Day 101: Trapped

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It didn’t get better. In fact it got decidedly worse, leaving us somewhat frustrated at not being able to get out and about. The thunder got louder, the lightning got jaggier and the rain seemed to get even wetter. At one point we had to turn up the volume on the computer to hear what was being said, so loud was the rain bouncing off the roof of the caravan. But it is the Magic Caravan, with a magic seal on the roof and walls, and once again not a single drop got through its defences. Hurrah for the Magic Caravan, we’re saved, we’re saved!

Mary worked through the enforced confinement in a way that left me struck with admiration. She decided that a drop of Italian rain and the risk of being killed by lightning strike were not going to stop her doing the laundry, so out she went in the deluge, brolly in hand and washing basket under the other arm. She also had to nip up to the bar to get change for the machines and as I watched her climb the hill with the umbrella held firmly to fend off wave after wave of fierce downpour I thought to myself:”I’m glad I’m indoors!”

It started to get busier with people around us. The poor guy in the tent 20 metres away appeared to throw in the towel (didn’t mean that!) and started to dismantle the tent even as the rain notched itself up a gear. He then dragged everything to the toilets to try and dry himself and his belongings off using the de luxe facilities. Mary struck up a conversation with him there – I hope she wasn’t slacking! – and found out he and his girlfriend were from Vienna and had booked a bungalow but the owners of the site wouldn’t let him have his dog in the bungalow so he had had to stay in a wee tent with his pet at night. Some holiday! Fortunately, when we met them later (plus cute wee dog) they had managed to persuade the people to be reasonable.

In the afternoon another campervan appeared and parked up next to us. We spotted their British number plate so soon found an excuse to have a blether. At least I did, as Mary was rather busy trying to hang up the clothes in the caravan since the drying machine had done most but not all of its duty. The new couple and their young daughter were ex-army and touring Europe before heading back to prepare for emigration to New Zealand. I was envious to hear they had been to many of the places we had changed our minds about like Budapest and Bratislava.

Later on I had a go at setting up the satellite dish again as it had inevitably fallen victim to the awful weather and blown over to lie face down like a fallen round soldier (in the Signal Corps?). I can report that I was abjectly unsuccessful in re-establishing a connection and we remain utterly tv-less!

We cheered ourselves up in the evening by going to the site restaurant for dinner. It was delicious and we met the Austrian couple with the dog and the newly-arrived Brits so had plenty to chat about. When we returned we were invited into Uli and Lilo’s (do you remember Lilo Lil in the comedy series “Bread”?) motorhome to give them some tips on what to see and do in Scotland. That took us to 23.00 by which time we were tired after 2 hours of speaking German non-stop, so we crawled off to bed and were asleep soon afterwards.

I am writing this the next morning (Friday 30 November). Yes, I know it is St. Andrew’s Day but much more importantly it is my Grandson Ben’s first birthday and we are disappointed not to be with him today. However we remain philosophical and can look forward even more eagerly to seeing him on our return for Xmas.

I’ll tell Mary we’re off to Rome as soon as she has finished the washing-up and the hoovering. Oh dear, I think she’s missed a bit!

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Day 100: Flash!

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Well, there it was then. We reached the 100 days of our adventure mark today although in truth our actual day wasn’t terribly adventurous. The main reason for our inactivity was the weather. You know that information we got (mentioned in an earlier post) about a storm coming in from the Mediterranean. It came.

As this was the first storm we had experienced in winter in Europe, we didn’t really know what to expect in terms of ferocity or duration. Now, summer storms we have sat through many times on our trips abroad and they tend to conform to a pretty regular pattern. There is a gradual build-up of pressure and heat over several days then the clouds roll in, there is a short but violent thunderstorm with loads of lightning flashes, sometimes not even much rain, then the whole show packs up and moves on to somewhere else.

Our favourite storm memory is of sitting on the banks of the Rhone right beside the famous half bridge in Avignon. We had gone there to watch the firework display as it was the 14th of July, the national holiday in France. As usual the fireworks didn’t start until it got dark, and being July it was close to 23.00 before the light started to fade. Suddenly the light disappeared as a bank of deep, black cloud took over the skies. That’s when the first flashes of sheet lightning darted across the heavens, heralding an approaching storm. We could hear the distant rumbling of thunder and prepared ourselves for a bit of a soaking. The rain never came.

At one point there was an enormous and scary fork of lightning right above the town, coinciding with the first salvo of fireworks to start the celebrations. The thousands of people around us burst into applause. There then followed a heavenly battle between Mother Nature’s awesome power and man’s use of pyrotechnics for domination of the sky. The French saw no problem at all with this scene and simply applauded everything, fireworks, thunder and lightning! How very Gallic!

Today wasn’t anywhere near those levels however. The big difference was that the bad weather lasted the whole day, with long pauses and glimpses of blue sky to try and tempt us into leaving the safety of the Magic Caravan and sneak out to the shops or the station. Had we done so, we would have taken a bit of a beating from one of the sudden, torrential downpours which punctuated the daylight hours and kept us prisoners on site. We had intended another foray into Rome centre today but that had to be shelved in favour of a nice day in. Thanks a million, God!

We passed some of the afternoon seeking out open campsites for the next 3 weeks before we come home and we were quite successful, finding enough places definitely available to avoid any of the problems we had when we turned up at Happy Village last week. It looks like our route will take us from here to Assisi (Perugia), Siena, Lucca and la Spezia (Cinque Terre) before we drop the caravan off in Genoa and head north to Milan for our flight. At least that’s the theory! But with us you just never know!

Remember how we celebrated 50 days in Neckargemund by getting drunk? We decided not to repeat that for Day 100, but we did go up to the site bar at nine o’clock for a quick drink and a moment’s respite from our rapidly approaching cabin fever. Guess what? The bar was closed! Fortunately the restaurant was open so we went in and persuaded the owner to let us sit and have a wee drink even although we weren’t going to have dinner.

That was as crazy and wild as it got. We were back in the caravan within the hour and settled down to a game of Mah-Jong and a read. We sure know how to live on the edge, eh?

What with the lightning and all, Day 100 was over in a flash!

Day 99: Tivoli

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The rains still hadn’t arrived. They were there ok, but they were waiting. The sky was now peppered with blue specks and the sun put in a guest appearance at about 10.30 for twenty seconds or so then gave up the ghost and stayed hidden. The rest of the morning was a game of second-guessing the weather. Shall we do our wet weather plans or shall we assume the forecast is correct and the rain will not arrive until this evening? I felt like tossing a coin.

In the end, and bravely, considering there were a few drops of rain on the windscreen of the Audi, we opted for a dry day tactic and headed for the hilltop town of Tivoli on the eastern outskirts of Rome and about 40 kilometres from the campsite. Do you remember the Tivoli in Dundee in Bonnybank Road? Not only was it renowned for its programme of “foreign” films (nudge, nudge) but also because it was the only cinema in Dundee where you could get a drink, as it had a licence. I went there once to see a French film and there were two people in the auditorium besides me, and I don’t think they were brushing up on their French.

So the real Tivoli became an interesting target. We had recommendations not only from Uncle Gerard but from a couple of fellow travellers who told us the gardens and fountains were particularly impressive, so it seemed that a nice afternoon could be had at the part of the town they call the Villa d’Este.

Victoria was once again given the task of getting us there which she almost did except for a last-minute aberration when she sent me up the back road to Tivoli instead of the big main road. So we parked in the old town (when I say old I mean ancient) and walked uphill for a good twenty minutes to reach the bit I could have driven up to in two minutes. You see, like so many SatNav girls, she just can’t help telling you the shortest route even if you want the slightly longer but ten times easier and safer route.

But I mustn’t grumble because we reached the town square and eventually found the Villa d’Este. The actual place turned out to be a huge palace on 3 floors with great terraced gardens on the southern slopes of the hill in front of the main rooms. While the palace rooms were quite interesting in their décor, the gardens stole the show by a kilometre. They are laid out in several styles and punctuated with fountains which, unlike other famous gardens, are operating all the time so visitors never miss the spectacle. And spectacular they were! Take a look.

Avenue of a hundred fountains

One of the wee fountains

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The big fountain

Tree (coins in a fountain)!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whoooooossssshhh!

Mary checking me for a pulse!

Unfortunately, we left it just a tad too late to get home when planned so driving back to the campsite proved to be a bit more stressful than I had foreseen. At times it was verging on madcap as I tried to make reasonable progress while predicting the exits and entries onto the various carriageways we had to take. But my aggressive driving paid off once again and we were home safe and sound just before dark.

Darkness falls with a serious thud here. We seem to keep missing it as, each evening, the light starts to fade and then suddenly it’s dark and all the electric lights are on. It really happens much faster than at home and I daresay could catch you out somewhat, especially if you are reading a novel while walking down the road! Well, that’s not so stupid an idea, Mary does it regularly!

As the evening wore on, the wind started to get up and, as I write, it is blowing quite hard outside. Still no sign of the heavy rain and thunder predicted for tonight but I’ll be able to report back tomorrow assuming we haven’t been blown over as we sleep.

Make no mistake, we are still loving every minute of our adventure.

Day 98: Writing

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Two days of tramping around Rome had taken their toll on our feet. From the moment we awoke we knew we would not be wandering far from the caravan today for the simple reason that our bodies said “No!” It’s quite surprising how much it can take out of you to keep going for five or six hours on your feet on the streets of a big city like London, Paris or Rome. But at least such things can’t spoil our trip as we just put off for another day any ambitious plans we may have made.

As I went to the luxury loos this morning my German neighbour drew my attention to the front of his motor home. I turned to follow the direction in which he was pointing and this is what I saw.

Just stay purr-fectly still!

Because my feet were sore, I spent the day on my writing. Along with reviewing both my autobiography and my early blogs, I suddenly started to scribble away on a piece of paper while Mary was checking the e-mails. Before I knew it, I had penned another incident in the life of my new character “Socrates, the sprinting Sorrento snail”. I had initially aimed the tale of Socrates at little Beth George as a reward for choosing our caravan name, but Mary thought that all the children in the family might like to read of his adventures, so this time, as you now probably know, I added the story to the blog as an additional bonus post. If the children like it at all I will try to write some further adventures.

We went for a stroll after lunch in the sunshine, having been warned by the same German neighbour that bad weather is on the way tomorrow and Thursday. To be fair we haven’t had a drop of rain to speak of since we were in Lake Garda and that feels like a lifetime ago so I’m sure we won’t mind too much if we have a couple of days overcast. Anyway, our stroll took us to Carrefour again where we did a little more shopping.

Our quite small basket of goods cost us 58 euro today and brought home the fact that food and drink in Italy is pretty expensive in these days. Most of the beef, chicken and pork puts you back 5 – 8 euro, the cheese is ridiculously expensive considering most of it is made here, fish is way overpriced now and even traditional fruit and vegetables are the same price as back home. I think pasta, olive oil, beer and wine are cheaper but that hardly constitutes the bulk of your weekly shop now, does it? Don’t answer that please!

Mary did some Nigella stuff for tea tonight, experimenting with a combination of mince, arriabata sauce and stir-fry vegetables (courgette, aubergine, red pepper and potato). The result was fantastic and was one of the best meals we have had in Italy. After tea we planned a couple of visits, one for a rainy day and one for a nice weather day. Outdoors we will follow recommendations from you and our fellow campers to go to Tivoli on the edge of Rome, while we will spend a day indoors at San Giovanni di Laterano (my personal favourite church on the planet) and perhaps the new Domus Romane di Palazzo Valentini which Trip Advisor rates number 1 attraction in Rome and describes as unmissable.

We’re not in a hurry to leave this campsite. It is very well-run, is not at all busy at this time of the year yet still has its shop and restaurant/bar open every evening, has the best toilets in Italy, is totally convenient for private or public transport into Rome and is of course not expensive at all. Our stroll around today showed us just how big the village is with an enormous number of bungalows and chalets for hire, so maybe the next time you fancy a trip to Rome you should check out “Village Flaminio” instead of a traditional hotel.

Just for the record, I was not paid to write that. Pity though.

Day 97: Vatican

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By 12 o’clock today I had achieved two firsts in my life. I had driven a car in Rome and I had seen my first Pope in the flesh.

The first first came about purely at the last minute when we realised we could not count on the train to Rome arriving within the hour we needed it to arrive. So, as we left the caravan, I suddenly told Mary to get in the car and off we drove in the general direction of the Vatican City, down the way and a bit to the right! En route I asked Mary to programme Victoria with the name of any of the big roads within walking distance of St. Peter’s and when she woke up (Victoria not Mary) she gave me excellent instructions. Thus, at 11.30, we were four or five blocks away from our goal, parked safely on a big road and having been assured by a local (who turned out to be a policeman) that Sunday parking was free.

Within 20 minutes we had joined a large crowd in St. Peter’s Square, awaiting the appearance of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI at one of the small windows on the top floor of the Vatican apartments. The day was warm and sunny, not a single cloud in the sky, and the atmosphere was one of genuine excitement and anticipation. When the Holy Father appeared on the stroke of twelve, there was a loud burst of applause and cheering which only stopped as he began to address the people gathered below him.

The initial speech was in Italian, the Angelus was conducted in Church Latin and the announcements were repeated by him in Italian, German, French, English, Spanish and Russian. There were loud cheers every time he mentioned a visiting group gathered in the square and we were delighted when he referred to pilgrims from Malaga and Torremolinos. Uncle Gerard can tell the people at the local church near the Don Pablo that we were right beside them in the Vatican City when His Holiness welcomed them.

Seeing my first Pope was a special moment for me (although Mary claimed to have seen hundreds of them!) and I will never forget this morning as long as I live. I hope you enjoy the great photos we were able to take as well.

Do we stick out in a crowd?

His Holiness

From St. Peter’s we walked straight down to the Castel san Angelo which stands on the Tiber and is of course one of the famous locations in Dan Brown’s blockbuster “Angels and Demons”, a really good read by the way. The reason for going there was simple: we knew there were decent public toilets underneath! As I waited for Mary on the slope outside I thought I could see a flock of penguins, but it turned out to be a group of nuns on a park bench having their sandwiches.

Relieved, we crossed the Tiber and headed south, quickly stumbling upon the Chiesa Nuova, one of the great churches we had not yet visited. Inside we found a mass halfway through so joined in and stayed until chucking out which the deacon just about did as we wandered around after mass. On the steps outside and in the bright sunshine we decided to have a bite to eat, so out came the cheese and ham rolls, apples and water we had prepared before we left. I got a bit jumpy about the number of pigeons which suddenly wanted to be my best friend but thankfully they were distracted by a wee girl with a spare baguette and left me in peace.

Our next stop was again unplanned. On the map there was a place called the Cancelleria whose history and present day function were completely unknown to us, but what we could tell, from the posters outside, was that it held an exhibition of the inventions of Leonardo da Vinci. Irresistible really given our admiration of the great man, we spent the next hour enthralled by the drawings and modern examples of the many ideas he had produced, including flying machines, parachutes, submarines, tanks, machine gun cannons, wells, winches, presses and many other brilliant gadgets. Leonardo was incredibly ahead of his time and inventions were only one part of his amazing repertoire of talents which included mathematics, music and of course painting. No wonder the Mona Lisa is smiling (is that a smile?) My favourite is his mirror-writing. That’s clever!

We carried on to the vast Piazza Venezia, one of our best-loved spots in Rome and climbed the steep escarpment of the Campodoglia via the 127 stairs on the west side. At the top we entered the Basilico di Santa Maria Aracoeli and spent some time in the company of umpteen buried popes and other dignitaries. This basilica is really gorgeous and we were happy to have made it here this time, as time itself had precluded us from seeing it on our 2 previous visits.

Santa Maria Aracoeli

After a coffee in the café behind the church from which we had a great view of the Coliseum, that became our next target, but not to visit. It’s just that we knew the underground station was right next to it and we were going to take the train back to the streets behind St. Peter’s to get the car. Metro safely negotiated, we found the car in two minutes, safe and sound, and Victoria took us brilliantly back to the caravan.

Today was a lovely day in many ways and Rome is a city in which we feel very comfortable. It has that “comfy slippers” feel to it and you genuinely are able to relax in the Eternal City with its past glories a reminder of the opulence, magnificence and ingenuity of an Empire of yesteryear.

SPQR. Mary thought that that was a Roman convenience store.

Day 96: Villa Borghese

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I forgot to mention yesterday that, for the third time since we left, Mary received a “Good news about your ticket” e-mail from the National Lottery. Unfortunately she cannot access her account from Europe so has had to ask Gavin to enter her details for her in order to find out how much she’s won. The first two times it was just a tenner and this third time it was ….. just a tenner! However Mary remains undaunted and fully expects to win enough to relieve her from having to go back to work next year.

The bright sunshine woke us up this morning, promising another fine Roman day. Over breakfast of George’s speciality mushroom omelette, we decided to get ready and go for a walk, initially around the campsite and then down to the supermarket from where we hoped to find the station.

It didn’t work out like that. We toured the campsite in 15 minutes, crossed the carriageway and went into the shopping centre for a quick browse. I then asked for directions to the railway station which turned out to be only a couple of hundred metres further along the road. Once we were there and standing in front of the ticket machine, Mary decided we would buy tickets and go for a general stroll round Rome. Quite what that meant I did not know, but I prepared myself for sore feet.

My radar told me to get off at the terminus (Flaminio) and take the underground one stop to Spagna, an area we had already visited. I had recently read that the park in Rome – the Villa Borghese – was near the Spanish Steps so I reckoned we could have a nice walk there and avoid the crowds. We took the Metro to Spagna and emerged right beside the famous steps which of course we had to climb up and back down again even though we had done that twice before.

Mary at the bottom of the Spanish Steps

The Trevi Fountain was the next target but we never made it, being drawn down the busy Via del Corso towards the obelisk in the centre of the Piazza del Popolo. Now that is a truly majestic Roman piazza, wide open with a cobbled surface and huge sculptured monuments and fountains all around.

Piazza del Popolo

Wifie with fountain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a bite to eat at a rather interesting and bustling café we climbed the hill again and this time walked further over, eventually finding ourselves in the aforementioned park, the Villa Borghese. This was where we spent the rest of the afternoon in the company of tourists and locals out enjoying the November sun, a sun which was surprisingly warm and forced us to remove our coats for a while.

Same wifie, different fountain

Good-looking guy at another fountain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once again we became aware of just how much we were enjoying ourselves and we put this down to the lack of urgency which had inevitably accompanied our previous two visits. No, this time we were really wandering about freely with no particular target in mind, allowing ourselves to stop as often as we wanted to take in the scenery. Yes, that was indeed the difference I think.

We did however stick to our rule about being back in the caravan before dark, so we left the city at about 4 p.m. and caught the train back to Flaminio where we stopped off at the supermarket to buy some bread and olive oil before walking back over to the campsite. I spent a couple of hours watching footie on a live stream before tea and Mary crocheted a blanket and baked a cake.

Sorry, that was a typing error: it’s meant to read “and Mary read her Kindle!”

Day 95: Recovery

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As you can well imagine, we had a bit of a long lie this morning, given yesterday’s exciting arrival. We were still at breakfast at 10.30, discussing whether we could afford to stay on this beautiful site, because the brochure we had picked up at reception last night announced an off-season cost of 38 euro per day. This was triple what we paid at Pompeii!

As I scoured their website over the second cup of tea of the day, I noticed a “sconto” highlight which I knew meant “bargain”, so I clicked on it. The page which popped up offered a low-season bargain of 2 people, caravan, car and electricity for only 20 euro per day upon presentation of the printed document. Guess what we had under the bed? You got it, we had brought our printer, suspecting we might need to print tickets and such. What a stroke of luck! We quickly printed off the flyer and I took it down to reception to ask for the reduced price. I got it immediately with no argument or conditions attached, so I told them we would be staying for a week if that was OK and they booked us in. Great result!

When I returned to the caravan Mary was chatting to a Canadian family we had met in Pompeii and who had had the same problem as us with the booking at the Happy Village. They were luckier in that they actually had a campsite book with this place described in it so had known where to come. Remember, we got here by accident almost. When the Canadians left for Cinque Terre, I walked down to the main road, found a crossing with lights where the traffic actually stopped when it went red, crossed over and went for a snoop in the shopping centre opposite.

On my return (delayed by watching a bunch of older men play 7 a-side on an Astroturf pitch adjacent to the campsite) we had lunch and then spent a couple of hours looking at possible visits for later next week on the Internet. We have already decided to go to St. Peter’s on Sunday to get the weekly Papal blessing at 12 p.m.  It shouldn’t be difficult to get there as there is a local train station nearby which will take us to a Metro station a couple of stops away from the Vatican.

We have already been to Rome twice so have visited many of its most famous places, including we feel almost every church in town! Even we can see one cathedral or church too many, you know. Perhaps we’ll get some recommendations about what to go and see from some of the other campers. Or maybe from you, my dear readers. By the way, we are once again the only people on site pulling a caravan : all the others have motor homes. I would say that, on our whole adventure so far, modern motor homes have accounted for maybe 80% of the travel options we have encountered. There are surprisingly few genuine caravans being pulled around Europe at this time of the year.

We managed to Skype my brother Joe and his wife Morag this afternoon, which was delightful as we hadn’t spoken to them for a while. They both appeared to be in fine health and they confirmed that they will be in Oz at the same time as us next March so we might be able to meet up with them and Scott and Rory and his family for a bit of a “do” in Melbourne.  Burtons on tour, eh? I think that would be a lot of fun.

Mary unfortunately has a few new bites on her ankles today and she has not really been on form, especially as the antihistamine she is taking appears to be of the old variety that puts you to sleep. I remember getting into terrible trouble from my first mother-in-law for continually falling asleep while being driven around on holiday with her and her husband, big Sandy. She accused me of being bored (which I wasn’t) but I was just knocked out every day by the antihistamine I was taking for my awful hay fever. I honestly couldn’t stay awake!

I am surprised no-one has commented on the de luxe toilets we have here on this campsite. Those photos we posted yesterday look good, but hardly do the facilities justice as you can’t feel the warmth of the heating or hear the lovely classical music they have piped in. Almost too nice to use!

It’s a week until my grandson Ben’s first birthday and I’m genuinely sad that I won’t be in Dundee to celebrate with his Mum, Dad and big brother Daniel. It’s unfortunate to have to miss such a big day in his life but I’m sure there’ll be plenty other occasions to celebrate.

We spent the evening watching German TV, including MIB2 which was good, even though Will Smith and my supposed double Tommy Lee Jones sounded not quite right speaking German. We found we had to concentrate really hard to stay with the dialogue however, so we ended up just watching and then turning to a different channel halfway through the movie. Just don’t think we have the stamina any more.

At least for watching long films in a foreign language!

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