First Days in Italy
First Day in France
Moving South
Vienne and Vinsorbes
Dutch Campground
First Days in Italy
Montelcino Antonio
First Days-South Italy
First Days-Giovinazzo
Living in Giovinazzo
Picking Olives
Outings and School
Rosa's show
Hols & New Yr
Back to School
Croatia-Plitvika, Krk, Cres
St. Pierre
Camping on the Med
Eli's Diary
Rosa's Diary


11-12 November 2004: Leaving France for Italy, Area de Sosta, Highways, Pizzeria, camping on hillside

Our first Italian stop

Practicing our Italian

Scary highways

Enjoying the sun after the previous late night in the pizzeria

Kids, inspired by views, sketch.

Tuscan views

A mini garden

Lucha's bed



Leaving Dutch campground

We set off from the Dutch campground and discovered an urgent need for new nappies, the last one just having been put on Finn. It was already 4pm so we hoped to find an open shop. About 5:30 we still hadn't seen one so we pulled off the highway before St Tropez and succumbed to giving the children their tea in McDonalds beside a huge supermarket that said it was open until 9p.m. , but it wasn't. We continued on trying a few corner-type supermarkets that didn't sell a cush d'infant

I finally saw lights on in a much larger one in a town only to discover the only reason the lights were on was because there were workmen fixing a huge pane of glass. I began to think France had gone to sleep. We stopped at an all night bakery for bread and the woman explained it was a national Fete day, but we would find one large supermarket open in the next town. It was a Geant, and it really was giant. And even though it was by now 9p.m. , it was packed. Luckily 3 people let me go ahead of them with my 1 pack of nappies. We continued on the coast road so that we could drive through Monaco and look at Monte Carlo. We then headed for Italy and decided to get on the highway to speed our way.

Italian motorways

Mike was driving and it proved to be a terrifying experience which we only stuck for about 40 minutes. It was dark, the highway had masses of trucks that beeped at us for going too slow, and precipices beside every large bridge as well as tons of tunnels. Earlier along the coast before Nice, Mike had been shaken by the proximity of the dark sea with waves lapping against what seemed like the edge of the road. He can tell you what memories that conjured up, but it was really the wind on the Italian highway that finished us off.

Area di Sosta

So we got off in **** and followed signs with pictures of campers on, and Area di Sosta beneath. It was past 10 o'clock when we found it, and the gate was half shut, but we were desperate so Mike opened it and we pulled in beside the other campers for a good night's sleep.

As often happens after a night of terror in melodramatic novels and short stories, the morning dawned bright and clear and warm as toast. We couldn't believe the heat of the sun at 8 o'clock. We poured out of the camper, the children playing and Mike and I basking. We took a slow morning with breakfast and Mike having another check on the engine and fraternising with the natives, who were the first Italians we had encountered. I really enjoyed watching some men jump start a truck, as the discussion and advice and debate over how to do it at a distance involved a great deal of hand gesticulation. We seemed to be following a pattern of heading off at noon, which isn't a bad time to drive in Italy because everyone's gone to have their lunch. It does mean that when you want to pull in for food, the shops are shut and when we are ready to eat our lunch at around 3 or 4, the restaurants are all closed again.


When we left we had tackled the scary high way again. There was still a good bit of wind but I managed to take a turn and even coped with the tunnels. As I was driving, I could no longer close my eyes through them. After trying a few coastal towns off the highway for lunch, we found one big enough to have a bar that served pasta, and were very entertained as Finn sucked up his first bowl of Italian spaghetti. The waitress was very friendly and our blondies seemed to attract a lot of attention from her and other passers by. For dessert we tried an Italian bakery with a great fun senora who sold us several bags of Italian fancy biscuits that had Sammy's eyes popping out of his head. One Mike and I particularly liked name translates as "lady's kisses". Eli adored the baby merangues

We set off again, hoping to get close to Tuscany. We had phoned a WWOOFer host there, asking could we park the van in their farm for the night, as we were WOOFERs on the way south.


Despite advice to visit, we decided to bypass the beautiful city of Pisa with its famous tower as it was dark and the going on the highway was good, having finally left behind the tunnels bridges and wind. We turned inland for Florence and managed to get to the far side by the time we were tired and needing to pull off for food. We arrived in a hilltop village called Marcialla. The street narrowed and we slowed to pass a small pizzeria (La Taverna del Faraone) to see if it was open. The proprietor was standing outside and with a friendly smile beckoned us to come in. We parked on the piazza and carried awakening children into his little restaurant. We had promised the children pizza for Shabbat in Italy, and were able to make good on it.

The food livened them up as did the in house singer with his techno piano reverb Italian songs. And Finn amused the other diners by dancing enthusiastically and visiting everybody. There was a great atmosphere and we felt like we were dining with everybody else. Then some older couples got up and had a waltz. It was like something out of a movie; hard to believe it wasn't just put on for us tourists. The deserts were the crowning moment of the evening, with chocolate ice cream and torte to die for. We had headed towards this village because of a sign for camping but on enquiry were told it was shut. So our proprietor gave us various Italian versions of nods and winks to indicate he would sort it out. So after paying, two of the other diners walked us back to the piazza hopped in a little car, beckoning us to follow, belted off down the hill, and showed us a little area just inside the gate of somebody's olive grove. Once again we slept well, this time helped by the nice Italian wine that accompanied our pizza, and feeling very content with our first authentic Italian experience. Probably also helped by the wine, Mike and I just kept giggling about it all.

Morning on hillside

Once again we awoke to a gorgeous morning and were stunned to discover that we were sitting on the top of a hillside with a breathtaking view of Tuscany. There were olive groves beneath us, terra cotta topped houses scattered amongst oak woods, where we could hear early morning hunting. Judging by the last night's menu, probably for cinguale (wild pig). There are pine tree here, a kind of thin cone shaped one, that look like they have been planted in the landscape by a decorator or artist.  Eli and Rosa were both affected by the view and took out their sketch books to capture it. We had fun squeezing our first olives from a tree and were amazed how much oil readily comes out of them. Just down the hill from our camping spot there was an old woman in a small house with chickens and a cockerel that delighted Sammy and Finn. Her daughter arrived at the top of the lane in a little car, greeted us, and shouted Mama and a plethora of other things until the old lady came slowly up the hill and got into the car, not before exchanging greetings with us and especially with Cal.

Cal, I realise, has had very little mention in this journal so far, and she is doing remarkably well, but obviously truly loves our stops where she can explore. She gets a lot of attention from most people she meets.

Newbie work

3 & 4 valves were tight again! I adjusted them, did points and retimed, but am wondering what's going on.

Leaving Dutch campground

We finally left late in the day (4pm) and headed towards Italy. Out of nappies and was a French festival day so had a hard time finding an open shop. Went through the fancy Med coast cities (Nice, etc) with Casinos, fast sports cars, amazing houses build up the mountainsides, huge yachts and posh marinas. Through Monaco very briefly got a view of the palace. Roads are VERY winding going up and then down - sometimes seems like they are having a laugh with all the hairpin turns. Newbie struggled up in low gears; the French are happy to follow one inch behind you but won't actually pass you until they are in a passing zone. I don't like the dark water at close to the road beside us when we are low down - very Jaws-ish or something.

Crossing the border

As we neared the border, a car of very Italian looking lads waved and flashed a peace sign - in contrast with the reserved French. We crossed the border and then the driving got more familiar. We drove through the first Italian towns and kept saying "we're in Italy... they're Italians... real Italian pizza!" Lots more places open late night, including coffee places.

Scary Motorways

We were making slow progress so decided to get onto the motorway. The climb up from the coast took ages, and when we finally got to the motorway it felt like we must be on top of Italy. At night, the motorway consists of bridges with deep darkness down both sides, where high winds turned our campervan into a big yacht sail, and long tunnels through the mountains. Every bridge and tunnel is announced by a sign with its name and length - the longest tunnel was something like 1.5 km. Some of the gusts gained temporary control of my steering.

Area di Sosta

It really was too much, especially at night, so we got back onto the coast road with relief, and eventually found a camper stop - no one around but one of the gates was open so we went in as quietly as we could and set up for the night.

Normal morning, except it was warm, long before the sun reached our site. About 11 am it was almost 30 degrees C and the kids were looking for "nice shady places".

I did Newbie work with Rosa's help, and Sammy and Finn also joined in, all wearing my spare rubber gloves. Valves 3 and 4 valves were tight again, also valve cover gasket on right was torn so I changed both. Changed the plugs: 3 & 4 were black while 1&2 were brown. Also checked points -ok and retimed. Afraid to adjust idle because (1) not sure which screw to turn and (2) Didn't want to mask another problem.  I have to get to an internet cafe soon to see what the lads on Type2Ireland think of what's happening with Newbie's engine!

When I was digging for spare parts way in back I found a pile of torn paper, looks like we definitely have a mouse passenger!

Went to find someone to pay - found a compact Italian lady who spoke no English but figured out the reception people would be back in a while. Had some coffees and hot chocolates from a machine and eventually the women who worked there showed up and I paid just 8euro. We left and thought we'd brave the motorway again.

In daylight you can see how far up the bridges are, so it is best not to look down. Driving was still hair raising: vento forte (strong winds), trucks passing so close they pulled us towards them. We also got honked at despite being in the righthand line, I assume this was because we were doing less than the minimum speed limit. I stopped for a break at a service station and found the best selection of car and truck parts and accessories, but no crisps! Got an Italian atlas and Suzie took over driving. Driving much the same, it must have taken 20 minutes to pass the city of Genova.



oh oh and I was being so careful too. They hadn't missed the odd Olive and that smelly cheese doesn't show teeth marks for long, but Mike needed some tool or other and dug deep and found my bed. It took me so long to make and was lovely and cosy right above the engine bay. Oh well I'll have to be more careful.  

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