Will this purgatory never end?

We’ve had some discussion about whether or not we should do this coast again, maybe using different transport? Say a smart car and a trailer? Or, a small 4×4 with a pop-up tent on its roof. I even suggested cycling (using the e-bikes, of course) and not stopping until we got to Greece? Oh, and what about a small motor yacht – just big enough for two. And then sailing through the Bosporous, into the Black Sea, back down the Danube, via the Danube/Rhine canal all the way to Rotterdam. The beauty is that, other than our dearest wanting us near, all of those things are possible. How lucky are we?

What we can’t take away is how good the Doris/bike combination continues to be (other than the holed roof – not Doris’s fault, and the punctures, but with almost 3,000 miles on the clock I really need to get some new tyres). It’s very easy to become complacent with a van that we don’t really notice. I know that if we downsized, we would easily start to become frustrated with lack of space and equipment. To be clear: we don’t complain about her at all. With the bikes she has taken us everywhere we’ve wanted to go in supreme comfort. We have a huge bed (and a spare – Bex and Steven are coming away with us in August instead of a honeymoon!). Our en suite area is huge, the kitchen has everything, the lounge easily big enough for four, and the oily bit is Fiat’s hugely reliable 3.0 litre, 6-speed thingy with all bells and whistles. We have more battery power than we need, a tracker, a super-dooper satellite system, etc, etc. We carry tables, chairs, a blow-up kayak of which more later. Oh, and variable air suspension and a horn designed for a lighthouse. She is the prefect live-aboard.

It’s doesn’t mean, however, that we may not take some time out and try any of the above alternatives!

ahoy there…the island village of Primosten in the distance

And that neatly brings me on to what we’ve been up to. We had four nights at a lovely campsite just north of the lovely island village of Primosten. We cycled, ran, walked and paddled – the latter in our blow up canoe which has proven to be worth every penny of £200. Croatia is ideal for paddling as there are countless uninhabitable islands to explore. We even went out in choppy waters for a couple of hours – my mate Rich, who has canoed around South Georgia, would be impressed. All-in-all, a perfect stop.

Yesterday and today was taken up by exploring the Krka national park, set round a series of waterfalls and a huge gorge. We stayed at an ACSI site a bike ride away from one of the entrances. Taking the wrong turn on day one, we cycled down into the gorge (thank goodness for the bikes for the ride home), came across the lovely gorge/riverside village of Skradin, and then cycled back. Today we did the same thing and for £13 each we got a boat ride up the river into the park, and entrance into the park.

Krka national park. Swimming with this swan was up in my top-10 best ever things I have done

The park is one big water feature, with falls and brooks everywhere. We knew to take swimming gear, and at lunchtime with a few others, we popped into the lake next to the main falls and swam about like loons. They rope off the main falls, but it’s still a pretty wondrous excursion.

Back to the beach tomorrow! Is there no end to this purgatory?

Mmm, Croatia…

A couple of things. First, having now spent over two weeks in Croatia and done the top to the bottom (but not the interior, yet), I feel that I can provide some comment on the country as a destination. And I can’t get ‘two-dimensional’ out of my head. Two big positives: the weather; the coastline. The coast is just fabulous, more arid and not so mountainous in the north; greener and much precipitous in the south. The water is all that creamy to green to blue stuff that you dream of, and the little harbours and island towns are as good as they get.

And yet, something is missing.

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next to the coast at Omis – tried to cycle down here but got punctures, twice!

Take Italy. Yes it’s filthy (especially in the south) and Croatia is remarkably clean, the beaches free from the plastic detritus you get all over the coastline in Italy and the towns have rubbish collection, a novelty in, say, Naples. Italians drive like they’re late for their own wedding. Two lanes surely mean three, and cyclists beware. In Croatia the speed limits are slow – and pretty much obeyed. I’ve been pottering along at 40 mph and nobody gives a damn. Italy has its fair share of beggars and road-side prostitutes – there are none here. But, and it’s a huge but, Italy has culture, tons of it, and the people are animated. They’re alive. Croatia has some pretty towns, but they lack art, huge cathedrals, palaces and Roman ruins. Etc.

 

Take Greece. Yes it’s hopelessly disorganised and riddled with corruption. Whereas Croatia isn’t: buses run on time. It has close links to Germany and that shines through. Greece is church mouse poor, where Croatia doesn’t seem to be. They don’t seem to be ploughing the fields with oxen here. I could make the culture comparison again, but let’s focus on the people. We loved the Greeks. They’re v English, or should I say we’re quite Greek. We have the same sense of humour and the same depth of history – we can laugh at ourselves. Croats are, well, charmless. They don’t smile a lot – they’re Slavic, with faces etched with a history of conflict. Don’t get me wrong, when you engage them they’re lovely. They’re helpful and kind. But they lack grace, whereas the Greeks have wells of it.

Primostem – like so many others

So, so far we love Croatia, but, other than to drive through to get to Greece, we’re not sure it’s a country we could visit again and again. Whereas in Greece I could see myself on the balcony of a small villa in a tiny harbour town sipping Ouzo, neither of us could see ourselves buying a home here and merging into the local scene.

The other thing…

My mate Rich asked me why I’m pressing ahead with self-publishing The Innocence of Trust when I’m waiting on whether or not anyone’s interested in my screenplay. It’s a good question. I guess, because, even if I publish, provided I own the rights then if a book publishing company want to take it on, then they can. All they’ve lost is, hopefully, a couple of thousand sales. Second I do want to get it out before the summer rush (and there are people waiting). And third I do want to start to write book 4 and part of me won’t let that happen with book 3 still unpublished.

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our latest campsite – windier than it looks…

And I forgot to mention from before… It’s blooming windy in Croatia. It’s all to do with the Bora wind. C has researched it all – it comes from the continent and blows a lot!

Surprise!

The thing about this traveling malarkey is that often throws up real surprises, ones that are better than the planned ‘look at thats!’. Some, of course, are rubbish things like the roof leaking, but it’s the sudden ‘wow’ that makes this thing all worth it.

we did Dudebrovnik

We did Dubrovnik. We left our utilitarian campsite and walked down to catch the water taxi. It’s interesting, but we expected so much from the ride in. Dubrovnik from the water – wow? Well it was fab, and clearly the only way to arrive, but, to be frank, our arrival at Split with its majestic flat frontage, like arriving in Venice, was better. The city was as you’d expect, but busier, and we were put off by the whopping £18 entrance fee to the city walls (each). We wandered around, had a picnic lunch with our feet dangling in the water by the city walls, got pushed about about bus loads of amoebic tours following the umbrella, walked the ‘walk of shame’ that Queen Cersei walked and then took the boat home. BTW, the best view of Dudebrovnik is free: drive past the city on the main road and stop in one of the many view points that look back on the old town. Fabulous.

And then, magic one. Our village has a lovely, v upmarket frontage with a Sheraton and a couple of infinity pools. Just around the corner is the bombed out wreckage of a large holiday complex, including a 1920s Grand Hotel and two 1950s concert jobs. You can get down to the beach, and there’s nothing stopping you wandering around the hotels, provided your careful (which I did to the top floor). In the height of the summer photos show the locals swarming to the beach, but 25 years ago it was a Yugoslavian officers’ complex until the war, when they bombed it – and it hasn’t yet been rejuvenated. Easily the most interesting thing we’ve seen so far.

the not so Grand Hotel

Magic two. It started with us trying to get to Mostar, the closest Bosnian town famous for its arched bridge that was bombed during the war. I had seen it in a previous life when I’d visited the French sector, but I wanted C to see it – and I wanted us to go into Bosnia. What we knew, but hadn’t really clocked, is that we’d been into Bosnia on the way down to Dudebrovnik by transiting the 3 mile corridor they own, which cuts through Croatia’s tiny width of long coast. On checking hire car, excursion, bus and actually driving Doris into a campsite, we realised that we had probably crossed through Bosnia without insurance. Should we transit back again, or take the peninsula route and catch a short ferry from Croatia to Croatia? We decided to risk it and drive through without likely insurance.

And it was fine, albeit I subsequently found out, when asking of our insurers the ‘could we take Doris into Bosnia’ (to go to Mostar) that we definitely weren’t insured. Indeed, our insurance company will not insure us into Bosnia under any circumstances. Phew…

Not deterred, we drove to the closest Croatian town to Mostar (Metkovic) and parked at the bus station – a few people did try to get on, but we told them we were a camper, not a bus. Buses were about £3 each way, but took forever and where would we leave Doris? We eventually agreed on a hire car, with the rather dodgy owner agreeing to pick us up today (we’ve yet to go, I shall finish this story later), at his friend’s campsite – Rio, which is by the sea.

Rio is rubbish…but not really

Well Rio is rubbish. Easily the worst campsite we’ve ever stayed on and, on first glance, whilst the beach is described as Croatia’s California, it’s better named Croatia’s Canvey Island. All mud, and not much else. We also had a minor squabble with the owner who, charming at first, wanted to to charge us £25 a night. Eh, no. We eventually agreed on £18.

But, and here’s the magic, it’s lovely here. After a thundery (in more ways than one) start, the weather cleared we both went for good runs and C spotted a little village/harbour which we then took the bikes to: just a hidden gem of a place, all rustic coves and islands, forgotten by the tourist machine that is Croatia. Fab.

So, now back from Mostar. Just perfect. Yes it was a pricey excursion (about £60 all told), but we saw everything we wanted of Mostar, popped along to the church at Medugorje (where Mary keeps appearing and now is a massive pilgrimage place along the lines of Lourdes and Fatima – which itself was interesting as its in the ‘Muslim’ sector of Bosnia where there are clearly more mosques than churches) and gawped at the waterfalls at Kravica, with a picnic lunch thrown in. We saw a bit of Mostar still bombed out, but there seems to be some sort of normality returning after 20 years.

loved Mostar, well worth the effort

Where next? Dunno. We have a cup of tea ready and will decide any moment now…

Not much further south…

First off, the Croats have a thing about underestimating distance. We stopped at a campsite in Zadar (one of many island/walled towns we are visiting on our way south) and, on being asked ‘how far to the town from here?’, the chap at reception said ‘three-quarters of a kilometre.’ Ha! More like 5, maybe 6; in heat designed to melt tarmac. We made it though (and back again), via yachts and gin palaces and more yachts – that’s another thing about the Croatian coast – it’s all marinas, small harbours with marinas, boats bobbing about off shore and more marinas. All fabulous, really. If you had to park your boat somewhere, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better place.

Loving Split second time round

Zadar was a walled town/island (joined by a footbridge), lovely and well worth a trip. Everywhere you look there’s sea, islands, inlets and more islands. However the best thing about Zadar for me was the ‘sea-organ’, a set of concrete steps on one corner of the island with holes in – as the water too’d and fro’d, the holes played a tune. Simple, but wonderfully effective. It was really captivating. Bognor could learn a trick or two from these people.

We then travelled south to Trogir, another delightful walled/island town – smaller and prettier than Zadar. The style is all Venetian, but without the crowds (although I have to say that Split, more of in a sec, was plagued with tour parties. They’re amoebic: when one goes through a gap, they all follow without a hint of regard for those waiting patiently to move the other way. If I ruled the world, my first law would be for these people to walk in single file, following the lady with the umbrella whilst holding tightly onto the backpack of the old person in front of them – like a primary school party. At least then we could all get through.)

Trogir is lovely and we stayed on a decent campsite just round the headland. We cycled the first day and, the second, caught the water taxi into Split. Which, having visited in a previous life when my mind was on altogether different things, was pretty perfect. Coming in from the water is the only way to see Split – you get a real sense of the size of the Roman palace that is now a tourist shopping and cafe area. The long straight harbour front is kept clear so you can soak in the views. Having started very early, we wandered around all day, listened to a ‘rock’ concert put on by some local kids at the top of town whilst eating a picnic, walked up to the church which sits high on a bluff to the north of Split, and bought salad from the local market. We came back by bus. Fabulous.

And today, in stuttering weather (it’s hot again now) we drove to Dubrovnik, which was further than I intended. The coastline here is much more Italian Amalfi than west coast of Scotland, and south of the tiny Bosnian sea shore it gets poor and impoverished until you reach Dubrovnik. But it’s just as striking as the more arid northern stretch of coast. Dubrovnik is immediately busy and two huge cruise liners block out Mrs sun as we approached the town. We followed signs for a campsite on the peninsula, but were disappointed to find it a large grumpy place that wanted everything C had in her purse for a night’s stop. So we moved on, by which time I was losing the will to live and let C know (as I have a tendency to do at the end of a long driving day (sorry)).

Dubrovnik – going there tomorrow…

We drove through Dubrovnik and, via an old German couple who were walking along the road, found a brilliant campsite at Kupar. Unchanged since Tito was a lad, it is £12 a night with everything, and a short walk from the water taxi that should take us into Dubrovnik tomorrow for a tenner return! Fabulous!

So, all’s good here. We’ve still got 4 weeks and I don’t think we’re going to go any further south, so after tomorrow’s excursion, I’m guessing it’s a slow ride home…

What do you want first?

Two bits of good news and then one bit of not so good news. Good news first.

When we headed off on this new life just under three years ago I expected to be wearing shorts for the rest of my life. We would be Mrs Sun’s constant companion, Southern Europe in the winter and the U.K., or similar, in the summer. It is fair to say that we have, until today, failed to string 3 good days together weather wise. For the whole time. Our first winter away was the coldest in Sicily/Greece’s weather that anyone could remember. Even two summers ago when we took the kids to France, we never got to the ‘blooming hell this is hot’ point. Until now. It’s been fabulous (C has burnt shoulders), and looks set fair for as long as the BBC weather app can tell me.

Second, Croatia’s coastline is just fabulous. There’s a motorway inland, but if you’re on the main A road it follows, snake-like, the coast. Think west coast of Scotland, but no midges and about twenty million degrees hotter. There are hundreds of islands, all barren, almost desert-like. And the white, limestone mountains come crashing into the sea, you wonder how they built the road. And it’s not busy, the road is good quality and people drive sedately. What’s not to like? We made it about 100 kicks south of KrK, and are about one-third of the way down the coastline. Fab.

Bad news. Kindle Press are not going to publish The Innocence of Trust. This is a big deal; to all intents and purposes I have been turned away by my own publisher. I got an editorial report which was very strong, but they didn’t like the sexual violence (there’s a couple of pages), the title (they suggested: TRUST NO ONE), and there were, as there was with Fuelling the Fire, a number of minor editorial comments.

But no cigar.

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I would have thought I would have been devastated, but I am remarkably sanguine about it. Absolutely, the loss of Amazon’s marketing machine could spell a huge loss in potential earnings and market opportunities. But at least now I have complete control. I’m having conversations with a couple of companies about preparing the script for self-publication. The good news is that I would hope to be published by late June I time for the summer rush.

So, that’s all. Mrs Sun is shining on us and can we ask for more than that?

Made it…

Croatia and Mrs Sun in accompaniment – bliss. We’re on the island of Krk (like most of the Slavic nations the Croatians are reticent vowel users), which is the closest Adriatic island to anyone heading south. It’s about the size and shape of the Isle of White, but, with Mrs Sun out in her bikini that’s where the comparisons end. If you’ve not been to Croatia (we did the Istria peninsula 10 years ago, but the Dalmatian coast is better), it’s as described in the photos: White ragged limestone mountains and rocks creating white pebbly beaches in a turquoise sea – tufts of dark green vegetation adding depth to the vista. It is beautiful, in a rugged sort of way.

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We’ve been here a couple of days. The trip from an ACSI site in southern Switzerland (not to be done again – the site was the most expressive of the ACSI rates at €19, but we then got charged a whopping €4.50 each tourist tax; it’s such an expensive country) took us east of Venice along v competent and cheap Italian motorways – £20 for the complete distance. Here, on a much more reasonably priced Italian ACSI site (€17, + €1 each for tax), we bedded down for a single night before hitting Croatia.

One of the vexing questions as we approached the Adriatic was about toll roads in Slovenia and then Croatia. At 4.5 tonnes we have to think like a lorry and not like a car. Investigation showed that if you stayed off the motorways in Slovenia it would be toll free, and if you ventured onto motorways in Croatia you paid at the toll booth. However, our new all-singing, all-directing Gazza the Garmin couldn’t give us a route which was toll free. So we set off expecting a hefty fine, or a short term in a Balkan jail. We needn’t have fretted, as it was as it was and we got here without having to buy a vignette or pay motorway tolls. The toll that Gazza gold us about was the bridge toll to get onto the island of Krk. So, we believe him now…

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We’ve ran, cycled (20 miles today to the other side of Krk, up over a 1000 foot climb – there are no flat roads in this country), walked, dipped into the cold Adriatic and lapped up a bit of ‘us-time’. I’m currently sat outside with a cold beer writing this – how I have longed for something similar. Everything slows down…

Finally, what about books? Well, I had a brief exchange with Frank about the screenplay. It’s with Kieron, and now we wait. I’ve had nothing back from Kindle Press about publishing The Innocence of Trust. I’m going to email them again tomorrow. But the good news is that a plot is forming for book 4. C has already said ‘you can’t do that to Sam, what would your readers think?’ So that’s going to happen….

All good with us!

Smile please…

So it’s not been a great start to our Croatian odyssey. You’ve heard about the leak and I have to say that has been a real blow to us. Doris is in pristine condition and to know that she has been lanced a couple of times undermines confidence. The impact on us has been exacerbated by our need to get her fixed, and that has meant a detour into Germany which has added a couple of days to the programme – which was already truncated by other commitments (nice ones, but truncating ones nonetheless). And when Hymer man checked her out today – might I just add that Hymer is Bad Waldsee; a huge Motorhome factory/service centre/museum blistered on to a lovely Black Forest spa town – and told us that he wanted to take the awning off, sort her out and refit it, but couldn’t do that until late next week, well that added to the woes.

Doris at Mr Hymer

So, we have decided to book her in for the end of the break, and detour via Germany on the way back. In the meantime we’ll be on rain watch, and make sure she’s slanting in the right way when it starts to fall. It’s not really fair, but, surprising to both of us is the brave face we’re putting on it.

That’s the first thing. Then the weather has been rubbish. Rain, and when we got to the Black Forest (which is lovely, in a German, ordered sort of way), it turned cold enough to snow. Ok, so it hasn’t snowed, but it’s cold enough.

And then Gary the Garmin decided to give up the ghost (some alliteration going on there). First he wanted us to go back to a place in France, even if it were 200 miles north of us. I rebooted him, and then he wouldn’t show any of the maps and always had us a good half mile from the road. We’re going to have to buy a new one tomorrow as C has had it up to there with map reading.

Oh, and I left Doris’s petrol cap at a service station today. That’s another thing on the list. Ho-hum.

Anyhow, off to Switzerland tomorrow – it’s the fastest way to northern Italy without heading into Austria where the toll system for + 3.5 tonne vehicles is a nightmare. And then into Italy and turn left to Croatia. I can tell you that Mrs Sun can’t come quick enough.

Enough of my complaining. We’re together and I was about to say in good health, but yesterday I tweaked my back and it’s killing me! But, we are in good health and we’ve still got 5 weeks before we have to be back at Mr Hymer’s place for Doris’s work. And we’re determined to have some fun…and some of Mrs Sun…

So…the next thing you’ll get from me will be how brown our knees are!

Addendum…

Before we left for Croatia I went on the net to work out the most cost-effective way to get a 4.5 tonne Motorhome across the Alps. There were two main suggestions: head south through France and cross the Alps on a lowish pass before you hit the Med. Disadvantages are that it’s a long way and if you use the French motorway system you’ll have to take out a mortgage to get there. Second is to go through Germany and then get a ‘Go Box’ for the Austrian tolls – which is a requirement for any vehicle over 3.5 tonnes. Go Boxes get recognised by Austrian radar and you pay by the kilometre, having shelved out €70 for the box. It is, however, by far the quickest route. But, and it’s a big but, you have to show the Austrian police proof of your vehicle size and emissions. And you can only do this via, in our case, Fiat. That takes some organising. So we weren’t going to do that.

However, our trip to Hymer presented us with a third option: go through Switzerland. On the face of it you might have thought that you’d need to pay off part of the Swiss national debt to enjoy such a privilege. Not so. For over 3.5 tonnes you go and see a bloke at the border, fill in a form with no supporting paperwork, hand over about £26, and, hey presto, you have 10 days non-consecutive travel on any Swiss road. And you complete the form every day you use it – so if you’re on a campsite for a day and don’t drive, you don’t complete the form. The form is valid for a year.

And, and, and… Apart from two tunnels, all others are free. So we traveled due south on motorways as flat as a sacked choirboy’s Jerusalem, through the most beautiful scenery and drove free of charge through the St Gotthard tunnel. Fabulous. And, if your planning a trip, drive though Belgium, Luxembourg (where diesel is free), use a bit of non-toll motorway in France near Strasbourg, join the German autobahn system which is free, and then into Switzerland. Why didn’t anyone tell me that?