Shot from the top of the Budapest EyeBack for more, are you? Good, because the show is just getting started. Today is our first day of sightseeing in the Italian regions of Lombardy and Liguria.

Upon landing in Milan, we successfully reclaimed our baggage and met up with our two tour managers in the arrivals hall. The orchestra would be accompanied by one manager, Raffaella, on the first of our two coach buses, and the choir by the other, Paola, although she would only be with us for the day until our permanent tour manager would arrive the next day.

After a short while on the bus, it was finally time to make our first stop of the tour: a rest stop. It was here that we picked up the first round of snacks at the Autogrill, Italy’s roadside restaurant chain, as well as an early lunch. Most of us enjoyed our first plates of pasta or pizza (these will surely become recurring themes over the next two weeks), and others elected to go for a quick salad or sandwich. Personally, I had a plate of pesto pasta which was quite good on its own, but I especially enjoyed how fresh the pesto tasted here compared to that back home.

And so, the long drive from the airport continued until we reached our actual first stop, the city of Cremona. An important city noted for its music history and traditions dating back to the late Middle Ages, Cremona is renowned for being a center of musical instrument-making, especially string instruments such as violins and cellos. It is especially known for its history of luthiers who have lived in the city since the early sixteenth century, including Andrea Amati, his grandson Nicolò Amati, and his most famous pupils Andrea Guarneri, founder of the house of the Guarneri violin makers, and Antonio Stradivari, considered one of the most talented violin craftsmen, with his instruments valued as some of the finest ever made.

Once we had arrived, we were all led to the Piazza del Comune in the heart of the city, and released for approximately two hours to explore the sights in Cremona. Many of us, including myself, attended a workshop led by a Stradivarius violin craftsman, who demonstrated the many techniques used in cutting and joining wood in order to produce a violin of the tone quality for which the Stradivarius name is known. The violins are made of spruce wood for the top, willow for the internal blocks and linings, and maple for the back, ribs, and neck.

Dominating the square was the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, a large Catholic cathedral dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The cathedral boasts a 369-foot bell tower, known as the Torrazzo, and a few of us managed to brave the 502 steps all the way to the top, being rewarded with a wonderful panorama of the city and its surroundings. On the front face of the tower’s fourth storey is the world’s largest astronomical clock, with an exterior painted by Paolo Scalozza to represent the zodiac constellations with the Sun and Moon moving through them. For many of us this was also the tour’s first gelato spot, and with the heat as blistering as ever, it was just what we needed to conclude our Cremona visit!

Soon after, we boarded the buses once again for the next long ride to our first hotel, located in the seaside town of Santa Margherita Ligure, just southeast of the city of Genoa. And I mean it when I say this trip was long. In fact, most of us found that this was an excellent time to catch up on lost sleep from our flights earlier today. 

As we arrived in the Italian region of Liguria, the roads started to become windier and more unpredictable, which my stomach really did not like. One of the most amazing things about them, though, is that the Italian drivers were able to keep the flow of traffic effortlessly, regardless of the shape or size of the road. It was incredible, quite frankly. We should have been taking notes.

Finally, we had reached the coast of the Italian Riviera, with another incredible view of the gulf of Tigullio to welcome us. A few choir members jokingly compared this coastal area to Port Jefferson on Long Island, and with all of the boats, the water, the greenery, and the charm that this place had, it actually began to feel quite accurate. Regardless, it kept the back of our bus laughing for about an hour!

At that point it was quite late in the evening, but we had made it at long last to the Park Hotel Suisse. Room keys were distributed, and we all went up to drop off our luggage and get settled in. A three-course dinner was waiting for us in the hotel’s dining hall, followed by a number of announcements outlining the itinerary for tomorrow. Or at least, this is what I was told, as I could not keep my head on my shoulders at this point, so I ended up leaving dinner early to have a quick nap before our first room check.

And this brings the second day of the tour to an end. Phew! I’m going to hop in the shower before I head off to bed, so I’m going to sign this one off here by wishing you all a buona notte!