22nd - 27th November
Pieve di Cento
After 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. Also 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.
Later 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 exhibition 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...
On 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. Rachel 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.
The 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. Even 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 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.
We 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
Even 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. On 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.