Monday, 27 June 2011

More beaches and Roman ruins

Another free beach park up for a couple of days, a few km south of Pisciotta in Campania, plenty of swims in the sea to try and shift our pasta babies and it was time to inject some culture. First stop Paestum, also known as Poseidonia, founded in the 6th century BC. Either we were incredibly lucky or the site is not much visited because on the evening we toured it there were only a handful of other people. It is an amazing place, like being in a history painting, and Will took some amazing pictures (on his camera, which is unfortunately now out of battery for the rest of the trip). We stayed the night on a Buffalo farm a short walk from the ruins, again for free and this time including an electric hook up. Frankie added mooing to his growing repertoire of animal noises.

And as I write all these entries, we are in Pompei trying to deal with a van full of mosquitos. We visited the ruins today, not an easy mission with a pushchair, but we're glad to have done it. And that's where I'll sign off as we have a major mosquito problem to deal with. Hopefully we'll be able to update this a bit more regularly in the last month of our trip but we're not promising...

Anglo-Italian relations

Arriving at Antico Mulino (The Old Mill) near the town of Missanello, we immediately had a good feeling. Vito greeted us warmly and invited us in for coffee. In the blessedly cool converted mill building, we met his partner Nadia and their almost 2 year old daughter, Domenica.

Vito, a former chef on cruise ships, was living his dream of running a farm and restaurant near his home town. He keeps horses, pigs, lambs, chickens and a truffle hunting dog called BoBo, who was a major hit with Frankie (who now refers to all dogs as BoBo). We couldn't have been made to feel more welcome and, in exchange for helping out on the farm (which for Will meant erecting swings and exciting visits to cheese factories and for Emma, lifeguarding and kaka scooping the paddling pool - bitter? No, not me) we ate all our meals (and delicious they were too) with the family and drank countless espressos.

Towards the end of the week, Vito (who seemed prone to harebrained schemes) decided that he wanted us to help him paint all his plaster pots and garden statues. There were some good natured artistic differences but Vito got his way and the results speak for themselves...

Somehow a week had gone by and despite some pressure to stay, and some temptation too, we decided we must tear ourselves away. We said some genuinely sad goodbyes and, with bigger bellies and more chins, and better Italian than we had arrived with, and Frankie walking properly at last, we headed once again for the coast.

Getting down with the trogladytes in Basilicata

After a certain amount of customary dithering en route from Taranto (changing our minds and direction three times) we settled on the town of Matera in Basilicata. It is famous for its sassi, stone houses cut into the two ravines which slice through the town, which were home to more than half of the population until the late 1950s. It is a delightfully atmospheric place, though we did our usual trick of arriving during the deadzone of 2.30-4pm, where everything is closed and it is impossible for three hungry travellers to get a bite to eat or a drop to drink. We parked up for the night on a street above the castle and were woken multiple times by dogs barking or drunken students canoodling.

Basilicata is one of Italy's poorest regions and one that is rarely visited by tourists. We decided to stay a while. Driving through its wild and rugged mountainous interior we didn't see another vehicle, let alone another camper. We were on our way to another Agritourism stop and had our fingers crossed that the GPS coordinates were correct and that we would be allowed to stop for a day or two.

Trulli, madly, deeply

With renewed enthusiasm, we set off for the heart of Trulli territory in Puglia. Trullis are circular houses made of whitewashed stone without mortar and with conical roofs. The roofs are tiled with concentric rows of grey slate, and many have astrological or religious symbols painted on them. Our first stop was Castellana Grotte, where we failed to visit the famous caves but where a nice Italian man bought Frankie his first Kinder Surprise. Then on to the picturesque town of Alberobello, Trulli central, where we stayed in an overpriced, undershaded carpark, but saw plenty of these beautiful, quirky dwellings. A couple of nights at a free park up on the coast south of Taranto followed, and we were back in the swing doing the Italian thing.
Trullis in Alberobello

Beach park up

Back to Italy (and a stealth visit to the UK)

Our ferry journey from Patras to Bari was a lt less pleasant than going the other way. We were camping on board again, which means that you sleep in your van parked on the deck. On the way out, this was lovely, a bit like being on a cruise. This time, however, we were the only van camping on board, parked in amongst the lorries in the bowels of the ship, next to the rubbish chute for the kitchen. Some idiot tied his dog up right behind us, which kept us awake between midnight and 3am with its barking. And then the lovely city of Bari awaited us, about which the less said the better.

Emma had booked a flight from Bari to Gatwick to visit her Dad for her birthday and was taking Frankie too, leaving Will to explore Puglia alone for a week. At the very last minute (3 hours before departure) Will decided to come too, bought a ticket and we left the van in the airport parking, with a modicum of retrospective anxiety! We had a nice, if hectic time at home, in a week that proved far more tiring than life on the road.

We returned to Bari a week later on a horrendous Ryan Air flight to find the van exactly as we left it. Relieved would be an understatement. We spent the night next to the runway but still slept better than we had for a week.


First of all apologies for neglecting this blog - we have received your reprimands and feel duly chastised. In our defence, we spent a month in the wilds of Greece with not a sniff of an internet connection (more on this later) and since then, the opportunities to post have been scarce and our enthusiasm to do so even scarcer.

We took a ferry from Ancona to Patras in the Pelloponese at the end of April. When we booked this ferry back in March, our intention had been to drive to Athens from Patras and get another ferry to Crete. This plan changed when we found out that the family members we had hoped to meet up with (Emma's brother, Jamie, and his wife, Miranda, whose mum lives there) were buggering off to Trinidad and Tobago in May instead. Taking into account the extra driving and expense we would incur travelling to Crete, we decided to explore the Pelloponese instead. This proved to be a very good move - the area is largely undeveloped, has glorious beaches, coastal forests, rural economy, all of which made for excellent wild camping opportunities.

We stayed at a number of beautiful coastal park ups on the west coast, all unoffical and therefore free. Our favourite of these, and the one at which we stayed for the longest (almost three weeks) we called Elia, though this is actually the name of the whole region. The place we stayed, as far as we know, doesn't have a name as it is nothing but forest and beach, but the nearest town is Kalo Nero. Our camp was in one of Greece's last remaining coastal forests and it couldn't have been more idyllic. A ten mile stretch of near deserted white sand, sheep passing by our own private glade every day (much to Frankie's excitement), cooking on the bbq nearly every day, a local man coming by every day selling fresh milk, bread, oranges and whatever else he had that day (turning up in a beaten up van that Will had to help him break into one day as all the locks were broken), fresh water from standpipes and just a handful of other campers, three of whom became our good friends.

We met Nick, Sandy and their 11 month old son Noah at our first park up but got to know them properly when, by chance, they arrived at Elia a few days after us. After initial suspicion, toy theft and minor violence, Frankie and Noah became firm friends. We spent many happy afternoons on the beach, drinking coffee and eating pancakes together, forest walks with the boys in their pushchairs. We really enjoyed living such a simple life, taking care of the basic needs and being close to nature in all its guises, including plenty of big, scary bugs.

We left Elia once a week to drive 14km to the nearest town, which luckily had a Lidl, so our weekly expenditure was about as small as it could be. Despite our lack of real cultural engagement with Greece, its current economic crisis was evident in our visit to town. Tension in the air - we came across a protest in the town of Kalamata - hugely inflated prices and people barely scratching a living from the rural economy. The biggest industry in Elia was melon growing, sold off the back of lorries for 0.99 euros a kilo, and we really wondered how these people could be surviving.

Approaching the end of May, the insects in Elia had increased in size and quantity and we decided it was time to leave. We left with our friends, the two vans in convoy, and stopped for a few nights at Kastro, about 60km south of Patras. One night we were woken by the van shaking and rocking quite violently, as if blown by a massive gust of wind. We peered out of the curtains to see a night as still as could be decided that the only explanation was that the van had been pushed quite hard. But there was no one in sights. In our sleep muddled state, Emma concluded that someone had climbed up the ladder on the back of the van and was still on the roof. Will rather reluctantly volunteered to investigate, and with no better weapon to hand, leapt from the van brandishing a frying pan. It is a great pity that no one witnessed this act of heroism. After some time, other campers began emerging from their vans having experienced the same phenomenon, which turned out to be an earthquake, measuring 2 on the Richter Scale.

With a return ferry to Bari in Italy booked for 30 May, we said goodbye to Greece, and our friends, with regret but many happy memories.