Posted by: glenswatman | April 11, 2007

200204 Italy France Belgium England

Monday 1 April 2002  It may be April fools day but the noise throughout the night was not joke at all.  Explore the ship which is pleasant but has basic facilities.  Back in the motorhome on the car deck we suddenly start to get a strong smell of diesel.  Steve investigates and finds a truck 3 behind us leaking fuel.  Report to reception who come down to deal with it.  Go back up to the main ship deck and watch the movie whilst the fumes clear.  Spend the rest of the day between the van and the passenger decks where we play cards or watch one of the many movies showing.
Tuesday 2 April  8.30am we make the final stunning approach through the canals and right past St Marks square to dock in Venice ITALY at 9.00am.  It’s 11.00am before we disembark to head down the east coast towards Chioggia then turn west for our first stop at Monselice.  After lunch we set out to explore and notice that it seems just as warm as Greece.  Approaching the town you can see churches climbing up the hillside and this is where we walk. First we pass a very impressive castle then once through the Porta Romana we reach the chapels.  Pilgrims visit the sanctuary and say a prayer in each of the 7 chapels on the way to the top where there’s the Villa Duodo with the famous Flight of steps of St Francis and superb views.  Continuing west we try to stop in Este to look at the huge castle but parking is difficult.  Not so in Montagnana where special motorhome parking and a sanitary station are provided in a well sign posted car park.  The town is surrounded by 2km of almost intact medieval walls with 4 entrance gates.  Sit out until late afternoon when Italy comes to life again after the noon until 4.00pm siesta.  Explore within the walls where we find yet another castle and lots of cobbled streets.  Taking a short cut back we end up at the wrong side of the speedway stadium and end up scrambling onto the track to get out.  Notice just how warm it stays in the evening.
Wednesday 3 April   In Mantova we do our first Italian Lidl shop noting the prices about 2/3 what they were in the Greek branches.  Stop by the lake for coffee but as we cannot get TV reception for Steve to watch football tonight we press on. Our stop in Cremona becomes lunch and a quick tour as we still don’t have TV reception.  This is the town where Stradivarius violins are made but we find only the duomo facade to be of interest.  About 10km SW of Cremona we spot an Area Attrezzata for campers in Monticelli d’Ongini and surprisingly get good TV reception so Steve’s a happy bunny.  The car park is just back from the main through road.  There’s a football field behind us and a childrens playground to one side which is very well used.  Explore the town and find yet again a castle.  This one is large and imposing but falling into disrepair despite people living in it.  Steve is happy to watch Liverpool win in the Champions League match and extols the virtues of us having a TV and him not having to out to find a bar to watch it!
Thursday 4 April  A very quiet night.  Attempt to go around Piacenza but end up going through parts of it.  Despite narrow streets we emerge unscathed.  Make exactly the same mistake in Tortona from where we head south towards Genoa/Genova.  At Isola Del Cantone we join the A7 toll motorway as the roads are starting to wind and climb over the mountains and the motorway tunnels look more inviting.  Veer off just north of Genoa onto the A10 Livorno motorway then take the first exit, Eu 2.20 (£1.45) toll, which brings us directly to the Staglieno Cemetery.  Parking is difficult but the man at the bus station says we can stay there for 1 hour.  It is known as a monumental cemetery and we think it is superb.  In use since the mid 1850’s many of the tombs are topped with marble or bronze statues representing the person and often their relatives.  It’s the biggest and most impressive cemetery we have ever been in and we are disappointed only to have 1 hour to wander round although we stretch it to 1 1/2 but could easily spend a whole day exploring.  Dependant on finances you can start with a small shoe box size slot for ashes and go right up to a mini chapel for all the family.  Almost every tomb has flowers and it is all well kept.  The statues are awesome and often deeply moving – in fact some are so realistic you almost expect them to move.  A worthy 10/10 stop. A straight run down to the Fiera car park but misleading signs send us off too soon and to avoid continuing out of Genoa we take the first exit.  Wrong decision as we are now in the bowels of Genoa twisting and turning past lots of non descript underground car parks.  Eventually emerge totally disorientated and keep driving until I match a street name to the map.  Make it to the Fiera Internazionale where motorhomes pay Eu 1 (65p) hour to park between 8am and 8pm with a maximum of Eu 10 (£6.50) and over night free.  Set out to explore Genoa which is quite surprising.  It must be built on lots of small hills as we are forever climbing up then dropping down again.  Most of the old town is very narrow pedestrian alleys with high sided houses blocking out the sun.  Very much like the back streets of Naples but not as intimidating.  In the Piazza Dante the impressive Gothic Porta Soprana is next to the little house where Christopher Columbus spent his childhood.  The car park in front is heaving with scooters and everywhere you move they are buzzing round you.  Piazza De Ferrari is a nice area and the Cathedral quite impressive.  Via Garibaldi is lined with palaces many taken over by modern business.  It’s rather strange waking into a bank to admire the ceiling paintings, sculptures and courtyard of a palace.  It’s a bit hit and miss as to which ones are impressive but we explore many and find some really good ones.  Return via the harbour which is pedestrians only and has a real holiday atmosphere.  Again the kids play area is very well used.  I succumb to an Italian ice cream whilst we sit and watch the kids and think of Daniel and Natasha.  At the Fiera Internazionale there is a Bavarian Beer festival from 4th – 14th April starting at 7.00pm.  Get back to the van at 1/4 to 7 after our 3 1/2 hour walk.  The police are on the car park and come to warn us that the 3 caravans at the back are gypsies who cannot be trusted.  He suggests we lock our doors at night as until the gypsies do anything wrong they cannot have them removed.  We bring our Moroccan rug inside and leave lights on and a radio before we go out.  The beer festival is a bit of a non event.  An enormous exhibition hall is full of benches and surrounded by food and beer stalls but there’s almost no one around.  Beer is Eu 4 (£2.66) 1/2 litre or Eu 6 (£4) 1 litre plus you have to pay Eu 5 (£3.25) to buy a glass on which you get a refund if you return it.  Steve hits the beer and I get myself a mixed platter of deep fried food.  Hang around for quite some time but it soon becomes obvious that it either isn’t going to happen until much later tonight or not until the weekend. 
Friday 5 April   Leave just before 8.00am intending to stop for breakfast once through Genoa.  The traffic is horrendous with scooters forever nipping along the side off and then in front of us.  It seems to take forever to get to the edge of Genoa after which the road hugs the rocks with no parking places.  Rocky overhangs make driving difficult along the winding hilly stretches and the towns all seem to have height barriers on the car parks.  Manage a late breakfast at the first opportunity.  In Varazze they have just had the sand delivered for the summer.  Diggers and men are raking it over the stones to create a man made sandy beach for the season.  The roads and parking situation do not improve although it is a scenic drive and worth doing – once.  In the towns the sign posting is variable, in Savona the sign changes from Vado Ligure, Imperia, Ventimiglia, Nice and here’s a puzzler XX miglia (Ventimiglia – get it.?) Continue to Ceriale to do a big wine and beer shop then back track to Finale Ligure where Steve thought he saw motorhomes parked by the beach.  Turns out to be a pay car park, Eu 7.75 (£5.25) 24 hours or Eu 30.99 (£20) week, with the beach much further along but we stay anyway as the sun is out and we’ve done enough tough driving for one day. After tea we set out to explore the town which is very attractive with a palm lined promenade and lots of  pedestrian streets with tourist type shops. On the beach the stands are getting set up for the season with shower cubicles being painted, patios created, playgrounds built and umbrellas and sun loungers stacked up. 
Saturday 6 April  Claire’s 25th birthday so we stop to phone her up.  Still busy along the coast road but in Imperia the traffic is at a stand still because of the market.  At this point we give up and join the A10 motorway.  At Ventimiglia we get the first toll booth Eu 7.40 (£4.90).  Into FRANCE where the toll booths come thick and fast Eu 2.70, Eu 1.70, Eu3.60, Eu4.00 a total of Eu12 (£8) for just over 100km which is pretty steep.  After getting a bit lost we reach Domaine de la Bergerie where Graham & Anne live in a mobile home.  Park at the bottom of the site and move into their en-suite guest bedroom.  Just 2 weeks ago they moved into this brand new mobile home on a new site emplacement and have already being very busy getting settled in.  Graham has plans for us helping them to settle even faster!  Anne takes me around for a site tour where we meet John & Anne, Ed & Sheila and Len who has just arrived from England in his motorhome.  Spend the evening testing out their new Digibox and playing cards.
Sunday 7 April  A dull day.  Make a lazy start whilst Graham and Anne go to church then take us out in their car for a drive around the area.  There’s an interesting flower show in Frejus after which we drive around the coast.  In the evening we are all invited to John & Anne’s for an hilarious game of drunken Uno.
Monday 8 April  Start early with Steve & Graham clearing the driveway and piling the soil up for flower beds.  Another ride out for Graham & Anne to order a hedge and us all to do some shopping.  Afternoon planting the hedge followed by the cooker repair company arriving to cure a fault by removing a spider and its web from the oven. 
Tuesday 9 April  Have to leave early as the men arrive to tile the patio.  Internet in Frejus is the same expensive price as at the site, 15c (10p) minute.  Out to lunch at Domaine de la Maurette a typical French restaurant at a vineyard.  We all opt for the superb 3 course menu of the day at Eu 11.45 (£7.50) including wine and coffee.  It’s all excellent and Steve is delighted by the size of the cheese board.  A speciality is a dish of what looks like crumbled cheese.  All the old bits of cheese (which must include some blue cheese) are grated up and mixed with marc, pernod and cream.  This concoction is stored in the fridge for 10 days and then served up as a delicacy.   Graham has organised us to arrive early and we can see why as the place gets packed out and understandably so.  Rain and thunder put paid to Steve watching football on TV as the power goes out and once it comes back on the satellite has no signal.  End up playing Canasta instead.
Wednesday 10 April  Men arrive to continue the patio and Steve goes off with Graham to collect the fridge/freezer which they bought yesterday.  It’s surprising how quickly things are falling into place. Afternoon 10 pin bowling Eu 3.50 (£2.30) game including shoe hire.  I get 142, 125 and Steve 152, 138.  Graham and Anne who rarely bowl score a little less.  It’s an interesting centre with snooker and an ice rink downstairs and ten pin bowling with a lovely lounge upstairs.  Arrive back just as the workmen are packing up and shortly before it starts to rain again.  Lovely meal of duck for tea. 
Thursday 11 April  More rain with temperatures down to 12C the same as Glasgow!  Another ride out and lunch at Domaine de Donat which is similar to the other restaurant and full of workers.  Eu 11.50 (£7.70) for a 4 course menu including wine and coffee but without any choice although it is all very good.  Afternoon siesta with the rain pattering on the roof.  Ann & John join us all for an evening meal.
Friday 12 April  Leave after breakfast to head for Ian and Cynthia’s.  Travel on the back roads through Provence and into the Luberon region where they live. This area was made famous by Peter Mayle with his book "A year in Provence"   Pull over for an afternoon nap then continue to Bonnieux and follow the directions to Ian and Cynthia’s house.  A few things don’t quite tie in but we reach "Vieille Bastion" and park outside as no one is home.  A couple of hours later there is still no sign of anyone so we return to Bonnieux and telephone them.  We’re in the wrong village and should be near Lacoste.  We had interpreted the directions as being from Bonnieux but they were meant to be for the road from Lacoste to Bonnieux.  By sheer chance everything else fitted in and we found a house with the same name as theirs but in the wrong village!   Ian drives out and escorts us home collecting a cooked chicken en route.  Having not seen them for 5 years we have a lot of catching up to do over a meal and some lovely wine from their cellar where they stock around 1000 bottles. 
Saturday 13 April  More flipping rain through the night.  Cynthia dashes out early as tenants are arriving to rent her house in St Cannat.  Ian gives us the full tour of Vieille Bastion which is a converted farmhouse.  It now has 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, games room with table tennis, pin ball machine and a full sized snooker table plus a swimming pool outside.  No wonder the Americans love renting it in the summer.  Take a drive out with Ian first to show him the house we visited yesterday which he agrees ties in uncannily with the directions to their place.  On to La Gare Bonnieux where Peter Mayle used the restaurant as his local.  Think it’s popularity is reflected in the price of the 3 course meal at Eu 20 (£13.50) without wine or coffee.  Lunch in a bar in Costellet then we return to collect Charlie.  Leave mid afternoon and cut across country towards Lyon.  Park late afternoon in the small village of Donzere which has a car park for motorhomes, toilets and a sanitary station. 
Sunday 14 April  Postman Ferdinand Cheval delivered letters over a 20 mile route around Hautrieves for many years.  Whilst out walking he collected interesting stones and then began to create a building with them.  Today the Palais Ideal (Idealistic Palace) is complete Eu 4.80 (£3.45) and can be visited.  It’s a magnificent piece whimsical architecture built by someone with no artistic or building skills whatsoever.  Each side has many different themes including an Egyptian temple, mosque, Swiss chalet, 3 giants and lots of tunnels which weave within the structure and balconies and terraces above it.  We love it and take lots of photos and video.  Today is a special day celebrating the postman and people go off to complete the same walks as he would have done on his round.  Had we arrived early in the morning we may have been tempted.  Heading North we use the "free" motorway around Lyon which for some unknown reason suddenly becomes a Peage and leaves us stuck in the middle of nowhere.  We are looking for an overnight stop but have heard many stories of people being attacked on the motorway service areas around Lyon.  They have been gassing the occupants then breaking in to steel things.  Bad directions lead us a long way round Ville Franche by which time we are very pleased to see signs for a Lorry Park in the small village of St Jean D’Ardieres.  Suddenly our phone begins to work for us to send text messages having been unable to send them almost all the time in France.  There seems to be no logical reason for this at all.
Monday 15 April  It’s a cold and frosty morning but with clear skies and sun.  Beune is a nice town with lots of ancient walls and fancy tiles on the roofs of important buildings.  We are in the Burgundy wine region now with every spare scrap of land filled with vineyards.  Recognise the name of Nuit St George as we pass through and note it is twinned with Hitchen. Continue through terrain of vineyards with impressive entrance gates and building with fancy tiled roofs.  Drive around Dijon which is famous for the mustard then cut across country towards Troyes passing the source of the River Seine.  Our route follows the course of the river and just NW of Troyes we turn off down a side road and find a pretty parking spot in a small forest on the banks of the Seine just north of St Mesmin.
Tuesday 16 April  Head straight towards Arras area to visit the World Word 1 memorials to the Battle of the Somme.  Small cemeteries and memorials abound but some are outstanding including the British memorial at Thiepval where an enormous
archway has columns inscribed with the names of over 70,000 British and South African soldiers whose remains were never found.  The Irish memorial "The Ulster Tower" is a replica of Helen’s Tower near Bangor in Northern Ireland which is where the unit did it’s training.  The Newfoundland Battlefield Memorial is different again.  The Canadians have chosen to leave the battlefield site complete with bomb craters.  From the Caribou Statue you get a view over the whole area.  Just North of Arras is the Canadian Battlefield Memorial Park on a similar vain but with reconstructed trenches and tunnels.  Arrive late and park up for the night so we can explore in the morning.  Have a good view of the main memorial statue which is floodlit at night.
Wednesday 17 April   The monument is outstanding, huge twin white towers have  figures carved at the top and a base inscribed with over 11,000 names of Canadian soldiers.  Other representative figures surround it all.  There’s a very interesting visitors centre and nearby you can walk in the trenches which have been created using concrete in place of sandbags but still give you a good indication of how things were.  Nearby Notre Dame de Lorette is a French cathedral and memorial for the second world war.  Beneath the mock Byzantine tower is an unusual ossuary with 32 coffins.  Final visit in the area is the Indian Memorial which although vaguely Mogul in style is not outstanding.  Guess that anyone with serious interest could spend days in this area as there are so many minor sites signposted.  Detour into BELGIUM where fuel used to be cheaper.  Not so anymore but we do find the gas much cheaper and the fuel slightly cheaper but not really worth the detour.  At least with the Euro you can make a direct price comparison and this may be why there is less price difference than before.  Back in FRANCE we arrive at Bleriot Plage, Calais which is heaving with families.  It’s a lovely sunny afternoon and the beach is busy as is the kids fun area behind it.  Settle into our favoured spot by the port where we can watch the ferries passing by.  Book our ferry crossing for early Friday morning.  £99 one way with Sea France. 
Thursday 18 April  Wake late then enjoy a stroll along the beach.  A few people are doing up their beach huts ready for the season and tractors are transferring the piled up sand from the back of the beach down to the shoreline.  It’s sunny but not as warm as we had hoped so we drive around to the port in the hope of taking an earlier ferry.  We have done this many times in the past with no problem but today they tell us we would incur a surcharge so we decline and return to Bleriot Plage.  Steve finds a sheltered spot behind the van so sunbathe.
Friday 19 April  Up at 6.15am then round to catch the 7.15am ferry with few passengers and ours the only motorhome on board.  Arrive in Dover ENGLAND just before 8.00am having put our clocks back by 1 hour.  Small hold up on the M25 but a good run through to Hitchin to visit our friends Peter and Margaret.  Our timing is perfect, Margaret has just baked some scones for us to have with jam and fresh cream.  As fellow motorhomers who have visited Australia and plan to visit USA we have lots in common.  After lunch we are given a good guided tour of the old town of Hitchin.  There’s an old British school here which has been re-created as a tourist attraction.  Margaret is a volunteer teacher and uses the Galleried classroom of the 1800’s.  Another interesting room is the only Lancastarian classroom left in the world.  Mr Lancaster designed it as a room in which 300 pupils could be taught simultaneously.  We also drop lucky in the church where there is a lady who has great interest in the building and shows us many of the best features and explains the interesting historical details.  Return for a delicious steak and kidney pie supper joined by their daughter Anne.  We don’t sing for our supper but Anne is moving next week and we end up helping load a wardrobe onto the trailer after we have eaten. 
Saturday 20 April  As we travel up the A1(M) the motorhome table becomes a mobile office as I have my paperwork spread out whilst making use of the 2p a minute weekend mobile phone rates.  It’s looking like we shall be leaving mid June to do an exchange with someone in Texas so we have until then to fit in visits to family and friends, sort out a few motorhome problems and make other arrangements.  As they say "a busy day at the office!".  Detour into Grantham for a rendezvous with Derek whom Steve met in Cyprus whilst I was back in England with Mum. He joins us for a Fish & Chip lunch in the van.  Next into Bradford to get the motorhome measured for the new windscreen which is needed before we can get the MOT done.  Finally arrive in Haworth late afternoon.  Daniel woke up this morning with a tickley tummy as he was so excited at the prospect of us coming.  Everyone is very pleased to see us as we are them.  Natasha looks more grown up and is saying much more, Daniel also looks old but is still quite boisterous and inquisitive. 
Sunday 21 April  Get up just after 10.00am to find a phone text telling us Daniel has been up since just after 7.00am wanting to come up and see us.  He chose his own clothes and got dressed and ready to save time.  By the time we get to their house Daniel and Natasha have gone out with Daz and we have to get Claire out of bed. Join Claire for part of her Yoga exercise session but as I wouldn’t have space in the van to do it there’s no point in me doing too much!  Daz returns with the kids before he goes off to work in the pub.  In the afternoon we go with Claire to visit Steve’s Mum & Dad in their new mobile home on the top of Bingley Moor.  They both look well and seem well suited with the move.  There are superb views from the lounge and the unit is spacious and well appointed.  The nearby playground is handy for Daniel and Natasha although the unfinished deck with no railings is a bit of a worry.  Return to Claire’s then take "Charlie" down to Sandra’s.  Meet her new boyfriend Keith and enjoy supper together.
Monday 22 April  I walk down to Keighley and get stuck into business whilst Steve stays behind to clean "Charlie".  Steve goes up to Claire’s to baby-sit in the evening.
Tuesday 23 April  Shortly after Steve arrives back we cadge a lift into town with Sandra.  Visit our property at Parkwood Street which seems to be fine with the exception that the tenants have "forgotten" to pay this months rent.  Escort Mark to the letting agents to pay a cheque in!  Steve goes out to snooker with Richard John in the evening then phones up to say he will be staying out overnight.
Wednesday 24 April  Quickly falling into a routing of me walking to town, pursuing jobs and using the Internet then walking back and catching up on washing. Meanwhile Steve potters round the van or puts in serious practice to be a couch potato.  Daz picks me up to baby-sit for the night.  Daniel has recently had bunk beds and is delighted at the prospect of me sleeping on top bunk, not half as much as I am when I learn that he wet the bed last night. 
Thursday 25 April  By the time I return from my usual visit to town Steve has a visitor.  Dr Neil Wilson has called in on the pretext of bringing my blood test results but then stays for over an hour chatting about his motorhome trip to New Zealand and our lifestyle.  I have the blood test done to check my cholesterol level because Mum has Ischaemic Heart Disease which is hereditary.  Unfortunately the test reveals an increase from 5.7 in January 2001 to 6.8.  Sadly this means I may have to cut down on fats (especially chocolate).  6.00pm Claire picks me up to help her with cleaning at the vets.  She packed the job in when she started work full time but they are between contracts and asked her to help out.  It’s hard work with a staff room, offices, laboratory, operating theatres, consulting rooms, cages, stables, reception and toilets to be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. Working flat out it takes us 2 1/2 hours.  Meanwhile Ray Stephens has picked up Steve who watches Ray play squash before they go for a game of snooker followed by ten pin bowling.  At this pace we shall soon be in need of a holiday. 
Friday 26 April  Finally the reasonable weather has given way to rain which puts a halt on my doing the washing and leaves Steve free to be a full time TV addict.  I have a 5.30pm appointment with Doctor Wilson but don’t go in until just after 6.00pm  It’s 1/4 to 7 when I get out and a bus is due at 5 to so I shelter from the rain in the surgery entrance.  By 5 past 7 I’ve decided the bus isn’t coming so walk to the next stop – and the next – and the next before I find one with a timetable which tells me the 20 minute service stopped at 6.30pm and there isn’t another bus due until 7.35pm.  I struggle up Fell Lane in the cold and rain and arrive back to find mayhem in the van.  Claire dropped Daniel and Natasha off at 6.00pm and Steve has not been coping too well.  Daniel has set the van alarm off and been tooting the horn, Natasha has somehow locked the bathroom door and needs her nappy changing to name but a few things. It’s 9.00pm before we have them both asleep and we can relax. 
Saturday 27 April  Run out of van entertainment for the kids by 10.00am so drive down to Cliffe Castle.  There’s quite a lot to interest them including pet rabbits and guinea pigs, a playground, stuffed animals and a hive of honey bees.  Drop Steve at the "Three Horses" pub to watch the football and return to Sandra’s to wait for Claire to collect the kids.  Up to Wilsden in the evening for a meal at Rod and Nancy’s.  We are joined by Ray and Margaret, Richard and Sharon and their children Lauren and Kieren.  Nancy has gone to a lot of trouble and we have a super meal accompanied by much laughter.  Follow this up by playing Jenga.  Richard and Sharon have both had too much to drink so Sharon and the kids sleep upstairs and Richard joins us in the van.
Sunday 28 April  Rod is up and cooking bacon sandwiches when we go into the house.  Drive back to Keighley and then Richard comes round with his Kirby cleaner to shampoo our carpets and upholstery.  Just figuring out where we can put ourselves whilst it dries when Claire appears and suggest we go back with them to Howarth.  Daniel has a swimming lesson at 7.30pm so we can come back with ther then.  Daniel does very well at swimming trying very hard to keep up with the rest of the class who are much older.  It’s 8.30pm by the time we get back to the van.  Amazingly we still haven’t had an evening together in the van since getting back to England. 
Monday 29 April  A cold and very windy day with occasional hail stones.  Between showers I manage to put some of Sandra’s washing out to dry but the wind is so strong it pushes the rotary clothes dryer over.
Tuesday 30 April  Another miserable rainy day.  Bus to Bradford for my annual breast screening appointment.

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