At the weekend we headed for Italy. From Croatia we had to pass through Slovenia, at least a very pretty twenty mile stretch of it. Just before leaving Croatia, I took full advantage of the cheap fuel. I threw fiscal caution to the wind and filled! the tank. I know. That’s not like me. This surprised Hazel so much she felt the need to record the event and took a photo of the pump showing litres brought. I won't dignify this, nor encourage her by posting the photo.
Inside the cashier asked if I came from England? I said I did and asked if he'd been. He answered, proudly, that he had. He'd once visited Ipswich. I told him that was something he probably shouldn't boast about, but hoped he had a good time none the less.* (see note below)
On the border we came across a booth and was asked for £1.50. Why? I've no idea. It didn't appear to be a toll road. I assumed it was some kind of exit fee. An attempt by the Croatian's to get the very last few Kuna from the tourists.
Hazel would love to know what these are, if you know drop her a line. Sorry guys its a chick thing
The other side we joined a long queue at Slovenia passport control. I watched as a coach pulled in and 68 people climbed off. -that’s if the number on the back could be trusted- They then queued at a small window showing their passports. Sitting there, I couldn't help wonder why some counties still bothered, ours included. What’s the guy actually looking for as he thumbs through your passport? Has he memorised the names and faces of a handful of international criminals? People, Interpol, or his government, want to question?. I doubt it. Is he, as Hazel suggested, making sure we all had passports?. Possibly. But those without don't sneak into a country at border crossings, they dash across a farmers field under the cover of darkness. Is he making notes of those that come in? Well if he is, it's a mental one. The reason for having to show your passport today, is lost on me.
When our turn came the chap lazily opened our passports while holding a conversation with a collogue. He then handed them back without looking up and waved us on. We could have been two escaping orang-utans with an elite troop of IS terrorists hiding in the shower cubical, he wouldn’t have been any the wiser. So what's the point?
Passport control is an archaic piece of bureaucracy. A formality. Sixty years ago, maybe?. Then the guy might have seen just a handful each day. He had time to do his job thoroughly. Flex his jobs-worth title. Ask questions. Search people's luggage. Compare photographic likenesses. Wander off with your passport to make a few phone calls. Basically he had time to check shite out. But not now, thousands cross daily. He doesn’t have time to scratch his arse. It's high time passport controls were scraped... even ours!.
What? Scrap passport controls! Are you mad? -I can hear the objections from here- We need them to keep out the riff raff!. Do we? Really?. Well tell me, how's that working out for us back home? Not too good, so I hear. No one knows just how many illegal immigrants there are in Britain. I bet my guess, or yours, is better than the governments who are busily trying to play the issue down. Still, it wasn't us who cut custom officials jobs at Dover to save a few bob. So much so, some weekends, because of lack of staff, they don't even check trucks.
Annoyingly though, I still have to show my British passport to a British customs official. Who then has the nerve to ask me to remove my sunglasses and stop grinning, so he can properly identify me. While he's faffing about with my passport, holding it at various angles to better seen my photo: illegals are legging it across the south downs.
Why do they bother?.
* (The editor would like to point out: the author -my hubby- can be a sarcastic git at times but he means no harm. He’s never been to Ipswich which I’m sure is a charming city.)
Tuesday 9th September 2014 week 168 Italy
I boasted on Friday we were heading for a plush five star camping resort in Caorle Italy, thirty miles east of Venice. Should have kept my mouth shut. (Should have booked. Ed) Shush! When we arrived at the 900 pitch camping resort we were told told curtly, by a soured faced young lady, 'Isa full. Maybe tomorrow we hava da place”.
Full? 900 pitches? Three weeks before they close? Questions popped into my head, but all sounded confrontational, so I walked away doubting her.
There is no shortage of camp-sites along this coast line, they're like grapes, they come in bunches. We passed one not 500 yards back on the other side of the road, so swung around and popped in. The lass in reception was everything the other wasn't. Pleasant and welcoming. They had vacant pitches and a fair few. Unfortunately they were twice the price of the first: not £10 a night but £20, which may explain why that’s reportedly full and this one wasn't.
I asked about the internet and then wished I hadn't. I'd momentarily forgotten this is Italy and wifi is expensive here. A three day internet pass was £10. I brought one and an hour into using it wished I hadn't. The connection was feeble. It scooted along briefly but then died. Coming back to life occasionally and unexpectedly, much like the villain in the last scene of a film who has to be shot again before he, or she, eventually stops getting up. Paying for something which doesn’t do what it's supposed to do, infuriates me. The internet is provided by another company, not the camp site, so you're stuffed. Italy is also the only country I've been to where you can't get online at McDonald's. This is because you need an Italian phone number so they can send you the password. It doesn’t recognise non Italian phone numbers. I've tried.
I have to applaud countries like Croatia, Latvia, Lithuanian and Estonia where there is no shortage of good free wifi or exceedingly cheap wifi. They have embraced wifi technology. They know, better than anyone else, that information is knowledge, and knowledge enables, liberates and educates. Charging for it is short sighted commercialism.
Our last look at Croatia, water so clear you can see the bottom.
This whole stretch of the Venetian coastline is choked with holiday hotels, chalets, bungalows and apartments. In amongst these, the Acsi camping book informs me, are some forty camping sites or camping resorts. This is one massive holiday theme park. Nearly forty miles of it and all aimed squarely at the family.
Unlike parts of the, now near ghostly, Croatian coastline here there are no shortage of families making the most of the end-of-season cheaper prices. Parents laden down with deck chairs, wind brakes, umbrellas, inflatable rings, bags, air beds, and cool boxes can be seen lumbering back and forth to the beach with their broods in tow. The area is so family orientated I think, just like boats, bikes and sun-loungers you can hire yourself a couple of kids just so you'll fit in.
The area is not unattractive. It's very well laid out. Not a shred of litter anywhere. Immaculately landscaped. The lawns and grass would make a golf green keeper proud. And every building looks as though it was painted last weekend. But would I spend my vacation here? Not in a million years. It's bland. Lacks character or charm and has no sense of community. But then again, why should it? The population is transient. It's the worst and best of organised holidays resorts.
I've absolutely no idea why people come here. We won't last.
Wednesday 10th September 2014 Week 168 Italy
We couldn’t take it. For some, this might be a great place to bring their children to, but for us old farts (Speak for yourself. Ed) who just want a bit of peace and quiet after nine -not too much to ask for is it?- it doesn’t suit. I don't want to hear the sound of children running around shrieking while I'm tucked up in bed with a good thriller and a cup of hot cocoa. Nor do I want to hear the chorus line of: Hello Barbie, lets go fuckin Party! at 10.30 at night! Not because it'll keep me awake but because I end up singing the bloody thing in my head. Still, could have been worse, they could have played YMCA and I'd have been forced to jig about in bed. (And he has. Ed)
So the upshot is we moved on, but not before calling the next camp site to make sure they had room. They did. Today you find us at Lake Garda. Hazel has already had a swim.
We drove 150 miles west past the cities of Padue, Vinceza and Verona. This end of Italy looks incredibly busy and commercial. Around all three cities, Industry lined long stretches of the motorway, there were very few vacant buildings. Driving through you couldn't help but think the Italian economy must be reasonably healthy. When there was a break, which wasn't often, it was filled with vine yards running up gentle slopes. Occasionally, in the background, high on a hill, we saw castles, monasteries and small romantic looking villages. We both agreed we needed to do Italy, just Italy. Come back and tour the whole country.
Sirmione, Lake Garda
I was snapped out of all this daydreaming by having three women vie for my attention. Let me explain:
I had my Garmin sat-nav firmly suckered to the windscreen. I also had my phone sat-nav next to it. I've taken to using both, a belt and braces approach. The reason for using both is: my phone sat-nav shows me a much more detailed view of the road ahead. It also has this incredibly sexy female voice. For example: My Garmin says: 'At the next roundabout turn right'. The tone she adopts is that of a BBC radio four announcer who wears tweed. My phone however, says exactly the same thing but in a tone which leads me to believe she doesn’t wear underwear, there's a husky inferred sigh at the end of each sentence. There’s a sub text with her. What she's really saying is: Oh yessss, come on big boy, show me what you can do, take that next left. Because of this I do occasionally feel the urge to drive around a roundabout just one more time just to hear her sultry-come-to- bed tone. I know you think I make this stuff up but get Navfree for your Android and check her out.
Anyways, were was I? Oh yes! On this occasion they disagreed and not for the first time, but I also had Hazel telling me: 'ignore them both. Go straight on. 'Stay on the SS14'. Now the sat-nav doesn’t cook my tea so we went straight on.
My phone said: 'ooh! you're suchhhhh a naughty boy'.
AT least in my head she did.
Thursday 11th September 2014 week 168 Italy.
Not had a real rant for a while now, so here's a couple. First: What is it with computer manufactures they can't put a bloody 'Euro key' on a keyboard? Like the £ key, or the $ key which I have. It's not that they don't have the room. Christ! I've five keys I've never pressed because I've absolutely no idea what any of them do. Look. See...... I'm pressing them now....... nothings happening........ I've also got nine keys whose functions, and pictorial representations, are so vague to me I've avoided pressing them in case something drastic happens. On top of this, Microsoft, the most useless money grabbing company in the world -just wait till you have to install windows 48- has a programme called character map within windows. It contains hundreds of strange alphabetical and numerical characters from around the world. Does it have a Euro sigh? Does it bugger. I think keyboard manufactures are waiting to see if the Euro catches on before redesigning their keyboards. No wonder the Euro isn't taken that seriously.
I don't undertsand it. Hazel walked off in a huff when I told her I found this nice ladies outfitters.
Which brings me to my second gripe: Italy might have a robust economy, but it sure ain’t cheap, after Croatia, it's a bit of a shock..
The internet here is three quid an hour here. Reception proudly boasts that full internet access for your two week vacation will cost just 180 Euros. Since when does the word just and, 180 of anything, make sense when in the same sentence? They don't. I had to look twice. I misread it as 18 Euros, I was going to have it added to my bill. Can you imagine the scene when I came to check out? And you don't save anything using your phone. My phone roaming charges are 50% higher in Italy than any other European country we've been to.
Camp site fees are also higher and far fewer take discount cards. You'll pay 1.73 Euro a litre for fuel. In Carloa, last week, Hazel popped into a supermarket and came out with half a loaf of bread. Half a loaf! I mean, where’s the other half? Cost? £2. Some other Herbert swanned off with the other half after paying their share. That’s four quid a loaf. I know, scandalous. I know these 'holiday only' supermarkets are going to charge you more but come on. But all that pales into insignificance against a three quid iceberg lettuce we saw in the same supermarket. I walked out needing air, three quid for a lettuce! I've been mugged and lost less. If the grower saw them he'd cry.
Thankfully there is a glimmer of hope in this sea of overpriced fiscal mayhem. Lidl, stands out like a beacon of salvation. A harbour of retail normality. We cycled the thirteen mile round trip yesterday to our nearest. -I should point out the thirteen miles was something of a miscalculation on my part. But not entirely, as we did get a bit lost. As regular readers know: my cycling misadventures can often turn into expeditions for no good reason-
Still it was worth it. My favourite bar of chocolate, Finn Carte, in the blue wrapper, always on the left as you walk into any Lidl within Europe was just 40 pence for a whole big bar.
Friday 12th September 2014 week 168 Italy
What's on my mind today?
Something lofty today I fancy. I'm in the mood. Is there something which stops you dead in your tracks? Causes you to perhaps occasionally re-evaluate? Maybe puts you in your place? There is with me, and I'm not talking about the wife.
Do yourself a favour, next time it's a starlit night pop into the garden and take a long look skyward. Better still, drive into the country, thus avoiding the light pollution, you'll see so much more. I was reminded of just how much more, while in Croatia. We were camped high on a hill far from a town. The clear night sky was the colour of black velvet but lit with a million pin pricks of starlight. I always find it a humbling experience, and an amazing one, especially when you consider the starlight I could see was emitted from stars millions of years ago, before mankind even. It's taken the light that long to reach me here on Earth. It’s a sobering thought: you’re not viewing the present when you look up into the night sky, you're looking into the history of our galaxy written in starlight. That's time travel. And it's above our heads each night.
Looking up, what any of us will see is just a mere fraction of our galaxy, the Milky Way. Within it are million of stars, and around those planets, all spinning in orbit, just like our Earth spins around our star, the Sun. And, bear in mind, as you look up, there are millions more Galaxies out in the cosmos. Each one containing millions of Suns and planets. For how far? we don't know. Perhaps space is endless and so are the numbers. But what we do know is that everywhere we look, there are stars. And therefore with each discovery the possibility we are not alone moves a little closer. In fact many cosmologists now believe we can't be alone. The question now is: Will we ever make contact?. To that end Voyager one, launched 36 years ago, travelling at 33,000 mph, has just reached interstellar space, the outer limits of our galaxy, in its quest to make contact with our nearest neighbours.
Home sweet home.
Imagine, for a moment, you’re on of those distant planets looking back at Earth, What will you see?. Well you'll have the same view as you have now. A vast undiscovered inky blackness. Somewhere, in amongst the mass of stars, will be the faint glow of light, our Sun, you'll have found us. And you'll know that circling that distant tiny spot of light is Earth, and on-board is the whole of humanity with its raft of self made problems and petty squabbles
What should unite us all is the realisation that we are one humanity. The Human race. But it doesn’t. We're, all of us, just temporary travellers on the same tiny spherical ball spinning in one far distant corner of our galaxy. But maybe it's still too early. We are still evolving. We're not the end result. As yet we still have darker forces that divide us. That stop us being what we all could be. The forces of greed, power, political ideology and ancient outdated religious doctrines which, I believe, mankind will overcome. We will be come enlightened. We'll create a world where there is no poverty, no injustice, no wars, no disease and no famine. And each traveller on this tiny spinning globe will have the universal right and freedoms to live without prejudice, fear and interference and be all he can be. That's the future.
This journey starts with us all. We need to stop believing the world evolves around us, that it was put here for our benefit. That we are the pinnacle of creation. We're not, we're just this planets guests. Let's not make it a temporary leasehold.
Have a good weekend