Wednesday, 6 April 2011

47 Florence

Thursday 31st March 2011
A slow start today, the plan being to meet Chris and Mel at the port at about 12. We left Marinello  campsite at Falcone at about 10am with plenty of time for the journey which went without problem till we approached The port town of Mellisa where we encountered almost static traffic after following the lorry route to the port but we arrived just about on 12 noon and received a call from Chris and Mel to say they were going to be late having spent a freezing cold night on Mount Etna.

Apart from the queue on the letf, all of these cars were parked - mayhem
They were travelling through Taormina, the pretty village we had been through the day before. They arrived at about 12:40 and we all just drove straight onto the ferry and the doors closed behind us and the boat was off.
20 minutes later we were picking our way through Villa san Giovanni and up to the motorway. The first 40 odd kilometres were all roadworks and it was hard driving. I became a bit concerned that the gearstick whilst rolling down hills was vibrating a bit.
We arrived at Praia de Mere at about 4pm and parked up on the beach site that we had stopped at a few days previous. More free wild camping. We are getting used to this. I got the barby going and the 4 of us chewed through pork steaks, German sausages and salad. I had the pleasure of cleaning the barby too....bliss. 
Sunset over Praia de Mere beach

Friday 1st April 2011
A chill out day, for no other reason than we could, oh, and the weather was glorious. I should have had a look at Lizzy for the vibration problem but forgot and when Karen reminded me it was a bit late and I stupidly decided not to do it.
Sunrise over Praia de Mere beach

After a lazy morning, Karen and I decided to walk the 3km  into the local village and look for a supermarket of some sort to get some grub for later. There were lots of supermarkets but they were all closed.  As usual we completely screwed up our timing and forgot about siesta. We walked back intending to return later on the pushbikes.
Chris and I later returned to the supermarket later using the bikes after fixing a puncture. We then again hit the barby and I had the pleasure of cleaning it – again. I must be soft in the head.
Anyway, we packed all our gear up for a quick start in the morning. We were intending to drive 670km (410 miles) to Florence and Chris and Mel were driving slightly further to San Marino. 
Saturday 2nd April 2011
An early start and we were all ready for the off at about 9am. We said our goodbyes to Chris and Mel. Although we were travelling mostly on the same road they are able to travel faster and it would be daft for us to hold them up.
They set off before us and were soon out of sight as the road out of Praia de Mere was full of hairpin bends. As soon as we got onto the main road, I noticed that every time I pressed the clutch, I heard a squeeling noise and thought “oh poo, a release bearing has gone” (the bearing that works only when the clutch is pressed). Then the vibration I had experienced 2 days ago started to come back, this time a lot worse. We heard something hit the underside of Lizzy and I thought it was a stone. Karen says she heard two at different times. Eventually the vibration got so violent I had to pull over. It felt as though the clutch had disintegrated and we could drive no more.
My heart sank. We tried to call the AA and both numbers would not get through on our phones. We were parked on a piece of waste ground and there was a car sales place opposite. I bimbled over in the vain thought that there may be a mechanic there. No such luck. My heart sank further and the Karen said “are you going to have a look”. Now bear in mind that I thought I knew what the problem was and if I was correct, it was not fixable.
I got under the front of Lizzy and quickly realised how wrong I was. What in fact had happened was that the bolts holding the clutch and gearbox to the engine were missing. There was a 1” gap  between the two. Had we carried on, the lot would have eventually jammed the engine and gearbox, stopped the front wheels from turning instantly and completely and if at speed would have probably rolled Lizzy over. We were very lucky. On close inspection, there were only 2 bolts of the original 6 present. One was loose by about 1” and the other was out by about ¼”. It was the only thing holding the whole lot together. Karen said “maybe we can find some bolts lying around” and promptly found a metal gazebo nearby, held together with bolt almost the same size. I later found the threads to be the wrong size, but it was a stroke of genius as I gave me the idea that I may be able to pinch bolts from other parts of the vehicle.  
A quick look around and I managed to remove 2 of the 4 engine mounting bolts which were the same as those needed but a bit short. I put them in place and tightened the two remaining proper ones and we set off again. Lizzy was running as sweet as she ever had been. We drove for about half an hour and I stopped and confirmed that the bolts were still secure. All was well and we set off and gently drove the final 600km to Florence. We arrived as  dark was closing in knowing there was nothing we could do till Monday. Whew !!!!
Sunday 3rd April 2011
We again woke early, unloaded Wallace from the trailer and set off for Pisa. Wallace’s sat nav has antiquities programmed in so I set course for the Leaning Tower of Pisa. An hour later we were looking at a tower that presumably had the site surveyor executed for stupidity. It was very pissed but had recently been cleaned and looked very pretty, as did the church beside it.
Everone else was doing this too

Not many were doing this

Beauty and the beast - in that order

As we left the Tower, we were accosted by the usual black guys selling watches/sunglasses/whaterver. One guy made me laugh. He said his watches have a 25 year guarantee. I told him I would likely be dead by then. He must think we look daft....maybe we comments please !
Apart from these two things there was nothing else to see so it was re-program the sat nav for the supermarket and off we went again. After shopping we hot footed it back to Florence intending to go home and sort dinner out. However, the sat nav wanted to take us via the toll, motorway so we decided to go via the centre of Florence and did not regret it. What a beautiful and clean place this is. Unfortunately we could not go into the centre as it is closed to all traffic on a Sunday so we drove home and stumbled across Michelangelo’s Piazza on the way. Awesome.
View from Michealangelos Piazza
Another stone willy

Monday 4th April 2011
I searched on the internet for commercial Fiat dealers and found one which I programmed into Wallace’s sat nav. I set off for the dealer armed with the incorrect translation (unbeknown to me at the time) of the words “Clutch housing bolts”. I got to the dealer in about 20 minutes and spent the next 20 minutes trying to explain what I wanted. I eventually drew a diagram on and engine, gearbox and clutch and the parts man then pulled it up on the computer we identified the bolts I needed. He then walked to a nearby shelf, picked up the items and handed them to me. I was gobsmacked. In the UK there would be a “they will be here in a few days sir” type of answer. I then asked if he would take a credit card and he replied yes but with a pained look on his face. I soon discovered why. He only wanted 5 Euros for all 4 bolts. That’s just over £1 each for specialist bolts. I was gobsmacked again and pain in cash.
20 minutes later I was back home (whatever that means) and set about replacing Lizzies engine mounting bolts and the gearbox bolts that had gone missing. An hour later and all was done. I regard this as a lucky near miss. Things could have been a whole lot worse and the total cost of the breakdown was about 2 hours work and 5 Euros.
Tuesday 5th April 2011
Today was our proper visit to Florence. This place restored out faith in Italy somewhat, if you ignore the driving of course. The two Italian laws, namely, every Italian must smoke and every Italian must drive whilst using the phone were being rigorously obeyed and this included the bus driver of the open top bus we were on. The conductor even had to nudge him (whilst she was on the phone herself) as he was so engrossed in his call he forgot to stop the bus to let us off.
Aside for the above norms for Italians, Florence was absolutely beautiful and spotlessly clean. The architecture was fantastic and absolutely everywhere. We started (when the bus driver eventually let us off) with a visit to the crystal and nature museums.

Entrance hass to museum
First exhibit - worse to come

The crystal museum was a very small display but it was so impressive it absolutely blew us away. The crystals were beautiful and huge. See the piccys for examples. They were so big, Karen put her hand near some to give some idea of scale. 
Bad picture (due to low light) of one wall of crystals

Close up of the above thingy....

Steel intestines ?

We then moved on to the adjacent Animal Museum. This place was huge and had at least one specimen of every conceivable animal in the world. Some that I had never even heard of. On top of this were thousands of birds and insects. It was awesome and as the same time very sad to see all these beautiful, once proud beasts stuffed as exhibits. Karen was quite upset and moved by this aspect and went very quiet for a while.

Believe it or not, these are harmless and can be easily be held in the hand - even live ones - 5" long

Its a bit sad that these were all once live

Thousands of dicky birds

I cought one of these in Kenya in 1976. We kept it for 3 months and then let it go.

At the end if the Animal Museum was an exhibition of human anatomy. This was hundreds of various models of humans in different states of parts removed to expose the bits underneath. Like a skeleton with just veins, bodies with the organs removed. Heads with the skull removed. Pregnant lower torsos with the baby exposed. A full catalogue of foetus’  from 10 days old to birth.

Man having a bad day

Woman having a better day - ish

It all sounds very gruesome and that’s exactly what it was but at the same time it was extremely fascinating.
After leaving this odd ball place we went for a walk around the city. It was awesome. The cathedrals, the Piazzas, the architecture, the shops, the bars, everything.
Louis Vitton handbags and shoes

...and the price tags
We stopped for lunch and a beer at a restaurant in a Piazza and I had the best pizza so far. Oddly enough, despite the fact that we are in the birthplace of the Pizza, nothing we have eaten so far has compared to what we are used to from “Pizza Hut” in the UK.
The Piazza we had lunch in

After lunch we went for another bimble around the city.
Part of the Cathederal

The rest of the Cathederal

By chance came across an exhibition by Damien Hurst within another museum called Museo di Palazzo Vecchio. These are some piccys from outside.
The museum of the diamond skull and painted ceilings

More willys


 We thought it was a full exhibition but it turned out to be only one item. However, this one item was so valuable it was guarded by 4 armed police officers. No photography was allowed and the room the exhibit was in was in complete darkness aside from small narrow beam lights on the exhibit. It was a plaster cast of a human skull completely covered in diamonds. In the light beams it was incredible to see. Photography was not allowed and the picky below is from a book cover and does not do it justice at all.    
This picture does not do the reality any justice

The rest of the museum was pretty empty and consisted many of the paintings on the walls and ceilings. Some photos had to be taken without the guards watching.

Ceiling paintings

An early depiction of the UK
We then decided to get back on the bus and waited at a stop by the river. It was very romantic (what did he just say ?).
Waiting for the bus

Back on the bus we drove down some impossible narrow streets.

Narrow streets for a bus
And passed a roundabout with a cemetery on it called “The Island of the Dead”.
Island of the Dead

And eventually stopped at Michaelangelos Piazza where Wallace was parked and after a small beer we rode back the campsite where we packed up for the trip to Venice the next day.
Wednesday 6th April 2011
An early start for the 300km drive to the Adriatic coast just north of Venice to the only campsite open at this time of year. We arrived at about 2pm and spent the rest of the day chilling in the warm sunshine. Karen later cooked a fantastic meal of pork chops, spicy roasted potatoes, spinach and my all time favourite, sweet corn. Just like the old days !

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