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Posts by David
The beach at Rogil is surrounded by very crumbly cliffs. Odie barked madly at falling rocks, convinced there were little animals moving about just out of view. Chris was no better, squealing and dashing away from the cliffs as rocks fell, then performing hasty u-turns and more squeals as waves rushed up the beach toward her.
The fallen rocks are inlaid with seams of quartz, some look like an iced doughnut, others have fully formed crystalline structures. We had fun assembling them into different formations.
There are many places to stop along the cliff-side roads. We found a suitable spot and fired up the barbeque. It’s become something of a tradition so far to cook meat over a fire for dinner. We’re not complaining, and neither is Odie!
The Verdon Gorge is Europe’s equivalent of the Grand Canyon, and grand it is indeed; a must-see for any visitor to France. We were passing close to it, but having already seen it on a previous holiday, we opted instead to visit the Gorges de L’Ardeche, a long chasm surrounded by green hills. Its most oustanding feature is the Pont d’Arc, a natural stone bridge over the river. We took a leisurely drive along quiet roads (not so in peak season!) stopping here and there to admire the view. While enjoying a tasty picnic overlooking the river we saw a small canoe meander gently down the river and resolved to get one last canoeing adventure in before the weather got too cold.
The following day we hired a canoe in Vallon Pont d’Arc. (Ph: 04 75 37 17 79; http://www.canoe-ardeche.com open: Apr-Nov) We were offered wetsuits by the canoe company, which we dutifully refused as self-respecting weather hardened Zimbabweans acclimatised to cold Britain. Pride, of course, comes before a fall, and having already fallen into the river on our last canoeing trip we ought to have been more sensible.
I had a little map indicating the bigger rapids on the river, one set of which is meant to be scouted out from the bank before engaging them, according to my map. Either my map skills were below par (quite likely) or the river was not flowing normally for we reached this point without first stopping on the side to plan our route and we suddenly found ourselves wedged on a rock on the opposite side of the recommended route, with strong currents beating against boulders on either side of us. It was do-or-die time, our only option was to push off into the fray and wing it. Several strong heaves dislodged us from the rock and, with a long shriek from Chris, we surged through the rapids emerging completely soaked on the other side. Drenched though we were we still felt a sense of victory. No swimming this time round, and just as well as we were the only people on the river.
We had decided to put Italy behind us as quickly as possible and, with this in mind, set our minds to driving through the night back into France. On route however I spotted signs for Pisa and, having read stories and looked at pictures of the leaning tower as a child, couldn’t resist a diversion into the famous town to take in the sights.
Having spent all day on the lurking in the back of the van Odie was dying for a walk so we decided to take him around the block. It turned out that our motorhome stop was practically in view of the leaning tower. A glimpse of the rooftop stirred in me such desire to see the famous monument that I rushed back to the van, fetched my camera and tripod, and dragged Chris and Odie at a fast pace into the walls of the old town.
Although I’d seen drawings and photographs of the tower in books, the actual building took me quite by surprise. It is incredible – beautiful and delicate in a way that no picture can possibly capture. I could have spent hours photographing it from different angles but, with a cold wind biting like an annoying insect, and a shivering and complaining wife, I had to make do with just a few quick snaps.
The next morning we decided to visit the same sights in the light of day. What had been a tranquil and moving view by night was quite a different experience in the sun. Hoards of tourists arrived by the busload, and within a couple of hours we were elbowing and cursing our way through noisy crowds. As always though, the masses were only interested in the main attractions. A short walk took us way from the throngs of happy-snappers into the heart of the town where many beautiful sights could be seen without hundreds of people posing in front of them.
Pisa’s tower is famous for leaning, but many other attractions of less repute follow suite. Walking along the river you can see buildings from houses to banks tipping over, as their foundations slowly sink into soft soil below them. You could really call it the leaning town of Pisa.
We’ve come to accept the incredibly commercial aspect of any tourist site in Italy (little wonder as it’s the fifth most visited country in the world) and were unsurprised to find stalls selling various spirits in leaning bottles and leaning tower shaped pasta. As you can see from the photo though leaning towers don’t always have to be buildings … 😀
The Basilicata region is known throughout Italy as being poor and rather downtrodden. The city of Matera is no exception. As late as the 1950s many people were living here in caves, without running water or sewage removal. It has managed to turn its fortunes around somewhat in the last few decades, attracting tourists to see the caves that housed so many residents. When housing was eventually built for them they shunned the cushy life of indoor plumbing and stubbornly refused to leave their holes. They were finally flushed out by force! The town has also gained some fame by providing the backdrop for the film ‘The Passion of the Christ‘.
We drove into the town and followed the signs for motorhome parking. Unfortunately there was a festival of some sort going on and our designated motorhome parking area was now the party headquarters, although to look at the ankle deep pile of litter in the car park you’d think it had become the designated town dump. We circled round and round on the narrow streets looking for a space that could accommodate our van. Sadly, with cars triple parked and delivery vans thrust into every available crevice, we stood less chance than a fat tourist trying to squeeze into Italian designer wear . That put a swift end to our sightseeing for the day. Sometimes life in a motorhome is difficult!
After a welcome break in our nomadic lifestyle we uprooted once again and pottered down the Adriatic coast to Alberobello, Puglia. This town is famous for trulli – the round, dry walled, white washed houses that dot the landscape. Some say that they were built as an early form of tax evasion. Being made without mortar they could be dismantled every time a royal tax inspection was carried out.
We stopped in a lovely olive plantation, now an area di sosta (camperstop), in the heart of Alberobello. Little did we know that we were adjacent to the Trulli neighbourhood. In our search for groceries, we bypassed this area and looped all round the town only seeing a few Trulli as we marched ever onwards. However, we weren’t disappointed as the town is beautiful in its own right and we were lucky enough to be about during the Italian passegiata, or evening stroll. The next morning we stumbled over the Trulli neighbourhood. There are two main Trulli areas, one full of shops selling trulli tacky touritst tat, and another where people still live in these hobbity homes.
A short hop took us to Locorotondo, a hilltop town in Puglia with a beautiful historical centre. The old town has narrow lanes that all lead to the church. Most buildings are cream or white and this colour contrasts beautifully with the red geranium-filled window boxes. After a rejuvenating gelati we continued on to Lecce, right in the heel of the Italian boot.
Assisi was our next stop. After staying in the ACSI campsite near to the town we caught an early shuttle bus in to visit the sights. The town has many churches, the most impressive being the Basilica. We arrived just in time to observe the somber experience of morning mass. Christine had to hire a shawl to cover her outrageously naked shoulders!
Assisi is bizarre. One the one hand it is very spiritual and focused on relinquishing personal belongings. On the other it is packed with shops trying to sell you tacky religious paraphernalia. It’s fascinating to see Jesus salad tongs, cathedral shaped pasta and mini crossbows, all for sale under the same roof.
Italy is a land of crazy drivers and our taxi driver was no exception. You’d think it impossible to gesticulate madly at passing cars with one arm, while the other flits constantly from hooter to radio to mobile phone, all the while constantly ignoring the steering wheel, but somehow our driver made the impossible a jaw-clenching reality.
We made a quick pit stop on our way to the Valnerina, in Norcia. This town is famous for its salami (apparently the best in Italy) and truffles. Wild boar heads stare out at you from the numerous butchers on the main drag, an unsubtle reminder of what the sausages are made from. We bought both and were not disappointed. Boar and truffles squashed into cylinders is a most delicious treat!
Our most urgent task was to find a replacement gas bottle before we end up living permanently in a pizzeria with ample food and warmth available next to the wood fired ovens. Several stops at various garages got us no further than learning the Italian word for gas bottle (bombilo) and how often to hoot when performing a u-turn. Lady luck had not forsaken us, but instead sent two Italian motorhomes to park up right beside us just as we were giving up. Chris has become a master of mime, and within a few minutes of performing the gas-bottle act to bemused Italian crowd we had an address of a gas company firmly in our grasp.
We managed to purchase a new 11kg bottle for €25 and refill our small blue Calor bottle for €12. Hurrah, our dinner options now include those of the non-takeaway variety. If you need gas in Italy you may struggle at service stations but try and find out if there is a ‘Liquid Gas’ supplier in the area.
On we trekked to the nearby town of Bolzano. The MMM (Messner Mountain Museum) looks at man’s relationship withmountains. The exhibits are displayed on many levels, and at some point you will find yourself hiking up or down steep stairways. There is an eclectic mix of religious (mostly buddhist), artistic and spiritual displays. I felt inspired by the exhibits as they give an insight into the impact mountains have on humans which is, in many ways, unconnected to the physical world. A word of warning though, the museum does not accept any form of bank card so you will need the €8 entry fee in cash.
Ironically the mountain museum is parked right next to a municipal dump where a man-made mountain of old car tyres grows larger by the day. The strangest part of all was hearing the bhuddist meditation bells being imitated by the loud beeps of reversing rubbish trucks.
Kehlstein sits at the top of a high mountain, built as a retreat for Hitler just before the outbreak of the second world war. We were very interested in the history of the place having recently watched the final episode of the TV series “Band of Brothers” in which the Allies capture Kehlstein, calling it “The final prize”.
The road to Kehlstein is restricted to official tour buses. The bus ride costs €15.50 return per person, including a ride in the elevator. We opted instead to walk to the summit, a climb of 850m over several kilometres of steep roads. As we walked we discussed how strange it felt to be on a road reserved exclusively for the top nazi leaders during the war.
The walk took us two and a half hours and was well worth the effort as beautiful forests slowly gave way to incredible views of the surrounding villages. It’s easy to see why Hitler favoured Kehlstein with its magnificent vistas.
Any sense of history we were feeling was quickly shattered when we finally reached the top. The building has been turned into a large restaurant and souvenir shop. A handful of photos on a wall, and a short documentary looping on a small TV are all that is depicted about Kehlstein’s past.
I was browsing through the postcards when a lady next to me picked out a specimen that highlighted perfectly just how disappointingly commercialised the trip has become. It was a picture of the bus going up the road with “bus of the year 2009” written across the bottom.
Konigsee is a gorgeous lake, hemmed in by alpine mountains, with stunning clear waters fed by mountain rivers. The Germans are very careful to keep it in pristine condition, so much so that even the boats that traverse the lake are electrically powered to prevent polluting the water. There are also no access roads into the park, making it a paradise for hikers.
We chose the round trip by boat which stops off at two places. At one point the boat halted in the middle of the lake so that our guide could demonstrate the incredible echos from the surrounding rock by playing a short tune on a bugle.
An ice cave sits an hour’s walk from the first stop and is well worth the effort. In summer entering the caves is discouraged as it can be dangerous, but we decided to risk it anyway. Inside the cave ice cold drops of water rain down causing a small river of water to form. It’s magnificent, albeit slightly scary when you see rocks and ice falling from above.
Germany’s tallest waterfall sits at the other end of the lake. Unfortunately we were short of time (having made a late start) so our visit to the falls was brief, but nevertheless enjoyable.
As if we hadn’t had enough of clocks already our trip today was to the German Clock Museum in Furtwangen. This was absolutely fascinating, starting with a cuckoo clock that morbidly depicts the crucifixion scene every hour on the hour. That’s a lot of stabbing and nailing! We learned a lot, especially about the history of time keeping.
Apparently it was common practise for neighbouring towns to have different time measurements (10 hours to a day here, 12 there etc), and some even changed the length of hours as the seasons changed. The museum provides a free booklet in English with all the information you need for a visit.
On our way to Blumberg we made a spontaneous stop at the Rothaus brewery. Unfortunately it was closed, being Sunday, apart from the shop where we bought our very first keg of German beer. 5 delicious litres of weissbier for the bargain price of €10! Be sure to read the instructions (or little pictures for us non-German speakers) before using it as you may end up, like us, spraying the inside of your van with a coating of white foam!