Itlay - Marina di Venezia

Thursday 10th July:

Up at 7:30am, and after a light breakfast, drove up to Punta Sabbione. As we drove along the road Mark noticed a man waving frantically at us, indicating a parking spot, so he swung Wombat round, and there we parked, under cover, and right at the front where everyone could see the car while we were away. €5 to park all day, somewhat cheaper than the UK!

As we walked towards the ticket office we became aware that there were at least two other men waving cars into their own parking places. The gestures were at times quite frantic as they each vied for the same business! We decided that we would use one of the others tomorrow.

Joined the queue at the ACTV ticket office, and opted for the two day travel pass to allow us to use pretty much which ACTV boats we wanted, when we wanted. The sun was already making its presence felt, and it was a relief when we got our tickets, and could go and stand undercover to wait for the boat.

Here we were treated once more to the sight of our European neighbours' attitude towards queuing and fair play. It would seem that there is no such thing as first come, first served. What it all boils down to is who has the sharpest elbows, and the greatest determination to be on the boat first! We three polite Brits stoically linked arms and held our ground as best we could, and to our relief ended up on the boat and not in the drink!

The boat trip to Venice was interesting, but with so many islands in the laguna, it was hard to tell which was actually Venice. Until we got there! It's good to know that some things really are the way they are portrayed in the guide books.

As we passed along the banks we saw various rich men's toys, huge private yachts. If their yachts are that size, how big are their houses? I find it slightly obscene that anyone has that much money, but maybe that's because I haven't.

The ferry stopped first at the far end of Venice, with the ferrymen shouting out that this was not San Marco. To their bemusement, a party of British school kids slowly began filing off, their teachers milling around looking confused. The ferrymen tried to explain that they weren't at San Marco, but seeing uncomprehending faces, decided to leave them to it.

The rest of the passengers, us included, landed at San Marco at 9:40am. The landing area was baking in the sun, and there were already masses of people, so we quickly diverted down a side alley. It was blissfully cool away from the front, with very few people and plenty of photo ops.

Mark bought me a glass spiral ring as a memento (Murano glass at €6 – yeah right!). Then we just wondered along, snapping photos and getting generally lost in the warren of alleys and canals. I was surprised by just how dilapidated parts of Venice are. I had in mind an image of a smart city, well funded and maintained, and parts of it are. But it seems that if you look beneath the surface, the whole place is crumbling. I guess that's what you get when you build on water.

We saw the gondoliers filing out to the Grand Canal, one actually had a tenor singing to his customers. It was so close to the stereotypical image of Venice that I found myself looking around for the camera crew!

Our wandering eventually led us to the Rialto Bridge, although it took us a moment or two to convince ourselves that this was the iconic, romantic symbol of Venice. It may be heresy to suggest it, but from land it's a huge disappointment! The fact that it was groaning under the weight of a few thousand tourists probably didn't do much for its appeal, and we quickly left it, and went in search of the other big lure, St Marks.

Hmm. Well, it's certainly popular, and probably if it hadn't been quite so hectically busy we might have better seen the attraction. It was also being set up for some sort of concert, so much of the square was covered in chairs. We took a couple of photos to show that we had made it there, then scarpered off in search of quieter areas.

Mark was fascinated by the delivery boats, some of which were quite large and nearly filled the limited space of the narrower canals. We took a photo of one as it negotiated a turn, which involved its driver dashing to the front end and hauling the boat round using the wall of a house. I was behind the camera so I didn't see, but Mark told me later that part of the wall had come away in his hand!

I hadn't expected to hear irate beeping in a city without cars, but we soon heard the blaring of horns and realised that they were coming from the boats. At times there were quite severe log jams as delivery boats and gondolers all tried to squeeze through the smaller backwaters. It was this, more real, side of Venice that was most interesting, and if we ever go back, I would forgo the honeypot areas every time for this glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes.

We attempted to catch an ACTV boat but were turned away as it was only for locals. Fair enough. I was sick to death of the tourists and I was one! We grabbed an ice cream to cool off, then managed to find a boat that we were allowed to use.

We got off on the other side, where there were far fewer tourists and the atmosphere was altogether calmer. The graffiti adorning various walls was a shock, the idealistic idea of Venice not altogether sitting with the reality. It is after all, a city, with the same problems as any other city, plus a few unique ones of its own.

Walked for a few more miles, sweltering and confused. Grabbed pizza for lunch which was handed to us on a serviette. I think we all managed to spill some down us! Then followed the signs to WCs, where the very kind and patient lady attendant explained to us weary Brits how to operate the turnstile. €1 each, but they were beautifully clean and there was no queue.

Just along from the WCs was an old man doing charcoal pictures of Venetian scenes. They were quite something, and much nicer than the gaudy articles being sold on the landing at San Marco. We selected one for €20 which he rolled up and put in a sturdy plastic tube for us.

And then we caught a No2 ferry and took a trip along the Grand Canal. This is how Venice must be seen, from the water, without having to push through crowds of people. We took many photos as we travelled along, getting a much better, and more recognisable view of the Rialto.

We had bought a pop out map of Venice before we had left the UK, and it proved an invaluable tool, not just to us, but to the family next to us on the boat. So much so, that the father eventually asked where he could buy one. Our reply of “UK” didn't help him terribly, so he spent a fair bit of time studying the waterbus map over Mark's shoulder. Before we all disembarked, he snapped off a quick photo of it so that they would be able to get around without us!

We took a quick stroll around San Marco, but it was hellishly busy, fiercely hot, and we were all tired, so we turned our sights on the ferry back to Punta Sabbione. We made it with a minute to spare, and managed to bag a nice spot at the top of the boat, in the shade. It meant standing, but with the shade and the breeze off the water none of us minded.

We got a good look at the work underway in the lagoon to build defences for the city. As far as I can make out these will be a series of gates to stop the extreme tides and rising seas flooding Venice as they have in the past. How it will work, I don't know, but they make an impressive sight, as they are being built on an artificial island in the middle of the lagoon.

Back at Punta Sabbione, Wombat sat, untampered and reasonably cool. Back to camp for a long cool swim in the sea. Returned to dry land just before we turned into wrinkled prunes, then trudged back to the mobile home for showers and dinner.

That evening we took a lovely stroll along the beach, to the lighthouse. It's a lovely beach, and in the twilight, with the crowds back at camp, it was a magical place to be. Strong medicine after our mad, hot day in Venice. But we were so tired, that after a quick beer back at the van, we fell into our beds, and damnation to noisy neighbours!

Friday 11th July:

Enjoyed a bit of a lie-in, then had breakfast of boiled egg with continental toast thingies. Very nice. Off to Murano today, so drove back to Punta Sabbione and parked at the second car park. We were directed to a slot right near the front, so we had only a very short walk to the ACTV terminal.

It worked out quicker to take the boat to San Marco and then take a boat from the other side as the Murano boat wasn't due for more than an hour. Walked through the various alleyways of Venice, and stumbled across the hospital, which from the front was incredibly grand.

The Murano side of Venice seemed quite run down and neglected. I suppose most of the tourists' money goes to the more popular and famous areas. It was hot, and the boat wasn't due yet, so we bought ice cream, much cheaper than yesterday's effort and far superior. I had peach, Stef had “After Eight” and Mark couldn't decide so he had one scoop of each. Then onto the boat to Murano.

The boat stops en-route at San Michele, which is an island set aside as a cemetery. Call me old-fashioned, but I was quite appalled to see tourists going there. It seems to me that a cemetery is not a tourist attraction, but sacred ground, certainly to the relatives of those buried there.

I think that Murano was the biggest disappointment of the trip. Maybe if it had been slightly cooler, we might have walked further and so found a nicer part, but what we saw was pompous, up-jumped and snooty.

The glassware is extraordinarily expensive, and most of it was just gaudy and tacky. We made the mistake of going into one of the studios to see if there was anything we liked, and were followed around by men in suits who watched us like hawks. I realise we weren't looking our best at the time, but they made me feel like a shoplifter just for looking at their precious, hideous tat! Didn't like any of it, and I especially didn't like been eyeballed, so we left them, and their precious little empire!

Wandered on a little way, but the sun and my ankle, plus the pervasively stuck-up atmosphere of the place were trying my patience to the breaking point, so we turned tail and headed back to Venice.

Walked back towards San Marco, stopping at a small Bistro for some of the fullest wraps I have ever seen! They were worth the trip on their own! They were absolutely delicious, but sadly more than my appetite could handle, though Mark did his best to make up for my failings!

The rest of that particular trip passed in a blur of too much heat and, in my case, pain. Relief came in the form of the ferry back to Punta Sabbione. Mark managed to elbow us on to the front, with seats (he'd become quite continental by this time!), so we had beautiful views and a wonderful face-on breeze.

Got back to camp just after Siesta. The new arrivals were queued up back along the road, but we sailed by as Wombat was displaying his camp pass. Back at the van we all collapsed in the shade, sitting for some time with, I suspect, slightly dazed looks on our faces!

Mark and Stef eventually mustered the energy for a swim, but I rain checked, not sure that my ankle could take the hike to the beach. After showers we went up to the restaurants for dinner. The food was excellent, but I couldn't help feeling guilty. From where we sat we had a great view of the kitchen, and could see the chefs racing around, sweltering in the heat.

The waiting staff were just as tested, as there were masses of tables for them to serve, and they spent the whole time running! I don't think we saw the same waiter twice, though that's not to say that the service was anything other than excellent.

From there, we took a lovely stroll along the beach. Saw a man flying a Revolution kite , which naturally interested Mark, as he would buy one himself if he had somewhere to fly it. Watched for a while, then strolled on and found some great sand sculptures.

An extremely clever person had sculpted a turtle and a wonderful sea monster. Stef studied the monster for a while, then decided that there ought to be a couple of fish swimming for their lives, so there was a short intermission while she quickly sculpted two desperate looking fish swimming away from the monster.

We left the sand creatures to their adventures and returned to the camp for coffee. We were just sorting ourselves out when Mark spotted an ant crawling across the table. One ant led to another, then 3, then a swarm of Hitchcock like proportions! Mark paid a hasty visit to the Euro Camp couriers while Stef and I sat as far away from the infestation as possible, keeping a wary eye on them so that we should be ready to leg it out of a window should the need arise.

Our hero returned armed with a bottle of “Baygon”. A quick spray reduced the swarm to a small heap of ex-ants in seconds, and after a sweep around, our temporary home was declared safe.

News from the home front: Dad's staples came out today – so far his legs haven't fallen off which is surely a good sign!

Saturday 12th July:

Awoken early by noisy camp – do these people never sleep? We enjoyed a slow breakfast, then marched off for a round of mini-golf. Great fun, really good course. Naturally I was brilliant so I had to pull my game to stop the other 2 getting upset!

After golf, we went shopping and I called Mum. Dad okay, but getting frustrated by what he sees as slow progress. He's lost loads of weight, and his “paunch” has disappeared. The doctor had a word with them and told him that it was going to take a while. Wish we weren't so far away.

Lazed the rest of the morning away reading and resting back at the van. Mid-afternoon saw us clawing our way through the heat to go for a swim in the sea. It was quite choppy, so we spent a happy hour or two body surfing. Then we realised that the beach had cleared. These are clearly only fair-weather tourists! Not like us Brits!

Returned to camp exhausted but happy. Mark cooked tea and then we went to say farewell to the Adriatic.

Sunday 13th July:

Up early, packed car, breakfasted and packed a lunch. As we left the site we had our hated wristbands cut off. Hurrah! We were amazed to see new arrivals queuing back along the road almost to the junction with the main road. Caravans were parked up, people had got their chairs out, and were sat there with drinks, chatting with their neighbours! They had clearly anticipated a long wait to be admitted! This is not my idea of camping!

The journey to the AutoStrada was long and slow going, through what appeared to be largely derelict farmland. In places it was quite depressing. It seemed that the farmers had been pushed out by the tourism industry, and most of the farm buildings looked deserted. Is this sustainable?

Once on the AutoStrada we made good time, stopping at the last services in Italy to buy the Vignette (road pass) for Austrian motorways. On we drove and stopped at what were probably the prettiest services I have ever seen, just beyond Gmund. It's strange, but both of us felt happier being back in a German speaking country. It just didn't feel quite so foreign!

Long tunnel which cost €9,50, then into a long traffic jam which restricted the flow of traffic through the next tunnel. As we sat waiting for our turn, Mark noticed a guy in the outside lane hop out of his car and start distributing cans of Cafe Latte. Think he must have been a sales rep!

On up to Bischofshofen, then down to St Johann and along the very pretty valley road to Bruck and Camp Woferlgut, where we were met by a couple who styled themselves the “Trickys”. Nice welcome, with a large information pack, and a much needed drink.

Our mobile home here was extremely modern, very new and surprisingly spacious, with a large deck, though that was rather uninviting when we arrived as it had been raining and everything was rather damp!

We unloaded and then went to investigate the lake. Sadly the weather had really closed in, so much of the view was hidden, but we all enjoyed being cool for the first time in more than a week. The lake was a great attraction, with canoes, a giant inflatable ring anchored in the middle, and a well-equipped play area.

As we approached, we saw a lad pushing all the canoes into the water, along with the paddles. A family who had arrived just before us, with the intention of going for a paddle, were looking rather bemusedly at the canoes gently bobbing in the middle of the lake. But then Mark came to the rescue, spotting one that had floated back to the side, so they raced off to grab it. Took them a while to get in, and we were anticipating a splash, but they made it and paddled off happily.

The rain was becoming more determined, so we returned to camp for showers, and then Mark and Stef paid a visit to the snack van for some dinner. I don't think any of us had the energy for wrestling with the menu at the restaurant, so tea was cheeseburgers and chips!

Mum texted to say that Dad was a little better, then Stef found the ants! Not quite on the biblical scale of before, but disconcerting nonetheless. Mark attacked them with Jungle Formula, which was all we had, and I swept any escapees back towards him with the broom, and eventually managed to reclaim the van as ours!

Spent the rest of the evening doing puzzles and keeping a wary eye out for invaders!

Next Stage: Austria