Thursday morning bright and early the car is packed, it’s not raining, and we’re heading to Kent to meet up Roger,Joyce,Bob and June.
The motorway between Calais and Brussels is pants ! So many trucks on a two lane road made it difficult to keep 3 cars together at times, almost didn’t stop in time to put petrol in the Healey, freewheeling the last 100 meters to the pump. Sat nav nightmare around Gent, but arrived at our first hotel in Aalst safely about 6.30.Gin and tonics in the bar, great dinner in a local restaurant ,
Friday 20th July.
Travel day to Düsseldorf. It’s overcast with rain in the air, so a short walk to a smart local cafe for a true Flemmish breakfast, then we joined the motorway system to face the Brussels bypass. One stop for coffee, then onto the auto rail terminal in Düsseldorf.
Two trains departing for Verona, so a fantastic collection of ‘old timers’gathered for the trip. Two main groups, the MG club from Holland, heading for a ‘MG By The Sea’gathering for a week by the Adriatic, and a mixed group of Dutch owned Jags, Healeys, Mercs and other exotica doing a weeks tour of Italy, using some of the Mille Miglia route.
We are on the second train, so a wait to load.
And then it’s our turn to be loaded.
It’s the first train of the season, and lots of things are going wrong, 6.15 dinner was served about 8.00, only problem was the wine arrived at 6.30 ( hic ! ), but the food was good, and Bob and June have made new best friends, and it’s a toss up if they head south with us, or off to Venice with them!
Before bed we discover that there is only one set of Italian drivers for the 2 trains !!, so we will have to wait on the Italian border for them to drive back from Verona to Brenner to take us over the last part of the Alps, and will probably be four hours late arriving in Verona…c’est la vie,
All slept OK, train ran out of water, so the loos were a bit iffy,but otherwise a good trip.
It’s June and Bob’s 13th wedding anniversary today, but June was not yet ready to celebrate !
So with thoughts of seeing the Mille Miglia now a dream we set off for the 170 mile drive down to Tuscany. Rubbish driver not following the navigators instruction meant an impromptu tour of the outskirts of Verona,but then a straight forward drive down the Italian motorways. Tolls were not too expensive, we did about 120 motorway miles for 16 euros.
Eventually arrived in the Chianti hills, and a quick photo opportunity before we arrived at our hotel in the beautiful town of Radda in Chianti.
Sunday 22nd May
Our Hotel in Radda is situated right in this pedestrian free centre hill top town, and although the town is visited by many tourists is still very natural. Spent a lazy morning exploring the town and giving the cars a quick wash to remove the dust from the train.
Salad lunch, talked politics with an American, and served by Carolin who had moved from Kent 27 years ago. Then into the cars for a tour of the Chianti region, fantastic countryside, small winding roads, hoods down and very little traffic. ended our tour at the beautiful castle at Brolio, as you would expect it’s situated high on a hill with stunning views to all sides, and the towers of Sienna in the distance.
A British lady that we met this morning recommended a restaurant to us, run by a chef from the Naples region and his wife. It turned into a great night, excellent food, then a young man from Sweden asked his girl friend to marry him, and all of a sudden it was party time, the restaurant opened the champagne, the chef took the tops off with a sword, and all of the diners from Belgium, Canada,Turkey,ourselves and 4 ladies from Paraguay joined in the celebration.
Monday 23rd May. ‘What a difference a day makes !’
Woke to grey leaden skies with a cold wind, breakfasted in the small bistro area instead of the terrace, but decided to stick with our plans to spend the day in Florence.
Hoods down for a mile to the filling station , then hoods up as the rain front moved quickly towards us. 5 minutes later as we headed into the mountains the rain was torrential, with dramatic thunder and lightening, another 5 minutes and we had the cars off the road and under the trees as the rain turned to hail and the roads turned white..even the euroboxes were taking shelter with us. Massive temperature drop, form 29 degrees yesterday down to 11 degrees !
The intrepid crew pushed onto Greve in Chianti for a recovery coffee and let some of the cars dry out ! Then onto Florence. Our destination is the Piazza Michelangelo which sits on the hill overlooking the city and has a huge copy of the famous statue of David.
Modesty forbids the front elevation !
Leaving Florence at around 6.00, we decided to let the sat nav do the work… Bad mistake..we all now have some simpathy for the continental Lorry drivers who blindly follow sat nav…fortunately we hardly saw another car on our escape route, but we went up and down the narrowest, pothole ridden roads available, but blind faith paid off and we eventually cleared the city and headed back to Radda.
Dinner this evening was ‘just’ a pizza and a glass of wine ! ( we shared it honestly )
Parked below the city in the San Fransisco parking area, and took the escalators up to the church of St.Francis. This church has a huge open area in the main body , and it’s where all the horses and their riders come to be blessed before the famous race around the Campo.
Sienna is a beautiful and unusual city, which seems to have been designed around the central campo, in a circular pattern, and then radiates out through the old part of the city.
The streets around the centre are lined with small shops, many specialising in local products and crafts,and then we made our way to the Domo. As you would expect it’s a magnificent and stunning building.
What should have been a quiet evening in a local restaurant which specialised in Tuscan food at local prices, developed into yet another party night..the waiter / owner was a comedian in his own rite, a honeymoon couple a crowd of American ladies and Bob made for a memorable evening, finished off with our last late night ice cream at our favourite gelataria.
Wednesday 25th May.
On the road again today, heading 170 miles south to Tivoli, which is just east of Rome. Should have been on the way at 10.00, but the Healey wouldn’t start. Quick diagnosis , fuel pump not working. The three Pantherteers roll up their sleeves, jack up the car, rear wheel off to expose the pump, definitely fuel pump not working.
Tried all the usual things, hit it , checked the fuses, looked for wiring breaks, but nothing found. Eventually get a mechanic who puts a direct feed from the battery and the pump works, he then traces the wires and finds a pair of hidden switches in the boot, switches them on and hey presto everything OK. The switches were an extra hidden security devise to switch off the fuel pump, and in stuffing stuff into every nook and cranny I’d switched them off…what a plonkeroni !!
Great drive from Rada to the A1 autostrada, then a steady drive down through beautiful countryside arriving in Tivoli about 4.30. Hotel is on a main road into the city, so not as picturesque a setting as Rada, but very comfortable. Cheap as chips supper in a local trattoria, Bob discussed Britex with the French and an early night.
Thursday 26th May
Car free couple of days in Tivoli. Our hotel is a couple of miles outside and below the ancient city, so we took the bus up to the central area. Two important sites to see today, the morning was spent at Parco Villa Gregoriana. This amazing site is a steep ravine dominated on one side by the Acropolis and the other by an ancient villa. Now named after Pope Gregory who ordered flood defensive works for the city and the creation of a public park (1830’s).It was bombed during the German retreat in 1945 then used as a city rubbishy dump until restored form the 70’s. Now a beautiful valley, cool amongst the trees and water that took a couple of hours to explore.
A lunch break in the shade, then on to visit Villa b’Este a magnificent house and gardens created in the early 1600’s from the shell of an earlier monastery. The garden are dominated by a number of fantastic water features.
Friday 26th May.
Another car free day as the Villa Adriana is less than a mile away.This huge Roman site was built by the Emporer Hadrian nearly 2000 years ago, and represented the whole of the Roman Empire, with architecture and materials from every part of their lands. The remaining ruins are substantial and you are able to get an impression of the richness and scale of this estate.
A strange but enjoyable evening meal, we booked a smart looking restaurant next to Villa Adriana and were warmly welcomed and shown to our table in the courtyard, their English was not good and the owner and 2 of the staff gathered round us to take our orders. Immediate confusion, drinks orders were taken and they came back at various stages to tell us they had no gin, no tonic, no Aperol and no wine list ! An English menu was produced but they did not understand it, but eventually we ordered , the food was great, the service was fine and we had a fun evening.
Saturday 28th May.
On the road again heading south for a 160 mile trip to the bay of Naples. The hotel produced small gifts for the ladies , paraded for photos for the Italian bikers, then followed sat nav out of Tivoli to the autostrada. Motorway all the way today, skirting the eastern outskirts of Rome, down passed the famous war landings of Casino and then through the very built up area around Naples. Once off the autostrada at Naples the roads became single lane with no passing place and a couple of long tunnels . Air was a little cooler as we were now following the bay, it had been in the thirties for the run down. Stopped at a view point looking over for Sorrento for a cooling lemon sorbet, then crept with the traffic for our hotel for the next 5 night. The view alone from our balcony was worth the slow drive.
Took the bus from our hotel on the hill overlooking Sorrento down into the town to spend the day exploring. Walked into the Main Street to be greeted by the sight of the Fiat 500 club of Italy displaying their cars. Probably not exaggerating if we say there were 100. All in immaculate condition, and every type on show including the rare Ghia built Jolly.
The girls dragged us away after a brief visit and we headed down to the port to check out the boats and have coffee. Took the lift back up, and Sue and I headed off to find the station and get the tickets for Tuesday’s train trip to see Herculanaeum. Met back up for a salad lunch, then continued our exploration of the tourist part of the town, then to the quieter fishing port at the southern end of Sorrento.
Monday 30th May.
The Amalfi coastline is said to be one of the most beautiful in the world, and the drive from Sorrento to Amalfi one of the most interesting ! The road clings to the side of the cliffs, with tight bends, narrow tunnels, tourist coaches, sightseeing drivers and hundreds of scooters and motorbikes that over take on every corner !
Having said that it was absolutely stunning. From Sorrento you have to climb up over the headland and then drop down onto the coast road. We stopped above Positano for a view point , then onto a posh hotel the other side of the town ( the town itself was gridlocked ) for a coffee and loo break.
From here we continued on along the coast to Amalfi, again a gridlocked city, but we managed to get down to a car park on the breakwater, and set off on foot to explore the town. We only really had time to take I the main tourist area and find a place for yet another salad, but a vibrant town with every nook and cranny dedicated to tourism.
Pondered over the map to see if there was a viable alternative for a drive back, but decided to take the coast road back to Sorrento. The road was a bit quieter, but you still had to keep your wits about as the bikes ad scooters zipped past you on their way home.
Took the bus back to town,had a drink in the square, then back to our pizzeria near the station for a light supper.Noisey as hell to start with as a party of 20 Italian children celebrated an 11 years old birthday, but then quieten for a nice evening.
Left the cars in the garage today and took the train towards Naples to visit Herculaneum. The train was a real rattler, the Sorrento to Naples commuter train that took about an hour and 24 stations to cover the journey and cost €2.8. For more than half the journey it’s single track and has long tunnels as it cuts around the coast, and the closer it gets to Naples you see the density of housing and the poor conditions that many Italians are living in in this part of the country.
The Herculaneum site is about half a mile down the hill from the station, stopped for a roadside coffee on the way down, then into the park.
Bought our tickets and guide books and split up to spend a couple of hours to explores the site. The few photographs that we can put here can’t do justice to the experience of walking around the streets that were here 2000 years ago and visiting the remains of the villas and buildings that have been uncovered. The depth of the excavation process has been immense as the mud ,ash and volcanic debris was 200 feet deep !
Regrouped and headed for the museum in the centre of the town to see the virtual recreation of the town before the eruption and the eruption itself. Two great exhibits that help to put the visit to the site into a clearer picture of what the town would have been like as a wealthy sea side resort for the rich Romans, and the power and scale of the eruption that buried this part of the coast including Pompei and Herculaneum.
Felt we were ripped off at the station cafe where we shared a Napolese pizza and a couple of soft drinks, then boarded the 4.30 train back to Sorrento . Very busy, but thinned out as we moved away from Naples and we got seats. Great day out.
Pre dinner drink on the terrace looking back across the bay to where we had spent the day, then took the bus down to town once more for dinner. Decided on the ristorante “le Favorita O’Parrucchiano”. If you find yourself in Sorrento it’s worth a visit, behind a shop front on the busy Main Street it opens up to stairs and terraces with the main eating areas in the gardens. Family owned since the 1860’s and serving good food at sensible prices. Chatted to the owners wife and of course to Enzo himself the proud owner of a 1957 Alfa Romeo spider, but he had to admit that after so many decades of eating his own delicious food getting in and out was proving a challenge!
Wednesday 1st June.
Last day in Sorrento and the South of Italy, weather a little overcast with occasional rain showers.Roger has a dodgy knee so a quiet day in town is what the doctor ordered. Explored the town and coastline with our favourite part being the fishing port, due to the steep paths down and the distance from the centre it was less crowded.
Sorrento shops are famous for leather work, marquetry ,linen clothes and lemon products and the small streets were full of their wares, with late night shopping until 11.00. Decided to revisit le Favorita for another pleasant evening meal.
Thursday 2nd June.
Packed and on the road for 10.00 and it took us the first hour to get from Sorrento to the start of the autostrada at Naples, although it’s only a relatively few miles you have to follow the coast through the small contested towns. The journey today is almost 250 miles and the weather forecast is for rain and thunder, so only Roger and Joyce have put their tops down dut this changed when we took a break for fuel just after Naples. As we approached the outskirts of Rome you could see the black clouds sitting on top of the hills all around Rome, but it stayed dry for us until our lunch stop on the A1 north of Rome. When it rained , it rained.. Thunder and lightening reverberated around the hills and in places the surface water on the inside lane was quite scary. The Kallista had a wiper come slightly adrift, but that was fixed at the pay station when we left the motorway ( although the pay machines tried to eat our credit cards ! ). The roads around Terni were very rough, and one sat nav error meant we approached Spoletto via the scenic route ! But we were at the hotel for 4.00 o’clock and soon had the cars secured in the garage and we relaxed with a beer before unpacking and showers.
Roger and Joyce did a pre dinner recce, so took us up the newly installed travellator system to the top of the town where we had a nice glass of wine at a pavement cafe before going to dinner at a restaurant that the hotel had booked. Got a bit lost on the walk back in the rain, but a Dutch couple who run a gallery in the old town each summer got us back on track.
Friday 3rd June.
Split day today, Sue and I decided to spend the day exploring Spoletto whist the others took the cars to Assis which we visited on our last holiday in Umbria. Plan was to use the travellators and lifts to get to the highest point which is the castle, and then to meander down through the city. Fabulous city, the old parts are now pedestrianised,everything is clean and a map is essential as the signs sometimes get you lost. A few shots below to give a flavour of the city.
The ‘a’ team had a great trip to Assisi and with the exception of Bob did a tour of the basillica.
Saturday 4th June.
On our way home.
Left Spoletto around 9.00 and started our 270 mile drive to Verona….no pressure but we have to be there by 3.00pm! Our route took up across Umbria towards the Adriatic coast, beautiful scenery as we went through the valleys.
The non motorway dual carriageways look good on the map, but they are in poor condition. The Alfa took everything in its stride but the Kallista and the Healey spent a couple of hours weaving to avoid the worst of the potholes, fortunately it was Saturday and the traffic was fairly light so we used the outside lane when possible. Once we got to the coast we joined the main east coast autostrada which took us around Bolognia and Modena and up to Verona. Arriving at 3.00 was good timing, they were just starting to load. More informal than the departure in Germany, no photographs of the cars just a hand scrawled card saying ‘ checked in ‘ and Roger was whisked off to put the Alfa on the top deck, Bob and I waited to join the old timer soft tops on the bottom deck. Met quite a few ‘ new best friends ‘ who were on the same train as us on the outbound trip. Bob continued in his role as Panther Ambassador with a lot of people interested in the car and the marque.
By 5.00 we were in our cabins and the cars safely loaded, there was hot water , so blinds were closed and strip down washes to freshen us before early dinner in the dining car. We managed to make dinner last from 6.00 to almost 9.00, the last dinner together of the tour, fantastic scenery as we travelled up towards the Alps form Verona. Said our good nights and headed to an early night.
Sunday 5th June.
Train arrived pretty much on time and we had the cars off loaded by 9.15. Bob and June heading for Paris to join the Panther group heading for yet another holiday ! We headed for Calais with Joyce and Roger, had an interesting tour of the Düsseldorf tunnels as we lost sat nav, but some great navigation by Joyce got us back on the road. Decided to avoid Brussels and take the Antwerp route, the motorways were relatively clear in the morning and we made quick progress and after a 250 mile trip we arrived in Calais for out train. Incredibly busy at the terminal, but not too much delay. A final cup of tea at the M20 services and we split to make our route home .
Great holiday, we drove 1800 continental miles, the cars performed well, stayed in some nice locations, eat for Italy, saw some fantastic places and came home still friends ! Who said we were pleased to see the back of each other !!