Greek Ruins and Mozzarella of Campania

We knew near Paestum we could see the Greek ruins and Mozzarella of Campania but first we wanted to explore Agropoli; the medieval old town that we missed the day before as we searched for our beach hideaway and to experience it in the evening.

Our map showed a campsite in Agropoli itself but this was not to be found anywhere rather we found a great little camper place at Trentanova, just a couple of miles walk back into town and actually, with its own pleasant village where you find a great delicatessen and a bar restaurant.  Camping Trentanova was a pleasant surprise at first it looked like you would be parking in a disused industrial ground with a huge barn welcoming you to the site but the good mix of sun and shade below the Eucalyptus trees and absolutely amazing, pristine, beautifully decorated toilets, showers and washing up area made it a great base from which to explore Agropoli.

strange quiet camper stop Agropoli CilentoOur first experience of Agropoli was the day before as we had passed through at the beginning of our testing Cilento coast day. As we entered the narrow streets of the ‘new town’ at 8am it already had a charm and bustle about it.  After breakfast, coffee and Coronette (Croisant) in a friendly little bar close to the centre, we noticed a delicatessen type shop that sold mozzarella so went to investigate.  We couldn’t see any at all amongst the great selection of cheeses behind the tiny counter but the lady old us there would be a new delivery in 5 minutes.  We wandered further, buying more wonderful plump Italian tomatoes (our rule is that you can never have enough tomatoes) and returned to the little deli 10 minutes or so later to find a queue out of the door.  The Buffalo Mozzarella had arrived and the locals obviously knew that it did so every day at that time and that the early bird catches a very fresh and delicious mozzarella. We bought our precious ration and couldn’t resist just a taste of the buffalo milk ice-cream too.
Buffalo milk icecream in Agropoli Italy
After a lunch at the van of our wonderful Mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, (too much) Greek Rosé and delicious melon, we lazed in the sunshine rather than risk any crowds at the beach. Later as the sun dipped, we scrubbed up and flip-flopped into Agropoli for dinner.

It was then 9pm and the streets were full of life and intrigue. The fresh fish shop had tables outside where a few enjoyed dinner, the fruit and vegetable stores cascaded colourfully onto the street and the smell of wood smoke from the fresh baked pizza ovens filled the air. As we approached the central square, the sound of hundreds of people promenading, dining and taking in the warm night air gave the town a vibrancy we had not expected.   We strolled, mingled and had just slowed to their pace when the power to the whole town failed; screams and giggles filled the square and a multitude of mobile phone lights soon lit up the evening.  We continued slowly in the dark weaving our way through those paralysed by the dark and eventually found a little restaurant where emergency lights and gas stove meant they could still serve us a great Spaghetti Vongole (clams) and Frittura Mista (wonderful lightly battered and quickly fried calamari and little fishes).

The lights came back on again a few hours later allowing us to find the way up to the old town and explore the cobbled streets, a beautiful and intriguing place but still packed with people at midnight.  A fascinating evening to end our few strange days and now we had seen (sort of) Agropoli and the old town, it was time, we both agreed, to leave the Cilento Coast and head north. Not an easy decision as any direction north now meant closer to home.

Now for Greek ruins and the Mozzarella of Campania! One last brief stop in Paestum to buy more Mozzarella the following day turned out to be very fortuitous. As we pulled into the driveway of the farm directly opposite the amazing Greek temple ruins we noticed a familiar Camper sign.  It couldn’t be that we could camp in the olive groves surrounding the Buffalo farm right next to the shop and restaurant where they serve an amazing array of Mozzarella and Scamorza could it? It could!Camper van in olive grove Paestum ItalyJust us and one more VW camper in the vast olive grove soaking up the sunshine and marvelling at the Greek ruins just a short stroll from the camper van…

Wonderfully preserved Greek ruins Italy

We toured the farm and said hello to the generous Buffalos…

Paestum Buffalo farm Italy

before a delicious feast of cheese, meats and of course wines from the farm.

Cheese feast at Buffalo farm Paestum Italy

Next stop Rome to see our friends, who have rather fortuitously found themselves living there, so in the morning we bought a huge (500g) Mozzarella, local Aglianico wine for them and filled our fridge with a few of the cheeses from the shop before, sadly now, saying goodbye the Paestum Greek ruins and to Campania.

Difficult Albania

The only way we can sum up Albania really is ‘difficult’; difficult first of all for us to find a place to stay; we think there are 10 campsites in the whole of Albanian, we’ve visited 6 of and stayed in 1, difficult to make progress with few signs particularly in Tirane (though very helpful policemen one of which flagged us down when he saw us circle a block and kindly pointed us in the direction of Elbasan) and half built new roads abruptly ending and veering back onto country roads.

Interesting roads in Albania

Also, and more importantly, however difficult for the people who live in Albania. The land does not look as fertile as in Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro somehow, mining has left its scars on the landscape and now, as always I am sure, people work the land amongst these industrial skeletons and in the steep valleys.

industrial albania

rural Albania

Up and over hills towards the Macedonia border and the Lake Ohrid at Pogradec, we hoped it didn’t live up to it’s name (‘Horrid’!).  Our map showed a few campsites scattered along the waters edge on the Albanian side so that was our destination for the evening. There were a few campsites, two of them looking abandoned by the roadside but each with one lonely tent pitched by the lake and with an Albanian car beside.

Stunning Albanian landscape

We choose a large house above the lake which promised restaurant and camping though not a soul in sight. Tentatively we approached and Tony and his son emerged from the terrace. They spoke a little English and I had now figured out please, thank-you, beer and wine in Albanian so between us we figured out a great camping space in his steep, terraced garden with a view out to the lake and Macedonia beyond and that he could provide dinner later too.

Camp site with view in Albanian hills Lake Ohrid

As we had beers watching the sun going down Tony came to chat, he told he had been building this place for 15 years and only just opened the restaurant last year. In between he had lived and worked in the US for a while always with the intention to return to his Albania. He seemed sad and frustrated yet extremely proud of what he has accomplished so far. I do this for me and my family and because I love Albania, I want it to be better, it is a great place for tourists I think. I build this, I earn money without help from the government, I pay my taxes because I know we need roads. But…. he shrugged his shoulders and waved his hands agitatedly at the beautifully smooth tarmac of the half built road passing his restaurant…give me my road!

When we asked how was business he told us that he has many regular customers from Macedonia they come for the day, eat his fish, and enjoy the lake because it is cheap and quiet and then go home again. It’s ok he said.

We ate his fish too, Koran fresh from the lake perfectly seasoned and grilled with other traditional Albanian food from his family recipe book such as local speciality Fergese (a dish of baked liver, tomato and cheese) both were amazing along with home fried potatoes (proper hand cut chips just like our mum’s used to make we said – yum!). I’m pleased to say we were joined by many others who did the same and snook out to enjoy the night sky in the peace and quiet by the van.

Wonderful dinner in Albania

The following morning after a drive through the hills, coffee in Korçë waiting for the banks to open so that we could change our LEK to Euro we were well on the way to Greece by mid morning.

Intriguing Albania

A strange experience at the border; joining the back of a long line of Greek and Albanian cars, we sat patiently, however lots of the others waiting kept gesturing to us ‘England? – shoosh round!’ they said. Embarrassed and feeling exposed I wandered up to the border police office and explained we’d been told we were in the wrong queue, ‘why?’ the policeman asked, because we’re English I said feeling extremely daft, ah yes you need to come to the front (passing at least 30 cars) move the barrier and go round the outside to the empty lane. After an hour long wait at the Bosnian border and several hours drive still ahead we hated ourselves and felt extremely uncomfortable but followed the instructions and flew through the border crossing into Greece in minutes sad and relieved to be leaving Albania behind.

Albanian shepherd

Driving through Slovenia and on to Croatia

We decided now is the time to head south to the sun, so a long trip across the top of Italy, driving through Slovenia and on to Croatia was the plan for the day.

The drives we have done before across northern Italy’s motorways drag a little but there is always some new challenge or something to learn.   Driving through Slovenia we expected would bring challenges too.  A few miles from the border with Slovenia, we stopped at a service station to fill us with coffee & croissant and the van with Diesel.  I spotted a booth selling Vignettes for Slovenia.  I joined the queue and asked if we needed a vignette for just for one day to drive through Slovenia and directly on to Croatia?  Yes, you need a vignette if you are to drive on motorways, we weren’t sure if we needed to drive on motorways at all but with a long queue forming behind us, we spent the 30€ and bought the vignette.

Back at the van checking the map we didn’t need to go anywhere near any motorways for our brief trip driving through Slovenia.   Angry with myself for taking the wrong decision under pressure I went back to the window (now no queue at all – typical) and the very nice, friendly lady refunded us – phew – that’s dinner this evening!

Our heads and stomachs called lunchtime as we drove through the Slovenian villages and stunning hilly landscape.  Slovenia is a visually beautiful country and one which, I’d like to explore further.

Finally a roadside ‘restaurant grill’ promised home made pasta and wifi – perfect!

Home made Slovenian food for lunch

Wonderful valley views from the quiet restaurant.  I had home-made gnocchi with goulash and Adam chose well with home-made boiled sausages; so good that I asked if I could buy some from the kitchen to take away with us and cook at some point later in the van.

Unfortunately on our direct route not much of Slovenia left to drive today, lots more to explore another time but now on to Croatia…

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‘Ex’ ex-pats in Zurich…

A strange and slightly disorienting experience to revisit now that we are ‘ex ex-pats in Zurich.  No longer a place to call home but still with friends there to make a visit worthwhile.

Funny day; a stop off at our old local supermarket to buy our favourite wine (Spanish but we simply have not been able to find elsewhere other than this little Greek Spar round the corner from Hottingerplatz), to the post office to change a pile of Swiss Franc small change to notes (a very stressful experience – you should try making a roll of 25 x 1 franc pieces with a little piece of paper!) and to the ‘Apple’ shop for a new laptop.

Then off to Fischers Fritz camp site on the side of Zurich See (a new find for us as tourists rather than ex-pats here); a little spot with a lake view, not a bad substitute for the view we used to have from the apartment on the other side of the lake. From our quiet space we could see the Dolder (the hotel closest to FIFA headquarters where many footballers stay) just up the hill from our old apartment.

Our custom camper at Fischer Fritz camping

The campsite shop had a great array of local Swiss cheeses and wonderful fresh bread so we splashed out on local produce with some Berg kase (specific cheese with milk from cows who live at altitude in the alps) and some typical Swiss bread (long flat loaf, light and fluffy on the inside and toasted and crunchy on the outside).   We enjoyed a rather rapid late lunch by the van watching the boats sail by on the lake and then hopped on the bus towards Hardbrucke to meet our friends.

Swiss cheese and bread by Zurich see

Hardbrucke is an intriguing mix of industry and residential with some really great, alternative places to eat and drink that particularly in the summer, seem to spring up from nowhere.

We met at Frau Gerold’s Garten, originally a make shift bar and place to eat in the summer, now almost a mini village with an outdoor bar, a few craft and clothes shops and the main ‘Freitag’ bag shop all housed in old cargo containers.  Frietage shop and Frau gerolds garten zurich It’s off the beaten track and not so easy to find so I would definitely recommend anyone visiting Zurich to make the effort to go there.  It’s very much a local’s place (a little like Spitalfields in London) and locals being a mix of ex-pats as well as true Zurich locals.

Harbrucke Bahnfog restaurant Zurich

A great night, like many nights we’ve had in Zurich, relaxed and effortless socialising with friends, an interesting mix of people, all like-minded with a similar sense of adventure and a focus on getting the most out of life.

We said our goodbyes promising it was not really goodbye.  We then headed off on a combination of tram and bus, getting off the bus early for what was probably our last walk along the side of the lake a familiar and beautiful place and we found just as enjoyable being tourists as ex-pats in Zurich.

Passion for France…

Adam and I have long shared a passion for France and after a great night catching up with friends in Brighton, we made an early start catching the ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe.

On the way we talked about how our friends had inspired us; they have hectic lives and are at a turning point in their life too, busy balancing work, family and getting the most out of every day, yet when we talked about not having time to exercise B simply said ‘why not?’ ‘Well we’ve just been trying to do so much, we’re so exhausted, we don’t have time’, ‘why? if you want to you can find time!’  It made us think, not just about our poor exercise regime but more broadly too. We’re both feeling tired and unfit and and being active is one of the things we love to do, we need to do a better job of prioritising, finding time for what is important to us.

So… a celebratory, ‘we’re off!’ glass of wine with our cheese and ham baguette breakfast on the ferry (well water, beer or wine was included so what can you do!) really got us off on the right road I think.

Helen red wine ferry Ferry to France Newhaven Dieppe

The last few days have been quite a learning experience; learning to relax again as you always need to at the beginning of any holiday or trip, learning to walk at flip flop pace, learning to let go of the commitments and people we have left behind in business, learning to say ‘though I would like to taste everything, I’ve had enough (for now)’ and this time, with our newly acquired France Passion book, learning about a new region of France that we have not really explored before.

Landing in Normandy we took a little stroll through Dieppe and bought groceries and some irressistable savoury treats from the local shops to enjoy later. Using our France Passion book we’d identified a place to stay, 3 spaces, no toilets but promise of chance to buy beef and veal products direct from their farm and a view of the Abbey de Jumieges across the Seine.

Abbey Jumieges Normandy France

France Passion is a great concept that we had been introduced to on our last trip when we stumbled across a sign at a Champagne vineyard; farmers and wine growers open their small field or garden to people with motorhomes free of charge. In return, you leave it as you found it and pay for your stay by buying a little of their produce. Perfect since we always want to buy and try local products.

French Normandy Local produce

At Heurataville Isabelle was very friendly, ‘pas problem’ to park our little camping car in her field. Under a black sky we walked out along the banks of the Seine, into the little village where every garden and house was immaculate and full of character. As the heavens opened, we made a mad dash back to the shelter of our van and tried to get our canopy up, frustrated at being so stupid not to have done it before.  Dried off, we sat giggling under the canopy in the pouring rain with a glass of wine looking out across the river to the abbey.

Enjoying the view in the rain River Seine

It was Friday evening; we wandered up to the farmhouse and to the shed that served as Isabelle’s shop. Two locals chatted away about their weekend plans as they bought trays of wonderful looking beef, veal and sausages. Edith had been to school with Isabelle since she was 5 she told us, she had enjoyed travelling in England but particularly Ireland where the locals there had given her lots of fish and crab in return for a little of the French wine she had taken with her. She particularly liked Sweden though, where it amazed her that even that far north, with very little around, all of the toilets had soap and toilet paper! By now, normally Adam would have been impatient and huffing as the whole experience was taking far too long but it was just so nice to feel a part of this, to meet French people, just getting on with their fascinating and different lives in this tiny backwater. After a nice, half understood conversation Edith wished us a bonne weekend and finally it was our turn.   Home made merguez sausages, rillettes de boeuf and 2 premier steaks, all to be tasted later.

Later that night we enjoyed a feast of fresh French baguette and Normandy meat terrines with wine brought from home in our cosy van. The rain continued and physically and mentally exhausted by, we don’t quite know what yet, we fell asleep before 10.30 – very unusual for us night owls.

As we packed the van and enjoyed coffee in the morning next to the tranquil river a shadow came over us and this time not our emotions getting the better of us but an absolutely enormous ship from Monrovia. I waved at the tiny figure on the deck enjoying the morning air and he waved back as his container ship threaded its way up the Seine towards Rouen. We wondered if he had as interesting a day ahead of him as we did.

Quiet spot by River Seine

Our passion for food is even stronger than our passion for France so we stopped at the market in a really nice town, Bourgtheroulde-Infreville, buying more fresh bread, local cheeses and local cidre for later.

Buying local produce Normandy France

A strange drive through Normandy and down through Chartres to Orleans, all on the D roads, big flat open spaces with fields and fields of wheat and occasionally lavender, not inspiring but different and a really pleasant change to the many trips where we have blasted down the eastern side of France to the Alps and on to Zurich.

Lunch was a roadside picnic in the sunshine, of fish terrines bought in Dieppe with today’s fresh bread and cidre. We wanted it to be perfect and I suppose it was in a way, sunshine, wonderful food, great company in the countryside but we’re not switched off or relaxed yet. It feels like we are on hold and waiting for something, perhaps the sunshine but I think something more; answers, solutions, clarity of what is next as we have said goodbye to a guaranteed, regular income and the security of a commitment to corporate world, setting off into the unknown, emotionally and financially.

Stunning countryside after Orleans spotting chateaux along the Loire. Another France Passion location for the evening at Cosne sur Loire on the border of Normandy and Bourgogne, where Michelle and Christian where wonderful hosts. We parked on the grass next to their restaurant, Les Terrasses D’Ile, then had a wander and a paddle along the banks of the Loire.

Explore paddle in River Loire

‘Un petite Sancerre’ as an aperitif (since Sancerre is just down the road) then buffet dinner which was fabulous; whelks and crevettes followed by Fillet Mignon and Andouilles de Canard (not Adam’s favourite) and vegetables. Then of course I fed another of my passions with a plate of cheese. All with wine on tap. When we went to pay the owner wouldn’t let us pay for our aperitif or the full bill. A wonderful evening if not a little confusing, we had talked incessantly about possible plans for the future; the next day and also the next year, reflecting on our fascinating journey, good and bad, so far.

Adam was up with the sun, I enjoyed the sun rising behind Cosne across the Loire from bed, having enjoyed a little too much Sancerre the night before.

Sunrise over Loire at Cosne sur Loire

A quick stop off in Sancerre village to buy, well what else – creamy, floral Sancerre from a very friendly lady at Fournier Pere & Fils. Then through Pouilly sur Loire where we stopped for more wine tasting and to buy a couple of bottles of Pouilly Fume.

Buying Pouilly Fume in Pouilly BourgogneA beautiful drive following the Loire valley down through Bourgogne, lunch of local speciality Gougere (a choux pastry ball with cheese) sat in the beautiful cathedral square in medieval hill town of Vezelay.

Cathedral square monk Vezelay

Our ‘bed’ pitch for the night, the garden of Chateau de Premeaux, another very nice France Passion spot. Canopy up in plenty of time for the downpour this time, we sat all smug and dry enjoying our very nice Pouilly Fume followed by one brought from Oxford (a Primitivo) which went quite well with our absolutely divine steaks bought in Heurtaville. We must write to thank Isabelle at Ferme Vautier.

Tranquil spot at Chateu Premeux with owners dog

Sadly still raining when we woke to the sound of frogs croaking down by the lake in the garden, we packed up to get an early start. This weather is making us both feel down and like we’re just going through the motions at the moment. Madame Pelletier at Chateau de Premeaux told us that the vines need the rain; everywhere is very dry. Our souvenir from Premeaux three bottles of red wine, two Nuit St Georges and a Pommard. We’ll enjoy them along the journey somewhere and remember meeting lucky Mme Pelletier whose husband was born in the Chateau and she has lived in this idyllic spot now for 40 years.

Chateau Premeux Passion France Bourgogne

We needed to cover ground today so a long time in the van and back on the motorway rather than D roads, neither of us feeling top of the world, both still not quite in the groove so finding lunch could have been quite a chore. We pulled off the motorway seeing a D road that ran parallel through a few villages, after passing through several of these villages, we spotted Restaurant de Marine by the side of the canal, quite an intriguing looking place with a Plat du Jour board and plenty of trucks outside. As we entered and found a table in the packed bar restaurant, Adam spotted I was the only woman of the perhaps 70 customers. Fantastic home cooked, local food, half a litre of local wine for 2.70€, really friendly service and a lovely repost in our long day.

I write this as the thunderclouds threaten again this time in the Haut Vosges near Belfort in Masevaux village. Our last night in France, for now, at a nice quiet campsite where we can fill up with fresh water. France Passion has allowed us to see and experience places off the beaten track, to meet some interesting people with such different lives to us, places and people that we would never have found otherwise.