The route – Croatia and BiH

I have added the third route page on the blog covering details of our trip from Italy through Croatia, brief visit to Bosnia Herzegovina (BiH), and back to Italy.
You will need to visit the blog to read the detail if you’re interested. For non-bloggers, click here and then on the Route page in the top right hand corner. Then click on underlined links (Croatia and BiH) for the detail.

The Croatian Adriatic coast is a great place for a ‘beach holiday’. It is geared up for tourism, mainly for German tourists of which there are many. You generally get greeted in German, but most people speak some English (and Italian). It has beautiful calm, clear water, great for swimming in. Although most people spend their time grilling themselves on the shore and only going into the sea for a cooling paddle. It’s a bit like Salthill on steroids (the Irish will know what I mean!) with great weather.
A lot of the coastal towns are beautiful (Dubrovnik, Split) but very crowded. They get a lot of Cruise ships.
You do get an underlying feeling that Croatia has sold its soul to the tourist. Great coast for the tourist less good for ‘the traveller’.

It’s worth going inland for a break and to get away from tourist pricing! It’s more mountainous, fewer people, more ‘real’.
BiH is even more so, mountainous, outdoor sports, poorer, less developed, hard to sum up given we only had 2 days, one night there … but it was certainly memorable.

Ignatius

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A tour of town car parks

24th June

There were a whole slew of towns in northern Italy we wanted to see, and as overnighting in Loreto’s car park had been so successful we decided to find car parks in each town, either ones mentioned in the Camperstop book or just any that would take campervans. Spent part of the evening at Loreto planning the next few days. What?? A plan?? That’s a first!

First stop was San Marino. What a funny little place this is! It’s an independent republic, claiming to be the oldest in the world. It’s tiny and mountainous. The city of San Marino is built on a crazily steep ridge, with three towers along the top. It’s rich per capita, and there was a good campervan park part way up the hill, from where you could take a series of lifts to the town centre. Spent a pleasant few hours wandering round, looking at the towers, having lunch etc.

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San Marino ridge

And then drove on to Ravenna. We’d picked out a camperstop near the town, by a beach, which we looked at first but the place was heaving and full of parasols and sunbeds and Italians away for the weekend so we went on to the town itself and found a suitable car park near the centre costing a couple of euro for overnight parking.

25th June

Unloaded the bikes and set off to explore Ravenna. An AA Gill article saved from about 2004 is what drew us here, and it was well worth the visit. Quiet but beautiful. You buy a ticket that gets you into all the main sights, and the thing to see is the Byzantine mosaics. Ravenna was briefly capital of the western Roman Empire, then got taken over by the east and it was then that its amazing mosaics were installed in several churches. Dante’s tomb is also here.

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Ravenna mosaics

Once we’d seen enough we moved on up the road to Ferrara, and once again found a cheap car park in a good site.

26th June

Bikes off again – it worked so well in Ravenna so we wanted to do the same thing again. Cycled round, checked out the market, toured the huge castle that’s right in the middle of town, and then rode our bikes round half of the town walls. They’ve turned the walls into a park with a wide gravel path running around the top of the ramparts, perfect for running or cycling along. Very enjoyable. In both Ravenna and Ferrara everyone cycles everywhere. The town centres are largely pedestrianised and totally flat.

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Ferrara castle
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View from top of Lion’s Tower, Ferrara castle

And then we moved onto the next town, Modena. Here we found a large free car park within walking distance of the town centre. As it seemed a little bit cooler we decided to walk into town that evening. Had a couple of beers out, and strolled around the pleasant cobbled medieval streets.

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Modena by night

27th June

We were rudely awoken early this morning by a loud bang at the back of the van. I assumed Ignatius was trying to swat a mosquito or something, as he bounded out of bed and out of the van. ‘Someone’s nicking your bike!’ he yelled, which got me out of bed pretty darn quick too. But the guy and his accomplice were already across the car park with my bike. I ran after them, in my skimpy pyjamas and flip flops. I had the idea if I got close enough and shouted enough they might just drop the bike and run off. But once they realised I was coming after them the git just pedalled off quickly, despite me screaming my best swear words at him. Meanwhile Ignatius had clipped up the bed, started the engine and driven after me. I hopped in and for a while we drove madly through town, with glasses rolling around the floor, the passenger seat facing backwards etc hoping to spot where my bike had gone. No luck. In the end we drove to a parking spot near the Ferrari museum, had breakfast, got dressed etc.

My bike was the one on the outside of the rack, locked to the next bike, and the gripper holding it to the rack was also locked. And there was a cover over the whole lot. They’d quietly unclipped the cover, undone the straps that hold the wheels to the rack, cut through the cable lock, then wrenched the bike out of the gripper – I think this was the bang we heard. Bastards.

We decided on balance we did not want to report the theft. Basically we felt the stress of finding the police station (the right police station – there are several different police forces in Italy), finding somewhere to park near it, making ourselves understood, filling in all the forms etc, was probably more hassle than it was worth. Actually I’m more upset at losing my lovely Madison saddle I’d had since 1985 that was on my bike, than losing the bike itself. But it was all a bit upsetting, especially that it could happen while we were sleeping.

We debated giving up on Modena and just moving on, but decided not to let the thieving bastards totally spoil our day. So when the Ferrari museum opened we went in for a look at various models of Ferraris through the years. It’s on the site of Enzo Ferrari’s family home and workshop. Then we walked into the town centre, visited the market to buy some Balsamic vinegar and the Duomo.

Then we headed out of town via a branch of Decathlon. I bought a new bike for 200 euro – totally different to my last one but more suitable for pootling round towns which is all we’re doing by bike on this trip. To be honest I’d discovered a cyclocross is not the best bike for town cycling, and was still suffering a loss of confidence since my fall in Zadar. So maybe my new black town bike (Ignatius calls it my Ferrari since it was bought in Modena!) will be better for the rest of this trip.

Drove on to Mantua which for some reason is also known as Mantova. We had actually meant to go to Parma next, but decided to cut it out after what happened in Modena. Mantua’s a lovely little town, surrounded on three sides by lakes. Another free car park, by the lakeside. We arrived in time to give my new Ferrari a trial run. There’s a gorgeous track following the shoreline so we cycled around that, then into the medieval town centre. Had a look at a couple of churches then realised it was dinner time, so we had a meal out before cycling back to the van. I think me and the Ferrari are going to be friends.

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With my new bike, by the lake in Mantua

So, for a day that started out so badly, we managed to pack a lot in, in the end.

28th June

As we’d seen the town yesterday we spent a while researching campsites around Lake Garda, then drove up that way. The weather forecast was for a stormy afternoon and evening and we wanted to get settled before that came over.

So here we are, in a nice campsite by the western shores of Lake Garda (much better than those Adriatic coast ones) and planning to stay a few days. Since arriving back in Italy we’ve not spent more than one night at the same place, and it gets quite tiring! One storm has been over already but there may be more tonight. Hope we get cooler weather afterwards!

Car parks vs campsites – the former are much cheaper and better for town centre exploration. But as we found to our cost, are not always secure. We like a mix. Will be very happy to spend the next few days in a fully equipped campsite.

Speakie di english

Many years ago, I moved on from speaking pidgin English slowly in a loud voice as a means of communicating when in non-English speaking countries. I needed a new strategy. As languages was never a strong attribute I tended to concentrate on body language and hand gestures … with the odd strategic word. Mind you the ‘odd strategic word’ was often close but not the right one. Like asking for dessert at midnight rather than in a minute (minuit/minute). Or rather than asking for a draught beer, asking for the beer to be served quickly (pression/pressé) … and then taking an age to drink.

I find if you’re not ‘frying your brain’ trying to think of the right word, tense, sentence etc. you can more easily spot if you’re on the same wavelength with the person you’re trying to communicate with. Having said that my much improved French and a smattering of Italian words has helped.

Having spent most of our time in Italy so far, Kath has done a lot of the talking. Her Italian is much better than mine! However I often initiate the conversation with an eclectic mix of English, French, Italian and occasionally the odd Gaelic word (not sure it helps!) before Kath comes to the rescue with at least a reasonable chance of understanding the Italian replies.

It can sometimes be frustrating if you’re hot, tired and just want something (i.e. toddler mode!) but most of the time it’s challenging and fun ‘having a go’ at the language of the country you’re visiting.

I swear I’m going to use the Italian word ‘prego’ loads when I get back to UK, it’s just such a useful word.

Hvala (Croatian for thanks).

Ignatius

 

Back to Italy…earlier than planned!

18th June

The last diary blog said we were heading off to Montenegro. Shortly after writing that we wondered whether Montenegro was in the EU (it isn’t, yet) and therefore whether our motor insurance and breakdown cover would cover travel in that country (they don’t).  We could possibly have phoned the insurers and paid for extra cover, or done something at the border, but you know what, I’d have been worried throughout. There were other issues with going to Montenegro too (phone package doesn’t cover it, ferry timetable from Bar) and in the end we decided to check out ferries from Dubrovnik. The next ferry was due the next day at 12pm – perfect. So we booked ourselves on it, and decided to leave Montenegro for some future trip.

I’m a little disappointed but would rather feel relaxed about travelling knowing we have cover. We’ve already called the AA twice (for the battery and then the puncture) this trip!

So the 18th was spent mostly on the 7.5 hour crossing from Dubrovnik to Bari. Beautiful scenery sailing out of Dubrovnik. We chatted to another English couple who’d been at the same campsite for part of the trip, had a long lunch, played cards, I edited part of my book etc. Not the most salubrious of ships but comfortable enough.

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Sailing out of Dubrovnik, on board the Dubrovnik

Arriving in Italy we then drove to Matera – a place we’d read about in the book and had missed when here before. Got there late, parked at a truck stop for the night. Which was fine until the trucks started leaving at 4am, all beeping their horns at each other…

19th June

Moved the van to a car park dedicated to campervans in the middle of Matera, then went off on foot to explore. It’s a fascinating place – up till the 1950s many people lived in caves here. Now a lot of those dwellings are shops, museums, curiosities. We enjoyed wandering around, up and down steps, in and out of cave churches and houses. There are a few that have been furnished to look as they would have been 100 years ago.

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Matera

When we’d seen enough it was back in Gertie and a long drive back to the coast, and into the Gargano peninsula. If Italy is a boot, Puglia the heel, this peninsula (part of Puglia) is the spur on the heel. It’s mountainous, unlike the rest of Puglia, so slow driving around the coast but some amazing scenery. We found a layby with a fantastic view, and free-camped there for the night.

I heard in the UK there was a heatwave. We are also melting – temperatures going up to mid thirties and only down to about 25 at night.

20th June

Time for a campsite visit to get some washing done. There was one near Vieste, at the tip of the peninsula. The coast here is flatter and there are loads of campsites and holiday villages. It was only a short distance from where we’d spent the night so we got there early, nabbed the washing machine and got it all done. Went for a swim. The sea this side of the Adriatic is not as clear as in Croatia, but the beaches are sandier. Also on the promontory was a trabucco – a weird fishing contraption. Loads of poles lashed together with rope to support a net which can be angled according to the currents to catch fish. This one relied on tourist-power to wind it up as far as I could see. We watched it in use in the evening.

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Trabucco

21st June

We’d planned a driving route around the coast and then through the interior of the Gargano. All very twisty and turny and pretty in the hills. The flatter parts of the coast are occupied by a succession of tourist resorts and sandy beaches. Some looked pleasant others a bit regimented.
We left the Gargano peninsula and headed up the Adriatic coast, on the coast road rather than the motorway. Endless resorts and beaches filled with rows of sunbeds and parasols. The Italians do seem to like their beaches regimented. Ended up at Matinatta where our Camperstop book suggested there was a beach car park where campers could park overnight. Found it and it was free. We ended up having a very pleasant late afternoon and evening here, chilling, having a swim, then late evening a drink at the beach bar. Sometimes you can pay loads of money for a four star campsite and hate it, and other times pay nothing for a spot under a tree in a perfectly sited car park and have a really good time. You don’t know what you’ll get until you’re there.

22nd June

The sun was directly on the van in the morning, waking us up early with the heat. We drove a little way up the coast to Vasto for a brief look at the town. There’s a church doorway that’s of interest – just the doorway, the rest of the church collapsed in a landslide but they kept the end wall and its ornate door in place, with a view across to the sea.

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Church door. Me very hot – over 30 and not yet 9am.

Drove on up the Adriatic coast. It’s an endless succession of rather tatty beach resorts, each with hundreds upon hundreds of beach loungers and umbrellas, all in regimented strips and colour-coded to match the hotel or campsite they belong to. We don’t do the sit-on-beach-and-fry thing, so these places really don’t appeal.

Nevertheless, somehow we ended up at a campsite right on the beach with its own set of loungers and evening entertainment. The campers were packed in. We got the sheets washed (main reason for wanting a campsite) and grumbled about the small pitches and noise level and heat.

And then realised that our fridge was not working. A couple of days ago it had seemed warm in the morning after a night on mains electric then cooled down ok when running off battery (when driving) and gas (when free-camping). We’d assumed there’d been a power cut at the campsite overnight. But when it happened again we realised the fridge must be faulty. The campsite technician came to take a look, but he was no Giorgio or Salvo (those wonderful Sicilians who helped with our battery and then puncture problems). Campsite reception recommended a campervan sales/hire/repair shop just up the road who might be able to help.

So we spent an evening grumbling, had a swim, cooked a barbecue dinner and grumbled some more.

23rd June

Packed up (despite having booked in for 2-3 nights) and drove the short distance to CamperLike to see if we could get our fridge mended. Spent the morning hanging around the showroom looking at every gadget, gizmo and accessory they had to offer, and finally got a fixed Gertie back at 1pm, leaving us 200 euro worse off. Apparently some resistor thingie had failed, and the part cost 125 euro. Rest was labour.

Drove further up the Italian Adriatic coast which was just more ugly towns and packed beaches. Talk about overdeveloped. Oh I am such a grumpy old woman – shouldn’t be, because here I am on long leave travelling round Europe in a campervan and honestly the experience is amazing and I am loving it… on the whole!

Reached Loreto. Ignatius was taught by Loreto nuns at some point in his childhood, and here’s where the order began. But the most interesting thing in the town is the house where Jesus spent his childhood, which was transported here from Nazareth by angels… so the story goes. They’ve built a massive basilica around it and it’s now a major place of pilgrimage for Catholics. So inside the huge and ornate church there’s a little brick building, surrounded by ornately carved marble. Apparently there’s some documentary evidence that the house was brought here by ship during the Crusades by the Angeli family, and some archaelogical evidence that it might have once been attached to the cave in Nazareth which is also supposed to have been Jesus’s childhood home. Believe what you will. It’s an unusual sight.

We’re parked for the night in a car park just outside the town walls. It’s a hilltop town and there is a delicious breeze and not a bad view. Stuff those coastal seaside towns.

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Not a bad place to spend the night.

 

Randomness.

In planning our trip I went through phases of cutting out newspaper articles relating to Motorhomes/touring/destinations and kept them for future reading.
With the development of the Internet information went from being often difficult to find, to being really easy, back to being difficult to find due to overload! My view of these newspaper articles followed suit, useful, not really that useful, back to being useful again.
So it was with curiosity that I read one of these ‘saved’ articles entitled ‘moving house’ looking at the pros and cons of life on the open road. It looked at a family who resigned their jobs, bought a Motorhome and went on the road for a year. It was interesting to read their experiences of buying a Motorhome, planning the trip and their travels. A lot of chuckling with empathy.
It did strike me as a little odd that I’m reading this article on the ferry from Croatia to Italy, two and half months into our trip. Not so much where or when I’m reading it but the fact that the article is from The Guardian, dated 19.04.03. Its a newspaper cutting from over 14 years ago! It has survived a house move, numerous tidies (well Kath would say not that many tidies!!) and managed to get taken on our trip.
It goes to show both my information gathering and retention, not to mention packing, seems a little random! But it was a good article, I enjoyed reading it and it shows we were planning our trip from the early 2000s.

“Motorhomes offer the opportunity to condense your lives into one self-contained travelling room” and explore the world at your leisure.

Ignatius

Back to Croatia

Just checked the last words of the last diary blog – something about never forgetting our one night in Bosnia-Hercegovina. Prophetic words – there was an earthquake later that night. We both woke around 1am to a loud rumble and the van shaking. Didn’t last long. In the morning Sandra (campsite owner) told us it measured 4.1 on the richter scale, and the epicentre was pretty nearby. It’s the first earthquake we’ve experienced.

14th June

We drove up into the mountains, via the Catholic pilgrimage site of Medugorje, and on to the Kravica waterfalls. These are not as spectacular as the Plitvice Lakes, but have the huge advantage that you can swim in the pool beneath them. It was cool, refreshing and totally delicious swimming there. We stayed a while, had lunch, and then drove on, out of Bosnia-Hercegovina by a very scenic and interesting route.

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Kravica falls – that’s me there, standing on a rock

If you look at a map you’ll see there’s a bit of Bosnia that goes down to the coast, splitting Croatia in two. After having had a bit of trouble entering Bosnia we did not want to leave it then have to re-enter it to get through to Dubrovnik, so we planned a route that led down that land corridor to the coast, then out of Bosnia. Clearly though it’s not a well-used route. The road surface was worthy of Sicily and it was single track with sporadic passing places. Didn’t see much other traffic thankfully!

Back in Croatia, on good roads, we headed towards Dubrovnik and stopped at a campsite about 16km north of the city.

15th June

Dubrovnik’s been high on our list of must-see places. I was fearful that after so many gorgeous medieval walled towns it would be just another such, but no – it’s in a league of its own and well worth a visit. Despite extensive damage in the 1990s wars, it’s been fully restored. The walls are complete and you can walk around the top of them, and the streets are very pretty. Several areas around the city have been used as locations for filming Game of Thrones, and we tried to find some of these. Visited a few museums, had a very nice lunch out.

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On the Dubrovnik city walls
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Dubrovnik rooftops

The day was very warm and humid which made the visit less comfortable than I’d have liked but we really enjoyed it. Took a bus from outside the campsite to get there and back which was a good no-hassle way of doing it!

16th June

A day of future planning. As we’re heading into Montenegro and that’s outside Vodafone’s roam-free area, we thought we should find campsites, plan a route etc while we still have access to the internet (it’ll be £3 a day for pretty limited data allowance in Montenegro and I’ll want to save that for Google maps!) So we spent a lot of the day online, planning. I also did some writing.

Down a steep hill from the campsite is a small beach and cafe, so we had a swim and lunch there. Very refreshing, but walking back up the hill made us too hot again!

17th June

We had planned to move on today to Montenegro but we rather like this campsite so decided to spend one more day here. It’s lunchtime as I write this, and if all goes to plan it’ll be the last blog entry until we’re back in Italy in about a week, after taking the ferry from Bar to Bari.

Lazy days then on to Bosnia-Hercegovina

June 10th

That campsite outside Split was truly lovely. Everything (except perhaps the shower heads if I’m being picky) was spot on. We spent the first day there lounging around, catching up on chores and generally relaxing, but also had a swim in the sea and breakfast at the campsite restaurant. strobeccampsite.jpg

June 11th

Cycled into Split. First time on the bike since my fall in Zadar and I’ll admit I had lost some confidence. It was about 8km from the campsite to Split town centre, along a country road with some hills to start with (and we got chased by a dog which didn’t help!) and then the route was along a beach front road before entering the city.

We locked up the bikes and went around the old parts of the city on foot as usual. Split’s interesting in that the old Roman retirement palace built by Emporer Diocletian is still in use – filled with shops, restaurants and businesses, obviously parts of the buildings are more modern but all use parts of the original Roman walls etc. Fascinating place to wander around.

Cycled back to the campsite at Strobec via a slightly different route which avoided the dog. And then straight in the sea to cool off – it was a really hot day. Temperatures have been creeping up and up and are now around 30 during the day. We ate the evening meal at the campsite restaurant.

June 12th

Another day of lazing around the campsite. I have some writing edits to get on with so I do need the time! But of course we did go in the sea again.

June 13th

Time to move on. After calling at a shopping mall for some food we drove via the coast road then through the mountains, into Bosnia-Hercegovina. At the border we had to show passports then were asked for our ‘green card’ – something to prove we had insurance. Hmm. We don’t have one. We showed our insurance certificate. Lots of discussion amongst the border officials (who were holding our passports) then one said perhaps we give him something ‘for coffee’. Ignatius realised the lay of the land, said well we don’t have to go into Bosnia, perhaps we’ll just go back to Croatia, and at that the official decided we could progress after all.

We drove on to Mostar. Huge difference between coastal Croatia (very busy, touristy, a little bit ‘fake’) and Hercegovina (the southern part of Bosnia-Hercegovina). Here you can tell it’s much poorer, less tourist money coming in, still scarred by the 1990s wars. It reminded me in parts of Sicily, whereas the rich Croatian coast is more like the south of France only full of Germans.

At Mostar we paid an arm and a leg to park near the Stari Most (Old Bridge – the one that was built in the 16th century, blown up by the Croats in 1991 then reconstructed in 2004). Wandered through the old town on slippery cobbles, over the bridge, had a look in a museum which screened a video about the rebuilding of the bridge, and generally sweltered under the unforgiving sun. mostar.jpg

Headed out of town southwards where we found a lovely little campsite by the river. The woman (Sandra) who runs it is very friendly, offered us beers on the house. We chatted to her for a long time. She has an Irish friend and on hearing Ignatius is Irish came out with ‘céad míle fáilte’ which was not a phrase we expected to hear in Bosnia-Hercegovina. She used to work at Medugorje – a Catholic pilgrimage site where the Virgin Mary appeared to a bunch of children back in 1981 – and on hearing Ignatius’s mum has been there insisted on giving us a little gift to pass on when we come home. I’ve rarely known a welcome as friendly as this at any campsite. This is likely to be our only night in this country but it’s not one I’ll forget.