Sunday, 9th July, 2017
Wonderful sleep in this lovely, port-side hotel. Enjoyable and relaxed breakfast followed by a good read of The Sunday Times. Out for a long walk into the old town. It is so hot and humid that walking isn’t easy. It is a mish -mash of old and very old architecture blending with the new-ish. One of the things that is immediately obvious is that the streets are full of Italian restaurants. Can you believe they would be so popular? As a working port, it has some of the grubbiness of Patras and Piraeus. It is certainly not as stylish as Ancona but, from our hotel room on the 7th Floor (with no cladding and two fire escapes!), it looks really interesting.
You might think, in the light of recent events, that staying on the top (7th) floor would make us nervous but the view makes up for it all. The hotel clearly take the risk of fire very importantly as this notice outside the lifts illustrates. We are going to enjoy our penthouse view and sleep peacefully because tomorrow we drive to Lucca as we explore Tuscany. Our hotel there is about 15 mins walk to the train station from which we can travel to Pisa (about 20 mins) and Florence (about 70 mins) as well as Lucca itself.
Tomorrow will be the shortest we do – just 95 miles – and we will stay in Tuscany for 4 days. We hope to look around for long-term-let properties for future years. We want somewhere we can spend a couple or three summer months which has cooking, sleeping and internet facilities possibly with satellite TV which we can drive to comfortably for the next decade of retirement.
Monday, 10th July, 2017
The Tory government is on the ropes! May is begging the Opposition for help. Can you believe the brass neck? They are also prepared to put the status of UK nationals living abroad in jeopardy because they are not prepared to accept the jurisdiction of the ECJ over European citizens living in UK. This is the flailing of a failing party which is letting its leader waver in the wind.
The £ is falling again. It is currently £1.00 = €1.13 set against £1.00 = €1.43 three years ago tomorrow which marks the day we left Sifnos. Not a time to be buying European property now!
We left Genoa at around 11.00 am in stifling heat and arrived at our hotel in Lucca in less than two hours. The temperature had reached 33C/92F but felt hotter because of the humidity. Our hotel is delightful and our room is lovely. The car is parked in the large carpark under a tree for shade. It will stay there for four days while we let the train take the strain!
We unpacked and, after a cup of tea, set out to do the 20 mins walk to the railway station. En route, we found a huge Co-op Supermarket. The train station is where we will come to go to Pisa and Firenze (Florence) over the next few days. We found that the trains are so frequent that we will just turn up and get the first one to arrive. They cost next to nothing as well.
On the walk back, we called at the supermarket to buy our meal. It always starts with cucumber and tomatoes followed by salami, roast ham and mortadella. Fresh peaches for sweet are wonderfully refreshing.
Tuesday, 11th July, 2017
It is 3 years today that we left Sifnos for the last time and drove to Patras as a prelude to driving back across Europe.
It is always a bit hit and miss choosing hotels on the internet. It is reasonably easy to make a mediocre place look wonderful with a little graphical technology. That is why I like to use the IHG chain because it is a fairly reliable guarantee of a reasonable if not luxurious standard right across the UK and Europe. The hotel we are now in is an independent chain because there was no IHG available but it has turned out to be lovely. The carpark is huge and secure. The reception is pleasant and bi-lingual. The room is very clean, reasonable size, well appointed with good facilities – we have a safety deposit box. The wi-fi is strong and the breakfast was excellent. There is a small gym if we can cope with exercise after walking around the old town all day.
After breakfast, we went out to get things from the car. I had parked it under a tree for shade. Mistake – a bird had pooed all over the bonnet. It was trained to do that by Stavros’ sea gulls which have been range finding over his little boat. Over night, it had set hard like concrete and took me 15 minutes to remove with my cleaning solution. After coffee, we are off to the medieval, walled town centre of Lucca. It is only about a 20 mins walk away but it is very hot so we will take our time.
Did I say it was hot? As we entered the walled city, the temperature reached 39C/102F, It was high humidity and low air movement. In spite of that, we had a wonderful day. I even managed to visit Giacomo Puccini’s birth place. What joy!
After a couple of hours of sweaty walking, we stopped for a drink and a rest. A beer and a sparkling water – €8.40. Worse than Venice but enjoyable all the same. Then, we left the walled city and walked to the train station to buy tickets for tomorrow. We are going to Firenze (Florence) for a few hours. The return tickets are €34.00 for two return tickets.
We walked on further and called at the supermarket to buy salad, prawns, pressed carpaccio of octopus and tapenade. Back to our hotel for a much needed shower and some food before listening to the BBC PM programme. Big day tomorrow!
Wednesday, 12th July, 2017
Up early this morning, breakfast and out to walk to the train station. Lucca to Firenze in 80 mins. The temperature is unrelenting at 36C/97F. We walk out of Firenze train station blinking into the strong sunshine. We have held visions of Florence – the Duomo, The Uffuzi, the Ponte Vecchio, etc. for many years. I’m afraid to say that, as we fought our way through the thousands of tourists, Florence didn’t really live up to its expectations.
The temperature precluded joining hours of queues outside the Duomo and the Uffizi. The Ponte Vecchio was tawdry and crowded. We opted for a beer in the shadow of the bridge. It was much more rewarding. We met a lovely couple from Wrexham and then went on to talk to a couple from Australia.
We walked back to the Firenze Statione through the beating sun and thronging crowds. The train leaves at 14.10 and is on time and busy. We got comfortable seats for the 80 mins journey and settled back to watch the tableau that is the Tuscan countryside.
Thursday, 13th July, 2017
The punishing schedule continues – more Breakfast. We can only just manage. Today we are going to Pisa which is only 30 mins away by train. Unfortunately, it is incredibly hot and humid. The temperature is 37C/99F but the humidity is so high that we are soaking wet before we even finish the 20 mins walk to the station. After a few days in the Tuscan cities, one becomes a little blasé about the architecture and Pisa continues the same theme although it is a little more gentle and civilised than Firenze and not so insular as Lucca.
Of course, we had to visit the Leaning Tower even though we constantly try to resist being tourists. There were hordes of Japanese (and one or two others) attempting the hands-supporting-the tower’s-incline cliched pose while hordes of partners photographed them. We took our photo, bought two bottles of iced water and slaked our thirst. Then, we left the hordes and walked into the Archbishops’ House grounds which were a haven of cobbled quiet.
From this cool, shady tranquility we walked back towards the train station. Three hours out in that heat was enough. We seem less tolerant of the extreme heat as we get older, I used to revel in heatwaves in Greece but it is too much for me now and we both seek out the shade and the air conditioned. I don’t drink enough water as it is and particularly in heat. I must try harder.
Tomorrow we drive to Bologna. We have driven past it 30 times in the past 20 years and always said that we must stop and visit. Tomorrow we will. We are looking forward to it. Bologna is the food capital of Italy. It must be our spiritual home!
Friday, 14th July, 2017
We are sorry to leave Lucca and our lovely hotel even though thunder was rolling around the sky in 36C/97F at 11.00 am. We might return to explore the countryside rather than the towns. We took the A1 to Bologna. It’s only 100 miles and takes around 2 hrs. It is 130kph/81mph most of the way so I set my cruise control to 82mph in order to say I am not being controlled by the law.
We are staying in the Holiday Inn Express Fiera Bologna. We have stayed in sister hotels in Parma and Moderna. They are fantastic value for money. A night in a double room with breakfast, tea/coffee making facilities, a safety deposit box, a settee and TV, a small gym and a restaurant plus wonderful parking can be had for about €60.00. It is really good. Because I am an IHG Gold Card holder, our 2 night stay is free through points accrued. We also get a penthouse room overlooking the outskirts of Bologna. Tomorrow, we will leave the car in the carpark and take the bus to the centre of Bologna. We have driven past it 30 times in the past 20 years but now we have the chance to explore the food capital of Italy.
Saturday, 15th July, 2017
A lovely sleep followed by a lovely breakfast and out into a lovely morning. Everything is LOVELY. We set out from our hotel at about 10.00 am in 25C/77F and walked across the road to catch the bus into the centre of Bologna. We got off at the Train Station and, armed with a hotel map, we walked towards what we thought was the modern centre. WRONG! The map was so small we couldn’t read it and ended up in the centre of the old town which was full of spray paint graffiti on lovely old stone buildings.
After 15 days of continual sight-seeing, our legs are beginning to feel the pace. We found our way out of the old town and, after viewing the Giuseppe Verdi Opera House and offices of the Università di Bologna, we stopped for a beer (and a glass of water) to watch the world go by. This really is the best way to understand a city and its people. Forget the dignitaries and their buildings. Watch the people.
We have met some wonderful ones. Yesterday, it was a lovely girl (aged 21) from Bologna who had trained in hotel management in Portsmouth at great cost to her family in the hope of forging a career in the hospitality industry back home. Also, a wonderful young woman from Mongolia who had given up everything to go to a college in Manchester, live in Rusholme and learn four languages. A young, African-origin man, got on the bus and desperately struggled with his few English words to make sure we got off at the right stop for our hotel. These are life affirming but humbling events that go to the heart.
Tired and moist, with a temperature of 32C/90F, we return to our hotel on the bus. It has cost us €3.00/£2.60 each way (4 km) for two of us and been an absolute delight. Aren’t buses good fun? We haven’t been on one for years. Back at the hotel, a shower and change of clothes is an urgent task then we can settle down to reading the papers on our iPads. Dinner in the hotel restaurant tonight and then a drive of about 200 miles and 3.5 hrs through Moderna, Parma, Piacenza, round the Milan ring road, round Lakes Como and Lugano and in to Switzerland to Bellinzona. This is a journey we have driven 30 times and know very well.