13.08.2012 - 18.08.2012
We completely felt at one with George and other celebrity A-listers stopping in Lugano, Switzerland on the way to Italy. It didn't matter that we were only stopping to send post cards to Bodhi's school friends (that were supposed to be sent in Germany). It was all about the vibe...'Versace' and 'Dolce & Gabbana' and all the expensive stuff that we generally consider OTT! It was glamourous and gorgeous and at least we could afford an ice cream for Bodhi, which was enough to keep him happy for another couple of hours on the road.
Passing in to Italy was strange. Suddenly we were on the autostrade trying to manage toll ticketing machines, new speed signs and the Italian total disregard for road laws, whilst maneuvering around the outskirts of Milan and its heavy industry factories that seem to go on forever. Our first experience with Italian hospitality was on the autostrade at an 'Autogrill' and this did not go particularly well. The service staff bordered on crazy; answering requests with snarls and throwing change back at customers. Meeting up with Renee and Joel, we found that their situation at another service center was much the same, so we were all a bit worried about what was in store. What I can happily state is that it is only the service center staff and supermarket cashiers who hate their jobs and are so angry. Everyone else in Italy is a delight.
Verona was also a delight. Called 'Little Rome', it is fittingly the romantic setting of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and even has its own colosseum. We lucked in with campsites on a hill overlooking the ancient centre and watched the sun set over the city - a terracotta masterpiece! It was exactly how we imagined Italy to be and opted to stay another night to spend the next day exploring further and eating the first gelato of many. Gelato was to become our Italian "curry wurst". No drama to the waistline though, as long as you choose fruit flavours, right?
Following Verona was a visit to the Ferrari museum. Despite being an Italian public holiday, when the rest of the country was closed for the day and every other tourist place was also shut, the Ferrari museum was buzzing and people were zipping around the area in test drive Ferraris for the astronomical price of €200 for 15 minutes. The museum was very modern with all types of bells and whistles, however the older passenger cars were my favorite part of the collection.
Our plan after the museum was to head to Manarola on the Cinque Terre but as there were no available campsites, we settled for Lerici. The campsite terraced down to the Mediterranean with a spectacular bay view. The sinks were made of marble however the toilets were squats. Where were the bidets? The next day we walked down the rocky steps to have a morning swim in the warm Mediterranean sea. It was such a European scene, with not a skerrick of sand to be seen and bronzed, lean Italians smoking and sunning themselves across the rocks.
The next day we headed to Pisa to see a very famous tower. You can actually see it from the outskirts, as the town and its surrounds is particularly flat. Once we got in to the town centre, you walked three minutes and there it was! In fact, that seems to be pretty much all there was! Three majestic marble buildings in a rectangular square along with hordes of tourists and souvenir stands. After doing similar tours in Vietnam, Dave and I felt for the poor souls spilling out of the tour busses and being herded out to view the leaning tower after a 2 hour drive. In Italy, I began to view the tour bus scene as a particular version of Catholic purgatory. That aside, it is always amazing to see something in real life that you have learnt about or seen in pictures since you were a child.
Our final stop before hitting Rome was Saturnia. Tuscany is alive with thermal springs and Saturnia is a spring in the middle of the south reached by traveling through kilometers of winding, hilly roads lined with acres and acres of olive groves. Once there you find multiple pools of sulfur springs flowing in to a river. The pools are free and are a popular destination with Italian families touring in camper vans. It was heaps of fun and all of us, except Bodhi, covered ourselves with the rich black mud before rinsing it off underneath a warm waterfall. Something different to do and all our skin felt lovely, albeit still rather smelly, over the next couple of days.