Our time at Camping Ramazotti was one of cool relief, lazing around in the shade, swimming a few times a day, and generally not wanting to move on. It was still unnaturally hot for May – a heatwave keeping the daytime temperature around 30 degrees.
The campsite backed onto a long, long stretch of sandy beach, the restaurant had spaghetti vongole on the menu – a dish I love for the melody of the name as much as the taste. A smart German van arrived beside us and we struck up conversation with Heike and Hermann. Their trip was more fixed than ours as they had not quite retired and had a four week itinerary planned. Their knowledge of the sites they wanted to see made me realise how little research I had done on anything other than places to stay and inspired me finally to tackle the ancient Rough Guide I had found at home and brought along. Too many renowned archaeological sites to limit ourselves to beaches.
Despite being in full laze mode we did finally get the bikes down. I may not have mentioned that having carted them all around France for only one ride last summer we did not take them to Spain over the winter. We should have though. The Los Pinos campsite was a forty minute walk along the beautiful coastal path to the town of Denia for the nearest shopping. Then there were regular buses back to the top of the road. The path was perfect for winging along on a bike – even more perfect for an e-bike! Yes, whilst at home we had researched and bought ourselves a couple of pedal-assisted electric bikes. Better to get a bit of a workout with some battery power involved than to get no workout because the effort always seems too much.
Here they are – two Gtech ebikes. They are pedal-assist which means they only help when you pedal, not like a mo-ped with a throttle and gearing, and they adjust to your effort up to the legal maximum of 15mph. Clever. Apparently the ones with throttles and gears are likely to lose their classification as bicycles before long. These are fun to ride and take the pain out of the operation. We pedalled into the village one day for bread and stuff to make insect bites stop stinging and went back again the next day to find it closed. So, even in the heat of the day, we continued along the cycle route to the other Lido a few kilometres away – easy peasy – and with a cool self-generated breeze. The gelataria was open so we rewarded ourselves appropriately. Then back again feeling very virtuous. My workout app (which only recorded only a meagre two thirds of the trip because I forgot to turn it on) told me I had done 5.81 kilometres at an average speed of 10 km/h and burnt 233 calories. Probably still a few burn to negate the ice cream (one scoop). Especially as the app did not know it was an e-bike:-)
Thoughts turned to Greece – we planned, we booked. A ferry from Ancona on Sunday 28th and the day before that a move one stop closer to minimise missing-the-boat anxieties. After five one-nighters in camperstops on the way though we were reluctant to move. Stella revealed the port was only 80 miles away and it was motorway all the way for a 15.30 check-in – in theory only a couple of hours away. There was no real need for an interim stop – so we spent another day in and by the sea. Only when we were leaving, good and early, did the appalling state of the roads in northern Italy reveal the damage it had inflicted on Portia’s parts:-( We trundled along the campsite track dismissing the rumbling noise from the back of the van as road noise. It wasn’t though – the bit of plumbing for draining the grey water tank, whose grip on the underside of the van had always seemed a bit shaky, had been dragging on the ground and then fell off just as we left the campsite – dumping our little remaining grey water all over the lane. Fortunately a passing camper pointed this out and there were the tap, the pipe and its bracket lying in the road 100 yards back. Why did this have to happen when we were already feeling the pressure of getting somewhere on time? Neil cursed his way round the block and back to the campsite where the very obliging manager found us four screws to replace the ones rattled loose along the way, and Neil was able to wedge the pipe back in a reasonably secure way. Unsettled but, amazingly, only twenty minutes behind schedule, we did a quick and stressed shop at Lidl and took some money out, fearing cards would not be accepted everywhere in Greece. (This proved wrong.) The anxiety wound up a notch when the first garage we tried refused to sell us any LPG – the guy claiming that the pressure used for powering vehicles was a different from that powering the cucina. We know this is not true but fridges in hot weather are a bit greedy, so it mattered quite a lot. Bugger. The next service station along just filled it up and nothing exploded. Ah well.
A few more miles and – phew – the check in, at least two hours early. There were Heike and Hermann who had taken the slow road shortly before our problem with the pipework. Too soon to relax though as it is not clear where to go to board. You are given a gate number but there is no indication of where the gate is and there are no calls to board. Turns out it is not on the same site and a few more roads need navigating. Thank goodness for helpful and knowledgeable fellow travellers who explain it all once they see you looking lost and anxious.
Still too jumpy to wait anywhere else, even in the shade, we went straight to the parking place on the harbourside and sat in the blasting sun for a few hours chatting with other moho hopefuls and trying to keep cool. A sea breeze helped. Here’s piece of useful information – ferry times are a bit approximate here – we got away about two hours late. The unloading and loading process is an unbelievable chaos of huge trucks, vans, mohos, motorbikes and people navigating around each other in the parking lot and the hangar-like space of the vehicle deck. Health and Safety? I don’t think so! Men with whistles beckoned and gestured ferociously to fit vehicles between struts and under beams with amazing precison. “They’re wankers” was the considered judgement of a regular british van driver next to us after being shunted into a space that looked severarl inches narrower than his van and trailer.
Now 22 hours to unwind on the ferry. We had a cabin although we had hoped to use the “camping on board” facility where you stay in your van on the open deck of the ship (but with access to showers, toilets and restaurants). This is cheaper than getting a cabin and sounded fun. Due to our late booking it was not available and the other line (Minoan) offers an “All inclusive camping on board” ticket. This gets you an inside en suite cabin and thirty per cent discount in the restaurants. Not sure where the “camping part comes in. I had thought of trying to upgrade to an outside cabin but the various hassles of the day meant we were just grateful to be on board at all. The inside cabin was pleasant. It had two berths rather than bunks so no ladder climbing needed – Neil was suitably grateful – and meant it was a bit wider than the Hull-Zeebrugge cheaper cabins. Not realising that we should have collected discount vouchers from reception on boarding we headed for the restaurant and picked up unexpectedly huge portions of pasticcio and salad. The nice man on the till gave us the discount anyway and advised us to get our vouchers for breakfast. Hermann and Heike rushed in just as we were leaving – now they were looking a bit stressed:-( They were disembarking at Igoumenitsa, four hours before Patras, so had waited all this time and been one of the last five vehicles loaded, and had struggled to find a power point – none of the loading staff give any information. Barely had they showered off the heat of the day when they heard the announcement that the restaurant was closing:-(
Stuffed with food and wine an early night was needed, made a bit later by losing an hour to Greek time, a comfortable bed, then most of a day to watch the Balkan coast slip by from the open top leisure deck – complete with empty swimming pool, bar and shade. A good place to watch a misty blue Albania float by.
Email addresses were exchanged with Heike and Hermann and we hope to see them on the way back – coincidentally on the same sailing as us!
Because it was getting hot..
Coming down from the mountains it got hotter and hotter – the Po valley is a long flat part of Italy and when it gets hot, it gets HOT. This is fine as long as we are driving along with the air-con on, but very draining once you stop in a sun-blasted aire. Judging from a tiny sample, the provision of public shade is not as widespread as it seems to be in France. The aires are not as well signposted and often seem to be in car parks in town centres – nice and sunny! My unfamiliarity with the Sostas book and difficulty with plethora of GPS co-ordinates had me reaching for another resource – OurTour’s invaluable map of their own stopping places. They took the route over the Col de Larche and then across Italy, so I converted their decimal co-ordinates to Stell’s preferred format and followed in their wheel tracks. Thanks Ju and Jay and a big woof to Charlie.
Stella showed a good route along an A road road running parallel to the toll road all the way to a precision location in Asti (yes, where the spumante comes from! (Other regional wines are available.)). We were trying to be economical by avoiding the toll roads. Never again in Italy! The road surface was appalling – broken and potholed – Portia was rattled to her cogs and we were shaken and jolted. The amount saved on tolls would never cover the repair bill for joint tightening and nut and bolt replacement! I guess the years of financial austerity imposed by the European Commission, the IMF and the banks are taking their toll. We eventually rattled into the car park designated as an aire in the big, big, city square at Asti. The site itself is not picturesque but the location is terrific – a short walk to the tourist office, the many eateries in the arcades and the historic sights. A bit a of shade from the merciless 30 heat would have been be good too:-(
The TO provided a map and guidance so we headed straight to the café area for our first meal out. Neil attacked a mega bruschetta and I had a Salad Niçoise – I like to stay local in my food choices.
A couple of icy menthe á l’eaus (for want of knowing what they drink in Italy when it is hot) and we felt up to tackling a few sights. Only the churches are open on Mondays so we dawdled in the peaceful cool of Saint Secondo until it was no longer seemly. Then back to the oven that Portia had become and quickly out again over the road to the park to read and plan until the evening cool.
A bit of a heatwave was forecast so two decisions were made that evening: firstly, to race across the Po valley to the Adriatic, and secondly, to do it on the motorway! The urge to swim was taking over all good resolutions about culture and the like. This was a shame because every possible route resonated with references to Shakespeare, fashion, wine or something culinary: we had stayed in Asti but drank no Spumante, we whisked past Parma with never a morsel of ham, saw Milano sign posted to the north without rethinking our wardrobes and headed for Ravenna which I am sure has some Shakespearean connection but I can’t quite remember what. The consoling thought is that we can always come again (inshallah) and come a few weeks earlier in the year.
Only one stop would be needed before the campsite near Ravenna and that was the private sosta in Fontanellato. Mere minutes from the motorway it is cunningly placed under an array of solar panels. Clever – protection from the sun whilst also profiting from its energy – feels like revenge! The aire itself is fully automatic: barriers which open to let you in when you take a ticket and let you out when you present some money. Would be helpful to know in advance how much they were going to demand beforehand. It was ten euros but one would-be camper was getting a bit exercised about it. There were some nice clean toilets as well as the usual services, so definitely worth the outlay.
The town of Fontanellato itself is an attractive, historic spot with a fortress dating back to the 15th century. It is a moated fort in the middle of town, surrounded by a quadrangle of ancient arcaded buildings now housing cool and shady tables for bars (beers were taken) and gelateria (ice creams were not for some reason). There was also an optician who took at least fifteen minutes to replace the nose pads on Neil’s prescription sun glasses for three euros. And I helped myself to a sherbet lemon from the bowl of sweets on offer while you waited. Can’t get nasty at that now can you?
Buoyed by the thought of a swim in the sea we raced down the toll road on cruise control at fifty mph to a place called Camping Ramazotti at the Lido di Dante near Ravenna. There was also a Lido Adriano just a couple of kilometres away and the road signs pointed to the two Lidi. First Italian grammar lesson – the plural for Lido (meaning shore or beach) is Lidi . Not to be confused with Lidl one of which was also nearby! Hurrah! Ramazotti is an ACSI campsite and spreads itself over many acres beside the beach. ACSI describes it as basic. I would beg to differ and call it unsophisticated – no electronic doors to the facilities here – no doors at all in fact except on the toilet and shower cubicles themselves, and roofs only where needed. But all clean and working well.
There is shade if you seek out the bigger trees and employ your compass skills, and plenty of space for the pitches. The sea is just at the back there – through a gate and you are on the beach – miles of sand and a view of Rimini with its echoes of seventies glamour in the distance.
Which way to go?
There are a few options for crossing the Alps from France to Italy. The further south you go the lower the mountains become but the busier it gets. The northernmost crossings involve expensive tunnels and toll roads. So we opted for one in the middle, the one that that takes Briançon as the point of departure and goes over the mountains the col at Montgenevre – apparently there is an aire at the top for those with plenty of gas for central heating!
Packing a van is quite a stressful process, especially when closing the house up as well. Not so bad in York as we have house sitters looking after the house, but in France everything has to be emptied, turned off, made safe – I have been known to leave fruit in the fruit bowl before now. It dehydrated rather than liquifying I’m pleased to say and there were no angry swarms of wasps and flies awaiting our return.
Being a bit unwell a leisurely pack and unhurried start were needed – therefore we would not go far that day. “All the Aires” offered a pleasant sounding spot at Prisée near Macon – still in Burgundy and clearly they were expecting us!
Since its last visit from the inspectors the aire had been newly and beautifully done up: positioned alongside a vigneron it was ornamented with roses and other shrubs around neatly defined bays. Free tokens for water were available in the vigneron shop (good move) so naturally we felt obliged to stock up whilst in there. Rosé fizz and five litres of Macon rouge found their way into the laden van.
So far so good but, the best laid plans of mice and men….. Already anxious about the crossing – we had seen videos showing it was narrow and winding – a diversion sign was a bit alarming. It appeared long before the the turnoff for the mountains and indicated the road was closed just before the pass and a very long detour around two sides of a triangle was offered. It was already pretty mountainous and few through roads are actually available. A quick consultation of the map showed it would be quicker to continue south and take the next middle route over. This took off from Barcelonette and crossed at the Col de Larche. Another quick consultation of the books and a destination for the additional night in France was identified. Despite the ominous name, I selected an aire at Corps near Gap. This was a less attractive spot in a sort of car park-come-municipal vehicle park – but lovely mountain sunset views nonetheless (if you craned your neck a bit).
There is a second aire there up a bit of a hill and at least two motorhomes just spent the night in the town square car park.
Heating needed – will we run out of gas?
Both nights in France were cold and we needed the heating on. Why were we not concerned about running out of gas as we were in Spain in the winter? Why were we not worried about the necessity of acquiring an Italian gas bottle and all the associated pipes, regulators and adaptors? Because we had fitted an LPG tank whilst back in the UK. Hurrah! Refillable gas at petrol stations in all (most) European countries (apparently Finland does not have it). All you need is a set of adaptors for the different national pumps! Of course you do – a recent fuel type, widely promoted on ecological grounds but still not standardised across co-operating countries! Three adaptors are provided with the installation in a nice little bag and these cover the whole of the EU, so clearly some standardisation efforts have been partially successful!
The work was done by Autogas 2000 just outside Thirsk, whom we can strongly recommend. We could have had a larger tank slung under the chassis but it would have meant cutting into one of the struts holding up the habitation body. Not a problem it seems but maybe adversely affecting the warranty. What doesn’t? The alternative, a permanently plumbed-in 14kg tank in the existing gas locker with an external filler point in the skirt. This was a smaller capacity than we had hoped for and partly took up the space in the gas locker which we had hoped to use as a modest external storage space as we have none. We preferred the latter option though and there was still usable space for outside type stuff – the electricals, the levelling blocks, toilet chemicals, hose pipe, watering can etc. It was also half the price of the more major installation which was an unexpected bonus. The thought that we can just refill at will is bliss, although a bit anxiety provoking until we have tried it in anger in foreign lands.
Onwards and upwards
The road through the col looked a bit fearsome on the map – so twisty they couldn’t deliniate them all on the map – but it wasn’t too bad at all. Portia channelled her inner mountain goat and swung nimbly around the hairpins, ignoring the sheer drops. Two lanes for the most part but a certain absence of white lineage in places, especially around the hairpins. Lakes appeared in the valleys, snow shone in the hollows by the road, despite the sunshine, and the peaks towered white in true alpine fashion.
There was a border post at the col – two Italian Carabinieri stood and chatted to passers by. We nipped into the car park from the French side for a photo-op then out the other side into Italy without troubling them at all.
So there we were. In Italy with a whole new set of books in a whole new language that neither of us can speak:-( The Aree de Sosta book is supposed to be the equivalent of the All the Aires books for France and Spain but is totally different: the maps are poor and the layout is confusing in the extreme. And it is written in Italian, which is fair enough. I won’t even start on the mindboggling number of standards for expressing geographical co-ordinates, but each book and website, and Stella, seem to use a different one! And each converter offers a subset of those available. I now have a converter that copes with five – but I don’t understand the fifth!
Three or four aires are marked on the road down from the mountains but, we had been warned, that signs for them can be a bit hit and miss. We missed the first one and pulled into the second rather tentatively as it looked like a rather ramshackle car park beside a café. Googlemaps seemed to show us as being in the right place though so we parked up and had a stroll around. The toilets were truly disgusting and the sign that seemed to be addressed to motorhomers was a stained and crumpled piece of paper that we chose to ignore. This was a mistake as it turned out. Closer examination of the Googlemaps image showed several mohos parked the other side of the café so later in the evening, after all but a solitary campervan had left, we moved around and joined it. It had felt decidedly isolated so another camper was welcome. That was when we spotted the electric power points on posts. Locked! you had to go into the café to pay and get one unlocked. And the café was now closed. The stained and crumpled piece of paper was saying you could stay with electricity for 7 euros. Ah well – we had plenty of gas! And it was a lovely spot with a rushing stream only feet from our door.
The aire at Argentera with added Neil and more of the view.
First to France – as usual
Since getting back from Spain/France in mid-March we had worked out a plan of sorts. I am not so fond of hot sunny weather – once the mercury gets close to 30 I start to get scarily hot and prickly and red-faced. Neil loves it even though he too heads for the shade whenever possible. The other factor is the desire to go back to Greece – pre-van Crete used to be our destination in early June. It will have to be the mainland this year as taking the van to Crete may be a step too far! Even getting to the mainland will be costly because it requires a ferry crossing from Italy. True, there is a route driving south through the Balkans (also on our agenda for another trip) but there is an Albania-shaped obstacle just before you get there. A few commited motorhomers have tackled that route but it is still a bit of an unknown and insurance can be problematic.
I had vetoed Greece any later than mid-June due to likely heat but we needed a reasonable spell of time there to make the expensive ferry crossing worthwhile. Working back from that we needed to be in Ancona for the ferry towards the end of May, leaving France about ten days before that and having at least two weeks to straighten out the fermette on the way. That meant we should have left towards the end of April. Which we didn’t for one reason and another. But at least an early spring meant I saw my lovely miniature acers come into full leaf.
Yet again the economical option of driving to Folkestone to get the ferry was abandoned and the Hull-Zeebrugge crossing was booked for 6 May. It is not actually as profligate as it seems if you count the fuel cost, overnight camping and meals on the road to go the other way – and, most importantly, it removes the unpredictability and anxiety of a 270 mile drive to make a deadline. And we prefer it!
After an otherwise healthy winter Neil came down with shingles (no picture) as soon as we got back to York – a really vicious, painful episode of the virus that lasted a full six weeks – and has not fully gone yet nearly three months later! So we kept dithering about picking a date to leave. Then, just after booking the ferry, we both came down with fearsome colds:-( With Neil still full of it and me starting it with a complete loss of my voice we packed up and set off.
Being summer we did only one overnight on the road in France at a place called Esternay. It was a wet, grey day and I was so full of cold I am not sure I ventured outside the van and have only the slightest memory of what the place looked like. Fortunately Neil did venture out and took a picture – a nice town square with a boulanger opposite. At least we would be handy for fresh bread in the morning. Wrong – it was a bank holiday in France so it did not open:-( Victory in Europe day apparently. How do we always manage to get caught out like this? Thank you Esternay nonetheless.
Neil was a few days ahead of me with his cold (but I do not blame him!) and I got it badly. So my two weeks at the fermette was spent in a haze of aching sinuses, unending mucous and soggy tissues. Lovely! Because of this we had not been round to greet the neighbours – ninety-year olds and colds are not a good mix. They must have heard all the snorting and honking though because when I phoned to say goodbye and apologise for not popping in there was some alarm – my broken french (and the appalling telephone line) had not accurately conveyed that the phone call itself was the goodbye – they thought I was inviting us round to see them! Never has a farewell been so warm and sincere once we got it straight.
Neil prised the barn doors open, got the car started, mowed the lawn and kept the fire going for the first few days while I lay around and slept mostly.
Then the weather picked up and I managed to get a few tomatoes and basil plants in. We will be away at least six weeks and tomatoes need support – I created a network of sticks and string in the hopes they will grow through them and stay upright. Or the other neighbour might take pity and tie them up. He started to grow veg in the plot immediately behind ours when he retired a few years ago but gave it up as bad job. A townie all his life I think he thought it was a sort of magic that worked come rain come shine without too much hassle and was unprepared for poor crops. The underground spring should keep the toms watered as it did last year – although we only went for up to ten days at any one time then. I also got to see the irises flowering for the first time since planting them four years ago.
We ventured as far as our local village for the festival of the Raising of the Cow – whom we found posing for photgraphs before the hoisting.
Called Blanchette, she graces the church roof during the summer months and another festival, the Festival of the Chestnut, sees her descent in October. Legend has it that a real cow was put up there in a time of drought to graze on the grass on the roof and the story is still honoured. The memory of Blanchette herself is honoured in a chunky plaster model as the church roof no longer offers good grazing. The festival has an accompanying brocante, stalls of regional produce and a chipolata and chips opportunity at the food tent. Feeling poorly we managed to force down a couple of helpings of chipos and chips before retiring to the cool of the fermette.
It was now past mid-May and time was getting short. Obtaining several boxes of tissues we consulted books, maps, on line apps and picked a route for crossing the Alps to Italy. We felt nervous but fixed a date for moving on Friday 19 May.
Can you publish blog pages then re-arrange in another order?
I expect you can. I don’t know how to do it:-( I am sure I can go back and edit though so I am littering the blog with placeholders in the vain hope I will at some point go back and amplilfy! This page will contain all the thing s we did in February 2017. ?
Here is a highlight. It is an aire on an almond and orange smallholding in the Jalon Valley. We were there to meet up with some members of the Val Del Pop U3A I met virtually during my stint as Editor for the U3A Newsletter in York. They get everywhere these U3As!
Then it was back to France in late Feb to get the car back to Folkestone by 5 March for the MOT. Is it a good idea to have a very old English (well, German actually) car that spends a lot of time in France? Hmmmm….
More at some point.
We can’t go to spain just yet…
Because the roofer turned up on time on 3rd January and took the barn roof off.
I was worried that snow would stop the work but apparently only rain does that. They worked pretty tirelessly through frost and wind taking the slates off, replacing all the wood beneath and putting tiles-that-look-like-slates back. Slates are more complicated and that means more expensive in case you were wondering! Removing the slates cast a whole new light on the inside of the barn – especially the interesting colour scheme we had never noticed on the inside of the doors.
And now for something completely different…
What follows is a brief summary of January 2017 until I catch up with the present (5 June) and come back to finish it off! Sorry:-(
It got a lot colder while the roofers worked – the frost was spectacular. We bundled up and went for walks in the fields.
and the views were spectacular..
Finally we set off for Spain – we took the long way round to avoid the route over the Massif Central because -12 was forecast. As it happens we still got -10 degrees and the pipes froze overnight as we headed for Carcassone via Limoges. We used a lot of gas!
The temperature rose on reaching Roses – no doubt a lively beach resort in summer in Spain. We are in a sophisticated paid aire-come-campsite-come-parking lot (automatic doors to the facilities no less!). But it rained. We were on hook up so could relax about the gas situation. We did not have a spanish bottle – something to tackle another day.
Three days later – sun in Camping Vizmar, Peniscola.
A similar site at another deserted beach resort. Not sure I would want to be here in high season actually. We wove south hoping for greater warmth – stopping at more car-park type aires. It’s certainly different from the set up in France.
And then we found Los Pinos – an old fashioned campsite with a palmy path to the sea.
A rocky coast – no high rises. Bliss.
A small bar where everyone gathered at six for a drink. Very convivial.