Archive for October, 2010


October 29, 2010

Dragged ourselves out of bed at a reasonable hour this morning so that we could hopefully beat the crowds to get to see Michelangelo’s David.  But first we had a Skype call from Helen & Don, nice to see some familiar faces and catch up on news.

We headed off into town on the bus and made our way to the Accademia Gallery, a very unpretentious building in a side street.  We arrived in good time to be able to walk straight in and get tickets not before being x-rayed and scanned with Roy having to relinquish his pocket knife  to be retrieved later.  We headed straight into the gallery to see the David statue, which we all agreed was an impressive piece of sculpture.  We then went on to wander through the rest of the gallery only to return to bid a fond farewell to David.

Then it was a short walk to find the Hop On – Hop Off bus, which we duly found.  So the next few hours were spent on and off the bus throughout Florence.

gate 1This time we entered Florence through on of the remaining gates

bastionThe Bastion is one of the remains of the original city walled areas.  Most of the walls have been removed in the late 1800s early 1900s

fresco 1Fresco on a building in the city

curvedDoes the street follow the building or the building the street?


library The Library building


two guys and a couple of guys lounging outside

mint The original source of the Florin (for those of you who remember such a coin) here the first Florentine florins were minted in the 1500’s.


Weir of the Arno in the centre of the city.  This river rose 11 metres in 1966 severally flooding the city and destroying some significant treasures

narrow 1 Typical narrow street

narrow 2This one was interesting of the bus to negotiate.  There was little more than six inches on either side.  It is not so amazing that many Italian cars have broken wing mirrors!!!!

narrow 3and they tend to clutter the streets with all sorts of obstacles

gateOne of the few remaining gates


hills above Looking up to where were staying from the river level

We stopped for a bite to eat at a small Italian cafe where it was obvious a place for locals to eat. Then it was back onto the bus and into the hills to Fiesole. 

feorole 1About 9km from Florence, Fiesole sits atop one of the many hills around Florence.

It was here that Roy and Alex took a tour of the Roman ruins and museum whilst Bernice took a wander around the main square.

amphitheatreAmphitheatre well preserved and still used.

amphtheatre 1

Alex aND sNOWAlexandra and Snow on the amphitheatre seats

BathsThe Roman bath building on the same site.

There was also the remains of a temple which had been Etruscan and then Roman.  The museum on the site was very very good and is well worth the visit.

We all met up again and then took a walk to view the panoramic sights over Florence.  Then it was back onto the bus for the return trip to town.

FeoroleAt the top of Fiesole with Florence in the background

Again we split up, Roy having to return to Accademia to collect his pocket knife, whilst Bernice and Alex took a good look at all the jewellery shops on the Ponte Vecchio. 

deadStatues found in Roy’s wanderings to retrieve his knife

neptune 1Neptune

synagogAlso the Synagogue in Florence.  The copper domes really stand out when viewed from the hills above.

We met up again to try our luck at the Uffizi Gallery, but the queues were too long for us to wait around so we headed off to the Duomo instead. 

doorEntrance door

duomoThe building was highly coloured from the different colours of marble used in its construction

towerThis is the tower showing a grill to catch falling objects.  There are large numbers of the old buildings in Italy that have this protection for those below.  When you see the condition of some of the decorative statuary it is no wonder!!

We wandered around the outside for some time and then headed off to catch the bus, stopping to have a quick bite to eat along the way.   We got to the bus stop only to have a 20 minute wait, so as the stop was directly outside a church, we decided to head in to have a look.  It was inside the Saint Michele e Gaetana that we discovered amongst the impressive frescoes and sculpture, that one set of frescos were done by none other than Ottavio Vannini in the early 1600’s.  Unfortunately, as with most of the interior spaces in Florence, we were unable to take photos of the frescos.  A  reason why there is a paucity of photos of the art works of Florence in our blogs.

Soon our bus arrived and it was a quick trip back to our camp, and when we mean quick, we mean that at the previous stop to ours (we were the last ones left on the bus) there was a sign to say that it was a 20 minute bus trip to Michelangelo’s Piazza, our stop, which was completed in just 4 minutes!!! It pays to wear blinkers, then you don’t see the near misses, the scrapes, the tight bends, the other crazy drivers, the parked vehicles at every spare piece of the road or footpath, not to mention the other traffic. 

Quirks of the day

 astra   This one is for the Altrusans, we have no idea where ASTRA 1 may be…

Bernice’s fascination with the small vehicles knows no ends so here are couple of photos to reflect this

Bernice's car A three wheel ute in Fiesole

tradetradesmen’s vehicles in Florence

And whilst on the topic of small cars here are some shots of electric vehicles parked at a charging point in the street.  We saw several of these points in the city.

electric 2

 electric 1 and it is not only electric cars, there are also a number of electric scooters and some of the small buses in town  are also electric.      

A couple of unusual house decorations spotted in Fiesole

scales Scales of justice?

koala Koala?

Alexandra spotted  these two signs showing someone’s sense of humour

dead end 1 dead end 2 

And finally an eclectic collection of wrought iron magic.  There are a large number of buildings that we saw that had wrought iron guards on the lower windows.  So here is a collection for those who like iron work and for those who don’t well it is interesting anyway.  There were numerous other examples but just a few will do

wrought 8Plain

    wrought 1 Shaped to allow for window boxes

wrought 9 

 wrought 4 Shaped to allow shutters to be slid in front of the windows

wrought 5 wrought 6 wrought 7   wrought 3


October 28, 2010

We were up and off this morning in bright sunshine.  Alex relinquished the navigators position so Bernice was back to the passengers seat.  Although we are sure it was only so Alex could quietly sit and read her book in the back.

Before we had gone very far we had to overrule Heidi to get some sausages.  Last nights dinner (see below) had the best sausages we have tasted all trip.  So this morning we returned to buy some more before carrying on our way


We set Heidi to take us to Florence (Firenze) via the autostrada, which is the toll road.  It was such an easy pleasant drive, straight onto the motorway and off we were headed straight through to Firenze.  You collect a ticket when you enter the toll road, and pay as you come off it, so we were a little unsure of how much it would cost us, we were pleasantly surprised that it only cost us 13 Euro.  Well worth the money just to get us from A to B.  The drive took us through lovely countryside and through so many tunnels that we lost count after 10.

we saw the continuing addition and expansion of the system, illustrated by this quick shot of a new viaduct.


Soon we arrived in Florence, and Heidi led us to our camp site, which is right on the side of the hill overlooking Florence and just alongside a replica David statue that overlooks the city.

entrance to city Hardly the most elegant entry to a beautiful city.

We viewed the city by day and by night.

bridges over the Arno Bridges over the Arno riverduomo 1 Duomo

david 1 This David copy is situated in the lookout that is just up the road from where we are camped

Bridges over the Arno 1 Bridges by night

David at nigh 1 David at night

We arrived late afternoon so it was an opportune time to catch up on washing and the like.  We have decided to stay here for two nights at least to get a good feel for the place, so tomorrow morning we will head off early to get to queue up to see the real David statue as well as the Uffizi Gallery and many other sights. We have sorted out the Ho-ho bus tour and we are also eyeing up a wine and cheese tour!   Florence is a beautiful city, its hard to really believe that we are here!

A couple of curiosities

old wall The old city wall up a hillside to the left of the lookout.  Pretty slim by the standards of other city walls seen.

All the lamp posts at the lookout and for several 100 metres either side have this unusual three legged support.  Have the manx been here at some stage or did they take the idea from here?

three legs

Restaurant opposite the lookout.  A beautiful building with great views and a very up market look.  They also displayed a menu which showed the famous Florentine Steak for only $70.00 Euro for two.  We decided to give it a miss at this stage.


How many Vannini’s does it take to write a blog??

October 28, 2010

All correct answers will go in the draw to win…. a night’s accommodation at the Vannini household!!

In going to bed last night, things were looking up weather wise, the rain seemed to have slowed down, but oh, no, it started yet again in the morning. Luckily this didn’t last too long, and we were on our way. Drove into the mad streets of Padova where Alex had some arguments with Heidi for not being updated on her roundabouts, stressing Alex out trying to navigate with all the mad Italian drivers around. In the end, got to the train station and stumbled across a car park with a lovely man ushering us into our space, getting our ticket for us and making us feel a little more relaxed about being in Padova.

Padova is home to the church which holds the tomb of St Antony, the patron Saint of lost things. Although we did not get inside the church we did drive around it (whilst the navigator was stressing).  See, we do think of you Antony!

st antonySt Antony’s church Padova

Next step was to get a train to take us to Venice. Once again, as we have always found, the trains in Europe are simple and easy to use and this one in particular very very cheap! So before long we were off the mainland and over onto the many islands of Venice. After consulting the information station, we headed via water bus to St Marks Square where everything seems to happen and converge.

first bridgeFirst bridge

first gondolaFirst gondola

water levelThe effects of a slowly sinking, 1mm per year, Venice are easy to see.  Later we learnt that almost every building’s first floor has water entering it, either continually or at high or flood tide, and as a consequence that the ground floor of all of these has been abandoned.


rialto bridgeThe Rialto bridge

doges palace 1Arriving at St Marcs square giving a view of the Doges Palace, now a museum

st marcs 3In front of the Doge’s Palace


bell 2Bell ringers from ground level

bell towerBell Tower approximately 100 metres tall

detail dogedetail of Doges Palace

lionAlexandra and Snow took a ride on a  Lion just off St Marcs Square


We took a walk around, admiring the imposing buildings around the Square, got some lunch from a lovely bakery to sit in the Square surrounded by pigeons to enjoy the atmosphere.

After lunch, tired already from all the crowds constantly bumping into to each other in all different directions, we took a gondola ride through the “back street” canals of Venice. Our Gondolier was a lovely man who was very informative on all the buildings we passed, the history of Venice, and all the traditions involved in gondoliering… To be a gondolier you have to be a son of a gondolier (Or now a daughter, the first female starting recently), learn from your father for about a year, go to school to learn English, French, Architecture, History, and finish all the tests off with a swimming and lifesaving test in case the worst happens, plus pass the final test with 6 expert gondoliers. All very impressive indeed. The ride took us under the Bridge of Sighs, which sadly was under repair so the full view wasn’t seen, but was still there.

bridge of sighsThe Bridge of sighs!!!  Under repair so not very impressive at all

another streetTypical narrow canal

snow gondolaSnow’s seat


four travellersAll together

marco Polo Marco Polo’s house

There are many sights to be seen and photos taken but too much spoils the blog so enough of our canal trip.  Must say though that it gave an entirely different perspective from the main canal area.

Once off the gondola, Bernice and Alex went up to the top of the bell tower to get a view over the entire city. It was magnificent to see how big Venice really is and the outer islands making up the rest of the city. It was not until meeting back up with Roy that the girls realised that the reason that there were works around the bottom of the tower was due to cracks being evident around the base of the tower (the last time this happened was in 1902, when the whole thing collapsed!). Fair to say, we were pleased we found this out after we got back down and not while we were up there!

ALEXANDRA AT THE TOPAlexandra at the top


bell 3Looking down on the bell ringers pictured earlier

cupolasThe church cupolas at he rear of the Doge’s Palace

snow 2Looking across to the mainland with the alps in the distance

st marcs 4View of St Marcs square from on high

galileo And even he gets into the act!  A  tablet at the top of the tower


All feeling a bit knackered and rather cool, we headed back to the water bus to get back to the station. Again the boat bus went through the grand canal and under the Rialto bridge, lovely setting for an afternoon trip!

atop bridge 1Just time to cross a bridge over the Grand Canal

We got back on the train and it was a short 40 min train ride back to Padova to our camper. The tiredness a bit overwhelming some of us, we decided it was easiest to head to our previous nights accommodation at Montegrotto Terme as we knew it wasn’t far away, whereas we don’t know where we would next come across a camper stop. Stopped in on our way back to a supermarket to pick up some supplies, a very small, almost 4 square like, shop. We got some sausages for dinner (as all the other meat looked a bit dodgy), what a buy they were, some of the best sausages we have found. So it was a lovely simple meal tonight of sausages, potato and salad, accompanied by yet another bottle of red- Castello de Romeo et Guiletta – before trip planning and blog writing then a well earned rest.


Some random shots and comments on the day

big dog Not all dogs paraded around the streets are handbag sized!

advertThis was either an advert being made, the advertised photography tour of Venice or ??

Of course deliveries have to be made of all sorts of materials and supplies.  This work is performed by commercial barges plying the canals.  Typically these were seen on the grand canal, but smaller tradesmen’s barges were seen often in the narrow canals off the Grand Canal

trafficCommercial barge on the Grand Canal

workingA working barge

working 1 A  barge load of goods

How to get materials on and off site

crane This tower crane was spotted during our canal trip

liftingWe turned the corner and here is what was at the end of the crane line.  Metal forms being lifted from a barge to the higher levels of a building.  There are no cars or trucks within Venice so all commercial activity is carried out by water.

Like a lot of other parts of the city St Marcs Square is very low.  When we first arrived the tide was in and they had had a lot of rain the day before.  As a consequence not all of the rain water had been able to run off.  There were large sections of the square up to six inches deep in water.  To overcome the problem raised pathways had been created using a table like structure about 750mm high.  This shot shows the crowd outside the Cathedral being ushered along such a path to the entry point,



One of the most interesting buildings spotted on the Grand Canal was this one covered in very detailed frescos.  This was not the only one, but was the most elaborate and brightest we saw.

fresco 5

fresco 1 Detail of left fresco

fresco 3 Detail of right fresco

Even the statue of liberty was spotted on the Grand Canal



Some of the buildings were striking, a couple of examples

pretty 1


And finally

narrowest street The narrowest street in Venice?

Wet wet wet

October 27, 2010

Sunday 24th

early startThe intrepid fishermen get an early start to the second day.  Unfortunately we could not wait to see who won.

Started off with no mishaps this morning from Peschiera del Garda backtracking slightly to a narrow peninsula fortress town called Sirmione. Again decided against the funicular as the cloud was lower and heavier than the day before. After discovering Sirmione by looking at a postcard and thinking oooo that looks nice, we came to a fortress surrounded by water, even more stunning than the pictures (minus the sunshine). Had a wander around with Alex braving the height and stairs to go up to the top of the watch tower.


entryView of entrance

at the start 1At the entrance to the fortress

snowSnow about to go in

balance beamInside found that the drawbridges are not raised and lowered by the use of chains and windlass but by a system of balance beams attached to the bridge externally and then pulled down inside to raise the bridge.  The slots into which the beams fit in the outside wall can be seen in the first photo above

   inner coiurtyard Inside the courtyard with the staircase to the wall in the corner

alexandra top of the tower Alexandra at the top of the tower above the wall

down belowLooking down Into the courtyard.  Bernice at top and Roy in middle of courtyard.

alexandra at topAlexandra waving from the top

entry portView of artificial harbour within fortress


narrow colourful  Looking back down to the fortress from the narrow streets of the old town   

gargoyle  An unusual gargoyle in the streets of Sirmione

how to grow A tenacious grip on life.  A fig tree growing through a wall in Sirmione

griffenA griffen on the inside of the city gate

Left around lunch time heading for a campsite in Verona that we had found in our books, only to discover that it was closed. On driving into town to find an information centre, stumbled across a caravan parking and dumping site, as good as any for a night in Verona. By this stage, it had started raining persistently, lucky we each had an umbrella, and Snow was protected on the backpack by a homemade backpack cover aka a plastic bag. On closer inspection of maps and consulting Heidi, we discovered that we were within walking distance to the town centre, so off we strolled.

First stop was the train station to find Wifi and information. A very slow Wifi was found and previous blog uploaded, however problems with Bernice’s iPad has come to light, as it cannot connect to Hotspots anywhere in Italy, causing a lot of frustration. We think due to java script problems but will consult an Apple store to find out.  After Roy finding out which bus takes us into the city centre, we hopped on the bus and found the Arena, a first century Roman ampitheatre (the third largest in existence).  Went inside and had a look around, was excellent, the only drawback was that the arena stage area was under construction for a concert so we could only walk through a very small section of it.

arenaThe Arena in the centre of Verona

snow 3Snow sheltering outside

snow 2Alexandra and Snow admiring the seating

looking down  View from the interior toward the top of the Arena looking down into the lower parts

  snow 1  Snow and Alexandra standing in the terrace for the important dignitaries looking out over the Arena

snow at ease This photo of Snow at ease on the terraces shows the character of the marble used.  It varies in colour from white through to shades of pink and red.  It also appears cracked and full of imperfections, but this obviously makes no difference to its strength as it has been here for near 2000 years

On closer look at some of the marble used in its construction, there is fossilised evidence of ammonites in many of them.

ammonite evidence of Ammonite in the marble used in the floor of one of the passageways

At this stage of the day it was getting late, so we headed back to the camper (suggestions for naming the said camper/motorhome are welcome), on the way home we ventured past a rugby promotion with all sorts of activities for kids, promoting upcoming internationals for the Italian team. Next we stumbled along a delightful pasticceria where we indulged on some small pastries and a Sacher Torte for desert later on. We didn’t really need any indulgences as dinner was so rich in itself. We made a pasta of Triangoli al porcini e tartufo (or triangle pasta shapes with mushroom and truffle), with a creamy blue cheese  sauce, accompanied by a beautiful bottle of Chianti, at a very rich price of 1.99!!

dinner timeSettling down for dinner

triangleTriangoli al porcini e tartufo in a blue cheese, broccoli sauce

sacher tort 1The Sacher Torte

sacher tortand inside

The rest of the evening spent playing cards once again.


Monday 25th

The rain had continued through the night, and when we woke, seemed as though it may ease, easily fooled we are apparently. Not to let our spirits be dampened, it was off to the town centre again, to catch another trusty Ho-ho bus. Took a slightly detoured way of getting into the centre after confusion of direction, but arrived at the starting point for the bus without even looking for it. Not keen to get off at too many spots to stand in the rain, we stayed on the bus for almost all of the first route, getting off one stop early to switch lines. After realising the next bus wouldn’t be along for some time, decided to walk to Giulietta’s Tomb (of Romeo and Juliet), but of course, this being a Monday morning in Italy, sights aren’t open yet. Oh well.

juliet tombOutside Giulietta’s  tomb

chinese romeo and julietUnusual Chinese sculpture outside Giulietta’s Tomb, dedicated to the Chinese equivalent of Romeo and Juliet

At this point Roy decided to go off to visit the Palazzo degli Scaligeri, a magnificent structure originally home to the Della Scala family, while Bernice and Alex went on the other route of the Ho-ho bus tour.  This took the girls up to a superb panoramic view from the Castel St Pietro overlooking all of Verona.on topBernice and Alexandra on top of the hill with the city behind

view 2Cityscape

view 4Cityscape

view 3Bridges on the river

Then hopped off to visit Giulietta’s balcony where all the walls of the tunnel leading to ‘Giulietta’s house’ and courtyard were covered with visitors declarations of love. Inside was the balcony and the statue of Giulietta, all very romantic.   The entry was through a gate covered in Graffiti.

graffiti 1

DSCF2387The graffiti is not discouraged as it is supposedly good luck in love for couples to leave messages here.


juliet balconyGiulietta’s balcony from which the famous speech is purported to have been made.

juliet 1Bernice and Giulietta

juliet 2Alexandra and Giulietta

From there the girls headed back finding some sights on the way

muralsBuilding decorated on the outside with Frescos

highlanderEven the Highlanders have a place in Verona

roman ruinsand Roman ruins in the middle of a street without interpretive boards or any real notification.

Meanwhile Roy had gone of to see a castle which he had photographed the night before.

palace at night

Unfortunately, being a Monday, the museum within was closed and so was access to the battlements etc.

riversideView of castle from river side

The castle did provide access to the Romeo and Juliet bridge

romeo and juliet

However a couple of unusual sculptures were found in wandering around the city.

to shakeaspeareThis one opposite the Arena, dedicated to Verona’s Art, Love and Music.  Showing scenes from Romeo and Juliet

motorbikeThis one dedicated to a famous Italian motorbike rider. Each of the feet is dated with a World Championship won.


We met back up after this outside the Arena, to have a quick sit down lunch before walking back to the camper to head off to be closer to Venice.

At this point here was a change in Navigator.

navigatorNote the patented iPod holder attached to the driver’s seat, an updated version from before.

On the way passed this town wall in a small town called Montagnana.  It was at least 300 metres long running alongside the main highway.

aragnan 1



By this stage, the rain had been steady all morning, but whilst popping into a Bennets shop (Le Clerc on steroids, or a cross between Foodtown and Farmer’s with a deli and bakery thrown in for good measure), the heavens opened. Tried to wait it out inside for 15 minutes, but it persisted. So we made a move and got back on the road. None of us can remember when we last saw rain anything quite like it, absolutely teaming down, flooding half the roads. After Heidi taking us on a very backroad route to a small village called Montegrotto Terme, and us going this way and that way to find our camping site, we finally made it. Not quite as close to Padova, and the train to Venice, as we would have liked, however with the rain not looking like it was going to ease, and not really sure of the next campsite, we have bunkered down for another night of cards, blog writing, and finding out on Alex’s Nintendo DS if we really are smarter than a 10 year old. PS Bernice and Roy are!!

All locked up

October 25, 2010

All plans went a bit pear shaped in the morning today. Beginning with someone locking the keys in the boot of the campervan leading to a call out of a mechanic. While waiting for the mechanic to arrive, we watched the setting off of a fishing competition from right by our campsite. At first it looked like a small competition of a few boats, then more and more came adding up to about 30, not bad for the end of the tourist season. After a few attempts of trying to squeeze hands in prying the door ajar, the door popped open with force, almost knocking Alex out, opening straight into her head.

Earlier in the morning we had fed the ducks and swans the extra bread accumulated.  The lake contains very clear water as this photo of water over 2 metres deep off the jetty illustrates, the cleanest water we have seen all trip.

clear water

swansSwans coming for food


The following photos are of the boats and equipment, specially for the two Bills, John and Burnie.  All of the boats are of a very standard pattern with an outboard of up to 115hp very flat deck, cockpit, lockers on the deck, the deck carpeted in non slip material, two seats raised on pedestals one aft one bow and a small electric long shaft outboard at the bow operated by the person sitting on the front seat with a pedal for direction and speed.  They were setting out to catch Black Bass in a two day competition.  The boats had up to twenty or more rods on board!!.  Normally two men but some had a driver as well.

fishing 8Sponsors

fishing 4Showing the electric bow motor

fishing 6Cockpit, some had a recessed cockpit at a lower level than this one, both the cockpit position and the bow position had fish finders

fishing 7Aft outboard and showing the flush decking

fishing 1Sitting on the bow seat guiding the boat to the jetty

fishing 3 Ready for the off


fishing 10 Showing the bow motor partially lifted in the shallower water

It appeared, through sign language and a little English and Italian, that these guys fish all of the regional lakes, primarily for Black Bass and that this particular day a typical kept catch was 2 to 4 fish.  The outcome will not be known until tomorrow afternoon and we will be gone by then.

After that adventure we did a spot of shopping to stock up on essentials such as a blanket, as Alex is not used to the cold after the baking hot English summer (ha), and pillow as the camper only came with two. The plan from then was to go check out the funicular further north on Lake Garda, however with very low cloud covering the area, the plan seemed a bit pointless. We instead went into the town of Peschiera del Garda to have a wander. The only parking spot in the town that would allow campervans in was unfortunately being taken over by some shady looking Moldovan men, it seemed unsafe to leave the campervan with all our stuff near their beady eyes. Realising how close we were to our camping site, we returned there, put our walking shoes on (or mum’s walking shoes on in Alex’s case), put a picnic in our backpack and headed once again into Peschiera del Garda.

four people having a restFour people taking a rest on the walk to town

gullGull spotted on the way, note that they all have a black spot behind the eye on both sides with a very faint marking joining them, almost as if they are wearing headphones.

Snow et alSnow, Roy and Bernice

treescapeAvenue of trees on the path to town


The township is based around a Mediaeval Fort and moat, making a lovely setting for an afternoon picnic. We should note here that the moat like the lake itself is astonishingly clear, almost like a swimming pool. Spent most of the afternoon meandering through the old township, coming across by chance some Roman ruins dating from the 2nd century BC.

buildingPart of the moat and the long building holding the museum about the local lake fishery

walls 1This structure is inside the top of the wall

moatThe moat from the top of the wall.  The bridge leads to the interior of the walls where the main town is situated.

rowingTwo men standing and rowing their boat in the moat.

playingAnd of course some person found a playground on top of the wall

Bernice wanted/needed a coffee, so we stopped in a cafe, turned out to be a winner for Roy and Alex with the most deliciously rich hot chocolates imaginable. We had to hang around in town to wait for the shops to reopen in the afternoon at 4pm so we could get a sim card for the cell phone, as Italian wifi is only available at many places by registering with an Italian cellphone number (apparently some privacy thing the mafia has control over).

hot chocolateBest hot chocolate ever.

cyclists  And the Italian cycle team wannabes were at the cafe across the road.

We walked back to the campsite to have a productive evening of washing, drying, planning, cooking and playing cards (Alex still dominating in President to Wally!!). Had a fantastic dinner tonight trying a panzerotto filled with one of the most underrated vegetables, beetroot! Yummy. Plan for tomorrow is Sirmione on Lake Garda before heading to Verona, home of Romeo and Juliet.

Ooo oo my Verona!

October 23, 2010

21st October

This song was played as we went over the border into Verona, but more on the music director later.  A slow and gentle start to the day, we set off from our lovely camping ground at Catalleto sopra Ticino to do a dummy run to Malpensa Airport so that we knew where to go and pick up Alex later this evening. 

     ducks Ducks Luxing the camp ground for acorns

mountainFinal view of the mountains across Lake Maggiore

Oh and a word on semi-permanent sites in the camping grounds.  It has been noticeable in Germany, France and now Italy, That a lot of the space in the various camping grounds that we have been in have been occupied by semi-permanent structures.  All of these are generally based around an original caravan, but have been upgraded and added to over the years.  Whilst none or very few are used as permanent accommodation they are there for use in the holidays just as a bach or crib would be in New Zealand.  Here is a representative sample of the some of these sites.  A number are also surrounded by 1 metre hedges and landscaped areas.

 permanents 3 Typical cover over original caravan and then added facility built on site

permanents 4 Another example

permanents 5 This one even has a paved area set up for outdoor living in style.

But first a quick visit to the supermarket for more essentials.  So off to the airport which was a reasonably quick trip and then to find somewhere close to park the van overnight as her plane was not due in until 10.45pm.  So a quick check of a few possibilities and we settle on a parking area set amongst large trees outside a cafe on the road to the airport.  We even ask one of the staff if it is OK to park there and they said, sure no problems.

A quick trip back into town of Somma Lombardo to find a wifi spot turns into a minor expedition.  After three times round the town by various routes, parking in exasperation outside the Caribinieri office to find that the place is locked for lunch, talking to the hostess and patrons in a local bar, we are finally directed to the centre of town. 

buildingOld church building passed several times and finally photographed

building dateDate verification


Fourth trip into town centre, find parking readily outside a gelati shop.  This calls for celebration so a chocolate, and dark chocolate gelati and a limone canaloni later we set off to find the wifi shop.  Again no luck so we ask at another Tabachi and we are directed to a narrow back street to a shop.  Off we go full of enthusiasm, follow the instructions, come to halt, Bernice opens her trusty iPad and finds several wifi sites.  So we settle in on the side of the road for a session.

businessRoy sending the blog and answering emails in style

So, after our little expedition we are back to our campsite to settle there for the afternoon and just relax.

After dinner we headed out to the airport, finding a park with all the buses.  We head inside to wait for Alex to discover that her flight has been delayed and is now not due until 11.50pm. So, another wait.  She finally come through just after midnight…Yay! So off to our parking spot, catch up with the news and also feed the poor starving girl.  We eventually crawl into bed and settle in for a short sleep.

22nd October

Wake up and after another catch up, we have breakfast of toast – yes Rach, the toaster is being well used and it makes fantastic toast, especially the lovely Pane di Segale a fette, which we have discovered sliced and makes lovely toast!  Then it is off for the start of our next adventure. 

We set the GPS for Cassone, up the side of Lake Garda in the Verona region.  After spending quite some time driving, or so it seemed, and negotiating the centre of Milan (eeeeek!!), we eventually got through it all to end up in Peschiera del Garda on the edge of Lake Garda. 

Now having an official photographer, commentator, musical director, sometime navigator, camp leader, corrector of misdirections etc. on board we can now display some riveting photos.

sheepSheep in Italy.  First time we have seen any for some considerable time

kiwi ingenuityKiwi ingenuity at work.  Very professional iPod holder

touringView of navigator on the road

Lunch on the road is always a feast of pate, crusty bread, tomatoes pickles, and whatever is local and looks good.


We decided, as we got closer to Lake Garda,  that if we saw a camping sign we would call in and see if they were open.  On the third try we were successful and have ended up in yet another wonderful camp ground, where we are a literal stones throw from the Lake.  This ground is HUGE, as it has its own restaurants, bars, even a Doctor.  When its full, it caters for over 2,200 people! 

campAll set up

We wandered up to the bar to get some wifi, where we met a whole heap of English people who working over here.  So now we have decided to stay here another day, to explore the local sights before heading off to Verona and then onto Venice, we have been given a list of places to see and stay.  Things are looking up in a big way!

I am being hassled to finish this blog by the youngest member of the touring party so we can play cards. “LETS PLAY CARDS” is the catch cry!!

cardsAnd cards were played!!

Mamma Mia!

October 22, 2010

19 October

What a start to Italy. The following shoulda be reada ina Italiano accento!! 

Last night as we were about to head to bed, we heard loud screaming and shouting from some where nearby we thought.  Next minute the Polizia arrive in the carpark and people are loudly shouting accompanied by much hand waving, well, they are Italian after all…more Polizia arrive, more shouting and gesticulating.  We have no idea what is going on but it does seem to concern the two Italian vans parked two away from us.  Our French neighbour from the other side of us tried to explain what he could make out as to what had happened but all I could decipher was that someone hit someone, it was a stranger and it seemed as though someone had tried to get into one of the vans!  I am surmising a lot here….it could well have been a lovers tiff for all I know.  Anyway, the ambulance arrived as well, and of course the Polizia are all armed with handguns, all pretty tense stuff.  Meanwhile, we lock ourselves safely in our van and head to bed.  But then it seemed as though that wasn’t enough excitement for the night as the people in the van immediately next to us (more Italians) decided to have a domestic, so much shouting going on.  There was a very large German mobile home (i.e.a bus) parked in between our Italian neighbours and the Italians that had the Polizia incident, they must have decided that they had had enough so at just after midnight, they packed their bus up and left!  It is times like these that I wish my hearing was not so good!  The member of the party that has a hearing loss, slept on peacefully!

Woken in the early hours with a market being set up in the next car park from us!  Roy went in to town to get some info from Tourism Information whilst Bernice stayed to watch events unfold. There were around 20 car parks marked out in the parking area in front of us and these started to fill up fairly quickly, it soon became apparent that the Italians take absolutely no notice of allocated parking spaces and very soon there were 55 cars parked in the 20 spaces! Then they started parking everywhere, including directly in front of our van, when one woman parked in front of us, I gave her a toot of the horn (as every good Italian seems to use this device on their cars) and gestured that she was blocking our exit, she stood in front of the van whilst gesticulating madly and shouting to say she had left plenty of room for us to get out and walked off! Roy returned shortly thereafter, we managed to weave and force our way out.  I could not get out of there quickly enough!

Next it was on to McDonalds to get some free wifi.  Next problem; apparently yes, they do offer free wifi BUT you have to register, and to do this you have to give all your details, including place of birth, and your Italian cell phone number.  To obtain a sim card in Italy, apparently you have to be a resident or citizen.  Something to do with privacy and mafia – or so the man behind the counter told us!  Great.  No free wifi at McDonalds in Italy.

On the road again, we debated long and hard about our next destination, in between looking at books, maps, brochures and GPS we settled on Navaro which looked like it had all the facilities we need and also close to Malpensa airport where Alex is flying into. Along the way we stopped and admired scenery, got as far as Ivrea where we thought we would get some info about the next district.  But of course we arrive in the three hour break they have from 12-3, when everything shuts down.  (It is strange but the break is not even taken at the same time.  Basically everyone stops for a two hour break in the middle of the day.  Some start the break at 12:00 others at 12:30 and still others at 1:00.  So this means that you are never sure which is which and whether the place you are looking for is open or not.  The end result is that you cannot really plan to do anything involving shopping or information between 12:00 and 3:00.)  So back to the van to wait out the time.  Into the Info centre, get what we need and also the address of an Internet cafe a 10 minute walk away.  Off to the cafe, sorry, no wifi but we can hook up the PC with a cable to the Internet.  Roy does this, of course Bernice cannot hook up the iPad, so she waits for Roy to do his thing, meanwhile playing around on the iPad, find a free wifi spot, hook into that and get on!!  Connection isn’t great but we do the necessary before heading off again. 

By this time the day is getting on a bit, we get to Navaro at around 6.30pm but cannot find a campsite anywhere, so load up the GPS for the next town Galliate, which according to one of the brochures we are given, and a camping book we have bought (all in Italian), has a campsite.  After driving around in the dark, for what seems like forever, asking for directions, many many times, we ended up parked in an Industrial  area in a carparking space, along with some truckies.  We are not sure what has gone wrong, but we know it is not us as one of the truckies whom we ask for assistance cannot find the camping ground using their GPS either.  Hopefully a better nights sleep and tomorrow we will get settled somewhere early in the day, otherwise Italy will be off my Christmas card list!

20 October

Up early after a surprisingly good nights sleep, and underway before 7am.  We have decided to go to a camp site in Castellato Sopra Ticino which is only about 40 minutes away and still reasonably close to Malpensa Airport.  This campsite we have found in a couple of books (and it is open all year round, as some places close the end of September for the winter) so we enter the address in the GPS. We arrive at just on 8am, just as the owner is about to leave to take her daughter to school.  Amazingly the owner even speaks English which really helps us.  She warmly welcomes us, and gets someone to show us where to park, we can complete our documentation in detail later.  As an aside we have not had to surrender our passport at any of the camping grounds we have entered, we have managed to use Roy’s New Zealand driving licence as proof of identity at all of the grounds so far.  What a relief to finally arrive somewhere welcoming.

It is a beautiful camp site right on the edge of Lake Maggiore,  we arrive in the mist which soon burns off to reveal a wonderful day as well as a very picturesque view.

across from camp

We are quickly settled, found the washing machines and put on the first load, and get all the info we need from the owner.  After the washing is dealt to, we are told that it is market day across the lake in Sesto Callende and it is around a 2.5km walk there.  Off we trot, the distance is not the worry in this instance, it is the fact that there is no footpath or when there is a footpath, it is occupied by parked vehicles!  So we end up walking along the road, remember what I said previously about Italian drivers?  they take absolutely no heed of any road markings, and sometimes ignore traffic lights! I mean, so what if the light is red, there is no traffic coming so lets go!  This occurred earlier in the day at some roadworks where the road was down to one lane and controlled by lights, As soon as the drivers behind saw that there were no cars coming the other way they tooted at the car in the front of the queue to get going irrespective of the fact that the light was red!!!  (no we were not the lead vehicle).  We make it into town promising ourselves a taxi ride back. 

The bridge across the lake is an iron girder structure with the walking path  on the outside.  What cannot be seen in this photo is that the bridge also has the railway being carried below the the road, so the old South Island bridges are not as outdated as may be thought..

crossing the lake 

up lakeView from bridge along the lake

We hit the market just towards its conclusion.  It seemed to be more clothing and accessories rather than food,  with most of the vendors the itinerant types who travel form market to market. We still say that one of the best markets we have visited is the small but truly local market we went to in Viuz-en-Sallaz with Rach the other day. 

What was interesting though was the way that the vans are packed away.  Here are a series of photos showing the process of reducing a 2.5 metre awning on three sides a a van the size of a large VW combi.

fold 10 The awning before folding after all of the stalls and wares have been packed.  Note the tables folded and hooked on the rear exterior.

fold 9Engine started to provide hydraulic power.  The nearest end is folding around to the front. 

fold 8 As it comes round the guy is straightening the folds of the awning (heavy plastic).

fold 7Still coming around

fold 6 Near half is now folded in.

fold 5 Far half same procedure

fold 4 Both halves folded in now the lower part of the box starts to fold up to enclose the awning.

fold 3 Bottom folded up enclosing awning

fold 1 Now the whole thing folds over on to the top of the van and will finally lie flat on the top.  All completed in less than five minutes.

There were a number of 3 to 4 metre dinghies tied up to the edge of the lake in  the town.  The interesting fact was that they were protected from the elements and the birds by having specially built galvanised iron folding covers.  These were obviously custom made as can be seen from the individual style of these two.  The boats themselves were either wooden or fibreglass.


Some people got to rest and drink coffee beside the lake!!!


We ended up not achieving much in the town as there was no Internet anywhere, and of course everything shuts down between 12 and 3, so off to catch a cab to return.  We are told that the only place to catch a taxi is at the train station, so we set off to the station, which we did find, but no taxis. We ask a bus driver if we can catch a bus back, yes we can but not his bus and not from the station, we have to go somewhere else.  At this stage, we decide to hell with this, we will just walk back and brave the traffic!

Back safely at the camp, washing sorted, dinner underway and discussions held with owners regarding our next move. 

evening campEvening sets in

Finally a couple of signs seen in the town of Sesto Calende

dante 1

dante 2

A better impression of Italy after today, it can only get better still from here on in.

Through the Tunnel

October 20, 2010

We bade Michel off to work this morning and then Roy, Bernice and Rachael took Joshua in to Viuz-en-Sallaz where he was going to crèche for the morning.  And Nana Glennis, you need not worry, it is a wonderful wonderful crèche, with an impressive staff to child ratio, well set out and generally a lovely place.  Joshua is very well (and lovingly) looked after there.  Whilst Josh was at crèche we wandered into town as it just so happened to be market day.  What an amazing market for such a small town.  We bought ourselves a few sausages, some terrine and pate and some fresh vegetables. We had to queue at each of the stalls we bought from as there were women there doing their weeks shopping.  This was particularly the case at the butchers where women were buying 60 to 70 Euros worth of meat.  As many at seven or eight items one for each day of the week and more.   For us it was off down the road to a cafe for morning tea and then across the road to check out the lovely kitchen and homeware store.

Now for those of you who have been reading our blog, you will know that Bernice has been keen to be able to make toast to go with the vegemite that she transported half way round the world.  And lo and behold, in the store Rachael spotted a “Gril-Pain” or Bread Grill, it looked as though it should toast bread but we were unsure whether it was meant to go under a grill or over a gas flame.  On checking, sure enough it is definitely meant for over a gas flame!  Rach insisted on buying it for us, so now whenever we make toast, we shall think of Rach! 

It was then time to pick up Josh and head back to their house so that we could get on our way. 

Joshua name tag Joshua’s name tag

We were soon all packed up and off on our way.  We stopped off in Bonneville to use McDonalds free wifi, that done we were on our way again. 

coming down from St  Jean de Tholome Coming down to the main road into Bonneville from St Jean de Tholome. 

Unfortunately the weather was not kind to us with low cloud everywhere so we could not really take in the sights.  We were soon at the Mont Blanc Tunnel, paid our 46Euro and headed through the 11 km tunnel.  What an amazing feat of engineering.

mt blanc from the French side Approaching the tunnel from the French side looking up to the Mt Blanc range shrouded in cloud.

The viaduct part way up the road from the valley floor to the entrance to the tunnel is approximately 2.25Km long.  It is much higher then the Otira viaduct and has two major curves.  Quite a master piece of engineering.

viaduct 2



In the tunnel vehicles are separated by 150 metres and are required to maintain the distance, the speed limit is 70kph.  There are escape points and breakdown laybys at regular intervals.  When you buy your ticket you are given a leaflet to hang on your mirror with the rules and what to do in case of emergency.



We emerged from the tunnel into glorious sunshine and clear blue skies so we took advantage of the parking area to take in the views.

mt blanc tunnel exit truck for scale Truck emerging from the tunnel on the Italian side.  This gives some idea of the size of the tunnel.  It is only one lane each way.

mount blanc range Looking up to the Mt Blanc range from the tunnel exit point in Italy

valley below tunnel Looking down the valley into Italy

We are now in Italy!  Through lots of small and not so small villages and interestingly the houses again change shape and construction with some interesting chimney styles.


The other change has been the character of vehicles sent to try one on the road.  In France it is tractors in Italy three wheel vehicles towing trailers.

 three wheeler With a load of firewood

3 wheel ape One photographed later in the day in Aosta.  Note the brand name APE

Also on the way down there were a number of castles of which these two are representative examples

casatle 1

castle 2 

On to Aosta for the night, we found another camping spot where there were a few other vans parked.   We had not long been parked when the administrator for the area came to check and see if we had all paid our overnight parking fee, Roy was quickly out to talk to him (we had not been able to decipher the signage) and between Roy’s English and a little French, the mans Italian and a little French, we were all sorted!

Peaks on the other side of the valley from Aosta taken from the car park where we are staying

Looking up to the mountains around Aosta

evening The same peaks at dusk


We understand that tomorrow is market day in Aosta so we will check that out before deciding on where to next.

PS  Despite the scepticism of one member of the touring team the toaster produced perfect toast.  Thanx very much Rach


It Snowed!

October 18, 2010

Saturday 16th Otcober

We were on the road from Champignole in good time, albeit raining.  Heidi was all programmed to take us to St Jean de Tholome where Rachael & Michel live, which is not too far from Geneva.  We were soon climbing up higher and higher into the Jura Alpine region passing through little village after little village.  Once we had climbed to about 900m above sea level, it started to snow and continued snowing for the next hour or so as we continued to climb until we reached the top at 1345m and then started the descent through a few hairpin bends.  We were reluctant to stop and take too many photos of the snow falling as we were unsure of how long we would be in the snow zone and we did not really fancy getting stuck.

before the snow Before the snow, just drizzle to obscure the view!

thats snow Yes that is snow, fortunately not settling at this point

drizzle Drizzle lower down


tractors againThe usual tractor even in these atrocious conditions.

On the way down we finally came across a stretch of road involving very tight hairpins and rather steep drop offs.  However it was negotiated with aplomb!!  We were soon down below the snow line and through more villages.

turreted houseUnusual turreted house below the snow

We did stop at Segny as we came across McDonalds – our free wifi provider, in warm surrounds, with clean toilets and they even have a half decent coffee these days!  Well done McDonald’s.  We were able to download mail and post our latest blog entry.  That done we were on our way again.  The weather had not improved much, the only difference was that the snow being replaced by rain.  We were soon in the midst of Geneva,and a customs border is located right in the middle of the city and as we were unsure of what we were to do, we stopped and went and had a chat to the nice men at customs.  We were soon on our way having found out that we did not need to do anything or buy a sticker (so long as we keep off the motorways whilst in Switzerland) which is otherwise mandatory in Switzerland. 

driving through Geneva Driving through Geneva

It was not long before we were on the other side of Geneva and passing through another customs area, in the middle of the city it seemed,  back into France!  It was too wet and miserable to get decent pictures of Geneva, but we did see the famous fountain in the lake.

When we were in the region of Rachael’s place we gave her a call to get the final directions.  We arrived to meet up with Rachael, her husband Michel and their one year old son Joshua on their property in the country. 

Michel racael joshua Michel, Rachael and Joshua

We spent a lovely afternoon and evening with them, Michel cooked a local (Haute-Savoie region) speciality for dinner “Reblochonnade”, which is potatoes and bacon with cream and with a whole Reblochon cheese cut in half and the two halves laid on top of the bake. Tarte Iflette is very similar but with onions.  Delicious.  After a few wines,  and convivial conversation (with Rachael translating), it was soon time for bed.

Sunday 17th October

Up this morning and after a sumptuous breakfast of croissants and pastries, Rachael, Joshua, Roy & Bernice headed off into the town of Bonneville as we were again off to McDonalds for free wifi so we could Skype Rachael’s parents Glennis & Robin – we met Glennis through playing competitive Scrabble a few too many years ago now to count! That done, we were off into another village as it was their local Autumn Festival so we spent the next few hours wandering the streets sampling the myriad of local cheeses, meats – (including the more unusual wild boar and even donkey!!), sausages & salamis, and looking at all the stalls. cheese 1 Cheese, all local

suasages 1 Sausages of all different types

sausages 2 more sausage and wine


There was even freshly pressed apple juice as well as wines and every other thing you could imagine!

pressing apples Pressing apples

snow someone interested in the result

roasting chestnuts Roasting chestnuts

eating the results and eating them!

band And the band played on

someones name Some people have there name on lots of things

roy bernice joshuaRoy Bernice and Joshua at the market

A lovely day out.  The weather has turned rather chilly but at least it is not raining today. 

Michel cooked us another stunning dinner tonight of Roasted Lamb with lots of garlic, with a very tasty mushroom pasta (another Haute-Savoie speciality) and home grown beans.  It has been very special staying with this lovely family, and we really appreciate their kind and warm hospitality.

story time Reading Nana’s book

Tomorrow we will head off towards Milan, as we have to be there by Thursday to pick up Alex.  We are not sure where we will end up over the next day or so… this space!

Exit Mulhouse

October 16, 2010

We left Mulhouse late this morning with the atmosphere full of smog.  Mulhouse did not leave an overall positive impression on us apart form the fact that the camp ground was opposite a rugby club and we are both sure that an ex All Black plays for them.  Must remember to look that up at some stage.

We set Heidi to take us to Poligny avoiding major roads and toll roads as we find that although it may take us a bit longer to get from A to B, we get to see more of the countryside and all the wee villages in between.

First we stocked up on a few essential items; like a baguette for lunch, pate, coke to go with Roy’s Rhum and a few bits and pieces for dinner for the next few nights.  Then we were on our way.

Today was really about moving along and admiring the scenery although we did stop at a wonderful small Fromagerie in a tiny village and stocked up on some of the locally made cheeses.

One of the interesting things noticed today was that the style of houses changed dramatically on leaving Mulhouse.  Where before we had seen almost all half-timbered houses in the centre of the villages, almost none were seen Today.  Instead the houses are either stone blocks or concrete.

house style 1 Typical street scene

houses 2 and again


Passed an interesting castle in Belfort

castle in Belfort

We travelled for some time along the river Doub and the canal associated with it.

canal doub Crossing Doub canal


In this part of the Jura there are large numbers of vineyards and small (and not so small) winemakers.

vineyards b4 poligny 1 Vines around Poligny

vineyards b4 poligny and more

We got to Poligny but found the camp site closed, so it was a quick reprogramme of Heidi and off to Champagnole where one of our guide books told us that there was a parking spot. And sure enough, when we arrived in the town we found a parking spot with two other vans in situ so we made three.  As we write this there are now 8 vans in this wee spot.

Tomorrow we are heading off to a small village St Jean de Tholome, not far from Geneva but in France, where we are going to meet up with Rachael.  Rachael used to babysit Antony and Alex when we were first in Auckland, she is now married and lives in France and has a 2 year old of her own!  We had intended on meeting up with her when her parents Glennis & Rob were over from NZ, but it did not transpire, better luck next time.

Short and sweet today, we covered a reasonable amount of ground but most of the scenery was shrouded in low cloud and smog so we could not get ant decent longer range pictures.

shroud 1 typical haze




big ben And you thought Big Ben only made pies (sorry about the picture quality)