Buongiorno Italy…. .

It was an interesting ferry trip across to Bari from Dubrovnik.  We waited in the queue to be directed but when no direction was forthcoming, and several other vehicles seemed to be making their way to border control, we got out to investigate.  Apparently we were supposed to have been down to the Jadrolinja Ferries office a few hundred metres away to collect our boarding passes and then we could get in the queue for border control.  How were we supposed to know that?

Having got our boarding passes we then waited forever in the queue at border control.  In our queue it seemed to be taking about ten minutes per vehicle to get the passports and vehicle V5 document checked.  We’ve never been asked for the V5 before and I’m not sure what they actually do with them but the border man was tap tap tapping away on his computer.  Finally through border control we were directed on which lane to queue up in.  Lorries to the left, everybody else to the right.

The lorries were loaded first but oh look, they’re going on backwards.  Every last one of them.  Oh joy, it looked like we would be reversing onto the ferry then.  Yep, other than a few cars everyone went on backside first.  There was only one way in and one way out of the ferry.  Thankfully by the time it was our turn the bowels of the boat were pretty much full and just a fairly short reverse was required.  Just as well it was Tim doing the driving as my reversing is hopeless.  In all the ferries we have been on we have never been packed in so tight. It was all a little too close for comfort.

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We have never before been packed in this tight on a ferry!

On board we felt like we had stepped back in time by thirty years.  In the late 80’s and early 90’s we made several trips to France with Brittany Ferries from Plymouth to Roscoff and the boat felt like the same vintage.  I even said at the time ‘I bet Jadrolinja bought this boat off Brittany Ferries’ as there were a few French safety signs still lurking about.  So, I’ve just looked it up and Wikipedia reliably informs me that Jadrolinja did in fact buy the MF Dubrovnik from Brittany Ferries who had owned it from 1989 to 1996.  It was built in 1979 in Ireland for a UK company.  So there we are a nice useless piece of information for you.  It’s no wonder a blog post takes me so long to write when I get side tracked all the time.

Rolling off the ferry in Bari it was disorganised chaos as we were directed into oncoming traffic coming off another ferry which had just docked.   They went to border control to the left of our ferry whilst we went to border control to the right of theirs.  Once again getting through border control took an age but we were finally waved through by a man sporting jeans, casual jacket, shades and a big gold sheriffs’ badge pinned to his jumper.  All very Miami Vice!

Once out of the port the fun began.  We knew coming into a port city in Italy would be a challenge but you do really need six pairs of eyes to keep track of the potholes in the road, mopeds screaming up the inside, overtaking cars, cars coming at you on the wrong side of the road, pedestrians ambling across the road, road works and hundreds of billboards and signs.  It wasn’t really the best time for our free sat nav app to have an off day but an off day is what she had.  After sending us in the wrong direction back towards the city for a second time I switched her off with a quick jab.  We finally managed to get clear of the city and its suburbs using the Maps.Me app.  I know I mention that app many times but it has been a life saver.

We arrived at a Sosta (Italian aire) at the Area Masseria Rodogna visitor centre outside Matera after a sixty five kilometre bone shaking drive, much of it in driving rain, feeling a bit jaded and wishing we’d just stayed at Bari port to depart on the next available ferry to Greece.

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The sosta at the ‘Area Masseria Rodogna’ visitor centre on the other side of the gorge from Matera.  Paulo, the centre manager, was very helpful providing a street map of the city and marked a walking route on it for us to follow. He also runs a mini bus service into Matera for €1.50 each way.

But what a difference twenty four hours makes.  I hadn’t done any research on Matera.  I hadn’t even downloaded the Rough Guide to Italy at that point.  I had just picked the sosta from the good reviews it had on the Camper Connect App.  The consensus of opinion was that it was a beautiful area and a beautiful town.  We didn’t realise what a treat we were in for.  Sometimes doing no research and having no preconceived ideas about a place is a really good thing.  And so it proved with Matera.  We were quite simply mesmerised by the sheer scale of the place set on the edge of a gorge.

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The sheer scale of Matera is immense.

Benedictine Monks built rock-hewn churches and monasteries into the stone, now called the Sassi (literally meaning ‘stones’), during the Middle Ages.  Later the 1500 or so cave dwellings were taken over and dug deeper by peasants and farmers seeking safety from invasions.  The people lived alongside their livestock in their underground homes.

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Inside one of the caves in the Sassi.

By the 1940’s, though, Matera was seen as ‘the shame of Italy’ with masses of people living in the Sassi in squalor and poverty.  In the 50’s twenty thousand Sassi-dwellers were forcibly removed from their underground homes and rehoused in modern districts in the new town.  The Sassi was abandoned and left to the ravages of nature.

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The abandoned Sassi is slowly being restored again.

In the late 1950’s a group of students, who had grown up in the town, founded a cultural club to set about discovering Matera’s past.  Over the years the group identified over one hundred and fifty cave churches concealing priceless Byzantine frescoes.  As the students grew older and became lawyers and politicians and businessmen they lobbied for funding to restore the Sassi and by 1993 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It will also be the European Capital of Culture in 2019.

P1100384.JPGHomes, B&B’s, hotels, restaurants and workshops now make up a large part of it with restoration still ongoing.  It easily made it into our top ten spectacular sites on our trip.

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Cute little homes.

Next we trundled the seventy kilometres east to the village of Alberobello making a Lidl and Launderette pitstop along the way.

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I know washing is dull and mundane to most people but when you have three weeks of washing to do and you just happen to spot a sign pointing to a self service launderette like this one with ample parking you kind of get deliriously happy! 

The area surrounding Alberobello is home to over 1500 trulli. 

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A terrace of Trulli in Alberobello.

Unique to the Puglia region the origins of these mortarless dwellings are obscure but it is generally thought that the dwellings, lived in by people working the land, could easily be pulled down when the tax inspectors arrived thereby saving their feudal lords some dosh.

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Many of the Trulli have been restored but a fair number are still in need of a fix up.

The drive over to Alberobello was very picturesque with the little pointy houses, some with large extensions, dotting the farming landscape enclosed by neat low dry stone walls.

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Trulli rooftops in Alberobello.

Many of the trulli in Alberobello have been taken over by tourist shops with a growing number being snapped up for holiday homes.  You won’t find a bargain though as they aren’t cheap.

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€225,000 for a Trulli.

On the way to Ostuni, or ‘white city’, as it is known we had our worst narrow street encounter on the trip so far.  As co-pilot I wasn’t paying attention when I should have been and didn’t realise until it was too late that the sat nav was taking us through the historic centre of Cisternino.  No going back – it was one way.  All we could do was breathe in and hope for the best.  Nope not enough room without hopping onto the pavement being mindful of over hanging balconies and steps up to front doors.  The only problem was we couldn’t get enough angle to get both the front and back wheel up the kerb and the back wheel persisted in sliding along the kerb with Ollie’s back end skewing out getting closer and closer to the parked cars.  Nope still not enough room as one car had been abandoned in a space with the front end on the pavement and the back end sticking out into the road.  By this time we’d drawn quite a crowd of onlookers and were being beeped at by the increasing line of traffic building up behind.  No pressure then.  Just when we thought we weren’t in a position to either go forwards or backwards without damage to us or the other vehicles the owner of the sticking out car arrived and very helpfully nudged it a few inches further onto the pavement so we could get by.  Once clear we pulled over as soon as we could to let the queue of cars past and for us to breathe out again and regroup!  It was a close one.  Hopefully never to be repeated.  Until the next time!

After tackling the most complicated parking metre ever known to man at a carpark in Ostuni we had a think about our next plans.

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Ostuni – also known as ‘the white city’.
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Piazza della Libertà.
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The ancient streets of Ostuni’s old town.

Do we want to spend any more time in Italy?  If not, where for winter?  Greece, Sicily or Sardinia?  Greece was on the loose plan when we set out on season 2 back in April.  We were just forty kilometres from Brindisi where we could get a ferry.  Mmm, too tempting.  Yep, let’s do it.  Greece here we come……….the rest of Italy will have to wait for another time.

Arrivederci Italy!

Down to Dubrovnik…. .

After a couple of nights in Orebić it was time to make our way along the Pelješac peninsula towards Dubrovnik.  What a glorious drive.  Well, it was for me being the passenger with my head swinging left and right totally spoilt for choice on spectacular views.  Tiny villages dot the hillsides and sheltered coves reveal themselves on the rugged coastline down below the main road.  There are a surprising number of vineyards along the sixty kilometre stretch between Orebić and Ston.  Considering the rocky landscape it’s amazing that it’s viable but I guess all that sunshine helps.  Apparently Croatia’s finest red wines come out of this area.  Olives also are in abundance as are oysters and mussels.  It’s a beautiful area that isn’t really developed at all.

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The Pelješac peninsula.

We made a pit stop for a few hours at Ston.  Three kilometres of fourteenth century defensive stone walls, built by the Dubrovnik Republic to protect Ston’s saltpans from predators, climb up and over the hillside from Ston to Mali Ston.  They are quite a sight and the pictures don’t really do justice to how steep they are.

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The Fourteenth Century walls between Mali Ston and Ston.

More spectacular scenery accompanied us on the remainder of the journey to Dubrovnik.  The coastal road hugs the steep hillside in lots of places giving cracking views across to several islands and down onto Dubrovnik itself.  There isn’t much choice for open campsites at this time of year near Dubrovnik with just a couple open.  We pitched up at Camping Matkovica which is about ten kilometres east of the city.  It is small which suits us and has a large Konzum supermarket across the road.  There are several bus options into Dubrovnik too.  It would have been nice to take a boat to Dubrovnik approaching the city walls of the old town from the water but they’d stopped for the season a few days before we got here so the bus it had to be.

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The bay a few minutes walk from Camping Matkovika at Srebreno, 10km east of Dubrovnik.
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Derelict holiday apartments a ten minute walk from Srebreno which, I assume, were never finished.
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In contrast, a swanky new development the other way from Srebreno.

Billed as the jewel in Croatia’s crown Dubrovnik is its most popular tourist destination. It is also doubles as ‘Kings Landing’ in the Games of Thrones series and has featured in Star Wars and Robin Hood.

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Looking across to the walls of Dubrovnik old town from Lovrijenac Fort.

It’s on the itinerary of many cruise ships so we steeled ourselves before going in for it to be heaving.  According to an article in the Telegraph newspaper earlier this year 529 cruise ships called in at Dubrovnik in 2016 bringing 799, 916 passengers with them.  It goes on to say that generally passengers have only three hours from docking to disembarkation which means the whole contents of the ship descend on the old town en masse.  UNESCO, concerned about the number of visitors, has warned that the City’s World Heritage status is at risk.  In response a plan to limit numbers visiting the old town to eight thousand has been implemented.  Don’t ask me how they count them though.

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Pile Gate.

We arrived on the bus to see two enormous cruise ships parked up in the harbour.  Meh.  Thankfully though, once away from the Pile Gate and the Stradun (main street) it was very quiet.

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Stradun (main street) within the city walls.

By the time we arrived back in the Stradun after spending a couple of hours exploring the alleys and hidden away places that no-one else seemed to go to it had quietened down considerably and our fears of being crushed by the hordes had been unfounded.

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City walls from the harbour.
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Walls from the harbour again.
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Pretty courtyard away from the main street.
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The days washing viewed from below.
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Businesses aren’t allowed to display conspicuous shop signs so their names are inscribed on lanterns hanging over their doorways. 
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Very quiet away from the main drag.

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I love the narrow alleyways radiating out from the centre.
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Rooftop view – the old town suffered during the 1991 – 1995 war but reconstruction was undertaken swiftly afterwards and is evidenced by the brighter orange roof tiles.
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City walls.

Meanwhile in other news Tim has been whiling away a bit of time with his magnet.  The latest spoils are pictured below.

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What a haul.

I also have to fess up to having a little go myself.  It is quite addictive and I’m sure we will soon end up with ‘his’ and ‘hers’ magnet rigs before too long.

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I wanted a piece of the action.

The locals are a bit bemused by it all though which is understandable but neither of us are cut out for ‘proper’ fishing.

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My first catch.  No marine animals were harmed hauling in this catch!

So what’s next?  We’ve pretty much reached the end of the line here in Croatia with the border of Montenegro to the east and Serbia-Herzegovina to the north.  With no insurance for either of those countries we have two options. The first would be to retrace our wheels and head back up the Croatian coast but we don’t much fancy going back on ourselves.  The second is to catch a ferry from Dubrovnik sailing across the Adriatic to Bari on the coast of Italy.  Taking into account we’ll be looking for warmer climes throughout the winter months, we’ve booked the ferry across to Bari which leaves tonight.  Whoop!   In fact, I’m sitting at the ferry port now uploading this blog post.

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Ollie in the queue for the ferry to Bari, Italy.

This then gives us several options for the colder months.  The choices (all by ferry) are Greece, Sicily or Sardinia or a combination of two or three.  We think it is going to be Greece but, as always, we are keeping our options open and we’ll see how we feel when we get across to Italy.  I don’t think the ferries are going to be booked out at this time of year so there won’t be any need to book well in advance.

Time will tell.

Doviđenja Croatia!

From Yorkshire to Croatia…. .

My quick flit back to Yorkshire to visit my parents came and went in a flash and I’m now back in sunny Croatia.  I’d had a lovely week being thoroughly spoiled.  Days out, meals out and trips to the library!  Tim was able to luxuriate in the silence of my absence.  I’m sure he needed it.  After all, I can get on my own nerves.

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York Cathedral taken from the city walls.
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York city walls.
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York railway museum.
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My ‘office’ in Harrogate library.

Mum packed me off with a box of Yorkshire Tea, a tin of Heinz Spaghetti and a Pork Pie from their village shop for Tim and a magnet (more on that later).  What can I say, our needs are small!

As it was the last Jet2 flight to Croatia for the season I was one of only four passengers on the plane back to Split.  Us passengers only out numbered the cabin crew by one.

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Just four passengers on the plane!

After take-off I moved up and down the plane looking out of different windows revelling in the novelty of it all and had more leg room than I knew what to do with.  It was a bit of a treat as normally, because I don’t pay extra to book a particular seat, I am in the aisle with no hope of seeing out of the window and even if I could see anything the wing of the plane is always in the way.

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Coming into Split.
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Tim enjoying his pork pie brought back from the Uk.
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Camping Stobreč.

After a few more days in Split it was time to decide on where to go next.  We want to see Dubrovnik but a little twenty kilometre stretch of coast between Split and Dubrovnik (the Neum Corridor) belongs to Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is the second shortest coastline in the world.  Monaco is the other one.

Back in the late 17th Century, the city-state of Dubrovnik, afraid of a Venetian invasion, gave away this tiny strip of land to the Ottoman Empire, giving itself a buffer against Venice.  Following the break up of Yugoslavia in 1991 the newly independent Croatia was effectively chopped in two. This little strip of coastline in Bosnia-Herzegovina, then, cuts off Croatia’s southern most territory from the rest of the country.

But why am I telling you all this?  Well, inconveniently, Ollie is not insured to put his wheels in Bosnia-Herzegovina.  We are only insured to drive in EU member countries.  As much as it would be tempting to ‘wing it’ and scoot through the Neum Corridor we don’t think it is worth risking a huge fine, Ollie being impounded or worse an accident.  There probably are ways and means of getting the insurance cover but we’d just prefer to find an alternative route.

Conveniently a ferry will take you from Ploče, 110km down the coast from Split, to Trpanj which sits on the sticky out bit of coastline that is attached to Dubrovnik.  All we would then need to do is drive the 130 kilometres to Dubrovnik.  Problem solved.  We left Split then and drove for three hours along the coastal road to Ploče.  And very scenic it was too.

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The Makarska Riviera between Brela and Gradac on the way to Ploče. 

We purchased a ticket at the ferry port and got in the queue.

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In the queue for the ferry to take us to Trpanj.

The crossing took an hour and felt like being on the ferry to the Isle of Wight but at less than half the cost.

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The ferry, not unlike a Wightlink ferry in the UK.

We are pitched up now at Orebić, a little coastal village facing Korčula island, and we’ll drive down to Dubrovnic in a day or two.

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The view from Orebić town.
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Orebić.

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I spent some time updating the blog, doing some French learning, cooking and generally being lazy whilst Tim trotted off to pursue his new hobby.  Magnet fishing.  Never heard of it?  No, neither had I.  Back in Prague we watched as several teenage boys lobbed magnets attached to bits of line into the river.  They were having a whale of a time pulling out non-descript bits of metal clamped to the end of their magnets.  They had quite a hoard of filthy, oily lumps piled up on the quayside.  Who would have thought that such a thing existed?  Google it and you will even find forums discussing and sharing information with such titles as ‘show us your magnet’, ‘keep your cat away from magnets’ and ‘best knot for magnet fishing’.

Queue the magnet I brought back courtesy of my Mum.  After purchasing fifteen metres of line from a local chandlers in Split, and attaching it to his magnet, Tim was all set.  And here he is with his first catch………….a bottle top.

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First catch!

Two hours later and the hoard for the day was four bottle tops and a bit of metal.  Not bad!  Croatia, it seems, is too clean.  What he really needs is a manky bit of canal and I’m sure the spoils are there to be had.

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Today’s haul.

Of course, I will be laughing on the other side of my face if he brings up something of value like a roman coin or some such.

Bok!

Down the Dalmatian coast…. .

Ok.  So.  I’m sitting writing this blog post from the quiet comfort of the library in Harrogate, UK.  Tim is currently ‘home alone’ or maybe I should say ‘van alone’ back in Croatia.  Oh don’t worry, he has a list of chores.  I flew into Leeds Bradford airport on the tail end of Storm Brian last Saturday.  To say it was a bumpy landing is an under statement.  After one aborted landing and a circle around a bit we came in for a second go.  I think it is fair to say the atmosphere on the plane was somewhat tense.  Cheering and clapping commenced as soon as the rubber hit the asphalt.  I don’t think we were quite out of the woods at that point but it did break the tension.   I’ve got to give it to these pilots, trying to tame a bucking Boeing 73 something or other in winds gusting at 40+ mph must be no mean feat.  They deserve whatever they are paid.   End of.

Anyways, meanwhile back on the coast of Croatia last week……….

Leaving Plitvice Lakes National Park we headed back down to the coast taking the A1 toll road to get us through the Velebit mountains.  Oh yes, we’d done our homework this time on how the toll system works in Croatia.  Pay a human at a toll booth.  Simples.  We’d learnt from our past mistake.  Right decision.  Several tunnels, including Sveti Rok tunnel at five kilometres long, convinced us that the alternative route would have been d.i.v.o.r.c.e. inducing.

Pitched up back on the coast at a smallish campsite at Tribanj Šibuljna some more walking was to be had.  And swimming (that’ll be me not Tim, he prefers terra tarmac).

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Campsite at Tribanj Šibuljna .

The weather was superb, the campsite quiet and a footpath across the road led us up and up (and up) into the Paklenica National Park.  The cloud was still hanging low across the sea towards Pag island.  The views were phenom.

 

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Climbing above the cloud.  The sea and Pag island are out there somewhere.
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After another hour of climbing the sea and Pag island in the distance were revealed.
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Sunset over Pag island.

Pag island, from a distance, looks like a giant pumice stone.  Just bleak and barren.  Twenty four thousand sheep call it home.  As do eight thousand people. The sheep support themselves mostly from sage which carpets the eastern side of the island.  The people support themselves from the cheese provided by the sheep.  That and tourism, clubbing and olives.  Novalja, one of the main settlements on Pag is said to be the ‘prime venue for Adriatic clubbing’.  I presume it’s not the stone age kind of clubbing.

 

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Pag sheep.

Judging by the size of Šimuni campsite where we stayed for a couple of nights the island must be rammed with people in the height of the summer.  I say campsite but it was more a camping village with restaurants, bars, supermarket, holiday homes, private beach and shower blocks that wouldn’t look out of place in a boutique hotel.  Just enorm.   Out of season with our ACSI card it was about £16 per night and exceedingly quiet.  A bargain.

 

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Our pitch on Pag at Šimuni camping.

The coast of Croatia seems to close by the second week in October.  That suits us but wouldn’t suit everyone.

 

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Walking the lunar landscape of Pag towards Sveti Vid peak.
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Views from Sveti Vid.
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Looking down on Pag town.
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Stone stacks on the beach around the coast from the campsite.

Onwards then to Split.

P1090936.JPGWe took the toll road again.  Can’t get enough of them now!  The drive through the outskirts of Split on the D1 is all downhill and pretty dramatic.  Yes it’s exceedingly busy and a culture shock after having tootled about at a leisurely pace for a week or two but the views made up for that.  Backed by an ominous grey wall of mountains, the D1 sweeps down past little hillside settlements and Klis Fortress, a medieval castle teetering on a rock above the city.  We installed ourselves at Camping Stobreč, seven kilometres outside the city.  That is where Tim is now, you know, quietly working his way through his list.

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Camping Stobrec.

Before I left for my little sojourn back in blighty we took the bus into Split from just outside the campsite.  Split and around is one of the most urbanized areas of the Adriatic coast.  As with all urbanised areas some of it is pretty grim but the overall situation of the city with the mountainous backdrop is very agreeable.  It’s a lively place even at this time of year with its bustling markets, seafront cafes, ferries, boats and marinas.

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One of the markets in Split.
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The seafront in Split.

The piece de resistance of Split, for me at least, is its warren of alleys hidden away behind the remains of Diocletian’s Palace. Built in 295 AD by the Roman Emperor Diocletian as a retirement home, measuring 200m by 240m, with a fortified keep and four towers, it must have been quite the des res.  Over the ensuing years after Diocletian’s successors had departed it was gradually, over time, remodelled into a labyrinth of houses, tenements, churches and chapels.  It really is fascinating with so many nooks and crannies to explore.  Boutique shops, little cafes and restaurants sit cheek by jowl with apartments airing the days washing.

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Apartments within the old walls of Diocletians palace.
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Washing day.
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More washing within the walls.
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Busy alleyways…..
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……and not so busy alleyways.

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Diocletian’s Palace.

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We loved it.

Zbogom!

 

Plitvice Lakes National Park…. .

A detour from the coast.  This will be a short post as I will let the pictures speak for themselves.  You don’t need me going on yada yada yada to see that the Plitvice Lakes National Park is quite something.  It is the single most visited natural attraction in Croatia.  Sixteen lakes strung out over eight kilometres with a series of waterfalls and cataracts connecting them.  It’s a pay to go in affair and needless to say can be very busy, especially along the boardwalk areas.

The pictures are courtesy of Tim’s camera.  My camera opened and snapped shut again on the first picture of the day.  Battery dead.  Tim’s words to me at breakfast that morning were ‘have you checked that your camera is charged’?  My reply ‘I had it on charge yesterday’.  Did I check it had charged though?  No.  Another lesson.  I am soooo rubbish with technology.

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This is the scene that greets you on entry to the Park from Entrance 1.  You can see the line of people on the boardwalk in the sunlight to the left of the picture.

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Quite a few people in the ‘must see’ bits of the Park.
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The water is so clear.
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October is a good time to visit for the autumnal colours.

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A series of boardwalks guide you through parts of the Park.
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The trails away from the boardwalks were very quiet.
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The views from above the lakes were superb.
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You can see the boardwalk beneath the falls.

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Back down at lake level on a boardwalk.

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Back towards Entrance 1 in the afternoon was much quieter than it had been in the morning.

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October is certainly a good time to visit as it is less busy, still warm and the colours of the trees are striking.

Bok!

 

 

 

Cracking Croatia…. .

Krk is the largest of Croatia’s islands and apparently the most developed.  It is linked to the mainland by what our guide book describes as ‘a dramatically arcing bridge’.  We had to take the guidebooks word on that as we’d arrived in the pitch black after our little detour over Mount Učka avoiding what we had thought was a toll road.

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Just around the coast from Njivice, Krk island.

The first thing that struck us about Krk, and much of the rest of Croatia we had seen, was how hilly it is.  In the years leading up to our trip I would come home from work, slump onto the settee with a cup of tea, and binge on repeat episodes of ‘A Place in the Sun’.  Not one of those episodes that featured Croatia do I remember it looking lumpy.  It is hilly, rocky and steep though.  At least on the coast.  And all the more appealing for it.

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A Lidl taste of home found in, er, Lidl just outside Krk town.

I think October is a great time to be here.  The weather has been superb, the sea water is crystal clear, the campsites are very quiet, the traffic has been light and some of the small seaside towns are still quite lively.  For us it’s perfect.

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Mmm, interesting technique!
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Sunset at the beach just outside the campsite at Njivice.

It’s a walkers paradise with trails leading up into the hills directly from the coast.  We were spoilt for choice from the campsite at Baška, a beautiful seaside resort on the southern end of Krk.

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Baška
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The view above Baška.
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So many routes it’s difficult to choose.

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Blue is obviously ‘the’ colour for sheep this year.
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All the trails have been well marked.
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View towards the southern tip of Krk and the islands beyond.

The views from the Obzovo peak towards the other islands of Cres and Rab were fantastic.

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Excellent free map given to us at the campsite at Baška which, unusually for a free one, showed the contour lines.

Back on the mainland again we pitched up at Camp Selce just outside the seaside resort of Crikvenica.  A perfect spot for some more swimming and hiking.

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The water may be crystal clear but it is cold.
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Our pitch at Camp Selce just outside Crikvenica.

A trail out of the town took us up to the peak at Drenin with more spectacular views.

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On the top of Drenin peak looking towards Rijeka (Krk island to the left).

 

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Wonderful walks and views direct from the campsite.

We had high hopes for our stay in Croatia and, so far, it hasn’t disappointed.

Laku noć!

 

Finally….Croatia…. .

Croatia……………at last.  This time we came prepared waving our passports in our grubby little mitts.  Having been turned back at the border on our bikes the day before for not having our passports I was a little disappointed when we were waved through border control with hardly a cursory glance at the passports in my out stretched hand.  I might as well have been waving my shopping list.  Still, we were pleased to be going in to Croatia, another new country for us.

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Yay, Croatia is finally on the map.

Croatia boasts nearly 2000km of rocky coastline as well as over 1000 islands.  After not having seen the sea for nearly five months we are going to be spoilt for choice.  Ironically, though, we started our tour inland just outside the hilltop town of Buje.  After visiting a cashpoint to pick up some Kuna’s (no euros here) we pitched up at Eco Gecko Camping in Triban, a little hamlet deep in the Istrian countryside.  What a little find.  Just four pitches in the owner, Michaels, garden.  Excellent.  Washing machine included in the price.  Big tick.

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Master chef at Eco Gecko Campsite.

The site was also a short distance away from the Parenzana Cycleway where we would be able to cycle to Grožnjan, our first hilltop town stop.  The Parenzana was a 130km long narrow gauge railway line linking the port of Trieste in Italy to Poreč in Croatia which was only operational from 1902 to 1935.  In 2006 work began on converting the former track into a foot and cycle path.  Our Rough Guide informed us that the most breath taking sections of the route were those connecting Buje, Grožnjan, Livade, Motovun and Vižinada.  After having cycled some of the route from Lucija to Koper I was really looking forward to some more.  What the Rough Guide failed to mention, though, was that not all of the route is suitable for road bikes.  We picked up the trail not far from the campsite but it was an unsurfaced rough track which, although doable on our touring bikes, would have been slow, uncomfortable and tedious.  We decided to go by road instead.

The Istrian peninsula is dotted with historic hilltop towns overlooking forest, farmland, vineyards, orchards and olive groves.  Many of the towns suffered huge losses of population after World War II when local Italians were forced to leave.  In the 1970’s, in an attempt to keep the towns alive, empty houses were offered to painters, sculptors and musicians which also stimulated tourism.

Grožnjan was alive with people enjoying lunch at the many cafes, wandering around the tight cluster of cobbled streets or poking about in the numerous galleries and craft shops.

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Groznjan, it doesn’t look busy but there were lots of people about.
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Groznjan.

In contrast, the following day we walked to Buje, another hilltop town which had a much more deserted feel to it.  We loved it though and practically had the place to ourselves feeling slightly like voyeurs nosing in on other peoples everyday lives.

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The footpath to Buje.
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Approach to Buje.
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It was washing day in Buje.
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Restored homes stand side by side with derelict buildings.
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Buje old town is a warren of alleys and dead ends.

Novigrad, on the coast, was our next stop.  A pleasant spot for a couple of days with the bonus of an outdoor pool on the sea front.

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Colourful umbrellas in Novigrad.
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Fishing is still thriving in Novigrad.
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The pool to myself.

Back inland again we headed for a camper stop below the hilltop town of Motovun where Mario Andretti was born.  At €23 per night for what is effectively a car park it’s a bit steep but inland Istria is limited for campsites or motorhome stopovers.  Wild camping is forbidden in Croatia, with a knock on the door and a subsequent fine from the police being the likely outcome, so we parked up and paid up.  However, included in the price was free use of the hotel swimming pool.  The only drawback was the hotel was at the very top of the town, a fifteen minute brisk walk up the steep hill.  After a three hour walk taking in the town and the surrounding countryside I did that fifteen minute brisk walk up that hill and had that swim.

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Motovun
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The narrow streets of Motovun.
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Motovun from below.

Our Rough Guide  recommended the Trail of the Seven Waterfalls, or the Staza Seven Slapova, which has a better ring to it I feel.  The 15km walk starts in Buzet and takes in the Mirna Canyon, the water features of Kotli and several ‘slaps’ before returning to Buzet.  We almost didn’t start the walk as it was raining but refused to be dictated to by the weather.  We got water proofed up, set off and hoped for the best.  The first part of the walk up through the canyon had some interesting climbs with ropes and rails to cling on to which was just as well with it being so wet.  The only disappointment was that the river was so dry with just a trickle of water over the falls.

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Vela Pec Slap (or no slap)
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Up through the Mirna Canyon.

We emerged through the trees at the top of the canyon just as the rain cleared and the sun came out.

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The hilltop village of Buzet in the background.

 

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Lunch stop at Mala Pec slap (again no slap).
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You can keep your fancy restaurant lunches – an egg mayo sandwich and a flask of coffee is all we need.  Slap up.

I’d taken my swimming costume hoping for a bit of fun in the natural pools at the little hamlet of Kotli but alas no water was to be had.

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Kotli natural pools (Kotli apparently means hollow in Croatian and from which the hamlet gets its name).
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Kotli hamlet now mostly holiday apartments.

All in all an excellent well marked trail that would be spectacular with higher water levels.

Krk island was our next destination, an 80km drive.  No probs, it should take an hour or so.  That was before the sat nav diverted us off the A8 and onto a minor road heading up the mountain.  How was I to know that the A8 was a toll road?  It didn’t look like one on the Maps.Me app.  A tortuous, winding climb up and then down the mountain road to avoid the toll road delayed us somewhat with darkness approaching.  Driving in the dark is something we try to avoid in unfamiliar territory and I can’t actually remember the last time we drove in the dark on our trip.  Looking at the map it now seemed likely that we’d have to drive right through Rijeka, a huge industrial conurbation, before reaching Krk island.  Now, we would have been happy to pay the toll for the drive to Krk but as we’d made the decision to avoid toll roads back in Slovakia neither of us had bothered to research how the system worked in Croatia.  Do we need to buy a vignette?  A go-box?  A pre-mid?  Or is it just a pay at the toll booth affair?  Too late asking the questions now.  We did the only available option and pressed on.  We were so relieved when the sat nav directed us back on to the A8 before reaching Rijeka and then had us take the A7 avoiding the city.  Mmm, weird.  We arrived at Kamp Nijice on Krk island without further incident and settled in.  (Note to self: Even if you don’t intend using the toll roads still do the research stupid).  It turns out that the toll on the A7 is just a one off payment for the five kilometre long Učka tunnel and not a toll road as such.

Hindsight is a beautiful thing, no?

Doviđenja!