Under a Tuscan sun

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Our week in Tuscany didn’t start out like the movies.  We actually got trapped on a train, alone and in the dark, in Milan.  15 minutes of Nic ranting about safety legislation in Australia, pressing every emergency button, and banging on windows to get someone’s attention, we were let off only to find we couldn’t get accommodation in Milan.  Back to the train to head south to Parma.

Finally though we got to our temporary home in Tuscany, San Gimignano. 

Our Tuscan Home (just one part of it)

It’s a small, old town set on a hill, surrounded by olive groves and vineyards.  We have a perfect view of the city from the villa on the outskirts of town.  

The view from the front yard

Waldu swapped ‘The Beast’ for a smaller car, which let us quickly explore the area’s windy roads. 

We thought we could visit wineries like we do in Australia and South Africa, but here, like the rest of Europe relies on you knowing the owners, booking a tour or making a reservation well in advance.   We did go on a tour, but found it overpriced and not good value for money.  The best wine experience was back in town at ‘Wineland’.

The highlights centre on the people we have met here including some new friends from Texas and the friendly, welcoming and helpful Fanny, who manages ‘Wineland’.   We spent many a day, afternoon and night visiting the shop for wine, cheese and chats.  We have found a friend in Italy and a wonderful example of how nice local people can be.

Rosso Vino - cheers

Market shopping & cooking in Florence


Roam’ing Italy

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Leaving some wild weather behind in France we headed into the Italian Rivera before opting to head further east to the foodie towns of Palma, Modena and Bologna for a taste of Italy. 


Bologna didn’t disappoint (we stayed there twice), but to see most of the region, as with France, you had to join an over priced tour or make reservations to visit a farm or vineyard well in advance.  And the tourist offices here, like most of Europe, only provide information on their immediate town and not the wider region. 

Our travels took us north to Venice and the maze like streets and canals that led Nic to handbag shop after shop after shop…too many handbags for Waldu to take in.  Then a quick stop in Lake Gardi  before farewelling ‘The Beast’ off to Kenya.

 Despite the title we have not made it to Rome yet – off there tomorrow.

Choc-fest in the oldest Republic in the world

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We spent three days in the small republic of San Marino, located on the Italian peninsula on the eastern side of Italy (it is an enclave surrounded by Italy).  It is an interesting old place, set high on a mountain top.  Best of all, we arrived in time to make it to the annual Chocolate Festival!


Some quick facts:

– 61 km2

– Population 30,000 (smallest population of all the members of the Council of Europe)

– Capital is the City of San Marino (only 9 other communities) 

– The oldest surviving sovereign state and constitutional republic in the world

– One of the wealthiest countries in the world in terms of GDP (per capita), one of the lowest unemployment rates in Europe, no national debt and a budget surplus


But, back to chocolate…we ate heaps of their local speciality, hot chocolate wafer sandwiches.  In case you are wondering why all the photos are of Nic.  Well, she was too busy sampling chocolates to take photos.  And the next day she was too sick from a chocolate overdose to take any photos.

Men and bridges

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What is it about bridges that men find so fascinating?  Well I must admit even I was drawn in to marvel at the Viaduct in Millau, France (north of Montpellier in southern France).  Perhaps not for its “beauty” or “civil engineering masterpiece”, but I thought it was pretty clever of them to make a whole information centre about the bridge, even selling bags of left over remnants of concrete (4 euro), and develop the tourism industry for a whole town around it. 

Waldu took loads of pictures, from all angles, but I will only share a few to convey the sheer size of the highest (and longest we think) suspension bridge in the world.  

Here are the facts – for the engineers and male blog readers…

Carries 4 lanes of the A75 autoroute
Crosses Valley of the River Tarn
Architect Norman Foster and Michel Virlogeux
Total length 2,460 m (8,070 ft)
Width 32.05 m (105.2 ft)
Height 343.0 m (1,125.3 ft) (max pylon)
Longest span 342 m (1,122 ft)
Number of spans 204 metres (669 ft), 6 × 342 metres (1,122 ft), 204 metres (669 ft)
Clearance below 270 m (890 ft)]
Construction begin 16 October 2000]
Construction cost € 300 million


The entire length of deck surface (that is to say, the bridge itself, the actual kilometres of roadway) was slid out, into the valley, across the pylons from both sides. This feat was achieved using hydraulic rams that moved the deck about 600 mm every 4 minutes, over the course of many days. While the kilometres of roadway were being slid-out through space, it was supported by both the final pylons and the temporary pylons. Only after the roadway was completely slid-out in to the final position, were the masts erected on top of the deck (that is to say, over the pylons). It may be noted that the masts on top are not continuing elements of the pylons underneath, although they appear to be. The masts are separate constructions which were built on land, wheeled out to position only after the pylons and roadway were complete, raised and emplaced. The construction of the massive cable-stay system between the masts and deck then followed. Finally, the temporary pylons in the valley were removed.

Take Two: France

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French Rivera

Our second trip back into France (from Spain heading to Italy) took us along the Rivera.  Unfortunately our trip was hampered by severe weather conditions, which forced us into a hotel one night and the next night the temperature dropped so low that ice formed on the tent (literally freezing as we slept).  

 We did detour north to see a bridge (see next post) though, and the weather held up for one day of exploring local small towns and villages.  We ate green vein Roquefort cheese and walked through the caves in the town of the same name, to learn how it is made.  The countryside in southern France is picturesque and something very different from the north. 


Leaving the Rivera we headed to Monaco, but The Beast is a little too big to fit in any of their car parks so it was a very quick drive by visit. Still, we did get to see a lot of the Mediterranean coastline of the area and save money by taking advantage of more of France’s free camping locations.