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In the Balkans Spring 2015 PDF Printable Version E-mail


A Motorhome Journey North from Greece through the Balkans

Towards the UK from the Peloponnese through Northern Greece, the Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia

Margaret & Barry Williamson
April 2015

Introduction

After a winter motorhoming in the Greek Peloponnese, we cross the Gulf of Corinth on the splendid bridge near Patras, and head north on what will be for us a new overland route back to the UK. Our overall aim is for a journey taking us through Macedonia (Republic of), Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Germany, France, Ireland, Scotland and so into England.

The whole journey is summarised and linked together at:

A European Journey 2014-2015 

In this Travel Log, we describe the journey through the Balkans from Northern Greece through Serbia, Macedonia, Croatia and Slovenia into Austria.

See the article describing  our previous routes: To Greece by Sea or by Land.

Already we are thinking of a ferry from England to the Netherlands and a summer in Scandinavia. We'll see.  

Continued from: In Greece in the Spring of 2015

Continued at: From Slovenia to Ireland 2015 

IN NORTHERN GREECE

Akrata, Gulf of Corinth to Camping Limnopoula, Ioannina, Epiros – 173 miles (at 1,520 ft or 460 m high)

Open April to mid-Oct. €18 inc 10 amp elec and (poor) showers. Free WiFi.  N 39.67798   E 20.84353

On 5 April (Easter Sunday in 'Catholic' Europe, falling a week earlier than the Orthodox festival) we said goodbye to Manoulis and Toula, owners of the excellent Camping Akrata Beach. Other motorhomes (German, Swiss and French) were starting to arrive for the holidays, especially as 'Camping on Board' is now available on the ferries from Italy (from 1 April). They would be disappointed by the dull cold weather.

Six miles west along the Old National Rd, we joined the 'motorway' still being built towards Patras: a dangerously busy 2-lane highway with bollards down the centre, no overtaking and speed limits (largely ignored). At least there were no further tolls, having paid €6.30 on the earlier section from Corinth to Akrata, and the roads were remarkably quiet.

At 35 miles we took the exit for the magnificent Rio Bridge that spans the Gulf of Corinth (toll €13.20), finally leaving the Peloponnese and crossing over to Antirrio and turned west. Coffee break at the Olympus Plaza at 39 miles: large service areas on both sides of the main road, open 24 hrs, with fuel, LPG, cafes etc and plenty of parking space that would be OK for overnight, if a bit noisy. Staying on the main road, we bypassed Messolongi, turning north through an area of lagoons with strawberry sellers lining the road.

At 65 miles we joined the A5/E55, a section of 4-lane motorway that is actually finished (no toll, no traffic). After 20 miles of wonderful smooth tarmac we were back on the old main road. Amfilochia at 98 miles is a busy town at the SE corner of the Amvrakikas Gulf, where you can turn off west for Preveza and Igoumenitsa. Our route was north on E951, the road running high above the eastern shore towards Arta. We lunched 12 miles later, in the layby outside a (closed) restaurant overlooking the Gulf, as rain set in.

Further north another completed section of 4-lane motorway bypassed Arta, then deposited us back on the E951, which made its scenic way up a wooded river valley, dotted with trout farms and restaurants. There were icy road warnings as we climbed to almost 2,000 ft (602 m) before the descent to Ioannina.

Camping Limnopoula, at the Boat Club by the lake in Ioannina, is a site we know of old: overpriced, with dismal worn-out facilities and uncaring staff. Last time we were in Ioannina we preferred to park overnight at an Avin services on the Ring Road and had intended to do the same again. However, rain was now lashing down, thunder rumbling and – more importantly – Margaret was feeling quite unwell. So we decided to go for the (minimal) comforts of the campsite, with internet and electricity. The less said about the toilets and showers, the better.

To reach the site it's best to avoid the SatNav route through the busy university city. Instead, take the Ring Road (well signed) to the west of the city, round to the airport, then a short way south back along the lake towards the city, looking out for the camp entrance on the left. Nothing has changed in years at this bare empty campsite, except that the free city-wide WiFi is available. A note in the closed Reception window said 'Back at 4 pm'. It was well after 4 pm! Barry parked on the road as far back from the brimming lake as possible, given that it was still pouring down, and Margaret went to bed, running a high temperature.

Barry called at Reception, but the miserable occupant wanted our passports to keep until tomorrow! No way – we might never see them again! He eventually proposed a charge of €18 (too much, though the official price is €24), but couldn't take any money because he didn't have the registration book. Barry agreed to return in the morning with the money.

We had a far from restful night, alone by a stormy lake. Margaret tried to eat scrambled eggs on toast, which came back, and continued to be feverish. Looks like a nasty dose of flu.

Ioannina to Camping Drepanos, Igoumenitsa, Epiros – 61 miles (Sea level)

Open all year. ACSI Card €16 inc 16 amp elec and (disgusting) showers. Free WiFi.  N 39.50821   E 20.22213

Next morning the rain had stopped. M's temperature was down and she felt a little better, though we both had throbbing headaches. Unwilling to spend a second night on the godforsaken site at Ioannina, we decided to drive down to Igoumenitsa, where the ACSI Card 2015 book has a new entry for 'recently refurbished' Camping Drepanos. Here Margaret could recover and decide whether to continue across the Balkans – or take the easy way and take a ferry to Italy.

So we drove back round the Ioannina Ring Road, called at Lidl for essential supplies, then took the superb, finished, empty A2 motorway down to the port of Igoumenitsa. An engineering marvel of tunnels and flyover, all for one toll of €2.40.

From the port it was another 6 miles, along the busy waterfront and out to the campsite at the end of a sandspit on the north side of the bay. The entrance and new Reception building looked promising as we checked in with the charming young student intern. She had to phone her boss to ask what the ACSI Card meant, then tried to add on €3 for electricity. 'NO, it's included.' 'Are you sure?' 'YES.'

The large site was empty, apart from old permanent caravans, their rough and ready plastic covers flapping in the wind, taking up all the best pitches along the waterfront. The grassy surface was too soft and muddy after rain, so we parked on the roadway, the sole occupants. Again we had a hook-up and WiFi, and that was all. The 'recently refurbished' facilities were disgusting beyond belief – in fact, a downright lie. They were as bad as any we have seen (but not used) and that is saying something!

As there was no point in complaining to the Intern, Margaret gathered strength to send an ACSI Review:

“Very disappointed with this 'recently refurbished' site (ACSI Camping Card book 2015). Refurbishing the toilet/shower blocks meant whitewashing the outside walls, and that is all. Inside the toilets were dirty, some Turkish-style, some without seats, no paper, wet floors strewn with leaves and debris. I wouldn't even think of using the showers. The outdoor laundry and wash-up sinks had only cold water and were half full of rubbish and grimy water.

Free WiFi and an electric hook-up were the only usable facilities. This site should not be open in winter if this is all it can offer. Shop and restaurant closed until 1 May.

The sea-front pitches were all taken up with tatty old permanent caravans covered in plastic sheeting that flapped in the wind. The rest of the site was soft grass, muddy after rain. We parked on the roadway for one night and won't be returning.”

This was not the place for recuperation! Perhaps it looks better in the summer, though the beach was scruffy and mosquitoes already a problem.

We had a light supper and an early night, determined to move on tomorrow.

Igoumenitsa to Boutique Hotel Philippion, Florina, West Macedonia (Greece) – 179 miles (at 2,145 ft or 650 m high)

Open all year. www.hotelphilippion.gr Room & generous breakfast buffet, €45 for 2. Free WiFi.  N 40.78856   E 21.41038

Next morning M's gastric flu was downgraded to a heavy cold and Barry felt fine. In Igoumenitsa we bought a new digital thermometer and a supply of soluble Paracetamol + Vitamin C (as recommended by the Pharmacist) , then drove back on the A2/E90: the wonderful Egnatia Odos toll motorway, now complete all the way past Thessaloniki and Alexandroupolis to the Turkish border (total length about 670 km or 420 miles).

The rain turned heavy as we climbed up into the hills through short tunnels, with a toll of €2.40 at 35 miles. After the Dodoni Tunnel at 2,290 ft (694 m), we passed the exit for Ioannina and continued on the A2 for Grevena. The next toll booth at 53 miles was not in use. There was a marvellous view of Ioannina and the lake below us as we climbed ever higher, through a 4-km tunnel, then numerous shorter ones that gave relief from the rain. This route bypasses Metsovo, up in the mountains, where the old highway we'd previously taken from Ioannina is Greece's highest road.

We drove through a hailstorm at 2,640 ft (800 m). Exiting another tunnel (5.3 km long) at 3,590 ft (1088 m), the day's maximum height, it was foggy and snowing. At least the traffic was light! A second toll of €2.40 at 78 miles, still above 3,500 ft, with heavier snow settling on the verges and an 'icy road warning' on our dashboard. The road gradually descended, through an unbelievable number of short tunnels, down to 1,980 ft (600 m) at Grevena. Here we saw the first road sign for 'Bears Crossing' - and we believed it in these high mountains.

This motorway is an engineering miracle, though the designers did forget about essential services. There had been no fuel and only one rest area since Igoumenitsa. At last, after driving 110 miles, we stopped at the second rest area for lunch (just parking, plus insanitary toilets).

At 130 miles, after Kozani, we turned off north onto A27 (signed Skopje): a good 4-lane highway for 14 miles as far as Ptolemaida, then a 2-lane road. It passed through a desolate industrial area of mining, cement works and power stations, the cooling towers creating huge clouds. Disused quarries scarred the landscape and the villages looked poor and depressed. Turning west for Florina, it was still snowing and bitterly cold.

We stopped at a large Lidl store on the way into town, busy with shoppers from the Republic of Macedonia (we're about 10 miles from the border). Last time we came this way, we parked overnight by a petrol station at the Greek side of the border but it had been far from peaceful. This time we found several hotels in Florina on the SatNav and made our way to the nearest, the Philippion 2 miles away, to check the possibilities of eating and parking there, or taking a room.

The hotel was open for bed & breakfast (restaurant closed), had a well-lit car park with security camera, and offered a lovely warm en-suite room with WiFi and TV and breakfast buffet included. We could even see the motorhome from our window. It was late and still snowing outside. Done! So good to relax with a hot shower and sleep well before the next stage of the journey.

Florina to Perla Hotel, Struga, Lake Ohrid, Republic of Macedonia – 139 miles (at 2,410 ft or 730 m high)

Open all year. Room & cooked breakfast, €35 for 2. Free WiFi.  N 41.17386   E 20.67058

Breakfast at the Philippion Hotel was splendid: a hot and cold buffet with juice, cornflakes, yogurt, eggs, cheese, pastries, rolls etc. All for us and one other guest! On leaving we were presented with a bottle of red wine with the words Kalo Pascha (Happy Easter) – the Greek holiday starts tomorrow. We promised to return (hopefully not today, though!)

It was 12 miles north on E65N to the Greek/Macedonian border. On the way we saw our first pair of storks of the year, returned to their nest in the village of Ano Kalliniki. Always a good omen.

FROM GREECE INTO THE REPUBLIC OF MACEDONIA

1.  Put clocks back one hour.

2.  Headlights compulsory on all roads 24 hrs a day.

3.  Currency Macedonian Denar (MKD). €1 approx 60 MKD. £1 approx 85 MKD. Euros generally accepted.

4.  British-registered vehicles need to buy 3rd party insurance at border: 15 days (the minimum) cost €50 + €5 admin fee, payable in Euros in cash (or €70 + €5 for a month). This was for any car or motorhome, regardless of size.

5.  The Cyrillic alphabet is used (as in Bulgaria), though some road signs also have the name in Latin script.

6. There are regular small tolls on the motorways payable in euros or local currency. Typically €1, €1.5 or €2 each time, so have plenty of small change.

After exiting Greece, the Macedonian border guard could not have been friendlier. 'I have brother in America. I am sorry you must buy insurance, maybe not after next year. Go to the Post Office over there. Enjoy your stay.' In the Post Office, the same friendly welcome from the English-speaking staff, who apologised and thought there should be a smaller fee for a short transit, but they could do nothing about it.

Armed with an insurance certificate for a 'Ford Transit Caravan' (oddly headed 'Croatia Osiguranje'), we were allowed to continue into what the Greeks insist on calling FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), to distinguish it from Greek Macedonia.

Continuing towards Bitola, we paused after 8 Macedonian miles at the remains of Heraclea (Ancient Bitola), signed on the left, down a short lane below snowy mountain peaks. See Heraclea-lyncestis. Founded by Philip II (father of Alexander the Great) in the 4th C BC, Heraclea developed into an important town on the Roman Road Via Ignatia. The Italian government helped with excavation and restoration work here in 2008 and it has some lovely mosaic floors, etc. The guardian came out and would have accepted €5 entry for the two of us (even offering 100 MKD in change). Since it was snowing again – and we had visited the site before – we didn't linger, but were impressed again by the friendly welcome.

We drove through the country's second largest city, Bitola, with its many historic associations. During the Ottoman Empire, it shared with Salonica the rule of the Ottoman province of Rumelia, and Kemal Ataturk studied at the military academy here. There is still a Turkish bazaar and mosque in the centre. During WW2, the Germans and later Bulgarians took control of Bitola until November 1944, when the Macedonian Liberation Brigade entered the city. The Jews Gate commemorates the 3,000 Jews taken from the city to their deaths in Treblinka.

Continuing north-west from Bitola (signed Ohrid), the road climbed above 3,000 ft, with snow lying on the fields. The village churches were Russian Orthodox, the alphabet Cyrillic, and the red & yellow flag with the 12-pointed Macedonian star flew proud. We got lots of friendly waves and toots. The scenery was magnificent; the road pretty rough in places but it had been gritted and cleared of snow. After a col at 3,800 ft (1150 m), we took the Tranzit route round Resen. Here we noticed the church of St Cyril and St Methodius (the brother monks born in 9th century Thessalonica, responsible for devising the Cyrillic alphabet in order to translate the Greek bible for the Slavs). We also saw a mosque and minaret, and women in Moslem dress.

At the top of the next pass, 39 miles since the border, up at 3,960 ft (1200 m), we parked for a quick lunch, watched by a lonely stray dog. Icicles hung from the snowy roof of an abandoned hut and we were glad to descend, on a better road twisting down towards Ohrid. A line of sheep were being led across the hillside like a line of processionary caterpillars.

Bypassing the town of Ohrid, we continued west to Struga at the top of Lake Ohrid – a deep glacial lake, the oldest in Europe. Tiny Camping Rino, our first choice, looked closed and deserted. Returning to Ohrid, we drove on down the east side of the lake, where we had once stayed at Camping Gradishte near Pestan. We did find it – but closed and locked! Continuing down the lake, past the 'Gulf of Bones, Museum on Water', then over a 2,970 ft (900 m) pass in the Galicia National Park, we went on to look at Camping Ljubanista. Closed and spooky with stray dogs. A little further along, at St Naum just short of the Albanian border, there is a car park, cafι and souvenir stalls. It's a popular place in summer but now (just 2 days before Orthodox Easter) it was empty and closed up. Not wanting to spend the night here alone, we returned to Ohrid.

In Ohrid we looked at parking by the marina (small and full of cars), then at the Bus/Truck Park nearby (empty, with the barrier closed and no guard in the pay-kiosk). It was still bitterly cold. As we returned to Struga, where we'd noticed the Perla Hotel and Restaurant, we saw a convoy being led by a police car in the opposite direction. They waved – it was the German 'gang of three' who had left Camping Finikes in Finikounda at the end of December, and met us again at Triton II in Drepano! One fifth-wheeler (Celtic Rambler), one caravan and one motorhome! We did wonder where the police were taking them, but were unable to turn and follow.

At the Perla Hotel (yes, there are pearls in Lake Ohrid) we found safe parking round the side and made enquiries. We could park overnight and eat in the pizza restaurant – or of course take a room. The room was lovely and we cooked our own supper in the motorhome. The WiFi worked well and M was feeling much better.

Struga, Lake Ohrid, to Camping Bellevue (at Best Western Hotel), nr Skopje, Republic of Macedonia – 120 miles (at 965 ft or 292 m high)

Open all year. Camp Bellevue, Skopje.  €25.27 inc electricity. Free WiFi.  N 41.99694   E 21.55026

After a hotel breakfast of orange juice, cheese omelette, toast and coffee, we drove 5 miles back towards Ohrid to join E65/M4 for Skopje. At this end it's a rough 2-lane road, destined to become a motorway some day.

We climbed gradually, snow lying on the verges above 1,000 ft, then zigzagged higher to 3,585 ft (1087 m). The snow lay deeper on the north side of the mountains, covering the fields as we hairpinned down, but snow ploughs kept the road clear. At Izvor the E65 turned east, then north again at Kicevo, a poor town where pencil-slim minarets marked the mosques.

There was a bitterly cold head wind, though it remained sunny and dry as we continued north through more Muslim settlements, with mosques, covered cemeteries and women in Islamic dress, reminding us of Turkish villagers. We saw no churches in this area, though we passed a large new memorial and cemetery under the Albanian flag. Indeed Albanian flags flew all along this valley. The road looped up to a higher pass with a fuel station at 4,010 ft (1215 m), snow banked high at the edges. As we descended we didn't envy a pair of heavily laden male cycle-tourists labouring up the hill towards us, wearing shorts.

After 65 miles we reached Gostivar (down at 1,850 ft or 560 m), a larger town with both churches and mosques. Continuing through on E65, we parked for a lunch break outside the (closed) Royal Hotel. Then we joined the M4 toll road (named Mother Theresa) to Skopje. No-one could resent the regular small charges along the straight level 4-lane dual carriageway, a much easier drive than the route we'd just followed from Lake Ohrid through the snowy Balkans. We paid 3 tolls of €1 each, then €1.50 before the Tranzit Peripherique round the north side of Skopje, the capital. (Of course, we could have paid in MKD if we'd changed any.) Minarets stood proud in the villages along the way and we passed an exit for Pristina (Kosovo).

The traffic was fairly orderly and it was satisfying to see one exceptionally fast car streak past on the ring road, only to be stopped by the Police a bit further along. After joining E75, north towards the Serbian border, we took the exit right by the Best Western Hotel/Camping Bellevue , clearly visible from the motorway.

The campsite, next to the hotel, resembled a minigolf course, with short narrow concrete strips laid out between areas of lawn and flowers! It had electric hook-ups, non-potable water, toilets and cold showers, but it did provide a safe guarded place for the night and the free hotel WiFi worked in the motorhome. With double rooms in the rather grim hotel costing €90, we opted to camp, our only neighbour a Romanian who slept in his car.

Storks nested on the hotel tower and there were plenty of birds to watch including Hoopoe, Goldfinch and Blackcap, right by a motorway linking two capital cities!

Skopje, Republic of Macedonia to Hotel Aqua Etno Dvorac, Paracin, Serbia – 170 miles (at 470 ft or 143 m high)

Open all year. Bed and breakfast €45 for 2. Free WiFi.  N 43.85855   E 21.43155

Next morning dawned much warmer. After washing the motorhome down, we headed north up the 4-lane E75 motorway, with 2 tolls (total €3) before leaving Macedonia. We passed an oil refinery, sheep grazing in the fields, then minarets marking the town of Kumanovo, with several petrol stations (fuel is cheaper here) before the Serbian border at 24 miles.

FROM REPUBLIC OF MACEDONIA INTO SERBIA

1.  Headlights compulsory 24 hrs a day on all roads.

2.  Currency Serbian Dinar (RSD). €1 approx 120 RSD. £1 approx 165 RSD. Euros generally accepted.

3.  British-registered vehicles are now fully covered by their own insurance in Serbia: just show insurance certificate papers at border.

4.  The Cyrillic alphabet is used on older road signs, though most now have the name in Latin script.

5.   There are regular small tolls on the motorways, payable in Euros or local currency. Carry plenty of small change.

Approaching the border we saw nothing of the bands of illegal immigrants rumoured to be walking through the Balkans, apart from one poorly dressed Muslim woman clutching a baby. She ran across the road, climbed a barrier in front of us and disappeared. What would become of her?

Exiting Macedonia with a passport check, we joined a short queue to enter Serbia, bypassing a long line of trucks. Another passport check, a look inside by Customs officials, scrutiny of our insurance document and we were on our way. This was the first time we had motorhomed in Serbia, though en route to Istanbul from the UK, we had cycled across the country when it was part of Yugoslavia in the Iron Curtain days.

The Serbian E75 was mainly a smooth 4-lane motorway, with a few sections of good 2-lane road. As our friend Martin Jeffes (of Camping Sakar Hills in eastern Bulgaria) said: 'it beats the hell out of going via Romania' – at least as far as road surfaces go!

Life went on in the villages as it always has, with beehives, hand-made haystacks in the fields, the odd cow, shepherds watching their flocks, fishing in ponds, bicycles for local transport. Sometimes a mosque, sometimes a Christian church and cemetery. At 50 miles, north of Vranje, we saw a sign for Camping Enigma but didn't investigate. E75 continued north up a broad river valley, alongside the railway and old road, climbing to 1,255 ft (380 m) with a dusting of snow on the surrounding hills.

At 63 miles in Bojkinska we passed a new cafι with TIR Parking. In Dzep, 9 miles later after a section of old road through a gorge, we stopped for lunch opposite Motel/Cafι Rosa, which was popular with passing coaches. Still above 1,000 ft at 330 m. In the layby was a memorial to 2 young men (aged 30 and 33 in 2011), with a photo of their shiny black sports car.

On past Predajne, where the motel and services had a very sloping car park. Leaving mosques and minarets behind, we now saw only Orthodox churches and even a couple of stalls selling Ikone (icon paintings) at the roadside. From Grdelica onwards the motorway was complete and we paid our first Serbian toll (€2.50) at 108 miles.

After passing Nis (signed 'Birthplace of Constantine the Great'), we paused at the Nais Hotel but it was closed and abandoned. Continuing, we paid €1 exit toll to check out the Morava Hotel: closed for renovation and soon to re-open as the Bosphorus Hotel. At 160 miles in Pojate we left the motorway again (toll €2) to find another night halt suggested on the internet: 'Snikbar Aleksander' - a nice little restaurant which might have been good, but it too had died!

Ten miles further we exited the motorway at Paracin (toll €1), with a Truckstop parking and restaurant right by the exit. However, it looked crowded and noisy so we drove a mile into Paracin in search of a quiet night's rest.

The first hotel we came to, the oddly named and oppressively twee Aqua Etno Dvorac, had a good car park and we took a large room with modern bathroom, WiFi and satellite TV. The proprietors spoke no known language but the waitress had some German. Margaret cooked supper in the motorhome.

Paracin to Camping Dunav, Zemun, Nr Belgrade, Serbia – 107 miles (at 320 ft or 97 m high)

Open April-Nov. Camp Dunav. 2,192 RSD (approx €18.27) inc electricity and hot showers. Free WiFi. Pay in RSD cash or by credit card – not Euros.  N 44.87820   E 20.35597

Breakfast (we were alone) comprised coffee, rolls and a huge platter of cold meats, smoked sausage and salami. No cheese, eggs, fruit, juice, jam or anything else – Serbia is not a country for vegetarians! We tried a little ham and left the rest, leaving the waitress puzzled that we took only the rolls with us! Not the best hotel on the journey but at least we got a good rest.

It was less than a mile back to the E75, where we took a toll ticket and continued north-west on a good motorway with regular service stations. A fill of diesel at an Eko station cost 141.9 RSD per litre, approx €1.18, paid by credit card. The highway ran through the valley of the overflowing Velika Morava, a river that joins the Danube to the east of Belgrade. Grey heron fished from its banks.

At 35 miles there was a motel, by the exit for Markovac. Then the Velika Plana services on the opposite side of the motorway had a McDonald's, where a few motorhomers have reported stopping for free WiFi and an overnight. At last we turned west for Belgrade, passing the smart Motel Jerina on the opposite carriageway – a motel that we had been warned to avoid. See the full story at Serbian Motel Scam.

Just past the Hotel Hedonic (which looked OK), at 88 miles we paid the only toll of the day (€6.50). Then we were hit by the view of the Serbian capital, a high-rise shock of flats and cathedral, after spending so long among villages and small towns. The E75 took us straight through the centre of the city, bridging the Sava River, following signs for Novi Sad. We turned off the motorway at Zemun Polje and used the SatNav to find Camping Dunav, just a mile from our exit. The site lies along a high bank above the Danube, 3 km from Zemun and 10 km from Belgrade.

It was good to be greeted by a friendly English-speaking warden, who stopped cutting the grass to show us round. Although there were no other campers (despite tomorrow being Orthodox Easter Sunday), he assured us that we would be quite safe, with gates locked and a night watchman on duty later. There was free WiFi, potable water, clean toilets, and use of a hot shower in the hostel, since the main boiler had not been lit. After looking at the site plan, Margaret asked if there was a washing machine. 'Sorry, no.' 'There is a picture of one' she said. 'Well, there is a picture of a swimming pool and we don't have that either. It's an old plan.' Nice sense of humour!

We pitched with a view of the Danube below, watched the passing barges and made a meal.

At Camping Dunav, Zemun, Nr Belgrade, Serbia

A rest day on Orthodox Easter Sunday, when we were joined by a lone Bulgarian campervan.

In the morning we set out to cycle along the Danube Cycle Path into Belgrade, but there was a cold strong head wind and we found we had to ride along a busy road to Zemun before gaining the riverside path. After a short distance we gave up and turned back to the campsite. It was good to have time to update the travel log, write emails and make a mandarin cheesecake.

Zemun, Serbia (across Croatia) to Camping Spa Terme Catez, Catez ob Savi, Slovenia – 270 miles (at 465 ft or 141 m high)

Open all year. www.terme-catez.si/en/  €42.08  inc taxes, 10 amp elec, hot showers, entry to thermal pools (whether wanted or not.) Free WiFi. N 45.88988  E 15.63044

On a fine sunny Orthodox Easter Monday (a Serbian holiday) we returned one mile to the E75, to join the westbound E70 motorway 4 miles later. We continued past Belgrade airport and across an open flat agricultural plain at a constant 310 ft (95 m), relieved by small villages and occasional industrial parks. The churches, houses and storks were reminiscent of Hungary, to which this area once belonged.

At 65 miles we paid a toll of €4.50 by the last Serbian service station, 4 miles before the border into Croatia.

FROM SERBIA INTO CROATIA

1.  Headlights compulsory 24 hrs a day on all roads.

2.  Currency Croatian Kuna (HRK): €1 approx 7.6 HRK. £1 approx 10.5 HRK. Euros may be accepted.

3.  Croatia is now a member of the EU (though not the Eurozone), so British-registered vehicles are fully covered by their own insurance.

4.  The language is Serbo-Croat, using the Latin alphabet.

5.  There are regular tolls on the motorways, payable in Euros (change given in Euros) or local currency.

After the usual checks at the double border post, a sign Dobro Dosli welcomed us to Croatia. So did Vodafone, with the welcome text that we were now back in their 'Europe Zone 1', making calls considerably cheaper than they would have been in Macedonia or Serbia! The 4-lane A3 motorway was smooth and new, the outside temperature 22°C, daffodils and tulips bloomed - and the SatNav listed a Lidl ahead.

Leaving the motorway at 90 miles (toll €3), it was another 2 miles to Lidl in Zupanje. The town lies on the Sava River, the border between Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was a good store with its own bakery, and credit cards accepted. Margaret was a happy shopper, before making lunch in the generous car park.

Back on the E70/A3 we continued west past Slavonski Brod, along the northern border of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Republic of Srpska. By 4 pm it was hot (25°C) and we were still down at around 330 ft (100 m), the Sava meandering across the flat plain. Near Ivanic-Grad was a small oilfield with 7 'nodding donkeys'.

Croatian campsites all lie along the coast and we saw nowhere suitable for the night on our route along the A3. We did notice Camping/Motel Plitvice at Lucko, 7 miles south-west of Zagreb, but it looked shabby and swamped with coach parties. Our friend Graham Peacock (the Caravan Club's Croatian expert) had warned of a break-in while parked there in 2007.

So we drove on, paying a toll of €21.37 before following A3 round the south and west of the capital, over the Sava River and past Zagreb airport. The service station at 261 miles (2 miles before the Slovenian frontier) sold Slovenian vignettes, so we bought one there to save time at the border. There was one last toll of €1.10 before entering Slovenia. Croatia had been a long flat drive, on a good motorway.

FROM CROATIA INTO SLOVENIA

1.  Headlights compulsory 24 hrs a day on all roads.

2.  Currency Euros.

3.  Slovenia is a member of the EU, so British-registered vehicles are fully covered by their own insurance.

4.  The language is Serbo-Croat, using the Latin alphabet.

5.  There are regular tolls on the excellent motorways for vehicles over 3.5 tons (including motorhomes). Vehicles under 3.5 tons (like us) do not pay tolls but have to buy and display a Vignette. We paid €16 for the 7-day minimum.

After a passport check at the double border (between 2 EU countries!), we took the E70 motorway for 5 miles to the exit for Catez ob Savi (Catez on the Sava). The final 2 miles to the huge spa resort/casino/hotel/campsite was well signed.

As expected, the tariff was outrageous but it was getting late after a long 3-country day! The sour-faced Receptionist would not budge on a price that included entry tickets to the thermal pools, whether we wanted them or not (we didn't). Not surprisingly, there was only one other motorhome (Italian) on the large campsite. We did point out that the resort would make a lot more money from passing campers if they charged a reasonable price, with pool entry an optional extra, but she did not want to know. We were issued with a list of 21 Campsite Rules in 5 languages, ending 'We Wish You a Pleasant Stay'!!

The only alternative would have been a motorway service station, so we reluctantly paid up for a peaceful night.

Catez ob Savi to Camping Bled, Bled, Slovenia – 101 miles (at 1,580 ft or 479 m high)

Open 1 April to mid-Oct. www.camping-bled.com  ACSI Card €19.28 inc taxes (plus a one-off €2 registration fee), 16 amp elec, superb showers. Free WiFi. N 46.36155  E 14.08066

Back to the A2/E70 and west towards Ljubljana. The scenery was immediately prettier than the flat drive across Serbia and inland Croatia, with wooded hillsides and tidy villages. Slovenia, the 'Sunny Side of the Alps, is a mini-Austria in all but language. The excellent motorway climbed gradually through a few short tunnels to over 1,000 ft (300 m). At the regular toll points we simply drove through the Vinjeta lane without stopping, the Vignette displayed on the windscreen.

After 47 miles we refuelled (diesel €1.197 a litre) at the Podsmereka Services at N45.94805  E 14.77065. This has a small area for motorhomes providing water, a dump and 4 electric points free of charge. There are also good toilets, and hot showers costing €3 for 15 minutes. It's listed in 'Camperstop Europe' as suitable for a free overnight.

Further along A2, we bypassed Ljubljana on the A1 Ring to the west of the capital (5 miles of busy circulating traffic), then continued north-west on A2 past Kranj airport. Snowy alpine peaks came into view as we climbed steadily to 1,600 ft (480 m) and took exit 3 (Lesce) at 97 miles. A final 4 miles west to the lakeside tourist town of Bled and its well-signed campsite at the far end of the lake.

The site has excellent facilities (including a free dog shower and a dishwasher costing €1), all kinds of sporting activities, a shop and a nice restaurant with a terrace overlooking the lake. If only it had more marked level pitches, clear of mud and trees! For the first time in months we were on a busy site, popular with several nationalities. It was strange to see other motorhomes again, including a monstrous Carthago from GB as well as the tiny tents used by  French climbers.

Eventually we settled between Italians and Germans, had a late lunch, then made full use of the free WiFi.

At Camping Bled, Bled, Slovenia

Next morning we caught up on laundry, hanging it out to dry in warm sunshine. Also introduced ourselves to the campsite managers, Nejc and Nika, to pass on greetings from our mutual friend, Graham Peacock. They were delighted to hear news of Graham and presented us with a souvenir of our visit – a hand-made plaque of Bled Castle fashioned in rich dark chocolate.  It looked too good to eat but they insisted we must!

After lunch a short cycle ride (7 km) clockwise around the lake, only pausing for an ice cream. The footpath was a broad paved track into Bled, though narrower and sometimes gravel on the way back. The castle, perched high above the lake, is the oldest in Slovenia and Lake Bled with its island monastery is picture-perfect. The town was packed with tour groups from all nations, large coaches pushing their way along the main street to deposit passengers by the lake for boat trips. And this is mid-week in April – it must be hell in August! In past visits we've escaped the crowds by turning up the Bohinj Valley to the Triglavski National Park - 20 miles south-east from Bled - to Bohinska Bistrica and Lake Bohinj, where there are more campsites.

In the evening we celebrated M's birthday, which fell 5 days ago in Serbia, with a very good meal at the campsite restaurant. The only diners, we enjoyed chicken fillet with creamy cheese sauce, roast potatoes and salad, followed by chocolate mousse with strawberries and cream. The waiter also brought complimentary glasses of the local blackcurrant liqueur, good and sweet. A fine celebration for completing our route through the Balkans.

Bled, Slovenia (across Austria) to Camping Sport-Ecke, Chieming, Bavaria, Germany – 172 miles (at 1,700 ft or 514 m high)

Open 1 April-30 Sept. www.sport-ecke.de  ACSI Card €18.40 inc taxes, 16 amp elec, hot showers. Free WiFi. N 47.87636  E 12.52804

Squeezing through Bled, it was 4 miles back to the A2. At the last roundabout before joining the motorway, we turned right to shop. Lidl had a 3-metre height barrier, that we just might have cleared, but we continued to Hofer (= Aldi), with no parking restrictions. It had an in-store bakery and some drastic reductions on chocolate Easter bunnies and eggs. Well stocked, we took the A2 motorway and headed north-west for Austria. At the last Slovenian services, Jesenice at 16 miles, we bought the Austrian motorway Vignette (€8.70 for the minimum 10 days, for vehicles up to 3.5 tons). This doesn't cover one or two tunnels which have extra tolls.

INTO AUSTRIA

At the Slovenian exit post a friendly guard (born in Birmingham) practised his English and checked our passports. The border with Austria actually lies in the 8-km sub-alpine Karawanke Tunnel (toll €7). We entered the tunnel at 1,925 ft (583 m) and emerged into Austria at 2,220 ft (673 m). A little snow still lay on the peaks as we descended to Villach, then took A10 north for Salzburg.

Continued at: From Slovenia to Ireland 2015