Road Trip 2014: Tewkesbury to Crete

5,500 miles from England to Crete in June and July 2014. Who needs a Bentley Continental grand tourer when you have a Hyundai and a massive pile of boiled sweets?

Day 21: Back to Blighty

The last day and a 247 mile run from St. Malo back to little old Tewkesbury, via Calais and the Channel Tunnel. 

Yesterday was the most expensive day of the trip regarding road tolls, with the drive right across France from Basle to Brittany being largely composed of toll-charged motorways and today, once you leave Brittany (where there are no toll charges) the tolls started again in earnest.

It was an early start, about 6.30am on the Saturday morning and it was almost as though France hadn't woken up yet as the roads were extremely quiet and nothing was moving in the villages. Then again, even at their peak activity there is not a lot moving in French villages anyway so it's hard to tell the difference.

Nothing to do with France at all but a sneaky photo of some Italian cow-herders from the Alps the other day.

Nothing to do with France at all but a sneaky photo of some Italian cow-herders from the Alps the other day.

France is a very pretty country with rolling countryside and most towns and villages being extremely picturesque, much more so than at home. The space they have compared to Britain seems to give everything a bit more elbow room look a little less congested. Their new-build houses are often painted cream and set in a decent sized chunk of garden and most industrial estates are very green with large grassy spaces, especially compared to the mess that most industrial estates in the UK quickly descend into. But, despite all that, I still can't get overly enthusiastic about France and it's some of the people, not the country itself.

I mentioned previously in the blog that, with the exception of Albania, every person I met at toll booths, petrol stations, hotels, restaurants and shops as been very welcoming, always said hello and always smiled. I don't speak Croat or Italian or German but they still were courteous and friendly and although I can get by with 'hello' and 'thank you' in Greek that's about my limit and even if they didn't speak any English at all they still smiled. But in France I can go to a toll booth and say hello and thank you and have enough French to get by when buying diesel so I don't automatically just talk in English and do make an effort with their language. But, unlike every other country I've been through, all you get back is a cold blank face and not a word. Not a twitch from their faces which I can only presume have been so heavily botoxed they are incapable of movement. I went up to the toll booths with a cheery 'bonjour' and 'merci', but they just sat there like living corpses, staring fixedly ahead, enduring a miserable little existence and seemingly just waiting to die. Not a smile. Not a twich. Not a word. My vacuum cleaner has more humanity, personality and warmth in it than every single French occupant of those toll booths and petrol stations.

After about four hours I arrived in Calais and to the warm welcoming sign of the 'UK Border Control'. Never has a name for a TV crime series promised so little. 

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Something I don't think I've mentioned before is the general availability of a good 3G signal pretty much everywhere I've been meaning getting online and updating this blog and uploading photos has been possible almost much everywhere. At home though, nothing. In Tewkesbury, nothing unless the wind is in the right direction and you stand on one leg facing west at sunset. In Cheltenham it just about hangs on to one bar. But up a mountain pass near Sparta - full 3G. Up the Alps in about as remote a place as you can get - full 3G. Even right at the top - 3G. And today, almost the full length of the channel tunnel crossing - a good 3G signal. You can get it up the Alps and in a tunnel under the English Channel but not within sight of the M5 and Cheltenham at home. The only other place with such poor coverage has been Albania so that's great company we're keeping there.

When I was a kid we were promised flying cars by the time I was 40. In reality we have a very grubby train.

When I was a kid we were promised flying cars by the time I was 40. In reality we have a very grubby train.

Inside the train in the tunnel - you want a hypersonic-mode to make everything go fast and blurry

Inside the train in the tunnel - you want a hypersonic-mode to make everything go fast and blurry

25 minutes on the train then back out onto the M20 and a reminder to myself to drive on the left!

I'm not wanting to make one of those lazy 'everything in Britain is rubbish and everything else abroad is better' comments, but there is no hiding the fact that sometimes we aren't as great as we would like to be. I still think that on a hot summer day there is no place I would rather be than in Britain, but we do seem to err towards the shabby when you emerge blinking from the Channel Tunnel. I stopped at Maidstone Services for the loo and it was packed, with loos that looked as though they were built in the 1970s and smelled like that's about the same time they were last cleaned as well. The service in the shop was rubbish and the car park was a litter-strewn bit of tarmac. This is one of the first stops for any foreign visitor coming into Britain from the Tunnel or off the Dover ferries and it's frankly embarrassing. The most remote of those French 'Aire' picnic site loos puts these motorway services to shame.

And then onto the M25, which is so poorly maintained that it may as well be cobbled. You bounce along over uneven and loud concrete, over poorly made seams, over potholes and cracks, and then joy of joys, a traffic jam pretty much all the way round from the Gatwick area to Heathrow. You couldn't make it up - the last traffic jam I had been sat in was twice on the way out (once on the M4 and once on the M25), then three weeks of several thousand miles including motorways around some of Europe's major cities and nothing, then the next traffic jam I hit was within about 40 minutes of being back in Britain. 

The M25. Stopped. Going nowhere. And on cracked ribbed concrete.

The M25. Stopped. Going nowhere. And on cracked ribbed concrete.

I eventually arrived home at about 5pm, with about 5000 miles added to the car, a phone full of photos and a small sense of achievement. 

So was the trip worth it - absolutely yes! It sounds odd to say it, but despite it taking Good Lady Wife #1 five hours to get from Heraklion in Crete to our front door while it took me a week either way, the act of driving there makes it all seem a lot smaller and closer together. Rather than each place being a separate entity in its own right, you get a clear sense of how everything is linked and not all that far apart. You can sit in your car and visit the Spa Francorchamps race track in Belgium, places I went on holiday as a child in Austria and Italy, drive from Parga in Greece to Maranello in Italy, see the Alps and Sparta from the same car, and none of them are that far apart individually. I've got a taste for it now so am looking at what's next...

Option 1: Tewkesbury to Hong Kong. Seems do-able via the Eastern Europe countries, then right across Russia via Moscow and Irkutsk, through Mongolia and into China. There seems to be roads marked on the map all the way.

Option 2: A round-trip of the Med. That one needs a bit more investigation as it would mean France, Spain and Italy, but also Egypt, Libya and Syria. A shorter distance than Option 1 but possibly more interesting...?

Day 20: France. A lot of France.

Today was a day of driving, a lot of driving, covering 679 miles heading from Lucerne in Switzerland to right over France  to Brittany. 

As my hotel was up on a pass above Lucerne, the first part was to head back down to the town, where the clouds were hanging low over it.  

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From there it's a fairly short run to Basle where you go through a tunnel, pop out towards the suburbs of the town and come to the French border. You don't even stop here, just drive round a chicane thing and that's it, you're in France. 

France was then just a long motorway blast, up towards Lyon, Paris, Le Mans, Rennes, out to Brittany to see Most Esteemed Father in Law, then back over to the St Malo area for the night.   

This moody looking beastie on the hill is Chateauneuf, but not a bottle of pape in sight sadly. 

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France, what to say about my trip through France? "Yaaaaawn". That'll do. It's green, it's pleasent enough, but from a motorway, as with the UK, it's generally rather uninteresting. 

Fair play to them on those motorways though - you pay quite a bit in tolls compared to other countries but in all that time they were always smooth, and for the most part, pretty much empty. And the Aire rest-break areas every 10 minutes or so are great and we should have those at home. 

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The strange thing with France though is that it always appears to be dead. At about 8.30 on a very sunny Friday evening I drove on back roads through several villages and a couple of small roads and didn't see a soul. After Greece and Italy where there are people everywhere, France looks like they all just got up and decided to leave but didn't tell anyone. 

Not a lot else to say on today's trip as it was pretty much ten hours sat in a car so there's not much material to be gleaned from that!

Tomorrow (Saturday) is about five hours over to Calais, through the tunnel and back into Blighty where I expect toe met with the national anthem and a guard of honour. 

 

Day 19: Italy and Switzerland

This was quite a short day distance-wise, but time-wise was a very long one. 

As an aside though as I leave Italy, I have been a little shocked by Italian driving. Just today I saw several Italian drivers use their indicators at a junction and one driver in front of me even pulled over and stopped to use her mobile phone. Most shockingly of all, when approaching traffic lights, rather than treat a red light as an invitation to stop if they wish, every one of them dutifully stopped and waited for a green light. This is not the Italy of our stereotypes!

I started the day off just north of Riva del Garda in Italy and chose the smallest roads I could find on the map which made a vague route north west through the Alps towards St. Moritz in Switzerland. And I really found the small ones, but a fantastic drive. 

The road I followed through the Italian Alps

The road I followed through the Italian Alps

The route as you may expect on a sunny day here was stunningly beautiful. On these small roads you're supposed to honk your horn on tight corners and this did show up a difference in nationalities. Italian drivers gave a great big prolonged honk at every opportunity, while as a Brit I gave a shy quick half-second parp before deciding one just didn't like drawing attention to ones' self with reckless honking and packed it in, preferring instead to crash into someone and plunge off a cliff rather than be so bold as to keep beeping.

I had two problems on this part of the journey, one being that the road was very small and therefore slow, but the other one being that it was so jaw droppingly beautiful that I had to keep stopping to take photos. After two and a half hours I'd only done 45 miles!

A small village I passed as you climb up into the Alps

A small village I passed as you climb up into the Alps

At the village in this photo I stopped quite a long way above it before the road twists down into the village itself, but even at that distance you could still hear the noise of people chattering away down there. Italians are very different to the French - most French villages have all the life of a graveyard and you don't see anyone, never mind hear them, while Italian villages seem full of people all of whom are talking at once.

As you keep climbing you enter the Alpine meadows and they're full of cows which really should be advertising chocolate.

Pretty cow

For all this leg of the journey I had the stereo off and the windows open and the clanking of the cowbells coming from all over the valleys was really atmospheric.

The road doesnt have a straight bit for miles and miles, and if you're enjoying it, this route on a Sat Nav looks like driving nirvana:

The road carries on twisting and climbing with a photo opportunity every few hundred meters, hence I took nearly 200 photos today!

As you reach the peaks there is no man-made sound at all. The road is very quiet and in three hours I probably saw 10 other cars. Loads of bikers on it but they keep stopping on every corner as well. Most of the time all you can hear is the wind and birds. 

Waterfall

My target in Italy was Tiorano where I picked up a proper road again and from where you cross into Switzerland. It's a bit of an odd border as you go to the main square, turn left, go round a corner and there is a border post in the road outside the bar, then a bit further up is the Swiss border post outside the petrol station. After arriving at the Slovenian border with my passport in the boot I wasn't going to let a lack of preparation in passport-readiness get in the way, but nobody was interested in it at all this time,

In Tiorano I had to stop at a clanking level crossing for a red train to go past and that train carries on up and over the pass in Switzerland. It's almost enough to make you into a train spotter. A proper James Bond super-spy train to go on.

Train in Switzerland

At the start of the day down in Garda it was about 25C and people were swimming in the lake. Up here it was 4 degrees and a bit parky for those still just in a t-shirt. At the top I sent the drone up to get a couple of photos and it was freezing when it came down, hardly surprising in retrospect as the pass was at 2330 meters, about 7500 feet. 

I then dropped down to the St. Moritz area, which is OK but probably is at its best in the snow rather than an overcast July day. After being so hot for the last couple of weeks it was quite odd to see people in gloves, coats and bobble hats, and a lot of velcro-fastened clothing beloved of the outdoors types.

Of this journey, Italy stands out as having the most diverse landscape, from the hot scrub near Brindisi to the lush Alps, but Albania and Switzerland are the two which were very different to expectations. I was hoping Albania would be an undiscovered gem on the Med, but it's a dump, while I always though Switzerland would be a pretty enough but a boring place but I am very smitten with it.

Eventually I had to cave in though and find a larger road as the first 147 miles had taken me seven hours to do and at this rate I'd be driving for two days to the next hotel!

Ah, the hotel... This is it, up a pass above Lucerne. Very nice, in a Tyrollean-Swiss way. Except I was the only guest. There was nothing outside but the clanking of cowbells in the fog as the clouds kept descending and then lifting. I was on the top floor and you have to walk up two completely empty floors to get there, which are in the middle of rennovation and then down a long dark corridor to the room. It is silent inside. There was one member of staff and when I got there at 8pm she said "if you want food you must eat now" so I sat in a massive, but empty, dining room on my own. It was very posh - silver everywhere and all the wood polished to within an inch of its life, and all the tables laid out, but nobody there, no music and no sounds of people. It was like a horror film where the good guys eventually find the deranged serial killer sat at home at their dining table, with it all laid out formally for them and their imaginary friends. I locked the door at night...

Tomorrow was supposed to be Switzerland to Reims in France but I am making a detour over to Brittany, so Friday is now a 1100km blast right across France, quick stop there then back part-way towards Calais again so I can get the tunnel on Saturday. As that's quite a drive today I have to get going so don't have time to spell-check this thing so apologies if it is a bit of a barely-coherent waffle today!


PS. When I was a child the BBC used to occasionally show a Swiss programme called Heidi, about Heidi and a goat herder called Peter. It was dubbed into English. I have been very disappointed today to discover that Swiss people's mouths do in fact move in time with their words.

Day 18: Italian Elegance

Today's route was from Pescara on the coast, up to Bologna, then inland towards Verona and ending up at the top end of Lake Garda in the Alps. And I have to flag up in advance, nothing went wrong and there were no Ladies of the Vines in sight, sorry, but there are lots of pretty pictures if that helps.

As it was going to be through some sections of rather spectacular Italian countryside I decided that today I would pull out all the stops in my sartorial elegance. Your average Italian chap thinks he knows a thing or two about seemingly effortless style but I did Britain proud today and left a wake behind me of awe-struck Italians, probably all thinking that if for just one day they could get to have half of the style which I demonstrated then they would die happy. 

Italians will be whispering quietly for years to come about this display of high fashion which greeted them. 

Italians will be whispering quietly for years to come about this display of high fashion which greeted them. 

To get going I plumped for a 300-odd mile blast up the motorway to give me time to meander around a bit more in the foothills of the Alps and around Lake Garda, but even with that it was still a good nine hours of travel from B&B to hotel. 

There was one small town which caught my eye when I saw I would be passing close by and a detour was therefore mandatory to visit, however briefly. OK, so not exactly 'close by', more like 'within an hour of', but that's close enough.

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If you combined Jerusalem, Mecca, the Temple of Luxor, Vatican City and every Bhuddist and Hindu shrine and temple in the world into one structure, it still would be less of a holy site than the small town of Maranello near Modena is to many Italians. You could probably kidnap the Pope and burn down Vatican City and the Italians will only get mildly perturbed, but Maranello is Ferrari-town, the beating scarlet red heart of Italy and if you so much as scratch the road sign there would probably be a lynch mob formed in seconds. Ferrari is preposterous, it's stylish, it's noisy, it's madly expensive and how the company ever actually produces anything is anyone's guess, but it does, somehow. That's why Ferrari is Italy in a nutshell. 

Maranello is not a big town and as you can see in the photo above, the sky was quite clear and blue. By the time I passed the main factory entrance less than five minutes later there was forked lightning flashing, it was hammering it down and had gone dark. I think old man Enzo was not happy about a Hyundai getting so close to Ferrari's home territory and was showing his displeasure. 

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I used to visit Maranello years ago for work and always found the main factory entrance to be very small and rather 60s looking, but it's such an icon in its own right that they'll never alter it. And there was no way I was winding the window down for that photo or I'd still be trying to dry the car out now. At one point heading away from the Fiorano racing track down the road a bow wave washed up and over the windscreen there was so much rain coming down. 

One thing which has perplexed me since Coatia and made me a little uncomfortable each time I have to stop is the manned petrol station. At home you stop, fill your car, pay and go. But when there is a chap working there he comes over and both of you stand there while it fills, so you may as well have done it yourself. It's just not British and a rich environment for awkwardness. If you get there and the chap is busy with another car, do you wait, probably longer than if you'd just got on and filled it yourself? But if you do it yourself they look at you as though you are stealing food from their children's table. And what happens if three or more cars come in together but there are only one or two attendants - does the third wait, or just get on with it? This is so socially awkward for a Brit that I'm surprised the roads aren't littered with abandoned British cars as they were too scared of causing offence to someone by getting it wrong so decided to just walk the 700 miles home again. 

From Maranello it's not far to the bottom end of Garda. I'm afraid I have something of an excess of photos from Lake Garda as it is so picturesque that I had to just keep stopping. I hope the quality of the drone shots is OK as I've had to reduce them in size a lot to upload them. As well as the lake itself a storm had just cleared to the south as I arrived and the skies were ridiculously colourful in its wake.

Lake Garda from the drone

Lake Garda from the drone

Garda straddles the boundary of the flat farmlands towards Verona and the huge mountains of the Alps. At the southern end the surrounding land is fairly flat but then it just gets bigger and bigger, until by Riva you have snow-capped mountains and cliffs just dropping into the water. It took over an hour and a half of driving to get from the bottom to the top, plus the stops. 

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And from above (any old excuse to get the drone out!):

Lake Garda 1

The weather was great over the Lake but there were some storms in the distance which made for even more dramatic skies at times, with them changing from deep blue to quite angry and back again in minutes.

Lake Garda from Riva

And especially for my parents who I know are reading this and who have a very soft spot for Lake Garda and the town of Riva Del Garda at the top of the lake, these two are looking straight at Riva at the top of the lake:

Torbole, right next to Riva and only separated by that sloping rock at the top, looking towards Riva

Torbole, right next to Riva and only separated by that sloping rock at the top, looking towards Riva

Riva del Garda

Riva del Garda

Drones do attract attention and everywhere you go people come for a chat - it's a very sociable passtime. These photos are from Rethymno a couple of days ago.

 As soon as the drone comes out you get instant friends, there was nobody here 30 seconds earlier.

 As soon as the drone comes out you get instant friends, there was nobody here 30 seconds earlier.

At least when the Greek waiter tries to make off with it you know who he is :)

At least when the Greek waiter tries to make off with it you know who he is :)

Although not everyone is impressed with the noisy buzzy things!

Not impressed

Next is Switzerland, Riva del Garda to Lucerne.

Day 17: Italy - Grapes n' hookers

Well, as you can guess from the title, Italy has certainly surprised today... But first, the ferry. 

The ferry was an overnight one from Ignoumenitsa (Greece) to Brindisi (Italy), arriving down on the heel of Italy at about 9am in the end, although I had convinced myself it was 6am for some reason.  

If I tell you that a good 70% of the vehicles getting on at midnight were Italian, I'll let you have a guess how paitently everyone formed an orderly queue to get on board... The main European nationality not known for liking to queue up constituting the majority of the people waiting, along with some Romanian white van men for good measure, means that three lines waiting for the ferry becomes seven, then the the ferry doors open and it's every car for itself concerning who gets on in what order. It's like a car-based rugby scrum! 

In the midst of it all was a group of old classics, mostly old Alfa Romeos but also Fiats and a Triumph, doing a tour around the Med.  

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This one, number 20, was most entertaining. When the scrum commenced for driving onto the ferry he tried to start his car but it coughed once and died. This was no problem and he calmly lifted the bonnet, went to the back to get a hammer, walked to the front, hit something hard a couple of times, tried again and it started straight away. As well as this chappy who presumably always carries his special starting hammer, there was another Alfa being pushed onto the ferry as it was also not starting, and a third being towed as it had seemingly been dead for a long time and needed to be towed to the port. Out of about 15 or so cars, three appeared to be ready for the scrapyard! I know a Hyundai isn't exactly a badge to set the world on fire and your heart racing but driving classic cars does seem to be more trouble than it's worth.

Despite the chaotic entry, everyone got on board without trading paint so it was time to settle down in the reclining seats area. I'd not booked a cabin as in my mind we sailed at 1.00 am, and got off at 6.00 am, meaning at most four hours sleep before time to have a shower and head back to the car so the extra cost wasn't worth it. In reality, we got on at midnight and didn't get off until 9am Italian time (an hour behind Greek time) so it was 10 hours in the chairs, not four. And all the cabins were now full.  

I'm not entirely sure about the purpose of this door. Is it possibly an exit? It needs another sign to make it clear. 

I'm not entirely sure about the purpose of this door. Is it possibly an exit? It needs another sign to make it clear. 

There is a place reserved in Hell for some of the occupants of those reclining seat rooms. And proper Hell, not Albania as that's too good for them. Who on earth decides to open a massive bag of crisps and slowly munch them, crinkling the packet, at 3.30 in the morning in a room of about 25 sleeping people? Or who thinks it's a good idea that because their 5am bottle of water was so satisfying they'd celebrate by crushing the plastic bottle repeatedly with their hands? But special punishment must await the tracksuit and sandals wearing comb-over loving excuse for a human who makes pond scum look like an advanced life form, who stood up at about half four in the morning, had a fart strong enough to rattle the windows, grunted loudly and contentedly while stretching, then went outside for a fag and then banged on the window to get his mate's attention? Surely chucking him overboard would've been acceptable in the circumstances?

After a totally non-restful few hours where I got a couple of hours sleep at most, I went outside to see the morning and where we were.

Sunrise on the Adriatic

Sunrise on the Adriatic

It was all very beautiful as the sun was just rising. I stood there for a good 15 minutes or so, then turned round and saw I'd been stood, in the public area where I was supposed to be, right next to this metal mushroom thing the whole time which had this label on the side. I think my life expectancy may have just got shortened a little. 

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As for the ferry itself - I'm sure it's been said many times before, but Grimaldi Lines do take that first Grim syllable very seriously as their company motto. It's a bit shabby generally, but worse than that, there were four toilet cubicles for the ship and that was it. Judging by the cesspit of raw sewage which they quickly became swamped with there was clearly a lack of ongoing cleaning, only matched by a large number of passengers who I can only assume had never seen or used an indoor toilet before so were utterly unaware of how they worked. Nasty nasty nasty. I decided that hanging on until off the boat was a better way of avoiding some terminal virus so wandered off for some breakfast where the only option was a dry croissant and a coffee. I asked for an espresso, my favourite and it being an Italian company I thought it should be good, to be told 'American only', and given a cup of sludge so tasty that after two sips it went in the bin. Not the best ferry journey!

We eventually trundled off the ferry at about 9.30 so I headed north, with the route for the day to be from the heel of Italy to Pescara, about half way up the right hand coast facing Croatia.

The section from Brindisi to Bari is not overly attractive, with scrappy towns and scrubland lining the coast, while Bari is a big industrial place. Nothing against them and I guess it's like an Italian tourist coming to Britain and assuming Luton, Birmingham and Bradford will all look like pretty Cotswold villages. It's all functional enough but I didn't see much worth stopping for. 

After Bari the landscape gets more attractive so I was now avoiding the main motorway and using the old road for most of the way, with a few detours down smaller roads for interest.  

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This bottom end of Italy is very flat, probably the largest expanse of flat farmland I've seen since Germany, with the nearest mountains being visible a long way off. The morning's driving did highlight just how much Greece has spoiled me over the last ten days though as over there loads of the road signs, and pretty much all the important warning signs, are in English as well as Greek but in Italy, naturally enough, it's pretty much all Italian. No issues with that but it does make you have to think harder again after the help Greece gives. 

As for Italian driving, I was expecting chaos but it's been very moderate up to now. With the exception of a chap reversing down a dual carriageway to a previous exit and speed limits seeming to be more of a general suggestion than a fixed upper limit, it's all been very disciplined. Have the Italians calmed down?

As I headed north on the old trunk road the landscape changes fairly suddenly, around Trinitpoli and becomes what you think of as very Italian - lush farmland and red tiled farmhouses and villages, with a few rolling hills starting to develop. Very pretty. 

Continuing northwards, in the vicinity of San Severo I noticed a few women sitting at the side of the road on plastic chairs, usually one every 500 meters or so, and assumed that as there are a lot of olives here they must be selling the olives from their farms. The landscape is very well tended around here, with mixed vineyards and olive groves everywhere and a myriad of dusty tracks leading off into them. As it's rather photogenic I pulled off onto one of these tracks and headed into a patch of land to take a few photos of the vines. 

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The tracks here are basically a grid of gravel single-track roads so rather than reverse out I just went further in with the intention of going to the next crossing, turning right, right again and down back to the main road. On the innermost track, the back of the square parallel to the main road, I passed a small Peugeot and I don't think I'm over-stating it to say I was more than a little surprised to see a chap in his 50s being 'entertained' by a young lady in the back of his car. Although I was probably not half as surprised to see him as he was to see me. Well, that was an unexpected sight and the penny dropped about the previous ladies who had been by the road and who were perhaps probably not selling granny's olives after all. Also in retrospect they had dressed for the heat by wearing very little. Great, I'd stopped for a photo opportunity in the local hospitality area. 

A hasty non-dawdling retreat seemed to be the better form of action, to leave the action behind as it were, so I ploughed on, turning down the next track back to the main road. At the junction was another Lady of the Vines, as we shall call them. I stopped to wait for the traffic to clear and she gave me her best sales-pitch smile, really showing off all the missing teeth. Lovely. Like a walking advert for children to look after their teeth. I shot out of the track at the first opportunity, my innocence scarred for life.

The main road down there is a bit of an eye opener as the ladies were waiting around on plastic chairs, each on their own, every few hundred yards or so, on both sides of the road, for a good 10 kilometers or more. There are loads of them, scattered in every layby, sitting on all the entrances to the dirt tracks going into the vines or olives, or just sitting on the crash barrier. Or in a couple of cases, just standing in the middle of the road waving at the cars. I don't known if there were any discount vouchers in the local papers but they were doing a brisk trade with many trucks parked alone in laybys with nobody visible in the cab and I saw at least two cars heading into the vines with ladies. That was a side of Italy I was most definitely not expecting and certainly not so blatantly! And just remember what goes on in the vines next time you open a bottle of Italian wine...

Joking aside, it did all seem rather sad. There were a few Bulgarian cars parked up in odd places so I'm guessing they've something to do with it, while the one who smiled her winning smile at me couldn't have been more than in her early 20s and you don't get teeth like that from having an easy life.

Anyway, onwards and northwards and before Pescara it is the Italy you expect again. Bigger hills, the seaside towns looking reasonably prosperous and all very jolly indeed. And a special word has to go to the B&B where for £48 for the night you get brekky, an excellent room, and a fresh coffee on arrival. And even a pool!

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It's not been a hugely photogenic day, the first half of the day anyway, but it has certainly been memorable!

I've decided to change my route tomorrow and rather than up the coast am going to head inland. The map looks as though there are some nice towns and landscapes that way, ending up tonight at my hotel near Lake Garda. 

Day 16: I Am Sparta!

Today I joined the legions of fearsome warriors when I detoured down the Peloponnese peninsula and entered the town of Sparta. 

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This is how I looked before crossing the town boundary:

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While this is how I looked immediately after crossing into the town:

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I'd ended up here as the ferry docked at 6.30 this morning near Athens and my evening ferry was on the northern end of the mainland, giving me a lot of time to kill. I've always wondered what the Peloponnese is like so rather than a five hour drive straight up I turned it into a 13 hour elongated 461 mile route, taking in Sparta on the way. To get there you cross the Corinth Canal onto the peninsula then basically aim for the hills. 

I have a small problem when it comes to describing Sparta as 300 of them fought off the entire Persian army, so they're definitely scrappy buggers. But, at risk of having the entire town come and lay waste to Tewkesbury in a fit of rage, it is a bit of a dismal nowhere-town. I'm brave enough to say that now as if they read this today and turn up next weekend for a fight, Tewkesbury has a small chance of survival as it's Medieval Festival weekend so a larger proportion of the population than normal will be wearing chainmail and carrying swords. And drunk on cider so up for a bit of a brawl. 

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Actually, I'm maybe being a bit overly harsh on it and it's just a bit of a run-down town. Sparta is an inland town in what seems to be a mildly poor area, so it stands out after the pretty touristy places along the coast. I don't know what I was expecting though - oiled men in leather skirts sharpening swords on the high street and fighting each other while wrestling with bears or something, but what you get is the inevitable concrete apartment blocks and a Lada dealership. I never imagined the Spartans going to war in a Lada. And certainly didn't even know there were still Lada dealerships!

But, and there is a big 'but' coming, Sparta is in a stunningly beautiful position, surrounded by  impossibly high mountains from which it looks as though there is no way out other than the main road you come in on, but there is and what a road! 

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From Sparta, heading towards the coastal town of Kalamata you go onto the small road above, heading for seemingly impassable mountains. You eventually enter a small gorge and the road narrows and starts to get higher. 

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The road then just climbs and climbs and climbs in an endless series of hairpins and vertigo-inducing drops until you finally seem to reach the top, then it climbs a bit more for good measure. It's an hour and a half of driving heaven, accompanied by views which look almost unreal. The road just keeps twisting its way up, under overhanging rock and through the occasional short tunnel, every so often requiring you to pick your way through fresh rockfalls.

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The landscape becomes wooded then turns into forest and even the rocks change as you climb from the dry yellow stone everywhere else to a rusty red sandstone colour. At the bottom of the valley it was about 32C but towards the top it had dropped to around 24C so I opened the windows and turned the aircon off and I'm very glad I did as the smell up there was exceptional. There are yellow flowering shrubs everywhere and the intense smell was identical to a shop selling incense, with a thick rich odour coming from everywhere, accompanied by some of the noisiest wildlife I've come across. I had to stop for a while just to take it in. 

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While on the climb, this was the first time I'd seen the warning sign below in Greece, although it does seem a little optimistic. I'm not sure Greece needs snow warning signs out in July. And find it hard to believe it is overly necessary in January for that matter!

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Eventually you drop back down, round a corner and the coast is there in front of you but the temptation is to turn around and have another run over the mountains again in the other direction. 

From there it was my old favourite the E65 again - the same road I drove down through Croatia on.  

Bridge on E65 linking Peloponnese to the mainland

Bridge on E65 linking Peloponnese to the mainland

I was a little knackered on the long drag then from Kalamata right up to the top of the mainland, not helped by having had very little sleep the night before on the ferry from Heraklion. It had been freezing in the cabin and there was a rotary control to turn down the ventilation, but which way is off? If clockwise is 'closed' then which direction is 'open'?

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I eventually arrived back in Parga again in time for some food so there is no better choice than the 5 Senses Restaurant back at the Hotel Alfa. Octopus followed by a beef stew followed by ice cream cherry cheesecake followed by a thick coffee. Perfect. I couldn't resist another go though as the octopus was just too good so I had to have it again before I left and ordered a second starter after the coffee. One of life's little indulgences! The waitress did look at me as though I had crossed into being 'a little bit odd' though :). Best food in Parga. 

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It's about 45 minutes from Parga to Igoumenitsa so a nice easy run. The customs chap at the port in Igoumenitsa was entertaining - I drove up to him, he said 'where you stay', so I showed him my map of the complete route. He got very excited and said 'Sitia? Very beautiful!' And quizzed me for several minutes on the route, especially Croatia, completely oblivious to the massive queue behind. 

I guess the other thing of note and a warning to others is that I almost came a cropper today with a petrol station which looked very posh but didn't take cards at all which I only discovered once I'd filled up. I had cash thankfully or I'd still be there, but worth remembering for the future - always have a cash alternative handy just in case.

And on a final note, I appear to have had an aftershave spill in my suitcase sometime during the day so all my clothes, and indeed the whole car, now smell like a gigolo's outing! Thankfully I won't see anyone I know for a few days yet so hopefully the whiff will have lessened a bit by then. 

Next stop, via the MV Catania is Italy, arriving in Brindisi at 8.30am on Tuesday morning then north to Pescara. 

Day 15: The Return Commences

After a week of idling, the return journey started with a run to Heraklion to off-load Good Lady Wife #1 at the airport, then killing time until my evening ferry. And having first signs of the male menopause.

On the wireless:

  • What I believe may (or may not) be called Dub Reggae. CD from Manos and very good it is too. 
  • Pitbull (blame Good Lady Wife #1)
  • Erasure - 80s poptastic marvellousness
  • Windows Weekly podcast. As geeky as it sounds.  

My manliness is very much in question now as over a week ago I tried to use an air-line at a garage to check tyre pressures and ended up with less air in there than I started and I've still not quite got it right yet. After dropping the part-timers off at the airport I decided to head over to Rethymno which is about an hour away from Heraklion. On the way I stopped at a garage and decided to remedy the part-deflated tyre and check the rest. I successfully inflated the one I'd let down a bit previously then went to check the other three. This time I connected the air hose and started filling the tyre, then blew up the air hose! The pipe split and shot off the end of the nozzle, so I checked nobody was looking, confirmed they weren't, and legged it. The sodding tyres can go back to my usual levels of care - ignore them until they no longer look round or until a mechanic in overalls tells me they have as much grip as an ice cube on a window. 

This car in the airport car park did get my attention - parked up, got the bags out of the back, thought 'forget it, that'll do' and headed off somewhere! 

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Rethymno itself was as charming as ever, and was a welcome chance to play with the drone again. 

From there, it was back to Heraklion and I did have something approaching a medical emergency on the way. It was a good 30 degrees outside and while driving back the aircon cooled things down nicely. However, one's posterior was most definitely not cool, to the point it began to be of some concern - is there such a thing as the male menopause, does it have hot flushes, and is this right at my tender young years? After a few minutes of mild concern I noticed I'd been driving with the heated seat on full power for the last half an hour.

In related news, while distracted by a slowly roasting backside I did get flashed by a speed camera when doing about 38 in a 30 area on the main road. Fingers crossed they think it's too much trouble to send a fine to Britain! Mind you, I was the only person doing less than about 80!

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I am proud to say I have become just a little bit more Greek over this week. I arrived at the port at about 5.30 for my 10pm crossing and saw the ferry was already in and decided no good Greek person would expect to wait so you must just drive on. I confidently and without hesitation drove onto the quayside and up into the ferry and said a cheery 'hello' to a man in a white uniform inside it. Mr White Uniform politely told me the ferry was not open yet and boarding would not begin until 6.30 and I needed to back out of the ship again!

Long day tomorrow - arrive in Pireas at 6am, then drive up to Igoumenitsa up towards the Albanian border and get the 1am ferry to Italy.

Last day before the return

This is it, last day in and around Sitia before the return journey.

Mochlos from the drone

Mochlos from the drone

Earlier we went over to Mochlos which is about 45 minutes from Sitia if you drive "like an old woman" which according to old woman Mary, I do! Mochlos is a lovely little village which is basically a few tavernas on a small rocky peninsula, which means a perfect excuse to get the drone out again. Quite pleased with the photo above which really picked up the undersea rocks coming up to the tavernas.

I was made suitably jealous here as while flying the drone around an Australian chap came up for a chat as he had been flown out to Crete to film the Minoan archaeological site on the small island opposite Mochlos itself. His drone is similar to mine and I paid to get here myself while he's getting paid to be here - not fair!

The Minoan excavations at Mochlos. I flew over there in a fit of jealousy!

The Minoan excavations at Mochlos. I flew over there in a fit of jealousy!

As an aside, I'm starting to suspect that drone-geeks aren't actually all that far removed from train spotters as on the whole they are a very keen lot and always come over for a chat if they see one flying. 

Mochlos and mountains
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We finished the day with a trip up to another village at night for a local festival they were having which was basically an excuse for them to consume impressive volumes of raki, listen to live Cretan music, and have a good old dance. And it was an excellent night and a great end to the stay in Crete. 

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Tomorrow the return starts - Sitia to Heraklion to the mainland again, then off to another ferry and over to Italy.

Penultimate Sitia day

On Sunday the drive back starts in earnest, while today we've just been pootling around Sitia. We did come a cropper with the whole 'parking on a roundabout is perfectly fine' thing in the afternoon when we followed a pickup over a junction, only for him to stop in the middle of the road, stick his hazards on, and nip off to do some shopping. The only way out for us was to reverse back across the dual carriageway again and have another go. Even the rozzers were parked on the roundabout with their hazards on today. And I saw a bloke on a scooter driving down the main road rather impressively carrying a tray of drinks in one hand without spilling a drop!

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In other news, today the 15 year old Greek child staying up the road used my phone to take selfies of himself by the swimming pool. I have instructions to send them to him so he can make said photos available to similar aged Greek girls. I want this acknowledged and out there now so when the Greek police stop me at the border on Monday we've established my non-Operation Yewtree fodder credentials in advance!

It's also been more windy today so the waves were really rolling in along the beach. I stood watching them from the roadway which is about 6 feet above the beach but unfortunately, (honest guv) I hadn't noticed the topless young woman sunbathing right in front of me. It seems my lingering stare was long enough to intimidate her into getting up and putting her top on again and no doubt setting up a confirmation rumour among all beach inhabitants to watch out for that British sex pest who lurks about to have a good leer at people. 

Return t-2 and counting

The Greek Child has been asking if there is a pool anywhere we can take him that he can go and swim in as it seems the Med doesn't count as the right kind of pool. We eventually gave in and had a look around but there are no public pools so an alternative course of action was decided on and we would go and gate-crash one of the resort hotels outside the town. We decided that we could play the role of 'pasty white tourist' and sit and have a few drinks while skinny child could have a swim around. I have to say that in 'red faced white bodied sun-averse cold-beer-drinking' tourist I think I have found my natural acting role and a new career in acting awaits. 

The Greek emergency services heard I was heading down to the beach for a swim and had the appropriate rescue equipment on stand-by. 

The Greek emergency services heard I was heading down to the beach for a swim and had the appropriate rescue equipment on stand-by. 

In an update on the 'kissing spot' in yesterday's photo, we spotted a Greek chap seemingly using it as a lady-fishing spot last night, using the technique of sitting there like an angler fish waiting for an unsuspecting widow to come wandering by. He had no takers sadly, but there's always tomorrow.

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In no way was driving down onto the beach to take that photo a bad idea. Oh no, not at all. Lovely soft sand. Very deep and very soft sand. And steep. With no grip. Even in four wheel drive. We only just made it out by backing right up to the water's edge where the sand was harder, flooring it and ignoring the smell of burning coming from the front and slowly slowly crawling our way up and out again. 

Good Lady Wife #1's sole comment on the episode was a withering look and a comment of "pillock". 

Intermission pt 2

Three days to go until the return leg, so in the meantime I offer up a photo of a concrete bench. How thrilling for you. 

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Presumably such a well-signed kissing spot is cleverly designed so any teenage trysts are always under the watchful eye of never fewer than three scary Greek widows, ready to pounce at the slightest sign of impending impropriety.

Intermission

I've joked before about the Cretan approach to hazard warning lights, which as long as they're flashing means you can do pretty much whatever you want. This is a roundabout in Sitia:

Sitia roundabout

So on one of the main routes through the town, and a roundabout with five roads on or off it, you've got a BMW and motorbike towards one side, a Nissan Cashcow on the far side, and another Nissan Qwumqwatever parked on the inside of the roundabout right in the middle of the road. People trying to make the full swing around the roundabout had to do a three point turn between the two Nissans, while everyone else was edging slowly between them with centimetres to spare. And in a great personality trait which can only be Greek, not a single person got riled by it, no waving around of arms, no shouting and huffing, it's all just treated as entirely normal and they get on with it.

Sitia, Crete. Playing with the drone again. 

Sitia, Crete. Playing with the drone again. 

On a separate note: Greece, I am very fond of you. You are very welcoming and never fail to provide fantastic food to match the environment. But, it's the 21st century, so please, for the sake of all that is good, can you develop a sewage system which can cope with a bit of loo roll? Please? Pretty please? Even my caravan can cope with loo paper - you can do it! Or at least get some Albanians to do it? You could even have a new national holiday to celebrate the day you got rid of the wee bins next to the loos?

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Irrespective of any loo deficiencies though, it's impossible to take a bad photo of Sitia.

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A grave mistake

The mistake today was not mine for once and in a serious error of judgement by others I was given responsibility for a 15 year old boy as they mistook me for a 'responsible adult'. Silly people. We decided to take this treasured offspring of some Greek friends to a touristy beach down the road at Vai.

Poor child left in our care.

Poor child left in our care.

Being neither sure what 15 year old Greek kids like and definitely not mature myself, after some swimming I decided a jet ski was in order as all kids like stuff that can nearly kill them. We hired one for half an hour and headed out to sea where our first success was in making the small yacht moored in the bay decide they no longer wanted to stay around so off they went. 

Zach was having a great time driving it, then I took over and am pleased to report that after much hooning about I did manage to tip us off into the sea, which seemed to please The Child greatly. Zach being Greek has the swimming ability of a fish. He swam back to the jet ski jumped up onto it and had a little lie down. Bully for him. My swimming ability is more akin to a critically ill whale. It's ok for him - he swims in the sea every weekend while when I was 15 you needed a hammer to get through the surface layer on the Leeds-Liverpool canal. As Zach had a nice rest I floundered about, slowly slowly closing the distance to the jet ski and I'm sure the little bugger was paddling it away from me at the same time. Jet skis don't seem very big when you look at them while standing up. When you look at them while bobbing about in the sea half way to the Greek mainland it suddenly looks very high up indeed. Eventually with grace and elegance I slid up out of the water onto it. Or alternatively, like a red-faced puffing heart-attack-victim-in-waiting I finally hauled my knackered carcass out and back onto the jet ski and sat there wondering if this indeed was the end, thankful that we were a long way being the reach of cameras from the beach. A great time, although as Zach's dad is a big scary man I may avoid him for a while after giving his son his first go on a jet ski!

The bottom line in this did cause amusement 

The bottom line in this did cause amusement 

In other driving news we did nearly see a little collision which was very Cretan in origin as a car was reversing down a pedestrian-only area and nearly hit a motorbike who was riding up the pavement onto the pedestrianised area in the other direction. Both of them completely ignoring the 'pedestrians only' bit.

Tuesday will be drone-day so fingers crossed it isn't last seen heading out to sea from Sitia bay.  

 

Day 8: Heraklion to Sitia

The final day of the trip out started with a marvellously chaotic unloading of the ferry which was done in a fantastically Greek way. There were three decks of cars with the top one being the one you drive off through. On ferries in Britain and France it's all very regimented and strictly organised with loads of people telling you what to do. The Greek system is to open the doors and then head off for a fag and a coffee somewhere and leave you to it, presumably on the basis that if you drove in you are capable of sorting yourself out and driving off again. Not everyone rushes back to their cars either so from the bottom deck you pick your way carefully through the still-parked vehicles of the upper decks, shuffling forwards in and space you see come free until you see daylight. And that's it - I'd got my car to Europe's most southern island at last!

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I was met at about 6.30 by Giannis who is a fine chap and took me straight to the nearest coffee bar for a good strong espresso, then up to his house in Heraklion where he lives with his wife Katerina and their new baby Michaela. A very enjoyable morning passed there with them and other members of the family who live nearby who popped over to say hello as well, then it was off to the airport to get Good Lady Wife #1 and Sam from their Thomson flight. 

From there, an easy two and a half hour drive east to Sitia. In the past driving in Crete has seemed chaotic but presumably a lot of that may be due to the sudden change from Blighty however after driving all the way to here it seems rather sensible and ordered. They do have a great habit of following the rules but with the proviso that if you turn your hazards on you can do whatever you want! Want to park on a roundabout? Put your hazards on and nip off for a coffee. Dual Carriageway means you would have a 15 minute round trip to your exit? No problem, put your hazards on and drive the wrong way up the opposite carriageway. All reasonable enough really as long as you have the Magic Flashing Indicators of Invincibility on. 

Sitia, Crete. The final destination. If you don't count the drive back again. 

Sitia, Crete. The final destination. If you don't count the drive back again. 

Meanwhile in Sitia, Matriarch Mary had not only tracked down the hotel we were in but spoken to them and issued instructions that we were to proceed immediately to her house. The Greek Mafia in full effect. As Good Lady Wife #1 put it, if GCHQ and the CIA were filled with Greek widows there would be no secrets anywhere in the world, ever!

The inesteemable Mary at Katerina and Giannis' wedding a few years ago.

The inesteemable Mary at Katerina and Giannis' wedding a few years ago.

Mary was on good form and was grumbling that 'my bloody kids think I drive too fast. But I like speed'! I said she should be in Top Gear magazine and she very angrily replied that no, she does not do the drug speed and would not want to be in a magazine about drugs! I had never thought about Top Gear even possibly having that meaning! Meanwhile her grandson Zachary spent the evening teaching us Greek words for things like 'how are you' which was causing him great amusement. It turned out he was teaching us the swear words but telling us it meant something completely different. What I did learn tonight though as part of this was that I have been using the wrong word at Greek hotels, tavernas and tolls on this trip. I've been walking up and confidently saying hello in Greek but it turns out I've been walking up to them and saying a hearty equivalent of 'cheers, to your good health' as an opening line. Oops.

Day 7: Parga to Heraklion, via the River Styx

Not quite the furthest point of the journey yet but almost there and today was a drive from Parga at the northern end of the Greek mainland, down to Pireas next to Athens, then the overnight ferry to Crete. 

Here's a bit of culture for you just so you can't say this is all interminable inane ramblings. This small river dear people is the River Styx, and not just a modern-named River Styx but your actual proper River Styx. Or Stix, they seem vague on the spelling. I don't think it's still called the Styx now and is something like the Acheron. It's just south of Parga and runs down to a necropolis, hence in lore became associated with the dead and the eventually became the River Styx of mythology. 

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Not quite what one imagines the Styx to be - always thought of it as more a river of blood, fire and Hell Hounds rather than a meandering startlingly green channel passing under a main road. However, looked at one way, if you drive up the main road heading north you cross what was the mythical Styx and if you carry on along the same road you end up in Albania, which is easy to mistake for Hell, so maybe not just a myth after all?

My mistakes today have been small for once. The first was a sudden urge to be a proper car owner and check the pressures in my tyres after the off-roading rigours of Albania.  In an act bringing shame to men everywhere, I did however fail to correctly operate the air hose at the petrol station and eventually gave up and drove away with less air in the one tyre I tried than I started with. Oh well, I'll think about that again in Crete.

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For lunch I stopped at a random place along the main road as it looked welcoming enough, as indeed they were. The only issue I had was that the two nice ladies working there didn't speak any English, and while Good Lady Wife #1 speaks good Greek, mine is very limited. There was no menu so I just said 'souvlaki pita' hopefully. They said something which I guessed may have meant chicken or pork, so I mimed a pig... I was one step away from asking for my lunch via the medium of dance! The nice lady brought a selection of souvlaki meat from the fridge and I just pointed at one and held three fingers up. The skewers were small so three seemed reasonable to me but they looked very perplexed. When my lunch turned up it seemed I'd ordered three entire meals all for myself!

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I ate one and was pleasantly stuffed. You don't want to cause offence so in a manful effort I shifted a second one but number three was too much so I pretended I had wanted it for a take-away to eat in the car. I'm not sure they were convinced. 

There are quite a few tolls between Parga and Athens but I am getting very good at the Toll Booth Shuffle to jump out, run (well, more 'potter') round the car, pay, run back again and get going again. Almost slick at it now if I say so myself. 

Is this a case of blatant corporate sponsorship?

Is this a case of blatant corporate sponsorship?

As far as I can tell Athens and Piraeus are pretty much merged into one big city and all I had to go on was that I was looking for a ferry port, but that can't be too hard to find can it? I hadn't considered that Greece kind of specialises in ferries and Piraeus has dozens of the things. Twice I could see my ferry but kept getting stuck on a dual carriageway and had no choice but to carry on past it. This was not helped by me stopping behind a truck at some traffic lights and he didn't move for two complete green signals. Then the driver came back from the shop over the road with his ciggies in his hand. I'd been waiting behind a parked truck, although to be fair he had parked at the traffic lights! In the end, to find the ferry I followed a sign saying 'trucks only' for an entrance near the big red ferry I was supposed to be on, following the logic that it's better to be there but in the wrong place rather than not there at all, and that worked just fine. 

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It's quite informal. To get on a ferry in Britain you get told to drive from line to line while being barked stern orders by men in orange jackets. In Piraeus you go to that little booth in the photo above, pick up your tickets, turn round and drive to the back of the ferry where a man sitting on a metal fence having a fag waves you on and that's it. No messing about queuing here - just get on the ferry as soon as you arrive. Perfect. And it left within 60 seconds of when it was supposed to and should be in Crete at 6am. My sense of enjoyment was slightly marredby a Facebook message from an old school friend who is the world's biggest ferry geek saying that Greek ferries are very good, but have been known to sink when the crew are distracted by football. Right in the middle of the World Cup. Cheers David!

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Day 6: Parga

After five days of driving through nine countries, the decision to push on through Albania on Thursday gave me a very welcome day off in Parga which I filled with very important stuff like eating, dropping laundry off, eating a bit more, playing with the drone down on the harbour, eating a bit more, and then a last bit of food before bed. Dreaming of more Greek food.

May I also say how grateful I am that when packing I chose t-shirts based primarily on what was clean and at the top of the pile. This has meant my clothing selection is largely the kind of t-shirts which are so thick you can walk the dog in them in February while not wearing a coat and this has come in very handy when the temperature is nudging up towards 30 degrees. Within minutes of getting dressed I look like a sweaty tramp. Lovely.

As not a lot happened today as it was a chance to stay put for a while, here's a few photos of Parga using the drone.

The northern bay of Parga

The northern bay of Parga

And, surprisingly, the southern bay

And, surprisingly, the southern bay

Looking out to sea from above the Alfa hotel in the evening.

Looking out to sea from above the Alfa hotel in the evening.

After the excitement of Albania that's it today, and next is down to Pireas near Athens and the overnight ferry to Heraklion on Crete.

Day 5: Croatia - Montenegro - Albania

You may want to get a cup of tea or a coffee and sit comfortably for this one, I feel it is going to go on a bit, especially once we get to Albania...

On the stereo:

  • Manic Street Preachers
  • The Gentle Good
  • Radio 4 News quiz - several, and you'll see why
  • Much American tech podcasts
  • Old Crow Medicine Show

Today was a day I've been really looking forwards to as Croatia and Austria are spectacular countryside, but Montenegro and Albania offer a bit of non-European driving excitement. And I got it.

The day started near Dubrovnik and then heading south towards Montenegro, on a nice sunny day with a bit of Merry Hell on the stereo, lovely, and it's about 20 minutes or so to the border.

To enter Montenegro with a car you have to have insurance. Nobody in the UK sells insurance for Montenegro but they have this covered at the border and it all works, if in a happily chaotic way. You drive up to the first border police barrier and he asks for your passport, V5 registration document and Green Card for insurance (but not driving licence I note!). You tell him you don't have the insurance yet and need to buy it, so he keeps your passport, tells you to drive through the customs point, park, go and buy it, then bring him the certificate. Dead easy. I drove past the customs man who waved me through without slowing down, parked and walked over the road to a building, gave a random chap who may or may not have been just hanging around outside it 15 Euros and he gave me a bit of hand-written paper. This is where it then departs from the expected slick operation as I then just walked back up the middle of the six lane road, straight through customs again along the road and up to the Border Police barrier. He handed me my passport back then I walked back down to the customs gate, where the chap lowered the barrier and said "anything to declare?". He'd let me drive through without a word, then stopped me when I was walking through! He looked so forlorn in his little booth that I very apologetically said "no, sorry". He shrugged, looked down and said sadly "they never do".

A sneaky border photo. A bit more subtle than sending the drone up.

A sneaky border photo. A bit more subtle than sending the drone up.

Apologies for the quality of the photo but it was a sneaky shot from the back of the car of the Montenegro side of the border.

The northern end of Montenegro continues the same landscape as Croatia

Another excuse to set the drone free

Another excuse to set the drone free

But you don't want photos of pretty landscapes do you? What you need is photos of their roadside school signs which had me laughing so hard I had to stop and take a photo:

Surely it's not just me? This does say "warning - dirty old men chasing children" doesn't it?

This is the first country where driving rules have become a bit more liberal and after an hour or so I'd worked out the basics:

  • If you approach any junction with two lanes and both lanes are occupied, feel free to start your own 3rd lane, or even fourth. Wherever it looks like a car may fit.
  • Mercedes have right of way.
  • If you are stopped at a red traffic light and feel that you have been waiting too long it is well within your rights to think 'sod it' and just go anyway.

To those of us vaguely interested in cars it's an interesting place, packed with big Mercs which have clearly been around the clock several times, but also loads of commie-era Skodas and even the odd Lada.

Here's one more photo of a nice town in Montenegro again. Enjoy it, it's the last nice place for a while.

Enjoy this photo of a pretty town, it is the last photo of a nice town until Greece...

Enjoy this photo of a pretty town, it is the last photo of a nice town until Greece...

The more southern towns aren't quite so attractive and Budvar looks like it was a 60s communist resort and hasn't seen a lick of paint since. 

And then you get to Albania...

Ah, Albania. I tried so hard to give you the benefit of the doubt. I convinced myself that our views of you were stereotypical and you would turn out to be a hidden gem of the Med. I looked forwards to staying overnight and sampling your food and scenic views. But you let me down. Badly.

It didn't start off too well as I was back on map-based navigation and arrived at the wrong border crossing. There are two borders from Montenegro, the main one on the big popular road where most people cross which is down by the coast, and the remote border crossing up in the hills used by drug smugglers, arms traders and people traffickers. Guess which border I ended up at? Put it this way, no way was I taking a photograph of this border!

The guard was what I jokingly said I wanted to see in Germany, except this one's only words in English genuinely were a very stern 'passport' and 'v5'. (Although fair play, 'V5' is a fairly specific English term to be familiar with). Again, I couldn't buy car insurance for Albania when back in the UK so I was waiting for him to ask for insurance documents, but he said nothing, so I thought I'd just buy it at one of the shops selling it just inside Albania which I had read about, but it turned out that this was at the other Albanian border. At this border, I left the border control, drove onto a single-carriageway road, went around a corner and nearly ploughed into a heard of goats and sheep which were just meandering along the road. I had joked for weeks about Albanian goat farming and within 500 yards I'd almost collided with my first herd (flock?) of goats. There was however no sign of a single establishment selling insurance, or anything else for that matter. So that was it, I was going to have to cross Albania with no insurance of any kind, so better not hit anything.

Unfortunately, my plan of 'keep your head down and don't hit anything and the insurance thing will all be ok' was scuppered slightly by police and army roadblocks and with British number plates you stand out like a sore thumb. During my time in Albania I must have passed through 25 or 30 roadblocks and you have to admit, police and army roadblocks are up there alongside photos of the President being displayed in every bar, hotel and restaurant as a good sign of the country not being a totally modern or democratic one.

From the number of cars, one of Albania's finer eating destinations. Looks lovely.

From the number of cars, one of Albania's finer eating destinations. Looks lovely.

I was expecting Albania to be a bit poorer than the rest of southern Europe, basically to be like Greece from 50 or so years ago. No. It is not like Greece 50 or so years ago. It is like Greece before the Greeks woke up and built the Parthenon and Acropolis. I expect it is more like Greece was at the time of the Minoan civilisation. After the Great Minoan Recession. If you want to experience Albania for yourself, go and stand on a council rubbish dump, ensure there is a lot of rubble strewn about, set fire to some of the rubbish, then have someone point an industrial space heater at you. That's almost it. But the rubbish dump is still nicer than Albania.

To be fair, the natural landscape of Albania is very very dramatic - it's all high mountains and deep valleys but any area which has then been built on by the Albanians is a post-apocalyptic hell-hole. And I am restraining myself here.

Your average Albanian town. One of the nicer ones as I was happier getting my phone out.

Your average Albanian town. One of the nicer ones as I was happier getting my phone out.

Albania is an applicant country for the European Union but it needs more than a bit of spit and polish to get it up to European standards. It is poor, startlingly so. They commonly cut hay with scythes and there are donkeys and carts still used on the roads. It's worth stressing that the bridge in the photo below is not some rural backwater but is the link between two of the main routes just outside the capital of Tirana. The maximum speed over it was 5mph tops and the metal joining sections move up and down every time the vehicle in front goes over it. There was another bridge nearby but that one had fallen down. 

Driving rules make Montenegro look sane and if your side of the road is busy, no problem, just use the other side. If that side is busy already no problem, just use the shoulder area. If all that is busy no problem, use the pavement. If you are in a rush you have priority at every junction and if it's quicker to go the wrong way around the roundabout to your exit then feel free to take the short-cut. Is it any wonder that in probably nine hours of driving across Albania I came across three serious accidents that had just happened a few minutes previously. A message for the Daily Mail - you don't have to worry about hoards of Albanians coming over if they join the EU. They will get in their cars and a good 40% of them will die on the German autobahn, and then I guarantee all rest will be dead in car crashes before they have done half a lap of the M25. 

As a charmingly quaint addition to the roads, dead dogs can be frequently found in the middle of the road; I came across several big ex-dogs during my own short journey and it's clearly too much bother to move them off the road. After all, driving over a dead German Shepherd sized dog is actually a smaller bump than most of the ruts and potholes on the road anyway.

Eventually I came to a motorway / dual carriageway - at last sanity would prevail. Multiple lanes all going in the same direction - time to relax at last. Apart from the 'everyone go in the same direction' only applies to cars, so donkeys and carts and motorbikes still head up the wrong lane towards you, there are still pedestrians wandering down the road, people stopping randomly to buy melons from a chap sitting on the kerb, blokes selling rabbits, and even sodding chickens pecking their way down the motorway. And a chap walking his cow.

Eventually at about 5pm I came to my hotel... Yes, the small cream bit in this photo was my bed for the night...

Stay here. Get murdered in your bed at no extra charge

That was the breaking point and I became firm in my growing belief that there is no reason on earth for anyone to remain stationary in Albania for any time period longer than a red traffic light. I've been to very poor places before and happily trudged around next to tips, wandered down dusty streets, driven in chaotic places, but they all had charm and the people have been, well, just normal people really - friendly and welcoming to visitors. Albania is simply grim and smiling is clearly illegal. I think the word 'Albania' actually translates as "Satan's Armpit".

A radical course of action was decided upon. The next day was supposed to be from Albania to Parga in Greece, staying at a small family-owned hotel where we have been before on holiday, so I telephoned them to say 'help, I need a room tonight as well'. I don't know if you are aware of the general view that Greeks have of the Albanians, but a guaranteed way of getting sympathy is to say "Dimitris, it's Adam, I am in Albania - do you have a room for tonight as Albania is, well, shit, to be honest". Cue much laughing and the fine chap that he is, he found me a room, told me he would leave the key in the room door if I arrived after the staff had left for the night, and wished me good luck. Star man!

So, no stopping in Albania, and onwards towards Greece and a return to the present centrury. Just as I had made this decision and carried on down the main road, my luck ran out and I got stopped at one of the checkpoints. Being rather concerned about a massive fine for driving with no insurance I decided to take what I will call the 'Empire Approach', which is to stop, wind the passenger side window down, and speak to the policeman loudly in one's best Queen's English, "Good evening, and how are you". It worked! He just looked irritated and waved me on, the perfect get-out-of-jail-free weapon actually worked!

Now I had a choice. The one consistent piece of advice from sensible people such as the RAC was not to go into rural areas if you can help it, and definitely not to go into rural areas after dark. I had a choice of two routes, one along the coast which was very much the long way around and would take about 8 hours to get to Parga, or the shorter way which would only take about 5 1/2 hours to Parga, but was on a main road going right up through the mountains in about as rural and remote Albania as you can get. By now it was 6pm and would go dark in about two hours. I reckoned I could make it to the border before dark if I chanced it and went the shorter route, and as it was a main road it must be safe and bandit-free, so took off that way. 

About half an hour in I began to regret this decision. There is remote, then there is 'oh my God this is proper bandit territory' remote. And the road... The road was one of Albania's main routes, the SH4, and some parts of it have been paid for by the European Union to link Greece to Croatia and look like this:

Spectacular countryside and lovely smooth, and empty, road. Try stopping to take a photo in the middle of the A1!

Spectacular countryside and lovely smooth, and empty, road. Try stopping to take a photo in the middle of the A1!

Some parts of the road though have not been paid for by Europe and are built to Albanian standards so you go around a corner and it looks like this:

Yes, this is the same road! A bit of touching up needed. And car is now looking suitably dirty as well.

Yes, this is the same road! A bit of touching up needed. And car is now looking suitably dirty as well.

In my planning for getting to the border, I hadn't counted on a maximum speed in the single digits. The road was like this for a good half an hour. Then it got worse.

One of the two main roads to Greece from Albania, I kid you not!

One of the two main roads to Greece from Albania, I kid you not!

Anything that didn't have the ground clearance of a 4x4 would have been stuck there. As it was there was a constant series of wince-inducing bangs from underneath the car. 

It was around here that all the warnings about not being outside of urban areas after dark started getting a little worrying, along with the chance of punctures and breaking suspension on some very alarming and steep pits in the road. I also have to say that you start doubting your map-reading skills around this point and do entertain the possibility you may be totally lost on a dirt track somewhere as this can't possibly be a main road. It didn't get much more rural than this and it was getting towards dusk. To counter this feeling of impending doom I listened to four successive episodes of the News Quiz as there's nothing like a bit of Radio 4 to stiffen the spine and make you sit up properly! 

Albania has many wild dogs and just to reach a new low, it was seconds after stopping and taking the previous picture that two lurched out of the bushes behind me snarling and barking and proceeded to chase me down the road. I couldn't drive too fast on that road as I would have broken the car so the chase did go on for longer than probably both I and the dogs were expecting, before they finally gave up.

Eventually I got to the border just before dark, and this was my last worry about the insurance. If they asked me for it here I was properly screwed and had read the fine is around 300 Euros or so, and can be more depending on how grumpy they are feeling. The first border police chap stopped me and asked for my passport and vehicle registration document but not the insurance! I'd made it!. I drove forwards towards the Greek border but then another guard stepped off the pavement and stopped me. He asked for my passport again and decided to search the car. Again, no insurance was mentioned so I was home free! Then his boss came over and told me to stand where I was and asked for my passport again. He asked how long I'd been in Albania and which border I had entered through. I thought that this was it - the insurance question is coming. He stared at me and then said "why do you English have the wheel on the wrong side?"! I told them it was because the French used to be on the opposite to us, and the Americans chose to go on the French side to annoy their former colonial masters. And we British just like to be different. He finally cracked a smile, laughed and sent me on towards Greece. He was the only person I saw smile in Albania. Probably because he was near Greece.

Believe it or not, the Greek border was the hardest one of the lot to get through. The chap took my V5 registration document and passport and driving licence, then shouted a superior over as he wasn't happy with the registration document. The car is owned by my company so is in the name of HSMC, and the address doesn't match my driving licence. No other border had questioned it but the Greek chap had noticed it. Thinking this may have been a problem I had drawn up a letter before I left saying I was authorised to drive it, translated it into several languages including Greek on Google Translate, printed it and got Good Lady Wife #1 to sign it. He looked at that document, said 'OK then, welcome to Greece' and sent me on my way!

I have to say, insurance aside, I really enjoyed the day of actual driving - mad chaotic cities and towns, remote dirt tracks in the mountains, goats, dogs, sheep and everything in between. But I have nothing positive to say about Albania I'm afraid. It's a charmless dump, pure and simple.

Greece has never looked so welcoming, and I got to the Alfa hotel before the staff had gone home so an ice cold beer was well deserved and waiting.

The Alfa Hotel in Parga. Fantastic place and I recommend it to anyone. Just don't bother with Albania first.

The Alfa Hotel in Parga. Fantastic place and I recommend it to anyone. Just don't bother with Albania first.

As I have arrived in Parga early I'm just going to have to relax here for a bit, tough life!

Day 4: Croatia - Bosnia - Croatia

On the stereo:

  • Skye - ex-Morcheeba lady crooner
  • Mark Steel - stand-up comedy genius
  • This Week in Tech podcast - more geeky goodness
  • PC Pro podcast - geek levels reaching critical
  • Solomon Burke - soul maestro  
  • Daft Punk - French, but sill good despite that
  • Metallica - music to make you drive faster

A far more uneventful day I'm pleased to report, with a level of map-based navigation that would have put a smile on the most stone-hearted of scout leaders. This is more than can be said for my TomTom which is getting increasingly moronic the further it goes from the safe warm embrace of Blighty. It knows the Croatian roads are there and can show you them on a map as you drive down them along with speed limits and road numbers, but ask it to plan a route and every sodding journey has to start from Zagreb! That's like planning a route from Cardiff to London and it telling you to start in Newcastle.

TomTom. Knows the roads down Croatia but is scared of them.

TomTom. Knows the roads down Croatia but is scared of them.

This was its lame effort to find my hotel near Dubrovnik and when I planned the route above the TomTom was already showing me correctly where I was, which was about 50 minutes from Dubrovnik. Then I asked it to work for a living rather than just sitting there and the route above was its genius response - 7 hours. Starting from sodding Zagreb again. It's obsessed with Zagreb. I think it once had a torrid weekend affair in Zagreb with a lonely and abandoned Garmin SatNav unit and wants to retrace former glories. In the end I found my hotel using the tried and tested slingshot method - find the town and then just drive round in ever-increasing circles until you see your destination. It's not the most efficient of methods but it works better than a SatNav.

I stopped for fuel on a small road this morning and am getting slightly concerned that the bumbling oaf who appeared in Germany may be more ingrained than I would have liked. I filled the car up, went to pay and the young chappy behind the till was charm personified. He switched to English, beamed a big hello and chatted while I paid. I then trundled out of the shop, walked to the car which was right in front of his window and started to get in it. On the wrong side. As Mr Happy Croatian watched I had to close the door, shuffle round to the other side, mumbled a smiley 'oops, wrong side' to him and left. He looked most perplexed as to why I'd got in the wrong side of my own car and the smile had slipped a little more towards a sympathetic grimace!

Croatia south of Zadar is slightly different to the northern half and it does seem to be the slightly poorer relation and the landscape has got slightly rockier and harsher, with gnarly old olive trees dotted around for the first time today. There are more people selling a small amount of goods at the side of the roads, people sitting on the pavement holding cardboard 'Apartment' signs, more empty houses. The road still hugs the coast like the top half but is more pitted and broken. (So more like a British road then..). Split aside, which is industrial and full of concrete towers, it's still extremely attractive and seems popular with the yachting fraternity as there are marinas everywhere.

Coast near Dubrovnik

Coast near Dubrovnik

When planning the route I looked at what was needed when crossing the bit of Bosnia which separates the bottom chunk of Croatia from the rest of the country and there was a lot of advice about the rules for crossing. This covered needing to buy specific car insurance, papers needed at the border, rules for what you have to carry and that you have to have your car inspected on entry and a certificate of damage obtained which then has to be produced when you leave or they won't let you out, will impound the car and send you to work in a mine. In reality, if anyone is reading this blog after finding it in a search engine, my advice is: ignore it all. To drive cross this bit of Bosnia on the E65, you get to the border, wave your passport at a guard who has the superpower of being able to read it from 10 feet away while looking at his phone, then drive off. You pass the Bosnian town of Neum and approximately seven minutes after entering Bosnia you are back at the Croatian border again. Probably five minutes if you don't dawdle. As I had no insurance in Bosnia I dawdled and concentrated very hard on not hitting anything. Even though Bosnia is not in the EU I've had tighter checks on a ferry to Dublin.

It is also of note that I am now at the southern end of Croatia and have still only been stuck in one traffic jam and that was on the M25 on Sunday morning. 

And just for Mr. Havers who keeps making slanderous accusations that my caravan is on the back of my car, here's another selfie. Definitely no caravan, honest. Although this coast would be great with a caravan as there are loads of sites where you put your caravan pretty much straight on the water's edge. But on the downside, you are still in a caravan.

Hello world from a chap and his black beastie. And I was waving, not doing a Hitler salute!

Hello world from a chap and his black beastie. And I was waving, not doing a Hitler salute!

Tomorrow (Thursday) is out of the EU again, through Montenegro and into Albania, then stopping for the night near Durres. I'm actually feeling very sorry for poor old Albania and am hoping the reality of it is very different to expectations. It's the one country which has always been met with predictions of being robbed, the car being nicked or I will end up getting shot and finish the trip home dead. I saw the Daily Bigot had a headline in the last day that if Albania joins the EU it's entire population is going to move to Luton or something so the Mail readers need to man the barricades to stop them nicking our existing immigrants' jobs. (I would like to make it clear that this headline popped up on a quick search for 'Albanian Road Charges' to see if there are any tolls, I didn't go looking for Daily Mail ranting deliberately!). Even my road map puts the boot in - at the front it has a section for each country of 'places of interest'. Germany, Austria, Croatia, Bosnia, Greece and so on all have some listed bit poor old Albania? Nothing. Not one entry! That can't be right, there must be something, and I shall see tomorrow...

Day 3: Austria - Slovenia - Croatia

On the stereo:

  • BBC Radio 4 News Quiz podcast, for a taste of Blighty
  • Miranda Lambert - the album is 'Same Trailer, Different Park' so no genre surprises there
  • Bryan Adams - King of the Gingers
  • Evanescence - wailey shouty angst
  • Bob Marley - because it is sunny and therefore Bob is mandatory
  • Frida Amundsen - Nordic pop perfection
  • Men They Couldn't Hang - leftie rabble rousing

Day three was definitely a day of contrasts, starting off with the lush Alpine landscape in Austria and finishing with the hot dusty Mediterranean landscape of mid-Croatia. Also, today was the first day of what I was thinking of as the proper driving - no motorways, all small roads, and unlike previous days, time to stop and look around. And fair warning - I turned into a driving bore.

After departing Villach it's only 10 minutes or so to the Slovenian border and other than a bored-looking policeman there's nothing to distinguish between them. Slovenia itself, and I hope this isn't overly cruel to Slovenia, came across as basically a lumpy Belgium. It was there, it was very pleasant, but passed quickly and unremarkably. To be fair I wanted to get to the coast so didn't stop at Bled or anywhere like that, but then again Belgium has Bruges which is nice and Slovenia has Bled which is supposed to be nice, so maybe the analogy holds up. I will offer an apology to the inhabitants of a couple of small villages somewhere in the middle of Slovenia though for their peace being rudely disturbed by a passing Brit. It was nice and sunny and I was on a good back road so the windows were down and the noise of me belting out Men They Couldn't Hang songs like The Colours and Company Town must have been akin to a bull with its foot trapped under a farmer's tractor. Sorry about that.

Slovenia - perfectly nice and very pretty in a national park kind of way

Slovenia - perfectly nice and very pretty in a national park kind of way

In my extensive preparation ritual it had passed me by completely like the ignorant Brit I am that Croatia doesn't use the Euro and has its own currency. Handily though, as you approach Croatia through Slovenia you see loads of small exchange places at the side of the road offering to change Euros for Kunas, probably at a poor rate but I'm too lazy to check!

Then it was into Croatia, and the first proper border of the trip. Everyone drove up to the window, flashed their passports and drove off. Except one pillock in a black Santa Fe who hadn't considered that his passport may be needed so drove up to the window, then had to get out and go and rifle through the boot to dig into the rucksack in which the passport was buried somewhere, much to the ire of the queue behind...

Croatian border

It was from here on though that the Sat Nav finally proved inadequate, insisting that the only route was inland to Zagreb rather than down to the coast meaning I had to resort to old-fashioned maps. And in completely unrelated news, today was also the first day I got lost. A lot. My first error was indeed quite impressive as not only did I manage to get lost, I then thought I had found my way again but instead of heading to Rijeka in Croatia, was actually heading north to Triese in Italy - not only the wrong direction and wrong town, but also the wrong country. 

It was south of Rijeka that my navigation skills were really found to be a touch limited. There were loads of roadworks and it got very complicated so I decided that as I knew I was supposed to be following the coast, I would just drive down whichever road seemed to run along the sea - simple... After nearly a kilometer down a narrow gravel track which was getting steeper and steeper I began to review this decision as perhaps not being the wisest one. One benefit though was, at last, a proper excuse to RELEASE THE DRONE! This confirmed I had gone a touch awry....

Does this count as a selfie?

Does this count as a selfie?

The black dot towards the lower third is me and the road I should have been on was a long long way away off the top right of the photo. A clue was that the proper road was tarmaced! However, looked at positively, it was a very nice place to be lost and it was an excuse to get the toy out and fly around a bit. There was no other option but to reverse the entire way back to the main road, and what that photo doesn't show is the steepness of the road - if I hadn't stuck it in four wheel drive I'd probably still be there.

I have to say that getting so lost is not my fault. I did geography at school and a bit more time spent studying the road network of the European continent and a bit less time studying the structure of ancient bell pits would have been a more useful education. I do not need to know how bell pits were dug, or what the typical zoning around a town is, but telling me where the A8 goes from and to would have been time well spent. Educationalists - I hope you are listening!

By the way, you know when you buy an Apple product that it always comes with those frosted Apple logo sticker things? I've never know what to do with them so have binned them, but in Croatia the fashion is to put them on the back of your car and pretend Apple has indeed launched a range of small Euro-hatchbacks.

In a rare moment of sincerity, I have to say that the friendliness of everyone I've met so far has been extremely charming. Even at the road toll booths when you pull up, then have to get out, do that quick run round the car to the other side as you can't reach the window from the driver's seat of a Brit car, while not making eye contact with the queue behind as they're probably all tutting about 'bloody foreigners', the person in the booth has always grinned manically, then said, hello and thank you and 'nice trip' or similar, in English. In Croatia I stopped at a town called Crikvenice for no reason other than it had 'venice' in the name, and drove into a public car park. There was a little old chap sat in a tiny booth who gave me my ticket, then pointed behind him and said "you walk there, over bridge, left, very nice". And he's right, it was:

Crickvenice, Croatia

Crickvenice, Croatia

I have to say I'm rather taken with Croatia - the coastline is fantastic and is how I imagine the Spanish coast was before Spain buggered a lot of it up with developments. At the top you are still in Alpine territory, all green and lush with thick meadows, then as you drive south it changes and within a couple of hours it's that dry dust and scrubby bushes you get with the Mediterranean countries. And old men in PE shorts everywhere.

Sorry to be a driving bore, but if anyone reading this is remotely interested in driving you have to come to Croatia and do the A8 down the coast.

The E65 / A8 down Croatia. Another excuse to play with the drone.

The E65 / A8 down Croatia. Another excuse to play with the drone.

It is like this, hugging the coast, empty and perfectly smooth, for three straight hours so far, and I have another eight hours of driving to go down the same road to Dubrovnik yet. You never go over 40mph but you never want to, every corner is another fantastic view and even in an automatic lumbering Hyundai SUV it was a joy to drive down. Motorbikists must love it, and the roadside cafes certainly love them with most having 'bikers welcome' signs outside.

I know its not witty and boring to most people, but the road along the coast here was probably the best fun driving I've had. I'd have probably done it twice as fast if I'd not had to keep stopping to take pictures.

The Road

Knowing how long these things last on the internet and that someday someone may read this after searching on driving in Croatia - one tip, do not drive down the E65/Route 8 when low on fuel - there was a petrol station in Crikvenice then I'd swear I didn't see another until at least two and half hours later in Zadar! 

I think that's enough waffle for now, aside from the trucker below who I have admire in his dedication to obeying parking signs. Next is Croatia to Bosnia and then to more Croatia, from Sukosan to Dubrovnik, before the following day's dive into Albania.

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