Sunday, May 16, 2010

Day 31 Pula on the Istria Peninsula in Croatia

Heavy rain continued all night, making the camp ground quite sodden, so we had a lie in this morning, before hitting the road about 9 am headed for Pula on the Istria peninsula. The heavy rain continued as we drove, but when we arrived in Pula it thankfully stopped. The temperature had dropped quite a lot, so we wore sweatshirts and raincoats, just in case, but the rain held off, and we went for a wander round an ancient Roman Amphitheatre close to the sea. It was in very good repair, and we were able to go out into the centre, to stand where the gladiators would have stood and fought. There was also an interesting museum here, in the dungeons, which showed off various types of pottery vessels which would have been used for carrying anything from olive oil, to wine, to cereal. They were unusual in that they all had a pointed bottom, so had to be stood in a stand to stand upright. Apparently back in Roman times, the romans cultivated the soil and harvested olives and grapes to make very fine produce. Sarah managed to find a scorpion on the wall in the dungeons, so we spent a while photographing it before continuing on our way.

The weather held, and we made our way round the peninsula to Lim Bay, a narrow fiord where there was a marine reserve, and a cave Richard wanted to do a cache at. The cave was closed, but he and Hayden still went in, and managed to find a bat sleeping. It got a terrible fright when Richards camera flashed as the photo was taken!

The Istria peninsula is well known for white truffles, which are apparently very rare outside of this area. Richard managed to have a taste of some today at a small roadside stall beside a tower he wanted to climb up for the view. Unfortunately the rest of us were in the camper, so missed out on our taste of this delicacy. The area is also known for its fine wine and virgin olive oil.

We have made it round to the edge of the peninsula for the night, to a small village called Finida, and a camp of the same name. This is a four star camp, but the ratings are quite deceiving, as although it has all the bells and whistles, nothing is actually open, so in some ways we are worse off than in the lower rated campsites that are smaller, but at least have everything open.
The weather has remained fine, so hopefully we will have a nice drive to Slovenia tomorrow.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Day 30 Plitvice Lakes Croatia

Well, however you say the name of these lakes, they were one of the most fabulous places we have visited on this trip – right up there with Meteora for me! Unfortunately it was an overcast day, which meant the water colour wasn’t quite as spectacular as it can be in the sunshine, but the bonus was that it was nice and cool for our big day of walking. After much discussion the night before, we decided to split into two pairs – the boys, who were going to walk from the bottom of the lakes and waterfalls, up to the top – a walk that was meant to take 5-6 hours. Us girls decided it would be more sensible to do a smaller loop, starting in the middle and going to the bottom (downhill), then if we felt like more, bus back to the middle and go further up to do another loop.

As it turned out, the boys ended up starting at the top and walking down (because their bus didn’t seem to want to go down the bottom, and circled back to the top for a second time before they got off. They enjoyed their walk, but finished it in about ½ the time it was meant to take!

Meanwhile Sarah and I took a boat from the middle to a bit further down, across one of the lakes, so we got a view of the first waterfall (called “Slap” in Croatian) from the comfort of a seat on the boat! We were first off, and walked along the track by ourselves for some time before we saw other people. There were actually hundreds of people in the park, going both ways, so sometimes there were even people jams with traffic trying to go both ways at the same time. That was OK except that some people were really rude, and just wouldn’t move over, resulting in Sarah and I nearly getting pushed over the edge of the boardwalk a number of times (mostly there was no railing on the boardwalks).

All the pathways were really well maintained, and basically you walked around the side of a small lake (there were many in a row with cascades between each), then meandered over the top, round the bottom, or beside the waterfalls on boardwalks made out of tree logs smoothed on the top side, so it was very rustic looking (and quite rickety in places). There were hardly any side rails (just in the most dangerous of places), and definitely some places that needed them and didn’t have them! Anyway they were fairly stable, and the good thing was that even where they were wet from the waterfalls washing over them, they were never ever slippery. Most of the other paths were metal covered, or even tarsealed in some places. The views changed at every corner, and the waterfalls varied from tiny to wide, high to low, all coming over the top in between rocks and plants. It was an incredibly beautiful place to be, and because there were so many lakes and waterfalls and different views, it was exciting for the whole walk, and we hadn’t even noticed that we had walked for a number of hours (and taken many photos!) Once we got to the bottom, we caught a bus back to the middle, then decided to do another small loop further up. Once on the bus, unfortunately it didn’t seem to stop any more in the place we had hoped to get off, so we went right to the top, and walked back down to the middle again – thus completing the whole walk, just like Hayden and Richard did!

We were sorry to leave this wonderful place, even though we didn’t sight any of the bears, wolves, otters or woodpeckers the park is famous for! There were lots of trout though, swimming in the shallows of the clear greeny blue water, who would have loved us to feed them some bread!

When we got back to the middle again, we found Hayden and Richard sitting waiting for us, and because they had also ended up going down the walk, rather than up, they had been waiting for two hours for us!

Once back in the camper, we drove for about 3 hours to get back to the coast, this time taking the motorway because we knew it was going to be close to nightfall when we were searching for a camping place. The rain started shortly after we left Plitvice, and really set in, so it was lucky that we had finished our walks already.
We are now tucked up warm and dry in our camper, very thankful that we are not tenting in this weather! It’s time to get the Canasta cards out and have a quick hand before bed.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Day 29 Zadar and drive to Lakes

We got away bright and early today (something to do with having no food left for breakfast I think!) We had a couple of hours drive along the coast to Zadar, a town that had received a good rating in our lonely planet guide for being interesting but not touristy. It had some Roman walls, a ruined Forum, and some lovely old cathedrals, as well as a good fruit and vege market. We walked through the middle, then right round the outside, which had recently been developed and was quite a buzzing port area. Today is 1 May, and it seemed to be a public holiday, so there was a nice relaxed atmosphere, and nobody was in any hurry. There also wasn’t much traffic, which is always a bonus, and meant we easily found parking. There was a sizable band in pink shirts and ties in the middle of the square, who seemed to be warming up to play along with an opera singer, who gave us a short burst, then stopped while the band was tweaked again. It seemed to be taking a while to get going, so we gave up and kept on walking round the old streets. These types of old places are really brought to life by the markets and shops within them, and the locals driving in and out through the big wall tunnel/gates.

We found a big supermarket to shop at, and stocked up for the next few days.

More coast driving. It was such a lovely day, the temperature reached around 27 degrees, so when we finally stopped for lunch at a fairly secluded spot right on the beach, the kids and Richard decided to go for a swim. They reckoned it was warm, but they had also said that yesterday when I nearly froze my feet off, so I gave it a miss! There was great excitement on the drive in because Richard thought he saw yet another snake on the road, but this time he thought it was dead, so he and Hayden went back to poke it with a stick and examine it a bit. It must have been quite fresh, because they came running back for the camera, reckoning that it was alive! Finally they decided it was in fact dead, and Hayden picked it up and brought it back to the camper to give us girls a closer look. Not trusting them at all, I locked them out of the camper until the snake was put down (so Hayden put it across the wind screen wiper of the car! It wasn’t overly big, and dead it may have been, but I still did not want it coming with us in the camper!

Refreshed, we drove on, heading inland this time, aiming for the Plitvice Lakes area – a highly recommended area of beautiful lakes and waterfalls, with nice walks. It was a couple of hours drive, climbing up into the hills through some pretty barren looking rocky land, then opening out into some beautiful pasture and forest, then more pasture. A beautiful area. We have found a nice camping set amonst the trees – it is quite large, and there are many other campers here. We have seen that the last few days there seem to have been more campers on the roads (mostly Slovenian), so it looks like the season has started! Most campgrounds open 1 May, so we should be pretty OK for camping from here on in.

Richard and Sarah have gone for a walk to the shop to see if they can get a map of the Lakes area so we can plan a walk for tomorrow. On the way in, we saw a sign for bears in the area. Hopefully we don’t find one, as all the kids want to do is feed it!

Day 28 Split in Croatia Again

We awoke to yet another beautiful sunny day, and had a leisurely start. We were lucky enough to have fresh bread for breakfast, from the camp store, and chocolate filled donuts??? The kids thought that was great! We were headed for Split, some 130 km away, and Richard decided to do a few caches along the way. One was down some narrow little city streets, which he couldn’t find, and we had to double park for (which basically blocked the whole road). The next one was at a little roadside cave where the Virgin Mary had appeared 18 times to some one or other, in 1858. There were truckloads (well busloads) of people there, and it wasn’t even pilgrimage day. That didn’t look good for finding the cache, but Richard and Sarah managed to find it. Meantime, Hayden and I got hemmed in by buses trying to take over our parking spot. Managed to back out ok and continue on our way. The coastline is beautiful with little villages and towns all along, and the big hills stretching up behind them.

Finally, just before lunch time, we made it to Split. Richard made some excellent navigation decisions, and we managed to find parking very close to the Diocletian palace – a Roman fortified old town with palace inside, down by the waterfront. Sarah and I went into the cathedral, while the boys went up the bell tower. They both came down saying it was really scary and open, and Hayden repeated many times that it was practically made of matchsticks with nothing at all holding it up. Us girls couldn’t see what all the fuss was about from the bottom looking up. It looked sturdy enough to us! Richard reckoned he was getting vertigo up there, and saw others go down before they reached the top because of the scare factor. There was a sign at the base saying you entered at your own risk...

We then did what we usually do in these towns, and wandered round the markets, selling fruit, veges, cheese, meat and souvenirs. After much taste testing, Richard and Sarah bought 20 Kuna of cheese (a tiny fit in your hand piece), and the poor lady looked disgusted with them! Hayden and I had our eyes set on the strawberries – sign said 20 Kuna.... Hayden asked me if it was for the whole table... so doesn’t yet have a good grasp of the currency I think. While he was working it out, they took the whole table with strawberries piled high away!! So we missed out on them!

It was nice to have a short walk back to the camper, and tonight we are staying near Trogir, as we want to visit the old city tomorrow. The camp ground is a huge one, with nice sites right by the sea. It was still really sunny when we arrived, so we all braved the beautiful clear, inviting, but freezing waters of the Adriatic, and went for a swim. I still have goosebumps from trying to warm up since we swam!

It is quite idyllic sitting here in the camper typing today’s events, while looking out over the deep blue sea (to borrow some words from our guide book – the limpid saphirine waters), and seeing little islands, and the odd yacht sail by. I think all of us are secretly hankering for a beach day, but we have so much to see and so few days, that it is pretty unlikely to happen, except in small blocks of time, like in the late afternoon when we arrive at our camping spots.

Day 27 Mostar in Bosnia

We planned to drive to Mostar, not far across the border into Bosnia, but first we had to drive about 1 hour to get off the peninsula we were camping on. It was a pleasant drive through vineyards on the rocky hillsides. There seemed to be quite a bit of development going on, and I was quite interested to see that the vines didn’t have any structure to hold them up. Some of the vines looked quite old, but were cut back like roses might be in the winter. They had started to leaf up, but it was hard to tell what happened next, as grapes are quite vigorous in their growth. Every so often we would see the sea again – brilliant blue – such a gorgeous colour on a sunny day.

Finally we reached the end of the peninsula, and wound our way around the coast, until we headed off to Bosnia. The first border crossing turned us round for some reason, and we had to go to the other side of the river and through a bigger border post. Maybe they could only process locals at the first one? We followed a swiftly flowing big river all the way to Mostar. It was like the Waikato river except bigger, swifter, and much much bluer – like the water round Queenstown. It was hot when we got to Mostar – about 27 degrees, and nil wind. We managed to find parking really close to the old town (unusual), and went for a walk over the old bridge, which is very special in Mostar – originally built about 600 years ago, it was shelled in the early 1990’s war and damaged greatly. It has been fully restored using the same materials and methods as days of old, and now stands majestic again in its rightful place. It is a beautiful spot, with stone buildings with slate roves, pebble cobbled streets, and lots of interesting market type stalls. We watched people beating copper, and looked at lots of jewellery and belly dancing costumes. There were lots of different war relics you could buy, from helmets to medals etc. We went through a photographic exhibition of pictures of the bridge when it was damaged, then repaired, which was quite interesting. It is a real icon for the city. The woven mats etc were lovely, but it got so hot that I lost interest in shopping, even though we didn’t walk far.

We paid for entry into a mosque, which was a fascinating place to visit.Richard and the kids also walked up the minaret. Besides its height, it looked really narrow – a spiral staircase that Richard said in places was only as wide as his shoulders.

Mostar still has evidence of shelling with pock marks and damage to various buildings, though much of it has been fixed up already since the war.

After Mostar, we drove back along the river, and back through the border to Croatia again, and headed North towards Split, our destination for tomorrow. We have found a nice camping open by the seaside about 130km south of Split, and as it was getting late, we decided to stop here for the night.

Day 26 Montenegro to Croatia

We left early, and drove a short distance to the border into Croatia. We had another really easy border crossing, though this was the first time the authorities actually wanted to view Hayden and Sarah and check them against their passport photos. There was a long no-mans-land between the two borders for some reason of about 1 km. We were driving to Dubrovnik – a beautiful old town with high fortress walls and towers, which have been well maintained. These walls were shelled in 1991 by the Yugoslav army, and lots of damage was done, but the locals have repaired it all, and it is as good as new. The usual problem in these towns is parking, and this one was no different. We saw lots of NO CAMPER signs, so felt a bit put out, but finally managed to find free parking down by a bus depot. It was a couple of km to walk back to the city, but mostly downhill, so easy going. The old down of Dubrovnik was a buzzing place, even at that time of the morning. There were lots of cobbled streets, stone shops and little alleyways, all surrounded by the giant wall. The souvenirs were quite nautical themed. We managed to go into an art exhibition. I forget the name of the Croat artist, but the paintings were excellent. Brightly coloured in quite a modern style with lots of splashes of paint, but from a distance, were quite traditional scenes of woodlands, boats, and trees etc. Very impressive. I thought the prices were very reasonable too until I realised they were in Euros, not Kuna (the local currency). We came across a market, selling handmade goods, and after much taste testing, bought some candied orange peel (a local delicacy), and some dried figs (a favourite of Richard’s.)

It was a beautiful day, and it was getting hotter, so we decided to go up to the top of the walls and walk round the city. It is about a 2 km walk with lots of steps going up and down, and turrets to climb. The views were magnificent, and it was also neat to look down into people’s gardens who lived in the old city. There was even a school we looked down into, where the boys were playing soccer, kicking the ball against the walls!

Finally we made it back down off the walls, and back into the main square. There were quite a few buskers, which added to the atmosphere, and we sat for a while, watching the kids (and Richard) trying to stand on the sloping gargoyle thing next to one of the big old doors. Hayden was the only one that was successful! Apparently it is very hard for adults to do, but easier for kids. It was after 1, so time for lunch. We were aiming to eat at a restaurant recommended in Lonely Planet, but the one we thought it was, actually wasn’t, but had nice pictures of their food, so we ate there instead. Fish is the speciality in this area, so we decided to go for something a bit different – Richard ordered stuffed squid (filled with mussels, rice etc), and I ordered frogs legs (yes, I know we are not in France, but you don’t often see them on the menu). They were interesting, but quite flavourless I thought. They looked really cute lying in pairs around the plate. Hayden tasted one, but Sarah was horrified! Richard really enjoyed his squid, and the kids had fairly safe food – a vegetarian platter, and spaghetti bolognaise.

Our next mission was to find camping. Most don’t open till 1 May, but there were a couple advertising that they were already open. We drove a long way out onto a peninsula on the way to Split. It was a beautiful drive, but quite late (after 6 pm) when we reached our camping. It is a high quality place, right above the sea, with very nice facilities. The kids went for a big swim in the swimming pool, and stayed outside playing for ages. It was such a nice night, we cooked our dinner and took it down to a table overlooking the sea, and watched the sun go down.

That night, there was a full moon, and the moonscape over the sea was captivating. The wind got up in the night, and buffeted us a bit (because of course we chose a campsite that we could have an uninterrupted view of the sea from!)

Day 25 Montenegro

We were awake very early this morning. Maybe it was the trains, or the frogs – we will never know, but we decided to hit the road early as it was a big driving day. We wound our way along the coast for a bit, checking out Budva – an expensive resort area. It was stunning, and the early morning light was glinting on the buildings, making them seem almost surreal. The biggest problem, even though there was practically no traffic, was that there was no parking along the beach, and we seemed to have this problem in all the little towns we drove into today. As New Zealanders we take it for granted that you can just bowl up to any old beach and park wherever we want to. Even the parking lots waved us away, only interested in filling up with cars, so often, instead of stopping, we had to drive on through.

After the shorefront villages we wound our way up an enormous hill, and even ended up going through a 4.5 km tunnel – the longest we have been in. . This was the day we wanted to visit “Wolf Mountain” as the kids have christened it, in Lovcen National Park, and boy did we do some climbing (in the camper) to get there! We got to the town of Cetinje – the old capital of Montenegro – a beautiful orange roofed town up in the hills, with lovely tree lined streets. Even though we were quite high up already, and we seemed to be nearly level with the snow line, we did a lot more climbing once we got into the national park, and started our ascent up Lovcen (the real name of the mountain, and the second highest peak in the park at 1657m). We reached the snow, and the kids just had to have a snow fight, and stockpiled snowballs to through at Richard, only he came round the other side of the camper and ended up using all the snowballs on them! There are meant to be wolves up in these mountains, but we didn’t see any sign of them at all. It was quite open forest with little undergrowth, just lots of rocks. I imagine a wolf or a bear could move quite quickly through this type of terrain. We continued to climb – an excellent tarsealed road, and the snow started to be stockpiled on the sides of the road, so we knew the snowplough had been up recently. We got to within 1.5 km of the end of the road, only to find the snow plough had finished his work and gone away, so there was snow across the road and we could go no further. The next wee problem was that there was no turnaround space, we had a bank on one side and a drop on the other, with a road barely wide enough for two cars, let alone a big fat camper. Anyway we decided that if you looked at where the back wheels were under the camper, we had quite a lot of overhang if we could back the wheels right up to the edge. This is one of those times when husbands and wives must trust each other, so Richard drove and I directed, and we managed to actually turn the camper round without going over the edge, or getting stuck! It is lucky we decided to turn round then, because a little later there were more cars up there and there would not have been room for us to turn. Backing down would have been difficult if not impossible. It was a glorious day up there – not a breath of wind, or a cloud in the sky. I decided not to walk to the summit as I wanted to do some planning for Croatia, and a short time after the other three set off, the kids returned, because the silly billies were in jandals????!!! And their feet got cold. Richard kept on going with a Slovenian family, and they walked to the end of the road, then had to climb up a deep snow bank to get to the summit. Richard, not much better than the kids, was in crocs, so had to stop and put his feet on some rocks to warm them a bit as they had gone numb! Finally they made it to the summit, only to find there was a big row of steps (and no snow) going right back down to where the cars were parked! Richard took some cool photos of Njegos mausoleum at the top, which looked well worth visiting. It turned out that it was the first day it had been opened since the winter, so that was pretty lucky.

The kids kept themselves amused making snow angels, and a message to Richard (which kept getting run over by other cars), and having snow sports – target practice with snowballs mostly. Then they wandered round barefoot in the snow until their feet nearly fell off! Once Richard returned, we had intended driving down another road on the mountain, but we couldn’t actually find it, so had to drive down the way we had come. Only one tour bus to contend with, and had to take the camper off road, and nearly managed to get it stuck on a rock! With lots of wheel spinning, actually managed to get it back on hard ground, and keep going on our way. We had to go back through Cetinje, then through some particularly beautiful countryside, with lovely old ruins, until we got to the Bay of Kotor, which we drove round, until we found our campsite at Zeleinka – a steep little hillside camp very overgrown with trees, and a bit tricky to get the camper into. The facilities were fairly minimal, but Richard and Sarah got all keen and hand washed some clothes, so then we had the Chinese laundry set up in the camper again. I went for a walk into town and got some groceries – this time the language got the better of me, and I had great difficulty even chosing things I recognised for tea. I did manage to get some more soap – called Rose soap, so was quite surprised when it turned out to be blue!

Day 24 Albania to Montenegro

As you can see, we are whipping through the countries fairly quickly. That is because we only have 5 weeks, and we have a fairly great distance to cover. As we left the camp ground, we took a wrong turn (we weren’t following the GPS at this stage), and ended up on the very road we had turned back off the night before when trying to find the camping. We decided to give it a go, and bounced our way along through the potholes, round the rock slides, and dodging low branches and blackberry on the side of the road, only to find about 20 minutes into the trip that the road ended in a foot bridge, that one wheel let alone the whole camper was not going to fit onto!! So back we went to the start again, and set off in the opposite direction. Albania would be worth more exploring (but perhaps in a smaller vehicle). We were fairly close (about 35km) from the Albanian border, so drove to Skroder and went for a walk up the busy streets in search of a red Albanian tee shirt, which Richard wanted for a souvenir. We had spotted a few as we drove through, but as is usual, finding parking for a camper is a bit tricky in the towns, so we drove to the edge of town and walked back. That meant we got a close up look at the various horses, donkeys and carts lining the sides of the street waiting patiently for their owners to return. Some had had their bridles removed, and had been given some grass, or a nose bag to eat out of, but most were tied up to fences and lampposts. I was saddened to see the state of some of them. Most were rough, with ill fitting harness, but a few were also in very poor condition with big rubs from their harness, which was mostly made out of webbing and a bit of leather. I felt quite helpless to be able to do anything about it, as even though they are work animals, rather than pets, like ours, they still deserve to be cared for properly. It is quite unusual to see a horse and cart, then a tractor and trailer, then a late model Mercedes all parked along the roadside (about as unusual as them seeing our camper I imagine), but it is all the standard way of life in Albania at the present time.

When we got to the market streets, we managed to find one of the shops selling the tee shirts, and with much excitement about language difficulty, we managed (with the help of an English speaking passerby), to purchase the shirt. On our way back, we stopped off at the fruit and vege stall, and pointed and smiled until we had purchased a loaf of yummy fresh bread, some cucumbers, bananas and oranges.

On we drove, and Richard’s theory about governments building nice pieces of road either side of the border posts was blown out the window, as we came across some very bad potholes (both sides!) We spent the rest of our Leke (not exchangeable outside the country), on soft drinks and chocolate, then merrily crossed the borders into Montenegro. Again, nobody wanted to check our camper, but we had seen posters about food we should not take with us... most of which we had!

A few more potholes later, the roads, improved, and the houses looked a little more finished, again painted in cheerful colours, and we made our way to Lake Skadar which is a national park because of its amazing bird and fish life. At the edge of the lake, Richard wanted to get closer to the water to see if he could see turtles swimming there (apparently living in the lake). The kids were also mad keen to take a look. Sadly they found no turtles, but found SNAKES! Both water and land varieties. Well, by this stage all three of them were wildly excited. Richard tried to catch one with a stick, but it got away, and the big brown land snake slithered away before he could get the camera out! The next stop was on the same lake as there was a cache Richard particularly wanted to find – it was at a castle on the waters edge (Le.........), and apparently turtles are often spotted swimming in the lake there. After wandering through knee deep grass in the castle surrounds, the cache could not be located, nor the turtles, but.... there were MORE SNAKES! Talk about screaming – Sarah reckoned she nearly walked on it!!

When we pulled up at the parking spot, a guy came up to us, and offered free camping by his restaurant/hotel. We were staying in a small village called Virpazar (which means whirlpool), but we didn’t see one! He also had details about boat trips on the lake, which sounded like quite a good idea for us. We arrived at the restaurant, and are now parked up on a little causeway thing right by the lake. Not too unpleasant a place, and it is free, and seems reasonably safe, so we are not going to complain. When we arrived the guy came out and showed us where to park, then arranged the boat trip for us, which we were to pick up down the road a bit as it had already left the dock. We jumped in his car and rushed off down the road, to the “port”, which meant rushing down some steep concrete steps to a derelict building which happened to be locked. No matter, we could climb through a low window with all the glass smashed out of it, and climb through another boat to clamber onto the boat that was taking us on a tour of the lake???!!! Anyway, the boat trip was quite a pleasant experience – there was just the four of us, and four French/Canadians on the little wooden boat, and we puttered around admiring the birdlife. We saw large black cormorants nesting in the high trees, but sadly no pelicans (it is the wrong time of year for them). Apparently over half of Europe’s bird species can be found on this lake. It is just teeming with life. We were also about a week to early for the flowering of the giant lily pads and irises which would have been a spectacular sight on the lake. As we returned to shore, we noticed many large frogs swimming in the water, which the kids later tried to catch, but couldn’t.

Richard and I went and had a beer in the Pelican restaurant while the kids were frog hunting, which was nice andrelaxing. The beer was nice and cold (it had been a warm day), and the owner brought me a free bunch of herby flowers, which are now hanging in the camper, a little bag of herbs to brew up as tea (best we drink it before we cross another border as we are not too sure which “herbs” are actually in it), and some floured figs to eat while we were drinking our beer. We felt quite well looked after. No doubt they wish us to eat in their restaurant tonight, but we intend to just cook tea in our camper after eating out for the last two nights.

We have just closed the mosquito nets on the camper as we are quite sure there will be many mozzies around tonight, but it is too hot to close the windows yet. This place gets to 40 degrees Celsius in the shade in summer, and the lake can reach temperatures of 30 degrees – no wonder the snakes etc like it so much!!! Apparently it can rarely freeze over in the winter as well! There are meant to be 250 species of bird which visit, or live here – so I imagine in the summer it is a spectacular place for a birdwatcher to take a trip on the lake. For us it was a nice break from our long days driving. Quite a few trains seem to be going past us, so we hope they slow down for the night time, or we will be awake every ½ hour!

Day 23 Albania

From our camping near the beach south of Durres, we headed back down the same road we drove on the day before, to the little town of Berat. Driving on the roads is very interesting, as much for the “interesting” state of the roads, and the “interesting” drivers, as it was for the scenery and unusual modes of transport we spotted along the way. Richard loves driving on the crappy bumpy potholed roads with crazy drivers hurtling towards him on our side of the road... so much so that he drove all day! I spent the time snapping photos out the moving (up and down as well as forwards) car window, to try and capture the unusual features of the place.

At one point, we were following a ute filled with large panes of glass (house windows), and he was travelling VERY slowly through and round the large and unpredictable potholes on the road. Poor man, we wondered how many panes of glass would still be whole when he arrived at his destination (going by our poor record of smashing glasses over the bigger speedbumps and potholes, we imagined not many!)

The housing construction fascinated us. There was a very standardised building method involving reinforced concrete square columns with flat concrete floors/ceilings. Just about all had reinforcement sticking out of the top layer, just in case they wanted to add on another floor at a later date. Consequently, even the very lived in looking houses had an unfinished look to them. Often one whole floor would be left open – either the bottom, the middle or the top. The concrete steps climbed round the outside. Next step was infilling the gaps with lightweight large bricks, which were then plastered over. When there were enough levels on the house, a sloping tile roof was built on top. If the houses were painted, they were either peachy, orange, lime green, pastel green or yellow mostly.

We drove to Berat where we wanted to visit a medieval castle. As usual, it was at the top of a big hill, with a narrow cobbled street. Too narrow for the camper, so we found a park and walked up from the bottom. Many locals were also trudging up the hill, carrying a couple of bags of groceries each. It got pretty hot by the time we got to the top, as the sun was beating down on us, so I elected to sit under a tree while the other three went in to explore the castle. I got chatted to for ages by a man who wanted to be my guide. When I said I didn’t need one, he talked about the economy, his child, and his mother with a broken hip – anything to try and get some money out of me. Finally he gave up, and wandered off. There were two wedding groups who arrived at the castle with much tooting of the decorated cars. Sunday seems to be the day for weddings, because we saw two other wedding cars during the day. Everybody was very smartly dressed, the ladies in very high stilettos which must have been very difficult to wear on the very uneven cobbles. At least they looked good I guess! The others enjoyed exploring the castle, as unlike Greece, there were no whistle blowing attendants to stop you climbing on things.... that meant Hayden could climb right on top of the wall of the castle, and happily skip along the top (quite a height from the ground on the other side). Richard said that right at the top of the castle there was a bar!!

After lunch, we tackled the bumpy dusty narrow roads again, and drove to Tirana – the capital of Albania. It is known for its prettily coloured apartment buildings, in all shades pastel and a bit brighter. It certainly cheered the place up and gave it a good look, along with the tree lined streets and bright blue light poles. Again, there were no road markings, so you drove wherever, even if it was the wrong side of the road, and the big roundabouts were very interesting, with people (and horses and carts, going every which direction. We had great trouble getting a park, so ended up driving out of the city without stopping.

Our hopeful destination for the night was Barbullbush – 20 km south of Shkoder – I say hopeful, because it was the very beginning of the summer season, and there are only a couple of campgrounds in the whole of Albania. The GPS directed turn we first took to the camping was a very bad looking road, so we turned round and kept on going, looking for a more main entrance. Finally we found a road to turn off onto, and made it to the camping ground. It was run by a Dutch couple who had settled in Albania with their four children, and set up the camping/restaurant/pension. There was a lot of building work going on, and they were very friendly. There were two other campers in the grounds, including one German lady travelling alone for a year.

We decided to have dinner in the restaurant that night as the prices were quite cheap, and we really liked the look of the building. We ended up inviting the German lady (Christina) to join us. She seemed happy of the company and chatted away to us during dinner (luckily she spoke good English). The tables were all covered in very finely hand woven Albanian linen red and white tablecloths, so fine that it was hard to imagine anyone hand making them. The foyer of the restaurant had an Albanian loom set up in it. One of the daughters was an artist, so her paintings were also hanging up – I really liked the artiness of the place. We had pork, salad and chips for dinner, which was beautifully cooked, and huge proportions. The pork was in a mushroom cream sauce, and so soft and tender to eat, with a very full flavour. We tried not to think of the butcher shops we had seen along the roadside with ½ sheep hanging outdoors on the verandah with no refrigeration. (In fact, the saddest butchery we saw was the one with the usual ½ sheep hanging from the verandah, but also had two live sheep tethered to the poles below it. (Eeek – talk about being on deaths door!)