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Italy - 2

Wednesday, 9 May
8 20 a.m. and I had signed up for the day with a Smart car, as usual the advertised €50 turned into almost €75 by they time they had added on extra for delivery, comprehensive insurance and whatever else they could think of.

With the aid of the Tom Tom navigator we set off for Amalfi, covering the route that we had intended to use coming to Sorrento, but we took the motorway instead.  Very wise choice Ivan!  The Road was a very winding road around the sea shore, around the edge of mountains, in many places just wide enough for two cars to pass, except for the fact that on one side of the road there was a whole Road full of parked cars, all parked in a no parking area, throw into the equation very large buses full of tourists going to and from Amalfi and you have an interesting drive.

There were very many beautiful villages on the way, but then there are also very many people wanting to visit these villages, so starting about 2 to 3 km from the boundary of the village you start getting parked cars in locations that only an Italian could think of, add in to the equation traffic wardens at all the interesting spots moving people on, and you realise the only way to visit these Villages is by bus because they never had any problems with parking!

So we kept on driving, and Luda kept on taking photographs out the window with a Smart car, until we finally got to Amalfi.  Of course the parking there was no better so we drove right through the city wondering what to do and then suddenly we saw a sign pointing to Scala, that was one of the city's mentioned in the guidebook so we did a sharp left-hand turn and drove the 5 km to Scala.

It is a wonderful little quiet mountainside village with plenty of parking, some interesting buildings, and a bus that ran once an hour to Amalfi.  So we parked our car in a one-hour parking location, looked at the time and the village, considered the Siesta and worked out that the car was probably safer there than in most places.

So bus trip down to Amalfi, via two other mountain villages and to we were there along with hundreds of other tourists from all around the world.

We visited the rather grand Cathedral of Amalfi, parts of it were built in 596AD and its claim to fame are that it houses the bones of St Andrew, taken to that location in 1208 by a Cardinal Pietro Capuano who was the Papal Envoy on the disasterous  fourth Crusade. St Andrew after evangelised Greece, travelling to Russia, was said to have been crucified in Patras in 64AD. The church claim that the good Cardinal found these bones and first took them to Constantinople as part of the Crusade, he must have been spiritually guided to find the bones after over 1100 years, but that is the story that gets cathedrals built and cardinals remembered, even if it is only in Amalfi.

However the story has other twists to it, it is said by the Cultural Heritage department that “His remains were kept in Patras until the 357 when the emperor Constantine decided he wanted them in Constantinople. In 1204 the fourth crusade was announced and Cardinal Pietro Capuano who travelled with Pope Innocent III as a legate, or ecclesiastical ambassador, had the idea of giving the relics of the Apostle Andrew to his city as a gift. At that time the relics were preserved in the Constantinian Basilica of the holy Apostles. Engaging the help of colonists from Amalfi and their priests who were familiar with the area, he managed to take possession of the relics and bring them back with him to Amalfi in 1206. The Cardinal kept his intentions absolutely secret and had a transept built in the cathedral entirely at his expense with a crypt directly below.”  So the church has one story and the Cultural Heritage department have another!

What ever the story is, they certainly built a large Cathedral to celibate their faith

We had lunch in the city, wandered around the city taking photographs, then it eventually was time to get the bus back to our car, and this route was even more interesting as part of the run was delivering high-school students to their homes so again we saw more than what we had paid for.  Eventually however the bus arrived back into Scala, the car was parked where we had left it, I re- programmed the GPS navigator, and we're on our way back to the campsite.

When we reached the bottom of the Scala Road, where we had to do a sharp left-hand turn, when we reached that corner, our friendly bus was just turning into the Scala Road, A woman in a car that was just in front of him decided to do a U-turn, and of course on the sharp corner there was not enough room so there was an interesting few minutes while she tried to get herself out of the position she had placed herself in.

The drive back was uneventful except for the occasions when two buses tried to pass each other going opposite directions and there was not enough space for a clean pass and the manoeuvring that went on made you realise that driving a bus on this coast was an exciting career.

We only got lost twice on the way home, but eventually ended up in a location that we recognized and from there it was plain sailing.

For the day Luda shot some 300 photos, from the window of a moving car, so she may end up with a 50% failure rate, but it is certainly better than what we would have achieved from the window of a bus.

The Smart car was a diesel version, with a manual or automatic gear change, just the thing for wandering round the Amalfi coast as long as you want to keep moving, to do sightseeing we reached the conclusion that the only way this was possible, with your own transport, and he wanted to stop and park, was with the motorbike or scooter, providing you are prepared to handle the Italian traffic, the locals on this form of transport seemed to weave in and out of the traffic at high speed, which of course may be beyond an ex-photographer.

Thursday, 10 May
Today we drove from Sorrento to Rome a distance of about 300 km, but first we had to go through the streets of Sorrento, driving in to Sorrento was a nightmare, every time we have been out the traffic has been a nightmare, but today, when we expected the worst, it was a total anti-climax, there was hardly any traffic and whilst I would like to say it was all well-behaved, the fact was, there were still a few Italians on the Road, but they were just doing their thing.

I decided to drive straight through to Rome on the toll motorway, that cost about €15 but possibly saved a day in travel.

As we were getting close to Rome I saw this are extremely large building off to the right occupying the complete hilltop of this substantial hill.  It was when we passed the motorway exit to Cassino I realised it was the abbey at Monte Cassino the scene of some bit of fighting in 1943 when the Germans were trying to stop the Allied forces from reaching Rome.  By the time the Germans surrendered at a Monte Cassino both the abbey and the town were a pile of rubble, both have been rebuilt, the abbey for the fourth time in 1500 years, it certainly looked an impressive sight as we travelled north, with its view over the entire countryside is very obvious why was a strategic point in the 40s.

We found a campsite 10 km from the centre of Rome in a little green oasis in the Flaminio region on a hill in the north of Rome.

Friday, 11 May
We bought a travel pass for three days, found the railway station, not exactly an easy feat, took the train halfway and to Rome, and then the Metro is the rest of the way.

On our arrival just across from the exit from the Metro we found a hop on and hop off sightseeing bus so we climbed on that and it a complete tour of the city in about 80 minutes.  Rome is a huge archaeological site, with ruins dating back over 2000 years everywhere.  I think the last thing in the world you would need would be to be left a large piece of property in the centre of Rome because you could never rebuild because underneath would be sure to be part of ancient history which I would guess in today's age would require so much red tape you would never get to the development stage.

I must say the ruins are overwhelming, just so much history contained in the one spot especially when one considers that at the height of ancient Rome there was just one million less people than there are today living in what we see today as the ruins.  The incredible architecture and design that they achieved is just overwhelming.

By the end of the day after we had done the tour on the bus and walked around the ruins that were around the Colosseum I needed a new pair of feet so we headed back to the campsite which we achieved with absolute brilliance without getting on, off the wrong bus or train.

Saturday, 12 May
Today we decided to go to St Peter's and the Vatican.  However when we got to the area and saw the line for the Vatican we had second thoughts, and when I saw the line for St Peter's I had second thoughts, but Luda wanted to see St Peter's so we stood on the line for what seemed to be, to me, and incredibly long time, but Luda tells me it was not.  The line of course was just for the x-ray and metal detector, my comment on the metal detector is that was not set fine enough as I went through without a beep, something I cannot do on international flights, but that did not protest as I have waited long enough.

We then had two options and I moved towards the area that I discovered later involved 300 plus steps to the roof, when I saw that option we moved towards the crypt where the Popes were buried.

We were told to keep silent by a loudspeaker in seven different languages, the reason being was that it was a sacred place, I tried to get my head around that, and burial place of Popes, Popes that were elected by other human beings, and Popes that died like other human beings, so we were not in the presence of the supernatural in my view, but I respect their wishes and did not start singing Road to the Isles or any other similar song.

It's interesting that the grand tombs they have given to the worldly remains of the representative of the Carpenter who had no tomb, a sort of gets a little bit out of perspective.

That out of the way, we moved on to the inside of St Peter's, a church that was built around the mortal remains of Saint Peter, or so we're told, I read that the remains of Saint Peter had been verified by DNA.  Remembering the process that they went to verify the remains of the last Czar of Russia, I recall that they used the DNA from the Duke of Edinburgh who was a distant relation in that bloodline, I wonder who they used for Saint Peter?

We went later through the Treasury and one of the artefacts had the skull of one of the other disciples, it's interesting how the church was able to keep track of the bodies for roughly 300 years to finally bring them within their fold.

Walking through St Peter's, as I walked through some of the many other cathedrals around the world, I was again made aware of just how much of the material world a lot of the religions of the world had adopted in comparison to the person they claim to represent, who shunned all material things, and preached that the rich and those that spend money on worldly goods would find it hard to get to heaven.

We did not go through Vatican, but reading about all the worldly goods that are on display there it makes me wonder the just exactly what was set up about 324AD, to me it was a very good business, and certainly not the Church of a humble carpenter. 

They were confessional boxes set up throughout St Peter's, indicating the languages that they would handle, I asked Luda if she would like to go to confessional, she said who would hear it, I say the representative of God, she said like those people buried below, and I felt that summed up the church that was established by men some 250 years after Peter was executed.

I was also impressed by the many opportunities people were given to leave money for various Saints or other needs but then of course they have never been backward at coming forward otherwise we would not be looking at the buildings they have built in his name.

Of course I guess you have to have faith, and not question the motives or the reasons why some men got together in 324AD and formed the organisation that dominated the world for almost 2000 years.

My apologies to my friends who do not have an analytical mind like the writer and who may not appreciate my views of this subject.

Sunday, 13 May
Today we went in for a walking tour, self guided, we started at the Spanish steps and walked on to some of the other locations in the guidebook to discover we had already been there, so in the end we headed to the Trevi fountain to find the whole square packed with people, which is when having a 17 mm lens does have its use.

We stopped and had another pizza for lunch, this is one product that has been improved by taking it out of Italy, the best I've tasted is of course in Chicago, and I have to say the next best has been in Christchurch.

At this point of time we feel we have seen the highlights of Rome, we could spend lots of time visiting the museum's and art galleries but unless you're looking for a pacific painting or for information on history most of the things you see in these establishments you have seen in other locations around the world.

So as the sun sinks slowly in the West we say farewell to Rome and the two films that Hollywood created that made Rome so famous, and I refer to Roman holiday with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn, and Three Coins in a Fountain.


to top right....

Monday, 14 May
While it is all very well saying farewell to Rome but first you have to get out of the place.  The campsite is entered from the side of the motorway going in to Rome, so obviously to exit and go North you have to somewhere do a U-turn, but the GPS does not recognize the Road outside the camp ground as a motorway so it wants you to turn left.  In fact in this instance both GPS ‘s were just fancy lots of electronic garbage.  The simple reason was the massive roadworks everywhere and none of this was recorded on the GPS and of course it would be a lot simpler if we had known that Firenze was an actual fact Florence.

The cut a long story short we went round in circles passed our campground three times before we finally escaped.

We travelled North through Tuscany, observing the hillside villages on each side of the road, photographing quite a few of them from a distance but we did feel that there were not as many of these villages as there were on our trip south.  Again a motorbike would have been the only sensible way of exploring these villages.

It is an interesting experience getting fuel in Italy, the attendant is always on the forecourt and fills your vehicle for you with fuel, and then takes your money or your credit card and complete the transaction, all in the forecourt.  I been trying to get fuses for the motorhome all the time I have been in Italy, any other country that would be simple because you would buy it from the service station shop, which don't seem to exist here.

We finally reached our destination of Siena and found a motor camping -- tourist bus parking area, for the motorhome cost €20, for the tourist bus cost €100.  There were no facilities at all apart from being able to dump your waste water and ask for the freshwater hose to fill up the water, but was walking distance to Siena so we decided that was worth something.

Tuesday, 15 May
We decided to catch the bus into Siena but we saw the tail of it disappearing as we arrived at the bus stop, so we tackled a 15 minute walk into town, uphill most of the way, it is a walled city, rather delightful and has the reputation of being the most beautiful on city in Italy.  We did many photos and being critical of these old cities if all of out photos were mixed up, only an very good expert would be able to place them in any order.

There was however a beautiful old church made out of black and white marble, or perhaps just faced with the marble, absolutely beautiful inside and on the outside just so much carving of figures faces and animals I would hate to think how long it took to build and of course with churches you never think of the cost.

I wonder if the faithful feel more blessed worshipping in a beautiful church like this or in a simple building?

We read about the very many museums and art galleries in this city, but passed them by because off the timetable we have drawn up to see a volume of locations rather than a range of selected cities to explore in fine detail

So was back to the parking site, lunch, make the motorhome ready, and drive the short distance to Florence or Firenze on the traffic signs.

We found one of the Magic Italy campsites which is a 15 minute walk from the centre of Florence, naturally it is more expensive, and it seems like the circuit breaker for the electricity is five amp fuse, this means we can not have the Frig on and plug in the two computers without tripping the circuit breaker.

Wednesday, 16 May
Today was the day for my dose of culture for the year, we went in to Florence, first going on the on hop off bus to get the layout of the city, then we got off and had a look at the Ponte Vecchino, a Bridge that was built in 1345, first housed butchers and fishmonger's, and today has graduated to shops dealing in gold jewellery, comment, keep your ladies away from this area.

Then we were back on the bus to see the rest of the city, and then it was off to wander the streets, along with every other nationality that was visiting the city, Luda has found it very interesting where ever we have we have been in Europe she is heard Russian voices, either couples or groups on a tour.  We of course see in guide books of all the tourist cities for sale now in Russian, perhaps they always were, but now with the volume of Russian voices at least they will be selling.

As usual my feet gave out before the volume of sites, but we did take in one Museum-Art Gallery and I have the photographs to prove that!

We did find Florence much more interesting than Rome, Rome was a great city for the Roman history of 2000 plus years ago, but Florence is full of culture with art galleries and museums, and of course I have a feeling that is more expensive!  In spite of the we have probably put Florence on our list to visit again once we have been around everything the first time.

We had an interesting e-mail yesterday, from the company we went with last year across Russia and the Ukraine for 40 days, this time they have come up with 180 day motorhome tour from Riga across Russia to Vladivostok returning via Peking across China, the Russian Stan's finishing in Turkey.  I hate to think of the cost!  And of course we would have to swot up on our non-existent German, if we go!.

At the Michaelangelo outlook over the city there are three very large trucks that had substantial container like boxes on their tray in which they had built living accommodation, between 95 and the year 2000 they had done a complete tour around the world, including across Russia the hard way, we did not however, see New Zealand listed as an accomplishment.  Spoke to one of the guys that owned one of the trucks, next year they will take a 1907 series of cars from Paris to Peking.  This of course has been done many times over the last few years but nevertheless could be an interesting experience.

On this outlook, it appears to be a favourite spot for group photographs with the city in the background, one older guy was working from the top of a step ladder photographing groups in such a way he had a good city background in their photo, using a Hasselblad and film, a younger girl climbed a lamppost to get the height, and her camera of choice was a 35mm digital with wide-angle lens.  It also seems to be a favourite spot for brides, there was one bridal couple being photographed their last night while we were there, she had swapped high heels shoes for Jandals, and the photographer was using the latest electronic Hasselblad with digital back and zoom lens.

We are hearing a tremendous amount of American voices all through the Italy, a few English voices, we are meeting a few Australians and New Zealanders, and last night whilst three different groups of young people were being photographed I was trying to pick out their accent, in the end I gave up and asked and was told they were from Australia and New Zealand and Hungary!  I'm sure I would have picked a Hungarian accent.

A New Zealander we met at this motor camp from Queenstown is travelling around Europe on a 1984, 900 cc: Mike Harwood replica Ducati he is heading towards the Isle of Man for some hundred year celebration and is cruising through Italy by motorbike. 

Thursday, 17 May
This morning we had a relatively small drive of about 60 km to Pisa on the coast.  We had the usual problems getting out of the city, but soon we were on the motorway and winding our way through the narrow streets of Pisa looking for the signposts directing us to the leaning Tower.

Eventually we found it, saw a sign to motor home parking, took the wrong turning and went down a street shaped like a U, as we rounded the bend we found a car parked in the usual Italian manner, parked so that only a smart car or its like could pass through the space he had left, why am I suggesting it was a “he”!  It was obvious I could not get through I back up and drove into a supermarket car park from which motorhomes were banned, parked and we did our shopping.

Then we sneaked out and walked the block to the leaning Tower, Luda did her photos, I did a photo of Lula holding the tower up, we resisted the charms of all the African men who were busy selling Rolex watches, sunglasses, leather handbags, leather belts, we assume they must have sold some, we never saw a sale happening whilst we were there but they are a common sight in most of the tourist locations we have been to.

Back to the motorhome, exited in the car park paying the €2 which in the circumstances was the most economical car parking we could have found.

We then headed off towards Genoa, but on a stop to refuel with diesel, and for Luda to photograph a hill village we decided to go directly to Milan visiting Genoa on our way back to the coast.

As we drove out of the Pisa area we passed a fantastic number of companies dealing in marble.  The hill behind this whole area must be almost solid marble, because as far as I can tell they had been mining this product for hundreds of years, I have been told that the piece of marble from which David was carved came from this area.  The only other spot I've seen so much marble was of course in Turkey where most of the Roman ruins that one sees in the country were built out of marble and not sandstone like so many we have seen in Italy.

With about 120 km to go, I decided I'd had enough driving for the day, so I programmed the Tom Tom to take us to a motor home parking spot, the data base of which Hank gave us at the start of our trip, which we now refer to as “Hanks parking spot”.  Early in the trip we had very little success with these parking spots, but either we are getting better or the spots are easier to find because it took us the 18 km directly to this large parking area with room for about a hundred motorhomes, dirty water and toilet dumping facilities, and we're the only ones parked in the middle of this large area, the A1 motorway runs beside it, so I'd expect more to be here by the morning. 

After dinner we went for walk into the village and discovered a Castle surrounded by a moat, filled with water, in the centre of the village, it was closed for the day but we managed to get a catalogue showing 19 other castles in this province and the adjoining province.  Of all the castles I have seen I think this is the only one that still had water in the moat, most others had drained the moat!  The drawbridge however was done away with over a hundred years ago.

On the back of the catalogue was an advert for Fidenza village whole set of outlet shops, for those of you that are not familiar with outlet shops, they started in America selling top brand clothes for a fraction of retail price.  They were advertising top Italian clothes from the brand of Versace on down, so this looked like a good opportunity particularly when they stated prices were reduced up to 70%, the keywords, we found were “up to”.

Friday, 18 May
What a day, first it was the Italian fashion clothes day, and then the Castle day.  We started off at the outlet shops and there was certainly a lot of beautiful clothes there, prices were how ever 10 to 20% off retail, not all sizes were available, the all outlet village was certainly done beautifully with a massive car park and more shops being built.

We of course went into the Versace shop, Lula saw a pair of white shoes she liked, but could not work out when she would wear them, I saw a rather colourful shirt, I guess that was silk, I looked for the gold thread in the silk when I saw the price of €374 reduced from €574 but somehow they must have left the thread out, I almost bought it but then I thought I'd be frightened to wash it, and at some point I guess I would have to wash it.

Luda has never liked shopping, so I escaped from the village having spent €2 on some socks for Lula.

So then we on to the village of Vigoleno, this was a fortified village from the middle ages, people are still living in there, we went through some interesting roads around the hills to get there, found the car park almost empty and we went for a wander through the village collecting a good series of photographs.

It was then on to the fortress of Bardi that has stood for more than a thousand years and is listed as the ultimate example of military architecture however unlike the previous fortified collection of buildings which were being lived in, this was basically a show of where and how people lived and it was a work in progress.

To get to this fortress we drove across the lot of mountains to a height of 1038 m before descending to a into a valley, like a lot of the mountainous roads in Italy it was an interesting drive, however when we arrived and saw there was another Road we could return on that ran through the valleys we were not disappointed about not returning the same way.

It's a whole province of castles, we found a couple of other castles on the drive home, obviously insignificant enough not to be listed in our catalogue, but still worthy of a couple of photographs.

We decided to spend the night in the same parking lot as we did last night and whilst we had two other French motorhomes keeping us company last night it looks like we just have one Italian motorhome with us on this parking lot tonight.

Saturday, 19 May
We cleaned up and headed for the toll motorway to get the 120 km to Milan completed as quickly as possible.  The Tom Tom brought us directly to the campsite, and after setting up the motorhome we took a bus to the Metro and Metro to the centre of the city.

I had told Luda that Milan was one of the fashion capitals of the world, so Lula was keen to see what was on offer, in spite of yesterday's fashion outlet with Versace and the rest, she still wanted to see what Milan had on offer.  Well she was successful in two ways, one in getting what she wanted, and two in spending less for the total than one Versace reduced item yesterday.  Of course my feet giving out also helped the project on item two.

The large Cathedral that was in the centre of the city was in the process of having a facelift, or perhaps it was a face peel, but the whole business Centre was thriving with plenty of people shopping.

Tomorrow will head up towards the lakes and it looks like we have about another five days in Italy.


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