Gelato, pizza, pasta, Aperol Spritz, Peroni, Birra Moretti, ruins, medieval hilltop towns, style, fashion, beautiful people. Shocking roads, even worse drivers, unlit tunnels, collapsible bridges, Grimaldi Line Ferries.
All the above are Italian and some are excellent and some are just awful and I think we all know which is which out of the above.
We started with an old Italian foe- Grimlines last Sunday, leaving lovely Greece to enter Italy quite far up into the north at Ancona and as ever not to let us down, Grimlines stayed true to form. The boat was due to leave in the early hours of Monday morning, half past midnight.
So we had our last meal in Greece a lovely home made keema peas outside the dock entrance, hanging out our slightly damp swimmers from our last Greek swim in stunning Parga on the open window latches, just to lower the tone of the area completely! We then went into the Grimaldi offices to change our ticket to an open deck one – meaning that we could sleep and stay in Buster on the open deck, thus keeping us isolated and able to sleep in our own bed, make our own meals etc for the 16 hour journey. After paying the extra €40, we were then informed that the boat was late and wouldn’t board till 3am. We looked at each other and laughed, what more could you do and went back to Buster and watched some TV while our swimmers dried before driving through to the boarding area. Not too many lorries, cars or passengers it seemed, but bearing in mind that the boat had originated in Patras (Greece) earlier. We both had an uneasy feeling about the open deck scenario and as the vessel pulled in (or whatever the technical term is) and we boarded that feeling sunk even further as despite our protests we were parked in with the lorries and told in no uncertain terms that we could not stay in Buster and to get up to the decks. There was nothing open on the boat vehicle wise, so we really wouldn’t have wanted to stay below deck, but it did seem incredulous that Grimlines had contacted us offering us open deck and they had just taken the money for it, knowing full well the type of vessel that was sailing. Surely someone should have know there was no open deck available. So armed with hardly any overnight, 16 hour sailing belongings we made our way to reception ready to make our first Italian aimed complaint. However, we had no sooner declared our problem before a cabin key and a 30% off food voucher was more or less thrown at us, stopping us from venting our anger. Oh well Grimlines win again and so we made our way to try and get some sleep as Cruise Olympia pulled away from our beloved Greece.
A lovely small sosta in the Italian medieval hilltop village of Offagna, just outside Ancona restored our spirits as we parked up there some three hours later than we should have. We had our first experience of Italian rubbish roads as soon as we pulled out of Ancona port with Buster bouncing and shuddering as we made our way through small country roads to the sosta. €5 to park and for that you got incredible views of the castle, sea and countryside, plus electricity and water. What more could you want, well for David it was a pizza that evening, but it was not to be as the acclaimed pizza restaurant was packed and taking no more customers, nor was it to be our first gelato as that was also shut for the evening. Plenty of time for both I tried to console David, heading desperately for a bar for my first Aperol!.
We would have loved to have stayed another night and explore the area more, but we were on a mission to get to Lucca and assist David’s very old friend Mark, or assist David’s friend for over 50 years Mark move from Florence to Lucca, with Buster turning part removal van for the short journey. On the way, we stopped at a Lonely Planet recommendation for the area of Umbria, a angular imposing medieval town called Gubbio perched on the steep slopes of Monte Ingino famed for it’s Guinness Book of records 650 meter Christmas tree and it’s open air funivia (cable car). The sosta in Gubbio wasn’t quite as good value as Offagna at €10, but nevertheless was near the main event of the town and we even managed to find some very important shade for the van and us as the temperatures reached 40 degrees.
After parking up in the busier sosta we headed into the old town and were again delighted by it, as we climbed the steps and stairs and looked in churches and took in views. Obviously, the famed Christmas tree was not operational, but we could see where the star sat at the top and did get an image from a postcard. It really would be quite stunning for Christmas but with the sweat pouring from our brows and shirts sticking to us as we guzzled tons of water it was quite inconceivable. However, we saw the cable car, which LP says is as exhilarating as any roller coaster and whisks visitors up in a precarious open ski like metal basket made for one or two people. As we watched everyone coming down as the time neared 7pm and the staff sprayed each backet in line with Covid measures as it came in, not stopping.
You are helped or grabbed off and have to jump on as it doesn’t stop, I wondered if I would be that bothered about Covid if I plummeted to the ground on the way up or down and decided that it would be more enjoyable solo experience for David the next day. However, like the Christmas tree the experience was never realised, as after walking into town the next day the funivia was not operating. No real reason and certainly no notice the day before to that effect or David would have made the trip up that evening, just about having enough time. Another one up to Italy and poor David was so disappointed as we headed away from Gubbio.
Italy and Italian roads won again the next day as we decided to go to Orvieto, famed for its wine and Duomo. Not planning to stay overnight there, as there was no enticing parking spots and we had our eye on a small campsite a bit further up towards Florence that had a swimming pool, we were aiming to get to Orvieto for lunch and see the must see, nothing can prepare you for visual feast that is Orvieto cathedral. Italian roads had other ideas however, as we shook along the paid for motorways, my knuckles white from all the tunnels of various lengths, shapes and repairs eventually just about happy that we would make the 2.30 lunchtime closing for most of the restaurants we had picked out. NO, 10 minutes to landing, cabin prepared, stomachs rumbling in anticipation we were diverted up into the hills and onto the Orvieto wine route (which we might have liked to have seen in a car or if we had more time to go very slowly over the holes). No diversion signs to help and the ever impatient Italian car drivers beeping and over/undertaking us whenever that could, almost pushing us off the lanes. They did seem friendly enough as they waved most of the time that they overtook us, we liked to assume that a one finger wave was friendly and the Italian way. So, no lunch and the parking spot in the old town at the top of the hill really wasn’t that attractive, nor the ten minute or so walk towards the duomo.
Spirits low, temperatures very hot we both were in agreement that this bloody cathedral really needed to be drop jaw stunning. We managed to find a pizza restaurant still open at 3pm and it did a very good Diavolo, and we had a lovely gelato after. What seemed like a very long hour later, there are only so many sunflower fields,
twists and turns that you can go ahhhhhhhhh at in 40 degree heat we parked up at the very busy campsite and both David and I unusually just jumped into the swimming pool at 7ish that evening, as the rest of the campers were making there way back to the vans. As we were the only ones in the pool it was for this reason that we weren’t aware that in Italy swimming caps should be worn by all, unless you are bald (one plus point I suppose) but as it was unattended and we didn’t actually put our heads under, being light-weight bathers we didn’t feel too bad.
Thursday, as make our way to Florence and we were both reflecting on how we had been treated in Italy, as we were both quite wary of people’s reaction to us. Unlike Greece, where it was “where are you from” translating to “how have you got here” for the most part the Italians in the north have been accepting and friendly. We have seen no other UK motorhomers, a few German and a few Dutch ones, but for the most the others have been all Italian. Again for the most part, even beyond the van we have been welcomed, accepted and occasionally victim of the Italian job (slightly ripped off)
We are now in Lucca, a previously unseen-must see town for us with Mark. Buster having been a removal van for some of Mark’s collected possessions during the six months he has been here (no additional jewellery or shoes??) Buster is in the shade on a nearby sosta and we are taking some time out with Mark in his new abode. We have spent the last two days in virgin territory for Mark- visiting Ikea and also Carrefour to make his lovely new flat, within the Lucca walls just that bit more homely. David is cooking curry (seems to be s Sunday thing for us) all happy and amazed at what you can fit into a hire Fiat 500 including a flatscreen 50 inch TV, plus two fair size Irish boys. I was left in the Carrefour carpark for that journey. I hope that come back for me soon…………….
P.S – Duomo di Orvieto- Yes absolutely stunning no picture can do it justice, so the hours endured on the road were worth it and Yes we also did a wine tasting and the wine is equally as lovely!!
Piedmont and the Italian Riviera, plus a bit of a walk on the Cinque Terre- all upcoming as we weave our way towards France.
The route with some extra pictures!