On 30th October, after a 3 hour flight delay, our self-funded party of 10 (Leek Mayor Cllr Keith Harrison, Gill Harrison, Chair of Leek Twinning Paul Baxter, Astrid Baxter, Maria Borejko, Wendy Goldstraw, David Briggs, Angela Briggs, Rees Davies and Virginia Kent-Bagley) arrived safe and sound in Este and eventually crawled gratefully into bed around midnight.
There was no lie-in the following morning, however, as we had to be at the opening of the Conference at 9.15am, the theme of which was ‘100 Years Since the Beginning of the First World War (1914-2014): Does it Need a Century to Learn from our Mistakes?'. Representatives from the twin towns of Este, Leek, Bad Winsheim and Pertuis presented their lectures to a fully packed theatre audience. Mr David Briggs, the Leek town representative, gave a lecture on “Some Effects of the First World War on the United Kingdom”, which covered issues such as financing the expense of war and the impact of war on society.
Mr David Briggs and Luigia Businarolo, Chair of Este Twinning
The morning finished at 1pm for lunch, which was held at the Agriturismo Barchessa , and was followed by a meeting of the four towns' twinning committees where the new Este Committee chair, Luigia Businarolo, outlined her ideas for future events and collaboration between the twinned towns. The Leek Twinning chair and vice-chair are delighted with the reformed, enthusiastic and pro-active Este committee and are very much looking forward to working with them on future events. This year's event in Este was a triumph; the programme was very well thought out, organised and presented.
The exhibition of 1914-1918 war photographs was officially opened by the mayors of Este, Leek and Bad Winsheim at 6pm in the Pescheria Vecchia (or Old Fish Market to you and me!). The photographs on display told the poignant story of the courage and loyalty of the young people who fought for our future. The photos served to highlight the pointlessness of the conflict and how vast and needless was the loss of a generation of young men.
At the end of this very busy day we were invited to a Welcome Dinner at the Hotel Beatrice, hosted by the Este Twinning Committee. This was a lovely opportunity for us to catch up with our Italian friends, who have visited Leek on many occasions.
On Saturday 1st November the Este committee had arranged for us to visit the war memorial at the Sacrario del Monte Grappa . This stands at 1,776 metres above sea level and was built in 1935. It is the resting place of 12,615 first world war soldiers from both the Italian and Austro-Hungarian front lines, of whom 10,332 are unknown.
The memorial is positioned at the very top of Monte Grappa and has a spectacular 360 degree view over the whole mountainous region of the Venetian pre-Alps range. We were extremely lucky to have had perfect weather; clear blue skies and sunshine. It is a beautiful and moving place in which the fallen can sleep in peace.
This was a very important event as permission for access to the memorial had had to be specially sought and granted. Commemorative wreaths were laid by a twinning representative from Este, and by Keith Harrison, the mayor of Leek.
After lunch we travelled to Possagno and visited the museum dedicated to Antonio Canova . The museum houses the plaster cast models for Canova's well-known marble sculptures, eg ‘The Three Graces' and ‘Psyche', to name but two.
We finished the day by going to visit Bassano del Grappa , famous for the invention of grappa spirit and for the wooden pontoon bridge over the River Brenta. The bridge is revered and maintained by the Alpini (Alpine soldiers). Unfortunately we only had half an hour in Bassano and were therefore spared the trouble of having to sample the grappa!
Sunday 2nd November dawned misty and grey but by the time we had all assembled at the Duomo di Santa Tecla (Este Cathedral), the skies were clear and the sun was warm on our backs.
Holy Mass was conducted in the Duomo. This was attended by the citizens of Este, members of the armed services and civic services, as well as all twinning representatives and guests. After Mass we paraded to the Piazza Maggiore where a short raising of the flag ceremony took place. We then marched to the Piazza Santa Tecla, where a Celebration for the Fallen was conducted. Wreaths were laid at the cenotaph and formal speeches were given by the mayors of Este, Leek, and Bad Winsheim.
At 12 noon we attended a concert given by the Alpini choir (Alpine soldiers) and the Choir from Rijeka, Croatia, in the Church of San Martino. The concert was very moving and beautifully sung.
A splendid lunch was served at the Hotel Beatrice and was hosted by the Este War Veterans; we were unexpectedly treated to more joyous singing by the choir from Rijeka.
The official day ended at 5pm in Piazza Maggiore with the Lowering of the Flag ceremony.
Next day, Monday, was a free day to be with our hosts; a few of us visited Padua, the others spent a day exploring some of the pretty towns on Lake Garda.
Our happy band said goodbye to all our good friends in Este on Tuesday 4th Nov and it has to be said that our ‘arriverdercis' were tinged with a little sadness at parting. We are looking forward to meeting them all again next year.
The whole visit has been a resounding success in terms of Este's commitment to twinning, as well as a truly moving experience with regard to the commemoration of the centenary of the First World War.