Every cloud has a silver lining and always look on the bright side of life!

One of the wettest places in England – Borrowdale, Cumbria. The wettest place in Italy? Wherever I am!

Driving the mountain passes of the Dolomites has been a ‘must do’ for me for many years, since first sampling them in the early 80s on the bike, then in the 2000’s in the motorhome. But they washed me out this time, the scenery that I longed to view was shrouded in low cloud and would be all week, so it was time for Plan B.

What it should’ve looked like
What it actually looked like!🙄

I love travel, obviously!

Yesterday I was in Italy and tonight I’m in typical English pub in Kent. There’s something nice about hearing the chit chat and banter of the English tongue, the real ale, oak beamed ceilings and exposed brick fireplaces. Yes I’m back home, if the south could ever be considered home for a northern lad? But you know what it mean. Maybe it’s just change, like when I did my trip with Paul to Waterloo in Belgium, I remember saying “It’s great to be driving abroad again”.

I left Fussen at 8am this morning and by 8pm I was in the pub! The showers and heavy clouds around Fussen could not hide the magnificent mountains, still with remnants of their winter snow clinging to the shaded crevasses. As I headed to the motorway I thought ‘I really must return to Austria and the Dolomites’. Not that Fussen is in either, it is just over the border into Germany like Gretna is into Scotland.

I ventured north away from the mountains but still enjoyed the green wooded and hilly scenery even from the motorway.

I had no definite destination in mind but really wanted to make Reims in France, 400 miles away. 60 miles short of Reims I reprogrammed the satnav for Calais, yes another 200 miles but hey, the car and traffic were going well, and dare I say even me?! I winged it to the tunnel which turned out to be another lesson in travel, I could’ve saved myself €40 had I booked on my mobile phone before arriving 🙄

A decent innings from Fussen to Calais

Having friends and family nagging me on my shoulder virtually, to ‘take it easy’, I booked into The New Flying Horse Inn near Ashford, Kent and will take my time coming home on Thursday 🤗

Tuscany to Emilia-Romagna

As I sat outside my small apartment at Agriturismo Bonello I was surprised to hear an ‘English’ voice, to say English wasn’t entirely accurate as there was a distinct American twang to it, not the mild sort of Ernie and Jenny, this was a drawl, Michael was from Louisiana, which immediately made me put him in the ‘redneck’ category, not that I’m wishing to generalise or anything! 😬

How do you tell a stranger that his ‘flies’ are undone? A common mistake of older men fastening their trousers and belt then forgetting to ‘zip up’. Anyway he engaged me in friendly banter to such an extent that he gave me his mobile number and email address for whenever I was ‘over in the states’, as he ran a hotel chain and I wouldn’t have to pay for anything. Having said that, he zipped up, I’m not sure what exactly that signified, if anything at all, and mosied on off for his photography outing. Well Michael, as friendly as you may have been I’m not that easy, and although it’s lovely to chat away to strangers baring their all, preferably female, I don’t think I’ll be taking you up on your very kind offer. 

I had an unexpected bonus this morning when I paid my accommodation bill, the gift of a bottle of local Chianti, it helped ease the burden of Tuscany priced stopovers and the host was a lovely man.

If you think this reminds you of the film Gladiator you’d have good reason
One of the views from my gaff
€2.60 for this which I thought was a bargain, shame somebody had taken a bite out of the doughnut though!
Somewhere in Italy

Arriving in my next stop just south of Ravenna I had to check how much I’d paid for this place! Yes it looked like a wedding reception was in progress and I was slightly underdressed in my three quarters and T shirt, but it just oozed class. Yes, it was only £60 b&b 😱 and the lady owner/host was unbelievably welcoming! Despite obviously being up to her eyes in ‘stuff’ she took time with me, a rarity indeed in this modern world! Should I ever venture in this neck of the woods again then it is a definite stopover!

My gaff outside Ravenna, need I say more?

So punk, dya feel lucky?

Well dya? Yes actually, but nobody is holding a gun to my head! Despite the BBC reliably informing me that there will be thunderstorms today (Wednesday) or at very least the need for wet weather gear, damn I left my oilskins and sou’wester at home, I would class today as ‘crackin’ the flags’ kind of weather. I was out early doors again, 6.30am local time, to take in a bit of Siena without those pesky tourists 🙄. After an early breaky I returned to my abode for a recharge, and when I re-emerged onto the stone streets it was like bank holiday in Bowness! Undeterred I ventured out amongst the crowds to sit in the Piazza del Campo and count my lucky stars, even though none were visible on such a sunny day, that I could enjoy such surroundings in the warm Tuscan sun.

Not a city dweller but a country bumpkin 

Although it may be the done thing to follow the crowds to all the tourist cities it doesn’t really float my boat. Pisa was done because I dropped Ray off at the airport and had never actually been. Siena was done as I was passing anyway and although Rachel and I had visited briefly it was a fleeting glance.

But my desire is to get back in Herman, drive the country roads and take in this magnificent countryside. Florence hangs by a thread, I know I maybe should go but hey, we’ll see.

Sometimes I surprise even myself with my incompetence

I had the voucher for this morning’s breakfast safely in a pocket, presumably the same pocket I had my mobile phone in which, having a few minutes on my hands before the cafe opened, gave me the opportunity to nip into the piazza for a final tourist free photo. You guessed it, whipping my phone out obviously brought the voucher with it, unnoticed by me. Shortly after leaving the piazza I realised my mistake so returned to retrieve it from the pavement. In those two minutes a rather conscientious road sweeper had obviously done an excellent job of making the pavement clean enough to eat your breakfast off. So I bombed off my included breaky from yesterday’s cafe and took the pleasure of a pole position coffee and pastry in the piazza. Old people eh?! 🙄

Breakfast in pole position

Siena – Val d’Orcia

I’ve heard of twice cooked lamb, even triple cooked chips but never quadruple boiled pasta! Restaurants with views are at a premium in these parts so I thought I’d struck lucky at Poggio Rosa. The owners seemed to be a married couple in their 80s, welcoming and friendly. I ordered the mushroom tagliatelle and was surprised that it arrived in less time than it takes to boil an egg, or in this case what should be al dente pasta, which turned out to be as limp as a very limp thing. On the plus side the meal DID actually taste of mushrooms and I consoled myself with the thought that I couldn’t get food poisoning from the ingredients. 

A small plate of mushrooms with dead tagliatelle, a glass of tap water and an espresso for £21, at least it will supplement their pensions!

The Golden Hour

Tuscany is stunning, of that there is no doubt, but mostly so during the golden hour. Getting up before dawn sometimes fits with my sleep/non sleep pattern as it did on Friday morning when I set up the action camera for a time lapse of the sunrise at 6am. Unfortunately the result wasn’t of sufficient quality for circulation and this morning I slept in (to 7am! 🥱)

My agritourism accommodation in set in the heart of the Val d’Orcia (pronounced Val Doch-ee-a, (as I picked up from a young German couple in Siena). I felt an idiot abroad (again) pronouncing it Val Dorseea 🤦🏻‍♂️. My accommodation is so good I extended my stay by one night and will start my meandering journey north on Sunday morning.

My base for three nights

Chapel of Our Lady of Vitaleta is spitting distance from my base as are many of the well known rural tourist sites/sights of Tuscany. I visited the chapel during the day then returned at the golden hour when I naively thought I’d have the place to myself. Anybody with the slightest interest in capturing a good shot is out and about at the golden hour!

The rolling hills casting their extended shaddows is a special sight indeed as opposed to the relative flatness when the sun is high in the sky.

If you think it looks like a scene from the film Gladiator you’d be right coz it is!
Chapel of Our Lady of Vitaleta
Just some of the many photographers out at TGH. This was a group on a photographic ‘holiday’.
Just a sample of how many photos I take to try and get a decent one!

Mission Impossible!

Reading instructions has never been my forte, I know it’s a typical ‘man thing’, but I take it to a new level. My rule of thumb being ‘just plough on until you’re stuck then only read the amount necessary to get you to the next problem’. At least that was how it used to be, but now I just get frustrated and annoyed once I’m stuck, which I was, trying to find the ‘hotel’ in Siena.

Call me an old traditionalist, but on Monday night after speaking on the phone to whom I perceived to be the receptionist, I made the (wrong) assumption that this was a hotel the type of which I’d come to expect. Tuesday morning as I drove from Pisa towards Siena my phone got bombarded with WhatsApp messages from the receptionist. I was enjoying the drive, stopping for photos in the Tuscan countryside and had the destination of the car valet service programmed into my satnav, what more did I need? Well, reading the WhatsApp messages would’ve saved me some frustration and annoyance. All went smoothly up to the car parking service on the outskirts of the city, whereupon I was driven in Herman to supposedly 20 metres from the hotel. Being literally only 100 metres from the main piazza this would presumably be an old building, but nevertheless I expected some indication that there was in fact a hotel there! After pacing up and down the steep street several times with my luggage, out of frustration I finally rang the receptionist who was very understanding of this confused old man and re-sent the messages I should have read in the first place! However, in my defence I have never encountered a ‘hotel’ quite like this. Yes the instructions were clear if time was taken to read them, but finding my bedroom was akin to something out of Mission Impossible. The hotel is actually the top floor of a 14th century building which has been converted into a small lounge and 4 en-suite bedrooms. Breakfast is ‘served’ in a local cafe.

Maybe I’m not an experienced enough traveller yet to think outside the box, but this most recent episode will hopefully serve me well in the future, and is all part of the ‘joy’ of travel.

Front door of the ‘hotel’ with the sign indicated by the black arrow. Easily missed by an old stager!
Some of the 46 steps leading to the world’s slowest elevator. At least it saves walking the remaining 70 steps to the top floor!
View from the small lounge terrace
Piazza del Campo, just 100 metres from the hotel front door
and at night

Pisa and beyond

For me, it was a thoughtful 40 mile drive from Volterra to Pisa International Airport. Ray and I had shared the experiences of our 1,200 mile road trip to and around a very small part of Tuscany, but after six days together it was now time for him to fly back to Blighty and for me to start my solo travelling again.

Ray loved his first taste of Italy especially being an aficionado of the Margarita Pizza, but this Harraby lad surprised me with his quick grasp of the Italian accent, regardless of his very limited vocabulary. He would have loved to stay longer but work called, whereas this old pensioner still had some time on his wrinkly hands.

But this felt like yet another challenge, yes I’d done a similar thing in December with Andy D, but this felt as though it was going to be a little more difficult. I don’t really know why, was it me just getting older, the health not running quite as smoothly as I would like, missing family and friends, the slightly daunting feeling of being alone or a combination of all? Whatever the reason or reasons I certainly felt that this could be a bit of an effort.

At our hotel in Volterra

After a coffee and croissant in the airport Ray headed off to departures and I returned to the car parked in the multi-storey. I dropped its roof down, if nothing else other than to ease the effort of putting the parking ticket in the machine at the exit, and headed off on the 15 minute drive to my city centre hotel. It was gloriously sunny and warm and I felt good, nobody to talk with now but plenty of listening to do as the satnav guided me around the back streets of the city.

I enjoyed myself with Ray but I was also enjoying myself on this short drive. It made me think of what I’ve pondered recently, the car or the bike, and I came to the same conclusion. Travelling with somebody or alone are both enjoyable, one not necessarily better than the other, just different.

Once Herman was parked up in the hotel’s small car park I went for a wander until check in time. The hotel is literally two minutes walk from Pisa’s infamous landmark so once I’d taken the obligatory photos, which didn’t include me either holding the tower up or pushing it over, I ventured a little further afield to see if the city had much else to offer. I’d been reliably informed by Amy, my authority on all things Italian, French and travel related, that Pisa isn’t worth much more than its Piazza del Duomo, and of course she was right. But I found the river, The Arno, which also flows through Florence, and thereafter took an ‘off the beaten track’ street back to the piazza. It seems car crime is still trendy in these parts as I saw two smashed car windows over just a few hundred metres, it made me glad Herman was parked safely out of harms way.

The Arno
The mystery revealed, it’s a tree holding it up!

Never one to shy away from the street sellers, I remember Rachel saying in Egypt “Will you stop encouraging them”? I presently have an interest in watches, and by all accounts a Rolex is the one to have. So instead of a street trader hassling me I thought I’d turn the tables. He had a nice array of watches but when I mentioned Rolex he delved into his inside pockets to bring out the expensive merchandise. €150 for an automatic Rolex was far too expensive for me but I showed sufficient interest for him to offer me, within two minutes, the ‘best price’ of €50. He then made me the final offer of “How much do you want to pay”? But I still walked away empty wristed, yes they seemed to be working properly, but I suspected that it wouldn’t be long before I’d only have a watch that gave me the right time twice a day.

After one night in Pisa I headed back towards more rural Tuscany but making a point of stopping off for a couple of nights in Siena. More to follow…..

En route to Siena

As sure as eggs is eggs*

Time to dig out the factor 50, it’s going to be ‘cracking the flags’ in Cumbria over the next month as I head for some of the great biking and driving roads of northern Italy. 

It always seems to be the case when I head off in search of the sun, that back home is blessed with excellent weather! 😆

But which 2.5 litre motorised transport do I take? Trusty Reg the Rocket, who has taken me to the furthest northern road of Europe, and also as far south as the Canary Islands (with the help of a few ferries of course), or the more recently acquired Herman the German who, in just seven months has already taken me on two European spins out? 

If indeed you can ‘bat from either end’, I wonder which you would choose? The fact that my biking mate Ray is coming with me for the first week is playing a part, but that decision was only made at the last minute. We’re going with just one vehicle and as the rear seat on Reg is not much bigger than a large mobile phone then Herman it is. If two blokes in an open top sports car conveys a certain image, then two on a motorcycle is surely worse! But the decision wasn’t based on what others maybe perceive as our sexuality, it went something like this:

I have a four week ‘window’ until my family weekend in early June, and although I’m sure it will be a perfect time to mow the lawn and get the garden looking like it actually belongs to somebody, the lure of the open road was too big a temptation for me to turn down. My original thought was the Dolomites, a place I really want to return to, but I wondered if some of the roads would be accessible this early in the season? Then I pondered a return to Tuscany, mmm….. it got me thinking of when Rachel and I were there in the van and stumbled across a classic car hillclimb, so I ‘Googled’ it. The Saline Volterra is on during the weekend of 11th and 12th May, result! That was a good enough reason for me to head to Tuscany, I don’t take much encouragement, and don’t have anybody to ‘put the brakes on’ my sometimes harebrained ideas!

During my last two trips abroad in Herman I’ve been accompanied at least in some part, firstly by Andy D when we went to the Algarve in December last year, before he flew back from Faro after a week, and then with Paul on our week’s trip to Belgium in March. It may look like some kind of trend is developing here, but although I may be a signed up member of ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Band’ I don’t think I need to have a co pilot. Yes I very much enjoy the company of my mates on these travels, to share the experiences I have, but I haven’t lost the desire to still embrace solo travelling. It’s not a path I would have chosen by any means, but as they say, when life gives you lemons make lemonade.

With hopefully four weeks at my disposal, and with most of my buddies still embracing that quaint pastime called work, it still gave the option for any brave soul to at least accompany me for some of the trip. Ray and Ken are the biking buddies I took on our Western Front Way trip in 2022 and who I’ll be going with to the Picos de Europa in July this year, they are both not only bikers but fellow Porsche owners, yes I now mix in such circles! So the offer was thrown out to them on a first come first served basis. Ken actually had prior arrangements so Ray picked up the gauntlet (of being passenger in my car on an unrestricted autobahn through Germany 😬) and so he will be with me until after the classic car weekend, whereupon he will fly back from Pisa and I will meander around northern Italy hopefully visiting many places, not just in Tuscany but the Lakes and yes the Dolomites!

Watch this space……

*The earliest-recorded appearance of ‘as sure as eggs are eggs’ was in a dictionary of slang published in 1699. Possibly a progression from ‘X is X’.

To Waterloo and Beyond

Does a travel blog really need to be chronological?

I’m starting this near the end because travel is very much about the people you meet as the places you see, at least in my experience.

Travelling solo tends to attract others like moths to a light, however the more people you travel with the less likely others will connect with you. Maybe there’s a curiosity about why is he/she is travelling alone, or just an act of friendliness for fear that the person may be lonely? But whatever the reason I have been surprised by the number of interactions others have made with me. I went through a period during my first few bike tours after Rachel died that I refused to instigate a conversation with others, ‘only speak unless spoken to’ became my motto, I didn’t want to come across to others as that lonely old man desperate for company. I can do this on my own, I don’t need help.

Of course I have met so many lovely people on my travels and now I’m not so uptight about instigating conversations, no I still don’t want to be perceived as that boring, lonely old man, but not to interact is missing an important element from the great experience of travel.

This is a very long-winded way about why I’m starting this blog near the end of the trip.

My mate Paul and I are in a bar in Bruges, our last stopover on this short trip around northern Belgium in the Boxster. On the table next to us is a couple sampling a tray of 6 beers, a common pastime in this neck of the woods, for finding out which is your preferred tipple. I hold my hands up, I instigated this connection by commenting on their selection, and from those few words came a lovely interaction with a German couple who, it transpired, were great travellers and also fellow bikers. The “no we’re not having another drink” changed to “another beer please” and although it didn’t get messy, we probably all stayed longer than originally planned as we exchanged travel stories and photos of motorbikes. Would I regret not getting their contact details? Maybe, we got on so well, but I don’t want to be that perceived as………..Yeah you guessed it.

Sometimes I need something to inspire me to write, or more recently, cobble something together on YT. The interaction with our German biker friends was the catalyst for this.

Back to the chronology of the trip:

DFDS Newcastle/IJmuiden Ferry.- bring your own food!

At €32 – €44 for any meals on board I considered the child’s menu at €13 – it’s as much as I can eat in one sitting anyway but I had visions of the Ricky Gervais scenario.

There were nachos available in the nightclub, and desperate for some kind of sustenance we plumped for that, but never again!

Our Travel Companions

Convenience is the name of the game with this crossing, especially for us far northerners and Scottish.

Whilst on the subject of our northern neighbours, there appeared to be an unusually high percentage of passengers wearing their traditional attire, men in kilts seemed to outstrip the usually high number of hen and stag weekenders. It soon became apparent that the Tartan Army were on the march to the Holland v Scotland football match in Amsterdam. All good natured stuff even into the later hours after I’d retired to our cabin, when I believe it was shirts off on the dance floor, I scene I have no regrets from missing.

Talking of our cabin, I have lost count of the number of ferry crossings I’ve done over the last 14 years but I have to say our cabin is the smallest 4 berth I’ve ever been in, compact in the extreme. It was bigger than business class on an aeroplane, not that I’ve ever experienced such luxury, but not by much!

The road to Waterloo

Staying with the football theme, if there was a league table for best countries to drive in then surely Holland and Belgium would be facing relegation, no wonder these countries are so great for cycling.

By the time we’d cleared the very busy motorways displaying signs referencing Amster-something and Rotterdam we weren’t far from crossing the border into Belgium. Motorway travel is no way to see a country but sometimes it’s needs must. So for a change from motorway scenery we chose the N14 to Mechelen, this did nothing to warm me to driving over here. 

There wasn’t any realistic alternative to the Brussels ring road which lived up to expectations of being a congested stop start affair.

By the time we arrived at Waterloo I was left with the feeling that no wonder these two countries feature so highly in the list of the most populated countries of Europe!


Apparently it’s 226 steps to the Butte deLion, I counted 225 but I’m not going back to check!

I’m sure Evan would love this!

Rachel and I had visited the Waterloo Museum many years ago but didn’t give it the time we wanted so it served as a good excuse when Paul mentioned to me “How about a couple of nights away somewhere”? I think his idea was possibly a short jaunt over the border to Scotland but hey 🤷🏻‍♂️

After most of the day at Waterloo we booked into a hotel about thirty miles away, it turned out to have a Lebanese restaurant, I’d never had Lebanese food before so left it to the waitress to choose for me 🤗

Ghent & Bruges

Rachel and I had been to both these places and I also took Ray and Ken on the bikes when we did the Western Front Way back in 2022, but Paul had never been. I enjoyed showing him around the places and didn’t need to have a raised umbrella for him to follow me.

View from hotel bedroom (Ibis Gent Centrum)

Following photos are Bruges

First on the ferry at IJmuiden, first off at Newcastle – that’s a first!

As you probably have gathered I’m delving into YouTube so will not post them in any blogs. They take much more doing than the blog so inevitably will be published randomly. If you are interested in them then they can be found here:


The Bracelet

Probably a three part series of our motorhome trip to Istanbul in 2018 and the eventual significance of a bracelet.