Italy - Salerno, Pompei and the Amalfi Coast - 5th December 2011 - 9th December 2011
I think it's probably true to say we were ready to get off the freighter after 5 days. If for no other reason that we couldn't keep eating 4 courses twice a day for much longer. We docked at Salerno, a pretty town perched precariously over the hillside, just after sunrise and simply drove off the boat and into Europe - no immigration, no customs, nothing.
The first shock, and it was a big one, was the cost of fuel. We handed over 50 euro for a paltry 30 litres. In days to come we were refuelling to the tune of 100 euros every day. We could have chosen to disembark nearer to the UK than Salerno but we both wanted to visit Pompeii.
It was an amazing experience. Both Herculaneum nearby, and Pompeii were far better preserved than I had imagined possible. Walking the streets over the huge cobbles complete with grooves worn by chariot wheels, past corner shops still with pots built into the counter tops and looking at beautiful paintings on the walls really allowed you to step back in time. We visited the bathhouse (still with broken glass in the windows and little shelves which functioned as lockers), bakers shops with huge ovens, launderers with complex plumbing, even a brothel with x-rated paintings on the walls! More gruesome but just as fascinating were the "bodies" on display. Not just humans but dogs and livestock. We read that these were formed by pouring plaster into the empty spaces left in the ash once bodies decomposed (which didn't explain why some of them seemed to have teeth and nails in situ!). However they came about, the contorted bodies, arms flung over their faces to try and protect themselves from the ash, were mesmerising.
After visiting Pompeii we drove up the coast. Unfortunately we were still having problems with the car's battery (replaced just a few weeks before in Israel) and a combination of factors lead to us coming to a halt and being unable to start the engine on a slip road to a service station in northern Italy. We had to be "rescued" which resulted in a hefty 220 euro fee.
France - Nice, Avignon, Troyes - 10th December 2011 - 15th December 2011
Despite being in prime holiday territory, the South of France doesn't look quite so idyllic in a howling gale - which seemed to last for most of our stay. Jerry spent a frustrating day trying to diagnose the car, the answer being a dud battery purchased in Israel. However, this meant we could revert to using the leisure battery to start the car (the fridge being less useful in a European winter) and this would get us home. By now we were pretty much ready to get there and these last few days were little more than roads, toll booths and service stations punctuated with stops at cheap chain hotels - which disconcertingly were identical in every detail - a definite feeling of ground hog day!
After an overnight in Calais we got up in the dark to make the ferry - which was of course delayed for 2 hours due to the bad weather - and before long there were the white cliffs of Dover.
We were home.