A Quick Pitstop in Bergamo

10-08-18

We didn’t fancy the three plus hour drive to Lake Como so we broke the journey up with an overnight stop in Bergamo.

It’s a good job we broke the journey up because it took us two hours just to get out off the Garda lake road. There was heavy traffic heading in both directions and the roads were really tight. Combine this with the unreal driving of Italians and the numerous potholes you’ve got an intensely stressful drive. As compensation, the road was incredibly scenic, hugging the lake all the way and going through epic tunnels that cut through the mountains. This road actually featured in the opening car chase scene in the James Bond film, The Quantum of Solace.

We eventually made it onto the main roads and into Bergamo, an eastern Lombard city. Our sosta was located about 3 miles from the city. We parked up, had some lunch and then got the bus into the new town. From here we needed to switch buses to reach the ancient hilltop city perched high above. The city has over 5km of Venetian walls and the views were stunning.

For a small city, Bergamo is a heavyweight when it comes to medieval Renaissance and baroque architecture and charm. We wandered through the tiny alleys and window shopped.

They really love their food here and every other shop was a patisserie or panificio. We snacked on an arancini and coffee granita. Polenta is a really big deal here and the locals enjoy it in every form including savoury with a rich wild boar stew and sweet as a set cake.

Bergamo’s mast famous landmark is the elegant Piazza Vecchio. It’s lined with lovely cafes and is home to the awesome Cathedral. With a striking black and white tiled floor and stunning frescoes, it was one of the more beautiful ones we’ve seen on our travels.

We loved our little wander around the old city which was small but perfect. Rather than take the bus, we walked back down to the new town along cobbled streets which was gorgeous.

We managed to make sense of the buses back to the sosta from there and cooked at the van, dodging some killer mosquitos. We got an early night in preparation for our trip to Como the next day.

Venice

Although we have both been to Venice before we were still excited to see it together. Our campsite was situated on the mainland just off the only bridge to “Venice island.” We hooked Harvey up with ‘leccy’ and hightailed it the 5 minutes to the tram stop. The deal is you have to buy your tickets for tram/bus/vaporetto beforehand and validate them on each journey. If one was daring or skint it looked like you could cadge a free ride as we didn’t encounter anyone checking up….until days later.

Venice is not actually an island. It is a group of 118 small islands interlinked by 400 bridges. Some might describe Venice as a ‘sinking ship’; not only is it literally sinking at a rate of 2 millimetres per year, but it’s population has halved in the last 50 years, from 120,000 to 60,000. Such de-population is due to the extortionate cost of maintaining a home in Venice, as well as its slow descent into the sea.

Yet, Venice is more than just a ‘sinking ship’: it is home to Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’, the first public Casino, and an eerie masquerade tradition. It boasts 450 palaces, 350 gondolas, 170 bell towers and 177 canals, as well as the birthplace of the explorer Marco Polo, the composer Antoni Vivaldi and the playwright Giacomo Casanova.

As we exited the tram, walked down our first narrow alleyway, over a pretty bridge and spied our first gondola, we looked at each other knowingly. Venice was not going to let us down. It was as beautiful and atmospheric as we both remebered.

The only way to navigate was by following brown signs with faded golden gilt lettering to San Marco. We passed an asortment of shops selling weird masks that reminded us of the film ‘Eyes wide shut’. Looked on longingly at cool tiny bars with people swigging cold beer or sipping aperol spritz and eating tasty chicetti. Finally we emerged by the famous Rialto bridge and luckily grabbed the last table right by the water for a romatic meal for two. Perfect.

After a delicious seafood lasagne and a creamy carbonara we headed to the stunning piazza San Marco.

It was late and still about 30 degrees so we reluctantly headed back to Harvey knowing we had three more days to explore.

What’s that line from Richard the Third? “A horse, a horse my kingdom for a horse.” Change that for a fan and I completely get ya kingy. I thought we were in an episode of ‘The bake Off’ but we were in the oven. I fell asleep at dawn when the temperature dropped to about 28 degrees. It wasnt helped by the dog next door yapping every hour.

The next day our faithful yapping friend “peggy sue” ensured we didnt sleep in. I was annoyed at first but that quickly subsided when I realised her owners had disappeared for the day and left peggy sue tied up under their camper. One half filled bowl of water. How do these people live with themselves. We filled up her bowl and left for Venice hoping the owner would be back soon.

This time we bought a 48hr unlimited tram/bus/vaporetto pass for maximum freedom. A single vaporetto journey cost €7.50 but the pass was a bargain at €30. No brainer. Jumping off the tram and onto the vaporetto (public water taxi) to tour the grand canal was a great call. Some of the best views can only be seen via the water ways.

For the rest of the day we hopped on and off the vaporetto at various locations then wandered the streets trying to discover hidden gems away from the hustle and bustle.

We headed over to San Giorgio Maggiore to look at the yachts and climb the bell tower. I love a view from up high.

Then we headed for some quiet contemplation in the park on the very outskirts and found this shiny fella.

No visit is complete without a lap of San Marco.

Nothing better than a quick dip to cool them hot feets.

We even managed to grab a cheeky shot from the captains cabin on the way back.

Surprise surprise when we got back peggy sue was still tied up, still yapping and still alone and frightened. Who are these people. It was 8pm and they clearly had not been back all day! I tried to ignore her but with each passing person she let out a scared yelp. My heart sunk each time. Enough is enough. I went around and sat with her for a bit. She was super happy and friendly so I untied her and brought over to Harvey.

I gave her some love and affection and she was a different dog. After a while I left her to curl up on my chair and we watched her settle down and take a little snooze.

At midnight the knobheads from next door still hadn’t returned but it was time for bed. I took peggy sue back and tried to tie her to their step. She resisted and it broke my heart. Poor thing. I sat with her for a while until she slept then tied her up and snook away. The knobheads eventually returned at 1am with their two infants and paid no attention to peggy sue. So annoying but what can you do…

The next day we got up early and headed over to Murano. It sits about 1.5km from Venice in the same lagoon. Famous for it’s glass making and as we found out not much else.

That installation behind us was their signature art piece and reminded me of something out of superman. The glasswork is pretty impressive if you like that sort of thing but it’s not really our thing. Murano did introduce me to one amazing new thing. Cafe Creme.

Its basically a delicious coffee icecream.

Ignore the battered melted cheese thing. Stop looking at it. It will draw you in. Move along now…

After Murano we headed back to the main section of Venice in search of a bar that Ben had recommended. On our way we found the hospital. For some reason we were surprised the A&E entrance was via the water. Hence the ambulance was a boat.

More impossibly grand architecture.

And exquisite detail.

We eventually found Ben’s bar which was unfortunatley shut. However the bar next door was cool AF.

Cheers Venice you were awesome.

Aix-en-Provence

For those who don’t already know, take a guess as to how to pronounce “Aix”. I would love to hear my Mum’s guess. Maybe some of you thought as I did it was a three sylable “aey-eye-ex”. As it turns out the correct way is much simpler and cooler, you simply have to say “X-en-Provence”.

Using our Camperstop App we found a random overnighter about 2km out of “X”.

The entrance looked promising.

However that was next door. This was our place.

Upon arrival at the correct place I was greeted by a very friendly Frenchman in the skimpiest of skimps. Emily actually guffawed at how ludicrous they were. Monsieur Smuggler showed me our pitch and gave me some useful information about the site and where to get the bus into X. Although super basic the pitch was side on to the most beautiful example of a wild flower border. Eat your heart out June and Mon x.

We sorted Harvey out with his awning, floor matt and chairs and headed for the bus into X. The bus was about a 5 minute walk down a steep hill to Pont L’arc. Mr Smuggler told us to take bus number 10 but as it happens bus 51 turned up first and an old man told us in French to jump on for centre ville. If this was a year ago we would have ignored him and waited for bus 10. Now we kinda just go with the flow and trust random strangers and know it will work out. Indeed, number 51 took us the 2km uphill to the bus station right in the middle of this pocket of left-bank Parisian chic.

X is all class: its leafy boulevards and public squares are lined with 17th- and 18th-century mansions, punctuated by gurgling moss-covered fountains. Haughty stone lions guard its grandest avenue, cafe-laced cours Mirabeau, where fashionable Aixois pose on polished pavement terraces, sipping espresso.

We spent an hour wandering the streets for the perfect place to have some lunch and people watch.

Who can resist a little bit of lemon drizzle cake or a coffee macaron?

We walked off all those calories through narrow polished stone streets from cool squares to the amazing cathedral.

We also needed to catch up on some blog writing as we have been traveling so much it has been hard to keep up. It wasn’t hard to find a suitable place to have a beer and knuckle down.

We even managed to find our French names up in writing.

And for Emily. Strictly speaking it should have been Le Porcelet.

After hard day being a tourist we were tempted by the onsite pool.

But decided it looked more like a swingers hangout so opted to binge watch “Love Island” on the free WiFi.

Narbonne and the bikes

In theory leaving an Aire should be quicker to leave than a campsite as you don’t get all the gear out of the garage. In practice because we used our own showers we had to refill with water and I had managed to leave the little hose adapter at the last place, doh. I thought we had a spare but couldn’t find it so I had to hold the hose to the tap whilst it sprayed half over me and half in the tank. Much to Emily’s amusement. The Aire was great and especially the morning view out of our window.

Onwards and eastwards to Narbonne to do a little shopping and see what’s going on in this small Romanesque town. Even though it is situated 15km from the shores of the Meditteranean it was once a prosperous port town. It is linked to the nearby Canal du Midi and the Aude River by the Canal de la Robine, which runs through the centre of town.

Spurred on by a fine experience of the last Aire we parked up in another about 2km out of town. This one looked less appealing but it was the only one. It did also have a massive Carrefour but more of that later.

As luck would have it the 2km into town was only 500m of shitty road followed by 1.5km of tree lined canal. A little squeak of excitement from Emily and i knew we were close to the centre. She had spied bunting.

We spent a lovely afternoon wandering around this pretty town taking in a few of the sights. Probably the most impressive was the Roman Catholic cathedral and its gardens.

Although Narbonne was pleasant enough it didn’t really set our world on fire. In the evening we decided to get out of the heat and do a bit of food shopping in the huge Carrefour. There are three additional benefits to a Carrefore despite the plentiful food. The aircon is insanely good especially after a full-on day in the heat. They have super fast free wifi for downloading movies, podcasts and spotify playlists. They have cheap AF bikes to enable us to travel further distances from Harvey.

In the morning we nipped into Les Halles food market for a mooch and a breakfast croque monsieur.

Next stop Uzes…

Bangkok Stopover

29-04-18

I’ve read so many blogs of travellers who absolutely rave about Bangkok but almost all concede that it’s a love or hate city. I have to say that despite three separate visits, I can’t quite get on board with the buzz. It’s certainly authentic and interesting but for me it lacks the futuristic style or architectural class that a modern city like Singapore possesses. It’s smoggy and congested and falls short when it comes to the beautiful skylines and charm that other cities which we’ve loved displayed.

That said, we did have a couple of good days exploring Bangkok’s eclectic culture, markets and sights.

We placed ourselves at the Siam Design hotel right in the centre of the mega mall district.

Our hotel had an awesome rooftop pool with views across the city which lit up wonderfully in the evening.

On our first day we took a boat up the Chao Phraya River. A great way to get a flavour for the city, we effortlessly sailed past soaring towers and lively streets. This area called Ko Ratanakosin is rich in history and home to Bangkok’s glittering temples including the Grand Palace and beautiful Wat Arun.

Having spent time on the Khao San Road area over 10 years ago I wanted to revisit the infamous street to see how it’s fared from the influx of backpackers and gap year travellers all starting or ending their adventures here. We hit it during the day so it was relatively sleepy but it’s safe to say that we definitely felt that we’d outgrown it. A sense of sleaze and debauchery and roads lined with cheap drinks, massage places and slogan t-shirts.

We hopped back on the boat and headed towards the vibrant flower market.

This was much more my vibe. The local market is absolutely my favourite place to explore in a new city.

They are so colourful and frenetic and they thrive with life. It was fascinating to see so many wonderful flowers bound up and ready for wholesale and traders preparing hundreds of flower offerings for temples.

We stood there gawping at the rainbow colours and marvelling at the freshness of the herbs and veg on sale as locals rushed passed and hustled.

We melted into the background as everyone around us got on with their business, paying us no attention. The market cats were very sweet too.

Whilst waiting for the boat we found an adorable craft beer place with wonderful views across the river. Proof that perhaps I was rash in my dismissal of Bangkok as a hip city.

The next day we did some shopping in the mega malls that line the Siam area. So much more than drab department stores, these designer malls are destinations in their own right. We were really impressed with the style and architecture and the cool lighting and installations in each.

They are all very instagram worthy and had amazing street art outside.

Most importantly though the food options were insane. Seriously, the food islands in these places are incredible and we had proper tasty and authentic dishes. I think that this was the best ramen I’ve ever had.

That night we went to the cinema in one of the malls. This multiplex had 14 screens including an imax and speciality screens serving dinner. Standard tickets were just four quid which is a bargain in comparison to Blighty and I’m happy to report that even in Thailand they allow you to mix sweet and salted popcorn and it was yummy.

We did have plans to explore further afield in Bangkok but we woke on our last day to pouring rain. The weekend market that I had my eye on was an outside affair and we agreed it would probably be a bit miserable and soggy so we used this day to completely relax in the hotel. We’ve been on the go a lot and benefitted from being lazy and catching up on blogs and correspondence. I find it quite hard to stop, especially in another country where the guilt that there is something spectacular or worthy to be seen out there and we are missing out. Gary is great at balancing that out and we had a good day recharging the batteries ready for our train adventure the following day.