A normal day

I suppose you’d call that a normal, routine day. No highlights, no fabulous vistas, no ‘wows’. It is to be expected after the previous day’s circumnavigation of ‘our’ island, which we would struggle to better. And that turned out to be the case. We sorted stuff out, foraged, drove, parked up and that was that.

First thing as we packed Doris up I noticed that her rear offside tyre was down. I have an electric pump and, sure enough, the tyre was down at 28 psi when it should be up at 70. I had checked the tyre pressures about four days ago so something had happened inbetween. My Dutch neighbour popped over, we checked the valve (by spitting on it), but it seemed fine. The last thing we wanted was a blow out, or a flat in some difficult situation, so, after I reinflated the tyre, we vowed to go to one of the many tyre shops that we had come across on our journey and ask for advice. First, however, we parked at the local cafe to update the blog (we would have had a coffee, but it was shut).

Doris at the tyre doctors

Doris at the tyre doctors

We then spent about half an hour finding a tyre shop. Initially I stopped at a garage which had tyres in it – the young lad felt the tyre (no English) and before he took a hacksaw to Doris we quickly moved on. Then, by chance, we came across a v decent looking tyre shop, all gleaming and professional looking. Sure enough, it turned out to be so, with a v attractive young woman receptionist who did all the interpreting (as well as translating my latest Vodafone texts telling me I had run out of data – until today, I hope). The young lad took off Doris’ tyre immersed it in a bath of water and checked for leaks. Endlessly. As if he were attending the birth of his first child. Nothing. And I was looking over his shoulder as he did it. Not a single bubble. Strange but all seemed well.

The receptionist (did I mention she was attractive?) priced new tyres – Doris had had new front tyres and I was going to replace the rear ones next year so why not now? But it would take until the ninth of December to get the special camper tyres delivered. We all agreed that we should just drive off and keep our fingers crossed. No charge for the service however. (Although we separately gave the young lad a tip which he received with a beaming smile.). Brilliant.

We foraged at the local Conad supermercado and set sail. It was a dull drive after the delights of Gulf of Policastro. The cloud was high but thick enough to prevent Mr Sun from making a guest appearance and we

lunch by the sea

lunch by the sea

had a spot of rain as we pottered along. The long coast line was interesting but not overly so. There were hill top towns and the odd sandy beach, but the railway line stopped us from immediate access (although we did have lunch by the beach). The light dulled the view but, do you know what? We were v content with just moseying along. We eventually stopped at Falerna Marina in a beachside carpark with another German van; I’m guessing Marina is an Italian designation for their seaside towns – there’s no harbour here.

It was getting dark by the time we stopped, but the wind was warm and C was able to wash some smalls and dry them. We seem to be out of UK satellite TV range and I will need to think of how we can get onto another satellite, possibly Hotbird which at least gets CNN and Euronews. I’ll have to work on that as you have to point the dish in a different direction and use a separate decoder. As an ex signals officer and with a masters in electronics I will still be at my limit. I may have to ask someone… Supper was hotdogs and chips (these little luxuries) and we fell into our usual routine. Great.

another beachside stopover

another beachside stopover

Sun’s out this morning. I have Internet back on my phone and the tyre has stayed up (that’s a mystery). Our destination today is probably Tropea. I’ll leave the ‘why’ until tomorrow, but it could be special. We’re about one hundred and fifty clicks from Reggio where we aim to catch the ferry to Sicily. C and I discussed yesterday getting a foot passenger ferry from Sicily to Tunis for a couple of days, so that’s an unexpected option – we’ll see. And, as always, I’ll try and keep the three of you in touch with it all. Have a good Sunday.

Life on the ocean’s waves

our island

our island

I phoned my dear friend Richard C today. I was in my wetsuit on the tiny harbour wall of the Isola di Dino. C and I had just nearly finished circumnavigating ‘our’ island in Evinrude (our blow up kayak). I phoned Richard because he is an expert canoeist and I wanted to impress him (whilst reminding him that C and I were in the crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean and he was pottering round the southeast of England doing something akin to military stuff). He canoes in the Antarctic, round South Georgia and up and around the islands of Scotland. He has a proper pointy canoe with a spraydeck and special compartment to hold anti-exposure equipment, flares and a next-of-kin form. If it’s not ten foot swells, rip currents, or icebergs, or all three, then it’s not for Richard.

Evinrude is a blow up kayak – he’s quite good quality with a special tough outer lining to prevent chaffing. It takes us about three-quarters of an hour to get him set and us donned in our new wetsuits and floatation aids. We look like we’re about to follow Richard on one of his expeditions, but in reality we were going to canoe about a kilometre in water warm enough not to really need wetsuits and calm enough probably not to be equipped for a near fatal accident. But we didn’t care. We’ve had Evinrude for a couple of years but have never really found many opportunities to paddle him anywhere. Today with meek sunshine and water flat enough to walk on, we had an island to paddle round with hundred foot cliffs and the promise of a cave round the unseen side. We may have been over prepared, but as an ex-cub scout…

Cub Scout paddling expedition

Cub Scout paddling expedition

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Ok, so it wasn’t in any way dangerous, nor exhausting. We saw no whales, no penguins and absolutely no sharks. However we did see a kingfisher fly out of a small cave (doh, these Italians) and a couple of shoals of small flying fish that lit up the deep turquoise sea like a shower of metallic confetti as they scooted across the surface. And the caves. Wow. On the north side of the island, away from the sun, we popped into a cave and it was fab. On the south side in half decent sun the major cave (about squash court size) was your typical Blue Grotto. The colour of the water was a pearlescent light blue. Unreal. The unedited photo below doesn’t need a thousand accompanying words:

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At the tiny harbour wall on the island, which seemed to serve an equally small (but derelict) resort of hobbit houses, I popped into the water to enjoy the whole experience slightly closer to and swam into one of the smaller caves. C hasn’t quite grasped the purpose of wetsuits and, always a little wary of deep sea water, kept hers imagedry for the time being. So whilst she paddled back to the shore, I swam alongside. It was, without doubt, a significant morning’s activity. Whilst slightly less adventurous than one of Richard’s expeditions, we did feel suitably different; a bit alternative. Our Dutch neighbours (there was still only us and them in this huge carpark, although later two more German vans arrived) were taking a slower approach and were sat in their sunchairs when we waddled back with Evinrude on our shoulders.

Not content with the paddle we got the bikes out and cycled down the v long promenade (four miles one way) enjoying the dawdle and stopped for coffee at a local cafe where they fell over themselves trying to get their wifi to work so I could post the blog. And here’s an interesting note. How much do they charge you in Costas for an Americano? Over £2? In Italy you pay €1.50 for a coffee which always comes with a glass of water and often with a side order of tasty almond biscuits. We have been charged as little as €1 and the most we have paid so far was in the main square in Pisa looking directly at the wobbly tower: €2.50. Coffee is cheap in Italy. And it is always very good, often far better than anything you get in the UK.

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We foraged for some bread in the local supermarcado. Forget main supermarkets, even Lidl, this far south. Supermarkets are all ‘local shops’ for ‘local people’ (you have to have seen the TV series…). They’re hidden down side streets and whilst they seem to sell everything you need and mostly at reasonable prices, they are quirky and all laid out differently. You want soya milk? Yes please! Can you find it? Eh, no…..oh, hang on, (eventually), there it is. Shopping in southern Italy requires the alertness of a sniper.

After a late lunch we put Evinrude away (now reasonably dry – he lives on the roof) and took our cup of tea down to the beach to try and watch the sunset whilst a young Italian couple entwined limbs so you couldn’t tell whose was whose a short distance away. They were there first I guess, so maybe we should have moved. But the sunset was magnificent and we didn’t want to miss it.

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Supper was a beef stew in red wine affair (lovely stewing beef from the supermercado) and we watched the second half of The Man Who Lived at the Ritz on rubbish satellite TV. In between we reflected on a rather good day. C searched for sites further down the coast to the toe and found that the coast looks like it might get even more interesting. The sun is veiled in high cloud this morning, but the outlook is scorchio (23 degrees) tomorrow. It is fair to say that we have settled into a much needed routine and have fallen in love with this part of Italy.

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But we do need to find a camperstop to fill up and empty….that’s at the top of our list of things to do today. Have a great weekend.

Gulf of Policastro

Have you heard of the Gulf of Policastro? We hadn’t. We, I guess like you, have heard of the Amalfi Coast (Sorrento, Positano, cascading white and pastel houses stopping just short of the sea) and the Italian Riveira (just to the right of the French Riveira, just as stupendous, but slightly more worn). We’d done the Amalfi before and purposefully by-passed it this time. We drove the Italian Riveria from Sam Remo to Genoa last month. The rocky coastline is spectacular, but the road is heavily populated, it narrows through the hillside towns and villages and, at times, is made unnavigable by randomly parked cars. Day one was a delight. Day two was tiring as Doris weaved her way between obstacles; it was not a great deal of fun.

the start of yesterday's journey - sea in the distance

the start of yesterday’s journey – sea in the distance

But both of these coastlines deserve their accolades. And, until today, they were the stand out coastal attractions of what we had seen of Italy thus far (actually the Adriatic coast ‘Promontoria del Gargano’ on the other side of Italy to Naples is also a lot of fun, more fishing and down to earth sticky out bit than the Amalfi, but beautiful nonetheless). Yesterday we think we hit a new level; what made it more special is that we came across it when we weren’t expecting to, in weather that was much kinder than predicted. Yesterday we ran out of ‘wows’.

We left our beachside stopover, had coffee at the same cafe as the day before (and posted the blog) and took the low road towards Scalea. Except it wasn’t that low. We had tried to follow the coast the day before, but were blocked by, well, blocks; the road had fallen away and concrete blocks prevented Doris from going forward. A curtailed detour into the hills soon exposed the size of the problem (the peaks are over a thousand metres high), so we shouldn’t have been surprised that the low road was an oscillating affair climbing and falling with the contours. At least: it was a highway of sorts, missing towns and avoiding intersections; it wasn’t all falling away, although it had fallen away in a couple of places, but what left was well marked and was workable for nimble Doris. The scenery was breathtaking with the hills blanketed with pines and browning and orangeing deciduous trees. It could have been anywhere in the Alps. There were hill top towns, deep ravines and ageing castles. We felt lucky that a blocked road had made us take this new route.

lunch

lunch

As we came out of the hills and in sight of the sea, what greeted us was extra special. The Gulf of Policastro is a large semicircular bay where jagged, gouged by giants, green and grey mountains, and the smooth blue waters of the Mediterranean meet at right angles. The coast road is etched into the hillside and snakes its way southwards presenting awe inspiring views at every new bend. It beats Amalfi because the hills are more precipitous and there are plenty of throw away islands jutting out of the water, some glazed with ruins. It’s better than the Riveira because it is mostly unpopulated. Yes there are villages, but they rest either side of the road and are infrequent. I found myself driving along and being able to stop often in pull-overs to gawp at the view without fear of being hit by a rogue Italian driver. And, at this time of year we were virtually on our own. It was blissful.

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We stopped in the small town of Sapri where I managed to top up my Italian SIM. Here we also bumped into an odd Italian man who, on the promenade in shirts and t-shirt, was demonstrating in some three tier hanging basket affair, how he could desalinate the sea water. It involved a twelve volt electrolysis process in the top basket where there should have been geraniums, and lots of rocks. Mmmmm. Not sure it was working though (I wasn’t allowed to take a photograph). Lunch followed at a pit stop on the coast road with views to die for.

where we had come from

where we had come from

After that we did have a few words about where to stay, but after the day before’s hilly episode with Doris we eventually decided to break out of the major mountains and settle down at the far end of the bay next to the Isola di Dino. From where we parked Doris (a huge gravelly car park a few hundreds metres from the island) we were able to see where we had come from and it looked just as good as the sun set as it did during imagethe day’s drive. The island (Isola) is almost joined by a causeway and after we had both been for a run (and me a dip to cool down) we walked to the water’s edge to soak up the atmosphere. Back at Doris we were joined by another van (a Dutch Hymer) and then settled into our normal routine. Supper was a smoked mackerel salad type thing… Brill.

our own island

our own island

En route we briefly discussed the advantages and disadvantages of fulltiming abroad – away from family and friends. If I wasn’t working we went through what the day would hold if we were operating out of a campsite in the UK. No matter how we spun it what we were doing just now came out on top every time. And then we came across the Gulf of Policastro…in the sunshine.

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Have a good Friday.

Breath in, breath out

Well done Doris. We’re not too far from where we slept last night. Another beach side village called Castellamare di Velia. It has its own small marina, another long promenade and, of course, the Mediterranean which has been as calm as a heavy dose of Valium – all day. We didn’t get as far as we thought we might because the road was broken, fallen away even. Luckily we didn’t fall with it, but there was a couple of times when we thought Doris might come to some harm. Let me explain.

We didn't get v far

We didn’t get v far

We had aimed to mosey down to Pisciotta on the coast road, about thirty clicks further southeast – of maybe even further. We had had a lovely short break at Acciaroli and hoped to stop somewhere next just as pleasing on our meander to Sicily. We stopped for coffee at Castellamare di Veila, posted the blog and foraged at an Ete ‘supermercado’ in the village – we needed some more red wine. It was at that point that the day all got a bit hairy.

After we popped into town, rather than go back out the way we came in I decided to let Gazza take us out a back road and join the ‘red road’ slightly further along. Ahh, now there’s a problem. To get under the railway line Doris was presented with a narrow, but tall railway bridge. With the confidence of ten men (me; C at this point was having a couple of kittens) we edge our way through the tunnel. We all breathed in and all was well. Until the end of the tunnel where, as we drove through, the ceiling had started to drop like something out of an Indiana Jones movie; we just hadn’t noticed. Until the scraping sound from the top box as we exited the tunnel. Scraaiiippe.

Phew. No real damage done (I checked as soon as we got out), just a long scrape and a small hole which we could fix later. But that was just the start. To join the red road, which we hadn’t realised was climbing with alacrity to our left, the road we were on went straight up. Doris is back heavy (nothing we can do about it, we have put as much forward of the rear wheels as we can) and the front wheels do have a tendency to spin under pressure. Thankfully the road was dry, but at times in first she was struggling. We passed a couple of elderly Italian men who looked at us like we had two heads and four noses; motorhomes were clearly new to this road. But all was just about ok until we came to where our road joined the main road. The two met at right angles, the red road flat and ours was rising at about twenty five degrees. We couldn’t stop, if we did we wouldn’t get started again. Doris, pulling with all her might, crept over the brow of the hill and onto (thankfully) an empty main road. (We should have guessed something at that point.)

Breathing easier we headed off up and down the narrowing coast road. And then, just a few kilometres along, we noticed across the valley that our coast road seemed blocked. Oh well, in for a penny. Sure enough without any signs at all, the road, which was already looking a bit care worn, was interrupted by two huge chunks of concrete, about a car’s width apart, accompanied by some red and white chevrons and not much else. We let an old Fiat Panda through, the even older man behind the wheel indicated that it would be ok for us to make an attempt at the road. Just then two cars came up behind us, we pulled over and let them gingerly go ahead. Then a couple of cars came through from the direction we hoped to travel and one chap made noises along the lines of ‘you’ve got to be joking, follow me this way’.

So we turned round (not an easy task in itself) and found a secondary road heading off into the hills that looked like it might bypass the obstruction. Rather foolishly we took it and after about a kilometre of climb, crumbly road and a steep untended drop to our right, I decided that we should probably turn round (C wouldn’t have gone up the road in the first place). Deciding to turn round and actually turning round were two different things. We did eventually find a small clearing and carefully Doris, who had taken everything up until now in her stride, turned herself about. We then, mostly in first gear, took ourselves – now a bit frazzled – back down the hill and back into the village where we started.

...before

…before

...after

…after

We all decided that, whilst there was an obvious and supposedly untroublesome route through the hills, we wouldn’t bother with that today. No, we would find somewhere to park, put our feet up and regroup. And that ended up in the village of Castellamare di Velia. C made lunch, I fixed the small hole in the top box and the sun waved at us from behind the clouds every so often – all was well again.

Acme window alarms...

Acme window alarms…

...TV covered

…TV covered

After lunch I went for a run and popped into the v refreshing sea to cool down and, having found a cold water shower along the beach to wash off the salt water, we both went out for a promenade whilst it was still warm. We had also finished a couple of jobs in the van that needed doing: I completed the Heath Robinson window alarms and C made a cover for the TV.

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The rest of the evening fell into routine which we are both enjoying. Fried rice for supper, some TV, some knitting and some blog scribing.

this morning's front door view

this morning’s front door view

We’re going to take the low road today. Wish us luck!

Harbourside and happy

It wasn’t a difficult decision. We could either move on and fret about where we would stay for the night, or stay at the quite delightful Marina Accaroli where we were promised a day of uninterrupted sunshine and do b-all for the rest of the day. We’d both been for a run and the coffee was on the hob. The quayside carpark, which had been quiet all night, was emptyish and whilst fishermen came and went, the rest of the village was as quiet as a shy mouse at a cocktail party. Stay was the easy decision.

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Then, as we expected, not a great deal happened. I made some brown bread rolls, a first for Doris. We’re told that Shazza (see Eric and Shazza under ‘Inpsirations’) makes bread all the time in ‘Big Momma’ (an Autotrail motorhome that dwarfs Doris) so we were hardly breaking new ground. But LPG is notoriously difficult to cook with at high temperatures (we have made yorkshire puds before) and whilst Doris’ oven is competetent, it isn’t domestic. And she’s never had a bun in it before, as far as we know. So we were venturing into the unknown.

before...

before…

...after

…after

We shouldn’t have worried. Rolls were fine, C took a chair and paraded over to the other side of the fort to read her book in the sun, and, having tested one of the rolls (v nice) I joined her with my guitar and strummed a bit. What a pair we must have looked. This is, make no mistake, a place where people come on holiday. But unlike southern Spain or Portugal, it’s not an out of season place. So as we acted like it was a warm July afternoon, everyone else scurried around wearing jeans, imagejackets and the odd hat. But nobody seemed to mind. It’s worth noting that at the olive grove we were joined by, at one point, four other motorhomes. A massive American RV (German registered), a big Mercedes truck, beautifully put together and designed for trips beyond continental Europe, a Brit van like Doris, and two posh Italian registered German vans. We met the Mercedes ‘overlander’ (I so want one of those – I’m breaking C in gently) again here at the harbour when we arrived the day before yesterday, but they left yesterday morning. So we were on our own for the day. And whilst Eric (currently in southern Spain, having left the Algarve) talks of a huge motorhome fraternity in Iberia, southern Italy appears to be more small nuclear family. It will be interesting to keep track of the vans we have come across over the next couple of weeks.

At about three o’clock I went for a swim. The sea was as flat as paving slab and you would have thought the water would have been cold. Nope. I can attest the fact that it was warm enough for me to stay in for ten minutes or so, and as all my spare flesh has been traded in for long limbs, I don’t suffer the cold that well (would have been hopeless in the Army). It was hugely refreshing and, as the sun tipped its hat and bade farewell to warm the cheeks of others, the swim was a remarkable thing to have been been able to do late in November. As I came out an Italian man walked past wearing a shirt, jumper, jacket and bobble hat. The red wine, how it thins the blood…

Acciaroli

Acciaroli

We had a cup of tea. C’s into her latest book on her kindle, some Ken Fowlett historical yarn, so she’s not been the best of company (it suited my day as my mind wandered about from here to there, back again and then somewhere else – nothing deep, mostly frivolous nonsense) but we did manage a long walk after tea through the village and onto the nearest headland. We learnt that just round the corner is the real Acciaroli and we are just resting in its marina – we shall find out more when we drive through there tomorrow. The whole place is pretty perfect. The buildings are mostly sandstone built and few have been rendered. All houses in Italy are shuttered and here they’ve stayed with varnished wood. It all looks sturdy, but v pleasantly done with the orangey red brick giving the town warmth and friendliness.

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Supper was chips and something and we watched a bit more UK TV. Finding the Astra 2 satellite is getting tricky now, but once we’re on it’s fine. This morning the sun has come back to join us, but there are clouds as well. We’re in for a period of unsettled weather, but temperatures in the high teens. We’re moving on today. Further down the coast to see what’s what. No particular plan; for me just to empty my head some more. I have been trying to work on ‘what next?’, but currently that’s not coming into any kind of focus. We’ll see.

Have a great Wednesday.

Sorry – time for some stats

It’s probably time for some stats. This is going to bore everyone, so you might as well all skip to tomorrow’s episode, although I will intersperse the dull stuff with some photos, which describe our v relaxing day yesterday.

lunch stop

lunch stop

The problem from a stats perspective is the Tour so far has been three quarters in the UK, one quarter on the continent. I’m going to focus on our first thirty one days on continental Europe – whilst it’s not a reflection of the first four and a half months full timing, for those who might be thinking of doing something similar it’s a more realistic overview of what it may cost if you want to come abroad for a slab of time over the autumn and winter.

Doris' home for the night

Doris’ home for the night

As a reminder we’re living day-to-day on a budget of €40. This includes accommodation. I have also allocated a further €10 a day for diesel, but forgot to budget for mobile charges, so changed the title from ‘diesel’ to ‘diesel and telephone’ in the vain hope that we might be able to manage both for around €300 a

the lovely pear our of Acciaroli...

the lovely port of Acciaroli…

month. All our annual expenditure (insurances, Doris tax, MOT, servicing) is being saved for separately, but in principle full timing insurance, European breakdown, health insurance, MOT and vehicle tax totals in at about £1200. This will surprise some fulltimers who may be paying considerably more, but I worked hard to get the right deal and do feel we are more than adequately insured. I’d be happy to correspond with anyone who needs more detail here.

welcoming sailors to the harbour

welcoming sailors to the harbour

I’ve cheated a little, and for those of you not already asleep this will clinch it, in that we’ve actually budgeted £50 a day to live off (40 + 10) and I have made no allowances for the switch from pounds to euros (keeping the figures the same) so we are making some additional savings there, and, arguably, making life more difficult for us on a day to day basis abroad. After transfer charges at today’s rate I reckon €100 costs about £85. We draw money weekly from our main UK bank, and where I can I pay for fuel using my Visa card from the same bank.

sunset (obviously)

sunset (obviously)

In principle we have found food to be slightly more expensive than the UK, but only marginally so. If you shop in Lidls you know what you’re going to get and if you amend your menus you can get away with paying what you would in the UK. We all know that alcohol (wine and beer) is about half the price of that at home; we have gone further and cut consumption and gone for a target price for a bottle of red wine of €2. I know, our friends will now be smirking behind their hands, but C finds the stronger wines give her a headache, and as I have no pallet at all and was brought up in Essex, I couldn’t care less. Spirits are the same price (if you buy brand names) but we don’t drink them so can’t give you a guaranteed view. All-in-all our weekly food/drink bill is probably about the same as it was in the UK. In total then, looking back as an average, our daily food and drink bill is currently running at €12.80 a day.

The budget price for accommodation was €15. Out of our thirty-one nights so far we have paid for accommodation twenty two times. The most we have paid was at Cratersville, where the ACSI knock down price was still a hefty €18. But tonight we are parked up on the quite lovely quay at Acciaroli right next to some v expensive yachts. Cost = €0. We will be staying in campsites more over the next two months as we settle down for Christmas so I expect the average cost to rise, but as at now accommodation costs have been €8.20 a night.

haven't finished yet...

haven’t finished yet…

We have yet to eat out at night (accept when we were with Peter and Penny). I know, how sad are we? And we must. We have coffee out most days and have stopped for lunch on a couple of occasions. Cost on eating out comes in at €6.50 a day. We have also spent €3.80 a day on incidentals (washing, gas, replacement this and replacement that).

All-in-all then against a budget of €40 a day, C, who controls this budget, has come in at €31.30 a day. Eh, yippee!

Diesel and telephones next. This is not such a good story. Diesel is cheap in France (€1.15 a litre), but we didn’t hang about getting to the south, so over used the allowance quickly (although Doris is slurping about 32 mpg, which is terrific – if you have a bigger motorhome then you’ll have to make allowances accordingly). In Italy it’s much more expensive and prices vary greatly. Our target price is €1.52 a litre, but I have seen it down at €1.46 and as high as €1.68. We have slowed down a little, but it’s still a long country and we’re heading to the south of it. I have bought two additional SIMs, with the Italian one giving 2 GB of data and 250 UK minutes for €20. I think this is a particularly good deal, although Italian Vodafone will not let us tether our IPads to the phone. If you add on the cost of the ferry from Dover to Calais, we’re currently running at €17.80 a day. Whilst we will use less diesel on the coming months this budget has to pay for Ferries too and from Sicily and from Italy to Greece. So getting back on budget is going to be an issue. Oh well.

...have now

…have now

That’s that then. No more stats for a while. Personally I think we’re doing really well and whilst we had tested the allowances last Easter to see if we could work it, it is great to know that the budget we set was realistic.

Sun’s out by the way. The little fishing village of Acciaroli is as fresh and as attractive as any we’ve been into so far. Doris is right by the harbour and loving it. Not sure about today…I’ll let you know tomorrow.

Christ stopped at Eboli

It’s not until you spend time in a country like Italy that you realise that we, us Brits, live in a v civilised and v modern society. We have bin collection, supermarkets in all of our towns, the rule of law, the highway code, dogs that (nearly always) belong to someone and cats that do too, local authorities and politicians that are generally not corrupt, TV shows that are shot by qualified people with imagination, and road surfaces that are level, tarmaced and owned by the local council who do their best to look after them.

It’s this last advantage that I’d like to drill into (not literally, of course – I don’t have the tools). We cycled thirty five miles yesterday. It was mostly flat, but, along with a bright sun, there was a gentle wind which, for half the time, pressed against us as we pressed against it. It was a long way, our longest cycle ride to date and we knew it by the time we got back to Doris.

some big hills just behind Paestum

some big hills just behind Paestum

The road surfaces in Italy are poor. If you excuse maladministration, poor funding, and hot summers and sometimes cold winters which lift and separate the road surfaces, the biggest issue for Italy’s roads is the gas man. Every road has been dug up two, three or maybe four times. When the road was new it was generally well built, with camber, tarmac and a strong edge; we’ve seen a couple. It had integrity. It would have been a delight to drive on. Then the gas man (and the electric man, and drains man and, I guess lately, the fibre optic man) dug up the road. And then he filled it back in again. This happens in every country across the world. Even ours. But, apart from the traffic jams whilst the work is done, we don’t really notice. Because afterwards the road is as smooth as it was before they dug it up. In Italy when they fill the hole back in, they don’t bother levelling the road so it’s as good as new. They stick some tarmac down, it sinks (if it was level in the first place) and hey presto: a road with a parallel artery of sunken tarmac normally placed just where cyclists lay their tread. (Next to another sunken piece of tarmac left by the previous utilities lunatic.). It’s a nightmare to cycle on, you fall into a rut and pop out, and then fall into it again. A nightmare.

The madness is that the Italians love to cycle. Every Saturday and Sunday hundreds of (mostly) Italian men get into their cycling garb – matching tops and bottoms emblazened with bright logos – and hop onto precious, expensive bikes and cycle in peletons for miles and miles. It’s a fabulous spectacle, performed on rubbish roads. How they all manage to remain upright is a mystery to me.

at Eboli, tireder than we look

at Eboli, tireder than we look

Anyhow, we decided not to have a day by the beach but C suggested we cycle to Eboli (inland, northeast of the olive grove). Her Dad was in this area during the latter stages of the last war and loved the place. She lost him before she met me and is sentimental about the area. He introduced her to the book “Christ stopped at Eboli” written by Carlo Levi. The title comes from a local expression which summarises the poverty and destitution in southern Italy early last century. I think I made the point a couple of days ago that God had quickly given up on Naples. Clearly I am well behind the curve on southern Italian social commentary. Actually, on our v long cycle ride (have I told you that already?) we found little poverty. Paestum is v well provided

hi viz jackets just make you more of a target...

hi viz jackets just make you more of a target…

for with swanky hotels and empty bins. Between here and Eboli we saw lots of smart industry, well tended farms and small holdings and eye-catching villas. We can’t speak for Eboli – we got there, staggered off our bikes, fell into some cafe’s chairs, drank up and then cycled back again. There’s no doubt that further southeast towards Brindisi the economy is far more fragile….we stayed there in September for the Big Fat Italian Wedding, and we hope to explore that area more fully in January, so we shall report back in due course. But, from what we saw, He’s certainly made it a bit further than he had done last century.

We had a late lunch, almost fell asleep in our soup and then did a bit of admin. Supper was a curry that C had knocked up the night before and we discussed options for Mary and Annie coming over late in January. The favoured option seems to be: fly to Naples, get picked up by hire car, stay at Paestum (in one of the open hotels) and we can do some things from here.

our last night at the lovely olive grove

our last night at the lovely olive grove

Today we are mostly heading off round the Castellabate Peninsular. The whole coastline between here and Messina (ferry to Sicily) is all rugged, sandy coves and highlighted coast road. There seem to be a number of places to stop so our vague plan is to spend two weeks travelling south until we can’t travel south any further, stopping for a couple of days here and there. The temperatures look set to stay in their mid to high teens, but the cloud and a spot of rain is on its way from mid-week.

We’ll keep you in the picture. Have a good week.

Agropoli

castle wall at Agropoli

castle wall at Agropoli

I phoned my mate JP yesterday; I’ve not spoken to him since we came onto the continent. Mostly to remind him that: first – he’s working for a living and I am not; second – I was sat about ten metres from the ‘flat as a golfing green’ Mediterranean in fabulous sunshine and he was shivering in dull, overcast weather in the UK. It did the trick, making me feel much better and getting right up his nose. He’s a clever chap JP, brighter than a barrel load of monkeys. He’s been following the blog and has noted the ‘up and down’ subtext, and commented that he was surprised we were moving quite so quickly, but pleased to see we were settling down to a slower rhythm. We spoke about all sort: work, now, the future (as we always used to when we worked together) and other stuff. It was really good to hear his voice and to anchor this whole thing onto something recent and tangible. Using up my 250 UK minutes on my v special Italian SIM, with C’s help, I phoned a number of family and friends and it was good to catch up.

ahh, the Med...

ahh, the Med…

That made the day, sitting in a cafe dangerously close to getting our feet wet and phoning some of the people who are dear to us. But either side of that simple, short break we got a good slab of what I think we both imagined the Tour would be about. Sunshine, turquoise sea, cycling, running and some exceptional touristing. We had a slow start, I polished Doris’ cab to finish the cat’s lick of a wash we gave her at the motorhome service point in Pozzuoli. We ate breakfast outside in the sun – to be clear the evenings and early mornings are cold and damp. So whilst we enjoyed the gentle warmth of the early morning sun as we ate our cereal, the bits not in uninterrupted view of the current bun needed to be covered for fear of frostbite. It eventually warms up…

After breakfast we saddled up with some drink and biscuits and headed south for Agropoli, a small port town about four miles from the olive grove. It was a simple ride and the town was unassuming, nothing particularly special when you consider some of the towns we have visited recently. But the weather, the sharpness of the light somehow enhanced by the cool air, the small, elegant castle on top of the promontory and the working harbour, brought together all of our ambitions. We cycled to the end of the long quay, sat and lapped up the atmosphere. At that point, at this stage of the Tour and where we are in general with our lives, we felt v lucky indeed.

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We cycled back through town, stopping for coffee on the main promenade to irritate family and close friends by phoning them to share our bonhomie – but I’ve told you that already. Back at the olive grove we did some admin and then both went for a run around the block walls of Paestum as the sun, which had been our friendly neighbour all day, left by the back door but promised to look over the fence today with a six-pack of beer, some Lambrusco and a pack of Bombay mix. The party would continue.

imageOnce C was back we both put on slightly warmer clothes and walked the hundred metres or so back to the main pedestrian route that runs alongside the temples. By now they were lit up, strangely, but effectively, the three of them in different colours of red and orange. I know I went over the top about the place in yesterday’s blog, but let’s be clear – they are v special. This isn’t Rome where the great architecture is undermined by the constant drone of traffic, the oppression of too many tourists taking photos with iPads (or the new craze of sticking your phone on a special rod to allow you to take selfies from a respectable distance – have they made the UK yet?) and the chatter and general irreverence of the average Italian. Paestum is isolated, calm and ordered, and the temples framed in a way that makes them appear to be centrepieces of an upmarket, open-air gallery. Everything about the site, and the temples that fill the space, is perfect. And lit up at night the framing is complete. You have to come here.

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Supper was, have a guess what?, pasta; a C special with walnuts and pancetta. I wanted Frey Bentos steak and kidney pie but I now understand that has been saved for Christmas. No slaughtering of turkeys here then. The satellite, for the third night running, produced a half decent film. I think it was called Hitler’s Bunker and the title gives a clue to the plot. I have to say Anthony Hopkins is an unlikely Hitler, but he was superb. I didn’t realise so many of his hencemen, including Albert Speer (armaments and architecture) survived. Speer outlived his jail sentence and wrote his memoirs; also didn’t know that. We do know that he made a good fist of turning the outskirts of Nuremberg into a red brick monstrosity of a place dedicated to National Socialism. We spent two days there a couple of years ago; another place you should visit.

The sun is struggling above the horizon as I type, so probably a bit early to sit outside and contemplate stuff – Doris has the heating on. We’re staying for another day, possibly taking the wetsuits to the beach for an outing. Have a relaxing Sunday.

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Paestum

our last view of Naples

our last view of Naples

Driving in and around Naples is akin to navigating your way round Paddington underground at rush hour. There are no rules and it’s every man for himself. Red lights mean squat, people pull out in front of you hoping that you will slow down or stop. Two lanes often become three and, if you include scooters, three and a half. Having almost four tonnes of motorhome is incidental – it’s every man for himself.

We made it. Doris was superb, Gazza a little erratic, and with me trying to second guess what he meant at a seven and a half option road junction criss-crossed with Italians driving without due care (and most on their phones), we did have to negotiate at least one exit twice. It only got easier south of Salerno (where we had majestic views down and back over the Amalfi coast which we had missed out on purpose), but then the surface remained pot-holed and, rather than be distracted by the other drivers, I was put off my stroke by what the prostitutes weren’t wearing. Actually it wasn’t until we got to Paestum, the quite delightful set of Greek temples thirty clicks south of Salerno, that the rubbish was cleared, the girls disappeared and tatty beachside resorts were replaced by four and five star hotels – one with its own roof top helipad. Paestum is clearly more than just a superb ancient monument; it’s where rich Italians come for a break in the south.

looking back along the Amalfi Coast from Salerno

looking back along the Amalfi Coast from Salerno

We needed to shop. Just outside Salerno, a lovely port kissing the edge of the Amalfi and bathed in bright sunshine, we followed signs for a Carrefour supermarket (no Lidls as far as we could tell). The signs were pretty consistent, missing only one junction when we followed our instincts and picked up another sign later on. However, just before Salerno’s major industrial/shopping area the signs vanished. Gone. Nowhere to be seen. There seemed to be four colour-coded industrial areas, but the key to what shop was where was on a sign parallel to the main road which, without stopping and holding up all the traffic, we couldn’t see. Doris took us round every square inch of the sites and we found nothing. It was a frustrating end to a manic two hour’s drive from Dodge City.

We stopped on the coast just before Paestum, probably where British soldiers had landed seventy years ago when the Allies invaded mainland Italy. The sea was flat and calm, and the sun, still high enough to make a difference, brightened the colours and created a smog effect on the distant sea, lifting the Amalfi hills above the horizon in some massive magic trick. It was warm too and we knew then we needed to stop soon.

lunch...

lunch…

We had been to Paestum before. The site is huge, enclosed on three sides by an enormous grey block wall. But from the north, where the main pedestrian thoroughfare runs by the site, the only thing between you and three Greek temples is a wrought iron fence. After parking up in a lovely, cheap (€10 a night including electricity) sosta with vans snuck in between olive trees, we cycled around and about eventually hitting the temples just before the sun dipped below the horizon. The views were spectacular. Our breath had been taken away by Pisa, the architectural highlight of the Tour thus far, but these temples are on a different level. Originally named Poseidon by the Greeks (renamed by the Romans) they are over two thousand six hundred years old and are there, for all to see, bold as brass as if built a couple of centuries ago. I’m not sure what the Picks and Scots to were doing at that point in history, but they certainly weren’t building massive, geometrically exquisite structures like the Greeks. How the tables have been turned recently is a mystery to me.

wow

wow

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We found a supermarket, and having decided to stay on the olive grove for a couple of days, bought a bit of food. By the time we got back to Doris the sun was lighting up another world and it was cold and getting damp. C made chicken and chips and I played with some photos and with sporadic internet we read some blogs. Sat TV produced a surprisingly good film and we called it a day.

the Amalfi from Paestum

the Amalfi from Paestum

Not sure about today. Probably a cycle along the beach road into Agropoli, the harbour town just down the coast. The weather is set v fair for now so moving on is not on our list. Have a good weekend.

Doris among olives trees

Doris among olives trees

Keep your hand on your wallet

Naples is a braggart of a city. It’s all seaport town, caught on a small flat piece of land between angry volcanoes and the sea. Business is conducted by barter with exotic goods and all the men are salt-wizened and the women folk cook and make do for a living. Real men go to sea, the remainder tend bars and dread the incoming ships full of pent up energy and aggression. Petty crime is common place, God has tried but failed to make a name for himself, so He looked elsewhere for an easier ride. The hot summer sun shortens tempers and wrinkles skin. It’s not a place for the faint hearted, nor those unprepared for a fight. So, after a coffee in the site cafe (to post the blog), we took fate into our own hands and marched headlong into the inferno.

We rather liked it, although it really did live up to all the hype. Our graffiti engraved train took us into the main railway station, and blinking into the warm November sun, we emerged with our hands on our wallets and our passports thrust into the inner reaches of our bags.

laundry distance apart

laundry distance apart

The place lives on its nerves. It is relentlessly busy. The traffic is constant, the often non existent pavements packed with people (not tourists – where were they all going?). The noise is incessant, not an overwhelming sound of car horns, nor police vehicles, just noise: cars, hoots, electric saws, clunking, chomping, banging, persistent Italian chatter. The place is built in a number of grids with no central thoroughfare, just row upon row of substantial five to seven story buildings often just a few feet apart. The noise, the nerves, bounce off the buildings and amplify. The place is more alive than any other city we’ve ever been to.

Saint Giovanni - mad monk outside in the courtyard

Saint Giovanni – mad monk outside in the courtyard

Our first stop was San Giovanni di Carbonara, a recently refurbished small church that, without support from a tourist guide, you wouldn’t know was there. It was something out of the Da Vinci Code, almost pagan in its demeanour balancing medieval fine art with simple plasterwork and the odd dome thrown in for good measure. I’m sure there was a mad monk out in the courtyard.

plenty of silverware

plenty of silverware

We also did the main cathedral which was pleasant enough, but following the Da Vinci Code theme was heavily laden with scary off-colour silver sculptures and painted ceilings. The blurb says that the cathedral contains voiles of the Saint of Naples blood which consistently congeals and thins making it, apparently, something venerable. Yuck. Where’s Dan Browne when he needs a good story?

Other than the the ever present threat of Vesuvius (it last erupted in 1944) sitting imageproudly on the horizon and the busy port, the key to Naples interest is its streets and buildings. None particularly stand out, but the consistent design to build each new block ‘laundry hanging’ distance apart and blow the consequences to life on the pavement below is fab. These streets go on for ever, with the ground level peppered with small shops, many just spilling onto the pavement. The Spanish Quarter (where Spanish sailors set up home) has its apartment blocks set closer still and the criss-cross of streets is more frequent. Here (apparently not to be circumnavigated at night) good quality restaurants (packed yesterday lunchtime) set tables between the narrow walls. Scooters zoom up and down alleys hooting before each junction but not slowing. The guides are wrong: it’s just as dangerous during the day.

it's all a bit worn

it’s all a bit worn

We had lunch sat by the roadside near the docks and spent a further hour or so following a simple toursit map and ticking off some of the other sites. By about three o’clock we decided to head back for the main station. Just as we reached the square in front of the station I felt a slight pull on my rucksack. I turned sharply to be met by a middle-aged, smooth Italian who threw his hands up, showing me his palms as if to say ‘there’s nothing here’. I didn’t protest, he was making excuses enough. I walked on. After a few steps a girl behind me said (in perfect English) “do the top of your rucksack up”. We stopped, I took my pack off and, sure enough, the top zip was open. Thankfully I had purposefully not put anything in the top, but it was clear the man had made an attemnot to steal from the pack. I was astonished. Amazed even. The b*stard, but a clever one. Naples was, indeed, Naples. I’ve not spoken to anyone who hasn’t either been robbed in Naples, or who knows somebody who has. What a place.

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Vesuvius, an ever present threat

With my rucksack transferred to my front we hopped on our train and with the sun going down (and the temperature dropping significantly) we arrived back at Cratersville. A cup of tea, hot showers and an aubergine pasta bake supper finished the day. We reflected on Naples. C loved it. Much of the admiration for her was on the buildings, none of which looked pristine. The people, even the thieves, were friendly and welcoming. It is a city designed to be busy and people either have to get on with it, or have a break down and move to Belgium. I think the getting on with it makes them more amenable. More accepting of everything.

I took this photo in Rochester just before we got on the ferry.  If this bunch win next year, we're not coming home

I took this photo in Rochester just before we got on the ferry. If this bunch win next year, we’re not coming home

Sun’s out today. We’re moving on – the strong hydrogen sulphide smell has eventually got to us; we have no dog to blame it on. We need to do some foraging and we may have chance to wash Doris down at the motorhome point (she’s filthy). Then to Salerno and a further potter south. Have a great Friday.