Welcome to the blog for our round the world trip.

17 January 2008

The Italian Job... Back in the Game!!

Mole Antonelliana, Turin
Originally uploaded by rtw2007.
Still nursing slight hangovers from Matt and Babs’ wedding, Pitto kindly dropped us off at Luton airport and we prepared to be thrown back into RTW 2007 (perhaps it should now be RTW 2008?).

We had booked flights to Turin simply on the basis of it being the nearest cheapo-airline airport to Genoa, where we were due to collect our van. We had no idea what to expect of Turin and, having only packed a couple of jumpers, I was slightly perturbed on the flight to hear the couple in front of us start discussing how it would be -12 on arrival. We are expecting that kind of temperature in the more remote parts of Turkey, but not yet! Fortunately, Turin was cold but not crazily so and, having booked into a small station hotel run by two elderly Italian mamas, we wandered off to investigate the main sights. These comprise the Turin Shroud (a piece of cloth that Jesus was wrapped up in post-crucifixion, allegedly) and the very impressive Mole Antonelliana (a huge, cavernous construction that was supposed to be a Synagogue but accidentally got too big, was bought out by the council and now houses an really impressive film museum and an external light display based on the Fibonacci numbers). After a couple of days mingling with the beautiful people and eating copious amount of gorgeous Italian food, we eventually heard from our shipping agents and caught a train down to Genoa on the coast to meet the van. Hurrah!

Ha ha, it was a trap, the van wasn’t actually coming into Genoa, but instead was arriving at the next port along the coast. So a day of dubious “sights” in Genoa (rather more graffiti and prostitutes than in Turin) was followed by an early morning train journey along the coast to Voltri, an enormous cargo terminal built on reclaimed land out into the Med. The train runs along the length of the terminal; past hundreds and hundreds of brightly coloured containers all stacked up on top of each other, for kilometre after kilometre. Gazing from the train window I forlornly estimated the chance of the van and us meeting each other as approximately zero. I had, however, not counted on the indomitable Federica. Our nominated Italian customs agent appeared to know exactly which strings had to be pulled. Having locating the correct container, she found two burly shipyard workers to get the van out and then dismissed the scary, officious looking customs officers with a smile and a wink. Slightly different to our experiences in India. Remarkably, after all the scare stories and our many worries, we cleared the port in under an hour.

Heading out of Genoa, we stopped briefly further down the coast, at the Cinq Terre villages; a small group of hamlets in the hills near La Spezia, We stayed at Manarola, which was nice enough to wander around (although the average age of locals appeared to be about 85). We were, however, distracted by the excitement of being reunited with the Van of Dreams. With all in order and a good nights sleep well had, it was a case of hopping onto the ‘Via Aurelia’ – the road that all the Romans used when they were off to stomp on the Gauls – which is now a fast Autostrade and, for us, the road south.

14 January 2008

A December Detour

Spending a few days in Dubai, as a stopover on our way back from India to the UK, was a huge contrast to the majority of our trip so far. Huge buildings which give you neck ache as you crane to see the tops; acres of glass panelling sporting sunny reflections; shopping malls the size of small nations offering Gucci, enormous diamonds; souks full of gold and the biggest televisions in the world (one mall even has an indoor ski resort); and levels of wealth which would be entirely unimaginable to people in some of the more remote parts of the world we have visited. We were more than a little culture shocked by it all.

We weren’t sure whether Dubai would be our kind of place, not least because there is no real history there. It is all very new, having really developed only last century in the middle of an inhospitable desert. But despite the culture shock, we really enjoyed seeing the madness of it all. We ate our first proper Western food for a long time; drank in Starbucks; met up with a couple of Helen’s former work colleagues; admired some pretty spectacular architecture (our hotel room looked out onto the Burj Al Arab Hotel - the “sail” building with the famous circular helipad- which was pretty amazing); and marvelled at how ethnically diverse the city is. Nowhere else have we seen so many nationalities and heard so many languages in all the restaurants and hotels, no doubt something to do with the marketing of Dubai as a central meeting place for people coming from Europe, the Far East and Africa. So, all in all, it proved to be an interesting few days.

The shame of it was that the roads in Dubai were fantastic, including a fourteen lane highway that runs for twenty kilometres through the city. And yet we had no Van of Dreams with us. After the rubbish roads we have driven on, it was rather galling to find ourselves somewhere where we could have cruised around so easily in the van, yet to suddenly have to rely on taxis. Having said that, the traffic is terrible in Dubai, so maybe it was just as well that we weren’t driving.

It’s amazing how much we have grown used to our on-the-road nomadic lifestyle, though: we were having withdrawal symptoms after only a few days! The up side was that we made it back to Blighty for the festive season, in time to catch up with friends and family, and to join in the great British Christmas and New Year Binge. We ended our brief trip home by joining Matt and Babs on their wedding day: congratulating them by sipping champagne in a Cambridge college was a good way to round off our trip.