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  • Day3

    Saturday before Christmas in Naples

    December 22, 2018 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

    Before falling into the moving masses through the old quarter, we decided to get our culture in first. First stop, the Palace (now Art Museum) way up high in Capodimonte. I think I will be fine if I never go through another Bourbon palace (Though the grand piano playing in the ballroom was very pretty), but it was nice to see those familiar Carlos-es who were also king of Spain. Even a couple of Goyas. Carvaggio, Titian, El Greco, Breughel, lots of madonnas and saints. Titian’s portraits of the pope Paul III were probably my favorites, and then way up on the fourth floor hidden away — Andy Warhol’s Vesuvius erupting!

    From there we walked down to the Catacombs of San Gennaro, patron saint of Naples. Even though he was not from Naples, when he made Vesuvius stop erupting, he became their patron. His bones have moved around a bit, but we saw their original 4th century resting place. Graves were from 3rd century onward, till sometime in the middle ages, when a church edict required all bodies to be moved because they were too close to the growing city. San Gennaro’s blood miraculously liquifies three times a year at special masses, but the church has not allowed for scientific examination.

    All cultured out, we walked back down to the historic center, a mad crush of people shopping and eating. Street food is sold at least every ten feet in one stall or another. Joe had a very delicious pistacchio canolo. We visited a couple of elaborate nativity scenes, some mechanical, and all beautiful.

    Dinner tonight will be in a nearby osteria recommended by the hotel, well known for fish.
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  • Day38

    One (quarter) day at a time

    December 4, 2018 in Italy ⋅ 🌙 13 °C

    Above the only remaining gate into the town, I spotted this relic: a mediaevil 6 hour clock based on Roman 2ndC BCE timekeeping.
    The DAY runs from 06:00 to 18:00 divided into
    Terce 09:00 until
    Sext 12:00 until
    None 15:00 until
    Vespers at 18:00 when NIGHT started.
    During the night Roman guards would stand watch, (being vigilant from which we get VIGILS.)
    First from 19:00 to 21:00
    Second from 21:00 to 24:00
    Third from midnight to 03:00
    Fourth 03:00 to 06:00
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  • Day12

    Up to Ravello

    December 31, 2018 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 9 °C

    Ravello is about 4 km and 500 m up, a good aerobic walk! So I walked while Joe took the bus. We met up top and after the obligatory cappucino, we visited the Cathedral (some beautiful mosaics) and the Villa Rufolo (an old hodge podge of buildings from the XII century onward, bought by a rich guy and restored in the 19th century— the main attraction was the VIEWS!!!). Absolutely gorgeous views from up there.

    Trying to get good information on bus options down was nearly impossible, since it is New Year’s Eve. So a group of 8 piled into a cab and in a few minutes we were back in Amalfi.

    All of the restaurants are booked with gala dinners, so we have found a little enoteca that will feed us some dinner as long as we are out by 9:30. We hope to see the fireworks from the seaside promenade, but I fear that thousands of others will have the same idea!

    Wishing everyone a very Happy New Year!
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  • Day11

    Moved over to Amalfi

    December 30, 2018 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 10 °C

    A 20 mile trip from Sorrento to Amalfi takes 90 minutes on the bus — but don’t think you’d get there any faster driving it yoursef. The road twists and turns and twists again, along the coast. Since we already had visited Positano from Sorrento, we just stayed on the bus all the way to the charming, but VERY busy, town of Amalfi. If this is the off-season, I hate to think what it looks like in summer, but I am sure there is a burst of tourists between Christmas and New Years.

    We’re in an old hotel on the main square, with a view over the 12th century duomo (cathedral). That became a less attractive location when we learned there will be an all night party in the square tomorrow. (There’s another folkloric concert on the steps of the cathedral as I write, but it ends at 7 pm!). I knew about and was looking forward to the fireworks on the water, but had no idea that the concerts would begin after that. I should have brought my ear plugs from my Camino bag, I guess. Well, we hadn’t planned to do much on Jan. 1 anyway.

    This afternoon we visited an old paper-making factory, and by old, I mean 13th century old. Paper made of cotton fibers, not wood pulp. We saw the original pulp-making machine, as well as the 15th century newer version, as well as the 18th century one, all powered by water. They coated it in gelatin made from rabbit to make it less absorbent. And then hung it to dry for months!
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  • Day35

    Hard yakka

    December 1, 2018 in Italy ⋅ ☀️ 12 °C

    Martin and Alex invited me to be a workawayer with them in Torri in Sabina. This is Wilma, queen of the azienda, taking her leisure. She is an Italian short haired pointer (Bracco Italiano,) aged 13 months who spends most of the time bouncing and running around, but enjoys a quiet nap in front of the fire.
    When the heat gets too much she moves onto the couch with Martin and her playmate Churchill, a Jack Russel.
    Selfie with Wilma and Martin.
    Just in case you get the wrong impression, we do work. Here we fill bottles for 5c with aqua minerale from the local spring. We also refitted a giant pantry, have split loads of wood and fitted a pool cover.
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  • Day15

    Osteria dei Sapori -- Salerno

    January 3 in Italy ⋅ 🌙 2 °C

    So if you dream of eating in a non-touristy, small, family-run osteria in Italy, this is the place for you. In a 7-table place, with food options written on a piece of paper, we were the only foreigners over the two hours we were there. The entire operation took place in one small room. Dad was the cook, mom his assistant, daughter did everything else (except wash the dishes—there was a woman over in the corner continuously washing and drying). The food was excellent, the family so hospitable, and even with the most expensive bottle of wine at 25 euros, our bill was 80 euros. And that was with two courses each, and one dessert.

    Very nice way to end our stay here.
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  • Day195


    January 7, 2017 in Italy ⋅

    Today was a good day. The journey allowed us to see
    Coypu swimming along a drainage ditch as well as pheasants in the fields and kestrels and buzzards perched on posts or in flight. Now that Epiphany was over, the petrol stations were open and we were able to fill up with gas, putting our minds at rest about keeping warm. Italy seems not to allow self service at LPG pumps and we pay on the forecourt instead of in the shop.

    We found a water tap that wasn't frozen or turned off amd were happy to pay €2 to fill up and empty. To cap it off, there was a launderette at Portomaggiore, just 10 minutes from where we stayed, so we got a fortnight's washing clean and dry in a few hours, instead of having to hand wash and air dry it over a several days.

    On the road we are constantly thinking of where we'll find the next facilities and it is always a relief to know we have a while before the next services are needed.

    The stopover was next to a park and a graveyard. We've noticed many cemeteries so far in Italy have had tall walls with compartments. We assume the deceased are placed in these compartments, as opposed to being buried underground. We don't know whether this is a regional practice that has something to do with the flat and frequently waterlogged land or whether it is done like this all over Italy.

    The best thing about the park was its dog garden that was just 10m from the van. Vicky got to watch all sorts of dogs being walked and playing in the fenced off area and Poppy found a lot of interest in all the different smells!
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  • Day204

    San Leo

    January 16, 2017 in Italy ⋅

    We said goodbye to a snowy San Marino and drove southwest to the hill town of San Leo. The imposing fortress perched atop a rocky outcrop above the old town was what Dante chose to model Purgatory on in his Divine Comedy.

    With snow all around us and our journey taking us higher into the hills, we were prepared to turn back if necessary but luckily there was a snowy but flat car park about half a kilometre out of town that we were able to leave the van in and set out on foot. Camper vans weren't allowed inside the town walls and we were very glad they weren't because we wouldn't have made it up the steep snow covered cobbles!

    The view of the fortress looming hundreds of feet above us as we walked towards San Leo made it easy to see why Dante was inspired. A narrow road curved round the cliffside and allowed us entry to the town through a stone archway. The small streets felt cosy despite the snow and it wasn't long before we left them to climb the steps to the fortress. We passed a sign telling us it was closed due to snow but we continued up to the zig zag path to reach its outer walls anyway. The view from the top of the cliff was worth it. We couldn't see in every direction but all we could see was covered in white. Fields, small hills and cosy settlements stretched out under us to the far away horizon.

    Retracing our footprints down the path, under trees laden heavy with snow, we took a while to explore the quaint town with its sandstone church, a couple of restaurants and a few small shops. We found another viewpoint that whilst lower down, offered us a wide panorama of the surrounding valleys.

    San Leo concluded our time in the Region of Emilia Romagna and after a sandwich for Will and hot soup for Vicky back at the van we set off to discover Le Marche, the next Region on our journey south.
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  • Day204

    Snow storm West of Parco Sasso...

    January 16, 2017 in Italy ⋅

    Next on our itinerary were the Frasassi caves, the largest of which is big enough to fit Milan Cathedral inside. We set off along the Apennines but at around 2:30pm it began to snow. It continued snowing and began to lay on the road. After a while it got so bad that we started to slip and were unable to climb the gentle slope ahead. We stopped, put on our required fluorescent vests, deployed the warning triangle and strapped on the snow chains. In Italy it is obligatory to carry them in winter and we were very glad we had a set. A little further on we pulled into a layby west of Parco Sasso Simone e Simoncello as we didn't want to risk going any further. By this time we were at 525m above sea level and the layby had 9cm of snow, but we thought we'd wait out the worst of it then continue in the morning. We'd checked the weather forecast before we set off and did so again, but there was no snow forecast.

    Well, nothing much else happened for the rest of the day other than it continued to snow. In fact, it continued to snow all day and all night too. A local farmer had been enlisted to drive his tractor up and down the road with a snow plough attached to the front and a gritter to the back. He did this from just after we arrived, every couple of hours throughout the night. A few locals and one or two small delivery vans were still using the road but the vans had rear wheel drive which made a big difference. The wind whipped the snow off the trees and cliff face that rose up opposite the layby and added to that already covering the ground and the van. We were partly enchanted by the beauty of it and partly terrified we'd get stuck! Vicky took a tape measure when taking Poppy to the toilet and we saw the snow rising from 9cm, to 13.5cm, then 19cm, 25cm and when we got up it had reached 48cm on average. It was only when we looked back at the photos we realised she was measuring in the lea side of the van and that it was well over half a meter at the deepest parts!

    In the morning we had to push snow away from the van with the door in order to open it. It was certainly the deepest snow Vicky had ever seen and Will had only seen it as bad once when he was in primary school in 'the long hard winter of '63'. Poor Poppy's shoulders only just reached above the surface and she strangley didn't seem quite as enamoured with the white stuff as she had been the previous night!

    The snow was still falling heavily and didn't look like easing up anytime soon. We decided to abandon our trip to the caves and try instead to get back to the coast.

    We'd wished for snow at Christmas but this wasn't quite what we'd had in mind! The old saying 'be careful what you wish for' seemed most apposite.

    To add to our predicament, Vicky had developed a trapped nerve in her neck overnight and so couldn't drive... no pressure Will! Trapped nerves sometimes come about due to anxiety; can't think what she had to be anxious about!

    We started the engine, checking the exhaust was able to escape. Snow had blocked up all the engine's air vents and Vicky was just brushing as much as she could clear when lo and behold a saviour in the form of a snow plough appeared, heading up the hill towards us! With almost ecstatic relief we watched as it turned to plough the snow from in front of the van. It went back and forth pushing swathes of snow aside. Will backed up as much as he could so it could clear as close to the front as possible, leaving only about half a meter thick wall of snow for us to get through. After a good number of attempts, slipping sliding and stalling, Will broke us free! The snow plough had moved to clear the snow behind us in case we couldn't get out but Will had managed it!!

    He drove extremely carefully along the winding roads as the snow kept pouring from above and being blown in all directions. After a while we felt able to stop and check the snow chains, only to find one hanging off and dragging behind the wheel. It must have broken during the struggle to get free. We didn't have a spare so just had to take it off and hope.

    We had programmed in a coastal town but had to ignore the sat nav when it tried to direct us off the main road, because no other road had been cleared. It just made us feel all the more grateful for having been on a major route when the snow came in, goodness knows how we would have got out otherwise.

    After nearly an hour and a half of driving, we came across a petrol station and being a low on fuel, pulled in to top up. It turned out to be a garage with refuelling facilities and they had snow chains for sale. We asked if they had some for our van and after umming and ahhing they said yes, went away and found a set. €100 later we had a brand new pair, one of which they had fitted for us.

    We were beginning to see more signs of life, with people pushing snow clearing machines and shovelling snow off their drives. After a while we started to see tarmac under the snow and were eventually able to take the chains off and breathe a sigh of relief.

    High winds and heavy rain greeted us as we drew nearer the coast but they paled into insignificance after the conditions we'd just been driving in.

    We made a video on the way back down that we'll post the link to here once we get enough signal to upload it!

    Finally managed to upload the video! See the link below or in the comments:
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  • Day207


    January 19, 2017 in Italy ⋅

    We read this morning about the avalanche that crushed the mountain hotel less than 100 miles south of where we were. We'd previously planned a mountain drive close to the area, albeit at a lower altitude, but it really brought it home to us how close the danger had been.

    Vicky's trapped nerve in her neck had got worse so we didn't want to travel too far on the bumpy Italian roads. We chose to go to Senegalia, just a little way down the coast. Despite being close to the sea, there weren't sea views on the journey because the main coast road was a corridor through hotels and apartment blocks, most of which looked shut up for winter. As we approached the stopover it looked as if it might be raining up ahead but it turned out to be a smog haze. The stopover was just off the busy road and close to the train tracks that ran parallel. It wasn't the nicest setting but it was free because it was winter (€10 in summer!) and it was somewhere to rest the night before moving on in the morning.Read more

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