To Berlin……..via Leeds. 3

12th September. We took the short route south to Potsdam and stopped in a convenient aire.

I was very keen to visit Potsdam as I have long been interested in the life of Vicky, Queen Victoria’s eldest child, and her husband Frederick. Vicky and her mother kept up an intense correspondence which gave a very interesting window on her life, she and Frederick were very liberal, and often at considerable odds with the Prussian court. They attended services at synagogues to support Jews during periods of persecution, and opposed much that Bismark stood for. They wanted to restrict the power of the chancellor and introduce a British style cabinet system.  Europe’s fate would have been so different if Frederick had not died from throat cancer just few months after becoming Emperor.

The Royal park is vast, and open to wander in. Much was initially built by Frederick the Great, who hated Berlin, and subsequently other palaces and buildings were added. Firstly we passed the orangery, then on to the Sansouci palace, a sumptuous baroque building that sits on top of a series of terraces. We wandered though the grounds to the Chinese Tea house, a fantastic imaginative building, much decorated with gold. 

I wanted to visit the church where Victoria and her husband were buried with two sons who died in infancy, but sadly  there was no admittance into the mausoleum. However the sacristy which had become a side chapel was much used by Victoria after Frederick’s death and decorated by her pictures.

We walked into town through the Brandenburg Gate, but after lunch it soon it came on to rain so we  saw little of the town before returning through the park. 

Wednesday 13th. A wet morning so we played with our toys. After lunch I set off for the Neu Palace, where I understood Frederick and Victoria had lived for quite a bit of their lives. It was a considerable walk along the central avenue, the palace was totally vast, and behind it two more palaces which apparently were service quarters. 

The whole palace was designed by Frederick the Great, and over the top Rococco! Most impressive room was probably the Shell Ballrom, decorated by thousands of shells to produce patterns and pictures. 

I spent time in the room where Frederick died, there were lovely pictures of him and Victoria. 

Also impressive was the marble ballroom , with a most amazing inlaid marble floor. Sadly this room has been little used over the centuries as the joists struggled to cope with the 18 tons of flooring! 

Kaiser Wilhelm was the last royal to use the palace, and several rooms illustrated his life there, where he introduced mod cons such as bathrooms and electricity.  Much of the furniture  had been shipped off to join him in excile in Holland.

Once out of the palace I decide I was too tired to walk back so tried to catch a bus!!! The first one that came, I asked the driver if it went to the town, he replied no, when I asked where it went to he just shouted No, no, no. I asked a passerby who told me I needed to be the other side of the road, really counter intuitive. When the next bus came I tried to pay the driver, as we had done in Berlin and was rudely directed to a large ticket machine!, There was a list of small instructions, A4 size, above my head,and about 16 buttons to choose from. All this with a lurching crowded bus, holding on for grim death, trying to find unfamiliar coins. It seemed that I had to say how many stops I wanted to go for!!!!! As far as I was concerned the bus was going in the wrong direction,  and I had no idea of where I was going. I just pressed a button at random, I think I might have paid for 4 and must have been on the bus for 16 stops?! Germans  confonted with the machine did not seem to fare much better.

I got off in the town centre,  and after a quick look round the town, through a toy town gate, an attractive Dutch quarter, and pleasant but unexceptional shops, I walked back through the park. I was caught in a very heavy rain burst as I climbed the terraces up to the Sansouci palace but there was no way I was going to tackle another bus! 
Thursday 14th. Left the very pleasant aire, and drove due East towards Frankfurt an Oder, then South to get a brief view of surrounding countryside. We were much bothered with road closures, and for lots of the time roads were lined with the typical heavy German forests, but were rewarded by several really large birds of prey and some interesting villages. Many older buildings were left to moulder and new builds were obviously preferèd but we did see quite a few of the typical Saxon village houses, at right angles to the street, with barns and outhouse to the rear, just the same as in the Saxon area of Romania! We entered an area where all the signs were in two languages, apparently Germany’s only indigenous minority, who settled in the area in the 5th cent, much persecuted by the Prussians and Nazis but currently having a revival. 

Eventually we reached the campsite outside of Bautzen, in heavy rain.

Friday,15th. We were up promptly to catch the irregular bus, i.e. nothing between 9 and 11 o’clock. We fell at the first hurdle as could not find the bus stop, we asked a very kind man who took us in his van closer to the town centre for a better service. We were confused when  the bus dropped us off but eventually found the attractive town centre. Lots of well preserved buildings, despite having been in the centre of lots of conflicts, most notably the Thirty Years war. 

The St Petri dom as impressive, light and airy, a toddler group were getting ready to sing harvest festival hymns. However the most interesting feature was a waist high barrier ( 4 m till 1952) that divided the  nave, used by the Protestants and the choir, by the Catholics. The church was divided amicably after the Reformation . There were many other interesting buildings, and 17 towers remaining of the towns fortifications.


The town was reputed to be on a cliff overlooking the River Spree, which we were rather doubtful about having seen flat countryside for 100s of miles, but had to admit that the town as on a bit of a buff above the river, There were several buildings dedicated to Sorb culture. 

We had a pleasant lunch of soup in town, then attempted to catch a bus once more. It was foolish to try to catch one as the schools emptied, it was definitely every young person for themselves, elbows at the ready, and an elderly disabled lady had to fight for a seat! Not impressed! We passed the infamous yellow prison that had been famous for abuse, and is still in use, not a landmark to walk out to see. 

Quite cold all day, really should not have looked up the weather in Italy! 

Saturday 16th. Drove the short distance to Gorlitz, via an uninspiring Aldi supermarket. We got a place in a tiny private aire only a kilometre from the town. A very entrepreneural man had established an aire around his house at the end of Goethestrassa. Gorlitz has not suffered any damage during the world wars and is stuffed with historic buildings, 3,500 of note! The inner town is full of 16th century decorated houses, and a little further out so many wonderful 19th, and early 20th century buildings. Everywhere there are decorated doorways, windows and details calling for attention. 

We had read that the Kaufhaus department store had a very impressive Art Deco interior, it is at present being renovated and we were allowed to go in the shell of the building to admire the staircases, chandeliers  (originals taken by the Soviet authorities) and amazing glass roof.

 The buildings round the Obermarkt were stuffed with detail, and nearby the Rathaus had a never ending supply of brides and wedding parties. One memorable one left in an armoured car with Harley Davison outsiders. 

The town owed its wealth to being on an important trading post. In communist times its richness was acknowledged though little money spent  but a lot has been invested since reunification. It’s unspoilt nature has meant it has been used for many films, standing in as Paris and even New York! It was also an important point on the route from the east to Santiago De Compostella. I do enjoy finding these spots all over Europe. It interest me that it has been considered much more important to go there rather than Rome, and the Italians are struggling to get a similar route even recognised today! 

The city was divided in two when the border was put down the centre of the Neisse  River in 1945, and we crossed the pedestrian bridge into Poland, which had no sign of a border. The suburbs across the River were definitely rather sad, and ugly flats stood on the skyline staring back at the elegant German sister. One of the houses in the street leading down to the river, the Biblisches Haus has a facade like a bible carved in sandstone.  A really impressive town!

Sunday 17th. We decided to spend another day here, as the town was so impressive, and the sun at last shining. I wandered in, discovered the impressive railway station, then into town. I found one street where a row of buildings had been ‘unimproved’ and could see just how grey the town had been under communist rule, before the buildings were restored and painted with such beautiful pastel shades. 

I decided to go to visit the Helliges Grab, supposedly a replica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, built 500 years ago by a local mayor in attonment for his behavior with a neighbour’s daughter when young! It was interesting but for the wrong reasons, I’m sure we got much better an idea when we visited the underground cities in Anatolia. There we found caves with beds carved out of the rock, and most impressively doors that were stone circles that rolled. However the graffiti was fascinating, I saw several dating from the 17th century! 

I then continued to wander till I met Andy for lunch, and later an ice cream, not a patch on Italian ones and must stop having them. However we did sort out the origin of the funny groaning/ growling we could hear on the quarter hours, apparently it’s the lion above the town hall clock. We went into a store that sold Xmas decorations, most especially those that turn with candle power. Amazing carving, and prices! Later I went into Schlesisches Museum zu Gorltz, explaining the history of Silesia. I really struggled to follow the history time line, as power went from one kingdom to another. However it did bring home the terrible time the people had firstly with the Nazis, then fleeing before the Russians. I had not fully understood the levels of citizenship enforced by the Nazis, nor that Gorlitz was  cut off by the arbitory border from the rest of its cultural identity. 

I wandered home and found an interesting path between the Zoo, with glimpses of the animals, and a collection of allotments / dashas where people had erected quite elaborate garden pavilions surrounded by mini gardens. 


To Berlin…….via Leeds. 2.

Friday 8th September. We caught the M45 bus from just round the corner, then with a lot of confusion, as did not understand the system, caught the overground train, S5 to the Zoological Gardens. This system proved so useful, as it was always easy to find the overground as it’s usually on stilts above the city streets, so easy to make for!  (1935). We then got on the number 100 bus, which gives an simple run  past most of the major city sites and gives you a feel for the place! 

We passed the Tiergarten, Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate, Staatsoper and Museum Island, ending up the far side of the town. We had a coffee before we went to see the East Side Gallery, a 3/4 mile section on the Berlin Wall, preserved with murals painted when the wall fell. I was surprise by how much of it there was, as had heard that it had mostly been torn down in understandable haste.


We then found a sushi bar before searching for Checkpoint Charlie, again using the overground. Nearby the checkpoint are lots of explanitary boards. 

We passed the memorial to Peter Flechter, who symbolised those who lost their lives trying to cross the wall. My mind kept going back to the Green line we had seen in Cyprus in 2001, and the grey no mans land in between the two lines. The wall today is marked by a blue pipe that runs along the pavements above people’s heads. 

We found another unadorned section of the wall, complete with the holes that people had chiseled out to get momentoes. Adjacent to the wall, and near the site where many of the offices where the Nazis planned the worst excesses, and the SS had their headquarters, were a series of pictures and texts, explaining the history from the 1930’s onward. There were no excuses made and it was being read in quite shocked silence. I heard one American, about my age, point to what happened to the gypsies, and saying, ‘I didn’t know anything about that, we were never told!’ We found the spot where the family came across the wall on a wire and harness, I’m sure I can remember that happening in 1965.

We walked down to the facade of the Anhalter Bahnhof, once Berlin’s largest railway station, and from where Germany’s most gifted intellectuals including Einstein caught the ‘last train to freedom’. Once the border was sealed after the wall was erected the station became redundant. 

We then headed up the Friedrichstrasse looking at the modern shopping centre built in the once Eastern Berlin section. We were a bit underwhelmed by this area, but eventually found a welcome loo and coffee in the new French department store, Galeries Lafayette, and then made our way back to the S5, overground, which took us right back to Spandau. 

Saturday 9th. Rain again. We had a brief look at Spandau whilst waiting for the tourist office to open, to buy a 3 day passes for Museum Island and transport. Then S5 th the Zooalogical Gardens again and down the Tauentzienstrasse  to look at Kaufhaus does Westerns, KaDeWe, largest department store in Europe, beginning with the food department on the 6th floor. This claimed to be the best and biggest in the world, and I can believe it. It lacked the style of Harrods foodhall, though of course may have had it before being severely bombed in the war, but the quality and style was impressive. After a coffee we explored the housewares floor, Joseph Joseph was very well represented, and then the toys. I picked up one tiny teddy with a KaDeWe tee shirt…… 19€! We then returned to the food hall for lunch, eateries of every description scattered throughout the floor. 

Around the corner was the restored neoclassical U-bahn station, dating from 1910, complete with old style billboards and ticket counters.

We retraced our steps and caught the 100 bus to the Reichstag, taking pictures from all angles in the rain! Police very much in evidence putting up barriers ahead of a march against Angela Merkel. Andy offered to swap her for Mrs May, but no takers. Nearby were memorials to those killed nearby, with claims that they were still being persecuted. We moved on to the Brandenburg Gate, it is striking how close the wall was to this iconic monument, and what an impressive avenue in both directions, that had been cut by the wall. 

Nearby are many embassies, and round the corner the monument to the Jewish Holocaust victims, blocks of concrete set on an undulating surface. We were upset that the other victims were not included but also upset by people climbing on the monument. When Andy tried to explain the young man just did not understand. He said they were not tombs, to which I replied it was all the people had! It was very chilling looking down the rows of the blocks and hearing the shouts and seeing the flags of the demonstration going by. 

We retraced our steps back to the Unter den Linden, where there was work on a new underground line, with colourful hoardings, and had a cup of hot chocolate in the Cafe Einstein,  before finding the overland train back once more. The sun came out as we got back to the van! 

Sunday 10th. We got into the city centre in plenty of time, and after a coffee popped into to the Alte Nationalģalerie,  dedicated to 19th century art, for a short while until our time slot. 

We then went into the Neaus Museum, showcasing ancient history, where there were surprisingly few people, having bothered to book a slot. (We are still remembering Florence). We went straight to the star attraction, who was Nefertiti, well presented in a domed room. I was very interested to see another picture of her, this time with her husband and 3 daughter’s, still with that iconic profile! 

The museum had been much damaged in the war and restored to reflect its history. I was interested to see Heirich Schliemann was praised as an archaeologist despite his controversial methods of digging through other important layers to reach what he considered to be ancient Troy. I had understood that the magnificent necklace his wife displayed in a famous picture had shortly afterwards mysteriously disappeared, but it appeared to be displayed in the adjacent case.

 We were amused by several statements throughout the museum, complaining that the Russians continued to display items looted from this and the other museums, when most of the artifacts on display have come from other places throughout the world, by various means, as controversial as the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum!

I was very impressed by the display of bronze and iron age finds, and had never hepard of the Bronze Age ceremonial  Berlin Gold Hat, which purports to give a luner calender for 19 years. 

I then moved in to the Bode Museum, which held a variety of sculptures  throughout the ages, and was surprisingly interesting, bearing in mind I was developing museum fatigue by now! 

There was a magnificent tiled apse from Ravenna, amongst other things. 

The highlight here was undoublably Donatello’s Pazzi Madonna, from Florence (!) hard to believe it was 600 years old as looked so modern!

I then wandered along beside the river in the sunshine, lots of people in deckchairs and in one place people were dancing. I visited the Hackesche Hofe, a series of courtyards built in 1906, housing mainly Jews and their workshops. Nearby was the central synagogue, I was shocked to see it needed a permanent police presence with police box. The historic Neue Synagoge inpired by the Alhambra, was attacked on Kristallnacht, and only saved by the intervention of a local police officer. The building however was largely destroyed during the war, and just the iconic front and dome has been resurrected. 

I caught the ‘usual’ overground train back but was a little alarmed when it stopped at the Olympic stadium station, all the lights out and only me on the train. I did get out and was told to go over to the platform full of very armoured policemen with enormous helmets, and then I heard the roar from a crowd some distance away and the penny dropped! Rest of the journey without incident! 

Monday 11th. Into town to see the Pergamonmuseum, There was time to have a coffee in Oxymoron in the Hackesche Hofe beforehand. 

We were very disappointed that development works prevented us from seeing the Pergamon Altar, we had seen the base in Turkey and had looked forward to seeing the rest in Berlin. However there was still a lot to see! 

The Ishatar Gate gate of Babylon is really stunning, and was bought  back in pieces and reassembled as seen. The scale is unbelievable.

In the following room was the Market place from Miletus, which reminded us of the library at Ephesus.

Much of what we saw would have subsequently been damaged or destroyed, some very recently, but some here didn’t do too well in WW2! There were some fragments of Pergamon to be seen, and a film of the reconstruction going on, and what the Pèrgamon Altar will look like! Save us rushing back in 2020! 

Upstairs was devoted to Islamic Art, which I really love. I can’t get my head around the various periods and caliphates, but could see the development. 

Glass from Raqqa, c. AD 800, 1mm thich

The walls of the desert palace of Mshatta, near Amman, AD 746,  were vast in size and incredibly ornate. 

Going into the Aleppo room, wonderfully preserved, belonging to a Christian family, was very moving.  The house has recently been damaged. 

There was also a display of pictures and book showing Christian biblical figures in Muslim scriptures. 

Also a display of ancient text belonging to the various branches of Christianity , some unbelievably old! 

Coptic, Egypt, 4th cent. Lost civilisation of Nubia, 10th cent. Syriac from Egypt, 5th cent.Armenian.

There was no restaurant in the Pergamonmuseum and Andy had long since given up on me, so I went back into the adjacent Neue Museum for lunch. Then I walked along the Inter des Linden to the Brandenburg Gate. There a gentleman in tattered uniform was roundly abusing the police on guard, who ignored him, and a hurdy-gurdy man was cheerfully playing. I revisited the Reichstag before walking through the Tiergarten. I would have walked further but after reading scraps of a monument to more victims, it began to rain so I jumped on a 200 bus. 

I caught a number 100 bus back to the Zoological Gardens and after taking structure of the gate, caught the train and bus home! 

To Berlin……..via Leeds! 

1. Thursday 31st August. After a busy summer, we set off on a very circuitous route towards Berlin, our eventual destination. However we wanted to go to see a potential new campervan, that I had been eyeing up for a couple of years, and now thanks to Dad’s generosity had the means to buy. The van, a Vantage Neo, is made by a small builder who only makes 50 quality vans a year, and only shows his vans at 2 motor home shows, apart from outside the factory in Leeds, not a trivial trip.

We had been drawn to panel vans as all the coachbuilts are now too wide for our storage spot beside the garage, and this particular manufacturer adds a proper door instead of the dreaded sliding one which I find too heavy and noisy. We got to Leeds early afternoon, and spent the afternoon in and out of a Neo, discussing details with Richard. We were so pleased that we were offered part exchange on our present van, value tomorrow.  This takes all the worry out of the sale and more unusual these days.

Later we walked into Leeds along a canal which started off pretty seedily, but improved near the city centre, which turned out to be so impressive, with monumental decorated Victorian buildings. And the most beautiful arcades! The Art Deco arcade rivaled the one in Turin! We spent the night next to the factory.

Friday 1st September. We met Richard again at 10, who offered us a fair price for Tilly, we obviously would have liked more, but as we negotiated lots of things were included, so we signed on the dotted line! Collection in November, the factory is quiet as they gear up to the show in October.  We were able add lots of adjustments to the basic design as each van is individually made; including a larger fridge, which had been my main concern.  After lunch the weather turned wet, so we made our way to a CCC ‘sites for holidays’ just outside York.

Saturday 2nd. We caught the bus into York and had an easy day just wandering around. We were surprised by just how busy it was, especially with Japanese tourists.  The Shambles, which was really busy, featured in Harry Potter as Diagon Alley, and one of the shops was named ” The shop that cannot be named”, selling Potter merchandise. The queue to get in was enormous.

Sunday 3rd. We visited Castle Howard, very impressed by the house and most especially the room guides, who were so informative and interesting. The house by Vanbrugh, a smaller Blenheim, and also influenced by St Paul’s. 

It had the first large dome on a house, which sadly collapsed during a major fire in 1940. It has since been rebuilt, and other gutted rooms have been used to good effect for filming, especially Brideshead Revisited, which I admit I have not read.

We especially liked the Arts and Crafts chapel, decorated by William Morris, a family friend. So many references to Florence, right down to the wild boar we had last seen in the market place, did not imagine him turning up like this when we rubbed his snout! 

We spent the night at the Windmill Inn, Linton, where we had an evening meal. A very nice friendly pub with excellent food. 

Monday 4th. We  got to the Vantage factory in good time, and spent an interesting morning with Dan, who was able to answer any remaining questions. And lots more ideas! So we have ended up with 4 leisure batteries, so no problems being away from campsites, and increased the size of one of the cupboards so I’m sure I will have more storage than ever before. We tried a few items in the cupboards and they just swallowed them up.

Eventually we got to Hull, the visit did not start well as the large vehicle park was a building site. We found on the road parking round the corner, but mistakenly turned the wrong way in our search for a late lunch, and came on a very sad area, and difficulty finding anything. Eventually we found a more pleasant area, with splendid Victorian architecture. We also went into an impressive art gallery,  which Andy  most unfairly said he preferred to the Ufizzi in Florence. We only  had a short visit but based on what we saw I was more impressed with Leeds, and we think all the restaurants have fled to York, which was stuffed with them.

We loaded on to the ferry 4 hours before sailing was due! And sat in the lounge with picture windows waiting for sailing time!

Tuesday 5th. After a poor night we were working at 6 o’clock, I am glad we have spent our money on a motor caravan and not on cruises because we really are not keen on any aspect of sea travel! I know this was an economy cabin, and I did enjoy seeing all the ships with their lights as we came up to the lounge, I counted 16! Means to an end! I like looking at boats but not travelling on them.

We disembarked about 9 oclock, and drove on easy motor ways to Diventer, which I had identified as interesting. Hoever parking proved challenging, and we did not try the municipal site, so drove on towards Zwolle. This smaller road was on a dyke, which proved to be part of the Ijssel Line, a Cold War defence that was complete with gun emplacemets  and would have involved large-scale flooding of the Ijssel water basin. Here all the farmhouses were thatched and we saw storks and windmills. 

We  found the designated parking spot in Zwolle, and after lunch I set off for town, a short distance across a couple of canals.  The town proved to be a large shopping  centre but with interesting older buildings mixed in with the new. Only in Holland would you see a sex shop right in front of the large Catholic Cathedral.  (Think even I  might be a bit churched out after Italy).  

I stopped to draw a a statue of Adam by Rodin, in front of the new Stadhaus. I was considerably put off by a friendly man who came to watch before I had even put in a pencil stroke, and came to check on progress every 3 minutes. Results not great. There was lots of interest to see but all the information boards were totally in Dutch, whereas in the shops so much was in English! ‘Back to school, Today is the day to be happy, Coffee and chat! Health and beauty. ‘I got back to the van just as the heavens opened!

During an evening walk we found much more appealing areas along by the canal that surounds the central town, and also the area toward the one remaining gate. Even a Lego shop which had some pretty impressive Lego in display! 

Wednesday 6th. Rain. We were woken rudely at before 7.30 as they are demolishing part of a water tower and turning the rest into flats. Dont think they should inflict that level of constant noise on flats and a school for commercial gain! We drovevhrough the rain and rather boring scenery to Bourtange, a tiny defensive border village set within a 5 pointed star shaped wall and moat.

It was raining hard with strong wind as I walked to the village, far from perfect, but could see the viļage was charming even if very done up for tourists. It centred on a circular village ‘square’ with roads radiating out. I did not go into the museums but the synagogue had lost all 60 members of its congregation, a large number out of a population of perhaps 500 at most! The intriguing red building up the steps on the ramparts proved to be the toilet! And also a small distance away from the village was the powder store. 

We then drove on through the rain to Bremen, and when the rain stopped walked over the river into town. The central square is in front of the very spectacular Rathaus, where stands Roland, facing the similarly magnificent cathedral, to protect the citizens against the might of the church. A demonstration came round the corner, stronger on sound than numbers , from what we could make out concerned about the country of Togo, a former German dependency. Some of the ladies costumes were really magnificent!  Tucked in round the corner is the statue that everyone remembers, the Musicians of Bremen. 

The town is also famous for the charming 1930s arcade, Bottcherstasser, miraculously saved from the Nazis and also the Schnoor area, which feels like collection of village streets and is really charming. The tiny lanes were constructed in the back gardens of grander houses, much like some of the terraces in the old town of Hastings!

Thursday 7th. We had a very good night in the quiet aire, and then set off for Berlin. Many German motorways are incredibly boring, straight and endlessly treelined, so I got out my knitting to pass the time! The countryside became a little more undulating with more glimpses of the outside world once we passed what had been the East / West divide and the motor ways were a bit younger. 

We headed for an aire very conveniently set near the city centre and should not have been surprised to find, again, it was a building site. So headed back out of town and eventually reached one that was adjacent to the old British barracks at Spandeau, unfortunately under the airport flight path, but quiet apart from that. In the city every lamppost is adorned with advertising for the coming election, I just hope that they are a bit more sensible than in recent elections. I really don’t like the look of the man standing against Mrs Merkel. Lots of Islamaphobic signs. 

NDY in Italy…..again. 8.

Monday 27th. We would certainly use the aire at Mont again, it would make a good base, but not bother with the town. Eventually left the lovely Val D’Orcia and drove past Sienna and then west towards Pisa, preparing for the trip into Provence. We usually go over the Alps, but Andy is finding the gear box difficult, especially into 1st and 3rd, so we are going to use the motorway along the coastal strip, avoiding the busy hotspots. 

We spent the night at an Agrotourism site between Livorno and Pisa. It is situated on a lake, within a nature reserve. We have a prime spot beside the lake, but sadly there was no wildlife to be seen on the water and it appeared a bit dead, and there was nowhere to walk from the site so just one night. There was a low hum from a nearby motorway, and planes taking off from Galileo Airport which rather spoilt the peaceful effect. We have been very surprised by the lack of statics on Italian sites, makes such a difference to the appearance of a site! In Iberia, and sometimes France, the rows of tired statics look so dismal! 

Tuesday 28th. We were woken at 5am by the people behind us packing up their caravan and leaving, closely followed by the people, nothing to do with them but adjacent. We later found they were trying to get across one of the passes before it closed for daily road works. Could they not have pulled up to near the entrance during the previous evening? Then there was a thunderstorm but with surprisingly little rain. 

So we did not leave quite as promptly as might have hoped but easily found the motorway and headed round coast, from Pisa to Nice, past the sunflowers of the Arno river estuary, marble mountains around Carrolla ,  and then innumerable tunnels through Liguria, there may have been been more than 100, large and small. In between there were steep tree covered hillsides and glimpses of a hectic coastal strip. No wonder Liguria has so few campsites, there is hardly any room at all! We were very relieved at the cost of €46 for the trip, mostly through Italy. We then turned up inland at Nice. A spectacular road up a gorge, there were a heritage line at Puget Theniers, but there were lots of sadly neglected carriages that would have been loved in England. 

Wednesday 29th.   A largely wet day so stayed on site to make plans for visiting lavender fields,  and trip home. 

Thursday 30th. We continued to drive up the spectacular road, through gorges, and past impressive strata of rock, that had so clearly been twisted and lifted. We passed  Entrevaux, a Vaubun town with a castle high on the hill above, and town accessed by  gated bridge over the river. needs exploring next time. We were following a small train track for a lot of the way, did not see any trains, or evidence of them, but the line still looked used. I found later that the line was planned at the end of the 19th century,  and finished in 1911. It runs from Digne les Bains to Nice, although the old steam trains only pull a fraction of that. It would be a spectacular ride.

We then started following a route from a guide book purporting to be a day of lavender, we were very disappointed.  There were the occasional fields,  and quite a few recently planted, others full of weeds, but nowhere the heart stopping pictures we have seen. The trouble is, a picture needs to have more of a subject, as well as just lavender.  We ended up  at Abbey de Salagon. We were far from impressed with the admittance staff, one chewed incessantly with her mouth open, the man appeared to do nothing, and the woman who served spent her time talking to the other two, and  was most rude. 

The garden was interesting, set round about a medieval monastery, showcasing plants from different parts of the world, those with scents, medicinal plants and many others, all labeled. We did at last discover the difference between Lavender and Lavendin, the last is a hybrid and is more productive and now more generally grown. 

We spent the night at  Neuvoville just to the south, nice aire but rather poor tiny hill top town, with rather messy tiny streets and lots of one on one houses, some in quite poor repair. Why do Italian crumbling houses look romantic whereas french ones just look a mess! Weather quite a bit cooler today, and at times cold, what at shock! Interesting war memorial. 

Friday 30th. We continued the Grand Search for lavender today, with a little more success! We concentrated on the roads south of Apt after a scenic drive along the N100, a lot of which was lined with avenues. We called in on the attractive little hill top villages of Saignon, where there seemed to be a police investigation in progress, it did look rather like a game of Cluedo. There was a ruined castle on the top, with views over the Luberon hills. 

There were more lavender fields around where we drove, though not quite in the intensity I had fondly imagined. We have also come to the conclusion that there is probably only one or two really photogenic spots taken over and over, but it’s good to know that the essence probably doesn’t all come from China, as we had begun to suspect! We ended up at Rustrel, where we stayed last time, not an official aire but an interesting little place with sweet little streets and loads of cats! However last October it was nice and warm, it was really chilly for our evening stroll and even an English cardigan was not enough!
Saturday 1st July. A much better Lavender Hunt today, saw a great deal more between  Rustrel and Sault, and more on the road to Banon, where we stopped. It was the sort of concentration I had been expecting, also interesting the different colours. Always in the distance  was the white top of Mt Venteux. We stopped in the town in time to have a Plat de Jour, at the Les Voyagers,  and later Andy followed a fix sent by fellow motorhome, Ian which may have eased the gear problem. I must stop saying grazie for thankyou, it’s not as if I know more than half a dozen Italian words but it seems to have stuck! 

During the afternoon I sketched the bookshop in the town called Le Bleuet  which I was informed was the second most famous bookshop in France.  Forgot to ask which was the most famous but expect it’s ‘Shakespeare and Company’ in Paris. After a lavender ice-cream I climbed up to the top of the old village perched above the new one, largely built from stone from the chateau which was demolished after the Revolution. The village was most remarkable for its display of hollyhocks, which were growing in every nook and cranny possible.

Sunday 2nd. A most wonderful day at a village Fete de la Lavende, Ferrassières.  It is a small village, I was told only 80 inhabitants, but they had created a really lovely atmosphere. The area obviously had plenty of wealthy farmers as every road or track in was blocked by large new tractors,  with some to spare. There were stalls selling everything to do with lavender as well as pony rides for children, carriage rides. Activities in the village hall included making lavender bags, and a smelling test. We joined an hour walk through the lavender fields with about 100 other people!  In fact there were other organised walks, and other people just wandering through the fields. There were about 12, most elderly ladies in costume, long skirts with apron, white blouse gathered at the neck,  waistcoat , essential shawl and a white bonnet.

The whole of the day was marked with very strong winds, which did get a bit warmer during the day. Investigation proved it was the Mistral, which also accounts for the clear conditions and quality of the light. It’s so different to Tuscany,  where there was always a heat haze, and usually a pleasant breeze but by no means a cold wind. Mt Venteux was visible in the distance and on its summit the Mistral blows for 50% of the year! We bought some cherries which were enormous. We have been eating a very large number of cherries, but these were at least twice the normal size. Apparently they were grown on the  slopes of Mt Venteux, that mountain must definitely have magical powers. 

We were too late to buy tickets for the 3 course lunch but instead were offered the children’s option, which was an excellent lasagne and ice cream, of course lavender flavoured! Washed down with red wine of course. Andy said it was very shambolic as he collected the food, but in the nicest way! We enjoyed the band, called Le Musicians de Condor, would not have sounded out of place in Lord of the Rings. The main musicians played a 3? hole whistle, whilst beating a large drum with their left hand. There were also guitar players, bag pipes which provided a drone and a type of harsh trumpet. Each piece started with the whistle and drums and gradually built up. 

One gentleman was painting a picture from scratch, and worked frantically with acrylics to create a local landscape complete with Mt Ventoux in the background, and poppies and lavender in the foreground, in less than an hour.  Andy moved the van to the top of the hill, adjacent to the cemetery overlooking the village to join the many other vans, a wonderful view. Fields around the village, 70% lavender. I went back into the village, watched a demonstration of cutting lavender and was given yet another bunch when we had already bought several, better than artificial air fresheners! I then found the band in the packed tiny church, (similar size to Enmore Green) it sounded amazing! They finished with ‘Amazing Grace’  and as an encore ‘ The Water is Wide’ a Scottish folk song,  which we all hummed along to, quite moving. 

We had a wonderful view during tea, and I enjoyed painting from the van, a bit chilly to sit outside. Have found the lavender at last! We must come back to this wonderful spot! I went out at bed time to see the stars, but the moon was as bright as day. There was still a red line of sunset around Mt Ventoux.

Monday 3rd. Wonderful views over breakfast,  then left such  a lovely spot, we must return. We drove via Montbrun les Bains, which I had noted as being interesting, but in fact turned out to be disappointing, there was no access to the ruined chateau on the sky line, we were not the only people who climbed up to be disappointed. We drove over the Col de Macuegne, where we stopped for a breezy lunch, lovely views. 

Later the Gorge du Mouge was very spectacular, with pillars of stone, arches and cliff edges. Later there was a series of wild bathing places that were obviously very popular,  the river had created a series of waterfalls and rock pools, some safer than others. We did not try as access seemed rather perilous.  

 We spent the night at a popular aire at Laragne Montegin, attached to a rather sad town. Really hot and stuffy.

Tuesday 4th. Lovely drive through valleys, then a more gentle landscape and into the Jura.  We stopped for the night up a deep valley, into a cirque with limestone waterfalls, same as we had seen at the Plitvici park in Croatia. In the evening walked down to the village which was full of interesting buildings and lovely gardens centred round a Cluny Abbey, founded in the 10th century. It was obviously severely  slighted during the Revolution but had interesting buildings around it. Wonderful gardens in the village. 

Wednesday 5th. We drove north, lovely countryside most of the way. We noted several roads about to be closed due to the Tour de France. It was interesting to note that the driving in Italy was so much less aggressive than France,  and much better than the Benalux counties!  I’ve also noticed how much cleaner Italian towns were than the French ones, they always clean up after their animals and we saw road signs in many towns saying that the street would be cleaned for example in the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of every month between 8.30 and 10.30, thus no parking at those times. I don’t know if it happens or not but we are lucky to  get a road cleaner once a year! Also have noticed that the Italian male has a much stronger bladder than his french counterpart, or at least is much more responsible! 

However both countries have provided some excellent aires. This one in St Hubert in Belgium is free, places from three vans, each with their own picnic table under shady trees, with disposal area nearby. We followed the signs to the town, there was a cute gate, we walked beside an impressive church, and came into a large town square with impressive buildings and restaurants, a surprise. The rest of the town centre was average, but they also had such an impressive leisure park with large sports centre, tennis courts, nice indoor and outdoor  swimming pools, music academy and large wood and lake with black swans. Apparently one inhabitant, Nestor Martin  had been very philanthropic and had established schools etc as well as as large factories. When they closed in 1930’s the town declined, there were many ex industrial buildings about the town.

Thursday 6th. The usual rather boring drive through, enlivened by some heavy rain, during which one of the windscreen wipes shot off! Fortunately the remaining piece had not scratched the windscreen when we found a place to stop. We had trouble getting into our usual hypermarket, they usually open the height bar after asking over the intercom, but in the end we saw a van going the other way and dashed in. Fortunately we got out more easily. 

We spent the night at the aire at Hondschoot ( in France!) beside a windmill, it was reconstructed in 1993 to mark the anniversary of a battle between the defending french gendarmes, and the English and Hanovarians, who were trying to reintroduce the monarchy?? After a considerable thunderstorm I walked into town. There was an enormous church, the size of Salisbury cathedral, surrounded by a closed funfair, and absolutely no one about at all. I noticed the 16th century town hall had its door open, so crept inside and peeped into the Grand council chamber, really surprising a man who emerged. After letting me take a picture the building was closed, there really was nothing open, not a bar, restaurant, or fast food outlets.  When I saw a car with a radio blaring, almost welcomed the excitement!

Friday 7th. Up in good time to board the 10 am sailing from Dunkirk. The port had been reorganised and flowed smoothly with so many checks. It was when we reached England the trouble began. Sally sat nav took us up the A2, and down Bluebell hill, , we came off the A25 and ended up on the Hogs back in Hampshire,  then eventually through Wilton.  A journey that should have taken just over 3 hours took over 5.5! Andy said the traffic round Turin faded into insignificance! 

If you have been,  thankyou for reading my diary!  

NDY in Italy…… again, 7.

Monday 19th June. We caught the 8.45 bus into Sienna, even during the week there are only 3 buses a day. It was great to get there while the town was quiet and fresh, and we were amongst the first people into the Duomo, which was wonderful because we saw it before it was full of crowds. The front is an amazing confection of white, pink and dark (green that looks black) marble.

 The bands of dark marble continue inside, which is remarkable for the inlaid floor, with biblical and historical pictures, made over 200 years from the 14th century. Some of them only see the light of day in late August till early October, but there were plenty to see and admire.  

I was disappointed that the famous pulpit, with detailed carved scenes, was being restored,  but you do get used to that in Italy, there is always something sheathed in scaffolding!  The ceiling was also very rich with dark blue sky and gold stars. We also enjoyed the library, which has vividly coloured pictures from 1500, telling a story and full of interesting details of individuals and scenery. 

A start had been made on an extension to the cathedral, which would have resulted in the biggest church in Italy, but the plague , which killed 2/3rd of the city’s inhabitants stopped the building, but the soaring frontage remains. One gentleman was explaining to his friends that the building had been destroyed by bombing. I stopped briefly to explain, the man frowned deeply, and as I walked away said to his friend I was obviously wrong, and he could see it had been bombed! In fact Sienna suffered very little if any bombing, which is why the medieval streets are now a UNESCO heritage sight, it was Florence that was much destroyed.  

We then wandered round the city, admired the stately fortified houses of rival families, the Tolomeis and the Salimbenis, you can see where Shakespeare got his ideas from. We looked into the Santiago di St Caterina, St Catherine is a fellow patron Saint of Italy, along with St Francis. And then had lunch in a nearby wine bar, usual Tuscany cold cuts and cheese, for which we have developed quite a taste. 

We had a wonderful panorama  of the Duomo in its hill from the path up to St Dominico, an austere church but with bright if rather naive stained glass windows. A shame this was the only place we have visited in Italy where we haven’t been able to take photos. 

We then wandered back to the Piazza del Campo,  the famous square where the house race takes place each year. The square which is on the place of the Roman market place, has a considerable slope and is divided into nine segments to reflect the nine  members of the ruling council. We were most amused to see pigeons drinking from the water spouting from the fountain. On one side is the impressive 14th Palazzo Communal .  We made our way  back to the bus for the bumpy ride home. First time we have heard cicadas during the evening,  Andy said he preferred frogs.

Tuesday 20th. We drove south to San Quirico D’Orcia where the aire turned out to be free. The town had celebrated the Festival del Barbarossa during the weekend, Barbarossa had met the Pope here on his way to be crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1155. Amongst other events the town had held an archery competition between the quarters of the town, lots of towns have such competitions, and the town was awash with the quarters’ flags. 

The town’s other claim to fame was that it was on the Via Francigena, I love the way maps show an arrow North to Canterbury, and another south to Rome. There are obvious efforts to revive the route,  perhaps they are zealous of the success of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. There was the first hostel we had seen for the route, behind the Collegiata Church which has 3 magnificent doorways. However as they are recommending 30 km a day for each leg and most are described as strenuous, and some very strenuous, I don’t think I’m attempting any time soon in this heat, which incidentally is less than England again today! 

Wandered into town for painting this afternoon, and sat in the headquarters of the Barga quartiere  to paint their well and flag. (Black and white check with red lion)  I’ve worked out that we are camping in the Prato quartiere, ( green and white flag) and painted more flags beside the attractive church. Castello, (red and white). Interesting how the town is divided up and would love to know more details. The Viandance  quartiere seems to be beyond the original walls. (think Hogwarts houses). Had a solidarity moment with a grandmother pushing a pushchair and cooing over a baby about Alex’s age, she  came to chat everytime she passed. The breeze in the town has been considerable this afternoon and sure we are cooler than most of the rest of Europe. 

There is a pleasant large garden here, given to the town in 1575, when the walls were being developed.  Apparently Lioni was great friends with Michelangelo. We had an explore during the evening, as well as looking at the walls which are almost complete. We watched the elderly key keeper lock up the garden, over a Prosecco or two at the central bar, it’s more refreshing than wine! He waited to see if he’d locked anyone inside! The ice cream shop up the road closes for dinner, then reopens 9pm till 11.30! It was delicious! 

Wednesday 21st. After a short shop up,  we went the short distance to Bango Vignol in the valley below. I had read that there was a thermal spring and free access, read elsewhere that the historic pool took the place of the village square. We parked and hopefully changed into our swimmers, and after a 400m walk in hot unshaded sun came across the village. The description was correct except that there was no bathing in the pool! A shame, but had been popular in the past by many historic figures including St Catherine and Lorenzo the Magnificent. On the plus side I had at last walked upon a tiny bit of the Via Francigena, and no, I  won’t be doing any more.

It was only a few miles onto the hilltop town of Castelioni D’ Orcia, the aire had after spectacular view 1 ,8000 ft. and we  left the van to explore. We wound our way though unspoilt charming streets, this place was definitely not touristy!  We eventually found our way the the historic main square below the castle, more grass than paving stones, quite charming. We never found the way to the castle, there must be a way as there is a large crane rebuilding it! We then found a Trattoria which we decided to return to in the evening, and then a few more businesses onto road through, but definitely an unspoilt place. 

I spent the afternoon sketching in the old central square of   and we returned in the evening to eat at the Trattoria Il Casserole,  the owner spoke little English but we got by very well. The menu was in English, after a fashion, and we swapped pictures of grandchildren! 

Thursday 22nd.  We went south  to see the UNESCO countryside and also to visit another place with thermal springs, Bagni S. Fillipi. The spring was there but a jungle of concrete and undergrowth.  I would have gone into the proper pool, but we had not parked in a very safe place, so retraced our steps and headed for Montipulçiano. The countryside was imperssive all the way, wide open views , rolling hills and patchwork of large cereal fields, often harvested, and green woodlands. We had hoped the market would have finished in Montipulçiano when we got the here,  but had to wait for them to tidy up. 

I wandered up into town,  we had visited before but I had forgotten details and also how very far it was to walk up to the top Grande Piazza. Once I saw the square I remembered it, and also noted that a bus that has left the bus station below had arrived here, so that would save me future climbs. I settled to draw on the church steps,  and noticed a green sports car pull into the square, supposedly only public vehicles. A smartly dressed young lady in a big hat got out, took a picture of the car and partner  then the car sped away again!

In the evening we caught the bus up to the central piazza, I can’t think of a better use of a euro! The views were most impressive, highlighted by the setting sun! I know we ate out only yesterday but talking to a charming Chinese/ Canadian baby, and her grandmother led us to talk to about the extremely lively and tiny Osteria behind her. She said we had to book, and when the gentleman came out snd offered us a card, saying there were 2 sittings but had to book as always full, we booked for 7.30. I explained that 9.15 is too late for us English. I thought we might learn a lot about Italian food there, as popular with the locals. Down the main street are many Palazzo,  one, the Palazzo Bocelli, was decorated with Etruscan and Roman inscriptions. Nearby the town clock tower was crowned with Pulcinella, who struck the hours.

We were surprised how quiet the streets were by 9 o’clock,  in Castelioni the shops were still open and so many people about, here it was dead! 

Friday 23rd. We caught the bus us the hill and climbed up to the terrace on the Town hall, purpose built with a Florentine lion on the front,  to mark their triumph over the Siennese. The view was impressive and in the distance I could see Montipulçiano lake, which I suspect is a reservoir. It was wonderful being up with the swallows we had been watching everywhere we went.  

I then spent the bulk of the day happily drawing, and eating a tiny lunch to prepare for the evening! I must chose my spot well, as it’s interesting how often people have to stand right in front of me, not even an inch to one side, to take a series of pictures. Also  learnt how small a repertoire the average busker has, just one tune with the cello player yesterday, but as most people are moving through they don’t realise! Two young people arrived in the car park at about 5 o’clock to do their evening drumming practice, mediaeval pagents are really big in Tuscany,  as is flag throwing and archery. Later lots of younger children arrived and started to hurl flags about, most impressive. 

We were in plenty of time to catch the bus  up as it had been impressed on us the importance of being at the Osteria at 7.30. The bus then hurled off in the opposite direction and did an amazing tour of the wider town,  turning into impossible side streets where you would have thought twice about taking a bicycle.  He eventually turned into the town, relief ,  as usual flattening people against walls, and taking a run at one city arch which he cleared with less than an inch each side, quite an experience, the bus appeared quite a community,  but why it is not more used by the general public I have no idea.

There was a considerable crowd outside the Osteria Aquacheta when we arrived, which increased as time went past 7.30, everyone flattening against the wall as cars and the bus passed. There was consternation when some people realised they would not get in as they had no reservation, and a rugby scrum when the door opened and our names checked! We were sat between an interesting American couple and an English one. The American offered to swap Trump for May, but we declined. They had booked their place in April!  

We ordered, at the back of the restaurant were enormous  cuts of beef and a roaring wood oven. The food we had was good, but knew we would not be able to manage the steaks for which the place was famous, 3-5 cm thick and size of a large dinner plate, would feed us for a week! The American said it was the best steak he had ever tasted, average cost of just the steak was 45€! Our meal was more reasonable as we had opted for the pasta followed by sausage ( too salty) and salad. However the evening was an experience and would not have missed it, pure theatre by the pony tailed owner. 

We wandered down the hill amongst children playing, and had our ice cream, they definitely taste better after 10 pm,  it just seemed so civilised.  

Saturday 24th. We drove the short 10 miles to Pienza, a much smaller town, with a poor aire that was very convenient for the tiny town. Pienza is special, a UNESCO world heritage site, because it was the home town of Pope Pius II, who in 1459 remodelled the centre of his home town in 4 years,  and it has remained much the same ever since. The Duomo has also remained almost totally unaltered and I think it’s the loveliest church we have seen this holiday,  and I’ve been in quite a few! It also had its nativity scene on display, ornate nativity scenes are popular in this region. The town wears it’s popularity well, but it must be standing room only in the height of the summer.

During the afternoon,  while I was sketching in the Piazza, a wedding took place in the church. The bride and  her father arrived in an Ape, a small 3 wheeled vehicle much derided and used about towns and in the countryside for manual work. It really looked fun, and a surprise for quite a posh wedding. The other surprise was that apart from the bride’s parents, all the other guests seemed about the same age, early 30s. No older family or children at all, surprising when the Italians are such a family orientated society.  

We had an evening wander and a glass of Prosecco at a bar on the walls, looking out at the countryside. The swifts and swallows were putting on a magnificent display, so many of them in Tuscany. I noticed that one of the town gates had been destroyed in 1944, and rebuilt in 1955. Research revealed that it was bombed by Spitfires,  who had been aiming at a German position adjacent. Apparently in 1944 the Germans had pulled back to what was termed the Gothic line, though this area.  Looking more closely we could see lots of bullet holes in the church. 

Sunday 25th. We set out before breakfast to get some views without the haze but no luck there. Before leaving we went back in to buy and oil painting of local scenery, the lady had sold the painting we had admired the day before so had done another for us, we much prefer oils to acrylic. She had captured the rolling hills covered in cereals, and farms on hill tops which makes this area so different to other areas of Tuscany. We have also noticed how much less forested this area of Tuscany is compared with further north. 

It is interesting to note that the roads are generally very good, of a consistent surface. Especailly in comparison with England. It would be easy to say that the weather is so much better, so the roads do not deteriorate so easily, but everywhere there are notices to tell us to use snow chains or studded tyres when it snows so cannot be that unusual an occurrence. 

We then set off through most attractive countryside to Montalcino, but were not pleased to find the aire set up a considerable hill above the town, we had got so used to popping in and out of town. The fortress looked an old fashioned toy fort, but after that our efforts to find the town centre were frustrated by dismal uninspiring streets and a semi derelict church. However eventually we dropped down and found the central piazza, town hall and a more interesting area. However it was not the highlight that we had wanted to end on, especially compared with Pienza.

I was interested as had read Isabel Duri’s account of setting in the town. Eventually I found the Pianolla quartiere that she described and also the headquarters she spoke of funds raising for, I like a reason to wander round little streets looking for something interesting.  Eventually we had a pizza before the long climb up the hill. The aire is really nice, if you don’t want to walk to town, and it’s out of the question to bring back any of the Barollo wine that the town is famous for! However I did try a Barollo ice cream, a sort of water ice, unusual. The town was also noted for retaining its loyalty to Sienna, long after the rest of the area had fallen to Florence. So the symbol of Sienna’s she-Wolf suckling Romulus  and Remus, (which they share with Rome,)  is in pride of place in the square, whereas Cosimo in delegated to the back of the town Loggia! 

NDY in Italy……….again, 6.

Monday 12th June. 

We drove through an interesting mix of vineyards, olive groves and oak woods to Radda in Chianti. 530m. We visited this fortified village in October, 2009, when we liked it so much that we returned on the way home. The aire is immediately below the town but largely shaded, and access the town by flights of steps. I recognised the central square immediately, and remembered drawing last time, except then I was chasing sunshine to sit in, and there was very little!   

We visited the amazing tiny grocery shop, with so many lines, obviously catering for expats, though did not see the marmite or Heinz soup this time. Were hoping for Jacobs crackers as we are running low! I painted in the square for the afternoon, wonderful chance to people watch! I shall be very interested to compare this year’s attempts with 2009! The church looked promising, but inside looked as if the Victorians had a hand in restoring it. We refound the amazing passages within the fortifications going up to the town, they crisscross each other and sometimes it’s difficult to understand where they will come out. 

 I’ve never seen so many wonderful butterflies as I have seen this time in Italy.  The choisia that we have been enjoying everywhere is gradually fading, but the (?lime) trees where we are parked smell delicious.

Tuesday 13th. A very slow day, it is certainly getting warmer! Happy sketching morning and afternoon. During the afternoon I was joined by a group of 9 year old girls, who sat down beside me and watched me paint, at times like that it is so frustrating not to be able to chat.  

We also visited the amazing grocery store. It has an atmosphere like Turnballs in Shaftesbury, but in less space also includes a butchers, fresh fruit and veg, far more cheeses, dairy and delicatessent, as well as an amazing display of tins,  bottles and dried stuffs. 

And yes I did find the marmite and Heinz today, beside the Lee and Perins! And I also wandered the alleyways and archways to the north of the town. It really is difficult to take a picture of this scenery, let alone draw it! 

I have found that I could have looked for the Stuart Palazzo in Florence,  the only house that the Stuarts bought in exile, and could have seen the tomb of Louise, wife of Bonny Prince Charlie in S. Croce, complete with the Stuart coat of arms!

Wednesday 14th. We did a final shop up in the wonderful grocery store, unfortunately they had sold out of wild boar stew I had seen yesterday but we got some other interestings. We are going to miss the incredible amount of birdsong coming from the trees at the Radda aire, I repeatedly failed to see the birds. We then drove on to see Brolio Castle,  short distance to the SSE. We just took the ramparts tour, which had far reaching views of the countryside.   

The castle had been first built around AD 1000, rebuilt in 1484, and the main living part remodelled in red brick by Baron Bettino Risacoli in 1860. It still bears the scars of two weeks of shelling by the British, during the German retreat in 1944. Our tour was round the medieval battlements,  leading technology in their time, from which we could see the extensive vineyards, for which the Ricasalo name is known for today. 

Bettino Risacoli was the second prime minister of united Italy in 1861, following Cavour who we learnt about last time. Like Cavour he improved viticulture on his estates, and he developed the red Chianti Classico,  which we have been enjoying! We were surprised to read he also introduced the rotation of crops to Italy, ‘following the British example’, I thought we had been doing it since the Middle Ages. 

On our drive through forests and past imposing entrances to wine estates, we overtook a Lambourgini, (I did not know they made tractors!) I’d love to know the ratio of forest to  vineyards and olive groves in Tuscany, there seem so many more trees than you would somehow expect.  We remembered the aire when we pulled into Castillano in Chianti, but I’m ashamed to say I did not remember much of the town. After lunch we had a wander and saw a couple of things to enjoy tomorrow. Weather today has been cloudy, and I’ve read that rain is expected tomorrow. 

Thursday, 15th. We started the day by climbing to the Etruscan tumuli, which I could remember, but not the four entrances which led to two or three chambers. 4th Cent BC. It’s West Kennet longbarrow meets Silbury hill, with attitude! 

We then wandered into town, and had a coffee until the museum opened, where we climbed up the tower. It is a shame the town has been defaced by three very ugly buildings, which make photography difficult.  The highlight of the museum was a reconstruction, which included the remains of an Etruscan  chariot,  found in the tumuli, which I went back to sketch in the afternoon. 

I asked in the information office about a sign to the Via Romea, which I took to be a pilgrim route, but the lady implored me not to try it as she said just out of town it was not signposted and little used. We discussed pilgrim routes in general, she said that they were used very little compared with the route to Santiago de Compostela. However she said if I wanted a taster suggested a tiny stretch of the Via Francigena nearby, which I may try to find tomorrow.

At lunchtime we had an interesting incident. We had been annoyed by a German caravan parked in the aire. I can understand a caravaner feeling aggrieved that campervans had this useful facility, but he had parked across 3 spaces, not paid his dues,  and then had plugged into electricity!  The van was there overnight unattended, but when he came back today,  so did the local policeman, who marched him to the machine for a ticket, and must have asked him to leave as he was not there when the policemen came to check two hours later! 

I also visited the church, and sat on the steps drawing the entrance to the Via Della Volte, an underground passage originally used for religious rites and later included in the town’s defences. It is amazing how many times these small towns and villages were fought over by, in this case, the Siennes, Florentines amongst others and also apparently soldiers from Aragon! However my painting was interrupted by mushrooming clouds in almost every direction so I headed back to the van, somewhat prematurely it turned out. 

Castillano in Chianti is growing on me, but it to lackes the charm of Radda, which I much prefer. However it is very exciting having an Etruscan burial mound just round the corner! I had been wondering about  the lurid orange drink that so many people have been drinking,  so when the lady in the next van had some I had to ask her, apparently it is an aperitif very popular in Italy, can be alcoholic or not. And today she presented us with two small bottles of it! In conversation she said they were here for the field archery world championships, to be held locally, shooting at a target then running to the next one! 

Friday 16th. We had a shop up in the co-op, more of the best cherries I have ever tasted, then drove the short distance to Monteggioni, crossing the Via Francigena. The aire had been rebuilt and looked good but totally without shade and it was going to be a long time before it was going to be cool enough to explore so we drove on to the wooded ASCI campsite, Montecagnano to do the washing, and chill for a bit. We were going to take the bus into Sienna but the times are very impractical  over the weekend. 

Saturday 17th. We went for a walk first thing, and was surprised how short the walk was to the nearby village of Sovicille, an unspoilt tuscany village with a few very pleasing houses, some with shady loggias on the top floors, to catch the breeze. I also saw a stone notice on the town hall, recording a plebiscite held in 1878, to decided if Tuscany should join the constitutional monarchy, and recording the results.   I had noted a similar plaque in Borge. They also mentioned universal sufferage, but that didn’t happen till 1945, which incidentally was the year when Italy voted to do away with the monarchy! 

I spent the afternoon sorting out the rest of the holiday. I had been very tempted to return to Radda for a festival, but after a great deal of research found that it wasn’t one founded in history. So we decided to stay put, use the bus on Monday from the site to go to Sienna, and after that explore the historic towns and villages to the south, before heading home, hopefully via the lavender fields of Provence. 

Sunday 18th. I wandered into the village this morning, and settled in the quiet square to draw the 1915- 18 war memorial, which was quite distinctive.  I don’t know why it is, but so often I settle down in a quiet spot to paint, nobody around and in nobody’s way, once I have started, suddenly exactly where I am sitting becomes the most desirable place on earth. Today a lady parked in front of the memorial, despite loads of other spaces, no problem I could see over the top, then a gentleman arrived who obviously always parked exactly where I was sitting to take his wife to church, and despite there being an enormous space took an eternity going backwards and forwards, almost backing into the car behind. I must stop disrupting people’s lives! 

The air is simply wonderful today, a light breeze and warm sunshine, just perfect. The track from the village must lead to the hamlet I can see on the hill, and is obviously an old green road, with retaining walls in places. An afternoon stroll confirmed this as there were clearly cart wheel marks on the stones in a few places. When we turned onto another path we came across a purpose built mud pool, perfect for wild boar, was it a spring? Or a place to catch the boar? We had an alcoholic brown and cream butterfly join us for dinner! 

After the news today, so glad we did not chose Portugal this year, another favourite.  As well as the fires, they speak of temperatures in the 40’s! We are quite warm enough here on 31′! 

NDY in Italy……again. 5.

Thurday 8th A momentous day to visit Uffizi! Easy trip into town,  the buses have resumed their original route after the work on the Porto Romano. we picked up our advanced tickets for the Uffizi,  and joined a small rugby scrum to get in, largely caused by groups trying to stay together while they deposited large bags. Once in the Uffizi it is very peaceful and there are only larger groups in front of a few hotspots. I was incensed by one American lady, who stood in front of each pictures for an age unti her husband had taken yet another picture of her, after she had carefully arranged her hair! I saw her yet again, and heard her husband say, ‘I’ve got loads of pictures of you but have yet to see any of the pictures!’

I was delighted to see that the Bottachellis had been rehung, last time could hardly see them through the glass, now they were spaced well out, with excellent lighting and invisible glass! 

I could appreciate the Birth of Venus and especially the Primavaria, but for me other painting really shone, Most especially work by Lippi,  Madonna and child with angels, the little Angel in front looks such a pickle!  

I just love the details in Lippi’s work, the right hand monk was a self portrait. He was a  monk, but blotted his copy book by marrying a nun. 

And Bottachelli’s Madonna with the pomegranate.

This battle scene, Battle of San Romano, by Paulo Uccello looks so modern. Another version is in the National Gallery.  It is so different to everything else here.


The ceilings were pretty magnificent as well. We had lunch on the terrace where the Medicis used to listen to music from the square below. The passage on the top of the Ponte Vechio was built by the Medicis so they could go from palace to palace without meeting the common people and risking attack.

I struggled to like Micaelangelo’s Holy Family, it was  interesting, but not my favourite.  

Leonardo di Vinci’s altar piece was left unfinished, and has recently been comprehensively restored bringing out the details. In the end the monks gave up waiting and Lippi created an alternative piece with a similar design. 

There was also a special exhibition of items rescued from the earthquake in Marche  in 2016.

Sorry to be very badly behaved, but doesn’t it look as if Mary is on her mobile phone! 

Massive confusion after we had decided to go back into town for the evening,  only for another notice to be posted on the bus stop. Eventually we decided it meant that the buses would run more frequently, and till 2.30am, Just imagine that in England! 

Friday 9th. We set off from Florence in good time, it was amazing how quickly we were out into the countryside and found someone who would sell us GPL before heading for Grive in Chianti. It was also surprising see that snowchains are obligitory here in bad weather, Nov 15th-April 15th! We are now retracing steps of our 2009 holiday,  in better weather,  and slowing right down. It seemed much hotter, and we headed for the central square  (in fact a triangle) from the spacious free aire. We’ve been on so many campsites that were not half as nice.

We had a carafe of excellent local red wine, while catching up on the news ( a glimmer of hope at last? ) and I drew a picture, yet again questions about my waterbrush, wish I’d got shares in them I had not taken out my painting stuff in Florence as it was all too hectic, so it was nice to start again. Florence had certainly been very busy indeed. As we drove through we remembered exactly why Tuscany is so popular, it was lovely. After an evening stroll into the town, we were almost deafened by the chorus of frogs in the adjacent river. So many varied notes, but also most surprisingly chilly as the evening wore on, thank goodness I had my English cardigan! So impressed that the town is safe to leave all of the plants outside the flower shop overnight. 

Saturday 10th. We went straight into town and bought a great deal of fruit and salad at the Saturday market, all v good quality, and struggled home with it. So good to hear Auntie Dorothy due out of hospital tomorrow and recovered so well, did not need the fortnight’s rehab! She is an inspiration! 

In the afternoon came out to paint and sat on the pavement outside the closed butchers to paint, the owner of adjacent cafe ignored me and his staff proceeded to almost step on me to add tables and chairs, without any apology or eye contact, then parked his van in front of me. Won’t be eating at Macelleria Filorni, but had a meal at the Trattoria di Borgo, wild boar! Very friendly, lovely proprietor! We could have joined the communal meal at the front of the church,  labelled ‘Lets stay together’. Amazed that the binmen have emptied the aire bins at 11 o’clock Friday and Saturday evening! 

Sunday 11th. I went into town to paint while Andy went on a frog hunt, he was unsuccessful but saw a dragon fly, lizards and an egret; and then bought some of the wine that we had especially enjoyed. An amazing number of people came to the adjacent open air swimming pool, surrounded by grass and yellow umbrellas. Later in the afternoon I wandered up to the view point, then went into museum, which had collected together items from local decommissioned churches, it was lovely doing a couple of sketches in the cool, as the day had been quite warm.  

We would have liked to go up to the tiny walled village of Montefioralle, but have been warned it is too narrow for vans and too far to walk in this heat. We spent this evening in Caffè le Logge checking our emails,  the usual warm welcome. 

NDY, in Italy…….again! 4.

Sunday 4th June.  I thought that Juventus must have won the match that they were playing, everyone was watching in the Anfiteatro last night. One chap was so warmly greeted when he entered the local bar as I was passing, but later found they were roundly beaten by Real Madrid, with considerable trouble in Turin last night! 

We had been so shocked to wake and find clouds and spots of rain on the windows, the weather had been perfect for days. I  hesitated to go too far from somewhere I could shelter. Round the corner from the landmark tower with the trees on top, I heard familiar  music, and found a very busy Romanian Orthodox chuch, wall and ceiling competely covered with saints and stories, and full of people coming and going, some going forward to kiss icons, greet friends, and buying candles. As usual everyone was standing, and in the corner a lady in full Maramures dress of full bright shortish skirt, white blouse and colourful headscarf.

I lunched in Puccini square and then as the weather improved Andy and I walked round the walls to the Botanical gardens, which were pleasant, if not exceptional. 

We never cease to be amazed by the walls, today they were really busy with families, groups on 4 seater cycles, roller blades, killer bikes (everywhere!), old people, babies toddling. They are tree lined all the way, and the glimpses inside them today were equally impressive.  In one place a lady was singing ‘ Oh my beloved father, ‘ just for her own enjoyment to test the acoustics which were superb,  in another place we walked inside to a bastion with cannon emplacements that must have been 3m thick!

Monday 5th. We left Lucca, yet again promising to be back,  and drove towards Pisa,  ( which we had decided not to visit as still had a very vivid memory of our last visit). As we dropped off the plateau had a very clear vista of the city and clearly could see the tower and baptistery. We tried to buy GPL but were told we could not have it for the kitchen! We were diverted because could not fit under an arch and followed an aqueduct for nearly 2 miles! 

The first aire we tried in Florence seemed to be a collection of stored vans in some ones back garden, so we drove on to   ( to be added) which turned out to be a car park with space for vans at the end, however once we tried to get into the city could appreciate how close it really was. Our efforts to buy bus tickets failed as there were none in the nearby bar, but we walked down the hill to the inpressive Porta Romano in no time, and from there into the city. Last time we were here it had been middle of October and very wet indeed.

Firstly we passed the Casa Guildi, where Elizabeth and Robert Browning lived from 1847. I had hope to visit but there was no sign of it being open. We then walked over the Ponte Vechio, really crowded and on to the Piazza degli Uffizi. I never cease to be impressed with so many little shops in Italy,  all tiny and beautifully displayed. 

We then decided to cross of something from the list and made for the Basilica di Santa Croce, when we had visited here before many of the monuments had been covered. 

So we paid our respects to Machiavelli, Dante, Galileo, Rossini and Michelangelo, as well as the frescoes by Giotto in the chapels adjacent to the high altar, which contain all sorts of everyday scenes as well as religious ones. I also found a simple tomb to Charlotte Napoleon Bonapart, Niece of Napoleon 1! There was a simple wooden crucifix by Cimabue, one of the first to move from the Byzantium style to showing Christ as a suffering person. However it had been much damaged by the enormous flood of 1966, and after renovation had been adopted as a symbol of the revival of the area. 

As we came out it had started to rain,  and we had left the vents open, so needed to return promptly. We did get bus tickets from a tobacconists,  but finding the bus back was more challenging as we had seen it come in on a one way street, and when we found a stop, a notice announced that there was to be a temporary diversion! So we ended up walking back, and being overtaken by several buses, but determined to catch the frequent 11 bus tomorrow! And the rain came to nothing! 

Tuesday 6th. We had to wait a while for a bus even the locals were agitated, there was a notice that we only later understood. Rather chilly with rain threatening, sometimes i even wondered if i ought to gave boughtva cardigan! This morning I visited the  Cappelle Medicee, the mausoleum of the Medici  family, it is a lofty,  dark, imposing space of enormous memorials and inlaid the new sacristy are some of Micaelangelo’s best works. Night ( asleep by moonlight, with an owl at her feet)  and unfinished day on Duke of Urbino’s tomb, and Dawn and Dusk on Lorenzo’s son’s tomb. I was less impressed with the Madonna on Lorenzo’s tomb itself.

Andy had found a cosy cafe with courtyard called Cafe Rose for lunch, even ordered soup to warm up a bit! Then we headed into the maze of streets where Dante was born. I was upset to find the Chiesa Santa Margherita, where he saw Beatrix,  where she is buried and where he was married, was closed with no opening times shown. His house is adjacent. 

 After a wander around the outside of the Duomo I made for the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella.Inside is a complex of church and cloisters with so much to see. Forgive me while I write a few details or I will never remember! A crucifix by Giotto. The fresco Holy Trinity, 1425, Masaccio, was one of the first art works to use perspective and proportion. 

Behind the altar was a series of frescos by Chilandaio, purporting to illustrate the lives of John the Baptist, and Mary, but in reality giving a wonderful window on Florentine life. 

The colours of the pictures in the adjacent Strozzi chapel by Filippino Lippi were especially vivid. A baby was enjoying crawling around on the cool marble floor, his shrieks filled the church when ever he was picked up and he chortled when he was put down and crawled under a rope so his mother could not get him! 

Adjacent to the church were extensive cloisters and chapels established by the Dominicans who arrived in 1219, some had been much spoiled by the 1966 flood. The frescoes from the Chisero Verde had only recently been restored. The Spanish Chapel, so called after it was given to the Spanish wife of Lorenzo, was covered by extraordinary frescos by Bonaluto, ‘ The Militant And Triumphal Church’ 1365, has included portraits of Giotto and Dante in the crowd. I just love the way at the edges of these pictures people are doing ordinary things, reading, picking up a lamb, cradling a baby! All human life is there! 

Andy had problems with the buses but I had worked out which bridge they would come over, and did the Florentine answer by having an ice-cream till I saw which way the buses went. I’m sure they will be back to normal tomorrow as they appear to have mended the Porto Romano. You get used to scaffolding in Italy, and Florence in particular!

Wednesday 7th. I was in town in good time and made my way straight to the Museo di Palazzo Davanzati. This medieval town house is a rare survival of the clearance and bombing that the town has suffered,  I did visit last time but wanted to relive and remind myself. The house is built round a central courtyard, with a central staircase and means of catching water. There was a pulley system which supplied water to every floor, and toilets in small rooms off all the major rooms also on every floor! 

I found the house special for the painted rooms, often made to look like hung fabrics peeled back in places. Full of elaborate patterns, friezes and detailed wooden ceilings. My favourite room was one that had a medieval story in a frieze below the ceiling, and a room where the women probably spent a great deal of their time.

Surprisingly the kitchen was on the top floor of the house, to keep away the heat and risk of fire from the rest of the house. On the very top floor was a cool loggia where the women could also spend time, they were generally not allowed out and about. 

I met Andy for a walk around the town, along the shopping streets and past the market where a bronze wild boar is a focus of attention, if you rub his snout you are supposed to return!! He was much photographed. We found a great place to eat in the cool courtyard cafe of the Palazzo Strozzi, a modern art gallery before continuing the walk. 

I did not know how to spend the afternoon, I wandered into the Palazzo Vechio, but it was really full of tourist groups, and I really wanted something a bit more cosy than Medici showing off. I passed the Museo del Bargello but had enough of statues. I passed lots of interesting tiny shops, including one that sold paper and card, cut and coloured in amazing ways with eye watering prices. Eventually I ended up outside the Osperdale degli Innocenti, the foundling hospital, now a museum.

I climbed up to the Caffè del Verone, set in a rooftop loggia, with lovely views over the city. It really bought home what a tiny city Florence is, the wooded hillsides seemed no distance away in every direction. I could see clearly that they had taken away a strip of stone under the dome of the cathedral. 

After sitting for an age in the pleasant breeze, I decided on a whim to go into the Museo degli Innocenti, and found it really interesting. The first European orphanage, it had received its first baby girl in 1445, and later built a grill, through which mothers used to place their babies, so sized that only new borns could be admitted. The other side of the grill was a cushioned basin with an almost life sized Mary and Joseph looking at the baby, the idea being that was the first thing the baby saw, there was no baby Jesus as the thought was the baby took his place! 

Straight away the swaddling clothes and any tokens with the baby were meticulously recorded, in case the mother was in a position to reclaim the baby later. A whole series of shelves had some of these artifacts on show, with details on a computer screen of what had happened to the children. The girls were given a dowry if they married an approved partner.  

The babies were assigned a wet nurse, who were recruited from among the unmarried mothers who were themselves likely to place their children there, and given a uniform and wage. In the 1800’s about 1000 children a year were being left, so eventually in the 1870′ s the hole was blocked and a receiving room set up, to check if the baby merited care. The children were sent into the country to foster mothers where it was felt to be healthier, and later many were adopted. There were interactive story boards of what had happened to a variety of people left there, I looked up one man exactly my age, who had not wanted to leave his friends in the orphanage, and had eventually grown up on a farm. Another lady did not meet her sister until they were in their 50’s after discovering items left by their mother. 

On the top floor was an art exhibition of gifts to the orphanage including a Bottachelli, and many other famous names.  The whole place was most interesting and generally quite uplifting as throughout there seem to be people who were really trying to do the best for the children.  

Thursday 8th. We are having an evening in Florence where I am publishing this. Spent this momentous day in the Uffizi, it’s going to take an age to process  and write up so will publish this now! 

NDY…in Italy, again. 3

30th May. We had another look round Borgh,  and yet again I forgot to take any money to the Duomo to light the church, and had to resort to flash photography to capture the amazing marble pulpit. 

We then set off for the campsite Belsito  with the intention of sorting out much washing and catching up with my blog and other Internet issues. The washing was sorted easily and dry in no time, but the Internet was painfully slow, and took for ever to upload just one picture, which resulted in considerable frustration.  Eventually the blog was published by leaving it overnight,  but still very much work in progress as can’t access Andy’s maps etc to add! Grrrrrr.  On the plus side the site has wonderful views over the Tuscany countryside and a lovely reliable breeze. 

Wedneday 31st May.  We set off from the campsite promptly to walk the mile, up to the Montecatina Alto,  very much a tourist village high above  Monte cantina Terme,  to which it is attached by a 1898 funicular. We were very surprised to see a young fox walking in front of us, and later saw two sparrows chasing a butterfly. The village square was full of very touristy restaurants, we walked up to the church,  which had a devotion to St Margaret,  and contained a requiry of her skull, a outside a small collection of items remembered that she was the patron saint of firemen, bomb makers and disposers, oil workers, those struck by lightening, and the Italian army! A tower had- a clock with 1- 5 in Roman numerals on its face,  did not understand that either! 

My next frustration was trying to copy my list of contacts so as not to give them to everyone, as my group list insisted on emailing the list complete. Have not quite solved this one yet but at last sent out Chapter 2. And then completed the second task of advanced tickets for the Uffizi gallery wth comparative ease, and  considerable price! I think this must have been a turning point, as Charlotte  has been to see Auntie Dorothy, who after a very rough patch gradually improving, and Bobby’s new bike, wbich he won some time ago in a competition finally arrived! Even if he couldn’t ride it immediately as still getting over his accident. 

During the afternoon we went up to the swimming pool, which I gathered enough courage to enter, takes a bit with arm bands plus bag! Wonderful infinity pool, a little spoilt with a caravan parked at the end of it! Andy managed another walk up to the village in the evening but I was too worn out from the swimming so did some planning instead.

Thursday 1st June. I went for one more swim in an empty pool, before we set off for Lucca. I was very aware that June 2nd was Republic day in Italy, and knowing how hectic our late spring bank holiday has become, I wanted to be in a nice place to chill for a few days in case it got hectic. We visited Lucca in 2009, and thought it was lovely so seemed a safe place to chose, which indeed it was!  The town is enclosed within Renaissance walls, which remain in good condition to this day. Within is a very vibrant and pleasant city, lots of shops with art deco fronts, and lots of squares and interesting palaces. 

Lots of posters boast that the Rolling Stones are appearing here in September as part of their Summer festival! One cafe was counting down the days! 

The most interesting ‘square’ is the Piazza Anfiteatro, which was built on the site of the Roman Amphitheatre and includes its stones and arches. Most atmospheric.  

In the past it was filled with slums but these have now been cleared to make an most attractive oval. 

Eventually returned in the evening and listened to a concert version of the highlights of La Boheme, staged in the open air, just outside the house where Puccini was born and grow up. 

Friday 2nd June. Republic day. We did not see any signs of celebration, only noticed that the shops were shut! We were up promptly for a walk around the walls. They were constructed when the medieval walls were deemed insufficient, and at considerable cost to the Republic of Lucca. Built in the 15th and 16th century, they are complete and most impressive, 4.2 km in length, 15m high and we were most surprised that they were so wide, about 15m with a road and gravel and grass beside, plus the numerous bastions. There were also at least 4 defibulators!  We were also most surprised just how many people were walking, running and cycling around at 9.30, and looking up during the day the popularity continued! We have noticed that the Italians have to have the full gear, plastered with sponsorship names, even if riding round the walls. Apparently although supposed to be a military instilation they have been used for promenading since being built! 

We came down near the Basilica of St Frediano, started in the 6th century by the Irish bishop of Lucca! I was especially impressed with the enormous 12th cent baptismal font, which along other things, had a frieze of medieval Knights in full battle dress. I was also interested that in a 2nd cent Roman sarcophagus were the remains of St Richard, an English ‘ king’ who died here in 722, on a pilgrimage to Rome with his daughter, and sons who went onto be evangelists in Germany. We had already read that Lucca was on the Via Francigena, an ancient route from Canterbury to Rome. 

After lunch in the Anfiteatro we went to the Palazzo Pfanner for a cool afternoon wander. The 17th century  Palazzo was bought by Felix Pfanner, a Bavarian brewer who came to Italy by invitation to start brewing in the country, and the first brewery was established in the cellers of the Palazzo and served in the garden. With the proceeds Felix was able to buy the whole of the building and his son, a noted surgeon went on to become mayor of the town. I chose not to look at his display of medical and surgical instruments! Apparently he used to slip the fee for his visits to poor people under their pillow.  

The external staircase was very grand, and the large reception hall light and airy, with pastel frescoes. The bedroom had been where Prince Frederick of Denmark had an affair with a Lucca noblewoman in 1692. I was especailly intested in the germanic ‘tortoise stove’ in the corner, first I had seen in Italy! The gardens were full of shady trees,  and lemon trees in large terracotta pots, there were also lots of Greek statues, but I was annoyed that the summer and autumn statues were wrongly  named, I did try to swap the names round! It was very pleasant indeed sitting by the fountain in the shade painting, and I could also see the city walls behind the garden, still as busy as ever. 

On the way back I chanced upon an unmarked church, so plain apart from a much adorned glass coffin of a nun as the altar, and lots of explanatory pictures on the walls.  Also  a constant adoring public, but had the air of not being approved of by the powers that be. 

Saturday 3rd. We spent the morning  wandering the little shops, we only bought some Carrera marble fruit, that look remarkably like the real thing, but somewhat heavier! After quite a bit of happy wandering  we found the Trattoria Leo, (in lonely planet as a typical local!?) which we returned to prompt on 12, where  it was already quite busy, usual antipasti, and secondo,  also with battered courgette flowers. I was so impressed that very disabled man in his wheelchair came to his usual table and was fed by his career, obviously part of the community and eating where he enjoyed.

We then walked to the cathedral, and I stayed to explore inside. It is most famous for the Volto Santo  which is a black wood crucifix, traditionally carved by Nicodemus,  but now understood to date from the 13th century. It is quite expressive. Wood seems to carry more sympathetic character than stone! It is also famous for the moving effergy of  Iliaria del Carretto who died in childbirth in 1407, aged 24, I can understand its appeal as it is very charming. I struggled to draw some details of the outside of the cathedral,  so much intricate detail in black and white and it’s impossible to get the detail by pulling apart the fingers as when drawing from a screen! 

I was able to easily retrace my steps to the sqare adjacent to where we ate, and drew the statue and doorway of the church, while some wonderful music drifted out. Later I went inside, to listen to a temperamental meiestro instruct an orchestra including some unusual large recorders (!) With a right angle. As I left I noticed that the high altar also contained a glass coffin, and also that there was a very patient dog sitting at the feet of one of the performers.

 Lastly I visited the Chiesa of San Michele in Forno, which we had originally mistaken for the cathedral, and has an even more luscious frontage. To the right of the altar there was a lovely clear picture of saints by Filippino Lippi, 1479. We were also encouraged by notices all round the church to go right to the high altar and visit St Davino, who died in 1050, and on the 3rd of June!!! Hence the encouragement to visit! And from what I understand was a pilgrim from Armenia. Any further information welcome, before the Norman conquest, history always seems so much deeper here!

In the evening we walked the walls then came back to our usual bar in the Piazza Anfiteatro and ordered a bottle of Prosecco.  Why not!

Not Dead Yet……in Italy, again. 2.

19th May.  It rained heavily all night, but in the morning paused with some weak sunshine. Our heating was still on, giving a false sense of security! It was a shame to move on, but did not fancy another day inside due to the rain.  The area is most picturesque with blackened timbered houses, the little tourist area had been developed in 1900’s with a small ‘grand hotel’, and subject to several considerable avalanches. However we do find these areas difficult to visit as their summer season  is so short. Only one small shop and one hotel restaurant was open, and if we returned at the end of August it would be the same. However they were getting set for visitors as the path we took in the countryside had been swept of winter debris and pine cones!  

So we dropped out of the village we descended into low cloud, which eventually cleared to show old villages with extensive blackened wooden houses and barns. The hillside behind them were terraced, and there were many wayside chapels leading up to the St Bernard Pass. In the village of Orsieres there was the St Bernard Express. It was an easy drive up to the tunnel, (the pass was still closed for the winter,) which cost us about £38 for the van, and was very quiet indeed. The way down the Italian side was equally easy and quiet and we stopped in the aire at Aosta in torrential rain! Soon thunder and lightening was added! 

After lunch we ventured into town, which is the local capital and was an important Roman town. We soon found the 1st cent. cobbled Roman bridge, surounded by attractive medieval streets. Nearby was the large Arch Di Augusto, now in the centre of a roundabout which made photography challenging. The Porto Praetorio is still impressive and was the main gate into the city. We also visited the Chiesa Di  Sant’Orso reputed to have medieval wall paintings now above a false ceiling, but there was no one to give us access. However we could see an impressive mosaic below the present floor and wonderfully carved miseriecords. They are very proud of St Anselme, born in the town who went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury!

The town had lots of small smart shops, a large cental plazza in front of the Hotel de Ville, and many other Roman remains, admired by lots of gaggles of school children. The area is bi- lingual, everything in Italian and french. As the afternoon wore on, the rain stopped and the temperature rose by 10’C. making us feel very overdressed! Blue sky set off the surrounding snow capped hills. Great to be able to visit so easily with a convenient aire! Over dinner very surprised to see 12 yr old child, visitor to grandparents’ van nearby, openly smoking! 

We went for an evening stroll into town, as is usual!! We found a great bar  called La Cave, most interesting, full of animated people of all ages, alcohol in Italy always come with nibbles, in this case tasty raw ham. It was impressive seeing snow covered peaks rising above the town, even in the  central square. 

Saturday 20th. We left the aire and drove past the massive (iron smelting? abandoned? ) works, the iron ore came from our destination of Cogne. As we drove NW up the valley a wide variety of castles came into view, on every vantage point in the valley. Soon we turned off the main valley and headed up a steep gorge for some miles till the valley flattened out around Cogne. 1534m. There was an impressive aire below the town, which could house up to 100 vans with hookup during the winter season. The town was more alive, for an Alpine resort. 

There was bright almost blinding sunshine, but the air was very crisp indeed.  We went for a wander round the town, which had a considerable history, initially as a mining town,  and later as a centre for King Victor Emmanuel to come hunting locally. Later he gave the area to the nation, creating the Grand Paradise National Park. Outside the village church an extremely pregnant bride, with a flattering dress, was about to be escorted into church with her diminutive father, and small daughter, also in white. Later examination of the church showed that the community dated back at least to the 10th century. 

During the afternoon,  we walked up a side valley to Valnontey. The valley was steep and narrow, and hardly widened out for the village which must have been very poor indeed before the tourists arrived. The tiny alleys between the houses had only recently been paved, and the houses roughly constructed. Andy stopped on the path up before an animal we took to be about an ibis, they had been bought back from the brink of extinction by over hunting, but would not have expected one to be so bold. I did find the walk quite hard work and am putting it down to the altitude!

Sunday 21st. We woke up at 6.30 really cold, the temperature was below freezing and took over an hour of heating for us to venture out of bed!  We made our way back down the valley into the main valley of Aosta, where we made the mistake of joining the motor way, which went under all the castles I wanted to see and then charged us an arm and a leg for the privilege.  Usually Italian motorways are quite reasonable! 

The main valley narrowed into a gorge, guarded by the impressive Fort de Bund, which was showing an exhibition of wild life photos from our National History museum! We then turned up the Lys valley, beside a most impressive frail Roman bridge with enormous arch, at Pont de Martin.  

The Lys valley is notable as it was colonised by German speakers coming over the mountains from the Valais and beyond, in Switzerland. Some older architecture showed the influence and German is still the first language of some of the valley natives. We are parked near a fire station labelled Feuerwehr, and most of the street names are German. Unfortunately this had not stopped the over development of the valley by the ski industry, some of the villages are very soulless.

We drove to the furthest aire, beyond Glessogne de Trinity, but retraced our steps to the main village which had more to recommend it, where we spent the  night. The reconstructed village square dated some of the buildings to the 1600’s. 

Monday 22nd. A very peaceful night beside the river at Gressoney de Trinity or Waltdorf. We slowly descended with valley and stopped at the Castel Savoia,  built by Queen Margherita at the turn of the 20th century. She had long enjoyed staying in the valley, wearing her variation of local dress, reminded me of Queen Victoria, and climbing  far up into the mountains. The castle was a mock gothic delight, similar to Cardiff Castle and also reminded us of Queen Marie’s castle in Romania.  It had a view of the whole valley as far as the glacier, and the interior decoration was full of mock gothic heraldic motifs relating to the Queen’s name, as well as panelled ceilings and walls. An underground railway connected the castle to the kitchens, the food must have been stone cold! 

Further down the valley we had lunch at also delightful picnic spot in a field with flowers and then stopped lastly at Fountainemore, where there was an ancient bridge beside a church, and some extremely old houses in poor state of repair, but typical of the area, with a balcony all round the house, and wide roof covering  it all, the house being set back in the middle.

We then drove onto Turin, and braved the traffic to find motor home secure parking at the far side. It was easy to catch the tram into town adjacent, which took 25 rather bumpy minutes. The central piazza was most impressive,  and surrounded by palaces and colonaded shops, reported to be 18 km of colonnades in the city. The whole city was impressive with interesting buildings and smart shops. 

Tuesday 23rd.  We slept well,  and easily caught a tram no. 4,  just after 10 oclock. Firstly we visited the Duomo, a lady scurried after me as I had forgotten to bring a scarf  to put over my sundress, I always remembered in Turkey etc!  Not totally sure why my shoulders are rude, but no problem with local customs! The cathedral was quite plain apart from where the Turin shroud is kept. It is only on show very infrequently, and a partial replica was on display outside the cabinet.

We found one of the famous  coffee shops for which Turin is famous, called Barratti and Milano, (in the corner of the Piazza Castello ). I thought the counter looked so much like the painting of the bar at the Folies Bergeres, but on examination of the painting, possibly not! The cafe was set adjacent to an amazing  arcade. The interior of this and other coffee shop shops we found were really delicious, ornate with chandeliers and gilt. It had to deal with parties of school children coming in to admire the surroundings!

We then walked down the Via Roma,  equivalent of Oxford Street, with elegant arcades, to the Piazza San Carlo  and then returned to the previous arcade, (which we found was called Gallerie Subalpina,) to an Italian and Japanese restaurant, Arcadia! We had the most generous amount of Sushi,  glass of wine,  generous fruit salad and coffee for £19! We would have probably paid that for just 1/2 of the sushi at home!! And all in the most gracious of surroundings!  We did notice most customers had played safe with Italian food!

We then walked down to the River Po, and found a shady avenue,  before a short walk in a rather average Parc Del Valentino, where some people were attempting circus skills. Along the Corso Vittorio Emmanuel we found an old fashioned clock shop. I needed a watch as the charger I had bought for my fit bit, turned out not to fit! We had to ring the bell to get in, but found the perfect (cheap) watch, I have several at home,  and also found a characterful clock for our hall. Good to support an old fashioned type of shop that we so rarely see in England now. 

We passed the main railway station that was built in the usual monumental style for a large city, and back along the Via Roma to a welcome cool beer in an Art Nouveau Arcade, Gallerie San Federico, where we sat opposite the Atelier Emè,  which had the most exquisite gowns for what would probably be twice the price in England. After another stroll round the central Piazza, and another glass of wine nearby, we caught the (wrong) tram back!  No.10. It is very difficult to read the numbers but our good fortune held and delivered us to the other side of the Camper park, which we glimpsed in time! Once more I was immediately offered a seat, and Andy says he has married an elderly looking lady! 

Most impressed with Turin and and would recommend it for a visit, stuffed full of museums and galleries!  Everyone very friendly and willing to share a smile.  It is also nice being of average height here, apart of course from those in 4″ heels, which seem to abound, even on the cobbles! My sundress did get a glowering at from a lady on the tram, which seemed a bit ripe having seen how tight some of the trousers were,  but perhaps it was because I had a seat! So many campervans parked on the street near blocks of flats! 

Wednesday, 24th. After another hot  night, we set off for the Lingotto,  which I had read was the converted fiat factory, it looked on the map to be easily walkable. We discover that we had been looking at the railway station of that name, and had a hot walk to a new bridge over a wide set of railway lines.  The art gallery, the Pinocoteca de Giovanni e Marella Agnelli we were aiming for was definitely not worth the effort, with a very sparse collection of Canellettos, and fewer more modern pictures. Very poor Mattise examples, and a slightly more intesting collection of Greek vases. However the large  test track in the roof, with banked corners, and the corkscrew ramp down were interesting. 

The more interesting reason for visiting the Lingotto was the Eately, a converted warehouse full of foods inspired by the slow food movement. We had a lunch of swordfish there before returning with full bags on no.18 bus, a rough packed ride.

We then drove down to Chiresco, which we had visited last year, this time getting into the aire, which previously had been full of an Octoberfest. We had a lovely evening stroll, enjoying the views from the Bastion, and the old lime trees with a warning of prosecution if walking amongst in a storm. Also the castle where Joanne the Mad sent a lover to his death in 1368, when he arrived too tired for an assignation,  and in the same a year the Duke of Clarence, son of Edward 3rd, married here then died shortly afterwards from eating too many truffles! 

In the evening we wandered into the town for a glass of wine, this really is a lovely place.

Thursday 25th. A lovely restful day with perfect weather. Pleasantly warm with a light breeze! I wandered into town a couple of times, drawing and admiring the buildings. The town is designed on a grid pattern, and it’s interesting to walk as many permutations as possible, with lots of lovely little surprises, doorways, wall paintings, windows and balconies. So many bricked up archways and patterns. 

I had intended to draw in the main historic piazza this morning but it was full of a market, so again moved to the Santiago della Madonna del Popola, a red brick built church with an interior that is full of white, pink and powder blue details, including 200 angels! Incredibly rich, and delicious.

After shopping in the market, we had lunch before I ventured out again, could spend an age just wandering, yet the town is quite compact, with a triumphal white arch at one end of the high street, 1688, in thanks for delivery from the plague, and another arch at the opposite end, built to balance the other one, which they never quite found the money to finish. In the evening we went out for a white wine once more, watched the swallows round the clock tower, tried to ignore the news when I got the Internet, and walked around the town’s star shaped defences. We counted the lime trees on one piece, and 19 out of 43 struck by lightening, but survived! Unbelievable weather, breakfast, and last thing sitting outside the van, yet pleasant during the day! 

Friday 26th. Another busy day walking, painting, eating and drinking. I managed to draw my picture in the central square,  while some very noisy children prepared for an evening concert, don’t think I could manage to be a teacher in Italy! We had lunch in Il Giardino di Ghilot, then set off to draw an ancient church, much altered and the front looked more like a patchwork. My painting seemed much improved after a couple of glasses of wine!

There are machines labelled ‘Control’ out side lots of the chemists,  and lots of Nonnos pushing around solo bambinos.  Less admirable are the machines selling cigarettes, though I don’t notice very many people smoking. We set off to listen to the children’s concert, a stunning setting in front of the triumphal arch. Even the recorders didn’t sound too bad! Drink and evening walk as before! Better move on before we take roots, houses prices seem much cheaper here and even saw a retirement flat advertised! 

Saturday 27th. We drove 6 miles to another favourite, Castiglione Falletto, in the middle of a UNESCO landscape of vineyards and hilltop towns. On my way to paint around the castle, I popped into a favourite restaurant and was so proud to book a table in Italian, understanding  the questions of how many and name but completely failing when he asked what time, resorted to holding holding up fingers, then he said he could speak English! However did understand someone asking the way to the castle, even if could only point the way! 

We had a lovely evening in Locanda de Centro, lots of tiny courses, and the waiter said he recognised us from the autumn (!) We felt really at home,  but perhaps it’s as well for our bank balance that we can’t come any more frequently. We promised to be back!  

Sunday 28th. We drove up into the Po valley once more, as usual flat, hot and uninspiring before turning into hills that I thought promised better scenery, but in fact the tight valleys were full of railway lines, motor way as well as our road  and industry. However  everywhere there were knots ofmpoppies and in places whole fields! Where the valley widened there were large marshalling yards. Eventually we turned off into a smaller valley which took us to Torriglia , rather like an Indian hill station ( which I haven’t seen) with houses dotted in the trees, or Sintra in Portugal, which I have! 

We had an afternoon wander into the town,  which has a ruined medieval castle high above, which we didn’t quite reach, and lots of steep streets, with many houses decorated with Trompe l’oeil decorations around the windows. Encouraging that some of them were quite recent. It is good to see old decorative skills still being practiced to such a high standard.  The town was busy but lacked the charm of our previous destinations.  However the church, decorated for today’s first communion had magnificent modern metal doors which depicted events during WW2, and a local hero. 

When we returned to the town in the evening, there was a large gathering outside the church, which went inside before 8.30. Many other people flocked into the  church, notably middle aged men, the service only lasted for a mere 20 minutes, we could only wonder if it was anything to do with the partisan parade we had seen advertised for earlier in the day. The night did not prove advertised cold as we were expecting at 1165 feet.

Wednesday 29th. We gradually wound our way down thought wooded hillsides and a surprising number of settlements to the coastal plain.  It was amazing just how many people lived on such steep hill sides,  and also surprising to see so many snow warnings, about tyres, snow ploughs so close to the Mediterranean! The coastal strip was just as we imagined, and our destination of San Rococo,  turned out to be a car park with a view of  a heavily developed coastline.

So we took the (much cheaper) motorway and headed south. As we passed Carrara,  we could see the mountains behind, the white was marble from the abundant quarries, most sought after, used for Micaelangelo’s David (flawed), Marble Arch in London and Rodin’s The Kiss. We turned inland and there were quarries and cutting yards at every turn. We climbed again,  as well as quarries the mountains were very sparse and sheer, we then  went through a tunnel, and down the other side. The north east facing mountainside was tree covered but the very few houses and one small village were all in ruins. 

Ìn the valley we arrived at Castelnuevo de Garfagnane but the aire was a long uninspiring way from anything interesting so we drove on to Barga, and parked under the  walled town.  The Duemo was high above the town,  had a very imposing front face, started in the 9th cent, lots of work after the 1920 earthquake.  Inside was very dark and vast, the nave empty, apart from an incredible 12th century pulpit, stories of Annunciation, and Jesus’s birth in charming detail, also a 12th century wooden St Christopher behind the altar, who reminded me of the Salisbury Giant. 

We wandered through the walled town, lots of squares, and the house of a painter, Bruno Cordati, which I visited,  the rooms as interesting as the paintings themselves. In one square there were a group of expats having a drink at an adjacent table, there seem to be a lot in this town.