Ancona, Italy

We are back to our old ways after a verrry lazy tour of the Peloponnese: Currently camped at a supermarket in Ancona, Italy, after a fairly long drive today.

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Poppies, Italy

Our ferry trip was pretty flawless, included a smooth-as-silk crossing (Niki disagrees with that characterization), hot shower in the morning, and a sneakily-made tea & coffee. The ferry is a great way to travel from Italy to Greece, and we both had very good sleeps, rocked gently as we progressed past numerous islands, with the moon casting a wonderful light over it all. Almost.

Today was a little more ragged. Departing the ferry takes you down a narrow road where they try to fit 2 lanes of traffic in a zone made for one large truck. Predictably, I suppose, Niki did the good thing and folded her side mirror in (expensive, at €500 each!!), I hugged my left-hand side of the road and … Bang! Clipped the side mirror of a Bulgarian truck. Pulled over, indicated to the driver that I was so apologetic, so he nodded, smiled, and moved on. Almost.

Tonight, after not seeing a train in 4 months, Italia Rail is doing its best to impress us with the size and modernity of its fleet, sending a train past every 7 minutes. We are duly impressed, and I’m certain that, later, we will be lulled to sleep by the regularity of traffic passing by.

The day was a bit of a blur, covering over 400km, but much of it over detours, single lane traffic with worker cones stretching for miles. We even saw a few workers, and one did seem to be carrying a bucket of some sort, so we felt satisfied in paying our €37 toll fee for the day. To be fair, this was so much a better option than crawling through coastal towns. And all along the road the countryside is just ablaze with poppies, so much so the fields seemed on fire. The vineyards, bare when we last passed, are now a multi-shaded green, and, truthfully, made the day a bit of a visual feast.

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Lovely views all along the road

Another 400km+ tomorrow will see us at Lake Como, just off the Swiss border. Lots to do over the next few days, with visiting some friends, doing the bank closure, collecting a ton of Amazon orders (Thanks, again, Susi!) before heading off to France and packing up our household goods for shipping to NZ. Ho Hum – never boring.

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… but it’s free 🙂

Gargano Promontory

A longer (nowadays) drive down the East coast brought us to the Gargano Promontory – this is the spur jutting out into the Adriatic, about 150km North of Bari. Really glad to be here in the off season as the roads are something …

We’ve had two days at the old town of Rodi Garganico, comfortably camped at the marina at the foot of the old town – until asked to move today, but very politely done. Moved all of 50 meters to a level spot with the beach stretching out in front of us. An older guy approached us a while ago to inform us that overnighting was €10, but I had a bit of a giggle and told him, in my best Italian, You’re taking a chance, Mate. Price duly came down to €5, then €3, but I think you lose your authority when you have no authority and then negotiate downwards. In any case, at this stage it’s free …

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The town itself requires a walk up steep streets, but again, as we are the only ones here, we took our time, were suitably impressed at why someone would actually build like this, and thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon.

Today saw us up at the crack of dawn and an energetic early start – well, could have been, but Niki dawdled again. Still, a great cycle along the coast towards Peschici, again built on a cliff side. Taking the bikes around town was definitely a wise move, and we got to see all sorts of interesting things as we were, again, quite obviously lost! In these hillside towns, though, gravity is a powerful indicator, and it’s not long before we are seated and having the best croissant ever, overlooking a beautifully blue Adriatic.

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Home, on the Adriatic Coast

The wind has come up a bit since we returned, and there’s a chance of rain – Oh, so glad it’s not a tent!

Rimini, heading South

Our first stop after Ravenna was at Rimini, all of 28km, and allowed us to really take it easy, have a slow walk through town, and see some of the amazing sights. I should point out that Rimini has got some seriously old stuff, including the oldest remaining bridge and town entry arch in existence from the Roman Empire. The old town is appropriately compact and easy to navigate on foot. Again, it was amazing to wander past ongoing archaeological sites, such as the Surgeon’s Residence, preserved after the Hunnic sacking of Rimini in the 5th C by its own collapsed walls and roof. Our campsite was also only 15 minutes walk from the beach … and on the track of the Rimini Marathon held on Saturday – Absolute chaos getting out of the town, with Google making some odd decisions that underestimate the size of the van, compensating by over estimating its sense of my driving ability! On average, then, we’re OK.

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Niki at the entry arch of Augustus, 27 BC, Rimini
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Pope Paul, V, 1614.
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Roman Arched bridge, AD14

Last two nights have been spent in a very relaxed (soporific horizontal) campsite, 10 horizontal meters from the sea, but 80 vertical meters down a somewhat irregular path (hmmm – that’s a very optimistic description). Had the opportunity to show the hundreds of Italian cyclists battling up 16% climbs that we were made of sterner stuff, bumping up our battery output on our e-bikes significantly in the process. To be honest, still couldn’t catch the majority who were on road bikes. Did watch one guy take his mountain bike up a path I’m not sure I could have walked. Having had years of cycling with crazy Italians I completed the day with ego still intact.

Today we are at Loreto. I had no idea this town existed, so excuse the complete ignorance as I relate the following. The Basilica here is the site of an annual 4 MILLION visitors. What for, you may ask? Well, housed in a marble encasement, which in turn forms the focus of the interior of the basilica itself (you picturing those Russian dolls that fit inside each other?), is an interesting structure. This is the home of Mary (yes, that Mary) transported from Palestine, via a few intermediary stops, including Croatia, arriving in Loreto as the last Crusaders were driven out of Palestine (1295). In order to prevent the holy site from being taken by victorious Muslim forces, four angels transported the house in a single night… Beyond my credulity, but the annual pilgrimage continues. Saint’s bones, relics, and brickwork remain an important source of income.

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On a less cynical note, and understanding that all major faiths are masters of manipulation and propaganda, I would point out what a marvellous experience this was. You can literally feel the devotion of people as they enter the Basilica and pass through the brick house. The interior of the Basilica, of course, lends itself to this by keeping the nave fairly simple (apart from unbelievable mosaics that far exceed the colour and definition of most Medieval paintings) with the focus on the marble encasement and surrounding cupola. There was a service being held, accompanied by the chants and songs that brought home the incredible acoustics and attendant atmosphere that result in the trance-like state that seems to be the goal of all religious institutions – and not a few secular ones too (hello, Mao).

 

Tomorrow we hope to visit the local Aeronautical Museum – I’m a little worried that this may focus heavily on the 4 angels mentioned earlier, rather than Italy’s rich mechanical heritage (yes, Fiat produced a number of fighter planes – some were even better than the Fiat Panda – a car that should have been strangled at birth). Let’s see what the day brings. Tonight we are a camper stop just below the Basilica, overlooking the Adriatic. Perched on top of a hill (I almost resorted to prayer coming up some of the roads) gives us a glorious view of the Basilica, the plains below, and the Adriatic in the background – all in Spring’s delightful blue sky. How lucky can you get?

Ravenna

I think that those days when you don’t expect too much (not in a negative way, but not every day is perfect) and then get hit by a bit of a joyous surprise are … uplifting. I wasn’t expecting too much from Ravenna based, it must be said, on my complete ignorance of the city. I knew it had some history (it was, at one stage, the capital of the Western Roman Empire) and was associated with a critical period when Rome split into an Eastern and Western Empire (the latter to collapse around the time of great construction in Ravenna), but the Eastern Empire (Constantinople) survived until 1453.

And so, on our first visit of the day, to Basilica do San Vitale and the adjacent Mausolea do Galla Placidia, simply blew us away. If you have a moment, take a look at the slideshow below.

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The East coast of Italy is, apparently, not an area much visited by foreign tourists, but heavily appreciated by Italians. To say that the town was swamped by schoolkids (mostly doing that bored-teenager-doing-cellphones … do Italian kids go to normal school or is it all the experiential crap?) is a huge understatement. In any case, it (mostly) brought a sense of life to the town, and the market, where we sat down for our most expensive coffee yet (€2). Markets here are never boring, and never cheap – having spent €5 on about 7 pieces of liquorice is indicative. Parmigiana cheese at €38 per kilo is way more expensive than in the supermarket or even artisanal shops – but very cool!

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Feeling close to churched out we sat and did some reading on the history of the churches in the area. It got very complex trying to understand the Arian Heresy and their subsequent persecution, which has a direct impact on the church artworks. As the Arians were in / out / in / persecuted to oblivion, so the church work changed to reflect this, with mosaics and frescoes demolished, overlain or altered to reflect current orthodoxy. I’m trying to make sense of Arianism (God created Jesus, therefore Jesus did not previously exist) as opposed to conventional dogma (Jesus has always existed) – well, your life depended on having the correct answer! Fortunately the congress at Nicaea sorted things out like which stories to include (Jesus turning water into wine was OK, Jesus lengthening wood so that Joseph could finish his project not OK so left out) etc etc. Hmmm. Feeling enlightened we proceeded to the Battistero Neoniano and Museo Arcivescovile, and then finished off with the Basilica Sant’Apollinare Nuovo. We skipped the other four Basilica ……

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Calendar from 6th C, determining when Easter could fall (Rule: Not on the same date as Jewish Easter.)

All in all a wonderful day. We are parked in a large lot filled with dead and decaying campervans, some of which remain inhabited. Just finished an excellent Belgian Trappist beer (those guys are profitably employed!), hot water is on for showers, dinner is salami & cheese (after a €5 lunch) and great, cheap, Italian wine. Sun has just set (18:24) in a gorgeous blue sky …

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Mosaic, with brilliant colours retained from 6th C! Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo

Comacchio

The van shivered and shook like a wet dog in a cold night …

IMG_5697.JPGAfter two glorious days of sunshine and consecutive 50+km cycle routes around the Po Delta, weather took a significant turn for the worse. Sunset was beautiful, but with some cloud on the horizon. Following an afternoon where the breeze had died to the point that I gave up flying the kite, sitting outside on our camp chairs, the evening turned a bit more blustery. By 7:00pm the wind was up to around 15km/h, by 8:00pm it was over 50km/h, and by midnight it was peaking well over 100km/h. We stayed up watching movies and self-medicating with whiskey and, around 10:00pm I got out to try to find a more sheltered spot close to the river embankment. A really scary experience – had difficulty walking in the wind with debris whipping past. Turned the van nose first into the wind, settled down again to watch more movies … to be drowned out by the first shotgun pellets of hurricane force driven rain. Off to bed around midnight, but no sleep with the van pitching about and, quite honestly, leaving us a little seasick. Drifted off to sleep around 3:00am … woke to bright sunshine!

We did make full use of a fantastic site next to a lagoon which had multiple flocks of flamingos to relax, read, and catch up with some much needed cycling. It’s been a while, which may explain my current rubbed raw butt – obviously my cycle shorts weren’t up to the challenge. In any case, quiet roads, lovely views, fantastic sunshine and little more than a gentle breeze. So good, in fact, that getting lost along the way simply added to the joy of the day.

A short drive today brought us to Commachio, another ‘Little Venice’, but this one a lot more authentic. Absolutely amazing walking alongside canals with not a single person in sight! Which proves the point – barring closed campsites, dumping facilities that only open in May, the occasional hurricane or blizzard (or both), lack of fresh water availability, closed restaurants and various sites, this really is the perfect time to travel through Europe.

Apart from the canals the old town is dominated by the Hospital (built in Classic style in the 18thC) and a huge Basilica, both of which really stand out as the town itself is quite modest. Walking through the town took a couple of hours – really enjoyable ones though. The town also prides itself on being the eel capital – I’ll definitely give that a miss. Tried eel by mistake when in China, thinking they were marinated aubergines – shocking experience when finding out, apart from everything else, that the aubergine was filled with spinal column and bones … aaagh!

We are parked in a public carpark 10 minutes walk from the centre of town – flat, quiet, well-lit, and free. Now if only, when exiting the van on arrival, we had looked around and seen the Basilica to our left, instead of instinctively heading right … well, just another opportunity to see more!