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From Bulgaria to the UK 2009 PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

The ROAD from BULGARIA to the UK in the SUMMER of 2009

The Travel Log of a 2,361-mile (3,777-km) Motorhome Journey from Biser, in the south-east corner of Bulgaria, to the UK

Margaret and Barry Williamson

July 2009

This illustrated travel log describes our motorhome journey from Bulgaria, North West to the UK in the summer of 2009. We had spent the spring in the south-east corner of Bulgaria, based at the quiet Sakar Hills Camping in Biser – ideally placed for cycle rides in the Rhodopi Mountains and over the borders into Greece and Turkey.

We had intended to travel directly to Finland via Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. In the event, the accumulation of problems starting on the rough roads of Romania, caused us to divert to the UK via Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy and France.

Whilst in France, we took the opportunity to collect major parts of our awning, broken and left in the barn of a friend near Limoges after a squall during the night of 30 November 2008. We recalled the Cat Stevens (as was) version of 'M(awning) has broken'.

Motorhome Medics of Cheltenham worked their usual speedy and skilled magic to remake the awning, clear up a number of other small problems, undertake a full service and gain us an extended MOT. Visiting friends near Winchester, in North Wales and Huddersfield, and time for Margaret with her 94-year-old mother in a Care Home near Blackpool, completed our visit as we headed for Harwich and a ferry to Rotterdam.

From Bulgaria to the UK: 2,361 miles (3,777 km)
In Bulgaria:  337 miles (539 km)
In Romania: 401 miles (642 km)
In Hungary: 123 miles (197 km)
In Croatia:  214 miles (342 km)
In Slovenia: 113 miles (181 km)
In Italy:       385 miles (616 km)
In France:  788 miles (1,261 km)

Galleries and a Slide Show of Images of Bulgaria, click: In Bulgaria 2009

A full account of our previous visit to Biser, click: Bulgarian Summer 2008

Details of how we got to Biser in April 2009, click: Grecian Journey 2009

A description of our motorhome, click: A Flair for Travel

Details of six bicycle routes in south-east Bulgaria, click: Cycling in SE Bulgaria

Our project to help deprived Bulgarian children, click: Bulgarian Woolly Project

The Motorhome Route from Finikounda in Greece to the Arctic Circle in Finland

Arctic_Route_Map.jpg

Here is the travel log of the journey from Bulgaria to the UK, which begins as we regretfully leave the gates of the campsite in Biser:

10 June 2009   25 miles   Biser to Hlyabovo, Bulgaria   Garage Forecourt   Altitude 1,200 ft   €5.00  

Back on the Road - Briefly

After 6 weeks in Biser IMG_5544.JPGvillage – an area where we have made many friends – it was hard to leave. We'd spent the previous evening at the home of Martin and Shirley Jeffes, owners of Sakar Hills Camping, enjoying excellent food and company. Heading north as the weather becomes too hot for comfortable cycling in Bulgaria, we take many good memories of another stay in Biser – and a few litres of fine rosé from the local Malkata Zvesda (= Little Star) winery.

The morning was spent baking (bread and cherry pies) and packiSakar_2.JPGng up. Having bought a Garmin Satnav (Nüvi 360) from an expatriate friend, whose journeys were over with a retreat to the UK, there was much to learn as we set it up for our route, hoping for less wrong turns on the badly signed roads of Bulgaria! Then after lunch and a last farewell to our hosts, we started the engine.

It was a short anCycling_11.JPGd familiar drive north-east to the hamlet of Hlyabovo (= Bread Village), home to a couple more expat friends. We crossed the Maritsa River at Ljubimets and followed a minor road through the villages of Jerusalimovo (marked by a hilltop cross) and Izvorovo, where there is a small history museum. Our route reached 1,900 ft as we crossed the Sakar Hills.

After 15 miles we met the road from Harmanli and turned right, throughHlyabovo_Dolmen_(14).JPG the tiny hamlet of Balgarska Polyana (= Bulgarian Fields), past the signed footpath leading to a Thracian Dolmen (Iron Age burial tomb) on the right, and so to Hlyabovo.

The villageIMG_5553.JPG petrol station is owned by the Mayor, who had kindly agreed to our parking for a night or two on his forecourt (plugged into his house) for a small fee. An excellent arrangement! Though we were still up at 1,320 ft, it was hot (100 deg F at 5.30 pm), without a breath of air.

After dinner we strolled over to visit RuIMG_5554.JPGth and her lively family (3 children, 2 dogs, a cat, 2 hens and a dozen ducklings). Darryl had just left on a visit to England but we enjoyed a slice of his birthday cake from yesterday. Before turning in we walked on through the village, past the broom-making workshop, to the house recently abandoned by another UK expatriate, leaving a young white cat and her quartet of pretty 4-week-old kittens to fend for themselves. All attempts to find them a new home have failed but meanwhile Ruth is kindly checking on them regularly. All we could do was to leave milk, water and biscuits for the mother, who was out hunting.

11-12 June 2009   At Hlyabovo, Bulgaria

Time with New Friends and Old

Next morningIMG_5551.JPG we walked up to visit the newest arrivals in the village, Derek and Barbara, busy making a splendid home and garden for themselves, 3 cats + kitten. Derek, a skilled carpenter, once built his own 51-foot yacht, in which they sailed the oceans for several years before tragically losing it to a reef off Mexico. Over drinks and travellers' tales, we looked through the photo album covering the building and launch of the 'Two-Can'.

After lunch in our own land-yacht, we spent the rest of the day at IMG_5546.JPGRuth's. We sent a few emails (thanks to WiFi), mended M's shorts (thanks to Ruth and her sewing machine), cooked supper together and watched a family film, called something like 'A Night in the Museum'.  Heavy rain was a relief, cooling and freshening the atmosphere.

The second day,Kiwis_(7).JPG Friday, was equally eventful. Over coffee at Ruth's we met friend Nadia, a native of Russia with a summer home in the village - and some interesting views on politics, leading to extensive debate and new perspectives! Then Ruth drove us to the Orthodox convent of St Trinity's, SE of Topolovgrad. It was the start of their annual 3-day fair, with ridesKiwis_(16).JPG, stalls and free camping (for small vans and tents) and she wanted to check it out before taking her family this evening to camp for the weekend. The meadow was already busy, with plenty of food and drink on sale and an area for tents by the stream, where she claimed a pitch. It's a working convent with lovely gardens, which we'd visited last summer at a quieter time.

Finally, we'd all been invited to Derek's birthday garden party: a lovely gathering of Bulgarian neighbours and expatriate friends, all of whom we know well. Barbara had laid a substantial table of tasty food and we sat in the shade of a giant walnut tree, eating, talking and saying our very last good-byes as a cool darkness fell.

Thanks to all of you - Ruth, the children, Barbara and Derek (not forgetting the Mayor) - for a special time in Hlyabovo.

13 June 2009   140 miles   Hlyabovo to Veliki Preslav, Bulgaria   TIR Lorry Park   Altitude 450 ft   €5.00  

Delivery to Greg for the Children's Home in V-Preslav

Before leaving IMG_5559.JPGwe'd promised to feed Ruth's animals, not forgetting the abandoned cat family. To our delight the 4 kittens had learnt to lap milk, after much persuasion, so we left feeling slightly more confident of their survival.

Cursing the poor state of Bulgarian roads in general, and ours in particular, we drove 9 km NE to Topolovgrad, the local town. Along the way to the next town, Elhovo,  the road became busier (and slightly better) as we joined Road 7, the route from Lesovo and a new Turkish border crossing.

We skirted Yambol on the bypass to the east - surprisingly narrow for a new road signed for trucks – and continued north to the hectic roundabout at the crossroads of our Rd 7 and the E773 (which runs east-west from Burgas to Sofia). This junction is surrounded by a cluster of service stations and snack bars and, though parking was difficult, we managed to call at our favourite croissanterie. A rare treat in this country, with a range of sweet and savoury delicacies, it's at the filling station on the right, before crossing E773.

Our maps show Rd 7 as the main road going due north from here to Cycling_12.JPGV-Preslav but it's in very poor condition over the mountains that lie ahead. Much better to take it as far as Mokren, then follow Rd 48 via Kotel and Targovishte (as we did on a recent visit to the Children's Home in V-Preslav). Alternatively, turn right along E773 to Karnobat, then follow Rd 73. Both are longer routes but much easier.

Today we didIMG_5557.JPG none of these! We stayed on Rd 7 north for 6 km, then turned off east on a minor road via Padarevo and Soungourlare to join Rd 73 at Lozarevo. This looked like a good short cut, avoiding Karnobat, but it proved to be along narrow tortuous lanes with unsigned junctions – not recommended! Turning north on the 73, the road was better, climbing gently through forest over the Karnobatski Pass (310 m or 1,023 ft) and the Rishki Pass at 405 m (1,336 ft).

Parked in Veselinovo for a lunch of croissants, an Englishman in a IMG_5555.JPGpick-up stopped alongside for a chat. We were amazed to learn that he represented one of 10 UK ex-pat families in the area. The Waterfall café in the village keeps a Bulgarian-English dictionary at the ready! Usefully, he advised against the road a few miles ahead, from Smyadovo to V-Preslav, which we'd intended taking. He suggested larger vehicles should continue almost to Shumen and then double back on Rd 7 – and so we did.

Arriving in VelikPreslav_Orphanage_(21).JPGi (= Great) Preslav mid-afternoon, we parked by the bus station and phoned Greg Herb to meet us at its café. Greg is one of the dedicated young people we know doing 2 years' voluntary overseas service with the American Peace Corps. Based at the OrphanPreslav_Orphanage_(28).JPGage in this town, he is doing a great job working with homeless children aged 4-18 (see Greg's own website). We'd already visited him at the Orphanage with some supplies and now we returned with a generous amount of clothes, toys and games, given to us by Ruth and her children in Hlyabovo. We delivered these (and Greg) to his flat in a grim concrete block and wished him well with the activities he was planning for the children over the long hot days of summer.

Finally, we drove back to a TIR Lorry Park we'd spotted on the way into Preslav, on an industrial estate. Walled and gated, it provided a quiet safe place overnight with a security guard on duty. Well worth a few Euros.  It was again hot with no breeze.   

14 June 2009   73 miles   Veliki Preslav to Dragizhevo (Nr Veliko Tarnovo), Bulgaria   Camping Veliko Tarnovo   Altitude 750 ft   €9.00 

First guests at a Brand New Campsite!

This was an VT_Camp_(10).JPGeasy drive on reasonably good roads, starting with 24 km north-west to Targovishte. Here we joined E772 (A4), which runs west via Omurtag to Veliko Tarnovo and beyond. Skirting the northern edge of the Balkan hills (max height today 1,621 ft), we drove through rolling wheatfields, rising into woodlands and along a gorge.

About 8 km before V-Tarnovo we turned VT_Camp_(11).JPGsouth (signed to Elena), and then right into the village of Dragizheno 1 km later. Turning left at the far end of the village, we continued briefly on a country road along the Valley of Televets, to find a brand new British-owned campsite on the right. We'd discovered Camping Veliko Tarnovo on the internet and now arrived in time to be the very first customers! (Well, second if you count their German friend, Barbara, working on translating the website into German).

The facilities VT_Camp_(15).JPGare superb, very well built, as is Nick & Nicky's house. Workmen are still finishing off the detail and a swimming pool is planned for next year, though the little café/bar is ready to open. There is a good WiFi signal, freely available. As yet there are no signposts to point the way, though the necesVT_Camp_(21).JPGsary permission to erect them is pending.  

Our new hosts made us very welcome, inviting us to join them and Barbara for a roast chicken dinner, followed by a great choice of cakes (Nicky is practising baking for the café). We sat talking beneath a star-studded sky, devoid of light pollution, learning something of the trials and tribulations of turning 2 wheat fields into the present campsite and their home. We relished the tranquility - the railway line running below the site is no longer in use and, with no near neighbours, it's exceptionally peaceful. It even grew chilly after dark.

Map of the Area surrounding Camping Veliko Tarnovo

VT_Map_5.jpg

The Roads out of Veliko Tarnovo:

North to Ruse and the Friendship Bridge over the Danube into Romania
South over the Shipka Pass to Stara Zagora, Sakar Hill Camping, Turkey and Greece 
East to Varna and the Black Sea Coast
West to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria

15-20 June 2009   At Dragizhevo (Nr Veliko Tarnovo), Bulgaria   Camping Veliko Tarnovo

A new area to explore

With the site to ourselves, a well equipped laundry and a good WiFi signal for internet and Voipwise phone calls, we happily settled in for a few days.

The village of VT_Camp_(13).JPGDragizhevo is an easy walk, less than a mile away, with some fine houses, a substantial community centre, the Mayor's offices above the post office, and several shops. It's a prosperous area – not a donkey cart in sight - and the numerous English residents include a mobile hairdresser, who came to the campsite to keep us all in trim for €2 per head!

Of course, we are within a few miles of VT_Camp_(23).JPGthe historic religious and university centre of Veliko Tarnovo (an early capital of Bulgaria), complete with medieval castle and National Revival architecture - popular with tourists and expatriates alike. Margaret went into V-T on a shopping expedition with Nicky and Barbara and was shocked at how much the city had developed in recent years. High rise buildings and traffic jams were not a feature of our earlier visits to the city on the Yantra River.

Martin & ShNikopolis_2009_(15).JPGirley, from Sakar Hills Camping, arrived in the Land Rover with caravan in tow, to join us for a couple of nights. We had a good day out with them, exploring the Roman remains of Nikopolis ad Istrum, 17 km north of Veliko Tarnovo. Alone at the site, apart from the caretaker, we really enjoyed wandering among the warm stone foundations of the city founded by Emperor Trajan in 110 AD after conquering the Dacians. This 'Victory City' became the administrative centre for Moesia Inferior, the lower Danubian province of the Roman Empire. Excavation work continues and the finds are to be found in the Archaeology Museum in V-T.

They also took us to Elena, a 19th century National RevivalVT_Camp_(18).JPG town 40 km south-east of V-T. Famous for its crafts and woodcarving, it has some nice cobbled streets and fine traditional houses.  

We all shared our experiences with Nick & Nicky over 2 lively meals: a chicken dinner kindly cooked by Barbara at the campsite and a supper at 'PJ Villa', a guesthouse /restaurant in Dragizhevo, run by Pete & Jane Cartwright. Visit www.pjvilla.com to meet the former Mayor of Driffield (in the Republic of Yorkshire).

21 June 2009   241 miles   Dragizhevo, Bulgaria to Craiova, Romania   TIR Lorry Park   Altitude 300 ft   €5.00 

A long day, over the Danube into Romania

Time to leave Bulgaria (with regrets) after a final round of farewells to our new friends, Barbara from Bonn and the Camping Veliko Tarnovo owners, Nick & Nicky.

Driving through Dragizhevo village to the main road (1.6 miles), it was left, then left again on highway 4/E772 to V-T. In the city (at 8 miles) we turned right on highway 5/E85, leading north for Ruse. About 7 miles along this we spotted a home-made 'Camping' sign pointing right, which leads to Trinity Rocks campsite. After another 4 miles there is a sign on the left to our Roman site of Nikopolis ad Istrum (though not accessible by large motorhome, being a couple of miles down a narrow lane, with nowhere to park on the highway).

At 40 miles at ByalaBalkans_09_(10).JPG we crossed the Yantra, then the road climbed north-east away from the river valley, reaching a height of 1,115 ft. Fields of sunflowers were opening their eyes to the east, the storks had a pair of young each in their crowded nests – high summer and high temperatures are here. We stopped to refuel, spending our last Bulgarian currency, as we entered the border town of Ruse at 70 miles. It's a busy Danubian port and one of the 3 major Bulgarian/Romanian crossing points. It does have a run-down campsite near the river, if you like mosquitoes, but we decided to continue into Romania

To see a Gallery and Slide Show of images, click: Romania 2009

The border control at 79 miles is now much more relaxed than in the old dayBalkans_09_(11).JPGs of disinfection troughs and environment tax. No longer a formidable Iron Curtain frontier, it's simply an EU-EU crossing, with just a passport check and the toll for the long Friendship Bridge over the Danube (€12 cash). The grim sweep of the iron double-decker bridge carries both railway and road traffic into Romania, while pedestrians (and cyclists) must take a ferry.

At 82 miles there is a large service station with long queueBalkans_09_(13).JPGs to buy the vignette, required for all roads in Romania (minimum 7-day pass cost about €5, payable in Romanian Lei or by credit card). We were reminded that daytime headlights are also compulsory – presumably to spot the infinite potholes and hazards that lay ahead.

In the past we've headed north on E70 for Balkans_09_(16).JPGBucharest but this time we'd chosen a different route: through the dusty border town of Giurgiu (devoid of signposts), then south-west on road 5c which follows the Danube towards Zimnicea. This region of SW Romania – Wallachia - seemed particularly poor, with a dearth of tourist attractions and absolutely no campsites. It's not an international truck route, nor was there any suggestion of spare land where we might park. We could only drive slowly on!

We travelled Balkans_09_(17).JPGa rough country road, overtaking horse-drawn carts (one with a lively pig on board), avoiding the wandering chickens, turkeys, geese, goats - and villagers. The gipsy women wore traditional dress with long red skirts, the older folk waved from the benches by their gates, watching the world go by. Between settlements, there were crops of vines, wheat, corn and sunflowers, growing on the fertile swamp-land bordering the Danube, 2 miles away on our left. Grazing storks enjoyed a 'field-day'.

At 114 miles in Bujoru we turned left to keep parallel with the Danube (Balkans_09_(20).JPGthough we didn't see it). We did cross the narrow River Vedea, on its way to join the flow. The countryside was still busy as the sun went down: cows were led back from the pastures, logs were cut, a pair of donkey carts collected milk churns, a field of wheat was scythed – no combine harvesters here.

In Zimnicea Balkans_09_(40).JPG(at 128 miles) we eventually found road 51, running north to Alexandria. We passed carts piled high with hay, men fishing in the wayside ditches, houses with eggs and potatoes for sale, and old women sitting at the roadside selling corn cobs and watermelons. But still nowhere to park.

At Alexandria (149 miles) we joined the busier (though narrow) highway 6/E70 from Bucharest and continued west towards Craiova. The road went through Buzescu, a small town with extremely ornate Victorian houses clad in silvery wrought iron (were they restored or just modern replicas? – there was no mention of the town in our Lonely Planet).

Continuing west through the bustle of Caracala, we were stopped at a police Balkans_09_(18).JPGcheckpoint next to a large petrol station. The officers were disappointed to find we had the vignette (correctly placed in the bottom right of the windscreen), as well as the receipt from buying it, which seemed to be important. They refused us permission to park behind the fuel station and told us to continue to Craiova.

It was dark by the time we reached the busy modern university city, after 236 miles. Hungry and tired, we stopped at the first service station we saw. The friendly assistant said overnight parking was 'no problem' but we immediately realised we'd get no sleep with the strident throb of music blaring from the café! Driving wearily on for 5 more miles, we at last saw a large TIR lorry park behind a Mol petrol station on the left. Tucked in among the trucks, we paid the guard, cooked a late meal and slept through a rainy night. A few stray dogs hung round hopefully but had learnt not to bark.

22 June 2009   93 miles   Craiova to Baile Herculane, Romania   Camping Hercules   Altitude 495 ft   45 Lei, inc 10% CCI discount

Romanian Road Rage – and a change of plan

Keeping north-west on Balkans_09_(24).JPGroad 6/E70 we crossed 8 miles of Craiova's industrial zone, all iron and concrete, then passed a small oilfield. It was a good 4-lane highway for the first 20 miles of the day, before reverting to a poor 2-lane road. Weather slightly cooler and wet.

At 39 miles, between the town of Strehaia and the village of Ciochiuta, there was a TIR lorry park on the right, and another 16 miles later on the left. The road paralleled the railway through open country and small villages, the residents busy with haymaking and sheep. All the gardens grew vines, as well as subsistence crops.

After climbing gradually to over 1,000 ft, we hairpinned down towards the Balkans_09_(27).JPGDanube, the wet road steaming under our wheels. We saw a TIR lorry park at 60 miles and yet another 4 miles later as we reached Drobeta-Turnu Severin. Dark rain obscured our view of the Danube, its opposite bank (in Serbia) illuminated by a flash of lightning! Drobeta-TS is a river port of ancient origin - the site of a bridge across the Danube, built in 103 AD by order of Emperor Trajan, and defended by a Roman fort.Balkans_09_(28).JPG However, we could see nothing of the ruins of the bridge. There is apparently an impressive scale model in the town's Iron Gates Museum (Muzeul Portilor de Fier), closed on Mondays (guess what day it is today!)

As we left the town at mid-day a terrific storm raged overhead. Both road and railway closely followed the grey river, at a height of 160 ft, as the carriageway began to flood. Squeezing into a layby at 71 miles, we had lunch sitting out the tempest.

Continuing through the rain, we soon passed another TIR lorry parBalkans_09_(32).JPGk before the infamous Iron Gates – a concrete monster of a hydroelectric power station, towering above the Danube. A joint Hungarian-Romanian project, completed in 1972, its construction drowned 13 settlements and the road across the dam wall is an international border (Bulgaria-Serbia)!

From here the terriblyBalkans_09_(33).JPG potholed road ran along a corniche on viaducts at 300 ft, poised above the railway and river below – a great achievement when it was built, if only it had been maintained! There were several stretches of road works with queues at traffic lights and a few short tunnels. Beneath us the railway is said to make its way through the gorge via 56 bridges and 9 tunnels! Looking down on the long river barges, we wondered if the road on the Serbian bank might be easier. At one point along the bumpy flooding road our gas alarm began to shriek but theBalkans_09_(30).JPGre was no place to stop, and no smell of gas, so it was turned off.

In Orsova (at 83 miles), a town with smart hotels and pools, road 6/E70 turned north, away from the Danube. We followed it through the hills along the Cerna River valley to the spa resort of Baile Herculane (= the Baths of Hercules), known to Roman legions and Hapsburg Emperors, if not the mythical Greek hero.

Just past the turning for the town centre, on the right of theBalkans_09_(31).JPG main road, we spotted a campsite sign, followed by a pair of motels and a large parking area. It was still pouring with rain, as we pulled over to make a drink and check the gas alarm. We found the carpet and cupboards under the kitchen sink sodden and realised that a deluge of water had sounded the alarm. Our problem was not leaking gas, but water! Had the terrible roads punctured the undercarriage? Trying to remain calm, Margaret walked back to check out the campsite.

Camping Hercules is a tiny site with half a dozen spaces tucked behind a restaBalkans_09_(35).JPGurant. The owner spoke (indeed was) German and luckily he had just one pitch free. He was happy to accept Euros at the favourable rate of 4 lei to €1 (favourable to him, that is, as the going rate is nearer 5 to 1)! Barry identified the source of the water leak, namely a broken joint on the pipe into the motorhome's hot water boiler, no doubt caused by the constant bumps and vibrations along Romania's roads. B managed to fix the break so that there is still cold water to the taps, but no hot. M emptied and mopped the cupboards and lifted the carpet.

The gasBalkans_09_(36).JPG alarm turns off the gas supply when it is triggered - even if the cause is only a water leak! Barry removed the alarm, dried it out and refitted it once it stopped shrieking. Eventually the gas turned itself on again.

Relaxing over a meal in the campsite restaurant (chicken or pork steaks, chips and salad), we realised that a detour to Cheltenham for some treatment at Motorhome Medics was inevitable. If we went via France, to collect the pieces of awning that had survived last winter's storm, that could also be refitted, allowing us to continue to Scandinavia with the motorhome fully restored. Our decision was made.  

23 June 2009   108 miles   Baile Herculane to Timisoara, Romania   Camping International   Altitude 337 ft   80 lei (or €20)

Bun Drum (Good Road) it wasn't

After a rainy night we repacked the cupboards, relaid the still-damp carpet anBalkans_09_(50).JPGd headed north for Timisoara, on road 6/E70. After the next village it zigzagged up to a pass, reaching 1,112 ft. The road surface was good, though its 2 lanes were very narrow and we had to pull over whenever we met a truck.

Remaining Balkans_09_(37).JPGhigh, we drove through green hills, orchards and meadows, dotted with rows of little haystacks, lined up like soldiers. There was a TIR lorry park/motel in the village of Cornea at 900 ft, after which we climbed gradually to the watershed at 1,795 ft. Wayside stalls sold local cherries, apples and honey. Descending, through stretches of road works where the surface was in a terrible state, we met the narrow River Timis at 1,250 ft and followed it, via more road works.

At 35 miles we passed a good TIR park/motel, stopping 5 miles later for Balkans_09_(48).JPGlunch in a generous layby at Buchin. It was another 5 miles to the town of Caransebes, down at 715 ft. At 75 miles in Lugoj, a larger university town with a modern pedestrian shopping centre, we crossed the Timis on a new bridge.

Continuing westBalkans_09_(45).JPG on road 6/E70 to Timisoara, we crossed the Banat Plain, lying below 400 ft. There were more road works, Drum in Lucru becoming a very familiar road sign. Long queues of trucks, coaches and buses edged their way along the narrow strip of tarmac between sharply cut trenches – as did we. Ironically Bun Drum (= Good Road) is a popular sign, seen on leaving each town, echoing the French Bonne Route (with wishful thinking).

Approaching Timisoara, we noticed a wayside stone cross bearingBalkans_09_(55).JPG a pressed tin image of the crucified Jesus, more commonly seen throughout Transylvania to the north. After passing the airport, it was a relief to escape the rain and road works by turning into Timisoara's extensive wooded campsite on the right of the highway, just 3 miles (5 km) north-east of the city centre.

The custodian on Balkans_09_(57).JPGduty tried to insist we park alongside the other campers (just 2 of them, Dutch and German) on a small patch of hard standing near the over-priced restaurant. We decided that the grassy camping area was too soft after so much rain but there were also plenty of empty gravel pitches below the trees. Mr Awkward thought they were dangerous but with no sign of fallen branches we took the risk, as he lost interest and withdrew. Again, Euros were acceptable at an exchange rate of 4 lei to the Euro. The restaurant was charging an outrageous 3 to one (the official rate being almost 5), so we dined at home, making an excellent pizza with the rest of our Bulgarian salami, cheese and tomatoes.

We have many memories of previous visits to Romania's fourth largest cTimisoara_Revolution_Spark.jpgity, at the heart of the country's richest agricultural area, seat of a good university and cradle of the December 1989 revolution. We first arrived by bicycle, cycling from England to Istanbul in the summer of 1989, returning in February 1990 with a convoy bringing aid to orphanages. During subsequent visits, by motorhome and motorbike, we've explored the city's sights - the cathedrals in Union Square, Victory Square's memorial to those killed in the revolution, and the church (see image on right) where Pastor Laszlo Tokes spoke out against the dictator Nikolai Ceausescu, lighting the touch paper. There is fine baroque architecture with theatres and opera houses, a bridge over the canal built by Eiffel, pavement cafes and parks … but none of this can delay us right now.

24 June 2009   75 miles   Timisoara, Romania to Szeged, Hungary   Partfurdo Camping   Altitude 293 ft   4,320 fts

Welcome to Hungary

To see a Gallery and Slide Show of images, click: Hungary 2009

WeBalkans_09_(62).JPG followed the road signs for Szeged/Hungary for 3.3 miles, skirting the city centre, to rejoin road 6 and continue north-west to a new border crossing into Hungary. It was cooler and still showery.

The style of the village houses and churches on our way already looked Hungarian and the narrow 2-lane road had a good surface. After 34 miles, the village of Sandra with its twin-spired church was very tidy. The crops were typical of Mitteleuropa: sunflowers, corn and wheat, with watermelon sellers at the roadside and storks nesting on the lamp posts. The last Romanian town, Sannicolau Mare (= St Nicolas the Great) at 40 miles, had a choice of hotels, shops and fuel. The village of Cenad, 6 miles later, also offered a Pensiune (guest house) and currency exchange: new found prosperity in this once forbidden border zone.  

At 53 miles we left Romania for Hungary with minimum foBalkans_09_(64).JPGrmality – just a passport check - and no delay, as this new crossing point is not used by trucks. Hungarian vignettes were on sale at the border but they are only needed for certain motorways (M1, M3, M5 and M7) which did not lie on our route.

5 miles later wBalkans_09_(65).JPG joined road 43/E68 and turned west for Szeged. The road was immediately smoother, with a separate cycle path alongside, Hungary being more cycle-friendly than most other East European countries. We crossed the flat flood plain of the River Maros (or Mures in Romania), following it to meet the Tisza at Szeged. Potatoes and garlic were on sale along the way, in villages that looked considerably more prosperous than those of Bulgaria or Romania, with horse-drawn carts a rarity.

Reaching the outskirts of Szeged at 70 miles, we kept a sharp lookout Balkans_09_(66).JPGfor the small tent sign pointing right, just before the bridge over the Tisza. The campsite is on the east bank of the river; the town centre over the bridge on the west side. Follow the tent signs and turn left to find a large open-air bathing complex, with holiday bungalows and a rudimentary campsite, along the river bank.

The site belongs Balkans_09_(68).JPGto the city and Reception is staffed by university students practising their English or (today) German. The price was 4,320 forints. 'Do you take Euros?' Nein. 'Credit cards?' Nein. Is there an exchange bureau or ATM nearby? Nein. 'WiFi?' Nein. No wonder we could only see one caravan (Dutch) on the huge site!

Once allowed inside, we settled the motorhome by the river and walked over the bridge into Szeged in search of a bank and an internet café. We also found a Burger King for some comfort food. It was still raining heavily!

25 June 2009   At Szeged, Hungary   Partfurdo Camping  

Rest Day

We spent the morning replying to the emails collected yesterday, thenBalkans_09_(70).JPG walked into Szeged again to send them from the 'Go Go Internet'. This also proved to be a good place for international phone calls and we made our appointment with Motorhome Medics to fix the hot water, awning (and anything else yet to befall us!)

Back at the campsite a planned dip in the thermal pool was thwarted by another thunder storm, leaving time for reading and watching the BBC's 'Wild Australasia' on DVD, which made us keen to return there – the world's driest continent!

26 June 2009   208 miles   Szeged, Hungary to Nova Gradiska, Croatia   Altitude 397 ft   'Staro Petrovo' Service Station on A3 

Across another border into Croatia

Leaving Szeged Balkans_09_(71).JPGon a bright morning, we drove over the Belvarosi Bridge and allowed British English Jill (the voice of our new SatNav) to guide us through the town centre. We joined road 55 towards Baja, escaping the busy traffic, trams and bikes of the morning rush after 4 miles. 

Heading west across the Great Plain at Balkans_09_(75).JPGaround 330 ft, we passed only one horse-drawn cart. Villages were linked by separate marked cycle paths alongside the main road, well used by young and old alike – children, workers, grannies with shopping baskets. Very civilised.

At 65 miles, by aBalkans_09_(76).JPG roundabout in Baja, an Aldi store with a roomy car park provided a shopping break (credit cards accepted). Continuing west on rd 55, we soon paused again at a giant Tesco (for petrol) before bridging the Danube. On through the woodlands of a National Park, we met rd 56/E73 at Bateszek (77 miles) and turned south for the Croatian frontier. We lunched in a lay-by among vineyards and crops.

The E73 bypassed Mohacs, a town lying oBalkans_09_(78).JPGn the Danube to the east of the highway, and reached the border village of Udvar at 101 miles.  A mile later we left the EU and entered Croatia, with a quick look inside from 2 curious guards. It's a minor crossing point, with no currency exchange, but the helpful girl in the tourist information booth welcomed us with a Dobra Dosli (the Slav language of Serbo-Croat is not unlike Bulgarian) and told us we could obtain Croation Kuna at the Konzum department store in the next town (unlikely as it seemed). The weather was less welcoming, as a a torrential rainstorm broke, the downpour bouncing off the narrow road.

Ten miles Balkans_09_(80).JPGalong we turned off into the town of Beli Manastir, to sit out the storm and find the Konzum store, which indeed had an exchange bureau on the ground floor where our remaining Hungarian Forints were turned into Kuna. The rate is about 8.5 Kuna to the Pound or 7.3 to the Euro.

At 128 miles we crossed the River DravaBalkans_09_(81).JPGon a new bridge, to the west of Osijek, then continued for 6 miles on road 2, to join the new A5 motorway. (Take a toll ticket on joining Croatian motorways and pay on exit – euros or credit cards accepted.) There were frequent new service stations with generous free parking areas, though some have not yet installed fuel pumps. The motorway was very quiet, rainy and cool. We stopped at the services at 160 miles, to fill our LPG tank.

Continuing Balkans_09_(84).JPGsouth we met the A3/E70 from Belgrade (at 167 miles) and turned west for Zagreb. This motorway, linking two capital cities, was busier – though not by the standards of, say, London's M25. We saw storks feeding in the newly cut cornfields, white and grey herons on river banks, even a pheasant. The rain kept falling!

Parked for the night on a service station shortly before the exit for Nova Gradiska, along with a Swedish motorhome and a few Polish and Turkish trucks. The local TV showed 2 American films with subtitles.

27 June 2009   262 miles   Nova Gradiska, Croatia to Palma Nova, Italy   Altitude 77 ft   Service Station on A4 

Through Slovenia to Italy on busy motorways

Cool and cloudy at 8.30 am, as we headed west (past a much larger serviceBalkans_09_(83).JPGs 7 miles along). At 69 miles we were surprised to see the 'nodding donkey' of a small oil-well near Ivanic Grad.

After 82 miles we reached the toll booths and paid €32 (including yesterday's mileage). Keeping on the A3, we followed signs for Ljubljana/Slovenia as we skirted south of Zagreb. At 100 miles we passed the Plitvice Motel/services/camping on the opposite carriageway – the campsite where friends had their motorhome broken into 2 years ago. At 109 miles, there was a final toll of €2 to pay for the Zagreb ring road, 5 miles before the Slovenian border.

To re-enter the Balkans_09_(85)[1].jpgEU (and the Euro zone), we just showed our passports and paused to enquire about the vignette for Slovenian roads. Vehicles below 3.5 tons must buy one (minimum 6 months = €35). Those over 3.5 tons, like us, have to pay regular tolls instead – discouraging HGV's from taking anything but the shortest route.

After just 13 miles of busy Slovenian mBalkans_09_(86)[1].jpgotorway A2/E70, we paid the first toll of €6.60. Three miles later, at an excellent service station (complete with free motorhome service point), we stopped for lunch and filled/emptied our various tanks.

Rain set in Balkans_09_(87)[1].jpgagain as we continued west, through green and pleasant hills and forests of fir trees. Our GPS wrongly listed the capital, Ljubljana, as being in Austria but the scenery certainly began to resemble that country, as we climbed above 1,000 ft, occasionally disappearing through short tunnels. The tidy villages and vineyards looked distinctly Germanic.

After a 10-mile stretch of ordinary 2-lane road through a gorge, where tBalkans_09_(88)[1].jpghe motorway was incomplete, we rejoined the A2 at 151 miles. Still climbing and tunnelling, there was another toll point at 157 miles (€5.20). At 173 miles we passed the exit for Maribor (the turn-off for Ljubljana's campsite) but, as we'd previously been there to explore Slovenia's delightful capital city, we kept south of the city and took the A1 towards Trieste/Italy.

The service stations were now (Saturday afternoon) looking very full, with trucks packed into every corner. Lorries are not allowed on the motorways of Italy (amongst other countries) on Sundays, and we realised (too late) that they were coming off the road to park for 24 hours. Might be difficult to find a place for the night ourselves!

At 205 miles,Balkans_09_(89)[1].jpg high in the forest above 2,000 ft, we passed the exit for Postojna Caves (and campsite) – another of Slovenia's surprises that we'd already visited. Pausing in the next parking area to make tea and check the map, we decided to keep to the motorways, past Trieste and Venice, for speed. We paid a final toll of €11.10 at 224 miles, 3 miles before the Italian border, then descended from the hills, following signs for Venice and bypassing the port of Trieste (with some relief – it's a chaotic city where we've never found a place to park).

Italian Autostrada A4 followed the coast: a low fertile plain planted with peaches, corn and vineyards. The small service stations were all full of parked trucks until we reached a larger one to the west of Palma Nova and took our place for the night. 

28 June 2009   350 miles   Palma Nova to Salbertrand, Italy   Altitude 3,322 ft   Gran Bosco Service Station on A32

Across northern Italy via Milan

For more images of the journey across Northern Italy, click: In Italy 2009.

A fill of petrol (Fai da te = Self-service, costing marginally less than theItaly_09_(12).JPG other pumps at about €1.30 per litre), then away early on the A4 towards Venice. The motorway carried no trucks on this Sunday morning but there was no shortage of cars and coaches.

Well beforeItaly_09_(10).JPG reaching Venice's airport, a brand new section of the A4 (a 6-lane motorway) turned west, bypassing Mestre and Venice, rejoining the original just before the Arino West service station, at 71 miles. This was too full to park, as was the next one at Padua West, 11 miles later!

Continuing past Vicenza, Soave (anotherItaly_09_(11).JPG large service station full of trucks) and Verona (ditto), we at last found one empty space in a parking area/café at 136 miles, where we had an early lunch. Still heading west, we had a glimpse of the foot of blue Lake Garda as we passed the exit for Peschiera, with warnings of a traffic jam along the road to the lake. It was a dry sunny afternoon and the Italians were out in force.

At 145 miles we mItaly_09_(14).JPGoved from Veneto into Lombardy Region, then past Brescia and Bergamo (at 700 ft), gradually climbing. At 203 miles we crossed the lovely Adda River, then paid a toll of €21.80 at 217 miles as we approached Milan. The A4 passed north of Milan, aiming for Torino (Turin). At 2 pm, as we crossed the River Ticino, it was 34 deg C outside – and very hot inside!

We had a break at the next services at NovaraItaly_09_(15).JPG (248 miles), then on past vivid green paddy fields in this well watered area. White herons strutted among the rice plantations and in the River Sesia near Greggio a black cormorant dried its wings, perched on a boulder in the stream. At 287 miles we crossed the River Dora Baltea – another tributary of the Po – then paid a toll of €8.60 a mile later, near Chivasso.

In another 20 miles bItaly_09_(18).JPGy Turin, bound for the Frejus Tunnel, we joined the A32/E70 – 'Welcome to Autostrada of the Winter OlympItaly_09_(24).JPGics, Turin 2006' said the signs. Climbing up the Susa Valley, through 3 toll points (total €6.40) and several tunnels, we emerged 5 miles before the spacious Gran Bosco (= big wood) services.

These, the last services before the Frejus Tunnel to France, are in a magnificent position in the Gran Bosco National Park, well above 3,000 ft and surrounded by Alpine peaks, still flecked in snow. The trucks were taking to the road again as we settled in for an evening with a view.

29 June 2009   235 miles   Salbertrand, Italy to Thiers, France   Altitude 2,094 ft   'Aire du Lac' Parking on A72

Under the Alps into France, past Lyon and into the Auvergne

For more images of the journey across France, click: In France 2009

It was less thaItaly_09_(35).JPGn 2 miles along A32 to the last Italian motorway toll (€5.80), then 9 miles to the Frejus Tunnel, entered at 4,300 ft. The toll here was €43 one-way (as is the Mont Blanc Tunnel, run by the same company). The Frejus, 8 miles or 12.8 km long, emerges at 4,028 ft near Modane, where we joined FrItaly_09_(38).JPGench Autoroute  A43 and continued west down the scenic Arc River Valley and through a short tunnel. At 33 miles, near St Jean de Maurienne, we paused at an excellent new service station, set among the mountains at 2,240 ft, with plenty of space. French services are very well equipped, usually with showers and free WiFi internet.

At 62 miles we turFrance_09_(10).JPGned left for Chambery, still on A43, now following the Isere River down at 1,000 ft. Road signs for Albertville and Grenoble recalled other Winter Olympics of the past. The next motorway toll at 76 miles was €30.80 (French tolls are higher than those in Italy and the countries to the east!) We hadFrance_09_(15).JPG lunch on the Aire de l'Abis services before Chambery, the historic capital of Savoy. Above the villages, vineyards clung to the lower south-facing slopes – the Vignobles de Savoie.

Keeping France_09_(17).JPGwest on A43 for Lyon, the road climbed again, then tunnelled below the Col de l'Epine, emerging at 1,335 ft. The next toll, at 125 miles, cost €22.80. Just before Lyon we turned south-west on A46 at 135 miles. The next section round Lyon was free - and extremely congested.

At 147 miles we joined the A47 to France_09_(18).JPGSt Etienne, crossing the wide River Rhone a mile later, down at 534 ft. Continuing up the busy Gier Valley, we turned right (north-west) at 169 miles onto A72 towards Clermont-Ferrand, climbing to 1,800 ft. The Péage began again at 180 miles, with another toll ticket to collect.

We refuelled at 193 milesFrance_09_(20).JPG at Plaine du Forez services but the parking area was crowded. At the next, Haut-Forez at 222 miles, we found a place in the lorry park, alongside a lawn, and settled down to dinner. After walking across the bridge to the service buildings opposite, to enjoy hot showers at €2 (in the absence of hot water in the motorhome), we returned to find a noisy gipsy family on the grass right outside! The women were hanging laundry on the wooden fence, a boy came to the door begging for money and the men were putting up a tent!! Rather than confront them, we thought it best to leave quietly. Imagine that happening on the motorways of Britain (where you even have to pay to park for more than 2 hours).

After 13 miles (including a pass at 2,580 ft) we turned into a quiet wooded Aire and joined a couple of trucks for a peaceful night. We had entered the Puy-de-Dome Department of the Auvergne Region, with a beautiful drive ahead of us.

30 June 2009   201 miles   Thiers to Le Chalard, nr St Yrieix-la-Perche, France   Altitude 1,145 ft   Camping les Vigères   €13.90 (€18.90 in July & Aug)   

Through the Dordogne to the Haute Vienne

The Aire dFrance_09_(24).JPGu Lac did have a small lake – a reservoir with 'No Fishing'. A frenzy of small black fish mobbed the pieces of baguette thrown in by a passing driver with a casual'Bonjour Monsieur-Dame'. It was a lovely morning, already 80 deg F (25 C) by 9.30 am.

Continuing west on A72 for Clermont-Fd, France_09_(27).JPGwe dropped rapidly to below 1,000 ft. At 18 miles there was a toll (€23.00). Four miles later we joined A71 northwards for 12 miles, then turned south-west on A89 through the Monts Domes area up at 2,900 ft, passing the exit for the Puy de Dome – the best known of these conical  hills, their volcanoes long extinct. A sign advertising the Fromages d'Auvergne reminded us of buying the delicious Bleu d'Auvergne cheese last December, taking pungent Christmas gifts to friends in Greece!

A lovely Aire atFrance_09_(29).JPG 63 miles had picnic tables, toilets, a map of the surrounding Parc Regional Naturel des Volcans and a stunning view, at an altitude of 1,000 metres or 3,300 ft. This area is where the Dordogne River rises, in the Gorges d'Aveze. 15 miles later, a little lower at 2,380 ft, we entered the Limousin Region, famous for its red Limousin cattle – and limousine cars?

We lunched on La Correze serviceFrance_09_(42).JPG station at 113 miles, still at 1,880 ft, then continued south-west on the empty A89 past Tulle, paying a toll of €24.00 at 132 miles. From here a 3-mile link on road D9 took us onto A20, heading south-west again for Brive-la-Gaillarde. Finally, at 145 miles, we turned west on A89 towards Périgueux, entering the Aquitaine Region, Dept of the Dordogne, 14 miles later, at a height of 810 ft. At 163 miles we left at exit 17, paying one last toll at the first unstaffed booth we'd seen – just €6.30 (by credit card as we had no change)!

Heading north for 20 miles toFrance_09_(34).JPG Lanouaille, road D704 felt very narrow after many days of motorway driving. The village of Lanouaille at 990 ft has a good free Aire for motorhomes, with dump and water as well as a couple of electric hook-ups. However, in need of a peaceful break (not to mention a laundry and hot showers), we continued north for 10 miles, past acres of apple orchards (les Pommes de Limousin)  and grazing red cattle, to the town of St Yrieix-la-Perche - known to the British expat community as St Y. There is even an English fish & chip van serving the area. Half way from Lanouaille, we crossed the border of the Limousin Region, Dept of the Haute-Vienne.

Approaching St Y, take the truck route round, signed for Limoges (to avoiFrance_09_(35).JPGd the tight town centre). Before leaving St Y, turn left at a roundabout and take D901, which goes north-west for about 5 miles to the small village of Le Chalard. About a mile aftFrance_09_(36).JPGer the village, turn left into a lane signed to Camping les Vigères, a pleasant English-owned campsite less than a mile along on the right.

Rob and family still run the campsite he created 20 years ago, planting many shady trees that separate the pitches and recently adding a swimming pool. It was good to settle in and watch a good film for the evening - the inimitable Lisa Minnelli in 'Cabaret', well worth a repeat.

1-3 July 2009   43 miles   At Le Chalard, nr St Yrieix-la-Perche, France   Camping les Vigères  

A visit to Lanouaille to collect the motorhome awning   

We had a purpose in taking this route from Bulgaria to England viaAwning_(13).JPG mid-France, rather than the shorter journey via Austria and Germany. Last November, on our way to Greece, we had lost the motorhome awning to a sudden storm which rAwning_(25).JPGipped the fabric. We'd left the undamaged roller and struts in a friend's barn near Lanouaille and now we could collect them for return to Motorhome Medics in Cheltenham, where Darren had a new fabric ready. Successfully retrieving the awning pieces, in Keith & Brenda's absence, we just managed to get the 14-ft long roller inside, after removing the fly-screen on the door. This was a great relief, as the only other possibility would be to remove the cycle carrier and slide the roller in through the rear window. The struts were strapped onto the cycle carrier and we were ready to roll!

Shopping in St Y, we spoke more English than French! Margaret reunited a lost credit card (British) found by the pumps at the Casino hypermarket with its owner; in Netto we chatted to a woman from Liverpool who ran fishing holidays at a nearby lake; at the Intermarché we met the delightful veteran campers, Dusty & Margaret Saunders, stocking their much-loved VW camper for a rally.

Rob kindly let us use his internet to catch up on correspondence, bFrance_09_(31).JPGook our cross-channel ferry and make arrangements for the UK visit.

Visiting the local village of Le Chalard was a short cycle ride (5 miles round). It's a historic place, on the Route Richard Coeur de Lion (the Lionheart), complete with the 11th century church of St Gregory and its Monks' Graveyard. During the summer the church is open to visit with a free guided tour, in French only, given by an earnest student who tried to sell M a book about the Route Richard Coeur de Lion. He hadn't heard of Robin Hood. The village also has a post office but there are no shops and the restaurant was closed and up for sale.

4 July 2009   182 miles   Le Chalard to Nantes, France   Altitude 210 ft   'Aire de Chavagne en Paillers' Service Station on A83

Best Motorway Services ever!

LeFrance_09_(38).JPGaving camp, we headed north-west on the country road D901, through the green wooded hills of the Perigord Limousin National Park and picturesque little towns like Chalus (12 miles). At Oradour-sur-Vayres, 8 miles later, they were putting out the bunting for us!

At 27 miles in Rochechouart, where we joined D54, there was a glimpse of a castle as we entered the Department of Charente. Continuing north-west we passed Chassenon, with signs for Gallo-Roman Baths and the Route Richard Coeur de Lion France_09_(41).JPGagain. At Chabanais we crossed the Vienne River (at 35 miles), then took D29 north to meet D948, the road to Niort, 3 miles later. We soon stopped for lunch, noticing a good parking area on the right complete with a Frites stall!

In the well-named Confolens at 45 miles we crossed the Vienne once more and kept north-west for 10 miles to Pressac, where D948 turned west for Niort. Every village seemed to have a 12th century church or tower or pigeon loft or caFrance_09_(46).JPGstle, if not a Roman road. A good area to explore at leisure some time. The pale Charollais cattle grazing the fields looked like cloned ghosts of the russet-red beasts of Limousin.

At 107 miles we reached the A10 motorwayFrance_09_(43).JPG, taking it north for 5 miles before joining A83 for Nantes. Taking a break at the next services (Aire de Canepetiere) at 124 miles, we were extremely impressed to see free Wifi and showers, courtesy of Leclerc's, and a dump point.

The services where we spent the night, near Nantes, were even better equipped, adding a free TV room and even a launderette! We found a quiet corner by the children's play area and there are far fewer lorries now than on the busy TIR routes of mid-Europe. A fill of petrol here was €1.34 a litre (compared with €1.26 at the supermarkets, but over €1.40 on earlier motorways).

5 July 2009   165 miles   Nantes to St Malo, France   Sea level!   Site Paul Féval Car Park   €7.00

To Brittany for a Ferry

Another 20 milesFrance_09_(47).JPG north-west on the A83, before paying the toll for yesterday and today (€17.70). Joining the Peripherique ring westward round Nantes, we crossed the broad Loire on a massive bridge, with of view of the 'Port of the Estuary' below – an industrial port with not a château in sight!

7 miles later we turned due north for Rennes on N137: a motorway-standard dual carriageway that is toll-free. After 14 miles we crossed the Nantes-Brest Canal, its banks dotted with anglers on a peaceful Sunday morning. Passing the town of Bain-de-Bretagne, we realised we'd reached Brittany.

The N137 circled west of the cathedral city of Rennes on its busy ring road for 7 miles, then headed north again for St Malo. Lunching in a lay-by, we noticed many more GB or Jersey plates on the cars as we neared the coast. Continuing along a section of highway called La Voie de la Liberté recalling the events of June 1944, we finally reached St Malo at 160 miles.

We drove straight to the Gare Maritime ferry terminal to check that our E-ticket for tomorrow morning's sailing on the 'Bretagne' was in order (www.brittanyferries.com for details of services from Roscoff, St Malo, Cherbourg or Caen to Cork, Plymouth, Poole or Portsmouth).

Overnight parking was not as easy as we'd experienced at Cherbourg France_09_(49).JPGor Caen. The free car park nearby (Parking du Naye) was too full and the sign for the nearest campsite (Camping d'Alet) pointed up an ominously narrow side-road. Retracing our route from the terminal for about 2 miles, we found the Site Paul Féval we'd noticed, just past the Hippodrome race course, indicated by a motorhome dump sign. France_09_(54).JPGThis has a motorhome service point (which was out of order – not even a tap working) and a huge parking area with an overnight fee (which is apparently only open from 4 July to 30 August, plus Easter, May Day and special festivals). It also served as a Park & Ride for those visiting the historic walled city of Intra-Muros above the port, with a regular free shuttle-bus.

With the UK almost in sight, we look forward to having the motorhome serviced and repaired while we visit friends and family 'Up North' in a hire car for a week. Then we hope to resume the journey to Scandinavia