Our Swimming Pool

There are some people around who are not aficionados of private swimming pools. They feel that, like television and DVDs did for cinemas, they are an infliction on former large-scale social gatherings. Perhaps on-line buying and drone delivery may eventually do the same for supermarkets and future hypermarkets may become as quaint reminiscences of the socio-commercial scene as, sadly, British Home Stores are now. I sincerely hope not, however, for shopping can be a highly sociable activity. For example, I constantly meet friends and acquaintances at our local one at Penny Market Borgo a Mozzano and exchange notes.

However, there is nothing quite like being invited to a friend’s private swimming pool especially after a long walk on a sweltering summer’s day and when the company is good. When the pool looks out over extraordinary mountain views and even has a hydrotherapy facility  it’s as close to heaven as one can get on this planet. The pool I am secretly referring to also has the added advantage that it is fed by a natural spring so let no one complain that it’s taking away life-giving liquid from anyone else!

I do also love public baths just as much as the ancient Romans loved theirs and enjoy visiting our local spread of swimming pools which includes not only the ones at Bagni di Lucca and Borgo a Mozzano but also the refurbished and reorganised one at Gallicano.

The facilities there are good, the pools (one adults, one children) are open seven days a week from 9 is to 8 pm until around the middle of September or beyond, weather permitting. The staff is helpful (PS don’t forget to bring your obligatory bathing cap, otherwise they are on sale there at five euros), the all-day admission price is free for under-fives, five euros for under twelves and six euros for the rest of us. Decently priced refreshments, including soft drinks, beer, focaccie and ice cream, are available.

What more could one want: a deckchair or sunbed, clean water, a beautiful setting, friendly users to meet up with and chat?

Gallicano’s swimming pool facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/piscinagallicano/about/?entry_point=page_nav_about_item&tab=overview

Unofrtunately, the open-air swimming pool season in our area barely lasts for three months – just as long as the wonderful lidos that were built during the art-deco era in London.

Thinking about those great water-temples, several of which still survive at Brockwell and other corners of London, I wrote this about the miraculously rescued Lido at Charlton London SE.

 

THE LIDO

 

In summer’s light the lido elongates

fresh turquoise-dappled water to high sun.

Liquidity of wavelets captivates

and melts a splash of swimmers into one.

 

Ideals of expired years, young nature’s skin

unsheathed, pretended a new age of health

while war-clouds hung and hid mad fiend within

and river maidens lost their golden wealth.

 

Lank flowered dresses are undraped and breasts

and seaside conversations dream away

for secret gardens, lonely sands and quests

in search of that which stays pale flesh’s decay.

 

Entowelled by suburban rose-flanked wall

star-glinted water clasps me in its thrall.

 

 

 

Calling All Campers

The best area for campers (both camper vehicles and those bringing their own tents) and caravans for anyone visiting Bagni di Lucca is the one at Chifenti in the Comune of Borgo a Mozzano. Inaugurated in 2013 and sited by a formerly overgrown pasture, it’s easily reached from Lucca by going up the Brennero road and then turning off sharply to the left just when you see the chain suspension bridge connecting Fornoli with Chifenti.

The facilities include water supply, a well discharge, site illumination, a nearby bar and electricity and water supply. Dogs are allowed and the site is open all the year round. The four attachments for water and electricity are free and there’s is space for up to ten camper vans. Garbage collection facilities are somewhat lacking, however.

There’s also a dining area.

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A rafting centre is also situated near the camper site:

The camper/camping site is in a beautiful location. There is a large grassed area leading to Nottolini’s suspension bridge which dates from the nineteenth century and is well-worth a look. By the side of the bridge there are underground passages leading to the holding points for the great chains. I once managed to get to these but they are now inaccessible behind grilled doors.

There’s also an ancient bridge said to date from Roman times.

The Borgo a Mozzano camping makes quite a contrast with the Bagni di Lucca one at Fornoli where there are no such facilities. When I passed the Fornoli site the other day there were still some vehicles parked which belonged to a circus held there a couple of weeks ago. The site looked rather forlorn, although it is sited next to a spectacular lime avenue, and in my opinion needs a good shake-up to attract more camper users to Bagni di Lucca.

PS It should be remembered that there’s a very attractive camper/camping place in the offing near Gombereto which I’ve described in my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/12/01/hello-campers/ just fifteen minutes away from Bagni di Lucca.

Tropical Paradise?

We had neglected visiting Bagni di Lucca’s swimming pools for some time mainly because we thought the management of them was inconsistent and, at  some stage, unsatisfactorily.

A new company has taken over since last November and I decided to take a rest from the heat and cement going on at our house and take a look at the bath.

There’s an entrance with on one side a delightful grotto chapel dedicated to saint Cristina. You can either walk up the main avenue or do a spot of mountain climbing on a little rocky short-cut path.

I was pleasantly surprised. All the pool furniture had been replaced. The bar offered a nice variety of ice-creams, drinks and cold dishes and, what is more important, the water quality was good and not over-chlorinated.

There is also a list of evening events at the pool.

The position of Bagni di Lucca’ swimming pools could not be more spectacular placed as they are amid the beautiful hills of the Val di Lima. There are three pools. Apart from the main one there’s a diving pool and a children’s one.

The atmosphere is relaxed and certainly not overcrowded.

If it ever rained there’s an alternative in the two covered pools here where small children were learning their first swimming lessons.

The bamboos at one end of the pool reminded me of some tropical paradise. Indeed, it was easy to imagine that we were not in an Italian spa but somewhere rather more exotic like Bali or the Caribbean, (Or did I have a beer too much?).

What is needed now however, is a good restoration of the Villa Ada gardens (former home of the British consul) in which the swimming pool are placed. This would give one an excellent chance to take a cooling walk amid the often exotic trees in this unfortunately still-neglected garden. (To say nothing of the extraordinary house itself).

I found hilarious examples of Italish notices round the swimming pool. They were so good that I decided not to give the management a lesson in English as she is spoke but to leave them,  as they were true collector’ items for those who appreciate signs lost in translation. (E.g.”all our room have French widows offering excellent prospects. Etc.”)

Don’t forget your “swimming cup and slippers anti-slide” when you go there, however!

When I returned home I was very pleased at what my builders had achieved. The balustrade had been removed and the felt had been laid with a grid now ready to receive the concrete.

 

The moisture of the room where I’m writing this had been reduced to below 80 for the first time in year and now we are looking toward a setting of the cement and a laying down of new tiles. Hopefully, within another week we’ll be able to be sipping our daiquiris in the heaven of our terrace. Or will the rains come?

 

 

 

 

 

Of Waterfalls

Waterfalls have, for me. always been a passion. The gushing of the water over precipitous rock slopes, the sheer energy produced by the flow, the often magical surroundings can truly be awe-inspiring. It would be great to visit some of the world’s highest falls; in particular to see Venezuela’s Angel Falls at 2648 feet in height and only discovered in 1933 . Perhaps one day I shall!

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 In Great Britain traditionally the highest fall, at 371 feet, is Glomach in Ben Affric, Scotland. A considerable trek of over five miles through wild and lonely country is required to visit it but the moorland through which the path traverses is very beautiful. Although clearly paling in volume of water descending before such colossal as Niagara (which I saw during my trip to the States) Glomach’s great leap truly impresses. These photos date from our trek there in 1989.

However, Glomach isn’t the highest waterfall in the UK. That privilege goes to Eas a’Chual Aluinn in Sutherland, Scotland with a drop of 658, feet making it three times higher than Niagara! Perhaps next time I’m in Scotland?

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My favourite waterfall is Pistyll Rhaedar in mid-Wales. At 240 feet it’s one of the UK’s highest single-drop waterfalls. A lovely path takes one up to its top and thence across into the heights of the Berwyn Mountains from which the waters draw their sustenance. These photos date from our first visit there in 1984.

Waterfalls are mine

alone in untraced moorland;

liquid skylark trills.

In our Val di Lima waterfalls can be highly seasonal; the highest volume of water falls from them at spring when the snows on the upper mountain slopes begins to melt and later in the summer many of them can completely disappear. Of our local falls, one of the most attractive is at Fabbriche di Casabasciana, near an otherwise unremarkable village on the way to Abetone.

near a waterfall

a stork pounces on a frog

by the twisted path

These falls can be approached by crossing an iron bridge which connects with a disused cartiera (paper mill). Even at this time of the year the falls are impressive. These photos date from May 2007.

The waterfall skeins

crash upon rain-blackened rocks:

body’s fire is quenched.

It would be good if a waterfall itinerary were issued by the comune di Bagni di Lucca. Especially in the hot summer waterfalls would be delightful places to visit in search of a cooler corner of the world!

Grado: Freud’s Favourite Seaside Resort?

A disadvantage of living on a more or less permanent basis in Italy is that one can become a little lackadaisical about sightseeing. It’s almost as if one thinks “ah well I live here now so don’t have to cram in all my visits as I used to have to do when I could only spare a few weeks each year to come here.”

When does the exciting holiday finish and boring every-day life begin after one’s settled in Italy? I hope the holiday aspect has never completely finished for me – actually I’d call it exploration rather than holidaying. But the fact is that, in my first couple of years here, I completed quite a few “tour” trips. This was with a company called “Mediavalle Viaggi” whose web site is at

http://www.mediavalleviaggilucca.it/public/versione_nss/pages/ITA/menuok.swf

We didn’t have a car then so these trips were excellent ways of swanning  around Italy. We visited Naples, Caserta, Rome Lake Garda, and Verona, for example.

Looking through my photographs from April 2007 I found out that I’d been on a two-day journey to Grado and the surrounding area.

Grado lies north of Venice and has its own lagoon between the Isonzo River and the Adriatic. It’s divided into various districts: Borgo de foraIsola della SchiusaColmataCentroSqueroCittà GiardinoValle Goppion – ex Valle CavareraGrado PinetaPrimero. Until 1918 Grado was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Each district has its own characteristics, ranging from ancient historic centre enclosed within a former Roman military camp or castrum to modern seaside resort.

The beautiful lagoon has thirty islands in it and covers an area of ninety square kilometres. Among the islands are Isola Maggiore, where old Grado is located, and connected to the mainland by a bridge, l’Isola Della Schiusa and Isola Della Barbana, the scene of an important annual religious festival which takes place on the first Sunday in July when a flotilla of colourfully decorated boats filled with pilgrims reaches the island’s sanctuary.

Other parts of the lagoon are natural protected parks and are prime territory for birds and bird watching.

We stayed in a hotel by the beach. It was still too cold for bathing but it was lovely to walk down the extensive and deserted sands. I was in good historical company: Sigmund Freud (in one of his letters of 1898 he describes a two and a half hour journey through the most desolate lagoons to Grado’s beach where he was able to collect sea shells and urchins) and Luigi Pirandello were visitors to Grado.

Like so many other Italian seaside resorts Grado has a historic centre well worth visiting. There are two main churches: Sant’Eufemia with its baptistery and Santa Maria delle Grazie. These churches have conserved their old byzantine-Romanesque features and have some lovely features including delightful mosaics.

The old town is a quaint warren of narrow streets and, despite the inroads of tourism, still preserves much of its ancient atmosphere. The port area is great for messing about in boats.

Perhaps we should return and take further coach trips to visit more of Italy. Apart from the drastically early start for these trips – we met up at Bagni di Lucca at 5 am to start this one – it’s a pleasant way of seeing new places in convivial company without the hassle of car driving, parking and the rest of the palaver.

PS I am informed by Sigmund Freud authority Professor John Forrester, who kindly sent me a copy of the whole letter in which Freud mentions Grado  that there is only that one reference to Grado in his letters. I don’t think Freud, therefore, ever returned in spite of the nice shells and sea urchins he found there. Grado just didn’t appeal to him that much.

I do Like to be beside the Seaside

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(It’s giaggiolo time again!)

With the continuing series of lovely days – starting rather cold at around two degrees centigrade but then developing into a rapidly warming crescendo to above twenty degrees what better place to enjoy the weather than at the seaside. This is what we did yesterday going to our favourite short-haul seaside place, Marina di Vecchiano near Migliarino. Situated in the midst of the remaining Mediterranean coastal macchia of umbrella pines and firs it offers the basics which do include a watchtower with staff ready to save unwary bathers (closed), a first aid post (closed), a beach bar (closed) and a bar near the main parking space (open!).

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What we had come to enjoy, however, is the warm ozone-laden sea breeze, the enchanting sound of waves lapping upon the shore, the arcane vision of the Apuan alps rising majestically behind and the amazing emptiness of the whole area before the summer madness begins.

The waters were just as warm (if not warmer) than that of many Welsh seaside resorts at the height of their summer season but I did not see much evidence of April bathers at Vecchiano. It was a great day, however, just to walk up and down the beach and relax in the soft sands caressed by a warm sun and a gentle breeze..

The Lady of the Woods

It’s relatively unusual to find even the humblest chapel without an arcaded loggia either in front of it or on its side. These delightful features were not just added to embellish the building but served a useful purpose as a shelter for travellers who, apart from the occasional mule-ride, would generally travel on foot. An important route out of our province of Lucca to that of Pistoia takes one through a narrow gorge in the Val di Lima and passes by the village of Casoli.

To cross the Lima a bridge was built at the gorge (or stretti di Cocciglia as they are known as) called the ponte Nero (black bridge) and in 1532 a chapel dedicated to San Rocco was inaugurated at its entrance.

The chapel looks very unassuming from the outside although it has some finely carved features around its entrance:

Inside the chapel (or oratorio – literally prayer house – where travellers could obtain spiritual succour as well as physical shelter, through the recitation of prayers for a safe journey) is an ambitious 16th century fresco depicting the crucifixion.

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The area is amazingly diverse. Below, the straits provide both refreshing swimming in the summer and exciting white water rafting.

A path lead up to the beautiful village of Casoli and there is a delightful track coasting the Lima torrent.

In 2006 when I first visited this part of the world I met a lady who lived all alone in a little house in the forest by the Lima. I haven’t met her since. I wonder where she is now?