Travel Dates May 2006 and April -May 2003
I should clarify the itinerary difference between our two world trips. In '03, we stayed a little longer in Europe and saw more of Italy and Greece. On the second trip we tended to move fairly swiftly across Northern Italy, re-visiting Florence and Venice, but mainly intent on spending more time in the old "Iron Curtain" countries that we were unable to see first time around.
So the next few posts will be based mainly on the '03 trip, until we reach Venice again and return to '06. Unfortunately, I've discovered that pics gradually degrade on CD, so quality has dropped on some. We lost a lot with a hard disc crash last year, sadly, so I had to re-copy from old CDs to my new computer.
We spent our first night out of Menton in a roadside hotel outside Chiavari that only wished for a star - the 1* on the sign of the "Monte e Mari" had actually been blacked out. But the bed was OK, and the shower worked. Like many places in the district the construction "walked" down the hillside - so we walked up three full flights of stairs to get to our room one floor above reception. Despite the lack of stars - the view was incredible in all directions.
Chiavari was an interesting town to wander through, but the main reason it stays in my memory was the dinner at a Greek Restaurant in the centre of town. I should have known better than to eat Greek in Liguria - but we live and learn. It was the worst moussaka I ever ate, washed down by the worst wine I ever drank. I was just too tired to walk out. But it set a benchmark to base others on - every restaurant was a step up from there:-)
The next day we wandered by car slowly via the Cinque Terre and Pisa to Florence. The Cinque Terre area was beautiful and we did a little walking - but it was extremely crowded even though we were there in early Spring. In Pisa I was fascinated by the buildings - not just the leaning tower. It was my first experience of the ornate decoration, mainly in marble, of mediaeval Italian buildings.
I didn't feel energetic enough to climb the Tower, so spent most of my time inside the cathedral. This was also my first experience of the true opulence of Roman Catholic Cathedrals in Italy. The combined effect of the paintings, murals, statues, frescos, precious metals and jewels congregated in that building was just breath-taking to a country boy from a modest background.
We saw St Peters later, and many other Cathedrals in other countries, but Pisa was truly stunning as a first experience.
Later, on the road to Florence as I stopped for diesel I noticed this deserted ruin on top of a nearby hill. It was almost impossible to wander around Europe without seeing structures like this in the background. The locals probably never even notice them; to us they were a constant reminder of an ancient past.
That was also the first time we filled the Clio on that trip. We consistently got 20km/L which is about 48mpg (US). Incredible little car. Having used them twice now, I'm very impressed by both the Eurodrive system and the Renault Clio turbo diesel (no - I don't get a commission - I wish:-)