On our long foray to the European mainland we spent just over two months from April to June travelling around Europe in our campervan. I always monitor the spending of our trips. Sp how did the spending go? For various reasons this trip was certainly more expensive than our autumn trip to Spain and Portugal. Here is the breakdown in sterling:
Diesel – £610 (Croatia is quite a long way and we travelled over 4,200 miles)
Supermarket shopping – £956 (we did stock up on wine)
Cafes, restaurants & ice-creams – £467
Campsites – £983 (for 64 nights)
Tolls, bus & train fares & parking – £218
Entrance fees – £279 (including about £100 for the Krka National Park excursion)
TOTAL – £4,117 – average [without the ferry] £55 / day [this is £11 a day more than our autumn trip to Spain and Portugal]
We had travelled a long way to Croatia and to some extent this affected our spending. We paid almost €110 for the two of us an excursion in a minibus around Krka National Park. This tour [organised through Camp Marina] meant that we saw more than we would have and for us it was well worth it. We used some toll motorways in Croatia and bought vignettes for Austria and Slovenia.
Not surprisingly the cheapest country we stayed in was France with some nights of free camping and plenty of ACSI sites that are reasonably priced. Campsites are notoriously expensive in Italy but we stayed on some very good sostas to keep our costs down.
We had a fantastic trip and we both loved visiting Croatia but to stay within budget during our retirement a trip this costly isn’t something we can do every year.
is it just me or do places you have visited and loved suddenly pop in to your head at random times. I can be doing anything, totally unrelated to travelling, and a memory of a place will slip in to my head and I am once again there in that place. There are many places I have visited that stay with me and I am sure that all of them have shaped and changed me. The photograph above is the beautiful and remote Valgrisenche in the Gran Paradiso National Park in northern Italy. We stayed a week in Planaval, a small and stunningly beautiful village a little way up the valley in 2009. Valgrisenche is missed by many tourists and we followed the quiet valley road to its end a number of times. Passing the lake, there are a few farms dotted around the valley and more abandoned stone houses. After having hot chocolate in the tiny cafe by the car park we would walk along the trail to the refuge and the high mountains of the Alps, glaciers appearing as you turn a corner. There are marmots here and wild flowers, berries brighten up the autumn rowan trees. This was September and in the week we were here there were days so hot all we wanted to do was bathe our feet in the cool streams, other days the cloud came down and the fresh smell of rain made it feel like Scotland; this place has a wild and remote beauty.
Planaval itself is easily by-passed as you have to turn off the valley road to even see the village. We were there during a village celebration and we watched a promenade play around the narrow village streets that in the local dialect was mostly incomprehensible and we listened to melancholy music that echoed around the steep mountains. From Planaval we walked up steep tracks to look down on the village, finding bubbling mountain streams to quench our thirst from in Alpine meadows. A long snake slithered away on feeling the vibration from our walking poles.
The beauty of Valgrisenche is deep inside me and I am sure that even if I never return the sights, smells and sounds of this stunning place will never leave me.
I bought a RidgeMonkey grill / sandwich toaster after a recommendation from another campervan owner [thanks Andrew Ditton] and what a revelation it has been, almost transforming my campervan cooking overnight. We generally have home-cooked food in our campervan, eat out in restaurants only on special occasions and only buy occasional veggie sausages for a fast food meal, so cooking is an important activity in our campervan. Previously I have struggled, even with a lidded frying pan, to get my cooking really hot when trying to brown or char peppers, aubergines, asparagus and other vegetables. They would cook but the pan never got quite hot enough to get them beyond soft and cooked to that attractive golden brown finish. Making Spanish omelette was problematic too as they took a long time to cook through. All these problems have now been solved by splashing out [£22] on a RidgeMonkey sandwich toaster.
This wonderful item is sold to anglers as a sandwich toaster, enabling them to make a hot meal while on the riverbank but it is so much more than that. I am sure it will make toasted sandwiches but I use it for vegetables, omelettes, warming crumpets, hot cross buns or baking fresh pitta bread and I feel sure over the years I will find so many more uses for this practical and versatile piece of kit. Other people report using their RidgeMonkey to create a full English breakfast and roast potatoes, the list of things you can cook in this wonderful pan is only as long as your imagination.
The RidgeMonkey opens in to two identical halves, both with a non-stick finish and each is just over 2 cms deep. The dimensions of the XL are 20.5 x 18.8 cms, so it isn’t enormous and I would suggest you buy this size as it works well for cooking for one or two. The long handles stay cool and fasten and clip together allowing you to turn it over and cook items such as omelettes or hot cross buns on both sides without turning them over. This mechanism also locks in the heat and means I can enjoy golden brown aubergine [and other veg]. With a non-stick finish the RidgeMonkey is easy to wash and they now come with a selection of utensils that won’t scratch the non-stick finish.
Brescia in Lombardy in northern Italy might not be at the top of your list of Italian cities to visit but in my experience it won’t disappoint. You might have Rome, Venice and Florence on your wish list but over the years I have realised that less well known cities are always worth spending time in and that everywhere has something to offer and I particularly appreciate visiting cities that are not overwhelmed by other tourists.
From our campsite near Iseo it was easy and inexpensive [€6.60 each] to take the train to Brescia for the day. This proved to be an excellent and relaxing day out in a lovely city that has plenty to offer. We arrived without a map but this was no problem as Brescia handily has signposts to all the major attractions in the city. Our first stop was the monumental Piazza della Vittoria, a 1930s piazza that is striking and I rather liked its brutalist charm. The post office with tall striped columns dominates one end of the piazza and Brescia’s first skyscraper is here, a 40-metre high brick structure with decorative details.
Through a collonade is Piazza della Loggia, an attractive 15th century Renaissance piazza that contrasts sharply with Piazza della Vittoria. Piazza della Loggia has buildings and memorials to many important events in Brescia’s history. Below the clock is an emotional memorial to a bomb attack by fascists against an anti-fascist demo on 28 May 1974. Nearby there is a statue remembering those who died in the 19th century ten-day rebellion against Austrian rule. The piazza is dominated by the ornate palazzo, now the town hall. Opposite this is a 16th century clock tower whose clock is only of limited use for a time check as the dials of the clock show the phases of the moon and the signs of the zodiac. Two charming figures, ‘i macc de le ure’ or ‘Toneand Batista’ strike the hours on a bell. There are cafes around the piazza and it is a lovely place to stroll or sit and people watch.
We continued to Piazza Paulo VI which is packed with important and impressive buildings and symbolises the religious and civic power of Brescia. Most unusual is the old cathedral; this circular structure was built in the 11th century and was disappointingly closed when we were there. Next to this is the new cathedral, a more frothy building from the 17th century. We chose to sit in a lively cafe and have our lunch in this grand piazza.
We followed the signs for the Museo di Santa Giulia a unique and complex museum, housed in an 8th century Benedictine nunnery. The museum site comprises exhibits within buildings that are within buildings; the whole spanning many centuries and this can make it difficult to fathom at first but I found the self-guided tour with information in both Italian and English helped me to understand the context and history. On this vast site there are three churches including Santa Maria in Solario which has extravagant colourful frescoes. Also beautifully decorated is the nun’s choir where the Benedictine nuns of the Santa Giulia convent took part in services while hidden from view. There is a crypt and Renaissance cloisters too that visitors can explore. Dotted around the buildings are modern sculptures that I felt contributed to and enhanced my enjoyment of this museum. Underneath the monastery garden archaeologists found the remains of Roman villas and I followed the walkways over these buildings; the perspective from above gave a good sense of the layout of the villas and great views of the intricate mosaics.
As if all those buildings and art were not enough, the museum also includes displays of artifacts from Roman to Venetian periods of Brescia’s history; something for everyone’s interest but you would need days to look at everything. A big draw is the Roman bronze life-size winged victory statue from the 1st century. This impressive bronze of a woman draped in a cloth glimmers with layers of beautiful colours and appears to move and flow.
The whole of Santa Giulia is harmonious and interesting and exploring this amazing museum took so long we ran out of time for Brescia’s other sites. We will have to return to Brescia one day to see the castle, all the Roman remains, the Museo delle Mille Miglia … .
We finished our day in Brescia back at the elegant Piazza della Loggia. We sat relaxing with a beer in a cafe and listened to the clock strike the hour before catching the train back to Iseo.