Monday 5 October 2015

From Venzone to Vicenza

Italy, 2nd – 5th October 2015

It’s been a while since we’ve given a more up to date version of our intended route.  We had a fairly concrete plan of the direction we were going to travel in on our way up from Greece (Bulgaria-Romania-Hungary-Croatia-Slovenia), but leaving Slovenia was always the crossroads point where we could have headed in a number of different directions, and so before we left we had to have a sit down and think about where exactly we were going to go.

Ultimately, we knew we wanted to be in Spain and Portugal over the winter.  There are a lot of places that we would have liked to visit before then, including heading north-east towards Slovakia and the Czech Republic, or north into Austria and then Switzerland.  Unfortunately the former would have sent us too far in the wrong direction, and the latter would have sent us into mountainous Alpine countries a little too close to winter when we have no snow tyres/chains (having spent longer than originally thought in countries from Greece onwards).  As a result we’d probably have ended up rushing our way through the places, doing the countries a great disservice and racking up needless miles on the van.

With this in mind, we decided to go back into Italy to get across to the south of France.  There is a fairly direct non-toll road that we previously used to get from Venice to Lake Garda; if we follow this road along further it will take us straight to Milan (probably detouring away at some point for Lake Como).  The earliest winter requirements for Italy start on the 15th October; this gives us about two weeks to get across to France, so we’re not in any real rush for now.  The only routing issue we still haven’t solved is how best to get back to the UK for Matt’s PhD graduation ceremony in December; when we’re next on WiFi, we’ll have to start looking at ferry and plane ticket costs.  If anyone has any words of wisdom about the UK-Spain ferry services, we’re all ears.

In Slovenia we left the solace of Lake Bohinj behind and went west, towards the Italian border.  Vignette now expired we stuck to the smaller roads, and other than one small incident “Oh God it joins the motorway in 2km!  What do we do?  Can we turn around?  Oh right… it’s just a turn-off for the motorway in 2km, we’re fine” the roads were pretty easy going.  From previous experience we knew that fuel costs in Italy were massively more expensive compared to any of the other countries we’d visited (and yet still cheaper than the UK), so got a full tank before leaving Slovenia.  We don’t often fill the tank to save some weight, but it was worth it as over the border fuel is about €0.20/litre more, and that’s just for self-service fuel pumps; at some pumps station attendants will fill for you, which is usually another €0.05-0.10/litre extra.

The first point of call was a town called Venzone.  We’d read that on the weekend of October 4th there was a Pumpkin Festival, where the town gets all lit up in the evening and is supposed to be well worth a visit.  It sounded interesting so we stopped for the night in a quiet parking area overlooking the river (GPS: 46.33554 13.13983) on the way into the town.  It wasn’t until checking our facts later in the evening that we realised it wasn’t the Oct 4th weekend – it was the fourth weekend in October and had been mistranslated.  Doh!  Nevertheless, Venzone is still a nice little town, surrounded by a double fortified wall on its perimeter.  It was all but destroyed during a series of earthquakes in May-September 1976, but has since been carefully restored.  The walls are standing again, as is the cathedral.  Surrounded by mountain views and with a river running alongside, it’s a quiet, peaceful sort of place, broken only in places by the low hum of traffic from the nearby SS13.

The next day we moved on, stopping at the Sosta in the nearby town of Gemona del Friuli (GPS:  46.27653 13.13722) to use their free service point and get our last blog post uploaded as we didn’t have an internet signal at the previous spot.  After this it was onwards to Udine, where we decided we weren’t really feeling the journey in to the city so just had a five minute breather at the Aire (GPS: 46.08101 13.22332).  Today in Italy the fleeces had found themselves retired back to the cupboard after their constant wear at Lake Bohinj, but if we needed any further indication that we’d left the mountains behind, during the five minutes or so that it took for Matt to get the satnav programmed and me to make the walk to the recycling bins, two mosquitoes found their way into the van.  I’m happy to report that both of the devil spawn creatures have since met their demise, so there will be no repeats of my fifty bite trauma in Croatia.  No fly swats were required; either my hand reflexes are improving or I’ve spent so much time around the buggers that I’m getting more attuned to their movements.

We travelled to Passariano, where there is a free Sosta at Villa Manin (GPS: 45.94686 13.00878, hookup and fresh water supply available via tokens purchased at nearby shops).  Passariano is a few km south of the town Codroipo, a place chosen by Venetian and Friuli nobility as a good place to build homes due to good soil and watercourses.  Villa Manin is one of these homes and holds an impressive amount of land.  Unfortunately, beyond the sheer size of the thing, the Villa’s exterior has a feel to it as though its glory days have long since passed.  Most of the doors and windows have been covered up, and the front gardens are a layer of thin grass that could do with a proper dividing line separating it from the gravel.

The Villa aside, the surrounding terrain is excellent for cycling with lots of flat land.  There are five well signposted cycle tracks in the area, of which three start at the Villa.  We got nearly an hour and a half of good cycling in, covering 12.5 miles on a variety of cycle paths & country lanes before the weather turned off, having just packed the bikes away and retreated indoors when the rain started.

Yesterday we made an exciting discovery about Italy: the shop opening hours seem to have changed, with many places now offering trading hours on Sunday.  Yes, this includes our beloved Lidl!  We didn’t really do much in the way of sightseeing yesterday, unless the sights are those of the fresh pasta and wine aisles of our favourite supermarket.  Stocks of €1.19 Spumante Dolce in the cupboard, it was onwards to Cittadella, a town on the way to Vicenza with a circular fortified old town in its centre complete with a moat.  The weather didn’t look promising, so we decided we’d wait until morning before going in to visit.  Just as we found a potential overnighting spot and were debating whether to spend the night, the heavens opened.  We’d been experiencing average temperatures of around 20 degrees throughout the day so it came much to our amazement when the van was pummelled with hailstones that were up to 15mm in diameter!  Luckily the van is unscathed spare a few small dings in the roof; the same cannot be said for our bike cover, which now has a fantastic series of holes marring its surface.  We chose to move on to the next town along to overnight, and spent the night in a quiet parking area in Fontaniva near a small river (GPS: 45.63639 11.75060).

Today, it was back to Cittadella.  Inside the town walls, the old town was heaving with people and money changing hands – ah, market day.  The main streets were packed with stalls, which seemed to be divided up into sections depending on wares – at one point we found a long string of different stalls that seemed to be selling nothing but shoes.  I’d like to say that it was worth a visit, but with so many different stalls everywhere it was hard to get a real feel for the place so our judgement may be somewhat impaired.  We visited the tourist centre, but didn’t feel like paying the €1 for the leaflet/map after getting so used to free information in Slovenia.

Onwards.  We’re now parked in a Sosta on the outskirts of Vicenza (GPS: 45.56363 11.54765), which at €8.40/24hr breaks our free parking streak, but includes a service point and a free regular bus service into the city centre.  On Vicenza itself: it’s not mentioned in our Italy travel guide and we didn’t want to use up internet data researching it, so we entered the city blind.  It appears that in the 16th century the architect Palladio took it upon himself to basically renovate the entire city.  A lot of the main buildings in the town seem to have been designed by him.  It’s quite an attractive place, with most of the city centre being either pedestrianised or restricted to access only vehicles, making it easy to walk around.

We’ve settled in for the evening now, resting off a stomach full of fresh pasta, profiteroles and cheap Italian bubbly.  Tomorrow we’ll be aiming to get some miles in travelling across country.

- Jo

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