic of Florence fell in 1530, Volterra came under the control of the Medici family and its fortunes followed those of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. It became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1860.
Sincerely Loree: Volterra. Italy

Sincerely Loree: Volterra. Italy

Sincerely Loree: Volterra. Italy

Volterra's Landmarks

The Roman Theatre of Volterra

The Roman theatre dates back to the 1st century BC and was excavated in the 1950s. The theatre was financed by a wealthy family from Volterra and is constructed of local limestons.

Sincerely Loree: Roman theatre, Volterra. Italy

Palazzo dei Priori

Volterra's town hall was built between 1208 and 1257 and is located in the main square, close to the cathedral. The facade is decorated with terracotta plaques representing the coats of arms of prominent Florentine families. It is the oldest town hall in Tuscany.
Sincerely Loree: Palazzo dei Priori, Volterra. Italy

Cattderale di Santa Maria Assunta

The duomo of Volterra is dedicated to the assumption of Mary. It is a Romanesque building that was built around 1120 on the site of a previous cathedral that was destroyed by an earthquake. It was expanded in the mid-13th century.
Sincerely Loree: Duomo of Volterra, Volterra. Italy

Baptistery of San Giovanni

The baptistery is an octagonal 13th century building located in front of the cathedral. Its main facade is covered in white and green marble.
Sincerely Loree: Baptistery of San Giovanni, Volterra. Italy

Sincerely Loree: Baptistery of San Giovanni, Volterra. Italy

Porta all'Arco and Porta Diana

The Porta all'Arco dates back to the 4th and 3rd centuries BC. It was originally built by the Etruscans but was incorporated into the city walls in the Middle Ages. It lies directly opposite the other Etruscan gate of Volterra, Porta Diana. Adorning Porta all'Arco are three sculpted heads. It is not known who these heads represent but it is thought that they are likely Etruscan deities.
Sincerely Loree: Porta all'Arco, Volterra. Italy

Unfortunately, we did not have time to visit Porta Diana.

What I Loved About Volterra

I could say that my favourite thing about Volterra was the panino I ate from La Panineria Al Vicolino. It was truly one of the tastiest sandwiches I have ever eaten and I would love to go back to Volterra just to scoff another one. But there were plenty of other things that I loved about this Tuscan hilltop town. 
One of them was just seeing people going about their day-to-day chores. Cars are generally prohibited from the historic centre of many Tuscan towns and it was really special seeing inhabitants going around from store to store: the butcher, the baker, the pharmacy; and stopping on the way to chat with neighbours or acquaintances. The atmosphere felt so friendly and there was never a single moment when I felt unsafe or even unwelcome.
Sincerely Loree: Volterra. Italy

Although I didn't have much time to read about it at the time of our visit, Volterra's history, as you're probably aware by now, is pretty impressive. It has been continuously inhabited since the 8th century BC and it is these layers of history that make it so fascinating. All I had to do was touch the walls of buildings and I felt like the past was right there, just within my grasp.
Sincerely Loree: Volterra. Italy

Sincerely Loree: Volterra. Italy

The historic centre of Volterra is characterised by narrow, winding streets dominated by medieval and early Renaissance architecture. Many buildings have very interesting architectural details on their facades and were clearly built with defence purposes in mind. Some of the doors we came across seemed constructed to withstand a siege. 

Sincerely Loree: Volterra. Italy

But what I find most endearing about Tuscany, and Italy in general, is the attention to detail. The architecture is just amazing and everything, from lanterns to door knockers, just seems to have been created to inspire awe. While that may seem like an exaggeration, it probably isn't. While we are familiar with a unified Italy, it wasn't always so. For many years, different republics, regions and towns were at war with each other or tried to outdo each other by commissioning beautiful buildings and works of art. So a lot of what we see today is a result of this 'competition' between them and becauase of the frequent fighting and rivalries that broke out.
Sincerely Loree: Volterra. Italy

When we visited Volterra last October, it was pretty quiet and the streets were not thronged with people, making it easier to get around without constantly bumping into crowds. The plan of the town seems to follow the contours of the hill it is built on, so it's not flat and walking around can be strenuous but invigorating.
Sincerely Loree: Volterra. Italy

Perhaps I'm stating the obvious when I say that I wish we had more time to get to know Volterra better. But maybe one day we will return. I know I am far from done with Tuscany yet.
        

        



Location: Volterra, Italy
October 2021

Monday, 17 January 2022

My year in books 2021

Just as I did in 2019 and 2020, I will be sharing some insights and fun statistics from my reading year. I will not be sharing the full list of books I read in 2021 in this post. You can find the lists and reviews here, here, here and here. So let's see how my reading fared in 2021.

My year in books 2021

  • Number of books read: 39 (1 less than the 40 I read in 2020 - but I did read some very long books last year)
  • Total number of pages read: 15 316 (up from 13 977 in 2020)
  • Average book length: 392 pages
  • Shortest book: Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel at 222 pages
  • Longest book: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon at 850 pages
Sincerely Loree: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
  • Most popular (i.e. most read): The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins (which was shelved 3 936 518 times)
  •  Least popular: Violette Szabo: The Life That I Have by Susan Ottaway (shelved 493 times)
  • Highest rated by Goodreads readers: The Corfu Trilogy by Gerald Durrell with an incredible 4.49 average
  • My average rating for 2021: 3.4 stars which was rather low but I read quite a few books that didn't quite live up to my expectations and Goodreads doesn't do half stars so it does skew the ratings somewhat
  • The first book I read: Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
  • The last book I read: My Name Is Eva by by Suzanne Goldring
  • The book I read that has been published longest: The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim in 1922
  • The most recently published book I read: The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman in September 2020
Sincerely Loree: The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osmand
  • My 5 star reads: sadly, no book I read in 2021 made the five start mark but these came the closest: Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres (4.5 stars), The Corfu Trilogy by Gerald Durrell (4.5 stars) and The Pianist by Wladislaw Szpilman (4.5 stars)
  • My favourite fiction book: Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres  - it is so very different and so much more moving than the movie
  • My favourite non-fiction book: this was a tie between The Corfu Trilogy by Gerald Durrell and The Pianist by Wladislaw Szpilman
  • The book I enjoyed least: Lord Robert by Jean Plaidy (1.8 stars) - this was quite unusual as I generally love her books
  • Most disappointing book: Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens - there was a lot of hype around this book and it got many rave reviews but I felt it just didn't live up to its promise.
  • Best suited for a book club: Lea by Pascal Mercier, The  Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain and The Collector by John Fowles all explore themes that can generate numerous interesting discussions
  • Number of non-fiction reads: 5
  • Month in which I read most: June (5 books)
  • Month in which I read least: July and October (2 books) but the total number of pages I read in October is much lower than in July. Strangely enough, October was also the month in which I read the least amount of books is 2020. I was starting to wonder whether something strange happens to me in October but that I remembered that last October we were in Tuscany for a week and I didn't have much time to do a lot of reading while we were there. We'll see how October 2022 fares.
Sincerely Loree: Lea by Pascal Mercier

So that sums up  my reading stats for 2021. As you can imagine, I am looking forward to reading many more books in 2022 and sharing some of them with you. I am still debating whether to do my quarterly posts outlining all the books I read during the previous 3 months or just reviewing some of the books that I enjoyed reading most. Any suggestions are very welcome as I don't want to bore you too much with my book addiction.

Tuesday, 11 January 2022

2021: Another wild ride

By now we've all said our goodbyes to 2021 and, for better or worse, have started a new year. Looking back at 2021 I would say it was another wild ride. Perhaps not quite as bad as its predecessor but it still blew us and buffeted us every which way. Like every other year, it had its highs and its lows but the pandemic was still very much with us and our lives had to revolve around its whims. So here's my roundup of the year we've just left.

Sincerely Loree: Waves at Ghar lapsi

2021: my year in pictures

In January we were forced into another mini-lockdown here in Malta as the numbers started to rise after the Christmas festivities. It was also the month that I turned fifty and I had taken you on a small tour of my life in Fifty years of me. Since all the restaurants were closed we celebrated my half-century very quietly and the dream I had made long ago to spend my fiftieth in Venice had to be given up.

Sincerely Loree: Moi

February and March were equally slow and quiet months. We spent most of our weekends out in the open, hiking and discovering new-to-us places like Blata tal-Melh and Irdum tal-Vigarju. These off-the-beaten track locations helped us appreciate nature and gave us a sense of freedom. In February I attended the last day of the Darkness At Noon Exhibition at The Splendid

Sincerely Loree: Blata tal-Melh

Our lockdown was lifted in April as the number of vaccinated individuals started to rise and the amount of positive cases started to dwindle. The first tourists made their way back to our shores and we were able to go out to restaurants again. The weather really started to warm up and we took our last hike as, from here on, it would get too hot to be enjoyable.

Sincerely Loree: Irdum tal-Vigarju

In late April and May I discovered a love of gardening that rather surprised me as I never had felt a keen interest in plants. But just being outside in our little garden, digging up the soil, removing weeds and planting seeds made me very happy. I didn't really know what I was doing, so some things thrived while others didn't. I've a lot to learn.

Sincerely Loree: Dahlia

In June my husband and I celebrated out 18th anniversary and we took the day off and went out for lunch in the quaint fishing village of Marsaxlokk. We found it much changed from the last time we were there a few years ago, Like many other places, modern apartment blocks have risen in place of the small houses that characterised this village which has spoiled the aesthetic somewhat. But lunch at La Capanna restaurant was very good and it felt good to be out in the sunshine. On the summer solstice we were hit by a heatwave that would last for 6 weeks. It was certainly one long, hot summer.

Sincerely Loree: Lunch at La Capanna

Due to the intense heat, we didn't do much of anything in July and August. Beach days were definitely the best days. Strangely, the weather started to turn by mid-August and, although it was still hot, the temperatures were normal for this time of year (in the low 30s rather than the high 30s to low 40s we had been experiencing).

Sincerely Loree: Golden Bay

My friend Henni and her daughter visited us in September and we spent a nice few days together, catching up and visiting some of the popular places around Malta. We also got the first rain of the season and I couldn't have been happier to see the black clouds and feel the cool rain.

Sincerely Loree: Gnejna Bay

In October, with the number of infections still very low, my husband and I decided to plan a quick trip to Tuscany. We were there during the last week of October and had a really wonderful time. Tuscany is just beautiful in autumn. I've already written about our week in Tuscany and about visits to Pienza and Monteriggioni. I have more posts planned and will share them soon if you're still interested in reading more about this region of Italy.

Sincerely Loree: Siena, Italy

November went the way most Novembers do and was pretty unmemorable. We were planning on having Thanksgiving dinner, as we do every year, but developed a leak in our water system and had to shelve our plans. But I still managed to find a number of things to be grateful for. After the plumber fixed our leak I decided it was time decorate the house for Christmas.

December is my favourite month but, last year, something just didn't seem to be right. After getting all our decorations up by the first few days of December I fell into a slump. Work was super busy and I just didn't seem to have the energy to shop or  bake, two tasks that I usually enjoy very much. Instead I kept postponing from one day to the next. The number of infections kept rising and I couldn't shake off the feeling that things were going to precipitate. 

Sincerely Loree: Valletta at Christmas

To cut a long story short, our teenager had an aching back and runny nose on Christmas eve. I didn't think too much of it but took him to do a rapid test (to be on the safe side) and it came out positive. So we had to spend the holidays locked inside and  in isolation. It wasn't fun but we were together and still tried to make the most of the festive season (and Santa was very kind and left 22 books under the Christmas tree). The year seemed to end with a whimper and we were not able to drive to a beach to say goodbye to the last sunset of 2021, as has become our tradition.

And, as of today, we are 11 days into 2022 and I tested positive last week so we had to stay in quarantine and will be 'locked up' until next week. It's hard not to feel a bit down sometimes but I know that so many people have had it so much worse. So I am doing my best not to complain. But I will admit that I really need to get out of the house now and hope we can make that happen in one more week. I hope you are all doing well and have slipped into some sort of routine now that a new year has started.

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