Italy - Lake Garda

Sunday 6th July:

Up early and off to catch the ferry. The lakeside was still very busy, but mercifully there were no bongos this morning! It was extremely hot already, and I found myself enviously watching more acclimatised tourists enjoying the sun, and showing off mahogany tans. Somehow it just made me feel even hotter and crosser!

Nice boat trip. Landed in the old part of Sirmione and walked to the castle. There were lots of people around already, so we kept to the less well-trod paths and walked up through an olive grove/ park, where the shade was as welcome as a cold flannel.

From there we wandered up to the tip of Sirmione, stopping for a coffee. Even whilst sat there in the heat feeling sorry for myself, I had to giggle at the antics of the local sparrows, who, realising they were on to a good thing, had taken up residence in order to help the tourists out with any food they couldn't eat. They were so tame that they flew right over our heads, ruffling our hair with their wings, to land on the table nearby where someone had left some chips.

We finally dragged ourselves away from the sparrows and the shade of the cafe and headed into the Grotto di Catullo, an amazingly well preserved ruin of a Roman villa. It is vast, and it's incredible to think that it's centuries old. Being up on the headland afforded us as occasional breeze, but it was still unrelentingly hot. (Am I moaning too much about heat? I'm so English!)

We left the Grotto and walked back into town. Deniece had told us of a street of ice cream parlours, where ice cream is sold by the mountain, and, though I've never really been that interested in ice cream, today it was a quite enchanting sight! We had tubs of mango and pineapple, though it was more like sorbet than ice cream. It was by far the best I had ever tasted, and was heaven sent in that heat! (Yup! Definitely English!)

We strolled through the town a while longer, but more and more people were pouring in, and heat exhaustion was creeping over us all, so we bought a slice of margherita pizza to share, and caught the 1:24pm ferry back to Moniga.

Mum texted. Dad going slow but doing okay. I had bought them a card in Sirmione. A postcard didn't seem appropriate, and wouldn't have given me much room to write. Wish I could pop round and do a few jobs for them.

Back at the camp I made a long phone call to Abbey Zero as they had pulled Mark's ATM request. Spent 13 minutes patiently explaining that I had given them a full itinerary before leaving the UK, but apparently, whoever I spoke to hadn't noted when we would be back in the UK, so they had decided to stop us using the card! Urm? Anyway, I maintained my calm - impressive I thought, given the situation and heat, and they assured me the problem was now resolved. For some reason I had one or two nagging doubts, but I can't explain why!

We'd done a lot of walking, and I felt I should really rest my foot, so Mark and Stef went off to find the table tennis tables, and have a chat with Chris and Deniece. Then Mark decided to put Abbey to the test and traipsed into town to find an ATM. I stand corrected! It actually worked!

A storm blew up late afternoon, so we hurriedly put everything away, then scuttled down to the lake to take photos. It was pretty choppy down there, the boats were dancing on angry looking water, and waves were breaking over the jetties. The colours were so dramatic, and with the cooler air, the view became clearer, so we were able to get some interesting shots of the lake and mountains beyond.

As the storm seemed to be deepening, we hustled back up the hill, which I was to regret the next day – apparently, my ankle still has a lot of healing to do! Had take-away pizza and a restful and blissfully cool evening.

Monday 7th July:

We had a little lie-in, then went down to the shop for a stamp for Mum and Dad's card, having received instruction from Chris and Deniece on how to ask for one! I'm not sure that I did it brilliantly, but I came away with a stamp and not a side of ham or anything, so it obviously wasn't too bad! (Vorrei, por favor, uno francobollo!) (Or something!)

Posted the card at reception, and crossed fingers and toes that it made it safely to its destination. Whilst down there we had a look at the notice board and saw a sign for some gardens. Mark went to ask Chris and Deniece how to get there, and, armed with directions, we clambered into Wombat and made our way to Gardone Riviera and the Andre Heller Botanical Gardens.

These were some of the loveliest gardens I have visited. They are playful, yet botanically interesting, with themed areas, and works of art scattered for the visitor to discover. I got the impression that much of the garden had been deliberately designed to make you smile, it certainly worked with me!

We decided that as we were on the road, we might as well try to head for the hills, but all the roads we tried were so narrow that I think even Wombat was breathing in! So we gave up, and headed back to the lakeside for lunch.

By now, the heat was pretty intense, and thoughts of swims in the lake loomed large, so we turned for Moniga, stopping at a supermarket on the way. It was here that I began to realise that I might have overdone things yesterday. I could barely put my foot to the floor, and was reduced to hobbling around the supermarket like an old woman. I apologise now to Mark and Stef – I may have been a little short-tempered!

By the time we were back at camp, we were all a little irritable, and quickly concluded that the only solution was to plunge ourselves into the lake. A brilliant plan which had a miraculous effect on the mood of the party. We returned to the mobile home sometime later, in much more amenable spirits.

We lazed for a while, read, and enjoyed being still. Then it was back to the pizzeria for dinner. I had penne with tomato, mushrooms and cream, which I vowed to try and replicate back home. Stef had tortellini with cream and prosciutto and Mark went for the Quattro Formaggio pizza.

Sainsbury's visa card, always in the past a reliable companion, was refused at the pizzeria, so, after paying cash, we walked, or in my case, hobbled, to the phone box, and gave them a call. As far as they were aware there was no problem, so the problem appeared to be Fontanelle's end. So, with a weary shrug of shoulders, we trudged back up the hill to read and explore a bottle of beer.

Tuesday 8th July:

We were woken early by the Polish family behind us who were going home today, and who, apparently, wanted to make sure that the whole camp knew about it! They had one of those cars with about 25 doors, and each one had to be opened and slammed shut in turn!

Never mind! We had planned an easy day for today to give my ankle chance to recover a little before I pushed it onto the next stage of the tour – Venice! So we emptied our laundry into one of the machines on site, and then clustered in the shade of a small olive tree to read our books while our clothes were washed.

By mid-morning, our freshly laundered clothes were cooking on the drier outside our mobile home, and we were cooking even in the shade of our friendly olive tree, so we decided to go for a swim in the lake. Cooled us off a treat and gave us an appetite for lunch.

Mark and Stef strolled into the village in the afternoon and came back with a card for Chris and Deniece, and a pair of goggles for Stef. Naturally, she was anxious to try them out, so we returned to the lake.

It was fantastic down there. The lake was a little choppier than we'd seen it before, and the waves were coming at us from all directions. Stef, swimming like a fish with her new goggles, actually spotted a fish, but she was so excited that she scared it away when she came spluttering up to tell us!

Back to camp for showers and take away pizza. Chris and Deniece called by to say farewell and make sure all was well. Deniece gave me a gentle telling off for not looking after my ankle properly, and Chris stood behind laughing, saying what a rubbish patient she is! I really wished we could have spent more time with them, but we were always aware of how busy they were. It's going to be so hard to leave them tomorrow.

Chris called in later in the evening to talk computers with Mark. He had said that he needed an early night, as they had a full day tomorrow, but he stayed a fair while, going through one or two problems he had with his computer. Mark thoroughly enjoyed himself – he hadn't tech-talked in more than a week!

Wednesday 9th July:

Packed up and made sure that the mobile home was clean and tidy, then headed down to say goodbye to Chris and Deniece. Stayed to chat for a while. The trouble is they're too nice, and easy to talk to. Poor things! We eventually scarpered and let them get on with their work!

Drove to Museo del Olio on the other side of the lake, Glad we'd stayed at Moniga. It was hell over there! It's the world of the theme park, and the traffic was a nightmare.

We eventually ploughed our way through the coaches and cars and made it to the museum. It was very interesting, and they were kind enough to play the video in English for us, and we learnt more about the production of olive oil than we probably ever needed to! We bought some olive oil, pesto, olive pulp, and some olive oil biscuit type things, then turned from Lake Garda and made our way to the AutoStrada and Venice.

I've come to the conclusion that the only thing worse than Italian AutoStradas, are Italian service stations. I never did work out where all the people came from. There was precious little parking! I could only conclude that they were either bussed in, or Italian people have taken car sharing to new and, frankly, dangerous heights.

As we approached Venezia, we realised that Tom Tom had chosen a rather unusual route for us, i.e. straight through Venice itself, and across the laguna, to our destination at Punta Sabbione. Now, I think Wombat is a pretty decent car, economical to run, with enough speed through the turbo to make driving fun, and he certainly did alright swallowing all our luggage, but expecting him to swim? We hastily decided that this was too much to ask, and re-routed Tom to go to the airport instead!

Having convinced Tom that Wombat was strictly a land vehicle, he navigated us without incident to Marina de Venezia at Punta Sabbione. Our first view of the campsite was quite scary. It's huge! Nor did it help that we had arrived during siesta, it being quarter to three. We were all labelled as being campers at Marina de Venezia, us three with horrible plastic ties around our wrists, and Wombat with a windscreen sticker.

Then we were perfunctorily directed to a parking area, instructed not to move our car until 3pm, and then ignored, the camp staff apparently having finished with us. So there we sat, huddled together in the rather inadequate shade of a small tree, feeling decidedly lost, and more than a bit wishful that Chris and Deniece would come striding along, smiling and reassuring.

Mark, as ever, worked out what we were supposed to do and where we had to be, and at 3pm, we clambered back into Wombat and set off on a drive through a seemingly endless camp site, to the Euro Camp tent in “Marina 2000”.

We were met by an efficient young man who took us directly to an enormous mobile home, which could have housed a family of six quite comfortably! Well, maybe that's stretching it a little, but it was certainly bigger than the first two we stayed in.

I, however, was feeling pretty down. The welcome here was non-existent compared to Moniga, and I found myself longing to be back with Chris and Deniece. I'd felt safe with them, but here I felt isolated. It didn't help that we were at the furthest point on the journey, the White Cliffs were calling to me, and unreadable road signs and strange rules about Siestas were beginning to get on my nerves!

Even though we were camped amongst the trees, it was still hot, so we made for the beach fairly promptly. It's hard for a Brit to think of the sea being warm, but the Adriatic in July is like a bath. We stayed in for quite a while, and got chatting to a British couple who had done Venice that day. They had plans to drive into Milan and Croatia. Don't think we'll be following their lead on that!

Showered and changed and then went to the camp supermarket to get some supplies. I phoned Mum and Dad, and actually got to speak to him. He came on speaking terrible Italian, which made me laugh. We chatted a while and then I had to say goodbye, which made me cry. But it was fantastic to speak to him, and to hear him cracking a joke meant so much. I don't know what it took out of him, but I was ever so grateful!

Back to the van for dinner. Then bed fairly early as we need to make an early start in the morning. Pah! What a waste of time that was! The entertainment finished at 11pm, but it was a long walk, and it seemed that most of our neighbours had been up there, and slowly, and possibly drunkenly, walked back to their vans, still full of the excitement of their evening.

The strict adherence to quiet during Siesta was non-existent at midnight. Even the road sweeper was trundling past making a racket! The shouting and raucous laughter continued on long into the night. I remember when I was younger I had been astonished by Piccadilly Circus at midnight. Had I spent my youthful holidays at Marina de Venezia, I would have been better prepared!

Next Stage: Italy - Marina di Venezia