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Thursday, August 30, 2012

I've gone a bit quiet...

Wednesday 29th August

You will have noticed no blog yesterday! We had travelled well from Assisi to Sorrento for about 3 1/2 hours when the problem occurred about an hour from our destination. We've had a torrid 24 hours but are ok.

We were victims of the bad guys in Italy near Naples!!  We were travelling on the A3 and had to go through yet another toll station and noticed guys in every bay 'selling' beads etc.. thought we were back in the Philippines. Unbeknowns to us we'd had a tyre slashed going through the pay booth just outside Naples around 2pm.We thought the roads were pretty bad and the car was difficult to manage and Graham thought that we probably had a flat tyre. There was no where to pull over so we drove for about 3 kms before we could pull off the A3 to check it out. We'd pulled into an area of roadworks and got out of the car to check the damage. We were out of the car for about 30 seconds and confirmed that the right rear tyre was very flat. We did notice a small white car with 2 guys in it pulled up behind us. They were moved on and  Graham was directed to back down the area of roadworks to get out of the way. The road work guys spoke no English but made out to be asking for money as Graham was getting out the spare tyre. They started to quickly help us change the tyre but we thought they wanted money before finishing the job. It seems that they were trying to tell us that our money was gone. I then went to get my bag out of the car and discovered it missing . My bag had our passports, Credit cards and mobile phone and my license. It was sitting between the 2 front seats on the console and not easily seen. Because we have French number plates on the car, I think we were sitting ducks - obviously tourists. A guy known to the workman arrived on the scene and he spoke some English and called the local police. The tyre was changed and we waited for about an  hour for them to arrive. We don't know what if any involvement the roadworks people had to do with the incident but we thought it odd that they knew that my bag had gone. We had not seen anything but were probably in stress mode wanting to get the tyre replaced and get on our way. Unfortunately the attending policeman spoke no English and we speak no Italian.  I had the phone number of the hotel and we were able to get some translation. It was suggested we go first to the hotel and then the police in Sorrento where there would be someone to help us make a report.

The guys on reception at the hotel were fabulous - rang the police and it was suggested we go there in the morning. With no mobile and the phone in the room not working, I organized internet connection and discovered  that our Commonwealth Travel money card had been wiped out about 3,000 euros leaving a balance of 8 euros.With no phone there was nothing I could do to cancel it any earlier. Evidently the card fraud had put a temporary stop on the Westpac credit card and it was I cancelled it  Arrangements have been made for emergency credit card to be issued and hopefully it will arrive tomorrow. It seems that the travel money cards are not as safe as we thought the'y be.

This is a bit long winded but the details will be helpful to file reports etc when we get home. Have already put in a claim to CBA for unauthorized transactions but it may take up to 45 days to be resolved!
We had a reasonabe sleep last night and after breakfast, headed down to the local police station where we were fobbed off to the cariboniere ( higher level of policing in the area) The guy on the desk spoke no English but there were a couple of guys in the waiting area who were able to interpret for us. It seemed that they were very annoyed that we'd been sent there  and they called the guys around the corner and we were advised to go back at 2pm to make the report - and that they knew about the incident form the attending policemen. The long and short of it is that they tried to fob us off again as we didn't bring and interpreter.  I stood my ground and told them that we had an appoinment and knew nothing about any interpreters. 
After about half an hour and interpreter arrived and we finished the process at 4pm.

We finished off the day with a bus ride around the Amalfi Coast which was fabulous. We decided not to drive and glad that we hadn't pursued the idea. The curves are very narrow especially with buses and numerous mororbikes and scooters (very popular here) We came home around sunset and the sights were spectacular. Dinner and then back to the hotel.

Still have to sort out passports, hopefully a consulate or embassy in Rome and tomorrow will contact the car company as we no longer have a spare tyre and one damaged, unrepairable one.

We are not deterred and still plan to go to Capri tomorrow for a few hours. We haven't made it to Pompeii yet but may do that en route to Rome. The traffic here is chaotic. Pedestrians beware - motor cyles, scooters, bicycles, cars and buses all fight for their place on the roads. There is little regard for any road rules it seems.

Will post pics tomorrow.. Oops it is already tomorrow so must go to bed!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

SO much for an internet free night.. Off to Sorrento tomorrow

Monday 27th August
Temperature – 24-32°- much more pleasant for sight seeing.

After a fabulous sleep, we awoke to bright clear blue skies. Our accommodation is wonderful with 3 rooms and a balcony. We are able to be self sufficient so after breakfast, a bit of washing and then we set off for the day. Time for some photos first.
First stop – Cortona. After a very “hairy” drive up to the hilltop town, we were very lucky to find a park to just drive into. I have no idea how we were going to park like the locals with about 6” in front of and behind the car. We walked up the hill and joined the other tourists and headed around to the info centre where we grabbed a map of the area. The usual churches, steep climb and then some more, we were ready for a coffee. A mandatory look in the shops and then time to leave.Loads of eateries, huge numbers of tourists but fantastic views and well worth the visit

We headed for Lago di Tresimeno where the Umbrians head for summer holidays. The sand looked like mud and most uninviting. The lake itself is huge but there was not much activity, probably because it is Monday. Maybe yesterday would have been a different story. We had a look around the camping ground which was huge but “grotty” looking. Not a blade of grass to be seen only gravel to camp on. The camping fees were cheap but entrance to the swimming pool was €8. After a light lunch we headed towards home via the outskirts of Perugia. Due to some road works we were not able to find our way to the centre of the city but instead found a supermarket and were soon home with supplies for dinner- pasta & salad then fruit. At the top of the hill – Serpeto there is what appears to be an unused church and a set of buildings all with street numbers but no power/gas connections and not much evidence of inhabitance. There were a couple of cars parked in the church yard so presumably there was someone, somewhere.

We were grateful for a cooler day but quite tired when we arrived home. Into the guide books preparing for another day of driving to Sorrento tomorrow.
We have really enjoyed our stay in Assisi (7kms from centre) at Mario’s house. It is well equipped with everything right down to salt & pepper. Numerous cooking essentials and crockery and cutlery- in fact everything we needed and much more. A welcome bowl of fruit was on the table when we arrived along with some goodies for breakfast including 4 fresh eggs from Mario’s hens. This was our first experience of airbnb and we would happily recommend it to others. We hope our place in Rome is as good!

Our Assisi accommodation - top floor

Cortona Piazza Comunale

Hairy drive to the top but well worth it!

Anyone for the beach? Lago di Tresimeno

Serpeto - just up the hill from us
Views over the valley from Serpeto

Monday, August 27, 2012

Our Italian experience continues..

Temperature 31-26-17-24 Some rain just as we arrived is Assisi. The first they’ve seen in 3 months apparently. View from our accommodation


Basilica di San Francesco - Assisi

Street theatre

  Sunday 26th August

Time to move on again and after Graham expertly reversed the car out of the garage (there was no other option) and then down the very narrow one-way lane, we were on our way- headed for Assisi. Address in the GPS for accommodation and we thought we were set. We certainly experienced some of the hill country and noticed the temperature drop. We drove many winding roads, saw evidence of recent road works and the construction of new roads and tunnels through mountains. Being Sunday we’d noticed that most shops were closed but just a few kms before our destination we saw a supermarket open, so stocked up on the basics for meals
When we thought we had arrived, we were obviously close but in the wrong place. The locals at number 59 spoke no English and we had no Italian but they did manage to understand the name of Mario who owned the airbnb at  number 57. They gave us some directions to follow just up the hill and around the corner. Well we did that and then found another chap who told us that we’d gone too far and eventually we found where we needed to be.
We were met by Mario Fossa our host and were shown to our apartment. This is our first experience of airbnb and the place is wonderful. Mario and his wife( who speaks no English) live downstairs and their son also lives on site and we had the upstairs apartment – 4 rooms- very adequate and a great change from high rise hotels. We had no sooner brought the bags in from the car when the rains came.
The rain was quite heavy and lasted about and hour and a half – time for us to have lunch and relax before heading into Assisi – 7 kms away. Once the rain cleared, the temperature dropped to 17 degrees – such a massive change in a short time frame. We headed down the road in the direction of Assisi and missed a turn which didn’t look possible and found ourselves being ushered into a car park. We were not sure where we were but purchased a map for €2 and got our bearings and realized that we were exactly in the right spot. Up many steps and we were right amongst the action along with heaps of other tourists. (Had we followed the directions of the GPS we would have found ourselves right in the narrow streets of Assisi – no where to park and it could have been very difficult.

About.com puts it this way:

Assisi is a superb hill town in the beautiful region of Umbria in Italy. To visitors, medieval "hill towns" are like storybook towns that time forgot; they did not develop into big cities over the centuries, but rather kept their narrow lanes, massive gates, stone buildings, and other features we find so charming.
But Assisi is much more than a pretty hill town. Thousands come to worship in Assisi's magnificent churches, and to pray to Francis of Assisi, a much-beloved saint.
St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), the patron saint of Italy, is affectionately called Il Poverello, the Little Poor One, because he lived and preached a life of simplicity and poverty. He did not, however, start life that way; in fact, the life of St. Francis of Assisi is "riches to rags" sort of tale.

We returned to our accommodation and opened up all the shutters. A very welcome change in temperature about 24°.

Night theatre in the Piazza - Macerata

View over the valley from Macerata

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A truly amazing day

Saturday 25th August

Temperature up to 39°
Checked out of the hotel and we were pleasantly surprised that our room which was very large was €39 per night and that included breakfasts.
Left the hotel and headed south towards Ancona- Guide books were not very complimentary about the popular seaside resorts- packed wall to wall people. We try to get off the beaten track and we have done that today. Started on the autostrada - very busy with traffic all headed for the beach I think! and then left to go into Ancora ( very grotty and unimpressive place from what we saw from the car). Evidently very popular with the Italians for a seaside holiday. Graham had wanted to swim in the Adriatic Ocean but changed his mind. 
We headed for the hills instead as we are staying in Macerata. Had some fun finding the place as the GPS couldn't find the street. We pulled up in a side street and entered a street name that was partly the same as the hotel address about 2 kms away from where we were and part of the old city. By pure luck we found it- I spotted a sign to 3 hotels one of which was ours. Up a narrow one-way lane we ditched the car and walked to the entrance, booked in and then put the car in the frightfully tiny carpark. The whole place has gone for Siesta. We arrived Saturday afternoon 2.30pm - I think the shops will reopen around 4-5pm, so expect some activity. Walking is the only way to go - so have done lots, back to hotel for a rest, catch up on emails etc then will hit the pavement again and see what is going on. We found the info place and were informed that there is a free concert tonight at 9.15pm so we'll see. Just waiting for the small supermarket to open to grab some coffee. We brought our jug and mugs (from France) with us and it has been fantastic as tea /coffee are not available in the hotels as they are back home

We have driven enough narrow and winding roads to decide that the Amalfi Coast will be done in a  bus! The drivers here are manic and I guess it doesn't help if you're not quite sure where the road goes. Not much horn blowing yet but neither to they indicate. I've decided that my arms aren't long enough when needing to grab tickets on the autostrada and if we ever do this type of holiday again, we'll check out auto cars.
A few thoughts about driving in Italy and the traffic
Autostrada is fantastic with speed limit 130 which no-one abides by. No-one reduces speed as sign posted in areas of road works
There is much lane changing with no indicators
Cars pull out in front of you frequently
The lanes to grab tickets and pay road toll are very narrow and my arms aren’t long enough to reach. Long stretches of travel are quite expensive
Roads are not in particularly good order – loads of pot holes.
To get a feel for the local area, get off the main roads- they are narrow and windy but worth the experience, if at times hair raising going around the corners.
Sharing the driving is a must at least for us.

Main Corso Macerata
Our  accommodation

One-way traffic!
Statue outside the museum

Love the shuttered windows
Left the hotel about 8pm - streets are alive again with cafes and restuarants all open for business. We firstly came across a free art show complete with book and poster. Art by local artists- some was excellent. We then enjoyed a lovely dinner (no pizza or pasta) after which we wandered down toward the main road Viale Trieste which divides the old & new Macerata. We stumbled across a vintage car display in Piazza Mazzini and we had been advised at the information office about a free concert at 9.15pm in the Sferisterio (open arena) Entry was by ticket but they were free and Graham managed to get 2 tickets and we enjoyed the first half of the opera.  We had no idea what it was about but the singing and costumes were good. We left at interval about 10.45pm as we were both very tired. A truly amazing evening.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Bologna – Parma

Friday 24th August
Temperature top 40°

After a lovely breakfast at the hotel, we set off for Parma, looking for ‘The Big Cheese’ and to see if we could find Montichielo where the Masterchef team were on their Italy tour. Unfortunately we didn’t find either of the above but we got off the autostrada and experienced some lovely countryside. Cornfields and very spent sunflower crops. Narrow streets but not much traffic. We followed the signs to Monticchio and then on to two castles. Along steep, narrow winding roads we found Castello di Rossena and then up to Castello di Canossa. Neither were open to the public but we had fabulous views 360°. A quick lunch stop at Canossa – drinks and pastries and we set off for Parma. The GPS couldn’t find the address of the cheese factory  (address in the travel book was incomplete)and took us up narrow roads and convinced that we were nowhere near where we needed to be we decided to set off to Busseto. The area where Giuseppe Verdi grew up. We were not disappointed and had a private tour of the Teatro Verdi – a 300 seat theatre which was very impressive. It is used for an opera season every October and during the year for other concerts, plays etc. Interestingly Verdi donated £10,000 towards the building, had a private box but never attended an opera there. In Piazza Verdi there was a hive of activity as Rigoletto was being performed outside in the evening, apparently an annual event and all seats were sold out. Chairs were set, food being prepared and the stage & lighting all happening in 40° heat. Even the locals were hoping for a cooler change. As part of our visit we also saw around the Casa Barezzi, (recitals are still held once a month) where Verdi grew up and then drove on to Roncoli Verdi to Casa Natale di Giuseppe Verdi (The home where Verdi was born) Having seen Aida in Verona, I think we have now had our cultural fill. We left the area and returned home via the autostrada and saw the back of the Barillo pasta factory from the A1. The air conditioning was working very well in the car and we arrived back at the hotel at about 6.45pm.

We haven’t seen  many information areas but we did find the one in Bussett which was great. Two young ladies between them spoke little English but we were able to have a reasonable conversation and have our questions answered.

Views from Castella di Rossena

Castella di Rossena
Castella di Canossa

Busseto- setting up for Rigoletto in the open
Verdi monument in Piazza Verdi, Bussett

Busseto main street

Verdi's birthplace