2018/01/11 Italy – East Coast

Thursday 11th January

We have now seen all on our bucket list for Italy so are now heading south towards Brindisi and then to Greece. We have previously spent many weeks in Venice and Rome on other trips so will not be revisiting this trip.

No tollways today and highways are pretty good though it is raining and quite miserable outside.

Our campsite chosen for tonight was in a great location on a Marina and the huge Lake Trasimero (Area Comunale, Castiglione del Lago) but all the spots here were so muddy after the rain, we dared not stay here for fear of getting stuck. Highly recommended if there was no rain.  

Our campsite for tonight: Area Camper Trasimeno, Magione

There were several other campsites around the lake (all were closed as far as our APP was concerned).  We found one where the barriers were open and based on the signs should have closed on 30th September. Seems they leave it open for use during the winter months at no cost.  Good fortune for us as the electricity and other services were left open too. There was one other motorhome there.

Great campsite – edge of lake, level, bituminised, lights, security cameras, fresh water, grey and black emptying and electricity and free of charge

We happily locked up and went for a long walk around the lake and small town. This is mostly a fishing village with a seafood coop and a few small shops, a Marina with small fishing boats and a couple of small yachts, a couple of restaurants and a small number of homes.

Different fishing method to what we have seen at home

It was really cold so on went the electric heater (a luxury for us as we don’t need to connect to power for the batteries). Typically the restaurants here close early afternoon and reopen around 7pm, so dressed for the occasion and walked 50 metres to the Italian restaurant. We were the only ones there and felt guilty. No one could speak English but they had an English menu and again using sign language and Mr Google we had a fun night with a great Tuscany white and lots of seafood. Scrambled home in the rain to a warm Ziggy.

Friday 12th January

Rained again during the night and woke up to another overcast and drizzly day.

We headed towards the east coast and after giving the thumbs down to a few dodgy looking camp sites finally chose a safe but uninteresting place to stay.

Our campsite for tonight: Azienda Agrituristica Speca, Villa Rosa

This was a fruit farm just off the main road and tucked safely away behind large gates and the homestead next door. We were the only ones there. Really great new facilities and with a “once used tennis court” with lights looking very sad and neglected. Think it may be used in the summer months only.

Walked a km or so into the small town of Villa Rosa looking for Internet and phone reception as there was no reception at the campsite.

Found a bar open called “Lucky” (the owner a real Marilyn Monroe fan) with pictures of the star on every spare spot on the wall.  Sat and watched the locals come in and play cards – regular Friday night thing here apparently.

A safe and quiet place to stay but nothing exciting to take photos of.

Saturday 13th January & Sunday 14th January

Back on the tollway for a long drive today. There are hundreds and hundreds of places to stay on the east coast but the ones we saw yesterday were really unkempt and in places that were less than desirable and with no one else staying there, opted to move on further down the boot of Italy.

We travelled about 250 kms on the tollway today and the drive was so spectacular with massive large bridges constructed over the lush green valleys below. No congestion in this part of the country and for the first time, we are seeing agriculture instead of bricks and mortar.

Our last few days on the tollway have been really worth it and not expensive at all – ranging from €3 to €15 for journeys of up to 100kms. At a tollway exit we took the cash only aisle instead of the credit card aisle and inserted our first €50 and waited for the change. We waited and waited and nothing happened and cars queued up behind us so we put on the hazard lights and pressed a “help” button on the machine. Drivers behind started blowing their horns – Italians are not known for being very patient drivers. The attendant came to assist and told us we needed more money. We fed in another €50 note and a little change came back out. This trip cost the Earth at €93.50 and we are still recovering from the shock.  Thought it must have been a special part of the tollway so unhappily we moved on. Back to the highways tomorrow and give the tollways away.

Our campsite for tonight: Camping Lido Salpi, Manfredonia

This campsite is a little heaven compared to others we saw over the last few days. It is set on the beachfront with a magic view across the ocean to the township of Manfredonia around 10kms away and a backdrop of mountains framing the town in the foreground. A fabulous picture on dusk with the sun shining on the mountains.

View from campsite towards Manfredonia

Enjoyed the lolling about at the campsite for what was left of the day and decided to enjoy a meal in its restaurant (reports on our APP gave it a high rating). We arrived to find a large table of 10 German, Swiss and Austrians already there and Garcon (who was the gardener a couple of hours ago) was just taking their orders. Knew it was a long wait but enjoyed talking in German with the large table and sipping the good Italian beer. Was great to see the MasterCard and Visa signs up as we had exhausted most of our cash at the tollway gates. Dinner came about 2 hours later – think the gardener may have been the chef as well as the waiter.

Tried to pay by credit card but was told the lines were down and we had to pay cash. (Trick no 14B to avoid paying taxes, we think). Scrounged around and found enough to pay but after the tollway episode, not happy Jan). The dinner – you guessed it – was just awful. Lessons learned – ask about credit card before you order and never order from the gardener.

Woke up to a new day, better we hope than yesterday, with no rain today so opted to stay another day and recover. Took a long walk along a really pretty beach, sadly littered with so much rubbish that would have been washed in on the incoming tides, but it was just wonderful and relaxing.

Looked at the tollway receipt and with Google translation, worked out why the high price yesterday. Here you take a card on entry at a tollway and then on departure you put the card in and the machine works out how much you need to pay.  On checking the receipt, it includes town of entry and town of departure. Our entry point stated: “invalid reading” – so obviously our ticket, received at the entry point, could not be read and it charged the maximum amount. Why did the attendant not see this ugh!

We tried to phone the tollway help line, but of course it is only in Italian, so no luck there. Spoke to an Italian man here who could speak German (no English) and together we agreed we should stop at the next tollway and show them the ticket and ask for a refund.

Ziggy washing and clothes washing and research on Greece took over the rest of the day and of course we did not eat out tonight and really enjoyed a home cooked meal.

Monday 15th January

Had just enough to pay for the campsite (only around €5 left now) so headed to Manfredonia and the nearest ATM.

With money now in hand headed to the next tollway. They were not authorised to pay refunds and didn’t speak English or German, so we took another ticket and moved on hoping to resolve at the departure point.

Here the attendant was also not authorised to pay refunds and directed us to the next tollway where there was an official tollway office who could help. Long story short – they don’t do cash or credit card refunds, only deposit into a bank account. Took 2 hours (no English spoken) in total to try to do a refund into our Australian bank account- €75+ refund was worth it.  Still not sure if it worked, we will have to wait and see – we were told it would take 2 to 3 months. Lesson learned: if you have any issues regarding excessive tollway fees, put on your hazard lights and stay put at the gates until a service attendant arrives. He should be able to sort out the issue on the spot before you leave the gates – too late once you leave the gates as per the above – so don’t budge.

Our campsite for tonight: Area Comunale, Ostuni

Saw the town from miles away – a mass of white buildings sitting atop a hill and the spire of a magnificent cathedral at the summit. Arrived here with only half an hour until nightfall so did not venture into town today.

Ostuni Cathedral on hill top

The campsite is right at the bottom of the hilltop town and we sat and watched the numerous lights go on throughout the town. No other motorhome here so we are alone again. Couldn’t understand the parking payment signage – very confusing, but think it is no cost after end of September.

Tuesday 16th January

Our boat from Brindisi to Greece does not leave until 9pm tonight and with only 40kms to go decided to venture into the town of Ostuni to explore.

Cobblestoned walk to Cathedral

All the homes and apartments are white or cream sandstone and all are box style, many with little patios and most still with greenery and coloured pots adorning them. As with many of these towns, the climb is all uphill on cobblestones and steep but really worth it in the end.

Amazing how many English words have been adapted – the sign under the white sail in the alley reads “cocktail bar”

In the middle of the town square is a church with the most beautiful and colourful stained glass windows and of course the regulatory statue in the middle of the square. We climbed higher to the summit which offered breathtaking views across the valleys below and right out to the Adriatic Sea. The cathedral of course sat at the top of the summit – unfortunately was not open to sightseers.

Beautiful sunny day with blue skies today – the best we have had for weeks, so really enjoyed the travelling.

Overnight in Ostuni – always try to reverse right on to a post, pole or tree to try to minimise risks of bikes being stolen

Arrived in Brindisi with several hours to kill, so parked at the ferry terminal car park and relaxed with a good book until it was time to check in at 7pm.

The ferry was late and we finally left (with about 40 huge trucks and only a few cars) at around 10.30pm instead of 9pm. Settled into the sleeping lounge (takes about 50 people) and played scrabble and did crosswords until midnight. We were the only ones in here so enjoyed a quiet peaceful night. All the truckers slept in the truckers lounge- nice!

Italy Summary

So this is good-bye to Italy – we really enjoyed our stay here – the food was great, the wine was great and the scenery spectacular – thank you for having us.

When we left the French Riviera and crossed in to Italy the first thing we noticed was an increase in the traffic and particularly the motor scooters – plus an increase in the congestion in towns and the narrow streets.

The Italian drivers are skilful but impatient.

We also noticed how friendly, helpful, smiling and welcoming the Italians are, compared to the country we had just left.

2018/01/09 Italy – Pisa and Florence

Tuesday 9th January

Heavy rain for most of the night – probably was the bad weather expected yesterday and happening a few hours later than expected.  

Back on the tollways now for around 100kms again missing the seafront villages and traffic congestion but still capturing the fabulous views (when not in tunnels).

Our campsite for tonight: Area Communale, Pisa

We have been very selective with our choices of campsites while in this part of Italy as we have heard some gruesome stories of breakins.

This campsite is in the heart of Pisa in a secure parking area dedicated to motorhomes with security cameras, lots of lights and a person at the entry until 7pm at night. We are more concerned with leaving Ziggy during the day which is when breakins seem to happen.

Had a pleasant 2km walk to Piazza del Duomo, the famous square that includes Torre Pendente (the leaning tower of Pisa), Cattedrale de Saint Maria and Battistero de Saint Giovanni. We have not been here in our previous travels and were in awe of these three stunning buildings.

Not one of the usual photos seen of Pisa

A real tourist atmosphere here even in the “off season”. Everybody taking selfies and professional photographers making sure the photo showed them holding up the leaning tower.

One of the big ones

Had to pinch ourselves as we stood in front of another world icon.

Haven’t seen this one before – normally just the “Leaning Tower”
Right next door to the “Leaning Tower”

Strolled back through the middle of the walled old town until we reached the Arno River.  

Oops – I doubled up

What a beautiful river with magnificent heritage buildings on both sides and with the sun setting, gave us some fabulous photos to bring back these memories when we get home.

Magic sunset in Pisa

Think we were a little like zombies for the last km of this 4 hour walk – think my driver took me the long way home (on foot). Strange how one can keep coming back for the pain each day when there is so much to see in this wonderful world and really not enough time to see a small part of it.

Leftovers is all the dinner he got tonight for taking me the long way home 😍

Wednesday 10th January

NAVIE did not take us via a tollway today so the roads were a little less comfortable (not tollway standard). Not a lot of fantastic scenery today as we travelled east and away from the coast.

We saw Florence looming in the distance and were a little apprehensive about heading into a big Italian city again but soon had gone through it and we in out campsite without a lot of stress.

Our campsite for tonight: Parcheggio Gilsomino SCAF, Firenze (Florence)

One of two campsites in Florence, this has the better and safer rating. Nothing here makes it a pretty place to stay (no beach or views etc) but its major tick in the box is that the No 11 bus stops right outside the gate and for €2 each and four stops you are right at a bridge on the Arno River with a view across to the next bridge – the Pont de Vecchio.

The views on the river are just amazing and soon we are on the Pont taking in the full atmosphere. We have been here before and this time, again it is wonderful. Surprisingly though, all the shops on the Pont are jewellery shops.

Another icon – Ponte Vecchio

We headed into the heart of Florence and ventured through the many many stalls selling leather goods – an absolute treasure for shoe and handbag lovers.

Great architecture

A shopping Mecca with any labels you could wish for. My driver confiscated my credit cards (joke Joyce – he knows we can’t carry more shoes or handbags there is just not  enough room in Ziggy). Just have to say the shoes and boots in both France and Italy have been a real temptation.

Interesting street art – the new in the old

Finally found the tourism office with the help of Google and dropped in to get a tourist city map. Took the required number from the machine and sat and waited for half an hour or more to see an officer. There were five or six ladies there all busily working on computers. No. 51 was the last number on a board when we arrived and we were no 52. Not sure what the problem was – we had had a shower that morning and were clean shaven with clean clothes on – then why did we not get to talk to anyone? Annoyed we walked out. Without a map and assistance from this tourist bureau we stumbled on.

Nice architecture

The Duomo’s (Cattedrale di Santa Maria) red tiled dome was visible from so many places throughout the city. We passed through many Piazzas and stumbled upon Michaelangelo’s Statue of David as well as the Birth of Venus.  This Piazza was the best and was full of amazing statues and so many tourists taking photos – including this tourist bureau unloved couple.

This is the “uncircumnavigated” side of the statue of David. Too embarrassed to show the other side

Had a magic day walking about before catching the No 11 bus (next street up from where it dropped us off) and getting home in 10 minutes – feeling all the better for catching the bus instead of walking the 2kms in and out of the city.

2018/01/05 Italy – Scooters, Scooters and more Scooters


Friday 5th January

Not long after leaving town, we saw a police car blocking the road a little way down the mountain. Two Gendarmes carrying machine guns were stopping cars before us and also coming the other way. Not sure what the problem was, but they waved us through, thankfully. This was a very isolated part of the country, so we thought this was very strange. The border was not far away so could have something to do with it.

Another day, another set of challenges for my driver.  Today we opted to head back towards the coast – a different way to yesterday.  We had seen snow on some of the mountains and without snow tyres or chains, did not want to risk this. Certainly a good choice, though there were still many really tight bends and hairpin corners. The scenery again was spectacular but my driver had no time to see it.

Our first Italian town driving experience was just awful. The drivers here are crazy. They double park and stop anywhere, put on their hazard lights and take off, leaving everyone else to get around them. Pedestrians just walk or run across pedestrian crossings without stopping or looking and the skooters (millions of them) dart in and out of the traffic like maniacs. We seriously had forgotten how overpopulated this country is and are seriously wondering how long we want to be here.

Once out of the nightmare town of Ventimiglia (where there was a massive market in the middle of town), we followed the coast road which seemed a little easier, though my driver did not get a chance to see much of the scenery. The views across the Mediterranean Sea were amazing and a continuous stream of small towns fronted every spare inch of it.

Our campsite for tonight: Parcheggio Marina del Aregai, Santo Stefano al Mare

Just a beautiful campsite, exclusively for around 26 motorhomes. It is right on the sea shore with a boardwalk running in front of it.

Our view from Ziggy overnight

We have magnificent views and watch the waves come crashing in. Today is one of the warmest days we have had for a while. The sun is shining and the skies are blue and we soon forget about the traffic and cars and people.

The walk along the boardwalk goes forever and can’t express how much we really enjoyed it.  

At home in Oz we can have this magic, every day, and at times we forget to really appreciate what we have – Beautiful white sandy beaches, blue seas and a warm climate.

Saturday 6th January

Rained heavily during the night and woke up to a miserable morning, though the view was still spectacular. Have opted to take the easy way out and use the toll roads to get us to from A to B instead of going through the towns.

The A8 which also becomes the A10 avoids all the coastal towns but still provides magnificent views along the way of these towns and the sea. We travelled 80 kms on this tollway for just €11.60 – a real bargain – would have taken us at least three times longer and without the traffic hassle.

Still a wet drizzly day so opted for an interim campsite to stop and do some washing and forward planning.

Our campsite for tonight: Area Comunale, Celle Ligura

Just off the tollway and outside of the town of Cella Ligura, it is a mixed parking area near a sports field. Nothing much around here and was too wet to walk into town.

Did the chores and settled down for the afternoon with a good book and listened to the rain beating on the roof – quite soothing.

Sunday 7th January and Monday 8th January

With over 65 million people in this small country (statistics as at 2014), we have elected to avoid travelling along the coast roads and take the tollway which gives us the views, and so much less tension trying to avoid these crazy drivers. The skooters are not permitted to travel along the tollway so takes one problem out of the driving equation.

Xmas school holidays officially end today, so hope the traffic and the number of people on the roads decrease substantially. Also the camping fees in the motorhome parks are exorbitant compared to other countries so hopefully these will decrease now that we are in the low season.

The tollways took us through 90kms of freeway, with the most of this going through tunnels. Once outside of these, the views across to the sea and the mountains were spectacular. This country is so overpopulated, there is no break in between towns with high rise apartment blocks and homes being built on every spare inch of mountains and hillside.  Very mountainous countryside.

Our campsite for tonight: Area de Camping Fornaci Al Mare, Deiva Marina

The exit off the tollway took us down a steep and windy road with again quite a few tricky bends and under one 3.5m bridge then into this seaside town. Quite an easy drive down from the tollway compared to past few days.

The beachfront at Deiva Marina – is that a beach?

Another one of those really homely little places where everyone knew each other. Not much open now that the Xmas holidays are over but we took the time to walk around and find a place for dinner tonight. Stopped in at the local for a beer and, as is the custom here, enjoyed a plate of snacks complimentary to have with our drink. We found this in Spain and Portugal as well and is a fabulous idea.

The campsite is a bit disjointed with cabins, motorhomes and caravans scattered everywhere, but we have a whole area to ourselves which is just great. Mario greeted us at the gate and has been a great host. Price here yesterday was €32 but today we have it to ourselves for €15 including electricity.

Selected this place because the railway here has a regular train service that takes you directly to Cinque Terre in around 16 minutes and the security is really good with Mario and family living on site, a full security gate and a boom gate – also excellent security lighting.

Set the alarm for a really early start and did the short 5 minute walk from the campsite to the train platform where we purchased a one way ticket to the first village in the Cinque Terre National Park – Monterosso – only around 4 stops. At the information counter, we tried to buy the hiking ticket and maps to do the full national park walk to all five villages, but were told the hiking trails were closed because of a dangerous weather alert. Only option available was to visit each of the five by train and then explore the villages before catching the train to the next village.

View from Monterosso

Can’t say enough about how spectacular each one of these villages was. Each village was truly amazing and each had their own Monasteries, Fortresses, cathedrals, statues and views to die for.

Riomaggoire – more boats than cars in the main street

We walked up and down hills, climbed a thousand steps at each one and walked through quaint fishing villages. Where in other towns you would have cars, here you see small fishing boats tied up everywhere along the main streets. Terraced houses many more than 5 storeys high were built on the hillsides and just so colourful.

Manarola – our favourite of the 5 villages

Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggoire are the other four villages and if we had to choose which we loved the most (and it is a difficult decision) Manarola was our favourite with Vernazza coming a close second. We probably spent around two hours exploring each village.

Manarola main street

The bad weather did not actually happen with just a couple of showers during the day. A little disappointed that we were not allowed do the hiking trails but wonder now if we would have been fit enough.

Vernazza – the only way to access the beach is through that cave

This was the toughest day for us physically by far and by day’s end we struggled toward the platform to catch the train back to Deiva Marina, staggered the long five minute walk home to Ziggy and collapsed – only having enough energy to open a well deserved bottle of wine and talk about this amazing day.

Vernazza main street

Got to really encourage people to stay here where it appears to be safer and so close to a train that takes you right to Cinque Terre in four stops. The town has quite a lot of restaurants and bars and is right beside the sea.