A radical change of plans !
On 20th January 2015, we set foot back in Europe having taken a three day ferry from Morocco. We had of course spent much time chewing over the options that were available to us.
It seemed that we were still on plan to drive east, through China and into Malaysia . . . . . . . . . . .
In the meantime we had arranged a HelpX opportunity near Fethiye in Turkey and only two weeks to get there.
Accordingly, we set off with some sense of urgency, after all any of the route we were about to do could be re covered at some time in the future and taking into account Phil’s ethos of ‘‘Europe will still be there for when we're old!’’
So rapidly we transited Italy ( great cheese), Croatia ( pretty coastline but punishing winds), Albania ( unappealing ), Macedonia (cold and wet) and Greece.
We stayed for a couple of days in Thessaloniki on the North coast of Greece and liked what we saw of our first visit to Greece. The people were very friendly and the cultural opportunities were aplenty.
However, Turkey beckoned and within ten days we had reached the border. We arrived in Turkey 1st Feb.
Now, we had spent some time in Turkey before and had already driven some of the route that we were about to take previously. But we had liked it enough to want to do it again.
We took the southernmost border and then drove down the little peninsular to Cannakale in order to cross to the mainland by ferry.
The windy, gravel road that took us to Nif took hours and the deteriorating weather didn't help. However, we found Sandy and John’s house fairly easily and were soon sharing a cup of tea in front of the gently humming Aga.
Over the next month we were to help out with the animals, do a bit of gardening and house-sit whilst S&J popped back to the UK.
The work was easy and enjoyable. Firstly we walked the four dogs, then we would return to muck out and prepare feed for the donkeys, then walk the sheep up to the field ( taking care to avoid the manic ram, Minty). Time for tea and a good chat with Sandy and then on to any other chores which might need attention e.g. Sieving compost before popping back to our cute, little cottage for lunch. After a couple of hours we would return to walk the dogs again, though this time a slightly longer route and then start putting everything to bed for the night.
All of the above was fine and as I said before, enjoyable. However, we did suffer the most appalling weather with fierce, bitter winds and icy rain showers.
We were extremely well looked after and each evening were given a wicker basket. . . . . . . just like little Red Riding Hood, to carry our delicious supper back home with us. Stuffed aubergines, borek, Thai fish soup, felafel and puddings too . . . . . . . . . plum crumble, home made caramel ice cream. It was all so delicious.
We popped back to the UK for a month to celebrate Matt’s 30th birthday and had chance to catch up with one and all as well as beginning the process of converting a garage to a lounge at home.
By the time we flew back into Turkey, it was the end of April and the weather was much improved. The cherry blossom filled the Nif valley and we spent another couple of weeks helping out at the farm, though this time we were actually able to get in to the garden. My particular project was to create a straw bale strawberry bed. By this time of the year, the tortoises were awakening from hibernation and one of Phil’s jobs was to erect a tortoise proof fence around the garden. Our highest count on one day was eleven!
However all good things must end and we had finally heard from Bruno and Brittany ( our travelling companion from Mongolia and his &rsquo&rsquonew&rsquo&rsquo wife) and we were keen to meet up with them as soon as possible and maybe even travel together for a week or so.
We headed out along the south coast, staying a few more days at a lovely spot near Fethiye in the village of Kayakoy. Then on to Patara and finally meeting up at a funky campsite near Faselis.
It was fantastic to meet Bruno again after last seeing him somewhere in Central America. Brittany is a lovely, Canadian lady who has super- enthusiasm for the lifestyle they are leading and they quite obviously adore one another. Britt and I hardly stopped talking for the first hours, it seemed we had much in common. Travelling (of course) but also being vegetarian and loving food and cooking and trying to find opportunities to practice yoga.
We shared delicious meals, practised yoga with the boys in the massive geodome and talked late into the night, each night.
We spent about two weeks with Bruno and Brittany before they had to leave Turkey to enable them to drive to France by 5th July and for us to be able to realise our plans.
You recall that we were off to China??? Well, no, actually after a lot of time, research and consideration we were not heading to China after all, but to South Africa!
It seemed however that the cheapest and easiest way to get there was to drive back to the UK . . . . . . .
all 3,300km back! So with that in mind a ferry to Greece was booked for 28th May.
ISLAND HOPPING . . . . . ...
Chios is a short stones throw from the Turkish town of Cesme and you can still see it when you land. It's a tiny island of approx 100km x 50km and one of the lesser know ones. We had about five days to explore it.
What we saw, we loved. As it was still early in the year, the tourists hadn't arrived yet and we felt that we were probably the only people visiting the island in their own vehicle.
We loved walking on the black pebble beach and the unique little towns of Pyrgi, with its highly geometric-painted buildings and the quaint medieval, walled city of Mesta. The days passed quickly and before long we were boarding the huge ferry which would take us to Pireaus and back into mainland Greece.
Athens in a day
I had visited Athens many years ago and though had enjoyed it was not sure whether I wanted to visit again. I suspected that it would be heaving with tourists, hot and unpleasant. However, Phil was very keen to see the ancient sites and so having acquired what we predicted would be a safe and free parking spot at the port, we hopped on the Metro and were in the city by eight a.m.
At that time of morning the city was quiet and although many were heading towards their respective workplaces, no one was heading towards our first port-of-call, the Parthenon. We sat in the shade and waited for the gates to open and once they did, we were the first to head up the hill to the top.
Within an hour we were heading back down the hill towards the newly sited museum.The museum is fantastic and well worth visiting, especially the top floor which has been built to represent the top pediments of the Parthenon. How sad we felt though to see all the labels indicating the &rsquo&rsquostolen&rsquo&rsquo marbles by the British Museum. Lord Elgin was an upper-class bandit, who looted the pick of the marbles to decorate his mansion back in the UK, not really caring how much damage he caused in the doing. Fate had it that he later went bankrupt and sold the marbles to the B.M. However they seem singularly unwilling to exchange these with Greece for the very good resin copies. Shame!
We wandered our way along the fairly newly paved access route which visits many other sites of interest and ended our journey in the bustle of shopping streets where we bought a backgammon board.
Crossing the Corinth canal is the access way to the &rsquo&rsquo island&rsquo&rsquo that is the Pelaponnese. It,s barely an island as you could almost jump across the canal here but it is an interesting stop off before proceeding.
The Pelaponnese consists of a palm with three fingers and they are all quite different. We visited all three but particularly loved the middle, Mani peninsular. As you drive to the tip it becomes quite wild and remote and has fascinating tower houses. Historically rival clans living in these lofty dwellings would throw stones from tower to tower at one another.
We passed a few nights at Nafplion, which was a very pretty town with some cute shops. We camped on the beach nearby and it was a short cycle ride along the cliff side to reach town. The reward was a delicious Italian style ice cream! We could even pick up wifi on the beach.
Inland we passed through a spectacular gorge and visited Sparta and the nearby monasteries which are piled upon one another on the cliff.
The swimming and snorkelling around the coastline was fantastic; the water being both crystal clear and warm. Not very many fish but enough to make it worthwhile. Our last night in Greece was spent at a fantastic beach, wild-camp from where we could just glimpse Corfu across the sea.
Albania again . . . . . . . .
We hadn't been too impressed with Albania when we passed through in January and were no more impressed now. The main road which tracks the coast is of fair quality but offers no scenic interest. Indicative of a poorer country, there were hundreds of road-side stalls selling watermelons, scruffy car-wash outlets, half built buildings and scrubby grassland. Where we did encounter the actual coast it was to see lines of sun-beds, umbrellas and food stands&rsquo&rsquo¦.all a bit tacky. We did eventually find a wild-camp but it wasn't easy to find a place that felt comfortable. We had finally heard from our good friends the &rsquo&rsquoTony’s&rsquo&rsquo and planned to meet them in a few days in Montenegro.
Again, we had passed through before but this time chose to take an inland route. This took us to a huge freshwater lake which shone turquoise in the June sunshine. We didn't camp here but chose to keep going to the little town at the end of the bridge. After a cold beer and a stroll around, we found a good camp just up the hill with splendid views of the lake.
A few days later we met up with our friends at a beach nearer the northern border. We had hoped to camp on the car park but sadly were kicked off at dusk, our only alternative being a scruffy car park some km away. However with such great company and so much to chat about we didn't mind at all.
Over the next ten days or so we wandered along back South along the coast, eventually finding a super little spot on an as yet to be opened campsite on the LongBeach. The friendly owner allowed us use of his shower, the children had free access to the windy beach and we had lovely sunny weather. We also revisited the freshwater lake where we all enjoyed swimming, until we spotted the water snakes!
We ended our all-too-short time together at Podgorica N.P with a couple of hikes and joining in a local festival offering free beer and snacks. Though we couldn't camp inside the park, it was easy to find a pleasant spot nearby.
Before leaving Montenegro, we headed to Durmitor N.P. For a little more hiking. It was very spectacular and also very quiet at this time of year. Phil walked to the top of the highest peak, whilst I chose to have a day of rest and creativity.
I had an image in my head of Bosnia as being the war-torn, bleak, grey country that I had dimly recalled from the press at the time of the Bosnian wars. It proved to be nothing like that and delighted us with its unspoilt beauty, scenic drives and wild-camping opportunities. Sure, occasionally we spotted the ’’ Beware of mines ’’ signs and some of the tourist buildings were pretty decrepit but it was easy to overlook that.
We visited Mostar, site of the infamous destruction of the bridge and found it to be a charming, historic town though the amount of bullet-riddled buildings that still remained was quite alarming. Extremely moving to visit, Phil found the whole place somewhat disturbing, the futility of prejudice in such a beautiful world and the propoganda of politics just makes him so angry.
The Bosnian conflict was incredibly vicious, neighbour against neighbour, ethnic cleansing at its worst, the frustration at the hypocracy of the European politicians by ignoring it for so long, ignorance is endorsement.
This time we entered CROATIA from inland and avoided the tourist hoards that were gathering on the coastline. We had a mind to visit the famous lakes and waterfalls of Plivice but having driven through and experienced the tourist traffic, decided to avoid it. Inland it is a pretty country with a rural, rustic feel which is enhanced by the hand-painted, wooden place names.
One word . . . . . . . . gorgeous!
We had intended spending only a few days to transit Slovenia but liked what we saw so spent longer.
We visited a couple of small towns on the way up to Triglav N.P and enjoyed wandering the sunny streets. But it was the lovely scenery along the way that captivated us.
The roads were lined with flower-filled meadows or they were neatly cut for hay. No hedges, just open fields. The hay drying racks are unique to this country as they look like giant, rustic clothes aires. Even the beehives were brightly painted cupboards in a wooden building. The churches, often built on lofty pinnacles had tall, needle like spires ascending skywards.
We visited a quaint bee museum, a nail work museum and a castle. We bought our first good bread since goodness knows when and ate delicious Italian ice creams.
Triglav park has so much to offer. The mountain scenery is stunning, snow clad peaks sprouting from lush green meadows. The park’s infrastructure is superb. It is a popular ski resort in the winter and so is able to offer the ski lifts to bikers and hikers in the summer. We cycled along a disused railway line into Italy and back and did a couple of longer hikes taking us up nearer those peaks. We followed the boardwalk along the pretty gorge and picked our way back to the car park through forest. We visited the horrendously touristic Lake Bled. For sure it is pretty but far too many people for us. We did catch a brief ’’laser show’’ whilst stopping awhile on our bike perambulations and sat and listened to a local youth group/ band.
Once again though we had a plan to meet friends. This time a couple whom we had not met before but Phil knew Graeme through the Iveco Forum. We drove over one of the more remote mountain passes to enter into Italy and met Graeme and Liz by the side of a small lake. We weren't sure if we would be allowed to camp in such a pretty spot but in fact no one came to tell us that we couldn't and so we spent the next few nights there. As always, there is much to chat about with fellow, like minded travellers and we passed away hours doing just that, sharing beers, wine and good food. We did manage to go out for a short hike, but it didn't stop us talking! Once again we have met some lovely people who will remain friends, wherever we, or they are in the world.
Now we had just one week left to drive in order to catch the ferry that I'd booked for 31st July. Our route took us over yet another remote, high pass into Austria though we crossed that particular country in less than a day.
Germany's roads proved to be more challenging than expected as we encountered long queues for roadworks and accidents. It was also harder to find good wild camps and at least one night we were forced to spend on an Aire.
Luxembourg we had visited once before and again transited in less than a day. Pretty enough but both the scenery and the weather told us that we were firmly back in Northern Europe.
Belgium . . . . . . . . well we didn't even stop to buy chocolate!
France . . . . . . unavoidable as that's where the ferry was leaving from. We were thankful though that we'd chosen Dunkirk as we were hearing news reports of terrible goings on in Calais, regarding the Syrian refugees. All we saw were lots of police vehicles.
A final stock up of cheese and wine and we headed for the port, managing to persuade them to let us on to an earlier ferry. The two hour journey passed quickly enough and by just after midnight on the 1 St August, we were back on U.K. Soil again
Twenty two months, twenty thousand kilometres,
Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Italy, Croatia, Albania, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, Bosnia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium and France. Phew!
And now to get to work getting the truck ready for our next big adventure.
I have created a facebook page, be great if you could ‘‘like’’ it ! : https://www.facebook.com/iv2inafrica