La Dolce Vita

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April 23rd 2011
Published: April 23rd 2011
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Sat 16....So after a night on board the ferry from Patras (Greece) to Ancona (Italy), we finally disembarked at about 11.30 (12.30 Greek time.....later than we thought). Disembarkation was hectic in true Italian plan at all, just a free-for-all! After failed attempts to update our blog on board (their Internet was crap) we tried again at Ancona port with no luck. So instead made our way to Jesi.

Being in Italy was quite a culture shock, back in 21st century.............everything looked so clean and overflowing rubbish bins or abandoned cars, gardens were tended, no stray cats or dogs in sight, people wear crash helmets and seat belts, their cars have number plates and are clean, they do not have missing bumperbars and a ding on every can put your loo paper down the loo! It all seemed so perfect and made us yearn to be back in Greece!

Whilst Jesi had seemed a tiny dot on the map and was hailed as a worthwhile town, the road there was a full-on dual carriageway. We had expected a small village and found ourselves in a large town. However, Jesi had its old, pedestrianised area....mainly just one street which we explored, coming across a market with some interesting foodstuffs to sample but there was no heart or character to the place. Mind you, we did find a great little Pizza Parlour so satisfy our lunchtime hunger before heading on to our destination of Fossombone, where one of our books told us there was a good overnight camper-stop.

The route took us through wonderful Tuscan-like countryside.....rolling hills farmed with various produce with mediaeval towns topping the numerous hilltops. Driving along ridges with views either side we drove through or passed many of these lovely-looking places and finally arrived at Fossombone. After a suitable pause we cycled into the old town, at one point tying up the bikes to climb endless steps to be rewarded with those marvellous roof-top views. Before returning to Hymie we indulged in a glass of wine to watch the locals on their evening Volta (the traditional early evening stroll that Europeans do). We then spent some time chatting with another motorhome traveller from Germany (weird accents....they come from the south......and his name was Adolf) before settling in for the night.

Sun17.... Having had out all the maps, we’ve planned a rough route home......up to Verona, across (bypassing Milan) heading for the Swiss border, making our crossing the Alps through the Grand St. Bernard tunnel, just east of the Mont Blanc/Chamonix tunnel. Then up though Bern before crossing into France and coming up through the Alsace (Mulhouse, Colmar, Strasbourg etc). Then maybe a sidetrack to Stuttgart, Germany where we know there’s a Hymer dealer...........we have a few niggling problems with the van we’d like sorted. From there we’ll make our way to the Belgium border (near Dunkerque) to stock up with tobacco and we cross back Calais/Folkestone on May 17th.

Today we drove to the lovely town of Urbino. An amazing place with a range of superb buildings and a mixture of wide streets and piazzas and narrow back streets. Being the Sunday before Easter it was crowded with Italians who had been attending mass in the enormous cathedral. They were all holding sprigs/branch of olive leaves (not sure of the religious connection). One lady came up to us with a big smile, hugged us and broke off 2 olive sprigs for us as she wished us Buona Pasqua (Happy Easter). We were in the town for several hours, a couple of which were spent looking inside the vast Ducal Palace.......both the ornate upper rooms and the below stairs laundry/kitchen etc area. The detail in doors, fireplaces, ceilings and so on was fantastic. We enjoyed a delicious glass of Italian red (somewhat different from a Greek red) in the sun by the cathedral, then later an extremely tasty lunch on the lower terraces.

We finally moved on and continued through the same stunning scenery.......this whole area is wonderful with its hilltop towns. Having reached Sant Agata Feltria, one of the most impressive of these towns, we decided to park up for the night in a Sosta area (designated for campervans). There is one other van (Dutch) as well as water, drainage and even electricity. It’s early evening now and we are off to climb up into the town and find a slice of pizza for supper.

Mon 18.... We had a great pizza last night, though had to go outside for smokes...........different from the Greeks totally ignoring any smoking ban! We walked back up into the town this morning to marvel close up as the castle and pretty town. We then drove to Bertinoro for more strolling around another great place. From there we carried on through some great countryside ‘til we hit the main road and sought to get two chores out of the way.........a big supermarket shop and the bloody internet. To cut a long story short, we ended up at McDonalds and have been here hours blogging, banking, emailing etc. Sitting here with music blaring and surrounded by Italian McDonaldites has now become intolerable. We’ll drive on and find somewhere good to overnight.

Tue 19....On asking TomTom for our nearest Sosta stop, he came up with one 7 miles away in a place called Dozza. So off we went, joyfully heading back into countryside. Arriving at the very pleasant designated spot in a large carpark with far reaching views we settled in.

Before leaving this morning we felt we ought to just have a look at the town of Dozza.....and what an unexpected pleasure it was. This small hill-top town with its striking castle, was not only charming in the usual way but different in a most unusual way.....the walls of the buildings/houses have been used for artist’s works, over the past 30 years. These are mainly modern contrasting starkly with the ancient architecture........but a great mix.

Onwards to Castel San Pietro Therme, a wealthy spa town of mediaeval origins, where we stopped for a stroll around. This part of Italy is very classy...............again such a contrast to the Greece we have come to know and love. We constantly remarked on the bullet holes in the signs; no graffiti; very few “works in progress”.....everything seems to be finished, rooftops on etc; no rubbish chucked out along the roadside; the cars are new and smart....not old and full of dents/missing bumpers; people park in an orderly way in car-parks and so on and so on. So, it’s different but is equally appealing in a different way.

After C San P T, we reluctantly took the decision to use the motorway to Verona. So sad, as we know we are missing out on so much. With some good CD music to sing along to, we stopped half way at a Service Station for a fabby Panini lunch and then some petrol.....well diesel. Apparently the petrol attendant was the most stunning Senorita B has ever seen!

Having programmed TomTom in for a central Verona campsite, he took us via the most alarming route extremely close to the pedestriansed centre (that would have been embarrassing) through the narrowest/steepest streets imaginable.....only to find it was a youth hostel with a patch of grass for a few tents. After a 20 point turn, we found our way out of the city centre and headed instead for a Sosta/Aires site. Eventually ending up in a wonderful tree-lined cul-de-sac by a river, only 1. kms from the city centre, along with about 20 other European motorhomes.

We spent the rest of the sunny afternoon relaxing, showering and doing a bit of hand-washing. Tomorrow we’ll cycle into town to see the sights, including the Shakespearian Romeo/Juliet balcony.

Wed 20.... Another day, perfect in every way. Verona is a gem....certainly as good as Florence. We biked in along cycle routes to the not-too-crowded pedestriansed centre......Piazza Bra with its amazing coliseum-like theatre (still used for operas in the summer) and the attractive curved row of The Liston....a series of restaurants to people-watch at or take the typical evening stroll along.

Tying up the bikes we walked up the ritzy Via Mazzini with clothes and jewellery at exorbitant prices. We then visited Juliet’s house where Shakespeare’s Romeo wooed her from the courtyard looking up to the balcony. A drink in Piazza Elbe, then exploring Piazza Signori (statue of Dante + watching an amusing private birthday part at a restaurant in the square....lots of singing!) a trip up the Torre del Gardello with marvellous views, then lunch.

After a visit to Santa Anastasia church, we crossed the river to look at the ruins of a Roman theatre and climb up to San Pietro’s castle. Back over the bridge to the huge Duomo (church) and along the river to the Castel Vecchio with it’s amazing ancient bridge. From there, full circle back to Piazza Bra.

Retrieving the bikes, we went in search of a bar in the sun......then more cycling to previous areas as well as new ones....and finally ended up just back from The Liston, a few yards from the Arena, for a wonderful meal. Biking back to Hymie in the dark, with no lights and a litre of wine later.....was a doddle.

Thu 21....Reluctantly leaving Verona we headed west and stopped at the southern end of Lake Garda. Taking the road through this very classy area up a thin peninsular to the old town Sirmione. (We wonder if the Pinington’s were near this area of Garda?) This charming little town which you enter over the castle draw-bridge, whilst being somewhat contrived for the tourists.....there’s a minimum of tat-shops but plenty of classy/ritzy nonethe less a worthwhile place. We explored twice...once on foot, then again, further afield on the far as the entrance to the Grotte di Catullo (the remains of an imperial Roman villa) occupying the whole of the tip of the peninsular. Unfortunately it was closed for a trade union conference.

From there we drove back on a fairly major road, taking a turning off at random to find somewhere for lunch. It just so happened it was the town of ordinary town, yet full of lovely buildings, squares and an excellent restaurant where we sat on the terrace to enjoy our pasta meals.

The rest of the day wasn’t so good.....TomTom disgraced himself giving us duff instructions and directing us alongside Lake Iseo, which was virtually end-to-end tunnel with mad Italians overtaking at 100 mph. Having negotiated our way back on track (stop for a cuppa) we arrived in the town of Alanzo Lombardo where our Sosta/Aires site was meant to be......but wasn’t! We drove round & round then headed up & up ‘til the road got so narrow we had to do a 20-point turn. Soon after, we pulled into a lay-by overlooking the town for hopefully a quiet night in.

Fri 22....A day of travelling....our days are numbered. So once again we took the motorway from Bergamo to Santhia, skirting the northern suburbs of Milan. The onward road was pleasant, little traffic and reasonably interesting towns. As we progressed the snow-capped Alps became less distant and at about 3pm we parked up in a Sosta/Aires at Verres. We had a good cycle around the town; then one of us climbed the perpendicular rocky footpath up to the castle high above and the other sat in a cafe/bar sipping Lambrusco (local, chilled, slightly fizzy, fairly sweet but delicious).

Our Route (overnight stops in capital letters)
Since our overnight ferry to Ancona.....Jesi; Ostra; Corinaldo; San Lorenzo; In Campo; Pergola; FOSSOMBRONE
Urbino; Urbania; Peglio; Sant Angelo in Vado; Lunaro; Carpegna; Pennabilli; SANT AGATA FELTRIA
Novafeltria; Borelio; Bertinoro; Forli; Faenza; Castel Bolognese; Imola; DOZZA
Castel San Pietro Terme; motorway around Bologna, Moderna, Mantova to VERONA
Peschiera del Garda; Sirmione; Lenato; Brescia; Pisogne; Lovere; Ranzanica; Casazza; ALZANO LOMBARDO
Bergamo; motorway around Milan-Novara to Santhia; Cavaglia; Ivrea; Pont St Martin; VERRES

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