Kiri and


Revelation on the Riviera

January 20th, 2014 (by Steve)

When one imagines the Italian Riviera, it’s a picture of sun, sea, boats and lots of people in lycra on bikes. Well, that’s a pretty accurate picture, but maybe with a little more rain in January! We did have a couple of glorious days as well as the rain though.


As we travelled along the coast, we had been told that if we were passing near to San Remo, we had to visit Bussana Vecchia. Some of the time, we do what we’ve been told, so we stopped for the night by a marina in Arma di Taggia then the following morning we drove to Bussana Nuovo (“new” Bussana) and parked Bertha. Our destination was a village that had been ruined in an earthquake in the late 19th century and subsequently abandoned. Then, in the 1960s a group of hippies moved in and started creating art there. Their legacy is an exciting half-ruined village filled with artists, which is best reached on foot.


Bussana Vecchia was right up our street; especially as it was so quiet (we imagine it’s busier in the summer). We enjoyed exploring the alleyways and thinking about how great it was that something that was once seen as worthless was now a place of beauty once more. As it was so small though, we did feel as if we were intruding, so we were almost ready to leave when we arrived at Ronald’s place. Now Julien + Anais had told us that we had to go to Ronald’s place (the only house in the village with a windsurf outside!). We summoned courage and wandered into the garden, where we met a British guy called Roger, a Swiss guy called Max, a dog called Bea and a goat with an identity crisis (she thought she was a dog too). The few hours that followed were some of the best of the trip so far.


Roger + Max explained some of the history behind Ronald’s place; how the vision was to set up a place where artists could come and live for free; sharing all resources and working together. We were invited to join them and stay with them for a while; if it hadn’t been for the fact there was nowhere to leave Bertha and our time constraints, we might well have. It was just such an inviting and exciting model of community. After sharing coffee, having a look round and showing Pablo (another resident artist) how to set up a playlist of Lou Reed songs on the computer(!) we headed to Roger’s house/studio down the hill.


It was great to share time with Roger; getting a measure of what makes him tick and seeing the passion when he talked about his ways of working. Often when you see art in a gallery, it can seem a little sterile, whereas we were seeing pieces that he was working on in their natural environment. It’s not often that you’re asked by an artist for your opinion on whether a piece is complete… that’s a very deep question with any art! We learned a lot from Roger, and I think that Kiri particularly got a lot from that meeting… and in fact the whole time in Bussana Vecchia. She had a revelation that I’m sure will not come as a surprise to anyone who knows her; she’s born to paint.

From there we floated to the border on petrol fumes, as French petrol is sooo much cheaper, before heading towards the Verdon Gorge; Europe’s response to the Grand Canyon. We took half a day to just pootle around the southern lip of the gorge; stopping at every opportunity to breathe in the natural beauty. It was a gorgeous (sorry) day; if it hadn’t been a little on the chilly side, you could have mistaken it for summer and the place was deserted. Aside from Bertha being hit by a fallen rock (it’s ok, she’s fine, but it’s a reminder that those warning signs are there for a reason!), it was a perfect day.


And so from here we move south; a few more days of France, then we’ll be in sunny Spain.

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A tale of two cities…

January 12th, 2014 (by Steve)

Apparently every motorhome on the planet (well, at least in Italy) goes to Florence for New Year. Who knew? Well, we didn’t! Arriving at our planned stop for the night, we were just maneouvering into a space, when we were asked if we had a reservation? A reservation? But we’re free spirits. We float with the wind, we stop to smell the flowers, we don’t do reservations! Sadly, they were full, so we ended up in what appeared to be an equally busy motorhome car park across the way, but charging 25% more per night. Doh.

What followed was a cultural day in Florence; we appreciated it more than Rome, even if we did have to queue for 3 hours to get into the Ufizzi Gallery! It was worth the wait though, even if it was just to hear Kiri utter the words:

I’m not sure that Boticelli had seen many naked women before painting ‘Venus’… the proportions are all wrong

In general, we probably appreciated some of the lesser-known artists’ work than the more famous pieces, although we were very intrigued by a Boticelli “Adoration of the Magi” which included a self-portrait as one of the people in the crowd. He did not look impressed! After a quick munch on our packed lunch, we enjoyed a leisurely wander around the city (particularly appreciating some of the personalised road signs) before we returned to Bertha for a risotto.


We knew we had to cross the mountains to get to Venice and we didn’t really want to pay tolls, so we chose the long and winding road that goes via Forli. Well, it’s only long and winding going over the mountains; we’ve never seen hairpin bends quite like it! Forli held a lovely reward though, in the form of some special offer Tallegio; quite possibly the greatest cheese in the world.


And so on to Venice. Having had the mishap with Florence parking, we checked online and found a campsite in Punta Sabbioni (handy for catching the water bus to Venice) which was open until the 10 January. A bit of a foggy fiasco followed (oooh, lovely alliteration there!). It turns out the internet is not always right. We arrived to find out that they closed on the 7 January. Which day did we arrive? Yes, 7 January. To cut a long story (involving fog, people wagging their fingers at us, and a potholed-car park) short, we decided to double back on ourselves to a campsite that was open… but all the way back past Venice. There’s a reason that we’re trying to avoid campsites… you don’t have this problem with car parks generally!


Venice. Aaah. We’re not city people, but if every city were like Venice, we would be. Yes, there are the touristy bits, but we purposefully wandered aimlessly. Is that an oxymoron? Maybe… basically I’m trying to say that we ignored the map and tried to wander randomly; discovering exciting little alleyways and beautiful piazzas. This approach did mean that we had a few issues trying to find somewhere for a coffee though. We ended up in Venice’s equivalent of Fawlty Towers, where we were given food we hadn’t ordered (before it was whisked away), then we were asked to move table, then when the people next to our new table said their wine tasted funny, the proprietor kept on repeating “best wine in the house”. I’d love to be able to tell you where it was… but I can’t, because I have no idea! We ended the day with a calzone each on the way back to the bus… which we found eventually after caving in and looking at the map.


What’s next? Well, we’ve got some gearbox oil for Bertha, after some very amusing interactions where I tried to speak Italian to mechanics. “Olio?”. “Cambio?”. “Trasmissione?”. Confused look. Look of realisation. Reply in English! Hopefully that will help Bertha to run more smoothly now. Italian Riviera, we’re on our way (albeit slowly!)

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A Christmas Oasis

January 4th, 2014 (by Steve)

Every traveller needs an oasis; a watering hole to stop next to, refill the reserves and then start travelling again. The Oaks Oasis in Porano, Italy was such a place for us. Now don’t get us wrong, we love travelling, but it’s good to put your feet up at times too. Especially at Christmas! So we joined Celeste (who runs the retreat centre) and her friend Laurie over Christmas and New Year in the heart of the Umbrian countryside for a mixture of relaxing and helping out.


As with the other projects we’ve visited so far, we had contacted Celeste at the Oaks before we set off, offering to help her in any way that she wanted.

…help? Oh yeah. I have 24 oak trees. So there will certainly be some raking you can help with!

We arrived, eager to get stuck into the jobs that she had lined up for us, but also a little tired after our wanderings. It was a lovely surprise therefore to find that we had a real bed to sleep in (that you could even sit up in!), Celeste had a menu planned out for our stay and she wasn’t expecting us to get straight to work. Aside from moving some firewood inside and rebuilding the wood pile (under the watchful eye of 3 of the feral cats who currently caretake the retreat centre), we didn’t really do any work until a couple of days after Christmas.


In the meantime, I read a book. A novel. From cover to cover. In just over a day. I haven’t had made time to do that since I was a teenager. Kiri went for a countryside walk, being accompanied by a local dog for some of it. We watched films. We ate food together. Actually, that last sentence doesn’t do the mealtimes justice; dinner was an occasion every day; not just a time to refuel, but a time to savour and have deep conversations. Celeste is American, we’re British and we were all in Italy, so the menu was an incredible fusion of the tastes of 3 cultures; prosciutto, roast pork, pumpkin pie, chilli con carne, lemon meringue pie, southern fried chicken, meatloaf, pecorino, etc. Food heaven!


We also had several trips out from the retreat centre; on Christmas Day we visited a small, friendly church where they served espresso before the service (take note, Church of England!), we went to a wine tasting event at a local vineyard and we had a day in Rome. Now, when in Rome, do as the Romans… or so the saying goes. But what do Romans do? Well, I guess they tried to invade Scotland, gave up and built a wall to stop the Scots invading them… but we only had one day, and Scotland is quite a way away. So instead, we wandered around Rome; saw the Colosseum from the outside, saw the Pope’s house from the outside, saw the Trevi fountain… in fact we saw a lot of things, but it was a street artist near the Colosseum that wowed us the most. We ended the day by watching The Hobbit at the cinema, noting down things that might help us on our travels (not that we’ve seen any orks yet).


And so onto the leaves. 24 oak trees do indeed drop a lot of leaves. We assessed the situation and decided it wasn’t a massive job actually… until we realised that the carpet of leaves was a couple of inches thick. In total, across the 3 days that we spent raking leaves, we probably cleared enough leaves to fill a couple of skips. It was great exercise and lovely to be outside in such beautiful surroundings, as well as being very satisfying, seeing the progress as we unveiled the ground beneath the leafy carpet.


All good things must come to an end and soon it was time to… leave (sorry). It wood (sorry) have been very easy to stay, but we didn’t want to outstay our welcome, plus we felt that we’d kind of abandoned Bertha over this time. So, we uprooted (sorry) and once again hit the road after a great time at a place for rest. For rest. Forest? Get it? I’ll get my coat.

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Up Pompeii

December 26th, 2013 (by Steve)

It shouldn’t be that difficult to catch a ferry. Turn up, get on the boat. Done. Somehow we managed to go to the wrong port in Patras though, then get a little confused about lots of things until we were finally on the correct ferry. Thank goodness the captain wasn’t as confused as us, as we might have ended up in Barry, Wales rather than Bari, Italy! We left Bertha to play hide and seek with the “big boys” whilst we settled down for the night, watching a beautiful sunset before taking advantage of a warm shower (a lovely treat after a few days of wild camping)

Bertha plays hide and seek on the ferry with the big boys

Don’t you love it when you fall asleep in one country and wake up in another? Probably only when you intend to travel to a different country… I guess in other instances it could be quite disturbing…?! In any case, when we woke, we were in Italy (well, Italian waters). After disembarking, we spent a while trying to explain to an immigration officer that the pile of coats in the back of Bertha was just that, and not some random stowaway. Eventually he bought the story (which is just as well!) and we were on our way to Pompei via an extremely beautiful scenic routine. We partially planned it that way, to avoid tolls, but some scenic bits were added bonuses, where our planned route became unsuitable for some reason. Bertha coped valiantly with the steep hills and we admired the Italian countryside, however the journey took a little longer than anticipated. It was dark by the time we arrived into Pompei (the modern city) full of passionate Italian drivers; the air full of the roaring engines of mopeds and the tooting of horns. Bertha sucked her sides in to squeeze through tiny gaps in traffic, guided by the able hand of Kiri at the wheel and we were glad to finally park up under orange trees at our campsite.

The following morning we jumped online to find out how close we were to the archaeological site of Pompeii. It turns out that we should have just looked out of our window; the entrance was literally 2 minutes away by foot. What followed was a bucket list day for Kiri (and probably for me too if I had drawn up a bucket list) as we explored the ancient city of Pompeii.


It’s mindblowing to think that the streets that you walk through today would have been so similar nearly 2000 years ago when disaster struck. The sheer size and wealth of the city astounded me as well as the level of preservation. I’d (wrongly) pictured Pompeii to be more of a village, but in the 5 hours we were there, we couldn’t get around the whole city… and there’s more that still hasn’t been excavated! I think it’s fair to say that Kiri just loved everything about Pompeii; the level of preservation really helps you to imagine the human aspects of life there in Roman times. We both loved the visible indentations in the stone road surface from wheels that passed over it nearly 2000 years ago.


It’s also fair to say that Kiri really appreciated the frescos and the vibrancy of the colours still remaining. The digital swatches that she took will, I’m sure, form the palate of any future home we have!


Before leaving Pompei to head north for Christmas, I wanted to check out a faint whirring/grinding sound that I’ve been hearing since Meteora. In Bertha I mean, not in my joints! I say faint; Kiri can’t even hear it, so maybe I’m imagining things; after all, our fuel economy hasn’t altered in that time and there’s been nothing visibly wrong under the bonnet. So, I took the opportunity at the campsite to get under Bertha and have a good look (ooh, er missus… well, we were in Pompeii… had to get Frankie Howerd in there somewhere!). This is what I found:


That’s the gearbox. And that’s oil on the outside. Now, as previously established, I may not know much about engines, but even I know that gearbox oil should be inside a gearbox. The second picture (on the right) is after I cleaned up the gearbox and we had driven for a day. We’re currently in the process of asking experts for opinions on it… but most responses are that we shouldn’t be too worried about it! Which is good news 🙂

Following Pompeii, we pootled up the toll road (we’ve learned our lesson!), stopping overnight at a couple of car parks with panoramic views on the way to our Christmas destination, near Orvieto.

Speaking of Christmas, may we wish you all a very happy and peaceful Christmastime (sorry we didn’t get this post up before Christmas day!).

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