The journey home from Italy

After ten days in Puglia it was time to come home and having taken Lisa to the airport via Alberobello, we packed up the small house and started getting ready for our departure.

The route back was going to take a little longer than the 2.5 days we’d spent driving down and we had allowed six days for the return. Unfortunately during my holiday, I had been required to work every other day and rather than taking the Monday off as agreed, it was clear I would be needed in the office on Monday. This meant we had five days to return but also meant we were trying to change our booking on the busiest day of the year, the last day of the school summer holidays. Still that was a few days away.

Our initial thought was to get as far up Italy as we could to the slightly cooler weather and then drift through France visiting some of the wine regions. We were due to set off early but due to a combination of leaving too much to do on the last day and a work call we didn’t leave til 9:30am. Our routing was again up the picturesque Adriatica. image
This meant that we would have no chance of getting as far as Milan or Turin which would be an additional two and four hours respectively, so we were likely to stop shortly after Bologna. There are some spectacular views as you drive up the east coast of Italy with an almost constant view of the Sea, mountains on the inland side and sometimes some great views where the road goes up into the hills. As we made our way north, Maria started to look into where we could go. Eventually we decided to go to Maranello, home of the Ferrari museum.

imageWe arrived in the town at around 7pm having filled up with fuel to avoid any disasters whilst driving around country lanes – not that we have any history of panicking while looking for fuel. To get in we had to call a number so that we could get the code to open the gate for an area that had power, water and waste facilities as well as being on the river in the centre of town. We had also been told to cross the river via the bridge and pop into a restaurant to pay the €7 charge for the night. Having parked up with a little space between two Italian vans we headed to the restaurant. Having paid our money, it seemed churlish not to have a quick beer having driven so far, and I am sure the cats wouldn’t mind…… With our drinks came some tasters in the local style and since it was getting late we decided to get a little food from the restaurant to take to the van rather than cook. Returning to the van, we agreed to let the cats out for a short time, the area seemed quite safe and despite the five vans also staying there, there were no dogs. At this time of year and this high up Italy, it gets dark a little early and so the cats were not out for long before it got dark. We wanted to get the cats in as it got dark and so started to call them – nothing!

So we are trying to call the cats in while searching for them using a imagevery high powered torch (thanks Kristy). As we are searching the search party is joined by an additional member, Melina Russo from Sicilly who is an artist who loves owls and cats and is touring Italy going to markets and fares selling her art. And she loves our cats.  Eventually we get the cats back and it is now pitch black and Clyde is playfully attacked by a wild cat about half his size.  imageSo he runs away!  We settle down to talking to Melina and Luico and share a few glasses of wine.  We talk about Puglia and get them some of our lovely olive oil and Melina kindly gives us one of her pieces of art.image

So we have arrived in France and agree that a small tour of the vineyards would be very pleasant. 🙂 so first stop Beaujolais… We have found a very nice remote vineyard to go to so the cats should be allowed to explore.

Maria is tired and is dozing a bit while I drive. She then wakes up and decides she is bored. Apart from waving at all motorhomes, maria wants to play some of her favourite music….and the Dolly Parton Cd is in the van….so that means islands in the stream….which means guest vocals from her very own “Kenny Rogers”…..with video……and onto Facebook…..oh dear! So now rather than just everyone thinking that we are mad, there is documentary proof on Maria’s Facebook feed.

Funnily enough, rather than abuse, we receive lots of favourable comments but not so much about the singing as the fun and having a good time.

imageOne of the few problems that we have with the motorhome is that the satnav built into it does not recognise that it is not in a Fiat CinqueCiento. So it decides to take you down some roads that are ….. “tricky”. This all adds to the fun and means that we have to be ever-watchful rather than trusting the satnav, this was ably proven on the trip down but the satnav didn’t disappoint this time either. Having taken us down some windy single track roads, it asked us to make a 90degree right turn at the smallest crossroads I have seen with buildings in each corner. Needless to say there was no chance we could make it. We kept going and tried to see if the was another way to that road. This vineyard is on the French Passion list of friendly sites that do not charge and have produce you can try, so they must be able to take a motorhome. Having skirted all round the area we found the other way into “that” road. It is tight but doable. However, I have no idea what awaits when I get into this road….am I going to have to reverse out of it around another incredibly tight junction? I decide that discretion is the better part of valour, having already proven that cowardice was the best part of discretion at the other end of the road by not taking the turn. I park up at a reasonable spot and walk the route. imageIt’s actually very nice with fields of vines a hard standing and then up the other side towards the impossible junction there is the main building where I am greeted by a friendly gentleman and I explain what we are doing there. He gives us the choice of parking near the building or down on the hard
standing at the bottom of the field. The privacy down there would be great for the cats, and having checked it is ok for us to let the cats out (“but of course…tell them to catch some mice” – with a French accent please), I return to the vehicle to get us to our overnight stop. It is lovely. The cats, however, are being a little naughty. This involves generally getting too close to the road and Bonnie deciding that the fenced off house on the other side of the road (with a cat) is somewhere she would like to explore! It is such a lovely evening that the lady of the house is sitting comfortably outside as we are telling Bonnie off and politely asking the naughty girl to come this


side of the fence! On seeing our cat the lady becomes a new friend and chats to Maria for some time about cats and travelling for some time. It is now our opportunity to go and visit the building to “test” their wares and so we get the cats into the van and set up the mosquito nets so that they have some fresh air.

In common with a number of English when you see Brouilly, Fleurie and Beaujolais
imageVillage on a wine list, it is difficult to resist a taste. Now the important thing to remember is that these places, in France Passion, do not charge you to stay and have no expectation that you will spend money. In our case though we have noticed that a stay in a vineyard generally costs us between one hundred and two hundred euros a night! However, we do get some very nice wine 🙂

We return to the van quite “happy”, to be greeted by imageClyde outside of the van. Hmmm, that’s not good as we find the mosquito net in our bedroom separated from its frame with a cat sized hole. He could get out but he couldn’t get in again. I make the necessary repairs and it is ok but that will be closed with the blind at night. Dinner is a quick and simple affair washed down with a bottle of free wine, I guess if you spend some money a little charity is easy to offer. It’s been a reasonably long day and we are still recovering from the first drive through Italy so it is an early night and prepare for driving to Chablis the next day. My comfortable nights sleep is disturbed a little at 4am when I wake and think where are the cats….Bonnie is fast asleep (such a good girl) but there is no sign of Clyde, the little beggar has made another cat sized hole in the mosquito netting in the lounge area. I am so happy to have to get dressed and go outside to find our “favourite” cat. After ten minutes of fruitless searching and calling, but not too loud so as to wake the neighbours, I haven’t found him. Talking to Maria, we are trying to decide what to do. I go out for one more look. Usually when you call the cats by name, they come running home. Clyde generally shouting and wanting some attention. However, he knew he was naughty on this occasion. The normally shouty cat was very quiet as he crept round the corner. He also would not let me in range to grab him and it took another few minutes to get him in. He knows he has done wrong. Eventually he comes back in and we are all able to get back to sleep with a few less windows open. The next day we are up at a reasonable time and it is time to say goodbye.

Onwards to Chablis, also the source of some wines that we may quite like. Fresh from her motorhome karaoke “success” of the previous day, Maria decides that more singing and further videos are required. More perusing of the Dolly Parton collection and she has selected “her we go again”. Fortunately for the audience this is not one I need to sing so Maria sings along while I do the drive-dancing, yes I know it is sad!


The final song has to be one of our wedding songs, happy people. At this stage I am finally able to get her to stop videoing me driving and singing but it has kept her happy for a while and she returns to wildly waving at motorhomes coming the other way.

Those who know us will know that Maria is very particular about things and at times last year it took travelling to four sites to find one that she liked enough to stay. Unfortunately Chablis this year was one of these problems. We knew one that we wanted to go to and it seems perfect: remote, nice choice of wines and we would get the early. We arrived and they had completely redeveloped the buildings into a very professional wine tasting and selling area (think some of the top houses in Champagne). Very commercial and very expensive, with no wine under ten euros. I know that is not a lot of money but we have been spoils by trying some of the smaller vineyards and we keen for something a little more intimate. So having parked up in front of a beautiful church image, I took Maria to review the facilities and take a view. It was a no. So we looked through the book at other potential places. Maria was convinced that we hadn’t stayed in Chablis before but I thought I remembered one place a few years previously. Our second choice, was the place we had previously stayed at, again a no. Number three looked nice enough and we stopped outside because it looked a difficult entrance. The lady from the place came running down the road to help us but when we checked there was no way we could get a large motorhome into the courtyard and Maria was also worried that the cats wouldn’t be able to roam. Four and five faired little better, one being closed with no-one around and the other being close to the road with lots of motorhomes and dogs. Our book is running out of places to stay! We then noticed that in the book there are several categories and it doesn’t have to be a vineyard to sell wine. We tried one more before we agreed to give up on Chablis. We have now been searching for somewhere to stay for nearly two hours and it is no longer the early stop that we (I.e. Maria) were hoping for. This place is not marked as a vineyard but offers wine as part of their produce. I pop in to have a chat. The “cave” where you try the wine is nice and cosy. I then get directed to where we can park for the night. There is a small field round the back with fantastic views imageand a number of tractors parked. We can slot between these and then put it anywhere in the field. No problem and satisfies Maria’s requirement for exploring space for the cats. As I return to the motorhome, a couple of the men from the farm move the tractors for us and by the time I return with the van we have a clear field.

Wine tasting and another gift from the owner including six white wine glasses with the logo of the farm. We are also quite

close to their vegetable patch and when the owner brings our wine over he shows Maria the variety of vegetables he is growing. This ends up with some fresh veg for dinner 🙂 We let the cats out again while we prep dinner and it’s another lovely quiet evening.

In parallel to all of the fun of the holiday and the drive, I have been continually contacted by work and although I am not meant to be returning to work until Tuesday it becomes clear that my boss, once again, wants me to return early. We are returning to the UK on the busiest weekend of the year, the last weekend of the summer holidays, and despite Maria taking a couple of hours she is struggling to change our crossing to the Sunday. We decide to head up towards Calais and try our luck in person on Sunday morning.

At one of the Aires we met this unusual gentleman,

it made Maria’s day 🙂

However before we can worry about the crossing, we have to get there.  Everyone knows the quickest way from Chablis to the UK.  It is via the centre of Paris of course!

Well it is according to our satnav – oh why did we listen… We got the full Parisian tour from our friendly satnav including the Eiffel Tower and the arc de triomphe. In Paris, during the day, with lots of traffic, in a large uk registered motorhome, you can imagine how much fun was had!

But where to stay on Saturday night? We want to be close to Calais but far enough away so that we don’t have to worry about anyone trying to get into the van to get across to the UK. Maria searches through the Aires book and finds one outside Boulogne that looks nice and is a working farm. The site has power and water and charges approximately seven euros a night, the most we have paid for staying anywhere in France in three years! We arrive and there is one other old motorhome with an old French couple with a dog that is on a long lead off a pole. imageAs we stop and get ourselves sorted, the cats get out to take a look. The Frenchman comes over to talk to us and tells us that the owners are away for a while and will return but that there is a sheepdog outside of the farmhouse. This is a fair way away from us but nice of him to warn us. The cats are not wandering far but we are keeping our eyes on them as we settle down for a sit down, chat and perhaps a small glass of wine. The young owner returns and we pay for our overnight and naturally offer him a glass of wine. He enjoys the burgundy (clearly the Beaujolais is imagebeing saved for the return to England) but then has to excuse himself but will return shortly. We didn’t think anything of it until he returns a few minutes later with a bottle of wine – try this burgundy too it is lovely :). So another night and another gift. He even imagerefuses to share a glass with us and we all settle down for another nice evening. Unfortunately the rain starts to settle in and so we are restricted to the motorhome but that isn’t so bad with music playing (but not too loud!). The next morning we are up bright and early, we want to try and give the best chance of an early return but we have the fallback of returning to the farmhouse if we want to (but it is still raining).

Our first stop is the pet control area where you have to be checked prior to checking in. At first they refuse to check us in, we are 24 hours early and every crossing is fully booked. We have a little bit of a sob story and asked if they could speak to someone and the lady let us book another ticket and we would be gone in a few hours – result 🙂 and of course any reasonable boss would be happy to pay the extra for cutting my holiday short (again), hmmm maybe not! We go round to check in and get offered an earlier crossing still and now we are leaving in an hour. As we pass through to the holding area, our letter comes up and we are directed straight through and onto a train. We are gone about 30 minutes after checking in. When it works, it works really well.

In addition to communicating with work while I have been away, I have been also trying to keep my wife happy (which as everyone knows is a simple task :)). When we bought the motorhome, we didn’t consider whether we wanted rear corner steadies, that stop the back of the van moving around when you are in it. We have all seen the “if the van is rocking…” signs, well this will put paid to that! And it will also ensure that Maria’s alternative way of stopping the van rocking is no longer valid 😜. One of the autotrail owners that we have met on the internet is selling a set and we have arranged to pick these up on our way to Lisa’s for a Sunday roast. We arrive early and have a nice chat to Trevor Saville, who unfortunately for him and me, has seen the videos. He is still laughing about us! We check that the steadies will fit the van and are good to go. In fact I am able to fit them within ten minutes at Lisa’s so we are all good :). After a fantastic lunch, imagewe pack up our stuff and head home to the boat and Ipswich where the cats can roam around the home turf and not be locked up. The end of two and a half weeks of fun and games for all of us.