Italy Tour – old version

Friday 29th June, 2012

The long awaited tour begins!

The weary travellers arrive after their their long flight. But what could be more exciting than free time to explore the fabulous Milan?

As people arrived at different times throughout the day, many were keen just to rest, but others used the time to explore this beautiful city and headed for the Piazza del Duomo to see the iconic Duomo (pictured right) as well as the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele and the Piazza della Scala. What musician worth their salt would pass up such an opportunity!

Next day the excitement was building. We were introduced to our guest soloist, Mr Eros Sabbatani, professor of the tuba at Milan Conservatorium, who arranged the delivery of our instruments and drum kit, loaned to us by Miraphone and Daminelli. We put them through their paces by having a rehearsal at the hotel. Then it’s off to Segrate for our first performance.

At the rehearsal we were also joined by two students from Milan Conservatorium, Francesco Vassene and Stefano Perini who kindly agreed to join us in our performances on the tour (Bass Trombone and E flat Bass).

Apart from Francesco and Stefano, we were also joined once again by Chris Bacon on Soprano. Most of us already knew Chris quite well as he joined us on the Ireland Tour in 2009, and has played with us on several occasions when visiting Australia.

Our first concert was a great success! The band played well despite playing out in the sun in very hot conditions. It was also fantastic to be accompanying Eros, an exceptional player, especially in his arrangement of ‘Scherzo Veneziano’. Eros is professor of the tuba at the Milan conservatorium.

The locals certainly did their bit in promoting our concerts. Here, Rae is pictured with a council representative, holding one of the posters advertising our visit. The council also generously provided us with refreshments after the performance, which was eagerly accepted by the thirsty players!

Sunday 1st July

And so we said good bye to Milan, but promised to be back – in two weeks, in fact, at the end of the tour. We boarded the coach and headed for Genoa, 144 kilometers away. After checking in at the Star President we had the rest of the day and the next to explore this lovely port city.

There was much to see and do around the port area. One startling sight was life sized galleon built for a pirate movie. The Maritime Museum and Aquarium were also at the top of the list of things to see. Some of us found ourselves in a square on the docks where a huge screen was erected for the European soccer final between Italy and Spain. As the game drew closer a huge crowd gathered and we stayed to watch it. The atmosphere was nearly as good as being at the game!

Unfortunately Italy did not win, but the crowd was still happy and good natured, despite the result. While in Genoa we discovered the red sight seeing buses, which we found in most of the larger centres that we travelled to – a great way to see the main attractions!

Tuesday 3rd July

With a full day ahead of us we hopped on the coach after a full breakfast and headed for Pisa, 162 kilometers away. We were given a one hour guided tour of the famous tower and its surroundings. Silly photos of people holding up the tower seemed obligatory.

From Pisa we then traveled across to Florence and checked into the Sheraton Hotel. After a short rest we boarded the coach again and were dropped off at the outskirts of the city. This allowed us to explore this beautiful place on foot, before making our way to the Boccadama restaurant for our dinner booking. Fortunately the restaurant just happened to be right in front of the Santa Croce church. After a busy day and early start we were all quite hungry. The food was certainly well worth waiting for.

Wednesday 4th July

We we all eager to explore more of Florence the next morning. After being dropped off again, we went our separate ways to take in as much as we could of this city’s famous attractions, including the Piazza del Duomo and Baptistry, the Uffizi gallery, and the Palazzo Vecchio to name just a few. And who could forget the famous Ponte Vecchio with its quaint array of jewellery shops, as well as the many magnificent sculptures dotted across the city.

Our last view of Florence was from the Piazzale Michelangelo, a lookout affording a wonderful view of the city, with the Duomo and Baptistry clearly dominating the skyline.

After bidding a sad farewell to Florence, we settled down for a few hours drive to Ravenna. After booking into the Hotel Class, there was only time for a short rest before getting ready to travel to the little town of Castro Caro Terme for an evening performance.

After a short rehearsal, we were wined and dined by the local council who had graciously arranged refreshments for us prior to our performance. At first we thought this a very sleepy little town, but once we had started to play, the crowd continued to gather into quite a large audience.

The concert was very well received. At the end, someone requested that we play the Australian National Anthem. Following that, the crowd was surprised and delighted that we also responded with their own National Anthem.

Thursday 5th July

The next morning a guided tour of this city’s famous Byzantine Mosaics had been arranged. The tour guide overwhelmed us with the history of these constructions. However, the intricacy and artistry involved in creating them was certainly appreciated by us all.

Following the tour we all dispersed to find a bite to eat before boarding the bus for the next leg of the tour. We set off for Padova (Padua) and when we arrived we were all glad to check in for a couple of nights. Once again, after a short rest and freshen up we were back on the coach heading for the walled city of Montagnana.

We were all completely blown away by the arena in which we were to perform. As can be seen by these photographs, these are some of the best preserved examples of medieval walls in Europe – almost two kilometers long.

This was by far, the most spectacular venue that the band performed at. About 10,000 people live here. Inside the walls where we played is the Castle of San Zeno, erected by Ezzelino da Romano, with its large rectangular courtyard and rectangular towers. Here is also the Civic Museum containing many artefacts from the Bronze and Roman Ages.

After setting up, rehearsing and doing sound checks, the sun began to fade, the colour of the walls changed, and the people began to appear for the concert. Once again, by the end of our performance a large crowd had gathered, and enthusiastically showed their appreciation for our efforts.

Friday 6th July

Breakfast was buzzing with excited chatter about today’s excursion to Venice. First we had to make the 34 km trip to Mestre, the mainland part of Venice, courtesy of our now good friend, Marco, coach driver. From there, a chartered boat took us across to Venice. A couple of massive cruise ships obscured our view somewhat, but soon the waterways and buildings of Venice made us realize we were really here!

The tour included a visit to a Venetian Glass Factory. Of course there were many Venetian Mask shops. This one looks like a horse mask? Your guess is as good as mine!

Saturday 7th July

After a reasonably gruelling schedule so far, everyone was more than ready for a few days R&R. This came in the form of Gardone Riviera. After a fairly leisurely start, we left Padua late in the morning for the 145 km trip. When we arrived, we were all quite overwhelmed by the luxurious Hotel Grand and its surroundings. Some people explored and some rested before it was time to get ready for yet another concert.

This evening’s performance was at the invitation of the Borgosatollo Band, who were celebrating their 105th birthday. This was again, another great venue in which to perform, with good sized and very appreciative audience.

Eros performed his solo, Scherzo Venezio, accompanied by the band.

Sunday 8th July

A free day at last! Some chose to simply relax by the pool and take in the views. Others decided to explore. However, with a public transport strike, options for travelling were a bit limited!

A few decided to hire a car and drove to Verona to the outdoor opera. This is a huge 2000 year old Roman amphitheatre, and they thoroughly enjoyed this spectacle.

Monday 9th July

The next day we were all off on an excursion (with guided tour) to Verona, with its many Roman sights and streets of pink-hued medieval buildings. The romantics of course were looking forward seeing Juliet’s balcony.

This turned out to be a great day – Verona is a beautiful city with an extraordinary history. One of the unexpected highlights was visit to the Giardino Giusti, absolutely beautiful pristine gardens.

After we got back to the hotel from Verona we were off to the Struttura Trattoria up the hill from the Hotel Grand, for another of our pre-booked evening meals. This trattoria is actually next to Mussolini’s villa.

What a night this turned out to be! Back at the hotel after the meal we had already decided – as is now tradition with LCB, to hold a limerick competition, this time complete with Venetian masks! The masks were many and varied and a few rather scary, as evidenced by these photos. Are these people in our band?

Mark and Irene shared first prize, with Ashleigh coming in 3rd. We finished the day with a night cap by the side of the lake. The locals were really friendly. What a fun day!

Tuesday 10th July

And so we say good bye to Gardone Riviera. We pack up and board the coach, bound for Cremona.

Most people have heard of Antonio Stradivari, arguably the best violin maker of all time. Antonio came from Cremona, and his descendants still live in Cremona making violins – there is an international school of violin making here, as well. The band was treated to a tour of the violin making factory.

Our next performance was at a nursing home in Soresina, just a short ride from our hotel in Cremona. The welcome and hospitality we received here was just fantastic.

Wednesday 11th July

Following our performance the night before, we were allowed a leisurely start today with a free morning to relax or explore.

Around the middle of the day we then set off for another of Italy’s beautiful lakes – Lake Iseo, only 74 km away. After checking into the Hotel Araba Fenice, we freshened up for our trip to Marone for our final concert of the tour.

There were a few things different about this gig. Firstly the local Marone Band performed some numbers with us. Mostly young folk, they received quite a buzz from the experience of playing with a group with such a big sound!

As you can see, the venue for this concert was amazing. However, no sooner did we start our sound check, when the heavens opened and there was a great scramble to get inside to a dry space so that we could set up again for the concert, proper. What a shame to play indoors when you consider this wonderful backdrop!

Eros, of course performed his solo once again, and at the insistence of the band, Rae also played a solo.

The evening was once again a tremendous success. We were overwhelmed by how graciously we were received, and the wealth of cultural exchange between us all, not to mention how pleased we were to encourage the young folk in the local band.

Thursday 12th July

Despite the lateness of the previous night, we had to be up fairly early. After checking out of the Hotel Araba Fenice, we headed for Bergamo to drop off the equipment so generously loaned to us by Miraphone and Daminelli.

With the tour rapidly coming to a close we were in for our last big treat – a full day excursion to Lake Como, including a luxurious 4 hour cruise. What a wonderful trip to finish the tour and a great way to wind down after such a busy two weeks.

After the 50 km trip back to Milan, we arrived once again at the Ibis Milano Centro.

With everyone either off to catch a plane home tomorrow, or continue with their own holiday plans, we had one last meal together in Italy, at 13 Guigno.

This was a night to sit back and relax, and particularly to say some thank yous.


Firstly to our conductor, Rae Forrester, for the organisation and continued management of the day to day activities of the tour. This was no easy task.

Secondly thanks to Giovanni Ghilardotti for his part in communicating and liaising with contacts on the Italy side of things.

A great vote of thanks also goes to Eros Sabbatani, professor of Tuba at Milan Conservatorium, for both helping to organise the venues, hire of instruments and engaging additional players, as well as, of course, arranging the Scherzo Venezio and performing it with us.

Thanks go to our two young guest players, Francesco Vassene and Stefano Perini, students at the Milan Conservatorium, as well as Chris Bacon from Jersey.

David Young did a great job with a lot of the logistics – collecting the hotel taxes, checking heads before we left the hotels, and so on, so thanks David.

Last but not least, thanks again to Miraphone for providing larger brass instruments and Daminelli for providing percussion equipment.