Blog No. 15 – Croatia

Walled Cities, Waterfalls & Walking our socks off!

Zdravo, greetings from Croatia! With our negative PCR results in hand we once again hit the open road. It wasn’t long before we reached the border with Montenegro & had to endure yet another grilling from the border guards, only this time we had the full works, the Motorhome was searched, given the once over by sniffer dogs & we were questioned whether we were transporting any guns or drugs (Phil must look really dodgy) Luckily we were carrying neither, so after a thorough search & the purchase of yet more vehicle insurance we began our journey across Montenegro into Croatia, nipping across the bottom of Bosnia (with no insurance) & back again into Croatia.

Our first few days were spent on a great, family run campsite in the small village of Lokva Rogoznica, on the Dalmatian Coast. Pitched up by the sea with views of the nearby island of Brac, we passed our time walking in the hills & the occasional dip in the sea. The onsite restaurant supplied us with home cooked food, home made rakija, locally produced wine, all accompanied by a guitar playing singer, Croatia’s answer to Ed Sheeran, NOT!

We visited the port town of Omis, where we took Rocky on his 1st boat trip along the Cetina River & stuffed our faces with Krafne, traditional Croatian doughnuts.

Moving up the coast we took in Croatia’s second largest city, Split. An exuberant city with just the right mix of tradition & modernity, its vibrant centre located within the walls of the emperor Diocletian’s Palace which dates back to Roman times.

Another day & another walled town, todays exploration took us to the small island of Trogir.

Travelling inland from the coast we headed to Krka National Park, a nature reserve situated along the Krka river & home to one of Croatia’s most famous sights, the Skradinski Buk Falls. It was also another 1st for Rocky as he tasted his 1st ice cream.

We spent several days camped on the shore of the Vransko Lake, the campsite was located within the Vransko Lake Nature Park, with beautiful walks & an abundance of nature on our doorstep. From here we also visited the small towns of Pakostane & Biograd Na Moru.

As we headed back to the coast we stopped off to visit the city of Zadar before continuing on to Rtina, where we spent several lazy days & nights chilled out on a small campsite by the beach.

Our energy levels restored we travelled back inland to visit the Plitvice Lakes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, a truly stunning location. Made up of 295 sq-km of enchanted forest & 16 terraced lakes in varying shades of turquoise, all fused together by magnificent waterfalls. A small slice of paradise & a worthy addition to anyone’s bucket list!

As we headed to the Istrian Peninsular, our final leg of our Croatian adventure, we stopped over in the small towns of Senj & Opatija. We cheered England on against Croatia whilst sat in a bar in Medulin, the only England fans in attendance, fortunately the locals were very friendly & our cheering was very much reserved.

We visited the city of Pula, home to the Arena, one of the best preserved Roman amphitheatres in the world.

Our final stop was the charming little town of Rovinj, with its Venetian old town, a tangle of cobbled streets that lead up to the church of St. Euphemia whose towering steeple dominates the skyline. A wonderful place to end to our time here.

It’s hard to believe another month has passed us by, another country ticked of the list, another step closer to home.

Next stop France – Thanks for reading xxx

Blog No. 14 – Albania

Albania Mania

Pershendetje, greetings from Albania! With mixed emotions we left Bulgaria for pastures new. Sad to be leaving such a wonderful country but excited to be heading off into the unknown once more. At the border with Greece we were tested yet again, our 2nd PCR test in as many days & grateful once again a negative result prevailed. Our transit through Greece went without a hitch & we made it to the border with Albania in good time. On arrival at the crossing it was eerily quiet, there was not a single person in sight. Feeling rather anxious that the border may have been closed we nervously got out of the Moho and began to wander around. Thankfully after 10 minutes of wandering a customs officer appeared & waved us over. After checking our documents he told us that once we passed through the Greek border we would be unable to return as all the land borders from Albania were closed until further notice. Our options at this stage were already fairly limited, so as the barrier lifted we crossed into no mans land, praying that we would be granted permission to enter Albania.

At the Albanian border we were met by a straight faced, rather stern looking man. He took our documents and proceeded to interrogate us. A very unnerving experience as we did not understand a word he was saying. As we struggled with Google Translate a police officer came over & stood behind us, closely followed by 3 of his fellow officers. At this point we were convinced we were going to be taken away, never to be seen again when thankfully, one of the police officers spoke up & began to translate. After what seemed like forever & some rather strange questions, we were given a statement written in Albanian, unable to read a single word we went ahead & signed on the dotted line. As the barrier lifted once more we were free to go. All we had to do now was purchase Motor Insurance as ours, like most policies did not cover Albania. Research showed we could buy this just after the border crossing, unfortunately the research did not show payment can only be made in cash & that the nearest cash point is 35KM away. With tempers raging & insults flying we got back in the Moho, praying that we didn’t get pulled over as soon as we drove off. As we made our way towards the nearest town we stopped at a service station which just so happened to double up as an insurance broker. As it was after 5PM there was no one in the office so I spoke with him over the phone. After sending a photo of Phil’s passport & V5 document on WhatsApp we were told to come back in the morning to collect the certificate. Once again we couldn’t quite believe how trusting (or stupid) we were. Thankfully the following morning when we went back our insurance document was ready & waiting, it’s probably not worth the paper it’s written on, but hey, it looked official & we felt better having something as opposed to nothing.

Our 1st stop was Gjirokaster, located in a valley between the Gjere Mountains & the Drino. We stayed on a lovely little campsite where Rocky sniffed out his 1st Hermann Tortoise, it turned out to be 1 of a family of 3 & the 1st sighting of many we would encounter on our travels. We visited the Gjirokaster Fortress & meandered around the old town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, described as ‘a rare example of a well preserved Ottoman town’ It was a remarkable place with friendly & welcoming people, a perfect introduction to a beautiful & much overlooked country.

We travelled along the Albanian Riviera, visiting the Butrint National Park with its historical architecture, discovered hidden bays & swam in the turquoise blue sea as we passed through the resorts of Ksamil, Sarande, Livadi Beach & Vlore.

Heading inland we visited the city of Berat, known as the City of a Thousands Windows due to its distinctive Ottoman houses. We hiked up to the Castle, an impressive fortress which stands guard above the city below.

Our next stopover was on a working vineyard where we enjoyed an afternoon of wine tasting followed by a delicious home cooked meal Albanian style, all topped off with a glorious sunset.

Heading North we stayed several nights on a site just outside the capital city Tirana. The campsite was family run & they were great hosts. Us, along with several other travellers enjoyed evenings spent around the camp fire sharing BBQ’s, homemade wine, Raki & attempting some traditional Albanian dancing.

We spent a day in the capital city Tirana, visiting Skanderberg Square, the Grand Park & Bunk’Art 2, a unique history museum inside a preserved, Communist-era nuclear bunker. The museum illustrates how the Communist-era police prosecuted opponents of the government. It is thought that some 100,000 Albanians were persecuted between 1945 – 1991.

Our penultimate stop was in one of the oldest towns in Albania, Shkodra. Wedged between the Accursed Mountains & Shkodra Lake the town is a hive of activity centred around its bustling street markets selling everything from Cherries to Chickens. We visited the Rozafa Castle with its breath taking views over the city below & we sadly experienced some of the worst poverty we have seen on our travels. A planned hike up into the Mountains turned out to be a very traumatic day as we unknowingly walked right into the heart of what I can only describe as a shanty town. Our arrival did not go unnoticed, before we could turn back we were confronted by a pack of barking street dogs who surrounded us on all sides, with my heart in my throat we walked on, eyes down, led away from their territory by Rocky, cooler than a cucumber, as only a street dog could be. As we continued into the mountains our day did not get any better, we found ourselves trapped in the middle of a herd of goats, confronted by 2 wild horses who pursued us at close range (I could feel its breath on my ear!) & to top it off the ‘circular’ walk we were doing had been deliberately blocked, meaning the only way back was the way we had come.

After the stresses of Shkodra we headed back into the hills & spent a relaxing few days parked up by a lake, surrounded this time only by mother nature.

As our time here draws to an end I can honestly say its been an amazing experience. Previously isolated from the rest of the world due to its Communist past, it’s futures now blooming. Albania is an wonderful country which far exceeded my expectations. The diversity of its landscape, the mountains, lakes, beaches, its past forever present in the concrete bunkers that scar the countryside, the castles, the architecture, the modern cities & remote villages, it really is a fascinating country, we loved it!

Next stop Croatia – Thanks for reading xxx

Blog No. 13 – Bulgaria

On the Piste, Street Dogs & Rocky hits the road!

Zdrasti, greetings from Bulgaria! Having successfully crossed the border we travelled the short distance to Sunny Paradise Campsite in the small village of Chuchuligovo. We were made most welcome by the lovely owners Ana & Ivo, who welcomed us into their home and gave us a thorough introduction to the taste & consequences of drinking far too much locally produced red wine. Lessons learnt (until next time) we headed off to visit the hot springs at Rupite before continuing our journey to Bansko.

Situated at the foot of the Pirin Mountains in the UNESCO recognised Pirin National Park in South-Western Bulgaria is the town of Bansko, Bulgaria’s largest ski resort and our home for the next 7 weeks as we moved out of our tiny home & into a spacious apartment.

We’ve had the most amazing time in Bansko, plenty of skiing, plenty of apres ski & we’ve met some really great people. We were lucky enough to spend the day on the slopes as spectators at the FIS World Giant Slalom Final. We’ve spent a day on a snowboard, or should I say we spent the majority of the day on our bums. We did have a great laugh (at each others expense) but we’ll be sticking to our skis, its true what they say, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks!

Bansko is surrounded by nature, flanked on 3 sides by the Pirin, Rila & Rhodope Mountain ranges, its given us plenty of opportunities to go out hiking & biking. We also went out on a 4×4 ATV safari and had an absolute blast!

Whilst here we’ve been volunteering with Bansko Street Dogs, a non profit, charitable organisation set up to raise money to care for the street dogs of Bansko. Their first aim is to neuter to prevent more puppies being born, and then home as many as they can. It’s heart breaking to see any animal left to fend for itself, however the sheer volume of stray dogs on the streets is overwhelming. I came across Bansko Street Dogs on social media and I instantly knew I wanted to help. Our first visit to the shelter, affectionately known as the Winter Palace was to join other volunteers on a hike, taking with us as many dogs as we could physically manage. We were greeted by a pack of barking dogs who instantly welcomed us in. It was the first of many trips to the Winter Palace over the coming weeks, walking dogs, socialising puppies & cleaning up sh*t, lots & lots of sh*t, which I can only describe as comparable to cleaning out the bottom of a long drop at Glastonbury (not that I have). I can honestly say this was definitely not the highlight, but a job that had to be done & definitely not with a hangover.

We will look back at our time fondly, grateful for all the hard work that everyone puts in to help these deserving dogs. Bansko Street Dogs will always have a special place in our hearts & also our home, as we have taken a precious reminder with us, we’ve adopted Rocky!

It was time to hit the road again, we said our goodbyes and headed East to the city of Plovdiv, an ancient city built around 7 hills & the cultural capital of Bulgaria, it is also the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe. We visited the ancient stadium as well as the Roman amphitheatre of Philippopolis. Hiked to the top of Nebet Tepe & watched the world go by from the pavement cafes in the Kapana district.

We stayed a couple of nights near Velingrad, in the heart of the Rhodope Mountains at a campsite which had both indoor & outdoor thermal pools before heading off to visit The Shipka Monument of Freedom, the monument was built with donations from people all over Bulgaria in memory of the fallen Bulgarian volunteers & Russian soldiers during the Shipka battle in 1877, a crucial role in the liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule.

Due to snow we were unable to drive over the Shipka Pass & had to take the long way round to reach our next stop, the Buzludzha Monument. Built by the Bulgarian communist government & inaugurated in 1981. It commemorated the events of 1891, when a group of socialists assembled secretly in the area to form an organized socialist movement that led to the founding of the Bulgarian Social Democratic Party, a forerunner of the Bulgarian Communist Party. Probably one of he most controversial buildings in Bulgaria due to its communistic origin it now stands in a state of severe disrepair, abandoned, vandalised & visibly decomposing day by day. In recent years the building has been recognised & awarded a grant towards the creation of a preservation plan. The Ministry of Culture is now talking about giving the site official monument status which would allow the preservation to begin. Although we were unable to go inside due to it being unsafe it is still impressive to see, a true grand design of it’s day.

We continued our journey East towards to the Black Sea coast stopping at Boianovo, after several nights wild camping we were in need of a decent shower. We stayed on a small site owned by an English couple, a little oasis on the edge of a rundown village. After an al fresco shower we headed to the local pub, I say pub as it sold beer, however the resemblance was more akin to a small shack, but at only 70p a pint you can’t expect the Jolly Topers.

We spent the next week exploring & wild camping along the Black Sea Coast, sadly we were unable to appreciate it fully as most of the places we visited were only just starting to set up for the season. We camped at some beautiful spots in Sinemorets & Sozopol, where Rocky encountered the sea, felt the sand beneath his paws & discovered that eating sand is not as tasty as eating fresh snow. Rocky visited his 1st castle, his 1st yacht & we spent the night on the film set of the latest Liam Neeson movie. The film is called Memories and was partly shot at the Marina in Sozopol, if you happen to see it when it’s released and you see 3 shadows lurking in the background, that’s us, fame at last!

We have also camped in some not so nice spots, a grubby car park in he centre of Burgas, the deserted coastline of Nesebar & Sunny Beach, and the boy racers meet up in Shumen where we had the pleasure of watching the kids donut around the car park in their 1990’s Escort XR3i’s. Thankfully our stay in Shumen was enhanced by our visit to the Founders of the Bulgarian State Monument, built in 1981 to commemorate the 1300th anniversary of the First Bulgarian Empire & The ancient Fortress with historical links traced back to the early Iron age.

Our plan had been to travel from Bulgaria into Romania but with the borders still closed to all but essential travel we changed our plan and continued through Northern Bulgaria. We stayed in Velico Tarnovo, often referred to as the ‘City of the Tsars’ located on the Yantra River and is famously known as the historical capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire. We visited the stunning Tsarevets Fortress, wandered through the cobbled streets of the old town & spent an afternoon with friends of a friend, invited into their home where we sat drinking G&T’s on the balcony of their tastefully restored apartment, looking out over the most beautiful city in Bulgaria.

We visited the Capital Sofia from our Park 4 Night spot at the Vivacom Arena Georgi Asparuhov Stadium, home to PFC Levski Sofia football club. We wandered along the vibrant Vitosha Boulevard, marvelled at the Neo-Byzantine styled architecture of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral & watched the locals partake in a traditional Bulgarian dance on the steps of the former Central Mineral Bathhouse, now the Regional History museum.

As we continued our journey south we stopped to visit the magnificent Rila Monastery, the largest & most famous Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria. We had previously driven 95KM from Bansko to visit the site, only to be turned back by the police as a landslide had rendered the road impassable. Thankfully it was 2nd time lucky.

As we headed back to Bansko & the comfort of an apartment for a few days, it was lovely to meet up & spend time with friends we have made along the way. A big shout out goes to Heather & John, for their hospitality, hilarious stories & endless supply of wine. I hope one day we will meet again and Rocky & Rasmus will once again be reunited to run riot. It was great to see Yani, Yoris, Bear & Evie, friends we’d made during lockdown in Greece.

And finally, one last visit to the Palace, I couldn’t pass back through Bansko without helping out for one last time. I spent a lovely morning walking dogs, cuddling puppies, filled with hope that these beautiful souls will all find their forever homes & thankful that Bansko Street Dogs will continue in their mission to neuter & care for the street dogs of Bansko preventing more puppies being born, the circle has to stop.

Should you want to make a donation, more information or can offer a forever home, please see below:

As we left Bansko once more, our negative PCR tests at the ready, we headed down to the border. Our last night was to be in the same campsite as our 1st, a fitting end to our travels.

Bye bye Bulgaria, it’s been an blast!

Next stop Albania – Thanks for reading xxx

Blog No. 12 – Greece (Part 2)

Mamma Mia, we’re off again!

It’s hard to believe it’s been over 3 months since I last posted an update, finally, I’ve got my backside in gear and have managed to put pen to paper, so to speak.

Having spent several months in Greece, of which the last 2 months locked down in Finikounda, the time had come for us to move on. We’ve had the most amazing time & made some wonderful memories. We’ve walked, run & cycled hundreds of KM’s immersed in the nature & beauty of our surroundings.

We’ve helped look after a puppy abandoned on Christmas Eve, enjoyed a BBQ on Christmas Day in the sunshine & have made some truly fabulous friends. A big shout out goes too; Monique, a talented, free spirited, inspirational woman & her faithful Indian Rescue Dog, King Tommy. Along with Jani, Joris & their two fur babies, Bear, the New Zealand Cattle Dog & Evie, the beautiful Greek puppy rescued from a dustbin on Christmas Eve. Thank you for giving ‘Evie’ a forever home.

Having mapped out a route which would take us up through the Peloponnese, over the Corinth Canal and up into Northern Greece & Macedonia we set off on our travels once again. Our 1st stop was on the outskirts of the seaside city of Kalamata, chiefly renowned for its juicy olives & bustling outdoor market.

Passing back through Amaliada it was 2nd time lucky & I was able to meet up with a friend with whom I had not seen since working there nearly 30 years ago. It was lovely to catch up over a socially distanced coffee and exchange stories of our past & our present lives.

Our route continued through the small town of Glyfa before visiting Loutra Killinis, an ancient ruin made up of an amphitheater, thermal baths & springs before heading to Erineos where we stayed overnight.

Our final stop in the Peloponnese was in Drepano on a small campsite located by the beach. We spent an enjoyable few days here exploring Nafplio, Assini & Tolo. We were also reunited with Monique, King Tommy, Loki & Helena for a few bottles of wine followed by several Gin & Jacks and some drunken dancing.

Crossing over the Corinth Canal we headed to Delphi, an ancient town and seat of the most important Greek temple and oracle of Apollo, once considered by the ancient Greeks to be the centre of the world. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Sadly due to lockdown restrictions we were unable to gain entry into the site itself, but we were fortunate to be able to view from afar and could still experience the beauty of the surrounding landscape.

Our next stop was Meteora, a spectacular sandstone rock formation which hosts one of the largest & precipitously built complexes of Eastern Orthodox monasteries. This was one of the most amazing sites we have visited on our travels so far. Having hiked up to the summit we spent all day exploring the remaining six active monasteries, accompanied by a local stray dog who faithfully stayed at our side for over 15KM of our 20KM hike.