Archive for the ‘Italy’ Category

Far Canal

Monday, September 1st, 2008

I had a chance to go to Venice years ago whilst travelling alone, but in a silly romantic gesture I decided I wouldnt go there unless it was with a lover. Now that I’m spliced with Karina, I could put it on our itenary. But I get ahead of myself.

After Bologne, we headed west through the rice and corn fields to the venerable town of Ravenna. After a bit of catherdral browsing and a beer outside the tomb of Dante Aligheri, we headed to the port about 10km out of town. This turned out to be a very long coastal drag of one club after another that seemed to go on forever, and was packed with Italians in a party mood. We parked up and wandered these beachside bars, with different styles of music coming out of each one. We had a flourescent cocktail in one and a dance in the other, then ambled up the street market to the docks where we finished the night with a beer next to the bobbing boats. On return to the van to sleep we’d aquired a parking ticket, our first, that I had no intention of paying.

As we drove north to Venice, we encountered a traffic jam of trucks that looked like it wasnt going anywhere in a hurry. So with our trusty GPS we navigated an inland route through farming country, stopping for some fresh watermelon that hit the spot. Arriving close to Venice, we veered of the highway and parked on the mainland in a longstay carpark nexty to ferry terminal.

The ferry chugged across the venetian lagoon, and with the city rising out of the waters as we approached, it looked as if we were travelling through a Titian painting. The scene had a beautiful stillness about it, not broken by the gulls crying from the sunken wooden stacks.

On arrival, we headed out into the maze of alleys canals and bridges. The quarter between the terminal and St Marco’s square was geared towards seperating the tourists from their money, though the costume masks some sold were little masterpieces. After listenening to the bells and chasing down pidgeons in the crowded square, we set off with the intention of getting lost and succeed quite effectively. By the time we’d orientated ourselves again we’d managed to turn up at the naval arsenal at the eastern fringe of the city. Wending our way back proved a challenge but by sunset we’d covered a whole lot of that strange, beautiful and unlikely city. As our boat pulled away, the clouds castling above the city became bathed in the red light of dusk, and already the memory of that day in my mind has taken on the surreal quality of a dream. (I’d like to make clear that I was not on hallucinagenics at the time)

After Venice we had a choice of heading straight north through the Dolomites to Austria, or around the coast to the east and up through Slovenia. I would have like to see the mountains, but you can’t see everything and it would have been a challenge on the van, so we arced around following the line of the coast to Trieste. Trieste, has a bit of Slovenia, a bit of Austria, and a fair slab of italy in it’s make up. After a hearty and nutritious lunch of various fried meats, we opted for a campground a few kms east of town in Muggia 50m from the Slovenian border. A relaxing couple of days followed, of riding the bikes, exploring the area including the Slovenia side, and tucking into some tasty fresh fish in a restaurant owned by a fishing co-op. Our last night in italy we sat in the little harour and witnessed a a spectacular sunset lightning storm off to the south, that threatened but never quite reached us. Driving out of Triest and over the mountains to slovenia the following day, our GPS led us one of the steepest streets we’d been up, complicated by having cobblestones, being only one lane wide, and having a fair amount of traffic trying to negotiate it. It was so steep my handbrake didn’t even hold the van, and i had to reverse several times. Finally getting to the top, I saw am articulated lorry shaping to go down it, only stopping himself from getting into a whole lot of trouble by my finger wagging. I wonder if he had the same model GPS.

What a load of Bologne

Monday, September 1st, 2008

After sunning ourselves lakeside in Lugano we followed a narrow windy road east over the Italian border and down to Lake Como, holding up a tailback of frustated cars in our wake. The drive along the Lakes western shore was exquisite, piloting through little cobblestone towns and past baroque lakeside villas, our van weaved and farted. The old-lira town of Bellagio clung on the opposite shore, bathed in the afternoon sun. This was the retreat of the worlds rich and shameless, of Berlesconi and George Clooney. Eventually we arrived in the town of Como, and hunted for a good hour in the maze of the old city trying to find a decent parking spot where we could sleep the night without a ticket. We wandered through the piazzas and covered archway streets to the lakeside for a meal. I don’t know whether the lake has risen or the town is subsiding, but a fair section of the waterfront was knee deep in lake water, forcing some shops and restaurants to close. That night we listened to a free concert of a tight band playing kind of afro-world music while sipping an overpriced Peroni, and then slept in our van on a steamy night. That night, some prick stole one of the handle grips off my bike of all things.

After Como we took what our road atlas had marked as a scenic route to Bergamo, though whoever gave it that designation must have have had an aesthetic fondness for car wrecking lots and abandoned factories. Like many other European cities that can trace their history to pre-Bananarama days, Bergamo was made up of a historic old city and a regular options-not-included city where people give the impression of going about their business. In Bergamo’s case, the historic city was perched on top of a hill surrounded by revetments and high walls, and limited parking. We had a walk through it’s medieveal lanes with a particular quickness in our step, as both of us were busting to find a toilet. After success, we actually looked at the boutique shops and delis that lined it’s streets, buying the makings of a fine sandwich. While we scoffed this down looking out over the hazy vista of the lower city and plains, we debated where to head next. We decided we’d go straight down the guts of northern Italy and follow the line ancient roman Via Emilia from Parma to Ravenna.

Avoiding Milan, that i’ve always found an ugly city, we headed out across the flat plains of the Po valley through Cremona to Parma, of ham and cheese fame. We had some interweb business to do, so our main experience of Parma was a 4 story carpark and a north african phone and internet cafe near the train station. After a long sweaty session in the nonAC phone booth like cubicles, we drove that night near a park across the river and cooked dinner. We were running low on water so I took a collapsible carrier and filled up at local trendy bar. I copped a few questioning looks as I man-handled a bulging thirty litres back through the bar, but they were lucky I didn’t take a “travellers” shower while I was at it.

The next day we headed along the the straight and congested single-lane Via Emilia, opting for a roadside deli between Parma and Emilia Reggio to try some local procuitto crudo and parmesano reggiano that went down a treat. Becheesed, we continued eastward to Modena, of Pavarotti, Balsamic vinegar and Ferrari fame. Ferrari was a 14km hike out at Maranelo, and I’d prefer to drive one than look at it. And with the fat man having aria’d his last, we opted to have a look at a balsamic producer, Karina and I being big fans of the tangy vinegar. On the edge of Modena in an unlikey looking house near a railway overpass, we found a local producer of the good stuff. Georgio, a 6 foot 5 lanky bloke with a big moustache and smile, showed us around his house and attic filled with small barrels and the lovely sweet/sour smell of the fermenting vinegar. While the process had quite a few steps, and called for taste and judgement in a 15 – 20 year cycle, it didnt seem that there was an awful lot to do except sit out in the front yard ad read the paper, which is what we’d interupted him doing. A bloody good business, but heavily controlled by modena syndicate who control and protect their monopoly. The end results were something special; dark, rich and complex, and we splashed out on a bottle for future enjoyment.

After Modena we arrived in the big city of Red Bologne, with it’s sprawling heart of covered walkways, renaissance architecture, and ubiquitous red walls. We stayed the night in a campground on the edge of town, mainly because it boasted the respite of a swimming pool, and spent the next day wandering the city transfixed by it’s sartorial splendour as each new street presented itself. That night, after a spag bog I felt complelled to order (tasty, but not incredible. there’s only so much you can do with it) in a romantic open air restaurant, they started showing a free movie, Brokeback Mountain, in the main piazza by Neptune’s fountain. Given Italian mens macho self-image and catholic upbringing, I was surprised that this story of cowboy man-love pulled a huge and appreciative crowd that filled up the whole square, but it’s possible modern Italians are more open-minded than I give them credit for. I thought Heath Ledger’s introverted cowpoke was another fine example of his acting chops, underlying what a waste of talent it was when he popped his clogs on pills. We spent another sweaty night in the van in the city centre, waking up to a cappocino and breakfast at a cafe. We decided to head for the Adriatic coast at Ravena. Stay tuned

Ahh Paris.

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

old-car-on-the-roadWe had to be in Paris on Monday as karina had some visa buisness to do and i had some post. I took the backroads through slightly rolling farmland east of Paris as far as I could, but eventually we hit the Periphique, the ring road around Paris, and with it the bumper to bumper traffic. An hour of crawling later, we camped in the big park just outside Roland Garros. We rode our bikes in the next day, crossing the Seine river and did our chores close to the eifel tower. Both Karina and I dig paris, and have been here quite a few times. Like Amsterdam, bike is a good way to get around. The arondissements around the Eifel tower arent my favourite. I find the shops a bit overpriced, but wandering the streets you can still find the odd gem or insanely specialised shop selling violin strings or teas labelled “tahiti mix”.

As we drove out of Paris we started talking about Eurodisney, and karina mentioned there was an ‘Asterixland’ to which my response was “Why has no one told me this before?!!”. But it was too late to turn back. We swung past Versaille and then Chartres on our wayout, both with impressive edifices, a palace and cathedral respectively. But we didn’t go in. We pulled over down a lane, cooked a tasty dinner of saucise, rice and lentils and tomatos, then fell quickly asleep. I managed to reverse into a grassy embankment while maneuvring the van in the dark, leaving our exhaust pipe hanging off the muffler. I cut it off rather than leaving it dangling, and our van now sounds considerably more farty. I might stick it back on with bog and muffler tape when it comes time to sell for it’s rapidly decreasing resale value.

Al paris