On our trip we are both travellers and tourists. The former seems a more desirable label than the latter. We tend to spend a lot of time trying to avoid and berating the latter, especially when they come in coach loads. This is somewhat like complaining about the traffic jam you are stuck in when you are actually the traffic jam!!
By contrast my photo of Duomo in Siena had rather more tourists in the shot.
A six months’ trip necessitates you spending more time as traveller than a two week holiday. We were, for example, in a tiny perfectly preserved medieval village of Pienza, a day or so ago. It has loads of picturesque lanes, buildings, touristy shops and the requisite Duomo. Our purchases, however, were four 7cm woodscrews and a box grater!
Amongst the tourist shops (we did buy cheese and postcards) we found a very small hardware shop (think two Ronnies ‘fork handles’ place). I’m not sure we would have managed to buy 7cm woodscrews without Google translate on Kath’s phone.
The screws were required to reattach the protective cover for our 12v sockets. The box grater as a replacement for a cheap grater that twice took lumps out of my fingertips!
After our free-camping night we realised that although we had water, fuel, empty waste etc we actually had very little food… so our first stop was at a Lidl outside a small town to stock up. And then we felt fully equipped for a couple of days in the wilds of Abruzzo. It’s a pretty remote and mountainous area. Our two books of campsites and camperstops have a bit of a void here, and the words ‘here be dragons’ in small print. But there is some tremendous scenery – the roads follow deep river gorges one minute and twist up to high plateaus the next. We really enjoyed the drive. Stopped for a wander around Scanno, a tiny hilltop village which is a little ski resort in winter. And onwards to San Stefano di Sessiana, another medieval hilltop town. This one was seriously damaged in the 2009 earthquake, the one that hit L’Aquila hard, killing 300 people. A medieval tower collapsed here, and judging by the shape of the scaffolding and the information boards it looks like they are intending rebuilding it completely.
We ended up free-camping outside a small town called Capestrano, with a view to die for.
After free-camping on their doorstep we thought we should pay the inhabitants of Capestrano a visit, for a morning coffee. Turned out to be market day so we also bought socks and a melon. There’s earthquake damage in evidence here as well.
This day’s drive was possibly even more spectacular. At the high point we were at about 1800 metres with a glorious view of a range of snow-capped mountains – the Gran Sasso. It was pretty windy and cold there, so we dropped down a little way before stopping by the roadside for lunch. Most of the roads here were really good – a world of difference between here and Sicily.
We debated another free-camping night but to be totally honest I was a little short on knickers and needed a washing machine. So we headed out of Abruzzo, into the top corner of Lazio and to a campsite beside Lake Bolsena where we booked in for two nights. It was a lovely campsite, with a great restaurant, a shop, a little lakeside beach, and just 2km from the pretty medieval town of Bolsena.
Washing. Then van-cleaning. Admin tasks. A bike ride into town for a quick look around and then a dip in the lake, followed by a couple of hours sitting in the sunshine with a good book. Sometimes these go-nowhere, low-key days are just what we need.
And into Tuscany. This is an area of Italy I have wanted to explore for a long time. I’ve been to Pisa and Florence before but nowhere else. We started our tour with a brief visit to Orvieto – a medieval hilltop town. (Remember how many Baroque churches we visited down south? Well it’s all medieval hilltop towns here. I’ll copy and paste those words to speed up the typing.) The visit was brief because we just missed a tour of the underground city and didn’t want to hang around all day till the next one, and also because it didn’t really appeal to us.
So we headed deeper into Tuscany, through countryside that grew prettier by the mile, to Montepulciano. There was a camperstop here where you could park overnight for 10 euro, with an easy walk to the historic old town. And this one we really liked. It’s a ctrl-v medieval hilltop town full of gorgeous alleyways that open onto glorious views across the countryside. We spent hours wandering around, explored a set of cellars beneath one of the wine shops, tasted wine, bought wine, had an evening meal out, watched the sun go down, and returned to Gertie after dark.
Onward to Pienze, a medieval hilltop town village, where we spent a happy couple of hours exploring. Hardly anyone here, but it was so pretty! And then on to Montalcino. Here we did plenty more exploring, had a long lunch out that also involved wine tasting, and spent the night at the camperstop just outside the town.
Ooh, that’s today! I am almost up to date. First stop today was Siena. As one of the major towns in Tuscany we felt we should go there. Following advice from some German motorhomers we’d met in the Montalcino camperstop we parked at a free car park outside the city and took a bus into the centre. Walked all round as usual, and visited the Duomo. It’s all a bit crowded and touristy after the other places in Tuscany we’d visited so we did not enjoy it as much as we expected. Staff in the tourist information office all seemed grumpy, treating us like cattle, and we had the impression we were being shook down for every penny we had (you have to pay 4 euro to go in the Duomo – in most towns the churches are free entry). Had lunch out, then decided to move on.
On the bus on the way back to the car park we met a bloke from Brighton who now lives and works in Siena. He mentioned Certaldo to us, and back in the van we checked it out, discovered it had a free camperstop and was not too far away, and decided to go there. Here, I mean. Am sitting in the van typing this in the Certaldo camperstop. It’s a medieval hilltop village, totally unspoilt and is totally gorgeous. We took the funicular up to the old part of town, arriving with just enough time to go round the two main sights : an old palazzo which incorporated the courthouse and jail and Boccaccio’s house (author of the Decameron, so Italy’s version of Chaucer). I hadn’t realised he’d lived here until we got here. Sadly in WW2 an Allied bomb destroyed much of his house but they rebuilt it as close to the original as possible. The rest of the old town escaped unscathed (and what on earth possessed that bomber to bomb Certaldo? Not exactly a strategic target!) and is very beautiful. And the views, the views, across the serenity of the Tuscan landscape. We stayed and ate an evening meal out, on a terrace overlooking the countryside below. Beautiful, and very good food too.
I think on the whole we are preferring the small towns and villages to the major tourist cities. They’re easier to manage – finding parking on the outskirts and walking to the centre, and I like the quieter, quirkier places where people see tourists as welcome guests rather than cash-cows.