Archives for the month of: May, 2014

Our first stop in Poland was at an office selling “Winety’s” so we went in to be told that we would not need one for Poland. It was only for vehicles over 3.5 tonnes which was a relief.
It should have been a 4hour trip to Poland and to Wieliczka about 1/2 hour from Krakow, however,this turned into more like an 8hour trip with many
roadworks,  detours which had us driving in circles and then the strangest toll where we waited for an hour in traffic to be charged 9 zloty or about $3. We then drove on for a few more kilometres and were then held up again at another toll booth where we had to pay another 9 zloty. A Very strange system indeed. We got to outside the city about 9.30pm when it had just got dark and we had to stop for directions a few times. We thought that many people in Poland would either speak English or German but most spoke neither and just talked away in Polish as though we would understand. We finally found a lovely camping ground with a lovely garden and with outdoor tables and chairs.

The next day it was 35degrees when we walked down to the town of Wieliczka pronounced “vielitchka” and caught the bus which took 1/2 hour into Krakow. We got off in the centre of town and walked around the imposing castle along the river Vistula.
The clouds were building so we decided to take a private tour in a golf type buggy around the Jewish quarter and the former Krakow ghetto. Our engineer guide was very knowledgeable and gave us time to get out at many locations to take pictures or  enter a famous church. All of a sudden we had thunder and lightening and torrential rain for an hour so we were very glad
to be in the buggy with plastic curtains around us. The guide kindly dropped us off at a nice coffee shop where we stayed until the rain had stopped. We went into the main central market square which covers 10 acres and is very intersting with historical buildings, monuments, a large town hall tower and the oldest covered market in Krakow. There are many parks and the main roads around the city are very wide with up to six lanes. We caught the bus back to our van and had our meal outside in the garden. It had rained very little outside the city and was warm enought to sit outside at 8pm.

Maurice was feeling a bit “fluey” the next day and was not keen to go underground so I left early and walked through the town to the Wieliczka Salt mine and got there at 8.30am to beat the crowds which didn’t happen as there were busloads of every nationality already there. They conduct tours in about 5 languages and our guide was fluent in his explanations however if you asked a slightly unrelated question he was then not so fluent.
We only came upon the mine the previous day by accident,however, it is a major tourist attraction near Krakow and over 1million local and foreign tourists visit it each year and up to 6,000 people in one day. It was incredibly well structured with groups passing each other but it didn’t feel crowded at all.
It was not noisy in the tunnels which were very well ventilated and the they had been very well restored. The”tourist tour” only covered 1% of the mine and we went down only two levels  to 135metres but the mine was up to 400metres deep and had 9 levels. The scale of the mine was staggering – 10kilometres long and 2kilometres wide and over 350 kilometres of tunnels and to think that it was all excavated, even the enormous chambers with pick and shovel – no dynamite. All the statues and floors are made of salt. The white deposits are known as cauliflower.
There was a reduced 139 zloty (about $46) price if you took two tours so I decided on the tourist mine tour (2hours with many stairs down to 135 metres and much walking) and the miner’s tour further across town which was a 3hour tour and had only been open for less than 2years.  All the statues, carvings and chandeliers are made of salt as are all of the floors.
I had some soup and salad in the restaurant which was 102metres below ground level and was then crammed in a small caged lift to the surface with 10 other people.

Unfortunately the ushers spoke no English and after showing my next ticket I was pointed to stay with a group. I luckily saw a man who I had spoken to earlier and he told me that the next tour was at the Regis shaft about 500metres away, so by the time I ran to make sure I got there for 12noon, I was hot and annoyed at not being told the right information. Once I had got my breath back the guide Marek appeared and he spoke excellent English and was a mine (sorry) of information. He had been taking the tours for over 20years and I had a very personalised tour as I was the only person on the tour which was great. You are signed in and then are given a pair of overalls, a miner’s hat and lamp (as there was no lighting in that part of the mine, much of which is in it’s original state (with many bolt reinforcements). I also got a satchel with a small first aid kit and a cannister with oxygen in case of fire! It was a much more adventurous tour which had me climbing up and down ladders to the various large chambers and over wooden logs and in one spot crawling on hands and knees into a chamber.  Marek showed me the various stages of salt mining and I got to make some of the woven hemp rope, chip away at salt and turn the water wheel, all things that were done in the mine as well as measuring the level of methane
in the tunnels. Luckily there was none.   At one point we turned off our lights to experience total darkness which I didn’t find bothered me at all.
There were many horses kept there up to 15years ago as they did much of the operation of moving the salt blocks.   The last mining done with picks and using horses stopped only 17years ago.

The miners measured out a piece of rock and dug around it, let it fall to the ground and then shape it into 700kg cylinders which were then transported to the surface.
There was even a health spa underground as the air is very health giving for any lung or upper respiratory problems. People pay about $600
for a 2 week stay and they stay underground for 6 hours a day.
The tour was so interesting and actually doing things “hands on” really gave you an idea of the miner’s work. The miner’s were well paid and it was a very healthy environment in which to work and the miners suffered none of the dreadful effects of those who worked in the coalmines.
King Franz Joseph of Austria visited the mine in the 1800’s and a special room was dug out and doors carved out and attached so that he could have refreshments – caviar and champagne before he continued on his tour!

On Monday the 26th May our third day in Krakow was spent walking around the old town and main market for many hours and I climbed the 120 steps up to the top of the town hall tower to get a good view of the city.
We returned and had a delicious polish dinner of mushroom soup and potato and sauerkraut soup and pancakes filled with goulash at the motel part of the camping-site with Geoff and Glyn an English couple who were also staying there.

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The Wachau wine region between Melk and Krems west of Vienna was beautiful and we  followed the Danube until we reached Jamek’s restaurant which had been recommended by our friend Lena and which belonged to her uncle. We had a wonderful lunch in the garden and then continued on to the Czech Republic in the afternoon. The trip took us a couple of hours and it got quite hot.

It was only an hour and a half drive from the Wachau to Znojmo in the Czech Republic and it was such a nice drive in the warmer temperatures that seemed to be lasting for more than a day at a time.   We hardly noticed  that we had passed into another country apart from a small sign on the road with the EU stars and the Czech Republic’s name.  This was in contrast to the border between Croatia and Bosnia with  immigration and customs checks.

We noticed that some of the trees were still dormant the further north we went but there were still many with pretty bright new leaves.  The silver birch were especially beautiful with their oscillating leaves.

The heavily forested mountain and hills of Austria flattened out into plains with unending lush grain crops which were waving in the quite strong wind. There were many avenues of trees along the way and very little traffic which made for pleasant driving. The roads were not bad but not
as good as those in Austria.
All of a sudden from this landscape we came upon a fun park and the most incredible sight of a cafe built onto an old Tupolev plane as well as giant dinosaurs in front of the park.

The camping ground “camping country!” just north of Znojmo was as neat as a pin with friendly owners and only one other camper.  It was nice to be able to sit outside until it got dark about 9.30pm!  We loved the twilight.  We had had such a good lunch in the Wachau that we only needed a glass of our good red wine for dinner with a cracker.

The  town of Znojmo was full of historical buildings similar to those in Vienna. Like Vienna there were many people cycling in and around the town.  From Znojmo we made our way to Brno which someone told us was for Czech people and Prague was for tourists.  They cities were not entirely comparable as Brno did not have the magnificent Prague castle or interesting town square or the Charles bridge or the river in the centre of the city.
It was the first time that we could find parking for our camper in the city of Brno and there seemed to be ample parking all over the place which was refreshing for us as in some cities we drove around and around only to find that a parking area  did not allow campervans or had a height restriction which made it somewhat stressful. We wanted to avoid the toll motorways driving through the Czech Republic however without any notice we found ourselves on one and managed to pass through a couple of cameras before we could stop and buy the  obligatory “vignette” which cost us about 15euros (minimum of 10days) which we only needed for the next hour or so! We will wait to see if we get a fine in the mail.

There seemed to be few foreign tourists around and we enjoyed strolling through the historic city for a couple of hours. It got to 30degrees which was very much in contrast to the 12degrees a few days before.

A good coffee in the town square set us up for our next leg to Poland.

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We crossed into Austria on the 17th May and over the mountains the bright green rows of grapevines across the hillsides appeared almost instantly.
I asked a girl we had met in Montenegro what her impression of Slovenia was and she replied “it is like Austria without the colour. I thought that was a clever way of putting it but Slovenia in Spring was not without colour.
Bad Waltersdorf near Graz was our first stop in Austria on the 17th May and we spent the night at the camping ground which had excellent facilities in a large house.

The farmers were out ploughing their fields and planting crops very late into the afternoon. We passed an entire valley growing beans.
We bought some white asparagus and delicious strawberries and cherries before we left to take the Autobahn to Vienna. There were large scale factories along the Autobahn but not a lot else to see but as it was pouring with rain we didn’t mind. We arrived at Klosterneuburg just north of
Vienna about noon and settled into the camping ground.
The imposing and enormous Augustine monastery was just five minutes walk from us and the bus and train services to Vienna a two minute walk away. It only took us about 20minutes on the train and underground into the centre where we ventured later in the day as it had stopped raining
although it was still cold – 10degrees. We changed from the train to the underground and one more change took us to Stephan’s platz in the centre of town. The church as churches go was beautiful and to give it a modern twist rows of mesh curtains had been places along the breadth of the cathedral  which gave it a very different appearance. We walked around for a few hours and down to the Danube which was not blue but a dirty brown colour after all the rain.

Much of Vienna is quite flat and there was a large network of cycle paths. A lot of people (even ladies in high shoes) were using foot powered scooters to get around which was a novel idea.

We had to try some of Austria’s famous cakes so I asked one of the church guards where a good and not touristy cafe was and he recommended one called the “Oberlaa” not far away. We tried an apple slice and a raspberry and custard cake which were delicious.

We returned by the very efficient underground and bus service to the van and had the tasty white asparagus for dinner with boiled potatoes and beans.
We awoke on the 19th to mist and decided to go to see the gigantic monastery and imperial palace wing of the monastery. We were the first in the door so as to beat the tourist buses and we toured the entire place by ourselves and then went on a compulsory guided tour of the history and religious art of the monastery. The scale of the entire building was incredible and it had been beautifully restored.
It had served as a Roman Fort and monastery as well as residences for the Hapsburgs. The Kloster was celebrating it’s 900th year. We had an excellent guide (it was in German) so Maurice and the only other person from the USA had audio phones in English which worked out well. The
scale of wealth of the church and of the royalty just in this one example was absolutely incredible.
There have been monks living there over the years since 1114 and the only time they were ousted was by the Nazis during the war. The monastery has a cellar of three storeys and is Austria’s oldest wine estate.
We wandered around Klosterneuburg’s neat little town and back to the van for a rest before heading back to the city. When we came out of the monastery the sun was shining, it was 24degrees and the sky was without a cloud in sight. We couldn’t believe the change in the weather!

We had the day before seen a sign for a photographic exhibition in the Jewish quarter of Amy Winehouse so went along to view that. It was about her and her family more than about her music and was very well put together by her brother.
I had missed out on going up to the north tower of the Stephan’s Dom tower so I just made it in time to take the lift up to the top of the tower. My virtigo kicked in and it was very windy up there so I didn’t linger long, just took some photos and was glad to get back on the ground.
We were to meet our Doctor friend Lena however she was held up seeing patients until late so we put of meeting until the next night.
We asked a kind shopkeeper where to eat good local (non tourist) fare. He sent us to the “Reinthaler’s Beisl” where we had a typical meal of roast pork, dumplings and sauerkraut and palatschinken, (pancakes)and were not disappointed.

We wanted to explore the city further so we went back the next day and took tram number 2 which did a big circle around the inner city and we saw most of the historical and architecturally beautiful buildings of the 1st district.
The “vienna card” for 20euros for 3days unlimited travel on the buses, trams and underground was great value for us as we went backwards and forwards many times. We got off the tram and walked around the local streets of the 7th district and then caught transport back to the camping ground to have a quick rest and change of  clothes before going back into the city to meet our lovely doctor friend Lena (whom we had met in Udayagiri in India). We met at the Palmenthaus behind the Hofburg (another of the Hapsburg’s palaces) and had a nice dinner with her overlooking the gardens. The “Palmenhaus” original building was demolished and rebuilt later but in 1996-98 it was renovated at a cost of 13million euros. It is spectacular and it was so nice on  a warm evening to sit outside and enjoy the view of the Burgarten with our friend.

It was a nice warm day on the 21st so we took the bus and underground and were at Schoenbrunn palace at 8.30am when it opened. Again we wanted to beat the tour buses. We wandered around the stunning rooms of
the palace which were opulent but most not as ostentacious as the palace at Versailles. Maria Theresia unlike her French counterparts opened the gardens to the public in the late 1700’s. We spent 3hours there and walked
up to the “Gloriette” to have the panorama of the palace and Vienna city from the top.
The ticket price was 17euros (with a discount for having the Vienna card) which got us into the palace, the gardens,the orangerie and to the top of the gloriette.
It was a glorious day and we enjoyed it immensely. We did have to sidestep many workmen in the gardens who were preparing an enormous stage for the Viennese philharmonic who were due to perform on the 29th May.
We left as many of the tour buses loads of tourists arrived so were glad to leave and take the underground  back to Pilgramgasse to walk through the interesting suburban buildings to the “Naschmarkt” which is an enormous open market with every kind of food, cafe and restaurant on offer.
We had a bite of lunch (kebab for a change) and walked back to Karlsplatz and caught the tram to the “Volksgarten” which is a stunning garden of roses of every colour. This garden led through to the “Burghof” another Hapsburg palace which also houses the national library and from here we walked around the side of the palace to the  Burgarten and into the  butterfly house to see the lovely butterflies in their tropical setting.
We decided on a drink and cake at the Palmenhaus before walking back into the innercity and catching the tram, underground and bus back to Klosterneuburg.
We had a wonderful day but were exhausted from walking for about 7hours.

We had a leisurely morning the following day and the temperature was just what we wanted – 22degrees with a promise of 28degrees.
We went to visit Lena at her work where she gave me some more antibiotics (against flu and bronchitis).
She works with a Oncology professor who deals now with holistic medicine and he has a wonderful house specially set up overlooking the forest for
patients while they receive treatment. It is just on the outskirts of Vienna but in a very tranquil setting.
It deals with cancer patients and they have had great success with their treatments. Lena is a GP but has trained with accupuncture and Chinese herbal medicines and combines both her fields of medicines.

Lena suggested if we had time (which we have!) to go down to the “Wachau” an area west of Vienna which follows the Danube from Melks to Krems and is a major wine area. This we did and had a lovely drive along the river to
a restaurant “Jamek” owned by her uncle and run by her cousin. We had a great meal and delicious apricot juice (apricots are famous in the area)in the garden part of their restaurant by the Danube. We had not announced ourselves prior to the meal and the service and everything else was impeccable. We found her cousin after the meal and he gave us a jar of Apricot jam which Maurice will devour.
We then made our way north on the secondary roads passing many quaint small towns many with their “May poles” swaying in the breeze and onto our next destination of the Brno in the Czech republic.

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Another wonderful drive over the mountains and through quaint little villages and alpine meadows from Zagreb at a leisurely pace took us about 3hours to Ljubljana’s camp Laguna on the 12th May. It was cloudy and cold (snow on top of the mountains) and everyone told us that it had been much warmer the previous year – NOT what we wanted to hear!

It poured with rain most of the next day so we decided to spend it in a shopping centre called “City Park” with a gigantic “Interspar” complete with the best and largest  food stations with unlimited choice of anything you wanted. We settled on soup and salad which was delicious. They even had a station for handwashing and a microwave to further heat food and a rotating contraption to take used trays. We decided to buy an oven but for this we had to go to another even larger centre called “Leclerc” a few kilometres out of town. Helen who we had met in Croatia said she had one and we thought it would be a good idea as we could heat or cook food outside the van when or if it got hot!
The camping ground had a bus stop directly outside the door which took us directly into Ljubljana city the following day which happened to be nice and sunny after some morning mist but with a cold  The bus only took about 15minutes.

The Austro-Hungarian influence was evident in the magnificent buildings around the old town.
In 1991 they made the centre of town a pedestrian zone which was wonderful for wandering around without looking out for traffic. We decided to take the 2 1/2 hour free tour from the central Preseren square right next to the three bridges which cross the river Ljubljanica.
We had a very experienced Uni. graduate Tina who had great knowledge of the city and it’s history. She  told interesting stories about the people who had influenced the structure of the city and it’s edifices. In the time we had with the guide we covered most of the inner  city. There are less than 300,000 people in Ljubljana and only 2million in the entire country.
Slovenja appeared much more affluent than Croatia and was affected very little by the war before it’s independence in 1991 with only 10days of fighting before peace was restored unlike the very violent war in neighbouring Bosnia and Croatia which lingered for 4years.
The guide also explained that even with communism, the Slovenians had much greater freedom than it’s neighbours and could venture into the “west”.
Ljubljana had a large outdoor market every day of the week with produce from local farmers with small holdings. The produce was very fresh and tasty and we stocked up on freshly made sauerkraut, fresh peas
and broad beans. I saw a lady in a sari getting into a car so I rushed over and asked her where I could buy Indian spices.
She was also visiting the city but her driver gave us the name of the local Hare Krishna temple where we could buy the spices.
A bite to eat (local Bureks – pastry filled with cheese) and a rest for our feet and then we walked on to “Metelekova mesto” an enclave close to the city which was like graffiti town! It is a small part of a neighbourhood with a youth hostel and very unusual art forms where various music and other activities are presented and artists display their work.

We walked to a very different enclave called Metelokova Mesto which had very alternative art and buildings covered in graffiti.  We had a coffee there, didn’t catch anything and went back to the old town.

Most people we met in Slovenia seemed to speak English and the few older people from whom we asked directions spoke German.
We really couldn’t believe how everyone from shop assistants to parking attendants to cafe and shop staff were not only friendly but very cheery and helpful. Nothing was too much trouble. Some were interested from where we came and one shop assistant replied with “WOW” when I told her we were from Australia!

After three nights we left Ljubljana feeling a real affinity with the city. It felt comfortable and was easy to get around and find our way around the whole area. As we left the city we stopped off at the Hare Krisha temple and
found a great range of Indian spices and various types of dhal so we  stocked up on many of them and the staff were again very helpful and pleasant. The backstreets were also very clean and tidy as was the whole city.
Slovenia is very ecologically conscious and in several places around the city were several steel bins for recylcing absolutely everything separately.
The day we left we also drove up to the back of the castle which showed a parking area on the map. The parking attendant said that we could not park there as it was a mistake showing it on the map as it was only for castle staff. He kept appologising to us and explained in detail where we could park and take the funicular if we wanted to see the castle.
We were making our way to Bled so we opted for a couple of photos and made our way out of the city.
Everywhere in campsites and at roadsides workers were clearing away weeds and preparing for the high season which doesn’t seem to start until June.
One advantage of having been in these countries before the high season was that there were few tourists around and although we didn’t like the cold weather it was a big plus when visiting the “highlights” of the cities and also for encountering less traffic everywhere.

We stopped about half way to Bled (an hour from Ljubljana) and had coffee in a newish modern cafe by the side of the road.  For 2.40euros we had two coffees and with them they gave us a small pastry and a glass of water! Most cafes serve you with a glass of water with your coffee and either a biscuit or chocolate or a sweet. Wonderful value.

We drove into the small town of Bled and around the vast lake with a small island and church in it’s centre. We drove and then walked a way up to Bled castle which gave us a view of the lake from above. The wind was icy so we didn’t spend too much time outside our van. We stopped at one point and  a cuckoo was cukooing. I first looked around expecting to see a clock as I had never heard a REAL cuckoo before.
From Bled we drove on to Bohinj which was recommended to us as being a beautiful part of Slovenia.
It was surrounded by snow covered mountains and the small villages and meadows with lots of spring flowers were lovely.
The locals keep their wood in A framed structures on poles and sometimes there were tractors or machinery in the space below.
Unlike Australia where the hardwoods burn for a long time, the local people in many European countries have soft woods which burn very quickly resulting in large stores of wood for a season. This we experienced when we lit our fire in Roccamandolfi.
Before getting to our camping place we drove on to see the “Slap Savica” – the most visited waterfall in Slovenia.  We needed a walk after a few hours sitting in the van. The parking attendant said it was a 20minute walk which we thought would be a good walk there and back. He didn’t tell us that from where we parked it was a few hundred steps straight up the mountain
to view the waterfall. Luckily it was worth seeing but we were glad to go downhill on the return.

We stayed for two nights in the well equiped camping place in the tiny town of Bohinj right on the river and not far from the beautiful lake. It was very tranquil there with practically no tourists –  just a few of us braving the cold.

The small town of Bohinj had a tasteful souvenir shop (the only tasteful one we had found in Croatia or Slovena) and a great little bakery with the bus stop right outside. It looked as though it had been a service station at one time.
There was snow on the mountains and the temperature fell quite considerably at night.
The following day was wet so we again caught up with household chores and washing.

The 17th May we drove over for a few hours on small roads over the mountains and through the alpine meadows and into Austria. Our first job was to buy our “vignette” for the toll roads which we found quickly at a service station as there was no formal border where we drove.

We very much enjoyed Slovenia and it’s people.

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We travelled over the mountains to Zagreb through many small alpine like villages which made for a very intersting and leisurely drive as there was little traffic on the secondary roads.
We wanted to try out the grill/restaurants one time so we stopped and had an early dinner on the way to Zagreb at a very popular place with lamb and pork roasting on a giant spit in front of the restaurant.
We ate the lamb which was delicious and very reasonably priced.  Like many cities if you stay away from the tourist areas the prices are quite good whereas in the tourist areas the quality decreased and the price increased.  It took us about 4hours to get to Zagreb as the sat.nav. lost her way and tried to take us into Slovenia but with some help from a couple of nice policemen and  men in several service stations and the use hand signals, English and German we found our way to Camping Plitvice about 12kms out of Zagreb which was the only camping place anywhere near the city.

A lot of the coffee shops/bar serve no food at all so you can go down the road and buy a pastry or sandwich and take it back to eat at the coffee shop.

We hardly slept all night as we found out later there was a techno.noise (couldn’t call it music!)festival at Plitvice Lakes just opposite us across the highway. It started about 6pm and went through till 9am the next morning. To actually enjoy this you would have to be high on drugs and or alcohol. It was real torture but we had no alternative. We made it our business to confirm the next morning that no more of it was going on the next night.
It was a grey day as we made our way to the bus a short distace from our camping area and then changed on to one of the many trams running around Zagreb. They have no underground system but the trams run every 15minutes so the city is well serviced. Zagreb is a beautifully laid out city divided into two halves. The upper old town which has many of the main sights of the city and then there is the lower town which also has beautiful architecture and historical buildings from their Austro-Hungarian era but there is also more graffiti and modern shops.  We did come across by accident a large statue of Nikola Tesla who in part we owe the use of mobile phones and the internet with his discoveries.  Zagreb has about 800,000 inhabitants but being a Sunday the city was fairly empty.

There was a local dress designer festival going on in the main square and also a troupe of singers in local costumes wending their way around the city streets with a lady handing out almond crescent biscuits which were very tasty. They were followed by a group of guards on foot and on horseback

who also made their way around the upper town. It was a Sunday and as in all of the churches we have visited they were all filled to overflowing with churchgoers not tourists.  There are also a large number of casinos and gaming houses everywhere.
The city has many parks and beautiful trees which were all very green with new leaves. All through Croatia we saw the most beautiful roses.  There are also large trees shedding their white flowers like puff balls which floated everywhere and left carpets of white on the ground.
Zagreb had the best free maps of the city and excellent small city guide books that we had ever come across. The guides showed two walks – one around the upper town and one of the lower town.
There were not many foreign tourists around but as soon as we ventured only a couple of streets away from the printed tourist route we found ourselves on our own. We have been extremely lucky everywhere we have been as far as not encountering many  bus loads of tourists who we have found to be spacially unaware.
That night we had a very big storm with thunder which shook the van and a lot of lightning and heavy rain but that gave way to a beautiful blue sky the next day.
We decided when we left the camping ground to drive up to Maksimir, high above Zagreb which was a vast park with many walkways and streams.
A place of interest in the guidebook was the old cemetery also above the city and we were not disappointed once we finally found our way there. Unfortunately the Sat.nav. did not recognise any of the streets I entered
and we did ask many people for directions, however, they were all Croatian with no English and although they tried to be very helpful and spoke to me in Croatian, I thanked them but was still none the wiser.
We nearly gave up hope but were very glad we didn’t as the the last people we asked happened to be French tourists who in pointed us in a general direction and we then came upon the place. It was the most beautiful cemetery we had ever seen with an enormous wall surrounding the whole site and magnificent buildings,arched walkways,amazing sculptures for some of the old tombs and tree lined avenues.
We saw a funeral taking place and the hearse was in the form of a large golf type buggy and all the flowers were in another buggy.

There was no shortage in Croatia of large supermarkets, bankomats and cafes.  Bottled water was very cheap with a 5 or 7litre bottle costing under $2 and some even had taps which made it easy to dispense the water.

There were many houses and large buildings all over Croatia in some of the cities and in the countryside which had been abandoned (either through the war or lack of maintenance) and it was a sad sight to see.

We drove through the city and on to the secondary road towards Slovenia which we next wanted to explore. we got to the border and before we crossed we bought our “vijnet” (a sticker which we attached to the windscreen for toll payments)  which is complusory if you travel on the toll roads.   We didn’t want to travel on these roads however if we made a mistake and happened on one, if we didn’t have the “vijnet” (15euros worth for a week) we would be fined 200euros.  We will definately get one to travel through Austria because the fine is up to 800 euros!

When we crossed over the border showing our EU passports the very friendly young female border guard wanted to have a look inside the
van so we obliged her.

The Croatian side of the border had a great little “travel free shop” where you could purchase the vijnets and everything you would find at an airport duty free shop.

We enjoyed our time in Croatia and our favourite places were Dubrovnik, the coastal towns on the Istrian peninsula, Rijeka and Zagreb and the
mountains between the towns.

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On the 5th May we left Krk island on a lovely sunny day. It has been too cool to sit outside our camper so it was better to be travelling with the sun on the van. We drove through Rijeka, a large city with a very Italian feel to it before proceeding down the “Istrian Riviera”  to the town of Pula in the far south of the peninsula. We were amazed to see the near perfect colosseum called the “Arena” smaller than the one in Rome but still very impressive right in front of our parking area. Apparently Mussolini wanted it moved to Italy but decided against it when he found it to be too expensive and left it where it was.  There were numerous remnants of Roman architecture in the old town and a lot of the signs were in Croatian and Italian which I found handy. Moving  from Pula up the west coast  we saw a large number of small olive groves, small and large vineyards and a lot of small market gardens which we hadn’t see before in Croatia.  The earth was very red and reminded us of the earth in the far north of Western Australia.  The only difference was that it was fertile and not sandy. We stayed overnight at Vrsar just past the Lim Fjord another impressive waterway. All along the road were wooden constructions which were vantage points to see  the ravine. These were to  entice tourists to the towers to see the view  and were directly beside stalls selling wine, grappa, olive oil and honey so I think they tried to make people feel obliged to buy something. The wine was quite expensive and not what we wanted so we went down the road to a house where a very rotund man welcomed us and took us to his shed which had large vats of red and white wine. This was what we wanted (wine without preservatives which would last 5-6months – not that we thought it would last that long as we only bought 4 litres for the sum of $20!  He spoke good Italian and told us that we were the first Australians that he had met. His parents moved from Montenegro 100years ago and he  had a wine shop in Rovinj. He sold the shop when his parents got old and moved in with them to the small village where he now lived.  He sold the wine in 1 and 5litre plastic bottles. There were numerous “Grill” restaurants along the roadside with their open stone woodfired ovens blazing and whole or large pieces of lamb or pork on a spit. We made our way back to Rovinj and walked around for a few hours before heading back to the van. We managed to find a parking spot near a nice little trattoria so had a wonderful meal of tuna and cheese salad and roast vegetables and a good cup of coffee “crna kava” in Croatian. When we want to ask directions (or anything for that matter) I always started with “do you speak English, Italian or German?”and have found that many speak some of one of the three languages as well as Croatian. There was a large number of German campers in all the camping areas and when passing shops the waiters out the front would always say good morning to Maurice in German! The parking areas for campers are usually much further away from town and in Rovinj the cost was again six times than that for a car – they are obviously not trying to encourage campers to visit. Pula was the only place where parking for us was near the old town and was only $1 an hour instead of $6 an hour. There was not a lot of choice of campsites going further north but we found an excellent one a fifteen minute walk from the town of Novigrad called “Sirena”.  Some of the campsites so far have been extremely well equiped with every kind of facility including restaurants, cafes,tennis courts, pools,canoes etc and all have fixed portable type cabins for rent. Many seem to be yearly holiday fixtures with pizza ovens and large  annexes. We still thought that the people in campsites drugged their children and dogs each night as we never heard a scream or a bark at all until after 8am and even then some were silent.  Maybe they were just all well behaved?? The only thing we did hear were the lovely birds in the morning. There was one strange bird which made a monotonous sound all night in a couple of the campsites but we couldn’t discover what it was.  We stayed here for a couple of nights.  The town of Novigrad was not soo touristy and we found a wonderful bakery serving coffee.  A loaf of bread and two coffees for $6.    The day after we arrived was cloudy and it rained overnight but luckily it  bright blue sky and sunny the next day. We wanted to go further north and over the border into Slovenia which was only about an hour away to the old town of Piran and we sailed through with barely a glance of our  EU passports.  After driving around and around with our camper, the only place we were allowed to park was 4km out of town and no one I asked seemed to know about buses into Piran.  We were prepared to walk around the town but after our hour’s power walk in the morning we did not want  another 8kms walk or to wait for hours for buses. I took a picture of Piran and we turned around and went across the border into Croatia again.  We had a lovely drive over the mountains to the west coast to Medveja which was the second closest camping site to Rijeka.   The Croatians were doing a lot of maintenance on the roads (which were mostly excellent) and building new roundabouts but they were not always good with giving an alternative when you had to detour around their roadwork.  We were not in a hurry and eventually found our way after discovering that one detour was just too narrow for the camper and we had to double back for a few kilometres. We found our camping site  just as it started to rain again. Seems to be a bit of a pattern – rain overnight and then brilliant sunshine for a couple of days followed by clouds and rain again. The 9th May was a blue sky and sunshine day so we walked the 3kms from the campsite into Lovran to have our morning coffee overlooking the sea. We walked up the hill and caught the bus which took 40minutes into Rijeka.  There we found one of the only tourist information offices that was open.  The only other one was in Dubrovnik.   We both loved the architecture and atmosphere in Rijeka.  There was a large pedestrian “Korzo” through the middle of town with many cafes and restaurants and shops.  We only came across one beggar.  There were very few anywhere in Croatia unlike  Paris where they seem to be on the steps of  every metro station.  We saw none even in Dubrovnik. There is a lot of  reconstruction of  the old ruins in the middle of the city which is the 3rd largest in Croatia.  It is located on Kvarner Bay, an inlet of the Adriatic sea. There is a channel which runs right into the city filled with many small boats.  We wandered around the city taking in the sights for about four hours stopping for coffee in a very innovative cafe with intersting white painted wooden benches.   The bus back to Lovran left on time and we then walked the 3kms back to the campsite and rewarded ourselves with a whisky.  Once the sun disappeared the temperature dropped considerably.  The nights and early mornings were still very cool. In the morning we drove up to Trsat castle where we had a wonderful of all of Rijeka.  The castle is under renovation but is quite distinctive and small by castle standards.  It was a beautiful day so we decided to make the most of it and make for Zagreb avoiding the main highways.

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We drove north and across the border into Croatia on the 30th April. We made our way towards Split however there was no sign to say that we were entering the toll highway (very new) and when we realised this we could no longer leave the highway for many kilometres.   We luckily had enough Kune to pay at the toll station when we could leave it.  There are many new highways and state of the art tunnels along the mountains in Croatia and the roads in general are all in good shape.  We then hit a tunnel construction high up on the mountain where concrete was being poured and the concrete truck blocked the road. We therefore had to wait for an hour with many other drivers until they had finished. Thank goodness for Summer time so that we could continue before it got dark and we stopped then just before Split at”Split Stobrec Camping” right on the beach.
It was an excellent camping village but as usual the wifi was iffy except for in the coffee shop.  It seems to be a universal thing. The internet providers everywhere promise the earth and don’t deliver leaving the proprietors of so many establishments as well as their customers  very frustrated .
When complaints are received things improve for a while then return to where they were previously.
It rained all night but we awoke to a beautiful sunny day so we made the most of it and did the washing and cleaned the van. We then caught the local bus into Split and walked for about 4hours around the old city before catching the bus back to Stobrec. There were a lot of tourists
in Split but as soon as you walked slightly out of the old city you were on your own. The Venetian buildings within the old city walls had been beautifully restored and there was a lovely wide seaside promenade lined with palms.
The following day we motored on to Trogir, a very old town where May day was being celebrated with food and music. Unlike Montenegro where you could wander in and out of the local shops without being bothered, it was the opposite here with shopkeepers urging you in to their shops –
very offputting.  We parked our camper in an open carpark and when we came to pay found that they charged campers six times what they charge cars – highway robbery! Of course there was no sign to tell you that before you entered the carpark.
On our drive up the coast we had never seen so many boats in various marinas. Only a very few were out on the water anywhere.

Unlike the smaller villages in Italy where practically no one spoke any other language, the locals in Montenegro and Croatia spoke either some English or some German.
We left Trogir and went further north to the town of Sibelik (another old town) and then up into the mountains to Knin and an old fortress high above the town. It was an immense fortress which had housed a hospital, barracks, a blacksmith’s shop, church, dungeons and church. Some of the fort had been restored but some had not been restored especially
the piece of wall which disloged a large rock about 10 seconds after Maurice had walked below it! Quite frightening.  We did tell the the person at the gate but he didn’t seem too concerned.
We left there as it started to rain and went back to Skradin just outside the National Park and stayed at “Marina camping” for a couple of nights which was run by a very friendly couple. They were there during the Bosnian/Croatian war (almost 20years ago now)and told us how frightening it had been with bombs flying everywhere. We saw a lot of evidence  from the war on the way to Knin (especially around the town of Kosovo (not the province of Kosovo) where there were still a lot of burnt out buildings and ones riddled with bullet holes and others that had since been restored or partially restored. There are apparently still mined areas but they are apparently clearly marked!
The camping village ran tours into the Krka National park so we decided to take one the following day hoping for good weather.
We got our wish with the weather the next day and we went with six others first to the “Skradinski buk” a very long series of waterfalls on the Krka river where a staggering amount of water flowed along travertine islands. A very well constructed boardwalk led you right around the raging waters and we were left to wander around them for a couple of hours. The “tour” was excellent because the husband from the camping place was the driver and he did not talk at all during the transportation from place to place. At each stop he just let us all go our own way for photos and showed us where to walk. We saw “Visovac” island from above where 11 monks live in the Fransciscan monastery. We ate outside at  “Kristian restoran” where we enjoyed a ham, cheese, olives, gherkin and bread lunch and red wine and a grappa with kirsch.Our last stop was at a vantage point for “Roski slap” another stunning series of waterfalls. We covered about 200kms round trip and with park fees and lunch the whole trip came to 44euros – a bargain. We also met a lovely English couple so had a good day all round.

The distances in Montenegro and in Croatia are not vast and it only took us a couple of hours to get from the various places we visited on to the next town of interest.  The following day we drove from the National Park up to Zadar (another walled old town).  It was sprinkling a  bit so we did a quick lap of the town and then decided that we would make for Senj on the coast and then on to the island of Krk for the night.  We tried where possible not to take the motorways so as to see as much coastline or mountain scenery and to get to the large Krk island we  took to the mountains before descending down to the coast and across to the island.  We had some torrential rain on the way but by the coast was a lot clearer.   We paid a 46 kune toll  to get on to the island and there was a tourist tax and a registration tax payable for staying on the island.

The camping village of Njivice was again excellent and right on the beach which was  beautiful.  It was only a 15minute walk around the bay on well constructed pathways to the small town with many restaurants and cafes.

The next morning we even had a schnapps to accompany our coffee as it was only 10 degrees.  Not our kind of Spring weather! We made the most of our day and I did a lot of cooking to last us a few days.

Thank goodness the next day was beautifully sunny when we walked around the bay.  We drove down to the town of Krk on the island which was pretty and the main population there seemed to be Germans holiday makers.  We left the island after lunch to make our way to Rijeka before heading for the Istrian peninsula in northern Croatia.

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We decided to move to the south of Montenegro and start our tour this year  in the town of Ulcinj. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here we spent three nights on the beach just outside the town of about 8,000 people (25,000 in the whole district) and which  had a very comfortable feel to it with modern coffee shops and very good restaurants.  We found a wonderful camping place called “Autokamp Miami” which had only been open 2weeks. The facilities were excellent and it was a 2minute walk to the beach.  The hairdresser whom I visited suggested we eat at “Manhattan” which offered excellent Italian food and fresh fish.  I don’t know why they want to call a lot of their locations American names.  I think it would be much nicer to use Montenegran names.

The hairdresser had worked all over the world but returned to Ulcinj as he
said that he liked living in a small town which was extremely safe (no keys needed in houses or cars!) with no drugs or criminality,no pollution,good climate and good fresh food. He had a point!
He was a mine of information and gave us names of places to visit and food to eat.  He wanted to tell me what they ate in the mountains but couldn’t find the English word so said “Baaaa”.  I got the message.

Our first day which was warm but raining was spent shopping in the lovely small shops in town.  I bought a handbag and two tops and Maurice bought a nice black leather windcheater jacket.
The prices are very reasonable and a lot of the goods were made in Italy.
Most people who passed us said hello and several came up to us to see if we had found a camping place.  The waiters in two restaurants were just so obliging and the service was second to none and all was done with a genuine smile.

Our second day was warm and sunny so we went to “Ada Bojana” a small town on a large inlet about 1/2 hour from Ulcinj and very close to the border of Albania.  We ate nice fresh fish and fish soup and stopped further down the road for coffee.

Montenegro is much poorer and prices lower than in Croatia but one can see they are catching up with a lot of construction of large houses and appartment blocks for lease and for sale, many with signs in Russian.
The chap at the camping reception told us that there is quite a gulf between the rich and the poor in Montenegro.
Apparently there were many 5 star hotels before the war but as a result of the war further north and east that tourism dropped so much so that most of the hotels closed. We were told that a lot of the Ulcinj residents have large houses with many rooms and in the high season some can make up to 700 euros a day.

After 3nights in Ulcinj and waking to a rainy miserable day, we decided to head north to see the old town of Budva. It caters more to tourists with trendy cafes and a very upmarket shopping centre but still the old town surrounded by high walls was interesting to see. The weather improved with lots of sunshine and it was not cold. We had some lunch in the van and then climbed with the van from Budva through the mountains to the old Royal Capital of Cetinje. Before we reached Cetinje we saw dozens of “slep autos” – cars for hire and sale all along the road in the middle of nowhere. We saw many old mercedes cars and other older cars in Montenegro.  The wealthier types seem to favour BMW’s and most don’t worry about parking anywhere legally.
The mountains were very rocky and there was a lot of low lying cloud and mist which cleared the closer we got to the coast.
The city of Cetinje which lay in a valley looked like a remnant from the communist era. We were going to stay the night but it was a bit cold so we decided to take the old road through the mountains to the bay of Kotor. We had driven along the bay at street level on the way to Ulcinj but coming over the mountains was even more spectacular with amazing views down to the valley about 1700 metres below us. Maurice did a great job
of managing the 25 hairpin bends.

We arrived in Kotor (a beautiful town on the bay) and were told that there were no camping sites for 25kms so we overnighted in a carpark close to the cruise ship with several other campervans next to us. It cost us 20euros for the night with no facilities but I had make a thick soup the day before so that was dinner.
The castle on the hill above us was lit up at night and it looked beautiful along with all the lights around the bay.
We found a nice new shopping centre called Kamelija across the road with several coffee shops,wifi and a supermarket which was handy the next morning when we wanted to check our emails.  We luckily walked around inside the old city walls early in the morning as poured with rain for much of the next day.  We decided to move north into Croatia which had a multitude of camping grounds compared with the few in Montenegro.
Unfortunately Montenegro and Croatia have not caught up with the rest of the EU as far as their smoking laws go.
People are allowed to smoke and even pipes are allowed in the coffee shops and restaurants which did nothing for my Bronchitis which is finally abating after three weeks.

We saw many hitchhikers, some with signs of where they wanted to go but declined to pick anyone up. Driving along the coast and inland we saw little evidence of agriculture apart from many orange and lemon groves. We saw a few sheep, a very few cows and some goats. Very different different from Italy but then they only have 600,000 inhabitants.
Unlike Italy the Montenegrans do not seem to use salt with their vegetables and with every meal is accompanied by potatoes and spinach and they do offer a variety of salads as entrees.

A common language is spoken in Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia and Montenegro. Only Albania and Macedonia have different languages.  When we meet anyone we try English, Italian, French but most of the locals speak some German as there used to be a great influx of Germans before the war in the neighbouring countries.

Diesel here in Montenegro was 1.27euros a litre while in Italy it was 1.57euros.  An espresso or cappucino  only 1-1.40 euros which was similar to Italian prices.

We really enjoyed the relaxed feel of Montenegro and the friendliness of it’s people as well as the spectacular scenery.
It will be interesting to see if it changes in the years to come with so much more construction of appartments and houses for more and more tourists.

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