July 12th-18th..The last week of our tour

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July 12th ……Den Helder

In the last couple of years we have driven on some amazing roads that are nothing else but wonderful engineering wonders.  We have crossed viaducts that take your breath away and gone through tunnels that take you through mountains.  On the way to Den Helder we drove about 30 kilometers across a motorway built on top of a dam which separates the North Sea which was to our right and a huge man made fresh water lake that runs all the way to down to Amsterdam to our left.DSCN4869.JPGWhat an amazing feat of engineering.  Alongside the motorway, there is a cycleway and beyond that is a dike which keeps the ferocity of the North Sea at bay.  We stopped at the rest area on an island and read all about how it was all done and went up a viewing tower and got a really good view of the magnificent roadway

We arrived at the camper stop which was in the grounds of an old naval base.  When we went into the town there was a very busy street market and there were bands playing in different areas so it was a lively bustling town centre.  When we got back to the motorhome we finally had a decent Wi-Fi signal so we didn’t even go into the naval museum which was housed in all the large buildings all around us.  I worked on the last blog  and once that was published then I walked around the area looking at all the fascinating boats that were moored around there.

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DSCN4877.JPG In front of the whole of a battleship top half there was a well-designed structure in memory of those that had lost their life at sea.  When the sun is in the right place then body shaped shadows are cast onto the ground.

July 13th-14th…..Hoorn

The next morning we drove thirty seven miles to get to the beautiful town of Hoorn.  We intended to park on the harbour side but the gate was locked and a sign said there was a fault.  Despite the rain, Elaine jumped out of the van to try to attract the attention of the harbour masters office.  A German motorhome pulled up behind us but they gave up and drove on.  Elaine persevered and finally the gate opened.  The rain soon stopped and we walked the short distance into town.DSCN4880.JPG There was an international swimming competition going on and as we approached we could hear lots of bugles, drums and cheering as people were supporting the swimmers as they dived into the sea to start the 5 kilometers race circuit.

We walked on and reached the town centre and here there was another street market going on.  This was a totally different market to the one we had seen in Den Helder.  It was hard to see what the first stallholder was selling because the stall had ladies flocked around it.  Finally someone moved.  The stall was packed with wool of every colour.  Knitting, weaving and wool spinning must be very popular Dutch past-times as the whole of the long High street had stalls, one after another, mobbed by women of every age.

All around the town were some very old buildings and many of them were built in the 1600s.  The only thing was that the stalls were in front of them so I had to go back into town later on to get the photos I wanted.

Whist in the Netherlands it does seem quite noticeable that the Dutch may be great knitters but they are not dog lovers because it was rare to see someone out walking their pet.  Whilst in a chemist this very smart lady caught my eye because of the occupant of the push chair she was pushing around the store.

DSCN4890.JPG I just couldn’t resist the photo I took of her and her cat as they exited the shop.  Long live all eccentrics!

July 15th – 17th ……Amsterdam

DSCN4912.JPGWe had just three nights left before our drive to the Hook of Holland to catch our ferry back to England.  We went to Amsterdam for one day six years ago when we spent a month driving across the centre of the Netherlands so we decided to spend our remaining few days in this wonderful city.  We headed to the City Camp which is not the cheapest of options at 25 euros a night but its location just across the water from the city centre is just so convenient.  As it was only 21 miles we were soon set up and we were heading towards the free ferry that runs regularly into the heart of the city and the landing stage is just behind the main Amsterdam train and coach station.  Just across the tram- tracks from the station is the visitor information office and once armed with a map, off we went to explore the city.  In one of the squares an Australian lad was setting up a street show so we stayed to watch.DSCN4928.JPGNot only did he eat fire, juggle and sword swallow but he was so double jointed that he could bend his body into impossible shapes all the time keeping up a hilarious dialogue.

The main danger you have to look out for are the cyclists as you walk around the city.  I know that to qualify as a proper cyclist in Amsterdam you have to have a stern, miserable facial expression. You have to cycle at full speed at any unfortunate pedestrian that dares to walk across your path whilst ringing your bell furiously: demanding your right of passage.  All these cyclists probably compare notes about how many pedestrians they have cursed and sworn at during the day.

That first day we had a great time roaming the streets and there were photo opportunities everywhere especially when Elaine decided to try on a pair of wooden clogs.DSCN4944.JPG I do not know how she got the continental shoe sizes so wrong.  The  unique, tall, narrow houses that lean out over the streets and canals below are quite fascinating and I certainly wouldn’t want to be in the house removal business in Amsterdam where all the furniture has to be dragged up the outside of the house by rope and pulley because of the narrow stairs.

 

We had the whole day in the City on the Saturday and if anything there were twice the number of pedestrians and the cyclist army were out in force.  We went straight to the tourist information bureau and bought tickets for a full day, hop on hop off canal cruise around the city.DSCN4941.JPG

The added bonus was that whilst we were on the boat we were safe from rampaging cyclists.  Luckily the commentary was in English and we learnt lots about the history of Amsterdam and the canals.  In this way we got to see a lot more of the city than we had 6 years ago.  As the red light district is close to the main station we did have a wander around these fascinating streets but just because it was a really hot day I was surprised that so many girls chose to sit in their windows in just their underwear.  I was told that the rules have changed over the smoking of marijuana in “coffee” shops and foreigners can now participate without a permit.  I was surprised, however, at the number of cannabis cigarettes being openly smoked in the streets.

On the Sunday we just relaxed around the van and on Monday morning we drove to the port at the Hook of Holland and the sea was like a millpond and finally this year’s European tour was at an end as we arrived in Harwich.  After 9 months driving on the right hand side of the road, I must now get used to driving on the left again.  Since October 2015 we have driven 8,027 miles and have visited Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany and the Netherlands.  Thank you to all those that have taken the time to read the blog about our travels and if you should think that you would like to do something similar and would like to chat or correspond, then please contact me through the blog address.

 

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July 6th- 12th…….The Netherlands

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July 6th-7th……… Leeuwarden

In 2010 Elaine and I spent a month touring the Netherlands and we drove straight across the middle of the country and loved every minute of our trip.  We met lots of Dutch people then and they all recommended that we should visit Friesland, the northern region of the country with all its waterways and lakes so this was our golden opportunity to do exactly that.  We came out of Germany and headed for a lovely, lakeside campsite in Leeuwarden.  Normally the first thing we do if we get to a campsite early enough is to settle ourselves in and then to rush off to see what the area is all about.  This was the exception.  The very helpful reception staff sent us off to a pitch right beside the river bank and the setting was so idyllic that the fishing rods were off the top of the van as soon as the canopy and windbreak were set up.

me fishing

Elaine keeps saying that if I was a cormorant then I would starve to death.  Despite showing her pictures of fish that I have caught in the past; she maintains that I am a failure as a fisherman.  I only had a tin of sweetcorn to use as bait but it wasn’t long before I was rushing in to our van to show Elaine the first fish I caught.  I will admit that I didn’t catch enough fish to feed the five thousand but there would have been plenty to feed Elaine and myself if I hadn’t carefully put each one back as soon as the hook was out of its mouth.  The Dutch couple in the caravan next door were very friendly and they gave us lots of places to visit.  Two English vans turned up later on and parked right behind us.  We all went over to the club on the site to watch the Welsh lose against the Portugal team but we were all proud of their performance.

What a shame.  Elaine decided that she needed to do a wash the next day so I was forced to carry on fishing.  I think I have mentioned this before.  My favourite song of all time is Chris Rea’s “Gone fishing” and now I was living out my dream remembering those wonderful words “Having nothing else to do; so I may as well go fishing.”  What a small world.  It turned out that the Dutch couple we were parked beside were best friends to another Dutch couple, Jan and Ricki, we had befriended during our stays at El Campello in Spain.

July 8th……….Giethoorn

This whole area is full of lakes and wide and narrow waterways everywhere and you can see boats in every direction.  My fishing licence had been revoked by Elaine so despite being parked right beside the waterway, I knew my fishing rods would stay where they were.

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DSCN4800.JPGWe walked to the bridge and crossed the river and walked down the waterway leading down to the village.  We are lucky enough to have gone to Venice and this beautiful village was such a great a reminder of what we saw there.  We passed countless places with boats for hire.  We bought a map at the information bureau and it showed us that we needed to walk down to the end of this waterway and the village proper extended either side, at right angles from here.

 

Just as we arrived, there was a huge cheer and countless red and white balloons were released into the atmosphere.  Please, if you ever get the opportunity then visit this beautiful, unique village.

July 9th……..Sneek

Basically, the best way to describe this whole area is to say that it is like the Norfolk Broads on steroids and added to the mix is a million bicycles with the odd windmill here and there to break up the flat landscape.  Our parking place for the night was at the rear of a hotel just south of the town and within easy walking distance of the town centre.  Half way into town we passed a Lidl store so how convenient was that.  The hotel had supplied us with a town map so we exactly where to go when we got to the centre.  You do learn patience when driving or walking around this area.DSCN4823.JPG“As there are so many waterways criss-crossing everywhere; when the traffic and the waterway meet then the roadway is lifted to allow the tall masted boats to pass causing the inevitable delays.

A lot of the buildings that line the waterways were obviously warehouses in the past but now most have been converted into housing, shops and restaurants so you have to look above the shop windows to see the magnificent buildings that house them.  The wider waterways around the town are lined with the larger boats, all moored ready for our inspection as we walk passed. DSCN4831.JPGAll the small craft, and the day-boats for hire line all the smaller, inter joining canals.  There are traffic lights to control the flow of the boats at each of the lifting road bridges and it was fun to watch the waiting boat owners trying to keep their craft steady whilst they waited for their turn to go through.

Whilst we stood admiring the Stadhouse, an 8 seater electric golf cart pulled up beside us and the sign said that we could get a free hour long tour of the town.  Unfortunately the elderly gentleman driver spoke no English but off we went.  Yorkshire Elaine was happy and had a huge grin on her face.  A tour of the town for free.  The fact that we did not have a clue what we were passing, we stayed on until the end.

DSCN4826.JPGWhat a great name for a pub!  We passed this and I just had to take this picture.  She says “Where are you off to?”  He says ”  I have seen the light.  I’m going to Heaven” How can she ever argue against that?

Boats and boating is a massive feature of the area of Friesland and we have seen so many different designs of craft sailing up and down the waterways.  We have seen fabulous glass fibre, millionaire play things.  There are work boats and traditional styled, single masted yachts and everywhere we can see the typical styled Dutch boats.     These boats have a unique design feature.

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On either side of the boat they have what looks like very large tear drop shaped paddle and they are mostly highly polished, lacquered wood.  To allow these boats to navigate inland then, just like our canal boats, they are shallow drafted and normally have a flat bottom. Especially for the high masted, traditional sailing boats, the “shield” is turned down 90 degrees so they now act as a keel for when they are out at sea.

We got quite wet on the way back to our motorhome because unexpectedly the heavens opened and our waterproofs were safely keeping dry back in the van.  After drying out we sorted out where we would go for the last week and a bit of our holiday.  So we have decided which places to visit and both agree we will spend the last three days in Amsterdam before driving to the Hook of Holland for our Monday afternoon crossing.

July 10th-11th……..Harlingen

Harlingen is right at the coast of the North Sea so we were looking forward to seeing how the inland waterways would join the open sea and also to see the dykes that surround the country keeping the sea from flooding the land.    Where a waterway crosses a road we have seen lifting bridges or the roads simply goes down under huge viaducts built so large craft have free passage without stopping the traffic to allow them to do so.  We were on a 130 kph motorway driving towards Harlingen.  Red lights started flashing and then a traffic light turned to red and all the traffic came to a stop.

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The man in the next car got out and got something out of his boot.  The road started lifting and soon the bridge section of the six lanes was standing upright. A series of boats passed both ways in front of us and then the motorway was made whole again once the bridge had slowly closed.

We couldn’t see the North Sea as we approached the town because of the huge banks that were between the road and the sea.  The camper stop we were aiming for was on the docks on the opposite side of the town so we got to see that Harlingen was a good choice for an overnight stop.  We fed the machine with €7.50 and soon we were striding off into town.  Waterways, of course are everywhere and again lots of the buildings were old warehouses.

Boats are moored everywhere so we walked towards the sea and the port.  Now we could see the huge locks that allow the sea going craft access the inland waterways.  In the harbour we could see many, high masted Dutch styled boats and from one of these craft we could hear and see a jazz band performing.  We walked down to have a look and Elaine couldn’t help herself and she was soon strutting her stuff to the lively music.

 

Elaine.PNGWe had a good look around the town and the ferry terminal where ferries carry people and vehicles to Vlieland and Terschelling which are two of the large islands off the Dutch Coast.

The next day we were going to move on but we changed our mind.  During the night the wind got up and I was woken with the shaking of the van in the near gale blowing in from the North Sea.  There is a motorway that runs for about 30 kilometers straight across the sea at the mouth of the Ijsselmeer which is best described as a huge inland sea.  Before the wind got up we had every intention of crossing this very exposed section of motorway to get us down to the west coast of the Netherlands.  The van was shaking so much standing still but I dread to think what it would be like crossing the sea.  We decided to wait a day.  If the wind does not calm down then we will drive south to get to Amsterdam that way.  Later on we discovered just how strong the wind had been.  I looked round the back of the van and saw that our two bikes were uncovered.  On closer inspection I found the cover was torn into 2 pieces by the force of the wind.

 

 

 

 

 

June 30th – July 5th…..Into Germany

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After our stay in the hotel in Prague, we stayed an extra three days at the campsite on the eastern edge of the city where we had left our motorhome.  We got quite friendly with a Norwegian couple that were parked right beside us and it was interesting to listen to their views and their travel experiences.  By now we have heard the joke so many times that we will need a visa to visit whatever country the comedian comes from that we do not even rise to the bait.  However, Roy Hodgson, Captain Wayne and his team of massively overpaid failures are responsible for me getting a lot of stick since the disaster that will forever be remembered as England’s night of football shame.  The Scottish chap parked at the other end of the site must have run to gloat about our loss to Iceland and now it is all I hear.  I have never been ashamed to be English but I am now.  My older brother and my youngest brother both married Welsh ladies.  Would that entitle me to put a Welsh dragon on the back of our motorhome?

We drove out of Hungary into Germany heading north towards Dresden.  In Germany it is free to drive on their motorways but the signs above us indicated that we were now on a toll road.  The German government would love to charge “foreigners” for driving on their motorways but the EU says if they charge then they have to charge everyone including their own people and even the Germans have to follow rules.  The other big difference is the speeds you can drive on motorways.   My satnav, as well as giving me directions, shows the speed I am doing and the speed I am allowed to do.  As soon as we got on the motorway the latter indication disappeared.   With the right car there is no speed limit!  At first the motorway had two lanes only.  Our speed warranted us to overtake the constant stream of heavy goods vehicles trundling up the inside lane.  A look in the mirror would show the nearest approaching car to be a long way behind.  Glance back as you pull out and that car is almost on you.  It isn’t every large car that drives that fast but whilst we have been driving at 70 mph, we have been overtaken as if we were standing still.  I did find that first day’s driving quite tiring because the concentration required keeping safe whilst maintaining a reasonable speed was immense so I was quite pleased to pull off the motorway at the Dresden turn.

June 30th…….Dresden

We pulled into a 10 euro a night site, just across the road from the steps that take you down to the River Elbe.  Later on we followed the path into the city full of magnificent old buildings.  I know the Allies pounded this city constantly during WW2 but I am sure that all the history we saw was not just clever reconstruction.

DSCN4698.JPG  The Elbe is a huge, fast flowing river and as we walked along the river bank there were lots of boats out on the water taking people for cruises up and down the river.  A little further on we had to get passed two coach loads of people being dropped off right by a Viking luxury river cruise boat.  The more we see these luxurious looking craft the more we think that we will take more notice the next time we see one of their television adverts.

DSCN4663.JPG Now we were getting closer to all the interesting buildings and all the spires and we were now opposite the large, substantial buildings on the opposite bank.

We instantly knew that we had chosen a must see, tourist destination as soon as we saw the first party of photo snap happy, selfie  stick wielding Japanese.  What they will they do with all the pictures they have of their own faces with a special tourist attraction in the background?  It is fun to watch them, especially when that important, special photo of a historic building or statue is not complete unless a family member is leaping up in the foreground.

As usual we got a tourist map from the information centre and we toured around all the fabulous buildings and unlike many cities we have visited recently; all the major attractions were in a relatively small area so we enjoyed seeing everything highlighted without having to walk miles to do so.  I will let the pictures tell the stories of what we saw there and we walked back along the river bank having enjoyed our first day in Germany.

Later that evening, when the light was beginning to fade, I walked back to the centre and took some pictures of some of the fabulous buildings now lit up against the night sky.  I got to the quiet road where there is a very long frieze of a royal hunting party, on horseback, all the way down the side of a building.

Tucked right up in the shadows of the building opposite stood a lady playing a violin and it made for an enchanting, magical moment.  It is something I will always remember.

July 1st…..Magdeburg

It was just as well I was getting used to the pace of the German autobahns.  I drove 148 miles, most of it on the motorway, to get to Magdeburg which is a small city and boasts to be the capital city of the German Land of Saxony-Anhalt.  This city also stands on The Elbe and the camper stop we chose was right in the city and the front of our van was only a few meters away from the bank of the fast flowing, river.

DSCN4730.JPG The designers of the tourist map had done their utmost to make this city appear to be part of the tourist circuit but the Japanese were nowhere to be seen.  There are some substantial buildings and there is a Roman excavated site that is worth seeing.

DSCN4727.JPGOn the main road, directly opposite the very old, highly decorated post house there are some statues of nude people who appear to be celebrating the state of their nakedness.

However we then came to the reason we had driven to Magdeburg.   We came to see “the Green Citadel of Magdeburg”.  Much of the city was destroyed in 1945 and the reconstruction of the city started in 1951.  For his last architectural work, the artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, designed this highly visible building with its uniquely different façades with golden globes, large coloured beads, 900 different windows and a flowering meadow on its roof top.

There are small shops, boutiques and galleries, coffee bars and restaurants and fancy being able to tell people you live in a fairy-tale palace.

July 2nd…….Celle

We wanted to see the real Germany away from the large cities and the tourist army that invade them.  We drove along a quiet motorway and as it was a Saturday then most of the big trucks were not on the road and we then took a single carriageway road, northwest, to the small town of Celle. Behind the main car park there is an area set aside for motorhomes and there are emptying facilities but no electric hook up.

In the town all the 500 half-timbered houses dating back to the oldest built in 1526 are all under preservation orders and have been extensively restored so modern shops are housed in these beautiful buildings.  There was a thriving street market taking place around the centre squares and the atmosphere around the busy streets was quite electric with lots of noise from happy, chatting people.

We went into the town church and then paid 1 euro each to climb the 234 steps to get to the top of the tower to get a view of the town and the surrounding countryside.  The views were definitely worth the euro.  I seem to be able to climb these towers quite easily but I always manage to feel giddy coming back down endless spiral stairs.  Later on we needed to get some provisions and the downside of the preservation orders is that the nearest supermarket was quite a walk keeping it well away from the historic centre.

July 4th…… Rotenburg

The less said about Rotenburg the better.  Elaine spent a long time studying the maps and the internet to give us the best route across Germany.  I suddenly announced that we should change the direction of our route so Elaine came up with fabulous pictures of the city of Rotenburg with lots of interesting places to see.  We arrived at a 5 euro a night site on the outskirts of the town and walked in to the centre.  None of the “interesting” things were there.  It was just a town with lots of shops.   Defending herself,  Elaine showed me again what should have been here.  We were at the wrong, rotten Rotenburg.  Germany is a bit like France.  They like to confuse!  There are 3 Rotenburgs in Germany and the one we wanted was way down south.

DSCN4782.JPGThe good thing was the site.  It was situated at the north end of a large lake and there was a beach area with nice sand, a lively bar / restaurant and a very well equipped , outdoor, gymnasium.  The German couple from the van next to us gave us some “nice” places to visit on our way towards the Netherlands and unfortunately we followed their advice.

July 5th ……Oldenburg / Papenburg

The first of their recommendations was to go to Oldenburg.  We pulled into a free Stellplatz (a German motorhome stop) right by a motorhome dealer.  The book said it was 3 kilometers to get into town so Elaine and I agreed that we should walk in rather than take the bikes.  Big mistake.  The 3 kilometers ended up being more like a 4 miles hike and the heavens opened on our way there so I have now had the second ever Kebab meal in my life because that was the nearest place to get out of the rain.  To be honest, Oldenburg was OK as there were a few interesting things to see  and probably the most interesting was the old looking church with lots of spires but the inside was the most modern interior I have ever seen.  Interesting and quite quirky but Oldenburg is not a place I would put on a need to see top 10.

We hiked back to the van and by that time the weather had improved.  Our German friends had given us a must see place just 15 kilometers further on but we decided that what they like is not to our taste.  Instead of staying put for the night we decided to move on so I drove on to Papenburg which is a very small German town just before the Dutch border.  We saw windmills, dykes and the typical Dutch lifting bridges as we approached the town and our stop for the night was in the grounds of a hotel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

June 17th-27th………Hungary, June 17th-27th…..Vienna and Prague in the Czech Republic

 

June 17th……..Esztergom, HungaryDSCN4333.JPG

We enjoyed Budapest and didn’t want to drive straight out of Hungary so we drove on to Esztergom which is 29 miles northwest of Budapest.  When we arrived we doubled the numbers of campers on the large site, just over the road from the banks of the mighty River Danube.  Just over the river is Slovakia and here, the river forms the border between the two countries.  The bathroom facilities on the site were best described as clean but in need of modernisation but the location just on the edge of the town was perfect.

Later on we wandered into the town which took us past a park where a group started rehearsing very loudly on a stage and we knew that if they were playing that evening then that may have been the reason why the campsite was so empty.  Perched on a hill there sat a huge church with a very large dome so we followed the steep paths which snaked their way up the hill.  Why on earth did such a small town warrant such a majestic place of worship?DSCN4339.JPG Later on we looked it all up and found that now the town has a population which numbers under 30,000.  However from the 10th to the mid-13th century Esztergom was the capital city of Hungary until the capital was moved to Budapest and we were right about the scale of the building.  It is the largest church building in Hungary.

DSCN4344.JPGWe saw the castle and lots of other statues and buildings that showed the importance this town had in the past.

When we got back to the campsite we found others had moved onto the campsite.  There were three separate lots of cyclists with their tiny tents and bulging saddle bags.  It was fascinating to hear about the trials and tribulations of the British pair that had set up their little camp right behind us.  The chap came over from a Hungarian van and it ended up that he and his wife were English but now lived in Hungary and he suggested a few places in Hungary for us to visit on our way to Austria.  Luckily the music stopped prompt at 11pm so we were happy but probably not as happy as the six cyclists in their tiny tents.

June 18th ……Szentendre and the bend in the Danube

DSCN4318.JPGWe pulled into the town of Szentendre because this was the first suggested stop on the way.  It was a lovely little town with lots of churches and cute little streets and looking at the coaches lined up in the car park and the people in the streets thronging the many souvenir shops and the food and handicraft stalls then it is obviously a popular tourist attraction.  The other place we were told to visit was way up a steep, windy road to get up to a castle and to go into a hotel carpark which would give us the perfect viewpoint to see the famous bend in the River Danube.DSCN4328.JPG

The road steeply snaked its way up and we pulled into a lay-by very near the top.  It was well worth the detour.  Whilst I made the tea Elaine got into conversation with a pair of cyclists who had stopped beside us.  They were yet another pair of Aussies and we spent some time chatting with them whilst enjoying the magnificent view.

That evening we stopped at, according to the glowing reviews, the best campsite in Hungary at a little place called Sopron.  Far from it!  It was the worst campsite we had come across in our two years of travels.  Even the water had been turned off from the taps and I had to take the showerhead off the hose so that I could fill the watering can to get water for the van.  The Chinese woman who we presumed was the owner said no water and 17 euros for the night.  We would have moved on but there were no other sites close by so we just made the best of it there.

On the way the next day we bought a vignette for Austria and drove into the outskirts of Vienna to visit the city.  Some years ago Elaine and I took a five day Christmas break in Austria and have every intention of seeing more of this lovely country.

June 19th-23rd…..Vienna

What a contrast to our last night’s stop.  The camper stop is situated south west of the city centre and an underground railway station is just around the corner.  All the staff were just so helpful and they loaded us up with maps and information about their city and the facilities were spotless.  We relaxed that day so we would visit the city over the next couple of days.  The rain gods decided otherwise.  The next morning it was pouring and the rain continued for most of the day.  Just across the road from the site is a large Chinese restaurant so we indulged ourselves so we could escape the confines of our motorhome for a couple of hours.

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The next day the sun was back in the sky so we bought a two day travel card and headed into the city.  Elaine had used the previous day planning what we should see on our first day from all the maps and leaflets we had been given by the campsite.  What a wonderful day we had.

DSCN4384.JPGWe took a 40 minute tour in a very luxurious carriage pulled by two elegant horses around the beautiful city centre and it gave us a really good basis to know where all the important landmarks are situated. We used our travel passes to get around and managed to find all the places on Elaine’s list.

DSCN4370.JPG During our lunch we had an intriguing conversation with an Austrian man and a Rumanian girl about the referendum and they had opposite views.  He was hoping the British would vote for an exit because he and his friends want the same thing for Austria.  The girl just wanted everything to remain the same and seemed genuinely worried about her future if the UK votes for Brexit.  It was a hot day and we spent a lot of time walking from one beautiful building to the next and we were two pretty tired people when we got back to the campsite.

That evening we received a pretty awful telephone call from our Aussie friends Brian and Wendy.  They were on a motorway heading for Prague.  There were roadworks and they were in a contraflow where all the traffic were on the one side of the motorway.  Suddenly the car to their right attempted to turn across the traffic to go back the other way.  He smashed straight into their motorhome and has caused so much damage that it will probably be written off.  Their trip is wrecked but at least they are uninjured.  They have had to leave virtually all of their stuff in their van which is being transported to England, for inspection by the insurance company.  They now may be forced to fly back to Australia instead of near Christmas which was their original plan.  They told us they were going to a hotel in Prague to get over the shock and to think what to do.  We told them we will spend the second day in Vienna and then we will leave Austria and drive straight to Prague to lend them any support possible.

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The next day we caught the underground and went straight to the Schonbrunn Palace.  It is truly magnificent and the extensive grounds are a joy and the views from the top are magnificent.

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We then went straight across the city to go to the Danube Tower.  There is a 150 meter ride in an express lift to get to the viewing tower. DSCN4470.JPG The roof of the lift is glass so you can look up and watch your ascent.  From that height the children we had passed in the park just looked like ants from up there.  We then went up the lift again another 10 meters to the revolving café for coffee.

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From there we went back into the city to the Belvedere Palace and despite the fact that there was little colour in the large gardens the many statues and the magnificent fountains made the visit well worthwhile.  Vienna is a fabulous city but how lucky are we.  In no time at all we have visited Ljubljana the capital of Slovenia and then Budapest and now Vienna.  Although it is sad that we will drive straight back out of Austria we have decided to go to Prague and park our motorhome at a campsite and then to take a hotel break in the city somewhere close to the Aussies’ hotel so we can properly visit this capital city.

June 23rd– 27th ….our hotel stay in Prague

We bought another vignette just before the crossing the border and the motorways in Hungary are being extensively repaired and modernised all funded by the EU according to the huge signs, dominantly displayed along the stretches under repair.  It is nice to see where our money goes.  We drove 181 miles but it took us around 6 hours because of the many hold ups on the way.  Finally we got to a site where we felt safe to leave the motorhome for the four days.  You would think that by now we should be seasoned travellers and that we should be able to get about anywhere.  We had booked a hotel in the 01 district in Prague which is the centre and the girl at the campsite said a station we should head for we left the site at around 5pm.  We sat on the train; none of the stations we passed had the name the girl had written down.  It suddenly looked like we were leaving the city so we got off the train at the next stop deciding that we should travel back on the next train. We waited.  No train arrived.  A young girl felt sorry for us and suggested we catch a bus back into the city.  Finally we arrived at the hotel at 20.30 that evening having set off at 9 am that morning from Vienna.

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There are all sorts of tours you can take when you visit a large city.  There are free tours and paid professional tours.  All large cities have hop-on, hop-off bus tours and there are many more tour possibilities.  We took the “Aussie tour”.   The next day we met up with Brian and Wendy and they took us around all the places they had found the previous day.  They also pointed out the bars they had visited and it would have been rude not to have joined them.

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There are fabulous buildings everywhere just like in all the great cities we have visited recently.  The temperature got up to around 34- 36 degrees which is hot, hot, hot!  The difference here in comparison to our other recent cities is just the numbers of people that roam the streets.  Beer and cigarettes are very cheap here.  The only thing is: if you drink the local beer then when you ask for a large beer you will get a glass half full because the rest is the froth to the top of the glass.  However it is cheap so no-one complains.

The layout of Budapest and the layout of Prague are very similar in many ways.  Both cities have a wide river running through them and both cities have expanded out massively over the centuries on the side of the river where the land is relatively flat.  Both cities have a range of hills running almost down to river and this is where both cities have built impressive palaces and castles.

DSCN4616.JPG In Prague there are lots of bridges up and down the river but the most significant one is the, centrally placed, Charles Bridge which is a wide old stone bridge bedecked with large statues on either side.   Nice stalls are set out across the whole length and the special thing is that it is for pedestrians only.  Near the centre of Prague there is a large weir that runs across the river so the large and small tour craft have to go through a huge lock over one side of the river to be able to be able to get from one level of the river to the other.

DSCN4589.JPGThis leaves a large area of the river where families are safe to enjoy the multitude of pedal boats that are on hire there and what a colourful scene it makes.

We kept seeing kit car mock ups of old fashioned cars taking people for tours around the city.  Brian and I both liked the idea so we waited until it had cooled down a little and found a four seater and took a 40 minute tour for the four of us.

DSCN4547.JPGOur driver gave us a really good tour which took us both sides of the river.  All was good until we got to the hills and the car started to cough and splutter.  The driver had to keep stopping by the side of the road to try to get the thing going.  Eventually, he dropped us off at a park and said he would be back in 25 minutes so that he could continue our tour.DSCN4555.JPGIt was still very hot and just opposite we came across two small spa pools and there were people sitting all around them with their feet in the refreshing water.  So the four of us soon joined them and what an enjoyable break it made.  We went back to the arranged meeting place and there he was and the problem was fixed.  The good thing about the tour was it showed us all the places to see over the other side of the river.

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We didn’t stay with Wendy and Brian the whole time but on the Saturday we arranged to meet in the Irish Bar to watch the Rugby between England and Australia.  England needed the win to complete the tour whitewash over the Aussie team and despite feeling sorry for our Aussie friends over their predicament they were in; it was fun to celebrate the England win.

Over our four day stay in this wonderful city we spent lots of quality time with the two Aussies.  We learnt a lot about the recent times and the problems the city had with the recent Russian, oppressive rule.  It just happened that we were there in the city to enjoy the festival to celebrate the 25th anniversary of when the Russians finally left the city.

We saw the changing of the guard at Prague castle and accidentally stumbled across the most amazing Synagogue.  We have visited churches, palaces, the cathedral and most of the important and fascinating tourist attractions and were out in the city during the evenings to see great places lit up at night.  We did learn one very important fact about Prague that I will pass on here in case you come yourselves to visit the city.  The trams do not stop at pedestrian crossings.  Forget that at your peril!

I sincerely hope that you do not get”boared” reading about our adventures.

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10th-16th…last few days in Slovenia and then Hungary and Budapest

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June 10th……….Murska Sobota, Slovenia

The previous day we booked our ferry home for the 18th of July so we are now on the last leg of our European tour.   Our plan now is to have a look at Hungary concentrating mainly on Budapest.  We will visit Vienna in Austria with a few other stops before crossing into the Czech Republic to visit Prague.  We are still deciding on a route across Germany and then across to the Netherlands to the Hook of Holland for our ferry.  We booked our vignette for Hungary on our computer at the campsite rather than wait to get to a computer terminal at a garage before the border.  A one week e-vignette lasts for 10 days and you have to give personal and vehicle details as well as your bank account numbers so I think it is more secure giving all that detail privately rather than in front of other people waiting to use the terminal for themselves.

We have had a lot of good luck during our travels, by chance coming across special events taking place on the exact time that we are there.  We were struggling to find much to interest us in this town until I spotted a lady dancing exotically in the distance.  We made our way there.  Music was playing through loud speakers and an avenue with a wide grass centre ran down to a very large, palatial house.

Girls in beautiful costumes were spread out evenly down the whole length to the house and each was dancing but each had their own distinctive way of interpreting the music.  The girl furthest away from the house was playing a violin totally ignoring the loud speaker music.  Near the house drinks were being poured ready for the expected important visitors.  We asked an official photographer what it was all about.  He said a large company had just finished electrifying a railway line and this was a celebration for the officials and the local council workers.  We stayed around taking pictures but didn’t get offered a glass of bubbly to help with the celebration.

June 11th……. Lake Balaton.  Hungary

We set off and then crossed the border.  It is quite odd driving on their motorways without the comfort of a vignette stuck on the inside of your windscreen.  It wasn’t long before we passed police cars parked facing the oncoming traffic and then the doubt creeps in.  Did I fill that form in correctly?  It is said that the fines can be enormous for anyone caught trying to cheat the system.  They do say that you have to keep the receipt for two years.   Why would that be the case if the system is without its problems?  A week’s vignette lasts for 10 days and because even goods vehicles have to have an e-toll ticket then the motorways are totally clear of toll booths. We did stop at a garage to get some Hungarian currency but there was no cash machine so would have to wait to get into a town somewhere.  I knew the rate was £1 = 400 forints so it wasn’t going to be too difficult to work out what thigs cost.

Lake Balaton is a huge lake so as Hungary is a land locked country this vast lake is used as the locals’ sea side.  Many campsites surround the lake and a cycle trail joins them all and if you wanted to cycle all around the lake then you would have to go without me.  The circuit is 218 kilometers.  We chose Balaton Tourist camping and Bungalows which is about 7 kilometers from Keszely at the far west end of the lake.  This was another campsite where there are no English travellers and the girl in the reception said that they have very few English speaking people stopping there.  She studied in London so she loved chatting with Elaine at every opportunity.

We then cycled off to town to have a look around and to find a bank.  I drew 150,000 forints from the hole in the wall.  Some shopping cost us 8,000 fts. and at first we both took a double take until we realised we had just spent the equivalent to £20.DSCN4190

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DSCN4197.JPGWhat a lovely town and we were both quite impressed with everything we were seeing there.  The main squares and the pristine church and grounds surrounded by impressive looking buildings were a joy and we went up the high street to the top where we came across a large palace with extensive grounds.  On the way back down towards where we had left the bikes we sat outside a bar and people watched and just took in the atmosphere in this, new to us, country.

We cycled back to the campsite and our good fortune didn’t desert us.  No sooner had we got back to the van when there was a huge crack of thunder and the heavens opened.  Our beautiful, hot, sunny day was gone and we had only just made it back in time.

We could have quite easily moved on the next day but instead we relaxed and I even got my fishing rods from on top of the van but luckily didn’t catch anything but just enjoyed the peace and quiet sitting by the lake side.   The afternoon reminded me of the Chris Rhea song “Gone Fishing”.  The song I used to think summed up my life.  Elaine spent part of the time studying where we would go in Budapest which was our next port of call.

The next day, as we were driving near a town on the way to Budapest, we went round a corner and there in front of us was a huge Tescos.

DSCN4214.JPG Immediately we both had the same thought……proper bacon.  We certainly didn’t need any shopping but we hadn’t seen one of the big four supermarkets since October.  I didn’t need to turn the wheel but the van just drove into the car park on its own.  We could have bought motorcar tyres, a dishwasher, washing machine or a refrigerator.  There were quite a few English foodstuffs and a whole stand of tomato sauce but what a disappointment……there was not a single pack of “Danish” bacon to be seen.

13th-17th June…….Budapest

The campsite we had chosen for our visit to Budapest was right in the city itself and we knew that if you stayed for three nights then they give you the fourth night free.  That appealed to Yorkshire born Elaine so it meant me driving right across another busy capital city.  Near the centre of the city we needed to cross the River Danube and the traffic was nearly at a standstill.  Then we found that a police car was stopping the traffic on our route and the city was virtually gridlocked.  Somehow, we eventually managed to make our way through to Campsite Haller which was not the greatest campsite we have stayed on but its location within the city limits was superb.  When we finally pulled up, to our surprise, we found Brian and Wendy (the Aussies) were there.  Elaine left me to set up everything; she was too busy catching up with Wendy.  That evening we ended up as a party of eight, dining at the excellent camp restaurant.

Budapest is a city made up of two halves.  The western side of the city is Buda and the eastern side is Pest and they are separated by the might river Danube.  After the two Aussies had left the next morning we made our way to the underground station and we needed to take the tube for 5 stops to get us to the centre of the city.  Some of you will be shocked to hear that Elaine and I have reached pension age.  The rule in Budapest is that any EU citizen can use the buses, the trams and the underground for free once they are over pension age.  Even though, like Peter Pan, I do not show my age, I put my driving licence in my wallet for when I was challenged to show my ticket.  I have now come down to earth!  We got to the tube station and the man checking peoples’ tickets just nodded and waved me through.

Knowing that we were going to be in and around the city for a few days we followed Elaine’s plan and crossed the bridge to Buda because on top of the hills on that side we could see, lined up, all of the impressive buildings and the map showed us that there was far more to see over this side.

We crossed over the “Chain” bridge and in a square we could see a very long queue waiting for the funicular railway ride up to the Royal Palace and the National gallery.  At first we got to the back of the queue until Elaine got chatting to a chap who was selling sightseeing tours.  He was English and had bought a flat here some years ago.  He told us not to bother to wait and pay to go up and then pointed us to a point a little way off to the right.  He told us that there were free escalators all the way to the top or we could catch the number 12 bus just over the road up to Matthias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion and from there it was a pleasant walk to the palace.  We caught the bus.  I am going to let the pictures do the description of what we saw up there and the fantastic views of the Danube and Pest on the other side.

Over the next days we got to know Budapest quite well and found the tram system as well as the underground was excellent for travel in, around and back out of the city.  Impressive buildings line the streets all over the city and statues can be found virtually everywhere.  The centre of the city is a tourist’s and a photographer’s paradise.  Near the elegant, beautifully designed parliament building we saw a building where the bullet holes have all been marked from the time of the 1956 Revolution.  We try to learn about some of the history of the countries we visit and Hungary’s recent history about the Pet Boys:  teenagers that took on the might of the Russian army sparking the successful revolution forcing the occupying Russians to flee the city is such an impressive story.  Mind you, they came back 2 years later with massive force and many Hungarians died in 1958.

We took a boat ride along the Danube on the last night of our stay and we both agree that this is a city we could come back to in the future.  We were given good advice of places to visit on our way out of Hungary as they used to live here and come back a visit the city every year.  They told us that we would pass a bridge which we only had to cross to get into Slovakia and we could then boast another country visited on our trip.  Elaine and I agree that our tour has never been about counting countries visited.  When we visit a country we want to know about the country, the people and some of the important historical facts and we wouldn’t be doing that just by visiting the village just the other side of the Danube.

 

 

 

 

1st-7th June…..Slovenia

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1st June……..Postojna

Before driving over the border from Croatia to Slovenia we pulled into a garage and bought a seven day vignette as our van is weighted at 3.5 ton.  Any van weighted over our weight has to stop at all the toll booths to pay their toll as they go.  We also used the card machine there as we were back in the land of the Euro and we had precious few of those left.  I was really pleased with myself because, paying for the vignette,  used up virtually all the Kuna notes and coins we had after our stay in Croatia.

We have been to lots of caves during our travels and have seen our share of stalagmites and stalactites so why were we heading towards the Postojna Cave?  Elaine knows best.  Her research paid off again.  We pulled into a camper stop right by the car park for the cave complex.   We bought our tickets and were told we had to be at the cave entrance by 5 pm. for our tour to begin.  There were lots of things to look at and plenty of eating places so the waiting tourist is well catered for. They even hire warm coats for people to wear during their tour underground.  We showed our tickets and all the waiting people were sorted into groups depending on what language they could understand.DSCN3905There are 24 kilometers of underground passages, galleries and halls so we got on a train that took us 8 kilometers underground to where our walking tour would begin.  Tourists have been coming here for over 200 years but those early visitors would have had to walk the whole way round.

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The journey on the train was worth the entrance fee.  We then walked, took pictures, stopped to listen to the guide for the next hour.  The sheer scale and size of the galleries and the endless paths taking you from one wonder to the next, all took our breath away.  When the walking tour ended we boarded the train again to take us back to the surface.  What a great start on our tour of Slovenia and by the look of the things we had seen already on the way there then we were in for a treat as we tour further.

2nd-3rd June…….Slovenia’s capital city, Ljubljana

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The countryside we saw on our 38 mile journey looked lush and green and the houses and farms we passed gave us the impression that Slovenia’s economy is doing well and the large houses dotted around look very much like those you would find in Austria or Switzerland.  We soon got chatting to our neighbours once we had set up our motorhome and started to get a similar story from those that had travelled down through France and Germany to get to Ljubljana.  They were all complaining about the rotten weather they had on the way down to here.  We have had such great weather during our month in Croatia with only the odd night of  bit of rain and the one storm.  We gave the leaflets and a book on Croatia’s  lakes to a Scottish couple.  In the reception of the site  we saw a free, English speaking, walking tour of the capital advertised for an 11 am start every day of the year.

So the next morning we caught the bendy bus into the city and made our way to the main square.

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There were a lot of people waiting by the steps of the pink church.  We joined them and were soon put into three groups and we had Janez as our guide for the next two hours.  What a great way to find out about the city, to have the main sites pointed out to us and to find out about the history that had gone into making Ljubljana what it is today.  Janez was not only very knowledgeable but he had a great sense of humour to go along with it.  He must have been good.  In a large square there was a food festival taking place where all the hotels and restaurants had stalls selling take away food and the smell was so enticing.  As we walked through not one person dropped out of the tour, overcome  by the temptation of the delicious aromas.  I took some pictures on the way round and now we knew the places to go back round again to take the images I had seen during the tour.  We gave a good tip as the daily tours are funded by voluntary contribution and said goodbye to Janez.

We made a beeline back to the food festival and sat on the steps opposite eating succulent, lamb cutlets with spicy potato wedges accompanied by a glass of a very nice, local red wine.

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After we walked around the city we waked towards the castle that dominated the landscape as it sat imposingly on top of the large hill overlooking the town.  It was a very hot day and we had done a lot of walking already so we paid for a ride up in the funicular  railway instead of walking up to the top. We got some good views from up there and enjoyed looking around the old stone fortress.

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We caught the bus back to the campsite after a great day and put a glowing review about Janez and The Free Ljubljana Tour on Trip Adviser.

4th-5th June…..Lake Bled

Unlike the paid motorways in France, Spain and the like, the motorways are quite heavily used because once you have a vignette then there are no further costs involved in travelling around quickly.  quite heavily.  When we got to Bled we had to drive around the huge lake to get to the campsite that is right by the shore at the opposite end of the lake to the town.  There is an island on the lake and in the centre of the island is a church. Many locals earn their living by ferrying visitors to the island.

DSCN3981 It is said that if you go onto the island and ring the church bell then you will have good luck.  Elaine and I think we are lucky enough as it is being able to visit so many beautiful countries so we didn’t take the crossing.  Instead we set off to walk to the town.  It was quite a walk.  Half way round we came across an artist with small pictures of the island for sale and they were 4 euros each  We picked one we liked.DSCN3984.JPG

He took the picture and then painted himself, Elaine and me on the reverse side of the painting and chatted and giggled the whole time.  What a character and what a great keepsake.  He put another cardboard frame around that side and we all parted with handshakes and smiles as if we had known him forever.

Near the town we came across the way up to the castle.  No funicular railway this time so we just had to walk up the windy path to get to the top.  What luck!  Around the base of the castle there was a mock up of an old soldiers camp.  There were all sorts of stalls and people were dressed in traditional, medieval costumes.

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There were soldiers in armour and different groups took turns in playing old instruments of the time.  All around in the different encampments there were lords and ladies, Turks with their curved swords and Royal knights practicing their sword play. We paid to go in the castle and  the performances were just about to start.  Despite the big crowds, Elaine and I got good places  at the front to stand and watch.

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First we watched a display of medieval dancing and then we saw an exciting performance about a camp of noblemen and their ladies.  Then a band of Turks came rushing in and after a very boisterous sword battle they ran off with the ladies.  Then we were in the Turks’ camp so there was belly dancing and fire eating.

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Then back into the arena came the knights.  During the the very energetic sword battle the Turkish leader fell over backwards  and Elaine nearly became one of the fallen….skewered by the Turk’s scimitar.

We walked back to the camp the other side of the lake and relaxed that evening after a barbecue.  The next day I took the bikes off the back of the van and we went off to follow the map to Vintgar Gorge.   The start of the Gorge was only about 8 kilometers from where we were camped and the windy, narrow roads went up and up and in the end we locked our bikes up behind a farmer’s hay bails and walked the rest of the way.  The gorge runs for 1,600 meters and the Radovna river, in places, roars through flanked either side by steep slopes overgrown with beech forests.

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The whole run is full of small waterfalls, lots of rapids and the deeper parts where the water appears to slow down.  How the trail that is attached to the rock  face was constructed in 1893 is beyond comprehension.  There are bridges that take you from one side to the other and brown trout can be seen swimming whenever there was calmer water.  When you get down to the far end of the gorge you just have to turn round and walk back.  However you are now viewing the water flowing towards you and in lots of ways the view is even better.

6th-7th June…….Ptuj

The planning committee (Elaine) has been hard at it and a rough plan is being formulated so that we will take in Budapest in Hungary, then Vienna in Austria, then Prague in Czechoslovakia followed by a route across Germany to the Hook of Holland in the Netherlands for our crossing back to England sometime in July.  We still have plenty of time so our journey to Ptuj which is in the Eastern part of the country is perhaps the first small step towards home.

When the natives say the name of this town it definitely sounds totally different to the way it is spelled.  However you say it,  Ptuj is a beautiful town.

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We walked into town along the bank of the very wide, fast flowing river Drava and came across 3 bridges, one after the other.  The first is a footbridge, then there is a very busy road bridge and the third bridge is the railway crossing.  We crossed over the first bridge and had a good look around the town.  There were lots of interesting buildings and a very interesting ice cream parlour and in the interests of helping the local economy we both had our 5 fruits of the day accompanied by lashings of ice cream, topped by whipped cream, nicely  decorated with a rich chocolate sauce.

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The monastery near the end of the town was used as a weapon store by the Germans during the second world war.  Subsequently it was virtually destroyed by the allies.  Instead of trying to build a replica of what was there before they built a modern replacement and what a beautiful job they did of it.

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Another castle meant more climbing and this time a lot of it was up slippery cobbled streets.   We paid our 4 euros and went around all the exhibition rooms set up on the different floors of the castle.  Ptuj is the centre of the masquerading region and the display in the castle made sense to some of the things we saw for sale around the town.

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The gallery area was fascinating and the old armoury was authentically equipped just as it would have been hundreds of years ago.  The living quarters were well displayed and you could imagine the old lords could be back any time.  Our favourite was the rooms full of old musical instruments.  Each time you stepped into the next room the lights would go up and the appropriate music would start up.  On top of that each room had a clever machine so that in the brass instrument room, for example, you just pressed the button to hear a bugle dominating the tune.   We were the only ones in there so it was fun to walk from room to room and then back again to hear the different music.

We have had a relaxing day today in the sunshine and tomorrow we will move slightly back upon ourselves to Maribor.

 

 

 

So the next morning we caught the bendy-bus and found our way to the main square and the English speaking tour would start from there at 11 am.  There was a large group of people collected there so we were split into 3 groups.  We were put into Janez’s group and off we went.  Janez was very knowledgeable

25th May-1st June….visiting the 2 largest Croatian islands

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25th May-1st June…….the Island of Krk

We looked at the map and our destination for the day was going to be Krk Island.  We knew that we could pay a few Kuna, drive up the motorway, to get there quickly.  The other option was to follow route 8 up the coast.  We took the coast road.

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Most of the way the road hugged the shoreline.  Round every bay, round sharp bends, up hills and our reward for taking this slower route was 200 miles of views over the sea to the many islands that looked as though they had all merged into one.  There are over 1000 islands and islets on the coast of Croatia and 40 of those are inhabited islands.  On top of that there are peninsulas like the one we took the ferry to avoid driving across Bosnia.

Krk and Cres are the two largest islands.  So we arrived at the toll bridge which would take us across to Krk.  The weather was glorious and the forecasts were telling us that it was going to stay that way for the foreseeable future.  We had had a strong recommendation to stay on Camping Bor in the town with the same name as the island.  Although it is the first campsite that we were to stay on that was not right by the beach, we were told the short walk into the centre and the views from the camp easily compensated for the distance from the seas edge.  We set up camp and soon learned just how friendly and helpful the staff and the management are towards their guests.  There is quite a well-stocked shop and the bar and restaurant is excellent.  If you like wine then you are in luck here because they make their own excellent red, white and rose and people are regularly seen leaving the shop with their 5 litre plastic bottles of the colour wine of their choice.  There is so much care here keeping everything spick and span and all around there are pots of plants everywhere to keep everything looking beautiful.  When you arrive at the site you will get a ride around the site on their electric open car so you can choose which pitch you would like.

DSCN3741.JPGKrk is a beautiful seaside town and we thoroughly enjoyed our wander along the promenade by the smallish port.  There are some interesting shops in the side streets then we went into the small castle and got a nice view from the top.DSCN3750.JPG

While Elaine sampled a glass of the local wine under a sunshade in front of a nice looking bar I did something that I have never done before.  I paid for a 40 minute ride in what they call a submarine.

When you go downstairs there are large round windows on either side and the top of the windows is about 2 foot below the surface of the water.  On the way out I got a great view of the town from out at sea.  They took us out to a little bay and as soon as the boat slowed down the views in the very clear water were superb.  Whilst we were close to the shore two lads dived into the water and did some energetic turns under water for our entertainment.  A little further on the guy driving the boat started throwing bread into the water.  Fish came from everywhere.  The few children watching, alongside me, whooped with joy.  I wanted to join in but I forced myself to act my age.

A little later on we looked for somewhere to have lunch.  We only wanted something light and walked past a small take-away café and there were people outside eating doner kebabs. I have never been tempted to try food like that thinking that it would be much too fatty for my liking.  Wow!  Another first!  What have I been missing out on?  Krk is a lovely town so we will stay here for a few days before moving on.

We got an email from our Aussie friends  Brian and Wendy, and they said they were on their way to join us.  When they arrived they parked on the pitch right behind us and said they would stop there until the replacement for their stolen credit card arrived from their bank in Australia so we decided to wait with them.  The four of us hired a car between us for three days to make it easier to explore the whole island.  The campsite booked the car for us and that evening one of the managers of the site sat down with us and marked our map with all the places to visit here and on Cres, the neighbouring island.  I do not know many sites where you would get service like that.

Off we all went the next day and headed for St. Lucia which, we were told, would give us examples of the ancient lettering that was used centuries ago.   We then went off to Baska which is near the most southerly point of the island.  Baska is a very nice seaside resort.DSCN3799.JPG

As it was a Saturday and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky it was the first time in our travels this year where we were looking at packed beaches and people swimming in the sea.  From there we went up the east side to Vrbnik and past the bay where we were advised was the best place to swim around the island.  After lunch we carried on following the recommendations.  A lot of the roads were very narrow especially when we went to some of the smaller villages and yes, we could have taken the motorhome but parking and driving up single carriageway roads was much better in the car.  For the 3 days hire my share was going to be £60 with insurance and we knew that we had all had our monies worth after the first day.

The next day we headed down to the small port that would take us over to the second largest island called Cres.  You do not have to book ferries to get onto the islands; you just turn up, pay for your ticket and wait for the next available ferry.  Cres is virtually the same square kilometers as Krk but is long north to south but with little width east to west.  Driving on Cres was a completely different driving experience.  This is where hiring the car came was such an advantage.   When you come off the ferry there is just the ticket office there and a couple of cafes.  We then climbed and climbed past all the cars and other vehicles waiting to get on the ferry we had just vacated and then we turned right onto the main road that runs from the south to the northern most point of the island.  We were heading for a little place called Beli.  The narrow, endlessly windy road then took us to the village that is perched on top of a hill.DSCN3825.JPG It was like going into a living museum except for the locks on the many wells. The streets are so narrow that vehicles are prohibited and every house and cottage looks as though they were built hundreds of years ago.DSCN3818.JPG  We couldn’t visit the church as there was a service going on.  The only sign of life were two young boys who were hanging around the church as if they had snuck outside to escape the priest’s sermon.

Next we drove back down the ridge of the narrow northern end of the island and then across extremely narrow roads to get to Lubenice.  This is again like going back through the centuries.DSCN3831.JPGThe beach is way down but, despite the road network to get there, the tourist is catered for.  There is a sheep museum and a view point at the end of the village with great views over the sea to neighbouring islands.  We went and sat in the garden of a restaurant and ordered a meal when suddenly the wind started blowing strongly and the rain started with a vengeance.  We ate the meal inside and sat chatting until the sudden storm had abated.  The clouds still looked fairly threatening so we decided not to drive down to the south of the island and to cross the bridge to Mallosinj which is on the small island of Losinj.   This is a very popular beach, holiday destination and is the reason for most people taking the crossing onto Cres.

For our third day of our car hire we decided, first, to go to the catacombs at Rudine.  As we arrived a large party of school children were just getting off a coach ready for their tour of the caves.  We paid to go in and we were asked to wait so the children could go in first.  Then there was a small party of Germans and the four of us tagged on the end of the tour.  The guide spent a long time explaining whatever it was to the school children and then had a question and answer session with them.  We just waited.

Elaine said she had water dripping on her head.  I said that if she stands there for much longer a stalagmite will start growing on her head.  The children went back upstairs and then the guide spoke in German to the second group but their explanation was much shorter than that of the school children.  By the time she got round to us her speech was even shorter.  We four smiled at each other, then took a few more photos and then climbed back up to the sunshine.  We continued our drive around the island and the last place we visited was an inland village/town called Dobrinj.DSCN3854.JPG

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What a joy.  This was another walk through old, historic Croatia.  Stone built houses of all different shapes lined the narrow streets and near the top of the town was the church.  Attached to the bell tower there was a 2nd World War Memorial naming the dead from the village and these scenes telling the story of what happened during the German occupation.DSCN3851.JPG

It has been an absolute joy spending time with Wendy and Brian.  We have twice enjoyed meals together in the campsite restaurant and each evening we have spent the time sitting in or outside theirs or our motorhome.  The 31st of May was Elaine’s birthday which turned into a good day for Brian and Wendy as well because the replacement for their stolen credit card turned up.  As a birthday celebration treat, Brian took us to a cake and ice cream parlour right by the sea’s edge.  On the way back we all decided that it was time to move on so we enjoyed the rest of the day and the evening together.  So the Aussies went on their way with the hope of meeting up with another couple they had met on their travels and Elaine and I have today driven into Slovenia and will spend some time here before going into Austria.

We have thoroughly enjoyed the month we have had in Croatia.  We  will definitely come back to Croatia  in the future.  Everyone has been so friendly and the ones we have spoken to all seem proud of their country and are keen to talk about places we should visit. I have never seen Croatian wine on sale in the UK, but if you do, then try some.  We have enjoyed the food here and the service everywhere has been lovely….. (sorry if I am sounding like a travel agent).