Monday, 1 September 2014


We weren't allowed to drive up to the Castel Del Monte but we were directed to a large car park up the road where we had to pay five euros for parking and a bus to take us there. I was gutted that I hadn't updated my press card which would have got me in free and meant we'd only have to pay 10 euros for one entry instead of 20 euros for the two of us. My student card from when I studied for my MA would also have got me free entry but it was out of date by almost four years. If only I'd known it would have been good for at least something because in all the time I had it while I studied, it was never valid anywhere for discount and I wondered what the point of it was.

It was another glorious day, if there was a bit of a strong wind, so before we entered the castle, we took a walk around it. My other half spotted this creature dead on the path that ran around the building. We thought it was one of those noisy things we'd heard in the trees that was a sort of squeaky see-saw serenade backdrop to our Italian trip because we heard them everywhere - but only on hot days. If it's even slightly chilly, they shut up. The insect we saw, however, was not a cicada but a Eupholidoptera Megastyla.

It didn't take long to see all of the castle inside and we were left with the feeling :"Is that it?" These bronze sculptures were laid out but I don't know what the significance is. My guess is that they are meant to reflect the astronomical and mathematical rigour of the castle's design. Of course, had I managed to get free entry for a decent write-up then I would have asked but in the circumstances, I approached the visit as a tourist happy to look at pretty things without really understanding why they were there.

Before long we we'd finished the tour and were outside heading back to the bus. I think I liked this little trulli village, built by an artist at the entrance to the castle's grounds, more than the grand building we'd just left.

We avoided spending yet more money in a cáfe so instead of visiting the one at the car park, we moved the car to where the camper vans were and got out the camping cooker and food, brewed up and made lunch. To our horror, the gas bottle ran out again so this would mean no more tea until we could get another and we had no idea where we should look. The rest of the trip without tea would be miserable. There was a camp site close to the Castle so we pulled in and hoped they'd have gas bottles for sale but there was no evidence of it so we drove out again. My other half was still chuntering about the cost of the gas bottle we'd bought in Lavagna and it seemed we had no other option but to fork out another 100 euros to replace it again.

We headed for the coast and kept an eye out for anything that looked possibly like a shop that sold it. Eventually, as evening wore on, we pulled into a very small site in Margherita di Savoia. We asked the man who approached as we entered if they had gas because we couldn't stay without it and he directed us to the bar on site where he said people spoke English. They did, a little, and enough to understand what we wanted and they went to great lenghts to help us. I sat with a strong expresso talking to a group of Italian women and their cousins, children, brothers and sisters, while one of the men took my other half around town to find a gas bottle. Sadly, he came back empty handed so we had to move on.

We stayed on the coast road and ended up driving for miles along a narrow pot-holed road through farmland. Old derelict buildings appear to have been inhabited by immigrants, or poor farm workers, as we saw washing hanging outside and tarpaulin pulled over crumbling houses with no roofs. On one side of the road we saw a load of solar panels, while on the other the field was being stubble burned. Italy's modern and ancient sat side by side everywhere.

As it got dark, we still found no camp sites, or shops and we had little faith that we would this late on. All we could do was find a main road, which was quite a challenge in itself, and then head to the nearest city Foggia to find a hotel, get wifi, and search for gas suppliers, before heading onwards with the journey. At least we had a travel kettle and adapter so we could brew up there.

It had been ages since we stayed in a hotel at Pisa and we'd forgotten how lovely it was to have a real bed, room with space, a TV and all the comfort that goes with it so we decided to stay two days and to hell with the budget. We looked up gas suppliers and found a shop nearby, also Googling directions so we didn't get lost trying to find it. The shop had gas but none like the one we bought in Lavagna so they wouldn't fit the regulator we thought was universal for use in Italy when we bought it. In the end we got a great deal. A huge bottle and new regulator for 35 Euros. Bargain.

With some time on our hands we went into nearby Lucera because, according to my Rough Guide to Italy, it was a prettier town more worthy of exploring. We had a good look around and then decided to head back to the hotel for rest. However, we got lost in Foggia and it took a couple of hours driving around to find the hotel again. We ate in the hotel restaurant that night. It only occurred to me half way through the meal that I was the only woman in there. I think it was the sort of place where travelling workmen stay but there was a police station right next door so maybe the police drop in as well. We had veal cooked in pink peppers. My other half was going to tell the grandkids that he ate Pepper Pig but we feared that might traumatise them for life. He'd already told them that his jelly fish sting was the result of a fight with a giant octopus which he won.

We decided to head for Chieti which is said to be the the oldest city in Italy. We left Foggia and headed for Pescara because Chieti was on route along the SS 16 road. We saw a young women sitting in a layby alone texting. My other half immediately claimed she was a prostitute but I said she might just be waiting for someone to pick her up from there after work or something. Then we saw another woman, and another, but this time they were pacing up and down the layby in a very short skirt and very high heels. Every layby we passed along a 20 km stretch had a beautiful young, scantily-clad woman showing her wares in the 39 degree heat with no shade. I eventually agreed they must be sex workers when we passed one young women who was naked from the waist down and motioning at us to pull over... (and to think my husband got told off by police for not wearing his T shirt on a hot day).. The women waved at drivers going past. Motorists hooted their horns. The occasional car or lorry had pulled in and, presumably, doing a deal with the girl they had chosen.

It was a long drive along a mountain road when we pulled off the SS16 for Chieti and the town itself was very pretty and very traditional. We took a walk in the park where there was a huge memorial to the Italian dead of the First World War. We couldn't really work it out but there were posters advertising a beer festival and we assumed it was there because tables were being set out and as we left, many people seemed to be heading that way.

As we made our way back to where we had parked the car below the hilltop town, we passed a traditional Italian barber shop. My husband had enjoyed a close cut throat wet shave in Pisa and he needed another since his beard had got a bit wild and his hair needed a trim. The barber was an elderly man who spoke no English at all. My other half showed him what he wanted by using his finger to shave down the sides of his face, but something was clearly lost in translation. He came out with his head shaved and polished but his beard was left intact. The barber couldn't understand, didn't want to be bothered, or simply didn't have the time to give him a shave. My other half was also a little disturbed that every time the barber said something, he tapped him on his nose as if dealing with a playful toddler.

After Chieti we headed back to the coast to find camping and we stayed at Pineto. The gate was manned by an an Italian Vigilante and others were parked just on the other side of the gate although to book in we had to go into the camp and to the reception. I wasn't sure what they were but the name "vigilante" carries a lot of baggage in English and it made me feel a little uncomfortable. The site was also the second most expensive we'd stayed at but the facilities didn't warrant such a high price - and you had to buy tokens at extra cost to use the showers. The other over priced camp site was in Rome earlier in the trip but it, at least, had more to offer by way of service. Although my camp site guide book said there was "inevitably" some railway noise, because the site was right next to a railway line, "it wasn't intrusive." We clearly camped too close to it. Trains rattling by every hour through the night and woke us both up. We hardly had any sleep.

We arrived very late and left quite early so we didn't do much sightseeing but the seaside town has a tower, which we saw as we drove past it.

Perhaps it was sheer exhaustion, plus the ever decreasing budget, but it was there, that next morning, that I decided the time had come to head home. If we could get easily to Cortona or Assisi, both on my wish list of places to see, then I wanted to stop by but in the event we didn't see any signs pointing that way and we'd have had to have worked out a route to get there, which we didn't, so we continued north towards Bologna. Our travel adventure was almost over.

In the next post we go back to Aosta and head for France and the channel tunnel train home.

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