June 13, 2005 GMT
Seeing Red

18th May 2005

Like most travellers we've had some ups and downs over the last few weeks. We developed a love-hate relationship with Italy and looking back we realised there has a continuing theme of red.

We arrived at the ferry terminal in Barcelona 2 hours before departure just like the man at the desk had said but were still sitting in the carpark when the ferry was due to set sail. We know the Spanish are a relaxed bunch but was this normal? Anyway we got on and headed straight for the passenger lounge chairs which would be home for the next 18 hours. The room was empty except for the old couple at the back and we both breathed a huge sigh of relief "who cares that the ferry was 2 hours late at least we will get some sleep" we said. We heard a huge noise down the hall. It was the same noise we had heard in Santander when the wind was charging up the valley but this time it was worse - 300 Italian teenagers. Teenagers are bad at the best of times but Italian teenagers have even more attitude and volume. The once peacful lounge was transformed into a mosh pit and we just looked at each other is disbeleif.

We won't go on too much but we managed to find shelter in the cinema. It was easier getting sleep with the theme tune of Mission Impossible next to our heads than it was with the kids. The next morning started off promisingly with some peace and quite but once again we were soon inundated with loud, annoying Italian school kids until we got off at 5pm!

We thought we were over the worse when we got on the bike to ride off the ferry but managed to leave in style by dropping the bike on the grease covered ramp made even more exciting by the fact that there was a 40tonne truck bearing down on us. In fact the only saving grace is that it happened out of sight of the school kids who would have been laughing for weeks if they had of seen us and the bike tumbling to the ground.

Thankfully that is as bad as it got and from then on Italy has been fantastic. We spent the first three days camping next to a massive lake and were made welcome by the most helpful, friendly campsite owner ever (we think she knew we had had a bad time on the ferry and was trying to convince us that not all Italians are like that!).......

We'd been told Rome was amazing and were both really looking forward to it. But nothing prepared us for just how amazing it was. Walking up the steps from the Metro and being greeted by the colosseum took our breath away. We explored the city for two days and at every turn there was a buliding, a fountain, a statue and even a lampost that wowed us. We visited Vatican City and St Peter's Bascilica which was a truely beautiful building. Much to our legs dismay we lined up for nearly two hours to climb the dome of St Peter's and then climbed nearly 500 steps to the top (very wobbly knees!). As we climbed the dome the path became very narrow and we actually had to bend our bodies with the curve of the dome.

Before we left Rome we followed tradition and threw our coins into the Trevi Fountain - one to ensure our return to Rome and the second coin for a wish to be granted. We were both more concerned about the first throw. We rate Rome our favourite city in the world (for now anyway!).

From Rome we headed north to Tuscany and camped just outside Florence. As described in books and lifestyle change TV shows the Tuscan scenery is truely beautiful. We visited Sienna and Florence and although both lovely cities we were finding it trying on the tourist trail. The tour groups have taken over and it becomes a chore to expore the city rather than a joy. We decided to head to the Italian coast for peace and quiet and escape the crowds.

But a detour was necessary. We added 200km to this leg in order to visit the Ferrari Galleria in Maranello. After visiting Cathedrals, museums and art galleries Garry was ready for his sort of gallery. It met his expectations. He had a huge grin from start to finish. But even I admit it was well worth the detour. The gallery was in two levels - one dedicated to the racing history (the cars that money can't buy) and the other to road going Ferrari's (the cars that our money still can't buy!). We took a million photos of us posing by the cars - wishful thinking.

We had a really nice ride to Devia Marina on the north-west Italian coast. It was strange to be riding through moutnain ranges and knowing the ocean was just around the corner. We were both very content lazing at the beach and the water, although a little chilly, was crystal clear and beautiful. On our second day at Devia Marina we woke up to a bit of a nightmare. We both felt really itchy and once we woke up properly we realised we had ben invaded by tiny red mites which were falling from the pine trees. As campers you come come to expect bugs and ants ect but you don't expect to see mites covering your sleeping bag and pillow! They were on absolutely everything. We had planned to do a 12km walk that day and in true "bury your head in the sand" style we abandoned the tent and opted to spend the day enjoying ourselves rather than deal with the mites.

The walk was the Cinque Terre (Five Towns). The towns are set right on the coast and the scenery along the walk is gorgeous. The guidebook described it as "mildly challenging". We were mocking the other walkers on the train on the way there who were carrying their walking poles and huge backpacks - what did they have in there? Our only supplies was a sachet of marmalade I'd stolen from a cafe in Florence. But having said that I would say the 1st two legs are "extremely challenging". There are several headlands and therefore its quite hard work climbing steep and rocky steps. Very red faced I told Garry several times that I was "having a heart attack", "about to collapse" and finally "dying" (in hindsight a little dramatic I know). Garry just kept telling me it flattens out from then on (which it didn't) or promised me ice-cream at the finish (which worked). But despite the lack of breath we did have a fantastic day and we were very proud to have treked the 12kms. And of course each town was quaint and bustling with atmosphere. You enter a few of the towns into a residential alley and the locals have obviously become used to having tourists trek past their front door as they are just getting on with their daily routines and don't bat an eyelid.

We envisaged the track to be packed with tourists but whenever we came across a group we just powered on past them into a clear space. It was like the Tour de France with breakaways from the main pack and even commentry on Team Scutch. When we finished Garry was expecting some sort of flag and fan fare but all was quiet. So we just headed to a cafe for our own little victory celebration of coffee, cake and Team Scutch photo.

We were dragging our heels to return to the tent and the infestation. Being exhausted from our walk didn't hellp with motivation. We decided to move into a tent provided by the campsite and then de-mite everything bit by bit. Everything was wiped down and I mean everything. At one stage Garry was wiping every page of our books. Until he came across our 1000 page Lonely Planet - then it was just front and back cover.

We left first thing in the morning (after more wiping, shaking and swearing). It was such a shame to leave under bad circumstances because we had really enjoyed all of Italy but we both felt excited about reaching France.

It was yet another gorgeous ride into France. When we crossed the border we gave a cheer - we felt like we were coming home. For the first time on the trip we felt like we were entering a comfort zone. We are currently camped at Antibes - same site where we campted 4 years ago (even chose same pitch!). Strange as we don't like same old same old yet we went straight back to what we know. We are having a fantastic time exploring both the coast (Nice, Cannes, St Tropez) and the mountains. Garry is rediscovering mountain roads he fell in love with nearly ten years ago. Yesterday we rode to Gorge de Verdon and the scenery and twisty roads are a dream. Life wasn't all sweet though as we were absolutely drenched on the way home in pouring rain for 150km!! Not nice when you are returning to a little tent.

Tomorrow (19th May) we are at the GP in Monaco and then Friday to Chamonix for the Scutcher family reunion.

Posted by Garry Scutcher at June 13, 2005 05:57 PM GMT

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