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.