You may be surprised at the title of this post.  London! London? Well, When we finished in Geneva, we knew we were heading north without really doing any more France at the moment, and we put in a couple of hundred km before stopping in a lovely motorway aire (yes, we were even on the motorway). We got up the next morning – it was a Sunday and had the ‘aha’ moment that the lorries were staying put, so we sprinted for Calais and did the longest single drive we’ve done in seven months.

To say that our son was surprised to see us would be a bit of an understatement.  After a couple of days back at home, It was still very strange being back in a house.  It felt so very odd having so much space (and so much stuff).

We have had a great ‘holiday’ back in blighty catching up with family and friends.  We had a few issues to sort out that meant a trip home was the easiest route. It worked out well anyway – the weather is warming up so we can start the part of the tour beginning with a couple of French towns, then Belgium, the Netherlands and moving into Germany.

We still call this part of the gap year tour so maybe you want to know we fitted in a 70th birthday party, a pub crawl, we managed to get the boat out on the river, we spent a day at The Tower and visited the Isabella plantation.  And we had time for a brief trip to Norfolk. Mowed the lawn three times, fitted in some project work with Charlie and played a lot of Rock Band.

We live just outside London, so it was unique for us to visit London in ‘tourist’ mode and remind ourselves just what a wonderful city we have right on our doorstep.

We also did some Brexit mitigation work picking up a green card and getting international driving permits and trying to mitigate the hundred and one other things that Brexit may affect.

Geneva, Switzerland

It’s been a while since our last post, so it may seem odd to see this backdated to mid March.  Bear with us!

Another country!  A quick scramble to remove the dash cam as we came over the border from France and then we arrived at the campsite mid-afternoon.  

For the first time in six months we have another currency to deal with, and another first – neither of us have ever been to Switzerland before!

At the campsite, reception gave us special tourist tickets which mean that the buses, trams, trains and boats are all free – now that is a bloody good idea – takes some of the pain out of public transport for tourists!

The weather was awful so we decided to get some housekeeping done rather than go into town.  We were tempted to go and spend the afternoon at the motor show which happens to be on at the moment, but in the end, we didn’t go – too many people and we will not be in the market for a new car anytime soon!  

The campsite is lovely (and was also the only one that seems to be open at the moment).  We have planned out the next week of travel which is all we need to do at the moment. We also populated the Geneva map with some things that look interesting.

Day two in Geneva and we visited the WTO to check on our Brexit trade deals (grin),  we visited the Russian Orthodox church – it has a wonderful gold roof, We also climbed the spire of St Pierre Cathedral, and viewed (without getting wet!) the amazing Jet D’Eau.  The history of the Jet is cool. It used to be a pressure relief system for the local hydraulic power network. Yes, you read that right, before electricity was common, hydraulics were a great way to distribute power.   The city grew to love the jet and it has survived long after the hydraulic power system was dismantled albeit with a pair of 500kw pumps now! It shoots about 500 litres of water a second up to around 140 meters.

Lunch was a great fish dish at the amazing and renowned La Buvette des Bains.  Next we took in a couple of the cities Chocolatiers, the Botanical gardens and ‘Les Grottes’.  And back to the Mothership.

Our brief but lasting impression of Switzerland, is how clean and organised it is.  It became a competition for us to spot litter, dog mess, general mess during our time their, largely without any success. We are going back to Switzerland as soon as the schedule allows!

Chamonix, France

We are back in France for the third time this trip!  It was wonderful to drive up the foothills of the alps to the approach of the Mont Blanc tunnel and it was awesome to be driving the Alps during the winter.

Our first surprise was the price! We had researched it as about 65€, but the Italian cashier cheerfully told us that as we are over 3M tall, it was 165€.  Bril. Not much we could do about it – it would have cost us ages to head back down and around.

That was not the only surprise – we left Italy on a very mild winter day and arrived in Francais 12km later to a very cold snowy day!  The campsite is about 4km along the main route from Chamonix, so we got to the campsite and hunkered down.

Although we wanted to go into Chamonix proper, the visibility was low so we decided to give it a miss.

Next morning there was a blanket of fresh snow, probably only a couple of cm. Not surprising, the roads were all freshly salted/gritted, so even though it was minus 2, all the roads – even the tiny little road that the campsite is on were all fine.  Time for a few photos and then hit the road – time for another country!


Torino, Italy

We left Milan quite late – we popped to the supermarket to fill the boot with beer and wine, and got on the motorway to Turin after midday.

No idea why we can’t just call it Torino, but for some reason, it’s Turin to non-Italians! We are going for Torino from here on!  Translating place names is a complex subject by the way – google it some time!

We had an enjoyable drive over from Milan.  We could see a prominent mountain from the Alps looming larger and larger.  Sel’s map suggested the Matterhorn but that should be a lot further North. More research needed, but anyway, it looked amazing!

So the afternoon drive meant that there was only enough time to scoff some smoked salmon, unstow the bikes and go for a couple of hour cycle by the river.  But we did get time to cycle past the old Fiat factory at Lingotto. This building is famous to us as it had a big oval test track on the roof. Normally you must get entry to the museum to see the roof but we spotted an open gate near the big circular ramp up to the roof and we snuck in on the bikes to check it out and we made it all the way up to the roof.  Cycles FTW! We took a couple of photos and skedaddled before security came for us. The museum was shut on Monday anyway, so we couldn’t have paid to get access if we wanted to! Check out the photos and tell us where you know the building from. No clues – you have to work this one out. Charlie, you are not allowed to comment!

The following day and a bus into town followed by metro, tram and funicular saw us overlooking Torino from the Basilica of Superga.  It was awesome to see the city with the Alps in the background.  We will be there tomorrow!

The rest of the afternoon we wondered the town checking out museums, cathedrals and general culture.  What a wonderful town. Sadly, we only had the one full day to finish exploring. We topped off the afternoon with a meal in ‘Eataly’ – a cross between a boutique food ship and restaurant.  Fabulous.

Milan, Italy

We arrived at the Agrotourismo site mid-afternoon.  Too late to go into town so instead we stocked up the food and drink mine and then enjoyed an evening of British TV – We are far enough north now for the ‘tight’ UK only satellite footprint to spread to us. It was great to watch some ‘prime time’ BBC TV – paid for by the 1977 TV licence fee.  Does anyone know what they have done with the rest of the money?

On Sunday we spent the day in Milano.  We had lots of things on the list but we managed to be pretty unsuccessful at the planned things – damn those queues.

We wanted to see ‘The Last Supper’ but it’s sold out for the next three weeks – fail!  Instead, we went to see the church where it resides. We wanted to see inside the Duomo, but the queue was hours long, so we satisfied ourselves with a view of the outside – still pretty impressive!

We walked around the Sforzesco Castle and then the Sempione Park behind it – a great walk around an urban garden.  Then we went up the Torre “Branca” – a 100-meter tower built in 1933.

Our last visit for the day was to the Science museum – Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia. T really wanted to see their Enigma machine – but guess what – it was not on display!  

Instead, they have a good collection of Theo Jansen Strandebeesten – including a running demo – so that was awesome.  They also had the Carabinieri demonstrating a bomb disposal robot so we spent some time watching that too! The museum is a great visit although it has a pretty eccentric layout and we got lost many times!

Back to the mothership early evening. On the way back we spotted what looked like an enormous rat down by a small stream.  We had already spotted rats there earlier in the day, but as the glance was of a massive beast we hung around and got some great views of the massive buggers.  We later found out that the big ‘rats’ are Coypu – originally from South America and accidentally released in other parts of the world after being farmed for fur.  

Then to the van for a homemade pizza and a Bond film.  Early start the next day. We both bemoaned that we have not seen the sea for many weeks.  It will be a couple more weeks yet but we’ll try and fit in a lake!

Maranello, Italy

There’s only one reason to visit Maranello right?  We arrived at the free stopover at about midday and had a rushed cheese and biscuit lunch.  Then on the bikes and a 3km easy ride to the Ferrari factory and museum. The museum is good – it’s not as big as the main Ferrari museum in Modena, but we could not arrange a stopover for Modena.  An easy afternoon looking at many millions of euros of Ferrari masterpieces including a collection of Michael Schumacher F1 winning cars. We decided not to do the factory tour – it doesn’t actually go inside any buildings – Ferrari keep what goes on in the factories top secret!

There are quite a few companies around the factory and museum offering Ferrari driving experiences.  It’s probably saved us 1000€ that T driving license was stolen in Rome! Instead, a ride on the F1 simulator was enough followed by a peek over the fence at the Fiorano test track.

Then back to the van for evening meal and a great chat with a brit couple who are also on a gap tour.  They are a lot younger than us and travelling in a converted mobile library truck along with a 2 and 5-year-old. They are heading east where we are heading west.

Next morning and a quick look at the cemetery next to the camperstop and then off – 170km to the next stop!

Bologna, Italy

Just a quick overnight in Bologna.  We had an afternoon in the town seeing the mandatory sights.  It’s a great town, but a rather odd layout. Many of the buildings seem to have built with fortifications, like a city wall but are inside the city.  Many of the buildings are red terracotta tiles and look great.

Firenze, Italy

When in Rome as it were, so we’ll use the Italian name for Florence – Firenze.  They should know it’s their city after all! We arrived at about midday – the campsite is run by the same company that runs the Rome location.  So It’s immediately like a home from home and we get settled in a few minutes and after a quick lunch, get on the shuttle bus to the town centre.  As with many big towns, it’s hard to (legally) park the Mothership in the city centre so the campsite is the best option.

We only had a couple of days to see all that Firenze has to offer.  It’s really not enough time. So the first afternoon, we just went to the Famous bridge and wandered the town.

We take in the Bridge and some of the famous piazzas and get to see the cathedral from the outside – the queue was huge!

That evening we tried to book tickets for the following day only to find out that you have to book an exact date and time a week in advance, which is a little crazy, but there you go!

The following day we had a great time doing a full exploration of the town – it’s the cultural week in Italy, so many of the national monuments are museums are free.  We explored the Pitti Palace and gardens and a couple of smaller art galleries.

T insisted that as we were in a large town we find a curry house for lunch.  We found a place with great reviews and a Madras and Vindaloo went down very well!  Authentic Indian curry with an Italian slant. Not bad at all!

Civita di Bagnoregio

We could not carry on with our Italian adventure without fitting in at least one hilltop town. Civita di Bagnoregio was a great fit because it’s only 15km off the motorway and there is a camping Aire nearby.

It was odd to be back on the road again after nearly a month in Rome, but also it felt good to be on the move.  We were off and out early doors (for us that is) at 9:30 and arrived at the camping aire at about Midday.

We unstowed the bikes and then it was off like the clappers down the hill to the town at Bagnoregio – park the bikes and then a 3KM slog back uphill into the old town proper of Civita.  It’s a 5€ entrance fee to the town and then a walk across a long, steep – and today at least – very windy- footbridge to the town.

It’s really two towns – Banoregio at the bottom of the hill and Civita at the top. The old town is over 2500 years old.  It’s gradually been getting smaller – literally – as it is built on a tall sandstone cliff which sits on clay and soft tufa. An earthquake at the end of the 17th century accelerated the demise of the town.

Sad to note that the town has a population less than 10 in the winter.  Most of the houses are owned by rich families that only come to visit in the summer.

We’ll tell you about our month in Rome some other time – but for now back on the Road – Florence is next on the list.


It was an easy drive down the SS1 from Tarquinia to Roma.  The campsite for the next three weeks is on the outskirts of the city around 8 km from the city centre.  This is not really surprising for a city the size of Rome – the bigger the town, the harder it is to get near the middle in the mothership!

Anyway, the campsite is lovely, but is very expensive.  The swimming pool and Jacuzzi etc are shut up for the winter, but there is still a restaurant open on site and there are a couple of restaurants and a supermarket close by, so we had everything we needed.

We spent a day doing a month of washing and giving the mothership a spring clean in time for our visitor due in a couple of days. We explored the locale and suss out the supermarket, buses and train station.

A trip into the city the next day just sussing out the public transport and walking the town was wonderful, but T managed to get his wallet lifted on the metro despite taking all the normal precautions.  He managed to lose his ID, a few euros and a couple of credit cards. So it was a couple of frantic hours cancelling cards and ordering replacements that evening. No biggie really, but lack of ID might be a pain.

And the next day, over to Fiumicino airport to welcome Charlie.  T has not seen him for five months and it was great to spend a week in Rome with him.

So over the week with Charlie we had a day or so catching up and doing family stuff.  But also we did the tourist things in town – The Colleseum, the Vatican Museum, the fort etc.

After we escorted Charlie back to the airport, we got on with the serious task of looking at the odder things!

Our day of the dead was a visit to the catacombs on the Appian way – the famous Roman road from the eternal city to the south of Italy.  It’s a cobbled road for much of it’s route out of Rome and is pretty narrow. But that doesn’t stop the bus drivers from haring down it!

The catacombs date back to around 300 CE.  This is the time when Christianity sweeps across the land and because they believe in resurrection, they don’t want the body destroyed by fire – the pagan funerary tradition.  Also at that time, burials are not permitted within the city walls of Rome, so cemeteries spring up outside the town. With full christian burials rather than only small urns of ashes, the cemeteries soon fill up.  As much of Rome is built on soft volcanic tufa, it’s easy to dig down. So the Christian cemeteries moved underground. The catacombs extend for many kilometers and are many levels deep. Each burial is in a horizontal niche carved out of the rock wall.  The body is wrapped in linen and placed in the niche, scattered with quicklime and then the niche is sealed with marble or terracotta. Each level of the catacombs has four or five stacked niches. There are more than quarter of a million graves, just in the three catacombs that we visited today.

Of course the rich had larger niches and even family vaults. Today, nearly all the niches are open having been robbed of their marble over the last 1700 years. And over the last 30 years, the human remains have been moved as they too were being stolen by tourists. So the remains have been moved to the lower levels of the catacombs where no visitors are permitted.  The tours are all with a guide – it would be too easy to get lost without one and there are radon fears. The tours are all quite short – perhaps a few hundred meters of catacombs, so the walk and talk lasts about three quarters of an hour. You can see from the photo – this is a map of one of the smaller catacombs – how extensive they are.

Sadly we have no photos from the catacombs themselves – for whatever reason, photography is forbidden in all the cemeteries we visited today.

And so ends nearly a month in Rome.  The Eternal City certainly lived up to it’s name for us!  From here it’s North rather than further South.