Lucca – Pistoia – Poretta Terme – Bologna Centrale

This was always going to be the hottest day of the week, that has been clear since the weekend, when I started to read the Italian government heatwave reports each morning. However there was a concert that I really wanted to go to, so was going to head there and see whether I could cope with the temperature.

Both because of the weather and the adventure, I’d chosen a route through the hills, rather than the “preferred” route via Firenze Santa Maria Novella (the main station in Florence.) It also had the advantage that I could do it without using up an Interrail travel day as the total cost of my tickets was under €20.

I was sorry to leave my accommodation. I would absolutely go back there if I was in Lucca again, though I suspect it is the sort of place that you are unlikely to make a bad choice. Even at 9:30am I was glad that I’d put sunblock on for the 10 minute walk to the station.

The platform was mostly busy with travellers going to Florence, which oddly is a train departing in what appears to be the wrong direction towards Pisa, but loops around.

My train was running late, but I had an hour between each of my connections so this wasn’t a problem. I love a double decker train so headed straight upstairs. Unfortunately there was someone coughing constantly up there so I very quickly relocated downstairs.

I do like the scenery in this part of Tuscany, almost every hill has lovely properties looking down towards the valley.

I had a moment of déjà vu in Montecatini Terme as the train pulled away from the station only to stop 5 seconds later. The crew opened the doors and there a bit of walking up and down outside the train. Whether the problem was, was clearly fixed quickly as we were back on our way in a couple of minutes.

The wonderfully-named Tuscan-Emilian Apennines line towards Poretta Terme is an absolute find. Between Valdibrana and Castagno, the train climbs and loops in and out of tunnels much as it does in parts of Switzerland. Again the views were stunning as we climbed.

At one point I looked up towards a tiny-looking viaduct high in the hills, and 20 minutes later we were crossing it having looped back on ourselves.

From Open Railway Map (tunnels recoloured black for clarity.) Original here

They run steam and other heritage trains up here from time to time and I suspect that would be worth coming back for.

The stations here serve tiny communities and are appropriately sized. I particularly liked this one.

At the summit you pass through a long tunnel then descend into Poretta Terme, where the service terminates. It was only whilst changing trains I realised that the three types of train in this area are categorised Pop, Rock and Jazz!

The line down towards Bologna follows a quite dramatic river valley. I hopped from side to side of the train looking at the views.

I’d passed through Bologna station on an earlier trip, but had not stopped here before. On the way in I got a glimpse of the odd little Marconi Express, the new monorail to the airport that opened a couple of years ago.

Much as I’d love to explore Bologna, the temperature outside was intolerable and I wasn’t going to stay out in it a minute longer than I needed to. On that subject, what is going on with Google Maps? It seems worse than useless when you are walking these days. It repeatedly rotates the map in completely the wrong direction, even though it does keep track of where you are going. On a day like this it would have been really helpful if I’d realised more quickly that it had put the map upside down for the direction I was walking in.

I hid out in the hotel for the rest of the afternoon. It was quite an interesting place to explore a little. It is one of the new multi use hubs that are popping up with work spaces, cafes, medium-term accommodation as well as being a hotel for short stays. Remote workers are a growing sector (I couldn’t possibly comment!) so places that they can call either home or the office are on the increase in most large cities. This one was initially built as student accommodation but was reinvented. I rather liked it, though I had no desire to use the gym or pool, which were being frequented by 20-somethings!

I set off around 6:45pm to meet my friend Gilly, and another friend of hers that I’d not met before, at her place, before we continued to the venue for tonight’s concert. The sun was mostly behind light cloud, which was more than welcome, but the temperature was crazy. I took this just before arriving at her apartment.

I’d taken plenty of water with me, but had finished one of the half-litre bottles before we’d even gone into the venue. I ate a couple of bananas but didn’t really feel up to trying anything more. This was right on the limit of what I could tolerate, to be honest, and I was keeping a close eye on myself.

We had tickets in the pit area, and even at the rear of that area we were very close to the front. It was a super evening, Carmen Consoli in a totally different setting to the show I’d seen at the weekend, with just her drummer/vocalist friend, Marina Rei. I’d seen the two of them do a short set together before, last year, so it was brilliant to see a full show. I love Carmen’s guitar playing and in this stripped back setting you really got to hear it. Fabulous.

During the show, I’d finished all the water I brought with me and had bought two more bottles, meaning that in the course of the evening I’d drunk nearly 2½ litres of water! It had kept me going though, which was the main thing.

We wandered back slowly, talking about the gig, about other music and all sorts of other things, including when I might finally get to see Bologna! I spotted flashes in the sky and after first thinking it was light from another concert, realised that a storm was coming in from the north. It was far enough away not to be a problem, but was quite dramatic.

I got back to my room and fell into bed. I was so relieved that I’d coped with the hottest day of the year, and been able to enjoy the concert, but it had still worn me out.