Thursday, 21 August 2014


We thought we'd seen the last heavy rainfall in Lavagna where we endured a huge thunderstorm which banged so loud in the middle of the night, right next to the tent by the sound of it, that it woke us both up. Luckily we stayed dry, if the bedding was a bit damp, and the next day, as we packed up and made our way south down the western side of the coast, the sky was clear and it was hot.

We had no intention of stopping in Pisa because we've seen it many times and at that time of year, it was flooded with tourists. However, we knew of a cheap and comfortable little hotel there and we both wanted a proper bed and some rest. Not only had it changed its name from The Villa Leaning Tower to the Villa Soriano which confused us somewhat, it was also full when we arrived. We booked in for the following night, left the car there, and made our way to another hotel, without parking, The Ariston which was right next to the Piazza dei Miracoli which includes the magnificent leaning tower.

It's a good job that we did because that storm from our last night in Lavagna caught up with us. Pisa was grey and very cold and although we could see the night sky floodlit with lightning from our hotel room, we couldn't hear the thunder. Everywhere we walked the next day, we had to negotiate our way past tourists doing the holding up the tower shot, and the Africans selling umbrellas or sunglasses depending on the weather. No thankyou wasn't always accepted and we felt a little harassed at times, although we also accept that they have a hard living to make in difficult circumstances.

We decided to catch a train to Lucca. It was another place on my wish list and although it was clear and bright when we arrived, the clouds soon moved in and before long torrential rain came down, as the photo above shows. We ran to a cáfe bar for wine and bruschetta and shelter. I'm often told I look Italian. Waiters always approached me speaking the language and would look surprised by the confused look on my face but it gave me the opportunity to say fluently one of the few sentences I could construct : "Mi dispiace, non parla Italiano." On this occasion, the lady surprised me more by switching to English in a strong Scottish accent. "Ooh sorry," she said. "I thought you were Italian." I was intrigued to know how she, and the other staff member who was also Scottish, came to run a bar in Lucca but they were very busy due to the sudden influx of customers who were also trying hard to avoid the sudden downpour.

We stayed until the rain eased off but although Lucca was beautiful, it was pretty miserable walking around in such cold, dull, weather. Our budget was always tight and so we had planned to be selective about the museums, galleries and attractions we visited that had entry fees which were almost always quite expensive. During a short holiday of a week or two then it isn't such a problem but when you're hoping to stretch your cash over eight weeks then you have to be as prudent as you can. The way things were going, because we spent far too much in Pisa, we'd be lucky if our budget covered petrol, camp site fees, ferry fees and food when we still had such a long way to get around the boot. We were already trying to be careful.

However, a visit up The Guinigi Tower, at eight Euros each, was another way of taking our minds off the grey miserable weather. My husband was surprised the weight of the trees at the top didn't bring the tower down and we did get a marvellous view of the city below.

Later, as we walked around some more, we came across some underground tunnels which were fascinating, dry, and out of the chilly air.

There was also a replica of the Guinigi Tower down there so I decided to do my own "holding up the tower" shot there instead of the Leaning Tower of Pisa so favoured by tourists. It was so flimsy that as soon as I put my hands on it, I almost pushed it over. Everything appeared to be made of cardboard.

The sun finally came out and the air heated up a lot after we got back to Pisa. We grabbed a fantastic night's sleep at the Villa Soriano but we woke up covered in mosquito bites. The repellent cream helped a lot but didn't always deter the pesky little mites.

I was looking forward to getting back to camping after two nights in a hotel in a place we never planned to stay and I had intended to stop in Cecina but I was completely dazzled by the gorgeous coastline along that stretch and didn't notice that we'd missed the turn off. My husband who only kept his gaze fixed on the road and depended on me for navigation, didn't want to find a way to turn back. I thought Grossetto was close and maybe we could take a train back to Cecina once settled but after a very long drive we realised that it was much further than we thought so I missed that opportunity. My husband also wanted to see the wreck of the Costa Concordia - black tourism, apparently - but it wasn't at Grossetto as we thought but rather an island off the coast somewhere.

As we made our way there, we saw signposts to the Island of Elba and we couldn't resist taking time out to visit as it was on the wish list of places we hoped to see during the trip. We found ourselves heading for Piombino where the ferry sailed from and about an hour after a wonderful, blue sky and azure calm sea crossing, we stepped off at Portoferraio.

It was lovely, very hot and very beautiful - full of the sort of enchanting alleyways I love so much but it was all rather rushed as we only had a couple of hours before we had to get back on the ferry and on course towards Grossetto.

My husband who had been so scathing about churches and religion in general while visiting a church in Aosta put some holy water on a particularly huge mosquito bite and was amazed when it had disappeared the next day without giving him any trouble at all. I did my usual thing of lighting a candle near my mother's favourite saint.

We arrived at Grossetto late and stayed only one night in a wood which was very busy and packed with campers. The next day we took a look at the beach and had a paddle and then checked out the gorgeous marina where the boats are docked. With the sun still shining, we decided to drive south as far as we could get before dark. However, because I'd noticed that the Terme di Saturnia was relatively close to Grossetto and might be easy to get to, we decided that if it was signposted on the way, then we'd follow it. If not, then we'd continue with our plan to head south before dark.

Saturnia was signed and we ventured out on small country roads in search of it. I wasn't disappointed when we found it. Legend has it that the Gods Jupiter and Saturn had a massive fight in the area and when Jupiter threw a lightning bolt at Saturn, he missed and created the hot springs so enjoyed by people like me today. I was in heaven. My husband in his cynical way poo-pooed the legend and said he was sure it was just a hot sewer pipe running along there like the old hotties in Stamp End in my home town where he played as a kid. That was something to do with the steam coming from the old now defunct and derelict factories.

I could have spent all day there. People lazed in the water and others covered themselves from head to toe in mud which I assume is some form of beauty therapy. As time got on, we decided to grab a snack in the bar on the site and head onwards. There was an American girl in front of me in the queue who ordered a huge array of food for herself and her friends and then after giving such a long order, she found the bar didn't accept cash cards and she had no means to pay and so cancelled the order. Luckily for us, we had just enough to pay for the burger and chips beer and coca cola we consumed which was perfect after the hunger I felt from swimming in what was like a lovely warm bath.

The Terme di Saturnia remains one of the highlights of the trip for me but there was still a long way to go to get around that boot and see as much of Sicily as we could as well. If readers are not bored by my travel adventure yet, then tomorrow I'll talk about the awful camp site we stayed at in Rome full of rowdy drunken Australian youths, the stray dog I fell in love with in Pompei, and a little piece of heaven we found near Tropea.

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