Sunday, 12 December 2010

The end of our adventures...?

8th - 9th December

Frosty journey homeOn the 8th we were still at the campsite as we had to wait at least 24 hours after the vet had carried out the tick treatment (required under PETS regulations) before we could check in to board the ferry, and the day was spent carrying out last minute jobs and ensuring we were all up together before we got back to Blighty.

On the 9th it was all very straightforward and we had a leisurely breakfast followed by coffee and Brie sandwiches (I couldn't stop buying bread and Brie, munching it then heading back for more). Soon we were on the ferry and the crossing was very quick. We were back in British waters before we knew it. We had no problems with the crossing at all and the customs staff who checked our van were very friendly with a good sense of humour. Again Nailz was the ice-breaker and he loved getting all the attention.

After a few hairy moments trying to remember which side of the road to drive on we were speeding back to Dorset on a lovely sunny evening watching another formidable sunset. We were relieved that there was no snow or ice after the horror stories we had heard while abroad and weather-wise it was comparatively comfortable.


Needless to say we are back in sunny Wimborne all safe and sound having had a wonderful five month stint abroad. We were even met with some lovely home-made soup made from the produce of the family allotment which was delicious - thanks Donna! It's very nice to be home.

Some big "thank-yous"

Us in Venice!Our adventure would not have happened were it not for the help of a number of our very good friends. Firstly Mic and Martin, who put in such a huge effort to get Gerty fit for our trip. We really cannot thank you enough! Mic and Martin have worked in the most extreme weather conditions including electrical storms, snow, downpours, sunshine - anything you can imagine - without the benefit of a good workshop, all on a driveway, and produced something breathtakingly beautiful yet practical, subtle and graceful yet protective and hardy. Gerty is a work of art. She has performed beyond our expectations and has kept us safe and warm in some very difficult conditions. There were often moments when we completely forgot where we were, because wherever we were, we were home! Thanks guys, so very much!


Gerty!At the start of our adventure I did say I'd put up some photos of Gerty to show her off and with all the activity over the last five months I've not done it (I'm not sorry!!). So here she is in all her glory, with photos courtesy of another good friend of ours Charlie!

It's worth noting a small number of details which are (among) my favourite features of the van (there are too many to list).

Solar Panels
Gerty from AboveWe didn't use electricity hookup once on our trip. All the power we used came from the sun (and occasionally boiling a kettle from a shower block!). Our lighting uses LED lights so our electrical consumption footprint was pretty low but it made our trip easier knowing we didn't have to rely on campsites and were using renewable energy for electric at least. I did flatten the battery once when I was using my portable studio for about 10 hours (laptop, audio interface, USB keyboard, stereo, lights - pretty much everything electrical I had with me running at once) but the battery was soon blinking away fully charged a few days later.

Wood Burning stove

Gerty's kitchen and wood burnerThis was a godsend when the temperatures plummeted as we got to the north of Italy and kept us sane as we headed through very cold temperatures in France. Lighting it in the morning was fun (it really focuses the mind when it's minus 6 outside), and evening spent watching "hippie TV" was a joy. It also meant I had a great excuse to indulge on steaks as we went round (trying the local beef was one of my highlights) as well as chestnuts which was another treat amongst many. Martin hand-made pretty much everything except the burner itself and the copper pipes which were beaten flat and used as brackets look amazing.

The Living Room interior

Gerty's Living roomBit vague I know, but when you spend a bit of time in the van you really lose yourself. Anything can be going on outside and you will be blissfully unaware, surrounded by beautifully-stained tongue and groove, French-polished ivy roots, an irish-knot engraved table and hand-made seat cushions (another big thank you, this time Marcia - they have been so comfortable!). Also have a look at the kitchen area - it's another Mic masterpiece - see the tiles and the perfect grouting around them? All done by Mic's fair hand.

The Garage

The Garage areaCheers to Dave for making the lead trays which sat in our "garage" area under the wet-suits and scuba gear to catch any dripping water. They really did the job. Functionally this area was key to our trip. With space to hang wet-suits and BCD's, a wood store, a space to keep the fold-up bikes and our other equipment and tools.

...and finally

Thank you for reading and leaving comment either here, facebook, twitter or flickr - it's been really nice to get little messages from home.

MattyRachelicusSo there we have it. We've been to a total of ten different countries, had a brilliant time, seen some inspiring sights, met some wonderful people, eaten some brilliant food and drunk some very nice wine, beer and brandy on the way. We can't wait to catch up with everyone (and bore you with over 30Gb of photos), so I'll now bring this blog swiftly to a close.

Will this be the end of our adventures?

No way.


For a FULL map of where we've been (if not the exact route), have a look here

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Heading home! Cannes to Calais

2nd - 8th December

Heading home

Cannes beachAlthough we were in a comparatively warm spot on the Cote d'Azure, we made the decision to start heading home. The wind had picked up a lot and heavy rain was forecast for the next few days. With northern Europe under a deluge of snow and ice (most of France was under about a foot of snow) we wanted to get back to Calais swiftly and safely, but after experiencing the wallet-emptying Autoroutes decided to take the slower, more scenic Route Nationale roads up the Rhone valley. From what we had learned from locals the Route National, or "N" roads, should be cleared. However we had also been told that no matter how good the French authorities where at clearing the road, if it came down in a hurry, snow would be a problem, so that meant that I could justify buying snow-chains! We also knew we would have to do a lot of driving and skimp on the sightseeing a bit, but this would leave something to see next time round.

Cannes to Avignon

On the road to AvignonOn the 2nd we left Cannes and headed in leisurely fashion towards Avignon to avoid the Alps as much as possible. This meant taking the coastal road as far as St Raphael, then heading up a slightly mountainous road into the Frejus forset. After this scenic drive with Another wonderfull sunsetwonderful panoramas of the surrounding white-topped mountains, we stopped at the scenic town of Aix-En-Provence to see the town that gave the world Cezanne. We didn't stop long as we still has a lot of driving to do to get to our scheduled stop at Avignon, which we arrived at after dark. We settled into a carpark in between two rivers as the temperature dropped to minus figures. It was a pretty cold night and we had to make some modifications to the van to ensure we retained more heat for the next night, such as covering over vents and ensuring the side door was fully sealed, which made a huge difference, and made for a more comfortable nights sleep.

The walls of AvignonThe next day we were up and had a lovely walk around Avignon to the food market in the centre of town. There are loads of stalls and it reminded me a bit of Wimborne market except that all the stalls were foody stalls from seafood to spices to cheeses and meats, anything you wanted could be found here. Around the town of Avignon are spectacular defensive walls which make for an amazing backdrop. With the morning mist over the river, the scene was complete.

Avignon to Lyon

Fortresse de MornasLater that day we pushed on towards Lyon, our next scheduled stopover. Not far from Orange, jut north of Avignon, we stopped off at some castle ruins perched high on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Route Nationale and the motorway, La Fortresse de Mornas. We climbed up to the ruins which afforded some superb views of the surrounding countryside.

With a couple of detours we didn't quite make it as far as Lyon before the snow started to come down pretty heavily, but we found a friendly truck stop retaurant who let us stay in their carpark for the coldest night we had experienced. The temperature was down to -6 degrees when we pulled up, so I an only guess what it was in the middle of the night!

Lyon to Dijon

Cold morningThe following day the carpark was frozen solid but again with a good fire we were soon warm and toasty in the van. Having survived our coldest night in relative comfort we again hit the road, where our next target point was the keen town of Dijon. After getting lost in Lyon we were soon speeding north again, with jolly tunes being played over the radio, when we were told of a traffic problem ahead on the A6 motorway. As we were on the parallel "N6" road I felt confident we would miss the problem, only to find that my French listening skills weren't as good as I'd hoped. In the distance we could see lorries and cars speeding by on the A6 as we ground to a halt miles from a junction we could use to access the motorway. Hours later we had barely moved, crawling along at a snails pace which did afford the unexpected advantage of me being able to nip across the road to pick up a delectable cream cake and walk back to where the van was!

Also on the way we came across a christmas market in full swing in a little village. We stopped by and the smell of mulled wine was everywhere. They had lots of lovely home-made crafts and nick-nacks for sale and all the clubs from the village, such as the local martial arts club, were raising money for charity by baking cakes and selling the afore-mentioned mulled wine. there was a lively atmosphere and we almost parked the van there for the night as we both had a hankering for some of the beverages on sale, but decided that we still needed to make up some time we had lost in the jam, so on we went. We ended the day in a rest aire in a little village of Beaune just south of Dijon.

Dijon to Reims

Ice vomitOn the 5th we had a good look around Beaune which is another lovely walled town. Here they keep millions of litres of wine ageing below the streets, in the numerous wine cellars of the town. It's a really pretty place and the snow covered roofs added to the festive feel.

Moet & ChandonAgain we pushed on north, this time towards the town of Reims and again we spent pretty much the whole day on the road. Everywhere was a blanket of white from the recent snow, but we had timed our trip so we would miss all the precipitation. We stopped in a little picnic spot which was covered in snow near the Champagne town of Epernay.
Just as Beaune keeps loads of wine under it's streets, Epernay is the spiritual home of Champagne. There is a road called Champagne Avenue where all the big name Champers producers have their bases. It's really big and plush, but unfortunately as we had arrived late in the day we didn't get any tasters. Ahh well...

Reims towards Calais

On the 6th we continued our trip north through the Somme area and passed a large number of war graves of British and Canadian forces. They were out in the middle of nowhere and hundreds of graves at a time, a sombre reminder of the events that took place here.

We ended the day a little more north in a picnic spot which was covered in snow with lovely views of a white countryside, just south of Ardres where our vet appointment was the following day. We awoke to the coldest morning yet, as we were exposed on a hill in the middle of nowhere though (with mysterious mountains of potatoes for company). Outside the temperature was a chilly -6.5 when we woke up and there was ice on the insides of the windows! Brrr! Once the fire had defrosted us we then arrived in the town of Guines, where we found our final campsite. We then got Nailz in to the vet for his check-up (required for the PETS passports scheme to return to the UK) which was no problem at all and the vet in Ardres was very good.

MattyRachelicusBack at the campsite we joined two other British couples (the only others on the site) for drinks, singing (once we were all well oiled) and some impromptu mouth organ playing. We had a great time, but the next morning I had a very heavy head!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Parma, Cinque Terra, Genova, Monaco, Cannes and Mandelieu-La Napoule

28th November - 1st December

Lago di Garda to Parma

Chilly start to the morningAfter checking out of the campsite we moved further round the Lago di Garda to a very small but elegant village called Bardolino. We spent bit of time sipping coffee in one of the many coffee shops by the harbour before Lovely fireheading off again towards Parma, a fair bit south. En route we stopped to visit another little town of castlemaggiore, but only for a quick pit stop. Again we passed banks of snow and were grateful that Martin had put a wood burning stove in the van for us to keep the cold at bay. It was quite a drive and with the nights well and truley drawing in it was dark before we got to Parma and again we were able to see the town during a very quiet period.
We stopped just outside the town at a little church surrounded by snow and got a fire going before bedding down in our nice and toasty home. The following morning we woke to a winter wonderland and when the sun poked his head over the snow-covered mountains the scene was complete. Again the fire came into it's own and it was a real pleasure to step out into the cold to enjoy the frosty morning and then scamper back into the warm and cosy van.


Snow-capped mountainsWe had to get some cheese from Parma and we had passed a dairy just up the road before we came off the main drag and set up camp the night before. There we found a busy (always a good sign) shop selling the farm produce and couldn't resist a taster. It was really nice and not as overpowering as I had expected. It was aged 36 months, so was the good stuff with plenty of character, but also a slight delicacy to it which made it irresistible. Naturally I couldn't decide whether I liked it or not so after a few more tasters (and a prod from Rachel) I had to get my wallet out and buy some.
Soon we were again on the road heading south towards La Spezia, on the coast, and on the journey we were surrounded by immense, snow-capped ranges of mountains. It was a fantastic journey and we took our time so we coukd admore the scenery as it slipped by.

Cinque Terra

Cinque TerraWe were heading to a part of Italian coastline called La Cinque Terra which is five villages set into rugged coastline. We walked down the small high street of Manarola to the harbour where the rough sea was hammering the jagged coastline. The village was very pretty with vibrant, colourful houses perched precariously on the cliff edge. On the edges of the village and up sheer slopes were the olive and wine groves which make the regions exports of oil and wine, reputed to be among the best in Italy, and cultivated seemingly from the rock itself. We had a wander among the groves and the maze-like paths which the farmers use to access the pretty inhospitable land.


Triumphal ArchLater the same day we were in Genova and again we hit the town during the quiete period which meant we were able to have a nice drive round the town and stop for a wander in the main square. Dominating the Piazza Vittoria is a massive Triumphal arch similar to that found in Paris and just as impressive. There was a nice vibe to the town and we enjoyed our brief visit, but we needed a place to stay and the centre of a major port wasn't it so we headed on further down the coast to Savona where we found a lovely little pace alongside the beach for the night. Also as we were by the coast the temperature had gone from a chilly -1.5 degrees inland near Parma to a comparatively balmy +11 degrees by the sea so we had a very comfortable nights kip.

On the seafrontThe next morning brought more sun and the views of the beach with the suns rays reflecting off the sea was near perfection. We were nearing the French border and spent the day, with another brief interlude for lunch in another sleepy seaside town, cruising the coastal road down into France. It was quite a journey and included some amazing views so it took till dark to reach the border.


Almost as soon as we entered France we encountered it's amazingly expensive motorways and so decided pretty spontaneously that it was time to take "Gerty" to the next level - and get on a formula 1 circuit. To do this we detoured into our tenth county of the trip, Monaco!


MonacoThis was a bit hairy, driving round the little country as we didn't have a clue where we were going and at one point I managed to drive into a tiny cobbled street, almost getting stuck in a hotel driveway (one of the big name hotels too). Still, after two laps of the country, we managed to get her onto a part of the road they actually use for the F1 races - the bit by the harbour, which I was really overexcited about. I would have loved to get her through the tunnel but to be honest I couldn't find it, having no map at all. Nevermind, I'm sure Hamilton and co are shivering in their cold F1 cars (they don't have heaters, let along a wood burner) fearing for their livelihoods.


Cannes beachWe zipped back onto the motorway as it was getting late and we wanted to get on, coming off at Cannes. I had been expecting a polished, glitzy romantic town but I was sorely dissapointed. It was just like any slightly tatty touristy sea-side resort (maybe we hit the wrong part of town) but regardless we found our way to the coast (better known as the Cote d'Azure) and found a lovely place right on the sea-front to curl up for the night.

Mandelieu-La Napoule

Cannes seafrontOn the 1st December we awoke to another beautiful view of the sun trying to break through the clouds after a rainy night. It took a while but we did end up with another gorgous day which we spent exploring the small town of Mandelieu-La Napoule, just down the coast from Cannes and walking along the Cote d'Azure sefront. On the night we made our way back to the Cannes sea-front where we had spent the previous night to fall asleep with the sound of the sea crashing onto the beach.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Pieve di Cento, Ferrara, Padova, Venice, Verona and Lago di Garda

22nd - 27th November

Pieve di Cento

Lovely ChitarraAfter spending pretty much the whole of the 22nd perusing an out of town shopping centre, and treating ourselves to Italian walking boots as it was fast approaching winter and we both needed a decent pair, we spent the next day exploring Pieve di Cento, north of Bologna. This was a typical small town of this area and on a beautiful day as we had it was easy to fall in love with the town. In the main square we were greeted with an open-sided van selling oranges and advertising his wares with a megaphone as he drove round the town. Chitarras & MandolinAlso in the main square we found the communal theatre which upstairs featured a museum of lutes, guitars violins and other instruments made by Luigi Mozzani and some of his contemporaries. These were amazing instruments featuring bass strings and the standard guitar 6-strings in one amazing piece. The guitars on display were similarly beautiful. I also spotted a 12 string violin, something I've not seen before.


Este CastelLater the same day we arrived in Ferrara, historical home of the Este family, another of the Renaissance big-hitters. Right in the centre of the town sits Este Castle, an imposing sight in this pretty little town. We arrived in the middle of an exhibition drawing attention to the Year of Biodiversity projects that have been going on around the world (and we seem to have caught a lot of them!). The Faunal Countownexhibition was called the "Faunal Countdown" which I thought was a good play on words and it featured life-sized sculptures of various animals dotted around the town with certain twists. For example there was a rhinoceros fully loaded with all it's bags and heading out of Este castle. Another was a crocodile strung up in the centre of a courtyard with shapes of bags and shoes missing from it's skin.
Ferrara itself was another wonderful place to visit and we were very glad we decided to pop in. The town was full of old historical buildings and was full of character. We spent the night in a suburb just a little way from Ferrara so we could have another look the next day. Most of the day was spent cycling around the pretty large city walls, which Nailz thoroughly enjoyed, and later enjoyed another amble around the town.
Heading out of the town we stopped into musical heaven. It was an out of town shopping centre featuring an almighty music store on the top floor. After about twenty minutes of just walking among the rows of Marshall stacks, Fenders and Gibsons I came over all giddy and had to leave, my right hand twitching towards my wallet...
We had started to struggle to find decent dry wood and didn't have decent weather to dry any new wood we found along our way so on the way to our next destination we stopped at a house that was on the side of the road with a huge store of wood, all cut ready to go to see if we could buy some wood from them. We pulled up and were greeted by a quizzical looking lady and through my broken Italian I was able to convey our request. She could not have been more lovely and after a bit of negotiation (she said the price, I agreed, she refused to take the full payment!) we left with a massive amount of wood for a few Euros (we had to seriously re-arrange things as well as keep quite a bit in the main part of the van), as well as a bag of eggs from her own hens, some salad from her garden and some of her home-made bread which was delicious (although didn't last long at all!). Bargain! We were also told by her son (who had phoned a mate who could speak English to ensure we understood correctly) that anytime we were passing by to stop in and say hello. We werre well chuffed and now also had enough wood to have lovely warming fires night and day which was good as we had been told the weather was about to turn cold...


Basilica San MichaelOn the 25th we found ourselves in Padova which is a lively University city. It again was an amazing place to visit and we had timed our visit perfectly as there were a number of parties going on for students who had graduated which created a boistrous atmosphere. Crazy studentRachel was even "accosted" by a lady covered in Bolognese sauce who had been "dared" to dress up as an abortion in order to promote her thesis on women's Rights. It was really funny and we had a lot of laughs pretending we didn't understand as her colleagues egged her on and took photographs. It was bizarre, but then it did involve drunk students, so what do you expect?
Padova itself was just magical. It's back-streets were like something from a Dickens novel, until you suddenly come upon a tower with an astronomical clock, while in the main square there was a huge cathedral with domes reaching to the sky. Further into the square a small river ran round the centre and was surrounded by sculptures. There was also the Basilica of San Michael which was again very imposing from the outside, and all in all the place was gorgeous and a real blend of many different styles in both architecture and life.


View of canalsThe morning of the 26th was spent trying to figure out the best way to visit Venice in your campervan when you really need a boat. We got it sussed by using one of the out of town park (who reasonably charged us a cheaper rate, being a van and not a campervan!) and getting the bus in to Piazza Roma. It was completely worth the effort as we were both bewitched by Venice almost immediately. We arrived at a time when the water was higher than normal (Venice regularly floods) and so we were able to take part in the ritual of walking the planks along some of the flooded streets. Nailz didn;t like it at all as the weather had turned decidedly cold and with so much water about I think he wished he had stayed in the van! But Venice is amazing and Rachel and I had a wonderful time strolling along the canals and inevitably getting a bit lost (there are good signs though to guide you to the main sights). What was amazing was the chaos on the main canal and how no-one crashed despite it looking like the aquatic version of dodgems. Gondola derbyEven the TNT delivery man power-slide his vessel into port and jumped off with a style James Bond would be envious of. Nimble gondolas easily side-stepped other boats, Vaporettos (the Venice equivalent of a bus service) charged up and down the main canal and the whole scene, with it's plethora of different ships was quite captivating. We made it safely to the Piazza San Marco to see the Cathedral of San Marco and also the Ducal Palaces next door. Although we didn't go inside either, being happy just to Us in Venice!wander the streets, the Palace has some curious secrets inside. This was the seat of government for the Venetian empire and although you can enter the building and see it's various rooms, you have to go behind some of the paintings and room sculptures to find the real seat of power. Hidden away are entrances to various secret corridors which is apparently where all the real governing took place, the real corridors of power. Venice was cold and wet, but absolutely amazing.


AmphitheatreWe headed out of Venice, or at least tried to but for some reason I couldn't seem to find my way out and kept seeing the same junctions again and again. We finally stopped for a much-needed coffee and directions which after a few more false starts headed out on the Autostrade towards fair Verona. It was quite late by now but as we only wanted a brief look around the place we were quite happy to get there after dark. It was another lovely walled town, this time with its own Amphitheatre, coloured in pink and white. It could hold as many as 20,000 people in it's heyday making it the third biggest in the Roman Empire, and in the dark looked very pretty.

Lago di Garda

View of the Lake from the campsiteEven later we were heading towards Lago di Garda where we spent a bit of time trying to find the damn thing, massive as it is, but we had noticed a trend for signposts suddenly disappearing and forcing you to guess left or right at a t-junction. Nevertheless we got close and bedded down for the night in what had become quite a chilly night. View of the LakeOn the way there we had noticed about two inches of snow on the side of the road and on checking the temperature found it to be about one degree.
The following frosty morning was again a cold one and after a lovely morning fire we again hit the road to find a suitable campsite for the night. We explored a few of the small towns alongside the Lago and found a nice campsite with a lovely view of the Lake and the surrounding snow-capped mountains. It was a beautiful day and the views were extraordinary.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010


18th - 21st November


Statue of NeptuneOn the night of the 18th we headed north along a small curvy road towards Bologna and stayed in a suburb outside the town. The next day we were up with the larks to move into the centre of town and head to the famous University di Bologna, the oldest university in Europe.

University di Bologna

Exhibits from the University MuseumThere were a number of free museums as part of the University, and within the city (all of which are free or have a free component) and we had a lovely morning walking round a few of them. You would need a whole week to fully appreciate all of them but we made some choice selections and spent the morning and early afternoon looking around some of the Univeristy museums, marvelling at the huge numbers of skeletons, stuffed birds, nervous systems and the many other fascinating exhibits.

Old Town

Exhibits from the University MuseumThe rest of the afternoon was spent milling around the old town centre and it's 666 portico's (covered walkways which become very useful in the rain!), leaning towers and wonderful, animated streets coloured in burnt oranges, reds and browns (earning the town the nickname Bologna Le Rosso - the red). The city centre is very beautiful.
Leaning towers of BolognaWe also spent a bit of time reading about the towers in the centre, on which leans at an alarming angle, rivalling the Leaning Tower of Pisa. They were built during a time of immense turmoil in the Italian region where cities were becoming states and families were vying for power and control. As figures in authority, some families have control over civic defence buildings as part of office, which lead to rival families lining up with other figures of authority and building their own towers in response. Similar to San Gimignano, it is estimated that in Bologna there were about eighty such towers as part of the landscape, although some reports and estimates put the figure at around two hundred. Apparently it was easier to invalid your rival from the top of a tower and with around eighty towers in such a small place I can't imagine what going to the shops would have been like.


After walking around the city centre we headed back out of the city to find a place to park up and found a lovely little place called Loveleto. Here we had a lovely little walk with Nailz in the rural countryside only 6km from Bologna. We found the perfect spot to camp for the night, in a quiet sports centre car-park when about half an hour after we arrived the local football team turned up for a spot of training. I suddenly realised how much I had missed my Monday night kickabout with the Sparkshop boys, so if you're reading this Ian, say hello to the chaps from me!

Back to Bologna

Window in BolognaEarly on the 20th we checked into the local campsite early and after quickly setting up camp headed back into Bologna for a day in the town. As soon as we got off the bus we were greeted with the hustle and bustle of the Saturday market which his absolutely gigantic. With a whole day you would struggle to see all the stalls, and unfortunately for Rachel I had other plans for today. We did spend a bit of time wandering through the endless stalls looking for a good bargain, but sometimes there is too much choice and I was very much in need of a coffee so we headed off in search of MAMBO - the Museo d'Art Moderne di Bologna. This was quite an interesting museum and again the permanent collection was free. It was quite a small collection but full of stimulating (and confusion) works. As every with modern art, I sometimes like it and sometimes just wonder what the point of it was, but it was fun having a look. My favourite piece was a black and white silhouette of a chap in a cap waving a hand in the air. Very simple but considering it was just a silhouette it showed a great deal of expression and I also liked the boldness of it. I'll have to look up the name of it.

Bologna By now we were getting quite hungry but fell foul of the Bologna three O'clock exodus. All the restaurants and Trattorias had closed for lunch (oh the irony!) so after a little while walking while we tried to find somewhere open we came across a nice little bar offering "Aperativo". This involves buying a drink such as a cocktail or spirit and helping yourself to the food laid out on the bar like a buffet. We had wanted to try this so in we went, bought our drinks and went at the food. It was a very nice spread, and having had a little tipple too we were oiled and ready to go back to the market for some last minute perusing before catching the bus back to the campsite.

Aperativo in BolognaOn the 21st we had another day rolling round the old town and window-shopping before finding another Aperativo with a quite amazing spread. They offered a great deal where for a modest amount of Euros you got a glass of wine, coffee and full use of the extensive buffet. We eat very well and had a long relaxy lunch before wandering round the town to try and walk off what we had eaten.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Mugello Valley

12th - 18th November
Sunset at VagliaThis was spent in the Mugello area, just north of Florence. We had initially stopped to try and get online at a McDonalds but some time now we had not been able to (hence the lack of updates!). In Italy you need an Italian sim card and phone number to register and use the free wifi and although we had managed to do this before, now it wasn't letting us on. No message, just no access. Still, we found an incredibly friendly Tourist Info office who gave us a lot of info on the area including info about the local Library which offers free wifi if you register - bonus!

Hillsdies overlooking BorgoStrange FruitThe main towns we visited in this area of Tuscany were Barberino Di Mugello, Borgo San Lorenzo, Scarperia and some excursions into the smaller hamlets dotted around the surrounding hillsides where we went in search of preserves and cheeses and went on some amazing walks in some beautiful scenery. These towns are quaint rural working towns, and yet again everyone we spoke to was more than friendly and if they could speak English loved to tell us what they loved about England and the English, if not we still did our best with pigeon Italian and loads of gestures, smiles and nods. It's great fun.

Waterfall near BorgoWe found a great little co-operative supermarket which makes cheese and other produce from the farmers around Vecchio and it's environs. We, of course, sampled a selection and they were quite happy to ply us with cheese and other tasters such as mice-pie style cakes, but with apricot filling and the pastry was made with ricotta cheese! Delicious. The cheeses themselves are worth a mention as they have won numerous prizes and you can taste why. We also picked up some Chiannini steak which, from the local Chiannini cows, again, is all local. In fact, very little that we have found in Italy is not local! We also did our homework on Olive oils (with the help of more of the locals) who told us that cold-pressed olive oil produces a better quality of oil over the machine-pressed (we saw the machine-pressed method the other day) and also where to buy from to get a good deal. Also that usually cold-pressed is used for salads while machine-pressed, being slightly cheaper is used for cooking.

Over the next couple of days we hope to head to Bologna - the foody capital of the world, so I'm told :-)

The Uffizi Gallery - Firenze

11th November

Uffizi Gallery - Firenze

Uffizi Gallery & Ponte VecchioWent to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence after a brief stop to admire the view again from Piazzale Michelangelo. It was gorgeous in the morning sun as the mist was gently lifting over the city. After a quick coffee, on the run (Italian style) I was in amongst the man works of art. As I had got in there early there were not too many people and I was able to walk amongst the masterpieces almost at will. Later it did become pretty crowded in the main attraction rooms, such a the Leonardo and Michelangelo rooms but visiting away from peak season was a definite advantage.
The museum is separated into numerous rooms which act as a sort of timeline for art in the region. The collection was started by the powerful Medici family who controlled the Florentine city-state and patronised many works of art during the Renaissance. The Uffizi was left to the city by the Medici family on condition that it never leave Florence.
The gallery is one of the most important in the world and so is packed with masterpieces and really interesting pictures and sculptures. My highlights included the Leonardo Room with Leonardo Da Vinci's unfinished "Adoration of the Magi" which shows just how good a draughtsman he was. It looks like it has just been sketched up in black paint, but each stroke is singularly precise, nothing is wayward and the shift from background detail to the ghostly, unfinished foreground is very revealing about how he built up his paintings. It line's up alongside his famous "Annunciation" which apparently was criticised for seemingly poor proportions of the antagonists, however it seems that if you view the painting by crouching to the right of it the proportions seem spot on. This was because the painting was to be hung to the left of a church altar and was not meant to be viewed straight on which shows Leonardo's amazing skill with proportion. Also in this room was a painting by Leonardo's teacher Verrocchio - "Baptism of Christ" which shows how artists collaborated on works. One of the angels in the picture was painted by a young Leonardo and it is believed the second angel was painted by another artist working under Verrocchio. Michelangelo's Doni Tondo was the only piece by the artist at the Uffizi, but it's colour and vibrancy dominated the room. Interestingly, it is believed the Greek statue Lacoon was found whilst, or before, Michelangelo produced this work of art as one of the figures in the background is posed in the same way as one of the sons from the statue. Even the Masters aren't afraid to take inspiration (wholesale) from elsewhere. The Rapael room showed works by the artist trying his hand at differrent styles, inspired by the likes of Leonardo, Michelangelo and the new-fangled "Flemish-style" which was popular for a time. Again he was open to influence but it showed his true skill in the way he was ablt to adapt to these new styles and produce amazing works of art.
There was an exhibition on the way out to Caravaggio and the artist's that he has inspired with his dark brooding styles. One of his pieces was an ornamental shield painted with the severed head of Medusa for one of the Medici Dukes.

Unfortunately I wasn't allowed to take any photos (every so often the room echoed to "Nooooo Fooootooooo!!" in a weird gravelly, other-worldy voice) so here's a picture of the Duomo instead.