A suitable place to relax

A suitable place to relax

The St.Mungo Singers autumn pilgrimage- to Tuscany – almost came to an end before it started. An overenthusiastic push-off by ground tractor crew at Edinburgh Airport led to concerns that the nose wheel might have been damaged and the pilot refused, rightly, to take off until an engineer had checked. However we got off an hour late and landed at Pisa to be met, thankfully, by our bus taking us to the lovely resort of Marina Di Pietrasanta in time for dinner at the fashionably late hour of 10pm.

Fortunately our start the next morning for Lucca was scheduled to be at a reasonable hour. Less fortunately the weather decided to treat us to an impressive thunderstorm as we arrived at the walled city. However there was a silver lining in the clouds for the young African umbrella seller who spotted a captive market and made a good day’s sales! Rain notwithstanding, we had a great guided tour of this beautiful city. It was fascinating to see all the candles decorating the outside of shops, churches etc. for the city’s major feast of Santa Croce which would start that evening and continue into the following day. We finished our visit with an inspiring Mass in the Passionist church of Santa Maria delle Rosa, a church which incorporates part of the old Roman wall of the city into its fabric.

Matching umbrellaskeep us smiling

Matching umbrellaskeep us smiling

We had a “day off” the following day and the group spread out to check out the area. One group headed for Pietrasanta itself by bus. There was some amusement when the large number boarding the bus caused the driver to run out of tickets (so some lucky members of our group got on free). We enjoyed a wonderful stroll round the town centre which hosts a virtual museum of modern sculpture and a climb up to the old town walls. On the way back to Marina di Pietrasanta, one member’s rucksack (complete with Ipad) made a solo journey to Viareggio but to everyone’s relief, it was returned to its owner by the smiling driver on his return journey.

Mass in the Duomo Florence

Mass in the Duomo Florence

Tuesday was the day for a brilliant visit in warm sunshine to Florence where we began with Mass in the magnificent Duomo. The sacristan was very welcoming to us and after our Mass, which seemed to draw a lot of attention from other visitors, he took us into the 14th century sacristy and told us something about it and its furnishings and then delighted our organist. Paul MacNeil, by arranging for him to play the main cathedral organ. His hospitality was rounded off by taking us to a good family restaurant (two brothers in the kitchen, two brothers serving and momma and papa sitting having a meal) to have our lunch. We were very touched when he asked only that we pray for him and his family
In the afternoon we had the opportunity to see the main sights of Florence in the company of our guide Olivia, with sufficient time left to do some quick shopping or grab an icecream before boarding the bus back to our hotel.

Wednesday was another day of rest and after Mass in the hotel chapel, it was probably inevitable that some of the group had found out there was a big market on in a town just up the coast. Unfortunately the schedule for the local buses seemed to be affected by the market, but with the help of a friendly hotel receptionist, we rustled up a number of taxis and were on our way – one driver solved the problem of one too many passengers by popping her in the back of his people-carrier! As they say, “Don’t try this at home”. Some of the more adventurous decided to be Sherpas for the day and go hill-climbing to see the famous marble quarries in the area. Others opted for swimming or sunbathing or trying the delights of Viareggio.

One of the relic cabinets in the Capella dal Pozzo

One of the relic cabinets in the Capella dal Pozzo

Thursday saw us headed for Pisa which was full to bursting with tourists. We just followed the queues to find the Duomo and the famous Leaning Tower. Having squeezed our way into the Duomo, we found that the chapel scheduled for our Mass was in fact in the Capella dal Pozzo which was a separate building within the cathedral precinct. When we arrived, we found a group from Singapore just finishing Mass and it was lovely to listen to their singing. The alternative name of the chapel was the Capella delle Relique and the reason for the name became obvious when we entered. On either side of the altar were huge glass fronted cabinets filled with relics of various saints. It was just a little distracting.

The afternoon was free to wander round Pisa and sightsee, or find somewhere to eat and people-watch (particularly the many who were having their photograph taken “holding up” the Leaning Tower). Then it was time to rejoin the coach and our faithful driver for the return to Marina di Pietrasanta.

All too soon, it was our last full day and we were looking forward to a boat trip to Cinque Terre. It is a standing joke in the St. Mungo Singers that we are a “Plan B” choir (from the fact that we are adept at handling problems through Plan B). Well this was a Plan B day. Our bus took us to La Spezia to catch our boat but when we arrived, we discovered that it had been cancelled due to “rough weather”. The staff suggested that we could take a train to Monteroso where we were due to have Mass but the thought of trekking 40 people up through La Spezia to the railway station, booking tickets, finding our way to the church and then making our way back by train, did not appeal.

Our lovely sacristan guide, Rita, explaining the church doors

Our lovely sacristan guide, Rita, explaining the church doors

So Plan B was implemented – we would go on the boat that was about to leave for Portovenere and see what was possible there. Portovenere turned out to be a beautiful town with spectacular scenery. We decided to check out one of the churches to see if it would be possible to have Mass and headed up the steep streets to the church of S. Laurenzio. There we were fortunate enough to meet with great hospitality. The parish priest explained that there was work going on in the church but (Plan B!) we would be welcome to use the other church of S. Pietro, and the sacristan, Rita, would be pleased to take us there.

As we walked along to S. Pietro, Rita explained that it was a favourite church for weddings because of its setting, and indeed it was beautifully situated overlooking the sea. Rita stayed with us to ensure we had everything we needed for the Mass – not the least put-out by this group which had turned up out of the blue.

There was time then for lunch and a look round some of the lovely little shops before we needed to head for our return boat. We were somewhat taken aback by the number of people waiting for the same boat but reasoned that they had booked us tickets on it so it would be ok. However it was obvious when the boat arrived, that it was impossible for everyone to get on board. The crew fened off the “excess” and announced that another boat would arrive shortly – the Plan B boat!

It did eventually arrive and we reached La Spezia with enough time left to have a look round the port – inevitably some St. Mungo Singers found a market – and have a coffee before our bus picked us up for the return to the hotel and our final dinner there. The hotel had pulled out all the stops for our last meal with a specially printed menu and a cake with the choir name on it. They asked if we would sing “Auld Lang Syne” for them and we duly obliged, complete with actions.

One of the classic cars on the last day

One of the classic cars on the last day

Next morning as we waited the bus to take us to the airport, Marina di Pietrasanta put on a final little entertainment for us – a vintage/veteran sports car rally, complete in many cases with appropriate period dress. The flight back was reasonably uneventful but there was one final Plan B moment at Edinburgh Airport when the driver of the bus meeting us asked if he could take an alternative route back as there were problems on the M8. So we came home via the Kelpies – a great finish to a great holiday/pilgrimage. Our thanks to all at our hotel La Versiliana for a wonderful time.