There were a whole slew of towns in northern Italy we wanted to see, and as overnighting in Loreto’s car park had been so successful we decided to find car parks in each town, either ones mentioned in the Camperstop book or just any that would take campervans. Spent part of the evening at Loreto planning the next few days. What?? A plan?? That’s a first!
First stop was San Marino. What a funny little place this is! It’s an independent republic, claiming to be the oldest in the world. It’s tiny and mountainous. The city of San Marino is built on a crazily steep ridge, with three towers along the top. It’s rich per capita, and there was a good campervan park part way up the hill, from where you could take a series of lifts to the town centre. Spent a pleasant few hours wandering round, looking at the towers, having lunch etc.
And then drove on to Ravenna. We’d picked out a camperstop near the town, by a beach, which we looked at first but the place was heaving and full of parasols and sunbeds and Italians away for the weekend so we went on to the town itself and found a suitable car park near the centre costing a couple of euro for overnight parking.
Unloaded the bikes and set off to explore Ravenna. An AA Gill article saved from about 2004 is what drew us here, and it was well worth the visit. Quiet but beautiful. You buy a ticket that gets you into all the main sights, and the thing to see is the Byzantine mosaics. Ravenna was briefly capital of the western Roman Empire, then got taken over by the east and it was then that its amazing mosaics were installed in several churches. Dante’s tomb is also here.
Once we’d seen enough we moved on up the road to Ferrara, and once again found a cheap car park in a good site.
Bikes off again – it worked so well in Ravenna so we wanted to do the same thing again. Cycled round, checked out the market, toured the huge castle that’s right in the middle of town, and then rode our bikes round half of the town walls. They’ve turned the walls into a park with a wide gravel path running around the top of the ramparts, perfect for running or cycling along. Very enjoyable. In both Ravenna and Ferrara everyone cycles everywhere. The town centres are largely pedestrianised and totally flat.
And then we moved onto the next town, Modena. Here we found a large free car park within walking distance of the town centre. As it seemed a little bit cooler we decided to walk into town that evening. Had a couple of beers out, and strolled around the pleasant cobbled medieval streets.
We were rudely awoken early this morning by a loud bang at the back of the van. I assumed Ignatius was trying to swat a mosquito or something, as he bounded out of bed and out of the van. ‘Someone’s nicking your bike!’ he yelled, which got me out of bed pretty darn quick too. But the guy and his accomplice were already across the car park with my bike. I ran after them, in my skimpy pyjamas and flip flops. I had the idea if I got close enough and shouted enough they might just drop the bike and run off. But once they realised I was coming after them the git just pedalled off quickly, despite me screaming my best swear words at him. Meanwhile Ignatius had clipped up the bed, started the engine and driven after me. I hopped in and for a while we drove madly through town, with glasses rolling around the floor, the passenger seat facing backwards etc hoping to spot where my bike had gone. No luck. In the end we drove to a parking spot near the Ferrari museum, had breakfast, got dressed etc.
My bike was the one on the outside of the rack, locked to the next bike, and the gripper holding it to the rack was also locked. And there was a cover over the whole lot. They’d quietly unclipped the cover, undone the straps that hold the wheels to the rack, cut through the cable lock, then wrenched the bike out of the gripper – I think this was the bang we heard. Bastards.
We decided on balance we did not want to report the theft. Basically we felt the stress of finding the police station (the right police station – there are several different police forces in Italy), finding somewhere to park near it, making ourselves understood, filling in all the forms etc, was probably more hassle than it was worth. Actually I’m more upset at losing my lovely Madison saddle I’d had since 1985 that was on my bike, than losing the bike itself. But it was all a bit upsetting, especially that it could happen while we were sleeping.
We debated giving up on Modena and just moving on, but decided not to let the thieving bastards totally spoil our day. So when the Ferrari museum opened we went in for a look at various models of Ferraris through the years. It’s on the site of Enzo Ferrari’s family home and workshop. Then we walked into the town centre, visited the market to buy some Balsamic vinegar and the Duomo.
Then we headed out of town via a branch of Decathlon. I bought a new bike for 200 euro – totally different to my last one but more suitable for pootling round towns which is all we’re doing by bike on this trip. To be honest I’d discovered a cyclocross is not the best bike for town cycling, and was still suffering a loss of confidence since my fall in Zadar. So maybe my new black town bike (Ignatius calls it my Ferrari since it was bought in Modena!) will be better for the rest of this trip.
Drove on to Mantua which for some reason is also known as Mantova. We had actually meant to go to Parma next, but decided to cut it out after what happened in Modena. Mantua’s a lovely little town, surrounded on three sides by lakes. Another free car park, by the lakeside. We arrived in time to give my new Ferrari a trial run. There’s a gorgeous track following the shoreline so we cycled around that, then into the medieval town centre. Had a look at a couple of churches then realised it was dinner time, so we had a meal out before cycling back to the van. I think me and the Ferrari are going to be friends.
So, for a day that started out so badly, we managed to pack a lot in, in the end.
As we’d seen the town yesterday we spent a while researching campsites around Lake Garda, then drove up that way. The weather forecast was for a stormy afternoon and evening and we wanted to get settled before that came over.
So here we are, in a nice campsite by the western shores of Lake Garda (much better than those Adriatic coast ones) and planning to stay a few days. Since arriving back in Italy we’ve not spent more than one night at the same place, and it gets quite tiring! One storm has been over already but there may be more tonight. Hope we get cooler weather afterwards!
Car parks vs campsites – the former are much cheaper and better for town centre exploration. But as we found to our cost, are not always secure. We like a mix. Will be very happy to spend the next few days in a fully equipped campsite.