Tues 1st May
Drove to Dover in heavy rain. Took the 1445 ferry to
Calais (P&O Ferries - Sea France went bust a few months ago). Off the
ferry in sunshine, and drove another 1 1/2 hours to an aire at Blaton,
near Cambrai, Belgium. Very convenient - only a mile off the motorway, a
large car park beside the church.
MSF (Miles so far) 246
Wed 2nd May
On the road fairly early, but sunshine soon gave way
to heavy rain. Ignored the cheap fuel in Luxembourg - we were still 3/4
full. Next time, I must remember to fill up at Calais, to have an empty
tank at Luxembourg. At Luxembourg, the sun came out, and we had a pleasant
journey east across Germany, reaching an aire at Aalen,
east of Stuttgart.
Thurs 3rd May
Another early start, across Germany & into
Austria to a camp-site at Neubrunnen, near Zell am See. (Camping Bad
Neubrunnen am Waldsee). We planned to do the Grossglockner on Friday, so
wanted to spend the night near the base of the pass, to get an early
start. We had hoped to avoid Austrian motorways to avoid buying a
vignette. Trouble is, they seem to classify odd bits of road as
"motorway", which wouldn't pass muster as a by-road in England,
so we bought one just be on the safe side. €8 for 10 days use.
The site had lots of static vans, and not a lot of
space for tourers, but was pleasant enough, and friendly owners.
We got by with no mutual language just fine. The cost was €15.70
inc 1.50 for wifi and and a discount for an ACSI card.
The site looked a bit non-descript, but the shower block was to die
for - perfection. Except that, because I spent too long in a lovely hot
shower, and there were too few people coming and going, all the lights
went out because the sensor didn't detect a movement. I had to get dry,
and dressed, in total darkness.
Fri 4th May
Another early start, and arrived at the start of the
Grossglockner at 8.45. The GG was built in the 1930's, to provide
employment for unemployed Austrians, and is a scenic road over a
spectacular pass, rising to 2500 metres, taking in a glacier. Cost for a
car (and a motorhome) €32. http://www.grossglockner.at/en/grossglockner/
The road is easy and wide, with lots of places to park and admire the
view, and the marmots. We took all day to do it, with stops for coffee,
tea, lunch, evening meal, and a good walk to a view point. I say the drive
is easy - going up certainly is, but descent is rather trickier, as it
seems to go on for ever. Even at 20 mph, in 2nd gear, we soon had the
smell of hot brakes. Having had brake failure in the Black Forest many
years ago, I wasn't keen to repeat the experience.
Eventually we reached a camp-site near the Italian
border, at Oberdrauburg. (Natur and Familiencamping Drauburg). By the time
we reached it the reception was closed, but we found a pitch and made
ourselves comfortable, and found a good and free wifi connection.
Unusually for Austria, the site was almost entirely free of static
caravans. The pleasant little town is easily within walking distance.
Sat 5th May
A useful site. Left about 10 am, taking the 111 to
Villach, where we took the motorway into Italy briefly, turning left to
Jesanice in Slovenia, where we picked up the motorway (having paid €15
for a 7 day vignette) to Ljubljana and on towards Zagreb. Halfway along we
took the 105 to Karlovac (Croatia). This was a horrible road! Poor
surface, narrow, twisty. Should have taken the much longer route by
motorway. Interestingly, the road improved dramatically when we crossed
the border into Croatia. What have the Slovenians been doing with all the
EU cash they've been given?. Near Karlovak we found an ACSI site, Kamp
Slapic. An adequate site, facilities good, but what to do here? (answer -
not a lot)
Sun 6th May
We were wondering about a return trip to Plitvice
National Park, which isn't far from here. We went to this spectacular
limestone karst area on our first visit to Croatia about 10 years ago. The
weather wasn't special then, and we hoped to see it in sunshine. However
the forecast was for rain, and we decided to dash for the coast. We hadn't
got far before the heavens opened. We usually avoid toll roads, but it was
a long drive to the coast, and an even longer and more tiring drive on the
ordinary roads. The motorway cost us 133 Kn, about £14.50, for about 130
miles of superb motorway.
We looked for a site recommended by friends we met
last time in Croatia, Autocamp Plitka Vala, at Betina. Nice site, a
trifle rough and ready, and we picked a pitch beside the water's
edge. Quite a large German contingent already well dug in for the
duration, set up as a large encampment. Literally "dug in" -
electricity cable buried in the road. A wifi signal is available, but
resisted all attempts to connect.
Mon 7th May
Torrential rain and thunderstorms during the night.
The ground is so porous that when the rain stopped the ground was almost
dry. We walked into the small nearby towns of Murta & Betina - not a
lot going on there, but Murta especially has masses of small boats &
yachts. In the sun and out of the wind it's quite warm, but the wind is
bitter! Back at the site, we managed to connect. Wifi costs 10 Kn for ½
hour, 30 Kn for 24 hours.
Tues 8th May
At last! Sunshine! 2 mile walk into Tisno. Here we
found again the bit of Croatia we really love - a path running close to
the sea along a rocky coast, with pines almost reaching the sea. Whilst
there, a fishing boat and tender arrived, spread a net around a large
circle (about 1/2 mile diameter), then pulled the nets back into the boat.
Fascinating to watch - but it appeared to net only one largish fish.
Back at base, I posted my first blog (http://Balkanbeetle.blogspot.com
) based on this diary.
Wed 9th May
Time to move on again - just another 50 miles to
Trogir, an ACSI site on an island a mile or two from Trogir, at Okrug. (Rozac
Autocamp). There is wifi - 50
Kn a day - about£5.50 - so no thanks - that's almost Caravan Club prices!
It's a lovely site - and the sun shone - and I got burnt. Move into
the shade - and you get caught by the cold wind that gets up every day at
this time of year. Our book says it's the Maestral. MSF 1424
Thurs 10th May
We had planned to catch a bus into Trogir, but it was
9.15 and the next bus was 10.30. So we amended our plan to walk in and
catch the bus back. The walk in proved to be 20 minutes only. (Tip - as
you reach the top of hill look out for a small brown sign saying
"short cut" - it is!") so the plan was further amended to
include walking back too.
Trogir is a sea of little dark and cool alleyways,
little shops, cafés and restaurants. LOTS of cafés and restaurants!
There is also an excellent market, by the "Little Bridge". We
looked for a wifi signal, and found lots of them, mostly free. We chose
Trogir Wifi, and sat beside the cathedral drinking cappuccino and catching
up one email and BBC
headlines. Lunchtime, and we chose a meat platter for 2 - I've never eaten
so much meat in one sitting! About what we normally eat in a week. With 2
large beers, and 2 bottles of water, the cost was only HRK 270.
Back at the site, and we got talking to the crews of
2 other British motorhomes, and we didn't stop talking until gone
Fri 11th May
Left the site at 9.30, with the intention of getting
to a favourite site at Baske Polje by lunch time - which we did -
unfortunately it didn't open until the 1st June. We looked at 2 other
sites down the coast - one was unsuitable and the other was closed. The
decision was made - we'll drive on to Ploce to catch the ferry to Peijesa
(the peninsula that adjoins the mainland near Dubrovnik.) There were lots
of road works on the Adriatic Highway, and the 2.15 ferry sailed just as
we were buying the tickets. Bother! (well that's sort of what we said!).
The ticket office is the other side of the road from the ferry terminal.
The next ferry (and the last for the day) is at 19.30, and the journey
takes an hour. Cost for 6 M motorhome and 2 adults - 274 HRK.
The first ferry of the day is at 0930, so it seems to
me that if you arrived after the last ferry, it would be reasonable to
stay on the quay until the next sailing. Places for wild camping in
Croatia are few and far between, as there is so little land that isn't
mountain, road, or town.
After some humming & hawing, and now aware that
some sites are not yet open (which could be interesting in Montenegro
& Albania), we decided to take the 1930 ferry, and see how dark it was
when we landed. In fact it was quite dark, so we decided to stay put in
the port, Trpanj, and are currently ensconced in a car park about 100
yards from the ferry. N 43 00' 36", E 17 16' 07"
Sat 12th May
It seemed the area we spent the night in is also the
assembly area for the ferry. Fortunately we hadn't stopped in the queuing
area. Our next intended stop was Orebic, on the other side of the
peninsula. The road out of Trpanj had had the surface removed - and was
rather like something out of a cowboy film. After missing our turning, and
having to back out of a narrow street with a large trench dug in it, we
reached Orebic. We were aiming for Camping Glavna Plaza, and there were
numerous signs to it, taking us down a narrow street. But the site was
closed and there was nowhere to turn, so yet more reversing up a narrow
street. OK then, we'll go to the big new expensive site, Nevio Camping,
which had also been heavily signposted from 20 Km away. But signposts in
the town? Nah! By then we had gone off Orebic - big, messy, too built up,
too much traffic - and set off for a site we stayed at 3 years ago,
Camping Denka at Loviste. As soon as we arrived we were invited to share a
bottle of wine with the owner and his wife, chatted about Yugoslav
politics, and left with salad from his garden (after he showed us the
damage done by wild pigs). We're the only people here, and have the prime
position. Loviste is just our cup of tea - a nice unspoilt little town
with few facilities, and friendly people. Wifi is free, too.
Sun 13th May
The wind has changed direction completely, and is now
blowing over the island, putting us in the lee. Cloud and sunshine took
turns, and we walked to the small cove the other side of the island, On
our return, we lunched on an entire loaf of bread, soup etc, and watched a
3 foot long snake slide past us a few feet away, then settled down for a
rest before deciding whether to risk the threatening rain. It wasn't long
before Vladimir, the site owner, came to invite us to lunch, and wouldn't
take no for an answer. It was the traditional Croatian dish of lamb cooked
under hot ashes, washed down with wine, Waitrose cider (supplied by us)
Grappa and an unnamed sweet liquor, and black sweet coffee. We discussed
Communism under Tito (Good) and Capitalism under Trudgman (bad), Serbian
hegemony (I must make a point of remembering what that word really
means!), and the EU (Vladimir is against joining). That took us through to
5 pm, when we abandoned any idea of an evening meal. Vladimir assured us
the snake was safe, but it would be interesting to identify it.
The threatened rain arrived later, at about 7. Let's
hope it clears by tomorrow.
Mon 14th May
Torrential rain overnight - and it hasn't cleared by
the morning :(. Rain on and off all day, and at mid day we put the heating
on :( We had more walks planned, to a secluded cove at the end of the
peninsula, but it's too cold to take a jumper off, never mind everything!
Another grey dawn. Time to move on. I always get
itchy feet after a few days, a relic of my navy days, when after a few
days ashore the sea called again – to find another run ashore somewhere
else. 3 days here has cost HRK 348, about £13 pn.
It was about 90 miles to Dubrovnik, and we passed
only one petrol station, and that was early on. We were 5 miles south of
Dubrovnik before we found one. Moral of the story – keep your tank
topped up! We had quite a few Kuna left so we paid for the fuel, and the
LPG, by cash, and still had some to spare. Fuel here was cheap, 98HRK per
litre, about £1.10 (cf £1.49 when we left England).
Beyond Dubrovnik, almost to the Montenegrin border,
the road was being repaired. This is done by removing all the surface
leaving an uneven mix of gravel and shingle. 15 mph was more than fast
enough for us, and cars, but lorries were quite happy to overtake at speed
-presumably the drivers don't have to pay for their own broken springs.
At the border, we spent at least 5 minutes getting
out of Croatia – our passports, vehicle and driving documents being
minutely examined. The young border guard wanted to know why we not
staying in his own beautiful country. He seemed mollified when we pointed
out on the map all the places in Croatia we had visited.
This was all repeated a mile further along the road,
on entering Montenegro. Here the guard wasn't interested in my driving
licence, only the vehicle documents and the insurance. All our books say
we are supposed to declare our Euros – but no one seemed interested.
We have entered at the coast, at Herceg Novi, and
urban sprawl goes on for a long way. Here there is an inland sea, which we
are driving round. The camp-site we were heading for, Na Luka at Morinj,
was still closed, but we had passed Camping Zlokovic at Kamenari, which
was open, so we retraced our steps to that. (42 27 26 N, 18 39 49 E). A
small site, with only a few pitches for tourers, most of which were taken
by Swiss and French campers, and a convoy of Czech 4 wheel drive vehicles.
The owner (Uros) is very friendly and helpful, and has given us a leaflet
of the other camp-sites in Montenegro (all 22 of them!). This will be very
useful (if they are open).
Wild camping spots are few and far between, the road
is wedged between the sea and mountains, there is a large lay-by at N42
48’ 43” E 18 41’ 12” that might be usable. And we have just found
reference (Don Madge 2010) that there is a free camp on a rough car
parking area at the north end of Perast N42.28367 E18.69460.(Later – the
area has been tarmacked, but could still be a useful wild camping spot).
Pity we found that whilst already on a campsite!
More Don Madge wild camp spots – Plaza Ploce north
of Budva - N42.28367 E18.80298 – wild camping on flat area that is an
abandoned camp site. No facilities.
Grey dawn again – heavy rain overnight.
We swapped notes with the young Swiss couple beside us. They have
driven through Albania from Greece, and had some good suggestions about
road usability and campsites. Uros gave us the times of buses to
Perast, and we caught a rather dilapidated bus into Perast, cost
€3 (Montenegro uses euros).
Perast is a lovely little town, a major port and
seafaring town under the Venetian empire of the middle ages, has some
grand houses. Just off the coast are 2 tiny islands. One had a tiny
monastery, where the abbot was murdered while taking mass, and for which
the town was excommunicated. This island appeared to be inaccessible. The
other island is artificial, and has another church dedicated to seamen. We
took a €10 boat trip out to the island. As well as the church there is a
rather nice little museum, and a good view of the quaint Perast
There are numerous cafes and restaurants, and we used
one for morning and afternoon coffee and lunch, the Armonia. Wifi was free
(pwd perastaarmonia), and the sandwiches are superb, especially the
Sandwich Armonia, toasted sarney of bacon and chicken, chips, cucumber and
tasty tomatoes, and a fried egg, only €4.50. A meal, not a sandwich.
Returning, we managed to miss the bus, and waited
another half hour. The fare this time was €5. All in all, catching
public transport is just too much hassle.
Evening – and there's a mother and father of
thunderstorms going on, with torrential rain. I have unplugged the laptop
mains lead to avoid the risk of frying the electronics. And – we've just
discovered the vent over our bed wasn't completely shut!
Site costs €15 pn.
Had a long chat with a German couple, just back from
10 days in Albania. They gave us very useful info on which roads to avoid,
and also gave us their Balkan campsite book, which has English text as
well as German. Thanks guys.
We were slightly concerned that after all the rain of
the last 24 hours we would be bogged down, but got off without difficulty.
We were determined to visit Kotor, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the
weather did improve. However we weren't prepared for the presence of 2
large cruise ships and their passengers. Kotor was heaving! Japanese
tourists appear not to notice other people, and just barge their way
through. We were less than impressed with Kotor, not a patch on the
charming little Perast. We did find free wifi at the Tourist Information
We had parked in a controlled car park, at €1 per
hour. We were there for 2 ½ hours and the attendant wanted €4. We
refused to pay more than 3, and he backed down. Strange he should make
such a simple mistake......
So back round the loch to Risan, where there is a
brand new road heading north.It's not on any of our maps or satnav, but is
a superb road, rising from sea level to over 1000 metres, in spectacular
scenery. (I know I keep using “spectacular” but no other words will
do.) At Niksic we turned north on theE762, turning east at Jasenovo Polje
along an unclassified but excellent road (and which is also spectacular!).
At Savnik there is another new road which took us to Zabljak. As
we approached Zabljak we could see fresh snow on the hill tops, and
soon it was 2 inches deep, although the roads were clear. We have stopped
at Autocamp Boce,(N43 08' 42” E19 06' 53”) about a mile before
reaching Zabljak (Height 1500 metres). There seems to be a convoy of
German, Swiss and Czech vans travelling together also stopping here.
Cost is €9 inc electricity and a reasonable wifi
connection – and the wind is bitter!
Luckily I carry a second electricity cable – just one didn't reach the
box, and it is so cold I'd hate to be without electricity.
That as a bitterly cold night! I put the heating on
(low) at 5 a.m. The convoy left at 8.30, and we left at 9.30. I would find
travelling in a convoy like that extremely frustrating. It would stop when
you didn't want to, and not stop when you did. The weather hadn't
improved, except that wind had dropped rather. The Bradt Guide says that
Zabljak has an ideal climate for tourists in the summer!
We stopped in a car park in Zabljak to buy bread. In
the 20 minutes we were there 2 separate individuals approached us touting
their own campsites. One gave us a CD and some business cards about his
site. (Durmitor Camping)
From the heights of Zabljak we dropped over 1000
metres to the Tara Gorge, supposed to be second only to the Grand Canyon
in depth – but this one is Green, with a capital G! We had worried that
the road would be narrow and twisty, but in fact the drive down was a
doddle compared to Austrian and Swiss Alpine roads, the hairpins are wide,
and the slope shallow, and there was very little traffic.
In the gorge we stopped to view Monastir Dobrilovina, a small Orthodox convent. Turning round
in a tiny space outside, I managed to rip our underslung spare toilet
cassette from its moorings, so while Rosemary did the convent thing, I was
busy under the van with screwdrivers and screws – luckily we carry a
selection of wood screws for just such an incident.
Just a mile or two from the convent is Camp Suza
Europe, aka Camp Eco Oaza Tara. (N43 02 08 E 19 24 25)This is a lovely
little site. €10 pn inc electricity. No set pitches, all grass (I was
worried about getting bogged
down, but I was assured this wasn't a problem, and it does seem well
drained). As with the last
site, there is just one electricity point for the site. Below us (well
below us) the Tara river eventually flows into the Drina, and then to the
Danube. A path on the site promises to take you down to the river, but
peters out about 100 feet above it.
At 7 pm the sun comes out, finally – but as we're
in the gorge we don't get any. Typical!
Later: we have just returned from drinks with the
owner, whose daughter speaks perfect English, and whose home made plum
brandy is delicious. (I hope I got that the right way round...) “Our
guests are part of our family”. This really is a lovely site.
And the sun is shining! It seems a shame to leave
this lovely site, but there really isn't much to do here – no footpaths,
and only a road to walk along. So we were away by 0900. First stop,
Mojkovac, to do some shopping. Failed to find any reasonable looking
vegetables. There were quite a few grocery shops – all selling the same
A few miles south of Mojkovas is the Biogradska Gora
National Park, and this has a campsite in it. Costs €3 each to enter the
park, and camping is €13 pn inc electricity. The site is a real gem,
especially in May as the trees are just bursting into green. Glorious! A
word of caution to motorhomers – this also the car park, and there are
not many spaces. Get here in reasonable time. And if its hot showers and
smart toilets you're after – this isn't for you. There are only 3
reasons for coming here – location, location and location!
There are long distance walks, and also a level 1
mile walk around the lake, and this is superb. There are also rowing boats
for hire – €8 for 1 hour – and they're good boats.
As the sun went down we were joined by 2 Swiss
campers in a small tent.
Awoke to another lovely day. Today we walked up to find the “primeval forest”.
Primeval apparently means it is completely unmanaged. Trees fall over?
That's where they stay. Under brush is not cleared, nature does everything
itself. The maps don't really give the scale of how far you have to walk,
or how high you have to climb! We walked 9 miles, half of it up, and half
of it down, a climb of 700 metres. Much of it is “road”, accessible by
4x4s. However even these can only go half way because the road is still
blocked by snow. The road follows a series of long zig-zags, but there is
a path the short cuts many of the zigs and zags – follow the white dot
in a red circle.
When we returned the car park was heaving – lots of
families having barbecues, but these had mostly departed by 7 pm. Maybe
Sunday is a good day to avoid?
Well that was our sun! It's raining again. We
abandoned our plan to walk round the lake again before we left, and drove
on to Cetinje, the old capital. For most of the journey to Podgorica (the
new capital) we were driving a deep
gorge. Occasionally we would dive into a tunnel, and most of these were
unlit, and some had nothing white for the headlights to pick up at all. It
is just like driving at night with no lights on at all – you can't see
the wall and you can't see the centre of the road - terrifying! (Norwegian
tunnels are just the same.)
At Podgorica we found an excellent supermarket, “Voli”,
conveniently placed on the new bypass. It even had fresh milk labelled
“fresh milk”, so this time I didn't buy yoghurt by mistake. Cetinje is
26 Km west of Podgorika.
is a small city, with a main street full of cafes and bars. In the early
years of the 20th century many
embassies were built here, and show the characteristics of their
countries. The British embassy was built in the style of a cottage, but
was vacated in 1916 as the Austro Hungarian forces annexed Montenegro.
We are parked in a side street, labelled “P”, by
the sports centre, and the plan is to spend the night here. ( N 42 23'
29.4” E 18 55' 32.3”) A large car park at the other end of town costs
€2 per day, and was most unwelcoming, as was the tourist information
office adjacent to it. There
are numerous wifi signals, but they were difficult to pin down to a cafe.
However cafe d'Antibes had a reasonable signal and decent capucino.
Well that was not to be. We discovered there was to
be a pop concert in the town that night, and already youths had twice
intentionally knocked the mirrors when walking past the van. We thought
that by 2 am, well tanked up, there would be even more hassle, so we moved
on. To a Camping Crevna Glavica at Sveti Stefan. This was in a lovely
position, and had the potential to be a lovely site. It looks like it was
from the Communist era, rather sad and dilapidated. The Bradt Guide said
this was a highly recommended site – NOT BY US IT ISN'T! €13 inc
electricity, €10 without electricity. We did without.
Heavy rain overnight - just to make the place really
cheerful! Left the site by 9 am, moving first to Camping Maslina at
Petrovac. This was very claustrophobic, mostly residential caravans, and
we moved on quickly. After visiting Stari Bar, the ruins of the old town
of Bar, we moved on to Camping Oliva at Utjeha. This is a superb site,
with very friendly and proud owners. We are camped under 2000 year old
olive trees planted by the Romans. Cost €11.50 pn.
There are 2 sites side by side, and there is intense
competition between them, and their owners rush out to try to inveigle you
into their own establishment. We were headed for Camping Oliva because
they have gone to the effort of putting up an excellent website (http://www.oliva.co.me/index-en.htm
). They don't have wifi, but do have a couple of mobile broadband dongles
which can be hired for €1 per day.
More rain overnight. I'm almost out of knickers and
shirts, and this site has the first washing machine we've seen for a
couple of weeks. Cost €3, but we couldn't get the machine to work. No
problem – it all went in the owner's washing machine.
Outside the site, the road surface has been removed,
and work is in progress. Lorries arrived and dumped piles of paving and
heaps of concrete, blocking the road, to the dismay of both campsites.
However, by early evening the the road had been cleared – but not for
long. A road wrecker arrived, and started scraping the surface off the
hill out of the village. At the time of writing, only the surface had been
removed, and there was still a firm road to drive up – the hill would be
too steep to take the van up if the tarmac is removed completely.
Left the site by 0830 – we were keen to get out
before workmen blocked the road again, and we had no trouble with the
hill. The site cost €23 and €2 for the Internet.
At Ulcinj the plan was to look at the town, but it
had a rather shabby air, and was full of traffic – absolutely no chance
of finding somewhere to park – so we carried
on to Vladimir. Although this is the E851, it is narrow and twisty.
Suddenly, in the middle of nowhere, we came across a large, brand new, and
bright red supermarket, with attached restaurant and ice cream parlour. We
were the only customers, and check out girls followed us around to be
helpful. Our plan was to take the unclassified road to Skadrsko Jezero,
the large lake that is home to pelicans. The road started off reasonably,
but got narrower and narrower, with bends every 20 yards. Maximum speed
dropped to 20 mph, and averaged 15 mph. The final straw was a descent down
the side of a mountain on a road just wide enough, no crash barrier, and a
drop of 800 feet 2 feet from my right shoulder. Terrifying! Luckily we
didn't meet anything coming the other way, and eventually found somewhere
to turn around, and made our way back to the E851. I didn't want to see a
From Vladimir to the border the entire road has been
turned into a gravel track as the road is improved. From time to time
large machines impeded progress. Eventually, after a really good shaking,
we reached the border.
I had expected the border to be hassle and more
hassle, just like Bulgaria in its pre EU days. In fact it was one of the
easiest crossing of a non Schengen border. The Montenegrin and Albanian
officials sit in adjacent rooms, with an adjoining hatch. You hand
passports and vehicle document in at the Montenegrin window. They get
processed, passed through the door to Albania, and handed back to you on
the Albanian side. And the Albanian official actually saluted as he handed
the passports over, smiling broadly and welcomed us to Albania.
After 8 miles of rattle to the border, the smoothness
of the Albanian road was welcome – and unexpected. And so it continued,
to Shkoder and on to Bushat, where there are 3 sets of speed humps – we
hit the first one at 20 mph – it was like hitting a brick wall!
The best speed to take them is as close to dead stop as you can
get! Just beyond Bushat is Barbullish. Here we stopped at Camping Albania,
a Dutch owned campsite. Chickens & cockerels roam the site, and are
remarkably tame. So tame, in fact, that a hen jumped up and grabbed some
bread off the table, and ran off with it, pursued by the others. They are
also prone to pecking at bare feet and investigating the inside of
Later, we walked through the local village – almost
everybody smiled at us, and said hello. We'd been told the streets were
lined with litter – not so far, they're not. We arrived with
preconceptions - and so far they have all been completely false.
Rain overnight gave way to a hot and humid day. We
managed to wash & dry the sheets, drive to the nearest bank at Bushat
to change Euros for Lekis, and go for a walk, before there was a
thunderstorm & heavy rain. It doesn't help to read in the Guardian
that it's predicted to be a perfect barbecue
weekend in England! On the way to the bank we were stopped by police in a
routine check. They spoke no English, and were very affable.
Power has gone off at the site and, apparently, the
local community. The site has a rather noisy generator, but that doesn't
run our shore supplies. I enquired whether this was a common occurrence,
expecting a positive answer, but she said no, this was the first power cut
they had had for a long time.
is the 23rd wedding anniversary
of the Dutch owners, and they are putting on a 3 course buffet for
€12.50. We arrived punctually at the stated time of 7 pm, to be told
“that is Albanian time, anywhere between 7 and 8”, so we are waiting
to be collected by their son at the appropriate time.
That was quite an evening! 6 Dutch, 2 Brits, the
Dutch owners and their daughters, and a stack of locals, a local band
playing Albanian music. Lots of red wine & beer, and even more food.
Numerous whole roast chickens ere placed on the tables, and steaks were
brought round later, too. Lots of dancing, Albanian style – both the
music and the dancing is similar to Romania. In fact the whole country has
a Romanian feel, from the villages, the horses and carts, even the
countryside. Roads have been generally good, but deteriorate if you leave
the main roads. Today we drove up to see the gorge at Koman. After a while
the road became decidedly “Romanian”, and we called a halt, to have
lunch overlooking a superb view over a lake, the only sign of humanity
aerials on a distant mountain top. An elderly Albanian stopped his
motorbike to have a chat. No common language, but many smiles and much
shaking of hands. It is quite humbling to think of the changes he has seen
in his life, from a rigid form of Maoism to free market capitalism and
open borders with the rest of Europe.
We returned to the site in time for another
A convoy of 3 military looking German Land Rovers
arrived, all with tents on their roof racks. Some of the occupants were
even wearing pseudo military uniform – not the most tactful dress given
the history of the Balkans!
As we didn't pay for last night's meal in the
restaurant, we returned to eat again. 3 course meal €10 each, dessert
was a superb Irish coffee.
The German convoy drove to the restaurant for
breakfast! We left at 0930, heading south along a good road to Fushe-Kruje,
where we turned off for Kruje. Both of these towns were heaving with
traffic, sometimes treble parked, and wandering pedestrians. We did see a
cafe/bar called “George W Bush”, so he obviously impressed at least
one person! Kruje involved quite a climb, many hair pin bends in heavy
rain, to reach an old castle. Here there were narrow roads, sharp bends
and inconsiderate parking making driving very difficult – it must have
taken years off the clutch! Descending again, we found somewhere to park
off the road. Rosemary went off to look at the historical bits, and I
collapsed in a heap, with several cups of tea to soothe my nerves.
Then, back down the way we had come, but now the
traffic was much reduced. Sunday afternoon seems a good time for doing
busy towns. We were heading for Nord Camping, just west of Fushe-Kruje,
and passed it on the SH1. By now the sun was shining and we decided to
carry on to Durres. Traffic here was rather hairy, wide roads but no lane
markings and even less lane discipline! However we managed to park in the
centre, and walked down to the seafront. There is a Roman amphitheatre
that we visited, the largest in the Balkans, although nothing like those
in Turkey. The town seems to be thriving – lots of well stocked and
modern shops. We were amused to see an Albanian car with a Union Jack
painted on the roof – and it wasn't a Mini.
Thence, the SH4 south, still being improved. A dual
carriageway, it appeared to have no exits between Durres and Kavaje, where
we came off , looking for Camping Mali Robit. This is close to the sea,
behind a hotel of the same name, and full of huge pine trees. It isn't
really suitable for motorhomes, as the trees are so close together,
however we have tucked ourselves in, eventually. €10 pn, with
no electricity. There should be free wifi in the hotel, but we have
yet to try that.
Later – when the owner asked his daughter what to
do, it worked fine, although a trifle slow. There are mozzies around :(.
We passed at least 3 police speed checks today – it
pays to keep your speed down.
We edged our way between the pines, and headed south
on the SH4. This was mostly fairly good, with touches of the truly awful!
In places there are stretches of brand new motorway. Fier was particularly
awful, and I envisaged that was how it would be all the way south, but
after a few miles we discovered a brand new motorway, not complete but
operating bi-directional traffic on one side, with a speed limit of 60 KPH.
There were police with hand held radar checking this – be warned! But it
was nice to be on a smooth surface after the horrors of Fier.
This motorway went as far as Vlore. We had been
warned to avoid the tunnel at Vlore, it has a low ceiling, is narrow and
unlit. In the event, the tunnel was closed due to a blockage, and we took
the “bypass” - narrow, pot-holed, twisty, hairpin bends, but at least
no scary drops beside you! This levelled out to a seafront road, and we
stopped for lunch at “Rezidenca Cekodhima”, which is a small beach
complex, advertising caravan parking. (N40.37700 E19.47849, about 5 miles
south of Vlore) The plan is to spend the night here – but we'll see how
Later – the owner (Albano) speaks perfect English
(he lived in London for 9 years), and is keen for us to stay overnight,
and to let him know if we need anything. Next year he plans to set up a a
campsite, with electricity & water, but he's not charging anything
this year (2012). So pencil this place in for an overnight stop if you
don't need all facilities. It will make an excellent campsite too –
right beside the beach, mostly level, and easy access to the coast road. (www.rezidencacekodhima.com)
...and did you know that Albanian for sun lounger is
“chezlong”? There are lots of them here, and hire of one umbrella and
2 chez long is 400 leke.
And later still, we were invited to the cafe for beer
and home made raki, later joined by his uncle and a brother.
A tremendous thunderstorm overnight, and torrential
rain (again!). And again we discovered that the vent over the bed wasn't
quite closed. The bed cover got quite wet this time, but had mostly dried
by the morning.
Leaving at 0930 we continued our route south, soon
rising to over 1000 metres before dropping down to sea level at Himari. Here we located a useful place to overnight on the
return trip, beside the promenade just south of Himari, N40.09848
E19.47531 (Thanks to Don Madge for that one).
Carrying on, we rise again, and I have never tackled
so many hairpin bends nearly 2 hours before we dropped back to sea level
at Sarande. Here we failed to find Hotel Mediteranea which advertises
itself as a wohnmobil stellplatz (N39 52' 14” E20 01' 04”) so carried
on to Butrint, on the end of an isthmus, where we are planning to wild
camp for the night outside the National Park.
Butrint National Park is home to a large number of
historical monuments, and we plan to visit tomorrow. There is also a small
cable ferry that takes vehicles and pedestrians across to a thin sliver of
Albania hard against the Greek border. Pedestrians go free, but mostly
only goes when there is a car to pay for it. We went across for a short
stroll – there is a triangular Venetian fort on the opposite bank.
had various reports on the road down to Butrint. The situation now (May
2012) is this: the road over the pass, and from Himari to Sarande, is
mostly excellent. The hairpins are wide, and the slopes not as steep as
some of the Swiss passes, and there is much less traffic. In one or two
places the road edge has fallen away, but not enough to cause a problem,
similarly small landslides have deposited debris on the road in some
places. I descended in 2nd gear at 15 mph, with no brake problems. The road from Sarande
to Butrint has been improved, and is mostly excellent, but there 3 or 4
lengths of road that are unmetalled. Taken slowly, these are fine. We had
planned to return via the inland route, SH4, but have been advised by
Albano that this would be unwise, so we will return the way we came.
We are parked in the small car park outside the
national park, and beside the ferry, and plan to overnight here. There is
a large German caravan already here in prime position – looks like it's
been here a while (and was still there when we left). We took the small
ferry for a stroll on the other side, free both ways.
thunderstorm overnight, but the morning brought sunshine, and we went into
the national park, cost 700 Lek each. Rosemary is in to archaeology, but
I'm not, but even so I found it fascinating. There are remains of pre
Greek, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Venetian occupations. The water table
has risen, and now there are 6 inches of water in most of the ruins, which
harbours frogs, terrapins and dragonflies. Here we met our 1st
Brits since Croatia, and they recommended a site nearby at Ksamil.
After lunch we crossed the ferry again, this time
they wanted to charge us €1 to cross. I had no euros so paid 50 lek each
- the understanding being that if there was a paying car pedestrians went
free. There were no vehicles. On the way back there were vehicles, and
again he wanted money, but didn't push the issue when I refused.
So back a few miles to Ksamil, and Albania Caravan
Camping. (N39.77796 E20.00588 - https://sites.google.com/site/caravancampingalbania/
) Here we received the warmest welcome we've ever received at a camp site,
introduced to the owners Alexander and Linda, and offered iced coffee. The
site is small and neat, and suitable for smaller and medium sized units
(we're 6.2 metres, and I'd suggest nothing bigger.) There is an excellent
site wide wifi signal, and the owners cannot do enough for you. Their
English is excellent,- Alexander spent several years in Manchester.
And in the evening, another ex-pat conference over
bottles of wine. (Paul & Linda, http://t4too.blogspot.co.uk/2012_05_01_archive.html)
We had planned to move on today, but the decided to
stay on and try out the beach. And we also wanted wifi to hear about our
daughter's 20 week scan – we're grandparent wannabees!
Later – scan all good, and we know what sex it is
but are not allowed to say!
A disco by the beach has just tried out is amplifiers
– weekends could be noisy!
2 more large vans have arrived, one Czech one German,
and an elderly hippy couple – same as the 60's hippies but 50 years on,
in a small tent. Site is now full. Cost is a straight €5 per person per
Time to move on, and a change of plan. Alexander has
warned us that the road to Elbasan and Perrenjas is very bad, so we have
decided to to get to Lake Ochrid via Greece. First we went over a small
pass (where we watched an eagle soaring overhead) to visit Gjirokaster,
which has a number of old
houses, and also houses a museum in the house where Enver Hoxha was born.
Well, it would have been, but it burnt down when he was 6, and in the 90's
they built a replica. A 10 minute whistle stop tour cost 200 Leke, and the
guide had pretty good English. Gjirocaster is built on a steep hill, and
we parked at the bottom, so there is a lot of walking uphill in hot
weather – even more walking if you get lost! I thought it was a lot of
walking for not very much, but Rosemary loves that sort of thing.
After a late lunch we headed for the Greek border at
Kakavje. Police were stopping all vehicles as we got close to the border,
but weren't bothered about a pair of Brits, in fact we got a salute from
one). No problem leaving Albania, but the
Greek border police made a big play about checking our insurance (how many
Greeks even have insurance? I ask myself”).“This is only for Great Britain...”. He seemed satisfied
with “no, it covers all EU countries”.
Then our route was E853, E92, A2 to Metsovo, where
Camperstop 2009 suggested there was somewhere to stop for the night. We
couldn't find it, so carried on up the A2, then A29 to Kastoria, where
Camperstop suggested we could stop outside the monastery. We are near the
monastery, but in a small car park by the lake, N40.50438 E21.27907.
Before breakfast, we walked along the road beside the
lake to the Byzantium monastery. This is a lovely walk, highly
recommended. At the monastery we found the car park mentioned in
Camperstop, and an Orthodox priest busy opening up for the day. This small
and ancient monastery has the walls inside just covered with paintings.
After breakfast we set off back through Kastoria to the A29, then E86 back
into Albania at Bilisht. It has been a pleasant change to be driving on
roads recognised by Sally. This border crossing took half an hour,
although the queue was quite short – why is it the car in front of you
always attracts police and customs attention?. Processing our passports
and vehicle docs did not take long at all.
A few miles further, and we were in Korce. Korce is a
university town, and has wide boulevards, and very pleasant parks and
gardens, We even saw a working fountain. We parked opposite the university
and walked in to town. The town has quite a prosperous air, although we
also saw buildings that looked close to collapse. The cinema has an Art
Deco facade. After lunch in a nice restaurant behind the (new) cathedral,
we set off to find a camp site at Pogradec. We saw several horse drawn
ploughs in action, and many horse and carts, and pack mules. At one point
we found a pig wandering across the street.
The road to Pogradec was quite good, and the town
sits on the shore of Lake Ohrid. We anticipated walking into town from the
camp site, but this turned out to be several miles further on, and the
road had deteriorated to something dreadful. It wasn't helped by fsih
vendors who walked into the road in front of you dangling a live eel,
hoping you would be tempted to buy it. (Fat chance!). They also had tanks
of live trout.
The camp site was really quite pleasant, and had a
nice little restaurant where we ate grilled trout. Instead of being
grilled whole, it had been split down the centre like a kipper, and the
texture and taste was quite different. N40.96664 E20.64291
One problem with the site – it is right beside the
road to Tirana, and lorries rattle along it at all hours of the day and
night. And rattle they certainly did! There were a number of potholes that
seemed determined to shake the lorries to bits!
Another border to cross today – a short drive back
through Pogradec to the small border crossing at Tushemishi. Watch out for
roundabouts – Albanians have no idea how to negotiate a roundabout, but
it has to be said there are no road markings or signs to give them a clue.
The crossing into Macedonia was a good deal quicker than yesterday's into
Albania, but we were probably the first vehicle they'd had all morning.
Then only a mile or 2 to Naum, where there was supposed to be a campsite.
We asked at a car park for yet another monastery, to be told, in perfect
English, that the campsite didn't open until the end of June, “but you
can stay here”. So here we are wild camped by the shore of Lake Ohrid,
having paid €2 ½
for the privilege.
Lake Ohrid is Macedonia's beach, and this is its
favourite resort. There is a whole row of restaurants, and religious
trinket vendors, on the route to the old monastery. This costs 100 denar
to go in, about £1.40.
We lunched at one of the restaurants, beside the
lake, with a cool air, on chicken steak sandwiches and chips, with beer
and bottled water came to about £6. NB everyone seemed more than happy to
take Euros and give change in MKD.
After lunch, a boat trip to see the Ohrid springs.
This is by rowing boat – but we had a driver whose rowing skills had yet
to be perfected.
Then, whilst Rosemary went off with her paints to
paint the monastery, I settled down in a chair under a plane tree to read a book. I hadn't been there more than 10 minutes
when, with no warning at all, a 20 foot long bough fell to the ground,
landing only 5 feet from me. After that I chose another spot out of range
of the tree with murderous designs on me. N40.91599 E20.74537
A nice quiet night, and woke to a mirror like Lake Ohrid. We were away by 9, but already 2
coach loads of tourists had arrived. The plan was to drive in to Ohrid,
noting which of the lakeside campsites looked best, and go back there this
evening. We passed 3 campsites, all firmly closed! So we are parked on
Ohrid waterfront, 3 metres from the lake, almost in the centre of Ohrid,
and here we plan to stay for the night.
Ohrid is a perfectly delightful town, touristy, but
tastefully done. The municipal gardens wouldn’t be out of place in
Eastbourne. For 100 denar we had coffee and tea, and all the wifi we could
want, and we returned for the same in the afternoon. And lunchtime we
splashed out 2200 denar on dinner in a very nice restaurant. The seafront
promenade (well, it feels like a seafront) goes on for miles.
in to St Sophia cathedral, built in the 11th
century and tiny, to find an orthodox service in progress. We stayed for a
while – much of the action goes on behind the rood screen, and the
congregation sit around the walls and chat. Then the priest comes out to
deliver a homily – by his dress and head gear we thought he may have
been the archbishop. N40.10971 E20.80445
That wasn't the quietest night's sleep I've had, a
disco continued until 1 am, and there was coming and going all the time.
A wet morning. We walked to the market in town to buy
fruit & veg, but at 9 am half the stalls were still closed up. Then on
to our usual wifi cafe to check email, BBC & the Guardian.
We were aware that Ohrid was more in tune with
visitors than other places in Macedonia– and we were to find out how
large the difference is. The road from the Albanian border had been good,
but on leaving Ohrid, even the main road deteriorated into what you would
have expected in Albania. We needed a campsite for its bunkering
facilities. The Bradt Guide says that a hotel
on the shore of lake Prespa, owned by the Interior Ministry, had
facilities for 20 caravans for the public. However, when we finally found
it they had no idea what we were talking about. Nearby is Autokamp Krani
(aka Gulag Krani)– a relic from the Communist era. We've stayed on a few
of these in various ex Communist counties, and some have had a charm of
their own, but this was by far the worst! Dismal, unwelcoming and
depressing, they wanted to charge us €15 (£12). We said we wanted to
pay in denar, and the price was 500 MKD ( £7). There are no pitches, just
lots of run down cabins and static caravans, no electricity points, no
showers, only 2 squat toilets (seemingly for the entire site) with broken
flushes, no chemical toilet, and water only from the tap in the wash basin
beside each toilet. The registration form wanted to know where we had
entered the country, and where we spent last night. Even worse, the staff
really couldn't care less, in complete contrast with Albania where there
is a strong entrepreneurial spirit. And it's raining!
Lake Prespa is at least 400 yards away, and there is
a sandy track to it, but nowhere to go when you get there. On our way back
we were amazed to see a lynx run across the track about 50 yards ahead of
us. It was unmistakeably a lynx, tufted ears and all, but the Bradt Guide
says there are believed to be fewer than 100 Balkan Lynx between Macedonia
and Albania. N40.93551 E21.08168
It has stopped raining, so Gulag Krani looks a little
more cheerful. And on the way out the chief wardress, an attractive
blonde, gave us a big beamy smile and a wave – a treat for 2 short term
We continued further down the lake, and came across a
barrier, a sign saying “border area” and a soldier with a machine gun.
Turning back towards the main road, we found an area suitable for wild
camping around Pretar, a beach resort at the end of the lake. (N40.97377
E21.05634). This minor road, going nowhere in particular, was excellent.
Soon we joined the M5/E65, and the road became appalling – some serious
pot holes to avoid.
At Bitola we parked beside the sports hall. We would
never have found it, but we had to follow a diversion and found ourselves
right beside it. From here it is an easy and pleasant walk into town, and
what a pleasant town it is. Not touristy, like Ohrid, just wide
pedestrianised streets, & an interesting old town, where we bought a
hand made barbecue from the man who made it, 1200 MKD, Free wifi with our
coffee on the way in, and free wifi with our lunch on the way out.
From Bitola we headed for Krusevo, a town populated
by the Vlache, a “tribe” who came with the Romans, speak their own
Latin based language, and are the main entrepreneurs here. We had planned
to wild camp at the ski slope here, but it is in the centre of the town,
with no real parking. An attempt to camp beside a nearby monastery
foundered when we found how narrow the road to it is. So instead, we are
parked near the Hotel Montana Palas at Krusevo, on a verge. 4 large
coaches stuffed full of school children have just arrived at the hotel –
it could get noisy! N41.36456 E21.25416
Leaving Krusevo, we dropped several hundred feet,
down a road that was mostly OK, but with pot holes to keep you on your
toes. (also, our third suicidal tortoise, casually strolling across the
road.) On the way in to Prilep we spotted a large steam locomotive close
to the road, and unusually, with somewhere to park. It seemed to us it was
an old Russian loco but with some conn rods missing. We stopped to look at
Prilep, another pleasant town with good coffee and wifi. At Prilep we
picked up the M5 going northeast, a fair to middling sort of road. Then
E75 going ESE, a really good new road built by the EU taxpayer (ME!). When
the motorway ran out it turned into reasonable road twisting through
gorges. Round one of the bends we found police directing traffic around a
lorry that had jack-knifed, hitting the gorge wall. There was a lot of
blood around, which fortunately turned out to have come from his freight
– water melon. Then the 604 to Strumica. Strumica was described as a
really pleasant and interesting town – but that wasn't our experience.
We spent a couple of hours here, decided it wasn't for us, and went to
look for the Monospitovo wetlands, home of a fish eating spider – and
failed to find it. We had rather hoped to spend the night there. There
followed another hour searching for a suitable overnight spot (we had
already stayed at the only campsite in Macedonia that is open at the
moment!). We are now on a piece of ground that has been cleared for
development, at N41.37940 E 22.80082
Hmmm. Quite a noisy night!. The nearby garage cum
cafe played music until 1.30, and tractors started buzzing about at 4. So
we had an early start – on our way by 7.30. We took the 523, a very
scenic road over the mountains, parallel to the Bulgarian border. On the
way we saw a cart pulled by 2 oxen and another drawn by 3 donkeys. South
of Berovo there are numerous places suitable for wild camping. The road
surface was really quite good, except, of course, for some stretches that
were truly awful. Coffee and wifi at Berovo, where we spent the last of
our MKD on diesel, then on to Delcevo and the Bulgarian border. The road
on the Macedonian side was excellent, and we had no trouble leaving
Macedonia – we weren't asked to account for every night we spent in the
country (which some guidebooks had implied would be necessary). Then no
man's land, through the relics of Communist border control in Bulgaria –
a trough of water and an overhead gantry that used to sprinkle a few drops
of water “to sterilise the vehicle” (actually, as a means of screwing
hard currency out of visitors. We had this charade on our last visit in
2005. We also had to pay €5 for a 7 day vignette - at least that is a
reasonable price, and we could have paid in local cash, if we had any. The
road from the border down to the town of Blagoevgrad was as bad as
anything we've seen in Albania – a disgrace for an EU country.
We went into town at Blagowotsit to find a cash
machine, then headed north to find the Rila Monastery. It is good to have
Sally Satnav talking to us again, giving directions in English, because
many of the road signs are only in Cyrillic script. The E79 is a good new
road, but we saw several police radar units and checkpoints, so watch out.
The road to Rila Monastery is pretty good, too. Drive past the monastery
and you find Zodiac Camping. We came here 7 years ago, and it hasn't
changed a bit. Very pleasant - €10 pn, or 20 Lev.
We spent the afternoon visiting the monastery. We saw
it 7 years ago, but this time the sun was shining. Bulgarians regard it as
one of their jewels – and they are right to do so – very impressive,
and no cost to go in. Highly recommended. And walking back to the site, we
came across another snake, about 12” long, brown, and unidentified.
Zodiac Camping N42.14272 E23.35836. NB Bulgaria is 2 hours ahead of GMT/BST.
On the way out we stopped for another look at the
monastery. Noticed that 2 Italian vans had camped in the car park
To the main road, then via the E79 (excellent road)
19 (good road), and 84 (appalling road, 20 mph max for quite a few miles.
Come back Albania, all is forgiven!) to Eco Camping Batak beside Lake
Batak. (N41.95835 E24.15468) This is a fairly new site, and is still being
established. A number of flat terraced pitches, each with electricity and
water, but recent extended periods of heavy rain made these unsuitable for
a motorhome. Instead we are parked on a gravel track, beside pitches still
being established. Wifi is site wide and free.
Despite being beside an attractive lake, there is not
a lot to do here, and we shall move on tomorrow. The owner speaks
excellent English and is extremely helpful.
Time to move on – a long hop this time to a British
owned and run campsite near Veliko Tarnovo. A real battle over some awful
roads until we were close to Plovdiv (where we lost our last van in a
flood). Here we picked up a reasonably good motorway going east, which
turned into a really good motorway, taking us to Stara Zagora. Turning
north, we went over the Sipka pass. Approaching Sipka, we could see 3 very
bright lights, and we were curious to know what they were. Getting closer,
we could see that it was sunlight reflecting from 3 golden domes over a
church. They were so bright there's a good chance that they were covered
with real gold.
Sipksa pass is easy – not steep, hairpins fairly
wide (and frequent) and could
be done mostly in 3rd or 4th
gear. The main hazard was people overtaking on blind bends (and most
people don't wear seat belts, and often children and babies are sitting on
the passenger's lap (and also, on the driver's lap!))
At Ljubovo we turned east again to visit the small
town of Trjavna - a pleasant
little town with cobbled streets. In one of the churches is a collection
of icons. I'm generally of the opinion “if you've seen one icon you've
seen the lot”. However, one particular icon stood out above all the
rest. Dark, monochrome, and doesn't pull any punches in depicting someone
who is about to be crucified.
Camping VT is in the village of Dragizevo, and we
didn't get there until 6.30, feeling like wrung out dish cloths. (It is
This site has had lots of recommendations – and I'm
not surprised. A good swimming pool, a good bar, a good restaurant at
reasonable prices, a large mostly level field, wifi, and English spoken. 2
large beers that didn't touch the sides, and we ate in the restaurant.
(N43.03'.59” E25 45' 15”. The previous 2 Bulgarian sites weren't at
all interested in our passport details, but this one insisted on
photocopying both of our passports.
Mon 11th June
A day to chill on site. Actually, it's pretty hot. A
breeze in the morning petered out mid-afternoon. 2 machine loads of
washing dried in 2 hours, including towels. A convoy of 23 Dutch
motorhomes has arrived. They arrived in dribs and drabs, unlike the Geman
convoy we encountered in 2005 at Rila monastery, which resembled the
German army on manoeuvres!
We have been planning our route through Romania. Our
first draft was to go via the painted monasteries but that was scuppered
when we realised they were in the north east, and we needed to exit
Romania in the north west.
Ate in the restaurant again – their beef & ale
pie is superb!
Took a taxi into Veliko Tarnovo. The site has an
arrangement with an English speaking taxi driver, which is very
convenient. 10 lev each way. When you want to come back, get the
restaurant/coffee bar to give him a ring. And he knows every pothole
between site and city by name.
It was too hot to do too much, but we visited the
castle, and the old town, and had an excellent salad in the Hadji Nikoli
Inn, which also houses a museum. We were back on site by 3 pm, ready for a
swim. This is one of the best pools I've swum in – not too chlorinated,
scrupulously clean, and an ideal temperature. Ate in the restaurant again.
So much for Bulgaria, now back to one of our
favourite countries, Romania. Eventually, we picked up the E85 to Ruse,
where the only non-ferry border with Romania is. The E85 is mostly pretty
good. “Friendship Bridge” was built in 1952 to celebrate the
friendship of the 2 newly Communist counties, and before Ceausescu fell
out with the Russians. I'm sure it still has the original road surface!
Cost for the van, less than 3.5 tonne, was €6. There were no passport
checks by the Bulgarians, and only a cursory check by the Romanians
We are required to buy Romanian road tax, but the
office that sells them couldn't “because our system is down”. Instead
we had to call at a filling station, where a dragon demanded our vehicle
documents. Typical! Every other country in Europe that requires a vignette
can just sell one over the counter. Romania, the land of Ceausescu and the
secret police, demands documentation which is slowly entered onto
computer, presumably so they can track you across the country.
From the bridge we continued the E85 to Bucarest,
mostly a reasonable road. At Bucarest it all became pretty awful. Lots of
road works, and we missed our turning for the E70 ring road. A U-turn in a
gap in the traffic took us over some newly laid tarmac, so I don't think
we did much for Anglo Romanian relations there. The ring road was entirely
road works, and nose to tail lorry traffic. At one point the road
disappeared completely – and I thought the M25 was bad!
The E70 took us all the way to Ptesti,
where we picked up the 7C to Curtea de Arges. Our campsite is at
Berlusi, on the 73C, having crossed a small pass.
Camping Comarnic Drago is an absolute gem.
Beautifully mown lawn, camp fire and barbecue set-ups,, surrounded by
trees and a lovely view. It caters mainly for non motorhomers – a number
of chalets and small static caravans circle the site, but we found
ourselves the only people here. Cost 35 Lei pn inc electricity, about £7.
Not much English spoken, French preferred. N 45 06' 40” E 24 31' 12”.
The nights are nice and cool here, and we can sit out
in the evening without being plagued by flies and bitey things.
Today we drove in to
Curtea de Arges, about 6 miles away. The 2 primary sights to see
here are “The Princely Court”, which initially comprised a church and
a palace, but only the church remains, and Curtea de Arges monastry, the
The princely court is magnificent, and completely
covered inside with medieval wall painting which, unusually, combined
Byzantine and Catholic artistic tradition. i.e. Byzantine stories painted
in Italian style. The curator of the nearby museum, who seemed to speak
most languages fluently, and a professional historian, talked without
taking breath for at least 20 minutes. He had strong views on most things,
including corruption, Russia, and the stupidity of allowing Romania and
Bulgaria into NATO (because all its secrets are fed straight to the KGB).
Here also is a tomb of a medieval prince which is due to be opened next
week to take DNA samples.
The monastery was rebuilt in the 19th century, and looks quite Islamic. Here is buried Queen Marie of
Romania, Queen Victoria's grand-daughter, of whom it was said “there is
only one man in Romania, and that's the queen.”
We have just discovered that our 7 day road tax
actually expires at midnight the day before we leave (i.e. only 6 ½ days)
We left the site fairly early and made our way east
to the UNESCO listed monastery at Horezu. Romania is awash with lovely old
monasteries, with completely painted interiors, but this is one of the
best, and entry is free. Unfortunately photography inside is forbidden,
and I thought it unethical to grab a sneak shot (and they rarely work,
anyway), however I enjoyed the depiction of hell in the porch, which I
The area wasn't particularly suited to wild camping,
although we did notice that the 2 Italian vans that wild camped outside
the Rila monastery in Bulgaria were setting up to overnight north of
Costesti. Instead we made our way north to one our favourite site, Oude
Wilg at Carta (Cirta). The E81 is very busy – lots of heavy lorries, but
has a very good surface. The E68 east is much quieter, and now has a
superb surface – it was being rebuilt the last time we were here.
Extricating myself from a wrong turning I backed into a small tree and
smashed a light fitting :(. Bother! On arrival you are given a small jug
of their home made blackberry liqueur, which is delicious, so that helped
Oude Wilg is at N45 47' 00” E24 33'58”
Here many householders have a few cows, sometimes
only one, in a barn behind the house, and they are still turned out to
pasture some distance away as a village herd. At 8.30 (in mid summer) they
are brought back to the village and collected by their owners – some
make their own way back to their own barn. It is quite a sight to watch
them fording the river as they come back. The practice of keeping a cow or
2 and sending it out to pasture daily is diminishing – there are fewer
animals (cows, bulls and horses) now than when we came in 2007.
There are many more mosquitos and midges than I
remember, and especially compared with our last site, where their were
A British girl of about 25 arrived on a bicycle.
She's cycling on her own to Istanbul. Now that's impressive! Tomorrow she
tackles the Transfagaras, the classic mountain road, which was only
cleared of ice and opened today.
Free wifi is available close to the house – which
is where the mozzies lie in wait!
A nice easy day on site – warm sun but a cool
breeze and shady trees. The local shop sells superglue, so I spent the
afternoon attempting glue the rear light fitting back together. Hopefully
it will be sufficient to get us home. I shall have to investigate
Another easy day on site. My rear light cluster
doesn't look too bad – good enough for the 1500 miles home.
After lunch the Dutch convoy we met in Bulgaria
arrived. Arriving and travelling en masse, the do adversely affect the
dynamics of places they visit, and I've come to the conclusion that it's
all rather antisocial, and spoils things for lone travellers.
During the afternoon there were sounds of a fierce
argument in the street, seemingly a gypsy woman and a gypsy man having a
real ding dong, which lasted 20 minutes and ranged up and down the street.
You never heard such screeching and yelling. Then about 9 pm it flared up
again, now several women and several men, all dressed in traditional gypsy
garb. It sounded like a tribe of monkeys (really!). It centred on the
house opposite the site, and mostly took place in the street. 2 women
started throwing punches. It was like a scene from Carmen, but more so
(except they didn't pull knives). They were completely oblivious to the
spectators from the campsite. Apparently it started when a
gypsy man hit his wife. Her mother then waded in to have a go, and
it escalated from there. NB according to the Dutch campsite owner, the
gypsies here are very wealthy, earning 5 times more than an average wage,
mostly from begging. So don't feel a moral obligation to give – and that
goes for the Romanian gypsies in London, too.
Left the site rather late, so Rosemary could walk
round the village again. Took a couple of minor roads, first to Agnita,
then west to Seica Mare. These proved to be a mistake – much of it was
unmetalled, and the bits that were metalled were awful. Av speed 15 mph.
Then north to the fortified Sacon churches of Axente Sever and Vallea Villor,
before heading back the way we came to Sibiu then west to Garbova, where
there is a recommended camp site. We didn't get there until gone 6, very
hot and sticky. There are hundreds of fortified churches in Romania, but I
think I'll pass on seeing any more for a while. The Sighisoara to Sibiu
road has roadworks along its entire length. It will be great when it's
The campsite, Poarta Oilor, is behind a modern hotel.
Both the proprietor (Fritz) and his wife speak excellent English – the
wife has a sister living in Tunbridge Wells! We ate in the restaurant,
simple but excellent meals. N41 51'58” E23 43' 42”
Romania is on the up and up, roads much improved,
towns and villages have been spruced up and have cared for feel, there is
a feeling of civic pride. This is in complete contrast with Bulgaria. At
Oude Wilg we talked to a Belgian who had come through Serbia. Things there
are really bad, he says, 60% unemployment, and a dark and threatening feel
to the whole country. Not a pleasant experience. (And today BBC News
reports 4 Bosnian Serbs sentenced to long periods of imprisonment by the
ICC for their parts in the Srebrenica massacre.)
An early start – we have a long drive today, and we
don't know how good the roads will be, or how difficult the
Romanian/Hungarian border will be.
We followed the E68 all the way to the border at
Nadlac, and it proved to be a good road all the way, as long as you aren't
bothered by travelling the same speed as the many lorries, but they did
keep up a good average of 56 mph.
We have no Forints, but we did find €40 between us.
A vignette for Hungarian motorways cost €7, which we bought at a
roadside shack in Romania.
The border crossing proved to be a doddle. No exit
checks by Romania, and a cursory look at passports by Hungary. At our last
crossing into Hungary from Romania a few years ago Hungarian officials
demanded a good look around the van.
Much of Hungary is flat. Even Lake Balaton is shallow
enough to walk across (apparently – don't try it in case I'm wrong!).
The first thing we noticed was a deterioration in road surface, and an
increase in roadside litter. We're in the middle of a heat wave, and it is
very hot. None of the laybys on the motorway have any shade, and there is
very little breeze. At Szeged we picked up the M5/E75 which goes straight
to Budapest. After some difficulty we found the site we were after, at
Cegled, Thermalcamping Cegled, http://cegleditermal.hu/eng/
. This is part of a large hotel & thermal spa complex. €20 paid for
the site and entry to the spa. The solar panel is working overtime at the
moment, so we didn't bother with electricity. N47 12' 01” E19 44' 18”
Another long drive, to Vienna, but we broke the back
of it yesterday. E75 motorway to Budapest, M0 ring road, then M1/E75 to
the border at Hegyeshalom. No checks on either side of the border. A4
& M60 to Vienna, then a route of Sally's own devising to Donaupark
Camping at Klosterneuburg. N48 18' 38” E16 19'
42”, arriving in time for a late lunch. Donaupark is an ACSI site, so
low season cost €16 all in. Wifi cost is way too high to be useable.
We'll look for a free wifi
cafe in Vienna tomorrow. The site is almost full, mostly Dutch and German
vans, but we have a Danish neighbour (who also has a sister living in
It is way too hot to do much, so we didn't. Strolled
around Klosterneuburg later
– it is a really pleasant town, rather overshadowed by Vienna.
Later – it is still hot, but now it's raining.
Have you noticed how the nights are drawing in?
There was a heavy thunderstorm overnight, and today
promises to be a lot cooler, back to the more normal 28 instead of
yesterday's 38. A wearying day in Vienna. A lovely and interesting city,
but I think I've seen a lifetime's supply of Mozart look-alikes.
Getting in to Vienna from the site is relatively
easy. 2 minutes walk from the site is a bus stop from which to catch the
239 to to the U4 underground terminus at Heiligenstadt, cost €2. The bus stops right outside the entrance to the station.
Various tickets are available - we chose the 2 day pass for €11.70,
which entitles you to use the underground, trams and buses within Vienna
for 2 days. Don't forget to validate the ticket in one of the machines,
which punches the time and date onto the ticket. The station closest to
the centre is Karlsplatz.
We took the train out to Schonbrunn, to see the
enormous and grand Habsburg palace Schloss Schonbrunn. We did the Grand
Tour, with leaflet or audio guide. We started off with an audio guide and
a leaflet between us, but found the audio guide was only reading the
leaflet words, and very slowly, so we swapped the audio guide for a 2nd
leaflet. Photography is prohibited – that didn't stop the Japanese
taking photos, but it did stop me.
The cafe adjacent to the palace has free and
unsecured wifi, but very expensive coffee. We found the same network was
available in cafe Julius Meinl, near the cathedral, but also with
The last time we were in Vienna, there was a beggar,
an immigrant not an Austrian, beside the cathedral entrance, making a very
unconvincing show of weeping, as he held out his hands. The afternoon
shift was taken by a female, but at least she didn't pretend to weep. The
show was so entertaining I was looking forward to seeing him again, but
there wasn't a beggar in sight. Also disappeared – the beggars doing the
rounds of tables outside coffee shops.
When we got back to the site, our Dutch caravan
neighbour had been replaced by a German motorhome, who had extended his
pitch into ours, putting a small tent for his son right up beside our
external locker. We have to step on the tent to gain access to the locker.
An eventful night. Spot on midnight our torpedo alarm
went off. I hadn't previously been aware we had a torpedo alarm, but
that's what it sounded like! (to be precise, a Leander class frigate's
torpedo alarm.) Turning off all the power to the van failed to stop it,
and it was very loud. It turned out to be an elecrtic toothbrush that had
turned itself on due, I suspect, to an ingress of water. The extraordinary
noise was the sound of it rattling around inside a plastic beaker.
An early start saw us at the Belvedere Art Gallery as
it opened at 10. Cost €8.50 for over 60s. It is in the process of
setting up a Klimmt exhibition, but so are 3 other galleries. So although
the Belvedere has Klimt's most well known picture, “The Kiss”, there
aren't that many Klimmt paintings there. To be honest, it makes you
realise what treasure houses the National Gallery and the National
Portrait Gallery really are, and they're free.
The rest of the day was taken up with shops, riding
trams, coffee houses and, for Rosemary, a huge knickerbocker glory. On
previous visits we've taken a tram around the inner ring, a useful circuit
of the city. Now the only tram that does that is a tourist tram, which
costs 3 times as much for a circuit than a whole day's use of the normal
Back at the site, our neighbour has moved his tent
back onto his own pitch.
Moved on to another recommended Austrian site, at
Glein. A trip beside one of the prettiest parts of the Danube. Glein has
the oldest theatre in Austria, established in 1791 in a building built in
1563. It still operates as a (very cosy) theatre. Well worth a visit.
There are markers on a wall in the town showing flood
heights at various times. The flood in 2002 was 8 metres above its proper
level -26 feet! Here the flow is as fast as we've seen it on the Rhine –
the Danube in Bulgaria is slow and ponderous.
Wifi on the site costs €1 per hour. Coverage across
the site is good. You can buy slots of varying lengths. A half hour slot
is useful for checking email & BBC news before you leave in the
N48 13' 26” E14 51' 09”
South to the A1/E60, then west via Linz and Salzburg
into Germany. The autobahn into Munich was nose to tail, adding an extra
half hour. Round the Munich ring, A8/E52 before heading north to find the
wohnmobilstellplatz at Aichach.
This isn't at the grid ref in 2009 Camperstop, but at
48 27' 31” E 11 07' 33”, and costs €5 pn. Aichach is a pleasant
little town with some historic buildings, but I could'nt find a useable
Later: It seems this is where the town's 15 year olds
come to smoke a hubble bubble, but they did disappear at 7.
overnight – we must be getting close to home. First, we stopped at a
nearby supermarket to stock up on white wine. We're not fans of German
red, but German white can be excellent.
Back on the road, we took the A8 east, bypassing Ulm
& Stuttgart. Beyond Karlsruhe we took a very attractive road, non
autobahn, through Pirmasens before
picking up the A8 again to Zweibrucken , Saarlouis and Luxembourg. We were
heading for an aire at Schwebsange, beside the Moselle, but it turned out
to be more campsite than aire, and cost €9. N 49 30' 29” E 6 21'
Our neighbours were Swedes who had been on their way
to Britain, but changed their destination to Italy when they saw the
weather forecast for Britain.
Not so far today, about 200 miles. We were aiming for
an aire at Tournai, in Belgium, using the E25 then A4 via Namur, Charleroi
& Mons. We found a spot by the canal on the Quai des Salines, and
walked into Tournaii. This has a lovely old centre, and catherdal, and was
very pleasant. Then we read an inscription:- The 13th
century city had been bombarded and flattened by the Germans in 1940.
There is no way that could have been a legitimate military target, it was
pure vandalism. However, it has been rebuilt to the original plans, and
We had some hassle finding a wifi network we could
connect to. The first cafe we tried that had a signal said no, we couldn't
use it. Moving on, we asked at “Le Dragon” if he had wifi. “Oui”
he said, so we ordered drinks, he then refused to give us the password.
And his cappucino was crap, too! Well, we are in Belgium!
However, the tourist information office directed us to a restaurant
attached to a nearby supermarket, “Lunch Garden”. This has a decent
wifi signal outside, free access, and a convenient wall to sit on.
The street beside where were parked was cobbled, and
we thought that would be noisy overnight, so moved to another aire at
Dottignies, a few miles away. This is behind an ex fire station. We
thought this was a bit gloomy, and moved on again to Mouscron. This looked
good on paper, but in practice was quite seedy. Cars and youths coming and
going, broken glass etc, so back we went to Dottignies. N50 43' 40” E 3
It is interesting to note that roads in Belgium, a
member of the EU from its beginning, are in a worse condition than those
in Romania, Macedonia, and Montenegro. Albania is improving fast, only
Bulgaria is substantially worse than Belgium.
Not so far today, just a 200 mile hop to Bruges, via
the HUGE Auchan hypermarket at Lille. This is convenient for a last minute
stock up of wine as it's only a couple of minutes off the motorway we
normally use heading for Calais. (Junction 6 of the A4 going east,
junction 7 going west, good entrance at the junction of Rue de la
Boutillerie and Rue des Champs on a satnav). At first glance you reckon
you can't get in because of height barriers. Do not be put off! There is a
speakerphone beside the entrance, and the right words will get the barrier
We spent hours at Auchan, and LOTS of money! We
shouldn't need any wine for a while, though. We even had lunch and a
shower in the car park, before heading for Bruges to meet Kylie's (our
son's girlfriend) family. Whilst we were there, Kylie arrived for a visit.
A pleasant evening, and we spent the night on their drive.
The last leg. An 80 minute drive to Calais to catch
the 0950 P&O Ferries sailing to Dover. We normally use Sea France, but
they went bust in January. P&O is rubbish in comparison. Almost all
the female toilets were closed, and staff had no idea which ones were
open, and periodically they'd blast pop music at you! I hope some
competition turns up soon!
Lunch on Dover seafront, and home in Dorset by 1630
– and a huge mountain of mail to open, including a cheque for £2500
from Inland Revenue, as income tax refund. A big thanks to Vanessa for
keeping an eye on things while we were away.
Overall miles – 5505. Another 50 would have been