Monday, 30 November 2015

Odd Numbers

Just because I've retired does not mean I have escaped the allure of Excel spreadsheets. Part of the reason why I keep a running tab on what we spend is necessity, we're travelling, if not exactly on a shoestring, then on a tight budget, and with six years until either of us qualifies for a state pension, the need to watch the pennies is not going to diminish. The other reason is the fact that I am a pedantic git, who spent half his working life playing with KPI's and other devilish quality assurance mumbo jumbo, and part of me likes the magic world of  numbers, even though my maths skills barely stretch beyond primary school arithmetic.

So, let me share some numbers....

3662 - the number of miles travelled since we left home on 27th September.

750 - the number of litres of diesel consumed by Maisy (we don't count the litres of wine consumed by the humans on the basis that it is best not to know).

22 - the rather paltry MPG that Maisy manages irrespective of road conditions, average speed, loading...not great, but we do have double wheels on the back, an automatic gearbox, twin gas bottles, twin leisure batteries and two heavy ebikes on the back. I know we could buy a more efficient van - but its a question of sentiment as well as practicality. If you owned a much loved, but ravenous Labrador, would swap it for a Chihuahua on the basis that a scrutty little pooch costs less to feed?

1.104 The average Euros per litre of diesel paid for on the trip - roughly 80 pence.

43.42 - The all in daily cost of the trip £43.42 - the cost for 69 days was just short of £3000 - including all ferries, the airfare home for Christmas, storage of the van - food, fuel, accommodation. Excluded from this was 520 euros paid for four new rear tyres - they should have been replaced when a watch was placed on them in the last MOT test.

.02 - Two pence is the difference in the daily averagel cost of last Spring's trip to Spain (£38.64) and this trip (£38.66) if you deduct the cost of the return ferry from Brindi to Patras. - this is remarkably consistent.

12.72 - the average cost per night in euros for accommodation

13/69 (19%) - the time we spent free-camping - 13 nights out of a total of 69 - obviously you could reduce the overall cost by wild camping more - we met a couple from Wigan on the quayside at Tolo who claimed they had never paid for a night's camping in the last six years. They boasted about using cold beach showers even in winter...not my idea of fun.

14.79 - For food,drink meals out, personal items - general living costs, £1079, or £14.79 - less than £7.50 per person per day - we don't drink cheap wine, and we eat really well because Gill is an inventive cook who uses fresh ingredients to conjour up simple, but delicious Mediterranean style dishes. (lucky me!). Our only luxury is having  good expresso macchiata in the most stylish cafes' we can find. In a lovely Gelataria in Noto, two fabulous Italian coffees cost us 1.20 euros each - and they came with scrummy  homemade mini biscuits -  small pleasures!

60 - The number of blog posts since 27th Sept

3156 - the number of page views on blogger

62 - the number of English winter days we need to endure before we return to Sicily to continue our adventures - Heels for Dust!

10 - astounding images from the last 69 days...

Lungern, Switzerland, Oct 3rd

Trulli house, Alberobello, 13th Oct.

Tolo, 4th November
Road to the Mani, 26th October
Drapano sunset, 3rd Nov.
Poros, 5th November
Ancient Epidauros, 6th November

Akrata Beach, 11th Nov

Etna Wine, 17th November

Siracusa Market, 23rd Nov

Blue-sky boredom

I know in other posts I have had a bit of a rant about the bungaloid nature of campsites set up to meet the needs of long stay, over-wintering northerners. Camping Scarabeo's customers on the whole are here for the duration, and many are regular returners. All that being said, the site is very well managed, but more laid back than an equivalent site on the Costa Blanca - not a gnome infested Dutch pitch in sight, or an Autotrail flying a duvet-cover sized St George's flag here. In fact there is a genuine warmth and friendliness among the campers. After two months of being more or less solitary, even a curmudgeonly old bugger like me enjoyed some company. The location too is lovely with a west facing beach that is great for sunset watchers, rose and hibiscus lined pathways, generous, level pitches and modern facilities including your own private loo cubicle. It's probably the best long stay site I've seen. The only downside is that it is somewhat remote. Ragusa, the nearest town of any size, is 28 kilometres distant and there does not seem to be a bus service.

Big pitches

Our personal hibiscus
Punta Braccetto beach

The recent windy weather brings out the sunset surfers

Not that any of this is an immediate concern as we are not going anywhere. Though Gill is a little more mobile, it's clear we we will need help at the airport. Tomorrow we'll contact Easyjet's special assistance helpline. Carol, our neighbour, has agreed to pick us up next Saturday from Manchester Airport; that is a great help. 

After more than two months of being active and moving from place to place almost everyday it's tricky to suddenly have to stay put. At least I can potter about, catching up with the laundry, cleaning the van in preparation for putting it into storage. Gill, however, is more or less stuck in one place and limited to what she can do. She has been really good about keeping to the exercise and ice pack regime we downloaded from NHS Direct. What all the online advice says is to keep walking as normally as possible even if it is painful, so with the help of walking poles Gill made to the rear gates of the campsite this evening to watch the sunset. 

Advanced physiotherapy - J cloth wrapped frozen peas

Definitely less swollen than yesterday - progress!

Gill invents a new sport - Nordic Limping
How quite Gill is going to get through the next four days of restricted activity without going stir-crazy I don't know. There is a limit of how many hours a day of Candy Crush she can play without getting a glazed expression, dribbling and talking gibberish. Impressively I have not noted any signs of dribble or drivel just yet.

I do wonder what people who stay here for months actually do. More than one fellow resident has mentioned the delights of the exciting international boules competition that was organised last year, but that's hardly going to keep the dribble at bay in the long term. I suppose when we jet back in February we shall see the impact of blue-sky boredom on them all. Perhaps they will be wandering around with saucepans on their heads, or perhaps only a few of the more doughty individuals will have survived at all, following a post-Christmas slump into cannibalism and witchcraft. We shall see..

Evidence of British influence in the laundry - a washing-machine booking list to avoid queueing misunderstandings and random outbreaks of awkward social embarrassment.
Early signs of Christmas on the German vans.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Slow progress.

It's a very British reaction when something untoward occurs, simply pretend it never happened. Hence the popularity of the astonishingly annoying phrase, 'Keep Calm and Carry On'. We all know if we trip over a kerb or walk into a lamppost the instinctive British response is not to say 'ouch' or rub the sore bit, but to glance around nervously in the hope nobody noticed. So faced with one half of the party being unable to walk we still headed to Camping Scalambri simply because we had pre-booked it, planning to visit Casa Montebano, of TV. fame. On reflection, quite why we continued with this I am unsure, not only would Gill's injury have prevented us visiting the Casa, but also yesterday's storms had strengthened, and nobody in their right mind would have gone walkabout by the sea in the freezing squally showers and frequent thundery downpours. 

However, our stupid stop-off in Camping Scalambri proved fortuitous. The owner's brother-in-law happened to be a local pharmacist, and after a couple of phone-calls, the ever-so-helpful receptionist solved a real conundrum for us. The hospital in Noto had given Gill a set of instructions about further treatment - after three days, remove the tight elastic bandage and replace it with a fancy looking knee support - the sort you see joggers wearing. What the doctors seemed a bit vague about was where exactly you purchased one. When we asked they simply said, "Oh you can get them anywhere." Really - at a tobacconist kiosk, a garage, the guy by the roadside selling aubergines out of the back of his Ape? It turned out that there are specialist 'medical aid' shops in most Italian larger towns selling mobility products and other general medical items apart from pharmaceuticals. The people at the campsite were really helpful, they tracked down the address of the nearest in Ragusa, about 25kms away, phoned ahead for us, and even took a photo of the brochure with a picture of the device, and texted it to the shop. 

When we put the address into Google maps, Via Fuca, the 'Medical Supporti' shop seemed to be down a side street - not Maisy friendly. After I had made a few puerile comments about it being where you go if you Fuca your knee, we hatched a plan. We would park the van as close as we could, then I would walk to the place and get the item. Like most of our brilliant plans, it was inspired, but did not work. We found a handy discount supermarket car-park about half a kilometre from the shop, and off I trotted with GPS in hand. It was easy enough to find, well signposted off the larger street, but in a small cul-de-sac with a tiny car park. I had pre-prepared a small speech in Google translate. In fact they were expecting me, and one of the white-coated staff spoke some English. They needed Gill as the item had to be exactly fitted to the circumference of her knee. 

So, back to the van, man-up and deal with the now manic lunchtime rush hour and squeeze Maisy down the narrow side street. Luckily the place had three disabled parking bays outside the shop. I parked across all three and a rather handsome young man in a white coat appeared with a wheelchair to wheel Gill into their treatment room.

They did not have the exact same item as shown in the doctor's brochure, but found a similar one. In fact it must have been the deluxe model, possibly styled by Gucci - it cost 150 euros! Hopefully, we will get all but £60 of this back on our medical insurance. It does strike you just how comprehensive the NHS 'free at the point of delivery' promise remains, even after all of the recent squeeze on funding. It's something we simply take for granted, but most places in Europe have a mixed system where state cover is topped up by private insurance schemes.

No, they did not fit the support on the wrong leg -
but tested it for size on  the uninjured knee before removing the hospital bandage.
After a stop-off at Conad to buy groceries we headed for Camping Scarebeo at Punta Braccetto, our final destination. We stocked up for a week realising that we were unlikely to want to move the van once we settled. Hopefully there will be a local shop, otherwise it's a 6km bike ride back to S. Maria Camerima if we  need a litre of milk. Ends of journeys are always a bit odd, like a kind of sad goodbye. Gill in her Gucci leg strap has added a whole new set of complications, and a touch of the bizarre to the experience.


Friday, 27 November 2015

Re-thinking the everyday.

Thursday, 26th November

We have had to re-think all of our plans. Gill is basically non-ambulant. She is able to shuffle around the van clinging onto the furniture, but it's definitely a two person job to help her into bed. The instructions from Noto hospital were to leave the elastic bandage on until Saturday, then replace it with a velcro strapped knee support. We need to find a largish pharmacy tomorrow to find the item.

We had it all planned out, a visit to Punto Secca to see the Inspector Montelbano locations, a trip up to Piazza Armerina to look at the Roman mosaics. Now everything is on hold, with fingers crossed that her knee improves enough for us to travel to Catania by bus next Friday. We are checking Easyjet website for the details of arrangements for passengers with mobility problems. It's all very silly.

In truth the weather has been so wild and stormy that we could not have done the sightseeing stuff anyway. The stopover at here at Punto Secco is a bit ramshackle and primitive. With the wind and rain buffeting the van and the sea roaring away less than 100 metres away, parked here on this remote campsite, it does feel a long way from home. We just have to accept if you travel for months on end it is not always going to be great.

Stormy weather on the way to Punta Secca

Wild sea - a few feet from the road - it's a good thing the Med does not have much of a tidal reach.
Hundreds of people on Motorhome Adventures clicked a get well soon message. That really cheered us up. Now though, all those posts have simply disappeared, which is odd, the site must have had a bit of a glitch.

Thank you from Gill for all the goodwill messages.
Another thunderstorm is rolling through. Time to turn in, it can't rain forever. What we have decided to do is head a few miles along the coast to Camping Scarebeo where we have arranged to store the van. A few extra days there will be useful. Then van needs a thorough clean. , inside and out, then the systems closed down for storage. Early next week the weather is forecast to get sunny again, if a little chillier. We have had a marvellous journey, apart from yesterday. Things will get better, I am sure.


Sent from my iPhone

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Noto A&E- and a huge thank you to Roberto and Giusi.

Wednesday 25th November

Right now I am sitting in the waiting room of Noto osipidale A&E while Gill is somewhere in the X-ray dept. Fortunately we are not having a major emergency, but what you realise as that even simple accidents can be problematic when you are travelling. 

Xray bound...

Last night we stayed at the lovely Agricampeggio Maccari near Pacino in the far southeastern corner of Sicily. Roberto and Guisi have been fantastic hosts, inviting us to eat with them, a typical local dish of smoked herring with orange salad. It was delicious. The campsite is based on a small farm growing organic fruit and vegetables. Everything on the table, apart from the fish, was from their gardens and fields. I am going to post separately about Agricampeggio Maccari as it somewhere really special. However, their Facebook page does give a flavour of the place's unique ambiance:

At Agricampeggio Maccari you get a real taste of rural Sicily

Parked among the Olive trees

Brand new sanitary block

The place has bungalows as well as camping pitches - if it was England, this would be 'glamping'

Smoked herring on the grill
Pete and Roberto in the outside kitchen
Roberto and Giusi - gave us a wonderful welcome.
What we did not appreciate yesterday evening was that circumstances were about to transform Roberto and Guisi from kind hosts into guardian angels. Overnight we had a hefty thunderstorm. Rain on the van is loud enough, but for five minutes or so the hailstones bouncing off the roof sounded like a downpour of pebbles. As we peeked out of the bedroom window, the olive trees, illuminated momentarily by lightening flashes, writhed madly in the gusty wind. By morning all was calm, and the only sign of the tempest - a power cut. 

On the way out we stopped for a moment by the farm house to say goodbye. Gill, as ever had been directing me past low tree branches when I heard a yelp of surprise. I jumped out of the van to find Gill sitting in a patch of mud being helped by Roberto. The overnight rain had made the side of the road greasy, and Gill had slipped. It soon became clear that this was not a case of dented dignity. Gill's knee was beginning to swell and she was unable to stand unaided. Kindly Guisi returned from work and gave us a lift to Noto hospital. 

So after a bit of a wait in the X-Ray Dept, and another bit of a wait for the doctor, by mid afternoon Gill was diagnosed as having 'distorted' (sprained) her knee and was duly bandaged up and instructed to buy a surgical support in three days time from a pharmacy.

We are staying one more night here at Agricampeggio Maccari, and thinking through how we need to reorganise the last 9 days of the trip to cope with one of us being non-ambulant. It affects everything from shopping to losing Gill's invaluable help as director of traffic. At the moment she cannot walk at all without assistance. It does strike you how important being fit and well is when you are travelling long term. The other issue is the fact that I do all of the driving, if I had injured my knee we would have been 'becalmed' entirely. On the homeward stretch in February Gill is going to have to think about driving the van, sometimes, perhaps starting with main roads and motorways. Having just one driver does not really make sense, especially as Gill is a really good car driver anyway, so there is no reason at all for her not to drive Maisy. It's just a habit we have developed.


Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Noto - grand buildings, simple food.

Noto is world famous as one of the highpoints of Sicilian Baroque architecture. The way the 17th century masons were able to mould the cream coloured stone into fantastical forms, as if  plastercine, is breathtaking.

It's not just individual buildings that are outstanding, but also the way viistas are used for theatrical effect.

Take a classically proportioned facade, then bend it, as if it was cardboard!

Slightly more sober, the Opera House from the 1860s
The figures on the steps give some sense of the monumental scale.

Playing with the classical concentions - Vitruvius would turn in his grave.

Grand facades

and grand streets

Ornate balconies....

However, Noto is not just a moribund architectural showcase, it is a lively, busy town. Good places to have a lunch-time snack abound. Ananchi Planet is exactly what it says, a place that celebrates Sicilian street food.

Calzone - yum!
Ananchini con funghi... yum yum.

Discovery of the day.... Gelateria sell great coffee (and complimentary cakes) as well as stunning ice cream.
You've read the time for the movie!