After the anxiety of Lamezia Terme, I went back to Catanzaro Lido to steel my nerves. I had a day to kill before meeting up with Karen and Franz in Tiriolo so I spent it on the beach. Thankfully here was a car park next to a café with WiFi, so after spending 5 Euros on coffee I had internet for 24 hours.
I had been lulled in to a false sense of security with this car park. When I first saw it at 5pm there was hardly anyone or anything about, parking up and having a stroll around. Coming back to the camper at around 8pm, the place was heaving. Not only with people, but also one of those miniature tourist trains going up and down the sea front, and my car park was the pick-up point! Still, this wasn’t costing me anything so who am I to complain.
I spent the next afternoon on the beach with the dead jelly fish. I did try going in the sea, but when I dived in and opened my eyes under water to see something large and bulbous in my vicinity, I decided against doing much swimming. The jellies were huge with a really pretty purple edge to their top bits, which when they were swimming, made it look like the hem of a crimplene dress! A couple got washed inwards as I was basking myself so I got a stick and gentle pushed them back in to deeper water. No idea if they survived, but they didn’t look as translucent as the dead ones on the shore so I am assuming that they were ok. Was just my luck to see them and let them put me off swimming, like seeing the water snakes in the Lakes. Wouldn’t have been so bad if the last snake I saw swam away, instead of swimming towards to come and check me out. And then there was that black one that chased me along the road whilst I was out with my camera in sandals…
So after a relaxing day at the beach came the drive to Tiriolo on top of a mountain – insert google pic here – and thankfully it hadn’t been raining. After a mishap with sat nav and directions, I met up with Karen and Franz at their lovely house and sampled Karen’s homemade tiramisu and coffee. Marvellous! We had a walk around the village, through the narrow twisty streets to the remains of a castle at the apex of the mountain. The views were phenomenal, the camera was still in the camper! Oops! Anyways, from here on a clear day you could see both seas, “due mare”, and as I left, the 100% humidity showed up in the form of fog on the top of the hill. Was a lovely afternoon spent with some lovely people!
Now that I had got my gas and seen Karen, the result of my frantic weekend in Lecce was that I resolved to spend as much time as possible in Tuscany before the money ran out. That if I wanted to spend any more time on the beach I could do it there if needs be, but the continued tourist sites were both expensive and packed, and not the reason why I came here. I was disappointed at the amount of practice I had had in speaking Italian by the time I got to my tutor and embarrassed that I could only hold a conversation still in English. Up until now the most Italian I have actually spoken to anyone was the owners’ son at the campsite with no gas or WiFi.
So I was now heading for the west coast, to see the Amalfi Coast, Positano and Pompeii. Onwards towards Rome and then towards Tuscany, hopefully to be in Florence for my birthday and actually have a proper meal out and not worry about the cost. After reading up on Naples, though it was recommended to see it if not to stay, the idea of it being the crime centre of Italy and a problem with uncleared rubbish, I wasn’t going to tempt providence with my track record. After a long, good day, I found the coast and a parking spot, all be it on the side of the highway, and parked up for the night.
I realise I am short on posts and photos, but until I have a little stability and better internet options that include the laptop, sorry I can’t do anything about it!
I haven’t actually run out of gas, never quite got that far, but with the previous cylinders only lasting a week, panic set in when I connected my last one on the 25th June! And with not seeing ANY camper dealers, things were not looking good.
The heel of Italy is quite dry and less green than the rest of the country so far. It seemed that knobbly bit was the last bit of vegetation down the east side, and with it went the dealers and the McDonald’s. I spent 48 hours going round in circles between Lecce and Gallipoli before becoming frustrated and nearly jacking it all in. I went back to the first camp site book and found one with gas bottles and WiFi on the south coast and plugged it in the Sat nav and set out on the 250km trip. When I got there, no gas and no WiFi. Fucking brilliant! Still after the previous few days I was happy to rest up for a couple of days and relax.
The jaunt had brought me to Calabria, the south/south-west of Italy, essentially the rest of the foot. While I was here I was going to call in on my Italian tutor whilst she was in the country, in a little village on a hillside, only after I found gas!
Wisely, though why it had taken me this long to figure out I don’t know, whilst braving some internet charges on the phone, I looked up the Camping Gas website and a list of their resellers. Three in the area, Catanzaro and two in Lamezia Terme. Wow! I parked at Catanzaro Lido, after an unsuccessful search for a sailing/camping shop, and set out for Catanzaro the next day.
Catanzaro is like a town in a sci-fi film. It is built on a number of hills, with massive road bridges interconnecting the different sections on different levels. Like cars flying everywhere! But no sign of shop number 1. I hid in a coffee shop as the skies opened and through a load of water down. Getting back in the camper, I set off for Lamezio Terms, which was also going to be my next stop for the night.
2 shops non-existent and neither was my camper stop. I have never seen so many cars squashed into a small space and all in a hurry and all beeping. And narrow streets. And steep. And wet!! I panicked and followed cars up the hill when my Sat nav ran out, but the water on the roads made them like glass. With the weight of the camper in the rear, and the drive in the front (main reason for Hugh telling me not to park on grass), the camper failed to grip the road going upwards through a residential street. Before I burnt the engine out or the tyres or the clutch, the only thing I could do was throw it in to someone’s front drive! Amidst a hail of horns as my arse end blocked the street behind me. This was going to be good, cos my only option was going to be reversing back down the hill until I could turn round!
Thankfully I pulled the manoeuvre without an accident, but by this time my nerves were completely shot. When I got back into the town, very old, very narrow streets, caffeine and copious amounts of nicotine were in order. After this and giving myself a talking to, it was back on with the hunt for gas. I am happy to report that four shops and a Google translate later, I scored a cylinder at the cheapest price yet of 19 Euros! The bargain is, because of my fear of running out and keeping everything off, I still have not changed it as at time of writing!
Just had to change the underwear a few times instead….
I went to bed laughing last night. Unfair as how I was rudely awoken this morning at 9:30am by a man on the make. After my so-so day yesterday and nearly being squashed by a 2.4m road width (okay I maybe have a little dent), I assessed my surroundings before parking up. Not wanting to incur the wrath of two beach side restaurants, I had decided to park in the make-out zone, just as far into the light as I could manage. Apart from the three distinct entrances, the rest of the car park was fenced off, or had been, probably about ten years ago. On the outside of the fence was a sign that said “public car park in progress” by the local council. This was the only signage, in areas where they have no holds on sticking pay-per-hour on it. To the rear, a less scrubby looking area had at some point been tarmacced, so I figured if they had not finished that one, they were unlikely to reach my bit within the next 24 hours.
At 9:30am this old guy in an orange t-shirt banged 3 times on my van. Needless to say there wasn’t an immediate response from myself, I tentatively got up and dressed and stuck the coffee on whilst watching him through a half undrawn blind. He had set himself up a table and chair by the entrance to the main street. The sides of the main street in front of the restaurants were filling up with beach goers and soon they would need to make use of this bit of scrub land. I was parked in say the second row of cars, if there had been enough trysts to exhibit the need to park more formally, and as I watched, drinking my coffee over the first cigarette of the day, the first row of cars started coming in. Signor Entrepreneur was too busy trying to faff about getting the attention of the Cabiniere or someone to speak English to come and talk to me, that none of those new arrivals paid any money. Even a couple of cars that arrived as he sat there were not approached. And still there was no other sign apart from the “car park in progress”. Ok, I may not want to stay where I am in the way but I was sure as hell not paying for it! As I opened the dashboard curtains and opened the choke, he approached (behind him a car pulled up with something like ‘Guida’ on it which I assumed he’d called for. I wound down my window as he approached, he obviously knew I knew it was him who had banged the van.
“2 Euros to park for the night”
“2 Euros,” very cheap in comparison to some of the dumps I thought, but I was indignant “for how many hours?”
“2 Euros to park” he thought he wasn’t getting through.
“Yes, but for how long? I looked for the sign, where is it?” Rumbled!
“Very good” he mumbled as he walked away, shrugging away the services of the back up car. I waved at him as I left.
So that was a positive experience. When I chatted to Helen about my absolute confidence failure, hence the desire to eat out yesterday, we had concluded that whatever was to happen, I could walk away. No one would give a toss either way, it was that simple. Only the regret in not trying in the first place would be the problem. Absolutely I said, and it isn’t even as if I haven’t done it before, it’s just I haven’t got the confidence I did back in my twenties. Well not confidence really, it was probably more of a niaivety, truth were known. Now I have got an extra 20 years of baggage and scepticism and an understanding of those on the receiving end. Mulling it all over last night in search of the old blaze twenty-something, the whole, unmittigating, embarrassing truth had hit me.
No, it could never be worse than testicles.
Whilst my friend Charlotte and I had hitch-hiked through France for a summer in the early nineties, we had found ourselves in a similar situation with the cash flow and it had been suggested that we should try doing the vendange, grape harvest. We were smack bang in the middle of Beaujolais country and it was mid August. If there was a way to experience a country, living and working with the natives then this was it (this is also what I am aspiring to on this trip when I eventually get my ass in gear). We joined an extended family, the Gardettes, on their farm where they both grew and brewed the wine themselves. After a hard day in the fields we would return and shower ready for a big working party meal in the evening with the whole family and the complete work force. The only draw back was that everyone, apart from a couple of adolescent, transient workers like us, spoke French, but this was exactly as it was supposed to be. I remember once being the butt of a joke as I had used the familiar form of ‘you’ to Mme Gardettes and I blushed on realising what I had done. Another time, as we were asked if the sleeping arrangements were ok, boys and girls were separated in bunks in the garage, I had tried to explain in my best French that yes indeed they were ok. More so, as when Charlotte and I shared the two-man tent I snored and so she was at least getting away from that. I can’t roll my Rs, never have been able to. When I was young I remember day’s out in an ambulance to go and see a speech therapist to sort out my Rs and Ss. So when I tried to say ‘ronfle’ the French for snore, it came out as ‘gonfle’, the French for ‘engorge’. The whole room hearing that Charlotte couldn’t sleep because of my nocturnal hard-ons.
When we had finished clearing the vines in the vicinity of Beaujeu that formed part of the collected Beaujolais Nouveau, we were then drafted, literally like a military unit, to the good stuff. Up with a roll call at 5:30am to breakfasts of bowls of coffee and shipped out at 6am for an hour’s ride to the hanging vines on the edge of the Loire valley. This was for the classic La Fayette version that Mssr Gardette made his name on. Depending on the time of your appearance on the drive, determined if you made it in the land rover,the 4×4 or the trailer on the back of the tractor. Instinctively you knew that their would always be the reserved seats and that if you had ridden in a more comfortable carriage in the morning, you relegated yourself the the bone shaker on the way back. It wasn’t just a vibrating ordeal of a journey, after a day of reaching and stretching and carrying containers on your back, this after a week of bending and kneeling, you were so stiff you could hardly move and ached in places you never knew existed. But here you were kneeling again in a trailer towed behind a tractor banging along uneven country roads for an hour. Comfort was not an option as you shifted and squirmed and tried not to impose into the space of the person opposite, such was the size of the trailer. The shoulders of the people on either side of you keeping you upright as you tucked your chin under your knees and fell asleep with the exhaustion. I remember the distraught face, nearly tearful, of a young ‘Marie’, no more than a delicate 16 year old French girl, from a middle class family, probably never having endured anything on this scale before.
It was on an evening after one of these trips that Mme Gardette was talking to her young son at the table. In the first couple of days of the job, our English resolve didn’t allow us to fully understand what was happening with the aperitifs and the wine that flowed freely, the offer of wine was not just limited to the evening meal, but appeared in the vineyards from elevenses. The simple fact was it acted as a pain killer! So after about the third night, we allowed ourselves to indulge, including one particular over-indulgence of aperitifs by Charlotte at the hand of an amorous Frenchman (though nothing happened before he was dragged off one lunchtime in the hands of the French police). We rose and fell with the swell of jovialities from then on, occasionally getting clarification on somethings we weren’t quite sure of from our dare-to-talk-English compadres. This particular evening, not a lot more was needed in the explanation front as Mme Gardette and her ten year old son were talking testicles at the dinner table.
Testicles. In English the word is almost spat out in two syllables, tes- tickles.
In French, the word is seemingly rolled around the mouth and savoured before divulging the whole word onto its audience tess- tee- qewl- lay!
complete with the exclamation at the end.
One didn’t really need to be involved with the whole conversation to find the humour and join in laughing, unless it seemed that you were a middle class sixteen year old girl. This and many other nights of diverse experiences embellish the fond memories we create and hold on to as building blocks for who we are today.
Growing up in the 1970s was a time of make do and mend, perhaps not as much as the war years, but our parents were the children of those times and shared with us their experiences of hand-me-downs and hand-me-rounds. As a family, we had our fair share of that too and it was in this spirit that I found myself in my mid-twenties. I’ve never been a follower of fashion, well except for that brief period as a back-combed mohair Goth in the Eighties, so I usually don’t care what I am wearing as long as it is comfortable and it does the job that it’s intended to do. Recently I have cleared out a wardrobe that consisted of items of clothing that were too old to even be considered retro. I had a pair of jeans that had holes in the knees that were beginning to lose their sense of shabby chic to a more ravaged by werewolves type of look. I didn’t want to lose them as they were comfortable so I set about turning them into shorts, in the styles of my 1970s heroes such as Chips, Dukes of Hazard and Starsky and Hutch. (Yes I know this is mid-90s but it’s a gay thing as I couldn’t do the Magnum moustache).
I am sure that it was Mel or Helen that came to my rescue, again, in a similar vein to the whole dungaree episode (they had stolen them from my room and posted them to Lancashire to make sure I would not commit social suicide twice). They explained that although the principal is sound, men and women aren’t built the same, and if you are going to turn jeans into shorts – for a man – you really have to not precisely cut across the seem of the crotch. My mind was blank. I didn’t get it. Listen, just, have you actually tried bending down in them or anything? What? Of course I have. It’s not like I haven’t done it bef…
Brain switches back to four years previous to a summer adventure in France.
OH MY GOD!
I was slimmer then, almost wiry. Under the summer heat of the south of France, working up a sweat in the vineyards I had turned a pair of old blue jeans into cut offs. I see the pained,grimacing face of the middle class sixteen year old opposite me in the trailer. Holding my knees to my chin trying to dream myself out of the gruesome trailer, unaware of the eternal nightmares me and my tess- tee- qewl- lay! are bestowing on her. OH MY GOD!
Now whenever I think of that moment, that ride, that raucous base laughter around the dinner table, I cannot help but emblazon in shame. So, yeah, whatever I do here in Italy, however I may make a complete cock up with the language or my actions. Whatever happens, it cannot ever be as bad as testicles.
My evening meal today consists of a packet of TUC biscuits and a chocolate Swiss roll. I say evening meal, but I must just clarify to you, dear reader, that as you may be concluding that the aforementioned repast is the third, or possibly fourth visit to the dining table on any particular day, on this holiday (though my feeding habits have seldom changed over the years), unless I particularly crave breakfast for any reason, I am usually to be found feasting once in a 24 hour cycle. So when I say ‘a packet of TUC biscuits and a Swiss roll’, I mean exactly that. I don’t mean a handful of cheesy wafers and a couple of slices of cake. I mean the whole thing. Both of them. And those this may sound very plain to you, actually the biscuits were accompanied by butter, cheese slices and marmite. The cake, well it’s cake and was complemented with coffee.
So now I hear you asking what is the sudden interest in my imparting the contents of my now quite contented stomach? Well no interest really, though I have on occasion divulged the delicacies we have encountered en route to my promised land of pasta, apart from it being the 1st July. The 1st of the month being the day that most of my direct debits come out of the bank back home. Sensing this, I had had a week of keeping a low profile and only moving if I got itchy feet, which they kindly did one evening at 11pm, but that’s another story. When talking it over on the phone with Helen, who is the most adept person I know for budgeting, we understood the fear of having an open ended holiday and therefore not an open ended budget. Usually, if one was to go on holiday for a fortnight, you would have a very definite idea of your costs and constraints to amply get you through the two weeks, knowing that after that it’s back to normal. This trip, however, is proving to be nothing like that at all. The budget that I had in my head was blown to smithereens within the first week of having to spend 20 Euros a night in campsites whilst waiting on Belgium people to fix the indicators. Then the drastic weather ate through the gas, which in turn ate through the credit card. The one saving grace was not having to pay for accommodation whilst outside of Venice, whilst the alternator was chomping through the contingency reserves. In turn, those reserves had been unknowingly gnawed at through the mobile phone charging me £1.66 + VAT per day for data, even though I was getting a daily ‘mobile data allowance’. This is why I am now limited to where I can find free WiFi to upload stuff and say hello on Facebook.
Anyhow, I digress from the culinary activities of the voyage. With one saucepan and one frying pan, a two ring hob, a grill and an oven (though haven’t been using the oven for a while in consideration of the gas consumption) things have been limited to cook. If I haven’t mentioned it already, I love pasta with a capital P. So much that I can quite happily eat it with just a bit of butter on. Though to start off with we did do some pasta bakes in the oven, after finding onion soup for a basis of sauce, with a bit of ricotta and pesto, sometimes chicken, sometimes cashews, I could go on like that for days. I have mixed it up a bit by some days doing a risotto instead, or even sausages and mash (packet mash, in remembrance of my camping days in France where it was two tins over a camping gas stove, cook the mash in one, add some mixed veg, divide into the two tins and eat). And like France, where it was myself and a vegetarian, meat has been few and far between, mainly by direction of the cost analysis (hence cake instead of chocolate biscuits as they are £3 a pop!!).
Over the last week as I said I have been keeping a low cost profile and easing my way along the East coast. I kick started the month with a submission to 02 of my £1.66 + VAT and was surprised to see how healthy the bank balance was. So instead of passing the dew-claw of Italy, Del Gargano National Park, I thought I would have a drive round it, instead of missing it out and going straight for Foggia, in Puglia. The east coast does look like one complete sandy beach, complete with sunbeds and parasols and a man on the side to charge you for looking at them. Added to this the conspicuous car parks and charges by the hour, though it has been very, very pretty, nothing has invited you to stop and take a look. To that end, I came inland for 3 days and went and sat half way up a mountain and the only thing it cost me was a little extra in tyre rubber and sweat (though not in the evening, it was so cold one night, and determined as I am to not waste gas, I went to bed fully clothed. Which was all well and good til the sun came up at 7am and made like I was a jacket potato).
Del Gargano National Park seems to be the olive oil capital of this part of the country. Up until now, olive trees have been few and far between, interspersed with the occasional palm and agave. The hillsides of Gargano have been forested with olives, so much so, there was a village in a cove, but you couldn’t make out any streets, just the roofs of the houses and the street lamps amid a sea of silvery green. The mountainsides mixed with ancient groves of fat and split trunks on twisted terraces and new factory farmed regimented rows of perfectly pruned trees optimally spaced. A day full of the smells and suggestions of olives and oil accompanied with bruschetta bringing back memories of Jamie’s Italian Restaurant and the mouth watering, sensational fayre I’d had about a year ago. I decided that I would indulge my first of the month bonus and dine out this evening!
A trip around the coast, though it says 52 Kilometres, is in fact more like 350 Kilometres in time because of the hills and the hair pin bends. Old Caravaggio did exceptionally well as per normal, when not needing indicators or an alternator, simply driving she excels at! Where as Lake Garda was Bournemouth, Chioggia Skegness, Vieste on the dew-claw was like Weston-Super-Mare, miles and miles of campsites. And no of-road parking! I decided to carry on round the coast (by coast I mean following the main road over and through the mountains). I did give myself a pat on the back for not adopting stray animals en-route though, the animals being a stray dog and a stray mule. Although I will admit to parking the van and seeing if the dog caught up and was still unattended. He came bounding over the hillside barking in response to a whistle from a goat-herder, and I decided against staying and finding out whether or not the goat-herder was a stray…
By the time I found a bit of off-road parking just outside Manfredonia, I had a caffeine withdrawal headache. All very well and good, but I needed to find a Bancomat (cashpoint) before I could go and dine out. By the time I walked about 4 miles into the town centre, I wasn’t thinking or feeling straight, and aware that I have parked in the car park that is the main making-out point in the area. So I have returned home to my TUC biscuits and cake and caffeine and ready to spend my £1.66 + VAT to give you a long awaited update. I will dine out soon!!!
All things were looking up as we passed the ferry port to Venice that we would catch Tuesday morning on the way to our campsite. We knew from the guide that it was just a couple of hundred metres along the road and we found it easily, though tucked back at the bottom of a hedged drive off the main road. As we entered the drive, a neighbour was trimming his side of the hedge, leaving himself and piles of unwanted leaves on the right hand side of the narrow causeway. I dropped down to second and passed as gently as I could before Justina shouted and the loud bang as my left hand wing mirror bracket tore itself off the camper and began to hang limply from the passenger door. I stopped and readjusted my course and eased around the corner to the gate to be met by three teenagers saying something to me in Italian. Not thinking straight, and now obviously embarrassed, it took the elder of the lads three times for me to take in what he was saying in English before my brain responded.
“If you want to stay, I need a copy of your passport.” We rummaged and found one and I went inside and booked the place for 2 nights, allowing us plenty of time for Venice and plenty of showers (and pooping) before Justina’s flight home. The 20 Euros a night fee had been budgeted for well in advance and so there was no shock factor, even some of the campsites around Venice had been asking a staggering 35 Euros a night, on a par with Lake Garda. We had done extensive research in to the best options for this case, dismissing two within 15km of Venice on the same coast because of the extortionate fees (there had also been a free one on our side of the peninsular, but we had discounted it on the lack of services).
“It is 25 Euros a night”.
“I don’t want electric thank you, no corrente.” We had been let stay for free at one place near Como as we didn’t need electric because the solar panels provide enough for our use.
“It is inclusive in the price”.
“Not according to your website it isn’t”. There had been a point where we had free internet and I had taken the opportunity, the ONLY time I had done it on the app, at looking at their website.
“Ok I can discount you to 22 Euros a night”. He had a really big smile and stood with his arms open as I was signing the register. I agreed and continued and then started sorting out the camper, which began with the process of emptying and refilling. As we were busying ourselves we kept thinking back to our stay in Degernau with Smiley and Wavey and their 5 Euros a night for a positive paradise of services and setting. The shower rooms here were haphazard, like a second block had been added on at a later date, by which time, they hadn’t bothered to do one for the girls and one for the boys, just one of each in each block. It was only after I walked in on a lady that you realised that the signs for which were on the outside of permanently opened doors so you couldn’t see them. I apologised (in French) and ran away.
Back in the camper over coffee I was stewing on the price. How could they blatantly not update their prices on the internet when it was specific for 2013 and stipulates a different price for with or without Electric? I got out my phone and brought the website up. How can they argue with black and white, with their own information? I left my coffee and with my phone in hand, got out of the camper in true British Abroad mode. The young man was still sat on a step with his friend. I approached, smiling, as best I could and produced the phone showing their website prices on the screen.
“Yes it is wrong and we need to update it”.
“Sorry. Why?” Realising instantly that there was going to be absolutely no point in continuing any discussion as all he would have to do is resort to his native language and I would be completely stumped and therefor without argument or comeback.
“It is the taxes, they are not enough and we have had to change them. This week.” If he had left off the last two words he would have been completely believable and that would have been an end of it. However, all I got was a smug look and the intense feeling of having the piss taken out of me in front of his friend. There were no adults around, I just imagined that his extra bit of money was going to buy them fags or beer, but there was not one thing I could do about it. All I could do is repeat the 22 Euros a night he had quoted and return to the camper with my tail between my legs, and contemplate plugging in the electric for the next two days to get my 4 Euros worth, but I never did.
We headed out for the sights of Venice early on Tuesday morning. It was going to cost us 28 Euros just for the ferry trip to Venice and back, so we were particularly more acutely aware of not buying expensive ice creams in the main streets. I, more so than Justina because I hadn’t let on, was equally aware of perhaps what it may be like after it being described to me as “After you’ve seen St Mark’s Square, a Gondola and a canal, the rest of it is just repetitive, boring, dirty crap.” Thankfully, to contrast this, I had visions of real life re-enactment of Assassin’s Creed X-Box game and was overjoyed to find Assassin’s Alley! We looked out for roof top hideouts, wells to hide in, corners to prostitute on and market stalls to sell our services as mercenaries and pretty much all of them made it to photos!
We spent the day walking the labyrinth of bridges and streets, not jealous of the 80 Euro fee for a gondola and gondolier. After finding some Eiscaffe in a pint container in a supermarket, I thought it would be good to try out an iced coffee in a coffee shop. So far, in the never ending search for a British Version of an Italian Latte, I have been having limited luck, and even more limited coffee portions. This time we were served iced espresso in a martini glass. My chin was as long as the stem. The best find so far has been McDonalds Strawberry Milkshake for 1 Euro (with the complimentary free WiFi) though how long this offer will last I am not sure.
Wednesday was going to be an easy day with a last morning’s proper unlimited water supply shower (still getting our 4 Euros’ worth) and a leisurely drive back round to Venice airport and the camper stop next door. Knowing that the evening’s task was a short sort out of packing ready for the off tomorrow, we left the camp site after lunch. At Lido di Jesolo, which seemed to be a very big tourist destination with theme parks and camp sites the size of Butlins, we knew that there must be the opportunity to get 4 Euros worth of Milkshake and an hours’ free internet. Sure enough, we pulled in and ignored each other and the outside world for the best part of 90 minutes. We returned to the camper and its’ completely flat battery.
“You are not in Germany?”
“No I am in Italy.”
“You have no blinkers?”
“Well, no, but that’s not what I am phoning about.”
“I will call you back when I have a time for you. Bye!” After the van had started at lunchtime, I hadn’t been sure that it was just a flat battery, after all, I have the small solar panel charging it up. When we had had the camper serviced before leaving the UK, we had been advised that the only thing likely to go wrong was the solenoid or the distributor cap and these were easy to replace, so we had ordered a couple of spares to come along. I managed to swap out the solenoid and test it to see if it was that and that made no difference and after lots of poking and prodding I managed to test a new distributor cap too and that equally didn’t work, so putting it back as I found it, I made the call to ADAC.
Twenty minutes later, we had two mechanics pull up in a recovery truck and the boss talking ten to the dozen both at me and his employee and then down the phone to the ADAC call centre. He was going to take the camper back to his garage and then fix it tomorrow and after much toing and froing and English German Italian translation, we had declined the offer of a hotel, to stay in the camper outside his garage. When I asked questions, I was pointing in the direction of the garage and told someone speaks English there. All the time, boss had his foot on my accelerator revving the crap (and the petrol) out of the engine, whilst mumbling something about disaster and cylinders. The boss gave me instructions to follow after jump starting the van and his mechanic jumped in and drove the camper to garage, giving Justina enough time to find her seat in the rear, but not the seat belt.
The very nice lady who spoke English at the garage came out and I explained that whilst it was at a garage, could they please look at my blinkers. I was trying to explain that after tomorrow, there were no limitations on time, so if it took three to four days or even til next week, I would be happy. I stopped trying to explain when she glazed over and started telling me that the police may not be happy if I was camping on the main road.
We were informed to bring the camper in in the morning some time after 8am and they would get to work on it. We were given the directions for the bus stop for the airport and ADAC called to check he had understood where we were and where we were staying. We settled down with the mosquitos to pack and reflect over the last six weeks and what we had done, where we had been and how close to death we had come and on how many different occasions and in different ways. Justina contemplating the many different meals of beef that she could have when she returned home (once out here in a bought sandwich) and how she was looking forward to a real bed and her Dad’s cooking. We slept apprehensively of the long day ahead.
At 7:20am we awoke, showered and were just sitting down to a coffee when boss and mechanic knocked on the door and before we could bat a half open eyelid, we were grabbing on to coffee, kettles and movable objects whilst trying to remain upright as the mechanic jumped into the driver’s seat and was driving us in to the garage! After composing ourselves, we said we would come back at lunchtime to see how things were going and if it was likely that we would need to take the bus to the airport or not. We did and it was.
We spent a subdued journey to the airport, whilst Justina was quietly contemplating her flight and journey to be undertaken on her own, and I was thinking on the prospects of actually being alone in a foreign country that I was failing at getting the language of. We had plenty of coffee and cigarettes before it came to check in time and going through passport control and an emotional hug at the barrier. Whilst I waited for the return bus to the camper, feeling scared and isolated as everyone was talking in Italian (or German) around me, a poster on the wall opposite read ‘Life is a journey and every journey is a story’ and my mind drifted back to my time in France 20 years ago. Then I had learnt that you only get out of life what you put in, and I hardened my resolve to say yes, I will put it in, as there is so much here that I can get back. I got the bus back to my mobile home.
I got back to the garage and went and had a chat to the mechanic and his boss, nay, his dad. He was still talking like a train and insisting only 3 out of 4 cylinders were working and the whole thing was a disaster. I had only just got confirmation that they would look at the indicators in the morning, but I had difficulty explaining what had happened before both with the indicators and the trying of the solenoid and distributor cap. Disheartened, I returned to the camper and drove it back on to the main road.
I spent the evening rebonding with Caravaggio and having a reorganising of the space now I was on my own. I felt that in doing so, and cleaning, it would help in getting the brain jiggling to think that this is how it’s always been, not that we are missing another human being and therefor interaction in the space, hopefully to help me not feel lonely in the gap left by Justina. I did all this and then got in to bed and didn’t draw the curtains. And then didn’t get more than two hours sleep.
The good part about this was that I was up and about in time to deliver the camper myself to the mechanic at 8am, without having to try and hold everything together as we bobbed up and down the bumps. The downside was going to be how to keep myself occupied outside of the camper for 11 hours. I thought I would go and have breakfast where Justina and I had had it yesterday, where I succeeded in getting the closest thing to a latte so far, an Americano with milk, which was an espresso in a big cup with hot water and hot milk. During our visit yesterday, we had very nearly built up a rapport with the staff too, so this was very promising.
Over breakfast with the help of google maps on my Kindle Fire, I discovered a beach nearby and a bus route. This was a beach that bestowed the opportunity of the all over tan. I bought my return bus ticket from the machine, a steal at 3.50 Euros and after waiting an hour for a bus that had the destination on it that didn’t come, I asked the next driver if he was going to Eraclea Mare.
“Eraclea, si. No Eraclea Mare.”
Eraclea/Eraclea Mare, all the same I thought, like getting a bus to Brighton city centre and having to walk to the beach. “OK.” I said and hopped aboard. As we entered Eraclea, sure enough there was the brown information sign for the “Mare” (sea) and I hopped off again and headed down that road. After breakfast and the time waiting on the bus it was now 11am and a glorious, cloudless day. I vainly undid the top two buttons on my short-sleaved shirt and headed off for the seaside. 7km and an hour and a half later I was thankful I had remembered to bring a couple of small bottles of water with me and I rehydrated myself before I got down to some serious tanning. I did well to remember to keep turning and interspersed the roasting with some basting in the Adriatic. I felt confident with the few second looks I got as I headed home from the beach 5 hours later, stocking up on water on the way and happily feeling a little tired.
By the time the man from ADAC called at 6pm to tell me the van was ready, I was shivering. The second delayed bus and I was worried I wasn’t going to get back in time before they shut the garage and I was sure they weren’t going to stick it back on the road, all fixed, without getting paid first. I had no idea about taxis and I was beginning to feel worse for wear. After the first bus only took me half way and I had to change at this mornings’ drop off, it was 7pm before I finally made it back to the garage. In their office mirror I could see that I was lobster red. If this was just my face, I was concerned what the rest of me was going to look, but more importantly, what it was going to feel like. Though I have had severe burns to my face from a gas oven exploding before, that wasn’t sore when you tried to walk in your trousers/shorts. Where you get the clothes line from your trouser band, it was cutting in on the skin making it feel like I was being twisted off like a Russian Doll. The bossed son was being polite and chatty as he was showing me round the van, but it was all I could do to concentrate and listen in a sun-stroked, drunken haze.
When I was a kid, I am sure my parent’s despaired at birthdays and Christmases, because you could almost guarantee that before the week was out, I would have broken or taken to bits anything I was given. Oblivious to the fact myself, that anything I had done this to before had never worked again. Whilst my brother was painstakingly, obsessively, working out the Rubik’s Cube for weeks, I had a pair of scissors in it within 24 hours of getting it, pulling it to pieces and putting it back together as new. Well, almost new. The fact that if you picked it up the middle square fell out was irrelevant, it looked like new on the shelf, and not some mass of jumbled colours reminding me that I actually wasn’t clever enough to work it out. In fact, there are still a couple of spare bits of motorhome dashboard lying about which I haven’t found homes for yet.
I now know that the dead battery is not my fault and that the alternator has died and needed a new one for the grand sum of 300 Euros plus tax. I know that no one is listening or understanding my explanation of me pointing at the distributor cap and the new distributor cap as I try and mime myself swapping them over. I have listened to the boss say ‘disastro’ on at least three occasions whilst shaking his head and tutting very loudly. But I know that the engine did not sound or feel as bad before I tried to fix things. How much is a new engine? How much work is involved in trying to sort out 1 cylinder not working? What does not getting pressure in the cylinder mean? What is even happening with the blinkers?
I know my Italian is crap and I run the risk of talking about horses when talking of engines, but I decided my best option was to write it down, this way they may understand something enough to not go straight in at the deep end and start ripping out the engine, when it may just be I have put something back wrong. So the night before my trip to the seaside and after my cleaning stint, I had a go, in as simplistic terms as possible, of writing down what I had done. I think the understanding of the blinkers came out best, even though I think I got the wrong term for lights. When I gave it to the boss’s son in the morning, his faced looked as confused as mine does when his father talks at me.
Thankfully in the end it all worked out ok for the camper. Both the indicators and the cylinders were fixed with really only labour taken in to account. I had indeed misplaced cables on the distributor cap, hence it not firing in sequence and then sounding and acting like a cylinder had gone. The indicators were down to (two fingers coming together like the hand of God whilst spitting) a short in the wire. All still doubling the price of the alternator on its own.
I know the price and usage of the gas expense will come down, even the last canister was down to 22 Euros, but this is a heavy bill again and with the 200 Euros already gone out on gear linkage and first indicator failure (plus additional costs of added camp fees etc), this is continuing to bite into the available funds. I know what I really need to be doing is to be engaging with people, ideally having a coffee or a coke out in a bar in the evening. If I do, perhaps my Italian will improve and my whole experience of this country I’ve longed to have been immersed in for so long will be better. If I don’t, I am going to continue to feel on the outside of it. It may be cheaper in Southern Italy, but if I travel down there, will I have the funds to do Tuscany justice? Will it be that I have to return home in half of the time that I planned to be away? Will Caravaggio finally be with fault for longer than two weeks? What is there left at home that I can sell? Hopefully I will have figured some of this out before my next post. Ciao miei amici.