20th March crossing the border into Italy
We went up and along the very windy roads over the mountains and finally got into Italy. It still seems strange to go from one country to another without having to stop to show any identification but at least this time we saw a sign telling us that we were crossing the border and that we had crossed into Italy. Driving has its differences and probably the first thing I noticed is the number of scooter riders there are to cope with that seem to be oblivious to the motoring laws. There seems to be one rule here…..just get to where you are going as quickly as possible and if it means being on the wrong side of the central white line then so be it. It certainly makes you concentrate on your driving. Now in Italy we drove all along the coast through some very busy towns and twice I took the wrong turning. We certainly turned some heads when I took the corner just before the one I should have taken straight into a no through way road and had to turn round as best I could in front of all the locals sitting outside a café.
We are now parked in a camperstop in the town of Imperia and when arrived we were the only ones there. Earlier on in our travels that would have worried both of us but now we just put the kettle on and then got ourselves ready to go off and explore the coastline and the town. As it was two Italian motorhomes pulled in and were parked just along from us so we were not going to be on our own anyway. I think the locals here noticed us as we walked along by the side of the sea because the temperature had dropped and unlike everyone around wearing the scarves, hats and thick overcoats there was me being typically British in my shorts and t-shirt. The Med was not that calm sea that we have been used to seeing and the waves were crashing onto the shore in quick succession. The beach was littered with the flotsam that had been blown ashore and everywhere was littered with masses of bamboo that had been brought in from who knows where. We reached the quite large port and then headed up the hill towards the town centre. To my surprise Spain was not littered with the religious icons that I had expected to see everywhere but here in Italy we have already noticed that the trade in all things religious flourishes here by the number of holy shrines we have seen since we crossed the border from France just a few hours earlier.
Getting quite used to the scooter riders and cyclists now even smile at their antics. We have gone all along the coast for the 55 miles it took us to get here and we have past lots of towns and villages some of which were vey picturesque and others drab and grey looking. We have driven through lots of long, sweeping bays that have all sandy beaches and lots of touristy type shops. A lot of this road has been cut into the sides of the towering cliffs and in lots of places long tunnels cut into the rocks allow the road to continue on. At one point on the road there was a set of traffic lights and the sign indicated that we should stop if red light shows because there would have been a rock fall further on. Long lengths of huge concrete canopies had been built covering the whole road width, which are there to catch rock falls in that area. I don’t know what you think but when you see such signs as we have seen all along this road warning of huge boulders falling out of the sky; what are we supposed to do? The only use for them is to enable the local authority to shrug their shoulders and say well we did warn them: when a rock becomes dislodged and squashes you and your vehicle.
The last bit of this journey was the most exciting part. We reached the small town we were heading for called Celle Ligure and drove all around the bay and then the Satnav said turn left. Elaine was instantly on edge because the road we were waiting to turn into, when the oncoming traffic gave us the chance; looked very narrow indeed. It was and worse was to come. The road went steeply up the windiest road imaginable with cars and scooters parked one side and not a lot on the other side. I think I deserve my Driver Boy Scouts Badge because we got to the top and found the motor stop we were looking for. I am now going to go off and look for the wide road we could have driven up to get here.
After lunch we wandered down to the town to have a look around. This is a very small seaside town and we walked along the promenade and then into the narrow streets of the town the other side of the busy road we had come in on. All the houses were painted different pastel colours and a feature I haven’t seen a lot of before was quite common all over the town. Quite plain building were made to look a lot more classically built because fancy looking stone surrounds to the windows and doors and buttresses at the sides of the building were painted on and from a distance the effect was very clever indeed, as you can see from the photograph.
With Easter coming, I took Elaine 3 times past this shop and she didn’t take the hint.
Tomorrow we will continue to follow the coast around the Gulfo di Genova (Riviera di Postente and Riviera di Levante) and try our hardest to avoid any of the falling rocks.
Today we moved further along the coast to Santa Margherita which is just past Rapello. We drove through the massive city of Genova and that was quite a challenge as the town seemed never ending. Then it was another day of extremely windy roads often with spectacular views miles below. On the way we had managed to find the garage we were looking for which sold Autogas so we could fill our gas tanks again. From high up, where the garage was, we could not take the two turnings down to Santa Margherita as there were width restriction signs showing roads far narrower than our van. We had to drive on to the next town and then back track all around the coast to get to our camperstop for the night. When we got there we drove through the town all the way up to the large carpark of the football stadium.
By the time we had set ourselves up the sun was shining and we walked down into town. All around us were the buildings with the painted facades and the majority of the buildings around the centre of the town that were decorated like this. As soon as we got down to the Port we saw the people boarding quite a large boat and on investigation found it ran backward and forward to Portafino.
Portafino is one of Italy’s most beautiful and most exclusive seafront villages. The country’s rich and famous treat this as their personal playground and this means the prices are high and the atmosphere select. We enjoyed the boat ride and the village was as beautiful as the guide book said it would be. We sat at a café by the water’s edge and Elaine had a macchiato coffee and I had tiny Italian expresso. Elaine went in to pay and for a Yorkshire Lady it was almost too much to bear. I had given her a 10 euro note which ended up the exact price for the two coffees. That is over twice the price we were paying for similar drinks in Italy and four times what we had been used to paying in Spain. I think Elaine laid awake that night having had nightmares that we had paid 10 euros for two piddly coffees.
When we got back to the port after our very enjoyable excursion we then walked around Santa Margherrita before making our way up to the motorhome.
Tomorrow we will be visiting the Cinque Terre which are 5 villages that can only be accessed by sea or rail. So we headed towards Deiva Marina which is just before the large town of La Spezia. We started off OK doing our, by now, normal windy coastal hugging roads. Without notice of any kind the road we were on showed a sign saying we were approaching a bridge with a 3 metre height restriction and our motorhome is precisely 3 metres high. I drove very slowly under the bridge and we passed that hurdle and Elaine started breathing again. Just a couple of kilometres further on we came across a long queue of traffic and there was another warning sign. Not only was there a height restriction of 3 metres but there was also a width restriction showing no vehicles wider than 1.80 metres and bertha is 2.1 metres wide. There was somewhere to park so I walked forward the see and the long narrow tunnel through the rocks was an impassable barrier. The very easy drive for me of 45 kilometres along the coast suddenly became not so easy. Having turned round we went back under the 3 metre high bridge we had past under earlier and then had to do the sharpest right hand turn imaginable so that we could take the mountain pass road so we could get to our intended destination. The road snaked, twisted and turned up and up and at the highest point we were 436 metres above sea level. That may not seem a lot but when immediately over the edge you can see tiny towns that look miles below you. For Elaine this was quite a white knuckle ride just when she thought she was getting used to Italian roads. Getting to the top is one thing: now we had to descend and trying to keep within a safe speed to take all the twists and turns on the way down was no mean achievement. Needless to say we made it or I wouldn’t be writing this.
We had intended to stop at another camperstop but when we got there it looked a pretty grim place for us to stop for the night so we elected to drive to an ACSI campsite just a couple of kilometres back up the road. At least this means we can plug into electricity again and get everything charged up. They have a minibus here and tomorrow they will run us to the station and collect us again at the end of our day. This is a funny little campsite but their toilet block is the cleanest and has the best plumbing and facilities of any campsite I have ever been on. Each WC cabinet includes a bidet and opposite the fastidiously clean sinks there are four small sinks at ground level: each with its own low level shower head. I am presuming that these are for you to wash your feet in but I shall watch with great interest what other people uses them for.