We left Edinburgh and zoomed back home, stopping long enough to take our son Jack out for lunch in Durham before staying for the night in Askrigg (very beautiful and definitely a place to revisit) and visiting our daughter in Sheffield. We arrived home on Tuesday evening for a quick turn around, before leaving on Wednesday evening to start our southern adventure with a cruise from Portsmouth to Caen. After a very short but sound sleep we woke early to face the French morning traffic and our urgent timetable that required us to reach Rome by Saturday 15th March in order to watch England in the final Saturday of the 6 Nations competition for 2014.
My only previous experience of driving in Europe was in a left hand drive hire car, and for me this was incredibly difficult. I kept trying to change gear with the window winder and really struggled on roundabouts. Fortunately I seemed to do better in our own right hand drive camper. The French motorways were mostly empty and we swallowed up the miles going around Paris in a tunnel system that was only just higher than our camper. Not sure that ducking is terribly helpful in achieving successful driving through this, but it made me feel slightly safer.
Our route took us via Paris, Auxerre, Lyons and Chambery before we decided to stop for the night. We end up spending the night in a campsite in the Alps at a place called Bourg St Maurice which had access to Les Arcs. The campsite was surrounded by snow capped mountains and we had skiers for neighbours. We slept soundly, ready for the rest of our journey on Friday.
Friday dawned bright but fresh. We packed up and asked TomTom to show us the way, then we were off. We were directed up a very steep mountain pass that had stunning views but was one that completely paralysed me with fear. What is the point of building roads up mountains, with random road barriers that stop before you’ve even gone around the corner? I handed over the driving to the lovely Roger who manfully took us up the mountain muttering comments like, “the vans doing well,but it’d be nice to be in a sports car.” I was concentrating on not falling off the mountain and was too busy to respond! We passed coaches, mini buses and other vehicles on a road that surely should have been one way for safety. Anyway, as we neared the top, well above the snow line, we passed a sign saying ‘Col de Saint Bernard Ferme’. It was at this point that it occurred to us that going over the Alps wasn’t going to happen, and sure enough the road was being skied on and was totally impassable. We drove back down the mountain and on to a more main route using Tunnel du Frejus to pass through the Alps into Italy. Not as romantic as going over the top, and totally spoilt my ‘Maria’ moment however we did have a timetable to keep.
The Italian roads were another thing entirely. They seemed to be mostly built off the ground on great big over passes. We wonder if this was to get over any planning issues, but to cut a long journey short, we made it to Rome and to a camp side on the north of the city with promises of a shuttle bus into all the sights.
Saturday was the day of the final matches for the 6 nations competition. England were still in it, but we needed to beat Italy and for France to help us out against Ireland unless we could win by a huge margin. We got ourselves to within sight of the Stadio Olympico to be faced with loads of fellow England supporters, dressed in white and drinking a beer in the sun before the match. Obviously it would have been rude not to joint them. The stadium was magnificent and it filled quickly. It’s enough to make the spine tingle when your anthem is sung by thousands of people at a sporting occasion, and Saturday was no different for both the English and Italian anthems. The game was off. We were spoilt with an English victory, 8 tries, (7 English ones) and lovely Italians for company next to us who clapped and cheered with us consoled to their wooden spoon. We met friends who’d also come to Rome for the rugby for a lovely meal which completed a near perfect day. If only France had scored that last try…..
Other sights taken in during our visit have been the Colosseum, Palatino, tomb of the unknown soldier at Il Vittoriano, the Pantheon, Trevis fountain, the Vatican and numerous highly decorated cathedrals and churches across Rome.
On our last day in Rome, we were helping an older French couple on the metro as it was their first day. Unfortunately they were the victim of a very efficient pick pocket and whilst he got his wallet back he lost all of the cash that had been in it. We’d had no problems at all , and had felt very safe whilst taking just basic safety precautions, but I guess you do need to be very careful that you look after your belongings carefully. We’ve reached the stage where we’ve had enough of crowds and need to escape to some countryside, so see where that takes us.