All That’s Italian: Gelato, pizza, pasta, Aperol Spritz, Peroni, Birra Moretti, ruins, medieval hilltop towns, style, fashion, beautiful people. Shocking roads, even worse drivers, unlit tunnels, collapsing bridges, Grimaldi Line Ferries!
We started with an old Italian foe, Grimlines, last Sunday, leaving lovely Greece to enter Italy. Grimlines stayed true to form. The boat was due to leave in the early hours of Monday morning, half past midnight.
Grim by Name, Grim by Nature!
We had our last meal in Greece, a lovely homemade 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 we do? We 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 sank 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 facilities-wise, so we really wouldn’t have wanted to stay below deck. 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 known 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 we made our way to try and get some sleep as Cruise Olympia pulled away from our beloved Greece.
Looking back towards 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 the rubbish Italian 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. However, only €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 that was not to be, as the acclaimed pizza restaurant was packed and taking no more customers, nor could we savour our first gelato, as that café was also shut for the evening. Plenty of time for both I tried to console David, heading desperately towards a bar for my first Aperol!
Buster resting after his Italian road trauma in Offagna
Offagna, hot air balloons featured everywhere!
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, an angular, imposing medieval town called Gubbio, perched on the steep slopes of Monte Ingino famed for its Guinness Book of Records 650-metre Christmas tree and its 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 much-needed shade for the van and us as the temperatures reached a scorching 40 degrees.
Gubbio, a stunning medieval hilltop town.
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 yet displayed, but we could see where the star sat at the top and did get an image from a postcard. We imagine this will be stunning at Christmas, but now, with the sweat pouring from our brows and shirts sticking to us as we guzzle tons of water, Christmas seems inconceivable!
We saw the cable car, which Lonely Planet 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. We watched everyone coming downhill as the time neared 7pm, the staff spraying each backet in line with Covid measures. You are helped or grabbed off and have to jump on as it doesn’t stop and I wondered if I would be that bothered about Covid if I plummeted to the ground on the way up or down… I 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 yesterday evening. Disappointed, we headed away from Gubbio.
Gubbio- roof skyline
Italy - and its twists and turns. Narrow streets keeping us in shade
The challenge of Italy and its roads struck again the next day as we decided to go to Orvieto, famed for its wine and Duomo. We were not planning to stay overnight there, as there are 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 sights but 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 length, shape and level of repair, eventually just about relieved that we should make the 2.30pm lunchtime closing for most of the restaurants we had picked out. But 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). There were no diversion signs to help us and we were harassed by 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.
Orvieto - worth the torturous drive!
Spirits low, temperature 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 admire in 40 degree heat. We parked up at the very busy campsite and both David and I jumped into the swimming pool at 7ish that evening, as the rest of the campers were making their way back to their vans. As we were the only ones in the pool 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.
On Thursday, as made our way to Florence, 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 and just a few German and Dutch ones, the rest being Italian. For the most part we have been welcomed and accepted, although occasionally victim of the Italian job (slightly ripped off).
We arrived in Florence!
Florence - The Four Amigos
This little Piggy- David would have liked in a sandwich, which they do so well here in Italy
Admiring the vista with friend Mark
After Florence, we travelled to Lucca, a town we haven’t previously visited and now home to our friend Mark. We used Buster as a removal van for some of Mark’s collected possessions during the six months he has been here. We safely parked Buster in the shade on a nearby sosta and took some time out with Mark in his new abode. We have spent the last two days visiting Ikea and Carrefour to make his new flat within the Lucca walls shipshape and just that bit more homely.
Within these Walls- Mark and his new front door
Lovely Lucca- Sand Sculpture, worth a couple of Euros for sure
Lucca - when the “big beer please” is just a bit too big!
Lovely Lucca and dramatic skies
As we leave Lucca, we plan to visit Piedmont and the Italian Riviera, plus a bit of a walk along the Cinque Terre - all upcoming as we weave our way towards France.