Week 8 – Italy to Greece

Well Christmas Day has been and gone, and the best bit is there are no decorations or tree to take down. We had decided we really didn’t want a traditional Christmas dinner, so we went mad and got a pizza from the parlour here – the way ahead for sure, zero washing up on Christmas Day equals bliss.

Whilst technically it wasn’t Boxing Day in San Marino, for some reason all the shops were shut and there wasn’t any public transport. We guessed they were taking a sneaky extra day off as a country so we decided to up and out of there and head on with our travels.

We didn’t really have a plan of where to go or even how far, but after 10 days inland we both agreed it was time to head to the coast. The road through Rimini was quiet as the Italians had also all apparently taken up the Boxing Day idea too, in under an hour we had our first glimpses of the Adriatic Coast. There is a toll road right down the coast but we ignored that and stayed on the main road which threads its way through the numerous holiday resorts. Between the road and the sea runs the main railway line, so to get across to the sea at any point you need to go under a bridge or over a level crossing. The majority of the bridges were too low for us so we flitted in and back out from the sea at the crossings.

Overall, it’s all a bit Butlins crossed with 1950’s Bognor. It’s certainly clean and tidy, to be fair everywhere we have been in Italy has been beautifully maintained.The promenades are immaculate with good cafes and restaurants but it does lack a little of the Italian glamour and style we saw on the Mediterranean coast. The beaches were mainly pebble and the road by the sea is dotted with hotels and campsites for mile after mile. The road is much easier to drive than on the Riveriera, there is a 3.5 tonne weight restriction so no major problems with traffic and it is a much less windy route as the road is fairly straight right down the Adriatic coast. 

The campsites are in plentiful supply, hundreds of them, obviously none of them actually open as that would mean the not small number of motorhomes about would have somewhere to stay. We checked ACSI and there was a campsite open 8 km inland. Worth going for the total difference in scenery, rolling hills with olive groves and stone villas. Campsite had a gigantic welcome sign stating they are “now open all year” – but no they weren’t, everything was locked up and you could see no one had been there for months. The lady at the house opposite reception was sweeping up leaves from her porch and trying to totally ignore the motorhome parked outside her gate. As she wouldn’t catch our eye we gave up and decide to go back to the faithful sostas.

We have found that on the coasts sostas are pretty few and far between, and a bit rubbish to be totally honest. As soon as we move inland they become more plentiful and more inviting to stay on. We picked Mondavio as the village has a sosta for five vans, and its free and to be honest we wanted to recover some of the money we spent on site fees in San Marino. Less than half an hour later we were at the bottom of a steepish hill, walled village above us and we are feeling rather smug that yet again we had found ‘the most beautiful village in Italy’ (there must be a factory that mass produces that sign as they all have it). It’s five bays on a small car park below the walls, there were apartment buildings around us and a few cars parked so we felt safe enough and park up and head off for our Boxing Day walk.

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Mondavio was another gem of a find, it must be that every village in this country is on a hill top surrounded by a wall and looks pretty amazing. If this were the UK it would be a tourist mecca, here there doesn’t seem to be anyone much giving it a second glance but could be its much busier in summer.  Of course there is a the medieval castle, as always, built in 1492. Remarkable for the fact that it is largely intact, the moat between the castle walls houses some pretty over the top looking battering rams and other artifacts that had some connection to war and destruction but were less easy to name. Every single building looked like it had been renovated in the last few years, more likely the village is kept in pristine condition at all times. It should be once you have seen one of the villages you have seen them all but that really isnt the case. Each one has something very different  and we could easily spend the next 10 months just visiting cutesy Italian hilltop villages.

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In the centre of the square was an old church that had seen better says, from outside we could hear cheesy Christmas songs being sang, we found a door in and were in the centre of nativity scene heaven, from simple scenes made of paper right up to elaborate displays with lights and sounds and pretty much everything in between. We did walk around the town but it was absolutely freezing, our noses were glowing so we gave up and headed back for a warm up. A peaceful evening until midnight, when a stream of cars starting coming and going.  It seems we were parked where the locals come for a drive and chat late evening, no-one bothered us at all but its hard to sleep with car doors banging every two minutes. By 1am it had started raining which quickly turned to hail – things quietened down quickly then as they all cleared off home, thankfully.

The big debate on our route to Greece has now been resolved. This morning we set our nose in the direction of Ancona, being totally unorganised we had no idea where the port was, no maps and no gps but reasoned that there would be pictures of a ferry on sign posts and that would get us through. After a few tours around we found a said sign and were onto the docks with minimal fuss, a very modern little area to check in and buy tickets, not a massive old fashioned port as we had expected. The advice we had was to shop around for a good price, we tried Superfast who offered €450 including a cabin but no space until Tuesday. We were the only people at the counter and  I could see a much bigger queue at Mimoan Lines so I believed it would be a better deal. We tried there next, kerrching – deal 🙂 We can’t sleep onboard in the motorohme as its winter, so they will give us a free cabin instead – total price €259, we snapped her hand off. She then muttered price change and we thought we had looked to keen – price dropped down to €252 so we could breathe again. The price we have is €50 less than the one we have from Brindisi which is a good 400-500 km from here so we are feeling pretty pleased with ourselves, lets hope that is still the case when the ship docks and we see what we are sailing on for this bargain price 🙂

So as I type we are sat in the boarding lanes on Ancona docks. There are several motorhomes waiting in the queues, a couple of Italians, one Finn and a few Germans. We sail at 4.30pm and its a 22 hour crossing, so that is going to be fun :). The lady in the office told us to go to the purser when we get onboard and he will give us some discount vouchers for food, not sure what to expect but sure it will be fine.  We have a couple of campsites pencilled in on the map for when we arrive so fingers crossed when we get there they are actually open, failing that we might just follow one of the other motorhomes and chance our luck they know where to go.

Arrivederci Italy its been ace, too short a visit but another one that is on the list to visit again.

road signsEven in medieval villages you get some very funnily altered road signs

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Week 7 Italy – Florence & Arezzo, Tuscany

Our route inland to Tuscany had a major obstacle in the way, Florence. We really did think about going into the city but the fog was so thick it just seemed pointless. Instead we decided to treat ourselves to another motorway toll, we know how to live, three hours driving up to Scaperia became one hour. There was absolutely no point in taking a scenic route with visibility down to a couple of hundred metres and no sign of the fog even starting to lift. We were thinking it would cost us  €7 or €8 but smiles all round when it came to €2.20, bargain. Slowly but surely we are beginning to like toll roads when the need arises.

Our first stop was very untypical Tuscany, more Spaghetti Western in the form of Ranch Ricavo. The cowboys came out and told us not to park on the grass as it was muddy and instead they set us up beside the house with electric and free use of their wifi. There was a saloon, tepees, ranch riding arenas the lot – it just needed Chuck Connors and we could have been in a Fist Full of Dollars.  The ranch was set miles back from the road, not a sound other than a charming donkey braying well into the night and a few guns going off in the woods where we assumed it was hunting taking place rather than an Indian massacre.

Our first Tuscan town to visit was Scarperia, with it’s 14th century Vicars Palace and church of St. Jacob. Unfortunately it was market day when we went in, the narrow streets were jammed to the edges with stalls which made seeing any architecture a near impossibility. The Palace was open and we saw the 15th century fresco paintings but the church and other structures were too well hidden behind markets stalls and Christmas trees.  It seems that every day is market day in Italy, where ever we go there is a good market on. Each one has been what we would term an old fashioned market, stalls selling quality clothes, fruit and vegetables, household goods and toys. They don’t seem to specialise in tat and cheap goods as markets do at home nowadays, the exception being the Looky Looky men who we see at every market trying to sell umbrellas and failing quite miserably in this sunny weather.

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The villages and towns around the area we were in, Mugello, appeared reasonably well to do – probably as we were less than 25 km from Florence. The shops on main street in Scarperia were reminiscent of a decent food hall in any major city. Each shop had an immaculately dressed window and I would bet my last euro there wasn’t a type of fruit, cheese, meat or wine you could name not for sale in one of them. We chose la pasticceria to pick up some foccacia, lovely lady serving decided the queue of customers could wait whilst she gave us a sample to try before we bought. At this time of year there doesn’t appear to be any tourists in the villages and small towns so everyone is super friendly and helpful when they hear us stutter out our limited Italian words, yes we are still very poor at Italian, at least Iain has stopped saying “Pretzel” instead of “Prago” – that’s progress of sorts.

By mid week week we had finally fixed the 12 volt supply on the fridge,  a connection about to burn out. Swiftly sorted with a new connector and hey presto that damn noise like a swarm of bees has gone. The feeling that all’s well in the van was never going to last though. Our first tank of LPG was empty so it was time for a fill up. We pulled into the Esso station, the attendant appeared and advised we couldn’t fill up “not for cooking”. Not being easily deterred we tried the next at the Agip station, same  result. We contacted Gaslow for some advice, they advised LPG for cooking has a higher tax and stricter policing now means garages aren’t selling to motorhomes. Whilst we weren’t desperate for gas we decided to try again out in the sticks. We found a small garage – the attendant came over and said ‘cooking?’ Iain said no and pointed to the engine, at which point the attendant shrugged and filled us up. We now have enough LPG for about three months so we wont be worrying about it again until we are in Greece, where hopefully its still ok for us to buy in garages.

Tuscany

On our route to the Adriatic we wanted to search out a couple more of the hilltop villages that Tuscany is famous for.  Using minor roads it has taken an age to get anywhere for the last few days, on the flipside we have been treated to some of the most glorious views imaginable between the villages. The roads climbed steeply over mountain like passes, hairpin bends and sheers drops down into the valleys but hardly another vehicle on them. One thing that is missing in Italy has been anywhere to stop and look at the views, on these mountain roads there are not any laybys or viewpoints, its a case of sticking your head and camera out of the window and hoping for a good photo.

Our first planned village stop was Poppi, we just had to park up at the bottom on the hill and walk up to the old medieval hamlet on top of the hill where a walled fortress and a stunning castle tower over the surrounding valley. The Castle is said to be the prototype of the Palace de Vecchio,  most of the palaces look very similar so who is to say differently.  On the opposite side of the hilltop is the Abbey of San Fedele built in 1185, it houses the remains of Saint Torello who was born in the village, as we have found usual in Italy the church was open, inside a superb burnished bronze and silver bust of Torello, made in the 15th century, was on display. The narrow streets were all decorated for Christmas but there were very few shops, the majority being down in the new town at the bottom of the hill. Very few tourists too, with it being the last Saturday before Christmas most people probably had better things to do than traipse up a big hill to look at a castle and an abbey. It has to be said though that the Christmas preparations seem less frantic here, over the last week we have seen several places just starting to put up decorations and people are more likely to be sat in cafes and bars than wandering around the shops loaded down with bags. Fear not though Slade and Roy Wood, together with any number of versions of Band Aid can be heard in every shop and cafe, even in Italy the variation in Christmas tunes is limited!

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After a few hours in Poppi we headed to our Agricultural tourism sosta a few miles out of town.  As we turned off the road and drove up the two mile driveway to a beautiful Tuscan villa we were both a little awestruck, when the owner came out and said they were closed we were slightly miffed to say the least. As it was late afternoon and dusk was well on its way we just knew we were going to wish we had a backup plan. We put Sat Nav on and headed for a Camperstop an hour away, arrived to find it demolished. Not to worry, its now getting dark but there is one another 9km away,  get there it a stark and empty industrial estate and its no way Jose. Next attempt, a rather un-gorgeous car park in the middle of a town. We have been so incredibly lucky with stops so far, everyone has been clean, well lit and seemed safe. We agreed one last try and headed another 20 minutes down the road to Anghiari with fingers crossed and an agreement that the carpark there would have to do if nothing else. Our luck was back in as Val Della Pieve Campsite is top of the mountain in terms of destination and result, it would be difficult to find a better place to stop. Our pitch is on a terrace looking out over the valley, there is a wonderful shower, it’s five minutes walk to the village and although it takes 10 vans there is only us here, the best way to describe it would be like a very good CL in the UK. After a few traumatic hours all was well with our world again.

This was to be a one night stop but it would have been criminal not to stay for two nights and have full day exploring. It’s a small medieval town perched atop a hill with views over the valleys for miles around. From the top of the hill the road is dead straight and runs for literally miles down and across the Upper Tiber valley to Sansepolcro, over 7 km away. On one side of the road sits the ‘new’ 18th century buildings including the palace, On the other side is the walled medieval village which snakes up the hill on cobbles and narrow alleys, for us this was the archetypal Tuscan village we wanted to see.  It was hard to tell what was open to tourists and what were private homes. We opened one door and found a beautiful church in what looked like the basement of a house, other open doors led into shops and cafes but some were straight into peoples living rooms, you could easily have ended up sitting with someone having their lunch at home. We tried the door of  a tiny family cafe where they didn’t seem to be open but we knocked on the glass door and they welcomed us in for coffee, or possibly rocket fuel – we have never had such a strong espresso our eyes were out in stalks. We both had some preconceived ideas that Italy would be a loud, brash and rushed place to visit. Maybe its been because we have kept out of the cities but it has been the opposite. People have been incredibly friendly, there seems to be little rush to do anything by anyone but to be fair it is a bit loud, if someone wants to talk they don’t seem to wait for a gap they just speak louder than the person already speaking 🙂 .

Even though its Sunday all the shops in the village were open, Christmas songs blaring out and the locals all dressed in shinny coats, hats and scarves. It is actually roasting, we have spent the afternoon sat outside the van sunbathing, but I guess we are the ones they play ‘spot the tourist’ with in t shirts in mid December. Our weather forecast for the next week is sunshine all the way through to Boxing Day, we are seeing heavy fog in the mornings but the sun is warm enough to pop through by lunchtime. The plan is now to head into San Marino and spend a couple of days there over Christmas. We have contacted the one and only campsite in the country for a price and they have given us an eye wateringly high rate which will mean we only stay for a day or two, then we will start heading South looking for a ferry to Greece.

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Week 7 Italy – Liguria / Pisa, Tuscany

Every week we seem to across something that fairly blows our minds, we wonder then what could possibly top it, last week the coast in Liguria was incredible so we thought maybe a week heading into Tuscany might be a bit less stunning. We were so very wrong.

The week started with rain, we aren’t complaining it is December and we expect rain. To be fair we have seen so much good weather since we left home we must be due a fair bit of rain but its been sunshine and showers so nothing too dramatic yet.  Each morning we always check the forecast and it has to be said we now check the forecast for Greece at the same time, any drizzle doesn’t seem to bad when we see the sun is out in the Peloponnese. One of the reasons for being away in winter is without a doubt to find some sunshine, we are now keeping a close check of the temperatures in Portugal versus Greece, hoping we made the right decision to head East for a change.

From Deiva Marina the Cinque Terre were too close to pass up, the train station was less than five minutes from the campsite and it cost us €2.20 each to the villages. Using the train was a little more stressful than we anticipated, everything including the ticket machine is automated. It went reasonably well until the there were announcements of delays so we weren’t sure which train was actually ours, we took a guess and got it right. Monterosso, is a postcard pretty village but compared to the other four it didn’t compete with the overall view from the sea. Whereas the other villages sit on rocks at the sea edge Monterosso has a sandy beach but once you are in the village it is without doubt stunning. But to be honest we really wanted that amazing sight from the sea and none of the ferry trips were running. There are coastal paths between the villages that give some awesome views but all bar one had been closed due to landslides in the last couple of weeks. We thought out best chance would be Manarola as it seemed you get right down to the sea and look back so we hopped back on the train and sped through  another few kilometres of tunnel.

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Best choice we could have made, not only could you get down to the rocks but part of the walkway was open near the village. It is probably beyond me to describe just how awestruck we were at Manarola. Nothing quite prepares you for the experience not only of the multicolouted houses seeming to be stacked on top of each other but everything about somewhere that for so long was cut off except for by sea routes. The harbour is tiny and as today when the sea is slightly rough they pull all the boats up the through the minute paths and streets for safety.  For a small place there are plenty of steep narrow alleys which they call carrugi, leading up through the village or down to the sea.  We were so caught up in the atmosphere we went mad and had lunch out (first time since we left home).  A little family cafe, I was ready to practice my newly acquired Italian as I now know how to order the basics, but was beaten to it by the son of the house who spoke better English than we do.  As pesto originates in Liguria I went for the house special of pesto lasagne, Iain on the other hand went for the other famous specialty of the area, lets just say Bright Eyes wont be wandering over any hills anytime soon 😦

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Having lingered on the Genoa coast for over a week we thought we would move on and with Pisa just a couple of hours down the road there was no way we could not stop off and have a lean with the tower. An easy drive right into the city for the sosta, until the Sat Nav took us wrong in the last 200 metres and we were opposite the entrance but needing to go around the oneway system to get in. A lovely lady on a scooter appears, points to sosta and when we nod she motions us to follow her as she takes us on a shortcut across a cycle path, through a garage and then up to the barrier – without a word she is off back in the traffic, people are so kind where-ever you are in the world.

Prior to arriving in the city we had discussed the merits on staying in the city centre. To be honest we had concerns, mainly if it was only us there how safe would it be etc. We need not have worried, at least 50 vans parked up and right on the side of the main road which we think is always a good thing. We set off for a quick glance of the tower before tea, map in hand we were confident to be there in 15 minutes. Two hours later we had traversed the whole city and not a glimpse of any tower. Instead we had walked pretty much most of the city centre. The river Arno runs through the centre cutting the city in two and the whole thing is surrounded by incredible city walls, apparently these are the ‘new’ ones built in the 12th century. On both sides we found pedestrian areas a plenty and Christmas markets galore where we did treat ourselves to a very scrummy walnut brittle. All the big Italian named shops and just as many tiny boutiques and gift shops. What clinched it for us though is the buildings, every shop is topped by four or five storeys of magnificent Italian architecture. Pisa is more than worth the visit for the city itself, the tower is just icing on the cake.

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Day two, map in hand we set off for the tower, again. This time we found it fairly easily and have to say, it really does lean and to be quite frank looks like its going over someday soon.  I had thought it started leaning a few hundred years after it was built, but no it was leaning as they built it so they just carried on and built the lean into the structure. Whilst we knew about the tower, we didn’t know that there is also the Cathedral, the Baptistry and the Monumental Cemetery, not sure if its just in your eye to look for leaning but the other buildings do not look that straight either. Of course we did the photo posing holding up the tower, it seemed that pretty much everyone there was doing the same, when in Rome…..

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….. we are not going to Rome. Its been an on / off idea as to whether we want to go there or not and we have finally agreed we don’t. No reason other than its going to be hellish busy, so instead we are heading inland to Tuscany and over to the Adriatic coast for Christmas. We came a few miles inland last night to Montopoli to stay at a campsite we had found. We pulled in and it looked ok, no one else there and €27 a night. On our way through we saw a sosta in the village, free with 15 motorhomes on it. We went for the sosta, perfect for an overnight although we did realise during the evening all the other vans were empty – possibly just the villagers using it for parking during the winter.  We were both pleased this morning to wake up and find we weren’t in the middle of a gypsy encampment as that thought was crossing our minds!

We had a brief stroll around Montopoli, well more a stroll up as the village clings to side of a hill. At the top there was a viewpoint to see the glorious views of Tuscany set out around you – that didn’t happen due to severe fog. Today we move inland searching out medieval Tuscany.

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Week 6 Italy – La Spezia, Liguria

It’s fair to say the Italian Riviera goes on and on and on. It’s not that the distance is that great, more that the coast road is slow, twisting and ambling. Our average speed doesn’t get much over 25 mph but that isn’t such a bad thing as it gives plenty of time to look around. Since we crossed the border we have done nearly 240 km and other than the day in Diano Marina where we saw a million motorhomes, we haven’t seen a single one actually on the coast road. We guess that means those in the know use the tolls and then drive off at the exit to the part of the coast they are visiting.  It makes sense as taking this route has increased our journey times from under 2 hours on the toll,  to well over 8 hours so far. However, for us its been a revelation, one of the most unspoiled coastlines we have been lucky enough to visit, made possible really due to our winter transit, as if its this slow now it must be absolute hell in summer.

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We moved on fairly handy from Campsite Colditz on Friday morning and feeling fresh and ready for a challenge we headed into the depths of Genoa. It was one of those moments where on the map it looked such a little place then surely we would zip through it on a reasonable road. In reality it isn’t that little, the roads are pretty rubbish for a city and no-one with more than two wheels was zipping anywhere. We coped reasonably well with the roads, the Italian cars were fine but the scooters and mopeds made it feel like driving  through Quadrophenia. They come at you from all angles, overtake on both sides, they appear out of nowhere and there is no way they are giving way to any other vehicle. It isn’t a stereotypical view that Italians all ride scooters and mopeds like maniacs, they do, its not debatable, the wacky driving conventions are just innately Italian.

It took us an hour to wing our way through the city,  every-time we thought we must be coming out the other side, another view of city life appeared around the corner. We didn’t actually stop in the city, to be honest nothing really jumped out and said this is a place we want to spent a few hours or leave the van unattended for any amount of time. There are some incredibly beautiful buildings but overall everything felt a bit tatty, a bit industrial  and a lot way to busy – so despite wasting our morning trudging into Genoa we then trudged straight back out the other side.

Genoa

Further along the coast, when we had finally escaped Genoa, we came across Chiavari, so much more the type of place we are enjoying, medium sized town with plenty of life and some interesting looking places to explore. First task is always finding somewhere to stay and Italy has been more testing than France by a mile. The sostas are either closed or extortionate prices for a bit of tarmac, and there aren’t too many of them on the coast road. The campsites are mainly shut, with those that are open seemingly making the most of any dumb Brits that are about by charging well over top dollar prices. Without much hope we followed a campsite sign in the middle of town to Campeggio Al Mare. Five minutes along the seafront we found the site, complete with owner at the gate, but it looked very empty so we were unsure if it was open. Iain popped over to check and a few minutes later was back having agreed a fairly reasonable €20, and obtaining the keys to the campsite! The owner was off home as there weren’t any other campers on site, so we were given instructions to let ourselves out when we wanted to go anywhere but to lock the 8 ft gates behind us, said owner would be back tomorrow to collect our money and his keys 😕

Chiavari is a fishing town, loaded with character, ornate apartment blocks along narrow, twisting streets and a long harbour which is currently having a new beach built right in the centre (to replace the dull looking grey sand one there at the moment) the town is famous for it’s ancient medieval arcades, known as Caruggio dritto, the best way to describe these is like the Rows in Chester, they house mainly specialty shops and super cute Italian coffee houses which open out onto the cobbled alleys. Walking through town we came across market day and obviously we had a look around for a bargain, no money changed hands as markets here sell high end expensive goods – this is not a place for pound shop type bargains. As we wandered round the streets in the market we realised that what appears at first to be ornate plaster-work on several buildings was Trompe L’Oeil which then had us questioning what was real on every street. After a few days we have learned that pretty much all the overly ornate appearances, even on historic buildings, in this part of Liguria are painted. It is so well done that it’s really hard to pick out unless you get up very close.

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After nearly a week in Italy we were seriously lacking in the ‘must do’ department. We keep getting messages of things we must see and do in Italy but not a soul had mentioned our top two – pizza and gelato :). Needing to tick at least one off we headed for the Gelateria, for those that know the Werthers Original advert, the Gelateria was similar with a gold sheen running through the shop, for once the photo does do it a little justice. They tried to sell us tubs, no way we wanted cones who cared if it was winter to them, for us we needed cones to wander around town with. The verdict, absolutely nothing like an ice-cream then? more akin to very thickly whipped and chilled cream with incredible flavours, yes we will be repeating the experience very soon. Culturally it may not have been a visit to Rome or Florence, but for us it was the absolute essence of a trip to Italy.

Gelateria Chiavari

Gelateria Chiavari

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We left the campsite Saturday (returning our keys) and decided to go 50 minutes down the road to another little site we thought might be open. When we were 15 minutes away we hit a diversion as the road followed old rail tunnels along the side of the cliffs and the signs showed 1.8 metre width restrictions. We drove up into the mountains, and up and signs appeared advising it was mandatory to have snow tyres as we were getting so high. Then came the rain, torrential rain  with fog thrown in too for good measure. Eventually we saw a road that headed down back to wards the coast, we took it pronto. Down the mountainside on a one track road it was visibility pretty well nil, and as the road got narrower we squeezed the van down praying we were not going to meet anyone coming up, right at the bottom met a minibus, we let him do the reversing and found ourselves back on the coast road. Where we were faced with – another diversion sign due to tunnel widths!  The diversion had the narrowest roads known to man so what on earth were the tunnels like? We spotted a young Italian lad stood in the road with a fluorescent jacket on  (orange jacket means knows what is going on we think) we gestured wdith of van, he said fine  go and ignore the width signs on the tunnels – I wouldn’t have, Iain did, end result we sailed through over 4 km of tunnels with room to spare and we are 2.32 metres wide, so the diversion signs stating 1.8 metres are obviously just there for some annoyance value? more of the joys of not understanding enough words in a language to work out what is going on.

The light at the end of the tunnels was Deiva Marina, a small village by the sea and not too far from the Cinque Terre, which we plan to visit after the weekend. A result in that after all the hassle of getting here the campsite is actually open and even better its only €15 all in, we did a swift handbrake- kettle manoeuvre and spent a couple of hours looking at the rain and doing some research on routes and places to stop next week.

Deiva Marina (there isn’t a marina) is split into two, the newer town is down by the sea, behind it stands the old town with the smallest alleys and medieval houses. There is a church in the centre that dates back to 1730, but sadly it was locked up. The maze of alleyways was literally just wide enough to walk through and right in the middle there was a small area with an outdoor cafe.  Despite the drizzle it was perfect, we kept expecting someone to fling open a window, step onto their verandah and burst into O Sole Mio, a little slice of old Italy where we least expected it.

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Today, Sunday, we have had a day of rest, housework and planning; the van is spick and span, we are emptied and filled, the washing is done and we have a route of sorts for the next few days. The rain has gone and the sun is peeking back through so we are hopeful for our train trip to the Cinque Terre tomorrow. Iain has been out in the village and found La Momma Italia who was selling homemade pizza and focaccia for breakfast from her little frontroom old fashioned shop. We had it for lunch instead, and  that is our second ‘must do’ ticked, verdict was ace pizza but the focaccia was even more scrumptious 🌯 Since then he has been back for milk and then a third time for Panettone and Crostata.  She is at least 102 years old, but me thinks her home baking is certainly turning Iain’s head 🙂

In the last 6 weeks we have travelled 2654 miles and spent £433 on fuel – 27.14 miles per gallon. Slightly lower than we would normally expect but we are running the heating on diesel every evening.  Diesel here in Italy is on average around €1.40 per litre, whereas we were paying more like €1.17 in France, still cheaper than home. Overall the all powerful spreadsheet that controls all finances and tells us what is and isn’t possible at a glance it says “yes, you are under budget, Pass Go and continue your travels”.

My new car :)

My new car 🙂

Week 6a Italy – Savona, Liguria

Having driven along a fair section of the Italian Riviera in the last few days, I can honestly say that I’m moved beyond belief by the amazing scenery to be viewed by following the coastal road from San Remo to Genoa.

We travelled the first bit on the motorway (as per Sandra’s’ previous post) and today we’ve just done a large section on the “old road” through the coastal towns/resorts from Diano Marina to Savona. Its only about 75km, which would be gone in a flash on the motorway, but by “going scenic” we took nearly 4 hours, being caught out at one point by a large detour through the mountains due to a long term road closure and missing the right diversion, took us about 20km through the mountains over some of those legendary “Italian job” type hairpin roads that you see in the movies!……. not really designed for Bella Vega coaches full of gold bullion……. nor campervans, however the views from the top were truly awesome.
Over the years, man has invested zillions and zillions into road and rail building around the world, I think most must have gone into building the links around this region! The motorway, often high up on the mountainside,  crosses countless massive viaducts hundreds of metres above the ravines and often a kilometre or more in length, only to disappear seconds later into huge tunnels through the mountains. Its unnerving driving over the viaducts with the huge drops protected only by barriers no higher than the M1 central reservation armaco, then disappearing into the semi black of a tunnel…….. again and again.
However, its only when you start to follow the old road, which in itself was a remarkable feat of engineering when built, that you begin to realise the true engineering planning and design which must have gone into the motorway, as you travel along, occasionally glimpsing the motorway 100’s of metres up the mountainside above you – also the pure hard labour that must of been expended 150 years ago, building the main railway line along the coast from La Spezia to the French border……… all truly awesome!
Tonight’s campsite, chosen, for a change, by yours truly, is not as expected for €19 a night…… and we’ll be on the move again pretty handy in the morning…… its looked sooooo nice in the acsi book too, how deceptive a couple of strategically taken photos and carefully worded text can be eh? Look up 2292, then transpose to …… grey shingle/stone beach, buildings and foundations on beach side of railway (main line) falling or fallen into the sea, site predominantly quite old permanently sited touring vans, 3m high steel fence around site, looks like a concentration camp compound! Internet available extra cost @ €8 for 5 hours, site sandwiched between motorway 300m above (I thought it was pigs that flew, not 40ft artics!!) and main rail line (about 5m away from our van) with intercity express trains every hour or so.

Tomorrow, Sandra will be choosing again ……. thank God!

Week 6 Italy – Imperia, Liguria

P1070371Yes, at last we have dragged ourselves out of France and made it over the border to Italy. A great trip, mainly because we took the toll road – again. Our Sat Nav estimated from Taradeau to the border would take 6 1/2 hours avoiding tolls or 2 1/2 hours with tolls. Looking at the longer route we were going to run right along the coast through Nice and Monaco and it just didn’t appeal. Everything we read said stopping in Monaco with a motorhome was very difficult and we didn’t see the point of 4 hours driving just to be able to say we had driven through. We bit the bullet and agreed tolls, praying we wouldn’t regret this as we had no idea on tolls costs.

The first plus point  for the toll roads were the views, the motorway is high enough up to give amazing vistas both over towards the Alps and down along the coast over the Cote D’Azur. The only downside was the toll booths which totally freaked me out, some gave tickets, some just wanted money, the ones that wanted money didn’t seem to want notes only coins or cards. There is of course a button to push if you want help, not that anyone is coming over to help when you do push it. I tried this at two different toll booths, nothing despite there being toll staff standing yards away. The big question then, how much? Class 2 at all 5 tolls (4 in France – 1 in Italy), the total was €25.30. We are not going to argue with that to save over 4 hours driving, we would probably have spent more than that on lunch in Monaco if we had been able to park. We wont become full toll road converts, we haven’t got a single euro built into the budget for tolls, (a slight oversight on my behalf). Therefore they will remain treats for high days and holidays and when we cannot face driving through major cities which look like causing melt-down situations between driver and navigator.

Italy rolled into view before we really realised it, just time to snap a border photo and France was behind us. We felt cheated at the border, mainly because there isn’t a real border. We were a little nostalgic about the good old days when you queued for ages, then a very stern Customs officer would talk to you in a language you didn’t understand, you held your breathe held whilst the prized stamps were added to the passports, then panic set in case you hadn’t changed enough money – in this case into zillions of Lira. Nowadays the first you know it’s a different country is when the mobile phone pings and it’s an O2 or Vodaphone welcome to Italy, not the same at all.

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As is usual we were fairly unprepared for our own arrival in Italy, apprehension set in in that we had no idea what we were doing, we didn’t know a single word of Italian, no plans of where to stay etc. This was counter-balanced by a slight giddiness at actually making it into a second country at long last. The nearest good sized town over the border was Sanremo, which seemed as good a place as any to start and we were thinking a camperstop or sosta would be our best bet. As we drove along the coast road we saw a massive sign to Camper Village at Santo Stefano Al Mare,  800 metres up in the hills, even better when we got there it was really stunning with parking plots along the terraces overlooking the olive groves. Things were going really well, until we were told it was €35 for a night! As Iain got up off the floor it was reduced to a special deal of €25, we did our own version of the French shrug, turned around and left.  As we did we were beginning to think we may have been hasty as Italian sites could really be lot more expensive, but no, after checking out Camper Village on their own website we found they advertise the pitches at €13 – just a bit of an attempt at a rip off then 😉

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Driving along the coast road from Sanremo we ambled through colour splashed towns and villages and just past Imperia we came upon the smallish town of Diano Marina where there is a sosta for at least 100 vans and next door an ace campsite. We pulled into the site, Marino Camping, and despite it being really busy for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception they had spaces which ranged from €13 to €18 per night, added to this are the best showers we have found anywhere on a campsite, after 5 weeks of van showers and a couple of tepid attempts on French sites we are in shower heaven.

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The beach is 300 metres away and the town centre just 150 metres.  The beach is very typical of what we would expect of the Italian Riviera (I just wanted to type that as it sounds very cool for us to be here). On Monday when we arrived the sun was shinning and town was incredibly busy. We saw more motorhomes in an afternoon than we had seen in total during the previous 5 weeks in France. Despite it being warmer than an early summer day in Wales the Italians were well wrapped up in coats, boots and scarves,  we on the other hand were in summer wear.

We are the only Brits on site,  the majority here are Italian couples in their  70’s with La Momma Italias in evidence at every turn. Yesterday when I went to the washboards to do a bit of hand washing I met up with several of the Mommas, the talk is fast and flows continuously, occasionally they seem to pause for a breathe but not that often. These 4ft miniature powerhouses are like manual washing machines, in small sinks they were beating out sheets, towels and one was washing the carpets from her motorhome. Our very own little Momma next door washes her bloomers each day and then pops over to hang them on the olive tree on our pitch as she doesn’t have a tree handy, who are we to argue if the woman needs an olive tree we are happy to share. Our Italian is coming on very slowly, we know about 10 words now and tried them out in the fruit market earlier on. The pronunciation is probably terrible but we ended up with what we wanted, albeit with a fair bit of pointing. The chap serving threw in two oranges and said in perfect English “because you try to speak Italian” – that’s it now we will be trying to speak Italian in a bar and see if they throw in some red wine 🙂

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We cycled back to Imperia today, a fairly good cycle path for the first few miles, then we actually rode up through the town amongst proper Italian job traffic. It wasn’t planned really we just got a bit caught up in the traffic flow and found ourselves peddling like mad up the hill to as there was no pavement or place to get off and walk. Once we found our bearings we realised there was a path of sorts through the marina and alongside the beach so we used that on the return trip stopping off for a wander around some of the super yachts, we both fancy a week on ‘Imagine’, checking on Google its €530,000 a week for 14 people, bit of a bargain then.

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