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Thursday, 25 September 2008

Europe trip 2008 - Prague to Home

7th July.
Bye bye Budapest, it was over 30ºC again by midday. Whilst I sweltered in the van, Sue used up our remaining Forints in the cool of a Lidl's supermarket.

Above Budapest the Danube curves westward towards Bratislava and we followed it as far as Esztergom. This is a sacred city to the Hungarians as Hungary's first king, St Istvan, was baptized and crowned there. The skyline is dominated by the three domes of its vast Basilica. The old town looked worth a longer look, including a museum on the use and management of the River Danube, but we decided to press on.

From behind the cathedral we crossed over the Danube via an impressive riveted steel bridge (with a 3.5 ton restriction) and passed through the dusty and disused customs post to Sturo.

Refueled and in possession of another tourist map (paying by credit card), we hit the 509, a long straight road through endless hay and sunflower fields. Now the weather began to change - sinister black skies, high winds, fantastic forked lightening and rain storms. The cracks of thunder were so fierce they actually seemed to rock the van. When we got to Nove Zamky some roads were flooded and littered with tree debris, we saw some large uprooted trees and power lines brought down. Lucky to miss the worst of that one!

Some serious wind and rain on its way!

Next stop was Sala, a small disjointed town dissected by railway lines, whose solitary focal point was a massive illuminated Tesco sign atop a steel tower. I drew £50 worth of Slovakian Koruna (SKK) from a smart new ATM.
Camping Termaline Kupalisko (GPS: 48.1334 N, 17.7857 E) was selected from our new map. It was several kilometres away through flat rural countryside and when we arrived the gates were barred and locked; there were signs of life however, and a grumpy looking middle aged man came to receive us. He had not a word of English.

Sue struggles to converse in Slovak

The Slovak language belongs to a Slavic sub group of Indo European languages, but uses the Roman rather than the Cyrillic alphabet. At this point some knowledge of German would have been very useful, but as we have none Sue had to struggle on with sign language, eventually ascertaining that a single night would cost 460 SKK (€15) – this apparently included a swim in the thermal baths!

The camping area was surrounded by a group of chalets, a tired looking holiday apartment block and a decrepit 60's built Night Club/Restaurant. There was also an unusual wooden building built in the form of a star, apparently a disco, but looking distinctly unused.

We parked next to one of the many tents in a small roped off patch currently being used as a football pitch. As the only modern motorhome present, we attracted some bewildered looks and felt briefly like unwelcome strangers at a private party. I went to inspect the pool but it was empty, a squad of cleaners spraying the slime off the walls. Oh well, nice to know they clean it occasionally!

8th July.
Braving the chilly (yes chilly!) morning breeze we sampled the pool in the early sunshine, it was now nearly full and at a beautiful temp: not too hot to enjoy a swim, but warm enough to just sit and relax amongst the steam. A great way to start the day. A handful of other bathers, with their backs to the water spigots, were dedicatedly soaking up all those minerals claimed to cure almost every ailment known to man, but curiously – according to our map guide – with a particular emphasis on nervous and motor system diseases.

This water can cure almost anything!

The next town was Galanta. Not having bothered with a vignette for the trunk roads, we drove through Sered and followed minor roads onto Trnava, passing through several small villages, typically distinguished by red-tile roofed cottages, strings of old fashioned phone lines and rather incongruously: megaphone PA speakers hanging from every other telegraph pole; more relics of communist control.

On the outskirts of Trnava there is a massive new Peugeot-Citroen car plant, which together with some huge DHL warehouses, must be bringing much needed employment into the area. Trnava itself is identified by the sparkling, newly restored copper domes on its central church.

The copper domed church in Trnava

Heading towards Senica on the 51, we drove over the Malé Karpaty range – nice to be in wooded hills again. The map indicated a surfeit of castles (ruined and otherwise) in the area.

Czech Republic
After using up the last of our Slovak Koruna on diesel, we crossed into the Czech Republic at Hodonin. No passport or customs controls again but we made sure to buy a vignette at the small office marked Smënárna shortly after the customs booths.

This is the place to get your vignettes

Asked if the van was over 3.5 tonne I told the girl 3850 kg, but she took a look out of the window at our van and sweetly issued one for 3.5t. The shortest period available was 1 week at €14. I was offered Euros or Czech Koruna (CZK) in change for my Euros.

Feeling that we had done enough driving for one day we consulted our Czech-published tourist map and saw a group of campsites west of us, by a lakeside at Pasohlávky. According to our Caravan Club guide, free camping in the Czech Republic is punishable with a heavy fine, so we weren't taking any chances just yet!

The towns of Breclav and the more interesting Mikulov passed by and we finally saw a camping sign. It turned out to be a huge and noisy conglomeration of sites; not our cup of tea at all, and the presence of visiting police confirmed the decision to look elsewhere.

Our map showed one more site further out and so we found Autocamp  Brod nad Dyji. It was a tiny but prettily maintained site with small chalets and tents, ornamental pool and communal BBQ area. The young proprietor did a double take when he saw our van but squeezed us in by the stream. (GPS 48.8804 N, 16.5369 E). 130 CZK (€5.5) a night.

Autocamp  Brod nad Dyji: pretty, but pretty small

9th July.
We extricated ourselves from Brod nad Dyji after a chat with some Dutch in a tent who had been visiting Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro. They had enjoyed themselves and found the people friendly, but the visit was expensive, costs bloated by bureaucratic surcharges.

We headed North to pick up the E65 motorway to Praque at Brno. We soon had regrets as the road surface is appalling: made up of concrete slabs that have worn to a concave shape it produced some horrendous vibration in the 'van. Fearing that the bike rack would shake itself off the back we exited at Jihlava and took the 38 to Kolin, thereafter route 12 to Prague – a slower trip but far more pleasant through rolling countryside.

Torn between trying the Prague Yacht Club Caravan site on Cisarska island (with views of the city centre) and a bunch of sites 3 km North in the Troja area, we chose Autocamp Trojska, one of a row of sites that have been created in the back gardens of adjacent large houses. A very popular site, and crammed with vans and tents from as far afield as Norway, Spain and Iceland. (http://www.autocamp-trojska.cz/ ) (GPS: 50.1167 N, 14.4276 E). 420 CZK (€12) a night.

Autocamp Trojska - they know how to pack them in!

Seeing a van with British (Welsh) plates we said hello to Gloria and Jeff, originally from the North of England. Not having met or talked to any Brits for some time we were all glad of a good chinwag and after polishing off a few bottles we retired to an excellent Italian restaurant 100 yards away.

10th July.
We awoke to the pitter patter of rain on the roof – a strange and forgotten sound to our ears! Our resolve to see Prague soon evaporated as the rain settled in for the day. More vans and tents piled into the campsite; it was soon absolutely packed, cars using up every square foot of space. Nobody catch fire please!

11th July.
A No 14 tram from a nearby stop took us into the city centre. The outskirts of the city looked pretty run down: derelict buildings, graffiti, overgrown pavements. Once off the tram Sue soon spotted that boat trips were available and we signed up for one. The river Vltava is not free flowing here but regulated by locks, hence a round trip between lock gates takes about 40 minutes.

The famous Charles bridge, with Prague castle on the horizon

A variety of pleasure boats ply their trade, including a paddle steamer and a magnificent old vessel called simply “Prague” and manned by immaculately suited sailors. The commentary was recorded in five languages, which made it a bit long winded – and the French and Spanish pronunciations were excruciatingly wide of the mark. The President and Intercontinental Hotels were hailed as architectural gems (which seemed like unnecessary scraping of the barrel), but perhaps the most memorable sight was a giant red metronome on the hillside which had displaced Stalin off his pedestal.

The famous Charles bridge leads to the Old Town, which it has to be said, does fit your expectations. I enjoyed the lovingly restored classic Skoda cars available for hire. Lunch was by the waterside and for once we enjoyed a tasty and reasonably priced meal in a tourist area.

Next was a tram ride up to the castle. The Cathedral within its walls is magnificent, and free to enter; the rest of the complex, the Royal Place etc, was overpriced – the audioguide as much again as the entry ticket.

Fabulous stained glass in Prague Cathedral

Unable to get a tram ticket from the vandalized machine we walked back down to the town to see the famous astronomical clock with the 12 apostles who pop out and display themselves. Hot and sweaty, but still not using our wits, we sat  down to wait for the apostles and ordered ice creams and water.

The water came in tiny bottles, a small glassful, for which we were charged 90 CZK (4 €) each. The astronomical bill (the equivalent of £18.50) was inflated by the addition of not only a 10% service charge but 19% VAT on top! Our complaint that we were being ripped off was met with the Czech equivalent of the Gallic shrug - nothing to do with me Chief!

The apostles pop out to see the tourists

After wandering the streets some more we ducked down into the Metro for a tram ticket. Wenceslas Square more of a Boulevard really – was in the midst of some serious construction work and largely fenced off. Overall, the area looked pretty shabby to our eyes, and with a slightly menacing buzz in the air; the Police were out in force. As the rain came down we thankfully boarded the tram back to our Campsite haven.

12th July. Germany.
The motorway out of Prague has a good surface but then downgrades to single carriageway. As you approach the German border, construction was continuing and just before Teplice we missed the junction for the new E55 motorway. The old road was still marked E55 however and climbed steeply over the Krusné Hory range. When we got to the vast border post complex at Georgenfeld it was utterly deserted save one solitary police car, the new motorway obviously having made it redundant.

We stopped briefly at the tourist office in Altenburg, an out of the way ski resort, but now with the feel of a ghost town. More pleasant forest roads, an abandoned narrow gauge railway, tidy houses and clean streets. A quick stop at Lidls – nice to be back in Euroland!

Onto Dresden. We drove easily through the city on the 170 and found our way to Caravan Camping Dresden-Nord (GPS: 51.1130 N, 13.7248 E). Another small back garden site with vans packed side by side, but crucially, on the bus route into the city.

After six months of traveling, Sue and I were a pretty well oiled machine when it came to setting up camp – but this campsite owner manifestly knew how to do it better. After much arm waving and countermanding of instructions we ended up with the bikes stuffed into the hedge, at which point he began to wag his finger at Sue. I don't know what the German equivalent of the "entente cordiale" is but we nearly lost it. He even insisted on supervising the levelling of the van with his homemade wooden blocks.  I did ponder an alternative use for them!

Our new friends Gloria and Jeff were on site so we retired to their van for a mid-afternoon cuppa to left off steam, then somebody suggested opening a bottle. They have had a colourful life in a “rags to riches” kind of way and Jeff can tell a good story. Later, he decided it was time to cook the fresh fish they had bought that day; kitchens in both vans were put to work and we enjoyed a huge plate of salmon, squid, rice and vegetables. Around midnight it seemed as if we were getting a second wind, but thinking the sight-seeing might suffer we called a halt!

On the nights of the 13th and 14th of February 1945, the City of Dresden was carpet bombed by the English and Americans. The resultant fire storm destroyed many of its famous monuments and much of its housing – leaving the city looking like the aftermath of Hiroshima. 35,000 citizens lost their lives. Since then the slow and painstaking process of restoring is famous streets and buildings has falteringly gathered pace and now since reunification the final push is underway.
Ruined Dresden in 1945, the devastation is absolute

13th July.
When we awoke the rain had settled in. Clutching a town guide leaflet with a walking route in it we caught the 81 bus to the main Bhanhof.

From there we walked to the Albertplatz, a large cobbled plaza with two magnificent water fountains. Next, down the Haupt-strasse, a tree lined pedestrianize avenue, most of the buildings looking of 60's vintage but not badly proportioned.

As it was Sunday the central area was filled with illuminated market stalls, which reminded us of the Christmas markets we had enjoyed in Emden a few years ago. Some hot Roast Ham at the Grille Hütte looked too good to resist, so suddenly it was lunch time! The smiling vendor had a glint in his eye and cut slice after slice until the buns were stuffed so thick with succulent meat a glass of wine was required to wash it down!

We settled on a padded wooden bench, the rain dripping through the trees onto the canvas canopy above it. A middle aged German couple came to join us and seemed disappointed that we couldn't engage them in conversation, but we smiled a lot – touched by their friendliness.

Just across from where we sat is the Dreikönigskirche, one of Dresdens historic churches. After the devastating bombing only the tower and the altarpiece remained, but now a plain but elegant building contains the broken altarpiece, and the tower is restored. It was sobering to stand within this new, pristine ghost of the original building and imagine the ancient delicate stonework being blasted and scarred by bomb fragments. I know England's people and buildings suffered equal horrors, but it is somehow more sickening when your own country's heroes have wrought the havoc.

The scarred remains of the original altar of the Dreikönigskirche

At the end of the Haupt Strasse it opens up into another large modern plaza with a sparkling gold plated statue of Friedrich August the Strong. From the stone Augustus bridge which spans the River Elbe there is a classic vista of Dresden – the incredibly ornate Zwinger, the Cathedral, the Royal palace, the Bruhl Terrace and the Frauenkirche, provide a skyline like no other. Paddle steamers on the water complete the vision of another time.

Friedrich August the Strong

We looked at the Cathedral first, the rebuilt interior is mostly plain in colour, but the altarpiece and the chapels behind (closed to the public) have been restored in marble and gilt to their former glory. Everywhere else the columns and arches are painted light grey, the identical intricate capitals ungilded – another stark reminder of earlier carnage.

The rebuilt interior of the cathedral

The Opera house was also destroyed, but rebuilt in 1985. Its opulent interior can be visited at certain times of day. The Zwinger is an elaborate Baroque masterpiece with ornate gardens and fountains and has a lovely atmosphere.

The sumptuous Baroque of the Zwinger gardens

No takers, even in the rain!

We then walked through the archway of the Georgenbau into Schloss Strasse, and suddenly our eyes were assaulted by open bombsites and a bleak monument to communist reconstruction: the 1960’s eyesore of the Kulturpalast festival hall. Curiously enough it didn't appear in our guidebook!

The Communists contribution to the elegance of Dresden - Kulturpalast

Across the Wilsdruffer Strasse is the Altmarkt (old market), a huge square, newly relaid on top of an underground car park. On the left is the Kreuzenkirche, also destroyed in the bombing but lovingly rebuilt from 1946-55, though the interior is very plain: just the form of the original with surviving stonework pieces incorporated. The tower has a separate entrance and its 230 steps can be climbed for €2: a mere 0.87 cents a step – if you're counting! The view is good but not as high as from the City hall tower next door. The view here can be enjoyed for €3, including, thankfully, 2 lifts all the way to the top. The arresting picture above of ruined Dresden is in the gallery.

Back towards the Stadt Museum and the Neumarkt (New Market) redevelopment. There was an exhibition centre here with a huge cardboard model of pre-war Dresden and an interesting video. A large part of Neumarkt is still literally a bombsite, but it is slowly being rebuilt block by block with enormous expense and dedication. The Baroque style is being copied building by building exactly as it was, the only 21st Century addition is the Tardis like glass lift in the centre of the cobbled square - transport to the car park below.

 Newly erected "Baroque" buildings filling up the old bombsites

The centrepiece of Neumarkt is the Frauenkirche, a church built in 1726-43 at enormous cost (then) by an architect called George Bahr, who bankrupted his family and died before it was finally completed. Constrained by the available building space, the design is more akin to an opera house and the bell shaped dome has become iconic. Collapsing the morning after the bombing into a jumble of stones; it was saved from total disappearance by the simple ruse of planting climbing roses, thus turning it into a poignant memorial

The rebuilt Frauenkirche dominating the skyline once more

Reconstruction began in 1990 and was completed in 2004 at a cost of €250m. Data available from a fortuitous restoration just before the war, plus new computer technology, enabled 15% of the original stones to be reused, giving it a piebald effect which will no doubt darken in time.

The interior is stunning – not a word I use lightly here. It is galleried like an opera house but where the stage would be, the altarpiece rises to the roof – a magnificent work of art – ornate and gilded and skilfully lit. The background colour is a pastel shade of blue – closer to turquoise than sky – giving it a freshness unlike anything we have seen in our travels in Italy. The achievement is even more remarkable because it has been created in modern times.
 The breathtaking interior of the Frauenkirche

To add to the drama, the original cross from the top of the dome: blackened and twisted by fire – as it was when discovered and lifted from the ruins – is displayed on the right hand side. The resplendent replacement, an exact copy, was a gift from the people of Coventry in 2000.

And so to the Café Frauenkirche for refreshment. Dinner was roast pork stuffed with apple and prunes, applejack sauce and yeast dumplings (which turned out to be slices of doughy bread – excellent for soaking up the rich sauce). The old city has an uplifting atmosphere, day or night, and we stayed until the last bus home.

Dresden is a city still in the process of being reborn – if you are just a little interested in building and architecture it is an engrossing place to visit, though we didn't even touch on the 11 museums (their priceless collections of treasures were put into safe keeping during the war). Dresden affects the title: “Florence on the Elbe” – having “done” Florence I don’t think it’s a vain boast.
14th July.
A Sunny morning. We took the bus again to do some shopping and have a look at more of the "New Town", said to have the greatest proportion of original buildings and to give the best impression of what pre-war Dresden was like. The elegant residential buildings were there all right, most in good condition and some still being restored, but after the lovingly cared for appearance of the Old Town the levels of grafitti were a shock and a disappointment. Up to first floor level it was almost continuous, even active businesses having their windows and doors daubed - their inhabitants must despair.

Step forward to the video surveillance society. I've heard it said that grafitti is a sign of a healthy democracy but to us it is just vandalism, a blight, seemingly out of control in almost every country we visit. We noticed an electrical substation and a few walls on vacant lots where "street artists" had obviously been encouraged to paint, presumably in the hope they would leave somebody’s shop front alone. Some hopes.

We took one of the plentiful and modern trams back to the Albertplatz and found a pleasant mews bistro off the Hauptrasse for lunch. Then to a large bookshop in the Altmarkt to browse their vast collection of maps and guide books, coming away with a Bordaltlas guide to Stellplatz, the german equivalent of French aire de service.

15th July.
The campsite owner was on form again, micro managing our departure. Sue eventually shut him up with the equivalent of "whose van is this?!!"

Onto the E40 within minutes and we settled down for a cross country blast. This route is virtually all 3 lane motorway, what's left is under construction and due to be completed by 2010.

Then, tiring of the motorway, we turned off and using our new Stellplatz guide headed for the small village of Breidenstein where we found a secluded car/coach park by a flood defence reservoir. Pretty spot. (GPS: 50.9116N, 8.46213E)

16th July.
Our next destination was Köln or Cologne (where the "eau de" comes from). Straddling the Rhine, it shares a history with Dresden in that it was flattened by allied bombing. Koln is of course in Western Germany, Dresden was in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), and the differences in their regeneration have been shaped by that fact.

The Koln rail bridge over the Rhine

In our view Dresden has come out best from the circumstances; the minimal reconstruction carried out by the government of the GDR has given time for the job to be done properly – whereas Cologne has the appearance of being thrown back up, mostly in concrete and glass, with barely a nod to the few remaining original buildings. Even the twelve reconstructed churches have been done mostly in brick, pastiching the original stonework, but to my mind leaving them looking a bit Legoland.

Our overnight Stellplatz was on the banks of the mighty fast flowing Rhine, 30 minutes walk away from the city: €8 per night but including round the clock security and electric hook up.
We cycled in along the towpath until we reached the main line railway that sweeps over the river – and then so close to the Cathedral it almost cuts away its foundations! This seems like the natural focal point of the city, where a tourist might be tempted to cross the river, but being a rail bridge it doesn't happen.

The rebuilt "old" town, though pedestrianised, has disjointed and largely ugly architecture and is more or less charmless, somehow reminding me of 1970’s Yokohoma. Down by the water front you can see glimpses of what the medieval town must have been like, but then there is the enigma of the large Blue Pipes! I never got around to finding someone who could tell me what they were for, but the old town streets are lined and dissected by what I suspect are watermains, 12 inches or more in diameter and suspended on pillars, mounted on red and white concrete blocks – perhaps they are some form of street art!
The mysterious blue pipes than weave their way through the "old" town
Strangely enough, Dresden had a few similar pipes along the ring road, but here they really get in the way. One can only assume they are some temporary measure, otherwise it's town planning gone off the rails.

17th July.
We took the bus into town, but it was quite a stroll from the terminus to the Cathedral. The Cathedral was more impressive from the outside than inside  perhaps our eyes are now jaded by seeing so much.

The shrine of the Three Magi
The golden shrine of the Three Magi can only be inspected by official tour groups, but the separate Treasury contains the inner wooden part of the shrine and the usual collection of liturgical adornments and vestments, but also some remarkable carved ivory panels. The history attached to some of these objects can be as fascinating as the objects themselves. (€4 entrance).

Cologne is never going to rise phoenix-like from the ashes as Dresden is appearing to do: as much a result of poor town planning as hurried and ill considered rebuilding. It claims to have world class museums on a par with New York, but the city centre (if you can identify it) is a jumbled metropolis.

We had lunch at one of the many waterfront restaurants and ordered sausage, mash and sauerkraut and a large beer (€33). Although not the rip-off we have found these places to be in other countries, the food was sadly sparse and undistinctive. The service came with a sense of humour however.

Some of the few medieval buildings left, by the waterfront

We hit the road again (E40) and drove to Camping Memling, fifteen minutes cycle ride from Bruges: a smallish site, it was well packed with tents, caravans and motorhomes and must be a well known staging post as there was a mass exodus every morning. (http://www.campingmemling.be/ ) (GPS: 51.2063 N, 3.2620 E), €25 a night.

18th July.
We met some more charming Germans, Gabi and Chris, who were off across the channel to visit South England, Cornwall and Wales – all in 18 days! As we know Cornwall well we couldn't resist a chinwag over a map to make sure they didn't miss our favourite spots. We think we left them thoroughly bemused, but hopefully we'll hear how they got on.

19th July.
Cycling into Bruges in the intermittent and occasionally heavy rain wasn't the best, and made the crowded streets even more difficult to negotiate. Brugge (pronounced: Brugger) is surrounded and dissected by canals and is undeniably pretty, cute and remarkably well preserved.

The network of canals define Brugge

The horse 'n traps are everywhere, echoing around the narrow streets

Of course Bruges is chocolate nirvana for any chocoholics out there, and should you be a Tintin fan you can even buy a model rocket or the "Captain" from Sergey's cartoon adventures in a shop dedicated to nothing else. Wow, were the street restaurants expensive: €14 for fish soup, €26 for moules frites; we chickened out and got a take away from Pizza Hut – even a "medium" cost €14 and barely fed us.

Bruges also has a new and futuristic concert hall, and I had a fascinating few minutes of “important people" watching by the entrance whilst Sue was in the tourist office. Across the square is a modern bronze fountain where you can see a mermaid spouting water from her mouth and her left nipple – amongst other delights.

20th July.
We checked out the designated overnight motorhome parking on the Southern perimeter of Brugge: nicely laid out but with a lifting barrier, but  €22.50 a night, water and waste not included – yes, you have to pay to dump as well

Finally on our way to Calais, we later stopped in the large car park at the ferry terminal to await our turn in the early hours.

21st July.
A "Full English" breakfast on board – surrounded by excited school kids, and then:
Blighty! A beautiful clear sunny day as we hit the M20. Our plan was to check into the Baltic Wharf site in Bristol to revisit the Great Britain, then pop into John Lewis’s at Cribbs Causeway to return the laptop for repair. Lunch at the Cottage Inn pub on the water front and an English pint!

The Cottage Inn pub on Baltic wharf - Ah, an English pint!

The Great Britain is one of Brunel’s best known achievements. Recovered from the Falkland Islands as a wreck in the 70’s, it has now been almost totally restored to its most grand incarnation, including passenger accommodation and a complete replica of the main steam engine. One of the best presented historic ships we have seen, the engine room and passenger cabins really do manage to evoke some realistic flavour.
The totally recreated luxurious saloon

The newly recreated playroom for engineers - it moves as well!

22nd July.
After dropping off the laptop and some retail therapy, we headed for home.

Post Script: some statistics.
In 182 days away we covered 7440 miles in 11 countries.
We stayed 104 nights on campsites and the other 78 wild or free camping.
The campsites added up to £1393, an average cost of £13.40 per night. Over the whole trip (including the free nights) this averages down to £7.66 a night.

Fuel cost for the trip was £1462. This averages out at £8.03 per day, or 20 pence per mile.

Our food and drink bill (we like a glass or two) came to £2408, or £13.23 a day. In addition we spent £1746 on meals out, £8.11 a day.

Heating and cooking costs (buying only Autogas) came to £92, or 51 pence a day.

We spent a surprising £739 on other transport (trains, boat trips, buses, road tolls) though this includes £62 on the return cross channel trip and £222 for the ferry from Bari to Patras.

Other incidental costs included £544 (£2.99 a day) on entrance tickets to museums, etc, plus what we spent on ski lift tickets.
Which brings us to a grand total of £8182 or £45 a day - more than we spent last year, but then touring Italy's major cities was never going to be cheap, and we ate out quite a lot. Then again, how much would a six month "holiday" for two cost by any other means? You can't take it with you!