A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

A very typical Italian campsite.

That is what it said in the camping book. After our motorway journey, and our first traffic jam for many weeks – Italy is busy building things, we made it to this friendly, busy campsite, with a really deep swimming pool. Alan and I headed straight for the beach, but it was disappointing and we were hungry. We hot footed it into town - a place called ……., to find something to eat. Alan was concerned that a beach front restaurant may be all location and no content, but I refused to have my idea of my first meal out in Italy (one of many, we have to admit) not to be on the sea front.

Now here is the point where I admit that my requirement to avoid bread and pasta went a little west. I have a wheat intolerance, which is just an inconvenience, rather than an illness. But, in Italy, PIZZA IS EVERYWHERE. And I am not exaggerating.

So, we have the most fantastic pizza in this little town on the coast. We rolled home, satisfied. We had parked up by the washing up facilities. It was so hot, we opened up the van, and sat in there with no lights on, so as not to attract bugs, and particularly mosquitos, which I have had a head on battle with the whole of Italy.

The lady running the campsite had said that it had been in the 30’s (80’s for us old fashioned types) and this was extremely unusual for May. She was wilting and so we felt comfortable feeling fatigued by the heat.

And what wonderful things you receive whilst sitting listening, in the dark. A Scottish gentleman was sharing his story with his new German friend (they’d swapped iPods to share their music tastes at the pool). And what a story. Ungrateful, spoiled children, an early divorce, a desire for fun and adventure, but a commitment to his family. And then, a new lady, a new lease for life and a new van. He was off and doing it for himself and he was so thrilled. I think the German friend was a bit overwhelmed with the level of personal detail. We sat there, in the dark, captivated. Willing and supporting him. It didn’t feel sneaky listening in, because we felt such empathy towards him. It felt like a grown up bed time story.

Posted by placesinbetween 23:39 Comments (0)

Through the Mountains to the Lakes

Being last minute types, as I’ve said before, we had not ordered the Italian version of France Passion whilst in Cannes. So we phoned the head office of ‘Fattore Amico’ – ‘Friendly farms’, in Milan and asked if we could pop in and buy one directly. Alan had his first conversation in Italian, on the phone and away we went.

The drive was like flying through the tips of mountains. I continue to be impressed with the engineering and the back breaking efforts to overcome the topography so that you can get around Italy. Through 1,000 metre tunnels, slowly climbing, until we popped out and were driving amongst the peaks of the mountains of Lombardia.

I was immediately loving what we were seeing. Alan had decided that he loved France so much, that Italy was going to have to try much harder than just a few mountains, before he would decide it was lovely…

Posted by placesinbetween 23:40 Comments (0)

Italy so far…

We have only visited the North West part of Italy, but immediately we are hit by the number of extremely long tunnels there are that have been needed for the motorways to get you anywhere. Our first two hours of driving, from Nice, was bridge, tunnel, bridge, tunnel, bridge, tunnel. An Engineering feat and a half. One tunnel, along Lake Como is 2404 metres long! When we don’t take the motorway, it is traffic lights, roundabouts. It is much busier on the roads than France.

I’ve also immediately noticed the gesticulation that is a stereotypical expectation of Italian people. Lots of hand waving whilst they are talking, and Alan has noticed how loudly people seem to talk, as though they are disagreeing with each other all the time. We have no idea of course, what people are talking about, because we have much less Italian between us than French. Alan is in charge of learning some Italian, and he has already had a successful telephone conversation in Italian with the guy running the Italian version of France Passion – Fattore Amico.

There are a lot of Italian flags around. My favourite thing so far has been the Church bells. I was woken on our first morning to a tune being rung out on the Church bells. Not by hand, it was mechanical, but an extremely pleasant way to be awoken. I thought maybe I had half dreamed it, but the next evening, a good three hours drive further north, and we heard the same thing.

Posted by placesinbetween 23:45 Comments (0)

Gnomes and Dwarves

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Other than the pretty tunes sung out by the Church bells, I immediately noticed a plethora of the Seven Dwarves. Snow White would sit, pride of place in front gardens, playgrounds and on corners of campsites and dotted around her would be the seven dwarves. I’ve looked into this and it seems that Snow White may not be a Grimm fairytale but comes from an ancient ritual from the Italian Dolomites.
In Northern Italy they were joined by a myriad of Gnomes. I’m a big fan of Gnomes, Alan less so, so I was not able to invite one to join us on our journey.

Posted by placesinbetween 23:46 Comments (0)

Lake Lugano

What a find. First day it was over cast and we walked into town, which had nothing really to say for itself and it was pretty rainy and dull. I think I was expecting idyll, so we were a bit taken aback.

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However, the next day, the sun came out, we walked in the other direction, along the bank of the lake, to a little sleepy end of town, with an abandoned church and merry-go-round (as we have found most towns in France had) and a couple of restaurants on the water.

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We saw Great Crested Grebes dancing, baby Coots, a magnificent sunset over the mountains, with the sun hitting the side of the hill and illuminating a small house. It is a lovely lake (comparatively small) and we swam in it every day – COLD.

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I had the thickest hot chocolate of my life. Oh, and we accidently drove into Switzerland! We were camping next to the town, that was half Italian and half Swiss. With the border crossing right in the middle. We moved on. As we left, we drove through Switzerland for about an hour. We had no Swiss Francs, so just kept going until we popped back into Italy again.

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Posted by placesinbetween 23:56 Comments (2)

The Lakes

I have wanted to visit the Italian lakes for a long time. I’ve always heard good things about them. We hadn’t made any plans or thought it through. We had been all consumed by Cannes really, and our initial plans had not included Italy. But we had found a great volunteer opportunity in Tuscany, so our route changed.

It has always been lake Como that I have heard about. We have an ACIS card, which gives you discounts to camp sites at off peak, and since there were none of those or Fattore Amico’s near Como we headed to a lake just to the West – Lake Lugano.

Posted by placesinbetween 23:59 Comments (1)

Lake Como

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We drove about half way around Como. At the North of Como are the Swiss Alps. And they are truly something. It is funny though, after all the time wanting to be here, we drove on. Leaving it to another time.

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Posted by placesinbetween 05:19 Comments (0)

Lake Iseo

We went instead to Lake Iseo. A very small lake compared to some we have seen – 16 km’s long and 5 km’s wide at some places. The same size as Lake Windermere and Italy's seventh biggest lake.

We stayed in a campsite right on the lake front and chose a spot on the waters edge for Nerys.

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The view was lovely, the campsite was lovely, the weather was lovely. We spent the day by the lake, in the lake and on the lake. Canoeing to the little island with a little castle. Shaded under an Olive tree I had the best views, whilst doing my exercises.

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The lady who ran the campsite was lovely. She was helping me out with some translation with the gentleman who looked after the canoes (she gently suggested that he stubbornly refused to understand anything but Italian, whilst keeping a big tanned grin on his aging face). Alan had used his best Italian and not really got anywhere, so I stepped in to try out my feminine whiles - A decent replacement to knowledge of the Italian language as it happens!!

The campsite lady was curious about our journey, but then excused herself to answer the phone. It was important news. Her daughter was phoning to say that the voting results were in and Burlosconi had lost Milan and some other Northern cities and this indicated that he was on his way out. She couldn’t have been more thrilled and I was happy to be there and share in her palpable relief. We high fived and then she went on to explain how he had degraded the school system, the water system, the refuge… She obviously loved her country and explained that now there was hope. It would take time, but there was an opportunity to rebuild a country she was proud of, because, she said, she had been embarrassed and saddened by her own country. What an insight.

She thought, what we were attempting on our trip – to learn some language and better understand our European neighbours and perhaps bring back some good habits - like siestas!

The lady kindly didn’t charge us extra for our lakeside spot and wished us well on our journey. Lake Iseo (we have been pronouncing it IZEO, when it turns out that it is ISAO) was just wonderful and we look forward to returning to this particular campsite.

We could have stayed longer, perhaps should have stayed longer, but on we went to check out Garda. We needed somewhere with free internet to get some work and research for the remainder of our trip done, as it is a bit of a rip off paying for internet at campsites – 4 Euros for an hour at some places!

This is our last campsite for a while and then we will be at Amico’s and HelpX and Woofing. We have spent our holiday money now, so it is belt tightening time.

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Posted by placesinbetween 05:22 Comments (0)

Lake Garda - the first visit

Lake Garda, is absolutely bloody massive. We initially came across a touristy, camping village, so moved on swiftly and I am sitting in Nerys, looking over the lake, which reaches the horizon, and this is the narrow part!

We are going to head into the mountains in the North, for the last five days of our time in the lakes before heading down to Siena and our first volunteer experience. We did a lot of moving around and it is surprising how tiring it can become. Sitting by the lake is just the ticket. We both feel the pull to get on with real life business as well. Writing for Alan and my new business – Catalyst, with my wonderful new business partner Gayle.

So, free internet and two days of getting things in order.

Posted by placesinbetween 05:35 Comments (0)

Lake Ledro

We drove along the west shores of Lake Garda for an hour. My, it is a big lake. The road following the Western shore is right on the edge of the lake and often over the lake, as the road tunnels through rock face that overhangs the water.

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We took a left and climbed into the mountains.

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10 hair pin bends later and we are next to a small lake surrounded by the peaks of the mountains we had been driving next to.

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Posted by placesinbetween 05:37 Comments (0)

A note about lovely new friends

We have had the luck of being parked up next to people who have demonstrated the best of human nature. Open hearted, welcoming, fun loving, non judgmental. I know that when things are transient and we are all on holiday, that there is an opportunity for us all to be at our best, but I am in no doubt, that we have been blessed with being introduced to some absolutely top notch people. My apologies if I embarrass anyone who has decided to read the blog, but you are all an important part of our story.

The path was trodden first by Jack and Joyce from Fife, whilst we were in Cannes. Alan was working and I had a couple of days by the van, washing, cleaning and generally sorting things out. I would cycle in and out of Cannes, whilst Alan was working 14 hour days. On my return one evening, I was invited in for a cup of tea and a kit kat. The best cup of tea I’d had in France – but as Joyce said ‘it is always better when someone else makes it for you’. Their Caravan, after Nerys for five weeks, was palatial, and I had a lovely evening. I felt secure in having them next door. They gave me a lift to the supermarket and give me some advice on bits and pieces of technical stuff around the van. HELLO JACK AND JOYCE ☺

It pissed it down in Ledro for the four days we were there. We had free internet again, so treated ourselves to a bit of BBC radio, caught up on emails, the travel diary and what was going on in the world. We walked the circumference of the lake one day and the rest of the time just chilled out in the van. There haven’t been many UK travelers on our Italian leg, mostly German and Austrian, so when Alex and Judi pulled up, with their lovely brown Labrador, they didn’t have a chance to get past our van. We were invited for drinks that evening. There was a thunderstorm that lasted all night. We had a lovely evening of drinks, nibbles and good chat, got rid of a couple of bottles of Italian wine and had to shout over the rain hitting the roof of their motorhome. We got back to Nerys, a bit tipsy at about 12.30am and realised we had left the roof vent open. Alan created an ingenious system with kitchen towel, to suck up all the rain water caught in the vents trough. And that was Ledro. HELLO ALEX AND JUDI ☺

Posted by placesinbetween 05:40 Comments (1)

A note on borders

An interesting thing about Europe is this feeling that borders are not that straight forward. Political, cultural and geographical borders can often be quite separate. You drive near the Swiss border, South East of Lyon in France and it has a Swiss feel. We had the best Gnocchi in Nice, and with Monte Carlo it all felt a little Italian. This phenomenon was really driven home to us when we were in Lake Ledro – which is the Trentino Alto-Adige region. The most complicated history of an area so far.

As we walked around we noticed that the houses were very Austrian looking, everyone we spoke to, spoke beautiful German, and we guessed perhaps it was the tourist industry that encouraged that. So I checked with the lady at the bakery on the campsite. ‘This was Austria! My Grandmother is Austrian.’ She went on to explain that during the first world war, the Italian Austrian line of fighting was directly through the village of Ledro. (Supposedly, the joke is, the Italian Mountain Army are the only Italian division who know how to fight). The houses are very Austrian looking and the food has a mixed Austrian Italian feel.

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The population of the village were relocated to Bohemia. When the war was over, the village people returned to find two things. Their village had been destroyed and they were now told that they were Italians. How extraordinary. Come back to your village and it is in a different country and you are expected to adjust.

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The Trentino Alde-Adige region has a complicated history and it is now agreed informally that both Italy and Austria have some responsibility for it – but for goodness sake, don’t use this entry to help with your kids history homework…

The mountains are still dotted with outposts, remnants of the war. It is said that the reason that the Italians won on this front is because their mountain army set up a rope and pulley system to get the soldiers up the mountain. This meant they were not exhausted from climbing the mountain, as the Austrians would have been, when the fighting started. It is often the small ingenious things that change the course of history.

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Posted by placesinbetween 05:45 Comments (0)

Lake Garda - our second, but not final visit

It was time to leave the wetness, so we drove down the mountain and along the Eastern shore of Garda.

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This shore is more populated with little towns, including the towns of Garda

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and Bordalino. More on Bordalino later. We had decided to treat ourselves to a day out at the water park. Both Alan and I have a bit of a weakness for water parks and Aqualand - part of Movieland, seemed one of the best.

We stayed in a lovely Fattore Amico overlooking Lake Garda. A vineyard called Costadoro.

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They were very welcoming and even gave us a bottle of their wine. As with a lot of farms where we visited in Italy, they also ran some Agrotourism. They had a B&B and a lovely looking restaurant. We stayed in the corner of one of their fields, overlooking the beautiful Lake Garda

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It was thundery and overcast the next morning and Aqualand didn’t even look open, so on we went to Bologne.

Posted by placesinbetween 05:57 Comments (0)

A note on Italian graveyards

In Italy, we have seen a great care and attention for those that have passed. Firstly, the graveyards are beautifully kept. There are family plots with photos of the people buried there. The photos look like they are from the 1800’s when you couldn’t move for five minutes and therefore could not hold a smile. It makes me think that the photographer said, ‘this is the one that is going on your headstone’ just before he took it.

The graves are adorned with flowers and they are silk, so you don’t have the wilting dying, knocked over vases of flowers look, like in the UK, but colour all around the graveyard. The areas are concrete, rather than grass like ours, and at night, each plot is lit with candles or LED’s. One evening, in Lake Lugano, we had a late night stroll and thought that there was a really cool restaurant, with the walls all lit up, but on closer inspection we realised it was a mausoleum.

The other thing that happens in Italy, is that they advertise the funerals. A poster with the date and age of death, a nice photo of the individual and when the funeral is. Initially it seemed strange, but thinking about a community knowing its neighbours it was nice to think you’ve been invited to pay your respects.

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Posted by placesinbetween 06:07 Comments (0)

Cities in Lombardy and Tuscany (Toscana)

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We had decided that the best way to ‘do’ a city with Nerys, was to find a town near by with a train station, park up and catch the train in.

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We had a few more days until we were due at our first volunteering, just South of Sienna, and so took our time driving down, staying at some farms and vineyards

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and visiting Bologne and Florence (Firenze), on the way.

We prefer to avoid the motorways. You see more and don’t have to pay the tolls. The journey from Lake Garda to Sienna, avoiding motorways, although provided spectacular views, was seriously hard work and we had our first wrong turn and surprised an elderly couple when we turned up at their farm at the end of a track.

The journey from Bologne to Florence was through the Appennino mountain range. This was our introduction to the many hair pin bends if Italy. Quite some views though. All of which impossible to capture, due to the hair pin bends and no where to stop!

We stayed at some lovely vineyards and small holdings and then took the train into the cities.

Posted by placesinbetween 06:12 Comments (0)

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