Overnight, as normal, we had a little rain but by the morning this had stopped and our journey home started. There is no doubt in June or my minds we will be returning. In fact when the time is right for us to live this lifestyle permanently, about 2020, we will be bouncing from mountain range to mountain range. We both love the rugged views and even more the rugged driving.
Our aim was to stop near Reims so we could Carrefour shop. However we left picking an Aire too late. We aimed for one we had used a couple of years ago on the return from Lac Annecy but it was full. The handy app showed another nearby but when we could locate it and asked a local he shook his head saying there wasn’t one, despite there being a sign up on the wall of a house (put no parking places). We headed back to the motorway and picked a small Aire and slept well.
From there we moved on in the morning towards Calais for a bit of shopping. We found the fuel at the Auchan in Avenue Roger Salengro at least 20 cents a litre cheaper than the motorways. When you are filling up with over 80 litres that is more than enough for a #Clewleystopsforcoffee treat.
By the time we get home we will have travelled 3750 Kms, 2343 miles. Our 18 Overnight stops were around £360 (including 4 nights at campsites which accounted for about £230). The tolls were around £225 plus £23 for the Swiss Heavy Duty Tax as we are over 4 Tonnes). We used Tesco points towards the EuroTunnel and ended up paying about £30.
Update from the Motorhome parking at Citie Europe.
We have used the Motorhome parking here many times and today was the first time we have ever witnessed any suspicious activity. While cooking June saw a guy trying to get into a Hymer parked behind us and against the wooded area. Fortunately the van was locked and occupied. The guy ran off into the woods. Bob went to have a ‘look’ but he had long gone. As always security should be taken seriously as you would at home. We never leave the van unlocked or unalarmed. I have other security devices (including my big Maglite) fitted to the Motorhome and ways of monitoring it while we are away. There is kit out there folks please find it and use it, but never stop living the dream.
I write this from a beautiful Aire at almost 2200 metres and with stunning views all around. But first can I have a little rant? There are two categories of motorists I detest; apart from killers of course, they are drivers who do not thank you for lettng them through and those that drive on the hard shoulder of a motorway when there is tailback. The former I am more inclined to think maybe it was just a bad day and they forgot or were listening to little Gertrude in the back and normally they would wave and smile at me for my good deed. HOWEVER the second group I really and permanently detest. Today we spent a couple of hours in a queue on the road that leads to St Gotthard’s tunnel. No idea what the cause was as we turned off to St Gotthard’s pass before we came across the mayhem. During this time at least 10 cars of differing nationalities insisted in undertaking. Now, puts on ex-traffic cops hat, the hard shoulder accounts for about 4 times the fatalities than the other three lanes added together (I think those stats are current, if not let me know ex-traffic lads). There is a good reason for the the hard shoulder, despite some UK bean counter deciding that ‘Managed Motorways’ are the way ahead. The emergency services use them to make to the scene to save life and have been trained to do so safely… Yes I know some need the toilet and don’t have the luxury of one at the rear their vehicle, many were in fact pulling over and having a quick wee….male and female. The oiks that we witnessed today we just careless at the best. What they are implying, I think, is their day is far more important that yours and mine who wait patiently. End rant, I thank you.
Maybe I should have more compassion for my fellow law breakers! Yes, we are now legal in Switzerland. Last night I discovered that our vehicle should have a Form 15.19. (Don’t forget the dot). As we are over 4 tonnes we should have purchased said form as soon as we crossed the border some three days ago…… My only excuse your honour, as feeble as it is, is that I hadn’t planned to come into Switzerland on our freestyle trip and hadn’t researched Switzerland too much.
Our dilemma was, do we just carry on and hope the rozzers don’t stop us or do we return to Italy, do a quick U turn and pretend that was our first entry. We went for the latter. We are normally reasonabley law abiding folk, and while Clewley’s luck has served me well, I wasn’t sure my IPA card could get me out of a ticket. So off we went back down the very wet valley to the border post at Luino. A few clicks later and I managed a U turn to saunter back. Having stopped that the customs point I asked for the 15.19 and was told I don’t need one as my vehicle wasn’t big enough. Not big enough? Doesn’t he know a Clewley when he sees one. Anyway I paid my 32.50 Swiss Francs and we were legal again. Hoorah!
Having stocked up with goodies we joined the motorway and you’ve heard the rest as far as that road is concerned. We never intended going through the tunnel as the St Gotthard’s pass looked far more fun. Time lapse to follow folks…
Whoever Gottard is his pass is almost spectacular (saving that word for later and also we couldn’t see too much through the mist ). His pass first opened in the 13 century according to Andrew Sykes novel Crossing Europe on a bike called Reggie….great read by the way Andrew if you ever read this.
Having completed this pass in the Motorhome, poor Andrew cycled it!, and as we reached the commit moment for Furkapass (you at the back stop sniggering now!) the gear box jumped into neutral. Right on a roundabout. It took a few minutes but soon we were on our way but I could read June’s face she was a little worried it may happen again. Well relying on Clewley’s luck we continued over the aforesaid pass….I am not saying it again ’cause you’ll only laugh again.
Now Gottard must have been really pee’d off at the discovery of FP as it is truly Stunning. Not knowing where to look next there were lots of ooing and wows. Basically you just zigzag up the up to 2000 meters and then zigzag back down only to do it up one more time to the night’s stop at the top of Grimselpass. When we get back I will upload a gallery of photos for this trip but it make take a while to select those we want…
We were aiming for an Aire at Berghaus near Grimselpass but there is a traffic light system that regulates going up the pass and the return journey. I mistook the red light as a pass blocked so we found another spot for just £7 .
And finally, why is this post entitled “20 miles later”? That was the distance, as the crow flies, between last night’s and tonight’s locations. However, a swift trip to Italy, a hunt for a decent supermarket, a two hour traffic jam and a stop for lunch added up to eight hour driving day……oh to have wings!
Heavy storms overnight made the packing away of the girls tent a little damp to say the least. Still we were on the road by 10.00 and off to the supermarket so carefully plotted on TomTom. Well had it not been a Swiss holiday we would have shall we say…. Note to self, check holidays of the countries you are visiting before the food runs low. Thankfully we needed fuel so picked up the basics in a service station before heading up the valley.
First point to stop was the dam just a few clicks along the winding road. There appear to be quite a few Swiss drivers who love hugging the central white line. No matter if they have a drop on their side or a cliff…they don’t like to drive on the edge…just saying.
The car park for the dam is quite small and after waiting a few minutes for a space June noticed a few people walking towards the dam entrance from the north. Just a few hundred metres further along were several parking places with room for the Motorhome and these were free. Back at the dam, as I think I had mentioned yesterday, there is a bungee jumping platform. Sadly we didn’t have a spare 250 Swiss francs so we gave that a miss….this time. We watched a couple of lads take the jump, one of the longest in Europe. Bob now fluent in Swiss asked for a sticker and ended up with a map of the valley, but hey the map was free. Driving up this valley was just stunning. I know I use that word a lot but it was, promise. I could prove it by boring you with footage from the Road Hawk we have fitted to the front screen but I guess you would rather take my word for it. (May get some time lapse for tomorrow though as we go over the Alps).
We stopped at Lavertezzo where there is a double arched bridge, and a geocache if you are up for it too. Parking a few hundred metres north of the bridge at 2 francs an hour or you can get the Verzasca Parking Card from info points, restaraunts, campsites and the machines with a green background. The water is so clear at Lavertezzo there is a company that does dive trips there. Well I guess if you have no coast you have to make the most of what you have.
To be honest it looked great fun and the water was very very clear. Having grabbed a geocache and managed to keep our feet dry we went back to the Motorhome fed the meter again and took lunch at the riverside. Amy, of course, went swimming and deserves a medal…the water was a tad cold. The rocks along this valley are full of mica (see I did learn something from that OU geology course) and glisten in the sunlight. Yes the sun was out!!
Après lunch we made our way to Sonogno (Son-non-yo) which was to be our camp for the night. And what a site. The village is, yes you’ve guessed it, stunning…no really it is look.
The Aire is at the end of the car park and for a grand total of €16 a night we have water and dumping facilities in a beautiful Swiss valley. And the ticket covers us for use of the car parks in the valley until tomorrow at 19.00. Just a 2 minute walk to the village this Aire is really well positioned. The village has a few souvenir shops, a restaurant and cafés. There is a beautiful church looking over what I guess must be the village green.
Today the sun god has come out….the skies are as blue as blue can be and not a cloud to be seen. The site was really quite quiet during the night helped by the barriers being closed to cars at 10.00 pm. We did see a security guard patrolling during the evening but how much of that continued after dark I don’t know.
It looks like we will be carrying out the 3 S’s today, swimming, shopping and siesta’ing. Chloe did say if it was sunny today she would swim out to a pontoon in the lake with Amy…time will tell:)
The lake frontage at the campsite gives great access to the water. Amy was in a quick as she could be. She is a real water baby. As the morning progressed we were joined by a floating bar. This boat went from mooring spot to mooring spot around Lake Maggiore selling ice creams and drinks.
By this time the girls were out on the pontoon so we were unable to bankrupt ourselves for a second day running.
The afternoon saw us back in the town…. Wander through a market and the towards the old town where we had a few beers and as we were not in the lake front area much cheaper…..more similar to London prices.
I think if we were here on own own June and I could stay in Locarno a lot longer. There is a Sosta just down from the campsite and while this is not much more than a car park the two of us wouldn’t need much more. The girls have enjoyed the lake frontage and swimming and to be honest our fellow campers have been well behaved and some a source of almost constant conversation. With comments like ‘ what is she doing wearing those?’ And ‘what music is that…our speaker system can easily out do theirs if we tried’ oh and the ‘are they real?’ Meanwhile Bob just sat there drinking yet another beer….. And asking why do so many people insist in walking across our pitch? It wouldn’t happen on a Caravan Club site I can tell you!
During the night we were woken by a huge thunderstorm. It was the loudest I had ever heard and I guess that some of that would have been echoing around the mountains….
The day was a bit of a wash out in that it rained for most of it but we still managed a wander into town for a #Clewleystopsforcoffee and ice cream.
Cannobio really is a pretty little town with cobbled stone alleyways linking the bigger streets. It is a must for a return on a dry sunny day so we can take a boat trip out on the lake.
Tomorrow may be a move to Locarno, 30 minutes north and in Svizzera. Still on the glacier formed Lake Maggiore though. Switzerland at this point is greatly Italian speaking. Italy only became unified in 1861 and even now residents have more feeling of loyalty to their region than their country.
The site has 360 pitches and typically of European sites the pitches are very close… Having said that we had a site big enough for the van and the girls tent. The cost came as a bit of a surprise having spent €10-16 for Sostas here and there… It was €199 for 2 nights….but that did include electricity (although that was an extra)! Switzerland was living up to it’s expensive reputation. This was only to be compounded when we had ice creams and coffee later in the town (another €60!). However it was a pretty little harbour with free wifi here and there. I even managed to download the Switzerland map for my Map.me app.
Before we visited town though the girls had a quick swim in the lake at the site’s own beach. Not really a beach but a waterfront access which is rare for a campsite on the lake.
Having downloads the new map and the Sostas for Switzerland I picked out one at the end of the Verzasca Valley in a village called Sonogno. Part way along the valley is the Verzasca Dam, which is one of the highest dams in Europe and used in the opening scene of James Bond Golden Eye and home of the alleged highest bungy jump location in the world. The Sosta is at over 900 metres the girls may need thier sleeping bags.
As we sit and chat over a glass or two…… Peach tea for the girls of course, the next years trip is already being discussed…. This is driven by the girls and at the moment looks like this.
Amy’s view of the trip so far,
Pisa was a quick trip. We first went for a cheeky little coffee ( Even though I don’t like coffee so I just had a coke). Soon after that the tower slowly came in to sight with all the tourists doing the tourist pose of holding the tower up. We we made our way round the tower , photo bombing on the way. We then saw the cathedral, it is massive I must tell you and many photos were taken. We made our way through the market and then we had to take the tourist pose. We then made our way through the tourists and back to the Motorhome.
When we got to Florence the first things we found were the midges. That wasn’t fun. It soon became evening and we wandered down to the to the viewing point. We were waiting there for a while for the sun set and in that time there was a wedding and a flash mob choir for a proposal. Then instead of a lovely sun set we got a thunder and lightning storm but the cathedral was still beautiful.
When we got to the camp site we managed to get a beautiful pitch which over looked the lagoon and Venice. We got a boat out there which was a 30 min boat ride yet on the same boat we had had a tourist guide which was reading the book about Venice which didn’t fill me with confidence. When we got off the boat we went down the path way and found a lovely violin man a he was playing Just One Cornetto (O Sole mio). Once we had had a look at all the shops and bought what we had to buy, we got on a gondolier which was very fun and we manage to photo bomb a lot of photos. All together it was one of many places which stunned me to the ground.
There in not much to say about this place except rain . This is because we stopped there one night and there was the biggest thunder storm EVER and the other night it was -20 degrees.
Anyway this was one of the best trips I have ever been on Bob so thank you love you to the moon and back
Left Venice by 9.00 and having failed to find a supermarket (seemingly non-existent in Italy!) we headed off to the lakes.
We arrived at the Sosta in Cannobio on the north west shore of Lake Maggiore to the customary clap of thunder and associated downpour (and again we arrived mid-afternoon so spaces available. By early evening it was full). To be honest though, so far we have only had to cancel one planned activity and that was the cable car in Chamonix. For the remainder of the trip we have arrived to rain but by the time we were in an position to explore the rain had stopped and the weather was fine.
En route June had set the washing machine to work. We have a plastic box with lid and fill it with water and soap. This is then put in the shower tray with any small items that needed washing. The drive then vibrates the washing and all we have to do is rinse it. I wish I could claim it as my idea, however, I read about it on a Motorhome forum somewhere.
Cannobio is a very pretty town with cobbled paths and beautiful lake frontage. There are boat trips from the town and the Lake Maggiore Express which is a combination of boat and train rides around the lake. This trip can be made either clockwise or anti clockwise. And if this rain keeps up there may be a more detailed paragraph or two about it.
The main part of the town is along the waterfront with numerous restaurants and cafés. With a Carrefour Market along the main street.
The trained eye may even pick out a kebab shop….. But I have been studying this subject for many years and have reached the status of kebabologist. Training started an a young age while serving in TVP at various towns around Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and my specialist area of Oxfordshire. I only just failed the ‘keeping the kebab intact on the dash of a moving vehicle while on a blue light run’ but I did get honours in the ordering from height while on the Air Support Unit.
A cloudy start as we made our way to the office 25 yards from the campsite entrance to grab 4 tickets for a return boat trip to Venice. At €13 each…. Not bad for a 20 minute trip each way but be sure to get to the jetty ahead of time – we took the 10am out and 16.30 back, both of which were pretty chaotic! The boat takes you into Zattere where it is only a quick walk to the main points of interest.
As we walked towards the centre we passed a old chap with a violin. His face was ‘lived in’ and I am sure he could tell a story or two, he looked a real character.
For June and I it was a return trip but as the day cleared and the sun shone down it became a different Venice to the spring time of our last trip.
A quick stop at the Ponte dell’Accademia for some Time Lapse photography (will be posted when we get home) and on to the Piazza St Marco.
One of the things to do on June’s list was a ride on a gondola. So after lunch in a little square we made our way back to the outskirts of Piazza St Marco and paid our €80 for a 30 minute trip. It’s the same price for up to 6 passengers and the boats are owned by the gondolier. It is a ‘got to do’ really and none of us had been on one before. There was no ‘just one cornetto’ sang to us but we did get a bit of history as we were gondoliered along. Apparently you train with your father for a year, then go to college to study English, French and Spanish together with Venetian history. You can then take a driving test. After all that you still have to take a swimming/life-saving test before you are qualified…. Or so our Marco Polo told us anyway.
Back to the camp site for few domestic chores and planning where to go next. We knew we wanted to go towards the lakes towards the second week and it now looks like we will be off to Lake Maggiore. We have been using an IPhone app called Parking by Campercontact an app by the Netherlands Camper Club. It has proved its worth as you can down load maps for the area you are looking to travel to. There are other camping apps but they do not have the download option. I have also saved the sites listed as POIs for TomTom.
The other app I have found really useful is maps.me. This is £2.99 and again offers the option of downloading the areas you are travelling to. The maps are really detailed showing Supermarkets cafés etc.
A simple walk into town took us straight to the Ponte Vecchio. First things first #Clewleystopsforcoffee and then onto Piazza del Duomo. The first stone of the Cathedral, as we see it today, was laid in 1296 and the building was complete 170 years later. The exterior work is stunning and not matched inside, which is quite plain when compared with some other cathedrals around the world.
We bought a 10 Euro ticket each which gave us access to the top of the dome (access to the main cathedral is free). This same ticket also gave us access to Giotto’s Bell tower and The Baptistery of San Giovanni. The climb to the Cupola and to the top of the Duomo was 460 steps with only 320 to the top of the Bell Tower. The passage ways can be narrow and I didn’t envy the guy I passed at the bottom of the tower who had 4 cycle helmets strapped to his rucsac and was upward bound. At some points I had been flat against the wall while someone travelling in the opposite direction was likewise as ours backs made friends.
Both the Duomo and the post lunch trip to the Bell tower offered great spots for photos across the city
Leaving the Florence Sosta which for Motorhomers among you has a black and grey water dump and fresh water tap, we made to the campsite of Fusina in Venice. As we neared Venice the rain started…. well to be honest it poured and poured. Fusina, on the mainland, is really well located with a pedestrian ferry to the central Venice. Partly due to this though it wasn’t cheap at 54 Euros a night plus an extra 5 Euros if you wanted WiFi access by reception.
Going to have a little rant now…. If you charge what you think is a fair price of 54 Euros, and I guess bearing in mind it was the peak season and it was on the outskirts of Venice and you insist on charging and extra 5 Euro for WiFi make sure it covers all the site! Rant over!
We picked a pitch with water frontage hoping the rain wouldn’t bring it closer, and plugged in. Ahhhh aircon tonight if we need it. For the past few nights we had….well I say we but I mean June and I, had the benefit of a fan above our bed that could run off ships power. It was a God send, if I was a believer, and I will thank our friends who had it fitted when they owned the van. I can remember, and am reminded quite often of this, saying when we bought the van “we’ll never use it and as for those hydraulic levellers I may get them removed for more weight capacity”…. So far we have used the levellers almost every opportunity and it does give a certain smugness ( yes I know that isn’t a nice trait) when we arrive and I get out with the remote to play ‘how level can I get this this time’
Anyway Venice. As I look out of the window, having been assured by the lady that took my passport at reception that Venice is there in-between the rain laden clouds, I get a quick flash and clap of thunder….that storm is back with vengeance! At least we’re warm and dry in the van and we didn’t laugh too much at the poor souls whose pitches are now under water or even having water pumped off them! Well she did assure me that tomorrow was going to be sunny.
As we left Pisa it was pouring down….. hey it was Italian rain …who cares…. As we drove into Pisa we picked up a sign indicating Motorhome parking….. we followed these excellent tourist information signs….. until they stopped in with no parking to be seen. But we have sussed the Italians out now and managed to find a road side parking slot near the river. A 15 minute walk took us to tower that is a little skew wiff.
The Campo Dei Miracoli (the main area by this skew wiff tower) was full of tourists all going for ‘that’ shot of someone holding the tower up. We managed a couple of those photos before we returned to the van. We did look at going up the tower but it seemed the tickets gave you a time slot, ours would have been 2 hours after buying the ticket.
Having ‘done’ Pisa we made towards Florence and another Sosta. This one was about 20 minute walk to the Ponte Vecchio, but more of that later. That evening we walked for about 20 minutes to Pizzale Michelangelo which is a stunning view point looking out over the city. While we were there we witnessed a flash mob Choir and a proposal of marriage in the middle of the performance. All as the sunsetting amidst a thunder storm with lightning off to the west.
Having left our campsite and via Carrefour we decided to head down the “scenic” coast road and not the motorway. Unfortunately you can’t see too much of the beach as for about 50km it is hidden by one long strip of hotels and beach bars all with their regimented rows of loungers. To reach Pisa we had to turn inland and then the adventure began……There was a diversion you see and they seem to run out of signposts very quickly. We were going so well until the signs ran out and then even the girls noticed we had gone past one particular junction 3 times. So with all thoughts of scenic drives gone we headed to the motorway… That took us to Lucca… OK Pisa can wait for a couple of days. I am sure.
We had a campsite in mind and Tom-Tom took us straight there.
We arrived during siesta time and while waiting we were joined by several other vans – there was going to be a rush to the office when it opened….. Could Bob beat the 3 French vans and the German to the best pitch? The site Il Serchio was 28 Euros a night and had all we needed…. laundry facilities, showers etc (albeit we can shower in the van) together with electric. Again we can cope without mains as we have a fairly big inverter that will even run the coffee machine.
Once all plugged in we made to town, a 15 minute walk. Lucca had been sold to us as a quaint little town with nice ice cream. Once in the walled town it was clear to see why; narrow streets and an abundance of coffee shops and gelateria. We settled on one that served a multitude of combinations including vanilla and Balsamic Vinegar.
We then had a wander around the town and even managed to drop off a Travel Bug in a Geocache….
Having taken the decision that the weather was too changeable in Chamonix (3rd time lucky maybe for the view from the Aguille de Midi?), we headed off to Italy after a short incursion into Switzerland. With the cost of the Mont Blanc tunnel being around €150 for a vehicle of over 3m and because Bob likes a challenging drive and we are all partial to a photo opportunity, we decided to go over the Alps via the Grand St Bernard pass.
As we were driving along one section, June looked down to the side and noticed it was along way down. As we turned another hairpin bend the cloud below suddenly cleared and we were treated to a spectacular view of Vallee du Rhone so we pulled into a viewpoint to jump out and take photos. Well June would have, but at this point we realised her camera was still in the drawer at home but hey, we only had another 12 devices capable of taking still photos!
We had the option of either going through a tunnel or taking the pass right over the mountain top – no choice really. The pass was longer but the drive stunning and we were in no rush. A succession of hairpins took us down into Italy and sunshine and we came out of the mountains into a huge agricultural plain which seemed to be growing mostly rice.
Back on the motorway we headed towards Genova (Genoa) and the coast and then mile after mile of either tunnel or viaduct…..The Italians do seem to take the most direct route through the mountains! We were aiming for a sosta a little further down the coast at Marinella di Sarzana about 50km north of Pisa with the idea being that we could have an early start to the town to do some exploring. At €10 a night this was a basic site but had fresh water and the facility to dump grey water – enough for us for the night. Across the road from the site was a beach and we had hoped to be able to go for a swim but the thunder storm continued to haunt us and the sea was too rough. We managed to find one bar open for a quick drink before the rain really set in and the girls managed a quick paddle.