Tuesday 29th May 2018
“Travelling is not just about the places you go, it is about the people you meet on the way!”
Not bad as a truism, just a little too long to have written on the back of your motorhome. Our ferry trip, or cruise as Wendy likes to call it, across the Adriatic Sea proved this.
Our ferry trip from Split in Croatia to Ancona on the west east coast of Italy was born on a wet, cold evening in Switzerland when Wendy and I were trying to bring some order to the chaos that had been my attempt at planning an itinerary. Two weeks ago it seemed hard to believe that we would ever be so warm that we would be seeking out the shady side of the street to walk and bugger the highway code or that Alf would voluntarily jump into the sea to cool down. As we pulled up at the ferry terminal in Split, just after noon on Sunday, it was hotter than hot. The sun had been splitting the pavements for a few days now and had got it off to a fine art; it was already in the mid 30s. A security guard stopped us at the barrier and, as it was clearly too hot to have an argument, he waved us through and told us to park on the left in front of the gate. We were the only vehicle there! Even the woman in the ticket office, where we collected our tickets, expressed her surprise that we had been allowed to do so. Before he was able to change his mind, we snuck out the side door and headed for the old town.
The night before we had been enchanted by Trogir old town. Much has been written about the delights and charm of Zadar, but for us Trogir was our favourite place on this trip so far. It is contained on, and takes up all of, a small island just metres from the mainland. A site that was ideal in days gone by for defence and trade, now a transport nightmare – no wonder a bridge is being built to by pass the island. We walked twenty minutes from our campsite to the town and as we saw it from a distance as we walked down the hill, we could see the ‘come hither’ look in its eye. It is blessed with a medieval layout of narrow streets and enticing alleyways; peppered with tall stone buildings from the tenth to the twentieth century. On top of this is a thickly spread layer of vibrant café culture with inviting bars, restaurants and live music. We had to tear ourselves away so that we could catch the last water taxi back to our campsite. [Editor’s note; dogs are not allowed on buses, but are allowed on water taxis – no muzzle required]
So Split had a lot to beat; it almost did it, but not quite. We found the old town almost by accident. We passed the stalls selling tat to the ferry passenger trade (and offering to mind their luggage and change their money) and found the old town just off the quayside. Again we were thrust into a tenth century world that was beautiful (not quite as good as Trogir though), with its Roman gates and walls and grand buildings from every civilisation since. All in a cool, shady setting – works well on a hot day!
We easily whiled away five hours or so and it was back to the van, which was now joined by twenty or so cars, a squadron of thirty bikes, half a dozen HGVs and another Hymer, with British plates, parked right by us in pole position too [see photo]. We discovered that the van belongs to Tony and Janet who are doing a similar trip to us – they’d been down to Dubrovnik and were now going to Rome before getting to Le Mans for the 24-hour race.
On the top deck of the magnificent ship Aurelia, waiting to see the boat leave port, Alfie was the centre of attention (The enlightened Italian shipping company SNAV do not have the same ante diluvian views as the cross channel companies; they are very happy for your beloved pet to accompany you in your stateroom), especially a five-year-old Italian girl called Angela. She paraded him around and around the sun deck. Meanwhile I got talking to her father who spoke good English and worked on websites linked to cryptocurrencies. He made a good job of explaining to me how Bitcoin and Komodo can have value and be as safe as currencies backed by countries and national banks, but I still don’t see it! Clearly a very clever chap and a devoted dad as, bored of walking Alf, she insisted he went back to their cabin and he read her a story (or, just possibly he realised I wasn’t likely to be investing anytime soon?).
Later we met up with Tony and Janet in the bar and the wine and the conversation flowed (Wendy had to ask the singer to turn her speakers down as we couldn’t hear each other) and the next we knew, it was gone midnight.
Our cabin was just like the ones you have on the cross channel ferries, only with extra floor space for dogs, though we didn’t have much time to appreciate it as there was an early alarm call at 0530 and we were up on the deck for our first glimpse of Italy not long after. By the time we got up on deck it was already hot and hazy and Ancona, not an attractive town, was looking just a little out of focus.
We said good-bye to Tony and Janet, as they were turning left and bound for Rome, and we, despite the delights of Italy, were autostrada bound because we have an appointment in France. Our haphazard approach to journey planning knows no bounds and had taken another unexpected lurch.
Wendy’s cousin Bethan and her husband Huw have been in France for a fortnight and have worked their way down to Aix en Provence. We have been in touch sporadically since they used our recommendation and stopped at the Drum Inn before crossing the channel and a couple of days ago we arranged to meet up in Arles on Wednesday. The pressure of time and a lack of ACSI campsites en route meant we dashed across Italy and got to a small town of Pietra Ligure on the Mediterranean coast on Monday afternoon. The last part of the drive through Liguria was totally absorbing the steep hills meant that the motorway twisted and turned and was full of tunnels and viaducts in a lush wooded countryside with scattered houses and villages clinging to the sides of the cliffs and green with trees, olive groves and vines. Our campsite was on the outskirts of the unprepossessing town of Pietra Liguire, nestled on the terraced slopes of an old farm.
Pietra Liguire is squashed into the small strip of flatland between the hills and the sea and seemed hardly worth the bother as we walked the 15 minutes or so down the hill. It appeared to be dominated by scruffy looking apartment blocks, a railway line and a derelict industrial complex right on the sea front. With nothing better to do, we crossed the level crossing and followed the zebra crossing through a small alleyway and found ourselves in the old town of Pietra Liguire with our preconceptions stood on their heads. It was really intriguing; another town built on a medieval street plan, all tall buildings on narrow streets and alleyways, but this one opened out onto a big tree lined Renaissance era square with a cathedral at one end and a large fountain at the other – it was fascinating! Then we walked through another gateway out on to the seaside to find that all the beaches were gravel covered and privately managed with serried ranks of sunbeds and parasols, definitely not the place we would want to have a beach holiday.
We are now in Brignoles, Provence, having driven through our tenth country, Monaco (yes it is! It is the second smallest in the world after the Vatican) on our way from Italy. The sun has set and the field next-door is full of newly shorn sheep complaining that it is a bit chilly – it is not, it is 24°C.