On the road again.......

Thursday 28th March 2013

It’s over a month since we left Les Carroz and we have spent most of that time in France and Italy with the lads travelling in quite familiar territory. It now feels like our travelling adventures are really about to begin as we set off towards Eastern Europe. The countries we hope to visit include Slovenia, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Albania, Greece and Turkey.

We drove back through Switzerland today and took a gamble on the Brig - Simplon Pass being a) open and b) suitable for our van – it proved to be a very easy and cheap (i.e. free!) route back into Italy. From the Swiss side it climbs slowly to its 2005m peak and, despite being single carriageway for most of the trip, the light traffic meant a quick trip. On the Italian side the road is more windy as it descends down the pass and through gorges. The large lorries, using low gears to avoid their brakes burning out, slow traffic down a little but it gives you plenty of time to enjoy the scenery.

This road brings you into Italy near Lake Maggiore so we took the opportunity to take the ferry this time – Dave just can’t resist a ferry trip. On the western side of the lake it leaves from Intra (near Verbania) and cuts straight across to Laveno on the eastern side. It cost us €20 for the van and the 2 of us and saves about 70km driving round windy narrow roads.

So we are ready for the off now - full of diesel (€90), gas (€10), water (free) and the laundry is all done (€17) and in the words of Willie Nelsons song…..

On the road again
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things I may never see again
And  I can’t wait to get on the road again
On the road again…….

Missing you....

Wednesday 27th March 2013

Yesterday was Gran's funeral and, as often happens at these occasions, it's the one time when family members you haven't seen for a while gather to reminisce. People wanted to know where Dave and I have been and what we've been doing and what our plans are, I also got asked what I've missed. No.1 has to be family and friends and having given it a little thought here, in no particular order, are another 3 .....

My bed
I always have been a light sleeper and whilst the van is cosy and well insulated from the cold you hear everything going on outside......dogs barking, church bells chiming, rain tapping and traffic passing. Sleep is quite fitful for me most nights. It was lovely just falling into my bed in Shrewsbury and waking up with my batteries fully recharged the next morning. Back to clambering up the ladder onto my parcel shelf tonight!

Endless supply of hot / cold water
Not being on a water meter in Shrewsbury I have to admit to loving having a long hot shower or bath full to the brim with tons of bubbles. In the van we have to be really careful with water and gas consumption and mindful of being able to get rid of the waste water properly. So showers normally consist of switching it on and off and being really meagre with the water. So if anyone comes out to visit just let us know if we are beginning to smell a little!!

The Internet
I haven't missed the TV or newspapers but you realise how much we rely on the internet these days when you can't just log on when you want or need to. It is a great resource for finding out information and just for keeping in touch with people. How did we ever manage without it - bookcases full of encyclopedias spring to mind. We are going to try to tether the laptop through Dave's smartphone on O2 Travel for £2 a day for 25MB rather than hoping to find free Wi-Fi in Cafe's or Tourist Information Office. Keep your fingers crossed it works as we head out towards Eastern Europe. If it all goes quiet you'll know that plan hasn't worked.....

Solid olive oil..... again

Owen is out with us at the moment and we are back in the ski-resorts with night time temperatures hovering just above freezing. The olive oil has solidified again…..

We chickened out of doing the Brig / Simplon pass a week or so ago after a night sat in the van on the shore of Lake Maggiore in Italy with thunder, lightening and torrential rain crashing down all around us. Instead we took the St Bernard Tunnel into Switzerland which cost €40 but guaranteed an uneventful trip and we probably used less diesel. Our transit through Switzerland was short and sweet and by nightfall we were parked up in St Gingolph on the Swiss/French border on the shore of Lake Geneva (locally called Lac Leman).

We have taken our time travelling back along the lakeside road through Thonon-les-Bains (see previous blog), Evian and a lovely little harbour village called Yvoire which dates back to the 14th century and, being traffic free, is peaceful and idyllic.

Geneva, for us, didn’t really live up to the flashy brochure images, perhaps we didn’t see it at its best with drizzly rain and a cold wind but we walked around most of it killing time until Owen’s plane landed. We found little to get excited about, the famous water jet in the harbour was the only thing we got the camera out for. I reluctantly upload the photograph – it’s as dull as we found the city!

I will be back in the UK for a few days from Sunday for my Gran's funeral and will update the blog once we get on the road again.

R.I.P Gran

Tuesday 12th March 2013

I knew when we left Britain to start our trip that it was unlikely that my Gran, who was 105, would still be alive when we returned at the end of the year, her health had been deteriorating over the months leading up to our leaving. 

I say  ‘unlikely’ because in December 2011 the consultants at New Cross Hospital gave her 2 weeks to live and advised we find her somewhere for TLC and end of life care.

She was a lovely lady, very independent with a dry sense of humour. When asked by a reporter from the Express and Star newspaper in Wolverhampton what her secret for living to such a great age was she replied………. “I just keep on breathing”.

1907 - 2013

Italian Lakes

Friday 8th – Monday 11th March 2013

We were very lucky most days to enjoy warm sunny weather as we drove around the lakes of Northern Italy, although Lake Garda seemed to create it’s own weather system at times with low mist rolling in very quickly.

Each lake was slightly different, all quite well populated and extremely picturesque. There seem to be very few foreign tourists about at the moment and the whole area is slowly starting to gear up for the season which presumably kicks off at Easter.

On Tuesday we will take a ferry across the middle of Lake Maggiore and we plan to head for the Simplon Pass which climbs up to an altitude of 2005 meters as it enters Switzerland. Having checked the weather online it looks settled and the pass is open all year except in really snowy conditions. We will then travel along the southern side of Lake Geneva back into France to pick up Owen at the weekend.

Torri del Benaco on Lake Garda

Lake d'Iseo

Lake Como

Lake Maggiore

Italian cities

Tuesday 5th - Thursday 7th March 2013

Pisa – We only ever intended driving in, seeing the leaning tower and driving out again which is pretty much what we did having parked up in the coach park a short 10 minute walk away. It really is an impressive sight especially against the beautiful blue sky with very intricate carving. If you have time read up on the full history – interestingly it has always leaned since the first few storeys were built in 1173 but they carried on building regardless.

Florence – We stayed overnight in Montelupo Fiorentino, a small town on the outskirts of Florence apparently famous for centuries of ceramic production. We were keen to save on the stress and cost of driving into Florence which has strict emission controls and astronomical car park charges. With the train station just a short walk from the car park and the train tickets a bargain at €3.30 it also gave Dave a break from driving for a day. If you have unlimited funds to spend visiting the museums, galleries and churches I am sure Florence is a fantastic place but overall we were disappointed  and it had an edgy money grabbing feel to it. The Duomo is free to enter but not particularly ornate inside – our guide book describes it as having ‘the ambiance of an assembly hall’ and it certainly is more impressive from the outside with its pink, green and white marble cladding. Ponte Vecchio is the famous 13th century bridge lined each side with expensive jewellery shops which overhang the river. I don’t know when the craze to attach padlocks to metal structures became popular but even this beautiful bridge hasn’t been spared this modern day equivalent of carving your(and your loved ones) initials onto a tree.

Venice – The rain and mist couldn’t detract from the magical atmosphere of the city. I had been here as a teenager many years ago but it was the first time for Dave and Gareth. We arrived on the Fusina – Zattere ferry direct from the campsite and just walked around the city for hours. We have now set an upper limit of €3 for visiting attractions so the free Violin Museum and the Naval History Museum at €1.55 both came within budget! We thought the public toilets in Florence were expensive at €1 per person – Venice topped that at €1.50 making the Naval Museum with it’s free toilets even more of a bargain. If you stuck with the first four floors of naval and venetian history (and we did!) there was an odd but very beautiful collection of thousands of sea shells on the top floor. Venice seemed very quiet - only once, in a small busy thoroughfare, did we feel what it must be like in the height of the season.The bars and restaurants were almost deserted and the gondoliers were plying for trade. The canals, bridges, side streets, markets and piazzas are all as you imagine and even in the low light there are photo opportunities on every corner.