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Travel Log: UK to Greece Autumn 2014 PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

Travel Log: UK to Greece in the Autumn of 2014 

 

The First Journey in our Carado T337 Motorhome

 

3,700 miles Overland from the UK to Greece via the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria

 

Margaret Williamson

 

See also the map, table of distances and photographs of the route and an account comparing this journey through Eastern Europe with parallel bicycle journeys made in the days of the iron Curtain:

 

An Autumnal Journey through Eastern Europe 2014 

 

The whole journey is summarised and linked together at:

A European Journey 2014-2015  

 

Images of the journey can be found under the general heading:

 

http://www.magbazpictures.com/greece-2014.html 

 

Continued at: In Greece Winter 2014/2015 

 

Introduction 

 

After a wasted monthCarado_(10).JPG of July in England, wrestling with the phenomenon of Marquis Malpractice, August passed pleasantly in the purchase, equipping and testing of an excellent Carado T337 motorhome from the rejuvenated Brownhills Motorhomes of Newark. By September we were riding the long-distance river cycle paths of Germany, and October saw us motorhoming through the Eastern European countries of Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. Our aim - to reach the warm shelter of Greece before winter strikes! 

 

LATE AUGUST – DFDS FERRY FROM NEWCASTLE TO THE NETHERLANDS

Ijmuiden Port to Camping De Wapenberg, Ugchelen, Nr Apeldoorn, Gelderland – 70 miles

Open 28 March-1 Nov. www.dewapenberg.nl. ACSI Card rate €15 inc local tax, 6 amp elec and showers. Excellent WiFi €2 per day or €7.50 per week (with a second machine half price!)  N 52°10'19”  E 5°54'45”

It had been a smooth overnight crossing on the 'Sea Princess', leaving the DFDS terminal at North Shields, near Newcastle, at 5 pm and docking in Ijmuiden, near Amsterdam, at 9.30 am. The first time we've used this route, booked through the Camping & Caravanning Club, with a 2-bunk sea-view cabin. The boat was full - mostly British, a couple of Dutch and German motorhomes and a small group of Dutch cyclists who had miraculously survived the English traffic. The 3 restaurants on board were expensive (eg £30 per person for a breakfast buffet!) but the 'Lighthouse Cafι' served more reasonable fare with large helpings of cod & chips or chilli con carne. We had our own muffins, chocolate and lemonade (sounds like Enid Blyton) to complete the meal.

It took almost an hour to unload the ferry at Ijmuiden, where the SatNav led us past the fish market and onto the motorway system, skirting Amsterdam on the busy South Ring round to the A1. Stopping at the first services to make a late breakfast, we consulted our maps and campsite guides. The ACSI Card scheme, being a Dutch organisation, lists plenty of sites in the Netherlands.

From A1 exit 19, just south of Apeldoorn, it was only 2 miles south on N304 to the well-signed De Wapenberg campsite, tucked in the forest on the northern edge of the Hooge Veluwe National Park. A very pleasant quiet site, with more rabbits than campers, though it became busier at the weekend. The rabbits (including a Lucky Black) even ate the bread we put out for the birds! We saw blackbird, thrush, robin, chaffinch, nuthatch, treecreeper and bluetits.

From friendly Dutch campers we learnt that this area was once a royal hunting ground, there are still deer in the forest, which are fed, and the nearby Het Loo Palace (of the House of Orange) is open to visitors.

At Camping de Wapenberg, Ugchelen

The WiFi worked well, enabling us to catch up on emails and listen to Radio 4, enjoying the serial 'Dark Fire', one of C J Sansom's Tudor murder mysteries.

Shopping was easy by bicycle, riding the Fietspads (cycle paths) that included a dedicated bike path on either side of the busy Europaweg leading to the motorway and Apeldoorn. The local shops included Halfords and a Deka supermarket, which had tasty free samples at every counter. We did buy a roast chicken.

Cycling to Otterlo & back (47 km): The cycle path that passed the campsite's rear entrance led us through the woods to the village of Hoenderloo, where there is one of several official entrances to the Hooge Veluwe National Park. Shocked to discover that the entrance fee was €8.50 per person, even for walkers or cyclists, while motorists paid an extra €3 per car to park! This did include entrance to a museum and loan of a White Bicycle but there was no reduction for simple entry to the park, not even for seniors. Revising our high opinion of the Netherlands, we left and worked out our own route around the perimeter of the private park! We rode on excellent free bike paths alongside both major and minor roads to the small tourist town of Otterlo. Here we ate our chicken sandwiches in the park, looked round the street market and enjoyed coffee and apple cake outside a cafι in the sunshine. Interesting to find a memorial to the Canadians, British and civilians killed here in April 1945 in the last battle for the liberation of the Netherlands, following Operation Market Garden in September 1944.  Returning to the campsite at Ugchelen by a longer route, we completed a wonderful 30-mile ride: warm, light wind, no rain, gentle hills – this is cycling heaven!

Ugchelen to Camping de Wije Werelt, Otterlo, Gelderland – 50 miles

Open 28 March-31 Dec. www.wijewerelt.nl. ACSI Card rate €16 plus local tax, inc 10 amp elec and showers. Reductions for long stay (2 weeks plus). WiFi €3.50 per day or €9 for 3 days (less for 5 days, etc). N 52.08657  E5.76934

From Ugchelen we drove into Arnhem to the electrical 'Platte TV' store in a shopping mall with free parking (thanks to a Google search and the SatNav). Here we bought a 19” TV (made by Salora, a Finnish firm) which also has a CD/DVD slot and computer connection. An excellent buy. Also shopped in the supermarket and ate lunch in the car park while a sudden thunderstorm raged.

Checked out 2 ACSI-Card camps at Schaarsbergen on the NW side of Arnhem but both were huge regimented busy sites, so continued to Otterlo and stopped at the first of the 3 sites there. It's a large camp but we found a hedged pitch in a corner of the quietest field (the one furthest from the excellent facilities). The WiFi works well, there is a restaurant/bar with takeaway, an outdoor pool we didn't use and a laundry that we did. There are even Red Squirrels.

The new TV worked well, not for television (we have no aerial) but for watching films straight off our back-up hard drive. After dinner we watched the incomparable Marlene Dietrich in 'A Foreign Affair', filmed in Berlin shortly after the end of WW2. It was shocking to see the extent of the demolition of the city.

At Camping de Wije Werelt, Otterlo

We discovered what happens if you fill the motorhome water tank without putting the large screw cap back on – at least the floors are now clean!

Otterlo proved a good centre for cycling, with Fietspads past our campsite in every direction.

Cycling to Kootwijk & back (35 km): Rode into Otterlo (2.5 km) past 2 other campsites. At the obliging hardware shop we bought a few things, leaving them to collect on our way back. The Spar mini-market opposite had free coffee for shoppers! Then rode the cycle path on to Harskamp. Here we turned off on a track through the sandy woods to the eerie 'Kathedral Radio Kootwijk', a huge 1920s concrete building, rising high above the open heathland. It was used initially for short wave radio transmission to Dutch colonies in the Far East (Dutch East Indies) and later used as a signal station during WW2. It's currently having a facelift, with scaffolding and men who don't suffer vertigo. Returning via Kootwijk village and an ice cream in Harskamp, we reached Otterlo with 3 minutes to spare before the hardware store closed at 6 pm.

Back at the camp we tried a selection of deep-fried snacks from the takeaway with chips, mayo and dipping sauces. Very welcome, cheap and tasty – though none of your 5-a-day there! Then we began watching 'Happy Valley', a gritty 5-part British police series set in Halifax, that we'd bought on DVD.

Cycling to Hoenderloo & back (45 km): Going anticlockwise round the perimeter of the private Hooge Veluwe National Park, we rode SE to Schaarsbergen, N to Hoenderloo (with coffee and apple cake in the bakery cafι), then W back to Otterlo. All on good sealed cycle paths or a bike lane at the edge of a very quiet road. MAGIC!

Cycling to Lunteren & back (33 km): Rode some new paths, SE through woodland and across the Ederheide heath, purple with heather, to Ede. Turned NW to Lunteren, where we found a bank machine and had coffee and cakes at a lovely old pub, complete with carpet-clad tables. Returned east to Otterlo on a route suggested by a helpful Dutch couple, using the 'cycling by numbers' method following signposts.

SEPTEMBER 2014 – INTO GERMANY

Otterlo to Womo Park Xanten, Xanten, Lower Rhine – 98 miles

Open all year. www.womopark-xanten.de.  €10 for 24 hrs parking inc water and dump. Optional €3 for 16-amp elec. Optional €1.50 per person per day for entry code to luxury toilet/shower room. (Realised too late that no need to pay this, as campers let each other in!) WiFi €3 per day (but out of order). N 51°39'15”  E 6°27'55”

Drove on motorways past Arnhem, then on to Winterswijk (not far from the border). On the edge of town there is ample free parking (but no overnighting) at the huge 2-storey Obelink shop, a vast warehouse of a store selling clothing, equipment and accessories for every kind of camping and leisure activity, from caravans to bicycle bells. We bought a couple of small items, had lunch in the self-service cafι and continued into Winterswijk to shop at Lidl.

Turning south and across the border into Germany, we checked out Camping Gravinsel on an island in the Rhine near Wesel. The enormous site looked full and the bullet-headed man in Reception was less than helpful, despite being addressed in Margaret's fluent and polite German.

We crossed to the west side of the Rhine and made our way to Xanten and the motorhome park there. It was almost full and had upgraded its facilities (and prices) since our last visit. Xanten is listed in both the books we use for camperstops, available from Amazon or from Vicarious Books at www.vicarious-shop.com. Namely 'Camperstop Europe' (in English) and the 2-volume 'Bordatlas' (in German with more entries, more countries and far more detail). Like French Aires, many a German Stellplatz now charges a daily fee, though usually less than a fully fledged campsite.

Having paid extra for the key-code to the admittedly excellent ablutions, we quickly realised our mistake. Other motorhomers (German and Dutch) were letting each other in as a protest against the charge. Besides, how can you slam the door in the face of the old man in the queue behind you?

At Womo Park, Xanten

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/xanten.html

Next day we cycled into Xanten (2 km), an area Margaret knew well as a student. She worked one summer long on the archaeological excavations of the Roman city and river port of Colonia Ulpia Traiana, now known as APX (Archaeologischer Park Xanten). This site and its museum are very well worth a visit (even at €9 per person) but, of course, we have already returned there (twice) so we left the complex to the tour buses.

The medieval walled town is now very much a tourist destination, with guided walks, a toy train and the Kriemhilde Muehle windmill cafι open beneath its circling sails. We browsed the shops, sent postcards and bought an ADAC Compact Atlas of Germany.

Cycling round Xanten's lakes (25 km): After lunch we rode round the two linked lakes (Sudsee and Nordsee), passing the Strandbad (open-air bathing place with entry fee) and pausing for coffee at the marina. It was a level ride on gravel paths and side roads, though badly signed if at all. An information board showed a wooden Roman barge, sunk upside down in the Sudsee, found recently while dredging for gravel. The two lakes were once an arm of the Rhine and the barge was carrying building material. A prehistoric settlement has also been evidenced on the site of the Roman colony.

Xanten to Camping Wolfsmuehle, Lahnstein, Rhineland-Pfalz – 137 miles

Open 15 March-31 Dec. www.campingwolfsmuehle.de. ACSI Card rate €17 inc local tax, 8 amp elec and showers. May be extra for riverside pitch when busy. WiFi €2.50 for a day, €5 for 3 days, or €10  for an unlimited stay. N 50°18'54”  E 7°38'1”

From Xanten we headed for motorway A57. Junction 8 being closed, we were diverted to Junction 7 near Rheinberg. Then south on A57, especially busy past Dusseldorf and the Ruhr with roadworks.  Joined A1 round the west side of Cologne, then took A61 south.

Paused for lunch on a service station where trucks were already parked up (next day being Sunday when they are not allowed on German motorways). Polish and Lithuanian drivers crouched by their vehicles cooking on camping gas stoves and we pitied their long wait.

Near Koblenz we turned east onto A48, to cross the Rhine and exit at Vallendar. Finally, south on B42, exit at Oberlahnstein and follow signs from the roundabout to the campsite on the south bank of the River Lahn (a tributary of the Rhine).

A sign at the entrance declared that it was full but we'd phoned ahead and were shown to the only vacant pitch, tucked between Dutch neighbours who were fishing, right by the waterside. Once settled, it was a joy to sit in warm sunshine by the river, with a large family of swans to feed, private and public boats on their way to or from Bad Ems, and cyclists to watch riding the Lahnradweg along the opposite bank.

At Camping Wolfsmuehle, Lahnstein

The campsite and its position were so good that we stayed for 10 days, with several cycle rides along both Lahn and Rhine. We sampled the excellent campsite restaurant  (pork Schnitzel or chicken with chips and a salad buffet), as well as the takeaway pizza. The nearest shops (Globus, Lidl, Aldi) are in Lahnstein, a short cycle ride or a €1.60 bus-ride away. There was time for laundry and internet, with some evenings spent watching 'Game of Thrones' Series 3 - fascinating, though the gratuitous violence is increasing.

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/cycling-the-rhine1.html

Cycling Lahnstein to Koblenz & back (25 km): Camp Reception supplied a free sketch map of a route to Koblenz on an intermittently signed Radweg (cycle path). It suggested crossing the Lahn to the north bank on a footbridge, which involves carrying bicycles up and down a very steep staircase. Then it's 3 km into Lahnstein, where the river meets the Rhine. Turn north and follow the cycle path up the east bank of the Rhine to Pfaffendorf and cross the road bridge to Koblenz (total 10 km). Then cycle along the traffic-free Rhine promenade (Rheinufer) north to the Deutsches Eck, the confluence of Rhine and Mosel, with its imposing equestrian statue of Kaiser Wilhelm (replaced after the Americans destroyed it in the last war). Riding this on a sunny Sunday afternoon, with everyone and their dogs out in force, we joined the crowds for an ice cream, then returned to Lahnstein. This time we crossed the Lahn on the town bridge and cycled back to camp on quiet roads, rather than the river path with its difficult bridge.

We cycled into Koblenz twice more - on a week day when we found the paths much quieter, and on a Saturday when the Koblenz promenade was thronged with the biggest flea market we've ever seen. The railway station cafι had good coffee, as well as sausages served with bread and potato salad. After some searching, we found a good cycle shop Fahrrad XXL near the Eck, with 2 floors of clothing and accessories. When we asked for maps they directed us to Thalia bookshop in the basement of a shopping mall opposite, where we bought maps of both the Lahn and the Mosel cycle routes.  

Cycling Lahnstein to Bingen (64 km): With a room booked at the Kempter Eck guesthouse in Bingen, we left the motorhome on the campsite (they didn't even charge for the hookup that night) and took a 2-day ride up and down the Rhine. We didn't have a map for this but you can hardly miss the river! There is a continuous cycle path along the west bank, while the path on the east side is unfinished, with gaps forcing cyclists onto a busy road. There are no bridges south of Koblenz until Bingen but six separate ferries(for pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles up to 8 tons) regularly link towns along the way. We assume the lack of bridges is because this stretch of the Mittelrheintal (the romantic Rhine valley and gorge, complete with castles and the Loreley rock) is a UNESCO heritage site, free of industry and modern buildings – and the Allies had helpfully cleared the old bridges over the Rhine, ending with Remagen.

We cycled into Lahnstein, then followed the cycle path south, on the east side of the Rhine, to Filsen (18 km), the first chance to cross to the west bank on the ferry to Boppard. The one-way fare for cycle + rider was €2.30 (same on all the ferries). A return ticket saved a little but was only valid for the same day. In Boppard we sat in the sun with coffees, watching the various day-trip boats depart: upstream as far as the Loreley, or downstream to Koblenz or even on to the Mosel. There were also long river cruisers on their way to Switzerland, as well as working barges laden low with coal, stone, scrap iron or fuel.

Just before St Goar we had lunch at a picnic table outside Das Boot, a small hotel that was closed up and for sale (30 km). A German family offered us a bag of sweets! On we rode, always on a dedicated cycle path, past the St Goar-St Goarshausen ferry and the Loreley Rock rising above the opposite bank. Leaving Oberwesel we bought chocolate and biscuits at Lidl. We passed two more ferries at Bacharach-Kaub and Niederheimbach-Lorch before reaching the larger town of Bingen-am-Rhein (62 km).

Continuing past the Bingen-Rudesheim ferry we reached the Hindenburgbruecke Camping and turned right through a short tunnel under the railway to Kempter Eck, and one of two hotels listed in Bett und Bike (the German 'Bed & Bike' website). It was a good choice, with an excellent room and biscuits, grapes and sweets left out for hungry cyclists - but no restaurant. Our kind hostess recommended the food at the Hindenburgbruecke campsite, to which we returned for plates of pig & chips, followed by cakes from the nearby bakery.

All that remains of the Hindenburg railway bridge is a pair of massive stone pillars in the river. Originally built by Russian prisoners of war in 1914, it was destroyed by German Pioneers in early 1945 to prevent Allied forces from crossing.

Cycling Bingen to Lahnstein (65 km): The day began with a generous breakfast buffet – a selection of home-made jams, fruit juice and fruit yogurt from the family orchards, as well as the usual cheeses, hams, omelette, rolls and coffee - served by Rosa and Toni, who have run the hotel for 30 years. It began life as a 16th C hostelry, much restored after part-destruction by an Allied bomb. The port at Kempter Eck was where the draft horses were changed in the days when wooden barges, usually carrying barrels of wine, were towed upstream by a team of 3 horses led by a lad.

To vary the return route to Lahnstein, we cycled 2 km back to the Bingen ferry, crossed to Rudesheim and set out northwards up the east bank of the Rhine. Quickly realising our mistake (there was no cycle path on this side, just signs of building one here and there), we struggled along the B42 into a head wind to the next ferry (Lorch to Niederheimbach) at 15 km. It was a relief to rejoin the path up the west side, to reverse yesterday's ride. After a coffee break in Bacharach at 19 km we pushed on, with more shelter from trees than on the eastern side. Lunch was again a picnic outside Das Boot hotel after St Goar.

In Boppard at 46 km the Rhine promenade was celebrating its Weinfest – yes, it's wine harvest time. We took our third ferry of the day, across to Filsen, then cycled back to Lahnstein for the final 3 km along roads to the campsite.

 Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/cycling-the-lahn.html

Cycling Lahnstein to Laurenburg & back (70 km): Crossed the footbridge (with steep steps) to the north bank of the Lahn, then rode upstream on the Lahntalradweg (Lahn Valley Cycle Path), for which we'd bought a cycle-touring guide published by Bikeline. It was a good path on pleasant cool Sunday. In the spa town of Bad Ems (10 km) we crossed the bridge to the south bank and passed the railway station, where a couple of cyclists waited for the regular service that will carry bikes up the Lahn Valley. The bridge and remains of a tower here mark the point where the Limes (the frontier of the Roman Empire) crossed the Lahn and there is a museum in the town.  On to Nassau (at 20 km), where we ate our sandwiches by the river and bought coffee at a pizzeria across the bridge.

The next stretch through the woods of the Naturpark Nassau was much more strenuous, with a steep (1 in 6) climb up to the Arnstein Kloster (pilgrimage church and hostel) overlooking the valley, then an equally steep descent before Obernhof. Here we recrossed the Lahn to the north bank for an easy level ride to Laurenburg (35 km). A surprise rewarded our efforts as the village Backfest  (baking festival) was in full swing, with drinks, cakes and pastries on sale to support the community centre. Only too glad to oblige, we enjoyed coffee and Apfelkuchen, as well as apricot slices to carry back! Retracing the route to the campsite, we walked the long ascent to Arnstein Kloster. It commemorates a Belgian missionary who died of leprosy in the Hawaian Islands.

Note: The Lahntalradweg actually ends at Laurenburg, with a gap beyond until Geilnau. Cyclists must ride the very steep and busy road K25, involving a 2-km climb to Holzappel, or take the train from Laurenburg to the next station at Balduinstein. Our guidebook claims that bikes are carried free on this short section of railway, which follows the river, while the road does not! Perhaps this gap will be remedied in the future.

Lahnstein to Wohnmobil Station, Weilburg, Hessen – 51 miles

Open all year (may be closed for special events in July/August). www.weilburg.de.  €6 per day parking. Optional €2 a day for key to 16-amp elec, water and dump point. Free WC at Fire Station opposite. No showers or WiFi. N 50°29'0”  E 8°15'29”

We drove into Lahnstein to shop at Aldi (4 miles) and continued NE on rd 49 to Montabaur to join A3 (Frankfurt direction). A lunch break at the Heiligenroth services, then exit 42 at Limburg to rejoin rd 49 to the medieval town of Weilburg, again on the River Lahn.

On the way in we checked the campsite at Odersburg (on the river 3km SW of Weilburg) but were not impressed by the small muddy pitch indicated by the off-hand Receptionist, nor by the metered electricity and showers costing €1.10. Continuing into Weilburg, we much preferred the enormous level Stellplatz opposite the fire station. About 20 motorhomes stood there already, with plenty of space for more.

A warden from the Tourist Office drives round twice daily (about 9 am and 7 pm) to collect fees and hand out/collect optional keys (€15 deposit), or you can walk up into the town to do this during Tourist Office hours (8.30 am-6 pm Mon-Fri). Why close at weekends?

We parked and climbed the steep lane to explore the Old Town, found the Tourist Office inside the walls on Mauerstrasse and paid for 2 nights – or actually only one night, with a two-for-one coupon from our 'Bordatlas' which is beginning to pay for itself.

At Wohnmobil Station, Weilburg

The Stellplatz proved to be very peaceful, with the added attraction of a baker's van calling at about 9 am each morning with fresh rolls, excellent croissants and pastries! The specific reason for coming was to cycle more of the Lahntalradweg which ran past the gates in either direction, giving us two good rides.

Cycling Weilburg to Wetzlar & back (63 km): Rode upstream for 31 km to Wetzlar. The cycle path was well signed, as it needed to be. We lost count of how many times we crossed and re-crossed bridges over the Lahn, the railway and the highways. It's a ride along the valley, not always within sight of the river, and occasionally deviating onto a short stretch of busy road. The first opportunity for coffee along the way was at a simple grill kiosk in Solms (20 km), as this is not a tourist route.

Reaching Wetzlar we crossed the old Lahn bridge, ate our sardine sandwiches in the riverside park and looked round the historic Old Town and cathedral, unusually shared by Catholics and Protestants. Its architecture is a hotch-potch of asymmetry, as it was altered over the centuries and never completely finished. Over the main entrance, below a statue of the Madonna & Child, a devil can be seen clutching a Jew and a nearby notice has a homily about Jews being abused down the ages throughout Europe – not a little chilling!

Wetzlar is better known for its links with the poet and writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who came from Frankfurt to work as a young lawyer in its famous courts. Here he met Charlotte Buff and Karl Jerusalem, who appear as Lotte and Jerusalem in Goethe's autobiographical novel of 1774: Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (The sufferings of young Werther).

Finally Wetzlar is home to the Leica camera, still made there. Ernst Leitz's firm that made microscopes produced the world's first small camera in 1925. After absorbing all this we returned to Weilburg by the same route, with another coffee break in Solms, arriving back around 5 pm.

Cycling Weilburg to Steeden (near Limburg) & back (61 km): Rode downstream on the well-signed Lahntalradweg, mainly along the river which it crossed 3 times each way. The only problem was two stretches of gravel and dirt path between Fuerfurt and Villmar that were too narrow to pass another cyclist. Luckily it wasn't very busy, on a cooler showery day after rain in the night.

In Villmar (21 km) we climbed up into the village. The cafι at the Marble Museum was closed but we found coffee and food at the bakery (always a good option in Germany). Back on the river path, we crossed the lovely marble bridge over the Lahn and continued along the right bank into Runkel. Here we recrossed the river on an old stone bridge leading to the Burg, a twee castle, rode on through the Old Town, then back across the river on a modern road bridge.

Continued towards Limburg, turning back 5 km before the city, between Steeden and Dehrn, as we'd reached the industrial outskirts of  Limburg with a view of a cement factory and the threat of rain. We returned the same way, with an ice cream break in Runkel to avoid a short shower.

Weilburg to Camping Erden, Erden an der Mosel, Rhineland-Pfalz – 119 miles

Open 1 April-31 Oct. www.camping-erden.de. ACSI Card rate €16 inc 4 kWh of 16-amp elec (extra usage is metered) and showers. Beware: Riverside pitches cost €22! Also a cheaper motorhome park on an adjacent sloping field, with use of campsite facilities. Free WiFi in reception/restaurant only. N 49°58'48”  E 7°1'13”

Farewell to the lovely baker's van (after stocking up with croissants, rolls, currant teacakes and chocolate cake!) and to the helpful warden from the Tourist Office. This is the perfect time to be cycling Germany's river paths, with the weather still good, and we now have the Moselradweg in our sights.

Drove back to Limburg on rd 49, took A3 motorway NW to exit 34, then A48 SW across the Rhine, past Koblenz and along to exit 4 for Cochem. The SatNav took us along a minor road (9-ton limit, no trucks or buses) past the Maria Martental Kloster, zigzagging down and up again, until it joined rd 259 SE down to Cochem on the Mosel. There was probably an easier route but at least we avoided the congested centre of this river's premier tourist spot – the Pearl of the Mosel – with its fairytale castle.

We followed rd 49 along the west bank, twisting with the serpentine river, through Ernst (where we spent a night after cycling from Koblenz 2 years ago). In the Wine Village (what else?) of Bremm we parked for lunch below the towering Calmont vineyards – Europe's steepest, in the foothills of the Eifel Mountains. The terraces of vines are supported by dry stone walls and reached by single-track miniature rack railways. Blame the Romans, who introduced viticulture here 2000 years ago.

On to the village of Alf and over the bridge to the east bank and Baeren-Camp at Bullay, near Zell – an ACSI Card site that we'd phoned 2 days earlier to reserve a place ('No Problem'). Arriving at 1.45 pm, we found Reception closed until 2 pm, with a barrier in front of us and another British motorhome behind. Margaret found the boss in the camp restaurant and asked politely in German if the barrier could be opened, as we were all blocking the entrance. He rudely told her to wait until 2 pm so, as we could see no vacant pitches in any case, we reported this to the other motorhome, which reversed out of our way – and we all left. It is time campsites realised that campers are paying customers!

We drove on past Zell and took rd 53 through Traben-Trarbach to Erden, with a campsite and Stellplatz on the river and directly on the Mosel Cycle Path. It wasn't full and had a complicated 3-price structure that we eventually unscrambled. The cheaper Stellplatz was on a crowded sloping field, so we took an ACSI Card place on the level riverside meadow. Pitches along the front row by the water cost €6 extra and were all empty, so we had a river view anyway!

At Camping Erden, Erden an der Mosel

Again we had two good cycle rides, following the Moselradweg in each direction, and spent a third day catching up with laundry, and working on-line in the camp restaurant. We ate there one evening (a reasonable pork schnitzel, chips and salad, along with a glass of Federweisser, the new young sparkly Mosel wine that is on offer at every bar along the river). For entertainment, we watched an Australian comedy film 'The Castle' that was excellent in a 'Kath & Kim' (Australian TV series) kind of way.

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/cycling-the-moselle1.html

Cycling Erden to Niederemmel (nr Piesport) & back (60 km): Rode upstream (Trier direction) along the Moselradweg. It is well signed but we found the cycle-touring map published by Kompass (www.kompass.de) useful for detail. The weather was very warm with a light wind, mostly against us but variable, as the river snakes through a high-sided valley. The path was busy with a variety of cyclists, old and young, especially through Bernkastel with its boat tours and cycle hire depot.

In Muelheim (17 km), a village set back from the cycle path, we had a good lunch sitting in the bakery - coffees, large slices of warm Zwiebelkuchen (onion flan, a local speciality), plum tart and cheesecake! Then on through many a village Wine Festival (all serving Federweisser and Zwiebelkuchen), past countless guesthouses and wineries, until we reached Niederemmel at the bridge to Piesport. (The cycle route doesn't cross the Mosel here, continuing on the same side until Schweich, near Trier.)

We climbed up to the church in Emmel before turning back to retrace our route, stopping only for an ice cream in Bernkastel. It was very hot and sticky when we got back (30 deg C inside the motorhome), with thunder rumbling and rain overnight.

Cycling Erden to Zell & back (66 km): On a cooler morning (trousers, not shorts) we rode on good cycle paths downstream (Koblenz direction). The wine village of Wolf (9 km) was busy clearing the streets up after the weekend's Weinfest. Continuing round the bend in the river to Enkirch, we turned off into the village (17 km) for very welcome coffees and pastries at the bakery cafι. On through Burg-am-Mosel and Puenderlich, then a less pleasant section of gravel and mud on a narrow path into Zell (33 km). Here we crossed the pedestrian bridge to the other bank and ate our sandwiches in a riverside shelter.

Our map showed a cycle route on this side, back towards Trier, so we took it. It was gravel and mud through the vineyards for a stretch, then a better path to Puenderlich, where the small ferry we might have taken had just left. So we continued, riding below the railway viaduct and crossing the river by bridge to Enkirch. The slopes on both sides of the Mosel were densely clothed in vines, with workers still picking both green and black grapes. Two well-known wine labels appeared on the signs above the vineyards near Zell: Schwartzer Katze (Black Cat) and Nacktarsch (Naked Arse)!

From Enkirch we cycled back, passing the huge and incongruous Buddah Museum. Heavy rain followed a sudden squall as we rode through Wolf but by the time we reached camp the sun was out and we hung all our gear under the awning to dry! After a pot of tea and hot showers, we were 'right as rain'

Erden/Mosel to Camping Zum Faehrturm, Schweich, Rhineland-Pfalz – 25 miles

Open 5 April-20 Oct. www.kreusch.de. €11 plus metered elec (€0.60 per kWh) plus a one-off €1 connection fee. Free shower tokens. WiFi very expensive. Also adjacent 'Quickstop' motorhome parking area with no facilities for €5.50. N 49°48'52”  E 6°45'1”

From Erden we crossed the Mosel on the bridge at Zeltingen and drove almost into Wittlich, to shop at a large Lidl with easy parking on the right of the main road. There was also an Aldi on the left. Then back a short way to join the A1 at junction 125, and SW to exit 129 for Schweich. Then the main road south through Schweich to the river, where there is a huge campsite by the yacht marina just before a bridge crosses to the south bank. This was the site of the old ferry, where the ferry tower (Faehrturm) still stands.

After queuing to check in at the busy and expensive restaurant (serving both marina and campsite), it was difficult to find a place within reach of the electricity boxes, of which there were far too few. Then a groundsman had to be fetched to unlock the box and read the meter. It was an unfriendly place with uncaring staff, a very long walk to the one grim facility block and tokens that dispensed one short tepid shower per person per day. We only stayed briefly in order to ride another section of the Mosel Cycle Path. Didn't use the campsite WiFi at €3 for 30 minutes or €4.40 an hour!

In the afternoon we cycled to the 'Fritz Berger' camping and caravan accessory shop, one of a national chain, in Kenn, 2.5 miles away over the bridge. We bought spare light bulbs and two stronger outside door clips, which Barry fitted to the garage and habitation doors.

Cycling Schweich to Niederemmel (nr Piesport) & back (67 km): Rode over the bridge to the south bank and followed the Moselradweg downstream as far as Niederemmel (opposite Piesport), the point we'd reached riding from Erden 4 days previously. The route was mainly along the river with a couple of detours through villages. Shared the cycle path with a selection of other riders - laden cycle-tourists, day riders and local shoppers of all ages – as well as the occasional tractor harvesting grapes.

First stop at Detzem (13 km), for excellent coffee and cakes at the Cafι Moselufer. On through Thoernich and Koewerich (the home of Beethoven's mother), round a bend in the river opposite Trittenheim and into Dhron-Neumagen, Germany's oldest wine village, producing since Roman times. Outside the gothic church of St Peter here we saw a copy of the famous gravestone depicting a Neumagen wine-boat. The original - one of over 1,000 archaeological finds from this area - is in Trier Museum).

Reaching Niederemmel, we ate our sandwiches in the park by the Tourist Office, where a Roman milestone still stands on the old Roman road from Mainz to Trier. The inscription records a date in the 3rd century AD and its position, 18 Roman miles from the important city of Trier (1 Roman mile = 2.222 km). We returned to Schweich by the same route, recrossing the bridge to the busy impersonal international campsite.

 INTO LUXEMBOURG

Schweich to Municipal Camping La Route du Vin, Grevenmacher – 21 miles

Open 1 April-30 Sept. www.grevenmacher.lu. €15.30 inc 6-amp elec and showers. Free WiFi. N 49.68302  E 6.44891

Decided against another cycle ride from this miserable campsite and left, after a long delay caused by the need to find someone to unlock and read the electricity meter, report back to Reception and queue to pay.

It was an easy drive SW on rd 52, which became the A64 to Luxembourg. At the border there were services at Wasserbillig (16 miles), with fuel certainly cheaper than Germany, and no toll charges except for trucks. We continued on the motorway, now called A1, to the next exit (14) for Grevenmacher and descended to the small town on the west bank of the Mosel. The river is the border, the opposite side being Germany.

The pleasant little municipal campsite is on the way into the town centre, next to a large open-air pool complex (with entrance fee) that separates it from the river. The site is mainly statics and cabins, with a small area for tourers that we had to ourselves. What a lovely contrast with the site at Schweich! We stayed for 5 days until it closed on 1st October. A bonus was the baker's van calling each morning with an array of baguettes, croissants and patisserie.

At Camping La Route du Vin, Grevenmacher

The area is French-speaking, though German is understood and we heard the local people using a strange dialect that sounded Flemish! The architecture and culture feels more French, as is the cuisine. La Belle Pierre restaurant in the town offered a 3-course set menu at lunchtime, Tuesday to Friday, for €9 with waiter service. When we walked in to sample it, we had soup (excellent), grilled steak (too rare) with chips & veg, followed by ice cream chantilly. The tough steak we smuggled out wasn't wasted as M sliced it into a well cooked beef stroganoff the next day! The alternative main course - moules - was a huge bowl of spaghetti topped with mussels in their shells.

With good free WiFi working in the motorhome we caught up on correspondence, laundry and other domestic chores, like kettle descaling and fridge defrosting. Also continued watching 'Game of Thrones' Series 4. Will Tyrian the Imp be executed for Joffrey's murder?  Probably not, he's everyone's favourite character!

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/cycling-the-moselle1.html

Cycling Grevenmacher to Schengen & back (65 km): A 3-country ride, in Germany, Luxembourg and France! Rode over the bridge to the German bank of the Mosel, being the best side for cycling parallel with the Mosel Weinstrasse, then upstream past the villages of Wellen and Nittel, each with a railway halt. Noted that passing trains carried bicycles, as so often on the Deutsche Bahn. At Wehr we climbed up into the village in search of coffee but found only wine on sale! Luckily it is still sunny and warm for the grape harvest (while friends email that it's cold and wet in Hamelin and Dresden). After Palzem we had coffee and cake in the cafι at Camping Dreilaendereck (= three countries corner), near Nennig (20 km). The friendly old lady gave us a gift of sweet grapes from the vine that was planted by a Russian prisoner of war. Over the bridge in Luxembourg lay the town of Remich but we continued on the German bank (a good sealed path the whole way) to the end of the Moselradweg - and the last page of our sturdy waterproof map published by Kompass - at Perl (30 km).

Perl is at the actual Dreilaendereck: straight on for the French border at Apach or across the Mosel to Schengen in Luxembourg. We crossed the bridge to Schengen, sat outside a French-style cafι/bar with coffees and croques (cheese & ham toasties), then returned to Perl and cycled a mile to enter France. The iron model of the Eifel tower reminded us of Filiatra in the Greek Peloponnese, which boasts a similar model alongside a globe. Returned by our outward route along the German cycle path until the bridge over to Grevenmacher.

Cycling Grevenmacher to Trier & back (48 km): Again we rode over the bridge to the German side, then downstream to Trier. An easy ride apart from one short steep climb to bridge the River Saar at its confluence with the Mosel. Approaching Trier, the river and city were busy with Sunday tourists.

We entered Trier through the massive Porta Nigra, still the entrance to the old city. There was a bicycle garage at the gate (€1.50 for up to 4 hours) but we wheeled them into and around the cobbled pedestrian centre. The Porta Nigra is the best preserved Roman city gate north of the Alps, and also the largest that remains (north or south of the Alps), at 30 m high. Built in 180 AD under Emperor Aurelius, it was the northern gate on the 6.5 km long city walls. Trier also has a massive 20,000-seat Roman amphitheatre (built c 100 AD), ancient baths and a Roman bridge that still crosses the Mosel, all of which we'd seen on a previous visit.

We walked round the medieval centre, the Hauptmarkt, with its fine gothic houses, ornate fountain (1595) and town hall, and exclusive restaurants. Luckily there was also McDonalds. We literally couldn't miss the massive cathedral or Dom, a World Heritage site just off the Hauptmarkt, which also dates back to Roman times. The story is that Helena (mother of Rome's first Christian Emperor, Constantine) donated her house in Trier to the Bishop in the 3rd C AD for conversion into a church that grew over the centuries into the cathedral. It still houses a relic, the Holy Robe, supposedly Christ's tunic that Helena brought back from the Holy Land. Kept in the Holy Robe Chapel in an air-conditioned glass shrine, it can no longer be seen. It was first open to view for pilgrims in 1512 but the last pilgrimage was in 1996.  

Before cycling back to camp we made our own pilgrimage, to Karl Marx's birth-house and museum on Brueckstrasse (not well signed!).

OCTOBER 2014 – BACK TO GERMANY

Grevenmacher, Luxembourg to Camping Lahnaue, Marburg an der Lahn, Hessen – 172 miles

Open all year. www.lahnaue.de.  €20 inc 10-amp elec and showers (Winter rate Nov-March, €12.) Free WiFi. N 50.80000  E 8.76861

Sorry to leave the campsite (closing today!) we decided to return to the River Lahn and cycle more of its Lahntalradweg while the autumn weather remained so good. We filled with diesel (€1.16 a litre) and returned to the A1 (northbound) to cross back into Germany at Wasserbillig. On via A64 and A48, crossing the Mosel twice. High in the Vulkaneifel, above cloud level, it was very misty. Past Koblenz, across the Rhine, NE to meet the A3 then SE to Limburg, with a lunch break at Heiligenroth services near Montabaur.

From exit 42 (Limburg) it was NE on rd 49, mostly double carriageway, passing the turn for Weilburg and on past Wetzlar to Giessen. North on the Giessen Ring, then briefly on A480, exiting onto rd 3 north to the exit for Marburg Centre. It's a busy university town on the River Lahn, with a splendid castle above.

The campsite is a mile south of the centre, past the youth hostel and a small paying Stellplatz that was full, then along Trojedamm, a short track (signed) from the sports centre/swimming pool. It's directly on the Lahn Valley Cycle Way!

We settled on a grassy pitch by the river, next to a German Carado identical to ours, had a pot of tea, then walked along the riverside path into Marburg. The old town, over the bridge and uphill, had the usual medieval town hall and half-timbered houses. Deterred by the queue at Lidl, we got bread and croissants at a baker's and M also bought a pair of warm slippers (winter is coming – as they keep saying in 'Game of Thrones').

At Camping Lahnaue, Marburg

The next 2 days were beautifully sunny, ideal for packing lunch for riverside cycle rides in each direction.

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/cycling-the-lahn.html

Cycling Marburg to Biedenkopf & back (76 km): Rode the Lahntalradweg past Marburg, north through Coelbe, then turned west with the river. The route was very varied, sometimes a dedicated cycle path, sometimes a quiet back road with light traffic and occasionally a track made by tractors across fields. In Caldern (20 km) was the only bakery/cafι we passed: the Muehlenbaeckerei in an old water mill. Very welcome for coffee and pastries!  One short section after Caldern was a steep dirt track up and down through woods.

We were never far from the railway line, with regular trains carrying bikes. Cycling on through the small villages of Buchenau, Friedensdorf and Eckelhausen, we lost count of the level crossings and footbridges that criss-crossed the railway and the river. On a seat after Eckelhausen we ate our lunch before riding uphill (one arrow) and down again (two arrows) into Biedenkopf. Deciding against another climb to the castle overlooking the town, we turned back and retraced our route, with another coffee stop at Caldern.

It was a most enjoyable ride, with a variety of scenery and hardly any other cyclists, compared with the busy Mosel we had just left. Returning to the campsite we passed a Bierfest opening up at the stadium. Plenty of Beer and Bavarian fare but (sadly) no takeaways!

Cycling Marburg to Giessen & back (68 km): We rode the Lahn valley cycle route southwards via Staufenberg into Giessen. It's Friday 3rd October, with all shops closed for a public holiday, the Tag der deutschen Einheit, celebrating the official date of reunification of east and west Germany. Being a very warm holiday weekend, the path was busier today with cyclists young and old, fast and slow, some with a trailer or heavy-laden, others teaching their children to ride – not to mention in-line skaters, dog walkers, push chairs, wheel chairs and the odd scooter. Crossing flat agricultural land, with no hills and no cafes, we diverted into Odenhausen and found coffee at a petrol station machine. The only bakery/cafι there was also closed.

The last section followed the river (not always the case) and we crossed a bridge into the centre of Giessen on the east bank. Ate our lunch by the waterside and looked round the stalls in the Marktplatz. The church here was just a much-restored tower, the rest being bombed inWW2. Excavations were underway to uncover the foundations. Returned by the same route, with an ice cream break in Lollar, just south of Staufenberg.

Back at camp, our motorhome water pump stopped working, delivering no water to taps or toilet. Barry dismantled it and checked for blocked pipes, to no avail.

Marburg/Lahn to Camping Fulda-Freizeitzentrum, Knickhagen im Fuldatal, Hessen – 121 miles

Open all year. www.campingplatz-knickhagen.de. ACSI Card rate €16 inc 16 amp elec and showers. Free WiFi. N 51.400204  E 9.550531

We phoned the nearest caravan and motorhome dealer, Kunze Caravan und Sport 20 miles away in Giessen, checked it was open this morning (Saturday), then drove south down rd 3 to Giessen to find Kunze on Gottlieb Daimler Strasse, just off the Giessen Ring to the west of the city: http://www.kunze-freizeit.de. It proved to be an excellent place, a registered Hymer/Carado service centre with a large accessory shop. An English-speaking assistant, summoned for advice, actually came out to the motorhome to look at the pump, diagnose the problem and sell us the correct replacement for Barry to fit, since their workshop was closed until Monday. Also bought a tie-down kit for the awning.

Impressed with the service at Kunze, we then headed back to the motorway and drove NE on A480 and A5, with a lunch at the Burger King on Rimberg services. Continued via A7, north past Kassel to exit 77 (Kassel-Nord), then rd 3 towards Hannoversch Muenden. In Ihringshausen we passed 2 small motorhome dealers, as well as Aldi and Lidl, and managed to park at Aldi to shop. Then rd 3 met the Fulda River, following the bends of the west bank as it curved along, with the Fuldaradweg cycle path visible between road and water. We had ridden its 200 km length from source to Hann Muenden in the summer of 2013.

About 5 miles before Hann Muenden we turned left and climbed a mile or so uphill through Knickhagen village, above the river. There is a quiet casual kind of campsite, mostly statics, on the edge of woods. It has an open-air pool and a popular bar/restaurant, open daily from 5 pm except Mondays. Checking in, we found we'd missed the last Friday BBQ of the season yesterday evening!

At Camping Fulda-Freizeitzentrum, Knickhagen

Barry's first job was to fit the new water pump, which worked brilliantly. We also caught up on laundry, domestic jobs, emails (including the illustrated circular 'Life after Marquis'), forward planning, etc.

In the evenings we watched 'Foyle's War', a detective series set in Hastings during WW2. Well researched real-life war stories blend with the crimes. We also tried the camp restaurant, dining well on turkey breast with curry sauce (B) and pork medallions with mushroom sauce and green beans wrapped in bacon (M), with a self-service salad bar and a glass of the sparkly new wine Federweisser.  

It was turning autumnal, with cooler nights and morning mist, clearing to sunshine in the afternoon. On a 2-hour walk in the surrounding forest we found the site of the medieval Burg (fort) of Knickhagen, now a cemetery on a wooded hilltop. Part of the ditch and wall that surrounded it is still visible on the east side.

When the cold damp weather turned to heavy rain we decided against revisiting the Fulda Cycle Path. It was time to head east.

Knickhagen im Fuldatal to Schaffer-Mobil Stellplatz, Schaffer-Mobil Motorhome Dealers, Dresden, Saxony – 211 miles

Open all year. www.schaffer-mobil.de.  €16 per day. Metered elec (€0.50 per 0.7 kWh). Water €1 for 40 litres. Dump point €1. Showers €0.50. WC free. Washing machine out of order. WiFi €4 for 1 day, €5 for 2 days, €8 for 1 week. Beware: Crowded parking lot of a greedy dealer. Even the morning rolls cost more – and were smaller - than usual! N 51°5'9”  E 13°40'59”

Away down the hill to the Fulda River, then along rd 3 to Hann Muenden (6.5 miles). We crossed the Pioneer Bridge, filled with diesel opposite Lidl, then turned east on rd 80 to join motorway A7 briefly towards Hannover, then onto A38 at junction 76. Continuing east we soon crossed the former border of the DDR, entering Lower Saxony through the Tunnel der deutschen Einheit at 17 miles.

It was cloudy but dry, with a watery sun, as we drove along the southern edge of the Harz Mountains, in the Biosphere Reserve and Karst landscape of the Suedharz. Listening to a series about Germany on Radio 4 yesterday, we learnt that forest covers one third of the total area and, crossing this large country, we believe it.

Motorways in the former East Germany are all 2-lane with very few full service stations, though there are regular parking places. After a lunch break at Rohnetal services at 94 miles, we passed Leipzig in the rain and took exit 33 onto the A14 for Dresden. The traffic was much heavier between these two cities. After joining the A4, we took exit 79 (Radebeul and Dresden Neustadt) and followed the SatNav for a busy mile to the large Schaffer motorhome business on the left of Koetzschenbroder Str.

The Stellplatz is a parking lot at the back with hookups and, like all those listed in our books under Dresden, is not cheap. So be it, but charging €1 extra to empty the chemical toilet is going too far! We had chosen the place as being 'on the Elbe cycle path' but, had it not been late in the day and pouring down, we would have left.

 At Schaffer-Mobil Stellplatz, Dresden

Next morning was windy and dry, so we stayed for just one day to cycle along the Elbe to and beyond Dresden. We remained disgusted with the facilities at the Stellplatz and its uncaring staff.

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/visit-to-dresden.html

Cycling through Dresden to Schillergarten & back (30 km): A muddy track from the back gate of our parking lot led 0.5 km to join the Elberadweg. We could then turn right to cycle to Meissen (13 km) or left for Dresden (5 km). As Meissen meant a head wind back, we chose Dresden direction, preferring a tail wind home.

About 2 km along the cycle path (which was on the pavement next to a busy road) we met a local cyclist waiting to cross a junction: retired protestant pastor, Peter Muetze, who kindly joined us for the ride into Dresden. Keen to practise his English, Peter led us along the Radweg as it followed the north bank of the River Elbe (which now has beavers) into the old city centre. He was rightly proud of this royal city's history, pointing out the amazing panorama of domes and spires, the dates of the bridges, and the old harbour where his grandparents had lived a century ago.

On reaching the Augustus Bridge, Peter told us more of his story. Just 12 years old when Dresden was bombed in February 1945, he lost his mother and 2 small sisters in the fires, narrowly escaping with his father and brothers. He remained in Dresden through the 'socialist' years, when food was scarce, working quietly as a Pastor to the detriment of his children who were not allowed to go to High School. He was one of the thousands who carried candles at the peaceful protest at Dresden railway station that began the 'bloodless revolution' on 8 Oct 1989 - 25 years ago yesterday! And now this gentle and forgiving man works as one of the voluntary guides at the fully rebuilt Frauenkirche, the Protestant Cathedral with the largest dome north of the Alps, standing next to the Catholic Cathedral at the heart of the old city on the opposite bank. It was a privilege to meet Peter and we were sorry that he could not spend longer with us, as he had an appointment.

We rode across the Augustus Bridge, admired the Frauenkirche and Altstadt and searched out a reasonable option for lunch, sitting in the sun at a steakhouse. Then we took Peter's advice and continued cycling along this south bank of the river as far as the iron bridge at Blaues Wunder. The head wind gathered strength and we turned up a cobbled road into Schillergarten, where there was a busy street market. Then we turned to enjoy a back wind home, crossing the Elbe on the Carola Bridge.

Dresden to Colditz, then to Natur & Abenteuer Camping, Bautzen, Saxony – 130 miles

Open 1 April-31 Oct. www.camping-bautzen.de. ACSI Card rate €18 inc 16 amp elec and excellent showers. NoWiFi (free use of one computer in Reception). N 51.20194  E 14.46083

Next day, unwilling to spend another night on the Schaffer Stellplatz and join the German campers trying to share the €1 timeslot for cassette emptying (!), we decided to visit Colditz Castle before heading further east. Retracing our outward route, we drove back on A4 and A14 to exit 34 (Doebbeln Nord), then cross-country via Hartha to Colditz (40 miles). The campsite had closed at the end of September and the only place we found to park was at Lidl.

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/visit-to-colditz.html

The grim bulk of Schloss Colditz (incongruously painted white) towered above the town but we saw no direction signs to it. After lunching on fresh rolls and croissants from Lidl, we had to ask the driver of a parked bus how to get up to the castle. Leaving the motorhome on Lidl car park, we followed his directions on foot, hoping to find a road to drive up and maybe park overnight. We walked across the road, up a narrow cobbled lane to the market place, then climbed a flight of steps signed Schlosstreppe to arrive at the castle, now partly a Youth Hostel. The small sloping car park, accessed by a circuitous back road, was strictly for YH guests only. The only entry gate was labelled for the Youth Hostel, with no indication of a visitor entrance, yet we'd checked details on-line ('open daily 10 am-5 pm, or 4 pm from November through March')! Walking all round the castle perimeter, we found a courtyard where the workmen ignored us, inside which we eventually spotted a tiny sign and arrow to the small souvenir shop/ticket office. It seemed almost as difficult to get in as it once was to escape!

Entry was €4 for the small museum only, or €8.50 for a 45-minute tour, or €15 for the full-length 90-minute tour, depending on timing and if there was an English-speaking guide available. We were lucky that a Dutch couple were about to be taken on the short tour in English, so we joined them rather than wait until 3 pm for the next long tour.

Our guide, Aleksis, was just as interesting as what we saw! Half-Polish, half-Slovenian, he was brought up in Bradford (complete with Yorkshire accent) and is now married to a local German whose mother was a nurse at Colditz when it was a psychiatric hospital after WW2. His father had escaped Poland and joined the Allies against Germany and he had many stories to tell of the inmates of Colditz (including Douglas Bader and Airey Neave) and their escapades. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colditz_Castle

After the visit we drove back the way we had come, past Dresden on the A4 to exit 90 (Bautzen Ost). Just 2 miles from the motorway, and about 50 miles from Dresden, we settled on the campsite at the south-east corner of a lake/reservoir.

At Natur & Abenteuer Camping, Bautzen

This excellent campsite has ultra-modern facilities, a very friendly Warden who loans local maps for walking and cycling, free windfall apples and a variety of herbs for the picking. And it lies on no less than 3 long-distance cycle routes, including one along the River Spree to Berlin! It's a very good stopover on the way to/from the Polish border. The only negative was the lack of WiFi. We used the computer in Reception to check exchange rates for the countries of Eastern Europe that now lie ahead and to see the weather forecast but it would not access Hotmail.

We caught up with laundry etc and, of course, could not resist the cycle paths running past the gate.

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/cycling-the-spree.html

Cycling round the Talsperre Lake into Bautzen & back (22 km): A short ride on a still Sunday morning, the autumn leaves turning colour in the woods with hips and haws scarlet on the bushes. Rain threatened, after a wet night, but it remained dry. We rode anticlockwise round the dammed lake (an 18 km circuit from the campsite), extending it by exploring the medieval centre of Bautzen.

Up the east side of the lake, past the bathing beach area with boat hire, minigolf and cafι (all closed), we cycled a short section of the Spreeradweg (marked with signs of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate). It soon turned off north-east, while we continued riding to the north end of the lake, hardly visible behind the dam walls. Then we turned south on quiet lanes, gently rolling through tiny villages – Dahlowitz, Neumalsitz and Technitz – all of which had alternative Polish names. We're only about 30 miles from the Polish border, which has moved more than once. Under the motorway, then into the historical Old Town, passing a Stellplatz which was full (very few dedicated places).

The walled Altstadt has corner towers, a cathedral under restoration and a medieval town hall and corn market in the centre. The cobbled streets were quiet, with just one Polish tour group being led round to admire the Baroque facades - some renovated, some decaying. We liked the absence of tourists compared with Dresden and enjoyed coffee and cakes at non-inflated prices, sitting outside the bakery on Reichenstrase near the cathedral. Returned more directly to the campsite, back under the motorway and along through Burk on quiet roads.

Cycling from Bautzen to Uhyst & back (63 km): Followed the Spreeradweg north from the campsite on a fine breezy morning. The route through a Teichlandschaft (pond landscape) was a real mixture of paths, quiet lanes, gravel, cobbles and field tracks. We saw and heard hundreds of migrating geese forming V-shaped squadrons that appeared to by flying north, then east (strange?). Also empty stork nests and many swans on the myriad lakes and ponds.

Rode via Malschwitz (its only cafι closed, Mondays) and on to Guttau (16 km) where we did find coffee sitting outside the restaurant Zur Guten Laune (= Good Mood!). On along the cycle route, looking out for Brandenburg Gate symbols and occasionally crossing the Spree River. The tiny villages – Halbendorf, Neudorf, Lieske - in the former DDR and so near to Poland, were devoid of shops, cafes, businesses, petrol stations or even people. Uhyst, a larger village after 30 km, did have a railway station, butcher, florist, baker (closed) and finally an Eiscafe that supplied us with ice cream and cakes.

We rode on, pausing at a dilapidated Schloss (an abandoned stately home). The coats of arms on the neglected faηade were defaced, the park overgrown and the fountains crumbling. As we photographed it, a couple who were in the Eiscafe cycled along with their little granddaughter, proud to be riding without stabilisers for the first time. They told us the place was recently bought by a Dutchman, though we found it hard to believe. We all continued another km to the Baerwaelder See, a dammed lake with a power station exhaling clouds on the far side. Our companions said they often cycled round it (a 16 km circuit).

Returning by the same route, we paused for a chocolate break at a new wooden shelter in the hamlet of Salga, between Guttau and Malschwitz. An 86-year-old woman struggled across the road from her cottage to interrogate us, sent by her 93-year-old husband to see who we were! Margaret struggled with the local dialect but understood that they'd lived here all their lives, though their children had all left. What changes they had seen.

INTO POLAND

A FEW TIPS FOR MOTORHOMING IN POLAND, CZECH REPUBLIC, SLOVAKIA, HUNGARY, ROMANIA and BULGARIA

1.  Insurance: All these East European countries are members of the EU and Schengen. You do not need extra insurance cover if your vehicle policy includes EU countries.

2.  Currency: Only Slovakia uses Euro currency. The other countries each have their own, though Euros are readily accepted at campsites and many other outlets, at their own exchange rates. Credit cards are taken at fuel stations and larger stores (eg Tesco, Lidl, Carrefour). It is therefore quite possible to go through all these countries without changing any money, using Euros and credit cards. Local cash is needed if you want to buy at roadside stalls, markets or small shops and – as we discovered in Romania – for entry to museums, ancient sites, swimming pools, etc.

3.  Lights: Daytime running lights are compulsory on all roads, all year round, in Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. In Bulgaria they are officially required from 1 November to 1 March.

4.  Tolls: Each of these countries charges tolls on motorways and expressways, with different systems according to whether the vehicle is under or over 3.5 tons. It can be difficult to transit without using motorways, and some major roads suddenly declare that a vignette is required, with nowhere to buy one! Fines are steep, so avoid uncertainty and pay for the minimum period (usually 7 or 10 days) on entering the country. Euros or credit cards are accepted. In Romania and Bulgaria, a vignette must be purchased to travel on all roads. Information and purchase is generally available at petrol stations before and after a border, and sometimes at the border itself.

5.  Language: Younger people may speak English, while older folk are more likely to understand German, or possibly French in Romania. If you speak Russian, so much the better! We do find German the most useful second language throughout Europe and Turkey (apart from France), as so many people have worked there as Gastarbeiter. Germans are also the most likely tourists in these parts.

6.  Cash Money: Always carry enough Euros to reach Greece (assuming they remain on the Euro!) 

Bautzen, Germany to Auto-camping Park No 130, Jelenia Gora – 72 miles (1,188 ft/360 m high)

Open all year. www.camping.karkonosz.pl. PLN 54.54 (c €13) inc local tax, 10-amp elec and hot showers. Credit card accepted. Free WiFi. N 50.89638  E 15.74266

Before heading for Poland we drove into Bautzen to stock up at Aldi. There was also Lidl, Netto or Norma to choose from! Then we drove east on the A4 for 30 miles to the frontier. There were no border formalities or exchange offices as we crossed the River Neissen/Nysa, which divides a city called Goerlitz on the German side and Zgorzelec on the Polish. We took the first motorway exit, into Zgorzelec (no toll to pay), shortly before a Polish motorway service station (which would have information about motorway tolls for vehicles under 3.5 tons, and the Viatoll system (similar to the Austrian Go-Box) for heavier motorhomes.  See www.poland.travel/en-gb/travel-by-car/roads-and-motorways. None of this applied to our non-motorway route.

In Zgorzelec we filled with diesel (credit card accepted) before stopping on a large free car park at a shopping mall to eat lunch. Leaving the town we passed various western stores – KFC, McDonalds, Carrefour, Intermarche, Lidl and Aldi – their bright colours contrasting with the drab grey of most other buildings.

We continued east on rd 30, a reasonably surfaced 2-lane road, for 40 miles through woods and hills to Jelenia Gora. The houses and people looked similar to East Germany, though poorer. At the roadside an old woman huddled in a little shelter selling honey, while further along two men stood at a table with crates of fungi from the forest. There were plenty of fuel stations, some with LPG/Autogas.

The simple campsite was well signed from the centre of Jelenia Gora, about 1 km south of town on rd 367 which leads to the ski centre of Karpacz. In the office (open 24 hrs!) were two friendly women, one speaking German and the other a little English. We pitched on the level car park, rather than climbing a steep and slippery path to pitches on the upper terrace. The site has a good kitchen and TV room, used mainly by the few permanent residents, tolerable toilets, and hot showers with little privacy. The WiFi worked well until about 5 pm, then faded away.  

At Auto-camping Park No 130, Jelenia Gora

An intended night halt turned into a 3-day stay, as the clear chilly weather gave way to two days of steady rain and mist and we both went down with heavy colds. It was quiet, with just one German motorhome and one Dutch camper passing through. We kept warm, wrote emails and checked details of our route, listened to Radio 4, kept up with the news via the Kindle's Guardian subscription, and continued to watch 'Foyle's War'. Margaret finished reading Bernard Cornwell's 'Agincourt' and now rivals Robert Hardy as an expert on the longbow, in theory if not practice!

Jelenia Gora to Auto-camping No 169, Polanica-Zdroj, Nr Klodzko – 69 miles (1,220 ft/370 m high)

Open all year. www.osir.polanica.net/pl. PLN 56 inc 6-amp elec. Euros accepted (€13.50).  No hot showers. Free WiFi in Reception only. N 50.41502  E 16.51335

In Jelenia Gora we called at the Lidl, which accepted credit cards (unlike Germany!) and had a bakery with fresh rolls and croissants. Then drove east on rd 3 (E65) until we were turned back after Kaczorow by a barrage of police, fire and ambulance vehicles, though we could see no problem. Returning to Kaczorow, we had to take a narrow country lane southeast to join rd 5 just north of Kamienna Gora.

Confused by the contradiction between the SatNav, the road signs and our little Polish road atlas, bought at a petrol station 8 years previously, we strayed SE rather than east on leaving Kamienna Gora and found ourselves crossing the Czech border at Golinsk! Again there was no frontier post, nor any reminder that daytime running lights are required on vehicles in the Czech Republic. Passing through tiny hamlets, we had a brief impression of well tended cemeteries, ploughed fields and empty stork nests. In the pasture a cow was being hand-milked into a pail. Roadside chrysanthemums were on offer, probably for decorating the graves for All Saints and All Souls Days (1 and 2 November). The customary red candle lanterns had been on sale in Lidl.

So we unintentionally crossed a small corner of the Czech Republic, driving SE via Broumoy. We parked for lunch in a tiny nameless village, then re-entered Poland at Tlumaczow and had an anxious moment, keeping to the centre of an arched railway bridge signed 2.8 m high (our Carado is 2.9 m). South from here along minor roads (385, 387, 388) to Polanica-Zdroj and the campsite on the left, in woodland next to the sports centre 1 km north of town.

There are rows of simple huts, a restaurant (closed) with rooms above, and a camping area with hook-ups. We were the only campers and the friendly Reception staff (open 24 hrs!), speaking a little English, unlocked the toilets. There was no hot water and no chemical toilet dump but we were glad to have a safe place with electricity for the night. It had rained most of the day, we still felt under the weather and the motorhome was splattered with mud.

A trans-Poland car rally turned up in the early evening to use the car park and accommodation at the sports centre, making a great deal of noise as they arrived and even more as they left again early next morning!

At Auto-camping No 169, Polanica-Zdroj

Next day was bright and dry, if chilly. Feeling better, Barry hosed the motorhome down and M sent an email or two from Reception, then tried to restore our appetites with a tempting salmon and leek risotto.

INTO THE CZECH REPUBLIC

Polanica-Zdroj to Euro-camp Caravan Park, Hutisko-Solanec, Nr Roznov pod Radhostem – 140 miles (1,650 ft/500 m high)

Open all year. Euros accepted: €9 inc elec and hot showers. No WiFi. N 49°25'42”  E 18°13'30”

Drove south for 29 miles via Bystrzyca Klodzka to the Czech border, pausing at the services in Miedzylesie to buy a vignette for Czech motorways and expressways: €17 cash (no cards) for the 10-day minimum period. Again vehicles over 3.5 tons have a more complicated electronic toll system: see www.highwaymaps.eu/czech-republic and www.motorway.cz/for-drivers. This service station also sold vignettes for Austria and Slovakia.

From the border after Boboszow village (no passport checks), we continued south through Kraliky. As the road from Kraliky to Hanusovice was closed for road works, we couldn't easily check out the campsite (formerly Camping Collins) at Horni Lipka as planned, so we kept south on rd 11 and rd 44, rolling through lovely high forest and small villages. We were very aware of people walking to and from church on this Sunday morning, with Catholic services well attended, though shops and supermarkets were open in the towns. The roads were good compared with Poland. Lunch on a car park in Zabreh.

Our road became a very good dual carriageway just before Mohelnice. At Olomouc we turned east on the outer ring (a new road), to exit 286 for Hranice, then east on rd 35 (which leads to Zilina in Slovakia).

At Roznov Radhostem both the campsites were closed, as expected (Camping Sport on the right by the stadium, Camp Roznov on the left in the woods). Following a lead from the ACSI website, we continued for 5 miles to a right turn for Hutisko-Solanec, a mile from the main road, then left in the village following a sign 'Caravan Park'. It seemed extremely unlikely!

We found a few resident caravans on a small field, next to a hotel/restaurant/pool (all closed). A kindly old chap, speaking a very little German, showed us where the toilets and hot showers were and thought the 'Chef' would be back in the morning. It now goes dark by about 6 pm, with a feel of November approaching.

INTO SLOVAKIA

Hutisko-Solanec, Czech Republic to Autocamping Turiec, Vrutky, Nr Martin – 56 miles (1,300 ft/395 m high)

Open all year. www.autocampingturiec.sk.  €15.20 inc elec and use of bathroom with hot shower in guesthouse. Free WiFi. N 49.1982  E 18.8988

For information on road tolls and other aspects of driving in Slovakia, click: On the Road in Slovakia

The boss was indeed back next morning and charged only €9 for our peaceful night. Returning to rd 35, we headed east to the Slovak border (10 miles), high in the misty autumn forest at 2,370 ft/790 m. Day time running lights remain compulsory in Slovakia. We had bought a 10-day vignette for motorways and expressways (€8.50) at the services we passed and there were more opportunities after (but not at) the frontier. Once again vehicles over 3.5 tons are subject to a different system and we are pleased to have downsized!

Down through the woods and along rd 18 (E442) for 18 miles to Bytca, where we joined the motorway to busy Zilina (at 42 miles) and took the exit for Martin and Poprad. The road leaving Zilina was lined with new industry, as well as hoardings advertising Lidl, Tesco and Carrefour. Driving towards Martin along the steep-sided valley of the River Vah, we were still at 1,150 ft/350 m, with ruined castles perched above us overlooking the gorge.

In Vrutky, on the outskirts of Martin, we turned right (signed) for Camping Turiec. The site, a mile along the lane in wooded solitude, looked closed, its large gates firmly shut. Then a man in overalls, who was up a ladder painting the adjoining house, introduced himself as Viktor, the owner and manager. Of course the campsite was open all year, though there was no-one else there and the facilities had been drained and closed up for winter!

Ushered in, we parked under fir trees at the edge of a large area of soft grass. Our host lent us an extra long lead, to reach the only hook-up point, and gave us a key to the modern guesthouse to use its bathroom. The WiFi worked well and there was a washing machine but no drier. The guesthouse is popular in the ski season, as there are facilities higher up the lane.

Heavy rain in the afternoon kept us grounded but we learnt a lot about Viktor, who spoke both English and German having worked for a German company until his recent retirement.

Vrutky/Martin to Penzion Villa Betula Caravan Club, Liptovsky Sielnica, Nr Liptovsky Mikulas – 40 miles (1,870 ft/567 m high)

Open all year. www.villabetula.sk. Credit card accepted: €21 inc elec and hot showers. Free WiFi. Excellent restaurant with 3-course daily menu for €8 pp. N 49.13608  E 19.5125

Next day was fine, as we returned to Vrutky to shop at a large Lidl, which took credit cards and even stocked baked beanz. Then it was east on rd 18, through the industrial city of Martin and along the river valley via Ruzomberok. A new motorway under construction was nowhere near finished, but the Slovak roads are still better than Poland. Rd 18 became dual carriageway at Ivachnova, shortly before our exit for Besenova. Here we took a minor road north across the river and through Potok, round the northern end of Lake Liptovska Mara to the Penzion Villa Betula complex.

It was a great surprise to find a smart hotel and restaurant, behind which lie a small well equipped campsite, an outdoor pool and a children's zoo with various rare breeds (hens, geese, goats, pigs, horses, donkeys, birds, rabbits … but no children!) The only campers, we settled on the road round the edge of the soft grassy camping area.

After lunch we walked over to look at the lake, in the foothills of the Tatras.

At Penzion Villa Betula Caravan Club, Liptovsky Sielnica

Next day was very wet and still, with mist cloaking the hills. The camp WiFi worked well and we caught up with emails, as well as laundry using an unusual machine that both washed and dried. The evening was spent by a roaring log fire in the Villa Betula restaurant, sampling the Menu of the Day served by a white-gloved waiter! After a small appetiser (garlic toast with slivers of ham and cheese), there was a choice of 4 soups, and 4 main courses, followed by pancakes with fresh fruit, or ice cream. Excellent value at €8 each plus drinks (a glass of the lovely local white wine).

On the following morning the cloud lifted early, revealing a dusting of fresh snow on the nearby hills. It was much colder with a north wind and remained showery. We decided to stay another day, spent researching campsites and routes through Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Bulgaria. In the early evening we had another excellent Menu of the Day - our chosen main course of pork with rice & roast baby potatoes was especially memorable. Later we watched 'The Ruling Class' with a manic Peter O'Toole leading a star cast in a satirical look at the aristocracy and the church, made in 1972. Arthur Lowe was brilliant as the butler and the whole thing got truly bizarre!  

Liptovsky Sielnica to Autocamping Podlesok, Podlesok, Nr Hrabusice – 77 miles

Open 1 April-31 Oct. www.slovakia.travel/en/autocamping-podlesok €13 inc elec and use of a WC/hot shower in Reception. Free WiFi in Reception. N 48.96444  E20.38500

On a dry bright morning with a chill wind from the north, we filled the water tank, dumped the waste and drove down the lake into Liptovsky Mikulas. Here we called at Lidl to stock up with fresh rolls, croissants and donuts before heading east on motorway E50. From exit 279 before Poprad we turned north on rd 537, climbing towards the mountains of the High Tatras which suddenly loomed out of the low cloud. The height on entering the Tatras National Park at Podbanske was 1220 m, or over 4,000 ft

Turning left to climb the road to Strbske Pleso, a picturesque lake of glacial origin and a popular tourist destination complete with ski facilities, we found it much more developed than on previous visits. The old sanatorium was abandoned, new hotels had sprung up and the official car parks were now charging €2 per hour. We found a place to stop by the roadside, on the way to the top car park for the ski lift (37 miles driven, height 4,440 ft). After eating lunch we set off for a woodland walk but soon turned back in the bitterly cold wind. Slovakia is 40% forest, though the logging trucks are working hard to reduce that

Down to the main road and on to the tourist town of Tatranska Lomnica, to stay at a small restaurant with parking for 4 motorhomes that we've used before (€10 per night inc electric, water, dump and use of WC in restaurant). The unfriendly and unhelpful new proprietor insisted we could not park sideways across two places, though there was no-one else there (nor had we seen another motorhome since Poland!) Since the sloping ground, trees and stream made it very difficult to manoeuvre as instructed, we left.

Continuing along rd 541 towards Poprad, we checked out Camping Tatranec, a huge flat empty site next to a hotel on the right. Miss Sourface in hotel Reception explained that the campsite was open, though all the electricity and water was turned off - we could park on the grass next to cabin 13, plug in there and use its bathroom (for €13). We walked over to investigate this offer, which meant standing on soft sloping wet grass. Could we park on the paved path and run a lead across? No! We left. Some people are just not suited to working in the hospitality business! A little further along towards Poprad there was once an enormous campsite 'FICC Eurocamp', now demolished. 

On we drove down rd 67 to join the E50, bypassing the centre of Poprad and continuing east until the motorway currently ends at Spissky Stvrtok. Here we turned SW along 5 miles of minor country road through Hrabusice, then left (signed) into the Slovensky Raj National Park. At the visitor centre there are rooms and a vast empty campsite that we know. The ablutions were locked, with only a week until winter closing, but the pleasant English-speaking Receptionist offered use of the toilet and shower in the cafι, which would be 'more comfortable'.

The site is surrounded by magnificent forest with warnings of bears, so we didn't venture out after dark! On a previous visit we'd explored a little of the national park on foot but this time it was too cold and gloomy, so we left after one lone night.  

INTO HUNGARY

Podlesok, Slovakia to TIR Truckstop, Satoraljaujhely - 118 miles

Open all year. Euros accepted: overnight parking €6 inc use of modern toilets (and showers for men only). No electric hook-ups. Free WiFi in Reception (out of order). N48.419261  E 21.645384 

We returned to the main road at Spissky Stvrtok, after passing a Roma camp outside Hrabusice village with rows of concrete huts, lines of washing, smoking chimneys and lads kicking a ball about. Then east on E50 via Levoca, which the unfinished motorway to the Ukraine will some day bypass. A fill of diesel at a shiny new Shell garage near Levoca after 11 miles was paid by credit card, which seems more readily accepted in Eastern Europe than in Germany or Austria! Along E50 were several little chalets selling local sheep's cheese. We also saw men gathering fungi in the woods, where a side road was closed off by police for a motocross event.

At 22 miles we turned right at the sign for Spissky Hrad, an imposing castle hovering in the air. The potholed lane climbed from 1,580 ft/480 m to 1,865 ft/565 m at the free car park, where we had coffee and admired the fortress high above and the misty view over the plain below. It was too cold to enjoy walking up the steep footpath and round the castle walls – which we've done before – so we left it to the other visitors in a Hungarian tour bus and a few cars. Apparently it's a Hungarian public holiday weekend, in memory of the 1956 Revolution and War of Independence.

Descending, we took rd 547 southeast via Krompachy, a small industrial town on the railway. Continued SE through villages and woodland, climbing up into russet forests then downhill into Kosice. We parked for lunch in a wooded layby on the way in, at 57 miles, as the afternoon sun finally broke through

The town of Kosice was a congested confusion of road signs. We wanted rd 50 heading east (and not the E50 motorway north to Presov). After one wrong turn we finally achieved road 50, signed Michalowce, and were on our way in lovely autumn sunshine. It's the last Saturday of October and the clocks go back tonight.

At Hriadky we turned south on rd 79 via Trebisov. Shortly before the Hungarian border, at 108 miles, we stopped at a modern motel 'Motorest Maria' that advertised camping. Unfortunately the campsite was more like a building site, undergoing renovation. The manager made a tempting offer of a nice double en-suite room for €40 including breakfast but the sloping car park meant we couldn't leave the fridge working on gas and there was no hook-up available. Shame!

At Slov Novy Mesto (111 miles) we crossed into Hungary and the border town of Satoraljaujhely, with no formalities whatever. A far cry from our first crossing here by bicycle in 1988, when we were delayed for hours, searched and sent back to spend the little Czechoslovkian currency we still carried before being allowed through

We drove into Satoraljaujhely, pausing at the first petrol station to buy the Hungarian e-toll ticket needed for motorways and major roads (€13 for the minimum 10 day pass). With this system there is no vignette to stick in the windscreen; it all works on number plate recognition as vehicles are electronically checked (without stopping) at toll points. We were told to keep the paper receipt of payment for 12 months in case of dispute! Again, it is more complicated for vehicles weighing over 3.5 tons. Information is supposed to be available at Hungarian borders.

On a previous visit we'd parked overnight for a few Euros on a guarded Truck Stop (TIR Park) on the way out of Satoraljaujhely (Sarospatak direction). We had good memories of drinking complimentary Tokaj wine with the lorry drivers but when we found it again a hostile caretaker refused us entry, shouting 'Only Camions' – despite the fact that there was not a single truck there! So we returned to a smaller TIR park we'd noticed on the main road near the border where we got a much friendlier welcome.

Once parked, we walked across the main road to a large Tesco store, which accepted Euros or changed them into Hungarian Forints. This made sense, as the aisles were crowded with shoppers from just across the border in Slovakia, a country that uses the Euro. We found rare delicacies like sardines in tomato sauce, tins of baked beans, and a pair of much needed warm gloves for Barry who had lost his last pair. It's the last Saturday of October and the clocks go back tonight.

Satoraljaujhely to Camping Dorcas, Debrecen – 93 mile

Open all year. 5,600 Forints inc elec. (€20 note accepted, with 400 Forints given in change.) No hot showers. Free WiFi at Reception only. N 47°26'55”  E 21°41'22

Waking at 6 am (or rather 5 am) we found ice covering the windscreen and an internal temperature of 9°C, which the blown-air gas heating soon raised to 16°C. Time to head south after an early breakfast! On leaving we noticed that Tesco was open, its car park full, and there was a street market in the town. Only in Germany had the supermarkets observed Sunday closing.

Drove south on rd 37 via Sarospatak, then SE on rd 38 along the River Bodrog to Tokaj, famed for its 'King of Wines, Wine of Kings', where we crossed the bridge at the confluence of Bodrog and Tisza. On past an old favourite, Camping Tiszavirag (firmly closed), and along to the town of Nyiregyhaza, its huge permanent market heaving with customers.

Here we joined rd 4 (E573) south to Debrecen – a dual carriageway to which the toll system applies. Despite signs banning bicycles, pedestrians, tractors or carts, we overtook gipsies pushing handcarts as well as a horse-drawn cart laden with straw. Such traffic was once common in Hungary but has largely been replaced by badly driven cars.

From Debrecen we took rd 47 (for Szeged), soon turning off to the left for Dorcas Camping (signed) 3 miles along a leafy lane. It's a large site with rows of empty cabins, a restaurant, some unprepossessing facilities, and one man and his dog in Reception. He spoke only Hungarian or Russian but did his best to help by phoning the boss and thrusting the receiver into Margaret's hand. We worked out a price strategy: 'give us €20 and you will get a little change in Forints'. 'Is the water hot?' 'Of course.' (Later found this to be untrue!) The change was 400 Forints, at about 300 to the Euro

As it was already getting chilly, we settled down in peace, put the fan heater on and had a late lunch and an early night. After all, we'd been up since 5 am or so.

INTO ROMANIA

Debrecen, Hungary to Camping Apollo, Baile Felix, Nr Oradea – 53 miles

Open all year. www.campingapollo.ro. Euros accepted: €15 inc elec and hot showers. Free WiFi. N 46°59'67”  E 21°58'76”

On a lovely sunny morning after a cold clear night, we drove back to rd 47, then 16 miles south to Berettyoujfalu. We shopped at Lidl at the roundabout (credit card accepted, along with our small change) before taking rd 42 east for Romania.

At the border, 21 miles later, there were several kiosks exchanging money and/or selling the vignette sticker, compulsory for all roads in Romania. We paid €5 for the minimum 7 days for vehicles under 3.5 tons (other options are one month or one year). It costs more for a vignette for up to 7.5 tons: see www.highwaymaps.eu/romania. We continued 12 miles east along E60, busy with trucks and lined with fuel stations, into Oradea.

Like Arad and Timisoara, Oradea was once a military fortress defending the south-eastern flank of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and it still has an air of faded Habsburg grandeur, although Hungary ceded these cities to Romania in 1920. Today's Oradea is a confusion of traffic, trams and trolley buses, with a mixture of old and new buildings,  including Romania's largest Catholic cathedral completed in 1780. We passed a shiny new Tesco on the way in and an even bigger Auchan hypermarket on the way out, following signs for the E79 to Baile Felix (and not the SatNav, which pointed us into the chaotic city centre).

About 4 miles later (after passing a turn for Baile 1 Mai on the left) we turned right for the open air spa resort of Baile Felix. Camping Apollo is listed in the Bordatlas as a Stellplatz but it is more than that. A very helpful German-speaking woman opened the gates to the safe guarded parking, over the road from the steaming thermal baths. She proudly showed us the hook-ups, drinking water tap, hot water tap, chemical WC dump, toilets and hot showers. It only lacks a laundry or kitchen. Even the WiFi worked inside the motorhome. Wonderful – we booked in for 2 nights! The site is also home to 3 or 4 friendly stray dogs that she fed and we soon learnt not to leave shoes outside our door! Unusually, we had neighbours here – a French hippy van + motorbike, and a couple from Sheffield on their way home – but they all left next morning.

At Camping Apollo, Baile Felix

Next morning the grass was frosty until the sun got up. We enjoyed a rest day, with good hot showers (all the hot water comes from the spa), writing emails, listening to Radio 4 and planning the next section of our route to Greece. We found that the new Calafat-Vidin bridge crossing the Danube from Romania to Bulgaria finally opened in the summer of 2013, replacing the expensive ferry of dreadful memory, so we decided to drive that way rather than cut across through Serbia.

Checking our next night-stop, Margaret rang a campsite in Simeria Veche that is listed in the Bordatlas. 'We are closed' answered a woman. 'From what date?' 'November 1st.' 'But it's still October.' 'We are closed' came the reply as she hung up. M had more luck with the Villa Doerr in Simeria, where we have stayed previously and are welcome to park at the guesthouse, though the campsite is closed.

In the afternoon M investigated the spa, a clean modern complex with a swimwear shop, cafι and indoor changing rooms by a large open air pool (open) and smaller ones (closed). The place must be packed in summer, with large car parks as well as a bus service from Oradea, but there were only a handful of bathers today. Entry was 25 lei (about €6) but the unhelpful ticket office would accept neither Euros nor cards, so we went for a walk instead. There are dozens of guesthouses and hotels around the resort, as well as a police station and a well kept Orthodox church with a poster offering a pilgrimage tour to two monasteries (minimum 40 pilgrims).

Baile Felix to Villa Doerr Guesthouse & Minicamping, Simeria, Nr Deva – 119 miles

Minicamp seasonal. Overnight parking in secure courtyard may be possible at other times. www.doerr.ro. Euros accepted: €10 inc elec and use of hot shower in guesthouse. Cooked breakfast available. N 45.856139  E 23.019426

Baile Felix to Villa Doerr Guesthouse & Minicamping, Simeria, Nr Deva – 119 miles of roadworks! (660 ft/200 m high)

Minicamp seasonal. Overnight parking in secure courtyard possible for one or two vans at other times. www.doerr.ro. Euros accepted: €10 inc elec and use of hot shower in guesthouse. Meals may be available. N 45.856139  E 23.019426

Drum Bun (literally 'Road Good') declared the usual Romanian road sign wishing us a good journey as we set off SE on rd 76 (E79) for Deva. We then traversed over 100 miles of patched and potholed road with almost continuous road works, with no forewarning! We've taken this scenic but hilly route before without problem – before they began improving it, that is. As we often say, it will be nice when it's finished.

Driving through the first of several long Hungarian-style villages, life went as it has for generations. The older men were gathered at the cafι/bar, while the women were at the general shop or working outdoors, dressed as ever in headscarf, several layers of clothes above a warm wool skirt, thick knitted leggings and boots. Two women returning from the shop each had a new broomstick over their shoulder, and carried a large wreath between them. A man led a single cow along the road; a horse and cart waited its turn for a new tyre outside the vulcaniser's shed. The stork nests were empty but sparrows had moved into the basements.

Above the road, banners for next month's Presidential election hinted at change to come. The main choice was between the favourite, current prime minister Victor Ponta, and Klaus Johannis, mayor of Sibiu and leader of the Democratic Forum of Germans in Romania. Click here for more information and the election result.

Continuing on E79, the regular signs Pericol de Accidente (Danger of Accidents) and Drum in Lucru (Road Works) were serious. One side of the road or the other was continually closed, sometimes with traffic lights. Sometimes there were even men working. At least there was very little traffic, since those in the know would choose a different route from Oradea. We made slow progress through rolling wooded country with flocks of sheep and cattle. Every village had a 'tin Jesus' at the roadside – a two-dimensional crucifixion stamped out of metal. Sometimes there were two, an old rusty one and a bright new one. Sadly, there were many stray dogs – a prevalent problem through the countries of eastern Europe, as well as Greece and southern Italy. Cyclists and walkers beware (we always carry a Dog Dazer each – an ultrasonic dog deterrent available from the Cyclists Touring Club, Maplins, Amazon, etc).

Arriving in Beius, a small town with more shops, we had driven just 30 miles in over an hour! 15 miles later we followed a truck detour to avoid the centre of a larger town called Dr Petru Groza. Then the rough road climbed gradually above 1,000 ft. The rural folk had been hard at work in the autumn: small conical hand-built haystacks stood in rows across the fields, corn cobs were stored in wooden racks and some of the cottagers sold apples. We reached the top of the pass (2,055 ft/623 m) at 58 miles, then descended to 725 ft/220 m in Varfurile village before climbing once more to 1,140 ft/345 m. We crossed the line into Hunedoara County, Transylvania, at yet another set of temporary traffic lights at 74 miles – a drive that had taken 2 hrs 30 mins! But, unsurprisingly, we had the road to ourselves on a fine day, so what's the hurry.

In Tebea at 85 miles we found space to park for lunch by a large church. Rows of military graves in the cemetery were decorated with red, blue and yellow ribbons (the colours of Romania's flag) but there were no dates - World War One, probably.  On through Brad, a larger town with a hospital and a Lidl (its car park full), then a climb to 1,400 ft/426 m at the Valisoara Pass. The road, still plagued with unfinished road works, hairpinned down once more to cross the River Mures and become a smooth dual carriageway into the county town of Deva.

It's a busy mining town with many shops (Lidl, Auchan, Praktiker, McDonalds etc), overlooked by the imposing ruin of a hilltop castle, blown up in 1849 when its gunpowder store exploded.

Ignoring the sign for the new A1 motorway to Sibiu and Bucharest, we drove on through the town centre to Simeria, 5 miles east of Deva. To find Paul Doerr's guesthouse and camping, turn left off the main road onto December 1st Street, follow it for a mile, then turn right at the sign. German-speaking Paul is a big man in every sense, kind and welcoming. He even remembered us from our visit in June 2009.

We parked in the secure yard at the back of the guesthouse, with electric hook-up and use of a toilet and shower inside. Sadly, the popular little restaurant wasn't open for dinner but Paul and his wife promised us a cooked breakfast next morning. How could we refuse?

Simeria to Camping Hercules, Baile Herculane – 112 miles (down at 330 ft/100 m)

Open all year. Euros accepted: €16 inc elec and hot showers. Excellent restaurant with 3-course meal for €12 pp inc drinks. N 44°52'8”  E 22°23'15”

Breakfast, cooked by Paul himself, comprised scrambled eggs with mushrooms, 2 large sausages each, soft fresh bread and plenty of coffee. All for €1.25 per person! This certainly set us up for a morning visit to the Roman site of Ulpia Traiana in the village of Sarmizegetusa, 36 miles south of Simeria on rd 68, in the Orastie mountain foothills at 1,815 ft/550 m. The site is barely signposted but, having noticed some ruins to the left of the main road, we parked a little further along outside some shops and walked back to investigate

What is now part of Romania was settled by the Dacians from at least the 5th C BC (as we know from Herodotus) until Roman forces, led by Trajan, defeated the Dacians in about 106-109 AD. The ruins of the old Dacian capital to the north-east of Sarmizegetusa are not easily accessible, being at the end of 5 miles of dirt road from Gradistea de Munte. Here at Sarmizegetusa some remains of Ulpia Traiana, the Roman capital of the conquered Dacian kingdom, have been excavated.

Only a fraction of the great Roman city has been uncovered but you can see the forum with marble columns, several temples, the amphitheatre, a mausoleum and villa foundations. At least, you can if you have some Romanian currency! Unable to buy a ticket with Euros, we peered through the railings, then tried our luck at the small museum across the road. And what luck!

The museum director, the brilliant Dr Gica Baestean from Deva Museum, allowed us free entry, saying 'It is nothing'.  Dr Baestean has been excavating here for almost 20 years, starting as a student at Cluj University. He discussed with us, at length and in fluent English, every aspect of European, Romanian and Neo-Latin history and geography, from the Ancient Greeks through to the Iron Curtain and present day problems in Iraq and Syria. He was firmly of the opinion that the threat to Europe is not from the Germans (as the Romans also wrongly believed) but from the east, from Russia. 'Russia waits, it never gives up, it re-emerges'. We talked with this extremely thoughtful and well-read archaeologist for two hours, standing in the unheated museum rooms on a cold stone floor, and hardly noticed the time! The exhibitions displayed tools, ceramics and other Roman artefacts, though he regretted that most of the finds are in history museums in Deva and Cluj, or have been taken abroad to Budapest or Vienna.  Excavations continue every summer. 

After this remarkable chance encounter, we had a quick lunch in the motorhome and continued SW on a very good road climbing imperceptibly over the Portile de Fier ale Transilvaniei (2,340 ft/710 m). We turned south on the E70 at the new Caransebes bypass - all quite a contrast with yesterday's roads! E70 continued over the Poarta Orientala pass at 1,765 ft/535 m in the dramatic Carpathian foothills, then dropped through Domasnea, after which we stopped for a fill of diesel at 97 miles (English spoken, credit card OK). 

Another 15 miles along this excellent road we came to Baile Herculane, a spa on the Cerna River, at the site of thermal baths built by the Roman legions after the invasion of Dacia. The name 'Baths of Hercules' refers to the legend that Hercules himself bathed in the healing springs. In its 19th century heyday the resort attracted royal visitors like Habsburg Emperor Franz Josef.

There is a small campsite we've used before, on the main road (E70) shortly before the left turn into the resort. The German owners (who speak good English) were pleased to welcome us, the only campers, stressing that their charming restaurant was open and the showers were good and hot, using thermal water from the spa.

We tried the set 3-course menu and struggled to finish generous helpings of vegetable soup with bread, beef goulash with potatoes, pancakes with jam, a glass of wine, beer or juice each, and a heartwarming Schnapps to finish! The price of €12 per person all-in was very fair, given the size of the portions!

NOVEMBER 2014 - INTO BULGARIA

Baile Herculane to TIR Truckstop/Fanty-G Restaurant, Vidin – 106 miles

Open all year. Euros accepted: overnight parking €5 inc use of toilets and hot showers (separate male and female). No electric hook-ups. Free WiFi. N 43.930894  E 22.837701

The morning began with a fresh north wind, quite different from the still misty mornings of late October. We drove south on rd 6 (E60) down the River Cerna gorge for 10 miles to meet the Danube near the port of Orsova. We followed the Danube south-east past the Portile de Fier (Iron Gates), then stopped in one of several sunny rest places for coffee with a view of the mighty river. The monstrous Iron Gates are a concrete hydroelectric station, a joint Hungarian-Romanian construction completed in 1972, with a road across the top of the dam wall leading into Serbia.

On a few miles to the river port of Drobeta-Turnu Severin, where the Iron Gates Museum is known for its amazing scale model of the Roman bridge that once spanned the Danube here. Knowing that the museum is currently closed for renovation, we only stopped to shop at Lidl on the way through, at 28 miles (credit card OK).

We soon turned right, at Simian, onto rd DN56A for Calafat, still following the wide sparkling Danube. We lunched in a small layby, observing a flat rather worn-out landscape. A shepherd guided his flock over the parched grass; a villager grazed his cow in the empty children's playground; the horse and cart was still in use. But we saw no begging anywhere in Romania, not even at the borders.

At 79 miles we met E79, the road from Craiova, and turned right for Calafat – once the site of a decrepit car ferry across the Danube to Vidin, replaced last summer by a splendid new suspension bridge. Driving over the Danube into Bulgaria, we had our passports checked and paid a toll of €6 (a bargain – the ferry had cost over €50!) Immediately along the E79 we saw nowhere to buy a Bulgarian vignette (required for all roads), so we took the first exit into Vidin to find a Gazprom petrol station. The minimum 7 day vignette for vehicles up to 3.5 tons cost 10 lev (about €5), paid by card as Euros were not accepted. See www.highwaymaps.eu/bulgaria.

Rejoining E79, Sofia direction, we soon saw a large TIR Park and restaurant on the left by the name of Fanty-G. The guardian charged us €5 to park with the trucks overnight, including a ticket to let us into the toilet and shower block. The free WiFi worked well inside the motorhome, enabling us to catch up with Radio 4 and contact Sakar Hills Camping in Biser. We did join the truckers inside the restaurant, mainly for warmth – the rubbery 'chicken fillet', chips and shopska salad were not to be recommended, though they were cheap!

Vidin to TIR Truckstop/Hotel Panorama, Sofia (NE of city on outer ring road) – 151 miles (545 m or 1,800 ft high)

Open all year. Euros accepted: overnight parking €10 inc elec and use of WC/ hot shower in hotel. Free WiFi. N 42°46.034  E 23°26.234

Driving south on rd 1 (E79), the highway rapidly deteriorated into a bumpy 2-lane road with virtually no traffic and certainly no trucks. After about 3 miles had we passed a left turn for rd 11 along the Danube to Lom but the sign for Sofia was straight on, with which the SatNav agreed. It later became obvious that the longer but less mountainous route via Lom is now the best maintained link between Vidin and the capital – but only for those that know!

We realised our mistake about 10 miles later in Dimovo, where the through road was closed by road works. After a long wait, the men with red and green flags directed us to follow two cars along a narrow muddy one-way dirt track round the back of the village, with potholes and low branches. Behind us came an ambulance, lights flashing, while other cars trying to come towards us had to reverse. The men with the flags must have been having a break! We managed to crawl along and regain the cobbled road out of this extremely poor village of mud brick houses. Nothing higher, longer or wider than our 6.9 metre-long motorhome could possibly have got through and there was no prior warning or detour for trucks, which had clearly taken the alternative route via Lom.

Continuing with relief, we enjoyed a fine sunny morning with rd 1/E79 to ourselves apart from donkey-carts (despite the road signs forbidding them). We passed the turning for the loop road up to Belogradchik, where we'd once found a small campsite in the forest and explored the wonderful crag-top fortress (not in winter!). Our road climbed to 1,000 ft/300 m at Belotintsi, then descended to Montana (60 miles from Vidin), where we followed the signed transit route round to the north of town, rather than our SatNav through the centre.

Rd 81 from Lom joined the E79 at Montana, making our onward road south-east to the A2 motorway busier but better surfaced. (The shorter route from Montana to Sofia, on a minor road south via Berkovica, was closed to 'caravans' with a snow warning.) A new bypass skirted industrial Vraca and high mountains loomed ahead as we drove through the Vracanski Balkans, climbing once again to over 1,000 ft/300 m. We were now on the truck route to Turkey, passing several small scruffy TIR Parks and, sadly, a few scantily clad young women waiting at the roadside. After Mezdra the E79 climbed to 1,850 ft/559 m, with a honey-seller at the top of the pass. Dropping 660 ft/220 m into Novacene village at 109 miles, we parked for lunch by a disused weigh-station.

After bypassing Botevgrad we joined the A2 motorway heading SW to Sofia, Europe's highest capital city. As we climbed to 2,575 ft/780 m through two tunnels, the view was of snow on clouded peaks. By the third tunnel, above 3,000 ft, snow was lying in the roadside woods.

Joining Sofia's outer ring road, we turned north (anticlockwise) in search of Motel Ruta 18, where we had been told of overnight parking, but the first petrol station we passed knew nothing of it. A little further north we spotted a sign for TIR and Caravan Parking at the small Hotel Panorama down a quiet lane on the left, about 5 miles NE of the city centre.

The electric hook-up and WiFi worked well. The kind owner, Nedko Gospodinov, spoke only Russian and Bulgarian but his son, who had worked in London (and whose sister was still there) came by later to talk to us. They suggested we use the hotel bathroom, thinking (rightly) that Margaret would not like the truckers' facilities! We learnt that an inner Sofia ring road is under construction, which explains the neglected pot holes in the outer ring. It's bad news for father and son, as far less traffic will pass by the business they've worked hard to build up.

Sofia to Camping Sakar Hills, Biser – 168 miles

Open 1 April-31 Oct. www.sakar-hills.com. Bulgarian Leva or Euros accepted: €14 inc elec and hot showers. Free WiFi. Excellent own-label Merlot wine for sale! N 41°52'13”  E 25°59'29”

Our host, Nedko, offered us coffee before we made an early start, south on the roughly surfaced outer ring road for 10 miles, then SE on the A1/E80 for Plovdiv - a good motorway with 2 lanes in each direction. It was fairly quiet on this cold Sunday morning as we climbed to 2,640 ft/800 m in a ski area before a gradual descent. There are regular service areas along the route, with catering by KFC, Burger King or McDonalds. After 63 miles we had a coffee break (but not a Burger) north of Pazardzik, down at 850 ft/257 m.

At the Happy Grill, 20 miles later, we stopped for a 'Full English Breakfast' – the best Bulgarian motorway food at any time of day! For 10 Lev (€5) a head, we each had a large glass of fresh orange juice, 2 eggs, 2 sausages, Heinz beanz, bacon, mushrooms, tomato and warm bread (credit cards accepted). Happy indeed!

We continued east past Plovdiv to the next exit, the end of the A1 near Kalekovec. Some day the motorway between Plovdiv and Harmanli will be complete – but not today. We had to turn south, cross the railway and join the rough 2-lane rd 8 that runs east to Harmanli (from where you can again join the motorway to Svilengrad and the Turkish border). Driving along past Haskovo, avoiding the bumps, there are many stalls selling cheese (Peynir in Bulgarian, Kasar in Turkish) – a local speciality that we've never tried.

After 159 miles we parked by the soulless new market in Harmanli and had a walk round the dusty town, drab even in afternoon sunshine. Most shops were closed except for the Billa supermarket (which the locals call the Museum – they can look but not afford to buy). The Lidl store (new since our last visit) was already closed up for renovation after flooding. It all looked rather depressing.

Another 9 miles along the old main road to Biser. Turn right at the sign, go under the new railway bridge, and Sakar Hills Camping is on the right just before the village. We immediately felt better, welcomed by the owner, our old friend Martin Jeffes, who had kept the splendid little site open just for us.

At Camping Sakar Hills, Biser

We had a good 5-day break at Biser, catching up with the usual laundry, domestics and internet work and enjoying some DVD films in the evenings. The nights were increasingly cold and frosty, with clear blue sunny days.

Martin presented us with an enormous pumpkin from his garden and Margaret rose to the challenge of producing quantities of nourishing soup, as well as a surprisingly tasty pumpkin & apple cake. The campsite neighbour and chicken-man, Georgi, brought us a bag of 15 new-laid eggs, so we also had plenty of omelettes.

One morning Martin drove us into Harmanli, where his wife Shirley (currently visiting family in England) had made a dental appointment for Margaret. The husband and wife dentist team, trained in Germany, have a very good practice that we've used before. A check-up, clean and polish cost €15. Afterwards Martin took us to an ATM for Bulgarian currency and the Lukoil petrol station to buy another 7-day vignette (10 lev), after which we treated him to a well-earned lunch at a very nice little restaurant in Harmanli. Lasagne, garlic bread and a glass of wine for Margaret, chicken & chips with a beer for the two men: total 20 lev (€10).

On another fine morning we took a walk round Biser village, which almost became a ghost town following the dreadful flood that cost 10 lives and the destruction of many houses in February 2012. See our account here. We bought bread in the shop by the bridge, both rebuilt, but so far only half of the 50 new houses promised have actually been built. Many of the old houses still lie wrecked and abandoned, with no sign of life at the village school or the central bar. Most of the inhabitants that we knew have left to work abroad. The streets were muddy, the tarmac cracked, gardens neglected.

It wasn't all dismal, though. The new houses looked good and some others had been restored, including the former home of friends John and Carol, who returned to the UK after the disaster. The century-old village church (St Cyril and St Methodius) had also been renovated and painted but was locked up.

We also took a walk along the new railway embankment under construction above the campsite, which will carry high-speed trains to Istanbul. Climbing higher, to the phone masts on a hill-top above the tracks, we came across an overgrown memorial from the Balkan Wars dated October 1912.

When the weather changed to a morning mist that hung all day, we knew it was time to move on – south to the Mediterranean – and Martin prepared to winterise and close down the campsite before the snow arrived. We left with a case of 6 bottles of Sakar Hills Merlot: excellent red wine, selected by Martin from a local winery and sold under his own label. It proved very popular with friends in the coming festive season. 

See our Account and Map for more on Sakar Hills Camping.

INTO GREECE

Biser, Bulgaria to Municipal Camping Alexandroupoli Beach, Alexandroupoli, Thrace – 117 miles (Sea level!)

Open all year. www.ditea.gr. €17.63 inc local taxes, 8-amp elec and hot showers. Free WiFi. N 40.84679  E 25.85614

With an early start, heading east along the old main road, we paused after 5 miles at Lyubimets for a fill of diesel. The new motorway from Harmanli to Svilengrad now bypasses Lyubimets, to the detriment of this once thriving service station, now deserted and offering a very limited menu. Instead of the anticipated ham & eggs for breakfast, we spent our remaining Bulgarian change on toasted sandwiches.

At Svilengrad we turned right for Greece (well signed), rather than straight on into Turkey. At the Greek border (14 miles) there was just a passport check at the joint crossing point, the strip of no-man's land now redundant. The onward route down this south-east corner of Greece, past a turning for the Turkish frontier at Kastania at 33 miles, was remarkably quiet until we turned into the first Greek town, Orestiada.

The town centre was the usual muddle of Greek driving and double parking, as we made our way through to Lidl at 45 miles. It was a joy to restock (they even had genuine Cheddar cheese) and we celebrated arrival in our favourite winter country with tea and biscuits in the car park.

Now it was south to the Mediterranean Sea, actually feeling the warmth of the sun as it broke through the clinging mist. The new dual carriageway down from Orestiada was no nearer completion than it was 4 years ago, but traffic was light. We drove past fields of unpicked cotton, watched a train going by laden with sugar beet, and passed the Thracian towns of Didymotico and Soufli.

On meeting the A2 (E90) we turned west for Alexandroupolis, rather than east for the main Turkish border crossing at Ipsala. There were no tolls at this end of the empty motorway (and no services, just an occasional parking area). We took exit 41 for Alex'polis and turned south down a narrow road that led straight into the city centre traffic. Turn right (west) along the main road for about a mile, then left at traffic lights into the campsite gates.

It's a huge level site run by the town hall, with fairly basic facilities and no washing machine, but it does provide a good stopping place on the way to/from Turkey or Bulgaria. Popular in summer, it is almost empty now: just a couple of German campers on the beachfront. Surprisingly, the campsite restaurant was open for the weekend but we were deterred by the loud music needed for the locals to enjoy themselves. Besides, we still have plenty of pumpkin & vegetable soup, and the pumpkin & apple cake is good with custard!

Continued at: In Greece Winter 2014/2015