On 2nd September, Charlotte and I celebrated our Silver Wedding Anniversary. We’d been thinking about how we were going to mark the milestone for a couple of years, with options ranging from a Caribbean holiday, to a visit to Dubai. In the end, a coincidence of events led us to Italy, and a two-centre stay in Perugia and Rome
The coincidence that led us to Perugia was the arrival in that city on Thursday 28th August of the Cardiff & Vale of Glamorgan Youth Orchestra for the final concert of their Italian tour. Our daughter, Joanna, is a flautist with the Orchestra, and the opportunity to see the concert at the Basilica San Pietro was too good to miss
We flew from Bristol to Rome Fiumicino on the afternoon of Wednesday 27th August with Easyjet, our first flight with the budget carrier. As Easyjet virgins, we had completely missed the fact that booking your seat in advance (being taller than an Ewok, I try to get emergency exit seats with their additional leg room whenever possible) qualified us for Speedy Boarding – a reminder that even in the “all animals are equal” world of budget airlines, some are decidedly more equal than others! Not usually one to feel all that comfortable about by-passing queues and preferential treatment, it did feel like even Easyjet were making a special effort for our anniversary!
Arriving in Rome, there was that magical and evocative moment when you step out of the air-conditioned claustrophobia of the plane and feel the heat of the Mediterranean sunshine. It was 34 degrees C and beautiful. Having reclaimed our suitcase and cleared immigration (thank goodness for e-passports!), we made our way to the train station for the first leg of a three hour journey that would take us first into the heart of Rome at Termini, and then out to the north east of the city to Perugia. If you do ever find yourself travelling by air and rail to Rome via Fiumicino Airport, bear in mind that both the airport and the main railway station (Rome Termini) are ENORMOUS! Our walk towards the railway station at the airport started quite casually – there was at least 15 minutes until the train left – and gradually built into a full-blown sprint as we realised that the platform wasn’t quite as close as we’d hoped! Nothing says tourist quite so eloquently as arriving sweaty and wheezing into a non-air-conditioned railway carriage as the train begins pulling away… To do this once may seem unfortunate; to do it a second time having run from platform 1 at Termini to platform 22 to catch the connection to Perugia, begins to look like carelessness!
Perugia is a city of two halves. The ‘old town’ is at the top of a very steep hill, with commanding views across the surrounding, mainly agricultural, land. The railway station and our hotel were at the bottom of the hill. Lesson #2 : when all the guidebooks and all the comments from previous travellers to Perugia say very clearly that the only way to get from the bottom of the hill to the top is by taxi or bus, it’s probably best to heed the advice. Suffice to say, however close the two-dimensional map made the walk from the hotel to the Basilica look on that Thursday morning, the three dimensional reality was a little more challenging. On the plus side, though, we did get to see the Vet School linked to Perugia University, and its certainly given me some ideas for future improvements to the appearance of the School at Bristol!
The old town of Perugia is well worth a visit if you ever get the chance, being a mix of classical Mediterranean architecture, and astonishing views. Our celebrations really began on that Thursday lunchtime with an initial glass of Prosecco on a cafe terrace perched on the edge of the town
The orchestra was due to perform that evening as part of a Festival of World Music that had been running at venues across the region for most of the summer. The poster outside the Basilica San Pietro gave not the slightest hint of the magical occasion that was to follow, however.
To say that the setting was perfect would be to seriously undersell it. The Basilica was a fantastically atmospheric location for the concert, and the orchestra lived up to the occasion and then some, with a performance that was as good as it could possibly have been. From the opening Fantasia on Welsh Nursery Rhymes (Williams), through Mozart’s Serenata per fiati n.11, to the rousing rendition of Rachmaninov’s 3rd Symphony, the musicians (under the masterful guidance of conductor Eric Phillips) created a sound that belied their years. It was a truly brilliant evening, and left at least two parents floating back to their hotel on a cloud of pride!
A superb start to a superb anniversary break