Colin’s little girl Mo…my favourite dog ever. I’m so very sad that’s she’s gone and miss her greatly.
Lake, Castle, Home…Happy Cat!
Feeling a little better we began to slowly make our way again, going a little bit south to Orbetello.
It’s kind of an island, but has three different ‘causeways’ connecting it to the mainland. We drove to the northeast corner and the small town of Porto Santo Stefano, which seemed to be a fairly prosperous place.
It had a lovely boardwalk and lots of cafes/restaurants, in addition to being both a fishing port and marina – also had some rather nice yachts.
We stayed for one beverage, then as we went to get back in the campervan the local coast guard fellow came up and told me that parking there was not allowed. I explained that we were leaving right then and he was ok with that – he didn’t know we’d already been there for almost an hour.
We then headed basically east as I wanted to see Lago di Bolsena – it was one of the places I had thought I’d go to at the beginning of my very first bike trip back in 2017, but sadly never made it to.
It was a lovely drive and I was glad to have seen it – we had lunch in the campervan on the shore of the lake. Colin’s still not feeling 100% so meals are a bit sparse – at least his are.
Overnight camping was not allowed so after lunch we continued north a bit to the town of Torre Alfina. It has a nice large car-park and a very well-preserved castle from the 1600’s.
We went for a walk and got a gelato cone – a bit sweet for me – then continued on up to the castle.
It seems to be a bit of an ‘artsy’ town as there are wall murals, strange statues and artwork all over.
There was a couple having a photo-shoot at the top of the castle so I had to wait a bit before I could get a shot of the views from where I wanted.
They were pretty nice, especially when I told them I was from Canada, and I took a quick photo or two and then we left.
The drive down to Ostia the next day wasn’t too bad, and we got around Rome without much slowing down. We parked in the same car-park right across from the Sea that we’d used before – there seem to be quite a few campervans that are permanent residents.
I walked to the nearest pharmacy and got a couple of things for Colin’s cold, although he does seem to be doing better.
Up early the final morning and off to the airport. No problem at all getting checked in – they didn’t even ask for a covid vaccine certificate or negative test.
Three flights later – and I’m home! The cat is happy…
Castellina in Chianti, Asciano, Papiano, Grosseto
It poured rain all night long and was still coming down the next morning. There was a large sportiv on and as we tried to follow two other campervans out we were stopped by a traffic marshall. After waiting several minutes and no riders appearing we took off the short distance to the upper parking area and dealt with our black water.
Heading along south we were dodging the sportiv riders the whole way until well past Erba. The racers the day before had such better weather and conditions – I felt a bit sorry for the sportiv riders, but they were a bit of a pain clogging up the road.
We didn’t go all the way to Papiano, but stopped instead at a lovely town in Toscana – Castellina in Chianti. There was an aire just at the edge of the town centre so we joined several other campervans for the evening.
The next morning as we were finishing our tea a policeman pulled up and started checking all of the campervans. It turns out that ‘any parking area with blue lines’ means we should be paying to stay. We hadn’t seen the ticket machine which was way down at one end but the fellow was very nice and waited while Colin went and got a ticket.
We took a walk all along the main street of the town – I can imagine that in the summer it’s a fairly crowded place. They’ve made an effort to make it attractive and friendly – lots of nice little shops and cafes, with of course, the usual excellent italian coffee.
At one old door there was a basket with some very large rabbits in it, along with a donation box for their care – Colin made a deposit.
We decided to go grocery shopping in the larger nearby town of Poggibonsi, then continue our journey from there.
We got diverted off the route we wanted and ended up having to turn back when we came to a walled entrance to one of the little towns and the gateway was too narrow for us to pass. Several locals waited patiently while we did a u-turn – luckily there was a nice wide driveway right there so it wasn’t a problem.
We stopped again at Asciano for the night – we’ve now been there several times as it’s on the Strade Bianche route and we like the area. The next day was a nice short trip to Papiano to finish cleaning out the house. The first thing we did was throw a load of laundry in, and as soon as the water was hot enough each had a nice shower. It’s amazing how good a shower can make you feel when you haven’t had one in so long!
It was really nice to see Antonio and a few of the other locals down at the bar – unfortunately there’s also mr. creepy. We stopped at the yard with the turtles – the babies are going sleepy for the winter but the fellow showed us one of the big ones that was still about. One of it’s feet had been injured and it looked like it had lost several toes but otherwise was ok.
We arranged with Antonio to get one of the local guys to help us move all of the stuff from the cellar to the campervan – he’ll come by tomorrow afternoon.
We took the opportunity of being in the area to get haircuts from our favourite hairdresser. He’s opened his own place in the village of Pila so it was a bit of a drive but we’re both very happy with the results. Note: a couple of the photos are from the previous year – they’re not actually still requiring masks in Italy.
We got a couple more loads of laundry done, and the helper arrived with his girlfriend and a small trailer in tow around 5:30. Two loads later the cellar was fairly empty and the ‘garage’ in the campervan was stuffed full – I’m actually amazed that everything squished in.
We’ve been feeding chairman meow, and he now has a friend as well. We left some extra food with Rita as she takes care of them in Angelo’s absence – he’s now working in Rome.
The bell in the tower is working again, although it doesn’t seem quite as melodious as it used to be.
Leaving in the morning was again sad, but even if the house does sell we’ll still come back to Papiano now and then to say hi to some of the people – others…not.
We took ‘the scenic route’ to Grosseto on the west coast, passing through some very beautiful countryside along the way and including the towns of Montepulciano and Montalcino. There are some very nice wines produced in the area, and also lots of olive oil.
Grosseto is on a large plain and it’s a very short drive to the sea – the beaches are lovely and wide and the sand is very fine. It’s not crowded now but in summer I bet it’s packed. There are large restaurants all along but most of them seem to be closed already.
Colin and I have both had colds although he’s more affected by his than I am by mine. It’s very unusual for either of us to be sick so we’re just taking it easy parked in the large parking area. I’ve been taking the dogs for nice long walks while Colin rests and hopefully feels better soon.
Il Lombardia From Ghisallo – One of my Favourite Races, and Two of my Favourites Retiring
The next morning we had a nice chat with the Belgians before they re-located. I saw that they’d moved to a flat area just below the museum and church – there’s a fairly steep bluff and you look right down on it from above. Their new bus is too large to go right in but there was just enough space for them along the side near the entrance.
We thought it looked perfect so drove on down – the gate barrier blocked the way, but right then a motorcyclist arrived and the arm raised so we carried on in. After parking I took Mo for a little walk and the Belgians told me they got permission from the folks at the museum to park where they did and maybe I should check with them too. I walked up and was told that we had to leave for the day but if we came back before they closed at 5:30 we could spend the next two nights there – awesome!
We had a lovely cappuccino at the cafe next to the museum, then spent much of the day a bit south at the town of Canzo.
Back at the museum just before closing they gave me a key-fob for the gate and as soon as we were in I hiked up to return it to them – it was their last one so we couldn’t keep it. They didn’t want to see any passports, nor did they want any money – perfect spot and free to boot!
Race day morning was beautiful – clear sunny sky but not too hot. We had another delicious cappuccino then walked around the town a bit.
Slowly but surely fans were arriving, and I even saw some folks having their wedding photos taken amidst all of the cycling fans on the bluff above us.
We met and had a chat with a couple of Americans who had rented bikes in Bellagio and weren’t aware that there was a big race happening – we encouraged them to stay and watch it rather than continue on their ride.
Mo and I took a walk down to find ‘Dutch corner’ but didn’t make it past ‘Pantani corner’.
The folks there insisted that I have some wine – did I say no? – as well as a delicious beef rib and some lovely cheese. Mo got a rib bone and I almost lost a finger trying to get it away from her when we had to leave.
We made it back in plenty of time, and saw that the Americans had taken our advice and settled in to watch the race not far up from us.
One of the Israel Premier Tech support cars had pulled in and I had a little talk with the soigneur – it’s very sad that the team is likely going to be relegated at the end of the year but he said they’ll keep on racing. Michael Woods is in the race so of course I hope to see him. The soigneur promised me a bidon if he has any left after the racers are past.
I’m not usually a huge fan of kids, but I do like to see them get so excited at races like this – these two especially were so cute:
The race arrived led by Team UAE and last year’s winner Tadej Pogacar, in front of a group that included Tour de France winner Jonas Vingegaard, as well as Vincenzo Nibali and Alejandro Valverdere – both of whom are retiring and that makes me very sad.
After the race passed I was fortunate a couple of times – the Israel Premier Tech guy remembered me and gave me a bidon, and I also scored one from Quickstep as our Belgian friends are associated with them.
As the crowd dispersed in the usual lightening-quick fashion we returned to the campervan to watch the end of the race on GCN – Pogacar won again in a sprint with one other rider. An excellent final race of the season for us.
On to Italy…and Finally a Race!
The last couple of weeks in Mansle were great – we had several more nice meals out, including a couple of lunches at the ‘Nuthouse’ as well as one at the Marmite, that surprisingly I’d never been to before.
We also had two nice visits with Tony and Joyce.
Colin went out for a couple of bike rides, but I didn’t as my bike was left back in Spain so I stayed at the house with the dogs. Mo was happy to be with me but, as usual, Henry did a lot of barking and looking for Colin.
There was more than one storm with pounding rain accompanied by thunder and lightening, but the dry fields needed the rain so it wasn’t too bad. We visited a printing place across the street and she’s going to make a sign to put on the road below the house in Spain so folks can find us more easily.
We left for Italy on a Sunday, making it to Lachamp-Raphael on the first day. As usual it was extremely windy, but at least I wasn’t in my tent this time.
The second day we went thru Embrun, then Briancon – the lake at Embrun is very low.
Crossing to Italy we passed Sestriere on our way to Pinerolo – I’ve never been thru that way before so I did enjoy the drive. One of the big alpine ski races happens there very year and I’ve always wanted to see the area.
We spent the next day in nearby Cavour, checking in at the fruit farm, which is in the middle of the apple harvest – hundreds of crates are stacked in the garage and I’m sure the ladies are busy making jams, etc.
It was market day in the town and we had a very nice cappuccino in the main square, then returned later for dinner at La Posta – just as good as the first time we were here a couple of years ago. This time I opted for an apple and celery salad for a starter, then a barley and rabbit stew for my main – just delicious.
Back at the fruit farm they have a new dog – a mid-size black female that seems a bit shy, but friendly. They still have the large golden lab as well as tiny Maya and her little one Spreet – they remember me!
We’re always a bit sad to leave the area, but didn’t have too far to drive to our next place just the far side of Torino. We’ve chosen the largest climb of the Gran Piemonte as our watching place and found a nice large flat area right near the top and just around the bend from the village of Rivodora – as usual we ‘lucked out’ finding a spot.
Finally a race!
The first racers arrived right on time at 3:00…
…with the last group passing about five minutes later. Included in one of the final small groups was Cavendish – I sure hope he signs with a great team for next year.
We watched the end of the race on GCN on my ipad, then headed north to the Ghisallo, fighting traffic around Milano and arriving in the dark. The restaurant parking lot that we’d used the last time was blocked-off so we spent the night in the parking area of the cycling museum and church. The Belgian couple we’ve met in previous years were already there so we figured it would be ok.
Nice Rides, Good Food, Back on the Road
More bike rides – we alternate direction each time, going either south/east to Taberno or north/west to Los Cerricos and beyond. There’s a small village on the way to Oria that has some pretty blue flower pots all over an old stone wall.
About ten days ago there was a festival up at the Sanctuary – it actually started the evening before with dozens and dozens of people walking up the rambla beginning around 8 in the evening.
The procession continued the entire night – every time I woke up and looked out the window I could see individuals or small groups with flashlights moving along up to the Sanctuary.
The next morning we took our ride up to Los Cerricos and were astounded by the number of vehicles – hundreds of cars and dozens of buses, and even police directing the traffic and parking.
The village has a lot of cats – some of them strays that forage for food in the dumpsters, and others that belong to the bar.
The folks came to put on the winter pool cover but it didn’t quite fit so they took it away to trim it a bit.
That’s ok, though, as I’m able to get in a few more swims.
They’re starting to bring in the almond harvest – there are piles of them in the strangest places.
We went out for lunch on my birthday, intending to go to the bar in Los Cerricos but it was all closed up. We then decided to go up to Chirivel, but…same thing! On to Veliz Rubio where we had success at the steak house, and was it ever good. The portions were so large that even Colin couldn’t finish his and when the waitress came to collect our plates she looked very concerned and asked if we didn’t like it. We assured her that no – it was delicious and we would like to take the leftovers home – she was very pleased to hear that.
I must say that I’m not feeling my age! The next day we met Carlos and Maria for lunch at the restaurant just south of us – it was another excellent meal and we were there for over four hours. They are great to visit with and Carlos will be doing a lot of work on the house for us over the next few months.
We’re really looking forward to having all of the work completed – new pellet-burning stove, having my bath-tub installed, and a complete re-do of Colin’s bathroom, just to start.
Lots of other things as well, both inside and outside, including screening of the sun/pool room. Sitting out there is lovely, except for the flies and wasps so having it fully screened will be great.
Oh – Remco won the Vuelta – woo-woo!
Leaving on Thursday morning was kind of sad – I love the house and the area so much already, but have really missed travelling and seeing the races live.
We chose to take three days rather than just two to get up to Mansle, and stopped the first night at Horche, which is just south of Guadalajara. It turned out to be a lovely hotel just outside the town and we spent a couple of hours on one of the outside terraces enjoying some refreshing beverages.
The drive up to Logrono the next day was much shorter and we passed through some spectacular scenery.
We’d been to Navarrete before, staying in the campground just south of the town. This time we were in a hotel that used to be a seminary – it was also very nice.
Our friend Richard met us there around 6:00, delivering two cases of Rioja and some floor polish for Joyce and Tony back in France. He also gifted us with some local chorizo that he says is very tasty, although quite spicy – we’ll have to eat it sparingly!
The last day of travel was somewhat longer, but not stressful. In fact getting past Bordeaux was possibly the best ever – hardly even had to slow down, let alone the usual bumper-to-bumper crawl.
Getting to Mansle in late afternoon we had time to go down to the bar and were warmly received by Edith and Sylvain, as usual.
Riding Flats and Finally Getting Deliveries
We’ve gone on a few more nice, slightly longer rides. A couple of times to Taberno for coffee, also to Los Cerricos, again for coffee. The little bar cat has had her kittens but we’re not sure how many – she looks like a baby herself but apparently this is her second litter.
Another ride was to Chirival, and it ended up taking much more time than expected as there was a diversion just before the town that sent us west. We knew we were going a bit far out of our way when Colin hit a large, unexpected pot-hole and got a flat!
Even the smaller roads here are in so much better condition than almost all the roads in Italy that perhaps we weren’t being as careful as usual. In any case we made our way to a nice cafe on the ‘main’ east-west road through the town and had a nice coffee. Then Colin hopped on my bike and rode back to the house to pick up the car and return to retrieve me and his bike. The wait wasn’t too bad – I had one of his phones so was able to read the news, etc, and also they had a very nice red wine.
A few days later we rode towards Albox and stopped for a coffee – we were halfway back when two things happened. The first was seeing an old woman hand-washing her laundry in the water channel. My first thought was ‘oh, she’s getting free water’ – then Colin mentioned that if we were downstream from her we could be brushing our teeth in water she’d used to wash her knickers in – yuck!
We were a few km further on when once again Colin had a flat – this time the front tire went. Luckily we weren’t too far from Las Pocicas, where once again he rode my bike home while I sat and enjoyed another nice red wine. I especially like it when it’s chilled, and it’s always served chilled in Spain.
We’ve been out for lunch a few times now – twice to the restaurant in Los Cerricos. We’re usually one of the first tables to order food as they eat so late here. The last time we went the place ended up being totally packed – I had a delicious pork loin dish with fries, with enough left over for at least one more meal at home.
We’ve been watching the Vuelta on tv rather than going to the north coast as we normally would. They moved down to our area on the rest-day and young Remco is still in the overall lead. He rode a blistering time-trial yesterday and we just hope he can hold on for another 10 or 11 stages. There are others I would cheer for as well if he cracks in the mountains, though.
Finally we had some deliveries get to us – IKEA met us at the restaurant/gas station and we exchanged one of our light fixtures that had been missing a piece for another that was complete. Then a couple of days later the bathtub finally arrived – the delivery company had it for 3 weeks and it finally took Carlos (our plumber) to speak with them for them to bother finding us.
Another thing that got completed was the metal gate being installed for the french doors – it was the only really vulnerable entrance to the house so now we feel a bit better about our security. They also fixed a metal plate to the bottom of the new gate in the back wall so Henry can’t squeeze through any more – he seems a little confused that he can’t get out now.
I’ve still been swimming almost every day, although it got very stormy yesterday so I gave it a pass. The wind overnight was fierce – it blew a couple of my shutters back and forth so bad I had to close them and I haven’t done that since we were here back in frigid May. The storm was worse in other areas, though, as I read about hail the size of tennis balls.
Housework Continues, and Henry Houdini
The metal works folks came and installed the balustrade just in time as Colin’s friend from England arrived later the same day. She’s bought a house at the coast and stayed the night with us before getting the keys.
The gate to the water pumps was also replaced, although we realized later that while it looks great the spaces between the bars are a little too wide as Henry Houdini can squeeze through and disappear behind the wall to eat last year’s rotten fallen almonds. Mo, who is much smaller, hasn’t yet tried to follow him but it’s only a matter of time.
For now we have to block the lower part with a barrier but will get it fixed when they come back to install metal bars outside the french doors in a couple of weeks.
In any case we had a lovely visit with Ann and Ernie, spending the evening in the sun room talking and some of us having a nice dip in the pool.
A few days later we took a day-trip to the coast to have lunch and see Ann’s new place. It’s a lovely 3-bedroom 2-bath bungalow in a gated community and has three different outdoor spaces, including a roof terrace.
Lunch was nice – there’s a restaurant right on the grounds and it’s right next to the swimming pool, and not to mention about a five minute walk to the Med.
We’ve been on a couple more nice bike rides – the longest one being to Taberno, although the 42 km we covered was only because we took the ‘scenic route’ there.
Another ride was up to the village of Los Cerricos where we had a coffee before continuing on west towards Oria. We only went a few km before turning back as it was starting to get hot – we’ll start earlier next time so we can go further.
We’ve ordered a beautiful claw-foot bathtub for my bathroom but once again are having problems with delivery. The transport company insists on phoning before they arrive, but they won’t call a foreign number. We finally got a spanish number this past weekend so hopefully will hear from them this week to take delivery. Still waiting for IKEA to find us with the replacement wall lamp.
Having gotten tired of having no water when the pump continually turned off we got a new pump. No water problems anymore! But now we’ve had a couple of electric issues with breakers tripping, once in the middle of the night. Maybe solar back-up would be nice, but we’ll see.
We also had some pool people out to measure for a winter cover, as well as a ladder at the far end. We’re still waiting for the ‘gardeners’ to come but will likely have to find someone else to clear out weeds and brush behind the wall. There are some nice aloe plants currently being overrun by the weeds, and also a lot of junk has been tossed over and needs to be gotten rid of.
I’m still having a running battle with the wasps, and I’ve broken another swatter. I like to believe I’m getting the better of them, but that might be only wishful thinking.
Water Woes and Wasp Wars
The last few weeks have been a combination of busy and slothful. Colin took a little trip to the town of Murcia one day and got a bunch of household things from Ikea. One of the wall lamps we got was missing a piece and when I got hold of their customer service they told me they’d deliver a whole new one in a few days and exchange it for us. Unfortunately the driver couldn’t find the house, even after we’d what’s apped him our location to his phone.
We’ve done a lot around the house – Colin has hacked a bunch of weed shrubs from along the drive, and the carpenter has done several things including installing new locks on all the outside doors and putting up the new light fixtures in the foyer and the sun-room.
We’ve also had the hunky furniture removed from the sun room and some nice patio furniture put in, as well as doing a thorough cleaning of the floor, table and chairs. The dust from the storm back in March is still almost everywhere but we’re cleaning it up bit by bit.
We’ve gone on a few bike rides, mostly trying to find our way around on the back roads without getting lost. It starts getting hot fairly early now so we need to get going at a decent time in the morning to try to beat the heat.
On one of my solo rides I passed a field that may have been the site of the fire some weeks ago – all recently burned black right up to the road.
Getting the pool filled wasn’t as quick or easy as we thought – we had to call the local co-op guy every day to get our allotment bit-by-bit but it was taking forever so in the end a different fellow with a tanker did the final filling in no time, although for more money.
Then we had to deal with the sludge that was still left. A quick lesson from the carpenter, then another from a friend of his that takes care of pools and we were finally on our way! I can’t believe how much I enjoy going out and just jumping right in – it’s so refreshing on these hot days.
The Tour de France came and went and we watched every stage on tv – a much more interesting and exciting race this year than any I can remember. No more of one robotic team controlling everything, and lots of surprises. In fact on one hard mountain stage two Canadians were on the podium – Hugo Houle in first and Michael Woods in third!
We’ve got an ongoing problem with wasps – there was one nest on the ledge of Colin’s dressing room window, and another under one of the roof-edge tiles of the sun room. They like to dip onto the surface of the pool to collect water and we’ve been killing them like crazy with our fly-swatters. One of them got revenge on me yesterday, however, when it stung me on the upper neck right behind my ear.
Going by my reaction the last time I was stung I dropped my watering can and ran into the house shouting for ice. I lay on the sofa holding an ice cube to the spot and praying that wave after wave of throbbing pain would not hit me like they did last time. I was very lucky and nothing much happened but some redness and swelling.
In addition to the wasps we’ve swatted we’ve scooped hundreds of dead ones out of the pool that have died from some other cause – perhaps they drowned trying to get water, or maybe someone snuck poison into one or both of the nests.
The fellow that’s doing the balustrade/railing for the stairs came the other day to see if they were going to fit properly and should be returning to install them tomorrow – that will be great as they’re a bit scary right now.
I added a strip of white tape to the edge of each step so you can at least see where the next step is on the descent.
Another water issue we have is the pump to the house. There’s an 18-thousand litre tank at the bottom of the property that gets filled from a pipe by the co-op. That gets pumped up to the smaller upper tank that holds 3 thousand litres, which then gets pumped to the house for showers, toilets and sinks.
An ongoing problem is that the second pump sometimes shuts off and we can’t get any running water, sometimes for hours. One of the many great ‘pleasures’ of having an older house that’s partly ‘off-grid’.
Back to Spain to make a House a Home
We got away from Mansle nice and early on a Saturday morning and even made it past Bordeaux without having to slow down much. Crossed the border into Spain same as usual, only knowing we were in another country by the slightly different road signs.
We made good time and arrived at the hotel just outside Zaragoza before dark. It looked like at one time it was a pretty fancy place – marble stairs, etc., and every second guest had a dog. Spain isn’t quite as dog-friendly as some places so where dogs are allowed you’ll definitely find lots of them.
Another early start the next morning and we headed generally south and a bit east. At one point we saw some smoke off to the left and not much later saw a convoy of army fire trucks heading towards it – they’re not wanting anything to get out of control in the current dry conditions.
We followed fairly main roads all the way home – the car’s GPS didn’t seem to know some of the newer roads but we knew where we were headed and I had my ever-present maps so it wasn’t a problem.
We got back to the house mid-afternoon and were glad to unload and relax for a bit – it’s been a lot of travelling in the last few weeks.
While we were gone the solar panels for the hot water had been installed as planned and the pool drained – not as planned. Apparently there was so much mud in the bottom from the dust storms in March that the filter simply couldn’t handle it and it had to be drained and several inches of mud shovelled out by hand.
Since then we’ve arranged several more things but the most annoying has been the water situation. Apparently not only did we need to take over the ‘rights’ – it was even part of the deed of purchase – but also had to become members of the local water co-op. The plumber’s wife – who is also our pool cleaner – helped interpret for us at the water office so we could get things rolling.
A few days after arriving back we saw a small pillar of smoke coming from the north just below the sanctuary. Not long after there was a spotter plane, then a couple of helicopters with water buckets dousing the blaze. Again – taking no chances, thank goodness.
We’ve done a bit of outside work as well, such as chainsawing the old and rotting wooden rails around the decks, and planting some lovely colourful flowers in some of the windowboxes and planters.
Also putting up some of the artwork from Papiano has made the inside seem more like a home and less like just a house.
The days are usually quite sunny and are getting hot but there’s almost always a nice cool breeze in the evening and again in the morning.
Sitting on the terrace beside the pool is very relaxing – jumping in for a swim will be even more so once it’s filled a few days from now.