Leaning Tower

We were finally on the open road north towards Pisa. There was another unexpected shock awaiting us – tolls and lots of them!

Leaning TowerThe Leaning Tower

The continual need to pay a toll did not make Trevor very happy, especially as he was driving a large, unfamiliar car on the right hand side of the road. Little did he know that there was worse to come.  We missed the right hand turn off to Pisa and had to go into and out of Genoa, paying a toll each way. There was one instance which caused a little panic, but also a bit of laughter later. On arrival at one of the toll booths there was no person on duty; just a ticket ready for collection. All we could think was that when a previous motorist had gone through he had forgotten to take his card. At the next booth, the lady on duty asked for our ticket and it was a mad scramble to find it, once we had worked out which ticket she wanted. It was one of those, ‘charge only for distance travelled systems. Expect the Unexpected!

We were not actually staying in Pisa but in the small village, Calci, and had to ask directions once we had driven around Pisa twice. Our B&B owner, Antonella, was to meet us at the Police Station in Calci. On arriving in Calci, we stopped at a local café for directions and found that the Police Station was right next door. Whether it was our car or the fact that we spoke English, I don’t know, but we were watched every moment. In fact, the police were quite agitated at our presence. Fortunately, the café owner knew Antonella and called her for us. She also calmed the police by telling them why we were there. Generally, we found Italians unhelpful and unfriendly but this café owner & Antonella were a welcome difference. We followed her up to her B&B set in a amazing location with long views of stunning Tuscan scenery. What a breath of fresh air both Antonella and her B&B home were. It had the biggest bathroom ever.

The following day we drove back down to Pisa and went round in circles looking for the parking area and, when finally parked, walked down a side street filled with tacky stalls selling fake watches and sunglasses as well as plenty of other bits and pieces. Most of the sellers were immigrants from Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe who were battling to make a tiny income. And then we were in the Piazza where the Tower, Cathedral and administrative buildings are found. We decided that we would climb to the top of the tower up all 294 steps. Tickets are purchased for a specific time and with 90mins to wait we walked to the Botanic Gardens which we found to be closed on Sundays. It is important to find out this sort of thing in advance. Another lesson in preparation!  As we travelled in Europe and the UK we were surprised to find that many things are closed on Sundays. The views from the top of the tower were fantastic. What a privilege to be able to view this sight. We spent the afternoon on a hop on-hop off bus doing the tour route twice and learning something new on various places on the 2nd trip.

Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina PisaChiesa di Santa Maria della Spina, Pisa (Also, known as The Small Church)

At the car park we were surprised to learn that we had to pay €7 as Antonella had said that it would be free on Sundays. Of course, we got a bit lost on our return home but by just one road. It was the narrow streets and poor signage that was Trevor’s other nightmare. Luckily we had purchased excess insurance cover as he went over a drainage gulley and damaged the front of the car.

The next day we left Pisa to spend a week in the Italian Alps in the skiing town of Sestriere. Although we had been informed that it was out of season we never expected to find almost every shop and place of interest closed for the summer months.  The week had been booked through the holiday club using points that had accumulated. I had tried really hard to get a booking in Southern France as visiting Monaco was, and still is, on the bucket list. The limited number of points we owned prevented us from booking a place in France. Oh well, I thought, Sestrierre is pretty close to the border and on the rail route so we should be able to make a plan.

View from our flatThe view from our flat in Sestriere

The next morning we drove 20kms down to the town of Oulx from where the train to Monaco passed through, or so we had been informed. Every little town and village through which we passed was boarded up and no one was to be seen. Must all be holiday accommodation. The Station Master told us that we would have to catch a train to Turin and then another to Monaco, a journey of a total of 6 hours!! The return journey could only be taken the following day. A night in Monaco may sound fantastic but at what price.  So with that idea scrapped we drove the 80kms to Turin where we spent a lovely day exploring and discovering the market place, side streets and the Stadium for the 2006 Winter Olympics, just 4 months earlier. Always be ready to change plans at short notice when travelling.

Fort in Vale de SousaFort Vale de Sousa on the road to Turin

We left Turin at about 4pm and took the road back to Sestrierre. When we were about 30kms from Oulx we noticed cars coming in the opposite direction with piles of snow on their roofs. We wondered from where they were coming and soon learnt that it was from Sestrierre and surrounds. We were able to climb the hill to within about 2kms of Sestrierre when there was just too much snow for a car without snow tyres. Suddenly a vehicle, with a shovel and a pick on the back, going downhill, stops beside us. We were thrilled as we believed that he would help us out of our misery. No such luck. He was a most unfriendly and unhelpful Italian who insisted that we get our car out of the way. He gestured to Trevor to park it on the side of the invisible road. What?! We were on a mountainside and had no idea if we would plummet into the abyss or not. Luckily this Italian seemed to know and we moved the car on to a lay-bye. We walked to our flat in knee deep snow, me with open shoes and slax and Trevor in shorts and closed shoes. It took us 2 hours to cover the 2kms and our daughter sent a message to say that we should see it as an adventure. We could only do that once we had reached the flat and had a warm shower.

Trevor scraping snow off the carTrevor trying to scrape the snow off the car with a plastic map magnifier

Once again, I did not do my homework very well as you will discover in my next instalment.