Posts tagged views

Amalfi Coast

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One of my long standing ambitions has been to explore the Amalfi coast.  This goal inspired us to persevere in our struggle with the Italian traffic, and we made our way to Sorrento.  A little preparation made the journey to the area much more bearable. We were able to find a campsite open in the ‘off’ season and avoid all those challengingly low bridges.  Our campsite was tagged onto the end of Sorrento with amazing views of the coastline.

We decided to spend our first day in this area exploring it on foot.  The Italians don’t seem to be overly keen on footpaths, or even pavements, and you have to take your chances on the narrow roads leaping sideways to avoid scooters undertaking three-wheeled Piaggios.  We diverted off the main road onto a walkway, straddled on either side by lime and lemon plantations.  We scrumped some limes for our larder, though our pickings were meagre compared to a retired Italian couple we encountered, dragging bulging plastic packets filled with olives, lemons, limes and pomegranates in their wake.

The coastal road to Amalfi is closed to motorhomes during the day due to the huge volume of traffic and the jaw droopingly narrow squeezes between cliffs and houses.  The coast is easily visited by bus and boat, both run by the municipality and very reasonably priced.  Feeling more adventurous we opted to rent a scooter from Sorrento for the day. Finding a good scooter-spot for Odie proved to be an interesting challenge but soon, like an unwilling sandwich filling, he was wedged firmly between us, sniffing and staring at the passing scenery.

We bumped and weaved our way along the peninsula, through isolated villages to Santa Agata which has stunning views all round.  The road hugs the cliffs and continues on to the beautiful towns of Positano, Praiano and Amalfi.  The towns are mid-way down the cliffs, between the sea and the towering limestone monoliths that stretch into the clouds.

We stopped for a delicious seafood lunch in a restaurant, with tables looking out across one of the bays. It turned out to be a rather expensive treat of seafood pasta and freshly prepared veggies from the proprietor’s garden for only €10 extra (or yous sleeps widda fishes).  After lunch, the clouds descended and rain quickly fell upon our cheap plastic helmets. We weaved our way homewards through mist and fog, our TomTom bleating out alternatively a direction to turn, or a warning about a low battery. With the TomTom off to save the battery we powered on, thinking we had our bearings right, but discovered after a long descent to a small fishing village that we had made a monstrous diversion to a dead end.  I’d usually have been annoyed but strangely the last hour of scooting back through the Italian rain was as much fun as you could possibly hope for. My spirit of adventure was feeling much alive.

Trulli Magnificent

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A view of the trulli rooftops

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.


Little trulli houses converted into shops

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.

Beach break

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We are constantly moving, packing and organising . You would never think that we are on a permanent holiday. Our days somehow fill themselves up with these ‘admin’ tasks. We often find that after a month or so of regular, almost daily journeys we feel run down and need to stop for a few days to recharge our batteries. I find this is particularly true if we are wild camping regularly, and although I feel most at peace when we are on our own in nature, I worry that we will be asked to move on by the locals.

The time had come to put down some roots, at least for a few days, by the beach. We found a great campsite near Vieste, Puglia in the Parco Nazionale del Gargano. The site was a short walk from the sea and had a very relaxed, holiday atmosphere. A couple of other English couples were also staying for a few days and we were able to swap information. The respite from traveling allowed us to catch up on work and chill out with swimming and general holiday activities.

The Adriatic coast is stunning. Verdant forests crowd the hills which drop down to the ever changing blue ocean. Limestone rocks give the area an idyllic landscape, riddled with caves and coves. Vieste was our closest town, but unfortunately in our laziness we didn’t visit except for a hair raising journey out of town. It looks like a perfect holiday town, full of bars, restaurants and endless sandy beaches dotted with palm trees.

Town Fever

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We started our regional itinerary of Abruzzo in Sulmona. The town is famous for its sugared almonds that are traditionally given to guests at weddings. The Sulmona area di sosta (camperstop) was overgrown, weeds crowding the entrance and had no services available. We parked up near this almost derelict spot and saw signs for an ‘elevator’ to take us up to the ‘centrico’. The ‘elevator’ turned out to be barricaded shut and some rather seedy stairs led us to our destination.

The town was pleasing enough, but I fear we have become desensitised as we have seen so many beautiful Italian towns. Unfortunately Sulmona did not leave us with a very favourable impression. The only saving grace was the weekly market. There we managed to purchase some delicious grapes, prickly pears and other succulent treats.

We decided to push on and found an idyllic wild camping spot in the nearby Parco Nazionale della Majella, overlooking a vast valley. The National Park is home to wolves, bears and rare species of deer but only a few local mushroom pickers made an appearance. We did get to see another pretty sunrise though; that’s twice in two days. 🙂

Monti Sibillini

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After the hustle and bustle of touristy towns, we escaped to Monti Sibillini and its eerie National Park, which straddles the Le Marche and Umbrian region of Italy. We stayed in a grassy (and free) area di sosta close to the town of Castleluccio, surrounded by mountains.

Handgliders and paragliders make good use of the flat basin, perfect for easy landings. Some of the more adventurous ones could even be seen disappearing in and out of clouds that tumble down the sides of the mountains.

The area is perfect for hiking and mountain biking; we did both whilst we were there. Apparently, there are numerous wild animals and plants to be spotted, but the wildest thing we saw was a bleary eyed shepherd and five sheepdogs who thought that Odie looked like a good appetiser.

I see Assisi

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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!

Fantasy Chocolates and Ceramics

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Perugia, a hill top town in Umbria, Italy was our destination for the day. Much to my dismay I was unable to organise a tour of the local chocolate factory. Such factories should be open 24 hours per day by law! I had to console myself with a delicious organic lunch of freshly made pasta and wild boar sauce. We made an effort to work off our indulgent lunch by marching up and down the many Perugian staircases, some of which ultimately lead to nowhere. The town has many pretty sights and plenty of photographic opportunities.

After our feet could take no more traipsing around we made a quick detour to Deruta, also in Umbria. This little town is famous for its handmade ceramics. The main street is riddled with shops selling their wares. Many allow you to observe the artists as they create  their beautiful ceramics, but photography is strictly forbidden so the only shots Dave came away with was of tiles laid into the pavement.

Kehlstein

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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.

Away with the Faeries

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Fussen is most famous for its castles but there is a lot more to it than fairytale architecture. The town is full of quaint shops and has much to offer the visiting tourist. There is a beautiful alpine blue river running through the town, with its own beach if you dare brave the freezing water! A fabulous cycle network leads you to Lake Forgensee where there are various watersports on offer. You can also cycle to both Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein castles.

We decided to scout out the parking situation for the castles. Arriving at 12pm we discovered hordes of tourists milling around and realised we needed to arrive as close to the opening time (8am) as possible, to avoid queuing for hours for a ticket. There is a beautiful lake near the castles which is virtually tourist free. Swimming is permitted at a designated spot where you can hire deck chairs and make the most of the crystal clear lake waters. Having no swimming costumes with us we opted to cycle up the mountain. What started off as a reasonable road soon turned into a perilous path with near vertical drops and numerous rockfalls. Our ride very quickly became a bicycle-carrying hike to the Mariebrucke. This bridge gives a great view of the fairytale Neuschwanstein Castle.

The following day we booked ourselves on the castle tour. There are tours in German and English, or audio tours for the rest. We managed to get onto the first English tour which thankfully had substantially less than the standard 50 people per group. The tour lasts only 30 minutes and felt rather rushed but is nevertheless well worth taking. King Ludwig II was clearly away with the faeries. The castle is built more for artistic value than architectural sense, but is in some ways all the better for it.

Up to now we have missed out on many of the local festivals as we seem to leave the towns a few days before they take place. When we found out that there was a reggae festival happening in Fussen we jumped at the chance to attend, especially when we read that they were a South African band and we could get a little taste of home. However we are not convinced that they are actually from South Africa as the mike was passed to David at one point and he sung ‘Ishe Komborera Africa’ to a very puzzled looking lead singer.

Accidental Austrian Strudel

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Rain, rain, rain! We had hoped to make the most of Lake Constanz but the only constant has been a steady downpour. Luckily, while drifting through Friedrichshafen, we spotted signs for the Zepplin Museum and decided to check it out on a whim. As it was early, we were fortunate enough to find a parking space easily but they were few and far between when we returned to the van. Get there early if you don’t want parking headaches. The museum itself was fascinating. I can’t believe how huge the Zepplins were, especially considering how few passengers they could carry. What we did find rather odd was that the top floor was home to an art exhibition. The rather tenuous reason (or should that be excuse?) for its existence was a little sign with the words “Science is art and art is science”.

We found a Stellplatz adjoining a campsite near Lindau. At last a chance to do some washing! A brief break in the steady downpour allowed us to go for a cycle to explore the area. We stopped at a cafe for a warming cup of tea and a very delicious apple strudel. On the cycle home we noticed a sign showing the way to Deutscheland and realised that we had accidentally strayed across the border into Austria for our strudel!

Lindau bay lit up at night

When evening fell we cycled, away from Austria this time, into Lindau town. The bay is lit up at night and is very pretty, apart from a rather odd neon sign at the top of a statue which changes every few minutes from a smiley face to a sad face. The restaurants on the water front are very expensive but a short walk to the end of the row will take you to a funky little cafe which serves cake and beer, a combination I have come to love 😀 We suspect that although it has a lovely riviera feel at night it would be very different in the day, heaving with tourists.

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