On thro Italy to France then to Spain

For those of you that looked at this link http://www.ivan.co.nz/Italy/index.htmland thought this traffic does not off too bad, just remember these were the photos that Lula took in the mild traffic, and the real serious traffic she was gripping the armrests of her seat tightly with no thought of photography, just the traffic!

Sunday, 20 May
We headed off towards Lake Como this morning, one of the shortest drives, about 56 km, we were heading towards a parking spot in the centre of town that just looked too good to be true, and when something looks that good it usually is not true.  After going around in circles for a little bit I asked Luda to find a lake shore road, which she did, so we started driving round the lake front, on a real good Italian Road, read that as being very narrow and hardly room for two cars to pass, and parts of the Road one-way only.

I very quickly worked out there was no future in this Road, and when after many kilometres I could in actual fact stop on the side of the road, saw really that there was no exit, and as luck would have it, just ahead there was a little side road which with the aid of that I was able to turn around and go back the way I came.

My one and only other visit to Lake Como was about 40 years ago and I remember it as a sleepy village, of course my memory may be very bad, but now it has wall-to-wall traffic and wall to wall housing, a location that was no place for a motor home.

We were going on to visit another Lake but logic told us it would be no better, so I programmed the Tom Tom to our next destination back of the coast the city of Genoa.

The voice we have selected on the Tom Tom, is a female voice, and when we missed a left-hand turn leaving Lake Como she direct us up another Road that looked barely wide enough for motorcycles to ride side-by-side, and against all logic I made the turn left.  There were three very tight corners on this Road, so tight that as a backing manoeuvre to get around the corner, and I couldn't help but feel the female in the Tom Tom was teaching me a lesson!  The good news was I met no traffic coming the opposite way.

However girlie in Tom Tom wasn't finished with me yet, the next Road had a very narrow bridge, and on both sides of the bridge there were bits of paint from vehicles that were too wide, I looked at the Gap and thought maybe, but not today, so backed up and the three cars behind me were very good backing up and giving me room to go back the opposite way.

Whilst we have witnessed some atrocious driving, some stupid overtaking, and drivers risking all to get one car ahead simply to turn left or right in 100 m, I must say the drivers are extremely patient allowing other drivers to turn round in the middle the Road and do all sorts of other things that would create violent Road rage in the English-speaking countries.

They have no qualms about coming around a corner or bend with their car over the centre line and just after the narrow bridge incident a car completed such a manoeuvre, to be hit by a car travelling the opposite direction, it was just the mirrors that made contact but nevertheless made such a mess and we left the two drivers to sort things out, because in front of us we had another bridge, a Bridge with the walls and a roof, with a stated width of 5.3 m.  My motorhome measures 2.4 m so in theory two the motorhomes my-size could pass, but I took the coward's way out and let the cars coming towards me clear the Bridge, and a car at the opposite end obviously felt the same way as me, because he waited for me to clear the Bridge.

After all that excitement we headed for the toll way as the driving through large areas of countryside that were growing rice, there was so much rice one could have easily been somewhere in Asia, all we would have needed would have been a few Asian people with the coolie hats and the picture would have been complete.

All off the time we had been an Italy we had been passing through tunnels, it is of course the nature of the countryside that the shortest route between two points it is usually through a mountain, as we drive we see many new tunnels being created and so now I understand why in the 50s I think it was, a gang the Italian tunnellers were brought to New Zealand to complete a power project that involved one large tunnel.

Just how many tunnels there?  I'm sure there is an answer to that question somewhere, but today we passed through 119 tunnels in a 4 Hour Drive, the longest being almost 2 km in the shortest being 51 m.

What turned out to be a short drive today, was turning into an all day marathon, so we saw a large commercial complex on the side of the road we were driving we turned off and found a quiet spot and spent a restful night.

Monday, 21 May
Genoa was one of the spots Lula want to visit, I found a campground in the ACS I camping guide, it however only had an area code for its address, so I programmed it into both of our GPS’s and hoped for the best.  Well the best was not to happen, they again directed me up the side of a mountain, with the Road getting slowly narrower, until we were on the one-way Road that seems to be reserved for me, absolutely no way to turn round, absolutely no exit, and absolutely no motor camp.  There was one light in the tunnel however, and that's that there was a church near the end of this one-way Road, and to me churches normally have a parking lot for their congregation, and there I could turn around, so with that little light ahead of me I carried on.

Just before I got to the church the Road got slightly wider, with a chained off space for local parking, fortunately the chain was not locked, and the steel posts pulled out of the ground, so I was able to complete the turning around procedure and soon I was back down the Road with no campground.

As I around one of the corners, there was a bus taking up what appeared to be the full width of the Road, and after he and I exchanged hand signals I backed into a small side road and he was able to pass with, I guess, for Italy, lots of room!

After that I was in the “ get me out of here” mode so programmed the Tom Tom to Antibes, one Hanks parking spots, I think we found it, we are parked on the beach, with a lot of other motorhomes, some 2.7 km further from the city than the GPS location, but of course without the GPS we had never passed this spot in the first place.

Tuesday, 22 May
It was a recently peaceful night on the parking lot between the sea, a reasonably major road, and a railway line, and all 17 motorhomes camped in this location, we left at 8:30 a.m. and headed to a campground to leave the motorhome while we went into the city.

It's never boring going to a new campground, this one had a long hose which you put over your waste water outlet and in theory it all disappears into the ground cleanly, except in this case the hose was holed in several places which left a reasonable puddle on the shingle, the freshwater hose had an “automatic cut off” coupling, so when you turn the water on nothing happened, you had to fit another fitting in to the coupling and then you had water.

This campground they placed the trees and the fences in such a manner to create the maximum difficulty for motorhomes getting to the designated location.  And of course all of the circuit breakers on the electric plugs I tried were off so the camp attendant had to come in and open the box to flick the switch to the on position.

With that drama behind us, we walked across the Road to the railway station, and in the ticker office the girl told us the next train to Nice was in 90 minutes and the next train to Cannes was in 20 minutes, so that was an easy choice.

When we reached Cannes we discovered that they had put on the 60th Cannes film Festival in honour of our visit, but as usual the message had not got down the line to the guard on the gate, when I told him I was a personal friend of the founder of “arry Ruffell Flms”he had the audacity to say “ Harry who?”, looking at all the film directors, cameramen and other technicians walking through the gate and none of them wearing anything resembling a Bow Tie I thought perhaps I may have been overdressed for the occasion in any case.

We went on to try to get a new SIM card for France for the Internet connect coupling on my laptop but they knew nothing about the system so we will wander back 60 km tomorrow and deal with Vodafone Italy.

Cannes was extremely busy with lots of the shops featuring things to do with the film Festival, it was full of people wandering around with identity cards hanging around their neck, the whole waterfront was more or less fenced off from us common people, and it was filled with booths promoting films and every other sort of activity that feeds off this market.

Back at the camp ground it was a warm 30° a little bit warm for me but then I guess my intention was to escape the mild New Zealand winter so I should expect a little bit of warmth.

Lula went on her first swim in the Mediterranean, to me the water looked as a wet as most of the other oceans I have seen, but Lula seem to enjoy it and that's all that matters.

Wednesday, 23 May
Today we left the campsite at Antibes reasonably early and drove back to Italy to the first town over the border which was Ventimiglia, I found a parking area there which I could leave the motorhome at, and walked into the town asking people on the way where the Vodaphone shop was.  Nobody I struck could speak English but they recognized the Vodaphone name and directed me to its location.

It appears the only way I could receive emails now throughout Europe was a set up an account using my credit card with the Vodaphone company, and I'll be charged €1.3 per megabyte of data loaded and uploaded.  It will be an interesting experiment to see if the costs much, I was going to say “rewards”, and yes that is a good name for it.

So I sent an e-mail off to my e-mail provider telling him I did not want received any e-mails over 15 K., and then set out a similar e-mail to those on my mailing list, telling them no photos please, if you reply to one of my e-mails, please delete the original, and hopefully all was well work out well.  I did this while I was still in Italy so in theory the megabyte counter should not have started working.

That took us until about 12 o'clock to get settled, so then we headed off back on our travel route and I programmed the city of Arles into the Tom Tom and we were off on the toll ways across France.  Wonderful in theory, but terribly, terribly boring, and expensive, 100 km cost about €20 and by that time we had enough of the highway motoring, so we stopped at a petrol station, had lunch, and decided to get off the motorway at the next junction which happened to be at about 9 km away.

We headed for the coast which was a city called Sainte-Maxime, which happens to be on the way to Saint-Tropez which is probably a more recognizable name.

As we reached the city limits we found a large supermarket which was have a good excuse to replenish our large refrigerator, (where would we be with out it) and by that time I considered it was time to find a parking or camping spot, we just come out of the car park of the supermarket and we saw about 20 motorhomes parked on a parking lot, so for a €5 charge we were set for the night, however with a temperature of about 35° we could have done with a little bit of shade.

Is interesting to look at where our camping companions for the night are from and the large majority as you would expect, from France, with one from Italy and three from Switzerland.

Is also interesting to note how the once you got over the border, like say from Italy to France, the Italian registered cars almost completely disappeared and were replaced by French registered cars, so it would appear that the large majority of people seem to do the everyday business in the country where their car is registered, a situation of course we don't even have to think about New Zealand.

Thursday, 24 May
We spent a restful if not hot night, in the morning another two motorhomes had arrived, so we decided to replenish our supplies before breakfast and before there was any rush on the facilities.  After breakfast we decided to avoid going south and having to go through the two large cities of
Toulon & Marseille so programmed the Tom Tom for Aix-en-Provence.

As usual the Tom Tom took us through perhaps one of the narrowest, winding roads in the region, so we now have a name for these roads, and that is a Tom Tom Road.  Eventually we got through that part of the trip and moved on to the Roman city of Arles, and to one of Hanks parking lots, but when we arrived in the centre of the city there was nothing to be found, so we headed on out towards the Roman aqueduct built in 18 BC called Pont du Gard, the aqueduct was put up over the Gard River hence its name.  Its closest large city is the city of Nîmes.

As we are getting close to our destination we found a sign pointing towards one of Hanks parking lots, which wasn't in the Tom Tom, beside a rather beautiful Lake with lots of trees under which we parked our motorhome along with about another dozen at the moment.

Lula's eyes lift up when she saw the Lake and people fishing, so she went walking, came back with a live worm she had found, produced our Norwegian fishing Rod, but unlike Finland she had no luck with the fish and she had to watch the large ones about 50 cm long swimming round looking at her, I explained a stick of gelignite would soon sort them out, but I was told, that was unsporting

Friday, 25 May
The peaceful night underneath the trees beside the lake, we left reasonably early in the morning with one motorhome being just ahead of us, yes he beat us to the dumping site, and was another French motorhome there as well, and having seen the French several times at the dumping site I knew we would maybe there for the rest of the morning.

So I headed off straight down the Road, the way that both the Tom Tom and I thought was the correct way, and it was for a Smart car, but not through motorhome as the Road slowly got narrower, and then did a tight left-hand turn, at that point I decided to back up, fortunately it was a sleepy little town and there was only one car wanting to get past me, then I came to a parking area where I could turn round, back past the Frenchman at the dump site did a righthand turn and there was a sign indicating it was the exit (in French of course) for motorhomes.

So then it was on to Pont du Gard the location of the 2000 year old aqueduct, was an interesting situation, they charge you €5 for the car park, €7 to enter the museum, that entrance to the site with the aqueduct spanning the river was free, they had beautiful amenities there at the information area and Museum, the car park was monstrous so I assume if it was self-supporting and all the costs came from the parking fees.

We spent about an hour there, walking the site, taking photographs, and was back on the Road heading towards the sea again and a little closer to Spain.  It was uneventful driving, were of course got lost a couple of times, but the Tom Tom soon sorted that out, with out its normal malicious narrow winding roads, and soon we were heading towards Agde and one of Hanks parking spots, it took us directly to the spot for us to find that a bulldozer had closed the site off, so I was on to the next one to find the same situation, and when we found the third site like that we realised that the authorities had had a hand in this and assumed the whole district was the same.

As we are driving along the seashore we found one area that had about 3 km of motorhomes parked nose to tail on the side of the road, we assume this was the direct result of the parking spots been closed and we shuttered to think what would be like here Midsummer.

We found a little three star campground, it had a little space allocated to motorhomes, but large on cabins of which they had over 400, they had no dumping facilities for dirty water, and the ablutions block were large clean and French, I say French because I entered the door indicating men, Luda walked round and entered the door for women and we both ended up in the same toilet and shower block, which it is very French.

I certainly would not like to be in this campground in the middle of summer with over 2000 people (parents and children) crammed into this area that is at least 2 km from the sea, they have a large waterslide which I guess is supposed to be a substitute for the Ocean but with the amenities we have seen in here it would be chaotic.  At the moment we are almost the only ones here, which shows just how packed the summer vacation it is in Europe.

As we have been driving through Italy and France, past kilometres of apartments that make up the normal modern city in these regions, or alternatively the really old towns or villages, it makes us realise that those of us that live in the New World are extremely fortunate with both living accommodation and traffic.  It has become extremely obvious that if you own a car it would be very small car, which you would leave on the street overnight, and whereever you drove you would have a massive problem finding a parking space, yes Europe is a wonderful place to visit, but I would not want to live here.

This apartment living that we see everywhere has its side effect that when we see Europeans in campgrounds, they are sitting outside their tent, caravan, or motorhome from early morning till late in the evening absorbing as much fresh air and environment as they can during their brief escape from their everyday life, yes it is a different way of life completely.

Saturday, 26 May
We took our time leaving the motor camp, and started heading towards Perpignan with the route programmed in to both of our GPS's.  As we were getting close to our destination the two GPS this had different ideas on how we should past this city, we decided to follow the Tom Tom, and that lead us passed a fortress at Salses-le-Château, we stopped and decided to have a look at this structure that was built in 1497 on a new design made necessary by the development of metal cannonballs.  It marked the northern boundary of the Spanish territory at that time and remained a Spanish fortress until 1642 when the French finally regained their territory pushing the border back to the highest point of Pyrenees where it remains today.

We could only look at some of the fortress by going on a guided tour, and the guide had a lot to say about many of the structure points, their incredible rooms, the users that the rooms were used for, in fact about the whole structure, in great length, and of course it was all in French, but you could not go to those spots by yourself so we had to sit through the whole boring procedure.  Of course we got some very nice photographs, so all was not lost.

As we were walking back to the motorhome we stopped in at a wine shop, it must be attached to a vineyard in the area, it was as far as we could tell attached to an Appellation Area which indicated the wines were of a certain standard, or so we believed, they seized upon us, produced six bottles of wine of the type I indicated I liked, poured out a healthy the sample from each bottle, I noted the date on the bottles indicated that had been opened on the 23rd, and after they poured our samples they disposed of the remainder of the wine in those bottles down the drain.

We were given a container to split our mouthful of wine, heck, spit out free wine, well the French have always been different haven’t they!  To cut a long story short, I selected 4 bottles and Luda who likes a sweeter wine sample two different muscat’s, selecting one and then they produced what proved to be the most expensive bottle and of course the sample was very much accepted.

So I guess the Tom Tom has got more blame that I can heap on it, although the total account was a less than €28 which I do not think we could have achieved in New Zealand for six apparently good bottles of wine.

After all of this of course we were running late, so I located a Hanks parking spot in the Tom Tom which was 22 km away so we headed for that, finding, on our arrival something was wrong, so we asked it to find the next one which was 190 meters away which turned out to be correct, we started out here by ourselves now we have four others keeping us company for the night.

We had had a little but of rain today, and last night, and it's wonderful how the haze we're been experiencing since we had been in Europe has been instantly cleaned.  The haze must be just dust and pollution in the air and a bit of moisture clears the air.  At the moment it is raining which must be perhaps the second or third day of light rain we have had on this trip.

Sunday, 27 May
We left Saint-André and started heading towards Spain, the Pyrenees mountain range run between France and Spain and are more or less the border between the two countries.  We had two options therefore to into Spain, one by the motorway which would be quite straight and uninteresting, and the other around the edge of the ocean on the type of road we had experienced in the hill country of Italy.  We opted for the latter, and I'm pleased to report that the French Road around the sea to the border is much better than the Spanish section and a long way head of the Italian.  There was actually room to pass on several sections of the Road which to me was unusual.

Our first city and Spain was Figueres the location of the Salvador Dali Museum, it housed an incredible amount of his work, there was enough to fill a very large building with several floors.

I'm pleased to report that before I visited the museum I didn't have a clue as to what is painting was all about, now that I have visited it and studied the work at close quarters I am proud to admit I still do not have a clue, but obviously some people did because the museum was crowded with people from many countries, Luda heard many Russian voices in amongst the crowd, some of the Russian men were expressing my sentiments so I was obviously not alone in my wonderment.

We had programmed the location of the museum into the Tom Tom, and took us right there, of course there was no parking and we wandered around the streets for a little while and found a wonderful spot a short walk from the museum which to me was extremely lucky.

We then headed to the coast about 40 km from Barcelona and it was an interesting experience driving along the coastal road observing all of the holiday apartments packed side-by-side almost in a continual stream.  We are camped tonight on the top of a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean, we found this by accident when I hit the icon of one of Hanks parking spots, I must being off a fraction because brought me here, I did go on to look at the one I was supposed to go to, but it had an underpass with height of about 2.3 m so that kept as on the wrong side of the railway line, and will never know what it was like!

Monday, 28 May
Barcelona is North of the Costa Brava Beaches, but they look extremely inviting except for one factor, for 56 km south of Barcelona the railway line swings and beside the sea, so for 56 km you have this great barrier to some of the best beaches in Spain.  There is a four lane motorway running beside the railway line, so this adds an extra barrier to getting to the beach.

Now assuming you are living near the beach, either in your own apartment or a rented apartment you can walk a few hundred metres and bypassed both of these hurdles by an underpass, but you better be living there because there was no parking!  Okay there are a few small areas of parking which at this time of the year, if you're out early enough you can obtain parking, but forget about it from June on, possibly even forget about finding a beach space for your towel from the beginning of July.

This railway line beside the beach must have created more and a few grey hairs for the councillors off this area in hoping to attract people to their city.

Today we went into Barcelona to do a tour around the city, so first that was walking for 15 minutes to the train station, then a 15 minute ride into the centre of the city, then we saw one of the hop on hop off to a buses on the other side of the square, it was ready to leave and the upstairs area was full so we waited a long with the group of the young people who all talked with what seemed like a familiar accent.

The tour salesman asked them if they were American, no they proudly said, were Kiwis!  The salesman was mystified, he says the only Kiwi I know is a fruit! (That could open a whole new area of conversation) No little girl said were from New Zealand, we are named after a bird, (yes, a short fat bird half blind that only comes out at night), she was now in full flight explaining everything to the salesman, so I thought he was in good hands and left her to it.

Of course the most interesting monument-Church was the “Temple de la Sagrada Familia” started being built in 1882 and was stopped after about 40 years and has recently had work resume on it, the outside is remarkable with all of the ornate sculpture and stonework, I think I could say there is not one straight line in the whole building.  Luda went inside to look, and in doing so helped with possibly 1 mm of the construction.  The inside was an empty shell but you were able to appreciate the stained-glass windows.

Next spot we got off the bus was the large exhibition Centre, built, I understand, for one of the world trade exhibitions, although now busy getting ready for what looked like a bridal show, there were trucks there from all round Europe, including one I saw with a Czech number plate.  However there was no food available in the area and it was well after lunch time, so we quickly climbed back on the bus and went to a more populated area where food was definitely available.

This area had buskers of all sorts, Luda heard a juggler and a dancer busy talking and Russian, so I guess busking in Europe brings and more money than dancing or working for a circus in Russia.

It was then about time to return to the camp, so back on the train, about an hour after the rush period, still quite busy, we recognize the station to get off at an arrived back at the camp safely.

I was relaxing with a vodka and a New Zealander appeared at the door way asking if I had any problems with the electricity, because he was having plenty, it turned out he had a motorhome from England, and of course the English motorhomes are very sensitive to polarity (having the livewire on the right part of the plug) so he went back to the junction box where we plug in to get power from the site, reversed the two pin plug, and all of his problems were solved.

He was on a six-month tour through Europe in a small Volkswagen motorhome with his wife and six month old baby, I guess it will be the last opportunity for them to do this for perhaps 18 years.
Evidently there are two other motorhomes on this site containing New Zealanders.