Friday, 2 July 1999

Today was mostly spent on the buses; there were, however, a couple of interesting stops as well as some very nice scenery along the road as we rode up the coast to Montecatini Terme, near Florence. The terrain kind of reminded me of some stretches of coastal highway in California, with mountains to one side (well, decent-size hills anyway) and a relatively narrow coastal plain. In places it was a lot greener than you see in California, and throughout it was more thoroughly cultivated and settled, of course, since it has had large numbers of inhabitants for a lot longer time. After driving for a good distance we stopped in Pisa, and you know what that burg is most famous for:

Leaning Tower of Pisa

It really does lean! They have strung humongous (but too small to be visible in this low-rez photo) cables and installed counterweights to keep it from falling over altogether. If you look closely, you'll see that the top story is slightly cocked relative to the rest of the tower; I understand that the building began to lean (from ground subsidence) before it was even completed, and the architect built the top story to be straight relative to the ground at what he thought would be the final angle at which the tower settled. He didn't guess quite right, as you can see!

We had a few scheduling glitches today. First, since the concert last night was postponed an hour (which our hosts told us would increase our audience) and since European commercial-driver law requires that the bus sit idle for nine hours overnight (to let the driver have a decent rest, for safety's sake), we started on the road later this morning than we had planned. Then the detour to Pisa was inserted, and we spent longer than anticipated threading the buses through the narrow streets; at one point we had to do a three-point U-turn in an intersection because the way forward would have taken us through an arch that was smaller than the buses! So if I mentioned yesterday that it was a rowdy and hungry crowd that arrived (late) at the restaurant, that was even more true today as we pulled into the winery of Fattoria Villa Maionchi for an afternoon snack and wine-tasting.

Singing at the winery

We ended up singing here too, and despite the temptation it wasn't drinking songs we sang! (Unless you count Pat Edwards directing Poor Man Lazrus with a biscotti (biscottus?) in one hand and a wine glass in the other... We also sang Happy Birthday to Ronald, one of our drivers.) We then had a brief tour of the winery grounds and cellars; unfortunately the latter were too dark for a good photo, but the picture below shows the kind of countryside we were in.

Tuscan countryside around winery

As you might conjecture from looking at the terrain, this leg of the journey also involved some tight maneuvering on hairpin turns by our bus drivers; we were all impressed (except those who kept their eyes closed!). Unfortunately, when we got to Montecatini Terme we found that the hotel had rented our rooms out from under us, and the other hotel to which they transferred our reservations didn't have enough vacancies for us all. But with a little negotiation we got rooms for the rest of the group in the hotel across the street, so we all have someplace besides the bus to sleep tonight. However, we did get everything settled rather late, and we have to get up early tomorrow to go tour Florence, and I didn't get much sleep last night for the same reasons, so please accept my apologies for uplinking this page a day late!

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new 2 July 1999, updated 13 July 1999