Above, my feet, underwater in the street in Viareggio. I’ve met some thunderstorms in my time, and some floods too, but this took the biscotti. After a perfect night in Torre del Lago, a storm appeared – as if by magic – and by the time I had to set off to meet Renee Fleming the water was in the hotel lobby. Outside in places it was calf-deep; this being the Italian seaside, the drains couldn’t cope and I encountered the hotel janitor outside the front door, hopefully poking a broom handle down the grille. He lent me some wellies. 

A rather soggy arrival at La Fleming’s hotel, then a terrific interview – she’s charming, down-to-earth, entirely unpretentious. And she’s a Korngold fan. Very pleased to hear she’s working on an early 20th-century Viennese programme at the moment. As well as Last Night of the Proms, of course. More soon in The Independent.

Time for my big train adventure. Here’s what happened.

12.15 arrive Viareggio station to find train to Florence has just left. Book a ticket to Pisa Centrale instead. Discover that station underpass is a swimming pool and the only way across the tracks is…across the tracks. Handsome Italian policemen direct me & a morass of other muddled tourists. No train to Pisa materialises. 1.04 recross tracks, change ticket to go to Florence after all. Florence train is advertised Platform 5. Train trundles in Platform 4 going in opposite direction. Nobody knows where anything is heading. Train trundles out. Kind Italian advises me that that was my train for Florence. Next one is due 1.33, so not a disaster. But from Platform 1. Recross tracks. 1.33 passes; train is 25 mins late. 2.05 train arrives, even later, on Platform 4. Recross tracks again. Train sits there with doors opening and closing repeatedly for 10-12 mins. Finally gets moving. I get on phone to Tom who helpfully looks up Trenitalia on the computer and tells me there’s no way I’ll make my Florence connection. Train, however, has the kindness to be an Intercity job and goes faster than expected. Florence steams into view; glimpse of Duomo dome through the pouring rain. 5 mins to spare. Grab suitcase and run for my life in awkward sandals which are my only alternative to soaked loafers. Jump aboard Milan train 4pm and spend trip to Milan recovering.

From Milan, connection to Brig is delayed by 15 mins. I have only 12 mins between this and final train to Martigny. Anxiety levels are at an all-time high. Start wondering whose bright idea it was anyway. Sometimes I feel like Laurel & Hardy rolled into one: “Here’s another fine mess I’ve got me into…” Fortunately this is Switzerland, and connecting trains wait for one another. Hallelujah…

10pm finally arrive in Verbier and collapse in studio in log-cabin-type housie surrounded by Alps. God, I love it here.

I’ve spent a happy if rather chilly morning; it’s not warm, I stupidly brought no jumper and I don’t want to fork out CH100 for a new fleece. The Ebene Quartet gave the morning concert in the church: Bartok 2nd Quartet and Beethoven Razumovsky No.1. They’re the Boy Band of classical music – four lovely young men who play as one, with all the verve, sensitivity, attention and unity you could hope for, whether in the Bartok’s haunted Hungarian idiom or a deep-dug Beethoven, reflective and rugged.

I’m now waiting for my hoped-for interview with Dame Gwyneth Jones to materialise. The thing is, the singers for Sunday’s Salome await their conductor. Gergiev, no less, is due in town at some point today; all are on standby for urgent rehearsal when he arrives. As yet I haven’t spotted a helicopter. We live in hope, and dull moments there are none. More chamber music of my favourite kind is due to follow, and the masterclass schedule has to be seen to be believed, including such names as Zakhar Bron and,er, Alfred Brendel – who is coaching singers.

Everything has moved this year; the Medran site has been bought up for a luxury hotel development so a new tent has been rushed into existence – apparently just since December. It’s lurking somewhere on the other side of town; I’ll get my first glimpse of it later on. Word has it that it is a major improvement on the last one, despite the first night of the festival having delivered a Viareggio-worthy storm that knocked out the whole town’s electricity. 

Tune in again for the next thrilling instalment of the JDCMB Transalpine Festival Adventure… 

Underrated: Abroad

The ravenous longing for the infinite possibilities of “otherwhere”

The king of cakes

"Yuletide revels were designed to see you through the dark days — and how dark they seem today"