India 1998: Leh

To follow a tour of India’s Golden Triangle by travelling to Ladakh, in Northern Kashmir feels like stepping away from the set of ‘Ghandi’ into ‘Lost Horizon’. First of all it is high altitude, earning its title of ‘Little Tibet’ and secondly it is the least populated area of India. Many of the inhabitants [40%] are Buddhist and much of the area is cut off for many months of the year.

Before leaving Delhi we met our new guide for the new tour, Adrian, who was as unlike Paratha as Obama to Putin. A few of us were leftovers from the first trip. Others were new. At our first gathering, the one where protocols are explained, he asked us about Paratha and was shocked to hear how she’d led the tour, exploiting her status and behaving in a controlling and condescending manner. This behaviour, he told us, is at odds with the company’s philosophy. They’d be unhappy to hear of it. Whilst I had no wish to lose Paratha her job I thought it best that subsequent tour groups should not experience the Golden Triangle in the way that we had.

Having had the team talk: be sensitive when taking photos, be mindful about altitude sickness [about which, more later], carry plenty of water, leave nothing but footprints etc, we boarded a flight to Leh, the largest city in Ladakh, flying up above snowy peaks to the highest airport in the world, one that also provides the fewest and most basic facilities, as we discovered when disembarking and needing to use the toilets.

To begin with we’d spend a few days in Leh, to look around and to acclimatise to the very high altitude before starting our trek. I looked forward to this second tour with a little trepidation, having had altitude sickness before, in Peru and Bolivia. I knew how nasty it can be but hoped that this time I might escape it. How wrong could I be?

We were charmed by our hotel, whose accommodation was basic but full of rustic character, with a beautiful garden and rooms furnished with chunky wooden beds and spartan, concrete shower rooms.

 

As advised, we took it easy walking around gorgeous Leh, but it was hard to restrain the urge to rush about looking at everything, since everything was either beautiful or interesting or both.

 

For our second day in Leh we took a trip out to view some of the more accessible and picturesque monasteries [‘Gonpas’] that were dotted around in the mountains. This is a landscape that is both dramatic and outrageously magnificent, the monasteries themselves built into the sides of the mountains as if they’ve grown there and carved and painted in ornate and beautiful designs and frescoes, with none of the formality of mosques but with life and expression.

To visit the Gonpas we needed to dress modestly and cover up extremities. I’d had the presence of mind to add a light sarong to my daysack that morning [a habit I’ve become accustomed to], meaning that Husband was not left bare-kneed. There is a gentle, homely atmosphere in the gloomy interior of each Gonpa and as the monks go about their daily tasks they greet tourists good-naturedly, sipping tea and nibbling a biscuit or two as they pray!

In order to view the buildings we needed to clamber up and down steps in the thin, cold air, which proved more arduous than the previous day’s sightseeing in Leh. Sometime during the afternoon I began to feel the onset of a headache, something brewing up, becoming more painful as the day wore on. Before long it was accompanied by a powerful nausea, then I knew I wasn’t to escape the mountain sickness I’d experienced before in Peru…

Hot on the Tourist Trail

While it is too hot to do much during the daytime, we feel obliged to take a few excursions, so an evening trip out to Bhoput, an alleged ‘fishing village’ seems manageable.

It is clear when we arrive that ‘fishing village’ is not such an accurate description for Bhoput, whose lanes are not only teeming with tourists but lined both sides of each and every street with stalls selling every kind of touristy object imaginable [plus many unimaginable items]. Amongst all of this rampant commerce there is little sign of the historic buildings and character we were promised, but we are not unhappy, since the broad sweep of bay is beautiful and the many restaurants offer a mouth-watering range of fish and seafood dishes, which is what we are after.

Towards the end of a food stall street, where stallholders are fanning their wares to ward off flies, an open air bar beckons. It’s flanked by a beautiful shrine adorned with shrubs and flowers.

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Shrines are everywhere-and sometimes in the middle of nowhere. Along one country lane many of them have ladders leading up to the platform and I’m curious as to why. Perhaps it’s ease of access? They are also decked with offerings-drinks, objects, flowers and food items

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Of course amongst the food stalls there are the customary deep-fried insects.

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While this may well be the future of protein for world nutrition we’re not tempted to snack on crunchy crustacea right this moment. Instead we peruse the plethora of fish and seafood restaurants that overlook the bay and I remember that it is, in fact Valentine’s Day. So as we settle into a table with a view over the sea, tables are filling up along the beach, too.

We choose a seafood starter to share, the calamari soft and not at all chewy [as it mostly is] then grilled fish with salad and corn. The sky grows dark as a boat with red sails glides out to sea, lit up, a Valentine’s party perhaps?

We decide we’ve probably done Bhoput and go to meet our taxi.

A walk around the backstreets of our area takes us through more market stalls and then we stumble upon a large Tesco department store. We’ve seen plenty of ‘Tesco Lotus Express’ outlets but this is the first large store we’ve spotted. Intrigued, we go inside [we’re still after coffee-making equipment after all]. In the entrance there are smaller shops with gifts and a lurid play area.

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The store is familiar and yet strange, but after an extensive search we find a coffee filter. It is disorientating to wander a supermarket that is so well-known to us at home and see the range of products so unfamiliar to us, like stepping into the bathtub and finding it full of Cherryade.

On the return we stop to look at the local temple, modestly situated on a corner at the top of town and a kind of oasis away from the teeming streets. We have yet to look at any more of Koh Samui but the weather feels too hot for traipsing around. There are, however a few days left before we return…

 

 

 

The Rain Across the Spanish Plain

Sometimes exploring an area in depth can make you realise how woefully ignorant you are, that there are so many world heritage status places you’ve never heard of-or at least-that I’ve never heard of.

Portugal’s Evora is one of these.

We took a couple of days’ beach break, just down the coast from Lisbon, at Caparica, where Lisbon-dwellers come at weekends for sea and sand but precious little else, Caparica being Lisbon’s equivalent of Southend on Sea. On the camp site you could have been fooled into thinking it was snowing, if the temperature hadn’t been 28 degrees, so much fluffy seed was blowing, blizzard-like across the site and settling, ankle deep on the ground or in heaps of white fluff inside the van.

Next, Evora.

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This walled medieval town is a pristine vision in white and ochre, packed full of whitewashed churches, monasteries, ancient university buildings and a wonderful, 15th century aqueduct which begins low, at the top of the town and lengthens as it descends. Homes have been made between the arches:

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The town is quiet, the gift shops awash with knick-knacks, but few buyers. I take pity and buy a small, red, cockerel embellished wine cork for a gift. There are a few other tourists. Did they, like us, stumble upon Evora? Or did they research it at home and make a special pilgrimage here?

For reasons that can best be described here

we need to turn towards the north and make our journey home. As yet it isn’t urgent but I’m aware that it may become so. We set off towards the Spanish border and Badajoz, which we’ve passed by on occasions but have been told is worth a visit.

The weather, never reliably sunny this trip turns overcast once more, but the journey is beautiful-rolling hills and vast cattle ranches, the road quiet and peaceful and we arrive at lunchtime.

The aire at Badajoz is brilliant; easy to locate, a convenient situation just across the River Douro from the town and services all provided free. Little wonder it fills with vans by the evening. We wander across the attractive footbridge, through the gate of the city wall and across towards the ‘Alcabaz’, the citadel which dominates the town from a high vantage point above the town. By this time it is raining and with an afternoon to spend we fritter some of it in a cavernous bodega.

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A return to Spain means a return to tapas, a variety of tasty snacks offered with every drink. Though we’ve lunched it seems rude not to stay and enjoy the fare-and it is raining outside the bar. Badajoz’s cloistered square is beautiful.

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Zipped into raincoats we brave the rain to stroll around the domineering Alcabaz, then it’s back to the aire, where some local residents whose house adjoins it have decided to share their music with us. Freddie Mercury’s vocals are blasted for an hour or two, but since I’m not averse to a bit of Queen myself I think it could be a lot worse…

Next day it’s on to Valladolid, where we make several circuits of the one way system before locating the motorhome parking bays. It’s a quick stopover and our sincere apologies to the parking authority for our inability to pay the 9.50 euros fee, but having managed to retrieve my bank card from the machine when it was stuck I didn’t feel up to giving it a second go!

Onwards and upwards…

 

 

 

 

Bajan Escape [part 2]

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[To continue…]

After a few days it’s clear why Tom and Francine have holidayed here in this hotel in Barbados for 45 years. It’s Tom’s kingdom, his empire. He knows everyone and everything. He spends his days wandering the grounds and pool, chatting to anyone he comes across and teasing the housekeeping staff. When she arrives to their room with a mop and bucket he tells Harriet, ‘Here-let me show you how to do it’. They all adore him. ‘I’m nearly 80!’ he says, grinning and rubbing his bare chest, ‘People think I dye my hair’.

One afternoon we go to Oistins, which boasts an extensive fish market, for a walk to the southern tip of the island. A parade of rocks has been eroded underneath by repeated waves so that they seem to hover above the foam, each wave producing a booming sound as it pounds in and back on itself in a tall plume of spray.

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On Friday nights Oistins Fish Market turns into a huge party with live music and nowhere to sit at the trestle tables that host diners every evening for freshly grilled fish-marlin, lobster tails, shrimp and a plethora of other sea produce. We choose a different night to sample the menu at ‘Uncle George’s’ [recommended by our neighbour, Mike] and we are not disappointed. We also get to chat to 2 young Canadians on a Caribbean tour away from their busy hospital jobs.

In the evenings we stroll to our local ‘KT’s’ bar or a little further into St Lawrence Gap-a magnet for revellers, cocktail seekers and diners, many who’ve hotfooted straight from the cricket ground where England has trounced the West Indies. The tiny bay is lined with bars and restaurants of any and every cuisine and all busy.

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The flight home draws closer. We conquer the mysteries of the public transport system and board a bus to ‘Sam Lord’s Castle’ on the Eastern coast. It is a bone-shaking ride up and across plains, through villages, past the airport; some homes are traditional, single-storey cottages in paint-box hues, others grand mansions in the making, ever more ambitious as we near our destination. There is some confusion when we alight as ‘Sam Lord’s Castle’ is neither a castle nor is it indicated in any way. This is because it is a bus stop, and the driver has not seen fit to tell us we have arrived, with the result that we must travel a few stops back.

Down a narrow road and through a passageway we access the sea at last, the Atlantic crashing against limestone outcrops in mountainous plumes, booming as it ploughs a relentless furrow under each knobbly spur. This is Shark Hole-mentioned in guide books but without a café, a bar, a gift shop or so much as a sign to advertise its thrilling allure, hence the complete absence of human life except for ourselves and a lone fisherman.

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There is little shade as we walk along the rugged coast, needing to cut in at intervals to avoid trespassing over manicured lawns. Fearful of the searing heat and of missing the bus back we return to the shade of ‘Sam Lord’s Castle’ [the bus shelter] where we wait 40 minutes to be rewarded by the appearance of one.

Our water supply was running low when we stepped off the bus outside KT’s bar, where cold beers and washrooms are both very welcome!

Later it’s down to Sharkey’s at St Lawrence Gap for the last supper-coconut prawns at a long table where we’ve been squeezed in between cricket fans and 2 ladies having an earnest conversation about relationships. We wait for our meals [Husband has opted for West Indian curry] and watch plates of wings and bottles of beer go past and I think there could hardly be a better place to holiday in February-unless you know better, Reader, perhaps?

 

The Wild Frontier

Last time we made the long trek to Croatia we were still using a tent, which means it was very many years ago. It seemed intrepid then, to go so far; but although the roads were basic the camp sites were beautiful, the people welcoming and the produce wonderful.

There are still hundreds of roadside stalls selling local fruit and vegetables and home-made concoctions but Croatia has developed a great deal since our previous visit, with efficient roads, signs and facilities in abundance. Having previously stayed on a few islands and seen Dubrovnik we chose to go to the Unesco site of Plitvicka, an area of outstanding natural beauty with lakes and waterfalls. At this time of year, with the snow-melt water cascading down everywhere under a faultless blue sky it was spectacular, exceeding all expectations and only marred [as the day grew later] by the hoards of selfie-takers, tablet-snappers and those who consider themselves ‘serious’ photographers in that they must use a tripod for every shot. There were also, near the end of our chosen trail a number of coach parties, mainly Japanese-some of whom had chosen to wear face-masks for their day out, an inexplicable sight in the pristine environment of Plitvicka.

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Next day we were off early, continuing through the inland part of the country which is quiet and beautiful, a backdrop of mountains and occasional lakes but precious little tourism. All tourists want Croatia’s coast [which, to be fair is dramatic and beautiful, too]. Then we were back on the coastal highway ourselves, spending our last night in Croatia in a small, seaside village and enjoying an uproarious evening with another British couple, sitting outside by the Adriatic, the sound of the waves an accompaniment.

We sped off again in the morning, south towards Montenegro, a new country for us. At the border we bought our obligatory motor insurance-fifteen euros for a scruffy scrap of paper-, made deferential noises at the officials and set off towards Budva, whose alleged reputation as a mini version of Dubrovnik is a little exaggerated. In all of the books, websites and information that we’ve amassed there are no places whatsoever mentioned in Montenegro so all we had was a dubious site I’d discovered on the internet somewhere around the back of town, the location of which we’d programmed into Mrs Tom-Tom with more hope than confidence.

‘700mtrs’ said Mrs Tom-Tom as we stopped in the first car park we found. 700 meters to the camp? In the midst of the city?

We drove towards it. I spotted the edge of a caravan between the houses of the street. We drove round the corner and through a gateway and parked under the olive trees. Yes, it was basic. No, not everyone would have wanted to use the shower [although it was clean]. But it was a twenty minute walk from the old, walled town of Budva and best of all it was safe and secure.

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While Budva cannot hope to compete with Dubrovnik it is nevertheless a pleasant and attractive old town. having strolled through the narrow alleyways and visited the ‘Citadela’ we found a seaside bar, bought a beer and sat to watch Budva’s population enjoying the evening sun. What would our next day’s travel involve? I’d read enough about the perils of Albanian roads to give me nightmares! We were about to discover it for ourselves…

 

 

The All-inclusive Trap

Searching for winter sun, an escape from the dreary, grey drizzle or the bitter winds of this UK winter means travelling long-haul. The options are: far east [Thailand etc], Africa [tried, tested and now not tempted] or Caribbean. We’ve sampled a few islands in the West Indies now, with pleasing results, Barbados and Antigua having proved particularly lovely destinations. Mexico, last year’s experiment boasted beautiful weather but was less fun in that there were few options outside of the hotel.
And here’s the difficulty. In choosing a Caribbean or most other long-haul destination you are stuck in the inevitable groove of ‘all-inclusive’ deal, as after intensive research we have found it to be cheaper than either flying and booking hotels separately or B&B. An all-inclusive deal is likely to mean a vast, corporate hotel sprawling on a coastal strip and boasting several restaurants, bars, pools, terraces, a spa, a gym, shops, ‘entertainment’, beach with loungers and umbrellas and the ubiquitous ‘buffet’.
Hotels like these are betting on the hunch that most guests prefer to stay within the confines of the hotel complex and couldn’t give a cow’s udder about setting foot outside the gate to meander in the environs and hobnob with the locals. And it is true for many, who like to get up, sling their beach towels on their preferred loungers, wander into breakfast, order a cocktail and slump then slump on their sun bed until a member of staff bearing a tray offers more refreshment. There’ll be a further stint of slumping followed by lunch…
For some with a more active schedule in mind there might be a short session of aquarobics or pool volleyball-but then it’s back to the more serious business of slumping, punctuated by propping up one of the many bars.
We can manage a day or so of this, given sunny weather and a beach walk. But after a while some ennui creeps in. This is when we need to get out.
On our recent trip to Cuba the few days in Havana was perfect. We had breakfast in the hotel, we were within walking distance of the delights of the city and had the remains of our days free, at liberty to explore. Once we’d moved to the beach hotel, however there was a short stretch of beach to walk and everything else required a taxi or a bus ride-both of which we did. In one direction lay a sterile and uninspiring marina; in the other the town yielded more sightseeing and entertainment and it was there that we avoided incarceration.
One of the reasons for avoiding cruises is the enforced imprisonment aboard a floating, all-inclusive hotel, with nothing to do but eat and drink.
Our next expedition, already in the planning stages will be very different, involving an extensive road trip by camper van. On our journey we’ll stay where we want for as long as we want, moving on when we’ve had enough of a place and opting to explore by foot or bicycle. What a pity we can’t take the van to winter sun destinations!


					

Fresh from Cuba-

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We have returned from ten days in Cuba, leaving the frozen, grey UK and taking almost ten hours to fly to a warm, bright and colourful Havana. After hearing about the plight of tourists to Jamaica, who must remain in hotel lock-down due to violent crime I’d advise anyone with Caribbean travel plans to choose Cuba-one of the safest holiday destinations in the world.

Even in my deprived-sleep-addled state, on the journey to the hotel I could see that there is NO advertising of any sort along the roads, not on the highway from the airport or in the suburban streets and nowhere in the bustle of the city. It is refreshing not to be faced with hoardings and neon everywhere.

Continuing this theme, there is nothing anywhere that resembles a ‘chain’ company. No Starbucks, MacDonalds, KFC, Wagamama, TGI Fridays, Specsavers, H&M, Monsoon, Wallmart, Top Shop or IKEA. Magic! It is, in fact difficult to determine where there are any shops at all. There are tiny corner kiosks nestling among crumbling facades or murky windows displaying manekins sporting faded, dusty outfits. There are also alleyways with market stalls touting Che Guevara T-shirts, baseball caps and a range of hand-made items. There is also a riot of lively, busy bars and restaurants thronged with tourists and locals alike and often alive with a band of musicians.

Bars. There is no shortage of these; some mere holes in the wall, others ornately panelled, art-deco monuments to a rum-and-salsa culture much celebrated by writer Ernest Hemingway [whose heritage is much exploited by Havana traders]. There is a limitless supply of musicians. In a small street outside a Hemingway-themed bar where exuberant music is entertaining the area an impromptu accompaniment was played on water bottles as several individuals ran fingernails up and down the furrowed sides [proving my theory that almost anything can be employed as a musical instrument].

Cars. Cuba is well-known for its old, American classic cars. I was unprepared for the number of them [allegedly 150, 000].They range from lovingly restored, smooth, gleaming limousines to pitted, filled and battered jalopies. All, however spew out a filthy, noxious cloud of lung-clogging fumes which requires some adjustment of the respiratory passages when out walking.

People are friendly, happy and not above exploitative. We were offered welcome, advice, conversation and cigars or a visit to an outlet. We were never, at any time hassled or pursued. Rejection was accepted with relaxed, good-natured smiles. There were a small number of beggars, some of which had gone to lengths to create artful outfits to enhance their plight-a frayed and patched jacket or [in one case] a masterpiece of sackcloth trousers. There was no evidence at all of rough sleeping.

There was an overall sense of well being. Nobody appeared embittered or unhappy with their lot. The population is a mixture of black and white with all groups of diners, musicians, shoppers and travellers joining in together as one, never allied to one or other ethnic type. It is safe; a tourist could walk alone anywhere at any time of day or night without fear of molestation. We were unlucky with the weather, which was uncharacteristically overcast and windy. Otherwise it was a fun-filled and happy experience. Thank-you Cuba!

 

 

 

A Tourist in my Birthplace

So last weekend we became tourists in the city of my birth. Strictly speaking, since, like my siblings I was born at home in a house with the aid of midwife I was not born in Salisbury but nine miles away in what was then a small village but officialdom does not accept small villages as places of birth, so Salisbury it is.

We parked up in a site overlooking ancient Old Sarum [http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/old-sarum/]

Clearly, Salisbury and its environs are a magnet for overseas visitors as we were surrounded by vans and tents from Germany, The Netherlands, France and Italy. So we are not yet ostracised to the extent that ‘etrangers’ will not set foot upon our shores; rather that we are, I suppose cheap for visitors from the EU.

We followed a nifty, easy cycle path down into the city, where I dragged Husband around in a search for my old Aunty Ethel’s house, long since occupied by others. Aunty Ethel was one of that breed of spinster aunts whose vocation was to care for elderly relatives, which she did in return for occupying a small apartment upstairs in their house. She also worked on my uncle’s market stall, as did my mother, on Saturdays. My father would then bring me on the bus to ‘Miss Pinegar’s’ ballet school for my morning session, after which he’s buy me ‘99’ ice cream in the market and I’d sit at the back of the stall swinging my legs and eating it. The stall backed on to a second hand bookstall which, together with the ice cream combined to create small-girl heaven.

I’d been convinced that the house had an arched porch but memory is a fickle attendant; the arched houses occupy the opposite side of the terraced road. Aunty Ethel’s had a square porch. The road now seems quaint and fashionable, having been gentrified and tiddled up.

We cycled up the steep slope to The Wyndham Arms, once a lowly backstreet corner pub, now with a trendy, real-ale, Tripadvisor reputation and ate at ‘The Wig and Quill’ where banners announced a third birthday party [for the pub] to be hosted by ‘Beaky’ who we assume is Beaky from the 60s pop quintet ‘Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch’. We consumed our [presentable] steaks as a trickle of blinged-up party arrivals entered for the celebrations and it was time to leave.

Next day we undertook a hilly cycle to Amesbury, narrow lanes along the Avon Valley and some steep climbs causing intermittent knee protests. The rolling English countryside is voluptuous in late summer, full blown oaks and beeches in their last Hurrah before Autumn begins to get a grip. Arriving at Amesbury we quickly decided that there is absolutely no reason whatsoever for visiting this unremarkable, small town and I imagine the population might be on their knees every day in a debt of gratitude to Wetherspoons, whose establishment dominates the main street and who are able to provide a decent cup of coffee.

On the return and after more hills we stopped at The Bridge Inn for a glass of cider in the sun, with a view of the river flanked by weeping willows and bulrushes. Beautiful!

 

Oh The Joys of Sicilian Public Transport…

Taorminha. Sicily’s tourist jewel; the magnet for package holiday visitors and justifiably so, perched high on cliffs, the many levels of buildings clinging like limpets in precarious view of the azure sea and topped by the Greco-Roman amphitheatre with its outstanding panorama of Mount Etna.

We shouldn’t miss Taorminha. Having settled into our ramshackle site overlooking a black beach at the edge of the small seaside town of San Alesso Sicula we investigated transport options. Driving up the almost sheer cliff face was out of the question but buses made regular trips and a timetable was posted at reception.  We strolled out into the modest little town and stopped for a seafront beer then found the bus ‘fermata’ ready for tomorrow.

The bus came, and on time. There were some moments of anxiety as it appeared to go in the opposite direction but then it turned in towards our goal, along the autostrada the finally up a series of hairpin bends, up and up into the town, where the driver reassured us that we should wait, later for the return bus. So far so good.

Even now, in April the historic streets were thronged with tourists, the bars and gelaterias doing thriving business. The theatre and its views are worth the hype. The lackadaisical service at the famous ‘Wunderbar’ was not. We gave up waiting and got a drink at the modest bar by the bus stop. Then we waited. And watched the battered, scraped, stove-in and dented vehicles lurching by. And waited.

‘He’s just late’ suggested Husband, ‘It’s the traffic’.

Less sanguine, I nipped into the information booth and learned that the return stop had been changed that afternoon and was now the bus station, many levels down. It had left. The next bus was at 19.40pm. Wonderful.

We got an overpriced and mediocre meal before trudging down to the bus depot to wait. The sun was gone, the evening cooling. Buses came and went with shrugging drivers. At last, cold and disillusioned we returned to the information booth to be told the bus driver, who’d evidently chosen to go home for dinner rather than do his last run, would come back for us at 21.30pm. Unable to face the inhospitable bus station once more we climbed into a taxi. This is Sicily.

We left San Alesso to meander along the south coast towards Mount Etna and a site that boasted an uninterrupted view of this, one of the world’s most active volcanoes. There among a strip of unedifying bars, guest houses and hotels with bizarre South American influenced names-‘Ipanema’, ‘Mokambo’-we found our site. Clearly Sicilians feel there is no advantage in capitalising on proximity to another tourist magnet. There was no ‘Etna Bar’, ‘Lava Lounge’ or ‘Eruptions Night Club’. The site was modest but clean and adequate, with precious few visitors for such a prestigious position. Etna’s head lay still shrouded in clouds but remained an impressive sight, towering above the coast with snow clad slopes.

Next morning, however we were treated to a clear, unsullied view of the entire volcano and its vast crater. Result!

Going South

While it is fair to say I’m less confident at driving the van than I was I don’t expect Husband to undertake all the driving. On a trip like this it would be tricky to do the distance. So I take a turn to give him a break.

We leave Venice and turn south on the coast road towards Rimini and Ancona. The journey is without incident and a little slow due to the 50kmh limit almost all the way. I am happy enough driving through the built up area where I cannot overtake and cannot be overtaken. At the end of the long day we arrive at a coastal site south of Ancona where a handful of motorhomes have also stopped. The site opened a few days before but is clearly not ready to receive visitors, the bathrooms strewn with electrical cables and tins of paint, the sound of sawing and the to-iing and fro-ing of the workmen as they labour.

At reception I am told to return in half an hour, even though the vast expanse of site is so sparsely occupied as to be almost empty. At last we are supplied with a shower key for a slot to provide hot water, the delivery of which lasts all of 2 minutes-enough time to work shampoo up to a lather and little else…

Of the numerous toilets, only one is able to be sat on, the remaining cubicles being the archaic, squatty type. Half of these are filled to the brim with excrement. We are not impressed!

Next day I take first turn, assured by Husband that we’ll do autostrada; that we can ‘just drive’ and it will be easy. I turn on to the motorway, settling behind a lorry until I feel confident enough to overtake. It is a large tanker. Seeing a space, I pull out into the middle and begin to pass-just at the sign for a lane closure, the tanker’s lane. Horrors! The lorry driver makes his predictable, terrifying move as I am part-way past, indicating and lurching sideways in a bid to bully us in. By now I’m hyperventilating, yelping. Husband urges me to put my foot down and go, which I do…then I am past and I can swing back in, gasping in relief. A few moments later, as we limp along behind the next lorry the tanker driver regains his advantage, displaying his superiority from his testosterone filled cab and I let him go. That’s enough near-death experiences for one day.

Later we leave the motorway to climb into the mountains of Abruzzo and stop at Opi to be greeted by the owner speaking American English in a beautiful, remote site surrounded by towering peaks and woods supposedly occupied by bears and wolves. Across the field there is a lone, Dutch motor-home but the couple are enjoying their solitude. After dinner we sit by a huge wood burner in the empty restaurant, share a local brew of beer and chat to the owner’s daughter, recently returned from Boston.

In the cold night I fancy I hear wolves baying. The friendly site dog is sitting outside in the sunshine waiting to greet us next morning and as I wander up the lane to supply the fluffy donkey with a carrot a troupe of little pigs and a gaggle of white ducks come running up.

Then we are off again, heading down off the Appenines and away to the west to skirt Naples-I am adamant this time that I will not drive on the motorway. But we are to encounter far worse driving related incidents as we progress south.

At last we are over at the opposite coast, The Mediterranean, at Paestum and we settle down for a couple of nights by a beach under the shade of some eucalyptus trees with a handful of German, Swiss and Austrian neighbours soaking up the warm sunshine.