Tag Archives: Montecatini

A day of rest (sort of)

The village from the train station

The following day the tour offered an optional extra, a day-trip to the Cinque Terre – or at least, a couple of the villages. Naturally, we declined. Been there, done that, but a number of our group did go for what would be a long, tiring day – starting with a two-hour bus trip to La Spezia.

We decided to visit the old part of Montecatini – Montecatini Alto. We’d seen it several times from the bus, perched high up on two hill tops. There is a road up there, and we saw some people doing the hike, but we passed. There’s a little train that makes the trip every half hour. Built in 1898, it’s called the Funiculare because it’s a funiclar. The two trains go up and down at the same time, balancing each others weight on the cable that provides the lift. It’s sort of like an elevator.

The views from up there in the village are pretty special. Narrow lanes, steep slopes, and places in need of attention were the order of the day. We had a look at the old fort at the top of the hill, unsurprised that the medieval construction existed. Medieval Italy must have been a very dangerous place for people to cart stone and other building materials up those slopes to build a village. Judging by the number of chairs and tables out in the main square, the town was expecting a lot of visitors. We had a cup of coffee and went back down in the little rail car.

Montecatini is famous as a spa resort and a couple of the remaining spas are in the park between the funiculare and the hotel. They’re those frothy, nineteenth century buildings. A few ladies from our tour group had booked in one of them for a massage and treatment and I’m sure they had a lovely time. We walked back through a market with the usual sort of tourist goods – clothes, pottery and the like. Since it was lunchtime we checked menus at a few cafes and decided on the one that offered HAMBURGERS!

Taken from the hotel room

Summer storms were building over the hills when we returned to the hotel. It seemed like a good time to do not much, so we did.

Pete and I had gravitated to a restaurant called something like the Green Parrot (in Italian) for dinner most nights. The food was cheap, so was the wine, and the casual atmosphere suited us. For this evening, though, we went to a more upmarket restaurant tucked in a side street with red and white checked tablecloths on the tables. We’d walked past it on the way back to the hotel the previous night. It was around 7:30pm and we asked the proprietor if he had a table for four. Yes, he said, but it’s booked for 9:30, so you’d have to be finished by then. Italians eat late. We don’t. No worries, we told him. Really, after our hamburger lunch we were hardly starving, and we had a lovely meal with a local wine.

We learned later that the travellers to Cinque Terre had an exciting time. Sergio would have been hard pressed, and came through with flying colours. One of the group had a diabetic episode as they were about to board a ferry. Sergio had to get him and his wife to a hospital for treatment and still cater for the other eight or so people. He certainly would have had his hands full. Everybody else said they’d had a great day, spending time in Monte Rosso and in Vernazza. The patient soon recovered and came back to Montecatini with everybody else. I guess that’s one way of making a trip memorable.

Tomorrow is our last full day before we start our journey home. We’ll visit a lovely mountain village, have a wonderful lunch at a cheese farm, and then have a final Tuscan feast.

 

Off to Tuscany – with a weird rash

That’s not snow on those mountains

It was time to say goodbye to La Spezia and hello to Montecatini Terme in Tuscany. Once again we caught a local train, then changed to an Intercity, the move happening without mishap. But I have to say the local trains in particular could use some maintenance. The train stopped at Carraras, the site of Italy’s marble mines. You see those mountains in the distance and think that’s snow. It’s not. It’s marble, whole mountains of marble. In the photo you can see a road zigzagging up the mountain to the left where they cut the blocks. Amazing. We were to see a lot of ways that marble was used.

Mountains of marble

We arrived at the railway station at Montecatini in mid-afternoon. It was 38C (around 100F) and there were no taxis at the rank. (Well… it was a Sunday). Did I say the person who invented wheels on suitacses deserves a medal? It was a 700m trundle and we felt the heat.

This was a 5 star hotel, but we had fun and games with the bathroom again. You couldn’t sit straight on the toilet because the shower stall was too close. The shower stall was… interesting. It had bi-fold doors all the way around so you could get in, but you then had to fold the doors closed around you. Once again, don’t drop the soap. The bi-fold doors didn’t seal properly, either, so water went all over the floor. The shower head and the basin tap both leaked, as well, and though we reported the issues, it was not fixed. We asked to be moved to another room which had a shower over the bath. That was better (even though I hate shower curtains).

That first evening we got to meet our fellow travellers. Out of twenty-seven, twenty were American. Apart from us, there were two Canadians and one Brit. Generally, everybody stayed with the people they were travelling with, but there was some mixing at breakfast. We also met our tour director, Sergio. He was terrific. He went out of his way to make sure everyone was comfortable and was also highly entertaining. I’ll talk more about him, but here’s one example.

First signs. A red rash above the line of my socks

While in La Spezia I had developed a rash around my ankles, just above my socks. I hadn’t noticed it until Pete pointed it out. It didn’t hurt, wasn’t itchy, wasn’t hot so we decided to keep an eye on it. When the redness started to spread up my leg I thought I’d better see a doctor or something and mentioned it to Sergio. He took Pete and me down to the only pharmacy open in town and translated for us. The pharmacist took one look and told us that sort of thing happens to tourists. They do a lot of walking in a hot climate. We’d been using a cortisone cream we’d brought with us. She said that’s what she would have prescribed. So there you go.

 

The rash is spreading

Something to be aware of if you’re doing a lot of climbing and walking in a hot climate you might get something like this. It has faded away over time.