Monday, March 11, 2024

Random Clearing House (France, Albania, USA, Colombia)


These lines represent 2 years of driving around Europe
Red = Year 1 / Purple = Year 2

“And you may find yourself in another part of the world

And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile.....”

~The Talking Heads~

Indeed! I had found myself in Europe driving a large motorhome. Well…How did I get here?

And Without Further Delay – The Unrequested Random Clearing House

Not every paragraph I write fits cleanly into a topic thesis, or supports a through line of thought. Here are those disjointed, broken time-line offerings that were orphaned in my attempts at brevity.  They are the underdeveloped notions that refused to play nice with previous narratives. Let’s acknowledge that not everything can be an anecdote. Congratulations folks, it’s another unrequested episode of Bobby’s Random Clearing House!

Catch Up

The last you read, we had completed driving the entire length of Italy and were about to cross the Adriatic Sea to Albania. We did that, and more… but first let me back up a bit to cover our sojourn from Spain to Italy which I previously neglected due to “lazy”.

France: Denying Spain Access To The Rest Of Europe For Over A Thousand Years

France is the perfect blend between the loud Latin Spanish and the restrained Teutonic Germans. You want your party crowded with Latins but you don’t want to live next door to one. You absolutely want to live next door to a German but don’t count on them to get the party started. The French are a fine compromise. They make good neighbors, enjoy eye contact while understanding the correct blend of civility and conviviality. However, they lean heavily towards the Latins when it comes to accomplishing anything. Best to party in Spain, spend the hangover in France, and get back to work in Germany.

I drove across the entire nation of France and I spent only 27 Euros in tolls, which - if you know anything about France, that's next to impossible. (Then I blew it all by taking a 130 Euro tunnel into Italy) We mostly took the back roads, which I highly recommend. Not only is it cheaper, but you also see much more of those quaint hamlets lost to time in beautiful provincial France. They are the villages that won my heart. In the British Isles the medieval villages have a ghostly feel with a climate to match, but not France. I think the words “cute and charming” were invented for this fairytale bucolic land. I look left. I look right. It's all a Van Gogh sunflower painting. Driving thru France is traversing the world's largest open-air farm with the finest charcuterie boards thrown in for an astronomical fee.

I told these guys to do the "French Face".
They didn't need any other prompting. They knew exactly what to do

The Night Ferry To Albania

Go to sleep in Italy, wake up in Albania – it makes for a cultural shock but that’s what we signed up for. We spent a couple weeks dragging our toes in the sand on our way down to the southern extremity of this country. We had been here last year but missed the southern beaches that everyone raved about. They weren’t wrong. Southern Albania is no longer a secret but it hasn’t been ruined yet either. It’s awash in archeological treasures, sun kissed undulating beaches and huge tracks of undeveloped potential. The water is warm throughout October, the people are correct, the prices are fair, and the food is a delight. We settled in Ksamil, rented a scooter and spent 50 days exploring our new patch of land. 

The island of Corfu causes our sunset to come an hour early.
A huge swath of this coastline is living in the shadow of that Greek island.

Goodbye Albania

We said our farewells to our adopted family of Albanians and drove 600 km to Athens Greece. 


We blasted south to Athens as fast as we could. We missed nearly everything. The Schengen time clock is not our friend and we had much to do before catching our flights home.  

Decommissioning The Rig

Encore is happy to sit and wait but she needs some preventative care. We drained all the water and removed all food and spices (I hate that. Every time we go home, we have to dump our condiments and then rebuy upon return. Been doing it for decades) I spent hours beneath the rig plugging all pipes and holes with copper wool and chicken wire so the mice can’t get in. Early one morning in November we walked away from our home on wheels for 3+ months of fun in the New World.

The Long Flights Home 

The plane ride is now officially the worst part of travel. I used to look forward to it. They’ve shoehorned in an extra 30% of seats, and dumbed the menus down to dreck. Everything that is essential now needs to be paid for with additional bolt on charges and the employees are surly to say the least. It’s awful and I dread it. 

California / Dana Point

Chris Miller is everyone’s favorite human. He picked me up at LAX after driving from Dana Point (nobody does that. Pure misery). He and Ingy spoiled me rotten and then the old bros from college had a reunion. Great stuff!

California / Monrovia

I rented a car and drove back to LAX to pick up my brother Todd and we drove to Monrovia to see the relatives. Eating, drinking and catching up. Some bureaucrat wronged my school teacher cousin and the whole town of Monrovia came to his aid. Turns out that creep didn’t know how well Randy is respected and that my well-loved aunt built that city. Randy ended up vindicated & promoted and the former superintendent of the school board now works at a furniture store. Sometimes justice prevails in sleepy little California towns.

California / North County San Diego

Holed up in a San Marcos Days Inn (boy did I pick a dump) waiting for our cousins to pick us up after having a few at the local. God bless Monday night football. My rent-a-car has Florida plates so I'm cheering for the Jags. ‘Merica!

Aunt and Uncle in the back. Cousins everywhere else. Brina and Gus are actually rockstars that play around North County San Diego. Go see
The eXploits

California / San Diego Proper

Matthew Evert - This hunk got a haircut and a hot tub and still shooed the ladies away so we could have some bro down time with his family. I love the Everts. They ask smart questions, serve perfectly cooked scallops and long pour the wine.

Phoenix Arizona

I dropped off the rental car and flew to Phoenix. My brother beat me there by 2 days. I did my month with friends and family. Birdie Mae isn’t getting any younger, but she isn’t aging much either. She still walks a mile in the morning, maintains a social life and drives herself to those soirees. She’s wearing 86 years of age with grace. 

There were a few catch ups with old friends, the extended family, and a side trip back to California’s sand dunes.

Medellin Colombia

On January 9 I flew to Medellin Colombia for a long awaiting reunion with my Cocoa Bear. That sweet petite fluffed up the city for my arrival and we moved into a high-rise apartment with a deliriously delicious view. 

Photo credit: Stu Murray

Photo credit: Stu Murray

The stream of friends was constant and endless fun. Eric Farber has a place down there and our buildings were within eyeshot of each other. We studied film together a thousand years ago at Arizona State University and commiserated over wonderfully decadent meals. Then we did the same with Stu and Leslie (another buddy and his wife from the ASU days). Next up was Todd and Elyce, my friends from S’mish who have visited me on my travels from Fiji to Bali and now here. 

This is Tejo: Colombia's National Sport. Chucking steel for explosions while drinking a cold one. Seriously....

Lastly my brother flew in from Tokyo and we had a wonderful 2 weeks together. The kid is such a pleasure to be around and the inside jokes and memories that you can only get with a sibling are priceless. I already miss him.

What Did You Do There?

We did all the usual tourist stuff when our friends came to visit, and because I’m quickly approaching 60 there was time allocated to annual medical checkups. The rest was soaked up with dining, exercising my way out of the food coma, and blowing money at the casino. Medellin is all kinds of wonderful but the restaurant choices are really delightful. 

Oh the humanity!

Ospina pyjama party

Manuel, sitting next to me, was my next door neighbor when I lived here 7 years ago. He was sitting next to me the night I met Aleja.
This is us losing at trivia

Isn’t This Fun? At Last I’ve Become My Father’s Son

I threw my back out and was in absolute misery for 1 week followed by mild misery for the next week. That generated more doctor visits, a CT scan and a physical therapist. While I refuse to mature, this aging thing can’t be stopped. 

But It Won’t Slow Me Down!

We fly back to Europe tomorrow and have set some ambitious adventures for the remainder of the year. The plan is to drift around Greece for a couple weeks chasing archeological ruins and museums, then enter Turkey and drive across this very wide country to the nation of Georgia. We plan to spend some time there. However, Georgia borders Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The later 2 just concluded a war a few months ago. We’ll monitor the geopolitical tensions and I reserve the right to abort the plans should the situation call for it. 

We’ll then drive the long distance back across Turkey over about 45 days. After, we’ll pass quickly through Bulgaria, and Serbia and then slow it down for summer in Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France.

That will finish our Schengen time so I’m thinking we might stow Encore in Paris and rent an apartment in Tunisia for a month or so before flying home for Xmas. 

What a ridiculous life!

Your man on point – Captain Bobby

P.S./ - Bonus pic & video of how wonderful my girl is: She does pet impressions!!!

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Italy Part 2

As far to one side as my brother’s request for “nothing touristic” was, our itinerary for Nathalia was: “Everything touristic!” I think we honored them both. 

If you tilt the camera up just a tad
you can hide the hundreds of people just in front of you


Rome is a ghetto built on the foundations of the most noble of all cities. There are some gorgeous sections but it’s their adjacency to history that make them compelling.  What began as a city state grew to encompass the known world in what was one of civilizations longest runs…. But make no mistake – the splendor of Rome is in the past and its exposed ruins are the highlights. New discoveries are opening to the public occasionally and it’s why I will always return. 

The Roman Forum is huge and so very fascinating.
Nathalia (Aleja's sister) joined us for 2 weeks in Italy. A great time was had by all

Those who know, count their aging days with an ever-dwindling number of return trips to Rome. It is the eternal city but none of us are. How many more times will you walk the Roman Forum or climb to the top of the Palatine Hill? There have been recent memes about how often per day men think of Rome. I thought it was only me. I’m happy to know I’m not alone. The real question should be – “How many times will you return to Rome before the chance eludes you? Stop at nothing: Rome now! 

There is no "checking Rome off your list". The archeological excavations are forever ongoing and won't be concluded in your lifetime. They recently reopened the Tiberiana palace on the Palatine hill shortly after we left. It had been closed for 50 years. We missed it. New marvels continue to come to light. There is always good reason to return to Rome.

This archeological spot just opened to the public.
We were some of the first to be allowed access

It's believed this is where Julius Caesar was assassinated

We stayed at a campground on the outskirts and took a train in each day to join the mobs of tourists all doing the same thing. 

I took this picture from the Colosseum

This is the interior of the Colosseum. Those aren't cannon holes.
The marble casing stones have been stolen and used for the Vatican.
(The correct name is not the Colosseum but the Flavian Amphitheater)

Alejandra has a Roman name and it is Pompis Maximus. I’m not going to elaborate on that joke. You’ll have to meet a Colombian and ask them to explain it. 

I know you are supposed to be focusing on the Pantheon but take a peek at those thighs. That's Colombia's space program. Those are the thrusters that can put satellites into orbit

The Pantheon

How is the Pantheon not the most interesting building on earth? Originally built by Agrippa sometime between 27BC - 14AD. It later burned. Hadrian rebuilt it in about 126 AD but kept the original dedication stone to Agrippa (full respect for his humility). It is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome after almost 2000 years. It’s the best preserved of all the Roman buildings because it’s been in continuous use since its inception as a temple for the Roman gods. It became a Catholic church in 609 AD. The granite columns were quarried in Egypt, floated down the Nile, sailed across the Mediterranean, hauled from the port in Rome and lifted into place. 

Its front side boxy exterior belies its grand internal globe shape. The open oculus in the center demands you to look straight up. Cue the orchestra. Mind blown. I always wanted to see it in the rain. We got lucky.

There is a drain in the floor and they just squeegee it away

The doors (4.5 meters x 7.5 meters) are the oldest in Rome. They were once thought to be medieval replacements but metal analysis proved them to be original. Sometimes you get the double win!

Without a doubt –The Pantheon is the most interesting building in the world. 


We headed south and parked in the shadow of Vesuvius. We toured both Heracleum and Pompeii in 2 consecutive days. It was over kill. There is no reason to see them both back-to-back. Especially after 3 days of scouring every inch of Rome like a bloodhound. 

Pompeii is astounding. There are actually ruins from older cultures below these
but they are laser focused on 79 AD

The ruts from long before

That's the volcano in the background. You can see how much blew off the top in the eruption.
8000 souls lived here in AD 79. None of them died peacefully in their sleep.

Fortunately we woke up just fine

The following pix are actually Heracleum. This was a smaller village near Pompeii that was also wiped out. In some ways it was even better preserved.

The sisters in the spa

See the skeletons? They originally thought the people made it out but they later found their bodies down by the seafront waiting for rescue

Do the modern buildings in the background look like improvements?
Nah - I don't think so either. Italy's best days are behind her

You saw it in the opening scenes of the James Bond movie “No Time To Die”. Though it looks like Jerusalem with that white biblical limestone it’s actually a much older city. Inhabited for maybe (it’s debatable) 12,000 years, Matera might be the longest continuously inhabited city in the world. What started out as caves hewn into the soft chalky stone called calcium carbonate have had houses built around, over and under them. It’s fascinating to walk all the little alleyways and gain the photographic vantage points that are in no short supply.

As fortune would have it our friend Serena was living here.
She was one of our besties in Alicia Argentina

Wonderful town with kind locals


We parked at a nice campsite within walking distance to the harbor and the historic section of town. If Italy is shaped like a boot - this is the bottom of the heel, and our extreme southern point of this excursion. It’s a scenic little spot that as well as Matera, is on the Borghi Piu Belli list. On a long enough timeline there will be eras of misery but this city has a particularly gruesome chapter.

In 1480 the Ottomans captured the city. They immediately slaughtered all the male inhabitants over the age of 15, and all the toddlers and infants. This amounted to over 12,000 people. The archbishop was beheaded and his priests were sawn in half. The women and children were hauled away to be sold into slavery. They made a ceremony of offering salvation to anyone who would convert to Islam. None did and 800 were publicly beheaded. One by one. It went on for many many hours.  These people were later canonized by the pope and made into saints. So they got that going for them. 


Sorry – I can’t bring myself to pull any punches. This place is an unworthy tourist trap. Sometimes you get duped. Aleja loved it cuz it’s Instagram cute (wait in line to take the same shot everyone else is taking and then go order pizza and beer) Enjoy the pix below and cross this town off your list.

Canosa De Puglia

There is no reason to go to this town for anything above ground. It’s a complete dump full of trash and vacant of charm. The allure are the tombs that filled the museum with pristine treasures. 

2500 years old and paint still on the walls

Not Mexico....Italy

While excavating for a school, the back hoe broke into a chamber. Work was halted and the board of antiquities was called. It turns out it was a Daunia tomb that predated the Romans and was completely intact and never looted by grave robbers. That’s not unheard of, but very rare. This means the items in the museum weren’t glued back together with missing fragments. Tiny but great museum. 

Napoli drop off

May you never have to drive a big rig in Naples. I thought Lima, Peru was tough. This is close to that. The Italians are wonderful people but they have no generosity behind the wheel.


We parked among the pines and planned our upcoming Albanian trip. Cute little village with great views of the surrounding lands steeped in history. Our ferry was only a couple days away 

The Ferry to Albania

They demanded Aleja exit the vehicle. I drove in reverse into the bowels of the night ferry that would take us across the Adriatic. That was a little unnerving for me. I’m not used to driving in tight confines down a steep grade in reverse while a man yells at me in Italian. Once the parking brake was engaged, we found our sweaty windowless cabin and settled in for the night. And thus concludes 40 days and 40 nights in Italy. It was wonderful!

Your man on point,

~ Roberto ~

Random Clearing House (France, Albania, USA, Colombia)

  These lines represent 2 years of driving around Europe Red = Year 1 / Purple = Year 2 “And you may find yourself in another part of the wo...