Sunday, May 31, 2009

Melk na Krem

We felt that we needed to get out of Wien and into the countryside so we decided that I would ride the stretch of the Danube from Melk down to Krems and Caron would take a leisurely drive over the same route and hopefully meet me in Krems.

The rain has decided to stop for a while although the clouds still look quite heavy and threatening. Driving towards Melk the first sign that one sees is that of the Benedictine monastery which is just absolutely huge (the one featured in Umberto Eco's "Name of the Rose").

After getting to Melk the first thing was, as it always is, to get a cup of coffee and I have to say that the general standard of coffee in Austria is far above anywhere else we have been. Once I was on my bike the first thing that caught my attention was this:

That's right "No more milk"! Definitely one of those jokes that gets lost in translation.

Jason would not have enjoyed this ride because it was pretty much downhill for 40km; it's not steep and if one stops pedalling one coasts to a halt but is definitely downhill and downhill riding doesn't generate enough of the pain so Jason definitely wouldn't have enjoyed it. Fortunately, I'm not Jason so I did enjoy riding because the path looks like this the whole way.

On top of this one gets to see sights like this around most bends in the river not to mention the barges that ply up and down the river.

Coming around a bend there was a gutted fish being smoked, I presume for lunch, by the locals. I know it was the locals because they looked at me suspiciously when I stopped to take a photograph. In africa, people would think "how primitive" but the same thing here is considered to be "quaintly rural" rather than primitive.

I finished the ride and then we went and had lunch next to the Danube at one of the river ferry stops. I thought I was ordering "fish and chips" but what arrived was "fish fingers and chips" but that is just one of those things that happens to one when travelling. After lunch it was "magies vol, ogies toe" and Caron had to drive back to Klosterneuberg while I passed out in the passengers seat.

This is the view from the bell of our tent; note the new species of bicycle that comes with free socks!

Caron decided it was nap time so I walked into the centre of Klosterneuberg in search of the internet cafe which I managed to find this time and I spent and hour and a half catching up on post, reading email and doing electronic banking while consuming pilsener beers. I arrived home feeling decidedly unsteady on my feet. Neither of us were feeling really hungry so we had some soup and bread before calling it a day; a good day that is.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Wien as the natives call it

Today is a red letter day for Caron because one of her "must do's" was to visit the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. I thought that she may have got the name wrong, after all having a Spanish Riding School in the middle of Austria is like having the Vienna boys choir located just outside Durban. It just doesn't go; nevertheless, there is indeed a Spanish Riding School and it is the home to the Lippizaner horses and the only place one can see them in the world! Apart from about 10km from home that is but the Austrians are very stum about that little factoid!

We woke up and it was still pouring with rain so we had to go into hermit mode and do everything in the bell of the tent which is awkward. Caron is starting to make noises about buying another tent and she keeps pointing out one's that she likes. Most of them look vaguely like a house.

We walked off to the bus station and waited for the bus in the rain holding our umbrella's purchased in Venice almost a month ago above our heads. I must say that, in general, I hate using buses as public transportation in strange cities and especially when one can't speak the language. This is from experience where it is just too easy to either get on the wrong bus or having managed to get the right one, to miss one's stop. In this case my misgivings were misplaced and it would have been hard to miss the stop since it was the end of the line and pretty obvious that one had reached the tube station.

After a little bit of to and fro trying to find the tube platform, as distinct from the train platforms which all look the same, we took the next tube that was Wien bound but it stopped two stations on and everyone on the train got off so we, being good sheep, got off too. It turns out that there was a problem with the line and we had to get onto another bus to skip out a couple of stations before we could get back onto the underground. It's all very well organised once one knows what is going on but to a stranger it is very confusing!

First order of the day was to find the Spanish Riding School which we managed without any further adventures and booked ourselves in for the 15:00 guided tour of the actual grounds rather than a performance because besides being very expensive (upto about 100EUR per person), we are able to see equivalent performances at home.

With about 4 hours to kill and it still raining cats and dogs we went in search of a coffee house which we found just opposite the Albertina gallery. St. Tropez can breath a sigh of relief, they are no longer the most expensive coffee we've had. The Cafe Mozart now holds the record at 4.60 for a cup although I have to admit that it really was very good coffee!

The Albertina has two exhibitions on at the moment, one on Rembrandt and the Dutch painters of that period and then an exhibition of paintings from the impressionists on including Monets, Picasso's, Chagall, Klee, Klimt, Kadinsky, Matisse, Renoir. The Rembrandts that they had on show were quite stunning and I particularly like his self portrait and the three crosses which are both etchings (I think) as well as his self portrait which is an oil painting. There was also a painting by Michiel Musscher, of whom I have never heard, that was particularly good. I enjoyed some of the older modern art but as Caron says, where is the skill in some of the modern art and if the artist isn't speaking in a language that the audience can understand, what is the point?

When we emerged from a very interesting few hours it had stopped raining so we went for a walk around the gardens at the back of the Hofburg where I spotted this.

I think that this is meant to be protest art but I think that the artist has missed the point. The sign is not addressed to him only, it is meant for everyone so that everyone can appreciate the gardens. It would seem that boredom is setting in, of course he may just be having a joke at everyone's expense!

The 15:00 finally arrived and we filed in to see the stables, the tack room, the automated horse walking thingy and finally the hall where the performances are held. I think Caron really enjoyed it but it wasn't the most exciting thing for me. We weren't allowed photo's or to touch the horses but they look exactly like the one's at home.

Coming out of the Spanish Riding School we wandered around central Wien for a while before finding ourselves in Karlsplatz in front of Karlskirche which made us think of Carl so for the record, this is Carl's Church.

We negotiated our way around the public transport system and made it home to Klosterneuberg where we saw a stretch hummer. Yes, kitsch knows no boundaries! The rain has still stopped so I have a good time consuming glasses of wine along with cheeses before we had supper and retired for the evening.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Budapest to Vienna

For some reason I didn't sleep very well so I was up and at it early and we departed from the Citadella hotel by 08:00. They're busy renovating it so if anyone goes there, hopefully by then the Soviet era plumbing would have been removed.

We were doing fine until I took a wrong turn onto a road which wasn't there according to mabel (the gps with an english accent). After a little bit of driving across the bridge which also wasn't there, mabel plotted us an alternative route which we were following until the road disappeared into the Danube and re-appeared on the other side. We were meant to catch the ferry across which was fine until we saw the ferry split into two while midstream and begin a complicated waltz before it landed safely on our side of the river. I've never seen it before but the ferry is actually a barge and there is a tug boat which pushes and pulls it across the river.

Safely on the other side we continued on our detour but the roads got smaller and smaller until we were driving down this ...

at which point we started ignoring mabel and going on gut feel which eventually got us out of the bundu and back onto semi-decent roads.

Back on the scenic route up the one side of the Danube, we went past a school funfair which we stopped at and had a look around. It was amazing, there were all these activities which would have been a part of everyday life during medieval times. There was archery, sword fighting, throwing stars, falconry, blacksmiths, weaving, spinning, various ball games like coconut shy and the children seemed to be having a whale of a time.

Moving on towards Vienna we were stopped twice by the cops, once to check my drivers license which took a while to find because it was packed away in the luggage. The second time was to check our passports but fortunately all was in order on both occasions and we arrived in Vienna to find a really nice campsite just as it started raining. How is that for timing! We waited a while for a break in the rain which it kindly did before setting up camp and settling down to a good glass of wine. Strange as it may seem, we are actually more comfortable camping than in a hotel in a lot of ways.

The weather here is pretty cold and it's hard to believe that a week or so ago we were hunting for any shade available in Dubrovnik to keep cool; now the sun would be a welcome friend.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Out and about in Budapest

Although we may technically be staying in a hotel and technically it may be an en-suite bathroom and it is clean and spacious, that is pretty much where the luxury stops. We were amazed to find that one has to be careful as to how quickly one lets the bathwater out, this is something I have never previously encountered. The drain from the bath joins another drain located in the middle of the bathroom floor which I thought was fairly sensible. What isn't so sensible is that the bath drains faster than the floor drain can cope with so if one isn't careful letting the bath out fills up the bathroom and then in extreme cases, the bedroom as well! Strange but true!

Heading out from the hotel, we first went up to the Castle Hill and happened to park right next to a tourist attraction which we had previously marked down as a possible 'todo' so seeing as we were right there we decided to do it. We needed to buy a parking ticket but the machine wouldn't accept some of our coins, nor the credit card and the shops wouldn't give us any change so we bought as much time as we could and hoped for the best.
Underneath the castle hill complex is a system of caves which has been used by numerous people but most recently, the Germans and the Russians. The Germans used it as a commandpost and hospital during the siege of Budapest by the Soviet army. The German defenders were surrounded and decided to make a break-out but of the 20,000 people that broke out, only 800 survived to tell the tale. That is an extraordinarily high casualty rate. In one of the wards there was a rose left in a bed from a woman whose husband died in the hospital during the second world war and who could only come back to Budapest post the fall of the Soviet Union; it was a very poignant statement of love. After the second world war, it was used again as a hospital during the 1956 revolution which was harshly suppressed by the Soviets before it was turned into a nuclear bunker. The intention was that the hospital should survive a nuclear attack to be able to treat, as best possible, any survivors that should remain. Although the whole thing is a real touristy type set-up, it really brought home just how desperately the Second World War was fought and how the Hungarian people have suffered under successive oppressive regimes. No wonder they aren't the most light hearted of peoples.

From the bunker we walked through castle hill which has wonderful views out over Budapest and the Danube but we happened to walk past the bronze statue below which has shiny testicles, the horse that is!

Apparently, it brings good luck to give them a good squeeze and it has become such a nuisance to the authorities that they now have cctv coverage of the horses privates! That is like a challenge to students who still rise to the challenge to have a good squeeze. I would like to have seen the job card for the cctv installation person, I can just imagine "Today, installed surveillance of horses' testicles"!

Getting back to the car, our luck had run out and we had a fine waiting for us but the policeman who happened to be behind our car and who had nothing to do with the fine kindly explained how and where to go to pay it which is what we did although my nose was out of joint for a couple of hours because it wasn't like we hadn't really tried to pay for the parking in the first place but try explaining that in Hungarian!

Next up was St. Stephens church, St. Stephen is a big deal in Hungary, he crops up all over the place because he was, besides being the first Christian king, the one who originally united all the smaller tribes into the Hungarian nation. St. Stephens church was unusual in that it was St. Stephen that was the object of devotion rather than Jesus.

Across the square from St. Stephens we had coffee while we watched a group of Americans in the square try to balance a baseball bat vertically in their hand. I can't quite see the point but that, I guess, is because I'm not an American.

Moving on from there, we went to see 'Memento Park' which contains all the Soviet statuetary that used to be on display in Budapest but that has now been removed to a location out of eyesight of the local population. Here we saw 'Stalins boots'; they're not sure what happened to the rest of him.

as well as something to lighten the sombre mood!

The statues are just so typical of the Soviets; Aryan, heroic and militaristic come to mind to describe them.

but I must say that I found the park very interesting. We spent some time talking to a UK based German artist who was taking photographs of dummies dressed up as nuns in front of Stalins boots. I'm not sure what comment to make of the many that spring to mind so I'll leave it at that!

Getting back to Budapest itself, we had some supper at an Italian restaurant while we waited for our sunset cruise on the Danube to depart. I've decided that I really, really like bruschetta and that it should start forming part of our regular diet back at home!

The cruise was entirely uneventful, we sailed up and down the Danube as the sun sank below the horizon while the band played songs to which we were unable to dance. Nevertheless, it was a very pleasant experience and one that I would recommend as long as one knows how to actually dance properly! Watching Budapest transform itelf from daytime to nightime was a magical experience.

The Hungarians are a bit of a dour lot but I suppose that is what happens when one keeps on getting conquered by all and sundry and they have an unusually long list of suppressors from Roman times to the recent past. Nevertheless, they have survived with their language and their culture intact so all is not lost and one can see visible signs of Hungary trying to rise up from under the Soviet blanket. They may still have a long way to go but they are at least making a real effort. The following are the houses of parliament which have recently been renovated.

And to finish the cruise, this is the bridge just below Gellert hill on top of which we are staying.

On the way up the hill it wasn't very well lit and at one stage I stopped on a landing to wait for Caron only to realise after a while that I wasn't alone and that the couple sharing the landing were otherwise engaged on the park bench; awkward for me but they didn't skip a beat! Maybe not so dour!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Balaton to Budapest

We were going to spend two nights at Balaton which is a huge tourist destination but after last night and the miserable Napsugar campsite we decided to hightail it out of Balaton and go straight on to Budapest.

The Napsugar campsite is between the railway line and the main road and we had camped next to the railway because trains stop running after about 22:00 whereas cars keep on going most of the night. This turned out to be a huge mistake because we were woken up at midnight by a rail gang doing railway maintenance. They must have had a portable pneumatic drill or something and made a huge racket as they checked each and every bolt holding the rail to the sleepers and it took them about 90 minutes, or that is what it felt like, to move past us so that it wasn't so loud but at about 03:00 they came back the other way, on the other track, waking us up yet again. Not a good night and we both woke feeling a little shattered and not very enamoured with life. Just to put the icing on the cake, it had started raining so we lay in bed listening to the pouring rain putting off the moment when we would pack up.

There was a break in the rain and we quickly packed up, had some coffee and headed out as the rain started to fall again. We had broken the first rule of camping which is to only say that your're staying for one night and had paid for two nights and, as one would expect, they woudn't refund the second. Another black mark against Balaton Napsugar!

Moving on, the day got better and better. We drove around the shores of lake Balaton which is the largest lake in europe and is like a giant Vaal dam but with green water instead of brown, not that inviting in either case. There is a sort of a peninsula about half way down the lake with a national park on it which is where we thought that we would have lunch and ended up having a great meal at a very pleasant restaurant just next to the ferry landing. After last night it was great just because it wasn't so miserable.

We went past numerous other campsites and put our nose into one just to confirm that we had picked a lemon last night and, yes, we had!

Arriving in Budapest which is a joining of the cities of Buda and Pest as I found out, we were going to stay in a hostel but the one we had chosen was full. We tried to phone another but couldn't get through and we still don't know why we aren't able to phone, we subsequently found dialing instructions and we had followed them to the letter; they just didn't work. Eventually we drove to the Citadella hotel which is located in the citadel which has the most awesome views out over the whole of Budapest; this is the view from our room. The window is built into a cannon portal and there is a huge ring in the vaulted ceiling that used to be used to move the cannon; I presume.

We were both feeling shattered from last night so we went down to the Gellert baths at the bottom of the hill which was interesting to put it mildly. The nudity isn't confined to the statues depicted on the front door but fortunately the men and women have different sections.

Caron says that the women have no shame wandering around starkers and it's not as if they had good figures to show off (some scary sights all in all). I spent most of my time in a mixed sexes outdoor thermal pool. One of the things people do is to put their heels on the edge and then lie back like they're doing backstroke so one's head is underwater and just one's nose and mouth above water. This is fine for most people but for one particularly large woman it turned her breasts into flotation devices; I don't think she realised how comical she looked. I would have loved a photograph but camera's are verboten for obvious reasons. The inside of the baths is very ornate but a bit like a rabbit warren and finding one's way around isn't very easy so we spent a good part of our time there just wandering around lost.

Heading back up the hill we passed a statue of St. Stephen who was crowned king of Hungary in 1000 and was renowned for his extraordinarily long toes and his ability to crush small churches in his arms!

To finish off the day we dressed up and went to a really good restaurant which had violins and singing to add to the atmosphere. The music was lost on me but Caron seemed to enjoy it. After a great meal we retired to the castle absolutely exhausted. The last thing I did was to take the following photograph from the top of the citadella looking north up the Danube.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Travel day from Plitvica to Balaton

Today was one of those days when not a lot happened. We packed up early at the Korana campsite and headed north going around Zagreb. We were wondering whether we should stop in Zagreb but couldn't find anything that really interested us so we decided to skip it, time will tell if this was a mistake or not.

Just before the border with Hungary we stopped in Gorican and spent the remainder of our Kuna's on groceries so that we didn't have the hassle of changing Kuna's into Florints or huffs (currency code is HUF) as Caron is fond of calling them. We now have 0.1 Kuna left which is about 0.015 Euro, i.e. not much at all.

The drive wasn't very long but by the time we had arrived at lake Balaton we were both unusually tired. The brochure on the campsite promises us this ...

but this is what we actually got ...

... and by the time that we realised that we had picked a lemon, it was too late. It wasn't that the facilities were actually dirty, it was just really rundown and unpleasant and had lots of bugs and mosquitoes. Some campsites have a good feeling about them and some don't; this one was one of those that don't. In hindsight we should have taken not of the almost complete absence of other tourists and headed for another site but we didn't. It's a real pity because it could be a really nice campsite with a little investment and a lot of hard work. If anyone is heading towards lake Balaton then we have to say that Napsugar is one to avoid completely.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Out and about in Plitvica

We decided to stay an extra day here because it is so incredibly beautiful and we're not that rushed for time - yet! I couldn't do nothing all day so I went for a 3.5 hour, 55km ride around the lakes which was quite punishing. There are an awful lot of hills around here I found.

The map of the park that I have wasn't that accurate, or else I completely missed an entire road, so I ended up climbing a 4km hill expecting to come out at a view point but the road disappeared down the other side of the mountain which it wasn't meant to do so I turned around and went back only to arrive back at this point later on; approaching it from up the hill I had decided not to descend.

The roads varied from pretty good to barely a tarred track through the forests and I went past loads of abandoned buildings, some of which look like they had been damaged during the civil war.

It was very nice being away from campers and tourists with only the sounds of the forest and my breathing. It was very beautiful but I did not see any bears although the map clearly states that they're there. I was hoping to spot a bear or two frolicking their way across some of the meadows like the one below.

We spent the afternoon and evening relaxing because it is too hot to really do anything else and I finally finished my book which has been dragging for the last 500 pages.

We have finally put two and two together, the reason loads of Croatia looks so new and well maintained is that it is new. It had to be rebuilt after the civil war. When we were looking out over Dubrovnik I commented to Caron that it looked like someone had taken a machinegun to some of the walls and that there were an inordinate number of new roofs so it wasn't just my imagination.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Plitvica Lakes

This was truly a visually awesome day marred only by the overabundance of Japanese tourists; they were everywhere and all of them looked ancient and some of them wear white cotton gloves but we can't figure out why.

Last night we had a good proper thunderstorm with lightning and heavy drops of rain not to mention really, really strong winds. We thought that our tent was going to blow away and it was blown pretty much flat several times but it seems to have survived the night. While we were lying in the tent listening to the rain lashing the outside I couldn't help but wonder if the germans camped just below us in the bowl of a subsidence were going to end up knee deep in water.

The Plitvica lakes are formed from the calcium carbonate that is in the water. The calcium carbonate comes from limestone that rainwater leaches through to run into the river and this causes huge sink holes to appear on the surface of the ground. Once in the river, algae and moss absorb the calcium and when they die they leave behind a small crystal but gazillions of these together form the weirs of the Plitvica lakes. Or so I am told.

The size of the weirs varies from a few centimetres to close to 40 metres high and the lakes that form behind the weirs are up to 47m deep. That's quite lot of pressure being held back by algae and moss!

Just below where I am seated, the water appears as if it is coming from a hosepipe; this is where the algae and moss have completely enclosed a jet of water and eventually this will close up.

Apparently any form of pollution, especially oils, will damage the ecosystem so the ferries that they have over the larger lakes are electric as are the busses that are used. The paths that one walks on look like below and there are miles of them to protect the environment from all the foot traffic.

Coming around a bend we spotted the omnipresent Mellman enjoying the view of the lakes and the tourists.

It took us about 5 hours of walking before we returned so we spent a very lazy afternoon reading and drinking coffee. We would have had an early night if it wasn't for the noisy dutch that have set up camp behind us. We got chatting to a, very superior, brit whose comment on the dutch was that "They're everywhere". He professes to be well off but, if that was so, why would he be camping in a caravan? The brits are amazing, they start wars and conflict everywhere they go and then expect others to sort out the mess. This was particularly evident with regards to Zimbabwe where he basically blames South Africa for the basket case that Zimbabwe has become; eyes open but the mouse is dead!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Durovnik to Plitvica Lakes

Today we got really lucky, there genuinely is a 'transit' route through Bosnia which in practice means a lane that says 'transit' and goes around the border post and continues on the same road that one would be on if one wasn't in transit. Go Figure!

We stopped in Slano for some coffee and a break. It is amazingly beautiful here on the Dalmatian coast, not to mention hot!

Mabel and the map both had a bit of a miserable day because some of the roads that were meant to exist didn't but it was all pretty well signposted so we made reasonable time. We stopped at a roadside stall and bought some cherries, a tomato and some dried figs. We also tasted some cherry liquer which was very sweet and very alcoholic.
The landscape here in the south of Croatia looks green but is actually very rocky with a topping of 2-3m high trees so while it looks quite lush, it is anything but. There is the odd rocky strewn field but on the whole it is mile upon mile of native bush.

After a couple of hours we made it onto the motorway which was a real pleasure, easily amongst the best, if not the best roads we have yet experienced in europe. We passed several bridges over the motorway which didn't have any roads over them and eventually figured out that these were for bears and wolves to be able to cross the motorway safely. It would seem that Croatia is taking conservation pretty seriously which is a good thing since the whole of western europe has pretty much wiped out all of it's endemic wildlife.

The terrain remained pretty much the same until we climbed up onto a plateau above Zadar. On the plateau the trees were much taller, about 4-6m and there was wide fields with agriculture in between areas of virgin bush where it was still too rocky to try and clear and farm.

We finally arrived at the campsite which is absolutely huge and can accommodate 3500 campers and the facilities are first class. Had a bite to eat before collapsing after the long, hot days drive.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Out and about in Dubrovnik

Since we failed miserably last night to walk around Dubrovnik's walls we were determined to do them this morning even though we suspected it might get a tad warm. We were correct, it proved to be more than warm; approaching hot.

The views from the wall, built to keep the Ottomans at bay, are spectacular to put it mildly and there is a nice story to go with the walls. The Dubrovnik town council felt it necessary to build the walls but did not have the finances to do so, so they made a law that all visitors to the city had to donate a single rock suitable for the building a city wall and in a very short space of time the beautiful walls of Dubrovnik were built.

The cafe just outside Dubrovnik's wall that we went to last night is clearly not the only cafe. The one below looked particularly nice but how to find the entrance through the wall isn't as easy as it would seem.

We stopped on our circuit around the top of the walls to have a spot of chilled lemon juice; the real thing, I'm sure they juice them on the premises. The bitter, cool taste was just the thing in the 30deg heat on top of the walls which were unprotected from the sun.

The city still seems to accommodate locals, unlike in Venice where the tourists have all but taken over. Although there are a few places where there are ruined buildings, on the whole Dubrovnik has a marked lack of deterioration. The Croatians must have a penchant for neatness or something because, in general, everything seems to be in pretty good repair. Maybe not ostentatious but very nicely done.

The view from the top of the walls and down into the centre of Dubrovnik looks pretty much like this. Once we had descended we headed straight for the ice-cream parlour we found yesterday evening where they spoke to us in broken Afrikaans. Yes, Afrikaans spoken in Dubrovnik!

From sightseeing we headed to the Internet Cafe only to find that their wifi was broken so we gave that up as a bad job and went back to the campsite where it was twice as expensive but at least it worked. Things turned out a little differently, firstly it didn't work due to a general power failure and secondly it was free because we were using our own laptop so we took the opportunity to catch up on the blog, do banking and some email which took me a couple of hours all in all.

We were going to paddling around a nearby island but Caron came down with a migraine so she retired to her bed to try and sleep it off. I went down for a swim once the sun was low enough in the sky so as not to fry me and I spent a couple of hours on the beach swimming and reading. I definitely need to start swimming again, I think I swam about 300m and I could feel myself tiring.

We were planning tomorrows route yesterday and found, to our consternation, that Bosnia goes right down to the sea just above Dubrovnik and we don't have visa's for Bosnia. The guide book said that 'most' nationalities don't need visa's but we found out that South Africans do. It was a real problem until the receptionist said that there was a 'transit' lane through Bosnia so we are hoping that all goes well tomorrow. It would be a real expensive curve ball to have to take the ferry from Dubrovnik up to Split to avoid Bosnia.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


We woke up an hour before we docked in Dubrovnik so it was just enough time to get some breakfast along with the atrocious coffee they dispense, pack and be ready to disembark. Our adventure on the ferry over although we were still half expecting to be turned away because our papers were not in order. It was a great relief when we passed through immigration and customs with barely a stop to get a stamp and out into the streets of Dubrovnik.

Dubrovnik really does look just like a postcard, the campground was 4km away and by 08:30 we had pitched camp and settled in for the day. Aside from changing some money into Kuna, buying some groceries we did absolutely nothing until 16:00 when we went down to the beach for a swim. Nothing that is besides read, type and relax. We're both looking forward to a major change of pace for a couple of days.
The beaches here aren't sand, they're pebbley so they're a bit eina on the feet but it seems that even the locals find it uncomfortable so we didn't feel too much like woes's. The weather here is awesome, it is really hot but if one can stay in the shade there is a gentle breeze and it is very pleasant indeed. I managed to get Caron into the water but not to get her to swim with me out to the line of buoys which demarcate the swimming area. I sat out on the buoys for about 15 minutes watching the passing boat traffic and savouring the cool mediterannean.

At about 19:00 we went into the old part of Dubrovnik to walk around the walls but they closed 5 minutes before we got there so we spent some time exploring and stumbled on this seaside cafe just outside the walls on the rocks. It was just too fantastic watching the yachts sail past as the sun slowly sank not to mention the swimmers swimming from a island almost a kilometer away. Sitting there, beer in hand, was absolutely idyllic. Dubrovnik isn't grand or ostentatious but it is clean and well cared for and is in that wonderful place where it is tourist friendly but not yet a tourist trap.

Best of all, there aren't too many cars and it is possible to find parking on the street and even better there are loads of parking garages available as well. What a pleasure after Italy!

Back at the camp we made some seafood pasta for supper and then crawled into bed exhausted after our day of relaxation.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Amalfi coast to Bari

Today is milestone day, today we leave Italy behind and go to Croatia which feels like leaving the known and venturing out. Of course it isn't really like that, it just feels like it. France, Spain, Italy and Germany are all cultures that, although we can't speak the language, we have a certain familiarity with them whereas we have no such thing with Croatia or Hungary so it is a little like stepping out into the unknown.

First things first, our route took us along the famous Amalfi coast. Amalfi has bad connotations for me because it was one of the restaurants that I used to have to deal with when I was a student trying to earn spare money and it was in Edenvale and generally packed with uncouth brits. Coming off this base, it was a pleasant surprise from a picturesque point of view but a total nightmare from a driving point of view.
The islands of Capri as seen in the industial murk that lurks around Naples!

The road along the Amalfi coast is barely wide enough to be able to drive one bus along, some of the turns are so tight that when a bus is going around them not even a kamikaze moped can get past them. Now imagine two busses trying to pass each other on these roads; as impossible as it may seem, they somehow manage it. This is especially problematic around tunnels although the Italians do have traffic wardens with little wands that wait at known choke points and then hold some cars back while a truck or bus slowly negotiates a section. There is absolutely nowhere for a bus to turn around so if there is a landslide or serious accident they would have to wait for it to be cleared, reversing all the way back to a town where they may be able to turn around would take absolutely hours if it was possible at all. We had several incidents where oncoming mopeds let alone cars would cut the corners and one would round a corner to meet the oncoming traffic on the wrong side of the road. The road is often so narrow that it isn't wide enough to have road markings demarcating the centre-line so when approaching traffic nears one just moves as far to the right as possible and hopes for the best.

I'm not sure how much Caron breathed during the trip and I don't think it was much but we did have spectacular views once one got over the disappointment of the pollution.


The second photograph was taken at Minore just next to Maiore where we stopped for a bite to eat which turned out to be a thoroughly pleasant stop. We sat on a beachside restaurant eating panini, drinking coffee and eating icecream while we looked out over the beach. There ought to be a BMI limit imposed that regulates how much clothing that can be discarded when on the beach. Anyone over a certain point should have to wear a burkah while on the beach; after all, clothes were invented for a reason! :-)

As we climbed away from the Amalfi coast, past Salerno (Yep, the street I used to live in long ago was actually named after an Italian city) one could feel the pollution levels dropping. They never really went away but they just weren't as bad. The drive across to Bari was uneventful as we passed miles and miles of olive groves interspersed with vineyards and the occasional hilltop village and farmhouse. Arriving in Bari we found an internet cafe with a really grumpy owner so we could print our ticket for the ferry. I had to print it twice because his printer hadn't been serviced properly and ended up paying about 3 times as much as I should have. I was not amused but I'm getting used to this kind of thing and having an argument with someone who can't speak english and I can't speak italian for 3EUR is just going to raise my blood pressure so I caved in, mostly.

We found the ferry terminal easily but no parking so we ended up parked just below a '0-24 tow away' sign but there were loads of other cars there as well so we took our chances. Fortunately these signs seem to be for decoration only and nothing happened although we spent a couple of anxious hours waiting for the ferry check-in to open. While we waited we had some pasta in the port cafetaria which was pretty decent pasta, sometimes it is amazing the quality one gets in the most unexpected places and vice-versa.

When the office opened we were in the line behind an elderly british couple who didn't have the registration papers for their vehicle and they wouldn't issue them with a ticket. He was really irritated as I would have been and I wasn't looking forward to getting to the front of the line because we didn't have the registration papers for our vehicle either. What we did have was some official looking documentation that we hoped would pass muster which, to our great relief, it did so clutching our boarding passes we moved from under the tow-away sign and into the boarding queue. A quick turn through customs and immigration and we were on board.

The ferry is pretty large but not very full. We didn't stay up very late, we just waited until we had left port at about 22:30 before retiring for the night. We had taken a 'luxury' cabin which wasn't very luxurious but it did have a shower and bathroom which worked. Fell asleep to the gentle pitching of the ferry and looking forward to Dubrovnik.