Iggy the Hymer motorhome is sitting in oceans of puddles by the riverbank in the rainy French village of Salernes. ( N43.5588 , E6.23352) It is four days and five nights since our ferry from Greece pulled in to the docks at Ancona. Four days and five nights of almost continuous grey skies and rain. When it wasn’t snowing that is. Hello Northern Europe! How soon can we leave again?
It’s funny to be sitting here in the South of France calling it Northern Europe – we’re not even above the 45th parallel! We know this because we crossed the 45th Parallel on the road to Milan before turning back down to the Mediterranean at Genoa. It’s a line we’ve crossed many times without knowing, but I’d never seen it on a signpost before. Strange the little things that can excite me. I would be even more excited if they had one to tell me when I’m leaving again.
“You are crossing the 45th Parallel North heading in a southerly direction. This means you are now nearer to the Equator than to the North Pole.”
In fairness to the South of France it is noticeably warmer here than it was in Northern Italy. Just as wet, but noticeably warmer. Neither country so far is as much fun in the rain with a dog as it was warm and dry without one! There are too many fences, too many cars, too many rules. Marley is missing her long beach runs and stages sit down protests when faced with yet another long stretch of tarmac and leash. After nearly three months in Sicily and Greece we’re used to a wilder kind of lifestyle. We’re feeling a bit caged…
I somehow think though that our attitudes would be a little different if we weren’t heading homewards. That is the real downward pull on our spirits. If the road was still open before us for another six months, a year, two years, then the rain and snow would not be bothering me one little bit. It is the rapid, inexorable move northward to Calais that is really putting the grey tinge onto my disposition.
And now that I’ve confessed that to the world I must pull my droopy socks up! What a shame it would be to waste this time complaining because I’m going home? Rather I shall seek to enjoy what is left of it. Rain or no rain. I am touring Europe in my motorhome for goodness sake! Get a grip Fiona! Where have we been? What have we seen through the puddles and the showers? Well come a little closer and I shall tell you…
The trip on the ferry was uneventful enough. A smooth crossing despite torrential rain and a fair amount of wind blowing across the outside deck for most of the voyage. The dog kennels on the top deck were a poor affair. There was a dog in them that Marley had played with on the pier when we were waiting for the ferry to dock. A pretty young thing with a bandaged foot and a sweet disposition. She cried when she saw us, and Marley cried back at her.
We were so grateful we’d got the pet cabin for Marley. She would have been traumatised in one of these cages. All alone in a box in a strange and frightening place. She would have thought herself abandoned again. And even when we visited her would have wondered what she had done wrong to be punished so cruelly.. It is awful how we humans treat other animals. And unnecessary too. We swore to ourselves we would never put Marley in one of those kennels as long as it was humanly possible!
The rest of the pet facilities on board were non existent. We hunted in vain for a sandbox for Marley to use for her toilet, but there was nothing. We felt very sorry for her as she crossed her legs for hours waiting to be presented with a suitable place for a number two. Eventually nature forced a solution and doggy business was duly done. On the deck floor, beside a swimming pool and bar. The barman didn’t so much as twitch an eyebrow! This is how it is it seems! Too wild west even for me Minoan Lines. Sand boxes please!!
Marley was ecstatic on Tuesday afternoon when it was time to go back to Iggy. She had been super quiet and well behaved on board and made up for it by being super naughty and boisterous as soon as we were home and on the road again. She was so happy to be back outside with fresh air and solid ground beneath her feet. Even if it was sopping wet!
After our first night parked up north of Ancona we set off on Wednesday morning for Reggio Emilia, a town on the road to Milan where Jay had stayed for about a year when he was eighteen.
Now if you know our Jay you know he has a memory similar to a goldfish. Note I said similar and not like. It’s a crucial difference. You have probably heard the old saying that goldfish have a 3 second memory span. Interestingly enough this is not true, and the much maligned golden ones can actually remember things for up to at least three months. Sadly this is not the case for our Jay, whose similarity to the goldfish is more in that he’s really laid back and lovely. Oh and that he really does have a three second memory span!
To be fair eighteen years of age was also quite a long time ago for both of us. Jay had been staying outside the city in a country setting with his friend Allan and Allan’s big sister Susan and her husband and baby daughter Iria. Jay’s fondest memory of Reggio Emilia is a bar that sold McEwen’s Export – quaintly called “McQueens” by the barman. He says it “Wasn’t like the rubbish they sold back home. It was thick and dark and nice.” Perhaps the niceness of the “McQueens” explains why his only other memory of the town is how to say ‘Two large beers please!’ in Italian! ( Due birre grandi per favore. )
It’s not exactly the best day for a re visit as we pull into the motorhome parking area twenty minutes walk from the historic centre. The rain is lashing down interspersed with spells of drizzle. Everything is modern, busy and singularly unattractive in the cold, “this is not Greece” ‘ness, of the day. But, the dog needed walked. We needed walked. And there is a realness to exploring strange lands in the cold and the rain. Besides, we may never come this way again. And I wanted to visit Jay’s past with him.
The walk into town was not a fun one. This was Marley’s first proper experience of walking in a city. Busy roads. Being held in tight on the lead. Not even being allowed off in the parks. Not getting to sniff everything. Not getting to speak to every passing person and dog. And lashings and lashings of rain. Marley dog is not a big fan of the rain!
By the time we had half carried half dragged her into the city centre we were both pretty tired, and wet, and grumpy! Reggio Emilia is a picturesque and up market town. The historic centre is beautiful and very interesting, but the rain and our bedraggled puppy had us beat.
We gave ourselves a pep talk and mustered our enthusiasm to enjoy the day. The rain dumped itself on our heads in open sluice gate proportions and our enthusiasm refused to be mustered. Rumour has it that it went AWOL for the day and absconded to fond memories of Rome in December. I can’t say I blame it!
We decided to give up and salvaged something from the day by doing some pretty successful “Heel” training with Marley all the way home. Marley hadn’t had any proper exercise since Monday and we were all getting a little bit of cabin fever. We had a look at weather forescasts and destinations and decided to take the toll road the next day all the way to the coast west of Genoa. It was warmer there and we could let Marley run along the beach. One last night in Italy and then we’d cross over into France on Friday.
Maybe one day we would return and see Reggio Emilia in the sun. Or maybe we will just leave it to the past. Creamy pints of ‘McQueens’, rain that would drown you if you looked at the sky, and the place Marley learned to walk to heel. That can be enough for me I think. It’ll do. It’ll do.