November 19, 2019 Portland OR

While our last trip home was an adventure and merited some story telling.  This trip was without any drama thanks to Delta Airlines.  That is how you want a trip to end.

Ton got this shot of the Canadian Rockies from the plane.

This completes our fourth trip to Europe using a RV.  They have all been memorable, but we really enjoyed this trip tremendously.  We were more nervous about Italy than we had been on our previous trips, and those nerves turned out to be unfounded.

The best thing about Italy turned out to be Italians.  They were a kind, helpful, and generally fun group to be around.  The food was tremendous both at restaurants and what we bought from groceries and Ton prepared in François.  The sites were everything we had read about and exceeded our expectations.  

We are hoping for a swift recovery for Venice from the recent floods.

We did travel a little differently than we have in other countries, sticking to campgrounds and using the Autostradas between cities.  We used campgrounds early on due to security concerns that had been expressed to us by other travelers.  But by the end Ton expressed to me that she liked staying at campgrounds better than less expensive but more rugged options, this may be a result of our aging.  The decision to pay to use the Autostradas was due to the nature of the Italian road system and while relatively expensive it saved in stress and time.

One of Ton’s favorite pictures from Italy.  It really captures the spirit of the country.

Rome was the biggest city we have ever visited in François, but I was surprised how easy it went.  The campground was very accessible from the freeways, and the transport into the city center, and the public transport downtown were easy to use.  I enjoyed Rome much more than I thought I would.  I also really enjoyed Sicily as it had a rugged beauty and charm that I enjoyed.  Ton could not pick a favorite place but she picked three similar places, she really liked the coastal towns picking Taormina, Cinq Terre, and the Amalfi Coast as her three favorites so there is a definite pattern in her choices.  I did not expect to like Venice as I had visions of a place crawling with tourists and tourist traps.  But in the off season it was not terribly busy, and it is charming so the appeal is obvious.  Right after we visited they experienced extreme flooding so I hope they can recover and come up with a plan to preserve the city in the long run.  Our biggest disappointment for the trip was Monaco.  I think we expected something more in line with Nice or Sanremo, but instead it felt sterile and lacked charm for us.

Another of her favorites.

We covered about 5000km’s on this trip.  François performed well and gave us no issues.  We are really happy we added the screen door as it made a big difference in warm weather.  The SOG unit worked well though Ton with her super sense of smell did occasionally get an unpleasant odor still.  Overall one of our best trips.

November 18, 2019 Paris FR

Another trip is wrapping up.  I spent the night hoping we did not run out of LPG for the heater as the temperature hovered around freezing.  I lucked out and we made it, though when we return we will be heading right to the LPG pump to fill up.  We woke up early and finished preparing François before dropping him off for the winter.

The trip into Paris was uneventful, and we arrived at the hotel at the airport.  We have upgraded to a Holiday Inn which is a huge improvement from the Comfort Inn we have been staying at.  

Greatest hit picture from Italy.

Hopefully tomorrow will be as smooth as today.

November 17, 2019 Gron FR

Today was cleaning and packing day.  On Sundays what little that is open is open between 9am to Noon, so we headed out early to the grocery.  I asked to head to Leclerc because I wanted to try to get some LP gas so we could be toasty tonight.  Unfortunately the LP gas pumps were closed for Sunday, so I will cross my fingers that it does not get too cold tonight and I will set the thermostat a little lower than I wanted.  Bad planning on my part as I thought we would be fine for the rest of the trip.

At Leclerc we did find a very nice carwash that was better than the one we had used in the past.  So I spent a half hour pressure washing François while Ton worked on cleaning the interior.  The next stop was Auchan to buy some food for dinner, and to give Ton a last walk thru a grocery on this trip.  When we got there Ton told me to get lost for an hour so she could pack and I would just be in the way.

As we were leaving Auchan we saw the major traffic circle on the main road had been taken over by the Yellow Vests.  Today was the first anniversary of the Yellow Vest movement in France.  It has been covered lightly in the US.  It is a protest movement against some of the rationalization of the French economy that has been proposed by their President Macron.  The folks come out every Saturday and sit in the middle of the traffic circles that are all around France. They occasionally enter the circles and slow down traffic.  Unfortunately the protests today became violent in Paris, though the one we saw in Sens seemed very peaceful and was mostly people standing around a bonfire keeping warm.  On the way back to the aire we came across another group occupying a different traffic circle who were motorcyclists, we were not sure what they were protesting but one of the signs seemed to say that there were too many photo radars.  While we were waiting to get thru the circle one lady came barreling around the cars in line and tried to force her way thru the circle while shouting and getting shouted at by the motorcyclists.

The Yellow Vests in Sens.

The rest of the day was uneventful.

November 16, 2019 Gron FR

We woke up early with only two things in mind for the day.  Head over to the Valrhona Chocolate company, and then jump in François and do a marathon drive on the Autoroute to Sens.

Both missions were accomplished, when we went out for our walk to the chocolate company we were surprised to see two river cruise ships tied up to the docks right next to the campground.  The fog was dense and you could barely see them but they loomed in the dark.  We think all of the passengers had already taken off for their day trips as the crew of one of the ships were engaged in a vigorous snow ball fight on the top deck, which is usually used for the passengers to enjoy the sun and the views.

The pedestrian bridge across the Rhone shrouded in fog.

We arrived at the factory and Ton did some sampling and shopping while I sampled and tried to figure out why our internet was out of order.  Ton was much more successful than I was.  After much sampling and comparison we departed Valrhona with a kilo of chocolate to take home to Oregon.

François sitting in the fog and snow 30 yards from the Rhone River which is the source of the fog bank.

We quickly packed up and headed to the autoroute.  At the entrance I was distracted going up to the gate where you get the ticket to enter.  In France they have a Telepass system where you put a transponder in the car and do not need to stop at the toll gates.  As I drove up to one of the two entrance gates I was not paying attention, so when I pulled up to the machine that usually dispenses the ticket you need, nothing happened, and then after a few seconds a recording began lecturing me in French about the fact that I had entered the Telepass gate, after about 20 seconds of being scolded in French, and having a picture taken of our plate (there was a flash at the rear of François which I presume was a camera going off), the machine dispensed the ticket we needed, the barrier went up and we were on our way.  I fear there may be a fine in our future.

A windshield shot of a castle along the A6 autoroute.

The rest of the day consisted of us navigating the 430 km’s on the autoroute, and paying a huge toll at the end.  Before heading back to the aire in Gron which is our normal beginning and end of trip stop, we also filled up a thirsty François to the tune of €120.  The days when we see the least are often the most expensive.

Fall colors on the A6 autoroute in Burgundy.

November 15, 2019 Tournan-sur-Rhone FR

We had big hopes for today, but nothing went well.  Our plan was to revisit a town we had fond memories of from our very first trip to France.  Tournan-sur-Rhone is both the originator of Syrah, one of my favorite wines, and has a fabulous chocolate factory.  

The day started out with a hiccup when we were trapped in the campground after we had packed up.  We were ready to roll about 8:30 when we realized the office for the campground did not open until 9 so we messed around for 30 minutes and headed to the office where no one was in sight, they did not arrive until 9:15, so we were an hour late getting going.

To expedite travel today we decided to pony up a large sum of money (€50) for tolls.  We needed to cover about 380 km’s to Tournan.  The first 200km’s went as planned though we cringed at each toll booth.  Then we began to run into a pattern of 30 or 40 km’s at speed followed by 8 to 10 km’s of crawling along in a traffic jam for 30 to 45 minutes.  One of the traffic jams was interesting as the Gendarmerie had closed two lanes on the freeway creating a huge bottleneck, and when it closed down to one lane they diverted 100% of the commercial trucks into the two closed lanes and parked them nose to tail, we have no idea why.   So our 4 to 5 hour trip was delayed by 1 hour starting and took 90 minutes longer than we planned.  The good news is Ton turned the dash of François into an impromptu dryer, so a lot of our soaked clothes got dried out as we crawled along the A7 autoroute.

The French police diverted 100% of the trucks into the right lane and parked them there, we are not sure why, it caused a 6 mile traffic jam as you would expect.

The final surprise was there was 4 to 6 inches of snow at Tournan when we arrived. Luckily the campground was open and we were able to get a spot facing the Rhone.  The snow made things pretty, but walking the 1.5 km’s on icy sidewalks and bridges did not seem like a good idea in fading light, so we missed the chocolate factory.  Hopefully tomorrow.

We did not expect six inches of snow at our destination today!

The next annoyance of the day is that we are in a cell phone dark spot and have only 2g service on our WiFi.  Ton spilled her wine to cap off the day.  Well some days are better than others.

We do have a nice view of the Rhone from our cold campsite.

November 14, 2019 Nice FR

We have a friend who arrived in Paris a few days ago.  Ton and her have been keeping in touch and sharing some photos.  We thought they were going on to Savona from Paris, but last night she sent Ton a message saying they were going to Mice today.  Ton showed me the message and said do you think she means Nice?  A short phone call confirmed that she was heading our way and would arrive on a train about 1:15.  So our plans for today were set with a happy meeting of friends.

In the morning we took care of our last laundry for the trip, anything that gets dirty from this point is going home with us.  The weather was threatening all day but the rain held off in the morning.  As we were locking up François to head to the rail station a French couple walked up and hit me with a long and complex blast of French.  When he took a breath I told him that I was very sorry but I do not speak French.  They switched to English and we had a nice conversation about traveling both here and in the US.  

We arrived at the train station a few minutes before the train from Paris arrived and were able to meet our friends at the platform.  It was a nice surprise for them as our friend from Portland Boo had not told the other two couples she was traveling with that we were in Nice.  After saying hello to Moo, Nit, Jeap and Dit we headed off to their hotel.  

We love traveling.

After they checked in we were off to the promenade and old town for a bit of sight seeing and catching up.  They are on an extensive trip that started in Paris, they are heading on to Italy to catch a trans-Atlantic cruise to Brazil, after they arrive they are going to linger in South America for a couple of weeks.  Ton and I are a little jealous.

Ton and one of her very best friends from Oregon Boo.

Walking along the promenade and the old town of Nice was fun as we exchanged travel stories.  The promenade was empty as while it was not raining yet the wind was blowing hard and it was cold.  Despite this everyone was having a good time.  Ton and Boo were having a great time talking as they walked arm in arm thru town.  I think it was good for Ton to have a friend to talk to instead of me and in Thai instead of English.

After a few hours we realized that we had left the key to the gate for the campground in François.  The campground we are staying in is gated and they close the gate at 7pm, without the key we would not have access, so we left a little earlier than we wanted to, but this turned out to be a good thing.

As we were walking to the train station it started to rain.  The weather report today was pretty ominous actually with high winds and heavy rain called for.  It turns out while the wind and rain was delayed, when it hit, it hit with a vengeance.  When we got off the train in Villeneuve we were struck with a gust of wind of 20 plus miles per hour and heavy sideways rain, umbrellas were collapsing and people were actually staggering as they stepped off the train.  The walk back to François was in a ferocious rain and wind storm, with flashes of lightning to add to the fun.  By the time we arrived at François we were soaked to the skin, and now the bathroom is full of wet clothes.

November 13, 2019 Nice FR

Last night we were discussing what to do today, and as we often do when planning things we consulted the weather channel app.  It told us today was the last sunny day we should expect on this trip.  So we had to make a decision, we are positioned equidistant between Nice and Cannes so we had to decide which town would we spend our last sunny and relatively warm day on.  As with all of these type of decisions I left it up to Ton and went to sleep.  When I woke up in the morning she said Nice, and gave me an agenda.

We started off with our mile walk to the train station thru the massive condo’s.  This morning we discussed again the architectural merits of the buildings, and we both admitted that the buildings had grown on us.  Ton said she looked at her pictures last night and began to see some of the subtleties of the buildings that are hidden by their sheer size.  While we will not be purchasing a condo there anytime soon we can see ourselves living there if the opportunity arose.

The condos that have grown on both of us as we spend more time around them.

When we arrived at the train station we found a representative of SNCF (the French National Train Company) posting a notice on the still broken ticket machine.  He said that the construction near the station had cut the power to the machine, and to his office so he could not issue tickets.  We asked him what we should do, and he said just get on the train and if the conductor comes by tell him you got on here and they will sell you a ticket on the train.  I said what if we do not see a conductor, he said the ride is on us!  On the platform I told Ton that we should take a picture of the notice on the ticket machine just to be safe, a lady on the platform overheard us and asked in accented English what was going on.  We told her and she said she would go with Ton to take a picture also.  When she returned  I noticed she had a Johns Hopkins University sweater and it turns out she works in their Washington DC office and was also a visitor to France for a couple of weeks.  She was taking advantage of the good weather to head to Monaco for the day.

Ton’s itinerary for the day consisted of visiting the Central Market, an ice cream shop, and another walk on the Promenade Anglais.  The first stop was the central market where we poked thru the vegetable stalls and souvenir stands.  Our only purchase was a couple of nice local themed shopping bags.  We were drawn to a stall selling a dish called Socca which looked a lot like a dish we had eaten in Lucca that we really enjoyed and never learned the name of.  

Flowers for sale in the Market in Nice.

We were tempted but we had ice cream to eat so we set off to the ice cream shop.  We saw one branch of the shop and it was closed, but I told Ton not to worry as this was not the main one, and the main one would surely be open.  When we arrived there were several workers working cleaning the chairs and tables but they were not open.  I asked one of the workers when they were opening and he cheerfully replied “next year”!  It turns out they were cleaning up before their winter break.  So Ton’s luck with restaurants continues.

The special bicycle used to deliver Socca to the market.  The cover goes over the pan of Socca as it is driven from the restaurant to the market.

We were unfazed because this put Socca back on the table.  We found the restaurant that produces the Socca for the market on a back ally in the old town.  Inside there were three generations of the family working.  The father was ferrying giant platters of Socca on a specially made bicycle to the market, the son was doing the cooking and serving in the restaurant, and the grandson (who Ton spent the meal wondering why he was not in school) served the customers outside.  Socca is a simple dish made of chickpea flour, water and olive oil poured onto a large shallow pan and cooked in a wood fired oven.  Like the dish we had in Lucca earlier (called Cecina in Tuscany) it was absolutely delicious and cheap.

A pan of Socca going into the oven.

We spent the rest of the day wandering the old town and along the Promenade Anglais.  Ton really loved the Promenade and kept saying lets go just a bit further and we will stop.  At one point I sat in a chair and she went down on the beach and spent half an hour happily taking pictures in all directions.  

The beach and Promenade Anglais in Nice.

After we had walked about 10 miles we decided to head back to François and take it easy for the rest of the day.  It was a simple day but the kind of day that makes great memories.

An interesting statue in front of one of the grand hotels along the Promenade Anglais.

November 12, 2019 Nice FR

We finally had to reluctantly leave Italy behind.  We will talk more about our impressions of Italy later, but we both found it wonderful.  We had read a lot of negatives about Italy, and were prepared for a tougher experience than we had had in other places.  It turns out Italy was pretty easy to move around in and we did not experience anything that would cause us to discourage anyone from traveling there.  On the contrary we found Italy to be a wonderful country and we encourage anyone who is thinking of Europe to make sure they include Italy in the itinerary.

Arrivederci Italia.

We woke up to sunshine, so we made an early start towards Nice.  The drive over was uneventful but Nice made a bad first impression on us.  First the year round campground that we planned to stay at after much research to make sure it was open, was closed.  One warning if you are traveling in November call ahead and confirm that places that say they are open are really open.  Luckily because of our research  we had a second choice in mind and it was only 10 minutes away, and most importantly they are open year round as advertised.  The next negative to our first impression of Nice was at the train station.  We walked about a mile to the nearest station, which is a minor station.  In Italy every station no matter how small had someone working there, this one had a nice lobby with an information window, but it was closed with a sign saying they were open random hours during the week.  No problem we are serious travelers and can get tickets from any automatic machine.  The one thing that will stop intrepid travelers like us is if the only ticket machine at  the station is malfunctioning (actually completely dead, powered down).  So now we were stuck, our first temptation was to just get on the the next train and if we did run into a conductor tell him our tale, but not really speaking French this seemed risky and could end up costing us an awful lot.  At this point Ton saw an advertisement for an App the train company in France has where you can buy tickets on line so we tried that.  Surprisingly it worked, and armed with our app bought ticket on our phone we boarded the next train to Nice.  

As a quick editorial, one of the things we liked about Italy was the lack of automation, you bought tickets from people, who were able to answer questions, point you in the right direction and deliver a smile.  Maybe that is why even though things are rougher around the edges in Italy we enjoyed it so much, because we were dealing with people and not machines and apps.

The beach in Nice is this pea gravel and not sand, but it does not detract from people heading to the beach.  The gravel makes a really interesting sound as the waves recede.

Nice is much larger than I envisioned, somehow I had an overgrown Monaco in mind and not the big metropolis we found ourselves in.  But it is beautiful and the waterfront esplanade is one of the best we have ever seen anywhere in the world.  It is truly magnificent and I can see how you could fall in love with a city that goes out of it’s way to embrace the sea in the way Nice does.

The extensive waterfront esplanade of Nice, the best one we have seen in our travels.

We ended up walking more today than any day on this trip, just about exactly 10 miles. We climbed up to an overlook on one side of the city and waterfront and were rewarded with some fantastic views of both Nice, and the Alps in the background.  

City view of Nice, with Italian style Duomo in the center.

When we arrived back to our broken home train station of Villeneuve-Loubet I told Ton I thought there was a better route home.  When we were walking to the train station in the morning we had spotted three very large and striking condominium towers.  We both find them striking but neither one of us will own up to liking them.  We walked thru them on the way back and found a giant marina behind them, so they are catering to a very upscale clientele.  It was sunset and the sky and the views over the Mediterranean were eye catching.  From one beach we were able to look at the sea, and turn and look at the Alps with the pink light of the setting sun highlighting the snow caps.  It was worth the diversion for a great sunset.

The striking condos and upper middle class yachts.

November 11, 2019 Sanremo IT

Italy has a hold on us.  Our plans were to head over to Nice in France today but when we woke up this morning the weather was pretty brutal, and it was supposed to stay that way all day with a couple of short breaks.  After some discussion we came to the conclusion if we were going to be trapped in François most of the day why not do it in Italy.

We spent the morning trying to get a veterans discount for our Amazon Prime service.  Amazon was struggling with us applying for a US veterans discount from Italy but after three calls we finally got it sorted.  

Finally about noon we saw a little break in the rain so we made a dash to downtown Sanremo. Ton wanted to get a picture of the Russian Orthodox Church we saw on the bus the other day, and we decided to do one more shop for Italian food in a large Coop (pronounced coupe) here in Italy.  

The waterfront promenade in Sanremo on our way to the Coop for groceries.

We got off the bus near the casino in Sanremo (about the same size as the one in Monaco but not as famous.)   After getting some shots of the only Orthodox Church we have seen in Italy, we took one final walk down the main shopping street, confirming that Sanremo was much more alive for us than Monaco before heading to Coop.

The dome of the Orthodox Church in Sanremo.

One of the pleasures we have had in Italy is the quality of the food in the groceries.  We have each found and enjoyed a bunch of food that we have not seen anywhere else.  Our main motivation was to get one more chance to stock François up with some our favorite new staples such as Blood Orange Juice, fresh pasta (not dried like we are used to in the US), pocket coffee (a chocolate coffee confection that can be eaten as candy, or added to a shot of espresso to make a drink), and the varied pasta sauces.  We also broke our €2.99 limit on a bottle of Primitivo wine as we both wanted to try this particular wine and had not been able to find one within our budget.  So we picked out the cheapest bottle and are now indulging in our expensive €3.69 bottle which is superb!

Italy rewarded us for our loyalty for the two and a half hours we were out the rain held off.  Five minutes after we returned to François the skies opened up again. 

November 10, 2019 Monaco

We decided to take the train into Monaco from Sanremo.  Some places exceed your expectations and some just miss.  I had been looking forward to Monaco with visions of the Grand Prix, and James Bond playing baccarat at the casino.  It is an independent country surrounded by France, and after the Vatican the smallest country in Europe so I had a romantic vision of the place.

The train station in Monaco.

When we arrived at the train station we could tell there was money in Monaco.  It is also the richest country in Europe, of its population of roughly 40,000, 30% of them are millionaires due to its status as one of the worlds biggest tax havens.  It is also one of the most densely populated places on Earth as it does not have much land to cram the millionaires into.

A view of the densely packed Principality of Monaco, the empty hills above the town are in France.

We walked along the waterfront admiring the harbor, and looking at all of the yachts.  One particular ostentatious one stood out to me, and I wondered what billionaire owned it.  The views of the harbor were nice and Ton took a lot of pictures as we strolled along.

Some of the yachts in the harbor at Monaco.

After getting our fill of the harbor we decided to head over to one of the famous landmarks of Monaco the casino in the Monte Carlo district.  We had read that it was difficult to get access to the building and we thought we would have to pay an admission fee to get inside.  We were surprised when we got there to see that we could walk in and look at the main foyer and the slot room.  Maybe because it was off season they were a little more lax with letting the plebeians in.  In addition to taking some photos we took advantage of their very upscale toilets and they were free.

The lobby in the casino at Monte Carlo in Monaco.

As we walked out of the casino Ton said lets find a real neighborhood with coffee shops and food stores for a light lunch.  So for the next hour we wandered the streets looking for a real neighborhood with coffee shops and normal stuff and failed.  Partly it might have been because it was Sunday and Monaco like France rolls the sidewalks up on Sunday, but we think at least partly it is because there are less of the cafe’s and little shops that we really enjoy in cities here. We ended up having a box of french fries at McDonalds for lunch (they still will not take our American Credit Cards!), not at all what we were looking for.

A typical quiet and empty street in Monaco.  I guess all of the millionaires were out of town.

We did find the carnival that was in town and walked thru that for a few minutes.  It was a big carnival and occupied a good piece of land on the harbor.  The families were behaving just as they do everywhere in the world when they are in a carnival which is fun to watch. 

The carnival along the waterfront, the most exciting place in town today.

Overall Monaco was a miss for us, and if I had to pick between Monaco and Sanremo to spend a week, I would pick Sanremo without hesitation.  It feels like a real town with real people and has a much more interesting atmosphere than the cold richness of Monaco.

November 9, 2019 San Remo IT

We have made our way over to the Mediterranean Sea again at Sanremo.  This is the last city we plan to stay at in Italy before heading back into France.  We woke up early when the electricity we were plugged into decided to stop working, this causes the refrigerator to sound an alarm.  I got up and switched over to propane but the damage was done and we were both wide awake at 6am.  After laying around for a few minutes we decided to get up and get an early start for our drive.

This is an Ape on the dock in Sanremo, a three wheel utility vehicle that reminds Ton of a common Thai vehicle called a  Tuk Tuk.  

We started the day with bright sunshine around Turin, but as we headed towards the coast we passed over a pretty high mountain pass and it got dark and rained a bit, even more concerning the temperature had fallen to the high 30’s.  Fortunately as we headed down to the coast the sun popped out and the temperature climbed into the high 50’s.

Sanremo is a pretty coastal town.  The drive down into Sanremo was a bit of an adventure as Greta got us off of the main road and we had to squeeze down some narrow roads until we got to downtown.  I am getting better at realizing when Greta is picking a bad route and ignoring her, but she got me this time.

A women ocean going rowing team exiting the harbor in Sanremo.

After getting settled in we headed into town to check out the city and to get our experience of the Italian Riviera.  The city is pretty, we decided to check out the casino that Sanremo is famous for, but when we were told we had to check our back packs we decided it was not worth the effort.

The Casino in Sanremo.

The next stop was the waterfront where we ambled along the breakwater looking at the yachts and the working boats.  There was an impressive array of yachts ranging from upper middle class to billionaire.  Ton was most impressed with the fishing boats.

This is a two or three hundred foot yacht belonging to some billionaire, Ton thought it was ugly.

Our last walk was up the hill thru the old Sanremo to the church which had a great view of the town and the sea.  The interior of the church was prettier than the exterior indicated it would be.  Just as we emerged from the church a big thunderstorm broke over the town.  We were not prepared for rain because I convinced Ton it was not going to rain!  We dashed from shelter to shelter until we got down to the main road.  I saw the bus back to the campground just down the street stuck in traffic, we were able to jog down the sidewalk and get to the bus stop before the bus.  The rain was pretty intense on the drive back and we got off the bus we dived into a grocery store to wait out the storm before finally heading back to François for the night.

A rainbow to reward us for our unexpected soaking in Sanremo.

November 8, 2019 Turin IT

It really pored all night last night. The heaviest sustained rain we have seen on this trip.  The last week has been wet and cool and it is starting to wear on us.  Turin is our last major Italian city of the trip.  We picked it so that we could get a brief taste of the Piedmont area.  

The drive over was pretty easy except for hitting a few very heavy bouts of rain.  As we closed in on Turin the weather started to turn and morale picked up in François.  There was even a brief view of the Alps as we got close to the city.  

The Sosta we are parked in is run by the tram company in Turin, while it is very convenient it probably has the most convoluted pay system we have seen.  You take a ticket when you check in and that takes care of the parking. To use the water you are supposed to stick the parking ticket into a machine and it records that you used water.  This also goes for the dump, bathroom, and showers.  To get electricity you have to go get a separate card give a €10 deposit and then take that card to a vending machine to put some credit on it, and after the credit has been loaded you take it out to the electric boxes and insert the card to get your electricity.  The parking lot is located off of “The Soviet Union Boulevard” (Turin is a very left wing city.), so I think whoever designed the payment system must have learned it when they were studying in the USSR.

The Duke of Savoy’s Palace in Turin.

After sorting out the electric we headed downtown on the Tram.  Turin is a very prosperous town, and while there is nothing particularly spectacular in town, the overall feeling of the town is quite  organized and well ordered.  In fact it almost felt German except for the driving which is Italian to its core.  Ton had one primary target which was Al Bicerin Cafe which has been in business since 1763.  This place developed this drink consisting of espresso, dark chocolate, and cream in layers.  The drink and the cafe have been celebrated in novels and travelogues for over 200 years.  After walking thru the former Dukes Palace and the main square of town we headed over to the Cafe.  Ton ordered the Bicerin while I opted for a normal hot chocolate.  It is a humble looking place that does not look like it has been impressing great artists and politicians for centuries.  It was everything Ton hoped for (my hot chocolate was good also, but now I feel like a charlatan).

The Al Bicerin Cafe which has been serving the rich, famous, and humble since 1763.

When we finished up with the Bicerin and some light food we headed over to the central market.  We can never go wrong at one of these traditional markets.  We really enjoyed our walk thru the market and the food stalls in a separate building.  Turin looks like a great town to live in, an interesting mixture of big business (it is the home of Fiat) and food.  It reminded me a little bit of Portland without the beer.

One of the stalls in the Central Market in Turin.

We finished the day with a promenade up the main shopping street of town, before grabbing the tram.  On the way back to François we made one final stop at a big grocery store to stock up on some of our favorite Italian groceries before we head back into France.

Street scene in Turin.

November 7, 2019 Milan IT

We woke early to head into Milan as the weather forecast was threatening.  It looked like the best window was going to be in the morning, so we were off for downtown before 8:30.

I expected Milan to be a more elegant city than it turned out to be, based on it being the fashion capital of the world with names like Gucci, Versace, Louis Vuitton  and Prada located here.  I envisioned it to be a Miami or Los Angeles. Instead it felt more like Pittsburg or Detroit, more industrial than elegant.  

Our camp site is in a working class neighborhood at the end of a tram line which is convenient for getting downtown.  We take public transport in most of the cities so we get to see the less glamorous parts of town.  It gives a view of life away from the tourist centers, and a chance to watch people interacting in a normal environment,  which we enjoy.  Milan is a more diverse city than any we have seen in Italy.  It definitely has the largest Asian population we have seen which seems to be mostly Pilipinos.  We had been commenting on the lack of Kebab shops in Italy compared to the other countries we have visited, but Milan had plenty of Kebab shops.

One of the windows of the Louis Vuitton store in Milan.

Downtown Milan did have some of the elegance we were looking for with all of the big name fashion designers having stores in the Galleria off of the main square.  Right after we arrived downtown it started raining and the Galleria is covered so we headed there to get out of the rain.  We walked around looking at all of the fancy stores and enjoying the Galleria.  I believe it is the inspiration for all of the malls that dot the US, but on a scale that no developer is going to pay for.  

The Galleria in Milan, the inspiration for hundreds of “Malls” in the US.

Between showers we would dash out of the Galleria and head towards the Cathedral which is the largest Gothic Cathedral in the world.  It was built over 600 years so it passed thru a lot of design styles.  It is know for the hundreds of statues on the exterior and the interior.  

Ton really liked these two statues, though we are not sure what the story is.

We decided to pay the small entrance fee to visit the interior as there was no line.  We were both impressed with one particular statue of St. Bartholomew.  The statue is in great detail and you can see his bones, muscles, and veins.  We did not realize this was because he was flayed alive.  What we thought was a robe wrapped around him is actually his skin!

St. Bartholomew with his skin wrapped around him like a robe.

We had been remarking on Italy being the first country we had visited in Europe that did not have several Starbucks in every major city.  Ton looked it up and there is only one Starbucks in Italy and it is also the largest Starbucks in the world (until next week when a larger one will open in Chicago).  We decided to visit it as it roasts its own coffee that Starbucks calls a “Reserve Roast”.  They also feature many different ways of brewing coffee.  We expected to have a quick coffee and head out, but ended up in there for well over an hour and enjoying two coffee’s each.

The largest Starbucks in the world.

November 6, 2019 Milan IT

We have hit a lull in the trip.  A combination of poor weather and the need to be much more deliberate in planning.  It looks like nearly every campsite in Northern Italy closed down on November 3rd.  Our plan was to visit one of the lakes that Northern Italy is famous for.  Our first choice was Lake Como, but after looking at over 20 campsites websites they were all closed.  We switched to Lake Garda and seemed to find one campsite that was open.  Their website and the ACSI website both said that it was open until November 10.  So today Lake Garda was our target.

No pictures for today as we spent most of the day driving.  So another picture of St. Marks square under water.

We took our time departing Vicenza as the drive was only an hour to the campsite on Lake Garda.  We began with a shopping trip to Lidl.  After the last two days between the American Grocery at the Army base and Lidl; François is stuffed with food.  Ton had a difficult time getting everything into place.  Heading down the Autostrada to Lake Garda was easy, thought the truck traffic was quite heavy.  It was a short trip to the campsite after we left the Autostrada and it was raining heavily.  We discussed whether it was worth stopping as we did not know whether we would be able to enjoy the lake in the rain.  The problem was solved when we arrived at the campground and found that despite all of our internet research it was closed for the season.  So the decision was made and we headed back to the autostrada for the additional 140 kilometers to Milan.

Our destination this time was an Agritourismo site on the edge of Milan that was reported to be open.  We arrived about 3 pm and were directed down some really small roads, and when the GPS announced we had arrived there was nothing that looked like a place for campers in site.  I remembered that one of the reviews said that the GPS coordinates for the site were not quite accurate so I parked François and went on a foot reconnaissance and found the site tucked away.  

It is definitely  the most eccentric site we have stayed on here in Italy.  It is tucked in the courtyard of a farm building surrounded by construction and apartments.  There are a couple of dogs running around, a cat that seems to be in charge, and 10 or 12 chickens.    It is the only site available in Milan so it will do.

November 5, 2019 Vicenza IT

Today was a maintenance day.  Our campsite is less than 100 yards from the main shipping channel for Venice port so we began the day watching the morning parade of different types of commercial ships go by including Container Ships, Car Carriers, long distance Ferries, and tankers.  They passed close enough in front of us that we could see the faces of the crew walking the ships, it was a fun start to the day.  

Police boat near Venice.

After that we drove less than an hour to a US Army base in Vicenza.  François needed a good cleaning, and we decided to take advantage of the big American washing machines there.  So the day consisted of washing all of our sheets and blankets, while Ton was working on that I gave François a bath in the rain which worked out since I did not need to rinse.

After that we did some food shopping and relaxed for the rest of the day.  

November 4, 2019 Venice IT

After a wet and windy night we woke up to sunny skies with a touch of fog.  The bet we had made on the weather had turned out, so we headed over to Venice for the day.

Our ferry dock was pretty memorable.

As I talked about yesterday I had to decide if we were going to take a gondola ride today.  Instead I decided that we would ride on one of the ferries that acts like a bus called a vaporetto.  Line 1 follows the Grand Canal and it costs considerably less than a gondola, and covers more ground.  After a couple of stops we gained the two front seats in the bow of the vaporetto. This proves (at least to me)that it is possible to have romance without spending a lot of money.

Who needs an expensive gondola when you can take a waterborne bus and get the same views.
Passing under the Rialto Bridge on our trip on the Grand Canal.

We also planned to visit the Rialto Bridge which is the most famous bridge in Venice.  So we disembarked from our vaporetto there after about an hour cruising the Grand Canal.  The bridge and the market next door did not capture our attention, so we headed over to St. Marks square.  The tide was quite a bit lower so the square was not under water today.  The places that were flooded yesterday now had fancy outdoor cafes with bands and extremely expensive coffee for sale.  It was quite a change from yesterday.  While it was a lot prettier it somehow felt less genuine than the square under water.

This is the area of yesterdays picture of St. Marks under two feet of water.  Today it is one of the most expensive cafe’s in Venice.

It was much less crowded than yesterday even with the better weather.  The long Italian weekend was over, and there was only one cruise ship in town instead of the three that were here yesterday.  So when we walked by St. Marks Cathedral we were shocked to see there was no line at all.  Ton was in full photography mode so she sent me off to see how much it cost to enter.  Another shock, it was free, so we headed in for a walk.  St. Marks is the first cathedral we have come to that allows no photography so we do not have any pictures, but it was very beautiful.

Exterior shot of St. Marks Cathedral, as no interior photos are allowed.

By now we were quite hungry so we headed over to the old Jewish quarter of town where we had heard there were lots of restaurants.  It was a nice walk and to our surprise the further we got from the tourist part of town the wider the roads got which spread the crowds out, the shops and restaurants were still intriguing, we found a nice garden with several  interesting art works, and the people watching was still quite good.  

We both really enjoyed this sculpture called “Guardians of Time”.

After our late lunch we decided to head back to the ferry as it was getting towards dark.  While waiting we were treated to the cruise ship in town passing by on the canal with three tugs shepherding it along.  It was a final giant connection to the city of canals.

Sunset over Venice.

November 3, 2019 Venice IT

As planned we moved to the other side of Venice to a campground that was open for the whole time we are planning to be here.  The drive over in light traffic was pretty uneventful except for my inability to follow Greta’s directions.  This resulted in us twice unnecessarily being on toll roads for short distances.  The first time we ended up paying a toll, the second time when I put the ticket in the machine the barrier went up and the ladies voice on the machine said arrivederci before I could put my credit card in for the toll.  She must of felt sorry for the fool who could not follow directions.

We arrived at the new campground early, hooked up and headed over to Venice during a little break in the rain.  We had no real plans for the day and thought we would just walk around and take in the sights.

View of Venice from our ferry.

We followed the signs towards St. Marks Cathedral.  The crowds were plentiful but not overwhelming, despite the three cruise ships we saw docked.  As we walked I contemplated Ton’s offer of whether we take a gondola ride or not.  Last night she told me gondola rides were €80 and lasted 30 minutes.  She said she had taken one with her mother in 1978, so it was completely up to me whether we took one as she had already done it.  We will see tomorrow.

Ton was disappointed that most of the gondoliers did not wear their hats, so she was happy with this guy.

It has been wet and blustery the last couple of days and the tides were pretty high along the water front, the sea was nearly up to the footpath with occasional waves washing over.  This looks like it must be becoming more common as many places have temporary bridges stacked so you can walk without getting your feet wet.

Everyone walking on temporary bridges in front of St. Marks Cathedral.

St. Marks square was interesting because when we arrived about 60% of it was underwater.  The water depth ranged from 6 inches to a couple of feet.  All of the stores and restaurants on one side of the square were closed as they had about 2 feet of water lapping at their doors.

Difficult to have a nice coffee in a foot of water.

We wandered around for another hour or so, mostly people watching.  The weather channel was dead on as about 1pm a light rain began.  By the time we got back to the ferry station about 2pm it was a steady hard rain and the wind was starting to blow.

Waves breaking over the walkway at the ferry stop.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in François.  We have a nice waterfront spot looking across the water at Venice and the cruise ships, it really is a nice view.  Ton cooked up a wonderful seafood pasta.  We have really enjoyed both the restaurants and the quality of the food in groceries in Italy.  We spent some time trying to figure out what food from Italy we should try to bring back home.  

November 2, 2019 Venice IT

The weather today is very Oregon like; steady rain and high temperatures in the 50’s.  Our plan was to simply head up to Venice and hunker down for the day and wait out the bad weather by planning our time in Venice.  

There are two points to enter Venice conveniently from a camping point of view.  One entry is southwest of the city and the other is east of the city and entails going around the city.  Even though it is less convenient  I chose the east one because it had 6 campgrounds in the vicinity and two of them were listed in my planning app as open year round.  When we arrived the first one informed me that they were closing tomorrow at noon.  The alternative is closed for two weeks for renovations.  So again we were looking for a plan b.  After some thought we are staying in the campground we arrived at for one night, and after confirming that the one southwest of the city we passed 65 kilometers ago is indeed open we will head over there tomorrow and carry on with our plan for two days in Venice.

A soggy windshield shot as that is all we saw today.

We are getting nervous about Italy because it looks like a lot of the campgrounds are shutting down after this weekend, so our travels in Northern Italy may get curtailed, and will certainly take more planning.

November 1, 2019 Ravenna IT

We departed Sienna reluctantly, the town really struck us as one of the most beautiful we had seen.  Part of the reason we left today is we had a fairly long drive and we thought it would be easier to do today because it is a holiday here in Italy. Our thinking was there would not be any trucks on the road (which was correct), and there would be fewer cars on the road as people would tend to stick around home (which was really incorrect).  It turns out this is a holiday for extended families to get together to celebrate, and lots of people are on the road.  We ran into our first traffic jam around Florence.  This was just a prelude to the mess we ran into around Bologna.  A drive I thought would take 2.5 hours ended up taking over 4 hours.  We were really regretting not sticking around Sienna.

We picked Ravenna because it is known for having impressive churches with World Heritage Mosaics.  It is also known for its’ writers as Dante finished the Inferno here.  It was also one of Byron’s favorite cities.  We also picked it because it had several campgrounds near the ocean.  When we first entered the town we were in a highly industrialized area with factories and lots of shipping containers so the initial impression of Ravenna was not spectacular.  When we got down to the beach front where the bulk of the campgrounds were it was extremely quiet.  The campground I had programmed into Greta Garmin was closed, I told Ton not to worry as there were two more just up the street, but they were all closed also.  We pulled over and began working on a plan B, do we brave the traffic and continue on to Venice, look for another city to spend the night in, or try the last campground in Ravenna which was on the other side of town. We decided to give the last campground a try before moving on.  It was about 11km away and we ended up on this weird unused freeway thru industrial sites.  We were the only vehicle on the road until we came upon a car that had somehow managed to drive into the center divider and was being tended to by a tow truck and a couple of police.  

Happily when we exited the weird freeway we saw some RV’s parked where we were going so it looked like we were in luck.  When we pulled up the harried looking owner asked “reservations?” which of course we did not have.  She then smiled and said well if you don’t mind improvising on the electricity we can squeeze you in.  

After settling in we debated whether to even go into Ravenna as it was 3 o’clock, and Ravenna hd not made much of a first impression on us.  The owner told us they could take us into town  and pick us up for €2 so we decided to go.  Ravenna turned out to be beautiful.  The center of town is quite clean and easy to walk in.  All of the people heading off to see their families were promenading thru town which made the people watching fun.  

The streets of Ravenna, it was cold and damp.

When we got to the main church the Basilica San Vitala we debated whether to pay the admission fee.  It would be a good deal if you were spending a few days in town as it included admission to 5 different sites.  But we only had a few hours and would only be able to visit the Basilica.  We finally decided to spring for the tickets as we had come this far.  

6th century Byzantine style mosaics in the Basilica San Vitala.

The Basilica was built in the 6th century by the Goths and features Byzantine inspired mosaics that are absolutely stunning.  We were mesmerized by the mosaics and spent almost an hour admiring them.  They are in incredibly good shape for being 1500 years old, and the artistry  of the figures is stunning.   The remainder of the church is covered by Baroque era frescoes from the 18th century, and they are beautiful in their own right.  The blending of art from the 6th century and the 18th century works much better than you would think.  

Mosaic in San Basilica.  It is hard to capture the extent of these mosaics in photos.

At the end on the walk back to our pickup I told Ton, that the first half of the day seemed like a mistake. But in the end I’m glad we hung around to see Ravenna as the town and the church were worth the effort.

Ton liked this grandma advertising a regional speciality.

October 31, 2019 Sienna IT

If you are following our destinations you will notice we have headed south.   The drive was pretty uneventful, the last 45 minutes were thru some pretty rugged hills that are the home of the famous Chianti grape.  Tomorrow is a major holiday in Italy so the traffic on the autostrada seemed a little heavier than normal but still moving well.  

We arrived at the campground in Sienna around 11:30 and after checking the weather decided to head right downtown.  When we bought our bus tickets at the campground office the lady warned us to make sure we stamp our tickets as soon as we got on the bus as they have monitors and they are mean.  In Europe you can buy tickets in bulk and it is your responsibility to stamp the ticket when you use it, this is also true on the trains.  We have gotten used to this and have only forgotten once and of course we were checked.  The conductor on the train let us off with a polite lecture about using the stamp, sometimes it is good to be perceived as a clueless foreigner.  We were checked by monitors both going to town and coming back so they really are strict in Sienna.

Five streets come together in this intersection in Sienna.

Sienna has been on our must see list for the trip and while we had last minute thoughts of skipping it we decided this morning to double back and I am glad we did.  It is a mountain city and has maintained a great deal of the old world feel to it that we like. 

View of Sienna from the bus stop.

It is known for two things the gothic era town hall with a large tower, and of course it’s cathedral.  We came across the town hall first and it is indeed impressive.  But for us the Piazza in front of the hall is more impressive.  In addition to the town hall the Piazza is surrounded by 6 and 7 story brick buildings.  Unlike most Piazza’s it is not flat but kind of concave.  

The town hall which is the center of the main Piazza in Sienna.

The Piazza is used to stage a twice annual horse race called the Palio of Sienna which is pretty wild.  There are 17 neighborhoods in the city which in the past were organized as battalions for the defense of the city.  10 of them are selected at random to take part in the race.  The first thing is that the Piazza is not an oval nor level so the turns are angles which makes them a lot more intense.  The next thing is that the jockeys ride bare back which makes for a much more precarious perch on the horse.  The jockeys are allowed to use their whips on their horse, but also on other horses (not the jockeys) to “disturb” them.  Finally it is the horse that wins the race not the jockey which means if the jockey falls off sometime during the race and the horse carries on without him and crosses the finish line first it is the winner.

The Piazza where the race is held.

Our next stop was the cathedral.  We have seen a lot of cathedrals over time here, but Ton and I both said wow when we saw the Cathedral in Sienna.  It is not the largest cathedral, but the front is beautiful with intricate carvings and colored marble.

The intricate Cathedral of Sienna.

Having knocked out the two main attractions in town we just wandered up and down roads and alleys for a while taking in Sienna.  We both agreed that it would be easy to spend a few days here, but we are running out of time.  

The town symbol of Sienna.