Home Motorhoming Articles (120) Long-term Motorhoming 2 Aussies on Tour in Europe 2011
  
 
 
 
Site Menu
Home
About Us
MagBazPictures
What is New in 2018
What was New in 2017
Countries Articles (879)
Current Travel Log
Cycling Articles (98)
Fellow Travellers (78)
Logs & Newsletters (169)
Looking Out
Motorhome Insurers (33)
Motorhoming Articles (120)
Photographs
Ramblings (48)
Readers' Comments (770)
Travellers' Websites (45)
Useful Links (64)
Search the Website
Contact Us

Photos
Aussies on Tour in Europe 2011 PDF Printable Version E-mail

Aussies on Tour in Europe 2011

Martin & Pam Williams
March-September 2011

Australians Martin and Pam made a 6-month, 15,750-km (9,850-mile) motorhome tour of Europe in the spring and summer of 2011. They visited 14 countries travelling overland from the UK to Greece via the former Yugoslavia, and returning by a ferry to Italy.

187 captioned images of the motorhome, taken at the places where Martin and Pam stayed, can be found at:

https://picasaweb.google.com/108520371100176229503/WhereWeStayed2011

Included is a Google-type map of their route linked to these images: you can zoom in up to 50 times!

300 captioned images of the places, people and events encountered on this far-ranging tour can be found at:

https://picasaweb.google.com/108520371100176229503/2011HolidaySummary

Introduction

In 2009 we flew to Athens and, after checking out the capital, hired a car and visited the key Greek icons of Meteora, the Pindos Range, Vikos Gorge and the Pelion Peninsula; we rounded off the trip with a few days in Santorini. It was a whirlwind tour and Pam suggested that we 'do' Greece properly and do it in a camper-van. After buying a camper-van last year (2010) and getting used to it in the UK, France and Spain, we planned our return to Greece for 2011.

We left Perth at the end of March 2011 and returned mid-September, yup nearly 6-months, so clearly we had planned to see a few other places en route to Greece. The following is a summary of some destinations, images, reflections and happenings in the more than fourteen countries that we visited! This expands on the single holiday email that we sent! Pam typed up that email on one of the few wet days that we had. Internet cafes seem to be a dying breed, so this time we took a small PC, a Netbook, with us and so this year we were looking for free Wifi for connection. We used Starbucks in Munich and a couple of yacht clubs in Croatia, but it was McDonalds that came to our rescue in many countries. So thanks to them; they really helped with our communication and helped us try to keep up the news.

UK, France, Belgium, Germany

We arrived in the UK on 31 March, stocked up the camper-van, fixed an extractor system to the loo, visited a few friends and rellies and set off on the ferry to Calais in mid-April. The original idea was to get down to Greece quickly, stay for about a month and leave before it got too hot, but the weather on the way was so good that we dallied! We even spent some time in Calais - perhaps we were really not trying hard enough to get to Greece quickly! After a couple of days in France, a day in Belgium and several days in Germany, we arrived in Munich (via the Romantic Road) at Easter to catch up with Gabi and Stefan (friends we first met dancing in Bulgaria in 1997).

Italy

Then on to Italy – the fabulous Dolomites - followed by Venice towards the end of April. After several previous visits we have decided that Venice has now lost it! It seemed dirty and overcrowded and completely ruined by tourism, with tacky souvenir stalls every few metres.

In Venice we stayed at a camp-site (rare for us) and ended up watching the UK Royal Wedding on the neighbour's TV! Almost all the camper-vans in Europe have satellite TV – which was also useful for us during the Tour de France cycling race later in the holiday.

Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia

Then it was off to Slovenia for a couple of days and Croatia for about a week. We have been there several times before so we tried to do new bits, which included Trogir and the Krka National Park. We also went into Bosnia to see the Mostar Bridge which we had wanted to see on our 1967 visit when it was Yugoslavia - we just ran out of time. Of course it wasn't actually the same bridge; the 1558 version was destroyed in 1993 during the Balkan war. It has since been rebuilt and it was really interesting to experience Islamic culture so close to the Croatian border. From Mostar (that's 'Мостар' to you) we followed the River Neretva ('Неретва') through 'Житомислић' and called in to the fabulous historic site at 'Почитељ' (that's
Počitelj to you). This is also a rebuild job since the war.

Yes, you may guess that we had some fun with the Cyrillic place names!

Montenegro

To use up our local currency, we spent our last night in Croatia alone at a small campsite, from where we entered Montenegro at a local border crossing. The UK won't insure for Serbia, Kosovo or Montenegro, so we needed to buy third party insurance for the van at the border. Sadly it wasn't available at this little local crossing! Everyone also has to buy 'eco' tax for the environment and get a sticker for their vehicle. Again not at our local crossing! Luckily the border guard could speak English and made special arrangements for us, which saved us retracing our steps along miles of unmade roads and probably getting lost, as we had no detailed maps. Our SatNav had none of the small roads – well actually it only showed ONE road in the whole country! There were no signposts either! The border guard gave us lots of advice about where to go and the new roads in Montenegro, while the officials from the main crossing drove around with the paperwork. Great customer service!

We had a fantastic week in Montenegro and we loved Kotor – both the town and the Gulf.

Albania, Macedonia

We watched a great folk dance display in the streets of Petrovac and then visited Ulcinj (Montenegro) before hot-footing it across Albania in a day to get to Macedonia. The less said about Albania the better! The litter was unbelievable – much of the country looked like a giant rubbish dump. The roads were OK but the drivers were not – frequently ignoring red traffic lights and generally driving like idiots! It reminded us that we really hadn't missed the driving in Perth!

We didn't stay much longer in Macedonia – spending a nice night by Lake Ohrid – and then on into Northern Greece. Since Italy we'd had no phone coverage in any of the countries so it was a relief to finally have a “Welcome to Vodafone Greece” text and know we could contact the outside world if we needed to.

Greece

Our month in Greece was great – starting right up north and visiting the Prespa Lakes and isolated communities before heading for the Vikos Gorge in the Pindos ranges. Here we met quite a few other people in camper-vans – we'd seen very few on our travels since Italy and we later discovered that almost everyone else got to Greece by taking a ferry from Venice or another port in Italy!

After the mountains we headed for the beaches for a few days, then back to the monasteries at Meteora that we visited 2 years ago. And we finally found the amazing Byzantine church in Krania (the second Krania that we drove to looking for it!). We'd first seen it in a photo. in a hotel lobby in 2009. We stayed there overnight and the workmen opened it up for us in the morning. In the future this will be a tourist attraction as it is an amazing building.                    

After 2 weeks we got down to the Peloponnese and had another 2 weeks touring the area – beaches, ruins (including Olympia, Mycenae, Mystras), mountain villages, mountains, gorges and monasteries. Some amazing places. One special place we really loved was Monemvasia.

Then in mid-June we followed everyone else's lead and put the van on the ferry at Patras, bound for Ancona in Italy. This was a 19 hour crossing and a bit of luxury for us as the cabin and meal were included in the very cheap fare of €107. Certainly it cost far less than the fuel to drive back up through Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary, which we were originally considering.

We found the port of Patras very, very threatening with lots of refugees trying to get to Italy by hiding in or under vehicles; trucks and camper-vans seemed to be the main target vector. Really scary.

Italy, Austria

Back in Italy we visited several interesting places that we had never been to, such as San Gimignano for a night of Mediaeval Festival before heading up to Lake Garda. Garda was packed full of tourists so we ended up parking by lake Lago de Ladro, staying in the area for a few days. Then up the amazing (but expensive) Timmelsjoch mountain pass into Austria for about a week which was all good.

Czech Republic

We entered the Czech Republic at Slavonice – not an exciting place and with incredibly bad roads-  before going via Peč to Telč and then to one of our favourite towns, Cesky Krumlov. It really helps to have been to these places before to know where to park. On our second day it poured with rain most of the day and it was freezing (10 degrees max!). Pam went out with more clothes on than you can imagine (including thermals and 2 beanies). The next day was hot and balmy! We then had a long drive to Kutna Hora, where we ended up sleeping in a farmer's field! The place name sounds like a dance but is in fact a small tourist town, though all the shops were closed as it turned out to be a holiday (on a Tuesday!?). Finally on to Prague, where we had 3 nights at an actual campsite! The Czech Republic is still cheap – even in Prague if you know where to go. Prague was packed, of course, but is still a great place to visit.

Germany, Switzerland, France

We left Prague to head back to Germany and return to Munich for a weekend Bulgarian dance workshop with
Iliana Bozhanova and Todor Yankov organised by Gabi and Stefan. We managed to find a parking/sleeping spot on the road right outside the hall where it was held and got our feet back into action again, which was quite a challenge. Then back on the Romantic Road to Schongau and on to Schaffhausen (and the Rhine Falls) in Switzerland and back to the Black Forest in Germany for some 'Wanderwegs' (walking) and back into Switzerland to drive off to France to catch the last stages of the Tour de France in the Alps. On the way we stayed at Yverdon with a French-speaking couple we'd met earlier in Italy at Lake Ladro and we arrived in Briancon late on Sunday 17th July to get details about the Tour routes, times and road closures. We had a lot to learn! Luckily there were lots of people to ask for advice – like about ten-thousand other motor homers, most of whom were big cycling fans!

Tour de France
(one of the high points of our holiday – watching as Cadel Evans won 'Le Tour')

We watched Stage 17 of Le Tour on the Col de Montgenθvre and Stage 18 on the Col d'Izard. This was fantastic, despite the freezing conditions. Thank goodness our van has a good gas heater. We skipped Stage 19 as tens of thousands of camper-vans were already parked up the mountain there (some had been there for a week, a week that included 10 cm of snow!) and the roads were jammed solid. Instead we drove on to get our spot for the Stage 20 time trial near Grenoble.

This was one of the highlights of our trip when Cadel Evans flew past up the hill to go on to take the overall race. We watched the end of the time trial on TV in a British campervan and then met up with 2 other Australian couples (1 from Perth) in their hired campervans.

We all cheered the final Paris stage in a pub in Uriage-les-Bains on Sunday – waving our Aussie flags and generally making an exhibition of ourselves!

After the Tour we stayed in the Alps for some R&R. We picked apples, blackberries and raspberries and did some walking. Great weather and great views of Mont Blanc.

Strasbourg

When we were in Turkey in 2006 we met a French family from Strasbourg. We got on very well and we swapped emails; as you do. As we entered France this year we emailed them and they said 'please come and visit – yes we have somewhere you can park the camper-van'. We ended up staying for a week and we had a great time; walking in the Vosges and in the Black Forest, visiting some wonderful 'villages alsaciens', swimming in their lake, sampling the local cuisine and touring Strasbourg. If you have never been to Strasbourg – put it on your list now. We certainly will be back.

Reflections on the trip

Distances and Driving: OK, OK we didn't do a lot for the atmosphere and we generated a lot of carbon dioxide. When we flew 14,660 km (PER – DBX – BHM) we thought it was a long way, but we then trumped that by driving almost 16,750 km in our motorhome. Perhaps not the sort of statistic that I should be writing on the day that the Carbon Tax Bill went through parliament!

Overall, the driving was enjoyable, and safe if we ignore the driving in Tirana (Albania) and in Grenoble (which for some reason was really aggressive and uncompromising). We did have some really 'interesting' times traversing a number of villages, usually in Greece. Lots of the roads we travelled on were quite narrow for our 2.7 metre wide van (that's 8' 10” in Pomish) but when it came to villages the streets suddenly shrink and we had a lot of pulling in the wing-mirrors and using the reversing camera – which was worth its weight in gold! The town of Leonidio probably had the narrowest streets – luckily with little traffic; Andritsena was really challenging – narrow streets, lots of coaches and a market happening in the middle of town! The locals just sat in the cafes and watched the action! Better than TV!

We were struck, particularly in France and Germany, by the number of cyclists and on the cycle tracks, so often separated from the roads. Not that the car and truck drivers were bad – in fact they were, with one or two exceptions, far, far better than Perth drivers!

To develop the 'cycling' theme – lots of countries seemed to have some form of recycling but there seemed to be little consistency, even within a country. Generally Germany seemed the best.

Language: Our French got a lot of practice, and our tourist German came in quite useful too. Overall we were surprised by the number of people across Europe who could speak English quite well. Having said that, the Cyrillic and Greek signposts were always a challenge!

Dance: Other than the dancing that we saw in Montenegro and the workshop that we attended in Munich, dancing was off the holiday-radar. There was however evidence of dance in some of the museums – such as the museum at Ancient Olympia, which had a bronze of 'seven nude people dancing in a round' from the 8th Century BC. Hora, anyone??

Safety: Overall it was a safe holiday; we had no safety or health problems. We only stayed in three camp sites and of the 134 nights on the continent, 63 of them we spent alone! Who did the risk analysis?!

Economies and Euro problems: We kept well away from Athens and cities in general – motorhomes and big places just don't mix well! Having said that, we were really unaware of the problems with the Greek economy, although people did seem very pleased to see us, especially when we were spending money!

Talking of spending money, it was really a very inexpensive holiday. Our flights and taxes were about A$3,700. The main cost was fuel, which accounted for one-third of our expenditure, with another 20% going on food and drink ($1,400). The other big cost covered insurance, road tax and a van service. Camping, overnight stops and parking cost $140 (less than 2%). This does of course ignore depreciation on the motorhome.

Yes, we are glad to be back: Six months was a long time to be away from children and grandchildren, and towards the end we did feel saturated and that we had seen everything! We needed a holiday at the end of the trip!

One thing that does strike us is how expensive Perth is. Bananas, tooth-paste, biscuits, bread and paper products such as tissues are so much cheaper in the UK and in Europe. That is, of course, balanced with the cheaper fuel here than in Europe!

So what for 2012?
Well, we've never been to Scandinavia so we're thinking Sweden and Norway for 2012.