Category Archives: Ruby

And on through Italy

Tues 27th Sept 22

Our plan was to get out of Bari and find a site we had earmarked south of Monopoli. Bit of a struggle getting out of this busy city but we found our way to Monopoli readily enough. Now, Michelle had lived for several months in Monopoli whilst serving with the RAF in the late 90s ( I know, she doesn’t look old enough!) in support of the United Nations (SFOR) during the Yugoslav war. We wanted to try find the chalet that she lived in but we had no details. Seemed like a good idea to just drive round Monopoli and wait for memories to kick in… Well Monopoli has some very narrow roads… and Ruby is rather wide. Gawd did things get a bit tense. We got ourselves into smaller and smaller roads trying to find our way out. Eventually having to be guided through gaps between parked cars and vans by helpful locals with the wing mirrors pulled in ..again. – [We did note that the Italians were far more cheerful and helpful in these predicaments than the Croatians were when we got stuck back in Sibernik.] Eventually we had to admit defeat as no areas were bringing back memories of previous addresses for Michelle.. until… we were back on the main highway and whizzing down south – ‘ I recognise this bit’ says Michelle. ‘This is the route we used to take to Gioia del Colle for work every day.’ ‘My chalet would be back there- 20 minutes!’ Aaaaah. Dammit. We were not only well beyond the important part but we were on the main highway with little opportunity to turn. A missed moment unfortunately. 

So, this campsite we were heading for was called Pineta Al Mare in Specchiola on the coast. A chance to visit a good Italian beach to start us off. Well it was closed! . Just a tiny sign on the gate. Despite the website saying it would be open till the end of September. Welcome to camping in Italy..! But as relaxed and flexible as ever we drove a short way down an almost deserted coast road and discovered a motorhome parked on some tidy looking grassed area of a car park. Looked sweet. The Italian elderly female occupant was enjoying the sun looking out to sea in her camping chair. ‘Are you staying overnight here?’ Says I ‘ I no a speaka da English’ she says cheerfully. Anyway, she speaks a little German and we speak a little German so the conversation was possible. 

Are you staying overnight here?

Yes’

‘Is it a problem?. Is it safe?’

‘Yes, it is very quiet and no problem. You will be fine. Promise. The restaurant here is always open too so you are able to eat dinner and breakfast’

Well, how brilliant is this. A free night parked on grass with good food, a sea view, another motorhome for company and a nice quiet area. What can go wrong. ? Well…. The restaurant closed by 5pm…the Italian woman in the motorhome left the car park at 8pm and ……… at 2 o’clock in the morning a group of 7 or 8 cars pulled in, 20+ people got out.. and set off an almighty cacophony of fireworks 20 metres away…!!! Frightened us to bloody death. Aaaaargh!!. It seemed like they were actually attacking us at first. Well after calmly (!) watching out of the window it seems like this was an extended family group, including elders and young kids all dressed up. After about 40 minutes of standing round chatting loudly they all drove off together leaving us in our nice quiet car park…! Were they celebrating the departure of an elderly relative with fireworks? Maybe the final touches to a wedding celebration.? Who knows…but how we laughed…. Later!

So onwards the next morning towards civilisation and Otranto. This is pretty much the bottom of the heel of Italy. The Agriturismo Fontanelle site was pretty good and was very close to a well regarded (and as it turned out, one of our favourite) beaches at Baia dei Turch (Bay of Turkey). 

The pitch was open and very large and cost ¢20 (£17) per night. Simoni the  rather hunky site warden even brought some shopping to us at 8.30 in the mornings. Bread and local salads. Top man. The weather was right hot during the day and the sea was lush and warm and the sand soft and clean. So…. that was it, beach, beach, beach for two days. 

But we had things to see and places to go so the 30th September and we pulled up at a stopover site (Sosta’s they call them in Italy) at La Salina in Specchierica. This is where we started to realise that the southern part of Italy was pretty much closed. Season over. All done. All the shops/cafes/restaurants and even houses were all closed. Nothing to see here. Except for some flamingoes in the next door nature park. In fact…at this time of year, the whole of this area was a right dump. Now, as an example of what a bad overnight Sosta should contain for ¢16.50 (£14) per night this was perfect. The price included showers. Cold ones outside. Or hot ones for ¢1 extra 

Only one unisex toilet – for up to 30 motorhomes- and you had to get the key from the front desk….I had a big row (via Google translate amusingly) with the site owner. We had electric plugged in but it tripped all the time. (500w- for those who know!). Couldn’t even heat our own water for our shower to save using his at ¢1 each. Don’t get me wrong, the site was very tidy, very clean and the staff kinda friendly despite the row. There was one quite emotional moment. There is a guy who drives onto the site selling fruit and veg. Big friendly chap with no English but…. He managed to say how sad and sorry he was to hear of the loss of our Queen. He was really sincere and caring. He even said good things about the onset of ‘King Carlos’..The first person in over two weeks since Liz died that anyone had passed their condolences. Sweet.

La Salina in Specchierica overnight

Disappointed, one night was enough due to the failings of the campsite and the ‘closed’ town.  And, the sea – just 100metres away- was choppy and (after a trial swim..!) rather dangerous due to undercurrents. 

So onwards westwards along the sole of the Italian shoe.. Passing through the local town of Manduria which looked like a ghetto and felt very unnerving and we were keen to keep moving further north as well. We decided to just stay on the road and hit the west coast instead. See if that was open..

1st October and we pitched up at Foce, just south of Sorrento. Again this turned out to be a one-night stand. The sea alongside the site was massive and banging onto the beach with the heavy winds. In fact the beach was completely covered by the waves even at low tide. The site owner said that the whole of September had been blown away by the same huge waves and winds. The pitch on the site was also a little dark and unexciting, apart from one of the poshest motorhomes we have come across. Time to move on. 

Next day after just a short drive along some lengthy tunnels through mountainous regions we arrived at Vico Equense which is once again alongside the coast and an immediate neighbour to Sorrento. Well, this was a bit of a challenge once again. The reviews for the Sant Antonio site all said that it was brilliant and the site owner was helpful, guiding people onto the pitches. Well that was true, the very nice owner welcomed us and found us a pitch. They are not classically marked out pitches and the motorhomes are all under trees to protect from the sun. Fair enough. We had to reverse back 80 metres or so, between low trees and around other campers, round guy ropes, through narrow gaps, over bumpy stoney ground and onto our designated area. Tricky indeed. And very dark with all the trees, plus there were large nets slung between the trees blotting out more light.

As sun seekers this was not ideal for us. However just a short hop, skip and jump down the site driveway we met the sea, some great little restaurants and an incredible view across the Bay of Naples to the dominant volcano Vesuvius. Very impressive. A short walk away was Chicchi Beach which we visited on both our days here. Not your traditional beautiful white sand beach but a small, slightly tatty but pleasant local beach.

It was quite busy but mainly with elderly ladies who gather on a daily basis, chatting and topping up their already tanned bodies. Boy could they talk. On our second afternoon we had obviously been accepted as ‘locals’ (!) as we were alongside a 70th birthday celebration for one of the ‘ladies that do beach’. They had a cake and some pink Prosecco and boisterously sand ‘happy birthday (Buon compleanno)’ to the youngster. Happily for us too…we were handed a large chunk of cake and…. a glass of bubbles. Thank you ladies… The cake was a famous local Napoli Cake which was tasty but rather oily- (maybe that’s why the ladies tan so well..!!).

Birthday Naples Cake

It turns out that the nets overhead the campsite were there to catch the thousands and thousands of olives as they fall from the trees. Perhaps we would never need to buy another olive ever again..! There were however large gaps in these nets so olives dropped all through the day and amusingly through the night. This was the start of many memorable olive dropping moments on many of the Italian sites. Who knew that we would arrive at the ‘olive season’…!

Anyway the dark campsite was too dark and overgrown for us so we headed a short distance to a site in Sorrento. The Tube d’ Argento is just a few minutes walk into the town and close to another beach- The Marina Grandé. Have to say that the drive through Sorrento was probably one of the most ‘lively’ of our journey so far. All of us know that Italian drivers are a bit mad. Well this place was one of the maddest. Bonkers. This part of Italy also has lots of scooters and mopeds and all the riders wannabe Valentino Rossi..! God was it busy. Being attacked from all directions with no gaps. We have grabbed a few videos for you of some ‘moments’. To be honest though I did quite enjoy this driving once I got acclimatised to it. Just drive…don’t overthink it… they will get out of the way. No-one died….

Bonkers Sorrento traffic

We intended to stay here for several days as my brother Jez was flying out to join us for a while. So we spent a couple of days finding our way around before he arrived.

We had plans which involved the Amalfi coast so a tiny hire car was necessary. Bit pricey at €270 (£230) for three days though was not good. 

Collected the car on 9th October and went straight to Naples airport to pick up Jez. We decided to go straight to climb Mount Vesuvius due to the proximity to the airport giving Jez no time to get over his jet-lag from Manchester ! Anyway we drove half way up to the top of the volcano only to find out it was closed…! What..! Well it seems that so many people want to visit that they have to restrict numbers at the peak. Too many damn tourists. Bugga. That was Plan A blown away. 

Next day we compensated by visiting the historic ruins of Pompeii which was a real surprise. It is a huge ‘city’ with so much to see. We had read that this would take a couple of hours to visit. Well after six hours we felt we had only just started. There is plenty to see and feel about the impact of the dramatic eruption of this still active volcano. Can’t remember how much to visit the city but do remember the car park was €24…! 

Our next visit was onto the beautiful Amalfi Coast road. Not far for us to travel but the average speed was probably around 15mph. The road twists and turns tightly and narrowly all round the panoramic coast from the Sorrento area through picturesque Positano and into the beautiful town of Amalfi. The road is the best part. We have read many times that motorhomes are not a great thing to take here. We can see why. It was tight enough in our Fiat Panda..! Soooooo many close calls, near misses and scary bits. There are however still large coaches and trucks making it through every day. Challenging. This video shows an example of a scooter squeezing through a non-gap between our Panda and a concrete mixer. Wow. All you can hear is Michelle and Jez going ‘ooooh’ – ‘God’ – ’noooo’ and similar helpful guidance along the way..!

More mad roads

Once in Amalfi we had a lovely lunch near the harbour then did what we do best. Onto the beach and a swim in the sea. Terrific. 

We got safely back with no damage to the Panda and our nerves intact. However when I took the car back the following day to the hire company I thought I was in trouble. I parked outside but left it unlocked. Whilst waiting for the receptionist I looked across and saw some bloke climbing into the drivers seat of my Panda. WTF…! I dash out across the road to apprehend the car thief only to find it was an elderly gent. ‘Oh sorry’ he says (probably.. as he didn’t speak English). It was the wrong car. His white Fiat was parked in front of mine.!  He had even put his shopping onto the back seat and still hadn’t noticed it was the wrong car. Dude…… 

So… two days left for Jez’s visit so we had to hit the beach… Marina Grandé beach was a short walk down the steep hill from the campsite. There are beach clubs in this area which consist of jetty’s from the sand out into the bay. You pay for the sunbeds on the jetty for the day and get access to drinks and food too. Much better than the small, tatty, local beach.  Brilliant. Toasty hot and sunny. Cost was €10 per sun lounger for the day but defo a worthwhile cost. Sat amidst the Bay of Naples on a tidy wooden jetty with easy entry into the warm sea. Showers and toilets are alongside and beers available. At lunchtime we move along the jetty to the ‘dining’ zone for a very nice lunch before heading back into the ’suntan’ zone. What’s not to like. A nice relaxing day and expected repeat he next day.

However… the next morning was rainy, windy, ‘orrible. What a change and what a shame for Jez’s last day on holiday. Bugga. We did manage to walk in and out of town a couple of times without getting wet though. Had a lovely dinner in a restaurant in the town square which nicely finished off Jez’s visit. 

Olive Supply..!

14th October and we drive to the airport, back through the bonkers centre of Sorrento and throw Jez out the door. Time to head north again. Venice here we come.

Great to see you bro. 

Did you know…

Pompeii, preserved ancient Roman city in Campania, Italy, 14 miles (23 km) southeast of Naples, at the southeastern base of Mount Vesuvius. Around noon on August 24, 79 CE, a huge eruption from Mount Vesuvius showered volcanic debris over the city of Pompeii, followed the next day by clouds of blisteringly hot gases. Buildings were destroyed, the population was crushed or asphyxiated, and the city was buried beneath a blanket of ash and pumice. For many centuries Pompeii slept beneath its pall of ash, which perfectly preserved the remains. When these were finally unearthed, in the 1700s, the world was astonished at the discovery of a sophisticated Greco-Roman city frozen in time. Grand public buildings included an impressive forum and an amphitheatre; lavish villas and all kinds of houses, dating back to the 4th century BCE, were also uncovered. Inside were some preserved remains of people sheltering from the eruption; others lay buried as they fled; bakeries were found with loaves still in the ovens. The buildings and their contents revealed day-to-day life in the ancient world—and stirred 18th-century interest in all things classical.

Dubrovnik to Italy

Having arrived in Dubrovnik on 14th September we immediately took a look around and enjoyed a cracking sunset down by the Copacabana Beach. A good start. Our site at Camping Solitudo was within a few miles of the city, close to bus routes and just a 10 min walk down to the beach. A hop skip and jump back into the Adriatic. To be honest, not the best of beaches, mainly rocky to access the water and far too much bass music from local bars for us old folk..! 

Site was a hefty 285Kn per day (£33) but the facilities were pretty good and the pitch ok. The main selling point was the proximity to Dubrovnik. We were holding out for the big visits to the Old Town until we were joined by Michelle’s sister Trina on 18th. We did spend our time checking out the buses and the local area including some pretty quirky beach bars. We also took the opportunity to confirm the availability and efficiency of the local Uber taxis. A quick shopping trip did the trick as it saved us a long walk uphill with heavy bags. Worked fine. 

Ruby is way too big to use for general local travel. And of course travelling by public transport is a great way to engage with the local/tourist community. So on the 18th we took one bus into Dubrovnik Old Town then a second bus direct into the airport to meet Trina. Despite a 20 minute delay to her departure she still arrived early from Bristol and the sisters got to have a long overdue hug. Aaaah. Then a very efficient Uber trip back to the campsite. Taxi drivers are always a good source of local information however by the time we had reached Camp Solitudo we were fully appraised of the political and financial situation within Croatia..! Non stop talking all the way…. 

222 Kuna (£26) was good value for 15 miles despite the earache ..!

So the next day the three of us took off to explore Dubrovnik Old Town. My wonderful assistant managed to find a multi venue City Ticket for 300Kn (£35) each. 9 different venues and 6 bus journeys made this great value particularly as the walk round the wall should have been 250Kn alone. 

So in brief we visited Dubrovnik three days at different times. We walked – had lunch – visited- had dinner- walked had a drink- repeat. You get the idea. A bloody lovely place.

Sorry about all the photos but at every turn there is yet another beautiful view. And, of course, those of you ‘Game of Thrones’ fans will know there are many, many areas that we recognised from the big screen.

Walk of Shame..!

And any Viking fans may be aware of the location too. They were actually filming the third Netflix season of Halvalla all round small pockets of the town whilst we tourists hovered round corners.

Filming of Halvalla

It is a very busy town but did not seem too overcrowded (until a cruise ship full of Americans turned up! – (other nationalities are available..!)). Walking round the walls is a ‘must do’ event. 2.5km around the entire town gives great views of the interior and of the Adriatic on three sides assisted with beautiful hot sunny weather. An evening hoist up the cable car high above the city is also a pretty incredible place to watch a sunset over the town. Pity we arrived about 5 minutes too late….!  What sun….? To be fair Trina skipped off round the mountainside, jumped onto a goat track and managed to catch a glimpse and a photo or two before it was gone…

So all too soon and Trina was leaving back to the UK. We had managed to keep her presence quiet on the campsite thus saving ourselves 400Kn (£44) in fees in the process.. Shhhhh…!

We decided that we would also move on from the Solitudo campsite so took the opportunity to take Trina back to the airport in Ruby. Fond farewells were bid as the slightly suntanned Trina headed back to colder climes and we moved on again.

Our next spot (22nd Sept) turned out to be a cracker. For different reasons. Solitudo meant lots of access to Dubrovnik with public transport and proximity to shops and amenities. Camping Kate (yes, I know..) was the next location, further along the coast at Mlini. By chance we managed to set up on a sunny (morning) pitch and soon walked off down to the beaches. 262 steps down to the beach was fun…. Getting back up later in the day was less so!. However after trying each of the several beach areas we identified well with the Sheraton hotel beach front. The hotel staff (as in many places) like to suggest that they own the beach and try to deter non-guests from visiting. However we dodged the ‘bouncers’ and spent many a good hour/day catching up with our tans. The beach was a little pebbly but that means we don’t have loads of sand being carried back to Ruby at the end of the day.! The swimming was glorious, the water warm and crystal clear with restaurants and bars around. Not a bad way to spend four days. In addition the Sheraton Hotel also had paddle boards available to hire for just 75Kn (£8) for an hour. And as I am such an expert (ha!!) after my maiden trial in Tittisee I wanted to show off my skills to the watching beach dudes. I managed to do well with several trips between the boats, round the bay. Standing, sitting, drifting and chilling before heading casually back to shore for a classic dismount onto the beach……. except…that I hit the pebbles too hard, side-on and fell off, face-planting the beach and rolling into the sea…! Cool…. Dick..!

We had a ferry booked for the 26th from Dubrovnik to Bari in Italy so were kinda just killing time. In one of those really relaxing, chilling, wonderful, killing time ways. Camping Kate was 146 Kn (£17) per night and was pretty good. Still amazingly busy for late September. The staff were surprised too – they were hoping to go off for their autumn break but people kept arriving.!

Anyway our Croatia experience was now over after three weeks. What do we think.? Well we really love it. The weather is cracking the vast majority of the time. The scenery is terrific and the beaches were definitely some of the best. Well to be honest it was more to do with the crystal clear turquoise warm sea really. We must have plunged in and out dozens of times over those three weeks. Couple of things that were disappointing were… most of the locals were pretty miserable and unhelpful. Always seemed distant and disinterested. However after visiting the Yugoslav war museum in Dubrovnik you can understand it really. They are only 25 years away from some pretty horrific war episodes across the whole of former Yugoslavia. Also the food… we were amazed. We were unable to find fresh fish anywhere during our travels. Even the fish market in Dubrovnik had only one swordfish, a few dozen sad-looking whitebait and one tiny Nemo. (Made that last bit up!). When I looked across the huge market hall and gave a Yorkshire questioning shrug the market lady simply said ‘Bad Weather’ and pointed outside…! In addition the fruit and veg was cheap to buy and looked tired. Within two days it just went off. All the time. Any store/market/stall. It seemed very strange. ‘Is this because they don’t use preservatives like we do at home and in the rest of Europe’ we asked ourselves….. Discuss.. But overall we loved Croatia again and we will be back.

26th Sept and our ferry was due for a 9pm overnight sailing from Dubrovnik to Bari in Italy. We had some hours to kill after leaving Camping Kate so headed to an area alongside the posh Sheraton hotel in nearby Kupari. Well what a shocker. Turns out that this little bay used to be a high class resort for the Croatian Military Officers in the late 1990s. When the Yugoslav wars started the Serbians shelled and shot-up the hotels making them unusable. They have not been restored still. There are several hotels still intact and but completely derelict, covered with graffiti and overgrown weeds. Pretty spectacular surprisingly. More so because it was now a wet, overcast day. Once again the movie folk were in town starting to clear things out and add some character for what appears to be some kind of war movie. 

Kupari Ruins

So, on arrival at the Dubrovnik ferry port several hours early we were kept entertained. The whole boarding setup is laughable really. No organisation, no health and safety and no expectation of getting to Italy without swimming!. This was a full size RORO (roll on -roll off) ferry for cars and lorries. So entertaining watching the huge artic lorries having to reverse up the steep, wet ramp in the dark. Not sure why they couldn’t drive straight in and turn in the huge interior but they ‘maybe’ knew what they were doing…! It was funny though. Lorry’s wheel-spinning alongside foot passengers on the ramp whilst staff wandered around smoking and laughing. The Jadrolinija ferry was even older than me and had clearly been across the Adriatic thousands of times. It cost a huge amount for the trip of 3262 Kn (£380) which was a shock to us. For some reason we had only considered this to be a small jump across the sea. It is in fact rather a long way and rather expensive because of Ruby’s size. Much cheaper than driving all the way round I suppose.. So, after laughing about the shenanigans with loading the trucks is was our turn. We were the first non-lorry to board. ‘Ok, go now. Reverse onto the ship’ he says to me. ‘What..!’- ‘Really’. Well no pressure then. I mean, the ramp was quite wide, and yes a bit wet, but then we also had to reverse all the way to the back and squeeze between several artics and the ship bulkheads. Ouch!. To be fair the staff were very professional at this point and guided us all in with fine margins. Couldn’t get out of the doors without pulling all our stomachs in though.. 

Surprisingly thecrossing was calm and we both slept well in our aged, rusty, en-suite cabin and woke to a brilliant sunrise as we arrived at Bari on 27th September. Very rare for us to view a sunrise. Almost all of our trips and home life are on the west coasts. Never get involved in those early rising sunrise things. But hey this was pretty special. Welcome to Italy.. 

Did you Know..The Republic of Ragusa (former Italian/Latin name for Dubrovnik) was a maritime republic that existed from 1358 to 1808. It reached its commercial peak in the 15th and the 16th centuries, before being conquered by Napoleon’s French Empire and annexed by the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy in 1808. It had a population of about 30,000 people, out of whom approximately 5,000 lived within the city walls that still stand today. Dubrovnik has suffered greatly from excess visitors (over 1.4million in 2019) and has recently reduced the number of cruise ships drastically in order to preserve the city.

Dubrovnik – Destination Complete

17th Sept 2022

So I am writing this sitting under the awning in Dubrovnik during heavy rain and a thunderstorm..! At least it is warm and YES.. we have achieved our target City of Dubrovnik. This is the first serious rainfall for any weeks which gives us some admin and blog time rather than lounging lazily on the beach..! 

When last we spoke we were leaving Ljubljana in Slovenia and heading over into Croatia. Well this was an interesting start… 30th August and our plan was to visit the Plitvice Lakes which are renowned for the crystal clear water and wonderful waterfalls. The campsite chosen was the relatively new Big Bear site which was in fact a little further away than we thought but it looked ideal, with great reviews and cheap at only 175 Kuna per night (£21). Trouble is… after a three hour drive and only 15km to go… a Road Closure sign appeared. The route to this side of the national park was simply closed. Barrier across and a Croatian ‘Diversion’ sign. Bugger. Well our amazing navigator managed to get the shortest route right around the park. Just another hour and a half and 50km…! And not the best quality of roads neither. Well this was about 3pm so as we eventually arrived at the Big Bear (along freshly laid tarmac). It appears that this whole stretch past the campsite was shut for 6 weeks from 8am-4pm to resurface the whole thing. If we had arrived at the ‘Diversion’ sign an hour later it would all have been open.. Damnit. This wasn’t the end of the story either. After watching other vehicles pass along this road the next day we decided that they must all be going through the roadworks as none turned back and there were very limited side roads.. so we decided to give it a go and try to drive through the roadworks. Wrong… after 5 km we came across the road builders who were decidedly excitable ‘There are huge signs’ he gesticulated ‘Road is closed’ as he rolled his eyes. However they gave us details of a small road half way back to the Big Bear. ‘It is big enough for the lorries’ he assures us. Well… we really did give it a go. It was like driving up a gravel track with Ruby grazing the greenery along both sides when we were met by a couple of Austrians in a car coming in the opposite direction. They stopped after we squeezed past and returned saying ‘Don’t do it’- ‘We have had to turn around’ ‘You will not do it in that’– Well hell. Thanks. That was the end of that then. Managed to conduct a twelve-point turn and returned back to the Big Bear for a day off and a nice meal in the restaurant. 

The next day we decided to leave at 7am and beat the road closure in order to get to the Plitvice Lakes. – Perhaps we should have done that in the first place..!

As mentioned the site was new, immaculately clean and just lacking in character (and customers) as it was so new.  Managed to get tons of washing done on the rest day too.. There were however dozens of chalets behind us containing Ukrainian Refugees. They were all families that were provided good quality temporary chalets and fed three times a day in the site restaurant. Very generous of the Croatians. 

We did manage to meet up with another rare British couple in a camper van. From Leeds. Wahey. We then watched as they stole a couple of white towels from the laundry room destined for the Ukrainians. Boooo. Typical. !

So eventually getting to Plitvice Lakes was worth the effort. There is lots to see and even though it is basically lakes and waterfalls it is a most interesting and beautiful several hours spent. Not cheap at 300Kn (£35) each and very, very, busy despite the weather being overcast. There are several ‘watering holes’ for basic food and drink though surprisingly many were closed. There was train (truck) transport around the outside and boat trips across the lake to add to the enjoyment, included in the price. A very worthwhile day out. 

Interestingly in all our travels we have not come across any exciting creatures/birds other than occasional newts (chitchats). Everywhere has pigeons, rooks, sparrows, seagulls and the odd buzzard or heron. The most exotic bird on our trip was the parakeets in Kent..!

This was quite a funny moment prior to going into the Plitvice Lakes park. We had to pop into a nearby shop for milk and eggs on the way and whilst I was waiting in the road outside some local Croatian bloke approached and asked in immaculate English if we could exchange 40 Croation Kuna for the £5 in British Coins he held out in his hand. ….Ok…. Strange….. Anyway after a short chat it turns out that every day people throw coins into one area of the lakes and Make a Wish. Yes…you got it…. the next morning at 7am he goes in and fishes all the coins out.! Cheeky Bugger. As we were one of only a few Brits around he took the opportunity to exchange his long-held grubby British coins. Brilliant. We even gave him a tip…!

Cheeky Chap

The 2nd September and we were wild camping at a lake near Lovinac. Place called Sveti Rock. We were joined by a young French couple in this large picnic area next to the lake. Free. Despite the fact we were told many times that this is not possible. It was a quiet night and next morning we awoke to a most wonderful of view of the mist hanging over the lake causing terrific silhouettes and shadows. This cleared quickly giving us a peaceful breakfast cuppa on the wooden jetty looking across to the mountains. Wonderful. 

However it was then back to the campsites and the excitement of (at last) getting to the sea. The first time during our four weeks on the road that we could exchange lakes for salt water. We pitched up at Camp Sibuljina at Tribanj  for 2 nights on 3rd Sept costing us 306 Kn (£17pn) per night. Already we were straight into the sea. Swimming in the Adriatic. Bit salty to be fair- after the lake swimming.!  The water was warm and soooooo green and clear. The mask and snorkel was brought quickly into action. Fish were numerous in type and size though somewhat bland in colouring. We did however watch a truly magical squid drifting from rock to rock changing colour as it went. – Only about 30cm long I might add- The campsite was fine with a good restaurant and what with only a 50 metre walk into the sea it was just what we needed. The Croatian coast was the area we intended to spend many days/weeks. 

Moving off again on 5th, we were headed off along the coast towards the Split area. We again needed provisions so planned on stopping in Sibenik for a Lidl shopping trip. Well the car park in the first one was too small for Ruby so we foolishly just followed the standard Google map (rather than the motorhome specific Aguri satnav) to find the second Lidl nearby. Well…… remember in previous blogs we mentioned how we always managed to drive anywhere without getting stuck… this time we slightly overdid it…! We headed down one rather narrow two way road when suddenly confronted by a tiny ‘no motorhome’ sign ! Well we had many cars behind and nowhere to turn so felt we had no choice to go on. Well suffice it to say that at one stage I was trying to do a twelve point turn at a junction with cars tooting from two directions, scooters squeezing past and Michelle standing behind trying to watch me back at the same time as gesticulating ‘f*** off’ to the  irritated local residents of Sibenik Old Town. Ooops. !  Comments like ‘You can’t come this way’ really didn’t help. Eventually after several minutes of anguish one English speaking guy says. ‘Don’t worry, you can get through there’- Pointing straight ahead. Good. Thank God. Tell you what though… we only just got through there. Wing mirrors pushed in, skimming past heavy stone walls and staring back at the bemused locals….was… entertaining. How we laughed. Later….!

The whole of Sibenik were a miserable, frantic, unhelpful bunch to be fair. Scary place. Even the security guard at the shopping mall carried a firearm….!

So we moved off from there and pitched up at our new home for what turned out to be 9 nights. We stayed at Camp Riviera in Makarska. This is a busy tourist town and our site was again right on the sea front, though with a massive 300metres to the sea. We really enjoyed the site as it was very clean and modern and despite costing 250Kn (£29) per night it was just what we needed and hoped for. In short we spent the vast majority of the time on the pebble beaches, in 28º + of mainly bright sunny days. Evenings were very warm and sufficient to sit outside in shorts right up to midnight. Black squirrels ran around the trees fighting and playing – though one particular rebel seemed to object to our presence and after a bit of aggressive posturing he jumped onto our canopy and (I believe) deliberately wheel spun up the length of it. Putting deep scratches along the top with his claws. Little bugga.! 

Black Squirrel

Snorkelling was again a thing along the rocks but a lot of our time was spent on two inflatable lilos purchased locally.  We would just paddle out to the row of bouys around the bay and just hang on whilst rocking up and down in the waves. And messing about doing the ‘stand-up’ challenge and trying an impossible ‘Eskimo roll’. The lilos are so so much fun and we remember fondly doing the same during our previous trip to Croatia nine years or so ago.The weather, the sea temperature and the beach were almost perfect. Maybe a bit too busy. You know we mentioned previously about fellow holiday makers getting too close unnecessarily.? Well its just crazy. ‘Move over a bit you clown’! There was one occasion we went onto a different bay that we later called Geriatric Beach. An old (90yrs) couple arrived and put their towels within inches of Michelle- literally. There was probably 80% of open beach available but they just plonked down and soaked up the sun. This did cause the child-in-me to get them back by standing in the way of the sun, plunging her into shadow..Ha..!

The slightly isolating part of this location was the lack of Brits. We usually enjoy that bit. However following on from the sad news of The Queen’s death on 8th September there was no one around that had any concept, understanding or feelings about this major national historic announcement. We put up our English Flag at half mast but it was not significant. There were NO Brits (or even Commonwealth countrymen) on the whole 100+ pitch site at the time of her death. It was three days before we had any condolences about the loss of Our Queen. This was from a Serbian Canadian family that we sat with during our next great adventure. Sad sad days. And a great loss. 

This next adventure was a trip to the islands of Hvar and Brac for the day from Makarska. An organised trip aboard the Makarski Jadran costing just 300Kn (£35 ) each for the day. This was an 8.30am to 6pm trip which included lunch (with wine !). it was really good value and a blast. We had wanted to visit the island of Brac and particularly the famous Bol beach and we had the added bonus of a visit to scenic Jelsa on the island of Hvar. 

So we were allocated seats which is where we met the fellow Commonwealth folk. Turns out that mum and dad were originally from Serbia but moved to Toronto before the Yugoslav Wars for independence. Their adult sons were born in Canada so the four of them were Canadian citizens. Nice chatty folk with a lot of useful info about the conflict and divisions in former Yugoslavia. After two hours on calm seas (including a brief dolphin encounter) we spent an hour in Jelsa then shipped out for an hour towards Brac. We were fed at this time with a choice of either fish or chicken. Well we had watched the chef barbecue loads of fish and chicken on the huge bbq grills at the stern. We were then presented with one whole but beautifully cooked mackerel, a lump of bread and a dollop of pickled cabbage. Bit basic.. but fit for purpose and ideal for the trip. Add a couple of mouthfuls of wine and things brightened up… The seagulls alongside seemed to love the fish-heads being flung overboard in what was clearly a daily occurrence. Incidentally the weather was brilliant. Blue sky, Emerald Sea, Rugged mountains and a gentle breeze.

On arrival at Brac we had 3.5 hrs to spend as we wished.  This involved a 20 min walk to the Golden Horn beach. It has the distinct advantage of having two stretches of beach facing east and west. You can pick the side that is not windy. Perfect. Well it was in fact perfect. We picked the east beach which was calm and watched the flags on the other side blowing full breeze. The sea temperature was ideal and the pebble beach cracking. Another period of swimming, lounging, swimming, lounging… There were three young lasses on the beach alongside us were dressed in red, white and blue bikinis. They just laid out for the whole three hours. So of course, for a jolly jape Michelle joined them, her red bikini exactly matching theirs. I was pretty impressed.! 

Our trip back to mainland Makarska turned into a singing and dancing frenzy enhanced by the occasional drink. The fun of the hundred or so of us singing and dancing to YMCA at full blast as we docked in the harbour certainly attracted a lot of attention. Bloody good day all in all. 

Now one of the downsides of this area is the critters. Not the flying mosquitos or the swarms of midges but the invisible silent stealth nibbly things that just chew away. You can feel them but see nothing so it leaves you believing all is well….but no… the little buggers just eat you night and day. So much so that one morning my ankle was running with infected secretions. ! I will spare you the photos.! (How come I always suffer with feet issues on our travels?). Anyway Mich for once managed to escape the worst of it despite being much tastier than me. A visit to the pharmacist had it sorted quickly, followed by an upgrade in our insect sprays, body sprays, room plug-ins and the lot. Its amazing that on our previous backpacking tour of Asia we didn’t use any insect repellent or sprays during two months. But we had to dig out all our resources here. Not a problem at all now…ONCE WE ARE SPRAYED..! 

We loved this location in Makarska so much that we stayed for 9 days. Mainly lounging in the sun and in the sea. Lunch or Dinner out most days with a healthy beer at some stage through the day. This was the exact World of Glenn and Michelle. Right up our street. At 250Kn per night (£29) we thought that was pretty fair.

Finally now it was time to hit the road again for our final push to our Dubrovnik destination. The high quality coast road is the D8 and called the Jadranska Majistrala or the Adriatic Highway. It pretty much runs the length of Croatia and beyond and bends and curves it way along the coast for mile after beautiful mile. Average speed of a relaxed 30mph or so but not many roundabouts or junctions to impede you. The eastern side of the Adriatic has a long line of mountainous islands running the length of Croatia north to south. So as you drive you are not only looking out so sea but also to ranges of mountains ten miles or so away. Breathtaking view after breathtaking view. On more than one occasion Ruby swerved across the lanes whilst the driver was checking the view. 

Another challenge along the route, which we were unaware of until Michelle put Dubrovnik into the satnav was that unfortunately someone had put Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) in the way..! You cannot drive straight into Dubrovnik as Croatia is split by B&H occupying some of the coast. The only way through is on the Neum Corridor through B&H for which we have no vehicle insurance for B&H and no EHIC insurance as it is not part of Europe. Bugger. How can no-one have told us this. ! What does everyone else do. ?? Well as it turns out… and by pure chance… the Croatians have just built the Plejesac Bridge which runs out to sea and across to a Croatian peninsula which then runs down to Dubrovnik. This was only opened six weeks prior to our trip and was a real bonus. The other option, it seems would have been to take a ferry round the tip of Bosnia and Herzegovina to stay legal. 

So anyhow… we made it… 14th September and we are now at the Camping Solitude site in Dubrovnik and the weather is grim, raining and thunderstorms, overcast and windy though hot through the day and with night time temperatures of 28º!  But hey. Watch this space. It is due to improve. 

Did you know… 

The Yugoslav Wars of independence, took place in the former Yugoslavia from 1991 to 2001.The conflict led to the breakup of Yugoslavia into six independent countries matching the six republics which previously composed Yugoslavia: 

  • Slovenia, 
  • Croatia, 
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina, 
  • Montenegro, 
  • Serbia, 
  • and North Macedonia (previously named Macedonia).

Dubrovnik or Bust – Austria and Slovenia

1 Sept 2022

On 22nd August we were headed south (our favoured direction) once again. This time headed from Titisee (chortle.!) and towards Austria. We were drawn towards Garmisch-Partenkirchen because we knew this was ski country and we like to visit hills… This was close to the Austrian border and within the Bavarian Alps. As expected the views were fantastic throughout the whole trip and we managed to park up on a site recommended – as usual – on one of our Apps. SearchforSites, Park4night or Campercontact. The site at Garmisch was excellent, partly because it was free (!) but it was welcoming and apparently safe in the car park of a Skischule at the bottom of a ski lift. (Getting to be a habit). So much so that we stayed over a second night. This was ideally placed, close to a railway station, the town centre and with incredible views 360º around us. You really cannot get this kind of view from many paid campsites and it was an absolute dream. We were joined overnight by another dozen other vans which added to the comfort feeling. Mind you.. they have the irritating habit of parking right next to you when there is a huge empty car park.  ‘Just bugger off will you!’ 

What with the dark sky, warm evenings and hot days this was pretty special. We walked into the busy Garmisch-Partenkirchen town centre on the first evening for a look round and a little beer and a Heidi Spritzer (?). Very nice too. Next day we took a long hike through the forests into the Alps for a 20km walk. This was well overdue exercise as we have spent a lot of time on the road. There was the added bonus of a ‘cafe’ after just 3 km giving us amazing views across the mountain ranges whilst we had morning coffee. And…. on our return we had a rather forgettable lunch salad thing with the same glorious views and we were brave enough to take on a beer as we had only a downward trek back to Ruby. Excellent.

The surprising thing we have found once we are getting further south is that most countries do not take card payment, contactless or otherwise. ‘Cash only’ is on lots of the signs and comments by staff. It appears that the banks still charge them loads down here for bank transactions so cash is King. Surprising. 

Also surprisingly there are very few Brits in motorhomes or camper vans in any of our sites or on the road… Where are they all ?

In addition to using technology we also speak to people……(yup) to find ideas and guidance. Often using sign language.  Regularly our plans change to fit the recommendation of fellow travellers. Valuable and current information is very useful and having the chat is part of the enjoyment really. A couple in this Skischule car park were Italian and provided top info. Part of which was ‘Do Not Go into Sviterland’ – ‘They will weigh you, and won’t let you go until you deposit any weight over the 3.5 tonnes’ – Michelle thought the answer was obvious- ‘Well…we can firstly empty out our water tanks and if that’s not enough hand Glenn two suitcases and invite him to walk to the railway station….!’  ‘What’..!

But anyway we now had to look to getting easy passage into Austria. Turns out that we not only needed a ‘Vignette’ (Basically a way of paying tolls for the whole country- but putting another damn sticker on the screen! ) at €9.60 (£8.27) but we also looked like we needed a Green Zone tag to drive along some of the main roads. After considerable time in research it appeared that this was only needed for large trucks. Though we were not at all sure. So the best thing to do….. just ignore it and crack on..! It seems to have been alright as we haven’t been stopped… We often wondered how the previous generations managed to travel through Europe without technology to help with maps and campsites. However we now need to think and plan for Vignettes and Green Zones for every town and country.

 The views into Austria across the Alps were once again bloody amazing. The temptation to stop at the inviting Lake Constance was huge but there are so many wonderful places to see, visit, stop at that we do sometimes just need to keep moving and slip quietly by. 

One such place that we couldn’t ignore however was Kitzbuhel. We had no real plans to stop here but I always had an image in mind about the kind of Austrian Tyrol I wanted to visit and as we arrived at Kitzbuhel we just had to throw out the anchor and pull over into the Schwarzsee Camp site. It was just on the outskirts and in the valley surrounded by cracking mountains in all directions. It was a hive of activity and we worried it would be fully booked. But as always seems to be the case, there are pitches to be had. Mostly no-one can book online which increases the chances of finding space. Trouble is this place cost a blood-curdling €54 per night (£47)..! Ouch. However on the good side there was a big pitch, with grass, a lake nearby, Kitzbuhel nearby, bus stop outside, a gym and sauna, an indoor swimming pool, excellent showers and toilet AND a very friendly, funny, site manager called Christian. Takes away a little of the pain. £££

Kitzbuhel itself is rather posh. Lots of Porsches with personalised plates, upmarket hotels and bars and many large areas of the Schwarzsee Lake hidden behind fences and gates. As you would expect at a ski resort of fame. 

This is now the 14th August, the weather is a very nice 25º and with blue skies. There have been many weeks when the forecast was for thunderstorms and heavy rain. Well each day arrives with some cloud but nice and hot. Occasionally there are distant thunderstorms rumbling but lovely weather throughout. 

So we had to do a trip to the top of the highest mountain, The Kitzbuheler Horn at 2000m high (6560ft). And no, we did not walk up this one. We cycled the 30 mins to the ski lift and took two rides up to the top which was breathtaking both physically and visibly. This was followed by dinner at the wonderful Gipfelhaus restaurant with views across the biggest mountains in the Alps. Surprisingly some with snow still on top in late August. This was a real highlight on our journey. Sitting atop the world in amazing conditions and amazing views. Wow.. We then slowly ambled down some 40 minutes to another ski lift for two more gentle rides back into Kitzbuhel. And.. a swim in the pool at the campsite.

Cow Trouble

We spent a couple of nights at this campsite despite the cost before then heading back south with Slovenia in mind. However we needed yet another Vignette for Slovenia at €15 from an MOT centre. We also took the opportunity of visiting another classy posh restaurant… McD’s…. Always love the occasional treat..!

So the 26th Aug and we needed another overnight stop before Slovenia so with the help of the CamperContact App found the terrific Schlaferhof Farm near Villach and the Slovenian border. Now we all know what to expect from a farm. Grass – yes, cows – yes, farmers – yes.. but this farm was on the hillside overlooking a big grassy valley with mountains across the other side and a river below. AND it only cost €14 for the night AND they added electric AND the lady farmer was friendly with information about the local cultures and relationships between neighbouring Hungary/Slovenia/Italy. It was a really relaxing evening as we sat outside in 18º stargazing and looking across the valley. Sooooo nice. And fresh milk with breakfast. 

Next morning we set off for Slovenia. A place we knew nothing about, other than they use €’s.. The language was a complete mystery as were the people and the cultures but all seemed OK and safe on arrival over the uncontrolled border. The road was quite exciting… the original motorway was extremely busy as this was basically the last weekend before all the kids go back to school. We were stuck (for once) in heavy stationary traffic with another option calling us.. ‘Go this way’ the signs said. Satnav agreed, but other signs said ‘no caravans’ – ‘no towing vehicles’ – ‘Wurzenpass 1000m climb’ – and then ominously ‘3.5 tonne weight limit’ ( in some foreign language.!). So obviously we took this route.!  No other vehicles did, they all sat in traffic on the motorway.. but we thought ‘We have just done the tightest, windiest, narrowest parts of the NC500 in Scotland- We Ruby can do this’..! Well, actually it turns out we can. Dead easy. Well apart from some very, very steep second-gear climbs, it was not bad at all. And far more exciting. 

So a short while later we had a failed visit to Jasna Lake in Slovenia. This lake had the misfortune of having no water in it..! This heatwave has been slightly problematic for some tourist areas..clearly. We therefore headed off to Bled. A lake that is mentioned as a ‘must-see’ location on any tourist routes. Our expectations were pretty low as a result of visualising loads  of tourists and tat. Add to this a car park campsite demanding €40 per night (though there was electric and water etc) and we were not too excited but hopeful. Well.. what a wonderful surprise. It was bloody marvellous. A real winner and yet another highlight already. Probably with the nicest, cleanest, turquoisest (not a word is it?), warm lake we have ever swum in. And there was free access in one area where wooden jetty’s made entry/exit easy into this crystal clear lake. 

So over the two days there we walked round the lake (7km), ate and drinked at the Devils Bar, ate the famous Bled cream cake, visited the castle on the hill and looked in awe at the church on the island in the centre of the lake. What a wonderful place. We were surprised that there were lots of Brits and English speakers in this area. Surprised because we still were not seeing ANY Brit motorhomes or camper vans. Anywhere on our travels beyond the Black Forest. It seems that most folk are staying in hotels and AirBnB’s etc plus many youths at hostels. We had a very pleasant chat with groups of backpackers whilst basking by the lake. 

We decided, whilst laying on the warm jetty between swims, that we would never leave this place. Ever. Twas perfick. But clearly we did. 

In addition…the cost of fuel in Slovenia was €1.64 (£1.39) rather than €2.04 (£1.74) in Germany and probably £1.80 in the UK at the moment. 

29th August and we headed over to the Slovenian capital Ljubljana. We were aware of a car park which was very close to the city centre and an easy walk in to the centre. However the car park was not as good as we have encountered previously and was scruffy and smelly. However it was only €12 inc elec for 24 hours so it was worth a go. We were not entirely comfortable but it was safe and quiet despite there being another ten or so motorhomes overnight. There was a very handy Mercator supermarket next door. We decided on arrival to pop into Ljubljana after dinner to do a recce prior to a full visit next day. Well it was good, nice enough with some fine buildings, a castle (as ever) and a river. It was quite a lively fun place despite this being a Monday evening so we had a pint alongside the river at an outdoor restaurant. We did decide however at this stage that there was probably not enough to excite us in Ljubljana the next day so we would head off to the next country instead. Croatia. 

Did you know….

The Alps are the highest at 4809m – 15800ft and the most extensive mountain range system that lies entirely in Europe, stretching approximately 750 mi (1,210 km) across seven Alpine countries (from west to east): France, Switzerland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, and Slovenia.

The Alpine arch generally extends from Nice on the western Mediterranean to Trieste on the Adriatic and Vienna to the east.

Mont Blanc spans the French–Italian border, and at 4,809 m (15,778 ft) is the highest mountain in the Alps. The Alpine region area contains 128 peaks higher than 4,000 m (13,000 ft).