114 – Tuesday 11.08: Pistoia … third time lucky
A ‘free time’ day. Having not successfully visited Pistoia town centre despite having stayed Saturday night there, we caught the train to see the main square. It was worth it on 3 counts:
- Did some shopping including an Italy map book. We figured that since we were planing to spend some months in Italy, the Europe map book has insufficient detail. (We have also downloaded Italian language podcasts, as we really ought to get to know a few basics other than the few phrases J can remember from 100’s of years ago and K’s well used and successful phrase which buys stamps for postcards for England.)
- Found the square which was very pretty
- Had an amazing lunch in a slow food restaurant… K’s was very fresh tasting … the slow food meant we consumed an extra bottle of white!
At dinner tonight we celebrated Amelia’s 70th AND Tom presented his book on the Clune ancestry. He has put a huge amount of work into researching and writing up, within the context of the Irish history. He now has a hit list of family who had not passed him information BEFORE he went to print. Top of the list was James, followed by Amelia and then Mary Kate, who announced that she possessed the family bible with the family tree! Not sure if Tom can face revision number 212!
115 – Wednesday 12.08: Frenzied in Florence
An early start and the train to Florence. Our groups was gain split into two smaller groups, each with a guide. History and the main sights seen. HOWEVER, it was very hot and very busy. Tourists everywhere. Packed with ’em and then horse drawn carriages trying to get through … James nearly lost his hat to one horse, and I nearly lost James to the carriage wheels!
As we will be spending a lot more time in Italy, we will come back and do the INSIDE of some of the sights when it is quieter.
So after another amazing lunch … K and J only went for one course for this meal … chicken cacciatore 🙂 … we then caught the train back to Montecatini. We checked on Chardonnay, patted her bonnet and she introduced us the tourist busses that she has befriended!
116 – Thursday 13.08: Up to Alto and in High Alt with Football
Quite a number of the Clunes had already caught the funicular train up to Montecatini Alto and said the views worth it. We walked through the park, past the thermal baths complex (apparently people take the waters at 8.00 and have a movement at 10.00!) to the train station. It has operated since 1898 and as one goes up, one comes down on the same track with a passing place half way up. It was a surprisingly long way.
At the top we planned to have a coffee, a walk and then lunch. The coffee turned into a beer and a wine. The walk was a very slow stroll to see one of the churches and the castle walls … Oh and a memorial to Sainta Barbara which included bombs and barbed wire … she is the saint of war amongst other things!
The planned lunch did not happen in Montecatini Alto …. we selected a restaurant. J said in his best Italian ‘Buon Girno’ and was ignored by the waiter, who then flung two menus at J without a word …. so we left! He will presumably never know why he did not get our custom … just wish we had taken a note of the restaurant name … TripAdvisor is such a powerful weapon … wonder if Sainta Barbara would have been on our side?
As we had a bit of time before the first train down the hill, we wandered into one of those magic finds that occur only when you are not looking for them. We stumbled into a small locals’ bar: elderly men with a glass of wine or an ice-cream watching the TV. We moved through to one of the back rooms and discovered a draft set. We had both completely forgotten a) how to set up the board, but the barman helped us and b) the rules, but we cobbled through. Our glass of wine and coffee has half the price of the main square. A gem.
As we wandered back into the hotel, we were informed that the Clune blood team would be playing the Non-Bloods this afternoon. The football match had been declared at a previous evening’s dinner and the Captains had picked their teams, but given the extreme heat, we had thought it would not come to anything. How foolish and naive! Michael had not only booked a 5-aside pitch but ordered taxis to take us there and back. Sharon, the ref, had picked up yellow and red cards anticipating that she would need them – a lot. I don’t know how to say this, but K, the non-footballer, had been picked for the Non-Bloods as the only sub and J, the fittie, had not been picked for the Bloods! K had told Captain Mark that the ONLY time she had played football was last summer, when she kicked the ball at full force into the face of Jimmy aged 4. Even chocolate did not stem the tears. Mark seemed to think that hurting the opposition was a good thing?! It was also a VERY small gene pool for Mark to pick from. J determined to have a go, came prepared in his kit and, just as well, as there was a HUGE amount of subbing going on in the Blood team! Result? Non-bloods slaughter of Bloods with a 2-0 win, despite their enormous team of about 15 subs! Oh Yes!!!
117 – Friday 14.08: Leisurely and then cooking course
Free time, which meant a welcome lie in! Into town for a coffee and ice cream so huge, that K could not finish it – unheard of! There are so many Clunes in Montecatini, that Sharon and John passed us on a mission to find a football deflater and we discovered the Mary Kate, Boyler and baby Daniel had been inside whereas we had been outside! Indeed, as we left the hotel on Sunday, the head receptionist said that he would miss us all … the majority of the other guests were half dead neck up!
J declined the cookery lesson … can’t cook / won’t cook. We drove out to a villa, where guests can stay, learn to cook Tuscany style, ride horses etc. The villa was C17, but the staff were very modern. Sandra, matriarch, was a full on personality. Her son, was eye candy and the other teacher Texan Scarlett a poppet. We learnt knife skills, including how to sharpen, chopping skills and all cried with the onions! Laura did a bit more than cry and attempted to chop off a finger! We then made pasta and watched demonstrations on an orange (9 jested oranges!) sponge and Creme Anglaise.
What was really interesting was how long the chopped veggies were cooked … all their juices had to cook and reduce with the voluminous quantity of olive oil. Tip: Heat the veggies in the pan with the oil or they caramelise. But the sauce was unctuous …. no need for lip balm. The pudding was light and soaked up the cream. Over- stuffed again!