Thursday, 4 September 2014


Our travel adventure in Italy quickly came to an end after leaving Pineto as we raced north towards Bologna. The owner of the camp site warned us that as we were leaving on a Saturday, there would be a lot of holiday traffic on the road and there was. We sat in a long hot queue and opening the car windows didn't help in cooling us down. The air outside was like a hot fan or hair dryer. As it turned out, there were road works ahead with traffic lights holding us up. When we eventually reached them, the car in front went through on red and my other half followed, so did the car behind, the one behind that and several more as the cars on the other side waited on green for a space to push through.

I had hoped to hang around at least another day in Bologna. A fellow anti-Nanny State and free consumer choice activist who lives in the city had kindly offered to be our tourism guide and I would have loved to take her up on that and spend time chatting over a cuppa and a smoke afterwards. I last saw her a few years ago when we both attended an anti-prohibition conference. However, it was very late when we arrived at the Cittá di Bologna camp site and our minds were firmly set on getting home as quickly as possible. We were both worn out and money was tight.

I have seen Bologna before. I stayed for a while back in the 1980s when I went with my mum to visit her sister and I went again about seven years ago with a friend. The only photo I got of the city to mark my visit this time was the mushrooms which grew around the tree on the spot where we pitched our tent. They were all dead by the next morning.

It was a glorious hot day as we packed up to leave. The car so far had been completely reliable despite my husband's fears that somewhere along the way it would break down. We'd done almost 6,000 miles. As he turned the ignition key, the car grumbled a bit and then died. He tried a second time but the engine refused to turn over. This was the last thing we needed and neither of us was sure what we would do if he couldn't get it going.

"Could it be the heat?" I asked. After all, the car was used to England where the hottest of summer days never gets above about 25 degrees and we'd pushed this car forward daily in temperatures ranging between 35 and 40 degrees.

He tried again and it was with a huge sigh of relief that this time the engine struck up. He said something about the heat being responsible for the petrol taking it's time to reach all the way through the pipe to the ignition switch (at least that's what I understood him to mean as one who has no idea about mechanics.)

Aosta was 400 km away but we decided to try and make it in one day without stopping. We took the autostrade, despite the cost, to avoid the winding mountain roads that we had taken on the way down and we hoped to find the camp site we stayed at when we first arrived in Italy. We knew it had wifi and we needed that to amend our ticket home on the channel tunnel Eurostar.

As we approached the mountains, the air outside had become much fresher and it was no longer warm. There were a few castles on cliff tops which impressed me more than the Castle Del Monte but I could only guess at how one would reach them to have a good look around.

We arrived in Aosta at 7pm and the first thing I did was drag out a jumper and jeans. It also started raining but that had gone by morning to make way for another lovely day that was warm but without the stifling heat which I was already missing. We headed for the Monte Bianco tunnel on the non toll road we came in on. It had cost just over 42 Euros to cross from France to Italy but just over 43 Euros to cross from Italy to France.

I wasn't looking forward to the drive because of the difficulty we had in finding camp sites on the way down. Luckily for us, we saw hand made signs leading us around a roundabout down a single track country road that led us to a lovely site that had a fishing pond and a swimming pool and pasture-like fields that smelled green and fresh. It rained really hard as the evening wore on so we sat for a while in the car until it eased off. The next morning we headed on towards Reims and hoped to camp somewhere near there but after a nine and a half hour drive, we still hadn't found anywhere. It was typical that when we didn't need a camp site we saw loads of signs pointing to several, but when the time came that we felt the need to pitch up, there wasn't a single one for miles and miles.

Exhausted, we had little hope that we'd find one and then a sign jumped out at us and we followed it. We'd gone much further north in France than we aimed to so we were, at least, ahead of ourselves. I'd hoped that we'd have time to go shopping in Belgium for cheap tobacco. We saw signs for Oostend and followed them but we didn't have to go far before we realised that we had crossed the border. it was only because the language changed that we realised we were in a different country. No border controls there at all. Tabac was advertised on big flags outside big stores and I was like a kid in a sweet shop. I bought my usual six months supply and we then headed back towards Calais. This was our last night and we didn't intend to waste it driving looking for campsites. We'd stay in a hotel.

France had some wonderful picnic stops and rest stops where we could pull over and make tea. We decided before we got to Calais that we'd have a cuppa because we hadn't had much to eat or drink since leaving the camp site. We passed one that had been closed down and blocked off so we stopped at the next one. There was a lorry parked there and the driver was at the front of his vehicle on his phone. My husband got the camping cooker out and just as I was about to get out of the car, he told me we weren't staying. He was hastily putting the cooker away again and when he got back in the car he asked if I had seen all the people running out of the bushes.

I hadn't but he when he explained that as he began to set up the cooker, he saw lots of people suddenly appear out of the bushes with ruck sacks on their backs run to the back of the lorry, I agreed we should leg it. We didn't feel safe so we continued on towards Calais with no thoughts of stopping again until we got there. There are so many displaced and desperate people running to Europe from dictatorships and wars in Africa and the middle east that I think ultimately it is impossible to stop them trying to get in.

We arrived in the city after 3pm and starving hungry. Everywhere we went was closed. No cafes were open, no bars, no restuarants, no chippys, no kebab shops, no burger bars. The hotel said they wouldn't be serving food until after 8pm. The best we could do was head to a Lidl's we had seen where we bought sandwiches and cakes. We then drove into town later and noted that everywhere began to open up after 6pm. It appears Calais has the old English pub opening times of 11am to 3pm and 6pm to 11pm. We stopped at a nice bar for a beer when the city came back to life and then went sight seeing.

My other half liked the above building and the one below and we learned about the Burghers of Calais.

We stayed at the hotel drinking beer and smoking in the sunshine for a while before heading back into town for more beer as we wasted time until we had to head off to catch the chunnel train. We had four hours to use up but after two we got bored. We were going to spend the last two hours in the terminal looking around, maybe buying last minute presents, but when we got there we had priority boarding which we weren't aware of so we just drove straight onto the train as other cars queued. In another 35 minutes we'd be in England and we weren't even booked on this train. Then it hit me how quick this journey home from Pineto had been and I felt sad as I realised this was it, there was now no turning back. The travel adventure was over.

My other half soon got back into driving on the proper side of the road. We queued for an hour at the Dartford Tunnel otherwise we would have made good time home. I was thankful that the sun shone and the weather was hot. Everyone had talked about the hot summer England was basking in as we were in Italy. However, it didn't last long. Three days later the tail end of Hurricane Bertha hit us and the weather turned to hell. I've barely seen the sun since.

The car which had been great and hadn't let us down once during the long journey began to play up when we got home. It appears that some water got into the petrol somehow that led to it misfiring or, to use my mechanic husband's technical term, it was running like shit. The garage soon sorted that out for us for a tenner and it's running like its usual self again.

I've been asked if I'd do this again and in a second I'd have to say yes, if I was privileged enough to have both time and money in future. We didn't quite make it around the whole boot. There is the north, Venice, Verona, Burano, Padua, Trieste, and the Dolomites that we missed and which would be worth visiting again. Both me and my husband have the travel bug now and we both want to do another European road trip in future whenever we next get the opportunity. We both quite fancy travelling in Germany and Austria along the Rhine so that will be this year's research project as last year's was Italy's.

Now I have to get my head out of the memories of a dream trip and back into reality as work beckons this year like no other I've had for a while. I will try to keep this blog updated but posts may be rather sparse until I get to drips with my new routine and heavy workload.

To read the Travel Adventure in Italy from Part 1 to 11 click on the links below.

England to Aosta

Aosta to Lavagna

Lavagna to Terme Di Saturnia

Terme Di Saturnia to Zambrone

Zambrone to Ragusa

Ragusa to Agrigento

Agrigento to Trapani

Trapani to Messina

Messina to Castel Del Monte

Castel Del Monte to Pineto

Pineto to England

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