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Thursday, April 12, 2018

ON THE ROAD AGAIN IN 2018


Yes, we are finally back on the road. This trip has required more preparation than we have ever done before, specifically VISAS!! We started in January and our passports have travelled back and forth to lots of embassies. We only have 2 visas left to obtain and these we should be able to get in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

So, the long flight to Munich is over! We arrive to find a very un-German queue at customs. There is a huge mob pushing & squeezing to get through. An hour later we are through but it means we have missed our booked train. So, we simply hop on the next one in to the city manoeuvring our 3 very heavy bags. No, my clothing isn’t lead lined – we are loaded with car parts! We now have 3 trains to catch instead of 2! Interesting indeed when there is no escalator. John has certainly has a good workout lugging heavy bags - I am as useless as ever.

It is with great relief that we see Konrad & his van waiting for us. He takes us straight to GR2 to collect her, and before we know it we are camped in his driveway. We sit and chat, well the others chat. As usual after a long flight my brain is in a state of mush! We stay 2 nights and try to get our diesel appliances serviced, but no go! In the end we give up and decide maybe in Turkey.

Finally, we hit the road. It feels good. With such a long drive ahead of us we don’t intend to spend much time in Europe. Only a few sights to stop at on the way, and of course a different route through each country. We find a free Camping Platz in Neuotting – perfect after a long drive. Bonus being water & dump station. We follow a lovely river all the way to Austria. Here we need to get a top box for the toll roads as we are over 3.5 ton. What a mission.  Then follows a glorious drive through heavily snow-capped mountains, before we have to drop off the top box and get our refund.

In the middle of a long tunnel we cross in to Slovenia. Unfortunately, as of the first of the month they have introduced a toll scheme like Austria. After queuing for a while, we decide to stick to the back roads.

So, we start meandering – lots of narrow windy roads. I decide we simply must pop in to see Lake Bled, despite being there twice before, as it is only a few kms off our road. Sadly, every man & his dog are also visiting as it is Easter holidays. No parking, just a drive by. Then on to Ljubljana. Our plan is to park behind the castle (we have been here before too) and walk to town from there. Traffic is thick all through the city, and when we get to our turn-off we are not allowed up! Bummer as parking is at a premium and even the tiniest spaces have been filled. Of course - it is Friday night.

Not much we can do – it is getting late so we head out of town towards our next place to tick off our lists – Plitvice Lakes. As we head down a secondary road we spy Turjik castle off to our right – maybe it has a carpark. We pull in just before dusk. Perfect! Hopefully we won’t get sprung as we know from our last visit free camping is no go in Slovenia.

Off bright and early (guilty consciences!) we continue south until we reach the Croatian border. An easy crossing with only passports required. Then turn and follow very minor roads. As a bonus we find the little town of Ogulin with a great castle before popping out near Plitvice. Here we find all the tourists –by the bus, van & car load!  We join the masses and park in to the provided carpark.  We head in after lunch in a very touristy restaurant. Actually, it proves to be definitely in our favour entering later in the day as the crowds have thinned a bit – thank goodness – at peak the crush would have been horrible. We are truly blessed to be here after so much snow. The many falls are full to overflowing – we spend an amazing few hours trekking many boardwalks.

It is late when we leave – we can’t overnight in our carpark (I checked) so we continue onward and conveniently find a great spot beside a ruined church to tuck away for the night. Now we plan to head on to Belgrade – the most direct way will take us in to Bosnia, back in to Croatia and then finally in to Serbia – so 3 borders today. Our route follows a lovely river gorge that winds on for miles & miles. After lots of winding potholed roads we decide a stint on the motorway (despite the tolls) would be good. It is nearly 6pm by the time we reach Belgrade – we decide to wing it and drive right in to the city to see the citadel. Naturally it is busy! The citadel is enormous. As we wind around streets we are forced back over the Danube River, spy some empty carparks in a large park so head there. Bonus: the chance to wander alongside the Danube & look at the citadel over the water.

By now the sun is setting so we head off for a camping spot John has found before we left home. Bummer it is locked, but there is a truck park down the road. Perfect- for a few euros a guarded spot, water & Wifi!  As an extra bonus our spot has easy access to the motorway – making it easy to hit the road. There is not much else we plan to see in Serbia as on previous trips we have visited Sarajevo & Mostar, so we follow the motorway to Bulgaria. But we can’t just continually drive – so we detour to Nis to inspect their castle. Phew it is hot & busy. Public holidays continue. On through an amazing gorge – the new motorway is not yet complete, and in to Bulgaria.

Again, we see signs for Vignette’s, so we stop to buy one. Just as well as there are police everywhere checking the vignette is in our window.  We plan to head directly to Sofia but are delayed by a pesky policeman who decides to give John a hard time. For years we have driven with stickers on instead of real number plates and no one has noticed, but this guy finds a corner that is curling up and picks it – so he insists that John put the real plates on!!! Even waves his hand cuffs and talks about 2000-euro fines!! After much muttering from John he locates the plates and screws them on. Finally, we can leave. No bribe money for this policeman.

It is a relief to drive in to Sofia & find a carpark right in the centre. A local assures us parking is free today as it is a public holiday, so we head out to explore. Some really lovely old buildings, but the best is the magnificent Alexander Nevski Church. Inside the walls are covered with murals – no photos allowed (but I very naughtily sneak just one). Finally, we head out to our camp spot beside a lake – perfect. No one in sight

From here we had planned to look at a few old towns recommended in the LP, but on consulting our maps, find we will need to head down lots of narrow winding roads, so decide to simplify our route and head back towards Sofia & then south to Plodvic. This proves to be an amazing visit. After giving up on finding a park on the main roads, we follow a small truck in to the central maze and score a spot right beside the old town – a maze of cobbled streets set over 3 small hills. A great explore follows as we walk up and down cobbled streets, through centuries old Roman walls, past lovely old wooden houses, many gorgeously restored, churches with the interiors decorated totally with frescoes and even a Roman amphitheatre.

Our final side trip in Bulgaria is to the famous monastery at Backhovo. As it is late we find a riverside spot for the night and in the morning head to the monastery. It is in a rather sad state of repair, but there is so much to maintain here. The interior of 2 of the churches are truly amazing.  Finally, time to head to the border. We find our marked line – how organised – but as we round the corner we see the queues are everywhere! We will have to squeeze in and wait. After lunch in GR2 there is a flurry of movement. Sadly, not us! The computers keep going down. Hours later they decide to stamp our passports out of Bulgaria & skip scanning them. Next is Turkey – another story.




ON THE ROAD AGAIN - PHOTOS

Camping in Konrad & Ingrid's driveway - all Konrad's flags are out in welcome

A glorious drive through the Austrian mountains

Picture perfect Lake Bled in Slovenia

Our driveby in Ljubljana - note the castle looming at the top of the hill

Sneaking in to the carpark at Turjik Castle

Ogulin Castle in Croatia. Later used as a prison & then by the army during the wars

Magical Plitvice Lakes

The boat & bus rides were included in the entry price






Last look back at Plitvice as we head back to GR2

Camp site for the night 

Filling up with water from the local water supply - in a village in Bosnia

Just your every day village in Serbia

Looking past the floating restaurant's/clubs/whatever (now no longer in use) across the Danube to the citadel in Belgrade

Belgrade City in the distance - behind more of those crazy boats - most with flooded walkways and in various states of repair

Entry to the castle at Nis (and yes that really is the name of the town)

Tulips are out here in Sofia city centre

And the boys are on guard

My totally illegal photo inside the fabulous church (and really it doesn't do it justice - so much for sneaking a photo)

Outside

And just down the road

Our camp spot - John does a bit of sorting in his garage

We came off this viaduct to find our camp spot! Amazing underneath

Still lots of snow

Exploring the old town in Plodvic

My favorite house

Some lovely renos

Another sneaky photo

The Roman amphitheatre

We camped beside this river - didn't take a photo of the site as there was so much litter!!! (not all that unusual here)

Backhovo Monastery

Again my photo doesn't do it justice

The monks quarters - a few sheep & a few old monks sighted

The tiny town of Backhovo - much prettier from a distance. Out of sight it is falling in to rack & ruin

Thursday, August 31, 2017

MORE MEANDERING


Time to drag ourselves away from our beach, helped along by the cold grey morning - we have no desire for a last-minute swim. Again, we are following yet another wine growing area & there are vines clinging to every hillside surface, & degustation (wine tasting) stops everywhere. Then we reach the flatlands -miles of long sandy beaches, lots of beachy resort towns & untold traffic. We decide to head on to Narbonne where we used to be able to free camp beside the canal right in town. Well that is no longer possible, so we head out to a pay Aire at the marina in Eruissan.

On our evening stroll, we decide to climb up to the castle. The gate is still open so we follow some other people in. Lovely views, but on heading back out find the extremely tall gate locked. The young guy climbs over, & the older guy struggles over. I am having a meltdown! Fortunately, a local tells us about the switch to open the gate. Phew! John had threatened to leave me there all night if I wouldn’t climb over.

A slower start this morning to do our washing. Finally head north on back roads. Lots of little towns have free camping, so we finally decide to stop at Belmont-Sur-Rance. A pretty little place, despite being a bit rundown. Wake to a drizzly cold day. Nothing for it but to carry on through more extremely hilly countryside until we reach the very amazing Millau Bridge. Even though we have been here before we stop for yet more photos. Then on to drive the Gorges du Tarn, and yes, we have been here before, but it doesn’t disappoint. Glorious drive – but incredibly narrow & winding. Heaps of rocky tunnels & at one point a massive traffic jam.  When we can find a carpark, we stop & explore. I have found a free Aire on my map in the town of Florac at the end of the gorge, so we head there. Oh bum! It is full. We sit on the handicapped spot to decide what to do. Yay, a motorhome pulls out & I race over to save our spot.

Again, another cold morning.  We check our maps & decide on our route. We will head towards Grenoble to see friends, so decide to go via Orange & then through the lavender region. Fingers crossed they won’t have harvested yet! Orange is small enough, & untouristy enough for us to drive right in & park on the street. Here there is an amazing Roman theatre to explore. We wander around listening to its history through earphones – all pretty amazing stuff. Then find the Arc d’Triumph before heading out of town.  We set the GPS on to Sault, which is in the lavender area. Pretty drive, but alas all the lavender has been harvested a month ago. Overnight in the Aire at Sault, before heading north.

Our best stop today is at Sisteron, beside the Durance River, where there is a castle/fortress right on top of the rocky peak overlooking the valley in both directions. Of course, it is the hottest part of the day when we trudge to the top. Views are magic, & the castle pretty amazing.   

Finally stop for the night beside another motorhome in a carpark in the very tiny town of Corps. Amazingly there is a great restaurant in town to celebrate my birthday. They even play Happy Birthday on the old music machine & put a spouting firework on my dessert!

Finally, we reach Chris & Suzy’s amazing tower home in Allevard. And boy is it great to stay with them for 2 nights. We even go out with them to a Vivaldi Concert (yes John comes too!!) and we love their new swimming pool. But all good things come to an end (Thank you so much Chris & Suzy). Our next plan is to find a workshop in Torino, Italy. After all the parts we needed in Spain came from Italy so we figure there will be plenty of workshops.

So, more mountains – we stick to the toll roads. And golly that tunnel between France & Spain costs an arm & a leg! (57.60 Euros).  Finally, on to Torino, camping outside the city so that we can arrive early in the morning. But how depressing. All the workshops are closed until next week here & in Milan. So, we will head on to Germany tomorrow. This involves lots of driving & lots of countries. Before we know it, we are cruising through the glorious countryside of Switzerland, then the tiny country of Liechtenstein, slip through side streets in Austria to avoid paying for a vignette for the motorway and finally in to Germany. By 7pm we reach Munich & by7.30 the workshop John has located online. Amazingly Max is still here & says they will look at it tomorrow. We camp in the yard. Fingers crossed everyone.

All is good, the water pipes are all tightened & checked & we head off all excited – we are going to Romania. It will be a bit rushed, but it feels good to be finally on the road again (properly I mean). After 100km John checks all is OK. Oh no! Problem still not sorted & it is Friday afternoon. We will have to cancel Romania & simply meander around Germany & get back to the workshop Monday.

And that is what we do all weekend. Meander & explore this little part of Germany. Although we do pop over the border to Austria to fill up with diesel as it is so much cheaper there. Let’s see – what are the highlights! Exploring cute towns – Pfarrkirchen with its pastel coloured town square, Neumart-Sankt-Veil with its gated entrance & tiny Massing where we find a Camping Platz.  Then of course heading out to eat delicious German snitzels at a local pub and swimming in a lake on a hot afternoon. But the very best highlight is happening upon Volkfest Dorfen – a great festival involving locals in full costume with awesome Oom-pah bands parading right through town. And of course, the whole thing ends up at a huge beer hall. Looks like Octoberfest come early.

Monday back to the workshop. They are really busy, but finally John & Max by pass the engine heat exchanger. The next morning, we will go for a long test drive. There is a BMW museum just north of Munich, so we go there. It is awesome. The buildings are impressive, but GR2 is parked on the street & our time is running out, so we do our longish drive & head back to the workshop. All is good. GR2 is all OK and John is smiling again. We have only over a week left before our flights home, so Romania will wait for another trip. After a lot of thought we remember there is an Overlanders Expo on in the weekend in Northern Germany – why not go to that. So, we head there via the Czech Republic. Yes, I know that sounds crazy, but we don’t like repeating roads if we can avoid it.

The first night we stop at the first free Camping Platz that we find just off the motorway. Then over the mountains to The Czech Republic. We will not repeat our visits to Cesky Krumlov & Prague as we often find second visits don’t live up to our memories. So, we head directly north cutting through Plzen (famous as the home of Pilsener Beer). Find a parking area right near the old town & set out to explore.  It is really lovely, & totally free of tourists. Our kind of place.  Do our usual trek up the church tower –  it gives such a great overview of the city. And of course, we stop & explore a few amazing old buildings. But before we know it we are over the border & to another Camping Platz at Pobershau.

We are now driving through the old Eastern Germany. We explored here quite a few years ago, so pick out a different route. This time we stop & visit Chemnitz – not such a big city, so easy to park on the inner ring. A lot of it was bombed in the war, so there is only a few old buildings in the lovely plaza. Then on to the huge city of Leipzig. I have found a motorhome parking area on our maps very close to the city so we head there. Park & discover it is a tad pricey- should have stuck to street parking – but at least we are free to explore for as long as we like, and it really is a very lovely city. But time to move on. We are due at AMR Globetrotters tomorrow. So, a bit of Autobarn driving to complete our day.

Friday sees us driving the rest of the way to Amelinghausen on the back roads for the rally. Actually, for a German rally it is rather chaotic. Vehicles are camped all over the place, & tucked everywhere in the bush. I think the chief idea is to show off your vehicle or gawp at the other vehicles. In the evening, there are slide show presentations at 8pm 10pm & midnight (of course we cannot understand the commentary!!) And we meet lots of lovely people.

Finally, on Sunday we head out and head slowly south, stopping to explore so many lovely towns. Germany is full to overflowing with them. A night beside the river at Nienburg, another at a carpark in the very lovely town of Goslar (we love the streets full of half-timbered houses with surrounding walls, and enjoy watching the Glockenspiel), then pretty little Wirsburg and finally to Hipolstein where our lovely German friends, Ingrid & Konrad (nicknamed the naked policeman) who we met in Greece in 2005. Konrad organised a shed for us to store GR2.  It is lovely to spend some time with them before our long flight home. Thank you, Konrad & Ingrid, for everything.

More to come next year.


MORE MEANDERING - PHOTOS

Driving through more wine growing areas

Finally down the mountains and follow the long sandy beaches

And lots of marshy lakes - great for kiteboarders

The old town at Eruissan (and the tower I won't be visiting again)

View from the top - see all the salt flats way out there

Many green miles

Exploring Belmont-Sur-Rance



Passing more cute towns

Millau Bridge from below

and from Millau town

On to the gorge with its many tunnels & sheer drops

Gorges du Tarn

Stopping to explore Enimie







My favourite village

The Theatre in Orange

And the Arch

Where has all that lavender gone - a month ago there would have been patches of purple

All gone!!!

Sault

Even more hilltop towns

View from the castle in Sisterton


View over Sisterton

Just driving along

Chris & Suzy's Tower home

Love our camping spot

Exploring town with Chris (and the dogs)

Heading up the hills in Switzerland

Love Switzerland


Nothing better on a hot day

Exploring Pfarrkirchen

Exploring Neumarkt-Sankt-Velt

Cute little Massing

Many, many lovely farms

Volksfest in Dorfen




Of course the parade ends at the Beer Hall

Woops we can't get through - the entry in to Erding
BMW (Bavarian Motor Works)

We need to come here to collect our new BMW

Old home in Klatovy

Heading in to Plzen

Plzen (Czech Republic)


Amazing old monastery in Czech Republic

Chemitz plaza

Leipzig Cathedral



Leipzig - old Rathus
Leipzig

Just in passing - near Wolfsburg

Prowling around at AMR Globetrotters

At AMR Globetrotters

From our Wohnmobileplatz (camping area) in Nienburg

Nienburg

Walking the streets of Goslar

City walls at Goslar

Streets & streets of these lovely buildings in Goslar

Goslar town square

The Glockenspiel in action in Goslar

We can still dive over a 300 year old bridge in Wirsberg

Enjoying breakfast with Konrad & Ingrid