Aliens In Antibes – Onwards To Italy

Awoken by the prison dawn chorus we dragged ourselves up for another day on the road, it was Monday and the day we needed to deliver the tipi…having slept lightly at best, listening to every noise in the car park I had begged Andy only the once to get up and check the van in the night, certain I could hear our beloved tipi poles being taken to be chopped up for firewood or fence posts…’they are safe’ he assured me and told me there was a man on the little desk downstairs all night (the next moring I realised this was just a ploy to stop me worrying and get me some sleep…it worked perfectly)…at the first signs of daylight I breathed a heavy sigh of relief that we all had made it through, had a shower which I got out of feeling more dirty than when I got in and tried to prepare myself for another day of staring at never ending roads.

Having loaded up belongings, dogs and child we were back on the road…Two hours later, having gone nowhere, stuck in traffic and feeling jaded with seeing so much from only the view of a van cab and we made the call to ring London and tell the buyer to tell her client that we would be delivering the next day instead…The nights draw in so fast and having planned on arriving at midday and finding ourselves not even halfway there by 2pm we knew putting the tipi up today would be impossible…

Part of the trouble of travelling this time of year is that it gets dark so early, it takes half an hour just to pull out all of the bedding, remove everything from the front of the cab so Tom’s bunk will fit across between the two doors, make Tom’s bed, move everything from the back and stuff it onto Tom’s bed, pick up the stacks of books that have slid across the back of the van that day, empty out 100 items from under the bed to get something at the back, put the 99 items you don’t need back again, move the dogs and tie them up somewhere near enough to the van so they can see us and won’t bark at the shadows and not so near that they can’t tie us up in knots with their leads, keep a close eye on Frugal the puppy who now waits for us to corkscrew his tie point into the ground and turn our backs before setting to work enthusiastically digging it back up again…set up our bed, find our bedding, empty 98 items from under the bed, replace 97, put the thermal blinds up, move everything else from our bed and all our clothes for the next day back from the front cab and then think about the jig needed to make something to eat…by this time it is half light at best – keep in mind all of this and add in the darkness from the beginning, trying not to drop things in the dark, scratching around the dimly lit van to find your socks, stopping Tom from vanishing into the far reaches of a car park and you have something to avoid if at all possible… something that so far we have failed to avoid… all the same, aiming to get sorted by nightfall limits our driving times massively, we need to start looking for somewhere to sleep by 3pm and hurriedly looking by 4pm…

We reached Antibes just before dusk and found somewhere to stop only a stones throw from Marineland in Antibes busy, smelly, noisy industrial area, next to a main road and a train track… Marineland for those who do not know is thought to be the destination for 2 of the most recently captured dolphins from Taiji in Japan – home to the annual mass (brutal) slaughter of dolphins and whales (all but 4 from the whole pod in this case were killed, the babies left to down in nets as they panicked, 2 adults taken for a life in captivity and 2 others set free to a doomed certain death – they are reliant on their pods for survival) The captured dolphins will perform tricks for people until they die early, easily replaced, captive for the rest of their miserable lives, their trademark ‘smiling mouth’ ever fooling people with the incorrect belief that jumping through hoops for a peep on a whistle and a dead fish is something that comes naturally to them, that they enjoy to do, rather that swimming wild and free with their families…The huge poster shows an Orca whale jumping over the sign, another creature kept in a watery misery – for our entertainment…I refrained from defacing the posters, there was no point handing out leaflets to people coming in to tell them what their ticket fee was supporting, the place was shut for winter, time to train up the new captives before summer…If you haven’t seen it I urge everyone to watch ‘The Cove’ it uncovers the truth behind dolphin cove’ in Taiji and why the Japanese fishermen and polive are so protective and wanting to keep the place a secret and away from public knowledge, it also shows ex-trainers who now realise the error of their ways and openly discuss how the captures in Japan supply organisations who use ‘conservation’ (Sea World and Marineland to name just two) to hide behind while making fortunes from their acrobatic animal shows…

By the time we had set up it was dark, we were knackered so decided to treat ourselves to dinner out. What a site we must have been, walking along a derelict piece of dumping ground, the sea on one side, two dual carriageways and a bust railway line on the other leading out of Antibes, here, people are too wealthy to walk, they drive everywhere. Following the bright lights we stumbled upon an expensive looking Bistro, far to high class for us to go into, but we were hungry, tired and cared not what they thought…The only other diner, an older gentleman sat alone, diagonally to us, I could see him wince at the bedraggled, noisy, unwashed sight before him as we pleaded with Top not to stroke the oil paintings, knock over the expensive glasses and smear food over the immaculate white tablecloths…We ate quickly and in silence, other than the crack of lobster coming from our observers table and Tom trying to bounce his voice off the walls…once out it was off to bed, ready to put the tipi up in the morning…

The next morning we found the house easily, helped along by the fact that it was nestled in the most exclusive road in the area, not many houses to choose from. Winnie the housekeeper let us in. We gasped at the immaculate shining example of a modern manor house before us, even for a hotel this would be a big place….Winnie had worked on yachts and cleaned houses for the wealthy for 18 years, she and her husband had worked for this family for just 2 years, since the house was new…the family only come in June and stay for 6 weeks a year, the rest of their time is spent in their other 5 houses…By a long way this is the most wealthy family we had ever dealt with…The man in Godalming with the electronic field around his mansion which blasted me as I tried to press the gate intercom has been pushed down to second place (don’t tell him though, I am sure he is overworked enough as it is) The money here is astounding, the yachts, the super yachts, row upon row upon row of them, most only used for a few weeks a year, along with the fast cars and mansions.  While chatting to lovely Winnie she told me she had not been back to the Philippeans in over 14 years, her husband who has 4 children has not seen his youngest (aged 14) for 8 years, they post money back to support their families, the air fare at 1500 Euros is needed more in cash than it is in a visit…Two worlds collide… A paddle in the sea, a sit on the beach spoiled by the noise of the busy roads nearby and I was ready to get some air, some space, not manicured greenery but real open space, we were temporarily saved by a good stomp through a park with a forest in the middle, letting the dogs and boy run wild for a while…

By the next morning we were Italy bound and after a quick spin around the Formula 1 track in Monaco and a 2 hour crawl as we scraped and wound our way through Monte Carlo I was desperate to get out, enough was more than enough, I could look at ‘things’ no longer, the money, the constant buzz of traffic, the trains and the sirens, the fumes which scratched the back of my throat, I had reached the limit…  We clung to the cliffs, winding around hairpin bends, through countless tunnels for another hour before reaching San Remo, we were in Italy! I felt good!…this was where the ‘holiday’ would begin, the warm sun, the fresh air…my wait would have to last longer than I hoped, San Remo to Pisa is mostly motorway veins running coursing through industrial blood… Thousands of greenhouses clung to the cliffs before each tunnel, row upon row, gleaming in the sun with factory smoke pouring out in the backdrop.

After countless more tunnels we started the Aire search, nothing in sight, no campsites open, Aires less readily available than in France, most roads too busy or too narrow for our huge load to park overnight, all parking signs threatened to tow us away while we snoozed.  I had registered us for a vineyard and farm stop scheme before we left, the book would give us the maps to hundreds of small farms and rural sport on our journey which would let us sleep the night for either a small fee or in exchange for buying some home made pasta or local honey… I expect the book and membership card will be waiting patiently for us on the doormat when we get home…It was dark…Having tried and failed to find somewhere with room to park up at several different places we went for a final attempt and took an exit from the motorway to a small seaside village called Lerici, one of the few places which (though noted as a wealthy persons holiday retreat) was not a millionaire’s playground or a rough port…our high spirits soon dashed when we found ourselves winding down a steep narrow road to the beach front, squeezing down lanes between tall old houses, there was not a chance of stopping here, it is hard enough to find space in these little spots as a van, let alone a van with 24ft long poles on the roof. We had been driving solidly since 10am it was now 8.30pm, we had eaten every meal on the road.  These dark searches were becoming a regular event, definitely one of the bad things about travelling in winter, one of the only good things about the darkness coming in early is that you get the chance to suss a place out for sleeping over in the dark which gives a better representation than during the day.  In all of my travels I remember many times when I have stopped on the side of the road in a ‘perfect spot’ when was daylight only to realise I had made a totally wrong call once it got to nightfall…places change in the dark.  This whole trip would have been a breeze in the summer, but in winter with stopping places few and far between it was becoming a total pain.  We could drive no further, we needed a break from the road, especially the dogs and Thomas, a hotel would have to be the answer, there were 5 hotels open in Lerici, all along the sea front, all very expensive looking and all but one full up thanks to a big business meeting which was taking place the following day.  The second most expensive hotel has one double room left, a combination of my poor Italian and the receptionist’s poor English told me we would be charged 108, 118 or 180 Euros for the night, even at 108 Euros this was at least 100 Euros too much…but what choice do we have? Drive to the next port side town knowing there was as much chance of stopping there than there was here? Drive through the night when we were both exhausted? Park up in a no stopping zone knowing we would almost certainly get woken at 2am and get moved on with nowhere to go, we could not afford a hotel this expensive but totally defeated, grubby and road-weary we accepted our fate, this place had parking, the dogs would be left in the van and our belongings would be safe and secure.  Wearily we drove off up the dead end street to turn around and park up in our expensive parking space…As we turned the corner to back up, there it was, a huge, flat car park! Not just a car park but a car park with a camper van in it, the lights were on, and behind the camper van a huge motor home which clearly was going nowhere soon as it was up on jacks and had a cable running directly up to the mains electricity wire overhead…To be sure I knocked on the camper van window, the van was from the Netherlands, inside was a thick set lady reading a book and wearing a very frilly floral dress and a knitted cardigan making her look decidedly frumpy, as she came to the window she straightened what looked like a very bad wig, I could see her thick 5 o’clock shadow in the light from the car park, she gruffly told me that she had been parked there for a few nights with no trouble, after Thomas had gone to sleep we chatted to her further and it turned out she had been travelling around Italy for some time just stopping here and there and never had any trouble. In one right turn we had saved ourselves at least 108 Euros! We realised the next day that we had only got 50 Euros left on our travel card, we could never have had the room anyway! Yet again, as on every other occasion on our journey so far we had found what we needed – It is rare we worry about something that doesn’t end up solving itself in the long run, yet we waste such a lot of energy projecting forward and worrying about things that almost always are out of our control – I have been reading a lot recently about how money affects the way we live to the extent that most of us live in the past and future (debt and credit) but not the present, and the present is just that, a gift, if we learn to do it wholeheartedly…There is a verse from a song sung by Joan Baez ’ If living were a thing that money could buy, Then the rich would live and the poor would die’ It lead me to read the book by Daniel Suelo – The Man Who Quit Money.  Daniel tells how along his journey to becoming money free he noticed the way humans rarely live in the moment, in the present, the way animals do.  Most animals do not worry about their next meal or where they will sleep, they live in the moment and as a rule get what they need all the same, their lack of worry might mean they east a bit more one day than another but they do not starve or have nowhere to sleep, every moment of every day they get what they need.  The journey so far has allowed me to learn to fear the future less and enjoy each moment as a gift that it is, having read his theory I have tried to see each day travelling this way and so far have had no doubt it is the right way to exist, in Lerici I had a wobble for the first time, how could this theory really work, a hotel was not provision for us really, was trusting this method a way of just avoiding accountability …as we turned the corner to the car park I got my answer, just like a few nights before when for no reason I could understand I turned down a random country lane and found us a perfect Aire to sleep in for the night, this was the confirmation I needed that fearing the future immediate or distant makes no difference, I have been given all the belief I now need to live in the moment and appreciate the present, what a wonderful way to learn a lesson!  We slept soundly, strolled around the stunning village, photographed the beaches and houses with washing hanging out on the balcony giving the impression of the town being a huge patchwork quilt rather than a place people lived.  The sun was hot, onwards we drove, we were nearly in our final dropping point and could rid ourselves of these poles!

Lonely Planet showed us a thermal spa which was just north of Rome.  Viterbo was the residence of popes in the 13th century, 1000 metres up in the mountains and 45k inland from the motorway but just about the right place for us to stop for the night, from the mountains we could cut down around Rome to rejoin the motorway without losing much time…Tomorrow morning we could swim in the mineral rich healing hot waters of the thermal pools for only 12 Euros each and 8 Euros for Tom.  We could also have a decent hot shower for the first time since we left the UK. At 4pm we pulled into the car park of the plush spa, it’s impressive marble front telling us we had reached Termi de Papi.  We agreed with security (aided by plenty of hand waving and large arm gestures) that we could sleep in the car park for the night…One of the most renowned spas in Italy, visited by all of the popes and graced with the presence of Michael Angelo and we were sleeping in the car park for free, too perfect to be true!

After a very smug sleep we strolled across the car park in the morning sunshine and headed for the hot pools, even better than we had imagined, shallow enough in the hot end for Thomas to walk around and for us to wallow, a hot shower and clean clothes which we washed and dried at our previous stopping place and we were indeed some very happy campers. An Austrian man we met in the pools told us he had just driven from Bari which was 90 minutes North of where we were heading and made it in one full day drive…if we left before lunchtime we could be at the olive farm by nightfall… So, this is where we are headed as I write, we have passed Rome and cleared Naples, now heading over the hills to Foggia, we hope to reach the farm by late evening…Onwards from here we can relax a little, we will spend a few days at the farm and try to figure out just how we are planning to cross the Alps or Pyrenees in mid December in a van which even with snow chains ‘doesn’t do snow’ – Until we write again, Ciao for now xxxx

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