rain, savage storms have lashed Italy and Greece in the past two days - or so
the news says. Our crossing of the Adriatic last night and this morning was calm
(apart from a bit of rolling) and the sun rose over the sea, highlighting the
first snows on the Italian Alps as we sailed into Ancona.
of flooding was apparent in some of the towns we drove through along the coast
today. But, all we saw was a few hours of showers. Now settled in Rome, there
are a few showers about but little to show for the storms that passed through
the Alps from the Adriatic to Rome is an interesting drive with long tunnels,
spectacular bridges and 'viaducts'. The coast from Ancona south is one
continuous city for well over 100 kms. The 'season' is over now and all is
relatively quiet. But! It is easy to imagine the chaos here six or eight weeks
ago when the tourists were about and the beaches were crowded.
is a big thing in Italy! One can talk in a car; talk beside the road;
talk on TV for hours on end! When talking in any of these places, one
must use the hands. Fine. But on the autostrada in traffic moving at 120 kms/hr,
social chats between two women in a small Fiat fluctuating between 100 kms/hr
and 20 kms/hr - depending on the intensity of conversation and how much hair
adjustment is needed - can become more than a little tedious as hundreds of
trucks, BMWs, (at 170 kms/hr), and a lone Campervan attempt today's challenge -
surviving another day with Italian drivers!
are simple. Show no fear. Exceed the design limits of your vehicle by at least
10% at all times and never allow a space of more than 20cms between vehicles.
This is an 'if you can't beat them - join them' situation. A faint heart will
never survive on these roads. Grit your teeth, put your foot down, use your
indicator and horn and go like the clappers.
hour today with the change in time zones - VERY noticeable in terms of the sun
- we have come quite a distance west.
Rome! Veni, vidi, vici.!!
- 22 November
'lost night' with fellow travelllers has again caused a lapse in our diary
discipline as a result of a very late night!
we spent the whole day at the Vatican. For the first time in nearly nine weeks
the weather was foul! Wave after wave of squally storms crossed the city
culminating in a major down-pour just as we reached the top of the cupola of St
Peter's - the end of a mega-climb of several hundred stairs. We avoided the
worst of the storm by ducking between columns out of the wind. This one storm
was the worst of it but the day was generally glum except for the couple of
hours that we spent inside the Vatican museum, when of course the sun belted
2000 is the
Jubilee year of Christianity and the Vatican has spent a fortune cleaning and
restoring St Peter's and most of the church's other significant artistic and
historic wealth. The ceiling and The Last Judgment of the Sistine Chapel have
been cleaned in what has been hailed as the artistic event of the century. The
result is spectacular!
transport in Rome is relatively cheap and very efficient. A day ticket on all
suburban trains, trams, buses and metro costs 6000L ($AUS 5.00). From our camp
to the centre of town is about a 10 minute trip. Trains are not overly crowded
and the much-publicised threat of theft on trains and in public places by gangs
of gypsy children and pickpockets, was not apparent to us. We are however very
careful and have everything well out of the way under coats or under our shirts
on strings around our necks - grateful for the 'cooler weather'
- ( 8 - 19 degrees centigrade today) -which makes concealment easier.
perhaps Eastern Europe has heightened our awareness? Or dulled our emotions??
Our only response to the gypsy child who got on our train this morning and fell
to her knees, weeping, was "Good show, kid, but we don't understand a
word!!" And we weren't alone - the only response from the people in the
carriage seemed to be one of anger from one man who resented this intrusion on
his morning travel.
walked most of the major sights, under clear (clean!!) blue skies! Rome has a
great 'feel'. It is vibrant, noisy, crowded like any other big city, but also
'laid back', easy-going and fun (particularly crossing the roads!). Even this
late in the year the city hosts thousands of tourists. The streets are full of
Americans who seem to have a real 'thing' for Rome. Every second sound you hear
on the streets has an American 'twang' to it, often preceded by a radio signal,
as they like to "keep in touch" with the people two feet behind them
(also carrying walkie-talkies),- informing all and sundry every time they draw
breath -- or fart....
wealth of history is everywhere, from the ancient sites of the Colosseum and the
Forum to the more "modern" Piazza Navona and Trevi fountain, the
Spanish Steps and the Victor Emmanuel monument. Wandering through narrow back
streets, we came across buildings which used ancient columns as part of their
walls. The very stones speak. Sitting on the Spanish Steps watching the world go
by one of the most recognised places on the planet is a feeling only
'millionaires' can really understand!
Rome has been great, the 'new-ness' and adventure that has been there for us
over the last two months in Eastern Europe and Turkey is just not there. Travel
here is easy, comfortable and yes enjoyable! Maybe we have had enough of living
'on the edge' and should just relax and enjoy? Especially the pizza and the
gelati?? We think so.
hit the autostrada again for Siena. The tolls are more reasonable than we
remembered ($AUS 10 for 150 kms - and through mountain passes) and the
automation of the system, including payment by credit card, make the motorways
the only way to go!
ten weeks on the road it is time to announce the results of our intensive study
of the numbers of various nationalities 'on the road' at this time of the year.
overall honours go to the Germans who, while they are not always the most
sociable company in camping grounds, are most certainly the most numerous. Next
are the Dutch. Generally multi-lingual and extremely well-travelled, those
we have met are generally older ( 50+) and often retired. Australians are
a close third, well ahead of the French and Italians. Brits and Americans bring
up the rear in the off-season camping travel stakes. Australians, except for our
good selves, are usually in their mid to late twenties, on trips of three months
or more (as part of a working holiday) and -again with us as the exception-
driving UK registered vans and cars that mostly have seen better
we are sitting on the edge of a hill in Tuscany about 10 kms outside Siena. Even
with the last of the day's fog still lingering in the valleys, the views are
spectacular. A cool snap last night brought fog for most of our trip from Rome
to Siena. The sun was up there, but it only broke through a few times.
Siena has a
well-preserved medieval centre which celebrates centuries of rivalry between
areas of the city with a horse race around the city 'square' on two days in
July. This time of the year that excitement is missing, but the square
and the Duomo are amongst the most beautiful we have seen.
The "square", contrary to its name, is shell-shaped and framed
by buildings of various hues of burnt sienna
- quite lovely!! The narrow,
steep, cobble-stoned streets - that we didn't have to drive on! -
and the closely-packed houses, create a sense of familiarity - more a
village than a town "feel".
Duomo is most unusual, being built of black and white marble, in a
horizontally-striped pattern, but with a magnificent interior, with works by
famous Renaissance artists. We Catholics do GOOD churches!!!
Da Vinci, Dante, Donatelli and Machiavelli all walked the streets of Firenze.
Under the patronage of the Medici family this city was the centre of a renewal
of art design, invention and literature that changed the face of history (the
From our van
window we can see one of the most famous skylines in Europe. We can walk to the
centre of town across the Ponte Vecchio inside 10 minutes! Rain and high cloud
has done little to dampen the enthusiasm of the thousands of tourists who still
cram the streets of Florence late on this November evening.
be sacrilege, but it is difficult to escape the feeling that once we crossed the
Adriatic into Italy we entered a huge tourist 'Theme Park'. Some of this feeling
is more than likely attributable to the fact that even travelling as we do, the
supermarkets, petrol stations, restaurants, bars and every other western
convenience are so easily accessible that we don't need to 'get down' with the
locals in village shops, bakeries etc. as we have had to do for the past couple
of months. After all, retired
Americans travel independently here - and that's a worry - if any place is so
'American simpatico' that is probably a warning to real travellers to look
elsewhere. After all who really goes to Surfers Paradise except Japanese (and
other hand, the history that is so tangible in Italy cannot fail to overwhelm.
Walking the streets that once comprised the Roman Forum of ancient times; the
streets, in Siena, where Florentines once threw dead donkeys and excrement in
the hope of causing plague; the streets of San Gimignano (cobblestoned, narrow
and almost free of modern vehicular traffic); the streets of Florence (where we
started this thought pattern), we
become silent, respectful witnesses of things and people past.
possible to experience culture overload - this is not a question but a statement
of fact. Every corner of Florence is a Renaissance masterpiece. Every piece in
the Ufffizi warrants close study. In the Academia, the masterpieces of
Michaelangelo's "David" and "Prisoners" are only a
small part of international treasures gathered here.
city, Florence is easily covered on foot. But every corner offers something new
and enthralling. This is our third visit in 25 years and we still wander about
with our mouths agape!
weather lifted and the sun broke through this morning, the streets filled.
Italians love walking about in 'their streets' - and why not? Such animated,
intent conversations are all around that one feels as though the whole street is
one big Woody Allen scene!
Pizza is of
course the meal of choice for 90% of the people on a coolish (15C) day like
today! What choice! Pizza here is not sold as at home. Round and in a flat box.
Oh no..no.. buying and eating at a real Pizzeria Rustica is as much an
experience as a meal, with hysterics and much drama on both sides of the crowded
sold by the kg and the purchase is made from the shop's special range of pizza
which is laid out in slabs about one metre square. Much pointing and adjusting
is required to ensure that the exact amount is cut before weighing. And this is
not just a language problem. Native speakers can be seen indicating minute
movements of the knife before the final cut, just as we do. The end result is
slapped on a piece of paper and usually eaten on the move on the street. The
taste is, of course, out of this world.
from the shower, Paul opened the van door to reveal a spectacular view of the
lights of Florence (obscured by the rain last night). Doesn't rate, he said. The
view from the toilet block is incomparable - the Duomo and Campanile featuring
from this angle. We LOVE Florence!!
what we can translate from the news tonight the flooding in northern Italy
continues. Florence was warm and sunny today. But there is evidence in the river
of previous flooding. Further north at Prato, the flooding seems to have been
more severe, but we will see tomorrow. Touch wood - we are still blessed with
them autostradas, motorways, autobahns or freeways, they are a world on their
own. In France, Italy, Spain and most of Eastern Europe you have to 'pay to
play' in this fast-moving tunnel
that joins almost every city and major town in Europe. Entry and exit are
controlled and every service is provided inside the 'tunnel' to assist and
attract the traveller. Italy in particular has a great system. Pick up a card
from an automatic dispenser on entry. Stick it in a slot on exit, followed by a
credit card, 'grazie.. arrivederci' says the machine, and off you go....
world' generally has its own radio station that beams traffic information, drive
time music and news to you on a fixed frequency as you zip across the country.
us, these super highways provide
relatively safe accommodation in their 'aires de service', as well as an escape
from the narrow, crowded streets of urban, suburban and 'rural' Europe.
are the obvious cost of this escape and accelerated path to your chosen
destination. Legend has it that motorway tolls in France and Italy are
exorbitant. Not true. Crossing Italy from Ancona to Rome and travelling north to
the French border cost us about $50. Well worth it in fuel, wear'n'tear and
and today we roamed on and off the Italian and French autostrada/autoroutes
trying to see as much as we could of the Italian/French Rivieras close up. At
one point we got so 'close up' that we 'slightly bent' a mirror on a parked car
in a street only wide enough for two bikes! Recent floods must have caused
landslides as much of the corniches (all three options!) were closed with forced
diversions to the autostrada!
is the illusion of a separate 'motorway world' so real as in the highly
populated areas we travelled through in the past two days. In Germany, Holland,
Eastern Europe, Turkey and Greece, motorways are a great mode of accelerated
travel. Here, they are an ever-present 'drone'. Above the coastal towns, the via
ducts and the tunnels of the motorways call from above every narrow street and
from almost every set of traffic lights.
temptation to escape to the express lane does bring its rewards. In the last two
days we have experienced crystal clear skies and 17C - 20C temperatures.(While
this sounds cold to us Brisbaneites, inside our "vanworld" it is
single-layer time -- no spencers, tights, singlets or sweaties - lovely and warm
in fact.) The views from the van ('cause campervans can't stop anywhere on the
Italian or French Riviera!) have been spectacular. Monte Carlo, Nice, Menton,
San Remo, and San Raphael - our current beach residence - all shone in the
freakish late November warmth.
Terre in Italy was an exception to the usual 'drive by' as we were able to park
the van in Manarola and walk down to the harbour, albeit singly ,as unguarded
car parks are a bit of a risk in Italy. This is the price we pay for having a
"bed on wheels."