Saturday 31st August 2013
The big day and what we had driven to Florence for on our way home from the UK. David didn’t get home till 5am so was not at breakfast or at the pool until a lot later. Late breakfast for us so skipped lunch, we were due to have six courses tonight. Meanwhile we soaked up the Tuscan sunshine by the pool.
The wedding ceremony started just as the sun moved off the terrace below the swimming pool. It was CofE conducted by David’s school divinity teacher, now a vicar, but no singing, thank goodness. Two photographers snapped away all through the service to the extent I found it intrusive. David and Natasha kept very calm and unflustered by it all.
We moved down a terrace for drinks and to congratulate the bride and groom. It was a very horsey affair; most of the guests were involved in horses in some way apart from David and Natasha’s school friends but what do you expect when David was world champion amateur jockey and Natasha the daughter of a well known jockey and trainer. David’s godfather was the late Josh Gifford the champion jockey and trainer of Aldaniti, the Grand National winner.
Another terrace and dinner for about eighty hungry people and a wonderful speech by David’s best man Eric a French amateur jockey done in a style only the French do. A brave effort.
Six courses, and Jo had her own special menu, followed by dancing but not by us. The noise in the ballroom was just too loud but Jo wanted to catch up with some of her relatives who were there.
It was a brilliant day for the newly weds. The weather could not have been better. The hotel staff said that all last week it had rained heavily from 4pm to 6pm every night. That’s why the grass was so green making the setting perfect. I hope Jo has some photos I can borrow.
Sunday 1st September 2013
Breakfast was not a very rushed affair as we were not intending to do much but Jo’s cousin, Sara, (Bridegroom’s mum) had tickets for the Uffizi museum so we hopped into the hotel minibus for a trip down to the city centre.
We walked across the Ponte Vecchio bridge, the only one saved from being blown up on the orders of Hitler during the German retreat.
On to the museum which we had to take at a gallop as we had to check-out by 12:30′
Another twenty two Euros lighter we were back at the van and a different pool. Despite all the sunshine this pool was only a little above 20 degrees; still it kept most people out of it.
Monday 2nd September 2013
Most of the wedding guests would have been home by now but we added a couple of days to our stay. We caught a bus into Firenze. We explored the Ponte Vacchio more closely especially the jewellers shops on the bridge where they have traded for centuries. We walked until our legs were about to give up. The Uffizi seems to be closed on Mondays and the queue to the Duomo was several hundred metres long but we managed a few geocaches near the places we visited.
We bought some figs for supper and got the bus back to Fiesole where we rushed down a late afternoon meal in order to catch the 4pm mini bus back to the camp-site. It was twenty minutes late!
More pool side lounging and swimming. Had to buy a swimming cap; my first piece of triathlon kit, but can I manage 400m non stop? Not a bit of it. Still at the beginning of summer I couldn’t manage 50m so improvement already. Give me another twelve months. Watch this space…
Tuesday 3rd September 2013
Time to leave Fiesole. How DID we manage to get up that hill? We were heading for Pisa so that meant driving due west, i.e. through the centre of Florence. That was quite an adrenaline rush but as we had GB plates on we hoped that some allowances were made when I changed lane at the last minute.
We managed to miss Pisa, another day maybe, and hit the coast instead. We couldn’t actually park anywhere so turned back and just right there was a sosta (Italian for campervan resting place). Not our favourite by a long way but it had been hot and we needed to cool down. At the last camp-site we slept with all the windows wide open and felt quite safe. I’m not so sure we could have done that out in the wild so a safe camp-site with other vans nearby means we could have the windows open. Out of interest the maximum indoor and out door temperatures today are 57.4C (we had to lock up the van and close the windows) and outside 41.7C. Best thing is to drive fast with the windows all open and the roof blinds closed, the air conditioning and the dashboard fan on. Oh! and did I say drive fast!
It cools down at night and is just 22.3 outside and 26 inside right now. (22:30) i.e. way past my bedtime. Night night!
Wednesday 4th September 2013
The lowest night time temperature was 16.9C so not too hot.
We found out that the electricity did not work so got our two Euros back. They blamed us but that was before they had discovered that we had plugged into another outlet!
We skipped emptying the used water and loo 3E, shower 3E, more water 3E and headed north along the coast and stopped at Viareggio to do a cache outside the Grande Café but couldn’t find it.
The site of the cache in the square opposite the Grande Cafe was what we had come to accept in Italy. The watering system was working but no one has cut the grass so it is long and unkempt with weeds growing between the paving slabs which are also now uneven. We wanted to walk on the beach but all access seemed to be barred by closely packed hotels an cafes who seemed to own the strip between their back yards and the shore. We just walked through and found row upon row of deck chairs and sun loungers. There wasn’t room to sit own. I hope the photos I took show this.
Onwards to to the Bocca de Magra but try as we did we could not get down to the coast road. OK for Fiat 500’s but not Fiat Ducato campervans. Width restrictions, weight restrictions, they had it.
We stopped at a small layby in the shade on the mountain road for lunch and then pressed on through La Spezia and out onto a promontory at Portovenere.
La Spezia is the base for the Italian Navy, or at least part of it and appears to be an important port. We have stumbled onto another Sosta and whilst initially put off by the price we took a tour of the coast around a one way circular route. Arriving back we stuck 18 euros in the machine and got ready for the beach.
The bus goes round said circular route so we jumped off at the “beach”, an all shingle affair. The water was not clear and the rocks were covered in slime. It was very salty. We floated anyway up you wanted, even vertical with hands in the air. Back on the bus, just a euro for two of us each way and a policeman was checking our parking ticket. Glad we paid, van next door got a fine as he had bought a ticket for a car. Tough!
Thursday 5th September 2013
We had to be away by 8am in case over zealous policeman should return. Emptying was such a fuss. It had a raised drain in the middle of the emptying area and the loo emptying hole was clogged up so it all went own the same place. We didn’t bother to fill up. It would have taken a week such was the water pressure.
We continued along the coast going back to La Spezia first then onto Sestri Levante and on to Chiavarri. This was a long dead straight road with multiple hazards; a pedestrian crossing about every fifty metres over which cyclists would suddenly appear, traffic lights almost as often whose lenses could hardly be distinguished apart in the bright sunlight and cyclists everywhere. Everyone seems to have world championship fever. The cyclists do not follow any of the rules of the road that I know and have a complete disregard of any traffic signals and that applies to professional riders and youngsters, pedal cyclists and motor cyclists.
We’d had enough of the coast so headed inland, mainly to avoid going through Genova. The scenery was quite spectacular in places but too many places were spoiled by big factories almost right in the towns themselves.
We lunched just off the high street down by an almost dry river. A couple of hours further up the river we turned off the road and found our way up a steep track to a picnic/walking area and after a walk up a long steep track, a shower and chill session we have had supper an are hoping the youngsters at the picnic area aren’t staying for a rave.
41.7C max today, outside. Only about 38 in the cab.
Friday 6th September 2013
There was no rave and the cars drove off quietly. A good night’s sleep for both of us. Despite the setting, amongst the trees, there were no flies or mosquitoes.
It would be easy to just drive along the coast but we wanted to see some more of interior Italy. Northwards towards Novi Ligure, Acqui Terme and many smaller towns than those including Gavi. The satnav sent us through here. I took one look at the road and said “No thanks” but a circuit of the town brought us back here. Jo took a video with her camera but not until we had got through the narrowest bit. A tunnel under the railway line had us breathing in.
My CoPilot Live satnav can be configured for the campervan but the Archos tablet has given up the ghost and the Garmin one I use is really a geocaching device which oes a bit of road navigation as well. I might try Microsoft Autoroute again. Adam and Sophie, supreme campervan travellers (www.europebycamper.com ) swear by it.
We found the road system strange. There are often three roads running in parallel and sometimes a railway and river too. We usually travelled third class as the two bigger roads bypassed the towns and we were not in a hurry.
The roads are generally pretty bad, at least the ones we frequent, and the edges and particularly the lay-bys are littered with rubbish. Some lay-bys have been so bad we have not stopped.
In our entire journey through Italy we have not seen a cow or a pig, nor have we seen any sheds where they could be kept. They must be somewhere as we have bought fresh Ligurian milk and local cheese. We have seen two sheep, two goats and a few chickens. Where are you hiding domesticated animals? They do exist as road signs refer to cows, but where are they? We have not just driven on the main roads or in cities; we have driven through the countryside, through small villages and up in the hills. There are no birds either. I know it is summer but the only wild birds we have seen apart from magpies and sparrows are a family of blackbirds at the Fiesole camp who scrounged some food from us.
Another thing we have noticed is how green everywhere is; trees, fields and hedgerows. Perhaps they get a lot of rain that we haven’t seen; in fact; apart from some heavy rain in Germany we have seen little rain this summer except, of course, the deluge in Bury St. Edmunds.
We turned south as we neared the French border as we want to go into San Remo, maybe I’ll get my bike out and sprint along the prom dreaming I am Eddy Merckx winning his sixth Milan – San Remo cycling classic. Maybe we’ll just do a couple of geocaches and go onto Monte Carlo and roll a few dice.
In the meantime we’ve gone off the main road and found a winding road up a hillside where we’ll spend the night. It’s just north of Imperia and only 20km from the border.
Saturday 7th September 2013
We had to drive about 3kms up the hill to find a big enough space to turn round. Down to Imperia on the coast and along then through the mass coastal carpark they call the main road. We were keen to find somewhere to stop but car parks were full, there were height barriers or you just couldn’t cross the road to get at them. We eventually saw a lot of campervans parked near the beach so went to investigate. Only 15 Euros so we decided to stay. First thing is get the bikes off the back and the swimming kit in a bag for a ride back the way we came to a beach we had seen earlier. How disappointing. Firstly it was a rocky shore and more importantly the water was cloudy. We stayed and read our Kindles for an hour but went back to the van for a cold shower.
Lunch and a sit down outside the van but we are restless souls so back on with the swimming kit, goggles and snorkels and in the water right by the campervan stop. Again, no beach, just cobble stones and again cloudy water until we swam under the fisherman’s lines and onto a rocky outcrop where there was less slime and the water was clearer but this only showed up the floating detritus more clearly, plastic bottles, cups, polythene bags etc. We gave up.
It has become clear to us that Italy is a place that we will not visit again. It is tired and run down, the campsite at San Remo, one of the major tourist venues, is dirty and unkempt. The roads are poor and whilst the streets of Florence may be hoovered every night everywhere else is littered with rubbish and no one seems to care. Buildings are dilapidated and are left to decay. Places we visited, such as the Milan to San Remo cycling monument, were used as a public toilet. We were so disappointed.
Back at the van we saw a Brit van pulling in and gave the driver a wave, as you do. A little while later Jo, when emptying the rubbish, got talking the lady driver and invited her round for a chat as she was planning to go to Scandinavia next year.
Liz is from Australia and spends six months per year touring Europe with her husband, who has returned early. Liz leaves her camper near London and returns home at the end of September. What a great life. She agreed with us that Italy was not what was expected. I saw somewhere that San Remo was described as the Pearl of the Mediterranean. Give me the slag heaps of Wales any day. Can’t wait to get back home to the crystal clear waters of my part of the Med.