Categories
Hungary

Hungary

We tried to stop in Serbia, honestly we did. We tried to stop in Nis and see the “skull tower” but couldn’t find the city. Really! We tried to stop at the new, modern campground in Belgrade but….. We tried to stop in Novi Sad but missed another big city next to the freeway. We made it to the  border and after spending an hour of going from row to row because they couldn’t decide if we are a bus or a truck or a car we left Serbia. Without meeting a single friendly person we left Serbia. Just must not be our time for Serbia. It was almost like we were chased through.

After no mans land. BtW TJ loves “no mans land”. She will scream out “are we in no mans land? Yea!… we are nowhere!” We made it through the border and I saw lots of little stalls selling vignettes. We weren’t sure what a vignette was but, learning by experience, we stopped the car and looked in our handy, dandy guidebook to see if we needed one. We did need one. It is a compulsary highway tax. We have been fined before for missing a highway tax in Austria and decided to get ours ASAP.

We made it through to Hungary in the evening. We were tired and Hungry (he, he, he, really we were). We went to the first city/town in Hungary. The first campground was closed. Probably due to flooding. 10 km to the next campground. Ooops! It is for naturists (nudists). Naw. not right now. Third one is a spring.

The kids have now declared this to be their favourite campground ever! We are having a nice relaxing Sunday with a beautiful roast chicken.

A spring-fed pool with a couple of slides.


An adventure playpark. TJ and Hannah running back and forth between the pool and the park. Yelling out as they change their clothes from bathers to shorts and back again, “This is the best day EVER!”
Tall trees.
A  roast chicken dinner slowly cooking away in the oven. You savour the aroma as you wait for the taste on your lips. Mmmmmm.
Abigail pops peach muffins in the oven when the chicken comes out. Made with fresh peaches from the side of the road.
Birds singing and little hedgehogs moving about in the grass.
WIFI.
Toilet paper and sit-down toilets.
You know sometimes it is the simple things that make you happiest.
These places always seem to come at just the right time. Right after those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days.
Hope your Sunday is as nice and relaxing and refreshing as ours.

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serbia

Serbia

We needed to remember all those words of wisdom about patience and pace of the culture when we went into Serbia.


The Macedonians were all cheery and friendly as we left. When we got to Serbia the people were less than friendly. We needed insurance. This is expected as no outside insurance company that we could find will insure you in Serbia. “That will be €100, no €300, we do not take visa, we have no bank machine but a driver can take you to the nearest bank machine.” “What is that extra €45?”. “That is the fee for the driver”. Uh, hello. Well, after about an hour with lots of negotiating and thinking about turning around we are allowed to drive ourselves to the nearest town to get money. The nearest town is all Albanian. Friendly, helpful Albanians in stark contrast to the Stoic Serbs at the border. We arrive back to the border about an hour later to get our insurance. Andrew struggled, found adding mistakes that brought the total up. Out of sheer exhasperation he repeatedly went behind the desk to collect his paperwork and money from the woman as she tried desperately to get extra money from him. They scanned our car documents with a fine toothed comb announcing “Problem, big problem.” Now we are not idiots, we know how to translate “big problem”. “Give me a bribe”. We do not have hard and fast rules about giving bribes. We have not taken a vow to refuse giving bribes or anything. It just comes down to the fact that Andrew is a self confessed “Stingy bastard”. Could be the fact that he is a New Zealander and of Scottish descent. Both cultures notorious for not wanting to part with their money. Andrew just doesn’t like to part with a single cent more than he needs to. So after hours of battling we get our insurance for the agreed price and collect our passports back. We are now on our way.

The roads are really great here. Much better than Albania or Macedonia. The Macedonian roads are quite rough for long periods of time. At one point a major road became cobblestone for about 2 km. Yeah, cobblestone. You know, those little tiny stones that you see for the small windy roads in ancient villages. Back to Serbia. The roads can be smaller that on the map, at times but they are smooth and good.


We stopped for lunch and were met by a terrible storm that turned into hail. The biggest hail any of us have ever seen.


So, what happens when you haven’t even seen an ice cube in months and you get hail? You make a gin & tonic. I have been saving my gin for just such an occasion. I feel like a proper British lady now.

As our day in Serbia continues. We came at a petrol station/truck stop on the side of the road. We parked with the trucks. Our three girls went into the toilets. Andrew took the dog out. I stayed with the truck. Three men started crawling all over our truck to wash the windows. Andrew yelled at them to get off. Andrew told me to grab the keys and camera from the front of the truck. Andrew saw Abi, told her to run and get her sisters into the truck. The other truck drivers were laughing. We are back on the road.

I wasn’t quite sure what happened. Andrew says that his adolescent life of crime taught him to know a scam when he see one unfolding. Those men wanted to clean the inside of our windscreen not the outside. They were way to old to be window washers. He also felt that we had no-one on our side. The other truck drivers were laughing at the rich tourist that was going to get robbed, not helping. In every other country we have been to the locals have been on our side, looking out for us. He was also concerned about the girls and the human trafficking problem here, as well.

Needless to say, Andrew is not enjoying Serbia too much. The people have been toughened by the wars and he can almost smell the blood from all the genocide of the last 150 years. “It is so fresh, I feel that war could come back at any moment.” I see him looking at the irregular land on the sides of the road. He wonders if the land was dug up by mines, trenches or bombs.

We found a really good truck-stop north of Nic. Instead of spreading out the rest areas they put 3 in one. The main one is called “Joy on the highway”. It has 3 petrol stations, 5 restaurants, 2 shower blocks and lots of parking with security.

The big road through the centre is smooth and big but unless things shift for Andrew, we will be in Hungary by tomorrow. That is OK. Just as some places you feel an instant connection. Strangely united by the pain and suffering, find beauty in unexpected places and some you don’t. Maybe it is not the right time for us to get to know Serbia, and it’s people.

Perhaps things will be different today.

Perhaps some amazing treasures will open up to us in the wake of yesterday.Technorati Tags: , , , ,

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Europe

Macedonia – take 2

We ended up behind a bus at the Macedonian border. The bus was having problems getting through and angry bus passengers were everywhere. We showed our updated car documents in a fancy plastic folder. Andrew noted before that the truckers show a plastic sleeve with insurance documents, listing the names of the countries, showing on one side and ownership papers showing his name on the other. Andrew organized his paperwork accordingly and handed over the car documents and passports, including the dog passport. We got through the border without being asked to pay anything extra – including the special truck insurance they were asking for at the other border. I think we have been going through too many borders lately.

We have finally made it to Macedonia. Andrew will have his meeting and we can slow down the pace a bit.

His meeting is at Lake Ohrid. We spent the day in the town of Ohrid. Food is cheap here – even restaurants.

Saw some fun signs. Should we show it to Sam or do you think it will go to his head?

All the locals recommended staying at camp Gradiste about 30 km from the town. WOW!

Not too shabby of a campsite eh? When we came into the campsite we asked how much. He said he normally charges 10 euro for 2 people and a camping car. Andrew said, “we also have children and a dog.”

“Ahhhh, that’s ok, 10 euro”.

Oh yeah! 10 euro for this!

The facilities are pretty basic. We have electicity, washing up facilities, squat toilets, hot shower (notice I say singular hot shower, there are also 2 cold showers and 3 non-functioning showers). As we have noticed this seems typical for the post-communist world – the facilities can be a bit old-fashioned and run-down but it is very clean, inexpensive and run by people who are friendly and wonderful.

Had an amazing day. Taking out our little blow up boat on the lake and hiking around the coast.

There are these small areas along the coast connected by small, rickety bridges. In these little areas We found such great treasures.

There are clubs in some that open up for 2 months in the summer. If I was in my 20s I would love to discover such hidden clubs for hanging out with the locals. These clubs will start opening up in about a week. The only access to these clubs is the rickety bridges or the narrow stone steps leading up the cliff.

It was great going across these little walkways around the rocks. At one we found an old chapel. How old? Oh, only 1500s!!!

We lit some candles in there. Andrew said that he was lighting his for peace among religious people around the world.

The girls have spent alot of time by the edge of the lake.

and in the lake.

We have also spent alot of time in our little blow up boat. Even Inigo has gone out with us in the boat.

This morning me and Abi got up around 7 and took the boat to the town about 2 km away for groceries. Tomorrow it is Hannah and TJs turn with dad.

What a great place to spend a bit of time. It is beautiful, inexpensive, a bit rough and reasonably undiscovered.

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Albania

Albania

Albania, just the word brings questions and fear. Stories of the poverty. Stories of the horrible roads. Fear of the unknown. Excitement and wonder of the unknown. You might find this hard to believe but me and Andrew have both been intrigued by Albania since before we knew each other. Something about what grows in the dark and in isolation. So Albania has always held a special place in our hearts. The “most closed of communist countries”. The “poorest country in Europe”.  It also had this “familiarity to us. Sometimes reminding us of our beloved Czech Republic, that we lived in for a few years, and sometimes of Morocco, still very dear to us.

First of all, the border. We get to the border and handed over our, ever decreasing, wad of passports and vehicle papers. He asks us to go over to the side to the bus lane. While we are waiting a couple of nice men come up to my window and start chatting. I thought they were bus drivers because they had tags around their necks. While I am chatting with these friendly men the Montenegro man brings back the passports and says we are finished. The man I was talking to asked us if we had our passports now and bid us well. Andrew was shocked. Looking for another border crossing to enter Albania and it wasn’t there.  We realized the men I was chatting with WERE the Albanian border officials. When Andrew realized this, turned around the truck and went back to the border to buy insurance from the shacks on the Albanian side. He remembered that our insurance policy for our truck specifically mentions Albania as a country that they never cover. After chatting with the nice man in the booth for a while and handing over 27 euro he emerges with a very official document that declares us insured.

Lots of animals on the road.

and everywhere.

Sometimes the road here – well – just changes. Sometimes a new road starts sinking into the swamp it was built on or sometimes it is just gone.  I think I can sum up some of the road problems with this quote from TJ. “Dad, where did the road go?” Perhaps there is a new fancy road and then it is just gone. We went on a divided highway with cars going both directions on both halfs.

Andrew had a boyish fascination with the Albanian “for sale signs” signs.

Look closely.

Now we are not yet in the habit of picking up a lot of hitchhikers but this guy – well, we just had to pick him up. We saw him first in Montenegro. Apparently, when he sees a full vehicle that has no room he is in the habit of stretching out his arms and giving them a big smile. He did the same to us, not knowing we actually had room. We thought, “what a nice young man. Andrew added, he looks british”.  The kids really wanted us to pick him up but we were looking for a place to stop. An hour later we saw him AGAIN! Hitchhiking on the side of the road with his big pack. STILL, we didn’t pick him up because – well, surely we will find a place to stop soon. The next day in Albania. WE SAW HIM AGAIN! Yeah, I know, we are travelling at the speed of a hitchhiker. We pulled up to give him a ride but the horse and cart ahead of us gave him a lift first. “Well”, said Andrew, “I think we will see him again. And sure enough, several hours later, there he was on the side of the road again!. Weird huh! His name is Will. He is from Stirling, Scotland and just as nice as he looks. I mean, look at this face – could you resist?

So, after picking up Will we went into Tirane.

We found some amazing apartment buildings. Never seen apartment buildings painted like this. I love it. Without much money for remodelling you can make even  the most run down and mundane of apartments into a work of art. Abi took just a few photos.

Driving through the middle of Tirane we meticulously followed signs to Ebanese until there were no more. Apparently, sometimes they just start ripping up roads with no indication of where to go. After circling the town and finding lots of really great painted apartment buildings we could only find signs out to Durres. Figuring out that sometimes the quickest way to your destination is the opposite way we went towards the coast instead of Macedonia in an effort to take the LONG way around the capital of Albania.

We found a very nice campground down 5 km of crumbling road going through a drained swamp. The campground itself will be great but the road there would probably ruin a white plastic. The only other campers were in 4 wheel drives, for some reason. The campground owner was friendly and wonderful. Dang, we have yet to meet an unfriendly Albanian.

On our way to Macedonia – We got a great meal at a tacky roadside restaurant.

Got some puffy pillow cheese things from the bottom of a woman’s house and practiced English with her young daughter. Bought some Turkish delight and ice cream from a village shop.

Got our car washed.

We must come back! We went to the border. Left Albania, Were refused entry into Macedonia. Turned around, re-entered Albania. Went around the lake. Waved to some dutch people we met the nite before. Went to a village at the bottom of the lake. Found an internet café. Printed off more car documents. Met more nice people. Bought Elizabeth a condensed milk tin with a panda on the side, we collect the strangest things. Went towards the Greek border and left Albania again.

You see,  Albania loves us to. They welcome us back again and again.

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Montenegro

Montenegro

Didn’t know exactly what to think of Montenegro. We were just passing through really. Spent about 24 hours there. No more. It wasn’t as touristy as Croatia that seemed to have a campground every 5 minutes.  We only counted 6 campgrounds on the entire coast. It seems a lot of people never seem to venture south of Dubrovnik. Thinking they would fall off the end of the world.

Montenegro was beautiful. The border was more difficult, and expensive, than we ever imagined. He was quite quick at the border to say that we were not in Europe anymore. Funny because they use the euro and have European Union placards everywhere. First we were asked to pay an “ecological fee”. Turned out it was some kind of road tax sticker for your car. They said that would put us back 80 euro.  Cars are only about 10 or 15 but we were no car. We got them down to 50 but that was only the beginning. We needed insurance because “they were not Europe”. They wanted 138 euro for insurance. Cars and “white plastics” cost 10. Andrew pleaded hardship. He showed them the papers that said that our vehicle cost a tenth of the cost of a “white plastic”.  They said no we were a truck. We took out our maps out and calculated the cost of petrol to circle Montenegro. We paid. We spent one night.

Hannah braved out sleeping on the roof in the rain and this was her view in the morning. Not too shabby, eh!

Montenegro still seemed a bit touristy but more geared to tour buses than motorhomes. When we stopped at the campground for the night Andrew and Hannah went in search of food and were really disappointed at the amount and type of food they found. They said, “very touristy”.

The roads were pretty good until you got close to the Albanian border. We were told to stay close to the coast. Forget the look of that big green line (road) on the map – it is a lie. It is just a tiny mountain road. We didn’t stay right on the coastal road all the way. We think we made a mistake at Bar and turned inland. We ended up on another small mountain road.

A big adventure, for our truck, on this road was this “cave/tunnel”. We were no longer on the same road as the trucks and buses, always a concern. The closer we got to Albania, the smaller the road got. Then we saw the cave/tunnel. We weren’t sure if we would fit through the tunnel. We pulled the truck over to the “side” of the road.

Andrew broke off a stick to the right height and walked the distance of the tunnel with it, checking it for our height. He determined that it was passable but not without some “tricky bits”. I walked ahead of the truck to guide it through.

All in all, we didn’t spend much time in Montenegro. Really not enough to discover the wonder of it all but it didn’t grip us and ask us to look closer. The border was quite expensive. The people weren’t the friendliest but it was “nice”.