Archives for the month of: June, 2016

We got a bit lost on the way to the campsite 15minutes away from Pisa as Tammy our Tom Tom gets a bit confused sometimes which is not great when you are on an Autostrada and can’t get off! We call our navigator devices names as we do talk to them and swear at them occasionally when they do get it very wrong.

Gary google however came into his own and found the way to the Agriturismo Camp “Lago le Tamerici”, a lovely spot and family run which makes such a difference. We bought fresh free range eggs and set up for the night. It poured all night and didn’t auger well for our trip into Pisa the next morning. We left early to avoid the city traffic and got a prime parking spot just outside the city walls of Pisa. It rained a little but then out came the sun and we had a good half day walking around the city monuments and back streets.

I had always only thought of Pisa as the place of the Leaning Tower but it is so much more and such an interesting city with a very large outer wall,lovely buildings, large and small squares and is divided by the river Arno.

We had to obtain a ticket (which was free) to go into the church but even though we arrived at 9am we had to wait an hour for our allotted time so we went over to a museum and saw a fascinating documentary which showed the lengths to which the scientists went into stabilising and tilting the leaning tower back by half a degree! This started in 1993 and went for nearly ten years. I took a picture of the steel girdle which holds near the base of the tower together. Everything else is underground and cannot be seen.

We went into the church which has the round baptistry on one side and the bell tower (leaning) on the other. I noticed some volunteer guides and asked one if she could tell us something about the church in English. Fabiola was a French language graduate from Sicily who now lived in Pisa and she gave us a really informative and enthusiastic account of the churche’s history. She was also interested to go to Australia so we had a good chat in between her explanations.

She referred us to a good Neapolitan pizzeria and after walking for about an hour we found it closed but we found a good replacement pizzeria on the way back to the car. By the time we left there were thousands of people in what they call “the square of miracles” so we were glad had got our sightseeing in early.

We made good use of the long evening and made our way to the base of Lake Garda where we camped for the night after a three hour drive to Peschiera sul Lago. It was a beautiful spot but unfortunately the European soccer was in full force on the Saturday night with a roudy crowd and was followed by music until after midnight.
It was the noisiest campsite in which we had stayed so we moved on the next day towards Parma and Cremona past huge grain growing fertile plains and then driving up the east side of Lake Garda. We specially chose the east side so as to take some photos with the sun behind us,however there was no sun that day just a very heavy grey sky.

When I mentioned to a schoolfriend of mine, Liana that we were touring that way she said that we should go to a mountain town called Cimego from where her mother came and her cousin had a hotel/restaurant there. It was a three hour drive up lake Garda, across the top and a further hour into the mountains where it rained heavily again. We found the hotel and her cousin who recommended we eat specialties of the region – polenta (maize)with wild Radicchio and homemade ravioli with ricotta and endive (a tasting plate of each). This was followed by grilled lake fish and vegetables and a homemade apple cake – all delicious. It was tempting to take to the bed in the van for a snooze but we had an hour’s drive back to the campsite so we did that instead along the very winding roads.

The “Camping Azzurro” at Lago di Ledro was a great find – great facilities and a quiet location with not many tourists on a beautiful lake. The wifi was good and only 3euros for three days – a real bargain after the five and eight euros we had been charged in Sardinia and Corsica. We had a peaceful night. We awoke to more cloud for our day trip to the town of Gandino/Barzizza, another three hour journey past Lake Iseo and then along winding roads up into the high mountains and through a most spectacular pass called “Croce Domini” at 1900metres. We were glad that there was no traffic on the way up (we only saw one car) as the roads in many places were very narrow with countless hairpin bends. The temperature varied from 10degrees through the mountains to a lovely 30degrees in Gandino.

There is something special about the serene and wide Alpine meadows surrounded by high peaks. It was one of the best journeys we had ever had and the day turned into a beautifully sunny and warm one. Vince a friend from Perth was born in Gandino and recommended we see the museum at Gandino and the church but by the time we arrived both were closed but we spent some time walking around the lovely town with it’s interesting architecture and modern cafes.

We took a much shorter way back to Pieve al Lago via the Autostrada bypassing Bergamo and Brescia and then up the entire west side of Lake Garda and through scores of tunnels. The lake and mountains looked much more appealing with a blue sky above us for our last evening by the lake where we ate pizza outside a very German looking restaurant. I did ask a waiter why he spoke to us in German and he told us that ninety percent of their tourists were German. Oh to be generalised!

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We chose to go up into the mountains towards Cagliari (the capital) and it was again a wonderful drive with only a few abandoned houses and factories along the way. I could imagine a few of the Mafia who wanted to get lost would go into those mountains. They were heavily forested with cork trees (which looked half dead but were not). There was very little traffic on the roads and over the mountain passes and the roads were generally good. Unfortunately the campsite we chose was full (only one of two and 30kms from Cagliari) so we ended up next door at Cala D’Ostia which turned out to be a very good choice – simple but with many Italian families with old time music playing during the day. There was a good bus service from outside the camp to Pula and then a change of bus to Cagliari. The trip took about an hour in total and landed us near the centre of town where it was a pleasant 30degrees.

Many of the buildings near the port were Venetian in structure and decoration with many balconies and there were of course many large churches in the old part of the city. We walked along the harbour through a long columned arcade with it’s many shops,cafes and restaurants. It was another steep way up through the old town but the views from the top of the city were worth the effort. The city reminded us of Naples in many ways. Near the port there was a small square ringed with trees and seemingly homeless Africans who were plying various cheap wares.

We were reminded of home with the many jacaranda trees in the city. We found a working hospital which dated from the early 1800’s with it’s high ceilings and large corridors. A local gave us a recommendation for a seafood restaurant where we sat outside in the warmth of the afternoon and had a delicious seafood meal with a fresh salad. After our long tour on foot we sat in the arcade and revived ourselves before taking a good look around “Rinascente” Italy’s only department store and then found a photographic exhibition of Cagliari in a beautifully restored large cellar before catching the bus back to Pula and then to the campsite.

I managed to assist an African man from Ghana attending a medical conference in Cagliari but who was put in a resort 30kms away near our campsite. He spoke no Italian but managed to get on the bus with us so I asked a kind man to call him a taxi from Pula. We arrived back at the campsite at nearly 9pm but it was still light and nice and warm.

Cagliari is known for it’s flamingoes and there were hundreds in the lake close to the city and in lakes on the other side of the harbour near the salt flats.

Arbatax was our next stop about three hours north of Cagliari and the drive through the mountains was a relaxing one with very little traffic and lovely scenery. There were hundreds of oleander bushes along a river course and interesting rock formations. We came down into the plains which were full of vineyards and olive trees, many bordered by a fence of prickly pears.

At the small town of San Priamo and had a wonderful seafood risotto at “Restaurant Elisabeth”. The waitress was lovely and she had a brother who had been to Australia. Most of the Italians we spoke to had a relative or friend who had gone to live in Australia.

We found our way to Arbatax with it’s strange terracotta coloured rock formations in and near the sea. We hit on a “festa” in town with a display of old restored fiats and the latest Alfa Romeo “Giulia”. Many booths selling jewellery and local produce along the street near the port were doing a brisk trade and the cafes were full of locals enjoying a Sunday outing. We left and found our camping place “Orri” by the sea and had a relaxing night.

We had heard of the Tombs of the Giants – enormous sarcophagus like structures dotted in various places over the island and our friend Alan had said we should see the one near Dorgali on our way north again so we set off for it on the Monday morning after breakfast.
There was no signage as to where this site was, however, after a very helpful man gave us exact instructions we found a sign and a gate by the side of the road which e had to open and then walk about ten minutes to the interesting ossuary site, thousands of years old from the Nuraghic period.

There are a few worrying things while driving in both Corsica and Sardinia. There are very few advance warnings on the road telling you what tight curves or other obstacles could be a danger on the very winding roads. The other is that most of the bus drivers (who do an amazing job at manoevering around the very narrow streets in the cities) have their phones to their ears or are texting or reading things on their cellphones while driving their buses.

The stop at Arbatax for the night was uneventful and although most of the ads for the campsites state that they are on the beach most are a good walk away. We therefore decided to go back to our first campsite “Isuledda” which was right on the beach. Many of the campsites in Greece and Turkey that we visited last year were just near the water’s edge.

The variety of birds seem to differ all around the islands and if we woke early it was really pleasant to listen to the different bird calls (except for the monotonous cooing of the doves which was like chinese torture for me).

We stopped briefly at San Teodoro and then went back to Cannigioni for three days. It was very blustery all day and the wind did not let up for 24hours, howling at night and causing problems for tents and awnings. We were snug in our camper and at least it was not raining or cold.
We could at least have a swim and sit in the sun the next day when the wind had dropped. The weather pattern then seemed to be cloudy at midday then sun again in the late afternoon so we set off on foot for the nearby town to sit and enjoy the views of the bay and stock up on essentials from the supermarket. The supermarkets in Italy stock an enormous amount of wine as well as the wine shops and artisan shops in every town. The habit of going to the bar for an aperitif before dinner is a very civilised one. In Italy there are many non alcoholic as well as alcoholic ones and if one is ordered it always comes with some kind of snack or peanuts and snacks.

We enjoyed another relaxing day at the seaside before heading for the ferry to take us back to the mainland. It was a very overcast day but not cold.

We left Sardinia on Friday 17th June plenty of time luckily because when we arrived at the port (the only one that showed the route to Livorno on both our paper map and in google)the office was closed and a barman told me that the only ferry of which he knew was that afternoon but we were booked for 10am. I had a moment of panic until I asked a security person who told me that the Grimaldi lines left from Olbia and not Golfo Aranci which was 20minutes from the port of Olbia. We had enough time for me to get to the office to get our tickets (I had already booked and paid for them online but we needed the paper tickets!)and get Van Mauriceon on board. We expected with a name like “Grimaldi Lines” the ferry would be excellent however it was very average as ferrys go. It was however the tallest ferry we had taken. The trip back to Livorno took us about eight hours.

Sardinia is known for it’s beautiful bays, beaches and crystal clear water but for us Australians the beaches still didn’t compare to what we have at home. What is good are the services you can get at the campsites and on the beach in the way of cafes/restaurants/sun lounges and umbrellas. What we loved were the drives along the coastline with views of the sea below and the lovely scenery through the mountains.

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The crossing from Bonifacio to Santa Teresa de Gallura on Sardinia only took an hour and we could still easily see the distinctive white cliffs of Bonifacio from the port when we arrived in Sardinia. It was an easier drive through undulating hills to the holiday village at Cannigioni which was more like an enormous resort with a wellness centre, excellent bar and restaurant and water sports and good facilities. The bay was beautiful and it was finally warm enough to have our first swim in Europe this year on the 8th June in the crystal clear water. We stayed for two nights for the princely sum of 19euros a night which is the low season price with our camping card.

Everyone still took Maurice for a German and people to whom we spoke thought we were English until we said we were Australian to which they always ooed and aahd.

The “Costa Smeralda” coastline on the north east side of the island was was very impressive with more beautiful bays around Porto Cervo which was obviously a place for the rich and famous with the million dollar boats moored in the arinas, palacial houses around the bays and even a Rolls Royce sales office near the marina.

We chose a route along the coast to Porto Cervo and then over the heavily forested hills to Sassari and Porto Torres which was founded by Julius Caesar and where we stopped at the Antiquarium Turritana, a well established museum and archeological site of ancient Roman Baths. The guide who took us around the site only spoke Italian but a lot of explanation was not needed so Maurice and the German couple with us didn’t miss out on too much. We left the town and stopped at Alghero for
the night so that we could see the old town the next morning. Little did we realize that “Rally Sardinia” was on and there was no parking left within a few kilometres of the old town. We saw one of the new Italian police cars – it was too fast for me to take a photo – a lamborghini painted in the blue “polizia colours” – Only in Italy!

We had a coffee out of town and continued on to more stunning scenery along the coast to Ortisano or Aristanis (they seem to have kept both the Latin as well as the Italian names) a quaint old town which was of course dead during the middle of the day but which had some beautiful architecture. We travelled inland (there was no coast road for a while) along a very flat plain which was dotted with industrial areas, a large cork factory and small typical Italian villages with a few men sitting outside a bar, the only thing open from about 1-4pm.

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The Corsican language is fairly easy to understand if one speaks Italian with many words ending in u unlike the Italian endings of o or a. Most signs were in French and Corsican.
After a leisurely morning near Ajaccio we headed for Porto Vecchio another town with a large marina and the old town high up above the marina where we had a coffee and then we climbed the steep hill to explore the town which was quaint but very touristy again. We chose a campsite for the night near a beautiful bay in Rodinara. We walked down to the bay and had a paddle before returning via the road to the camp rather than a very rocky uneven path. It was again too cool to swim and with a lot of children in the campsite was enough to make the decision to move further south.
Our last port of call in Corsica was Bonifacio so we made an early start for the half hour drive to the city from Rodinara.
The citadel was a spectacular sight from the land and from the sea. We climbed up the steep slopes to the most impressive citadel we had yet come across. The cemetery had also been a recommended place to see and it was different from any cemetery we had come across with the family tombs laid out in lanes and around a large central square. We came across a local market in the citadel and bought some good bread, cheese and the delicious ox heart tomatoes.
We had another good seafood meal overlooking the marina before making our way back to the parking area and down to the port where we took the ferry across to Sardinia.
We loved the spectacular scenery and the enormous citadels in the towns and cities in Corsica however it was hard to get access to the many narrow local roads around the island. The scores of bikers we saw along the way obviously had the right idea.

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The scenery on the way from Calvi to Ajaccio was spectacular from heavily forested areas to high craggy mountains with amazing rock formations in the “Calanche de Piana” and stunning blue and turquoise waters in the picturesque bays all along the west coast.

Once it got warmer we could smell the fig trees which were grown all over the island as well as the scent of the many eucalypts along the roads. The spring flowers in all colours were delightful and the bouganvillea with their many shades were spectacular. Being a Sunday there was a steady stream of traffic along the narrow mountain roads and down to the city of Ajaccio where the streets were deserted in the middle of the day apart from a couple of tour groups. We walked around the city past Napoleon’s birthplace and up to the Place de Gaulle, a large square with an imposing monument to Bonaparte with four of his brother done up to look like Roman emperors. From there we overlooked a promenade which followed the coastline. We found a campsite past the airport on the way out of town for the night.

In the south of the island there were many cork trees however they didn’t appear to be in such great numbers as in Portugal.
There were many artisanal shops selling fruit and vegetables and “charcuterie” but most were tourist orientated or at least the prices were. Many apricots are grown on the island and the scent of them as well as the peaches and nectarines was very enticing in the shops so we stocked up on the fruit.

The main roads were very good but some nearing Ajaccio along the rocky outcrops were fairly narrow.
The towns of Calvi and Corte were very touristy with a myriad of souvenir shops but their citadels and bays were beautiful. Calvi and the seaside town of Aleria seemed to attract the package tourists. There were many cruise ships dotted around each harbour disgorging their passengers for the day. Ajaccio and Bastia on the other hand were larger cities with various monuments, interesting architecture and large squares.

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On Wednesday 1st June we took Van Mauriceson on the ferry from Livorno to Bastia and drove to the north of Corsica to a campsite for the night.
There was no transport to Bastia which was half an hour’s drive away so we drove the following day to halfway where we could catch a bus into the city. Bastia was a charming city with interesting architecture and beautiful views once we had climbed up into the mountains. The citadel was an imposing structure overlooking the old port and we spent a few hours walking around the pedestrian friendly city with it’s good pavements and many cafes and restaurants.
After catching the bus back to the van we continued past many vineyards to Aleria, a beachside camping ground. The colour of the sea was exceptionally blue once the clouds had disappeared.
We found a great deal of Corsican wine in all the supermarkets. Apparently is not exported as there is a high enough demand for it on the island which has a very busy holiday period.
There were quite a number of tourists mainly French and some German and Dutch in the campsites in campervans and caravans as well as the most number of bikers that we had seen anywhere in Europe.

It was again too cool to swim so we drove through the centre of the island and up over the mountains to Corte the next day and climbed to the Citadel from where we had a wonderful view of the marina and the town. The town itself was pretty touristy so we continued on via Ile Rousse to Calvi where we chose a campsite very close to a beautiful bay with a nice white sand beach. It was well serviced by a little train into Calvi town but we chose to walk along the beach and the boardwalk which went all the way into the centre.

The weather had improved to being warm in the sun but still cool in the shade and given the awful floods in France we were pretty lucky.

We climbed up to the top of another Citadel with it’s massive walls. We had asked for a recommendation for lunch from a local and we hit the jackpot. We had the most delicious seafood meal
overlooking the bay. The old town itself was also very touristy and the souvenir shops had pretty tacky things for sale but we did find a Corsican icecream shop and I had the best creamy chocolate icecream that I had ever eaten. Maurice was pretty impressed with the one he had too – a Corsican canistrelli icecream with pieces of biscuit.
There were boulangeries all over the island, some selling very good artisanal breads and pastries and there were any number of cafes and restaurants. It was a short walk back along the beach to the campsite where the trees they used for shade were gum trees. The sea looked beautiful but it was a bit too cold to swim so we decided to continue on to Ajaccio the next day.

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We arrived in Rome again on the 9th May for a few days. We couldn’t stay in our usual bed and breakfast appartment as it was booked out so we took an airbnb room close by. It was comfortable but with all our luggage we felt like sardines in a tin.
The owner also advised us to go to a different train station which we did but omitted to tell us that there was no lift so between us we had to cart our luggage down and up stairs and were exhausted by the time we tried to get a taxi which also took some time as there were none at the station in the evening.
We visited my aunt and then got the train back to Van Mauriceson in Roccamandolfi where we spent a week readying the van for this year’s travels.
After ten days with my relatives spent eating our way through several courses of lunch and dinner most days interspersed with short trips to beautiful Gaeta and Tivoli, we departed to visit our now 92 year old friend in Tuscany at her lovely old farmhouse.
The weather was very unseasonal with much cooler temperatures than usual and with some rain. We left Italy on the 1st June for Corsica.

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