Venice and the journey home:
After our intensive and demanding schedule in Slovenia, we were both travel-weary and felt a more relaxed journey home was well-deserved. The final 2 weeks of the trip had therefore been set aside, firstly to spend 4 days re-visiting Venice en passant, then to finish the trip with a short period in our favourite part of France, the middle Loire valley (see map to right for details of the journey).
We left Postojna on a very wet and stormy morning, heading for the Slovenian border near to Trieste. Having crossed into north Italy, the weather improved and in less than 3 hours we reached Venice, more precisely Camping Miramare on the north-east tip of the Venetian Lagoon. This superb campsite was recommended to us by our Belgian friends, Muriel and Dieter van Leemputten whom we met in Greece earlier in the year. It had all the desirable features - no dogs, no swimming pool, no disco, no entertainment - just a well-run and pleasantly quiet site, and most importantly, just 10 minutes' walk from the vaporetto landing stage at Punta Sabbioni. So George stayed safely in camp for 4 days, while we made the water-bus crossing of the Lagoon to San Marco. This was the perfect approach to Venice through the throng of boats with the classic skyline of familiar landmarks. We landed at the Riva degli Schiavoni, right outside the Baroque Church of Santa Maria della Pietà, where Vivaldi was concert-master in the early 18th century - hence this week's music and banner-heading.
Early morning mist filled the Lagoon, but when this lifted, we enjoyed 4 wonderful days of warm autumn sunshine for our Venetian interlude, restorative if not relaxing as we continued an intensive programme of exploration around the city and neighbouring islands. The balmy warmth continued into the evenings, and we even had a couple more BBQs. Earlier in the year, we had seen so much evidence in Greece of the La Repubblica Serenissima's mercantile maritime empire, it was fascinating now to spend quality time at the very heart of Venetian power and influence. The noble buildings, embankments, bridges, canals and more humble back alleys and narrow canals all create opportunity for photographic extravaganza, especially in such clear soft lighting. We have included a few of the results on the attached pages.
But it was time now to begin the long drive to the Loire. The first stage of the journey was across northern Italy to camp up in the Alps at Bardonecchia on the Italian/French border just before the Fréjus Tunnel. All went well, but the following morning as we attempted to rejoin the Autostrada at the Tunnel entrance, the queue of stationary trucks forewarned us of problems. And the carabiniere at the junction confirmed this - tunnel chiuso all day due to accident. So rather than going through the Alps, we had to travel over them via 2 lesser passes, saving us the 35 € toll but adding some 50 miles to the journey. In spite of this, we reached Clermont Ferrand for an overnight camp as planned, and the following day, 3 days and 1000 miles from the Slovenian border, we arrived at Chinon. Camping île de Augur is a magnificent location on the banks of the Vienne river, looking straight across to the Plantagenet castle up on the hill above the old town (see below). We had camped here first with Nick and Pete 2 years ago while down here buying wines for their wedding, and this time we had a further reason for seeking suitable wines from a producer known to us in Bourgueil. We have just over a week left, and we shall spend this near to Montrichard, a small town on the river Cher, a brightly-flowing tributary of the Loire (excellent fishing here also, Colin). Friday mornings in Montrichard are special - it's market day, and we have 2 Fridays left! Most French markets are special, but Montrichard is particularly special for us. So on that note, we'll conclude this series of reports on our 2004 travels. Where will next year take us - stay tuned.
Nasvidenje - and au revoir