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Monday 09-10-23: It’s positive thoughts all the way…….

We were tired when we went to bed and tired when we woke up but fortunately breakfast was at the reasonable time of 8.30am. We scanned the walls and beds for stink bugs but they seemed to have gone into hiding and all we found was a dead millipede or was it a centipede at the base of the sink in the bathroom. We carried out another post-mortem on yesterday’s events and concluded that we’d had a fabulous time, it was eventful, it was full of laughter and we were looking forward to what the day ahead had in store for us, which was a trip to the small city of Lucca. Before we set off along the road to breakfast, Maice set about fixing her poorly hat. It was in need of some urgent attention as it was starting to come apart so extracting a number of multi-coloured band-aids from her ‘first-aid’ bag she set about patching it up. Happy to report the operation was a success and there‘s more life in the old hat yet!

Over breakfast there was a debate. Who wanted to get up at 4am the next morning and have a tour around the Brugnoli Fratelli So.Agricola farm in Bardi to see how they make the famous parmiagano reggiano cheese? Initially everyone was going but a show of hands indicated a 9:7 ratio which worked out quite well as that would mean one mini-bus would go to Bardi and the other mini-bus would stay more local. With tomorrow sorted we got on with the task at hand, preparing for our day out to Lucca.

First things first. Johnny wanted to visit the local garage, owned, surprisingly by a cousins husband to check his tyre pressure due to the light showing on the dashboard. Said husband wasn’t there so Johnny proceeded to engage in a twenty minute conversation with one of the mechanics. So, here’s a question. How many Italians does it take to check a tyre? The answer is 3. Question. Will one of those three Italians ‘kick’ the tyre to test its tyre pressure? The answer is yes, just as Paul predicted. The kicked tyre was the only one needing a squirt of air and with that little task sorted we drove through the narrow streets of Pontremoli to the Piazza del Duomo and illegally parked outside Belotti, Johnnys favourite bar. We weren’t there for drinks, we were there so that Johnny and Claire could stock up on tobacco and cigarettes at the tobacco shop next door but then hello, hello, hello ……along came the local police, who having clocked that we were illegally parked headed off into the tobacco shop in search of the driver. After being given a ticking off we were back on the road again, Lucca, here we come.

We were happily cruising along the motorway when a display sign indicated delays but didn’t say what was causing the delay. As it was, we saw a large plume of black smoke in the distance and wondered what was occurring. It soon transpired that on the other side of the motorway from us was a lorry, originally laden with paper and rubbish that was on fire. In fact it was literally burnt to a crisp. As we sped past the scene we felt sorry for the traffic that had built up behind it and which had a) come to a complete standstill and b) had a tailback that stretched for miles and miles. We were just so lucky it wasn’t on our side of the motorway. Of course Johnny started to fret about the journey back and the need to find a detour but we told him to have positive thoughts and all would be well.

Whenever we’re travelling along we’ve become aware of a strange phenomenon that keeps occurring in our mini-bus. For some reason, whenever someone in the back seat asks a question to those in the front seats the dialogue seems to get trapped in the middle seats and dissipates into thin air so that those sat in the middle seats have to translate what was said by the back seat passengers to the front seat passengers, and vice-versa, from front, to middle, to back. It all got very confusing and as you can imagine, most things get lost in translation! We’re not sure if the other mini-bus is party to this phenomenon but it seems to happen to us on a fairly regular basis!

As we approached Lucca, Johnny as per usual started fretting about finding a parking space. ‘Do you know where you’re going’ we all asked. ‘Don’t worry, I know my way around Lucca…..we won’t get lost’ responded Johnny as he took a wrong turning! Ha, famous last words and with that Amanda whipped out her phone and took charge of finding and guiding us to a car-park. After our long drive we all queued outside the only toilet in the carpark, Jaci even let a German woman who’d just joined the queue go before her. Well done Jaci for being kind and courteous, another of Maices mantra’s! Twenty minutes later we were walking through the old tunnels to the bus station where we were given instructions from Johnny. We had free time and were told to meet back at the bus station at 4pm and with that we dispersed and made our way into the old town. The first thing Maice and I did was take some photos of the black and white murals on the walls and then headed off in search of a cafe for cappuccino. We found a nice little cafe, sat down, ordered two cappuccinos and then along came Anita and Maureen from Glasgow, who sat down beside us and ordered two large glasses of white wine and two pizzas. Honestly, those glasses of wine looked absolutely delicious, cool and crisp and just right for a hot day like today. But we stuck with our cappuccinos and before we knew it, we,M&A had started a conversation with A&M!! Well would you just look at that……we’re a palindrome! They were two lovely ladies, probably somewhere in their 70’s who were on a coach trip with their local church and having an absolutely marvellous time. We were mid-chat when along came Amanda and Paul who sat on the table next to A&M. We all introduced each other, M&A,A&M,A&P and then we left but not before taking a photo of A&M in which A&P photo-bombed the photo. Apparently this is a past-time of theirs which is great and something we’re going to add to our repertoire.

After our much needed cappuccinos we set off to see the sights and found what we thought was the cathedral but actually turned out to be the San Michele in Foro, a Roman Catholic basilica. Never mind, it was lovely inside and we said a prayer as we lit some candles for those family and friends who were no longer with us. Back outside we wandered aimlessly down the cobbled streets and happened upon a lovely little walled garden where we sat a while in the sun before heading off again down the cobbled streets. We found the clock tower and decided that as it was such a glorious day we’d purchase a ticket and walk up the 230 steps to the top and bumped into Kev and Tracey who were on the way down and who said it was worth the effort to get to the top. They weren’t wrong. There was a very narrow 360degree walkway around the tower and the views were amazing, the only trouble was there was this young couple, armed with a selfie-stick who commandeered the best spot and didn’t move. Honestly they were ridiculous, I mean how many shots of themselves with the same view can you take? Hundreds obviously! We gave up, made our way back down the 230 steps and went in search of somewhere for lunch.

We only wanted a light lunch as Johnny had told us we’d be eating a hearty supper back at the La Baruccia. There were so many eateries to choose from we couldn’t decide. Then we came across Anita and Maureen who were looking for the cathedral as they were meeting up with Anita’s nephew so we directed them back to the basilica, you know the one which we thought was the cathedral! Oh dear, we saw them later on when we were sat enjoying our lunch….Maureen racing ahead to meet the nephew whilst Anita was struggling to walk with her stick. Bless her. We did feel guilty for sending them on a wild goose chase earlier! We had a lovely light lunch sat outside the Grand Universe Lucca hotel. Caprese salad, two negroni’s and a selection of breads. It was just what we needed.

On the way back to the meeting point we struck a few poses in front of the black and white murals, Maice attempted a few jumps, for effect, and then made our way back to the mini-buses. Of course we were on time whilst some of the others were at least twenty minutes late…..tut, tut but once all assembled we headed back home along the motorway which according to Amanda and Pauls road App was practically clear. As it was there was a slight queue due to the road being repaired and resurfaced from the lorry fire earlier that morning. We thought we were going straight back to Grondola but Johnny had other ideas and we detoured to Pontremoli so that a) Johnny could take us on a short tour of Pontremoli and b) he wanted to take us to Belloti, his favourite bar. We parked near the river and as we crossed the bridge we asked this couple to take a photo of the group. As Paul was manoeuvring us into our positions we realised both Julia and Jaci were missing. Now where did they get to and how come none of us had seen them walk off in another direction? We spent the next five minutes looking for them when they eventually turned up having decided to visit the chemist! We’d now lost our photographer but managed to grab another guy and having been rearranged once again by Paul the photo was taken and we all dispersed to the bar. Apparently Maice declared that she wasn’t drinking anymore today……famous last words as it looks like we’ll be drinking demijohns of wine tonight!!

We finally made it home to Grondola, did a quick change then walked down the hill to La Baruccia for supper which consisted of Angie’s (Johnnys cousin) home made torta di erbe, torta di patate e porre, patona, polenta al sugo, testaroli and Angie’s infamous tiramisu. It was all super delicious. Angie had also organised some entertainment in the shape of Tino, a classical guitarist, who was very good and took requests. As you can imagine there was lots of out of tune singing, honestly, we sounded like the cats chorus but we did have a great evening. We even took videos of our singing but somehow we don’t think they’ll make it into the blog……thankfully!!

We couldn’t stay up too late due to some of us having to get up at the crack of dawn for a 5am start to the cheese factory so without further ado we bid each other ciao, buona notte and walked up the hill to our rooms. To save time in the morning we had a quick shower, made some sandwiches for breakfast, sorted out our attire and got into our beds. If there were any stink bugs around we didn’t notice, we were too intent on getting off to sleep……

Until the morrow……

M&A and the Tuscan Wannabe’s xxx

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