Monday, 14 September 2015


4th Sept 2015

Montecatini...on the right
We had a 'free day' today to wander around Montecatini. A perfectly charming place with many 'termes' (spas) and plenty of expensive shops and restaurants. The weather has remained sunny and warm so far. On looking down on the town I was struck by how built up the area is which presumably  runs east along the Arno valley towards Florence.

Not so much of interest to visit here, but there is a funicular railway which goes up to Montecatini Alto on the top of the overlooking hill to the north. So I went up. 

Left: The opposing funicular.

There were several Russians on my funicular carriage. I believe Tuscany has become a popular holiday  destination for them. I noticed that menus etc. are normally translated into English and Russian which confirms the point.

Montecatini Alto is one of those 'quaint' Tuscan villages which does quite good business with tourists. Quite small and not many shops.

It has two main features; a largish central piazza featuring no less than eight restaurants and an old fortified tower at the summit from which Romans/locals fended off invading Goths and others.

Right: The central Piazza, Montecatini Alto.

After a decent lunch, fortunately with no "mind if we join yous", I wandered the short distance up to the fort. It isn't a particularly inspiring edifice but just outside it is an extraordinary 'monument'. I thought at first I was looking at a small scrapyard but this, I learnt thanks to a plaque on the railings, was a monument to St Barbara of whom, I must confess, I had never previously heard. 

Left: The monument to St Barbara.

It consists of, amongst other detritus, a rusty old artillery piece, some barbed wire, a fire extinguisher, a couple of artillery shells, an old pumping mechanism, a stand-pipe, an anchor and, perched on the right-hand side of the back wall, a small statue of St Barbara herself.

Apparently she is the Patron Saint of all things that go 'bang', bell ringers and anything else not covered by other patron saints.

Right: An explanation. (click on to enlarge).

Left: A view up to Montecatini Alto.

Not much else to do after that except wait until 8.45pm when we had been booked in to a concert given by the St. Petersburg Northern Sinfonietta. This was held in the magnificent palatial grounds of the Terme Tettucio in the town gardens. Quite an impressive location. No camera so no pics.
This featured an orchestra accompanied by a very lively soprano, tenor, baritone and basso profundo, all Russian. The first half was a selection from Tchaikovsky's 'Evegny Onegin' of which, I am afraid to say, I hadn't heard and which was a bit 'heavy'. The second half was a selection from Verdi's 'La Traviata' which was much more jolly. They were very good indeed. 
There was a long interval. Those with the more expensive tickets were ushered into an enclosure to enjoy freeby wine (prosecco) and nibbles. Those, like us, in the cheap seats, were not. That, as you can imagine, merely provided a challenge to blag one's way in, which I accomplished without much had Adrian whom I met already on his umteenth glass of wine. Very generous of them. I even got to have quite a long and interesting chat with the conductor, a charming Italian who had studied in London before going to Canada then St Petersburg. It was a most enjoyable evening even though it went on until well past midnight. Most of the town restaurants, and the hotel bar, were closed when we returned. Probably no bad thing.

Right: The conductor, Fabio Mastrangelo. a charming bloke who spoke fluent English, Russian, Spanish and French as well as Italian. I've just looked him up; he has quite an impressive CV.

I think we are off to Lucca and Pisa tomorrow. Stand-by for more gems of cultural edification.

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