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Tuesday 10-10-23: 9 wannabe’s, cheese, a castle and a Scotsman….!

Surprisingly we were quite awake when Maice’s alarm sounded at 3.50am in the morning, so much so that we even had time to conduct our post-mortem of the previous days events. We can deduce that Amanda is a whizz on the MapApp and has steered us in the right direction on many occasions. We can also deduce that both Amanda and Paul are adept in the art of Photo-bombing, a skill that we, M&A are going to replicate! We can also quite categorically state that both Maice and I cannot differentiate between a church and a cathedral, but hey, I’m sure we’re not the only ones. I’d also like to put it out there that Maice cannot, I repeat, cannot jump for a photo shoot and both Julia and Richard can lay testament to that!! Overall, the Wannabe’s had a fabulous day in Lucca and the evenings entertainment didn’t disappoint. Ok, we’ll gloss over a) Johnnys version of trying to climb the Stairway to Heaven and b) Johnny and Davids version of My Way but hey, they did it their way so what the hell, that’s entertainment! We all sang with gusto to some great tunes and through the laughter a fabulous time was had by all.

I must say that during the course of the day or quite possibly the evening my ankles were stung by something, quite possibly a Tiger mosquito, which apparently is on the rampage in this part of the world! It’s quite obvious that I have a tasty ankle to warrant such a sting which rendered my ankle extremely swollen and practically immovable, forcing me to limp back to the room and apply frozen flannels to the affected area every hour during the night. But hey, I’ll apply positive thoughts for the rest of the day and hopefully the swelling will go down!

The early risers, Johnny, Amanda, Paul, Tracey, Kev, David, Kate and Maice and I boarded the mini-bus at exactly 5am. Before we set off we welcomed Tracey and Kev into the mini-bus and laid out the mini-bus rules which were a) the need to rotate seats b) the need to maintain positive thoughts and c) to be kind and courteous. It was dark out, very dark and the stars were twinkling in the early morning sky but it was lovely and fresh and the forecast was that it was going to be a lovely day. Today we were driving off-piste with not a motorway in sight, just very long hilly, up and down windey roads. It took about ninety minutes to get to our destination which we managed without any form of intervention from Amanda’s phone! It was still dark when we arrived at Brugnoli Fratelli So.Agricola farm and Timo, the owner/manager was nowhere to be seen….fortunately the farm manger, whose name escapes us, came to our rescue and we were shown into the processing unit where we watched the process of milk being turned into parmiagano cheese. We were in the processing unit for a good two hours where we witnessed the milk that had been extracted from the cows yesterday afternoon being turned into parmiagano cheese. It was fascinating to watch and we even got to sample a piece of the raw product which was like rubber, very squeaky to eat and absolutely tasteless! Of course this was parmiagano in its absolute raw state. It takes many years for it to develop its unique flavour and luckily for us we were able to sample and taste this unique cheese. At 9am, after we’d witnessed the processing, Timo’s brother, whose name escapes us all, took us to the tasting ‘shed’ where we tasted a) a 24 month, 2 year matured parmiagano complemented with a shot of muscat wine and b) a 48 month, 4 year matured parmiagano with a shot of red wine. Unfortunately we didn’t get to taste the 6 year old matured cheese but the majority felt that the 4 year matured was extra special.

Timo, the owner who is also a James Herriot-esq veterinary surgeon came to see us and instantly started flirting with Maice via an app translator on his phone. It was hilarious to witness the dialogue between the two. Ah yes, the conversation was most definitely lost in translation!

Johnny, who, totally oblivious to Timo and the rest of the group had been in deep conversation with Timo’s brother. Apparently Johnny told him we wanted to visit Bardi castle but unfortunately it was closed on a Monday. Well, lo-and-behold, Timo’s brother made a phone call to ‘someone’ and voila, they said they’d open the castle up just for us at a cost of €10pp. Wow! So, laden down with numerous packs of parmiagano cheese we set off in the mini-bus bound for Bardi Castle and managed to find a parking space within the piazza. Mind you, parking was limited to one hour but we assumed we wouldn’t be that long. How wrong we were!! Not only did they open the castle for the nine of us, the piece-de-resistance was that we were given our very own guide in the form of Keith, a rather inebriated Scotsman who took us on a two hour tour around the castle. Honestly the tour was amazing, extremely interesting and the views were stunning. Keith was hilarious, his breath stank of whisky, he couldn’t keep still but he was a superb and very entertaining guide. When we were up in the turrets Amanda and Paul showed us a trick using the ‘pano’ option on their iPhones. The whole group were engaged in these ‘pano-photos’ and we were hooked. Obviously we cannot divulge these special effects, you’ll just have to interpret the photos and see if you can spot the difference! Our tour of the castle ended with Keith playing the bagpipes, but not just any old bagpipes, these were old medieval four pipe bagpipes, and even in his inebriated state he played them beautifully. Well, what can we say about Keith. He was such a fabulous guide we’d like to say it’s a 10 out of 10 from nine of the Tuscan Wannabe’s!

By now we were a tad peckish and we all decided a spot of lunch wouldn’t go amiss. We wondered if we’d received a parking ticket as we were well over the one hour limit but we hadn’t so we left the mini-bus where it was and went in search of a restaurant that had come highly recommended. We were so lucky to get a table for nine as it was so busy which meant the service was quite slow. The menu was all in Italian so Johnny did his best to translate it for us. By the time the waitress had taken our order they’d run out of a lot of what we wanted so Johnny had to translate the menu all over again! The food when it arrived was delicious and just what was needed for by now we were all feeling the effects of our early morning start. To make matters worse we had to contend with swotting away the many flies and bugs that were flying around the restaurant and in particular our table, a sure sign it was time to pay the bill and go.

Back at the ranch we all went for a much needed siesta. The other group, Richard, Julia, Malcolm, Ken, Claire, Ken and Jaci were still out, no doubt sat in Johnnys bar in Pontremoli. We just hoped that Johnny could get into his house so he could have his siesta but with Malcolm holding the key it seemed rather unlikely!

We were meeting at 7.30pm and eating at a trattoria in Guinadi which just happened to be owned by one of Johnnys cousins daughter’s son-in-law or something like that. David drove as Johnny hadn’t had a siesta due to the fact that Malcolm et-al were all having a good time down in Pontremoli and didn’t get back until later. With David driving and Johnny, who knew the way, navigating we expected to be there within fifteen minutes. Forty minutes later we arrived! We’d set off up the hill and missed the first turning which meant David and Richard had the pleasure of trying to turn round the two mini buses in a very tight spot but well done to them, they did it. Then lo-and-behold Johnny missed the turning again and once again David and Richard had to negotiate turning the mini-buses around in another very tight spot and all under the cover of darkness! As you can imagine Johnny couldn’t quite understand what was happening so he got into the drivers seat stating he ‘knows the way when he’s the driver’, Amanda whipped out her phone and between them they drove and guided us beautifully to the trattoria.

The difference between this trattoria and any other is the way they cook. Everything is cooked outside on the fire in these huge cast iron flattish pans. It’s quite amazing to watch and we stood outside watching them cook and prepare our supper. This was our last evening in Italy and we wanted it to be extra special so earlier in the day we’d all signed two thank you cards, one for Richard for being the second driver and the other to Johnny for making this holiday possible, after the initial seed had been planted by the original Tuscan Wannabe’s Jaci and Tracey! A few speeches were made with Johnny saying that after his wedding to Franca this holiday was up there as being extra special, and for once we all agreed with him. What an excellent evening. Fantastic food, excellent company, lots of laughter and chatter. It was a superb way to end our lovely stay in Italy.

Back at our room my poorly ankle was well and truly swollen to the extent that I could hardly walk. Thankfully Jaci had some hydrocortisone cream which was applied to the affected area and flannels where put in the freezer to keep the leg cool during the night. Let’s hope it works as we’ve got a long day ahead of us tomorrow and a flight home……

On that note……

its Buona notte from M&A and Buona notte from the Tuscan Wannabe’s xxx

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