Lots of photos in this loooong blog!

Today was the day when we said goodbye to one guest and hello to another. But before we had our trip to Pisa airport, I had time to get up and have a nice walk that morning. Unsurprisingly, I took some photos!

Near Porta San Francesco, there’s a small square, Piazza Marcello Inghirami. Tucked inside one of its corners there’s a modern-looking covered laneway, which leads to Viale Franco Poretti, where the main residents carpark and the Roman theatre ruins lie. It used to be covered in graffiti, but it looks like they coated over most of it. I’m conflicted by this, as some street art can be amazing, but I don’t have any strong memories of anything jumping out at me. But I hope they allow controlled access to the more serious street artists this time around.

I didn’t go through the lane, but continued past the piazza up Via San Lino, and onwards into the Piazza dei Priori before heading back to the apartment.

We dropped Niamh’s sister off at Pisa Airport. I silently marvelled that we might get away without having to visit the Cathedral and tower this trip! Don’t get me wrong, it’s wonderful, but we’ve done it a bunch of times over the past few years.

My brother was arriving in later that evening, so we had a fair few hours to burn. We didn’t want to go back to Volterra and make the trip all over again, so we decided to head off to Montecatini Terme.

Now comes the hazy part. I *think* we needed to go to Navacchio to buy something or other – I think I was looking for a gorilla grip for the phone I could leave over in Tuscany, so I didn’t have to carry it through security again. I didn’t find one there. I think we ended up eating in Old Wild West again…. a burger each, and then I offered to drive us to Montecatini.

This place holds a special place in Niamh’s and my hearts. In 2008, we went on a Travel Department tour to Tuscany: I think this was our first visit to Italy. The Travel Department had been occasionally scoffed at by people of our own age (as old as we were at the time), as being a holiday agent for crocks and fuddy-duddies. Well, we met some wonderful people on that tour, and another subsequent one to China, so don’t believe everything you hear – if you think you’ll fancy it, go on and do it. They offer taster day-trips from a central base, and it gives you a good idea of the place you’re visiting, and instills a longing to return (or it did for us, anyway). If I had one complaint about such tours, is that the food included is often sub-par.

Anyway, our home base for the 2008 tour was a hotel in the northern part of Montecatini Terme called The Grand Hotel Panoramic. It lies in the leafy ‘burbs of town, but the best thing about it was that it was just a couple of hundred metres away from the funicular that took up to the old town: Montecatini Alto.

I drove from Navacchio, through several towns, bypassing the lovely looking Vicopisano (which I have since visited in October), and we parked at the free ‘L’-shaped carpark directly opposite the hotel where we stayed. Funnily, I don’t remember the carpark having been there, but I remember the trees that provided much needed shade in near-40 degree heat. It was as hot today as it was then, and I was actually wearing shorts that day as a result. Shorts-wearing is something of a rarity for me, but it’s a habit I’ll have to break.

Anyway, we got out of the car and headed directly towards the funicular. We were hoping that the Funi Bar would be open, as we were in dire need of refreshment. Sadly, it was closed for riposo (Italian siesta), but we managed to grab a couple of bottles of water from a vending machine instead.

We bought our return tickets, and then had a 10-15 minute wait for the next funicular. Once on, I began filming. And here’s the unfortunate part. When I was done with the day’s filming I transferred the Pink Floyd tribute act movies (see later) to my laptop so I could edit the movie for YouTube. Then I purged my phone to ‘free up space’, which I really didn’t need to do. Unfortunately, that meant I ended up deleting all the Montecatini footage, and I was back home in Ireland when I discovered this. I cursed myself for a fool. On the other hand, it means I very much have a valid reason to return someday soon!

I at least grabbed some photos while filming.

The funicular finally thundered and groaned its way to its destination. We got out and marvelled at the views looking back over the plains, and the new town.

While there, we were accosted by a small, older gentleman who was selling his artwork by the railings. He was full of chat, both Italian and broken English, and had a typcially Tuscan charm about him. He was retired and was painting scenes of villages in the area on flat, smooth pieces of wood, and framing them in wood too. I asked him if he was a salesman before retiring, which he had a good laugh at, and declared that selling yourself is an important skill in life. I had to agree, and then bought a piece from him for €30. I think he was selling it for €20, but it was too low a price for a unique piece of work. Stupidly, I don’t have a photo of it, but will take one and post it next time I’m over.

With my art packed away, we headed up to the main square, and were immediately reminded of the first ‘real’ slow Italian food experience we had there. It was during one evening, and we’d had enough of the prescribed food at the hotel. We had been given a brief tour by Laura, our young Italian tourguide, whose shrill calling of our room number during roll-call we still remember and mimic to this day (“TWO TWO THREEEEEEE!”). I can’t remember if we made a booking through the tour, or if we just headed up and got lucky in finding a table. I think it was the latter. Anyway, 4 courses and 3 hours later, and I was pretty sure I could live happily in Tuscany. Actually, it wasn’t until we visited San Gimignano for the first time (on the same tour), that the deal was fully sealed. I was mesmerised.

Anyway, back to that night in 2008. We were sitting on the edge of outdoor seating of a restaurant on one side on the square. Behind us, not 10 yards away, was a large group of ladies seated at another restaurant. Without warning, they all stood up and began singing. Niamh and I looked at each other, doubly surprised. There were definitely Celtic undertones to what was being sung, and it was done with such perfectly layered harmonies, time seemed to stop. At the end of it, everyone in the piazza stood up and applauded. To me it was a perfect slice of life; like it was hand-crafted for a movie. It turned out that they were a choral group from Galway! They weren’t on our tour, so it was completely serendipitous.

The heat was crippling, so the first thing we did was head for a gelateria I remembered being in one of the corners of the piazza. I seem to have a memory for gelato and good food generally! I had lemon sorbet – just the thing to cool you down on a day where you feel like you’ve just opened a hot oven’s door.

When done, we filmed about the town, heading into a church, and to a nearby park. I could kick myself for losing the footage, as the only photo I took was inside the church itself.

It’s a lovely place, so please go there if you ever find yourself in Montecatini Terme. Once done, we headed back to the piazza, where I grabbed a couple of bottles of frosty water from the gelateria – having to coax the owner back inside so I could pay. He was nice about it… I just wouldn’t have been comfortable to just leave the €2 on the counter and scoot out.

We were still parched, however, and so went to the bar on the other side of the piazza, and asked for a table (always ask for a table, don’t just sit randomly!). It was so baking, I think we each had two drinks: me, two lemon sodas (probably the greatest soft drink in the world), and Niamh a Coke Zero and a shakerato – an ice-cold coffee, served in a martini glass. I had a taste of it; it nearly made me want to take up the habit. The barman was super-friendly too.

We just missed the funicular back down, but were happy to wait the 15 minutes for the next one. Lovely views, and it was great to see families, three generations, all out and being normal during this crisis. We headed back down, opting to stand outside the hindmost carriage.

The next stop was the neo-Romanesque spa in the new part of town which gives it the monicker ‘Terme’. We were blown away by it the first time we were there, and it didn’t disappoint 13 years later. I think it was €6 per person in, but you could have as much spa water as you wanted. There are several types, but the one most people were taking has an acquired sulpurous taste – no thanks. Instead, we had a mooch and went ‘oooh’ and ‘aaah’ a lot at the spotlessly clean architecture.

There is a classy bar within, and once again we were succumbing to the heat of the day and grabbed a couple of drinks. We sat inside for about 30 seconds, before grabbing our gear and going for a table in the shade.

Once done, we had another quick mosey aroud a couple of other parts of the

The hours passed pleasantly, but it was time to head back to Pisa to pick up my brother from the airport. All went according to plan, except that there was an adult taking care of a bunch of kids – one of whom left his rucksack behind customs. He tried to go get it anyway and set off all sorts of alarms. No sign of customs police, so he tried it again, before the ‘responsible’ adult decided to ring the door to engage with the authorities. Unattended baggage at an airport tends to be frowned upon. Anyway, we didn’t witness the outcome, because my brother arrived and we headed home!

The powers that be were kind enough to welcome my brother back to the town with an imprompu show. Playing were Magic Regoli’s Band were playing a Pink Floyd tribute show in the main piazza. We thought that (a) we’d be too late for the beginning, and (b) there was no chance of tickets.

Fortunately, (a) proved false as the band began fashionably late, but (b) was bang-on. Fortunately, Ristorante Etruria had some seating outside, and while the view to thre stage wasn’t epic, the sound certainly was! The Piazza dei Priori really acts as a fantastic natural theatre. We grabbed a table, and enjoyed some pizzas (Niamh had pasta)… then after dessert, Niamh left us, and my brother and I held onto the table, guzzled down some Moretti and enjoyed the show. They really were fantastic, especially the female vocalist who blasted Great Gig in the Sky out of the park. Well done, that lady!

At the end of the gig, there was a minute-long firework display, and after that we were off to bed!

That was the end of one of my favourite days in Italy to date. I captured some of the music act on video, and you can catch it below.

Thanks for reading this. I hope it wasn’t too long. Please leave a like, and a comment!

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