Black Pudding Gaiters

Hiking, travelling, gear



Italy Tour 2022

I received tickets for a Half Man Half Biscuit concert as a Christmas present in 2019.
Then Covid came.
The concert was put back a few times until the finalised date of September 2022.

As the concert was taking place in Birmingham, it seemed a good opportunity to head off to see other parts of the country; Bristol, Oxford, maybe down to London.
From London, get the Eurostar…..
….Bit by bit, the trip grew legs.

After much planning and number crunching, it turned out that flying abroad worked out considerably cheaper than a few train journeys in England. A little tour of Italy started to come together.
Fly in to Bergamo, fly out of Rome. In between, fit in Milan, Turin, Genoa, Florence and Pisa.

The Monday morning flight arrived a few minutes late. Exiting in to the Arrivals area of the airport, there’s three windows, one for each of the companies offering bus transfer to Milan. I went for the company with the next bus to leave. Not that they leave on time! 
On the journey, I messaged Alessandro who would pass on the keys to my apartment , a lovely large area comprising of living room, breakfast bar, good sized bedroom and a balcony over looking the town.

After unpacking and a quick coffee, headed out for a wander around town ending up in the Darsena area. This felt like it was the ‘evening area’ of Milan. Lots of bars and a nice place to stroll. A small laser show had been set up, presumably to promote something.
A good introduction to Italy!

Milan at night

Tuesday 20th September
After a basic breakfast, headed out to explore Milan. This was my second visit. I had been here previously on a day trip from Bergamo. That day it never stopped raining, today, however, the weather was glorious.

I walked to the town centre and on to the castle (not crowded and grounds free to enter), the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II arcade (large crowds but free to enter) and the cathedral (large crowds and not free to enter) .
There was a lot of walking today, around 31, 000 steps but the main sights were ticked off.

It’s a loud, sprawling city, although the castle park offers respite . I felt one full day here was enough.

Wednesday 21st September

My time in Milan came to an end and I was off to the busy railway station where it’s almost costs the same to buy a coffee as it does to go the toilet (1 Euro) but, at least you get a seat on the toilet unlike the busy coffee shops!

I boarded the 12.15 train for the two hour journey to Turin.
From the mainline station, the Metro took me to Lingotto. A short walk from the station are a number of buildings, once part of the FIAT factory. They now house a shopping mall and two hotels, one being NH hotel where I was spending the night. My room was lovely. Big comfy bed, huge windows, black out curtains, great shower and a few nods to the buildings history.

Fiat test track in Turin

Above the hotel is the old Fiat roof top test track.
I’ve always owned Fiat and Abarth vehicles. Our family car was a Fiat 127 and I learnt to drive in a Strada, so I was very keen to walk along the hallowed tarmac!

Now known as Pista 500, it is accessible through the shopping mall.
The area contains several pieces of art, a garden, fantastic views and, of course, the original track.
Entry only costs 2 euro and it was a peaceful contrast to Milan.
It also has a surprisingly cheap but very classy coffee bar next to various Fiat 500 memorabilia including the original  wooden 500 concept model.

After spending far too long at Pista 500, I headed back in to town for a whistle stop tour and to take dinner, a delicious pizza, at the Turin Brewery.
My time in Turin was far too short, it’s definitely a place to return to.

Thursday 22nd September. 
Today’s journey to Genoa started at Turin’s main Porta Nuova train station although later discovered the train also stops at the much closer Lingotto station!
Breakfast was taken at the station’s branch of RossoPomodorro, two surprisingly good rice balls (known as arancini), one ragu and cheese the other salami and cheese . Turin’s station was the nicest of the trip, large, quiet and the advantage of wireless phone chargers on the tables!
The train journey was pleasant, the train itself quiet with plenty of space for luggage.

Balcony view Genoa

  It was a short walk from Genoa station to H2Ome – Il Cembalo.

This was another good sized apartment.
Someone had lost the WiFi key, the gas hob didn’t work and the bathroom soap ran out, but , the view over the harbour from the large balcony made up for the minor inconveniences.

I took my rucksack in to the bedroom and began to unpack.
The whole building shook violently.
What the heck had just happened?
Did earthquakes happen around here?
They did, and this had an estimated magnitude of 4.4.

Certainly something to remember the Genoa experience!

Friday 23rd September 
After a good sleep , I headed out on to the balcony to open the shutters. It’s very odd not having curtains and having to go outside to set up for the day and night!

Today’s plan was to take the Zecca-Righi funicular. The funicular is free (Sept 2022) and runs every 15 minutes.
There are a number of stops along the way but, I was heading to the top station. From here, it’s about 20 min walk to the parks and views, further still to the forts.
If I had more time on this visit to Genoa, I’d have planned a route and dressed appropriately, for the longer walk to see the forts but even on this quick visit, the views were spectacular and it was nice to get a taste of the countryside.

Some people were simply walking their dogs, others were going on more serious hikes. I can understand why this area is so popular after spending time on the loud, polluted roads in the cities near by. 
This is certainly an area I could spend more time, although I’d bring my walking shoes next time!

Genoa countryside

I took the funicular back down to the town, stopping for a beautiful lunch of prawn and saffron gnocchi at La Ville Superbe on the water front.
I popped in to a nearby supermarket for bottles of pop and sat on balcony for a while. The large balcony is a great spot to soak in the sun, watch the world go by and gaze over a submarine!

Dinner was taken at Osteria Pandemonio a fantastic restaurant in the heart of town. I started with “angry” squid (arrabiata) pasta, main was a local beef dish, followed by panna cotta. Delicious!

Saturday 24th September 
All too soon, it was time to pack up and head to the station for the next stage of the journey.
After a quick cappuccino, I boarded the 10.30 to Brignole. The train was several minutes late getting in. Luckily, the La Spizza train was on opposite platform and late to leave which meant a quick sprint over a few metres.
The second train was a comfy double decker but, like the first part of this journey, predominantly through tunnels so there was little opportunity to see the coastline we were travelling alongside..

I had an hour or so between trains (less than expected thanks to the delays) so took a short wander around La Spizza
The third train was quite busy but mainly due to the number of tourists with large bags needing twice the number of seats. 
It rained for most of journey but I escaped it while walking around La Spizza, however, the rain got far heavier when we got closer to Florence. Thankfully it was a fairly short walk to the B&B Le Stanze di Caterina .
I was allocated quite a classy room. Large, beautifully tiled bathroom, marble walls, art work above the comfy bed and the cathedral right outside the door.

Bar in a powercut

I headed out on the hunt for some food.
Wandered in to a bar that offered burgers but part way though a drink, the heavy rain knocked the electricity out in the road.
It was pitch black in the bar apart from one emergency light and a couple of mobile phone torches.

I scurried out in to the rain to the first place with power that offered food and stumbled upon a lovely pizza restaurant, Braciere Malatesta

Sunday 25th September
 Another day, another train trip.
It was an early start, but already Florence was getting very busy. It was certainly the most touristy place on the trip so far. 
I was taking the 10.28 train to Pisa. You need to make sure you pick the right train as some can take up to 90 mins, others around an hour or less . 
Not surprisingly, this was the busiest mainline train I’ve boarded so far on the holiday. It didn’t take long for all seats to be taken on my carriage. 

Keith Haring mural Florence

An hour later, we arrived in Pisa.
I wandered around town then on to the usual sights. Also spent some time at the Keith Haring mural and the slightly tired looking football ground 
It was surprisingly empty around the mural and was a pleasant break from the very touristy parts.

Despite the crowds, I still able to see everything and the large empty grass area around the leaning tower ensured every one could get that photo without other tourists in the way of the shot.

After a few hours. the main sites had been ticked off. There wasn’t the time to do a ‘deep dive’ so, shortly after 2pm, took the equally busy train back to Florence.

Dinner was taken at Trattoria de’ Guicciardini da i Bigi e i Birghe
This turned out to be the most expensive meal of the trip but sadly, not the best. The house red wine was lovely as was the wild boar tagliatelle but the main course of deep dried courgette, chicken and rabbit was dry and quite bland.

Monday 26th September
Despite the forecasts, the weather was warm and mostly sunny for a day of wandering around the sites on both sides of the river. This was the only full day in Florence so, once again, a whistle stop tour of the sights.
Florence has many piazzas to explore but Piazza della Signoria is definitely worth a visit with its many statues including the copy of Michelangelo’s David and the impressive Fountain of Neptune.
Crossing the river at Ponte Vecchio, the bridge filled with jewellery stores is another popular attraction, although, personally, I feel this busy bridge is best seen from the banks of the Arno.
Florence is a great place to simply get lost in the winding streets, although an ice cream in one of the sunny squares is highly recommended. As is the pizza at Tamero, My well priced nduja and burrata pizza made up for last night’s expensive meal!

Tuesday 27th September 
As per usual, the train from Florence was bit late leaving but is was very comfy and the ticket came with reserved seating, albeit with no notification ok the seats themselves. The trains had free WiFi, charging points and vending machines offering coffee and snacks. There was loads of luggage space above seats.
Reaching speeds of about 150mph, we soon made it to Rome. The English trains could learn a lot from this service!

The hotel was about 25 min walk from the station I would be staying in a former monastery
It’s layout was certainly unconventional with pieces of art and artifacts dotted around the numerous corridors and communal areas.
The room itself was quite small and, unlike all other rooms, no coffee or water bottles were provided. The room was clean though and the view from the top terrace/breakfast area was great  


After unpacking for the final time, headed out towards the Colloseum then wandered around town, stopping for seafood pizza at I Fratellini. Came here on a whim after the place originally planned to go to had no staff around at all! Reading the reviews I probably wouldn’t have considered it as an option! A glass vase was knocked over resulting in water and glass over the table then the wrong meal was brought out. Despite this, the first question on payment was ‘how much do you want to tip the waiter?’ They already charged 10% service charge.
Can’t fault the pizza though!

Wednesday 28th September 
It was nice to have a fresh breakfast this morning even better having it up on the terrace. Because of Covid, instead of the usual help yourself, two members of staff were on hand, one to get the drinks the other my bread, cheese and ham.

After filling up on sandwiches, headed to the nearest Metro station, San Giovanni and picked up a 24 hour train ticket which does actually last 24 hours, rather than expiring at midnight. This meant I could use the same ticket to get to Termini on the Thursday morning. 
Today, however, I would take the Metro as far as Repulica then walk to the Trevi fountain, on to the pantheon then cross over the water to the castle and views over to Vatican. From here, I meandered back though the streets to the hotel for shower and to plan a place for the final Italian meal. Found a few trattorias using Google Maps and headed out, taking the metro to Cavour.  

The meal at Taverna Roma was fabulous.
They were fully booked, however, it seemed there was a no show for one booking so got a table after a short 10 minute wait.
I started with pasta with guanciale (pigs cheek), plenty of cheese and black pepper. Main course was oxtail in a tomato. Both were fantastic as was the red wine and coffee. I’d certainly saved the best meal of the trip till last!

A different view of Rome
A slightly different view of Rome!

Thursday 29th September
A 6.15 start this morning, getting the Metro using yesterday’s ticket to ride to termini. From there short walk to the Terravision bus stop . I’d bought the €6 tickets online the day before using Omio app

We left on time and was only a few minutes late arriving at the airport (just over 45 mins in total) 

Fiumicino airport was bigger than expected. There was a short queue at baggage drop then it took only few mins to get through security. The airport has a lot of dead space and once through security there appears to be nothing. My flight was from zone E so decided to head there. Once through passport there were a few shops and cafes but,  in typical fashion, not enough seats. 

The flight late pushing back then took a long time to get to take off but once away it was a comfortable flight with plenty of clear skies and probably  the best coffee on a flight (fresh brew lavazza with a filter in the lid).
Now was a good time to reflect on the trip.
I knew what to expect from Rome, it’s loud, it’s dirty, it’s busy but also fascinating, especially if you get away from the busy tourist sites.
I feel I’ve done Milan. Florence and Pisa were a quick sight seeing exercise.
The real highlights were Turin and Genoa. Very different cities but I’d love to return to both at some point.

A night at Llyn Rhys Campsite, Llandegla

Camping, for me, is done in a tent which can be stuffed  in a rucksack and pitched in a field or woods with basic (if any!) facilities.  This time I was to be camping in the Vango Woburn 500.
There’s always room for comfort.
Well no, that’s not entirely true. There’s not much room for anything when you drive an Abarth 124!
First mission was to find a way of getting a tent, sleeping bag, mat, Jetboil, change of clothes and walking boots in the car. The solution was a Boot-Bag.

This is a large waterproof bag that sits on the boot lid and securely held in place with webbing straps.
I had the ‘original’ which gave me  50 litres of space or, put another way, it easily took the tent.
On first use, I was apprehensiveBoot-bag on Abarth 124 Spider about putting too much in there, however, I could have stuffed a few extra things in there without any trouble.
The other stuff went in to my large rucksack.
My day sack was also loaded in to the boot. I’d be using it to hold a couple of drinks, waterproofs etc for the two walks I had planned.
In retrospect, perhaps just the smaller rucksack may have been better with everything else stuffed around the  boot and Boot-Bag.
I had no seating (the floor would have to do) and no food (I hoped there would be a table free in the pub) but I had my accommodation and a bed for the night.

The Boot-Bag was slightly lopsided but seemed secure enough as I pulled off my drive and carefully made my way to the motorway, getting used to only using wing mirrors as there was zero visibility out of the back.   As I gained more confidence in the Boot-Bag, I increased the speed, it remained stable and I arrived at the camp with everything intact.
I had booked my spot at Llyn Rhys Campsite on their website.  £8 per person per night (as of July 2018) which included use of the showers. Kids cost just £3.
I was met by the friendly owner and given a choice of places to pitch, anywhere I wanted as long as I left 6 meters between my tent and others. I wanted to be as far away from others as possible , that wouldn’t be a problem!
The site was fairly quiet. I’d arrived a week before the school summer holiday started, I suspect it can get a lot busier.  I drove my car down the track in to the large field I pitched up on the side of the field, close to the stream. I didn’t want to venture too far from the track in my rear wheel drive car!

The tent had been pitched in the garden a coupe of times, the first time, just after getting the tent home, resulted in part of a fibreglass pole snapping. After an email to Vango another pole was posted out to me.
Needless to say, Vango don’t send out poles every time one beaks, however, I argued that they should last at least one pitching and, fair enough, they agreed.
Out in the real world, the tent went up relatively quickly, although the little hooks to attached the ground sheet were a bit awkward to fit.
I think Vango say it will take 15 minutes to pitch. Seems a little optimistic to me but perhaps with more practice.

The tent is described as 5 person, I wouldn’t like to fit more than three in there. The Cotswold Outdoors promotional video describes it as a good tent for couples and young families, which seems more accurate.
There’s lots of room in the bright, airy living area. Plenty of space for a couple of chairs. Shame there wasn’t the room in the car!
Comparing it with many of the other tents on site, it did look dinky!
Vango Woburn 500 tentWith the tent up it was time to head out on a walk.
Leaving the campsite, I  headed up to the road junction next to the Crown Hotel Pub. Continuing virtually straight ahead on the A5104, the path started just after the junction to the right. This path was quite well signposted  until I reached a farmers field. Whatever had been growing here had been recently dug up and the route across the field to the road wasn’t clearly defined.
At the road I took a left, before rejoining the same field higher up. There were no signs here either and at the end, it was almost impassable. A large, over grown, prickly hedge hid a fence with no easy way to climb.  If it wasn’t for the large footpath sign at the other side of the hedge, I would not have realised this was the route.

The next path I wanted should have been straight over the road according to the Ordnance Survey map and my GPS but there was nothing obvious so I decided to follow the road back in to the village.
The village has a great little community run shop and cafe, at the front was all the supplies you need for camping, pasties, scotch eggs, wine, jam etc and at the back is the cafe. I just had a cafetiere of coffee but the food looked good.
Offas Dyke sign in LlandeglaHappily caffeined up, I left the cafe for the second loop on this walk. After the poorly maintained paths on the first loop, I decided to take the Offa’s Dyke section at the end  knowing it would be the easiest part of the route to navigate.
I needn’t have worried. This walk was also well signed and I followed it up to the narrow road. From there it’s an easy walk back along the Offa’s Dyke to the village.
Both loops of the walks are available in on one GPX file, downloadable from Viewranger.

Back in the tent, I got changed ready for dinner. It is nice being able to stand up in any part of the tent, something you don’t get with the backpacking one and two person tents!
The Crown Hotel is a short walk from the campsite and serves real ales, wines and has a good whisky collection along with the usual stuff and the food is fantastic!!
I started with the spicy chicken wings. Main course was a perfectly rare steak with chips  and peas. Their monster of a  mixed grill looked and smelt great and, if you’ve got a sweet tooth, they’ve a good choice of deserts and local ice cream.

Suitably fed and watered, I walked back to the tent where I took down the divider to make one large bedroom,  got in to my sleeping bag and settled down for a reasonable nights sleep.
The Vango has a slightly darker bedroom, while not a black out, it did a reasonable job at keeping the morning light out.
Next morning the tent was moisture free, the vents under the main window had done their job. I opened the ‘curtains’ sat in the porch, fired up the jet boil and made a coffee.  The tent is really bright and airy with plenty of large windows. A very pleasant place to be.
Packing up was easy and (amazingly!) everything fitted in and on the car.  The first rule of any camping, ‘leave no trace’!

Breakfast was taken at One Planet Adventure, just up the road. Already the car park was filling up. I paid my £4.50 and  made my way to the overflow car park.
The breakfasts at their cafe are good and the slices of toast are huge!!

I was one of the odd ones, I wasn’t cycling, instead I took the longest of their walking trails, the well marked ,7 mile Moorland trail.
Moorland Trail route One Planet Adventure Llandegla

A pleasant walk through woodland and offering great views.

So, in conclusion…..I love to be miles from anyone and anywhere with a small backpacking tent. This was quite different but still a great trip although I must admit the very un-British sunny, warm weather helped make this such a pleasurable camp!
I’m looking forward to getting out in the Vango again soon….but maybe after a trip in the smaller tent 🙂

Flat out in an Abarth 124 Spider

Ok, so the idea of this blog is to post about all things outdoorsy, however, one needs to get to the hills in the first place!

My car ownership has been rather limited. I learnt to drive in the family Fiat Strada then, after passing my driving test, I bought myself a Fiat Uno i.e. Start  A cracking first car . I also occasionally borrowed parent’s Fiat Punto Mk 1
….see a  theme here?!

After a year, I traded my Uno in for a Mk 2 Punto.  I then continued through the Fiat Punto range owning pretty much every iteration, each time getting a slightly more powerful engine before purchasing the  Punto Evo 1.4 MultiAir Turbo.
A highly enjoyable car to drive but then along came Abarth who opened (and promptly closed) a dealership close to my home.

I’d never seen an Abarth up close.  I’d read about them and had seen photos of these sexier, souped up versions of Fiat cars. They were the next ‘step up’ from Fiat and they’d introduced a version of the Punto just at the time I was about to trade in…it was a no-brainer!

Abarth Punto and 500s
My Abarth Punto on the right of the picture at Silverstone

In the Abarth, the drive around winding country lanes became as enjoyable as the walk I was driving to.  I can unleash my inner ‘girl racer’ from traffic lights yet it is  refined on long motorway journeys.
Without doubt, this is the best car I’ve ever owned but sadly Abarth pulled the model. Fiat and Abarth both concentrating on the popular 500 family

….then they threw a curve ball….

Original Abarth 124
Original Abarth 124

The original Fiat 124 Spider  was released in the late 60’s with the Abarth version introduced in 1972.
Several years on, the Spider is making a return, with both Fiat and Abarth updating this iconic car.

The Fiat version is a very nice looking car with plenty of bells and whistles.
Abarth, however,  take a good car and make it better with (slightly) more power, Brembo brakes and superior handling  thanks to the  mechanical limited-slip differential and Bilstein shocks.
It also look gorgeous!

New Abarth 124 Spider
The Abarth comes in two body styles; solid colour and, my favourite, the heritage pack which adds a contrasting matte black bonnet and boot. It has a real ‘Marmite’ response. People love it or hate it.  Personally, I think it looks great with a definite nod back to the original styling.

The inside of the Spider is far nicer than my Punto, things have progressed a lot in the last 4 years. Thee dashboard is swathed in alcantara and  a decent amount of equipment provided as standard including climate control, touch screen sat nav/entertainment and heated seats. Parking and rain sensors are available in an optional viability pack at an additional £1250.
It’s  reassuringly nice to see an analogue rev counter and speedometer behind the steering wheel and,  just in front of the gear stick, is the shiny ‘Sport Mode’ button. Much better looking than the plastic switch on the Punto.  This firms up the ride a little more and makes the throttle more responsive. I doubt you’d ever want to take it out of Sport mode!

Underneath the bonnet is the 1.4 Multiair engine with a Garrett turbo, very similar to what is in my current Abarth Punto.  It throws out 170hp but it’s the torque you notice, there is tonnes of the stuff.
The lump upfront gets  you from 0 to 62 mph in 6.8-seconds. Abarth claim around 44mpg but my experience in the Punto would suggest closer to 33 – 35 mpg.

Abarth 124 spider twinair engine

Boot space is minimal. My one worry with this car is it’s practicality, however, once the engine started I soon forgot about that, the sound is amazing! I would have happily have placed an order for the car simply on the noise made from the Record Monza exhaust!

But, the real test was out on the track. I put on my Abarth branded crash helmet and made my way out to the cars.  The 124s were at the front, behind them were the new 595s and behind those the completely bonkers 695 Biposto….more about that in a bit!

124 Abarth Spider
I was asked to choose between manual or automatic. Despite being my first time in a left hand drive car I decided to try out the 6 speed manual and got in to one of the red and black cars.
I was mentally going through these ‘wrong way round’ controls as my instructor introduced me to the Silverstone track, arguably the most iconic track in England ….wow!!
We made our way back to the pits then it was my turn. I had 20 minutes to take this awesome vehicle around the international circuit.
“It’s your test drive”, I was told “go as fast or slow as you like”
Needless to say, I planted my right foot!

The 124 responded beautifully. I only need to use third and fourth gears which were easy to engage using the short throw shifter.
It responded quickly to both braking and acceleration and was very happy around corners with just a little bit of understreer on the more extreme corners. The 124 is responsive to small steering inputs and extremely confidence inspiring. It will be interesting to see how the stiff suspension handles  bumpy, holey British roads  but at Silverstone it works brilliantly.

Although based on Mazda this is a true  Italian.  The powertrain, Record Monza exhaust,  the design and all the tweaks which makes the car so fun to drive is handled by Officine Abarth. Each car is tested and certified by an Abarth technician and moreover, it just feels like a nippy little Italian sports car should feel.

My laps were over far too quickly but my track experience wasn’t.
After a short break, I was back out for another 20 minutes of so in the 595. If I have to be honest, I admire what Abarth have done with what is a very popular Fiat model but, personally, I’m not a huge fan of the styling although it seems I’m alone in that!
Abarth have managed to squeeze 180 hp out of this little engine and it was a blast around the track. Like the 124, this car also has mechanical limited-slip differential and Brembo brakes.
Almost £10,000 cheaper than the 124, this is a great alternative and is still good fun to dive but there is no doubt which of the two I’d prefer.

The last car I tried was the 695 Biposto albeit as a passenger.
A stripped down car which is at the other end of the pricing scale at almost £33,ooo. Gone are the rear seats,door inserts, air conditioning and radio  instead you get something which feels like a proper little track car, full of the classic Abarth insanity!
I occasionally glanced over at the G-meter on the dashboard, it is remarkable what this pocket rocket is capable of although it’s definitely not something you’d purchase for your trip to the shops.

As I left, I was handed a gift, a black envelope containing four beautiful drawings of the 124. These will look very nice on my wall.

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Al in all, an unforgettable day an a car I am very tempted to purchase.
I hate to say too many good things about any Abarth cars as I love the exclusivity of the Abarth, waving to other owners  and arranging meet ups….so no, don’t buy this car! (-:

A good, if slightly long, video review of the Fiat, Abarth and original 124 is available on the Autogefühl YouTube channel



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