Monday by Lago Trasimeno in Umbria started off cloudy and a bit grey, but with no rain forecast we set off on a cycle, our first for a while - having not wished to dice with the traffic on most of Italy’s city roads!
We were hoping for a cycle path around this lake, Italy’s 4th largest, but the actual track and even the road only hugged it for so long. By the time we reached our coffee stop we realised that most of the ride would be on country roads just as bumpy as the main roads and neither of us were sure our bums would hold up to the battering, let alone the bikes!
Armed with the fact that if we went back after just 20K we could actually get to Assisi that afternoon and get that ‘ticked’ off the list - leaving us with the Tuesday to get to Ancona, buy the ferry tickets, do a shop and have a nice exit lunch before the 12 hour night sailing.
Assisi - really worth a visit
For the last stages of Italy in Tuscany and Florence we have become the ultimate tick tourists - get there, whiz around, take the photo and on the next place. In all honestly that’s absolutely unfair to this beautiful area and its amazing cities, but in our defence the cost in Italy has been high and we can only spend so much on entrance fees, food and drink ... plus we really need to be on that Tuesday night ferry to keep on track for our journey home and to do justice to the other countries on route.
Assisi - our Encore with a view
Assisi was, however, absolutely stunning and we had the most lovely demi-aire at the bottom of the town looking directly up to the tumble of stone houses, churches and of course the magnificent Basilica di San Francesco. We did do the Basilica justice as we were in the two churches for the best part of 3 hours, which is easy done given the splendid frescoes depicting the life of St Francis.
Assisi - the stunning Basilica
After a quick Aperol in one of the squares, we rolled back down the hill to NiKi where I made my new star dish- meatballs in a tomato sauce served on a bed of spaghetti.
(Lidl sausages or rather Lidl Italian sausages are great for making meatballs, as the skin is thin so you can just whoosh them into balls with some seasoning, onion etc and then create a tomato sauce for them to sit on with whatever you have left in the store cupboard. Going forward we need to see if the sausages are the same in other Lidl stores Europe-over, but we’ll cross that dilemma as and when!)
The Tuesday began in glorious sunshine and we had our breakfast outside on a bench with fellow travellers David and Jan. We were all reluctant to leave this glorious spot and sunny weather, but we each had to start our journeys and ours to the ferry port of Ancona was just over the 2 hours and we had no plan B if there was no space on the ferry.
As we arrived around early afternoon in the as expected chaotic port area. We were both frankly relieved that our time dicing with death on Italian roads and with Italians drivers was nearly over. With just the walk into the old town for lunch for them to still 'get us', it might have been this sense of relief that caused us to do a very strange and potentially disastrous thing...
When parking up in the port holding area (before the ticket office opened at 4pm) we met a lovely couple in two lovely motorhomes and they too were going to Croatia on the evening boat but had their tickets.
Being ever more practical and long term motorhomers they, another Karen plus Paul, were having lunch in-van and preparing for the evening crossing. So after a quick chat we ran off towards the old town for our last Italian dinner. After a truly wonderful lunch in a restaurant called Osteria del Pozzo - where at last we found a menu del dai Italian style - we headed back to the port.
Ancona - Final Italian dinner with a Menu del Dia to rival any
As we neared the parking area it occurred to us both, that one of the English vans was now parked very, very close to the passenger side of our van whereas before lunch they were parked together on the other side. Silence befell us as we neared, both realising that something really wasn’t quite as it should be... What had happened?! As we got closer, Paul, half grinning but not quite fully laughing, said: “Do you always leave your windows open and the van unlocked when you go off?!”
'Oops' and 'Oh dear!' really didn’t cut much mustard as a response to our stupidit,y especially as the passports were on full show along with other ‘very helpful to burglar’ documents. So by parking one van within inches of the blindside of NiKi and with them then in the other van on the driver side they were thankfully able to protect the van and our belongings. A very, very big thank you to Karen and Paul. They really did save the day - and potentially the rest of our trip!
A very pleasant crossing was spent with our saviours in a very Carry On fashion as we all ducked and dived around the cabin deck trying to avoid the cabin commandant in an effort to each save one set of cabin fees. She still nearly got us at the end, as she then turned into the customs commandant - but my various elaborate hair styles fooled her!
Croatia - New day, new country
Split, Croatia – what a difference immediately to that of our arrival here to that of Italy. Maybe we are still being unfair, but the differences even after just 4 days seem to leap out at you. A much troubled country in the past, but the warmth, friendless and hospitality are apparent straight away. No one looking at you and trying to judge how much more they can charge, way less rubbish and graffiti are just the simpler things. I won’t say better roads at this stage as we are only some 20K from the port and the road outside the campsite is up and being repaired at the moment...
Waterfront in Split, with locals and tourists enjoying the sun
And oddly, unlike Spain and Italy, they have already abandoned three layers of clothing and are down to just one coat and scarf, so we are no longer getting all the ‘aren’t you cold, bloody stupid foreigner?!’ stares either. In fact on a walk or - rather a sea rock climb - the other morning there were naked people sunbathing ...and they weren’t German or Scandinavian!
Spilt - view from the bell tower
Split is a lovely old town with a historic centre that is still lived in by locals, with schools, shops, and restaurants all cohabiting quite happily with the tourists and travellers. Our campsite is right on a lovely bay and NiKi after four moves (in 2 hours) is now parked in front beach row position.
A point to note here for future reference is that 'wild' or 'freedom camping' is not allowed at all in Croatia and so we will be staying on campsites the whole time here, but they are for the best part reasonably priced and well equipped.
Our first campsite in Croatia
We have reverted back to old habits, such is our happiness at being somewhere we can afford, and we have eaten out more than in and each meal has been delicious - a mix of seafood, fish, pasta and meat - all very Mediterranean. What has also surprised us is the ‘uber’ coolness of this city and, thus far, we are both in full agreement that it would give Italy a good race on the style front.
We are both looking forward to our journey up and through Croatia with lifted spirits which we both found hard to raise in Italy. We were reconciled in the end with Italy after Rome and Tuscany and we will return, but for now the love affair with Croatia has begun!
Split - another bell tower that Karen chickened out of!
Split - tourists and living and working space
Harry Potter wizard and Karen in Split
Uber cool Split
Happy Mothers Day to All! Enjoying a full English by the beach in Split!
Trogir - statues on the beach!
Trogir, a UNESCO site, is our home for this Sunday
Footnote: Our thoughts and best wishes are also with our home city of London after the cowardly attack there this week. Continue following us as we take the Long Way Home to this wonderful, simply the best city.
Our Route This Week: