Controlling Nature

We recently witnessed the destructive power of the 2016 earthquake(s) in and around Norcia. We can all also remember the devastating effect of the 2004 Indian ocean tsunami, the recent Australian bush fires or perhaps more locally living through the awful weather the UK and elsewhere has experienced this winter. These all provide clear reminders of how limited our control is over the power and forces of nature.

Marmore Falls

We arrived late in the day at the motorhome parking at Marmore Falls to find it busy with other vans. This wasn’t surprising as it was Friday and the weekend is the time when the water is diverted over the falls for a couple of hours to show off the splendour of the falls to dozens of increasingly moist visitors.

The Romans built the Cascata delle Marmore, the world’s tallest artificial waterfall in 271 BC. The falls are an impressive sight. Water from the hills above the city of Rieti flows along the Velino River then it’s channelled to top of the green 165-metre-high cliffs, before plummeting into the valley below.

Generally, the water from the Velino River is directed to feed the Terni hydro-electric complex, with the full flow of water only released at certain times to show off nature’s tremendous power that man first tamed 2,291 years ago.

Ok so I’m a bit wet – What’dya mean you knew that already!

Missing the sign for the ticket office we had to backtrack and join a very slow-moving queue along with several dozen others. After the water had been released, we were too and we made our way up an assortment of paths that were easy at first but as we climbed got harder, with the spray making it increasingly difficult to get close up photos and staying dry just wasn’t an option. Stopping off to get our breath back at various vantage points when we neared the top we were able to witness a spectacular sight of a rainbow appearing to originate from the bottom of the highest cliff.

If you zoom in you’ll see Charlie waiting patiently in the car park below.

Our reward on reaching the feed channel at the top was a much-deserved ice cream and a short rest before the walk down. Going down is definitely easier than coming up.

Chronicles of Narni

The next morning, we made our way to Narni. A popular place at the weekends judging by the very tightly packed parking spot, with six vans already occupying most of the available space. Charlie breathed in and we managed to fit him in on the end. Extracting the bikes from the garage we found my bike had a puncture on the front tyre, but with tools at hand we changed the tube faster than a F1 pit stop. 

We started with a quick wheel around the town before dropping steeply down through the narrow streets, we found our way onto the old railway track that we followed under a Roman bridge and along a busy road.

Leaving the the road, signs indicated a track that followed the river which flowed into a beautiful shallow pool with crystal clear water, where people were enjoying the sunshine and chilling on the decking around the river bank.

Our route back was on the disused railway track, where lots of families were enjoying the level walking and sometimes oblivious to our friendly bell tinkling. The uphill road section back into Narni was a little steep but the thought of ice cream at the top kept us going.

Narni had many inviting nooks and crannies to explore

With all the other motorhomes now gone (I must have a talk with our Charlie), we decided to do the same and headed for San Gemini, where we found a free spot and spent a quiet night parked up with some ambulances.

With a course set for Orvieto we stopped off for a brief look around the small hilltop town of Todi. Parking was at the foot of the town, but next to a free funicular that whisked us up to the town and its attractive main square. It was very pleasant to wander around in the sunshine, but with no obvious places open for lunch and not much else to detain us, we continued on our way to Orvieto.

Orvieto

The MoHo parking area at Orvieto was a few hundred yards away from a busy motorway and between two railway lines one of which carried the Frecciarossa (red arrow) the Italian equivalent to France’s TGV, so it seems we were in for a noisy night.

After ordering bread and croissants for the morning from the site manager, we settled in resigning ourselves to a night spent listening out to see if we could detect the the difference between trans regional and the high-speed trains.. Such fun!

Somewhat sleep deprived, the next day (after our compensatory jam filled croissants) we took the conveniently located funicular railway up to the town and bought a multiple ticket for various attractions including the first, at the Pozzo di San Patrizio, or St. Patrick’s Well.

The central well shaft with two helical ramps in a double helix, accessed by two doors, which allowed mules to carry empty and full water vessels separately in downward and upward directions without obstruction.

The well has 427 steps, which was no problem at all going down, but “I can tell thee, it were lung bustlingly tough coming backup”.

“Let’s find an ice cream” I said (I’m not an addict), “good idea”, Lesley said. Temporarily sated, our next challenge was the Torre del Moro clocktower guess what yes with more steps and more steps, but I have to confess the view of the town and the surrounding countryside from the top was impressive and worth the effort.

Time to stop going up and go back down again, this time to the fascinating underground complex of the Pozzo Della Cava in the oldest part of the medieval quarter of Orvieto. We discovered later that almost all the houses in Orvieto have caves underneath.

I saw these modern day plastic pots for sale a few yards along from the Museum displaying ancient Etruscan pottery dating back from the 10th to the 1st century BC and couldn’t help but notice the incongruity.

We found a shop down one of the side streets selling some quite unique wood in all forms of art and some really imaginative furniture designs.

To finish off the day we concluded with a visit to the cathedral. Yes it’s an ABC (Another Bluming Castle/Church) but that apart, it was quite unusual on the outside and heavily decorated inside with some famous frescoes.

“Built in 1290, the cathedral is a masterpiece of Italian gothic architecture. The decoration of the Cappella Nuova, commenced by Fra Angelico in 1447 and magnificently completed by Luca Signorelli in 1499 and 1504, displays an awe-inspiring Last Judgement and Apocalypse and, below it, scenes from Dante…”.

Feeling a bit tired of all the sightseeing it was time to go back to Charlie and head on to pastures new. But before leaving we needed to service the van (get some fresh water and empty the waste water etc) but once again we discovered the handle on the waste water tank turned but didn’t open the valve….. “Oh flip, what again..!” I said or something similar.

There was nothing else for it but to make arrangements to drive back to Terni to the nearest authorised Carthago garage and get them to look at the problem in the morning. The next day the garage wasted no time in fixing the fault which is apparently a common problem in Italy where the roads are so bad they shake the poor motorhomes to bits and cause issues that Carthago don’t experience in Germany or anywhere else with smooth tarmac!

Maybe when we get to Tuscany the roads will improve (yeah right….!)

But before entering the next phase of our Italian tour we decided we must go back to Orvieto and see Orvieto Underground, that we’d wanted to see but missed off the day before. This time no expense was spared and we propelled Charlie along the smooth toll road to get back in double quick time. Aiming for an English-speaking guided tour we parked up on the top of the town, close to the centre. As we had arrived in good time, for completeness and for research purposes we thought we’d also sample more of the ice cream flavours we’d missed from the day before (have I mentioned how good Italian ice cream is).

We both agreed returning to go on the tour was worthwhile and were impressed with the knowledge and the enthusiasm of the guide but doubt that photos can really do an experience like this justice.

Returning to Orvieto’s magnificent Duomo for a moment. This is considered one of the must-see churches in Italy because of its stunning gold-and-mosaic Gothic facade and magnificent frescoes. BUT I can’t help thinking that if the Italians spent half the money they spend on churches on their roads, they could really improve the country’s road accident statistics (just a thought?).

Ok, so let’s set a new course for Tuscany. However we have been avidly following the news of the Coronavirus Covid-19 strain coming from Italy which has become increasingly worrying – particularly the increasing number of cases in Lombardy and Trento.

Deciding to overnight in Montepulciano, we talked about what to do. Tuscany has been the area we have been looking forward to exploring the most, with Florence, Siena, Pisa and so many other smaller places we have planned to visit. BUT as we have journeyed around we have been swithering more and more over the worsening situation with the Coronavirus outbreak in Italy. Should we make a mad 650km dash for the French border, are we panicking? In the end we decided rightly or wrongly, for now, to carry on with the next part of the trip but to take sensible precautions and keep a watchful eye on developments in Italy and elsewhere.

In the morning we woke and said. “Let’s go to France”, we’ll come back and see Tuscany another time.

Right better Toodle Pip then…

Dave and Lesley (safe and well in Provence)

PS Depending on your political point of view you may wish to ignore the linked article below by Will Hutton, that suggests that collectively perhaps we can influence if not control the power of nature?

Coronavirus won’t end globalisation, but change it hugely for the better

Will Hutton

Will Hutton

The Norcia loop

Umbria is awash with tiny, medieval, hilltop towns, so we are getting used to the idea that visiting anywhere interesting often involves a fair amount of up. Our 4-mile circular mainly level walk around Spoleto today was a bit different. Above Spoleto’s old town is a medieval Rocca and spanning the deep gorge to one side of the Rocca is the town’s most famous sight, the Ponte delle Torri or Bridge of Towers.

The bridge is an ancient Roman aqueduct rebuilt in the 1300s that used to be possible to walk across, but access has been restricted and it is currently closed awaiting a structural health check following the 2016 earthquake.

Circular routes are marvellous for getting you back to where you started…

Once we’d reached the top of the bridge it was mainly level walking with great views of the Rocca and the aqueduct.

Extract from the Life of Brian

What have the Romans ever done for us…? Xerxes: ” The aqueduct. Reg: Oh yeah, yeah they gave us that. Yeah. That’s true, And the sanitation! Oh yes… sanitation, Reg, you remember what the city used to be like. Reg: All right, I’ll grant you that the aqueduct and the sanitation are two things that the Romans have done… Matthias: And the roads… Reg: (sharply) Well yes obviously the roads… the roads go without saying. But apart from the aqueduct, the sanitation and the roads.. Masked Activist: Irrigation… Medicine… Education… Health… Reg: Yes… all right, fair enough… Activist Near Front: And the wine… Francis: Yeah. That’s something we’d really miss if the Romans left, Reg. Masked Activist at Back: Public baths! Stan: And it’s safe to walk in the streets at night now. Francis: Yes, they certainly know how to keep order… (general nodding)… let’s face it, they’re the only ones who could in a place like this. (more general murmurs of agreement)

Reg: All right… all right… but apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order… what have the Romans done for us? Xerxes: Brought peace! Reg: (very angry, he’s not having a good meeting at all) What!? Oh… (scornfully) Peace, yes… shut up!

Sometimes walks can include a sting in the tail, maybe a steep uphill finish, with our walk today the opposite was true, an unusual and welcome easy finish. Our path had descended down about 500ft to the river and to the lower part of the town. However, to save the walk back up, the clever townsfolk of Spoleto have installed multiple escalators to transport you up to the Rocca and to the top of the town – What a brilliant idea.

Our view from the top. It was a tough job being carried up the 7 escalators to get here! How disappointed were we when after all that effort only to find we’d left the ice cream kitty back at Charlie…

Vallo di Nera

Heading to Norcia along the Nera river valley we broke the journey with an overnight stop at the small sleepy hilltop town of Vallo di Nera.

It’s easy to imagine how this well maintained, pretty little village might attract visitors in the summer, but as we walked around it was deserted. If anyone lived there they must have been having lunch or hiding.

Charlie’s parking spot looking down on the river Nera. We chose this place especially to take advantage of the La Taverna Del Bordone (just out of shot), only we’d come up on a Wednesday, the only evening the restaurant closes.

Norcia

Agricamping Brandimarte was a small farm on the outskirts of Norcia, with electric hook up, a farm shop and a ‘meal to your van‘ service. As we had timed our visit to Norcia to coincide with the annual black truffle fair, our tagliatelle was accompanied with olive oil and truffle shavings – delicious.

The Nero di Norcia, is the biggest agricultural fair in Umbria and gathers together all the “trufflers” and shepherds of the area. In spite of the major rebuilding work going on all over town amidst the destruction from the 2016 earthquake, stalls lined the main street selling all manner of traditional local products such as prosciutto (ham), sheeps milk cheese, lentils of Castelluccio di Norcia, and other products of the area.

This boar’s truffling day are over, a truffle hunter has riffled him now he looks a trifle ruffled to be a truffler’s trophy….. groan!

On 24th August 2016 a earthquake with a magnitude of 6.2 occurred with its epicentre 6.5 kms southeast of Norcia. In October 2016 there was a second quake causing further widespread destruction in the area trapping scores under debris and killing in total 247 people.

Norcia was the closest town to the epicentre, the medieval basilica of St Benedict in Norcia, was among buildings destroyed, with just its facade left standing.

Three and a bit years after the earthquake Norcia is gradually being rebuilt. The building in this image has a giant image of what it once looked like fixed to the scaffold supporting what is now left.

After buying some black truffle sauce at the fair we also brought some bread. These enormous loaves were about 2ft long. We paid €5 for a quarter of one, that we sliced and froze to keep us in butties for days.

Castelluccio

Heading up into the Sibillini Mountains the long narrow and virtually deserted road wound its way upwards though several switchbacks with barriered sections where the road had collapsed. All the way up there were great views looking back down on Norcia from above.

Castelluccio

From a distance Castelluccio looks the same as it has done for 1,000 years, a beautiful hilltop town in the midst of one of Italy’s most celebrated plains, the Piano Grande. But even from the road below the village you can see the buildings are shattered, roofs have collapsed, it’s more reminiscent of a war zone than the Umbrian countryside.

I expect the few remaining inhabitants of the town could do with the tourist dollars, but we decided it would be wrong to stop and gawp morbidly at the rubble that is now Castelluccio.

La Fioritura“, the spectacular summertime showing of wild flowers in the meadows of the Piano Grande will no doubt once again bring in the visitors. The flowers were absent as we drove through a landscape that reminded us a bit of the altiplano in Bolivia, but had an Italy-shaped forest to catch the eye!

As we said before Armco is a neglected bit of the travellers landscape, so we pleased to include a section in this photo. Judging by the drop on the other side the person responsible for this barrier’s re-shaping is pleased too!

Pretare

When you discover a wild camping spot as good as this it is very difficult to pass it by. We spent a very peaceful night there under the stars, and left early the next day to descend down the valley to Pretare.

Pretare August 2016

Forgive the pun but we weren’t prepared for the drive through Pretare. It was very sobering to go along the cleared road that wound its way through what was once a fairly ordinary small mountainside village where 175 people lived.

Pretare prefabs

Witnessing the destruction the earthquake caused close up was quite distressing. It’s difficult to contemplate what it must have been like to have lived through the horror of the quake. And to think of the lives that have been lost and the community that has been destroyed. We only got the merest glimpse of the aftermath of their terrible experience and can only imagine how hard it must be for these people to try to rebuild their lives.

Toodle Pip

D&L

C-UMBRIA

Over the last few years we have become more and more interested in the performance of our pension pot. We now keep a keen eye on the growth or otherwise of the various stocks and markets our pension pot is invested in. When thinking of which markets might perform well in the future, trainers (or sneakers to use the American name) probably aren’t the first things that come to mind. But according to newly released research, some trainers could be a better investment than gold.

For example, there are the Nike SB Dunk Low Reese Forbes Denims, which originally sold for $65 in 2002 and are now reportedly worth over $4,000. There are also the Yeezy 2 Red Octobers, which retailed for $250 in 2014 and are now worth $5,655.

Moving on

It was 80 miles from San Marino to the free Montecorona Abbey Ristorante car park 5 mins south of Umbertide, so we were quite tired when we arrived. Judging by the number of diners’ cars the restaurant is doing a roaring trade. Which leads me to suspect they are serving up something a bit more appetising than the plain fare Monks have to live on, of just black bread, plain water and vegetables?.

The modern-day church is in an attractive setting built on the site of an old Cistercian abbey. It’s a peaceful spot situated beneath a wooded mountain and surrounded by fields. The crypt of the Abbey dates back to 1000 AD and quite different from the simple church above which felt neglected with some worn frescoes and in need of a good dusting.

We didn’t quite understand why each of the stone columns was strangely different from its neighbour. Curious?

Leaving the Abbey behind our trusty bikes took us up the tarmac road that initially avoided the steepest climb by going between the wooded hills. We did feel a bit guilty when we powered passed a cyclist on a road bike peddling up the tarmac incline without the benefit of an e-motor. Our circular route took us back via an off-road section that went very steeply uphill, (this steep rocky bit soon wiped away our smugness) before a rough descent, where the challenging downhill had us pulling hard on the brakes, before hitting the water splash and onto the road section back to Charlie.

Perugia, the capital of Umbria, famous for the architecture of its historic centre, its wealth of art works and well-known cultural and artistic reputation, was the obvious next town to visit,

So that’s where we went. But I have to report dear reader that although we did spend 30 minutes circling the Perugia one-way system multiple times, in the end its maze of tunnels got the better of us and our not-so-clever Garmin sat nav. Four times we entered the tunnel on the one-way system, each time trying a different exit strategy, only to be forced back to repeat the process in order to entertain the locals enjoying our merry-go-round whilst siting outside drinking their café latte’s and expressos.

The tunnel is badly signed, three exit options with the middle exit immediately splitting again!

So Assisi it is then….

Seeing as the historic centre of Assisi is built on a significant bump we thought one of the best ways to see the place was by bike (with a little help from a couple of 75Nm electric motors). Komoot found us a ‘sneak up on it gradually’ route but we were still breathing hard by the time we reached the level of the Duomo or the Cathedral of San Rufino.

One of our friends said to us to say hello to Frank but who was he?

Born in Italy circa 1181, Saint Francis of Assisi was renowned for drinking and partying in his youth. After fighting in a battle between Assisi and Perugia, Francis was captured and imprisoned for ransom. He spent nearly a year in prison — awaiting his father’s payment — and, according to legend, began receiving visions from God. After his release from prison, Francis heard the voice of Christ, who told him to repair the Christian Church and live a life of poverty. Consequently, he abandoned his life of luxury and became a devotee of the faith, his reputation spreading all over the Christian world.

Today, Saint Francis is the patron saint for ecologists — a title he received apparently to honour his boundless love for animals and nature.

Right that’s enough of that, lets talk tractors.

Our parking spot (€18) had uninterrupted views of Assisi old town, but the sosta was closer to the commune of Santa Maria degli Angeli, where Assisi railway station is. Whilst Lesley watched a scary film I decided to go explore and nearing the station I heard horns and powerful engines revving.

Following the noise, I stumbled upon the closing stages of the Assisi’s Farmers’ Day 2020. Where over 300 tractors and agricultural vehicles plus an estimated one thousand people had gathered from all over Umbria and the neighbouring regions. To me it just looked like an excuse for the boys to get out and show off their toys.

Spello

After leaving Assisi, Spello was targeted as a stopover identified as somewhere with a selection of well-regarded eateries. It was also a chance to give our chef extraordinaire a well-deserved night off. Especially as she’d been required to work her normal shift on Valentines’ Day.

As predicted it was quite a hike from Charlie, up the deceptively steep ramps and through a maze of small alleys to get to the main street to see which of the recommended restaurants we fancied and more importantly which were open.

With limited options it wasn’t hard to choose Ristorante La Cantina Di Spello which had in fact been our first choice. At another time of the year we were convinced it would be much harder to get a table. At 7:30 we didn’t mind being the first ones in, convincing ourselves the emptiness meant ‘we’d discovered it‘, that was until 9pm when all the cool trendy locals started arriving and hugging and greeting the staff.

The Head Chef heading home after her night off

Talking of being cool and trendy I have a tip to share with all the many fashionistas reading this blog. Cropped jeans or short bell-bottom trousers in combination with loud striped long socks appear to be all the rage in Italy.  So anyone who’s already going around wearing tight trousers that have shrunk in the wash and Jon Snow socks – You’re hip and cool man.

Toodle Pop

Dave & Lesley

Oh in case you’re interested I’ve also come up with a fantastic idea for a footwear investment opportunity. E-boots, yes electric boots, shoes and trainers. Just imagine how fast you could run and how easily you could walk up hills (just like our ebikes). Isn’t it a brilliant idea? Ok so there’s still a bit of work to do on the (Friction Accumulated Recycled All Green Energy) technology or FARAGE for short…… But I’m convinced it’s the future.

The Most Serene Republic of San Marino

When I saw the Republic of San Marino on the map and a potential place to go my first thought was – oh, isn’t there a Grand Prix circuit there? I knew the Italian Grand Prix was also held at the Monza circuit. What I hadn’t appreciated was that San Marino Grand Prix was held 100km’s down the road at Imola.

The Imola circuit had it transpired hosted the Italian Grand Prix whilst the Monza circuit was being remodelled (after numerous tragic fatal crashes). So the owners of the (Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari) circuit asked the Automobile Club, in the nearby Republic of San Marino, to apply for their own Grand Prix and the San Marino Grand Prix was born.

The road from Rimini on the coast was a twisty turny affair as it rose up from sea level to 1,722 ft and our designated overnight motorhome parking at Borgo Maggiore.

The large motorhome parking area was only a short uphill stretch to the cable car station, where for €4.50 return we were transported up to the centre of the town. Although arriving at the top was bit of a shock as we were immediately confronted with 30 or 40 tourists jostling to take selfies of the hazy views below.

Disappointed to discover we were going to have to share the place with others. We set off on a route away from the groups lead by guides holding up widgets on telescopic sticks, we climbed our way up to the first of the three main castles on the top of the long ridge that San Marino is built on.

Aside from no GP circuit and the attractive castles founded in 1301, San Marino which is also known as the Most Serene Republic of San Marino, claims to be the oldest constitutional republic in the world. It also has the smallest population of all the 47 members of the Council of Europe and the 3rd highest GDP per capita in the world. However, I suspect the lower levels of TAX than in Italy, mean purchases (perfumes, clothing etc) are cheaper and a draw for bargain hungry shoppers.

As we wandered around the maze of cobbled streets, posing and framing shots of the historic centre, it’s was a tough job to avoid the gauntlet of bizarre temptations us and our fellow tourist had to resist. I wanted us to buy a witch’s broomstick, but Lesley said no, we should take the cable car back down to Charlie.

No son, how many times have I told you, you can’t have a real AK 47

When visiting NT properties in the UK, we are used to seeing the attractively packaged grapefruit and lime fragranced gel candles. Here San Marino probably also sells scented candles but we saw more than one outlet selling crossbows, a serious selections of guns, ammunition and some very lethal looking knifes.

I suspect owning a retail outlet here in the height of the summer is quite lucrative. But what should you choose to sell? Whatever your product choice is obviously very important, when you’re competing for a share of the tourist dollar is to make sure you get your ducks in a row!

After a few of hours of castling, our empty stomachs got the better of the chains around our wallet and we succumbed to lunch in surprisingly reasonably priced San Marino restaurant.

Reflecting later, given its hilly topography, with no flat ground and its narrow winding streets. The idea of staging a Grand Prix circuit on this most un-serene rock would be a pretty stupid one.

Toodle Pip

D&L

No, hang on here’s a thought… what about if instead of F1 cars they raced Fiat 500’s?

Roaming around Romagna

Although our stay was a brief one night affair, I was quite disappointed in Castel Bolognese. For a start they don’t have a castle and bolognese is apparently in reference to the famous meat sauce said to originate from down the road in Bologna, but where they also don’t have a proper castle!

Swiftly moving on…

I have to say our arrival in Brisighella wasn’t text book. Turning off the main road as directed by camper parking sign, we were immediately confronted with a 2.5m width restriction (Charlie is 2.3m wide). Managing to squeeze the van between the rear of 4 parked cars and an immovable roadworks sign, we were about to cross an unmanned railway line when we realised the road ahead was blocked by the roadworks. “Oh flip” there was nothing for it but a nervy multi point turn of a 7.5m long motorhome on the railway line. Wasting no time we quickly managed to regain the main road. That’s what you might call a twitchy _ _ _ moment!

Brisighella does have a castle (sorry castel) they also have a nice looking clock tower perched on a rock 400 steps above the town. The clock tower works on a six-hour system, compared to the 12-hour one on my watch. Perhaps that means everything here takes twice as long?

The arches of Donkey’s Alley

Donkey Alley is a raised and covered road lit by half-moon-shaped arches and said to be the only one of its kind in the world. Built in the 12th and 13th centuries as a defence fortification, it was later used for carrying chalk on donkeys from the quarries in the surrounding valley.

Brisighella’s history originates from an unexpected source. The surrounding hills are rich in gypsum, which was used by the Romans in making cement. Gypsum crystals were used as glass panes.

La Rocca fortress was built in 1228, ok so it’s a fortress but it looks like a castle and it’s on a hill. We know it’s on a hill because we cycled up it….

The clock tower with Brisighella below
View towards The Monticino Church – on the third of Bisighella’s 3 Hills

Our bike ride was going to be a there and back affair with the first half all up hill although not too steep. And at least we had the excuse to stop and take a breather and take in the vistas on either side of the ridge.

During our standard visit to the tourist information office we had been told that the area was renowned for it’s gypsum and “is what the town was known for in Medieval times.”

Near the top of the climb we left the bikes to follow a sign to the Continico Cave. We imaged it was just off the road but after 20 minutes of walking down we were about to turn back when the cave appeared. As it turned out it wasn’t that impressive and definitely not worth the slog back up. However as we turned to retrace our steps, we noticed lots of small sparkling crystal-like stones. A quick rub and our trek down was rewarded with a small gypsum souvenir.

We liked Brisighella, we’d had a good ride, recharged all our batteries and (Gary & Jen you’ll pleased to hear) we caught up with essential laundry and van washing.

Ravenna

We can be a bit fussy when it comes to finding the ideal spot to park Charlie for the night, somewhere safe and legal, not too noisy and if possible with a nice sculpture to look at.

At night Ravenna’s old town blossomed with a multitude of attractive looking bars and restaurants, with people sitting outside even in February.

Only opened in December this building was originally a covered market and has been renovated to contain lots of trendy bars and food outlets. We were attracted by a stall selling Piadina, a thin Italian flatbread, typical of the Emilia-Romagna region that is folded and filled. Washed down with beer and wine it was surprisingly good.

Not a particularly detailed mosaic but I liked that with just a few tiles it manages to captures the faraway look of the sitter – It appealed to me.

  • Some of the finest surviving Byzantine mosaics are preserved in the city of Ravenna. 
  • The Byzantine Empire, so-called for the former name of Constantinople, was the Eastern portion of the Roman Empire.
  • The surviving Byzantine art is predominantly religious and follow traditional models that translate their carefully controlled church theology into artistic terms.

Lesley cycling past the church of San Vitale where the mosaic’s of the roman Emperor Justinian can be seen and which we only found out later was one of the best in Ravenna.

Cycling in Ravenna is not quite on the Cambridge scale but locals young and old move around on their (not necessarily trendy) bikes with ease. This map from the tourist office was designed to fit on the bikes handlebars and it made navigating our way between the various sites easy.

Whilst touring around the streets we came across a plaque with a quote by Henry James who was a big fan of Ravennna:

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”

Classe

Our next stopover was about 6km’s south of the city where we found a flat route to cycle alongside a canal where Lesley spotted several beavers living in the riverbank. The track wound its way through the pine forest to a waterway with fishing houses that have huge nets which are lowered into the river.

What’s the collective noun for fishermen – ‘An exaggeration of anglers’ perhaps

We intended to cycle as far as Cervia but a local man approached us excitedly and managed to tell us in broken Inglish! If we approached with care we could catch a glimpse of some rare Egyptian Ibis that had flow in from West Africa and were just of the road in the Salt Pans before Cervia.

The iphone is not good enough to get a close up of the Sacred Egyptian Ibis – This one is borrowed.

In making the detour to see the Ibis we headed back along forest track, but only after about a mile Lesley discovered she must have dropped her mobile phone on a ramp near the salt pans. A mad dash followed with Dave arriving at the spot just as two dog walkers simultaneously discovered it. A bit breathless Entalian and the iphone was soon handed over..

With Sat Nav set for our next destination San Marino we made a small detour to find a coastal spot to have our lunch by the sea. We couldn’t face going to Rimini and with almost every other inch of the seaside fronted by hotels, finding a nice place wasn’t straightforward but we did manage at Valverde to locate a seafront carpark with views of the unusual sea defences.

Bypassing Rimini meant missing the eight hundred hotels and one thousand bars, restaurants and nightclubs, but I’m sure we’ll cope!

Before I sign off I thought I’d share a couple of more quotes this time by Groucho Marx;

Outside of a dog, a book is your best friend, and inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.

Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.

Toodle Pip

D & L

The Italian Job

When I heard that a German film production company were planning to do a re-make of “you were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off”, I didn’t believe it until, when leaving Les Gets we spotted these 3 Mini’s (sorry BMW’s) in the car park at LiDL…., so it must be true. I wonder if they’ll ask Michael Caine to play the lead again?

The German’s aren’t the only one’s off to Italy, after stocking up with supplies we decided to make a quick dash through the Mont Blanc tunnel (€60 ouch) and down the Aosta valley to try to reach some drier weather on the southern side of the Alps.

1 o’clock
4 o’clock

After a long afternoon’s drive we made it to a MoHo service point close to the town of Biella 60 miles west of Milan. We thought Biella would be a useful stepping stone as they had a Vodafone store in a large shopping Mall. To save retelling all the frustration of how much time Dave has spent on the phone to Vodafone or on their ‘live chat’, trying to organise a replacement for the Vodafone 30GB data SIM….. “No we don’t want a new 12 month contract” Anyway. After checking out a few other data SIM providers, we managed to buy from Vodafone! a 100GB / 90 day contract for 60 euro which we think will last us until we get back.

Torrezzetta

Heading south and east, we picked out Torrazzetta, an agritourismo just south of Pavia for our next stay. It wasn’t a difficult decision especially when we discovered you could stay for free when eating in their restaurant that served regional dishes complemented by wines they produced themselves.., we thought, it’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it.

The Torrezzetta agriturismo

According to the very friendly English-speaking hostess, Torrazzetta was previously their family farm that in 1984 was transformed by her Grandparents into the first farm stay (agriturismo) in the province of Pavia (possibly the 1st in Lombardy?).

This could be where Marvin Gaye first heard it…..!

We had the parking area in a huge field at the top of the residence carpark to ourselves. There was no electricity or other services but with views of the vineyards surrounding the farm and the rolling landscape beyond it wasn’t too shabby a spot for a couple of nights.

In Italy, agriturismi (that’s the plural form of the word) must by law be working farms, and guests must be served items grown on the farm – whether that’s wine or olive oil from the estate’s vineyards and orchards or fresh produce culled from the house’s small private garden. Many agriturismi pride themselves on not only using ingredients grown on their property but bringing all other foodstuffs required from a short distance away. The focus is often on hyper-local and seasonal food in a rural and picturesque setting

This is Dave on his bike before he and the bike got caked in mud when the route we took went from muddy track to field edge quagmire. Keeping your balance in mud is usually ok unless it’s really thick stuff and you lose momentum. Then, well you might fall into a prickly hedge, but that couldn’t happen could it?

Parma

Since Roman times, the unique conditions of the Parma region have made it possible to produce the highest quality hams, that have been appreciated by gourmets for centuries. ‘Prosciutto’ is from the Latin ‘perexsuctum‘ meaning ‘dried‘ – an indication of the purity of Parma Ham production and its ancient roots. It was in 100 BC that Cato the “Censor” first mentioned the extraordinary flavour of the air cured ham made around the town of Parma in Italy.

The centre of Parma was easy to get into taking the no. 23 bus from just outside our Area Camper Sosta, although we ended up not paying as the ticket machine was, as a helpful fellow Italian passenger explained, ‘Kaput’ – I didn’t realise I looked German.

This delicatessen was like an Aladdin’s cave for foodies – Full to bursting with Parma hams, Parmigiano-Reggiano and local wines.

We didn’t end up buying any ham but did have a very nice lunch in the ‘Ristorante Corale Verdi” just by the park. Which meant we of course had to sample prosciutto di parma and a local speciality called torta fritta (fried bread made with butter, flour and milk shaped into pouches). All the while surrounded by the music and images on the walls of Giuseppe Verdi.

This is a small yet prosperous city, that isn’t especially spectacular, but Parma was definitely worth visiting. With lots of competition for the crown of food capital of Italy producing two of Italy’s most famous exports Parmesan cheese and prosciutto gives it considerable bragging rights.

Before leaving we felt the need to get the bikes out again and begin the process of waistline recovery after all the mountain food in Les Gets and for what is to come. It remains to be seen if the Italian cycle routes are as good as those in Germany. But we both got a good work out fighting our way along on the MTB trail we found today.

Modena

Italy is starting to get to us, Lesley and I have not yet fully succumbed to all the tempting guiles of Italian food, however our resistance is weakening. Visiting Modena started ok, we felt in control. The usual visit to the I office to pick up a map and tips about the historical centre. Although in a moment of weakness whilst in the tourist office we did accidentally make a reservation for a Balsamic vinegar tasting….oops. Our wallet and waistlines also survived largely intact after the all too tempting excursion around Albinelli indoor market. But dear reader, we have to confess we could not resist the temptations of Modena gelato.

The ice cream was sooo good

Ferrari – Maranello

Ferrari needs no introduction of course, but I have to confess I wasn’t entirely sure why I wanted to go to see lots of expensive red cars, that wouldn’t fit my 6’4″ frame let alone our bank balance! In the end curiosity got the better of my inverted snobbery.

You don’t have to be a petrol head to get Ferrari. Yes the cars are special but once again it’s the story of the people behind the cars that made this place come alive. Enzo Ferrari started out racing Alfa’s before the war. In 1929 he founded the Scuderia Ferrari team, racing Alfa Romeo’s before borrowing money to start his original factory.

The history of the development of the designs and technology behind the race performance raised the small hairs on the back of my neck. When first setting up the factory in Maranello, the area had many farmers but very few engineers, so Enzo built an academy to train Ferrari’s own. It is difficult not to be impressed. Ferrari is the oldest surviving and most successful Formula 1 team, having competed in every world championship since 1950 and holds the record for the most Grands Prix victories, having won 238 times.

After not being sure why I wanted to go, I ended up enjoying the museum immensely and was especially pleased not to break the F1 simulator which was great fun.

Acetaia ClaraMaranello

Since the friendly chap from the sosta club had recommended a balsamic producer Acetaia Clara we decided to investigate. We navigated into someones back yard following an acetaia sign. Indicating in our best sign language we wanted to taste vinegars, the shop/tasting room was opened up – a large room in an outbuilding. A leaflet was found in English, and soon spoonfuls of rich, dark vinegar were tasted, including vinegar on parmesan cheese.. We ended up buying a 25 year old and a sweet liquid called Saba made from grape must used in desserts.

We didn’t know how yummy Balsamic was with parmesan cheese

Acetaia Leonardi – Modena

We had pre-booked another tasting via the tourist information at Acetaia Leonardi. When we arrived it was a very grand looking place.

Balsamic vinegar tour guide

We had a really informative guide who showed us around the premises explaining how balsamic vinegar is made from slow cooking juice from Trebbiano and Lambrusco grapes, then aged in wooden barrels, each year moving to a smaller barrel with the different woods adding complexity.

What’s really impressive to see is the barrels of 100 old vinegars that were started by the grandparents, knowing they were passing on the legacy to their children and their children’s children, but they would not get to taste the fruits of their labour themselves…..

Ok – so where next?

Toodle Pip

“This is the Self Preservation Society, This is Self Preservation Society”

Leaks in Les Gets

Skiing can be an expensive holiday, especially if you go at peak times, to exclusive hotels and chalets can be eye-wateringly expensive. Then there’s the ski equipment, lessons and all those tempting spa treatments to consider. By booking in September 2019 our two Les Gets ski passes cost us £725 for the whole ski season from December to April, plus 3 x 1 day passes for any of the other ski resort in the Haute Savoie. This compares to around £500 per week for two individual passes. A bit of a bargain methinks.

The car park at the bottom of the Les Perrieres ski run would therefore be our home for the next few weeks. We hadn’t been here in a motorhome before but had stayed last year close by at Praz de Lys. So we were quite surprised when we arrived to meet a couple we’d got talking to 12 months ago whilst down in Cluses servicing Charlie I .

Judging by the big pile of snow next to our parking spot, Les Gets had had plenty of snow over the last few days. And with Charlie II parked in a ski-in, ski-out spot we we were very excited to get going and reacquaint ourselves with the pistes and to sample as many as possible of mountain huts.

Every few days we need to service the van at the nearby Flot Blue to empty the waste water, add fresh water etc. Whilst backing up on one of these trips Lesley noticed spots of oil where the van had been parked.

We checked the oil and it was on the lower mark….. Looking at the engine under-tray it was covered in oil so we had a problem. I hadn’t checked the oil recently we therefore had no idea how serious the leak was. We called our insurance and after adding a litre of (very expensive €19.80) engine oil we made arrangements to drive it to the nearest Fiat commercial garage.

The European assistance via our insurers Comfort were excellent – very attentive and helpful throughout. They offered to to recover us to the garage but as Charlie II is over two years old any repair costs would be down to us.

The Fiat garage was at Anthy-sur-Léman on the south side of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva), where we found a free MoHo parking place to overnight on the lake shore.

Digressing for a moment – A few days earlier Lesley lost both of the soft plastic bits on the bridge of her Silhouette glasses and had to resort to her spare pair. We had no luck getting replacements in the opticians in Les Gets. We went to two more in Morzine. The first couldn’t help and the second said “Je ñ’en ai pas” he (didn’t have any) or that’s what Lesley heard when he gave them back to her.

So whilst waiting for the garage to open we spotted another optician – Lesley was about to hand over her specs when she notice the bridge pads were in place??? Making a quick about turn to hide her embarrassment, she slowly began to realise the man in Morzine must have made very quick work of fixing them, either that or it was the fairies working overtime….!

Back to the oil leak – Well after a short wait the technician came back to announce it was good news, the leak was from a punctured oil filter (probably by a stone). However with parts, oil and labour the bill was 130 euros, but I guess it could have been a whole lot worse.

With Charlie II now as good as new, we headed back to Les Perrieres to catch up on more skiing stopping by at the patisserie en-route to buy our favourite cakes a Mille-feuille for Lesley and Religieuses au chocolat for Dave.

These snow covered trees had a life like quality – as if they moved or danced when the slopes were empty!

A big dump of fresh snow made the task of trying to visit all of the squillian mountain huts in the Les Gets /Morzine ski area that much easier. We still have a few to do but currently Le Vaffieu, Chez Nannon and La Grande Ourse on the Mont Cherry are our favourites.

The outside oven at Chez Nannon where the meats are cooked

Getting around Les Gets is really easy so most days we’d ski straight back to the van or if we ended up in town we could hop on one of the 4 free buses routes that after a scenic (pensioners) detour all took us passed Les Perrieres.

The Ski 2 Chalet Fleur de Neige

After nearly three weeks in the van in the Les Perrieres motorhome car park we were ready to share a bit of luxury in the Ski 2 chalet with my nephew Chris and his wife Laura.

Chris Laura & Lesley

Poor Laura aggravated an old riding injury on her back, after just a few days skiing and quite sensibly decided to take it easy for the remainder of the week leaving Chris to have the ski instructor to himself and by the end week had developed from his snow plough into a few parallel turns.

Not sure what holds up Le Chasse Montagne’s log fire chimney?

For our last day we decided to go to one of the few remaining restaurants we hadn’t visited this time the very nice Le Chasse Montagne. With access from both the slopes and by bus we all managed to meet up for a very nice lunch.

We arrived in Les Gets on the 7th January and have had some really good weather with blue skies, sunshine and cold crisp (-10) nights over the last 27 days, creating some just perfect skiing conditions. But the last couple of days the temperature has risen to 10 degrees bringing rain rather than snow. So with this set to continue we have decided to up sticks and head south.

But as we were preparing to leave, with the rain pouring down and getting heavier and heavier that’s when I found this big leak…., oh please yourself!

Toodle Pip

D&L