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 8 -San Marino & Adriatic Italy

San Marino is one of those places we have always thought we would like to visit, and yet in truth we weren’t even one hundred per cent exactly where it was. We found where it was reasonably easily; a swift drive from Anghiari up the worst duel carriageway that must be known to man, then that old chestnut of plotting ‘shortest route’ on sat nav meant a pretty hair raising trip over the mountains. Our first view of the republic was from above the cloud level, we could see the iconic towers of San Marino  poking through the clouds, giving our arrival a very Disney-ish feel.


A slight disappointment on the border, again, ok there is a sign but it is a very poor one, blink and you will miss it. We just snapped it, including the lamp post, as we realised we were in another country. Nothing else would have told you as there were houses each side of the sign so we guess you can live in San Marino and your next door neighbours live in Italy. As one of the wealthiest countries in the world maybe they could do with investing in something from the ritzy country signs catalogue. First impressions other than signage problems: its very clean; its very, very hilly; if you stay at the bottom it will be foggy; everyone drives even more like a lunatic than in Italy, there are no pavements so you risk your life if you walk anywhere; its nothing like Gibraltar which we thought it may be (a positive).

There is only one campsite in the country which has a) lovely showers  b) washing machines  c) a pizza parlour – so all in all it’s our kind of place. Iain booked us in and forgot to mention we had an email quote, very good plan as they offered him a much lower price. How that works we do not understand but just rolling up secures a better price than an email quote or their last minute best offers on their website, we didn’t look a gift horse in the mouth just paid and said nothing.  The only downside of the site is the bloody peacock that wanders around outside the van, he terrifies me by standing outside the shower block doors refusing to move,  its a bit like a Mexican stand off so I have to get their early to be sure I am going to make it inside in good time 😉

Not sure if its because its a bit of an expensive campsite but we did have another motorhome try and share our pitch last night. We were in bed, it was well after 11pm and there was an 8 metre van trying to park up on the pitch opposite. After 15 minutes in and out of the pitch they gave up, drove onto our pitch – probably less than 10 inches between vans – and got out to go put on their electric. We were stunned, no one can be dumb enough to think you share pitches, each pitch has a hedge around it, there are 200 pitches and only eight are being used. We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry they were chatting, opening lockers and generally setting up camp with us. Then at midnight they had a change of mind, packed up and moved off to another pitch at the bottom of the site. If they had stayed we were up for asking for 50% reduction on the pitch fee for the night. This morning we moved our van over so no-one else is getting on our pitch with us tonight 🙂

Before we arrived we had read several accounts of people finding San Marino it a bit grey, gloomy and fog ridden. It would seem that this is a regular occurrence as yesterday we woke up to a pea souper where we could just see over to the next campervan. However, based on the previous days arrival when the towers were above the cloud we thought that sunshine would be out there somewhere. We caught the bus up to the old town centre, about half way the bus passed through the top of the clouds and it was bright sunshine all around us. The bus winged its way right to the top of the mountain, and then just as quickly started its way steeply down again with us still on it.  After a couple of minutes debate I sent Iain to tell the driver we had wanted to get off at the old town – and we had obviously missed it and were 10 minutes back down the hill.  Driver nods knowingly (that dumb tourists look) and says “no problemo”, he radios another bus driver and nods to us to come to the front, a few minutes later he  stops and sends us over the road to another bus which is now patiently waiting to take us back up the hill again! That’s what we call service and all for €1 each.

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Porta San Francesco – entrance to the old town

Off the bus, at last, we are waved into the old town by a very formal police officer who’s sole job is to wave pedestrians across a road with pretty much no traffic. We entered through the Porto San Francesco and it was like another world, one that has existed since 301 AD and is the oldest Republic in the world. UNESCO gave the Republic world heritage status back in 2008 and its very easy to see why. Whilst there are more museums and monuments than a country five times the size would be proud of, the first thing that strikes you is the views. From the top of Mount Titano you can see for miles over the Italian countryside, on a clear day you can see Croatia but not today. We could see for miles but mainly cloud with just the odd mountain top poking through, which was even more spectacular when those tops had fortified villages perched on them.

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One of the things I very much wanted to see was the changing of the guard at the Public Palace, where the army wear a natty headdress with red pompoms. Having checked we knew it took place at half past the hour, but each time we tried to see it nothing was happening. To make sure we didn’t miss it for a third time we ordered cappuccino (having learned not to ask for ‘latte’ as it means ‘milk’ and that’s what you get a glass of) at the pavement cafe outside the palace and waited, again at the appointed hour nothing happened. This is the time to re-read the tourist literature, and find that changing of the guards takes place from May to September only! Our luck changed when we wandered into the Basilica of Saint Marinus just as the mass was starting and the choir sang Adeste Fideles, even the most ardent non Christmassy person would have struggled not to be moved.

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Basilica of Saint Marinus

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Public Palace – Piazza della Liberta (minus any changing of guards)

A must see was the three iconic towers on the top of Mount Titano that San Marino is probably best known for. The narrow streets climb fairly steeply up with tourist tat shops all around, it has to be said though it was good quality type of tat which runs right through from kitschy souvenirs to hellish expensive shops selling designer wear, sunglasses and perfume. Leather goods are everywhere, handbags and purses, jackets and belts all stamped genuine Italian leather. The other things that amazed us was gun shops, there were several and every type of gun imaginable was on the shelves, not behind glass, not locked – apparently San Marino has the freest and  most unrestricted gun laws in Europe.

After a lengthy climb up through the streets we reached Tower 1,  built in the 11th century, it was the country prison until 1975 but now houses a museum. Tower 2 is at the highest point on Mount Titano at 2800 ft above sea level. Luckily there is a lovely cafe there where we stopped off for coffee and cake to fortify us for a walk along to Tower 3 which is the newbie as it was only built in the 13th century 🙂 There is a walkway between the three towers, but its a health and safety nightmare, sheer drops down over the cliffs with not a rail or even a piece of rope between you and certain death. Not having a great head for heights it wasn’t a walk we lingered on, more of a case see each tower, take a photo and get back on safer ground.

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Tower 1 – Guaita

Second tower – Cesta                               Third Tower – Montale

San Marino is a photographers heaven, both in terms of the views and the monuments. Add to that the Christmas markets, Santa Clauses touring the streets playing carols on bagpipes and amazingly blue skies and we have had a wonderful run up to Christmas and not sure where we could have found a better place to stay for the festive period.

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Sammarinese Santa’s complete with bagpipes

Working on our usual principal of eating native it is becoming a little worrying the amount of Nutella Iain is consuming, the jars in the pavement cafes here were bigger than anywhere we have seen before, luckily there is no way they are going to fit into our fridge!

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Tomorrow being Christmas Day, our plan is to do little other than a visit to the Christmas markets, a walk in some sunshine and find the best pizza we can for Christmas lunch (courtesy of my Dad and step mum and Rick and Kerry – thank you all for our ‘Christmas dinner’ money xxx).

To you all  – we wish you and yours the very Happiest of Christmas and hope you enjoy celebrating it wherever you may be. x

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The choice is hot chocolate, gluhwein or hot beer – not sure we can even try hot beer!

San MarinoA well deserved rest after the hike up to Tower One