It was, perhaps, the most undemanding choir tour I had ever been on. Usually these tours are organised to try and cram in at least three or four different concerts. But in Loreto, our only commitment was to sing a single concert on the Thursday evening.

We were performing with a local Italian orchestra, orchestra, and conductor. And we would need two rehearsals on the proceeding evenings with them, to ensure that everything would gel on the night. But apart from that, the rest of the time – during the day – was our own.

Now Loreto is quite a small town, and apart from the magnificent basilica and the picturesque cobbled streets, there’s not an awful lot to see or do – particularly in March when it’s off-season for tourists. But we managed to find a rather pleasant café to sit outside and watch the world go by. The coffee drinkers in the group, of course, were in 7th heaven – gulping down those expertly-made espressos as if there were no tomorrow. And the shopping wasn’t bad either, as long as you’re keen on religious memorabilia.

The music was very satisfying too (well our part anyway – I didn’t hear any of the other choirs singing in the festival), and the orchestra was excellent. We started our concert with a short selection of contemporary pieces, but the main event was an abridged rendition of Handel’s Messiah.

Every seat in the basilica was taken, with quite a few people standing at the back. A whole load of the town’s dignitaries were also in residence – indicating that this was a really big deal. And they were a very appreciative crowd. Our standing ovation at the end seemed to go on for ever. And as we were leaving the building afterwards, I think we were all being stopped by people offering congratulations (I’m assuming it was congratulations, as my Italian is none-existent… in response I just smiled, nodded, and said “grazie” a lot!).

It was a brief first taste of Italy for me, and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed it. I would definitely love to go back in the near future and see a bit more of the country.

Off the rails

Despite the very best efforts of National Express East Anglia to try and delay me on Tuesday morning, I did eventually make it Stansted Airport in time to catch my plane to Italy and join the rest of Christ Church choir on tour.

My timetable allowed me just over 3 hours before check-in closed, to make the 90 minute journey from Peterborough to Stansted. And I ended up needing every single spare minute. The train out of Peterborough was late arriving, and then got cancelled in Ely; throwing its passengers off onto the platform with little clue how to proceed. The next train then got us as far as Cambridge before that terminated too. And the third train was a good 20 minutes late leaving for Stansted – although it did manage to make it all the way to its destination.

In the end it took us a full 2 hours and 45 minutes to get there. And from some of the phone calls I overheard from my fellow passengers, some of them had completely missed their flights.

I was lucky, however, and made it with 20 minutes to spare. However, the whole experience probably took a couple of years off my life; what with the stress of it all.

In contrast, the two trains we caught in Italy itself (on the other end of the flight) both ran exactly to time – to the minute. And the Italian ticket inspector even waived the €50 fine we should have paid, when we failed to validate our train tickets before boarding.

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