Final thoughts on our Italian adventure

Never again? …………..We’re not sure, John was adamant and then started to make a list of items we’d need next year. Kim thinks he’s hoping that JustGo will blacklist us after the accident

Our highlight was the drive up to the (closed!) Pennes Pass, it was amazing!

Our motorhome has had a variety of names from ‘blooming Fiat’ to ‘pile of junk’ although at some point, while trying to climb a steep hill, John was shouting ‘come on girl, you can do it’ – but that was only once!

We still have the M25 to negotiate….. and watch this space to see if JustGo lure us back with a tempting 2019 offer. One thing is certain, we’re going small if we do it again.

Grottes and other adventures

Yesterday started with a railway trip to the Grottes de Han. These are limestone caves formed over the last few million years as water dissolves the rocks and produces some fantastic sculptures from Stalagmites and Stalactites.

We were keen and caught the first tram out of town

Our guide, Etienne, was fantastic. He is an 8th generation guide in the caves. The 9th generation is also a guide. As to the 10th generation, she is only 5!

The cave system is the largest in Belgium at 17km, luckily our tour was only 2km! There is evidence that tourists were visiting the caves since the 18th century. This photo was taken in the cave discovered by Etienne’s grandfather.

We left Han with the aim of visiting Talbot House in Poperinge on our way to Ieper. We did 180 miles and 3 hours without stopping. We were determined and arrived at 3:30.

Talbot House opened in 1915 as a place where soldiers, regardless of rank, could spend a few days to relax before returning to the front. It was run as Everyman’s Club and the philosophy was that rank was left at the door and that you helped others less able.

The house felt very peaceful and the visit comes with a complimentary cuppa – hospitality was, and still is, paramount here.

The garden, described as the most important room in the house, continued the calm and peaceful theme. Neville Talbot and Tubby Clayton were truly remarkable men. Interesting fact: Tubby Clayton was chaplain to the Bedfordshire Regiment.

The evening ended with The Last Post at the Menin Gate

Belgium here we come!

Our Rattle (not sure that’s the correct term for a group of motor homes but it seems appropriate!) of motor homes looked idyllic in the morning sunshine

David had done some research and the Lalique Glass Museum was close to our route to Rochefort so we decided to give it a go. We drove through the Vosges mountains on lovely quiet, but narrow and winding roads. It was surprisingly easy.

The museum was stylish and the exhibits, as you would expect, were stunning. Rene Lalique’s creativity, and the skill that continues to go into making the pieces, are quite amazing.

Even the Salon de The, on site, was elegant.

We headed out of France, through Luxembourg, into Belgium, about 200 miles, and arrived at the campsite in Han-sur-Lesse, near Rochefort late afternoon.

It’s very basic but it does have the attraction of the tourist train running around the outside every 10 minutes. Somewhere round the back of the site are the Grottes De Han and a wildlife park full of bears! There’s also a group of very drunk Belgian lads whose flabby pasty torsos (and bottoms) have been on display! Not quite sure how the night will pan out!

Ken and Kim were determined to sample the Belgian classic dish of Frites and mayonnaise, it was a short walk into town, which made a pleasant change. Most of our sites have been fairly isolated so a choice of restaurants made us feel very cosmopolitan!

After the biggest plate of ham and chips ever, a walk rounds very small town centre was needed. Look at the English tourists confused by the sculpture with a man and bear on the inside,

The journey to Saverne

Sadly we didn’t make it to the Zeppelin museum. The main disadvantage of driving a car 3.2m high and 7.4m long is that it’s blooming difficult to park! We sailed through Friedrichshafen without finding anywhere to park the monster truck, even the bus station was out of bounds despite us being a similar size. We definitely need to come back to Bodensee, there is much to see and do.

We stopped on a German Autobahn for an early lunch and Kim decided it was now or never. The road was wide and quiet so she decided to drive.

Little did she know that it would take another 4.5 hours to travel 150 miles! We have no photos but had a fantastic drive through the Black Forest, through snow and past ski lifts.

The satnav and google maps were in dispute over our route and a number of options were discounted as roads narrowed and weight limits reduced to 2.5 tonnes. At one point we stopped for fuel and by the time we came out of the garage, both satnav and phone had decided we needed to turn around… why? We will never know!!!

We were surprised to arrive at the site at Saverne only 10-15 minutes after everyone else.

It was al fresco eating for us tonight

Another 180 miles tomorrow to Rochefort in Belgium before our final night in Poperinge

More about Lindau

We felt we didn’t do it justice yesterday and, as we’re in a traffic jam trying to get to Friedrichshafen to visit the Zeppelin Museum, we thought we’d give you a bit of history!

The Mangturm, with its colourful roof, dates back to the 12th century and was built as part of the town’s medieval fortifications. It served as lighthouse until 1856 and is currently used for storytelling events.

The harbour is guarded by the Bavarian Lion and the ‘new’ Lighthouse. The harbour used to be owned by Deutsche Bahn before being sold to the town of Konstanz in Baden-Wurttemberg. It was only returned to Bavaria in 2010, after a long dispute. Can you imagine a German row over a harbour?

We’re aiming for Saverne in Alsace, fingers crossed we get there before Reception closes at 5:30. Only 180 miles to go after Friedrichshafen!

A day by the Bodensee and then there were 8

We cycled into Bregenz this morning. It was only 4.5km but some of the signage along the way was a little alarming.

You’ll be relieved to know that we arrived unscathed and headed for the cable car which took us to the top of Mount Pfander. The views were stunning and we were treated to a Zeppelin Air-Ship flying past. Can you spot the sea plane?

We were back down in Bregenz for the 12:30 ferry to Lindau and look who we bumped into as we waited to board.

In typical German style the ferry was looking its best…..

…… and the approach into Lindau harbour was very pretty

We abandoned the bikes, and our friends, and found a little bakerei for lunch and decided it would be the healthy option

Well, apples and apricots were involved so it must be healthy!

We cycled around the island and then back to the campsite and suddenly six became 8. Jacky and Ken’s friends, Sue and John, joined us for the night on their way home to Datchworth from Malaga

The problem with John and Sue arriving was they brought this with them…

At just under 6m long, with everything you would need, we all had motorhome envy. This was shortly followed by bike envy as we all took turns to ride around the campsite on their electric bikes, very impressive – another new experience to add to the list.

Off to Saverne in France tomorrow, the end of the trip is fast approaching. It’s a shame we can’t stay here longer, there’s so much to see and do.

Next stop Germany…

As we prepared to leave the land of magical showers and amazing views, Google Maps gave us an alternative route. Only an extra 35 minutes on our journey and it looked far more interesting than a run up the motorway.

The message on the caravan says it all. Surprisingly no-one else wanted to join us….. some people have no sense of adventure!

We had a fantastic drive through the Austrian Tirol. The roads were a joy, even in a Fiat motorhome, and snow capped mountains kept us company.

Sorry about the quality of photos through the bug splattered windscreen!

We arrived at Lindau am See, on the shore of Bodensee late afternoon with just enough time to rent some bikes and cycle to Lindau Islet.

Natterer See

This campsite deserves a post all to itself. It’s very special with breathtaking views, fantastic facilities and we’re considering staying here and making a mad dash to Calais on Sunday!

This is the view we woke up to.

And the showers left Kim speechless. She came out with warm, dry feet. John’s taunting chant of ‘communal showers’ is now redundant as a threat.

Finally, for when we get home, a couple of motorhome projects have been identified

If John is smart, he’ll track down the Citroen D model otherwise expect a conversion to be appearing on a driveway in Clophill soon! Of course, Matt would prefer the version with Maserati engine!

Lake Garda to Natter See (Innsbruck for those less well travelled than us!)

150 miles for us today. The aim is to meet up with Jane and David who are re-joining us for the rest of the trip.

Kim took a final walk down to the lake and the view was less hazy

John was a man on a mission, we were packed up and out by just after 9. The aim was to drive along Lake Garda as far as we could before joining the motorway for the rest of the journey.

We stopped for a cuppa and a photo opportunity. JustGo run a competition for the best photograph which could win a free trip next year. John is hating the thought of another trip but is also a man who likes to win

How could we fail to win? Snow, mountains, Lake Garda, trees and a JustGo van!!

We headed for the motorway and were making good time when Kim’s phone gave us an option! We could take a route over the top of the Dolomites’, rather than around, and it would only take an extra 38 minutes. We checked it on Colin’s special motorhome satnav and a good old fashioned map. It was a ‘main road’, what could possibly go wrong?

As an aside, Ken and Jacky are en route to join us, woohoo!

We left the motorway at Bolzano, and headed up towards Pennes Pass. We were cutting a chunk off the journey and amazing views beckoned. We weren’t disappointed and more competition photos presented.

An hour after leaving the motorway, this was what we saw

The blooming Pass was closed! We like to think we missed a sign further down but we did drive past one in disbelief! We had snow chains so debated whether or not to give it a go but common sense prevailed and we could at least turn around!

It was painful, but we re-traced our steps back to exactly the same place we’d left the motorway. Two hours lost and now it was a race against time to get to the campsite before Reception closed at 5.

It was embarrassing, everyone else had started behind us and arrived before us. John hates to finish last.

The site is amazing

And we’re all safely back together. Cheers!

Venice to Lake Garda

We woke up to the fact that John and Ken are both mosquito magnets. It was a glorious sunny morning John was dressed in jeans, long sleeved shirt and a hat pulled down over his ears. Rather than being pleased when Kim found mozzie repellant in the site shop, all he could do was grumble that it cost more than a decent bottle of wine!

Ken and Jacky were towed away by their new friend Lucca, we callously headed up to Lake Garda with a fridge full of their food and beer.

It’s been a short journey, only 80 easy miles, in the hope they will join us here later. It does appear that Ken has settled nicely into the Fiat showroom.

We only had to turn round once on our journey to Lazise and all local cars and buildings remained intact!

Entry to Camping La Quercia was interesting. We were met at the barrier by a uniformed member of staff who radioed our arrival to Reception. At Reception we were put in a golf buggy and taken to choose our pitch before being allowed to register. The van was photographed, I’m not sure if Interpol are on our trail following Thursday’s accident..

The van has been tagged, as have we…

We’ve also been given a lovely set of recycling bags, sustainability is taken very seriously here.

We get to keep these lovely bags but have to return our wristbands on departure!

It’s been glorious here, the afternoon has been spent reading by the van. We did venture down to the beach but, without our partners in crime, weren’t inclined to explore very far. The views across Lake Garda are beautiful.

The campsite makes it very clear that strangers are not welcome, thank goodness we have been tagged.

Ken and Jacky didn’t make it, Fiat want to do more tests on their van before they’ll release it. Apparently all the local hotels are full so they are spending the night in it. We have their wine, beer and, most importantly, their mattress topper. We’d offer to drop it all back but we’ve opened a bottle of wine.

We have everything crossed that they’ll join us at Natter See tomorrow. Please can you cross your fingers and toes too?

Venezia and trouble free (almost)

We waved bye bye to a rainy Florence, without needing a tractor to pull Ken and Jacky out (very disappointed!) The 180 miles to Camping Fusina, Venice were negotiated without detour, deviation or collision! John and I stocked up on supplies at a local Lidl and were booked into the campsite with minimal fuss. Camping Fusina is lovely (despite the unexpected mosquitos), van is on a flat pitch and we have views across the lagoon to Venice

Ken and Jacky arrived ahead of us, in limp home mode! Ken has renamed the site ‘Mozzie Central’ and they are waiting to hear whether their Motorhome can be fixed or the rest of their trip is done in a hire car and hotels. John is beside himself with jealousy. He’d done his best to wreck the van on Day 1 yet Ken managed it without trying.

After a variety of calls to JustGo and Fiat Assist, we took the local ferry into Venice for the afternoon and saw all we wanted in 2 1/2 hours! As you’d expect Venice is a very popular destination and very busy – we can’t imagine what it would be like during the summer.

Apologies to everyone who is horrified by that and here as some photos to try and redeem ourselves!

The ferry raced this gondola across the lagoon

Our first stop was Piazza San Marco

We were distracted by the competing live music from the restaurants around the square.

The prices were rather steep and we moved hastily on to the Bridge of Sighs which is famous for being the last sight of Venice that convicts had before leaving the city. Our source of this information was John who was last here 50 years ago

Our final ‘must see’ sight was Ponti di Rialto, another bridge with shops on! What we did like was the view down Canal Grande

Our walk back to the ferry was far quieter and we found a leaning tower. Sorry, too tired to investigate what it is!

Our final stop was a restorative beer in a quiet street near the ferry terminal.

We wandered back to the ferry terminal and the light went out as a massive cruise ship headed out to sea

I’m sure we could have had a fantastic meal in Venice but the campsite pizzeria had plenty of atmosphere and a jolly good pizza!

We wait to hear Jen and Jacky’s fate in the morning and it’s likely we’ll head up to Lake Garda (With or without them) rather than have a second night here. Will Fiat Assist live up to it’s name?

‘Whoops’ – A poem from Dot and Stan Bray

Oh Dear or dear what have you done?

And you thought going to Italy was fun.

You appear to have trouble finding you way

, whatever you do don’t extend your stay.

Get out quick,

In case you end up in the nick.

Remember to drive on the right,

If  not you might get another fright.

We hope no further trouble you will find,

That will give us peace of mind.

Lets hope the rest of the trip goes well,

and when you get back you will have a tale to tell.


We caught the bus into Florence and, with true pioneer spirit, got off earlier than advised when a local market caught our attention.

Next stop Duomo, it took us all of 20 minutes to walk around it, we admired the architecture before moving on.

Uffizi Gallery and Da Vinci’s Statue of David, tick., all done and dusted in 20 minutes.

David is photographed from the waist up to prevent embarrassment….As you can tell, we don’t really do culture so observing from the street suited us fine!

Ponte Vecchio, tick, an old bridge with shops on it like many in Italy. There was a minor delay as the sparkling jewellery shop windows caught Kim’s attention.

Our final destination was the Boboli Gardens. The gardens date back to the mid 16th century and are laid out behind the Pallazo Pritti, the main home to the Medici family in Florence. It was a hot day but the walk to the top of the garden was amazing – we could see across the city, all the way to snowy mountain tops.

Continuing our reptile theme, we found an obelisk similar to Cleopatras Needle resting on four tortoises. If anyone knows the history of this, please let us know

Exhausted, we caught the bus back to the campsite and treated ourselves to a visit to the local wine shop on our way past. We thought it might help us get up the hill to the van!

We’re off to Venice tomorrow which is just as well. The campsite is filling up with healthy looking people who are for the Florence half marathon

Our ‘Durrell’ moment

Breakfast in glorious sunshine, amongst the olive trees (and electricity pylons) and we have company……

This takes Kim right back to being 4 years old – you’re likely to have heard this before! On holiday in Switzerland her Dad taught her how to pick lizards up properly, by the tail! Cue lots of screaming as the lizard escaped and she was left with a wriggling tail in her hand, convinced she had just murdered it. Re-telling the story never failed to make Ken laugh and bizarrely installed a lifelong love of reptiles in Kim.

Day 2 – San Gimignano to Firenze

Leisurely start and the sun is shining, the views from the campsite are stunning.

San Gimignano was this morning’s destination.

We managed to remove the motor homes from the campsite without incident and caught the bus into town. We shall never know how the bus driver didn’t knock anyone over as he made his way round narrow streets not designed for vehicles.

San Gimignano is a medieval city of towers. At its peak, in the 14th/15th century, there were over 70 towers which were built as fortresses and signs of wealth and power.

The town is beautiful and it’s amazing to think it’s survived intact.

Kim and Jacky splashed out 5€ to go up into the Sylvestus Tower which has been converted into a very stylish, modern apartment. At no point we’re the rooms larger than 9ft square. It’s amazing what you can achieve over 11 floors.

The view from the terrace at the top was rather lovely.

Today’s attractions included a display of firefighting equipment, including a very ‘Dad’s Army’ Landrover lookalike (Fiat!)

We also found a novel use of an old pallet

After lunch, Jane and David headed for Siena while we aimed for Florence……. and we arrived safely with only one minor detour. Quite a success, we think!

The campsite is tired (as are we), but the sun shone and we explored the area. Not much to say about that, a 10 minute walk had us on a main road with not a bar or restaurant in sight. On top of that, Ken and Jacky’s van is stuck on their pitch. It’s been raining a lot here and the site is very soft and muddy. It looks like a tractor may be needed to pull them out on Sunday which would be fun. We’re feeling a little smug, we got stuck on a pitch but managed to get out (without damaging anything). We’re now parked between two electricity pylons but you can’t have everything in life.

Our day ended with a proper camping meal, cooked on minuscule gas stoves and eaten at a picnic table

Night night, we’re catching a bus into Florence in the morning.

The Italian Job 2018 – day 1

Where to start, we have had a whole adventure in one day!

The day started brilliantly. We left home at 04:45, arrived at Heathrow just after 6 and flew into sunshine at Pisa.

Despite the taxi driver getting lost and needing to use Kim’s phone for directions, we were introduced to our new homes and left the factory about 3. Plenty of time for shopping at the supermarket and getting to our campsite by 5pm!

A leisurely evening in Sam Gimignano was within reach and then the adventure started (or it all went horribly wrong, depending on your view of life!)

We took a wrong turn, leaving the supermarket, the satnav recalculated and within 20 minutes this is what we saw…..

By the time we had turned the van around,here is a sample of the damage we had done. It was just awful.

A very helpful Italian detangled us from the mess, JustGo advised on leaving a note for them to deal with insurance claims and the local pharmacy lent pen and paper for writing a note. Kim used a mixture of mime and pidgin English to acquire said pen and paper, it was very stressful.

Our lovely, supportive friends had abandoned us and headed towards the Sosta at San Gimignano so we played catch up. It would be lovely to have a photo of the beautiful Tuscan hills we drove round but the reality was that we were lost, despite the satnav! Phone calls from Jane and Jacky followed, they were lost too. 5 minutes later we passed them, going in the opposite direction, there has to be a cheesy comedy film in there somewhere…..

Anyway, we all ended up at the planned Sosta, and it was revolting. Showers were shut, electricity was off and waste bins overflowing – could our day get any worse?

Thank goodness for Facebook, 5 minutes later we were all booked into Camping Boscetto Di Piemma with showers, a restaurant and trees.

Good food and wine and the stresses of the day are starting to fade, cheers….. hic