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.
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...
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....
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:
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.
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.
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.