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

Something fishy

In 2018, an estimated 1.8 billion people worldwide purchased goods online. During the same year global e-retail sales amounted to 2.8 trillion U.S. dollars. Ecommerce in the United Kingdom increased in 2019 by 14.6 percent to over 200 billion euros. So I’m not the only one buying a few things on the internet.

Whilst at home over Christmas we decided to back up our batteries and solar panel output with a purchase of an inverter generator. With the idea for it to be shipped to the Ski 2 Chalet in Les Gets for us to collect when we arrived. Searching around the net for the best price etc, I found Generators Direct who had a good selection and lots of technical information. Before ordering I checked with Ski 2 to make sure they were ok to take delivery and rung the Generator Direct number to confirm delivery cost to France.

With all the arrangements in place I went back to the Generator Direct web site and ordered a Honda EU10i Suitcase Generator. Providing the delivery address in Les Gets. as required. Shortly after I received a payment confirmation email.

It was great to be home for Christmas and spend time with the family in Scotland and to enjoy a relaxing time being at home in Cumbria. Our good friends Gary and Jen who had collected us, transported us back to Manchester airport for our flight on the 3rd January and a couple hours later RyanAir landed us back into Bergamo. After a short wait we were transported from the airport and quickly reunited with Charlie II at Booking Camper‘s (local motorhome hire company) storage facility.

The winter daylight was fast fading as we arrived at the entrance to the Area Sosta Camper Città dei Mille in the centre of Bergamo, where we’d spent 2 days in before Christmas, so we soon settled into the familiar surroundings.

Having drained everything down and emptied the tanks before leaving, our first priority was fresh water. However in our haste the fresh water hose was passed into the van, just as Lesley was preoccupied with mopping up a mysterious liquid coming from the fridge area – a quick look into the freezer explained the cause of the smell we’d noticed on initially entering the van. Fish had been left in the freezer 😱 and awful liquid was leaking out.

So whilst Lesley is trying to deal with the smelly fish juice, at the same time filling the fresh water. Dave helpfully comes in, offers to stand on the water hose to keep it in place but instead stands in fish juice in his size 12’s, the hose flails about spraying water everywhere. What a mess!

After much mopping up, the watery re-acquaintance fiasco was ended, or so we thought. Needing food, we elected to make use of the 10% discounted pizza vouchers given out by the camp site. Arriving back Lesley tried to fill kettle – but no water. Someone had asked Lesley to close the outlet valve but someone had not specified which one. Lesley had closed waste water valve not realising there was a second fresh water valve. So, at 10:30 in the evening we were back out in the dark filling the water again so we’re able shower in the morning. 

Next day Dave spent the morning fitting the replacement solar charge controller he’d smuggled past the airport security on our return flight from the UK. Which, wait for it, gave us chance to catch up on our washing, yeah…..

As we drove west across Bergamo, our route to washerie was lit by gorgeous winter sunset.

I won’t dwell on small(s) talk, but we spent an interesting! time talking to a local Italian with OCD who spent 60 mins folding his family’s laundry! – Oh we know how to live it up on a Saturday night!

Avoiding the Swiss Vignette or the performance-related heavy vehicle fee (HVF)? or tunnel tolls. There are a few ways to cross the alps either via the one of the high alpine passes or the more expensive tunnels routes. We chose to enter the country via the Simplon Pass.

Making it to the top of the pass before it dusk, reminded of us of making the same journey a few years ago in a hire car without winter tyres. We emerged from a tunnel on the Italian side near the top of the pass to 4 inches of fresh snow. On that occasion we managed to spin, slip and skid our way over the top and on to drier tarmac on the other side.

On this occasion the snow ploughs had cleared the roads days ago including the summit car park, where we enjoyed a quiet night on our own under the stars, with only the early morning trans border commuters to break the silence of the mountains.

The next morning we headed down to the town of Brigg in the valley floor for supplies. 30 kms further on we climbed up again to find the motorhome parking place we’d identified near the small hamlet of Savièse, high above the town of Sion.

Disappointingly the parking area was for some reason fenced off. However we managed to squeeze Charlie on to a levellish spot close by with super views of the mountain villages lightning up the hillside at night.

The next morning we ventured off for a short uphill walk to find the Bisse de Savièse Torrent Neuf. Nieither of us had heard of a Bisse before but reading later up they remind me of the leats we have in the UK (artificial watercourses or aqueducts dug into the ground, more often to supply watermills).

A bisse is an irrigation canal, generally 5 to 10 kilometres long, taking its water from a torrent or small river at the bottom of a side valley resulting from the melting of glaciers. Its purpose is to supply water to various crops, orchards, vineyards or simply meadows for fodder.

The big difference between the Bisse in Switzerland and the leats we have at home are the sections constructed with timbers fixed to the rockface. These channels and super scary walkways carry the water round the contours of the mountain. It is mad, crazy, gravity defying and completely awe inspiringly ridiculous.

As it was winter the walkways are closed (for safety reasons!) I think in all honesty we were rather relieved. Otherwise I may have not be writing this? Clearly we did make it safely back to the van and set off towards Martigny and the French border.

Having planned to just drive through Switzerland we had not stopped to change any euros for Swiss Francs, Stopping at the first bakery, Lesley had the embarrassment of ordering bread (and cakes) only to have put them back when she found they wouldn’t accept euros cor cards.

The route from Martigny over the Col des Montets and the Route de la Forclazto to Chamonix was a proper mountain pass with lots of hairpin bends to negotiate first up then down. Not a journey I would fancy in any vehicle in the depths of winter.

After topping with LPG and supplies in Cluses in the valley we made up the last 15 miles to Les Gets and the Perrieres parking lot, at the bottom of the red ski run making our home a ski in – ski out location for the next few weeks.

I hadn’t expected to hear from Generator Direct over Christmas and the New year holiday period, but as it was the now the 5th January I was beginning to think it strange I had not heard anything regarding a delivery date. Having sent an email the day before I decided to ring them.

There was no answer from the telephone number I ‘d previously used before Christmas. Finding the Generators Direct web site. I rang that number. They had no record of our order. Alarm bells started to ring. Soon all became clear.

Generator Direct it transpired was a clone website of the perfectly legitimate business Generators Direct.

We spent the best part of a morning on phone to the credit card company and registering an incident with Action Fraud (police team dealing with this type of fraud). According to Generators Direct the clone web site had been set up 6 weeks before xmas and we weren’t the only ones to be caught. After taking lots of details the card company told they had to give the scam supplier time to deliver and to ring back in 30 days and they will refund our money.

The moral of this tale then, if it smells fishy it probably is fishy…..

Toodle Pip

D&L

Dolomite Sprint

A report out this week found that foreign language learning is at its lowest level in UK secondary schools since the turn of the millennium, with German and French falling the most. Therefore I’m ashamed to confess that I’m rubbish at languages and almost always defer to Lesley, that is except in the case of Russian. Where I have a handy phase or two “Moye sudno na vozdushnoy podushke polno ugrey!”

Travelling around the South Tyrol working out what the language is can be very confusing – as although part of Italy, the first tongue of the locals in the Süd Tyrol is German. So you end up not knowing whether it Buongiorno or Guten Morgen…or even some obscure regional Dolomite dialect.

Arriving at the pretty town of Brixen/Bressanone (the map producer is also confused) was a place, we realised later, we have been to before, although not a town with great memories. As on a ski trip a few years ago our friend Rosie O’Shaughnessy fell and broke her hip the very instance she first put her skis down on the snow. Which resulted in a air ambulance journey to Brixen hospital.

We walked into town from our motorhome car-park heading for the Xmas market and hoping (Dave) to find a place for a pizza. The market in front of the Cathedral was quite small and was selling the Italian variation of Christmas market gifts (plastic domes with shakable glittery snow scenes). Not tempted we wandered around the old town admiring the Advent calendar on the windows of a building in the square, but not finding pizza we ended up eating back in Charlie II.

Technically the bumps they call the Dolomites are in the Italian Alps, but they’re quite different in appearance from the rest of the Alps. Although in many ways when the sun catches the soft brown colouring it can make them more striking than say Mont Blanc, Matterhorn or or Eiger. That said, the Matterhorn is pretty stunning..!

The Dolomites, also known as the “Pale Mountains”, take their name from the carbonate rock dolomite. This was named after 18th-century French mineralogist Déodat Gratet de Dolomieu (1750–1801).

After 12 consecutive nights without mains electric, we decided we needed a bit of luxury. Biting the bullet, we paid €28 to the campsite in Corones for a hedge protected pitch, electric hook up and hot plentiful showers with toasty-warm heated floors.

En route we took a detour for some food from the market stall in Brunico (Bruneck). Here, there’s a new Mountain Museum created by a local hero, the climber Reinhold Messner, but unfortunately along with all the shops it was closed for a two hour lunch, maybe next time.

Slowly recovering from the shock to budget from the campsite, our next priority was a top up with diesel and what turned out to be another hit in the wallet. Looking back I think we were spoilt by the price of fuel in Belgium where diesel is typically €1.20 per ltr. So it came as quite a jolt, when at the first Sud Tyrol stop we had to pay €1.70, yes €1.70 per litre.

Heading southwards, we passed through the Italian ski resort Cortina d’Ampezzo (the site of the 1956 Winter Olympics). This reminded me of one of the very first special cars I owned a 1966 Ford Cortina MK1 GT. 

The Ford Cortina wasn’t always destined to be named after an Italian ski resort. It started life as Project Archbishop and could have been Caprino, until somebody realised the latter is a slang word for goat dung

It was just lovely driving through Dolomites, carefree in the sunshine and although some of the roads were narrow there wasn’t much traffic. So we were both woken up with a fright, when after a bit of climbing to go over a high pass, (with Sat Nav trying to make us turn round) without any earlier warning a 3.0 m high tunnel sign appeared immediately before a hacked out hole in the rock with the road going through it. Our Carthago is 2.85m high so all we could do was close our eyes and keep to the middle……!

Charlie and I admiring the views!

I wonder how long this piece of tarmac string would be if it were stretched out straight?

After a couple hours of climbing up the twisty stuff we found our target for the night, the small ski town of Arabba. We didn’t stop to ski (a mistake in hindsight) and left early the next day after a free overnight carpark (including free hookup!) care of the very generous people of Arabba. With a bit more up to come we made our way on to toward Selva Val Gardena. As we reached and descended down from the highest part of the route we passed an attractive looking ski town of Corvara and Colfosco on a high plateau with some great looking ski runs.

Back once again to familiar territory, we stayed one night in Saint Christiana (one of the smaller satellite villages of the Selva Val Gardena). Finally Dave had his pizza wish in a posh hotel preening itself for the big influx of visitors at the weekend when the Ski World Cup Series comes to the area. We missed that but were entertained by daft locals practicing handbrake turns and Lewis Hamilton style doughnuts on the snow around a pole in the centre of our huge carpark at the ski station.

Finding free (or low cost) places to park in this region are rarer than hens teeth. Having been to this area a few times before our aim was to go ski at Alpe di Siusi. We weren’t permitted to park at the ski station but we discovered ‘The Sporthutte’ – a small out of town pizzeria restaurant in Kastelrotto with parking for campers including hook up but no other services for €25.

The upside was ‘The Sporthutte’ gave us a €10 meal voucher for each night (2) we stayed. Dave had pizza and beer two three nights in a row. Happy man.

The Seiser Alm is an easy part of the Sella Ronda ski circuit with lots of easy reds and blue runs, just perfect for us to get our ski legs going.

One of my favourite places to stop and eat/drink when out skiing is in this small hamlet with a pretty church. When we’ve been before, the warmth of the atmosphere pours out of the door when you go inside. With a large traditional green tiled oven being the centre piece of this cozy welcoming spot.

Alas no more, I haven’t got a photograph of what it was like before. But it has been gutted and completely modernised, all very trendy and chic with spot lights and coordinated coloured seating with matching throws! But they have ruined it. I’m utterly bereft. sob, sob

The car park at the base of the Seiser Alm gondola gets very busy and we were concerned that it might be tight for Charlie to make his escape after our last day, but he managed ok and we set off for an overnighter at Trento or is it Trentino?

After a couple of really enjoyable days of perfect skiing weather in the Sud Tyrol it was time to make positive tracks towards Bergamo and to find the storage place we’d organised for Charlie whilst we returned home to the UK.

Before leaving for Manchester, we caught a train just outside the campsite and the ticket (very cheap) entitled us to go on the buses and the funicular railway up to Bergamo’s picturesque old town, where there was time to explore the cobbled streets and catch up on some last minute Christmas shopping.

Shopping complete, our last task was to wrap a parcel for the rellies in France. With an attractive combination of tourist maps sealed with gaffer tape the package was ready for dispatch. Ah but don’t under estimate the frustration Italian postal bureaucracy can impart. One hour and many yards of brown tape (to cover the maps) and €44 lighter and the gifts were finally on their way.

I thinking he’s having a last minute sit down waiting for his sleigh to arrive before heading off to do the rounds.

There we go a quick Sprint round the Dolomites brings an end to our 2019 Rundfahrt. With Charlie safely berthed for the next 2+ weeks at a motorhome storage place. All that’s left to do is to maintain our sanity as we negotiate the joys of the RyanAir check-in experience for our flight home to Manchester.

Thanks for reading – please leave your comments. The next post will be in 2020, lets see where the new year takes us….

Toodle Pip

Dave & Lesley

Any Russians speakers will have translated “Moye sudno na vozdushnoy podushke polno ugrey!” to My hovercraft is full of eels” and Monty Python fans will no doubt wish to point out the phrase was from the 1971 sketch ‘Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook’ so in fact not Russian at all …….

Go No Go

If you want to drive a vehicle in Austria and it weighs more than 3.5 tons (including all lorries, buses and heavy camper vans). A mileage-based toll applies on Austria’s motorways and expressways and you need a Go Box. The box costs €5 to buy and it must be loaded with a £75.00 minimum pre-payment. owch.

Electing to enter Austria without a Go Box meant avoiding the motorways and sticking to the minor roads, unless we wanted to risk a rumoured €2,000 fine. Following this plan the initial part of the route was a 600m decent down through Möserer. Judging by the smell of the Carthago’s brakes, if they could talk they would have shouting ENOUGH already!

This image doesn’t look as steep as it was but the descent was about 600 metres in about 6kms.

Care had to be taken after going through Landeck town to avoid the motorway tunnel and take the by-pass. Safely avoided we negotiated our way over the Resia /Reschen pass and into Italy.

Having spent the morning before we left walking the Leutasch Gorge and then with the 3 hour non motorway drive we ended up arriving about 4:30 at the parking lot on the other side of the lake from Reschen am See, just as the sun was going down behind the hills giving them a pinkish tinge.

Charlie looked a bit lonely on the huge, free, ski lift car park, which was empty waiting for more snow to entice the skiers before the lift opened in a few days time.

The lone Romanesque bell tower was part of an old church from the 14th century, which was drowned along with the rest of the town’s buildings when the water flooded in and is the only remainder of the old town of Graun and former life in the valley.

There are many stories and legends about the flooding event, and the lonely bell tower is often the main subject of them. One oral story of the locals about Lake Reschen is quite scary. It tells that the church bells sometimes still ring in the deepest and coldest hours of the winter nights. And the fact is that they were removed 60 years ago, a few days before the waters came and drowned the church and the lower half of the tower.

Heading down from the mountain ridge into the valley below we set our sights on a Carthago dealer near Merano.

The water tanks on the Carthago are accessible from inside the van. The white tank is for the fresh water the black is the grey water from the sinks and shower.

Normally you should be able to open the grey water tank (lever above red cap), but it’s become disconnected from the valve in the tank! With this jammed open we now run the risk of a frozen pipe if we rely on the tap at the end of the discharge pipe. (oh no, we’ve not got to get the hair dryer out again!).

So after some research we found the nearest Carthago dealer not far from Merano and booked Charlie in for 2 days later on Monday morning to get his water works fixed.

With the weekend to wait for the waste water tank to be fixed we settled in Merano’s very busy motorhome parking place and because it was the weekend, it seemed half the motorhomers in Italy had come to see the Christmas market.

Apparently the Penguins quite enjoy being steered round by the ears!

How could we pass by a stall selling Bombardino’s – Just has to be done

The next day the garage had Charlie fixed (common fault) in half an hour for €25 and once more we were free to head of to Brixen and up into the mountains.

We are still learning about e-bikes, I like to use mine in the TURBO setting to zoom up the hills and go as fast as I can. Lesley is more frugal (I can’t possibly comment why), as a consequence I use more battery.

Being a kind and generous wee soul Lesley offered to swap batteries for a quick 6 miler up the hill behind Merano, meaning she’d would have to make what was left in mine last!. A slight navigational error on my part meant the route grew to 10 miles. No problem for me with Lesley’s battery on board. But…… well my battery did last 6 miles. Oh dear!

When traveling in the van and taking photos it is inevitable you are going to capture a fair bit of Armco or crash barriers in your images. So I think we should celebrate the much overlooked and over photographed essential piece of infrastructure.- Here we’re taking the toll free route via the tunnel whilst the A22 Autostrade towers above us.

That’s it for now we managed to get through Austria without a Go Box and I survived giving Lesley my No Go battery, just!

Toodle Pip, Dave & Lesley

I thought it time to apologise for the many typo’s you have to endure when reading this blog, but to point out it could be worse!

Gust becos I cud not spel It did not mean I was daft. When the boys in school red my riting. Some of them laffed. But now I am the dictator. They have to rite like me. Utherwise they cannot pas Ther GCSE.

Some of the girls were ok. But those who laffed a lot. Have al been rownded up. And hav recintly bean shot. The teecher who corrected my speling. As not been shot at al. But four the last fifteen howers. As bean standing up against a wal.

He has to stand ther until he can spel. Figgymisgrugifooniyn the rite way I think he will stand ther forever. I just inventid it today.

We nearly missed Mittenwald

We almost drove straight past Mittenwald. Our plans as we left Garmish was to head for Innsbruck for a quick look at the Austrian Christmas market, before making a dash for Italy. However we were still uncertain whether we needed a ‘Go-Box‘ in Austria as Charlie II is over 3.5 tons.

On a whim we elected to stop another night in Germany and Mittenwald was the last town before the Austrian border with a Stellplatz. An empty, quiet spot by a river with mountain views to wake up to.

Because you did so well with the riddles on the last post I thought you’d like one more – or maybe not? Answers on a postcard.

A woman is sitting in her hotel room when there is a knock at the door. She opened the door to see a man whom she had never seen before. He said “oh I’m sorry, I have made a mistake, I thought this was my room.” He then went down the corridor and in the elevator. The woman went back into her room and phoned security. What made the woman so suspicious of the man?

Once again the cycle paths took us past some intersting spots including the back of this beautifully decorated wood shed

It really isn’t that cold – Ok I’m lying it’s blumin freezing

Even though it was cold we still decided it would be ok for a bike ride, so wrapping up warm we headed for one of the many cycle routes found via our friendly Komoot app.

The pretty Lautersee lake

As our cycle experience grows, we are learning from lessons along the way. Firstly if a route looks rocky and stupidly steep, it probably is! and before ordering food at a restaurant make sure you’ve brought enough CASH.

Needing a warm up, we found Gemütlichkei restaurant serving local comfort food right on the edge of the lake. The wood burning stove soon warmed our cold hands. Lesley went for the flat potatoes with apple sauce and I had the spinach Spätzle washed down with a small beer. As they were both specials the menu pricing (in German) wasn’t very clear. Perfect. Except when we came to pay they (like many places in Germany) didn’t accept credit cards, for the €22.50 bill…. In the end the waiter was very nice and accepted our emergency €20 note and our gratitude….

Chapel of the Queen of Mary

With warmed hands and red faces from our embarrassing payment saga we headed down the trail and back to the town.

Ace mountain “biker Dave” with the ever so slightly more impressive Karwendel Alps in the background

We really enjoyed a whizz round the area and decided (shock horror) to stay another night to do a walk to the gorge.

We are on the receiving end of a Pay It Forward moment today. Recovering in the van after our ride, there was a knock on the door and instead of the carkpark attendant wanting see our ticket it was a Tila. A German fellow motorhomer who’d arrived a couple hours earlier, came over to offer us a bottle of beer. Tila was passing forward a similar experience he’d had from a Brit whilst he and his wife Kirsten had been touring Scotland.

We ended up spending an enjoyable couple of hours chatting to to this lovely couple and listening to their experiences of travelling through Greece in their converted lorry and discussing the need or not for the Go-Box.

Meeting Tila and Kirsten once again served to underline that it’s not the places you go to or the things you see that makes motorhome travel enjoyable and enriching, but most definitely the people you meet along the way.

Leutasch-Klamm Wasserfallsteig – The sign says “Access Forbidden”

To save time we cycled to the start and began the ‘Mountain Spirit Gorge’ with the walk up first section most definitely ‘up hill’. This is an amazing and special place. And for us because it’s winter and was technically closed (when there’s been recent snowfall), we once again we had the place to ourselves.

They started building the Walkway in August 2003 and finished in August 2005. The total length of the walkway is 450meters. The Hell bridge is 24m long and the Panorama Bridge (picture above) is 27m long. It is very steep-sided and was not opened to tourists until 2006.

As the river can swell in a flood it was necessary to locate the walkway at a height of at least 15 m above the foot of the gorge.

It mind boggling how they managed to drill the rock face. The walkway sections are constructed with steel supporting brackets and bridge abutments drilled then somehow bonded to the rock so that the whole structure seems to hover above the river.

The walkway was constructed with the help of dodgy looking temporary platforms anchored in the rockface, with the workmen suspended by ropes on the top of the gorge.

The construction costs of the Austro-German project to build the 970 metre long walkways in this steep sided gorge, including the steel and the two bridges, was approx. 1.4 million euros, supported by EU funding.

So what a great place, we didn’t even visit the violin museum! or the Karwendelbah cable car up to the ski area on the Austrian border. Ok so there’s no doubt that Mittenwald will be a much busier place in the summer time, this is definitely going on the not to be missed next time either list…

Toodle Pip

D&L

Answer – You don’t knock on your own hotel door and the man did.