Thursday, 17 November 2016



Thursday 24th November.   Hometime ­čśą

We sleep till 5am, Lisa is too excited to go back to sleep, Alastair manages 10 minutes.

Just before 7am using a head torch we get up and empty our grey water.  There is one other Moho here so we try to be as quick and quiet as we can then we are off.

We choose the motorway today and at €1.80 it's worth it.  We pass an aire but it's closed, for obvious reasons, so we arrive 45 minutes later at Le Manche and are given the opportunity to take the 8:50 train instead of the 9:50 for free, fabalass.

The crossing costs us £96.  Pretty good value.  We paid in advance over the internet.

We drive to the security check and a guard asks us where we have been, we imagine he isn't making polite conversation.  He then passes a black wand thing over the drivers window and steering wheel telling us we need to wait for the results.  A couple of minutes later we are on our way.  Lisa wants to ask what the wand thing does but Alastair is not having any of it telling Lisa 'you don't mess around with those guys'. 

We manage to find our way to passport control, usually we are following a line of cars but there is no one else to follow and it's dark.

As we pull up Lisa says bonjour, a broad English Southern accent replies, none of that bonjour stuff here!  Lisa apologies explaining we have been away for a while.  He asks where we have been and this feels like polite conversation, he asks about work and we all shake our heads at 'bloody brexit'.

We have 10 minutes to get a quick cuppa and a bowl of cereal before we are off again.    We then have to pass through the check to make sure our gas is turned off, Alastair is thanked for speaking French.

Once the chocks are down and the gates are closed on the train we clean our teeth, get washed and changed.  We will come out the other end transformed.  At least Lisa will, until you try putting eyeliner on you don't realise how wobbly this train is so she'll probably look like Morticia.

Off and straight onto the motorway north, passing London via the Dartford Tunnel.  It isn't until we are up onto the M1 that we can get a Motorway Service station- about 2.5 hours into our journey.  Crazy.  Obviously now we are back in the UK there are no sevice points.

Home around 1.00.  What an anti-climax.

Watten, Wednesbury 23rd November 

Watten with Barge

A horrible, wet grey day.  There have been floods in the South of England and we are obviously close enough to be getting that weather.

Our route takes us on a free motorway around a city and the sky becomes gun metal grey.  On the opposite carriageway a car is facing the wrong way and the traffic has stopped, it's the first of 2 accidents we see.

Alastair uses the tablet to try to find an aire on route just incase tonight's aire isn't operational.

As before we have to get off the route to find a supermarket and towards the end of the journey we went to an Auchan to get wifi.

H in Watten Aire

Our aire was next to a canal.  To operate the services a Jeton was needed that cost €4.  Thanks to our earlier stop we did need anything.

We walked into town, another post WWII town, uninspiring.   We found Tourist Information, our first in weeks.  Most of the local sights were War related, Wilfred Owen died near here.

Obviously because things weren't depressing enough we went to have a look around the graveyard.  It was a busy and chaotic graveyard. 

We think this is the River Aa.  But it might not be.

 Three plots were up for sale, complete with current occupants who have obviously been there a while.   Some headstones were obviously for a whole family.   The dead persons name, year of birth and death were inscribed.   Underneath were their relatives name, year of birth then a hyphen!!!! So every time you go and visit your partners, sisters grave your name is on there with that hyphen just waiting for a date?? 

Some of the headstones simply said 'Regrets'.  Lisa started to sing 'I've had a few', time to go home.

Trepail to Marcoing, Tuesday 22nd November 

Starlings or ├ętourneau

We wake to dry skies and walk to the boulangerie for breakfast bread.   Sadly it's no longer warm from the oven but it may be the last time we get the opportunity of this treat.

It's a very small village with various signs indicating different champagne houses.  There is also a walk through the vines with boards explaining how champagne is created.    It's a shame we don't have time to spend another day here.   Another time hopefully.

As we are doing our services a huge flock of starlings are startled out of the vines.    There are thousands of them flying over our heads making the sky go dark.  Lisa has been desperately hoping for a mumeration having never seen one but they just settle in the next field of vines.

We need petrol today and through Lisa's drive of almost an hour and a half we see nothing so when we get to a little town we take a detour.  The first petrol station we stop at is too expensive so we travel slightly down the road to a second, that will not take Alastair's credit card.  

We put in sat nav a petrol station on the route and we soon realise that it is taking us back to the first one.  We give in, get enough petrol to get us through the next couple of days and carry on.   

This dual carriageway is popular with lorries, we imagine for the same reason as us, because it's cheap.   Consequently every lay by has a lorry in it.  

We pull into a little village and park on waste ground for lunch.    This little village in the middle of nowhere has video surveillance.    France feels scared, cameras, big dogs barking behind high fences, shutters over windows.   

The scenery changes from hillsides with vines to large expanses of flat agricultural land.  Then we start to see signposts to Commonwealth war graves.   We are travelling along the line of the Western Front.

We carry on to our overnight stop and arrive at 2pm which makes a lovely change.    Nothing works on the aire which is fine, we don't need anything and there is nowhere else to go.

We walk into town, it is functional rather than attractive.  Most houses having been built after WWII.  The streets are named things like Rue Charles de Gaulle, Rue 6th May 1945, which we imagine was when the town was liberated.

Town Hall

We find an information board that explains the town was occupied in WWII and used to house troops.  Henry Tandy won the VC for liberating the town.  Apparently when Hitler saw Tandy's photo he remarked that Tandy had saved his life as he once had a gun pointed at Hitler but didn't shoot.

The town feels depressing, it's whole being shaped by WWI and II.  We walk back towards Hamish to a little park around a canal basin where men are fishing then see a sign pointing to some British commonwealth graves.

It's good to be out walking so we follow the sign.  A track veers off and we are on a lane that cuts through agricultural land.  Alastair spots deer, there are 4 deer on the grass verge of the field watching us.  As we quietly continue walking they bounce off, their white tails bobbing behind them.

Deer centre of photo.

The graves are situated next to the lane in an expanse of flat ground that spreads for acres.   No car came up the lane and it felt incredibly peaceful.

The graves are all from September and October 1918 when the offensive on the Western Front took place.   The graves are for soldiers of regiments from West Yorkshire, Northumberland, Liverpool, the Gordon Highlanders and other regiments.    Every so often a grave is simply marked 'A soldier of the Great War' and underneath 'known unto God'.    Some men were in their 30s but most were 19, 20 and 21.   A number of the graves are for New Zealanders.     

Against the wall are graves of German soldiers, most of them unknown.   All these young men came here, some of them from the other side of the globe to die and in less than 20 years we were at war again fighting in the same fields.

A guy called Peevey from Walton in Liverpool had been awarded the VC and we find the registration book that outlines his bravery to receive it.    It is an incredibly moving space.

We walk back down the lane, along a railway embankment that is now a green space and back to H.  It's the first time in 3 days that we have walked more than our 6,000 steps and it is great to straighten our backs for a bit.

Villegusien to Trepail in Champagne, Monday 21st November 

Lisa wakes from a nightmare around 6am, coincidence that we are heading North?   She dreamt she had sent Alastair home for the night(?) and as she walked back to H he had been broken into and our clothes had been hung on coat hangers all around him.    When she relayed this to A he thought it ironic that he lies awake listening for noises while Lisa sleeps like a baby next to him dreaming about it.

Rain today for the first time in a while, another sign we are heading North.  On a positive note we can usually get Radio 4 now and listen to TMS.  Sadly we hear England lose their second test with India.

We head off and it chucks it down for most of the journey.  We need shopping so stop at a Geant we spot but it doesn't have wifi so we take the trolley back and move on to eventually find a LeClerc.

The rain has eased.   We get lunch, swap drivers and carry on.  Most of today's journey is on dual carriageway so the scenery is pretty boring.  It has made a marked change to a plain of large hedgeless fields of crops and ploughed earth.

Eventually we reach our turn off and as soon as we are off the dual carriageway we are in the middle of field after field of vines which are being tended by lots of people in vans and 4x4s.   All the vines we have seen so far have already been prepared for Winter.   As we are so far North we imagine these vines flowered later.   Then we are in the village and understand how the vineyards can afford to employ so many staff.   We are in Champagne.

We drive through tiny streets with no sign of the aire so we switch sat nav off and Lisa uses our map to guide us slightly South.  

To find the aire we drive up another narrow, steep street and up a steep slope to the little aire which is on a small plateau with views across the vines of Champagne.  Well we think there's a view, the rain is torrential again so we stay cooped up in Hamish.

We are already getting tired, long days of mostly driving.   It needs to be done, this time next week we will have been home for 3 days.

 Last night we said how wierd it will be once we are home not to be in each other's space. 24/7, we'll miss each other!!!    We have had words less than a handful of times in 4 months of living on top of each other and have become closer, literally and emotionally.   

Vinzelles to Villeguisen a Percey.  Sunday 20th November 

Our leisure battery seems to be working fine now so we think the earlier problems were our fault. Every so often we should charge the battery on a hook up and, because we are so tight, we hadn't done it for weeks.  Now we have everything seems OK. 

We get showers and are still off before 9:30am.

Because we have chosen to avoid the autoroute we are saving ourselves over €100 in tolls and we are becoming intimate with the French countryside.

We are loosing vines around here and the ground is becoming more agricultural with beautiful Charolais cows.   We drive through a little village and Alastair spots a boulangerie, Lisa pulls over so he can buy a baguette.   If we lived in France Lisa would look like ten tonne Tessy with all this amazing bread.

No idea where this is, just typical of the area

We carry on and drive through beautiful mediaeval towns with gorgeous chateaus.  Around 11am we stop for coffee in the grounds of a monastery.  We are now on the Cistercian route.

Another unknown but beautiful chateau

For lunch we find a little marina, the wind is fierce although it's still dry and reasonably warm.

Around 2:30am we arrive at our planned overnight stop.  It's down a little track by a small fishing lake and it just doesn't feel very nice.   We look at our map and there are very few places to stop around here.  We choose a spot just over an hour away and get going again.

Eventually we arrive at a large car park beside a lake.  That'll do.  We put into sat nav our next stop tomorrow, another long driving day, only 4 more to go.

We go for a walk through the leaves.  

The Lake on a grey afternoon- the further north the greyer the weather.

Boulieau to Pouilly Vinzelles, Saturday 19th November 

We are woken at 7am by a beautiful peel of bells.  There are worse ways to be woken up but we have no time to fit in a rest day so could have done with some more sleep.

The electricity has held its charge enough for us to put on heating, shame we would be quite happy to have run the engine very early this morning just to support our partying neighbours who were less than considerate last night.

It's another grey day.   

We walk to the boulangerie to get bread for lunch.   The baguette we buy is warm, soft and irresistible.  Lisa looks like the woman from the Malteser advert, cheeks full of lovely bread.  We manage not to eat it all before getting back to H.

We are on the road by 9:15am, the sky clears to blue.  We should arrive by 1pm, what could possibly go wrong?

Lisa drives for the first hour or so with no problems, we even found LPG on a bypass around Lyon.  

Then Alastair starts to drive and we arrive in Villefrance.  The traffic becomes very heavy and it gradually dawns on us that the Beaujolais marathon is on today and every route we try to take is blocked.  Initially it was entertaining with people wandering past us dressed as chickens and other things.  We see a group of guys in kilts with tam o shanters on top of ginger wigs, we give them a pap and a wave.

Such stunning Countryside

Then it's not funny we just can't get through the town.  We arrive at a roadblock with a guy chatting and helping people.  When it came to our turn we told him where we needed to get too.  He slowly shook his head and exhaled.  On our tablet which, much to a Alastair's excitement now has a proper map thanks to wifi, he showed how we would have to drive South again to circuit the town, what!!!!????

With Lisa using the tablet map for directions we circumnavigate the town to get back on a road heading North.   Once we are out of the madness we rise to a plateau overlooking the Rhone valley and stop for lunch.  Avocado and what was left of the baguette.  As a special treat Lisa crashes one of our last vegan ice creams from Italy.

The rest of the drive is fine but we arrive the same time as we did yesterday having set off 2 hours earlier and not having driven as far.

We are in Vinzelles, Beaujolais and on the edge of tiny Pouilly Fuisse.   
We find the aire overlooking the valley and go for a walk.

Vines around Vinzelles.

older part of the Chateau at the top of the hill.
View from the Chateau- across the Rhone Valley

Gates to the Chateau, which still makes wine and is lived in.

The Chateau main entrance.

The Avenue approach to the Chateau.


We are surrounded by vines and there is a very beautiful and probably exclusive little village with a chateau at the top of the hill next to the remains of the original chateau from the 11th century.

the washing trough

The houses are mainly built in limestone and we find an original trough used for washing clothes.  It's lovely to be out walking in the lukewarm sunshine.  Having checked out the village we head back to H for an Italian gin and tonic.

Gothic extravagance, now flats.

It's such a lovely evening we crash the 2002 Vouvray that has travelled around Europe with us.    It is simply delicious.

Boulieau, Friday 18th November 

We wake to our first grey and cloudy day in a while.  This aire has wifi but only if you are standing next to the box so Alastair makes regular trips to the box as he continues to update FAcebook with our adventures since the end of October, which is the last time we had wifi.

As it's shower day and A continues to update FB we don't get off until 11am.   This was a lovely little aire that we had to ourselves.  Time to move North.

It's a big driving day as we have to crunch the miles.  We share the driving and thank goodness we got wifi to download podcasts to keep us entertained.

Lisa chose tonight's aire as it is directly North and looks fine.  It turns out we are driving the tourist Cote de Rhone wine route.  Shame we don't have another month.....this time around.

The road is easy and we drive through rolling countryside packed with ruddy orange vines and roads lined with avenues of trees in their Autumn finery of red and orange and yellow.

We get to the aire just after 3pm.  We are the only van.  The aire has beautiful hedges in between the spaces but that stops the magnificent view across the countryside.  As we are alone we park on the side of the aire; opposite and slightly up from the bays.   We are very anxious that we aren't in anyone's way and will move later if we are but the aire has plenty of room.   We go for a wander.

Completely by accident we are in a small but very beautiful fortified medieval town.  The walls are the actual houses which connect nine stumpy round stone towers just the same height as the houses, about four stories high (6 of which still exist).  Behind the walls are a maze of tiny narrow streets.  This is not a big town, more like a village which can be walked around in about 15 minutes.

Lisa spots through a window some statuesque figures and moves in for a closer look.  A light comes on to illuminate a scene of women washing clothes in a medieval launderette:  basically a huge trough.

We carry on and find a little museum with photos of the town and the family dynasty's that are its foundation, Louis II sister is involved.  The guy was closing but at our request gives us 2 minutes to look around.   We then find a proper small craft boulangerie for tomorrow morning's bread and then wander back to H.

We have company: a caravan on the back of a truck is parked in one of the bays.    We settle down then hear them moving.  They park in front of us along the side of the aire at the bottom, pinched our idea and our view!

We are just about to get out our Cidre when another van arrives, turns and slots itself in between us and the caravan facing towards us.   So we have gone from having a beautiful view to only being able to look into the cab of another van.   We try so hard not to inconvenience others.  We try to get our own little space then occasionally other people are so inconsiderate and mess it all up for us.   We move into one of the bays which is when we realise the caravan is running a generator???!!!

We listen to a Radio 4 Front Row podcast featuring the proposed closure of New Walsall Art Gallery as Walsall Council in their short sightedness are withdrawing funding.  We are very proud of our art gallery and until she lost her job Lisa was a 'friend' and financial supporter and had been since we were at its opening, (not the one when Liz popped up and cut the ribbon).     It's a pile of pants and cultural slaughter.  Absolutely outrageous!!!

We get ready to go to bed when a van pulls up, drives around, leaves their engine running, there is some banging and talking.   Alastair goes outside to see what's going on.  Some friends are meeting up in their mohos and parking at 90 degrees to each other, getting their ramps out etc.  Three vans eventually form a social gathering and erect a communal awning so they can sit outside and have a rather loud party.

We get into bed and try to sleep.  The generator is too loud, Alastair announces if they haven't turned it off by 10:05 he's going over to ask them too.  At 10am it is turned off. The group settle down and just sit chatting.  Eventually Lisa gets off to sleep, with A dosing fitfully.  The party finishes at around 1.00 am.  

La Roque Sur Ceze, Thursday 17th November 

Wired by the days excitement Lisa doesn't get to sleep until late so sleeps in till nearly 8am.

Whether the sun has already made its mark or some connection has tripped back into place, who knows, but our electricity is working again.

 We have heating, water and electricity, hooray!!

As it's such a beautiful day today we get some washing done.  Enough pants and socks to get us home, a couple of lightweight trousers and chuck them on the front to dry.  

All of this is hard work so by 10am we are sweaty and tired already but we have jobs to do today.

We drive towards the services slightly further up the street and when Lisa goes to collect our hose notices the garage door is open.  We have driven off leaving our washing box to dry in the sun.  Lisa starts to walk back to collect it and a French guy drives up shouting that we had left stuff behind which is very sweet of him.   Lisa tries to explain she knows but he keeps shouting.  Lisa lets Alastair explain.

We drive to the Geant Superstore we walked to yesterday. To get wifi in Hamish we have to park reasonably close and unlike Italy we are given space for the good hour that we are there.

Alastair's laptop has little charge left as we haven't had a hook up for days so Lisa gets organised posting the blogs to him which he uploads.  Finally we are published!!!  We contact a few people who we know read the blog and a few who don't just because we can.

We then drive Hamish further away from Geant and go shopping in the Casino supermarket.  We don't need anything but it seems pointless to be so close for so long, not shop and have to take time out to find somewhere but this is going on tomorrow's budget.

It's 12:30 by the time we get back to Hamish.   The sun is beating down drying our washing, shame we can't enjoy it.  We eat lunch of baguette and avocado.  Then begin to head North.

It takes about an hour and three quarters to arrive at our aire; chosen only because it was the right distance and had electricity.

The aire is brand new and has a very modern barrier.    We have to buy a card that can be used forever in similar aires.  We follow the complicated process of providing our details then credit card and it starts to produce our card that will let us in.  We wait and wait.   Non carte ex machina.  (A philosophical Descartes joke.)

Eventually Alastair calls the number on the box.  Rina is incredibly helpful, lifts the barrier remotely and says she will call us back when she can get our card.  We drive through the barrier and are just deciding on our pitch when a van arrives with 2 guys to sort the machine.  They unblock it and hand A his card.  We are gobsmacked by the speed of the service.  On the whole the French have been overwhelmingly helpful.

We park up and plug everything in and go for a walk.

It turns out this place has France's answer to Niagra Falls.  Well slight exaggeration.  There are signs warning that this is Dangereux and 30 people have died, since 1960.

We scramble around enjoying the waterfalls and amazing shapes gorged out of the rock before wandering back.  We have had 2 full on days and are shattered.

Alastair reads the papers while Lisa cooks the risotto.  Every now he huffs and puffs and declares about Brexit 'we are in a right mess'.

Budget done, we are €17 under.  

Lisa ferrets around in a cupboard looking for a book and innocently produces 'the aires of France'.  Aaaagh was Alastair's reaction, now you tell me.  Lisa thinks that's a positive outcome. 

We are drinking French Cidre, when in Rome.....

Arles, Wednesday 16th November 

At 5:30am we wake needing a wee and Alastair checks the leisure battery, its red.  So we really do have a problem.  We lie in bed till almost 7, neither of us sleeping.  Lisa comes up with a plan.

We'll visit the Carmargue today as planned, tonight we'll find an aire with electricity and pay for it.  Tomorrow we find internet and book our train home then we plan a route via aires with electricity. We also phone the garage back home as there will be a guarantee on this battery and we are still within the limit.

Alastair agrees with the plan but he did buy some data so uses it to book our train, a week earlier than planned is fine, at least this didn't happen at the start of the trip.

It's a beautiful morning with a red sunrise and the full moon low in the sky behind Hamish.  As we have no neighbours and we need a shower today we run the engine to charge the battery which we have to do twice to enable us to get sorted.

After showers we head towards services, we plan an aire tonight but it's best to be prepared and having one thing wrong is more than enough!!

The services are just around the lake, we get a ticket and a set of bollards lower, we drive over them and have to wait for another set to lower, Fort Knox.

It's supposed to be €3 for 2 hours but we are obviously very quick and when we put the card in with our money ready it tells us we got this free and we are allowed over the bollards and out.

We head South to the Carmargue, a flat area of sea, marshes and various vegetation, we spot a couple of raptors as we drive in.    We see a group of white horses who look like they are being fed.

We head West and park where we were told flamingos can be seen.   There are none.   We scan the horizon with our binoculars and in the distance Lisa spots a line of pinkness.

We leave Hamish and start walking along a track, we spot a large bird of prey with a white head, too far away to work out what it is.    The track started to move away from the sea so we retrace our steps and walk across a flat Bank of mud completely covered in horse hoove prints. 

Eventually we get to the beach and can see the flamingos in their pink fluffiness, fast asleep, standing on one leg, their heads tucked underneath their wings.

We see several other groups in the distance, Lisa is amazed, she had never heard of he white horses of the Carmargue or the flamingos.

We walk towards another group and one flamingo is walking gracefully across the bay to the sleeping group, his knees bend the wrong way!!  An amazing experience.

We head back towards Hamish and drive South to the main town where we grab a baguette for lunch.  Driving North to find somewhere to spot we spot 3 small groups of white horses, sadly they are not galloping through the waves but we can't be too greedy.

We eat our baguette and as it's still early we decide to try to get Arles and wifi sorted today before heading to the aire with leccy.  We are effectively now starting our journey home as we are heading North.

We arrive at the aire in Arles and are parked next to a British van!!!    Alastair goes off to find out if we need to pay the €5 requested at this time of year, we were advised we didn't need too.

Alastair is missing for a while so Lisa goes to find him and we have a conversation with a lovely English couple, how exciting.  We swapped stories and advice.   

It was around 3:30pm so eventually we had to tear ourselves away, grab all of our IT kit and get going.

As we walk beside the bridge several pigeons are in different states of dying and 1 is alive, floating helplessly away on the river, it was very distressing.

We walked through Arles to tourist information, they have free wifi however it's currently not strong enough to even get our what's app messages, useless.

We pick up the laptop and tablets and ask for a mobile phone shop, there is one across the road.  The guy is very helpful, he can't help us but signposts us to a huge store that may be able to help.

We set off and with the help of a young French man who is suitably horrified by our lack of wifi we arrive at the store after about half an hours walk.

By default we find the first shop that had been recommended to us.  The guy is incredibly helpful and takes time with us.  Without a French bank account he isn't able to help.  We do buy a SIM for our tablet as Alastair wants to update FB.

Not expecting a positive outcome we try our last shop Orange.  Again the service we received was exemplary.  The guy explained again a deal we could get with a French address and bank account that would be the answer to all of our problems.  Sadly he couldn't help either but was good company as we chatted about the disaster that is Brexit.   

The positive news is that the shopping centre has excellent wifi and while we are wandering around sorting all of this Lisa downloads The Independent and Alastair downloads the podcasts we have missed.

As we walk out it's starting to get dark, we have given it all with wifi and we resolve to just use wifi we can find in supermarkets and cafes.

On our walk back Alastair notes how good we are at finding our way home from a variety of city's.  As we cross the bridge the remains of the sunset means the twilight is strikingly beautiful.

It's almost 6pm by the time we get back, we are going nowhere tonight and will manage stuff in the morning.  Lisa cracks on with tea while Alastair gets first dibs at he newspaper.

Corro to Port of Istres, Tuesday 15th November 

We are awake but not braving getting into the cold yet and someone is running their motorhome engine to charge the battery.  Lisa comments that he needs a solar panel like us, fatal!!

Alastair gets up to put some heating on, we have no electricity meaning that nothing works.  

Alastair has a lighter for emergencies so Lisa puts the kettle on to give us some heat.

Alastair scrambles through the window to clean the solar panels off.  We have no idea why they have stopped working, since we had them 12 months ago.  We usually go days without needing to run the engine and there was plenty of sun yesterday.

We get breakfast and wash up using kettle water.   We also use it to get a wash and cold water from our drinking water container is used to clean our teeth.  Without leccy we can't run the water, flush the loo etc.

Unsurprisingly we are ready to go by 9am.  Hamish starts beautifully and we use the services before waving goodbye to the English couple.  It was so lovely to meet them.  We feel so much better than when we arrived having done loads of travelling over the last few days.

We need a supermarket today and follow signs for an Auchan but can't find it and en route to our overnight stop find a small Carrefour.  Amazingly for France we find felafel and houmous.

We drive on to our overnight stop which is less than an hour away from Carro.  We are still trying to chill.  Our car park is just past a tiny marina on a piece of waste ground overlooking the inland lake, an amazing spot.

We watch some little ones having a sailing lesson.

As we arrive so early we decide to walk into Istres to see if we can do something about our wifi problem.

We climb the steep hill out of the port, a woman passing us in a car.  We walk past a school, along a dual carriageway and then turn left towards the town.  The woman who passed us in the car is walking along the pavement and recognises us.

Eventually we arrive in the town and walk through to the other end where we find tourist information.   They have wifi and pass us a special bit of paper with the password.  It's useless, not fast enough to allow us to do any of the jobs we need to do.   

There is a photo reel of the annual fete where billions of sheep, goats and dressed up horses are paraded through the streets.

We walk back through town and spot an Orange shop.  Alastair's idea is that we buy a French data SIM.  The shop is closed but do are a number around here.  We decide to walk for a bit.

We head back the other way again and find a huge fountain of water jetting up in the sky.   By now it's 3pm so we walk back to the shop which is still closed.   We hang around.   

Finally the shop opens and we are in.  In his best French Alastair starts to explain our predicament, the guy suggests we try English.  He can't help us but is very lovely and tells us we need a Bouguet shop, 50 metres up the road.

When we arrive there is one woman serving.  She is dealing with a customer and has 2 more waiting, one with a bored child, us and another man.

Eventually it's our turn and Alastair explains what we need.  "Non".  she doesn't have one.  Does she know where we can get one? "Non".  Perhaps she is French Bavarian?

We leave completely bloody frustrated again.  We know she was hassled but to be so dismissive?  We are no further forward.  It looks like we'll be home before you can read this blog which wasn't the point!!! 

It takes us about 45 minutes to walk back and as we arrive in the port the woman in the car is there waving furiously at us.   A new friend.

We crash in H enjoying our view.

We are having the falafel for tea.  As we have time now we bought veggies today so Lisa could use the sauce we bought in Italy and freeze the meals for our journey home.  
Everything is ready and Lisa was just about to pour the pasta sauce in but something made her hesitate.  She hands the jar to Alastair to double check, using the Italian translation we realise it's got anchovies in.  Oooops.  The veggies get frozen and will have to wait for a pasta sauce!!!

Corro, Monday 14th November 

We have both had the best nights sleep in ages.   It's a cloudy day with a line of orange on the horizon.

Radio 4 works although we are dismayed to hear its warmer over the next couple of days in the UK than it is here!!  Then, because it's Charlie's birthday, we get the national anthem.   We cringe imagining the French wondering if this is something the Brits do every morning.

For breakfast we walk to the boulangerie to get a fresh baguette and a pain au chocolate for A.  Delicious.

It's chilly again today and we are beginning to think we'll b e heading a North soon.  We start to look at calendars when Alastair sees an alert.  Hamish's tax was due last week!!  Alastair gets back on line to pay it off.   Again lack of wifi has proved a problem.

We need a couple of things from the shop and head out. There is a British van on the aire!!!  We go over to say hello and have a proper conversation.  Our first in ages.

We get back from the supermarket and walk around the coastline towards the lighthouse.  The clouds begin to clear and it starts to warm up.  

We walk around a beautiful cove, with a deserted beach.  Then pick our way over a big rock ledge beside the cove and up some stone steps to the rocks that lead around a promentary to the lighthouse.

The rocks are volcanic in nature: sometimes pink smooth doughy rounds, sometimes like white pizza bread piled in layers.  Nearer the sea, where erosion has occurred, it becomes sharp edged whorls revealing hundreds of fossilised shells.  Fascinating.

We wander back across the rocks, across the beach and as we walk towards town we spot the yellow trailer box of our neighbour being towed.  The motorhome is on a low loader, ooops.

We already have a new neighbour.  A huge van that has come one step closer and completely blocks our sun.  We get our chairs out and sit in the sun but subject to the cold Mistral wind.

The English couple come over on their way for a walk.  Two conversations on one day.  We had worried we wouldn't know how having only spoken to each other for 3 months.

Eventually we are forced inside by the cold.   

We are keeping our eye open as we are due a Super Moon tonight.  Lisa finishes her tea and spots it making its climb over the lighthouse.   It's a beautiful, huge, orange moon.  The closest since 1948.    Lisa helps Alastair finish his tea then runs over to let the English couple know.  The four of us watch the moon and have another conversation!!!
Lisa persuades Alastair to play cards and she is in the lead until the third hand.   Then she looses.

Saints Baume to Corro, Sunday 13th November 

We wake to another chilly morning and are looking forward to getting down to sea level.  Two men are talking loudly outside H.   When we open the blinds we realise it's one man talking to himself?

Several people are arriving and starting the pilgrimage up to the grotto. We listen to TMS, a draw for the first match against India.

We are away just after 9am.  Another harem scarum journey down the mountain.  As we travel we listen to a 6 music podcast about Fela Kuti, what a man.  We make a note to get his albums when we get home.

We arrive just before 12 in the seaside village of Corro.  We park in the car park to check things out.   We debate staying here for a night before moving to the aire but we need water and signs say 'no parking for motorhomes', so we drive in.   

It costs just €13.70 for 2 nights and we are at the end of the harbour with great sea views.

We fill up with water and park up.  Hamish needs a proper clean.  Living in him 24/7 he soon gets grubby and Sainte Baume was muddy so the cab is filthy.   Carpets are out, cab, kitchen, bathroom and floor are all cleaned and it is just so lovely to have a clean home.

We go for a walk around the harbour to find a boulangerie and a little supermarket.  We wander on around the coast then back along the other coast to H.  

We have new neighbors who have a huge trailer covered in an unattractive yellow tarp.  They have parked it at the front of their van, so much for our sea view!!!  To be fair once inside Hamish it isn't too bad and the other side of the harbour wall is rammed with vans, we stay put.

We are shattered after several full on days.  Alastair frustrated by lack of connection with home and buys some wifi which is when he found out that his Senplus website has been cancelled because several attempts to contact him for payment have resulted in no reply.

Sainte-Baume, Saturday 12th November 

A noisy night and Alastair in particular has a poor night's sleep.  For the first time this trip there is ice on the outside of windows when we awake.  Alastair puts the heating on and does a lot of chuntering about how cold he is.  We'll be going home sooner if this keeps up.

We have no radio and of course wifi doesn't work.  While Lisa gets a shower Alastair spreads out all of the information about the wifi to give them a call.....again.   He phones at 8am but as it's Saturday they don't open until 9am which is 10am our time and we want to be on the road by then.  Reluctantly Alastair also gets a shower despite saying he was going to wait till later so it isn't so chilly.  He's always been a bit nesh. 

We set off for our first stop: Lidls for muesli.  It's absolute chaos at 9.30 with huge queues at the checkout and only two people serving.  One guy behind us in the queue asks a third woman who is near a till if she is opening it.   Her response is less than professional.  He questions the way she has spoken to him and a shouting match ensues across the shop.  Everyone feels embarrassed.

They don't sell fresh cows milk so we have to nip to the small Carrefour next door.  It's quiet with no queues and no shouting.   You get what you pay for.

We visit the service around the corner and fill up with water for €2 then we are off.  We have identified an aire by the sea where we want to spend a couple of nights, it's not free but we deserve a break.   So to get 2/3s of the drive done today without paying for autoroute we are heading to the Sainte-Baume plateau, whatever that might be.  No internet so no information.

The drive through the countryside will obviously take more time however after Italy the French roads are a dream: no pot holes (road moles) so we can drive at a reasonable speed, no tail gaters, people getting into their own lane before overtaking, bliss.   Alastair relaxes into the driving and begins to enjoy himself.  It is so less stressful when H isn't juddering over unprepared roads.  France is obviously so much wealthier.

Provence is beautiful and green and, unlike where we stayed last night,  the trees are turning Autumnal shades of copper.

Around 12:30 we find a layby and pull in for lunch and a break.   Alastair gets ready to make the call regarding wifi.   It's busy so we have to wait for a few minutes then Alastair speaks to a woman who helpfully explains that we have reached the limit of the data we can use in Europe for the next 12 months!!!!!!

When Alastair called 2 days ago and we were told everything was fine and that we haven't used our 20GB, it clearly wasn't and we have had to call again to discover this.     When Alastair increased his allowance they took the money and didn't say ' oh but you are limited to X'.  Apparently with 3Mobile the max data per month is 12GB (if you buy 20GB you can only use 8GB in the U.K.). AND you can only use the data sim in Europe for a max of 60 days per year.  When we topped up with another £15 after the data ran out last month they took the money but you can only use the top up in the U.K. So we were unable to use that as well.  There is nothing on the website, as far as Alastair who spent hours researching this, could see.  Apparently it is in the small print of the contract.  

Alastair gets put through to complaints.  A lovely guy from Glasgow refunds the £15, reduces our usage to the original amount and at Alastair's request closes the account. So when we get back to the UK we have to use our months allowance on the journey home because we can't use it here and the contract ends on the 12th December.

It looks as if we will have to buy data sims for the country we are in.

Wifi has been a huge learning curve, we need to find a different solution.  It has been infuriating.  In some ways this feels like a relief.  We no longer have the anxiety of wondering why it won't work and wondering if it will.  We can take control now and do something about sorting something out to at least be able to publish our blog.

We get going again and with the last 20 minutes there is a warning about a bendy road.  We stop and discuss it.  It's not Norway so we go for it.   The road is narrow, twisty and steep but we make it.

On the plateau at the top half of France is parked.   We are obviously missing something.  As we were driving up Lisa wondered if this was a place of pilgrimage?  It is!   For French Kings!!!!  Apparently in the cliffs above us Mary Magdalane lived towards the end of her life.  On the cliff above the plateau is a cave which looks from the photos right tacky.  Every French king has made the pilgrimage to her chapel.  The path up is called the path of Kings.

We don't take the Pilgrims route.  We wander around the field through wild thyme then read our book in the sunshine for a few minutes although the chill up here soon sends us back to Hamish.

Around 5pm we move to a less muddy spot although the car park is still busy.  After tea we snuggle down with blankets as the temperature plunges.  We take the blanket to bed for extra warmth.   We are hoping it'll be warmer at sea level.

San Remo, Italy to Lac de Saint Cassie, France, Friday 11th November 

A lovely goodbye to Italy.  We wake to another blue cloudless sky and deep blue Mediterranean Sea.  Another free night.

We eat breakfast overlooking the sea: stunning!

We get going about 9:30 and travel along the coast road.  We drive for about an hour without travelling far.  There seems to be one long queue of traffic through the Riviera.     We dread to think what it would be like in the height of the season.  We are so bored we swap notes on what kind of motor scooter we'd have if we lived here.

Eventually we get going surrounded by cars with a Monaco license plate. 

We shed a tear as we drive along the last km of Italian coast road and then we are at the border.   We are pulled over by the border police, with big guns.

Since we left the Uk we have not once been asked for our passports.   It's been amazing.   No doubt that will change with Brexit!   The advantage we have with French is the amount of French Alastair can read, understand and speak.

We are still not asked for our passport.  The police guy asks Alastair to open Hamish's door and puts his head inside to check we don't have any 'additional passengers'.  Satisfied he waves us on.

It is very windy but an otherwise beautiful day.  Alastair thought he had instructed satnav to avoid motorways but as soon as we are in France we are paying tolls.  Looking at our mountainous surroundings it seems a fair deal.

We stop at a services to give Alastair a break.   We have to nestle in amongst the lorries and walk to the shop to stretch our legs.  Free toilets!

We are approached by a Frenchman who asks:  'Are you English and in zee Camper?"  We confirm we are and he tells us we need to move and park right by the services because where we were is 'darnjeruss'.   It is very nice of him to warn us.  We go  straight back to find out that, after Lisa locked the side door, Alastair had unlocked it.  There are no 'additional passengers' in the bathroom or anywhere else.  

We get back on the road but within an hour of arriving in France have had two  reminders about how things have changed here, since the atrocities in Nice and Paris.

We stop for lunch at another services but don't leave Hamish.  We get 30 minutes of free wifi.   Oh the luxury.   We discover Leonard Cohen has died.  He has been a regular companion on our journey and on our lives.  Another monumental talent taken from us this year.

We leave the motorway and are soon driving across a lake with some suitable car parks around it.  We find a services stop and after picking up the cheapest diesel (1.14€) we have seen in a while we return to the lake.

We find a car park near the lake.  It's a bit near the road but when travelling we don't have the luxury of searching for the best stop.

We go for a scramble through the trees to the Lake and have 5 minutes in the sun.  

 Back at H we try the wifi, of course it doesn't work.  Then we try the radio, it's GQT (Gardeners Question Time).  It works!   How delicious.

We manage the news and the Leonard Cohen feature on last doors then the radio becomes white noise.  Lisa has her head in her hands in despair but we turn it around. As our mark of respect it's a Leonard Cohen night.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Italy 1

Tomorrow- FRANCE

Arenzano to San Remo, The Italian Riviera, Thursday 10th November 

It ended up being a quiet and free night.   We wake at 6 and get Test Match Special on Radio 4 long wave.   Lovely especially as England are winning and Boycott is a very happy man.  Sadly just before 7 it merges to indecipherable Italian.  Oh well better than nothing.

Over breakfast Lisa announces she had a nightmare in which Trump won the presidency.   Bloody scary nightmare.

After showers and breakfast we get back on the Auto Strada.  It seems to us this section of coast is a mare for campers (because it is very busy on very narrow windy streets) so we are just driving through as fast as we can without killing ourselves.  

We also want to try to shop again before we leave Italy.  The supermarkets here have been a treasure trove for us.  Hamish took us to the Loire a couple of years ago and we realised how much we benefit in the UK from the diversity of food that different cultures bring and how France absolutely fails to embrace any of those cultures.

We use the services again on the Auto Strada.  We have to drive over a deep steel trough for grey water.   Hamish drives into it but can't get out.   Alastair reverses and then drives at it with some grunt.   Hamish bounces in and out of the trough twice.  While Alastair goes to check out the services Lisa rearranges everything in the cupboards.   We cheekily fill up our water tank from a little tap behind a box where a man is helping people with their petrol.

We leave the motorway and descend rapidly to the coast.   Immediately we are overwhelmed by tiny streets, packed with little shops and people.   So much seems to be squeezed into such a small space.

We get to our car park which has a brilliant view overlooking the sea.   We are in a line of campers and the couple next to us are stereotypically Italian, short, round and shout to each other when standing side by side.   Then the guy drops and smashes a glass thing, more shouting.

It's only 11:30am and if she would let him Alastair would be off to France immediately.   Lisa tries to give us chance to be a little more sensible.  Once we leave Italy we are on the French Riviera and we can't stop there either.  We put our next possible overnight stop into sat nav, 3 hours.   Even Alastair concedes that is too much to do.  

Supermarket is the next job and according to satnav there is one just round the corner so we go to explore.   A space has become available further down so we move Hamish, next to another Italian couple.   This time can only hear the crashing of the waves, not the smashing of glass.

We head to Coop.  We are so lucky it's a reasonable sized coop with all the things we love.    We can only carry so much so we stock up on the things we doubt France will provide: vegan ravioli, pre made Tuscan hearty soup/stews, vegan ice cream, cheese and a bit of vermentino and Angelo Poretti beer.

After lunch we go for a walk along the front.   You have to pay to go on the beach!!!??? It's a beautiful day so we find a bench to read on until the flies find us and we have to move to a different bench.

A woman comes along with two little hairy dogs and a medium sized, short haired, chestnut brown dog who wants us to play with her brand new yellow tennis ball but is a little too wary to let us get close enough to touch her.   Her owner then kicks the ball, hits the dog and the ball  bounces and goes over the wall and down onto the inaccessible beach.   The wee brown hound is disconsolate and barks and barks.  So the group start the journey to find a way down onto the beach.  Eventually we see them return below us and watch the bouncy hound find her ball.  Heart warming!

We head for the Coop again to get the things we couldn't carry this morning although this is going in Friday's  new budget as we are over by €45 with tolls and petrol.

It's still sunny so we get our books and go back to the front to find a bench.   The sweet brown hound is still there with her owner.  When brown hound spots us she recognises us and treats us like long lost friends snuggling in between us on the bench with her tennis ball.

Back in H we checked our wifi thing again, absolutely nothing.   It is so frustrating.  Alastair wants to try again in France then we will have to take alternative measures.  It seems hardly worth writing the blog!!  We also have no Radio 4 here but the sea compensates.

We had hoped to be able to sit outside to watch the sunset but the sun has moved too far  to our right.  Still with amazing sea views and the sound of the waves we decide this may be the best place we will get and crash a bottle of Pouilly Fume that we have carried with us since home.

It's lovely to lie in bed and hear the waves.

Marina de Carrara to Arenzano, Wednesday 9th November 

That was a lovely quiet night although Lisa is still awake at 5:30am.  It's chilly this morning, we can see our breath,  we even put the heating on for a few minutes.

It's results day for the American elections so Lisa puts the Radio on, just white noise.  Alastair try's to fiddle with the aerial, nothing.  

Today is the day our wifi comes back on line so we switch it on.  Nothing.   Aaaaagh.

Lisa puts a coat over her pjs, chucks her jeans on and takes a cuppa to the bridge that leads to the beach to connect to marina wifi and get news.

It can't be true though because Trump is winning???  Lisa stands freezing on the bridge, making contact with people back home and getting updates.   Then it's confirmed.  We have a sexual predator, con man and bully as the next President.  

How must half of Americans feel? The Mexicans?  It's like Brexit all over again but for the World the implications of this are so much worse!

Back in Hamish Alastair phones our wifi provider.  They tell us we have loads of data.  Nothing works.  Frustrated yet again by wi fi we get going.

We have completely avoided the AutoStrada but today we get on.   At the toll booth you pick up a ticket and pay as you leave.  The tolls are on Lisa's side so seeing nothing else Lisa suggests she pushes the huge red button?   Nooooo shouts Alastair.  But after eliminating all other possibilities it really is the red button!  As we drive away Alastair chunters about it not being green.

At the first services we stop and use the motorhome services.  In the garage they have some liquid for our chemical loo, hooray!!!!  It's their last bottle.  We stop at the next services and buy their last bottle too.  On a roll!  

We put our destination in satnav if we leave the Auto Strada asap.  It will take us just over an hour if we stay on.   It will take nearly 4 if we get off and pay no tolls.   A no brainier.  We stay on the Autostrada.

We plan to stop at a place called Camogli, on the same wee peninsula as the famous Porto Fino.  When we get off the Auto Strada we are on tiny narrow and windy roads because the mountains tumble into the sea here.  Not ideal.  These towns are beautiful, built on the coast, climbing up into the hillside with large Victorian looking hotels.   Just a wee bit over exciting for H.

As we drive to our stop we take a tight left to find the road closed and the diversion is a sharp right onto a tiny wee road and sharp left to get back on the route.  A is visibly nonplussed as all the options look impossible.  The diversion men who are diverted by taking down a tree and the look on A's face take a second look at Hamish and move the sign waving him on through.

We stop and get lunch.  The overnight place is In a car park, no views and it's only 1pm. We decide to get back on the road and the Auto Strada.  We pass Genoa in the rain and go through tunnel after tunnel after tunnel after tunnel.

We leave and arrive in Arenzana, another wee town tumbling down from the mountains into the sea.  Our spot is far from obvious so we pull over and Lisa scouts around; nothing.  There is a free car park so we manage to get an end space with views across the sea, lovely if you ignore the traffic and the cars constantly skimming past us to leave the car park.  When overtaking cars don't get in their lane then overtake.  No they overtake half in your lane aswell.   Some cautious Italian drivers drive with their right wheels over the line, understandably.

Alastair reverses slightly taking up some of the space behind so no one will squeeze in.  How long has he been in Italy?  Someone soon wedges themselves in.

We imagine the car park will soon quieten but it gets busier and busier.  As it's dark we close the windows and snuggle in. At 6pm Lisa puts the 5pm news on.  However hard we try we can't hear above the Italian station that is coming through more clearly.  We give in and put some music on.

When we get into bed Lisa accidentally drops Alastair's kindle down a small gap at the head of Hamish's bed.  Alastair's book is like his pacifier so there is no way we are going to sleep without it.  Various implements are taken from the kitchen drawer, a spatula, a fish slice, some tongs, fork and knife.  After careful manoeuvring Alastair gets it to a point Lisa can reach and slide it out.   Phew WWIII averted.

Pisa to Marina de Carrara, Tuesday 8th November 

We wake at 5:30am, Lisa can't get back to sleep but Alastair does and sleeps till 7:30.  He did the wide awake bit between midnight and 2am.  If only we could synchronise.

While we get breakfast we plan.  The next part of our journey leads onto the Italian Rivera and there are very few services do we need to plan ahead as best we can then, this being Italy, adapt like mad when it doesn't work out.

We travel towards the East coast and its lovely when we glimpse the sea; then it's gone.    Along most of the coast that leads onto a beach there are a thousand tiny restaurants or hotels linking up so the beach isn't visible from the road, it's such a shame.

Alastair suggests it's indicative of the individualism shown by the Italians, nothing is co ordinated, chaos seems to reign.  For example on the road as you approach a roundabout, nobody signals, everyone just piles on and good luck.  Our caution leads to the occasional beep from behind but more usually they just overtake, anywhere, at any time.

We get to a little car park and it's a short walk to the sea.  We get lunch and Lisa tries the radio and it may be crackly but we can hear Radio 4, she strokes the radio and practically purrs with delight.

There is another car park slightly further up the Coast so after lunch we decide to check it out knowing that it would be fine to stay here.   There is also a Carrefour 2 km away so we decide to try again for toilet stuff.   There is no joy in the Carrefour.   Christmas toys are taking up a huge amount of space so anything relating to holidays seems to have been put away.

We drive past the Marina where the car park is and find a little car park just as the road bends inland.  We park up and check it out.   Of course we can't see the sea for the line of restaurants but there is a little walkway which takes us to the beach and the Mediterranean.

The sun is shining for the first time in a few days and we decide to stay here.  Despite our best efforts we have already walked 6,000 steps so we retreat to Hamish to read and chill for the afternoon. 

Just before tea we walk onto the beach and watch an amazing sunset, sadly the wind is too chilly for us to be able to stay out.  So dive back into the warmth of H at around 5.30.  Sun sets early nowadays.

Peccioli to Pisa, Monday 7th November 

That was a lovely, quiet and free night.   We sleep well but are up at 6am.  It's a dry and cloudy day.   We have a chunk of bread left so get 'almost toasted' bread for breakfast: big treat.

As we leave Peccioli we visit the supermarket nearby, it's very disappointing.  We have found Italian supermarkets to be a complete treasure trove of gorgeous food but this one had little to offer us.  

We need diesel and as the price varies wildly from petrol station to station we have been holding out.  We get it at € 1.29 a litre and also fill up LPG whilst we are there.

We head towards Pisa.  We need to get some chemical toilet stuff very soon.  We almost ran out when we arrived in Italy but found some in a Carrefour.  Alastair is confident we will get some in a Decathlon and on our way to Pisa we spot one just off the dual carriageway.  We leave at the next exit which was for Pisa then try to find our way back which is far more complicated than it should be. 

We pass what looks like an Italian favela built out of plywood and corrugated tin.  We spot a woman and a couple of children.  Shocking.

Eventually we manage to get back on the dual carriageway and find Decathlon.  We wander around but it doesn't look hopeful.  Alastair takes in the container and asks if they sell it.  No they don't do it but the OBI opposite might?  We drive across.  Again we find nothing so Alastair brings in the bottle to ask.  They have finished selling it; we assume for the season.

Next door to OBI there is a huge Coop so needing to feel slightly successful we go and buy most of the things we couldn't get elsewhere.   When you buy fruit, veg and bread you have to weigh it and get a price sticker.     Alastair is charged with sorting out an avocado.  Lisa can see his hands waving in the air in exasperation at the weighing machine and is going to help when an Italian woman who is waiting patiently behind to weigh her greens assists.   Lisa watches as there was more arm waving from Alastair and patiently the woman explains this was an exotic fruit and where the price button is.

By now it's about 12 so we get going to Pisa.  Thanks to our free night we'll need services so we go to the aire de Sosta, €12.

We park up and study the map at the entrance.  There is nothing to say 'you are here' so we set off hopefully.   The only thing that infuriates Alastair more than our lack of wi fi is the lack of a decent map.

Across the car park are bikes to rent and Lisa spots a map that says where we are so we set off in vaguely the right direction.  Alastair is not at all convinced it's the right direction though and asks a couple of guys.  Thankfully this is a university town so they speak English.

We set off in the direction indicated.  Pisa was evidently a hugely wealthy town and there are big three storey houses.  It's a bustling city full of students and, maybe due to the time of year, just feels like a city without tourists.

We walk until we get to the Arno river.   We have a vague idea from Lonely Planet where the tower is so turn right and walk along the river.   

The Arno is in spate and trees are being carried along rapidly in its currents.

We arrive at a railway line, no map, no signs, no tower.   We turn right because we have no choice and then we see a sign for cars to the Pedante, or tower.  We follow this for a few streets and again Alastair is not happy.  He is dragging his feet and wants to turn right, Lisa said it looks like a dead end do if we could just walk a little further?

There is another signpost so we carry on walking then the brown signs indicate other places of interest which usually means the place you are looking for is here... somewhere?

Alastair spots a white building to our right so we walk through the gap in the wall.  There, finally, in all its whiteness is the Basilica, the Doumo, the Campo and the Tower.   Thankfully however many millions of times we have seen the image, it's even the front cover of our Italy Lonely Planet.   The Tower is still impressive and the lean looks even more leaner in real life.

We wander round the Green then go into the ticket office as tickets for the Duomo are free.  We are given a timed ticket and walk back and hand it in to the security guy.  Lisa observes he looks cold, he tells us he has a temperature and unlike people like us 'from the North' he's not used to this chill.  It is about 16C.

Inside the Cathedral is being renovated so some of the ceiling and alter is hidden.  The marble pulpit sculpted by Giovanni Pisano is the most impressive thing in the Cathedral but it's not lit so it's difficult to make out all of the amazing scenes.  We sit on the pews for a few minutes reflecting on 'Cathedrals we have seen lately', this is not one of our favourites.  We leave and go and study the Tower.  There is a soldier with a machine gun at the entrance.   

We begin to walk back into the centre along the route most people would have taken to get here.  The streets are lined with restaurants.  This is a student town and with few tourists it's lovely to see them sat in cafes.

We spot an interesting building which has an information sign.  It was the home of the Medici windows and, as in Florence, they had a corridor built high between buildings for them to get out and visit friends.

We walk back towards the outskirts of the City.  Our feet ache and we are shattered.  By the end of the day we will have walked just under 22,000 steps and around 18,000 has been a regular event for us.   Our next planned stop had been Lucca but we both feel that we have done more than enough Italian cities for a while and are now not doing them justice.

As we were approaching H we  spot a Carrefour so we decided to check it out as this is where Lisa had spotted the toilet liquid last time.  No joy.

Back at Hamish we collapse too tired to even plan. We managed to stay awake until 8:30.

Volterra to Peccioli, Sunday 6th November.

We finally fell asleep early this morning and awake bleary eyed. As Alastair put it: we try hard to chill so we are ready to move on and something else comes along and beats us up.

The morning starts dry and we get showers and use the services before we leave.  An Italian guy who isn't leaving till later comes up behind us waiting for the services.  It turns out that they have a hired van which doesn't come equipped with a suitable hose so he uses our to fill up before we set off.

Our next stop is less than an hour away.  As we drive the grey clouds contrast beautifully with the green hills.  There are rainbows and lots of water on the road.  Rivers are yellow brown and in spate after the huge amount of rainfall that fell last night.  We spot places where rivers have burst their banks.

We start to climb up again to the hill town of Peccioli.   Only 2 switchback turns, Alastair is so skilled at these now Hamish takes up less space than a little car coming the other way.   We arrive at the aire to find it locked for the season.  27 point turn required.  SNAFU. There is a parking space back down in the valley.  So we drive back down to check it out.

The car park is just past a Coop on a huge area of green land.  We park up, get lunch and have a house meeting.

We are both knackered so can't do much today but just staying here feels a little unsatisfactory.    We need a laundrette again as we have two lots of washing and several days of clothing to get done.  The plan is to do it tomorrow but in a wet and windy day we decide to go looking.  

According to satnav there is one nearby so we drive into town.  As we search we pass above a river that has burst it's banks and the fields are flooded.   Of course the laundrette doesn't exist but there is supposed to be another one a few km further on and as we set off, at the bottom of the road we are already on, is a laundrette!

We park in the supermarket car park opposite, closed on Sunday, and take our laundry across to the launderette.

In Italy it seems most people have washing machines and use laundrettes for large bedding but few people have tumble dryers and use the laundrette just to dry their clothes.   So there is one room just for dryers and a separate washer dryer room.  

We get our bedding in a usual size machine, all our towels and clothes in one double size one.   It's also got one of those amazing change machines.  Alastair nips to a bank to get more notes and we replenish our depleted pot of change.  

We sit and read our books while the rain hammers down again.  Everything washed and dried we return to the car park as it's 4pm.   It's so lovely having Hamish smell of freshly washed things.  We will hopefully only need one more wash now before home.

We have views over fields from our little spot.  The rain stops but the wind is strong and rocks Hamish.   The sky turns a very vivid colour of yellowey orange but obviously there is no sun so not sure where it's coming from.    We listen to the Archers on a podcast, only 2 weeks behind, and see if Oliver and Caroline are interested in any of those Tuscan villas we saw for sale.  

Volterra, Remember, remember Saturday the 5th November...

We sleep till 7:30am which is brilliant for us.  For the first time in ages it's raining, proper rain.  

We decided last night that we are going nowhere today.  So we have a slow and lazy start to the day.

Just after 8am Alastair goes to pay for a car park ticket.  The credit card isn't accepted and it says payment is 0.   We pay in cash because we are not convinced.  The chances are at this time of year no one will check but we don't want to spend all day worrying about it and it saved our lives last night so they deserve a tenner.

Eventually we are kitted up in waterproofs and ready to brave the rain.   In this weather we are hoping to get wifi in tourist information and take Lisa's iPad.

We begin the walk into town past a medieval fountain and up some steps out of The Exorcist.   Volterra was chosen as the town for the filming of the coven of vampires for one of The Twilight movies.  It looks like the kind of place where vampires should live.

At the top of the steps there is a bakery.  We have struggled for a couple of things in Italy: tea bags and some bread has been disappointing.  When eating our last Tuscan loaf Alastair thought it didn't have salt.   The baker spoke a little English and sure enough asked Alastair if we wanted salt or not.   Ah that's where we have been going wrong.

It's a very windy day and as we arrive in a Piazza del Priori the market stalls are collapsing in the wind, clothes are flying off railings and the stall holders fight against the wind to pack everything back in their vans.  Volterra means 'flying earth'.  That'll be aptly named then!

First stop Tourist Information: "Wi fi?".  "No.  You have to go to a bar", was the less than helpful response.  (Get some lessons from Poggibonsi).

We continue to wander round in the wind and rain admiring the beautiful buildings, little cobbled alleyways with arches, it's all very atmospheric.  We spot a cafe with wifi and huddle up outside to try to get some wifi.

We wander some more then give up and go into a cafe with free wi fi and buy half a carafe of red wine.    It's so lovely to have contact with people.  Nigel has rumbled us on Giotto Gate.

 Lisa downloads a weeks worth of newspapers, finally news. It's dominated by the court ruling regarding Brexit and the Murdoch press's appalling, but completely predictable responses.  What planet are they on?   We just feel so ashamed.  

Lisa searches back to The Independent the day after we felt the earthquake tremors.  There is a photo of Norcia, devastated, but thankfully no deaths have been reported.

 Alastair downloads:  weather, (we may have a thunderstorm this afternoon), books (including book club novels) and an audio book to listen to in the evenings  The only thing we couldn't do is publish the blog although it is ready.

We wander a little more and look down on the remains of a Roman amphitheater.  We nose in an estate agents window at the Tuscan villas and suggest sending the details to Oliver and Caroline.  Volterra is a small town and we have seen most of it now.  We retreat to Hamish to devour the papers, read books and chill.

The rain continues to fall heavily but disappointingly we only hear one roll of thunder.   Unlike the white cat who meows persistently outside H.  She is far too white to be a stray so must have learnt how to get presents from motorhomes.   Hamish can't meet her eyes.  Sadly we have nothing on board this veggie van for hungry pussycats.

Around 1am we wake to the sound of the rain thundering down on Hamish's roof and now we get the storm with big thunder and lightening  It rolls away and we begin to doze off.   Nearly asleep when it returns with a vengeance.  Massive booming thunder rolls round and round our heads.   We open the blinds on the skylight to watch the sky light up as the thunder roars.   Eventually it begins to move away.  The rain continues to hammer down.  To sleep, perchance to dream?  No perchance!

It's now nearly 3am.  Lucky it is an 800 page book.   The storm returns for a third bite at the cherry, banging and roaring around us again.  We need some sleep!!

Poggibonsi via San Gimignano to Volterra, Friday 4th November 

Lisa is awake very early due to the traffic noise.   Thankfully it doesn't bother A as much.   

After breakfast and showers we go to explore Poggibonsi.    It seems that during the medieval period it never really hit the heights of fame in the same way as nearby towns but they are making a renewed effort to attract tourists after recent finds.

We walk up the hill towards the castle and half way up find the fountain of the fairies.  It's one of the recent finds.   It had tall arches, a space to watch the fountain and a cattle trough.   Inside the fountain is a very weird art work of terracotta men lying in a foetal position amongst crocodiles; eerie.

Opposite the fountain they are beginning to discover remains of a town settlement.

At the top of the hill are the walls of a castle that was never really built.  Begun and started again over many centuries.  At one point the Medici's sponsored the building of it to protect them from Sienna then lost interest, in the 1600s.  The area is now used for growing olive trees.

We walk along the top of the hill following a walkway to find a Keep: rectangular in shape it is unique in Tuscany, probably because it was built much later and even has gun emplacements.  The Keep never saw fighting and was mainly used as a kitchen to feed soldiers from other  towns.

We wander around the Keep and are just leaving when a man asks where we are from, mutters 'Inglise' and disappears.  We carry on leaving, then he reappears with 2 booklets: one about the town, one about the area and also a rolled up map.  He also indicates how we can climb higher and we retrace our steps.  We missed some exciting bits.

Climbing higher we have spectacular views over the Tuscan hillside.   We relax in the sun reading and learning about the town. This man greatly enhanced our understanding and thus enjoyment by going a wee bit further to help, even though he had no English it really didn't matter.  Some tourist information offices could take a few lessons.  Unfortunately he'd disappeared by the time we came to leave so we were unable to thank him properly.  All of this interesting stuff around Poggibonsi is also completely free.  Marvellous.

We leave the Keep and carry on walking and we spot some thatched houses through the trees.    Across this part of the hill, archaeologists have spent months digging and discovered remains of settlements from the fifth century, then some from the 7th and an organised farm from the 9th century.   It's on the grounds of these finds that they have rebuilt the thatched huts.   From the 11th century they found a little church to St Agnes and graves suggesting this was an area of pilgrimage.  It again is fascinating.

Wandering around in the sun and discovering all of this is just lovely.   We are the only people about which was great for us but we hope they get the tourism they are seeking.  It doesn't have the 'in your face' beauty of local towns but is fascinating and would be great fun for kids for a day.

We find our way back into the little town old town.  There is a Gormley iron man here.  They get everywhere!!! But we don't walk that far as we need to get back.

After a pleasant morning we are soon reminded of the challenges of travelling.  We need to use the services and as Lisa is helping Alastair reverse over the drain to empty our grey water (washing up and shower water) she notices a huge turd on the top of the grill.  Fair enough!  This is also the toilet emptying area but just to leave it there?   Disgusting!!!!  Lisa starts heaving while Alastair uses the water hose to get rid of it.  (Not the 'heaving' the **it.)

We need fresh water and there is a drinking water hose here so we put in 10cents to fill up our water container.  It doesn't work.   It appears someone has cut the hose off.  By now another motorhome has appeared and is waiting to empty his loo.    Thank goodness Alastair cleared away the jobby or he might have thought it was us.

We drive away towards our next stop.  Then we have a moment of serendipity.  Our muesli has just run out but we haven't seen a Lidl since buying the last lot and the first shop sign we see is Lidl.  Hurrah!  Small pleasures.   We get muesli and carry on to a Pam's supermarket.  

In the supermarket Lisa glances at the Italian newspapers.  She understands one word.   Brexit is the headline on every broadsheet.   We fulfill Alastair's request to buy wine at the €5 or 6 mark which considerably increases our bill and retreat to the car park.  As usual the beggars spot us and one guy just won't give up;  however nicely we tell him we are not giving him money.  It's intimidating and, feeling intimidated, we just secure the shopping as best we can and get going.

We drive to San Gimignano which unfortunately for us is a major tourist spot and therefore very expensive.  We see the famous skyline of towers as we approach.   We drive to the aire to see if we can get water but it's practically under military control and we are not paying €20 to stay.  We drive to our planned overnight spot: a wee car park with views over the countryside. 

We get lunch and have a house meeting about what next.   We don't have enough drinking water to get tea and a cuppa and we don't have enough in the tank for washing up etc.   We mull over walking into town with a rucksack and bringing back a couple of litres of water to get us through but we are shattered.  Yesterday was Sienna and we have walked Poggibonsi this morning.  The thought of walking round yet another medieval Italian town this afternoon is just not filling us with enthusiasm.  Because we are in a hilly area there is no where else to go for water other than our next planned spot: Volterra.

Reluctantly we feel we have little choice but to get going.  Clearly we are not the only ones who are worn out for as we pull away satnav refuses to work.  Alastair puts the hazard lights on and we wait.  It's not playing so we set off to see what happens.   We travel up and drive around the city walls.  A disembodied Scottish sat nav voice tells us where to turn but the screen shot hasn't changed.  We get onto a mountain road and Alastair pulls over and again we wait for satnav.  A accidentally finds our first walking path.  The Franciscan Way.  This would be beautiful countryside to bumble through.  Perhaps another year.

Reluctantly Andy the satnav starts to work and we get going.  The view is stunning: beautiful olive groves, vineyards (possibly Stings?), rolling hillsides, autumnal colours on the trees.  Very Tuscan.   Then the trees and vertiginous drops of the roadside disappear and we have bare softly rounded cultivated hills which feels slightly incongruous.  All very soft and lovely though.   Lulling H into a false sense of relaxing security. 

 We begin to climb.   And climb.   Switchback turns and precarious drops to the side return; on steroids.  We hadn't realised Volterra was set on a mountain!!!!  A big blue bus is on Hamish's arse.  Alastair manages to let it pass by tucking into a narrow driveway which the bus uses to intimidate oncoming traffic into braking swiftly.  We continue to climb.  

Near the town satnav, clearly still sulking, tries to take us through a town gate which we are absolutely not allowed to go through according to the massive signs on either side.  Alastair manages to turn away.  Whew. Then we are on a road that is not for vehicles as wide as H.   More signs.  There is a car behind us so we can't reverse.  Not really what you need when you are tired after a long enough day.  We hold our breath and squeeze down the road.  It seems to work because we reach the bottom down a steep slope onto a little car park.  Phew.  Sweat.  Deep breaths.  Dead end and we need to retrace the route.

The car park has amazing views but we aren't noticing.   Hamish starts to climb steeply out of the car park; skids on the gravel road and stalls.  Sweats!  H starts again and we managed to climb out of the car park and back onto a road.  Satnav is trying to give us an alternative route but it is completely confusing.  We are on our way back down the mountain?

A Coop is about half way down so we turn in.  Again, because everything here is on a hill, there is a steep climb into the car park.  Alastair and Hamish are amazing and we make it.  Sweats!  Time for reassessment.

Satnav gives us the location of an Aire with services, for a tenner.  That'll do for us but based on our days experience we don't want to risk that it will have the services we need and use the Coop to buy 6 bottles of unfizzy water.

H sets off again with wheels crossed.  Apart from one wrong turn, Alastair's fault, the route takes us to the aire which turns out to be the one we were supposed to be heading for in the first place.  Blooming typical: when we are tired stuff conspires to stress us all to the limit.

The water works.  We fill up and park up.  There is a note on the electricity box that we didn't have to pay on this machine so we plug in.  Bonus.  It is almost 5pm, we are knackered.  We give satnav a break and enjoy our views up to the old town and down over the valley, way below, sitting with H; all slightly shell shocked.

Payment is 8am till 8pm and we decide to risk not paying for today and crack the beers.  We drink one of the Chiantis we bought earlier and produced in a local town.   It is a complex and delicious mix of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet.  Gorgeous.

We have free electricity so we fire up the MacBook and watch 'You've Been Trumped'.   Trump tried so hard to stop the dissemination of this DVD that Alastair had to order it directly from the director in Scotland for £16 to get a copy.    The most expensive DVD he has ever brought.  Well worth the effort.  A brilliant and terrifying insight into Trump.   A complete charlatan is Alastair's verdict.  A complete understatement is Lisa's verdict on Alastair's verdict!!! We are starved for news currently but should have wifi just in time to hear the result of the US elections.

The film helps us stay awake till 8:30 overdosing on wine, peanuts and chocolate.  Then we can crash.

Lago Trasimeno via Sienna to Poggibonsi, Thursday 3rd November 

After a quiet night we are up early and ready for a full day.  We leave the little aire by 8.30 and go to look for some services that are operational.  We wait until one of the other vans have their windows open before we drive off so they know it's not us who have been irresponsible.

We head across country on little roads through beautiful villages.  It's a hilly climb but fine for Alastair.  Then we go up a very steep hill and at the top there is a junction at which the lights turn red as we approach.  Of course because it's Italy the person behind us is virtually parked under our bumper and Alastair begins to sweat.  The lights change and he executes a perfect hill start.   The smoke from the tyres is a minor point.

We turn left onto the little mountain road and the service stop approaches quickly so we miss it.  Alastair manages to turn around and we head back and turn into the road.  The services are shut for the Winter by a barrier.  So now we are on a dirt track, nowhere to go forward.  So with Lisa's help Alastair reverses back onto the main road and with Lisa running beside she jumps back in and we are off to the next Services.

Again we travel up and down mountain roads for 20 minutes until we get to our stop.   We park and look down at the very steep gravel track that leads to the services.  Some workmen have just filled a hole and, why waste money on a roller?  A van is driving forwards and backwards over the soil to flatten it.  We park up and walk down to inspect the services. They seem in working order.  We collect Hamish and he drives carefully down the slope.   He looses his footing once but we get done and get sorted.  

Getting back up the slope is more interesting.  Obviously.  Part of the steep climb is tarmac but then rises to gravel.  Hamish slips to he side and we begin to loose him before Alastair brilliantly steers away and we are safely out and on the road.  Double sweat quotient and it is not yet 9.30.

We enjoy the rest of the journey, beautiful Autumnal colours reflect from the trees and glimpses of views across hillsides.  We drive through Chianti country, wouldn't mind if we do.

We arrive in Sienna and drive to a large 'recommended' car park, following satnav.  We turn up a tiny street and as we reach the entrance realise it's an underground car park with height restrictions.  Shit!  The car behind us immediately starts beeping.  So H pulls forward.  But the route ahead is terminated by the narrow medieval city gates, through which H cannot fit.  And we are stopped on a bus stop.  A bus arrives immediately; of course.  Triple sweats.

Alastair rapidly puts another address into satnav.  Lisa gets out to guide and Hamish performs a 3 point turn in a tiny space.   Again Lisa runs and jumps aboard.

Not really sure what happens to the next stop but we circle a nearby motorhome stopover which is €20 for 24 hours.  After driving round the ring road again we give it a go.  Surely they do prices for a few hours?  They don't.  It's €20 for 24 hours.  We listen to the traffic racing round the ring road that surrounds this aire and decide against it.

When we ask the man in the aire selling tickets, he explains that if we get back on the bypass and leave at the next exit there is free parking and from there we can get a bus into Sienna.

We head off.   Sure enough the first exit leads to Calla Aqua where we park up with other motorhomes.  So now what?

We walk towards the first bus stop we can see.  It's incomprehensible.  Nothing suggests the bus goes to Sienna.  There are no times.  We are lost.  Lisa suggests we walk for a little way.

We walk for 20 minutes and are on a different busy road.  A different bus stop.  It's still incoherent.  We are on the road between Florence and who knows where, so these aren't little buses.  We could end up anywhere.  Lisa wants to keep walking.

We have a house meeting.  By now Alastair has had enough and would be more than happy to move on.  'Burn Sienna!'  Lisa suggests we look on google maps.  We do and there is no scale so as Alastair says we could be miles away.   At this point Lisa doesn't exactly stamp her feet but she does announce: "But I have always wanted to go to Sienna"! Typical emotional extortion!

The conclusion of the house meeting is that we'll walk for another 25 minutes until 12.  After all we are very good at walking and what else do we have to do?  At 11:55 Lisa can only see more road and gives in and suggests we go back.  But we had agreed till 12.  (Thank goodness for male autism.)  So we keep walking.

There is still no sign of the city at 12.00 but Alastair now says we may as well keep walking.  Eventually we see a  medieval  town gate.  It's taken us just under an hour which is a lot of walking when you don't know you will get anywhere.

Just after the town gates we get a slice of pizza each.  Alastair has delicious enclosed spinach and cheese and Lisa chooses tomato and oregano which was was so much better than the one we had in Gubbio.  Total 3.50€.  Bargain.

Sienna is, as predicted, a beautiful medieval town.  When we walk into the Campo it's a wow moment. The place famous for being where they race horses around the shell shaped Piazza.  The Doumo is a bit bling, a facade like a giant white gelato, for us.  Sat in the Piazza we get wifi for the first time in a few days.  Several people have heard about the earthquake we felt and not having heard from us are concerned which is very lovely of them.

As we walk back through town we cast judgement on the debate about 'Florence or Sienna'.   No contest is Alastair's judgement.   We were incredibly lucky as one of our 'stirring the porridge celebration' gifts was a few days in Florence.  So, ever the Libran, Lisa suggests that maybe we would enjoy Sienna more given time.  Then she lists the amazing things the Medicis and Borgia bought to Florence and agrees.   No contest.

It takes us an hour and a quarter to walk back to Hamish, picking up some cut up pumpkin en route to go with tea.

As we climb in a young Italian couple are just setting off next to us.  The culprits of last nights toilet crime!!!!  Let's hope we are driving to different places!

We drive for 20 minutes to Poggibonsi.  We had to visit mostly because of the name. As we approach our turn off there is a police check pulling people in.  Well that can't possibly be our stop!  So we sail past; realising, too late, it was!

Alastair has to turn into another tiny car park.  No way forward, no space to park.  Oh joy!  H is ably assisted by Lisa to squeeze back out.  He  drives back to our stop.  Lisa gives the police guy her best smile.  We pull up behind a bush and crack open a beer.  Feel as though we need about ten! 

This is not a pretty aire and it's too close to a main road but it's convenient, it's free and it's home for the night.

Tomorrow is a new budget so we do our sums.   €70 in credit!!   From Alastair's Facebook messages we picked up earlier a court ruling on Brexit has led to the pound increasing.  Keeping fingers crossed because it could help with the increased wine budget.  (As it transpires it was only an increase of .01, it is still 0.6 less than when we started this trip.)

Lisa takes advantage of Alastair's tiredness to get him to play cards again.  This time she gives him a run for his money so he almost enjoys it.,

Gubbio to Borghetto sul Lago Tresimino, Wednesday 2nd November 

We wake to a cloudy day.   Mount Ignio has vanished in the cloud.  Time to move on.   Alastair feels happy and content, this has been an amazing little spot for us.

Originally we were going to Assisi from here but it's clearly a major site of pilgrimage and too expensive for us.  We head further South and West.

We put our next planned stop into sat nav which says there is no motorhome route to our stop.   Have they been to Norway?  Alastair accepts the car route to the side of Lake Trasimino.

The journey is fine but when we get within 5 minutes of arrival sat nav indicates a bridge that is too low for us to go under which explains why there is no motorhome route.    Sat nav gives an alternative which it also indicates we can't use.  Completely confused we park up and walk.   At the end of the road that leads to the Lake we find 2 motorhomes both bigger than Hamish and no bridge in sight.  Sat nav eh!

We walk back to H and drive down to the small car park behind a closed restaurant with spaces for just four mohos and disused services.  Two spaces are already taken so we use the tiny car park.  We walk to the edge of the lake where the wind is whipping up tiny waves.  This is Italy's 4th biggest lake and is much, much less touristy than Lake Garda.  The lake has little villages and the odd terracotta hill town scattered around its shores.  Non of the scores of camp sites and hotels and holiday apartments of Lake Garda.  More our kind of place.

As there is no path around the Lake and we can't do much.  We while away the afternoon reading and chilling.    

After tea Lisa twists Alastair's arm for a game of cards.  He always wins so not sure why he doesn't want to play.  A says: "it isn't the winning....."

A couple of motorhomes arrive, one a young Italian couple.  When we arrived we checked out the services here and they clearly haven't been used in a while and are covered in leaves.   The Italian couple wait till it's dark then empty the contents of the loo to just sit on the leaves.   Then drive off!   Disgusting!!!!! 

Gubbio, Tuesday 1st November 

Another stunningly beautiful day. We are being very lucky, although frustratingly a Moho parked right beside H at midnight last night, despite there being acres of space, keeping him firmly in the shade.  We reverse to a spot just behind us in full sun and begin to warm up.

We have decided to stay here another night.   We get electricity for the first time in ages.  We charge our MacBook (the only piece of tech that won't charge from mini USB, yet another infuriating uniquely apple madness that no one tells you before buying) and update our budget.  With all of the free accommodation we have had recently we are currently looking at coming in at €100 under budget which feels, frankly, offensive to Italy.  So we are going to eat out today.

We get showers and, in our new spot, we can fill H up with water without moving so we do.  The luxury of an aire with services.   We feel relaxed enough to give H a bit of a clean and even get dressed up (proper jeans and a Cotten shirt instead of quick dry walking gear) to paint the town red, or at least terracotta.   Which is when Alastair notices the dog shit he has walked into H.   Some Italians are very good about clearing up after their dogs.   Others don't even pretend to make an effort.  Luckily it's only on the drivers doorstep and the dettol wipes are out killing 99.9% of all known dog shit and H is back to smelling lovely, before you can say blooming Italian dog shit walkers.

We stroll into the East side of town this time.  In one of the beautiful medieval houses we stumble upon are various implements of torture: chairs with spikes on, a rack, a guilllotine, lovely.  Relics of the Inquisition A thinks. 'No one expects the Spanish Inquisition'!

Town is busy and has a lovely chilled vibe as today is a Bank Holiday.  Our book says it's All Saints Day but Alastair is told it's a day to remember the souls of the dead.  It's it's a lovely way to do it.

We climb up the streets to the garden terrace we visited yesterday.  We sit at one of the little tables with: a fabalass view, not a cloud in the sky and had a bottle of Prosseco.  At 7€ a bottle it would have been rude not too.   Alastair said this memory is going straight into his top 5 of our whole trip.  Aaaah.

We walk back down the steep cobbled streets and steps to the restaurant with its wood fired pizza oven.  A local Umbrian house red is only €8 a bottle so we order one.  It is so delicious!!!!  Alastair announces that we will be raising our wine spending budget a little to enjoy wine like this.   

We both have fungi pizzas, Lisa without the mozzarella.  Alastair loves his, all burnt around the edges from the fire.  Lisa is disappointed, there is no flavour.    When we had pizza in Rome it was delicious so maybe this is a regional dish which is flavoured differently depending on the region?  At least we have done it and next time she can go indulge in pasta.

Over the meal we reflect on Italy and how much more it has given us than any other country we have visited on this trip.   Alastair then notes that in 2 years we will probably need a visa to come here, how to spoil a lovely day.  Aaaaaghhhh!!!!

The meal cost us €22.   We still have enough in our budget for the week and to carry some over for petrol which will get costly over the next few weeks.

We sway gently back to H and enjoy a vegan chocolate ice cream in the sun.  How luxurious!!!

All of the party people gradually pack up and move off and soon there are only 3 of us left.

We have a chilled evening: bread and jam and another bottle of wine, sqinzano- great name.  We are in bed by 7:30pm.  

Fano to Gubbio, Monday 31st October, Halloween.­čś▒

We wake to our beautiful sea view, another free night and hazy skies. 

It's time to move on so we head to the outskirts of town for a supermarket.  We pick up the signs for an Auchan and follow those but when we drive through an industrial estate with no sign and no further signposts we give up and begin to head to our destination.  As we drive along the dual carriageway we see the Auchan below us.  Alastair gets off and we drive back to it parking away from the store where there is more space.

Inside there is wi fi which Lisas phone can't connect too but Alastair's does easily.  We have FB messages about our rocking experience and where the 7.1 Richter scale earthquake had been-Norcia.

After we had shopped and paid Lisa suggests she takes everything back to H while Alastair gets on with a couple of jobs on t'internet.

Hamish is surrounded.   Even though there are plenty of spaces left albeit slightly further away, one car is parked behind us even though that means his wheels and back are hanging in the road.  A car has parked to our right and as Lisa arrives back a car is parking on our left so close that it's not possible to squeeze between the space.   The driver can see the issue and walks away.

While trying to work out how she is going to get the shopping in Lisa is approached on either side by 2 guys asking for money.    Explaining she doesn't have the cash they eventually leave and Lisa carries bags over and between cars, puts it down then rests the door on our neighbours windscreen to put things inside.  

We drive on into the mountains and stop for a coffee and a vegan croissant (cornetto in Italian) for Lisa (love Italy), a chocolate one for Alastair.

Lisa looks up the location of Norcia place of the recent earthquake, about an hour from where we are heading.   Mmmm.   We have to go this route to get home in time but we decide that we'll just stay for one night then get going.

We arrive at the aire in Gubbio about 20 minutes later.   It's a fiver, our first paid accommodation in a while.   We know it's a Bank Holiday tomorrow and the aire is busy.  It is also very sunny up here without the haze down by the coast.  We are about 1800 feet high. 

We get lunch and head out.  Gubbio is a beautiful stone medieval city built on the side of Mount Ignio.  The modern town is set in a kind of bowl enclosed by high hills.  We pass the remains of a Roman amphitheater.  We climb up through the cobbled streets to Piazza Grande where there is a white truffle festival taking place.   A tented area contains stalls selling fresh truffles, local cheeses and boar products.  The square is dominated by an impressive square stone tower that was built with medieval toilets and water pipes.

We climb further finding a little garden with a cafe with impressive views across the valley.    Beyond that is the start of the walk to the church on the hill.  We set off, it nearly kills Lisa.   We have no water.  It is hot and it takes about an hour to climb to the top.

There is a kind of ski lift which you can take in tiny green iron, precarious looking, green baskets just big enough for two very good friends.  Not something Alastair can cope with.

When we finally arrive the church has the body of St Umbolo, a bishop from the 12th century, on display in a glass cabinet raised above the alter.  He used to be kept in a wooden casket but now he is dressed in his robes looking a bit leathery.  At least they really have the body.  Other churches we have visited have had some tenuous icons such as a thorn from Baby Jesus crown of thorns.  As if.

Besides truffles and stone buildings there are just two things that make this town even more famous.   The first are three, three metre tall, decorated wooden pillars, (candles they call them) in the church, that teams of big men carry down into town at the beginning of May.  Each are topped off with a depiction of a Saint (Umbaldo, Anthony and George) then are raced through the town and back up the hill.  Run up that hill!!???!!  And secondly the Guinness World Record huge Christmas tree that they create by lighting up the hillside in December.  This town is quite remote but they certainly know how to attract crowds of tourists.

Slightly recovered from the climb we set off back down the hill.  As a very special treat, we enter the little garden terrace at the top of the town bathed in golden sunlight, with amazing views across the bowl beneath the hills, and share a large bottle of wheat beer from Umbria.  Stunning.

Back in town groups of children are gathering for their trick or treat fun.  The clocks went back today and so the sun is very low in the sky at 5.30pm.  Pretty much dark by 6.30 resulting in early nights for us.

We have been waiting to see how this Bank Holiday is celebrated, as we walk back into the aire it is karaoke time.   Two Italian mohos have got their awnings out under which are tables laden with glasses and drinks.   There are disco lights and a microphone.    Nice.   Thankfully the karaoke didn't last long and we were soon onto d.i.s.c.o.,  YMCA, the Italian version of The Birdie Song then a Greek number.  Despite the audience fitting under two awnings one guy had to keep talking into the microphone.  His 15 minutes of fame.

We get on with tea: piadini wraps, locally inspired.

At 8pm we are ready for bed.    Lisa wonders if we should keep our clothes close by in case there is another earthquake?    Alastair points out that in Hamish our clothes are only 2 steps away so couldn't be much closer.   Lisa falls straight to sleep and the party stops at 8:30pm.  Fair

Fano, Sunday 30th October

To get us through till Monday we seem to have bought enough bread to open a bakery.  So as a special treat today we get toast for breakfast with Alastair's fish grill implement.

After breakfast Lisa is in the bathroom when Hamish starts to rock alarmingly.  She comes out to see what Alastair is up too.  He is sitting still also looking alarmed.  For the second time this week Hamish is rocking for all the wrong reasons.  Italy has either had another earthquake or we are still experiencing aftershocks from the 2 last week.  It's a weird feeling.  We step outside just to be on terra firma.  Alarms are going and although there is no wind the crane behind us is rocking.  Then everything stills.

After we recover we get showers, change the bed and move South.    Our next free services are in Fano, just under 2 hours along the coast.   Its another beautiful day so we put some washing in, just to keep on top of it.

We arrive at the aire in Fano, use the services and move on.   Fano is still on the Adriatic and we want to be by the sea again for possibly our last night for a while.   Tomorrow we effectively start the month long journey home and will be travelling across country for a while.

We find the coast road and a patch of waste ground that has a car parked on it.  That'll do for us Hamish has a beautiful sea view but we have a little walk just to check.    On the waste ground next to us is another motorhome then there is designated parking for campers with no facilities.  The first field where the payment machines are wrapped up is empty.   The second field which claims to cost €5 for campers is packed???!!!   Obviously if we get a ticket in the morning we'll know why.

We get lunch even though it's early.   The clocks went back this morning so we are feeling a bit previous.   

After lunch we go for a walk along the sea front and turn left into Fano.   It's another beautiful medieval Italian town that doesn't even merit a mention in our Italy book.    The houses are mostly 3 stories high, elegant some with beautiful balconies built in ochre coloured brick or plastered in muted pastel shades.   There are ancient walls and we find the Basilica with a beautifully painted dome.

Back on the front we walk to the marina then back along the blue sea to H.   Obviously it's not the done think in Italy for a motorhome to be on their own so H now has company.

We sit on the white rocks that form the sea wall reading and enjoying the afternoon sun.  

Punta Marina to Gatteo a Mare, Saturday 29th October. 

Another free night, we are doing well for those at the moment.   After a brilliant nights sleep we wake to see the orange glow of the sun over the horizon.  Another, and possibly our last for a while, beautiful day.  

Having recovered from our city overdose we are heading South today after some sightseeing so we are up and off by 9am. 

First stop are services just outside Ravenna about 10 mins away.  There is only one tap and although it's tiny we know people aren't fussy about using the same one to get drinking water and rinse their loo so for the first time Lisa gets the dettol wipes out and gives it a once over before we fill up.

We drive for another 10 minutes to central Ravenna.   As we go to inspect the machines a guy kindly gives us his ticket which lasts until 1pm, that'll do us.

After being expelled from Florence for political reasons Dante went on the run and eventually sought refuge and died here in Ravenna.  As a perpetual act of penance Florence continues to supply the oil for the lamp that burns continually in his tomb.  

To see the UNESCO sites in Ravenna you have to get a 13€ ticket to see five religious sites with sixth century mosaics.  One is free.  Guess which one we head for?

The Bapistry de Ariana was built by the Arian's.  We don't know who they are, possibly pagan or gothic, but their buildings were all taken over by the Christians.     It's a tiny building with a domed roof that has one of the mosaics that Ravenna is famous for.   It is a WOW as we look up.  The central piece is of John the Baptist baptising Baby Jesus, well he's a man but you know what we mean.  Around them are the 12 apostles.   The mosaic glitters with blue and gold and was created around 500AD; amazing.

After that we wander for a bit vaguely aiming for tourist info to see if it has wifi so we can at least tell people we are off line.  We follow the signs to the end of the road.  No tourist info office but the signs point back the other way.   Imagining we are on candid camera we give it a go, nothing.  We give up.  So little determination.

It's a wee bit chilly and we have some driving to do so walk back to H and get on the road South.  We stop for a little bread to get us through until Monday.  November 1st is a national holiday in Italy as they celebrate the saint martyrs All Saints Day.   The 2nd is All Souls Day reserved to honour the deceased.  We are hoping shops open on Monday so we can stock up until after the saints days.   We will see.....

Not sure we were really ready for Ravenna or maybe we are still od'ing on cities, regardless we later realise we didn't get to Dante's tomb, possibly our only regret thus far.

We drive to Cervia to find a free overnight spot as there are free services near by.   To get to it we drive through more closed seaside resorts.   We find a parking bay to get lunch, bread dipped in oil and balsamic.   The beach is closed off for the Winter so we keep going.  

Apart from coming in from Germany we have kept off the motorways to enable us to enjoy more of the country.   Italian roads are, well, interesting.  Travelling along this coastal road there are frequent sleepers in the road, Lisa's job is to spot them but however slowly Hamish travels over them there is some banging and creaking.  Then there are the pot holes, frequent and patches of tarmac that have broken up, maybe a tree root causing decay?   A thinks they have extra big road moles.   Anyway despite our concentration Hamish hit one of these, not at speed, its not possible to speed on these roads, but not slowly enough, and there was a clatter in the cupboards.

As we drive on a smell emerges and as Lisa looks back to check what has happened she sees brown liquid streaming down the kitchen window.   Alastair manages to stop and Lisa rescues the thankfully almost empty bottle of soy sauce that has fallen over in the cupboard.  We clean up the cupboard, the window and the work surface but H has developed an eau d' soy sauce.

As we drive on we find an Italian 'oldies' station that plays a mixture of Italian, British and American stuff.  Alastair looks askance at Lisa singing along to The Style Council but then we are both singing to 'Raindrops keep falling on your head'.  It almost feels like we are an Italian Holiday!!!

We have a bit of a shock when we arrive in Cervia.   It seems the celebrations have started early here.   We have never seen so many motorhomes in one town.  There must be over 200 here!   Our road is blocked by police and as we come round the other side there are loads of tents and a couple of wooden ships, so some kind of fete?  If you are a Italian squeezing your motorhome in a field of 50 others is obviously a fun thing to do.  Not for us though.  We drive on.

A little further on we find Gatteo a Mare.  Not a motorhome in site.   Possibly none left in the whole of Italy.  We park up near a beach and sit on a bench in the sunshine for a while eating our other vegan cornetto and enjoying the heat.  Apart from the occasional Italian, who look like they have been tangoed and are stripped off to catch the rays, everyone else is wrapped up in  Winter coats, hats, scarves and gloves.  We obviously look very odd in our t-shirts, because people keep staring at us.

We go for a walk across the inlet behind us and along the other beach.   Common with every other part of this coast diggers are or already have piled the sand up into 7ft walls of sand.  Clearly the Adriatic can be vicious in the Winter.

Almost back at H we sit on a little stone jetty watching the dog walkers and enjoying the fading sun.

There is free wifi here so we are able to get on line to buy a little more data time that will hopefully get us a few more days of communication.  Catch22 of the mobile data business is that once you have run out you need to be on line to get more. 

Lido degli Estensi to Punta Marina, Friday 28th October 

This has been a beautiful spot and it's going to be another sunny day so we want to stay by the coast but we need a supermarket which means heading back to the main road as everything around here is closed.

So after showers we get back on the road.  Most of the time we see hundreds of supermarkets just outside towns but of course today we can't find anything.   We head South on the road that leads to Ravenna before we finally find a Familia.

Stocked up with petrol and supplies we head directly East to Punta Marina for a lazy day.   We walk across the road to the beach but it's windy today and we get sand blasted so retreat to the street.  We walk into town which unusually has some open shops and restaurants before heading back to H.  

We have a vegan cornetto, love Italy!!!      It would be nice to sit in the sunshine but there are too many flies around even for Alastair to cope with.

We hide inside and Alastair gets an afternoon kip.  Lisa notices the wifi can't find a signal which is weird.

A wakes up and decides to move so we head a few km North to Punta Marina, a huge car park with about 5 motorhomes.

We walk towards the marina to the jetty that is about a couple of kms long.  We join the crowds to walk out to the end.    On our right are about 4 buildings mounted on stilts each with huge nets about the size of a house that are lowered into and raised out of the sea by machine.  We watch one of the nets as it's being lifted, the seagulls who have obviously watched this hundreds of times are ready and as the net emerges from the water they dive in.  One little fish has been caught and he's immediately tea for the gulls.

Towards the end of the jetty there are fishing people, their salt rusted bikes and trolleys suggesting they spend much of their lives here.  It takes us an hour to walk to the end and back.

Back at H we get tea and Alastair checks on the wifi, we have run out again for the month!!!! We haven't put a single photo on our blog, we have only used it for FB, what's app and uploading the words of our blog, it seems ridiculous.   So limited communication now until the 9th November.  How frustrating. 

Gorino to Lido degli Estensi.  Thursday  27th October 

Lisa sleeps soundly but at one point in the night Alastair felt Hamish rocking.  Lisa wasn't moving so he lay on his back listening to see if anyone outside was rocking us, it stopped and he slept again.

We wake to blue skies, finally.  Alastair goes outside to check out the bird life.  The port is already busy with many fisherman getting on lots of wee grey fishing boats and motoring out of port.  Each has a white van.

Lisa checks on BBC news.  She is still struggling with no Today programme, and reads that Central Italy suffered 2 earthquakes yesterday with several aftershocks.  That explains the rocking Alastair felt.

We have breakfast with the sun rising over the water, magical.  Sunny morning!

We use the services and start to head South as the sky begins to cloud over. 

Our first stop is Lido di Volano which wasn't the intended destination but Alastair has entered the wrong address in sat nav.   The car park is next to the beach and as we pull up a German guy asks to borrow a bike pump.   He is on his way home.    As we are here we saunter over to the beach.

The scene reminds us both of Dunkirk.  Across the sea there are hundreds of wee grey  fishing boats.  The very same wee grey fishing boats that were flying out of Gorino earlier this morning.  There is also a long wooden pier and along every inch of the pier are people fishing.   It's madness.   How sunstainable can that be for such a tiny area of ocean?   The people on the pier don't have rods they have huge nets, sparkling like silvery spider's webs in morning dew, that they winch out of the water to see if they have caught anything.  Then, invariably, winch back in having caught nothing.  We walk the length of the pier and see just one poor fish who has been caught. He was probably a very lonely fish as there can't be many more left out there.

Back in H we head South.   We arrive in Lido Della Nazione another closed seaside town and Alastair puts laundrettes into sat nav.  There is one just round the corner and it's very quiet so we chuck our bedding in one machine and everything else, part of which has been hanging around since Austria, into a double sized machine.   Finally we have caught up.  The machine is one of those magic ones that seems to give you money back like a slot machine.  So we get everything washed and dried for €15.  As we emerge the clouds have cleared and the sun is shining.

We travel another 10 minutes along the road to Lido degli Estensi.  Yet another seaside resort that is closed.   Supermarkets are boarded up and car parking ticket machines have been removed.  We park H in the designated motorhome parking spot and sit in the sun for 5 minutes with an ice cream.  Italy does the vegan equivalent of magnums; wonderful.

After indulging we walk towards the sea. The sandy beach is vast and there is hardly anyone on it.  We walk to the sea then left until we come to a stone jetty.  We walk along the jetty and sit on the rocks enjoying the warm sunshine.  Finally it arrived and it makes a delicious change.

Back at Hamish we drive to a motorhome field next to the beach.   All of the pay and display machines have been removed.   We read for a bit then have tea.  We have come in just under budget again this week.  So next week we can have pizza; hurrah for simple pleasures.

As the weather is so beautiful we treat ourselves to one of the bottles of wine we bought from our cellar, a French Gew├╝rztraminer.  We'd forgotten how delicious wine from Le Chai is, proper wine.  After tea we take our bottle of wine and glasses and walk back across the beach.   Near the sea some yellow plastic chairs have been discarded and we sit on the cheerful yellow chairs, drinking our delicious wine, listening to the sea crash against the beach and quietly chatting over our travelling experiences.  Magical!

Mesola to Porto de Gorino, Wednesday 26th October

We wake to another grey and misty day, it's supposed to be better tomorrow, we are keeping everything crossed.

We leave our quiet little spot although they are just preparing for a festival so we escape in time.

8km down the road we find a laundrette.   We need to do 3 lots of washing but it's busy so have to settle for one.  We wash and dry all the lightweight stuff that in the past we have sorted ourselves but it's been a while since we saw any sun.

As we drive along the Po Delta the landscape is flat with frequent glimpses of water.  Then we come to a wooden bridge that appears to be supported by a series of boats.  We hold our breath and rickety racket across then a man appears from a hut in the centre, a mysterious troll.  We have to pay a €3 toll.

Our overnight stop is an aire at Porto de Gorino less than an hour away from Mesola. We have a brilliant view across the water but the aire is very basic and a rip off for €7 and if we weren't trying to chill we probably would have used the services and carried on.

We are in a busy port of small fishing boats.  It's very midgy but Lisa sprays herself and we venture out.

The port is packed with boats and there is a lot of rubbish lying around but it's a great bird spotting place.  We see Great White egrets, black necked Grebes, a nightingale and a bird that we can't find in our bird book.

We walk back through the town and there is some filming taking place.   Lisa is approached by a woman with a large fluffy microphone who explains in Italian that she is a journalist.  Sadly when Lisa explains she is English the woman thanks her and moves on; shame.  Lisa was hoping they would interview her about Brexit and she could say exactly what she thought.

We come back to H and watch our view over the water as blue sky desperately tries to break through.   Two men film our view standing just outside Hamish.

It's 3 months today since we arrived in Europe.  In the first couple of weeks we thought we would be home within the month.  Then we lasted a month.  Then around week 6 we stopped counting. 

Venice to Mesola, Tuesday 25th October 

Lisa was awake 2-4am and manages to fall into a deep sleep again.   At 8am she is fast asleep when noises wake her.  Alastair has heard voices and is checking for inspectors, blinds are drawn, lights are on, grumpily Lisa supposes it's time to get up then.

By 9:30am we are ready to move but shattered we decide we are doing as little as possible today.  Exhausted by cities and more churches than we have ever been in in our lives Alastair wants to see the sea.

We head South and East to the Po Delta.  Sadly it's a grey and misty day so we can't see the sea.

First stop is Rosapineta.  It is a seaside town that has completely closed for the season.  There are 2 aires near the sea but both cost €13 and this place is so bleak we decide to move on.

According to our app there are services about 20 minutes away.   When we arrive it's another closed seaside town that is spookily quiet.  We can hear our footsteps and little else.   There are absolutely no services for motorhomes so we head South.

Around 40 minutes later we arrive in Mesola.   The aire is next to fields and near to a motorway bridge that is far enough away to be unobtrusive and it's free.   Our second free night.

After lunch we go for a wander.  From H we can see a castle that was built in the 1500s.  As we walk towards it we pass a garden that is home to a huge concrete bunker.  An information board we find later said this area suffered hugely towards the end of WWII.    It starts to rain and we wander back.   Lisa is keeping a close eye on our step count for today, just under 6,000, that'll do fine. 

As we climb back inside Lisa locks the doors.  We are going nowhere else today.

Venice to Choggio, Monday 24th October.

For a variety of reasons we both get a dreadful night's sleep.  Lisa can't get off for ages, Alastair is awake 1-3am and Lisa wakes at 3am and can't get back to sleep.  About 5:30am we give up and get up.  The darkness gradually fades to a dim grey and misty morning, with occasional drizzly showers. Not the most auspicious for a major sightseeing adventure.

We manage to drag breakfast, showers and other jobs out until 8am but we are still too early to pay the attendant for our stay and bus tickets.  So we amuse ourselves until 8:30am when we can get going.

We pay 6€ (two bargain returns) for our bus tickets from the campsite and walk up the road, around the roundabout and across to the bus stop.  Within about 10 minutes we are standing on the packed 24 bus into Venice, which flies along the Via Della Liberta causeway across the flat grey lagoon to Venice main island.

At the bus station we buy a map (2.50€) and then, like proper Italians, we stand at a coffee bar for an espresso (the coffee is cheaper if you stand- a mere 2.20€ for two espresso and a quick WC visit).   We need the caffeine and sugar as we have already been on the go for hours.

Then we walk across the bridge into beautiful, unique, romantic Venice.  Initially we wander South towards a church we want to see but when we arrive it's only 10am and it doesn't open until 10:30 so we head North and East.   We pass a bakery and spot ring doughnuts covered in sugar for (1 euro apiece, around here they are faintly lemony and delicious.  It starts to mizzle again and remains a damp, grey day.  Navigation is impossible in this maze of narrow streets and alleyways, blocked every so often by a grey-green limpid canal.  So we wander hopefully; occasionally into piazzale with no exit, or onto the side of a canal with no bridge and need to retrace our steps and try again.

Quite unintentionally we emerge from a tiny high sided alleyway onto the Canale Della Giudecca.  It is shockingly huge and presents vistas of hazy romantic looking churches and warehouses half a mile across the dull aquamarine water and as far as the eye can see in both directions.  There is no escape unless we take to the water on a ferry or gondola, neither of which we can afford.  So we have no choice but to retrace our steps yet again.

We eventually find our way out of the Dorsoduro district and into San Marco by crossing the high wooden Ponte Dell Academia.  The Academia is an ex convent now a renaissance art treasure thanks to Napolean's looted booty having been housed in this one venue.  Obviously too expensive for us to visit.  As is Peggy Guggenheim's gallery, which we stumble across, filled with more modern art treasures.

Eventually we round a corner and stumble into Piazza San Marco: jaw dropping because the space is cavernous compared to the claustrophobia that is everywhere else.  The Piazza is defined by beautiful buildings, with the Basilica drawing the eye with it's magnificent many domed presence.  The Piazza is amazingly empty.  Lisa was last here August over 20 years ago and avoided this square as it was just too much being filled with people jostling for space.

We stand in the rain admiring the striking architecture and walk towards the entrance because you can get in for free.  Sadly the queues of people already snake across the square and we decide against it.  We settle for biscuits on a marble bench in one of the many cloisters by the Ducal Palace, rubber necking the tourists in their many queues.  Lisa needs a WC.

We find a WC sign as we leave The Piazza heading towards The Rialto.  It takes literally around a series of alleyways back to The Piazza, with no WC in sight.  We strike off again towards the Rialto and fine a different set of WC signs.  These result in a remarkably modern WC inside a hole in an ancient wall.  Cost three euros in total.  Lesson learnt: get a stand up coffee and a WC for less!!

Next stop: tacky white marble Rialto bridge, spoilt by the many shops selling Venice tat that run over an around it.  A hated it.  Then away from the madness where the streets are quiet and it's possible to enjoy Venice without the crowds of umbrellas.

We meander South back to San Sebasti├ín church which, when we arrive, is closed again for 10 minutes.  We hang around watching the water taxis and notice how Venice seems to be gradually crumbling.  The canals do offer endless entertainment for those seeking excitement whilst lost.  We variously admired: fire boats, ambulance boats, gondola people chatting and having arguments whilst conveying oblivious rich (80€ for 30 mins) tourists, bin boats, delivery boats, handyman boats and pilling renewal boats etc etc.  Marvellous fun for resting tired feet for a few minutes.

Finally the doors open (bargain at 3€ pp).  From the outside it's a small, decaying church.  It was built on the site of a monastery.  The guy who built it had a mate who did a bit of painting who he called on to decorate it.  

Veronese obliged and there are beautiful paintings on the walls and ceiling.   Sadly the 3 huge Veroneses in the nave are covered by scaffolding.  We walk into the tiny Sacristy.  In the centre of the ceiling is a painting of the baptism of the Madonna surrounded by paintings of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.   The first paintings Veronese did in Venice.   Small but perfectly formed is Alastair's analysis of the church.

Back outside in the drizzle we decide it's time to head back to H.   Five hours is enough for one city.   Alastair recognises the beauty of Venice but has fallen head over heels for Vicenza so it just can't compete.  Venice will always hold a special place in Lisa's heart as it was here she had a feeling of contentment when travelling around Europe by train.

We shove our way onto an already overcrowded 24 bus.  Lisa face is mashed into Alastair's arm.   He can't move at all and tells Lisa to hit the 'next stop' button.  Lisa sees another man do it so doesn't need too.  We watch the bus sail past our stop.  Thankfully it stops at the next one which doesn't stop Alastair grumbling at Lisa: "as if we hadn't done enough walking".   We hit the 20,000 steps target on Lisa's healthy mobile phone again.   We are feeling it.

We arrive back at the aire just after 3pm and after filling up with water, pay our €18 and get on the road.

Our first planned stop turns out to be just a water point, next to a canal so not possible to stay.

We stop in a car park in Choggio.  There is a British green Toyota Hiace van with a lovely guy who we chat to.  The Italian and German vans are parked snugly together.   His van and ours are spread out.

We are on our way to pay our €6 when he tells us no one has paid and there have been no inspections.  Wary we check the machine which says payment is from 8am till 8pm so we decide to risk it but keep an eye open.

We celebrate having been to Venice with a local speciality.   The bottle of Prossecco that we found half price.   There is no sign of any ticket checks so at 8 we close up and crash, knackered.

Padua to San Giuliano Aire, Sunday 23rd October 

Overnight the packed car park had completely emptied.  At 6am the coaches start to come into our car park.  We assume so that people can get to Mass with St. Ant.

We leave just after 9am.  Paying for our exit ticket is straight forward.  However we clearly need the help of an assistant, who we do our best to ignore, but who pushes the buttons for us then offers his cap in expectation.  A begrudgingly donates a few cents.  St Antony is converting another unbeliever.

Just down the road we see two police bike outriders accompanying a black Mustang sports car, driven by a man in uniform with gold badges and stripes.  The police chief's choice of vehicle?  Montalbano doesn't get that treatment, and has to settle for a Fiat Punto.

The huge supermarkets are open on Sunday and we need a couple of things so drop into an Auchan, lethal.  We split up and take half the store each.  Having surveyed our aisles we revert to type: Alastair starts looking at gadgets, Lisa is in the pasta aisle. We come out with several bags full: including Prosecco 3€ half price and vegan ravioli.

Today we need to kill time.  The aire for Venice costs €18 (expensive for us) so our plan is to arrive about 5pm, get into Venice early and be on our way again before 5pm on Monday.

We travel to Marghera near the coast.  Last time Lisa arrived in Venice it was by train.  So it's lovely to drive through a countryside characterised by: canals, gates, statues and decaying mansion houses which once belonged to magnificent estates.

We are only 10 minutes away when we spot flashing blue lights and a diversion.  We eventually realise by the piles of thrown plastic water bottles that we are caught up in the tail end of the Venice Marathon.   Many roads are shut and just being opened again.  We crawl along and eventually get to Marghera.

We park up in a quiet industrial estate.  Hamish is looking a wee bit neglected by our exertions over recent days so, as we have space, we get the carpets out and sweep clean.  Lisa prepares tea for later while Alastair gives the outside of H a clean.  Jobs done we wait until it's time to move to the aire.

Amazingly the plan works, the aire is quiet and we get parked and have tea and a beer on the go within 5 minutes.  Early to bed.

Vicenza to Padova, Saturday 22nd October 

We spent a great deal of time last night planning in rest days before we arrive in Venice.  All that goes out of the window this morning when we just decide to head to Padova or Padua in English.   Next Venice, then we can relax.

It's another day of blue sky and the journey will take just an hour.  Exit from the aire is automatic and Hamish is so wee that it only costs us €4.80: result!  This will be an expensive week so we need all the help we can get.

We pick up petrol and LPG en route, the first we have bought in Italy.  Thankfully there is a guy to assist with the gas so, together with our adapter, we get sorted.

It's Saturday, not the best day to arrive in any city and as we crawl along in the queue of traffic and see the hoardes of people we wonder if we'll get a space.

The car park is huge with room for hundreds of cars, about 40 coaches and some motor homes including, thankfully, Hamish.

Just beyond the car park is a park adorned with 2 rows of marble statues and bridges over streams.   It's difficult to see any of that though as the park is home to a market and crowds of people.

We pick up bread for lunch.  We have different flavours every day.  We are clueless so just point at things and see what happens.  Yesterday this resulted in a cone of white bread and a brown loaf with aniseed.  Today what we thought was an olive baton is onion and our white bread is curiously flaky.

We walk towards the main event in Padova: St Anthony's Basilica.  It's huge with five domes.  We find a spot in a courtyard to eat our hummus and bread.  The houmus has come open and has deposited itself on Alastair's coat and rucksack.   Alastair nips to the loo to wash the worst off and his coat dries in a patch of sun while we eat.

Refreshed we head into the Basilica.   It is a wow.   It's ginormous and painted and covered in so much stuff, with over-ornamented chapel after chapel round the outside of the nave. We wander around open mouthed  until we come to a queue which we join to have a nose. 

It leads to the tomb of St Anthony.  As you climb the steps there is a huge crate where you put your 'offerings' to Anthony.  In the market outside the church people buy candles ranging from 2 to 10€ which have stickers on them of Anthony then when they get to the tomb they just chuck them in this crate.  I know we are heathens but really????   We assume the church has some racket going where they sell them back to the market traders.  When we get to the tomb there is a lot of stroking and kissing going on, presumably for good vibes.  We give that a miss.  

As we wander round there is an awful lot of genuflecting and as we approach the exit there is a priest looking utterly bored taking people into one of the many chapels in the church for a Benediction.  This chapel is decorated with hellfire and brimstone in a very modern manner.  Not all the chapels are ancient.

As we leave we can't help feeling that this place is just too much, too intimidating and an excellent example of the obscene wealth of the Catholic Church.

Alastair wants to go into the school that was set up after the canonisation of Anthony but it's closed for siesta so we wander on.  We arrive at Piazza del Erbe which is vibrant.   There are loads of little shops in the Plazza del Ragione selling amazing looking food, including an artistic vegetarian shop.  People are sat at tables drinking and eating and chatting and laughing in the lunchtime sun.  We sit on the stone steps and ogle.

We continue to the top of town to the Chappella della Scrovegni. This has a chapel that was painted by Giotto and for 13€ you are allowed 15 minutes but have to book in advance.  A friend has asked us to enjoy the Giotto as they were under wraps when he was here but we just can't afford 26€ for quarter of an hour.  Cheekily Alastair takes a photo from the advertising boards and posts it on Facebook pretending we have been in.  Nigel if you are reading this, apologies, Alastair was going to fess up when he saw you.

It's almost 3pm so the Scueglo is open now.  It's a small room that we are shown to for 3€ each and the walls are covered by paintings, 4 of them by Titian.   Didn't get that in Willenhall Comp!!!!  We are alone in the room so we sit and enjoy the paintings.  If you get bored at the lessons at least you get something to look at.

We start to walk back to Hamish and stop at an outside table to get a glass of wine.We    have envied other people doing this for days and think we deserve a glass.  The first table we choose we are told, very sorry but we are closing.   The next one is more successful and for 8€ we get 2 pretty nondescript tasting glasses of white and more interestingly a bowl of crisps and another of green olives.  Alastair reflects that we could have got 4 bottles of wine for this.  That's how much our standards have been lowered by this trip.  Also why we seldom indulge.  If only Ms T May had not gone on record about Hard Brexit.

Having sat for a while we struggle to get going again.  We have walked miles over the last few days and tomorrow is definitely a rest day.  Back at Hamish we crash.  After tea we decide to finish 24 DVD 6.   As we've said before it's kept us entertained but probably not in the way intended.   The acting and story gets even more hilarious as it reaches its climax.

Vicenza, Friday 21st October 

We wake to blue skies and an amazing view but we are slightly bleary eyed.    As it's Friday we expect the partying to treble after dark so take the sensible decision to move to the aire at the bottom of the hill, squeezed between the ring road and the railway tracks.  It is still quieter than Monte Berico.

Before we go we visit the cathedral that is behind us.  We walk in as mass has finished.  The interior is literally breathtaking.

The aire is part of a car park on the ring road with facilities.  It's about a ten minute walk into town and we arrive just after 11am.

Vicenza is a small but incredibly beautiful city with many buildings designed by Palladio a stonemason who adopted Vicenza and was sent by his patron to Rome to learn building techniques and apply them here.  As a result Vicenza and the surrounding area is a UNESCO world heritage site.

We start at Tourist Information next to the Palladio designed Olympic theatre and opposite an impressive Palladian council house.  

Next stop is the Church of St Corona.  For the first time on our travels we have decided to pay to go inside, it's 3€ each.   There are some impressive paintings along the walls including the one we have come to see Bellini's beautiful, luminous 'Baptism of Christ ' lighting up this bright and beautiful church.  It has an impressive alter frame in marble  built around it.  Veronese's 'Adoration of the Magi' on the opposite wall seems dull by comparison.

It's a beautiful church but eventually we get kicked out as they are locking up.  It's siesta time.

Next stop is the chocolate market, where Alastair graciously accepts a couple of free offerings.   We sit on the steps of another Palladian building in the Piazza del Erbe and eat some hummus and bread our staple cheap and easy picnic lunch.  Then set off for the far end of the city.

The city gates bear the plaque awarding of UNESCO world heritage site.   This street is named after Palladio, another is called Dante 'poet'.

We wander to the Galleries d'Italia housed in the home of the Leoni Montanari Family obviously designed by Palladio.   This time we pay again 5€ each.  On the top 2 floors are housed the gallery's permanent collection so we start at the top.

The third floor has a huge collection of Russian icons; interesting but not our thing.   The second floor has a collection of vedutisti by Canaletto and others along with 14 naturalistic portraits by Pietro Longhi.  An amazing marble statue of devils and angels fighting resides in the entrance, carved from one piece of marble.  Equally impressive are the rooms housing the collection.  Some retain their original stucco carvings and accompanying frescos, others are adorned with marble statues, one even has its original and rare beautiful floor.

Then the ground floor which has only one painting, on loan from Naples and under armed guard, Bellini's Transfiguration.   The painting is remarkable but it's the figures in the background of a Jew and a Muslim chatting who 'aren't aware of the immense events that are happening' that catch Lisa's attention.  The arrogance of Christianity.  It does however bring into sharp relief how lucky we are to have seen, this morning, a Bellini in the place he painted it in the church it was painted for.

We wander back through town picking up a little chocolate on the way.   Then cheap wine at the supermarket including a two euro sparkling white which tasted perfectly acceptable.   Vicenza has given us so much pleasure on an easily walkable scale.  Just an Italian jewel of a city.  We are shattered after another day of pounding the streets.  An early bed and sound sleeps.

Soave to Vicenza, Thursday 20th October 

It rained heavily most of the night and is still raining now.   Lisa has a new batch of bites to tend.  She puts her pjs on.  We are going nowhere fast today.

We have a very slow start to the day listening to the rain beating down.  We try to publish the blog but there isn't enough wifi.

We set off just before 12, lazy people.  Our next stop is only an hour away but it takes us all afternoon.

First stop is Lidls.  The Italians don't do muesli so we are having bread for breakfast and lunch.  All that healthy Danish cycling is being seriously undone.  Thankfully Italian Lidls does have the same muesli as every other country.  So back to a slightly healthier breakfast tomorrow.

Next we stop at a seriously huge out of town supermarket.  Alastair is getting serious about the mosquitoes.  We get some food supplies and some seriously nasty spray.  You can tell things are getting serious around here.

Lunch is in the quieter car park of a seriously huge shoe shop next door.  Italians like shoes and hats.  They have proper hat shops.  A hasn't succumbed yet.  H steps off again. This area is characterised by being one continuous long shopping strip of retail park services punctuated by factories and car sales outlets.  Less than attractive then.

We arrive at our overnight stop in Vicenza just before 4pm.  We are in the car park at Monte Berico next to the cathedral with a stunning view across the city.  While we are deciding where to park there is a woman sat in her car, on her phone continually slapping her face. Guess it's an Italian thing.

We head off and try to understand from the car park tourist map where we are.  Alastair is incredibly frustrated because he can't work it out.   It turns out Monte Berico doesn't feature on the map in the car park.  Italians eh!  Lisa suggests we just go and explore.  We walk down along a beautiful path, covered over for the faithful to walk underneath.  It must rain a lot here.

Once in town we walk past an amazing number of stunningly beautiful buildings.  In a piazza we watch stalls being erected and find the old tourist information with directions to the new one.

In tourist information we get a map and ask what is happening in the piazza.   A chocolate festival!!!!

 We start to walk back but obviously look lost because a kind Italian man points us in the right direction.  This time we have to walk up an incredibly steep set of steps straight out of The Exorcist before rejoining our beautiful marble covered walkway.

Back at Hamish we enjoy tea, vegan ravioli for Lisa and ricotta and spinach tortellini for Alastair.   Then we do our sums for the week.  We are 20€ under budget, hooray.  Alastair works out that if  we were travelling this time last year we would have another €100 per week to spend.  We could afford to eat out.  Bloody Brexit!

As the laptop is charged we can watch a bit more of 24.  It's coming to the climax now which means we laugh even more.

We get to bed and Alastair falls asleep.   Unusually the cathedral bell doesn't stop Lisa hears it chime 10pm then it becomes party time.   Various cars pull up, loud bass music booms across the car park.  Alastair wakes up and wants to see what's happening.  We hear the clock chime 11 and 12 before we manage to fall asleep.

Borghetto to Verona to Soave, Wednesday 19th October 

Lisa wakes to the sight of a mosquito chewing her arm.   So much for last nights efforts.  

It's finally time to move on from beautiful Borghetto, it's been great for us but today is Verona.

We arrive within 45 minutes and aim for free parking but as far as we can tell there is nowhere for us to stop, luckily we spot the aire and pull in.  It's €5 euro for 4 hours which seems worthwhile.

It starts to rain so Alastair changes his clothes and we get going for our sprint around Verona.   In the small streets around the Piazza Erbe there are hoards of tour groups blocking the way.  We don't have a map so are following the tourist arrows.  

We head towards that balcony, obviously it's fake but it has to be seen.   The signs towards it run out so we stand slightly confused then we see the crowds.   We wait ages for a group of Japanese tourists to have their photo taken and finally the balcony is empty.  There is a statue of Guliette and people queue to have their photo taken holding her right breast.  Don't they know she was only 14?  One man looks suitably embarrassed at having to do it.

Next is the Roman arena where classic concerts are held, it's a bit like Cardiff except they have the millennium stadium in the centre of town.  Around the back of the arena is tourist information.  Armed with a map and 2 hours into our 4 we are off again.

We head towards Juliets tomb to take us to the top of the City then we can work our way back.

Byron came here and nicked a bit of the tomb as did many others.   Then Dickens came and complained about people being able to wreck the casket.  So they have now built a little museum around it and there is an entrance charge.  So that'll be a NO then.

As we start to walk back the rain that has been a trickle becomes torrential.  We find shelter under the awning of a little shop which handily had a little grill blowing warm air upwards.  As we stand sheltering we notice peaches in the window.  We buy 2 and eat them before  tucking into our humous and bread.

Although the rain was still coming down we had to get going as we only have an hour and a half left.  We walked up to the cathedral then set off back along the river arriving back at H with about 15 minutes to spare.  

Verona is a very big city with some interesting sights spread out with lots of city type stuff in between.  Interesting, but a bit city-ish for us.  We drive on to find an overnight aire.

Overnight stop is Soave, famed for its Soave DOC white wines.  We pull up in a quiet wee aire that cost just €5 including electricity.   We can finally charge Alastair's laptop, that ran out on music night.  

Shattered from pounding the streets of Verona we nevertheless decide to explore Soave.   There is a British van on the aire, only the third we have seen since leaving and we chat briefly to its owners who are coming back from drying their washing.

Soave is a walled medieval city on a hill.  We start walking up hill on the cobbled streets through the drizzly rain.

Soave is obviously famous for its wine and we find a wine shop in an amazing wee tower which is out of the rain.  The assistant is great and speaks English.  She talks us through their wine range and we have a wee taste of 3 bottles.  We have done so well this week on our budget and we buy a bottle of white for 12€.

Then back in the rain and we climb to the castle at the top of the hill.  It is shut.  We wander back and appreciate this pretty little walled town for its beautiful buildings and lack of tourists, just heavenly.  Back at Hamish we snuggle down as the rain gets heavier.   

We listen to an Archers omnibus, now the mac is charged. We have had Radio 4 on long wave with us on our journey all the way until Italy where we have lost it.  Lisa is having withdrawal symptoms.

Lisa is shattered after several nights of mosquito interrupted sleep and today's walking.   She goes to bed early covered in 'skin so soft' and is soon asleep.  

Mantua to Borghetto, Tuesday 18th October 

There is a real pea souper this morning.  We can't see the football pitch just across the avenue.  We get a cuppa then drive, carefully to the aire we sussed yesterday to use their services.  Alastair's laptop needs charging and we can only do it on a hook up, we need water etc so the plan is to go there for a couple of hours and get sorted for a fiver.

We pull up to the entrance, after an interesting drive through the fog, just after 8:30 am when the aire opens.  There is a huge square based crane blocking the entrance.  There is a man in the crane and about 30 men supervising.  One of the supervisors wanders across to tell us there is a big problem and this will take at least 2 hours.  They appear to be lifting the temporary hut on the aire.  There are motorhomes inside so we hope none of them wanted an early getaway.  This is a brilliant example of how travelling is always completely unpredictable and an associated ability to quickly change planning is necessary to suite circumstances as they present themselves.  This unpredictability and the time needed to manage the uncertainty is one aspect that makes travelling different from a holiday.

We drive back, in the fog, to our avenue of trees by Villa Te and get breakfast and showers.  Then big job of the day.  We bag up two  loads of washing, one with bedding the other with stuff that didn't get done in Austria, and head to the laundrette.   The fog has finally cleared to blue skies.

As the instructions are in American the woman helpfully explains to us in Italian what to do.  Even better every time we put our coins in the machine to pay for a cycle we seem to get change.  It all goes smoothly and we haven't had to pay for a campsite PLUS washing.

Back at H we try out our new lunch idea.  It's too cold for salad so at the supermarket yesterday we splashed out on olive oil and balsamic vinegar to dip our bread.  The oil is lovely, the balsamic probably wasn't expensive enough.

We also bought some glue and Alastair sets about repairing the cupboard door that has been fragile since he cleaned the sink.

We decide to head back to Borghetto for the evening which is nearer to tomorrow's destination and we know we can get everything we need there.

We head to the aire first for use of their services then into town.   First to the wine shop for the delicious red we had from a vat at 2.40€.  Then the supermarket for their delicious bread and a fly swat!!!!  

We return to our beautiful car park cloaked in trees with their autumn leaves.

Borghetto to Mantua, Monday 17th October 

We wake to a foggy day.  Just us and a caravan in the car park.  The village is as quiet as the proverbial mouse, just as it was when we arrived on Friday.

We set off for the foggy drive to Mantua.  Our first stop is in a little village about 7km from the City.  The car park is directly outside a Church in the village square.

We walk into the church whose walls are covered in slightly bizarre painted statues three feet high. A couple even have nooses around their necks.  Two people are praying, perhaps saying their Hail Mary's for Saturday night, so our visit is brief and we sneak out. 

Next to the church is an alley that leads onto a huge park and a lake.  The lake is covered in some type of tall lily that has died off and the brown stalks look eerie in the mist.    Then out of the fog appears a ferry with passengers who are wrapped up and look absolutely freezing.  According to the information board they have Bittern here which is impressive.   The only map shows where you could buy particular wine and cheeses and hams.  

If it wasn't so far from Mantua we would have stayed here but the Italians aren't so good with cycle routes.  Their driving is slightly chaotic and in the fog it would surely be a near if not an actual death experience.

We drive into Mantua and park in a tree lined avenue next to a football stadium.  The avenue leads to Chateau Te and like many spectacular buildings in Mantua is from the 1400s.  It is a beautiful town, even in the mist.

Mantua is where Romeo was when he heard of Juliet's death and is where Verdi set Rigalletto.  We walk around admiring the buildings and observing the Italians.  Where else would you get a woman cycling in 6 inch, snakeskin stilettos?

On the walk back to H we spot a laundrette and the instructions are clearly displayed in a variety of languages with the accompanying flag including Brazilian and American.  (American!!!!)

As we walk back to Hamish a small group have gathered.  Lisa suggests they are there to watch football.  Alastair said that can't be and they must be for some kind of Italian boule club.

Back at Hamish we mull a variety of options about how to spend our evening and tomorrow.  We need a couple of things from the supermarket which we hoped to get while walking around but we spotted no little store.

So we drive towards a supermarket on the outskirts checking out the Aire en route.  The aire is 5€ for 6 hours, €15 for 24.

The supermarket (Ipercoop) is massive, like a Carrefour, which probably explains why there are no little supermarkets in town.  Although we only need a couple of things it's good to wander and we found vegan ravioli.   Lisa loves Italy.

We drive back to our little spot and as it's getting on for 6 decide we have done enough for the day and snuggle up.   The crowd are watching the footballers practice.  Mantua football club were bankrupt recently, have been reformed 3 times and we don't think there is a Messi out there.

We go to bed early and as Alastair falls asleep Lisa hears zzzzz and jumps up.  Alastair is now awake but we can't see anything.  He falls asleep and the same thing happens.  He is just drifting off again when ...yes you guessed it.   This time Lisa starts to get the sheet knowing she has to hide when she spots the mosquito.   It is deaded and we sleep.

Borghetto, Sunday 16th October 

We sleep till 8am but Alastair is exhausted.   We stayed here to get a restful nights sleep but it was a complete of a disaster.

After a cuppa we go for a pre breakfast walk into Borghetto.   It's 9am Sunday morning and it's packed: cyclists, people filling the cafes, people going to Mass, more cyclists, dog walkers, tourists and more cyclists; it seems that Italian men do 'bro' cycling in Lycra clad chatty pairs on Sunday mornings.  We feel completely overwhelmed and get back to Hamish.

After breakfast it's bed changing time and gradually the mosquitoes appear as we uncover their hiding place's.  Alastair manages to get four of them and Lisa's blood is splattered across the walls.

The sun is out so we get some washing in the washing box in H's garage.  Then have a house meeting.  We are torn between staying here or moving on- but not far.  We decide to move on; slightly.

We pack up and drive off.   Within 20 minutes H arrives at the aire do sorta next to a pretty and sleepy Italian village.  It is empty.

We park H up to investigate.  The aire looks fine but we eventually work out you need a card to get in and tokens to use the services and there is nowhere to buy them.   No wonder it is empty.  We have to head back.

First we visit our first night stop.   This time the barrier opens straight away and we drive to the services, get water etc and pay €4 to leave. The aire is now absolutely packed with about twenty Motorhomes.  We check online, but it isn't a Bank Holiday here.  Everyone must have come for the markets and whatever went on last night.

We drive back to the car park.  This too is beginning to fill up, with around 15 Motorhomes and 100 cars.  A strings up a washing line and we are immediately engulfed by flies.  After her recent experiences Lisa doesn't want to risk being bitten again and swelters inside while Alastair midges around outside.  Flies and midges generally leave A alone.  It's the scots blood.  People in cars seem to walk into town and Moho owners seem to congregate at the picnic tables for extended lunch in groups.  Around 3.30pm folk start to leave.  Most are gone by 4.30 and by 6.00 there are just 5 motorhomes left and just two on the aire.  Italian folk, it seems, drive out for Sunday lunch and return home late Sunday.

Around 8pm we go outside to see the 'super moon' glowing next to Borghetto castle.

Then finally we can go to bed keeping our fingers crossed.  Alastair falls asleep immediately and just as Lisa is about to she hears zzzzzzz.  She jumps up waking Alastair.   Lights are on but the remaining mosquito is in hiding.  Lisa gets the sheet to hide under desperate for no more angry, swollen bites then Alastair catches a movement by Lisa's pillow and the mosquito is dead meat.  Now we can sleep.  Well Lisa can.  For A the Andrenalin is still running.

Borghetto, Saturday 15th October 

We have neighbours, they arrive at 2am and, with a whole empty car park to choose from, decide to keep us company and keep Alastair awake as they position their Moho (new slang for motorhome).

It's a grey morning and starts to drizzle again.  We are not moving far today, just to the car park down the hill which costs 5€ for 24 hours but we have shopping to do first.

Hamish drives around the hill into Valeggio sul Mincino with the aim of parking in the supermarket car park, no chance.  It's tiny and packed.  Then we become stuck at the end of a road going into three car parks: two with height restrictions and one underground.  Hamish performs a neat three point turn and of course now there is a queue of cars waiting. Stress.  We find a spot a few minutes further out of town.

Our first job is to hunt down a launderette that Alastair has found on sat nav. We still have a huge bag of washing.  The last campsite didn't do it because it was 'out of season'.  We had not realised clean clothes had a season.  The weather doesn't look like it's improving so Alastair wants us to try a launderette instead of paying extra to use a campsites rubbish domestic machines.  The laundrette doesn't exist at the address or anywhere else as far as we can see.  No surprises!

The town is becoming packed with people who are variously: coming out of Mass, browsing two street markets, dodging the rain, having an espresso at cafe tables, just promenading, oh and being tourists.  This is such a contrast to Friday lunch two-hours which was like a ghost town.  We wonder if it's like this every Saturday or if there is some kinds of festival about to happen?

Second job.  This place is famous for 'Tortelli de zucce': a seasonal pumpkin variety of baby tortellini hand made by one of the five fresh pasta makers in the town?   The pasta is made with egg so we order a one person portion for Alastair.  The pretty little pasta shapes are put on a white tray, wrapped in white paper and put into a huge white paper bag before being presented proudly.  They love their packaging!!! 200g cost 6€.

Job three.  As we drove into town Lisa spotted a wine shop where they sell wine from massive tanks and beer casks on draught.  We hunt it down and could choose from a number of taps our wine of choice.   We hope this is the best way for us to get local wine at local prices.  We get 2 litres of local red bardolino for just over 5€ which includes 80c for the plastic bottle.  Oh we are loving Italy!!!

We are hoping to drop things off before heading to H but it will be Lunch time soon, when shops shut and restaurants do business.  So loaded down we go shopping for more goodies from the Famila supermarket.

We drive back across to Borghetto to our little car park which already has about 8 motorhomes parked up.  We get lunch and gradually the cloud begins to break up and we can see blue sky and it's warm!!!!!

We handwash some t shirts and get them on a line.

Alastair sits outside but there are loads of bugs around.   During the day Lisa realises she has been bitten several times which must have happened in the night as she has been covered up all day.  Not wanting to risk any more bites she gets back into H with the mosquito screens drawn.  We naively assumed mosquitoes were like the Scottish midge and disappeared after the first frost.

We go for a walk along the river which is beautiful and come back to enjoy our very Italian tea.   Alastair enjoyed the pumpkin tortelli but said he probably wouldn't choose the zucce again because they add almond flavour, which is one of the few flavours he isn't keen on.  Both enjoyed Lisa's vegan tortellini that we found when we first arrived.  The first tortellini Lisa has ever had.  Vegans do struggle sometimes.

We get an early bed and just as we are dozing off Lisa jumps as she hears the familiar zzzzzz.  She wakes Alastair too.  We can see nothing.   As we drift off it happens again.   Meanwhile there is some kind of concert has started providing a thumping background  to our previously idyllic setting.  The music keeps pounding away until 2am.  Alastair struggles to sleep through midge attacks and music overload.

We have noticed that when Lisa gets bitten over here she develops a fever.  So   around 2am, just as A is finally beginning to slumber, she unpacks a single sheet and covers herself from hair to toe.  Lisa is finally able to drift off with the buzzing carrying on around her.  A follows eventually.

Terlago to Borghetto, Friday 14th October 

We  (well almost completely Alastair)  have done a lot of driving to get here so we want to slow down now.  The only challenge to that is the weather.  The rain stopped last night but it was windy wild.  This morning it is chucking it down again.

Not a day for sightseeing.  We decide against visiting Verona just yet and instead drive about an hour South to Borghetto.  Alastair chose a route avoiding the Auto Strada (motorway) so we could bumble along and enjoy more of the country.

That should have been a relaxing idea except a new road had been built that wasn't on our sat nav and we got slightly lost.  At one point we were nearly picking up a toll ticket for the Auto Strada but Alastair managed to turn out of that.  Fortunately the police were far too interested in pulling over a van. 

Then we have to go round a roundabout twice.   Hamish is beeped for the first time.  Slightly ironic as the guy who beeped is trying to cut us up.  Anyway when we arrive Alastair said the journey felt like 3 hours, not the hour we'd just driven.

We drive to the free car park we are planning for our night.  It is no longer free, 1€ per hour.  We have no choice but to go to the aire, 10€ for 24 hours.  

We pull up to the barrier, Lisa presses a button, we get a ticket and wait.....nothing happens.  We get out and there follows a comedic episode of us waving the card at everything to see if something happens....nothing.  Alastair pulls forward to the barrier..nothing.  He reverses and try's again...nothing.  We sit looking exasperated at the barrier and Lisa suggests we give up and go to the aire just up the road.  Alastair had one more attempt at putting Hamish's bumper on the barrier, nothing happens.  We are resigned to find somewhere else and start to reverse away.   It opens.  Obviously designed to frustrate foreigners.

Inside is very pleasant: avenues of pretty trees, a parking area, b b q's, even male and female toilets, both of the hole in the floor squatting variety, with helpful handrail.  

Alastair suggests we nip to the service area to empty our grey water.   As Hamish reverses in a loud noise starts beeping and a bollard comes up to prevent us leaving.  It's as if we have committed a crime!!!  We can't get out until we have flashed our card, that's 3€ then!!

The rain has not relented so we get kitted up with full waterproof gear, including brolly and head out.  Within 5 minutes it stops raining, at least we are warm.

Borghetto is a pretty village with picturesque houses around the river.  We climb steps up to the remains of the castle and are rewarded with view across to Lake Garda and the Dolomites, shrouded in cloud, north and the relentlessly flat Po valley behind.

We take the other path that leads down to Valeggio Sul Mincio.  The town is closed for its siesta.   We wander round the deserted streets admiring the town hall, the church and the bells set outside.

We need bread and find a Eurostar which is like Lidls.   Alastair is not impressed and after buying some olive rolls for a late lunch we leave.   We find a huge supermarket that closes between 1 and 3pm, helpful, not, and after finding nothing else Alastair has to eat humble pie and we return to Eurostar for some cheap Italian wine (about 5€ for two bottles) to pass the afternoon.

We take the flat route along the road back to Hamish, over the bridge and through the ancient crumbling arches and decide to investigate the other aire.  It is 21€ and packed!!??

As we get into Hamish the sky turns purple and so dark we need lights inside H.  It's only 3:30pm but the street lights come on.   The rain hammers down in literal stair rods.  The castle is lit up but disappears into darkness and we are treated to thunder and lightening.  We open the wine and enjoy the spectacle.

As the evening wears on with no neighbours we crank up the music and dance.   Hamish the party van!

Terlago to Lake Garda La Ca campsite, Thursday 13th October 

We wake to hazy skies but we are in Italy and it's just lovely.

We have another long drive today so we are on the road by 9.  As we set off up the mountain road that leads to the main road there is an insistent bleeping coming from somewhere.  After sending us into a complete panic it stops.

Alastair has chosen the scenic route to our destination so rather than taking the motorway we travel along the west side of Lake Garda.

The road is narrow and windy with frequent tunnels and occasionally large vehicles taking up more than their fair share of road coming towards us.  It's tough driving but everything is relative and after Norway it holds no fears.

Parking is an issue again as there is nowhere to stop but as we get halfway down the lake things begin to open up.  Lake Garda is huge, we drive down it for 2 hours and are still not at the bottom.

Just before our intended stop supermarkets appear and we pull in.   For 2 people who love pasta and one of us in particular who would happily eat pasta every day if she was allowed, Italian supermarkets are to die for.   A whole side of a row is given over just to pasta and that is how it should be.  Again there is little lots of veggie/vegan food, gorgeous wine and bread, we can't resist focaccia with olives.

About 20 minutes later we arrive at our campsite.  There is no opportunity for wild camping along Lake Garda, the car parks start at 20€ for a night and we didn't want to drive for more than 3.5 hours so we have picked a campsite for 13€.

We settle in and go for a walk through the campsite, there is a British van, the first one we have seen since Sweden, sadly they are out though.

The bottom of the campsite opens onto Lake Garda and we walk along to the marina.  It's very quiet with most of the boats having been stored for the Winter.

It's still cloudy and hazy and it begins to spot as we walk back.

As we get into Hamish the rain falls properly. We get on with wifi jobs.  It is still about 16 degrees C.

Austria to Terlago, Italy.  Wednesday 12th October

We are on the road for 10am and begin to head South.   We imagine the drive through the Tyrol in particular is stunning, surrounded by snow capped mountains.  We get tantalising glimpses through the cloud.

Soon we see a little European sign for Italia; hooray.

The houses continue to look Alpine around the Alps and then the Dolomites but there are vines everywhere, a good sign.  The roads and environs are beginning to appear more chaotic with many more road signs and poorer state of repair.

We drive into a service station but the car park is small and packed and there is nowhere for us to stop so we get back on the motorway.  Land between the sheer cliffs is obviously at a premium.

Needing a break from driving Alastair exits at the next town.   Lisa pays the toll and we drive through looking for parking.  Obviously wedged between the mountains parking is a challenge and car parks are below ground or extremely tiny and not appropriate for Hamish's modest size.  We end up back on the motorway.  A is beginning to sweat, as the driving challenge increases.  Never mind, we can stop at the next services, they can't be very far.

An hour and a half later the next services appear: unsurprisingly lorries are double parked and cars are flying in looking for coffee and toilets.  One lorry and a horse box carrying six horses take up half of the car parking spaces but we manage to get a space.

The little canteen has vegan sandwiches and vegan carrot cake; far too expensive for us but a good sign.  This is Italy and vegan is on the menu! We get lunch in a Hamish of bread and jam or cheese.

The sun is shining and we start to take off layers.  Lisa washes a couple of Alastair's t shirts (the debacle at the campsite means we still have a bag of washing but it's stuff we can wash and dry with a little sun).

After lunch we drive off the motorway along twisty roads (easy after Norway) to our planned free spot next to a lake.  We walk down around the lake, through a farm of apples and hops and around the pretty village.  An old guy is fishing from an old boat and singing at the top of his voice.  A group of about ten villagers are playing a version of boule with big coloured balls. It all just feels so warm and comfortable and easy going.

Walking back to Hamish past the rows of rosy apples it's incredibly tempting to help ourselves, some are so ripe they have fallen to the ground but we resist.

We have a quiet and free night.  Our first in Italy.  Great night's sleep.