|September - The Italian Lakes and more!
Monday 30th August (don't be picky)
Well Neil is home now doing this and that so there will be a change of style for the next few days while Carolyn writes! The biggest change is likely to be one of size - I've always been a believer of the maxim 'small is beautiful' - ever since the day my Dad said it to me when he found me crying because I was so small! (I don't tell everyone that, you should feel privileged - I was about 8 years old at the time).
Anyway, Monday came and we both jumped out of bed as soon as the alarm went at 4am and in to the car to take Neil to the airport (well he drove while I snoozed!). We got there without incident and likewise I got back to the caravan without incident and was tucked up in bed again by 6am.
8.00 am. arrived and time to get up again. Brekkie is not nearly as good as at home - they don't do cereals or muesli well at all here.
(Quick change of subject to tell you the beastie sprayer has just been round - it's 8.25pm and pitch black - and a man on a machine sprays the whole site with stuff. I have to disapprove but having been bitten so badly in the past my disapproval is a bit weak - sorry, Maggie and Curt! Talking of beastie bites, I thought I had things sorted - not too many bites for a while and not such bad reactions - I must be becoming immune! THEN - 8 bites in one morning!!! And what had I not done? I had not sprayed myself with Avon Skin-So-Soft. It has a great reputation as being a wonder against nasty bugs - I was always a bit sceptical but now I make sure I smell of it constantly - thanks Mum for leaving me a good supply!)
So where was I? Monday just went by with a long cycle ride to explore the local villages. Then a bit of swimming, lounging, reading etc.
Tuesday 31st August
Pretty much the same as Monday but I sussed out a table for sale at 16 Euros - classy white plastic - round and perfectly formed for the chairs we bought in Trogir for less than £1.50 each. I really like not having to keep up with the Jones's but just being practical. It looks really nice with a sarong as a table cloth and a beer glass of wild flowers on it! (Neil will hate the adornments!). Cycled to Caorle - a pretty, but very touristy village. Lovely promenade with the sea wall made of huge boulders, many of which have carvings on them.
Wednesday 1st September
Took the car out to Caorle, having found a supermarket there yesterday that practically gives things away! Stocked up the cocktail cabinet, but the best buy was Schweppes Tonic Water - half a litre for 0.39 Euros (or 39 cents as we say here!). The main reason this was such a good buy is that usually you only find tonic in 1.5 litre bottles - and what good is that? - even Neil and I can't drink enough gin to use that much before it goes flat! Gin, by the way, was 4 Euros a bottle.
Went for a swim - planning to do 10 lengths (50 metres each) - but got whistled out after just one - swimming school on - why wasn't there a sign up to say so? So went off in a huff and splashed about in the sea instead.
Thursday 2nd September
Cycled off to explore the villages in the opposite direction to where I went the other day. OK but nothing special - it's very much beach holiday land round here. Did 500 abs exercises - 10 lots of 50 - nearly 20 minutes. This is my latest daily exercise, until I get bored of it! Then I managed my 10 lengths of the pool before getting whistled out again. This time it was for a huge squad of teenagers to train. I watched them for a while - it brought back memories of Denny High school days when I walked 2 miles to get the bus to school and then swam for an hour before school started! Mad!
Friday 3rd September
Nothing to report - just like Thursday - except for multiple texts to and from Neil about his flights back, but I'll let him tell you about that! Collected him as scheduled at 10pm from Venice Marco Polo airport. What a boring airport - no shops open - nothing to do but wait!!
Now, Neil's bit about airport security and fire alarms - So, at Edinburgh airport, standing in line at the check-in desk at 2.30pm with two people in front of me for a 3.30pm flight. Then the bloody Fire Alarm goes off and EVERYBODY has to evacuate the building. Yes, everyone, staff, us on the land side and ALL the travellers who had gone through security. Get up and get out!!
Now, that's a lot of people to move out into the roadway(s) - and to make matters worse - there's a new multi-story car park being built just at the main airport entrance - so not much room to accommodate several thousand people!!
However, there is no evidence of smoke or flames and after the Fire Brigade check it out we are allowed back in an hour later. But I'm now checking in for a 3.30pm flight at 3.35pm and have still to get through security!!
Now those of you who have travelled through Edinburgh airport will know that the initial "boarding card" control point is on the first floor at the opposite end of the corridor from the top of the escalator - and that it is a small entrance with only room for two people to check the cards. The queue for this check stretched ALL THE WAY BACK to the escalator!!
So there I was, patiently waiting along with thousands of others wondering if I'd make the flight as the info boards now said Final Call. Many people were trying to push through to get past, but by and large everyone was well behaved and tolerant of the situation.
So, I eventually get to the security control - and at least they had them all open - but I had a bit of a worry as in my hand luggage (that's all I had) was some nuts and bolts, three light bulbs and a small clip on light with flex and a three pin plug!! Now, I'd asked about taking these items at the British Airways shop in town and the girl there said it should be OK - but dependent on the level of security - But, fortunately I was not called to open the bag and explain why I had electrical equipment in the aircraft.
Then I walk along to the gate and - of course, it has to be the one furthest away - to find it looking closed - so I ask the solitary girl if I'm too late and she says no - there's still one more to come after you. Then she has to swipe all the doors to get me onto the aircraft and fortunately I have an aisle seat so don't have to disturb anyone.
As an aside did you know that on the 4 KLM planes I've been on there are no rows 11 or 13! - Now I can understand the 13 but why no 11?
Anyway the flight eventually takes off, but on the runway apron there are lots of planes - presumably those that landed but could not deplane (that's a strange word isn't it?) the passengers.
So we are now heading for Schipol and due to land at 7.05pm local time - then the stewardess comes on the loudspeaker and tells us which transfer flights the passengers will NOT be able to make - 13 of them!
And one guy gets really upset and inquires of the stewardess why he cannot catch his 7.30pm flight to somewhere in Denmark if we are getting in at 7.05 - and she says because they cannot transfer the luggage in time! - SO, he says no problem, send it on later - that happens a lot anyway - AND she says no - cause the delay is not due to KLM, so they will not pay for the cost - AND he says fine - I don't care about the luggage I'm going on the 7.30 flight!! Pity I don't know the outcome - but if you are ever in Schipol airport and see a piece of luggage circulating the baggage carousel for ever then that will be his!!
But the main thing is I make my 8.10pm flight to Venice - but yet another cold roll is the serving for dinner - NOW - and this is a complaint SK - if your flight booking says Hot Meal - that's what you expect - not a cheese/salmon roll with a couple of biscuits - AND for those that don't know KLM, on it's European flights does not have alcohol (except the City Hopper flights, which only some have booze!!) NOW, call me old fashioned but I like a wee drinkie when I'm flying - I'm not the bloody pilot and don't have to stay sober - so what's the problem? When I questioned the flight attendants I got the corporate reply "in order to reduce prices KLM stopped giving free alcohol" RIGHT - that's OK - but why not serve it and charge?? The customer then has the choice - and choice is what being a consumer is all about - "To Drink or Not To Drink - that is the question?" Not Thou Shalt Not Drink on Our Flights!! This Nanny European state really pisses me off - what happened to individual responsibility - we are grown ups and can decide what is good for us and what is not. AND what is good for me, is an airline that will serve me a drink which I am happy to pay for - IF I WANT IT! That's the airline I'd choose to fly with!
Saturday 4th September
After Neil's journey we have a lazy day just doing not much - but we have invested in a table tennis set and so we give it it's first outing - though the fixed concrete table we play on is a little low - which suits Carolyn and therefore she wins 3-2.
We buy a nice large trout fillet from the fish van that comes to the site - ah - the days of selling fish from the back of a van!! - how I miss those!! - but the fish is really good cooked in the microwave with white wine, grapes, lemon juice and a few herbs - Delicious!!
Sunday 5th September
A cycle to Caorle is the order of the day and whilst in this nice little village we discover that there is a Festival on. So we decide to return in the evening to sample the cultural delights!!
But before that we play Table tennis again - this time on a higher table and golly gosh Carolyn wins again 3-1. Must have been the jet lag for Neil!
So, in the evening we arrive at Caorle - which is much busier than during the day but we manage to find a spot to park not far from town.
The first act we see is really for kids - just a clown really, but the second well - it was a theatrical performance performed in the open air with some spotlights but with the cast on stilts- but covered with flamboyant ball gowns and clothing. They also performed acrobatic feats on bars held between the performers and sang occasionally!! Yes I know it sounds strange- it was- it should have been on at the Edinburgh Festival! We would probably have had to pay £10 a ticket to watch it in Edinburgh, but here it was free!
Monday 6th September
We decide to move today - but it is difficult - the sky is blue and all is well - but we do need to head off!!
The Michelin website says just over 2 hours for the journey to Lake Garda - but we allow 2.5 hrs anyway - but near Venice the traffic is stationary for a long time so our timing goes out the window.
And it's not nice driving - the lanes are narrow and the trucks on the inside lane (where they are supposed to stay) veer over to the middle lane and cause havoc!! But we survive and after just one wrong turn arrive on the Lake Garda road.
But dear reader - as we come off of the Autostrada, the kind folk of Garda have organised a welcome party - We are greeted by several VERY attractive coloured girls in short skirts waving for us to stop and chat to them - no doubt about the many cultural activities they could perform for us for only a few Euros!! How kind!!
But Carolyn decides that these girls are not part of the Government sponsored tourism initiative and so we drive on to find a campsite! Shame really, as meeting new people and exchanging views/currency is what international travel should be about!!
So we end up at the Lido - nice and quiet - just the way we like it.
But we go out for dinner to Garda - and have a really nice meal by the lake as the sun sets - ah!!
Then down the few kilometres to Bardolino (thanks JP for the info) for a walk around. And it's really nice - quite a bit busier than Garda - with more of a tourist feel - but still nice - somewhere to stroll around after dinner.
Tuesday 7th September
The Lake's story;
So It's a big lake and the best way to get around is by boat - so we get up to Bardolino for the 9.51am boat to Riva Del Garda - a full 2 hours by the Service Rapido (no that's not a quick service wash at the local laundrette - or a short time with one of the aforementioned girls!) - it's a fast boat up the loch, sorry Lake!
And it is nice, if a little chilly - very picturesque all the way North to Riva, where we have a little stroll around and lunch on a terrace overlooking the Lake - really nice!
However the journey back is not so good - the ticket machine jams as we are buying our ticket and we do not get on the boat in time to get a seat right on the side of the craft - so no fabulous views on the way back - BUT - no strong breeze either so it's OK to snooze!! But the boat is late, and the 2 hours becomes 2.5 - so we are glad to get off at Bardolino and go for a well earned drink!
Wednesday 8th September
A lazy day for us, but as there are two tennis courts on the caravan site we decide to play. So, we march up to reception at 10.30 am - nobody on the courts - and we ask to play - Not possible till 11.00 o'clock the girl at reception says, bookings are on the hour!!
Well, this really miffs Carolyn, so she says why can't we play now, and book for the 11.00 am court and you can charge for the extra half hour? At this the girl is perplexed and motions towards the computer - So we presume that it's not possible to pay for a 30 mins slot!!
So, Neil suggests paying for the time for the full two hours from 10 till 12. But the girl relents and says just go on and she will ring the bell when time is up!! Ah Rules are Rules - but they are made to be broken - well bent a little - flexibility is the key!!
So, we play tennis and Carolyn wins convincingly - then we try and get off the court - but the gate has an electronic lock on it and it won't budge from the inside - we assume that the girl at reception needs to press something to let us out - but she's not around.
So, Carolyn decides to climb over the fence wire netting, by using the umpires chair to get the required height. - It looks as if others have tried this as the netting is bent! And up and over she goes, like a little monkey!! But once on the other side she still cannot open the court door - so goes and gets the girl.
Well, the girl is most bemused, and points to a small white button, on the netting, half way up the court towards the net which releases the electronic lock on the gate. And she says to Carolyn, in a most indignant manner "We do not lock our players into the courts"!!!
Thursday 9th September
We decide to move west to the next lake, Iseo - no I know you will not have heard of it - but it lies just West of Lake Garda. So only a short drive really. But whilst Italian motorways are good, there is a lot of lorry traffic, and for the daylight hours they are limited to the inside lane ONLY. Now this is a sensible idea, but it means that there is an almost continuous line of Lorries in that lane, so when you are joining the motorway from a slip road, it's really difficult to find a gap. AND if you are travelling slightly faster than the Lorries (which we normally are) then to overtake AND find a gap to get back in, is difficult. So I'm not sure if the limiting the lorries to one lane is good - I can see more logic to it if the road construction is such that the inside lane is designed to take constant lorry weight, whilst the outer lanes have only an occasional lorry weight design - probably keeps the construction cost down.
Anyway, we arrive at Iseo with only a minor deviation and quickly arrive at the selected campsite - BUT, as we walk round there are lots of British registered cars and caravans - Oh NO it's the Camping and Caravanning Tour!!
But they have selected a nice lakeside site, small but nice, and there are one or two free places, but we decide NO. Let's go somewhere where we will not be accosted by shrill English voices.
So, we end up at a large site, but with hardly any current residents - lots of empty caravans - and we select a nice shaded pitch with a bit of a view - very pleasant.
Neil then tries his bike only to discover that the front brake cable has snapped. So we set off for the village only 500 yards away to find a bike shop, and luckily we do - with a nice man as the owner who immediately sells us the required cable for 50 cents. But Neil gives him one Euro and says keep the change - last of the big spenders - eh!!
However, cutting the steel cable to the required length is not easy, and we succeed only after ruining one saw blade and Carolyn deciding that the large scissors were the answer. So the bike is serviceable again - though, dear reader, if you hear of Neil being unable to stop and crashing over a ravine then call the police!! It may not have been an accident!!
Friday 10th September
A car trip round part of the Lake is today's project, and especially a visit to an area near the village of Zone (yes really, it's not made up) where there are natural "pyramids" made from large boulders and the clay erosion round/underneath them! It's difficult to explain, but please look at the photos - and this is for real - it's not some tourist trick to get visitors in!! Quite bizarre!
Saturday 11th September - the third anniversary of 9/11- spare a thought for all those, and their families, who were murdered.
So we are off to Lake Como. Not far, but the road is slow as we decide not to take the Autostrada and head through the villages. However, we reach the town of Lecco and cannot find a signpost for the road we want so we have a 20 km. detour!! Eventually Carolyn manages to spot a road going in the right direction and we arrive, much later than expected, at our chosen site. Not by the lake, but up in the hills near a ski resort called Barzio.
We take a look at the town and there is a Gondola cable car running so we take a trip to the ski plateau at 1700m - chillier than we are used to!!
Because we are in the hills we lose the sun much earlier so no last rays of the sun at 7.30pm - it's gone by 5.20pm - so we can expect a cool night.
Sunday 12th September
Precipitation - gosh - we've almost forgotten what leaden skies are and the wet stuff feels like - but today we are getting our share. So we hole up until after lunch and then a few blue patches appear so we head off for Lake Como. It is surely pretty, but then so are all the lakes - though today it's surprisingly quiet for a Sunday.
The town of Lecco has a nice promenade but getting parked within a 3 day camel ride is a problem so we just drive around and then head back to the hills - where, surprisingly the sun is now shining - so a few minutes of "early" evening sunshine before it gets cool - but the sun on the back peaks makes it an interesting sunset.
Monday 13th September
After a really starlit night we awake to grey skies again. So it's off down the pass to the valley floor and then on to Como. Though we suspect that we might have disobeyed the traffic management system as we passed some lorries parked up at the head of the pass and encountered some coming up who gesticulated to us!! But we managed without incident so "all's well that ends well"
We arrive at Lake Maggiore and book into the second site we find - nice enough, with presentable loos - MOST IMPORTANT, after some of the experiences we've had!! And secure a nice pitch with a lake view. We cycle up the 2 km to Arona and have a look at the train station (for a trip to Milan) but gosh it's bad!! Great building from the outside, but internally, bleak graffitied walls which are cold and unwelcoming at four in the afternoon - at midnight they must be intimidating!!
In the evening we opt to try a local "steak" bar, which is pretty good, once the waiter established that I ordered Ostrich and not Oysters (well it could have been an up market Surf 'n Turf ).
Tuesday 14th September
Milan - the city of fashion and culture - train at 10.45 from the local station. But it's raining and more like a bad day in November in Scotland - really dreich!!
But the train is on time and not that busy - but it's a long train - more like an Edinburgh to London train than an Edinburgh to Glasgow one - though the journey time is an hour!!
But there is no ticket machine at our little station only 400metres from the campsite and no one at the barriers at Milan so a free ride!!
Milan's underground system is relatively small (compared to London say) but no less confusing to the tourist - not a lot of instructions in English - very few automatic ticket machines, again all in Italian - but we eventually try a bookstall and buy a day ticket for only 3 Euros each - now that's a bargain.
So we head off to see the Duomo - the 4th largest cathedral in the world. It's impressive but less so with the front elevation covered in tarpaulins - they should get onto the company in the UK, who put up coverings on scaffolding to exactly represent the building behind - it's scarily good I think.
So we wander round for a bit looking at some of the historically famous buildings and then it's time for lunch. And Carolyn spots this little café/bistro that looks the place for locals and not tourists - so we stroll in out of the rain and are pointed up this narrow staircase to the 1st floor room - which is crammed with tables, mostly full, and this Italian mama shows us to a table, and then a hand written menu (in a protective plastic envelope) is produced. Menu - one course 5 Euro, 2 courses 7 Euro, 3 courses and coffee 9 Euro!! Not expensive at all!!
So, we have a reasonable meal (not Michelin 5 star) but adequate in the centre of Milan (with the locals) including ¼ litre of wine and a large beer (grossa in Italian, since you ask) all for 21 Euros.
In the afternoon we visit the Science and Technology museum to look at replica models made from Leonardo Di Vinci's drawings (with copies of the actual drawings alongside) Quite interesting, really - and also a copy of his painting "The Last Supper" (incidentally which you have to book well in advance to see on a guided tour) by an artist who was a contemporary of his.
Then a wander round the shops - Neil almost bought a nice shirt - but common sense prevailed and the credit card was saved for another day!!
The train back was a rather depressing affair; it was cold, wet, and dark (at only 5.00pm) and even more like November in Edinburgh.
The rain eased off at about 8.00pm, so it had been raining for about 20 hours non stop, ugh!!
Wednesday 15th September
Still overcast sky, but at least it's dry - so we decide to take the car and have a run up the lake to Stresa (there are 4 other caravan sites in that area and Stresa sounded a nice place with a long promenade). And it is nice, some very up-market hotels - some of the plushest and most elegant we have seen on any of the lakes so far!!
Then the sun comes out and the world is a nicer place.
And just beyond Stresa we come to Baveno (really just a smaller version) but there's a nice campsite just through the town - within walking distance of the boat jetty and the prom. So we take a look in and it's quiet with nice toilets, so we decide to move up there tomorrow.
Back at the current campsite we enjoy a few hours of warm sunshine (almost forget what that's like!!) before going to the local Penny Market to stock up on provisions.
Thursday 16th September
A sort of bright day to start, but then it clouds over as we head up the lake to our next campsite. AND when we get there it's much busier than yesterday - curses!! - but we get a nice enough spot just one row back from the lake - but with a nice view - then it starts to rain - has the summer ended here in Italy?
Friday 17th September
At last a sunny morning - but will it last?
It does and we sit around till 11.30 then make a move to explore the local mountain - Mt Mottarone. So we try the cable car stop - looks Ok - but let's drive up the mountain!!
So, much later - after many hair-pin turns we arrive at near the top (above the cable car I may add!!) - and it's sunny, just, but cool.
So we walk around, take a few piccies, great view but a little obscured.
Then find this really nice Refugio for lunch.
Now those of you versed in Italian - or indeed those that have done some walking in the Italian hills will know that these "Refugio's" are not just refugees from the storms - but they are reasonable plain mountain lodges with restaurants - and they are EVERYWHERE - FOR example this hill we are on is 1491mt high and has a little ski area - well about the size of Cairngorm, just. BUT it has 6 NICE "Refugio's" EACH one 10 times nicer than the paltry, pitiful, crap, cafeteria called Ptarmigan at Cairngorm - why is that???
Why can't Scotland be more like Italy?? Only for the mountain restaurants you understand - well maybe the weather too!! But not much else - well perhaps the pasta and the cheap wine!!
Back at the campsite it's become British world - there are now nine caravans/motor homes with UK registrations. Does no one have any work to go to??
A sunny evening results in us eating outdoors - first for a few days, but it is nice, under the stars (low flying planes and birds).
Let's hope tomorrow is as nice - cause we know what day that is don't we??
Well maybe you don't - but you soon will - watch this space - literally!!!
Saturday 18th September
So another nice day dawns and we are up and away to near Locarno, Switzerland for .... The Goldeneye Bungy Jump.
No, your eyes are not deceiving you - the very same bungy jump, off the dam, as recently featured in the James Bond film "Goldeneye".
Now, some of you will have realised that only one Tough is daft enough to leap off a perfectly safe and secure concrete dam, into a HUGE void, attached only by a rubber band and descend (rather quickly) some 750 feet, before being bounced up and down again (no comments about being on the rebound please!) - AND to want to pay good money for it - so yes, it's daft Neil.
He saw a report in the Telegraph some time ago advertising the fact that you could book and go along and be thoroughly scared - what else would one do on a perfectly good Saturday afternoon?
There will be some piccies of the dam on the website - but not many of Neil actually jumping - he leapt off before Carolyn was ready with the camera - something about needing to get it over with before chickening out!!
Then we had a nice stroll around Locarno - very gentile - and pleasant, before returning to the caravan site and taking another plunge - but this time into Lake Maggiore.
Of all the Italian lakes we have been to - we are voting Maggiore as the best one; it's not as busy, not as overtly touristy commercial; it's pretty (not quarries on it's shores); some very stylish places on it's shores (Stresa, Locarno); so much better than the others!
Sunday 19th September
A really lazy day - we don't even move from the camp site - well only as far a swim in the lake -which by the way is pretty chilly!!
AND - so endeth yet another episode in the life and times of Toughs Travels but remember these wise words, of a Holy Roman Emperor, if you are considering learning another language:-
Speak Spanish to God,
Italian to Women,
French to Men,
And German to your Horse.
Adios, Arrivederci, Au Revoir and Aufwiedersehen Pet
Take care!! From Neil and Carolyn Tough