Wednesday 18 to Thursday 19 October 2006, Arco
Driving through the Dolomites was lovely. There are many castles perched high above towns. We decided to stop at a campground in Arco to catch up on the household chores. The weather was definitely cool and after a day it was time to move further south.
Friday 20 to Saturday 21 October 2006, Verona
The drive along Lake Garda is truly on the edge. The sides of the lake go straight up and there are many tunnels built along the road with windows looking out onto the lake a 100 meters directly below. Hotels and very small towns cling to the cliff edges. Finding a place to stop for lunch is almost impossible although there are one or two spots specially created for this.
The south end of the lake is vacation land. There are many camp grounds (all closed for winter), play parks, restaurants, 'Sexy shops' and prostitutes. Saturday dawned wet and cold, the best place was inside as there would be nothing to see while driving, except for the rain of course. The shopping centre we stayed at was not too bad either, fresh bread for breakfast.
Sunday 22 October 2006, Venice
The main islands of Venice have become so integrated it looks like a large fish eating a morsel of food. The road alongside the train line was very busy because there was a marathon under way. Eventually we were directed to a parking lot set up specifically for campers with electricity and waste disposal - at a price, but worth it to be within walking distance of the centre. Then we started walking, looking for a vaporetto stop. These are passenger ferries and constitute the public transport. Once we found one we hopped on expecting to go along the Grand Canal, instead we headed the other way and the first stop was almost where we had parked the camper! The vaporetto then went along the outside of the main islands and eventually dropped us off at St. Marks Square. It was packed with runners and their supporters with barricades for the runners. The last of the runners were coming slowly in to some encouraging applause.
St Marks Square was disappointing. Not only was it crowded, but most of the buildings seemed to be in the process of renovation. Apparently it had been under water that morning due to a high tide.
The whole Venetian complex is full of narrow winding streets and small canals. Home owners have no garden and hang washing over the canals to dry. The canals are used for the transport of most of the goods needed in the city. Loaded barges and boats abound. There is also much evidence that Venice is sinking. Some houses cannot use the bottom floor and the jetty for many others is above the floor level. What is a mystery to Pieter is the obvious lack of a plan to dam the whole city as is done with (much larger) area's in Holland and elsewhere. We assume there is a reason, but to see a city with all it's treasures go down to a level where it will be lost to the world, is a hard fact to accept.
Naturally on the walk back to our car we crossed the Rialto bridge. Gondoliers are everywhere. We were delighted to see one with its own singer and accordion player on board. Murano glass was available everywhere. Face masks in every possible colour and form were also very much in evidence. We had never known that these incredibly beautiful things could be part of a heritage and reflect memories of a history filled with ballrooms full of dancing (masked) people to the tune of now "classical" music!
Monday morning we went for a ride up the Grand Canal, making sure we caught the vaporetto at the closest stop and that it did indeed go up the canal. Seeing the city was a beautiful experience.
Monday 23 to Friday 27 October 2006, Florence
The state of the roads around Florence is pathetic. There are unfinished road works everywhere with lots of deviations and bad surfaces. The drivers take chances and only obey the rules when it suits them - rather like SA actually. There are also beggars, gypsies and window washers who accost drivers at traffic lights. At least they ignore us, the Land Rover's windows are too high up.
We did go into the centre of Florence but it was so cramped with the little space there was around the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore filled with tourists and tables. Most of our time was spent in the surrounding towns like Prato doing a myriad of things. The major ones being having the Land Rover serviced, replacing the solar panel, buying an inverter, a new table for the van, a radio, a new battery for my computer and a world map to stick on the side of our unit. Unfortunately the inverter is still not powerful enough to run my computer using the van battery system but at least I can charge the computer battery with it.
Saturday 28 to Monday 30 August 2006, Firenzuola
The company that looked at the electrical system and the solar panel closed shop for the weekend so we spent the time at a closed camp site. Well not entirely closed, there were permanent people there. Many of them had built wooden rooms onto their caravans, quite spacious and permanent extensions. There were two builders adding an extension to another caravan. They were so exuberant and happy, it was wonderful to watch. Unfortunately we left a passport behind and had to return Monday evening after sorting out the solar panel. Never again! This is the second time we have had problems with leaving passports behind. In future we will pay in advance if necessary.
Tuesday 31 August to Wednesday 1 November 2006, San Gimignano
The world map was ordered on Tuesday but would only be ready by Thursday as Wednesday was a public holiday. We decided to go to a campsite that was open all year round and ask Targus to send the cable to the camp ground. When we arrived we found they were closing down for the winter on Thursday morning. They were able to give us the name of another campsite though, which they assured us would be open. This time we phoned to check, obtained the postal address and contacted Targus to send the cable there.
Thursday 2 November 2006, Florence
Picked up the map and spent the night in a shopping centre.
Friday 3 to Monday 27 November 2006, Casciano di Murlo, Tuscany
This is a lovely campsite with a splendid view and winter facilities. These consist of 4 complete bathrooms (toilet, shower, hand basin) all kept wonderfully warm. We pottered around and met interesting people. At one stage we were with three other couples and between the 4 of us we had been to most places in the world. Traveling is obviously in the blood. Unfortunately Targus sent the wrong cable so we stayed longer than expected. At least the weather was good most of the time, warm and sunny during the day and not too cold at night.
The night it rained heavily showed us that the window above the double bed was leaking badly, right over where I sleep. There was over half a liter of water lying under the mattress the next morning. There are wooden slats under the mattress to dry out the condensation as the air in Europe is quite moist, so at least the mattress itself is not lying directly in the water. Luckily (?), I was sleeping on the other bed, made by using the table and cushions. We had been given wild oyster mushrooms by the camp ground handyman and I assumed he knew the area and the mushrooms were edible. Pieter had his doubts though. How right he was; not that they were poisonous (the locals eat them) but I most certainly had a bad night. I could not continuously climb over Pieter, hence I slept in the other bed. Pieter was not quite so badly affected and in any case it is much easier for him to get out of the bed. (Pieter writes: Ann was bloody sick, vomiting and having to make use of our Porto Potty with regular intervals, until finally she caught a few hours sleep.) All of the next day we were in a bad shape.
We did visit Sienna, a university and tourist town with a rich history. We have seen many such towns in Europe and gave the museums a miss. The Tuscan country side is however gorgeous. The autumn colours are magnificent, mainly with yellows and oranges without the reds found in northern Europe. Even the browns look great, we decided this is because of the moisture in the leaves. In SA brown leaves are very dry and dull. The roads twist and turn over hills and valleys giving many panoramic views. Of course the country side is dotted with villages, towns and castles, the older ones all made with stone.
On the group-photo, top second from left, we see a couple of people we met on the camp site. The two on the left are from Switzerland, the two on the right are from the USA. Al and Sali (that's how she spells her name) are married for just over a year now and have been traveling widely. We spent an evening with them in their camper (more accommodating then ours) after a good meal in the camp-restaurant and decided later it had been one of the more meaningful and fun-filled evenings we had experienced for a long time. Thanks Al and Sali, it was a wonderful event and we will look back at the memory with fond feelings for a long time.
After they had left we met Pieter, a graying academic from Holland who was traveling alone and had himself equipped with a wonderful TV, consisting of a receiver and monitor of an old computer - and a pair of brave Swedish girls on bikes heading for Rome, from where they planned to fly to Nairobi and from there to continue on bike to Zanzibar. We invited them all for a braai. It was a sunny, warm day and it was good to have an "old fashioned" kind of come-together.
The power cable took so long to arrive that Pieter worked out why the air-rifle he bought in Holland was firing to the right unintentionally and the van was always hanging to one side. He was able to borrow a welding machine to reinforce the supports and fixed it plus completed a few other odd jobs. I started building cities in ancient Greece ( a computer game) and started making a patchwork quilt where each square will represent a country we have been to.
Tuesday 28 to Wednesday 29 November 2006, Rome
The morning was very misty and you could not see far, so we drove down the Autostrada.
We did not want to drive in Rome and elected to stay at a campsite, Flaminio Village, near a metro railway station. It was an expensive campsite but the facilities were fantastic - under floor heating, a fountain, classical music, lots of space in the shower, special magnifying mirrors and marble floors. There was also plenty of hot water for doing dishes and an extensive laundry with drying frames for when it was raining.
The train took about 15 minutes to arrive in Rome. From there we caught the 110 special provided by the tourist board. This is the typical open top tourist bus that allows you to hop on and off at any point along the route, also the cheapest of the many such services available. Cities and museums are not for us, therefore we intended to do Rome in a day!
Rome does not have a medieval city centre inside a wall where there are attractions such as a church or castle. It merges all styles and times from ancient temples and forums, renaissance basilicas, fountains, churches and modern buildings. The older roman temples and buildings predominate rather than the churches. We only saw the outside of the many sites and it was impressive. You could spend days in Rome and still not take it all in. The traffic was as mad as expected with the usual parking problems. Millions of scooters and Smart cars park in narrow spaces.
Thursday 30 November 2006, Pompeii
The site of Pompeii is quite large and well excavated. It was first occupied around 7th century BC. The earthquake of 62 AD destroyed much of the city and reconstruction was still going on in 79 AD when Vesuvius erupted and buried the area in ash and rock. We pride ourselves on our modern cities, but back then they had numerous fountains providing water channeled through aqueducts from elsewhere, several communal bath houses with hot and cold water, waste was collected and inside the homes were decorated with paintings and mosaics. There were bakeries, snack bars and a market place. The great theatre held 5,000 people and the amphitheatre 20,000. The magnitude is astounding and Pompeii was not that large compared to other cities of the time. I wonder what people will think of our cities and technology in 2000 years time.
Friday 1 to Saturday 2 December 2006, To Sicily
South of Naples is vacation land with many camp grounds, hotels and restaurants, all closed for the winter. The further south we went the more rugged the coast line with small villages built near the beaches and bound by cliffs. Many of the buildings require some maintenance and rubbish lies around, not as clean as northern Europe. We found places to stay where the water lapped the shore providing a relaxing lullaby.
Sunday 3 December 2006, Mt Etna
It takes 20 minutes for the ferry to cross to Sicily. The water is so clear you can watch the fish on the bottom.
Again the coast is rugged with the railway line running along the shore, a main street and hills beyond, very cramped in places. We watched the glow from Mt Etna at night. There are the remains of lava flows down the mountain, villages on the mountain side and a major town, Catania, below. I do not think I would want to live there.
Monday 4 December 2006 to Wednesday 3 January 2007, Syracuse
We spent several days parked in the Porto Picolo, a small harbour for small fishing boats. The tranquillity, enhanced by very mild weather with day temperatures around 20 degrees C made resting, visiting the market, eating fish, eating Pandora and Panettoni (special Italian Christmas cakes made with yeast), watching the fishermen, talking to Jean-Marie and Viviane (campervan) and Jurgen (grey truck) and updating the website a really relaxing experience.
It ended up being more than a few days! Still it was a lovely time. We found an Internet Cafe where we could use our own laptop, must be the only one in Syracuse. While doing the washing at a Laundromat I talked to an American, Patty, who teaches at the American University on the island of Ortigia, the original area of Syracuse. She told us about a group of English speakers who meet every Saturday evening and invited us along. About half of the people in the group teach at the American University, the other half are retired, and they welcome new comers and transients like us. We spent several Saturday evenings with them. Christmas lunch was also spent in their company. They had arranged for roast pork and vegetables at a restaurant. This is not the usual Sicilian cooking but the chef made a really wonderful roast pork with superb crackling. Stephen provided the apple sauce. The company was great, the wine plentiful and a happy time was had by all.
Syracuse has a long history starting with settlements on Ortigia in the 14th century BC. Greek colonists from Corinth ousted the local people in the 8th century BC. Syracuse went on to become an important Greek city such that the Athenians tried to invade but were defeated in 413BC. Invasion by Carthage in 278 BC was repelled. (NB Carthage is in modern day Tunis). The Romans eventually gained control in 214BC. There are both Greek and Roman ruins and archeological work is still being done.
The 9th December is the day of the 'Immaculate Conception' and is celebrated with a great display of fireworks. We were in a prime position to see it lighting up the sky. On the 13th the statue of Santa Lucia (St. Lucy) is taken from the cathedral on Ortiga to the Sanctuary of Madonnina on the mainland. We were given two different times for the procession, 3:30 and 5:30, so at 3:30 we follow the crowds to the cathedral. The area around the cathedral was packed with people watching the statue being taken out and down the steps, then everyone dispersed. Eventually at 5:30 the procession started going so slowly that it took hours to travel the 3 odd kilometers along the route. Members of the Guild of Carpenters carry the statue but put it down for a rest after every few meters. Even so the route was lined with spectators and many people led in bare feet with their candles lit. St. Lucy was martyred in 304AD. Young and of noble birth, Lucy took up the cause of the poor and afflicted after her prayers for the healing of her ill mother were answered. She was tortured for her dedication and faith and was finally decapitated for refusing to denounce her beliefs. She is the patron saint of Syracuse. On the 20th her statue is returned to the cathedral with another very impressive display of fireworks.
By New Year the nights were becoming colder with the day varying between warm with sunshine and cold, wet rain. On New Year's eve we had dinner with our fellow campers - Vivienne and Jean-Marie from France. All of us retired and traveling. Midnight brought a myriad of fireworks, nothing formal, just everyone letting off the ones they had purchased and giving a marvelous display all around us.
Thursday 4 to Saturday 6 January 2007, On board
Finally we left Syracuse and headed towards Greece. Our detour through part of Sicily went through steep mountains and valleys. The land is very rocky which I am sure makes farming difficult. The mainland was quite mountainous to the east but the west is a relatively flat plain. We made it to Brindisi in time to catch the 17h00 ferry to Patras in Greece. This is a Greek ferry. Campervans are hooked up to electricity and you are allowed to sleep in the van. There are also hot fresh water showers on board - a wonderful experience after a month of basin baths using brack water. It also cuts the cost of the voyage.
|Averages||Rand||Euro||Back to Switzerland|
|Cost per litre diesel||10.94||1.14|
|Camping per night||177.52||18.42|
|Days in country||81|