Every Twentyfour hours 13

I am not superstitious enough to skip number thirteen but you can decide whether it was a lucky day or not.

Not the best night’s sleep but I tidied up and got going by 6.30 am. Delighted to see the roads were empty and I made it out to the autostrada quite quickly.

It was Monday so pretty soon the roads got busy. As long as there were three lanes, it was fine. But once the roads narrowed to two lanes, the trucks were relentless, overtaking aggressively. I found it extremely difficult to manage my stress every time I was overtaken so I decided to pull in to the first Servicio. It was the first time I felt actually shaken by the driving around me. The difference between France and Italy in that sense is enormous. As soon as you leave the Frejus tunnel you notice the difference. I had different troubles to bother me yesterday so the actual driving wasn’t the most obvious thing.

I decided to take a rest at the servicio and stayed there about three hours. I ventured out again at about 10.30am feeling a bit better. At the Italina sevicio, there is always an attendant who will pour the petrol or put air in the tyres. Its amazing who you get heart from – the attendant said to be tranquillo and the traffic would not be too much. So off I went and decided to go more slowly this time, on the basis that I was going to get taken over anyway so I might as well be able to handle it at a lower speed. That lasted about an hour and a half and I stopped again. This time, it started to pour rain and a regular thunder storm began. There was no way I was going out in that. After a few hours, it cleared up and I again ventured out. This time, I decided to go faster, 60 mph which is what the trucks do. It took a bit of guts to do that but it was the right thing to do. Less of them overtook me and I obviously made better time. I really had to up my act – its as if they were saying either keep up with the traffic or get out of the kitchen. I did get blown by several of the trucks, once I got a particularly long blast from an irate driver I had slowed down taking a difficult, twisty off ramp. Next time I stopped, decided I would sleep and drive through the night. This was about 5.20 pm. I was wrecked and I slept until 2330. I woke and as luck would have it, caught my son on the phone as he came in from work, in Dublin. I really needed to get this road behind me, and again I had an encouraging chat with the attendant.

The plan worked. I rolled in to Cattolica at 5am. I skipped Rimini as my mother had holidayed in Cattolica many years ago and it was an emotional decision. Not too exhausted, but happy to have made real progress.

I waited around on the beach until the campsite opened. The reviews of the campsite talked about an unpleasant guy on reception. I had checked with the attendant who was on earlier who said I should come back at 7.30. When I did, that attendant was gone and the guy with the reputation was at the desk. He said we don’t open until 8. I told him what the other guy had said. He told me he had only started yesterday and I was now blocking the entrance. I talked a little bit about the customer being right and got right up his nose. Then he told there was no space. I didn’t argue anymore and left.

I found another location which was not quite a campsite, more like a car park with electricity and water. It was a hundred times less cramped than the last place so I decided to stay. The young man taking the money was extremely nervous and clearly terrified of his boss. When I had handed over twenty euro for the caravan, he said the day would go from midnight the night before to midnight of that day. I said it was one night and that was all I was paying for. The poor guy. He then lifted €5 off me for the car. The next thing was, he came over and said his boss wanted me to put my car in front of the caravan so they could get someone else in beside me. I said no way at this. I said no toilets, no showers and now this. I used gestures as much as I could as I am picking up fast from the Italians. I asked him how his boss knew where my car was. We agreed that if the boss came down, I would move it. Given that the vast majority of the place was empty, this was the fairest solution. The young man had been to Ireland and said he is not greedy like his boss.

I plonked myself on the beach for the day and wondered what would happen when I left the next morning.  I cannot understand what took my mother and her friend to Cattolica. Its nightlife is lively but I know Eva and herself were there in pursuit of culture. Or am I completely stupid.


Every twentyfour hours 12

Waking from one of those deep sleeps you get after a swim, I was at the campsite gates at 6am, having unhitched and battened down the hatches. The morning was beautiful with the sun emerging from behind the mountains at the far end of the lake.

My direction was now towards Turin, with the Tunnel de Frejus signposted underneath. I decided to drive as far as I felt comfortable, then stop at any Aire I felt like. Before the Frejus, there were at least four other tunnels. I reminded myself that the Frejus was 12 km long and to expect to be in it a long time. Approaching the entrance to the Frejus tunnel, the gendarmerie had stopped a car and took their time questioning the driver. They just looked at me and waved me on. I parted with €58.50 and in I went. It was not too straight, which is good for keeping you awake driving. Lights on and 150 m between cars. It was over more quickly than I expected. Entering that tunnel was a significant moment for me on my journey and it was very thrilling.

Out the other side, I went into Bardonecchio, a skiing village, not by design, but because I took the wrong off ramp. Seemed like a good idea to have breakfast in the Hotel Bardolo- at €8 I had the buffet – ham, cheese, cereal, croissants and all the trimmings -more than enough.

It was a lively place at that hour – 8am and I could have had coffee in a few places.

I had set my sights on Camping Verna outside Turin and keyed it in to Google Maps. What sort of site it is, I will never know as I never made it up there. The hint is in the ‘up’. Successfully making it to Avigliano, I followed the directions to the Camping and soon realised I was committed to an upward spiral. The challenges were many – cyclists going up on the same side as you, cars behind you, cars coming down against you and you guessed, cyclists coming down against you. Me and the car did incredibly well. I had absolutely no choice but to keep going when faced with hairpin bends, even narrower roads, and steep inclines. The road had indentations to help vehicles to gain traction uphill and I had to resort to first gear several times. At the top of this mountainous road, the direction was toward the right up a much smaller road so I stopped. I felt like just going down the hill and I asked one of the cyclists who had just made it to the top. He said he had to catch his breath as he was exhausted after the cycle. I then witnessed my first incident of Italian road rage. The driver I was talking to along with the exhausted cyclist got in to a row with a car that had come up the hill from our side and could not get past. The driver got out of his car and words were exchanged – a wonderful flow of Italian colourful consonants and gestures. The consensus was that I did not have that much further to go and should go for it. I did.

As I got to the first bad bend, I decided I would not make it. Whether I lost my nerve or just had enough, I am not quite sure. Instead I went straight on, hoping to find somewhere to turn. I met a man standing inside the gates of his house with a few logs in his hand. He said to go on and I should be able to turn. One hundred meters on, I saw a driveway with a few cars and the friendly guy with the logs had walked over. He agreed that this was my only option for turning. So up I went and I hand it to myself, I reversed really well. I got the car into the best position possible but the driveway I needed to reverse the caravan up was on a steep concrete incline and the caravan could not make it up. Remember everything here was steep. Everything was built on the side of a mountain.

At this point, the senior residents of the house had come out to help. Then I saw my second Italian fight. The logman’s wife marched up with their son by the hand. He was to come back immediately. I understood much of the exchange – she gave me a filthy look and he said Auitare – to help and that there was no one else to help. She stomped off worse than ever. She definitely came off worst for that exchange.

Next, Bruno was summoned, a young man who was essentially another pair of hands. I had suggested taking the hitch off and had moved the car. We had put chocks in place but turning the caravan meant that it would point down the hill. So I moved the car closer, and with the third pair of hands, rehitched it and after thanking everyone profusely drove off. I have very little Italian and they had no English, so it is amazing what you can achieve with sign language. The logman made no move to go home.

I was rattled and drove down the other side of the hill from where I had stopped earlier. It was then that I heard a noise like a tyre bursting and I heard a rubbing on the tar. I stopped at a crossroads and walked around – its it the back right? No, the front right-no- it must be the other side of the car. I had already resigned myself to getting out the jack, but nothing on the caravan or car was punctured. The jockey wheel had fallen down and was rubbing off the road. The relief washed over me. I tightened it and was thankful, thinking you never know how good things are until something worse happens or even threatens to happen. I came into Cumiana negotiating the narrow streets crowded with Sunday morning citizens taking their leisure. I went back there later in the evening. The picture on top is of the local square or Piazza

I drove out the other side of the town and had a coffee at a tiny Bar tabac – very friendly – people came in and had a coffee or a glass of red wine standing there. Run by a family, the mother had her arm in a cast so we had a pointing conversation about my arm I broke last December, helped out by the daughters smattering of English.IMG_5804

Driving on, I came to a Zoo called Zoom, before a town called Piscina in the direction of the Turin Road. Motorhomes were overnighting in the parking across the road. So I turned in the field and very thankfully parked and unhitched the caravan.

It was a scorching day with no shade in the field. I went across to the Zoo where there was a huge swimming pool in the middle. It was like a Roman bath, with people walking and lounging in the waist high water. There were imitation rocks all round it and an island in the middle. It was cooling and really worked in the centre of the Madagascar themed zoo.

It was a day where you just coped with the heat. I had carbonara and a Guinness at the local restaurant, and hoped to make another early start to take advantage of the cool of the day.

Little did I expect what the next day would bring.