Friday, December 17, 2010

We start off going to Germany pass through Switzerland and onto Croatia and beyond

Wednesday 21st of April
Today it was on towards Switzerland, on the back roads which makes the travel through Europe really interesting seeing how other people live. Crossing the border into Switzerland now is basically a nonevent, they don't even stop you look at your passports. However finding a campground in this country is a little bit more challenging, we drove on to Lucerne and eventually found a campsite near the lake and at the equivalent of $NZ60 it was not what we called reasonable!

Switzerland is .15 the size of New Zealand has 179 people per Sq Km compared to 15 in NZ or 6 in the South Island so they are packed in compared to us!

After parking the motorhome we went to walk into the city along the waterfront, a rather pleasant 2 km walk and of course the same distance back!

Many times today we were very thankful of the GPS particularly when we were in the wrong lane to turn left and we had to drive on several kilometres to get back on the route which the GPS did sort out for us. I'd hate to think of going back to maps.

Watching the international news and the effect that the Icelandic volcano has had on international travel we both consider ourselves to be very lucky that we booked the tickets to fly when we did, on the route that we did. Friends who left the same day as us, to flight to Heathrow via Hong Kong with a stay over in that city ended up in Frankfurt which was okay as they motorhome was stored in France!

Thursday 22nd April

Today we headed off south to Italy and set the GPS to avoid the motorway. This took us through delightful scenery on back roads were often were the only vehicle travelling and winding in an out of the villages with the mountains as a backdrop was very photogenic.

Passing some large signs on the side of the road as we were moving into the mountains I did notice only one of what ever they were showing us was green with the rest of them red. We found out an hour or so later what they were talking about and it was the mountain pass, St Gothard's was closed, on the secondary road, I suspect the motorway goes through the mountain with a tunnel, looking at the map it appears to be about 18 km long and hopefully with the motorway it will not be as bad as some have been through in the past.

We got as far as Hospental and the road was closed, the GPS told us we could go another way if we did not mind a ferry, my mind immediately thought of water, but when we got there to Realp the ferry was a train to take us through the mountain.

The scenery of course is spectacular with a good thick coating of snow on all the mountains around us in the mountains seemed to go on forever. One of the mountains around here is the Matterhorn, not sure which one it was as they all look pretty big but the train that passes by every 30 minutes or so has that label so I guess it's got to be round here somewhere. I just checked out the Encyclopaedia and I've seen what the mountain looks like a hill Luda has photographed today.

We decided to turn back and go via the motorway and then we found a very large parking area at Andermatt at 1430 m elevation, so will see how we fare here for the night. We've just been joined by a French motorhome who may feel that the German numberplate will give him some sort of protection.

Friday 23rd April

Early this morning we heard several helicopters moving around this area and we had started wondering if we had parked on a helicopter landing pad like we had done in Russia, but no I think it must have been just the Swiss Army working on manoeuvres, and was seen as few Army personnel wandering around this town and marching past our camping spot with large packs on their back, not looking like they were enjoying themselves.

I was beautiful fine morning as we set off to follow the GPS to the Gothard tunnel which turned out to be just a few kilometres back the way we had come. The tunnel turned out to be 17 km in length and when we exited in the tunnel we were still in Switzerland and it took another five Km tunnel to get us into the Lago Maggiore area of Switzerland and then after a few more kilometres we passed through the border to Italy with the border guard merely giving us a flick of the eye to drive on through.

The speed limit through the Gothard tunnel was 80 km/h and I was comfortable at 70 km/h in a Mercedes 500 showed his displeasure when the one lane turned into two lanes at the exit of the tunnel by giving me a big blast on this horn as he passed.

It was a narrow road round the lake with the rough edge of the rock face trying to reach the passenger side of the motorhome but we were able to avoid that meeting even if it meant going slightly slow.

Our destination was a motorhome parking area in Verbania on the edge of Lago Maggiore but that turned out to be far from satisfactory, and of course all the campgrounds around the lake were priced at a five star rating so we decided to drive on to Milan to a campground where it two years ago which is just a nice short bus ride in from the city.

We did this by the toll motorway per a cost of €4.5, which when you consider the large amount of tunnels on this road and the high concrete bridges across the valley was a small price to pay, the exit came just before the next tollbooth but it still cost us €2.5 to get off the motorway. It certainly was faster than the slow road through the villages but of course you see nothing and it was raining when we came out of the Gothard tunnel and the cloud cover was down over the lake it was not a day for driving slowly to get the wonderful photographs that this area produces.

The arrival at the campground in Milan was uneventful as it should be.

This was the second time we've been to this campground and found it quite reasonable with good amenities and very easy to catch a bus and then the metro into the city.

Saturday 23rd of April

Walked into the little village and bought a bus metro ticket that was good for all day and then caught the bus along with an Australian family that was touring around Europe through eight weeks.

We got off at all the correct places and were very quickly in the centre of Milan in the square with the very large cathedral dominating one end.

Luda has a very good memory and was able to walk straight to the shop where she bought four beautiful blouses two years ago, they were a shop that just specialised in shirts for men and women so that was able to find another four very easy. I on the other hand specialising in white shirts was much harder to please and left empty-handed, (which was just as well).

Just across the walkway was another shop that specialised this time in ties, and to my big surprise they had a large range of bowties, almost as many as the shop in De Hague where I normally replenish my supply. However with a collection of probably 90 bowties the urgency to restock was not pressing so again I left the shop empty-handed.

Sunday 25th of April

We check out of the campground and set the GPS for a free parking area in Cremona, with a side trip to a large monastery near Pavia, construction was started in the 14th century and was finished 200 years later, it is still occupied by the Carthusian monks who live under a strict vow of silence.

Then we carried on driving on the toll ways for most of the trip and found a very large parking area with about a dozen motorhomes parked in various locations so we parallel parked instead of angle parking taking up two places and then did our best to level the motorhome because of the slope and the parking area. Most of the motorhomes parked there had large levelling chocks parked under their front wheels lifting the front wheels about 20 cm off the ground.

We then locked the motorhome up and headed off into the city to visit the museum of the Stradivarius violins evidently Antonio lived in the city and there was a large museum devoted to his drawings and the way in which he designed his world-famous violins.

There was also a lot of mediaeval buildings to be viewed in the belltower said to be the tallest mediaeval tower in Italy.

The violins were the main feature of the city and so consequently many of the shops had models of violins and of course there are lots of chocolate violins which to the writer looked very tasty but Luda suggested they were somewhat similar to the Apple in the Garden of Eden.

Monday, 26 April

Today it was on towards Verona about 120 km away via motorway, these very short distances are not enough to recharge the house batteries adequately and now with the accurate meter giving me the capacity and the amount of storage in the battery it allows us to ration our usage in accordance with our capacity.

The parking area for motorhomes was very well equipped with dumping and freshwater supplies available for €10 for 24 hours with a bus stop 100 meters from the park.

Verona of course is the location of the 16th century story of Romeo and Juliet, so we caught a bus into the centre of the city and then we're at a loss to know which direction to go, so I asked a young Korean girl if I could look at a map, and she said she was just going to Juliet's house, she introduced herself as Sue, so the three of us walked towards this tourist destination along with lots of other tourists, it was then on to Romeo's house, which it appeared nobody was interested in, as there was just a sign and no crowd of tourists like what Juliet attracted.

After these two tourist sites Sue left to catch her train to Leipzig where she is studying for a business degree at the University and we carried on looking round the city and the churches, the castles, and the Roman Colosseum that was almost in the centre of the city.

Tuesday 27 April

Today we headed the Venice, we struck a little the rain along the way and felt it may be a repeat of last year where for two days it rained and we just drove on. However it was fine and we arrived, and a new campground on the mainland side, our Camperstop book suggested there was a good parking area for four euros a day, we eventually found it, they had to remove the height barrier for us to get in with the other motorhomes, and of course inflation had hit since the book was published the book said €4 they said it was €10 but has just gone up to €12. And when we checked out we had to pay €20 so it looks like the old story about not believing everything you read is extremely true.

We thought would be interesting to approach the island from the other side, and it turned out to be a massive mistake, there was only one boat to the island leaving every hour were as on the other side, a boat left every 15 minutes or so sit and talk you right to the centre of the points of interest.

Nevertheless we have an interesting day walking almost every street, getting lost many times, again I was reminded of my policy of having adequate maps, which again on this occasion I thought was not necessary.

We found the gondola rides had suffered from inflation, a 45 minute gondola ride three years ago was €80 this year it was €150, perhaps if we had been really interested we could have negotiated a better price was one of the operators but we enjoyed how walking. We noticed a smell of bad drains on many occasions and they tell us this gets worse in the summertime with the large influx of tourists.

Eventually we had filled in the five hours until the next boat left for our parking spot and I staggered back to the motorhome and thought I may need assistance from Luda at one point.

On arriving at the motorhome park we discovered parked across from us a Swiss motorhome with the New Zealand sticker on the rear near the number plate like we do, and I was on my second vodka and Coke when a Kiwi voices asked if we were really from New Zealand, turned out to be Richard and Verena Gits from the North Shore in Auckland, they had purchase their motorhome through Verena's mother in Switzerland to overcome the registration problem and had been wandering around greater Europe for the last 18 months and tomorrow catch a ferry to Greece to carry on their travels.

We had a great chat catching up on each other's travels and whilst we were basically travelling in the same direction, they travelling by ferry and with us travelling by road will probably separate itineraries by at least a month, but will take on each other's telephone numbers so we can text  each other should we feel we're getting close.

Just one final word Hank told us that the other side on the peninsula was the better location for Venice and of course he was correct, this time! We did notice there was a main road to the island and on the alter route map that shows there is parking their and we did notice some motorhomes driving across the causeway so we wonder if perhaps we could have driven closer!

Wednesday 28 April

So we said farewell to Venice and expensive overnight camping Park, said " see you later" to Richard and Verena, and headed on our way towards Trieste, keying in to the GPS a parking area when we got closer, finding that it was useless when we're really close but around this time we saw a motorhome camping sign so followed that through to the dumping area where we got rid of our wastes and then headed off towards Croatia.

There is a slight problem to get to Croatia from Italy yet to go through Slovakia, and you venture into Slovakia you need a motorway vignette in the cheapest one is for seven days at €15, will I guess I am contributing to the coffers of the country and they then can waste that whatever they wish.

Well 20 km later after entering Slovakia we entered Croatia and then carried on down towards a city called Pula via the motorway and realised we are missing a lot of interesting countryside so we exited the motorway and headed towards a small town called Porec and then we found a massive car park with room for about 100 motorhomes, all brand new, they have not started charging for its use yet as we did not get a ticket as we came in which hopefully means we don't have to pay to go out!
With the motorhome on a level spot we then walked in to the city 1.5 kilometres, there was a city that appeared to be set up solely for the tourist, as all of the restaurants and shops had that very strong flavour, and then of course there were the real estate shops they were wanting to rent you villas or apartments, or perhaps even sell you their new offering on seaside real estate.

Thursday 29 April

Today we carried on South through to Rovinj which in Roman times was a heavily fortified island and on about the 17th century a causeway was put across giving it easy access to the mainland, very interesting city with the houses built on the edges of the cliff so it was almost sheer from the water to the house rooftops. We found parking about a kilometre from the city centre which made access easy.

It was on then south on secondary roads which were fair certainly not as smooth as most motorways but totally driveable, and we reached Pula very quickly and found parking right on the waterfront and found we had the local Coliseum right behind us which is handy for the photographs. It appears the Romans really liked this part of the domination coast but then I guess anything to get out of Rome!

We then turned north to Ladin which had quite an interesting write up but then of course the best photo of the city on the edge of the hill was taken from the road as we went past, had we entered the city of course we would have not got such a view.

We are directed on to a bypass which took us round through the countryside and was interesting to note that the speed limit on the road was 40 km/h, yes the road was reasonably narrow it was a two-lane highway, and in some places the condition of the road was not pristine but we certainly driven on worse, at a higher speed.

We are trying to stick to the back roads in most countries these roads take us through villages one after the other, so far in Croatia is really only been taking us through the countryside in most villages, if they are there, are hidden. This I think is quite interesting because it has a density of 359 per square kilometre which is the same density as China and more dense than Germany and has .21 land mass of New Zealand. All I can think is that the dense population of this country must be to the north or in the major cities.

We then pushed on to Brestova where we caught the ferry to Porozina on the island of Cres, the cost of a 7 m motorhome in two people was 235 Kuna which equalled about $NZ48. It would appear as if the boat goes every one to 2 hours at this time of the year so in theory one should know ahead of time.

Well the ferry did arrive on time two hours after we started waiting for it, uneventful crossing, and then it was a drive on through to Cres, know when you look at an island you sort of imagine it would be flat, well forget that this island is total rock, and it rises up quite high, with jagged rocks on the side of the road, our side, and on the other side there are just thousands and thousands of rocks, a small percentage of those are put to use building fences, although why they would need fences I've no idea, there are of course trees growing everywhere, you can't help admire the trees for the way in which they can take root anywhere, and of course the road going through these mountains is probably one and a half cars wide, so when we met a large Dutch tourist bus coming towards us, it was everybody stop, we backed up a few hundred metres till we found a small indent on the rock side of the road which allowed us to slip in their and this allowed the bus to squeak past us, and then of course we let all of the other traffic going both ways past us, and we had again the road to ourselves, I have a feeling this is a sample of what we will experience in Greece and if so it looks like I'll have to redraw the proposed map substantially.

We eventually made it to Cres, no chance of any parking anywhere in the town, so we headed out to one of the commercial campgrounds that were advertised from the centre of town, and we are currently in an extremely large one, we did have trouble finding our original spot that were allocated, and when we found it, eventually, I decided to go back and ask for more! Currently we are in quite a level site, have electricity connected, and wireless WiFi available, at no charge, isn't that the way it should be!

Friday, 30 April

We spent a peaceful evening, in a modern campground, on the edge of the Adriatic Sea at Cres where we had all of the amenities plus WiFi and received a very pleasant surprise when we checked out this morning and they only wanted €15. No I did not offer them more as I did not want to embarrass them.

We decided that the narrow roads on this rocky island was enough for this trip so we headed for the Port of Merag where we caught a ferry back to the next island that was connected by bridge to the mainland, where good timing this time with just a 10 minute wait. It was a 25 minute crossing at the same costs as getting to the island (NZ$48) so we set into the GPS the next destination which was Krk, again another old Roman city. Then we doubled back the way we came across over a impressive bridge and then we headed towards the direction of Rijeka stopping about 15 km short of that major city in a small seaside town called Bakar-Dio. There was a beautiful spot parking right on the waterfront and I'm sure we could have stayed there all night, but there was a large major noise coming from the building closed by, and whilst one would like to think it stopped at sunset one could not count on it.

It was then back the way we come again passing through Crikvenica and when we arrived in
Novi Vinodolski with our beautiful large parking space right by the small boat marina that we decided to call home for the night.

As it was 5 PM and a pleasant time to take a walk I set off into the town walking along the waterfront and came across eight men sitting at two tables playing cards, they were in the shade of a boat so did not have to worry about sunburn, I guess they're all 60+ which made me wonder what I would be doing about wasn't wandering round the world, doesn't sound too exciting sitting in the shade playing cards!

It's interesting sitting in a motorhome in Croatia watching satellite television and watching a advert for Croatia talks of 2786 hours of sunshine every year, crystal clear waters, hundreds of different species of fish and many other points which may be of common interest, and yes we have had sunshine since we have been here, whenever we see the sea it is crystal clear and does have abundant varieties of fish which are usually hard to recognise particularly for someone that does not eat a lot of fish because of their bones, the bones on a T-bone steak are about as small as I like to have in my food.

Saturday, 1 May

We left our overnight parking spot after experiencing loud music until at least midnight, motorbikes rip roaring through the town till about the same time but apart from that of the peaceful night, another motorhome from Slovakia joined us at some point roundabout sunset.

The roads so far through Croatia are a lot like the South Island roads, they are quite windy and of course most of Croatia that we had been through so far is quite hilly with a lots of it covered with native trees which means even though you're driving along the coast often you do not see the picturesque villages down near the water.

Today we headed down to Senj and then inland towards Plitvice Lakes National Park about 80 km inland passing through Otocac, Zaluznica, Vrhovine  and most of it was a main highway with very little traffic. There came a point where the GPS decided that a left turn would probably saved me 500 m of distance and I thought what the heck, it's a narrow road but will see a little bit of the countryside. Sure enough we did it took us through two deserted villages, one village of about 10 houses with two of them deserted and then the road got interesting.

It narrow down immediately once it was in the park to a one lane highway winding around the various hill sides with the bank on one side with trees and a gully on the other side with trees, the road itself was covered with leaves except for the area that had been driven on, it was obviously close through the winter, with trees falling across the road, because every kilometre or so we come across a tree that had just been cut up to clear the road and in fact one tree had just been cut enough so we could squeeze the motorhome by, and is not as if we could travel very fast, I think my average speed was 6 to 7 km/h, there was one washout when my wheels wanted to spin but fortunately I had sufficient momentum.

I in actual fact wondered whether the road was going anywhere at all and then about four cars came towards me fortunately at a place where we could pass so I knew one of two things, either they had got to the end of the road and had to come back, or there was a connection to a main road.

We eventually got to Plitvicka Jezera which I keyed in as a destination as it appeared to be a good point to go to, but when we got there it was a minor village so we went back along the small road bringing us into the village about 5 km turned right, which was the correct way to go and we ended up in the car park of the National Park that had taken us so much trouble to get there.

Luda then wandered into the park for the next four hours taking photographs while I did minor jobs on the motorhome. After paying NZ$17 to get out of the car park we started looking for a motor camp and headed out of the park the wrong way so with the added up in a small layby in what looks like a small skiing village.

Sunday, 2 May

Another German motorhome joined us in the layby overnight very quite and peaceful, after all we are away out in the country!

With a overcast day we set off towards the coast to a city called Zadar, a city that has changed hands through many countries over the centuries, however to get there we drove from our isolated area in the country through quite deserted countryside, passing thro Titova Korenica, Udbina, Gracac, very little traffic on the road, quite a good road, many abandoned and deserted houses as we made our way through to the coast, many of the old houses looked like they had not been occupied at least 50 years so we cannot blame the breakup of Yugoslavia for a lot of them.

We started off going through what looked like quite good farming land, except I would guess most of would be covered in snow during the winter because the plateau that we are on is between six and 700 m, which makes farming as we know it in New Zealand a little bit more complex. Eventually we got back to the rocky part of this country and what can you grow in all the land you have is rock?

We parked the motorhome right on the waterfront beside a large ocean-going liner, no indication to say that we could not park there, but I stayed in the motorhome whilst Luda wander around the old city for 40 minutes.

When she got back to the motorhome I was already to roll, so we carried on heading south passing lots of camping grounds on the oceanfront, stopped in at one who wanted €20 which we thought was excessive so we want on and found one at half the price at Turanj. The thing is with the Adriatic coast that the whole coastline is built up for the tourist trade leaving very little empty space anywhere for wild camping.

Monday 3 May

Today we headed on down the coast passing un-countable numbers of rooms and apartments available for rent. It's just as well this coast has the attractive Adriatic Sea, where people want to come for vacation, because with the stony, rocky ground that they have, where sometimes they can grow a few grapes or olive trees, it looks like nothing else will grow, so is just as well that they have  "tourists to farm" otherwise they would all be all on welfare, if there is such a thing in Croatia.

Our first city on the coast was Sibenik in the 11th century city that came to prominence in the Hungary and Croat rule, it is notable for the very beautiful large cathedral and the large castle on top of one of the higher hills. We drove around the city until we found a very large car park on the edge of the water where we were able to park at 20 kroner an hour, and when they say an hour they mean exactly 60 minutes because we found at 65 minutes our fee was 40 kroner, so we stayed a few extra minutes and had lunch.

The next city we were heading for was Trogir a Greek settlement dating from 380 BC, the island now joins the mainland and of course is a tourist destination.

The next destination was Split and I think we deserve 100 points for driving into the centre but with a city just short of 200,000 people parking was impossible so after a little bit of fruitless wandering around we set off on down the coast again passing numerous campgrounds, apartments, and Zimmers, which I believe is German for rooms. We eventually found a reasonably large parking spot near the city of Pisak we will attempt to spend the night.

From the parking spot is that is at 170 m above sea level we have a wonderful view along the coast.

Tuesday, 4 May

It was a peaceful night once the traffic died down about 10 PM and we slept well with the beautiful panorama  view outside the motorhome. This morning we set off towards the island of Hvar and we pass through the city/ villages of Donja Brela, Baska Voda, an area called "Makarska Riviera", Tucepi, Podgora, Igrane, Zivogosce, Drvenik where we caught the ferry across to the island again about 213 kroner.

Again we drove on almost deserted roads, through the rockiest countryside I have ever seen, and in places where they have try to make a garden they have picked up oceans of stones and made fences from them or just put them in a large pile some times as large as a house. They obtain a pitiful amount of land this way and we normally see grapes planted, but have seen potatoes and vegetables.

Once on the island we started heading towards the city that bears the same name as the island passing through Jelsa, we stopped at this town and I wandered into the small grocers shop and there was a middle-aged man standing behind the counter in a shop that was stocked with the bear necessities of life, and it looked like a shop out of the 50s in New Zealand.

The road on the island is about wide enough for one and a half cars, with a speed limit of mostly 40 K all the way, and were begun to realise that the road code and the speed limit is basically posted for tourists and does not apply to the locals as they will over take anywhere and drive at whatever speed they wish. One part of the road was very interesting as they were busy resealing that part of the road, with one of the new cold mix machines which seals one side of the road at one time, now of course the road is one and a half lanes wide so this gave us half a lane to get past the new sealed portion of the road plus the large machine, plus the truck that was servicing the machine, as I said it was interesting!

Luda was not really excited about these roads as her side dropped off some times several hundred feet and unless I drove in the centre of the road, which considering the speed and the lack of attention of the Croatian drivers was extremely dangerous, she was not terribly excited as to how close to the edge her side of the car often went. It is going to be interesting in Albania where I'm told the roads are perhaps the worst in the western world and from what I read the landscape is very similar to Croatia being extremely hilly!

Luda is extremely impressed with local population, she says she always gets a lot of attention as she walks through the villages, with people talking to her, sometimes someone comes up and gives her a flower, I'm becoming a little bit suspicious as I have a vague feeling this attention is not coming from the female section of the population!

I often think of Wellington when I'm driving round these roads with the houses built on the hillside running right down to the water with hardly any land that can be cultivated.

It was then on to Starigrad, and finally Hvar. It's a mystery to the writer as to why people live on this island as there is really no land that is not covered in stones, massive amounts of stones, more stones than you can even imagine.

We thought we may spend the night in a motor camp 3 km outside the town below are geared up for holiday people that want all of the amenities possible, of course their price was in accordance with what they are offering, which was massively surplus to what we needed.

The guidebook says we can catch a ferry from this town but the GPS is not really up to date on Croatia, and the signs on the streets directly to the ferry are no help so we headed back towards Starigrad where we saw there was a ferry back to the mainland and tomorrow we will check things out as were found a small off road parking spot where we will curl up for the night.

Wednesday, 5 May

We decided to try to find the ferry to the island of Korcula, on the map it shows that there is a ferry, so we drove back to Hvar and the first person we asked as to where the ferry left from told us we had had to go to Starigrad as the ferry from Hvar did not carry motorhomes.

Yesterday as we are driving into the island we saw to motorhomes coming towards us which made us think that they were going the opposite way to us and had arrived at Hvar but I think it was like us they just thought the ferry would run from their so they were heading back to the starting point.

So we drove back to Starigrad and checked with the ferry office and yes we could catch a ferry to Dubrovnik but we have to wait 20 days, the ferry to Split was 600+ kroner and would still be left with 90 K is to drive to get back to our starting point where we caught the ferry to the island.

So we decided to drive back on Ludas favourite road, she compare that to a bridge one and a half lanes wide with no barriers either side and of course several hundred feet off the road, but I told her this time should be on the inside of the road and only have the rocks protruding on the road to worry about.

Driving back on the narrow road we came to a caution sign and then a recovery truck with a small 1500 CC Ford on its tray, both front wheels were written off so I guess it was one of the locals not observing the speed limit and suffering the consequences.

There is one problem having a motorhome that the 7+ meters long as almost all of the ferries have a price for over 7 m. Luda bought the ticket coming over and got the 7 m price, I bought the ticket going back and was charged 7+ metres, lesson in this is to always let Luda buy the ticket.

 We made it back to Sucuraj and crossed over to Drvenik on the mainland and was extremely interesting looking at Croatia from the island as how they rose up out of the water to a great height with settlements of houses grouped together clinging to the mountain side.

So back on the mainland we headed south travelling through what we called normal Croatian country until we got to the city of Ploce, where all of a sudden we started seeing some sort of agriculture, all of the stones had disappeared, or perhaps they may have still been there but not in the great volumes, we kept hearing South and crossed over the border into Bosnia where as we were on just the normal motorway we went through the inspection of passports, where as I believe had we gone on the tall way we would not have even stopped.

So we drove the 10 km through Bosnia and entered back in to Croatia, they didn't even want to look about passports this time, and we drove through the village of Opuzen, passed Dubrovnik and on to a village of Srebreno where we found two campgrounds, the first one we went into had disappeared, they actually have a chain up over the entrance which had been pulled out, so we turned around and went back to the first one which we had missed because we did not turn fast enough, and no they weren't open yet but we could stay for €10 a night with electricity, buses available in to Dubrovnik every hour so we have settled on this for the next two nights.

Thursday 6th of May

Today we caught a bus into Dubrovnik, were let off up on the main road high above the city and had to walk down to sea level to see the city itself. Walking down I realised this could be a lot easier than the return journey.

We went in through the castle walls to the old city and wander around the seventh century city. There was no sign whatsoever of the heavy bombing during 1991 -- 92 where it is recorded over 2000 bombs and guided missiles fell on the city. There are certainly a lot of tourists fear at this early time in the tourist season, American voices, German voices, Luda heard some Russian voices, Polish voices and of course English voices.

This is the number one spot I believe every tour bus stops at, and it almost appears, looking at the tourists wandering around the city, but the average age of the tourist is probably in the early 70s, and remember I said average age. Was interesting to observe a group of Contiki tours  teenagers gathering together to go out on a boat trip, that compared to the rest of the people they look oh so young!
Luda decided she would like to walk around the walls of the town, and I'm too wise to think of doing things like that, so she was gone for about an hour and a half and I spent my time people watching.

Every time I observed a group of tourists on my travels that are obviously on a guided tour and I see them being herded off the bus, around the tourist site, into the gift shops that have arrangements with, into the restaurant they have arrangements with, and finally back onto the bus, I sort of feel sorry for the participants in as much as that is the only way they feel they can safely visit a foreign country and of course there's probably their only trip of a lifetime.

Once Luda had finished her walk around the wall and taken about 200 photographs we had lunch in one of the cafes by the harbour and then walk back up the hill to catch the bus. Normally when you catch a bus to go back to the spot you got off the bus and catch it from the bus stop opposite. There are a group of about 12 French people on that bus stop, looking at the bus timetable, all talking at once, and we managed to peer over the top of them and observed that bus number 10 did not leave from this location, Luda spotted the plan that the number 10 bus stop was on the lower level on one of the roads we crossed to get to what we thought was the bus stop.

So we walked back down to the illustration indicated the bus was leaving from leaving the French people still talking and gesturing at the timetable. We soon found out we were in the correct place and the bus arrived 15 minutes later with standing room only, so is back to the campsite, packed into the bus, every seat taken, the centre aisle packed with people so all we could do was peer out the window and observed how high we were from the sea, and how close to the edge the bus was being driven, and how fast the bus was going, and imagining the headlines that would be possible if the driver had lost his concentration for a few moments.

However we arrived safely back at the bus stop for the campsite, risked our lives crossing the busy road, then observed one of the bus passengers emerging from a tunnel under the road, and thought we must remember this the next time!

 Back at the motorhome was time for a good stiff vodka and Coke, Luda uploaded all the photos into the computer, and I made a resolution to get a larger drive on the computer as we started fiddling with external drives, do the washing, and a slight problem with our washing machine, considering the price and the way it is made, I think it is probably due for replacement on a regular basis.

Friday 7th May

We left the campsite just out of Dubrovnik and continued on our southward trek passing through
Cavtat, Cilipi, Gruda, and then a few kilometres later crossed over into Montenegro without any problems, Luda had her passports stamped that she could stay until 6 September! I got no stamp!

Macedonia is one 10th the size of New Zealand, which makes it about the size of Sicily, has about 2 million people with 81 people per square kilometre.

The tom-tom GPS had no map for Macedonia however when we got to the main road we discovered there was a road on the Albanian map which led directly to the capital city of Albania.

With no maps we started stopping at service stations and on the fourth service station I managed to find for maps of the Balkans area which I snapped up paying them it in Euros.

The next step was to get some Macedonian money, which we could've done at the border town where we saw a bankamat, but when you're dealing with a strange currency you have no idea what they're unit of currency is worth like when I was first in Bulgaria I ended up with a note of their currency that had a value of 1,000,000, which the following year they removed six zeros from their currency.

When I bought the maps I found out that one euro equalled 60 of their units so for the next three cities I try to find a bankamat, and whenever I could find parking there were no bankamat's within a kilometre, and of course whenever we saw a bankamat the only parking available was if I triple parked!

Once we crossed the border we stayed on the one road (there was no other) until we reached the main road and then we passed through the town of Valandovo and then we got on the main expressway that would have taken us right through to Skopje 124 km away, but when we reached Gradsko we turned off the expressway to drive towards Albania, now the tom-tom could guide us!

We were heading towards Ohrid or Struga which were on Lake Skadasko which the Albanian border ran through the centre of, however when we reached Resen we turned off towards Lake Prespes to a village called Pretor which is just a few kilometres from the Greek and Albanian borders.

The countryside were being passing through today in Macedonia appears to be mostly planted in grapevines but we passed through a village called Rosoman which must have been a fruit growing area because we saw pallets and pallets of fruit being shifted about on tractors, being packed onto trucks, and the sale on the roadside. There was also magnificent tomatoes the sale so it looked like a good fruit and vegetable growing area. One of the roads we were on we saw a sign that indicated it was a wine Trail for 50 km but no other signs to entice you anywhere so they have a little bit to learn from that aspect.

The countryside looks fairly poor and a lot of the houses we saw were not exactly modern, but we did see some beautiful new houses so there are a few people here with money. A lot of the towns we went through looked a lot like some of the Russian towns in the type of shops and apartments and general appearance. We saw quite a few large empty buildings where it would appear as if that enterprise had failed, again with the breakup of Yugoslavia could have been responsible.

Round the lake that we are camped beside we saw quite a few campsites which appeared to be left over from socialist times when these campsites were available to the masses for very little money, these campsites and now closed!

The driving and parking is very similar to Greece, this evening the car ahead of me, stopped, blocking the road, while the driver got out to shake hands and chat with his friend, then he came back, got in his car and cleared the road, and I guess went back to carry on his conversation! It's a different pace of life in this part of the world.

Thursday 24th of June

We carried on through this country of lakes and rivers to the next Lake, Lake Ohrid in the city that has the same name. The city of Ohrid has been a lived in town for 2400 years was also known as the Balkan Jerusalem perhaps because at one stage it had 365 churches. The town is at an altitude of 695 m and the lake is considered to be Europe's oldest lake and amongst the oldest in the world.

There's naturally, with the city being so old, a lot of archaeological sites from over the last 2000 years.

We walked through the old town and photographed a lot of the old archaeological sites, the quaint streets, an interesting looking houses. We were lucky finding a large car park on the waterfront which allowed us to wander around without any worries. Once we were satisfied with what we had seen of Ohrid we went down the edge of the lake towards Albania and visited two monastery's almost on the border and then went back to the village of Pestani where we found a campsite on the edge of the lake. The first campsite we tried at Ljubanista was expecting 7500 visitors over the next three days for what I assume will be some sort of rock concert and fortunately they would not let us enter the campsite.

Friday 25th of June

While we were in Ohrid we bought some books on Macedonia and discovered we had passed by an ancient archaeological site at Bitola so today we decided to drive to 70 km back to have a look at it and just hope it was worth the extra 140 K. The ancient city was called Hereclea and was at the foot of Baba mountain and dated from the fourth century BC. It had two beautiful mosaics are very well preserved theatre that had been partly restored, but of course the real fun was finding the place with the lack of road signs directing is towards the site. However with the aid of a petrol station and a taxi driver we eventually found it without any further trouble.

Then it was the drive back and on the way back we stopped at the sign of a old church to find it had disappeared and there was a very small building that perhaps a cat could enter, who knows what happened to the original.

After passing Ohrid for the third time we stopped and looked at the cave church of St Erasmus, that was the first cave that was converted into a church and the 13th century, in this area and since then the church has been reconstructed many times. St Erasmus is said to have converted the local population to Christianity in the third century and this church was named after him.

So we carried on to the next destination around the lake city called Struga and again finding the way to the city from the motorway was not easy when eventually found a road that was one and quarter lanes wide, as rough as hell but there was a road sign that directed us towards a motor camp so decided to stay there for the next couple of days.

It was a course on the lake and we discovered it had been built in 1977 and I don't think he had any improvements or real maintenance since that date. And evidently was purchased by one of the new rich Macedonians 12 months ago and they have started bringing it up to scratch. It has 150 old static caravans, three very good toilet blocks, again in need of update, a very large restaurant in fact everything to cater for 1000 people in a weekend that they expect to start arriving from 1 July till September.

The obviously have two prices one for the locals and one for the tourists, because as we checked in and told me the price in euros but had difficulty in working out the price in the local currency which I felt told it all.

Saturday 26th of June

We read in the new guidebooks we had purchased of some interesting Cave Churches in the village of Radozda which was a kilometre away so we walked through to the village, found two churches, built in the 14th century one just an altar and the other quite elaborate high up in the cliff with a church inside and another door to the living quarters of monks as early as the 12th century.

Sunday 27th of June

Today we caught the bus into Struga walked around the small city, with several mosques, and Orthodox churches, observed the water flowing out of lake Ohrid forming the Black Drim River which eventually flows out into the Adriatic Sea, is very impressive volume of water flowing out of the lake and makes you realise just how many springs are flowing into the lake and the volume of water from them.

The cost is 80 dram for the bus into the city and as it was starting to rain when we are getting ready to return and we weren't sure quite where the bus left from we decided to get a taxi, asked the price and were told €10, said we had no Euro on us so what is the local money and he told us 300 dram which equalled €5 so the taxi driver better get himself a calculator before the tourists start arriving in this area.

It looks like the summer season has started at the campsite because people have started arriving with their suitcases so in a couple weeks time at all be probably unpleasant with the volume of people milling around the campsite.

Monday 28 June

Well we left the 1977 camp, and started heading north in line with the Albanian border, around Debar we passed a large artificial lake created by a dam on the River, the same river that we saw flowing out of lake Ohrid yesterday, we carried on up the main road passing several other lakes, most of the time driving through one gorge after the other, it's interesting they still have no photography signs up around the dam's, they are a little bit out of date with what the satellites now  can do.

A roundabout Rostusa in the Mavrovo National Park we visited the monastery of St John Bigorski that was established in 1920 by the monk John of Debar, is dedicated to John the Baptist and has an extremely beautiful interior with incredible carving and beautiful icons.

A lot of the drive today was around 1200 m elevation is rather interesting seeing the lakes at this elevation.

We are now on the motorway towards Tetovo and we will do a right hand turn to carry on to Skopje.

Tuesday 29 June

We carried on the Road to Skopje but our first stop off was at Tetovo where we visited a 15th century mosque unlike any others were seen on any of our travels. Whilst we'll been seeing lots of Muslim mosques right throughout our travels through Macedonia this was the first city we felt was a real Muslim city. Whilst the Moslems make up only 23% of the population you certainly get the impression, with all of the mosques you see, that they represent a much larger percentage of the population.

We then went on to Matka to look at a 14th century church and the power station that was there to take advantage of the lake. The canyon and the cliffs that we could see from the footpath were really impressive.

It was then on into the city of Skopje to look for Markos monastery and of course it was just too much to expect any street signs, or even any signs announcing what village you were going into, and that it almost looks like every signpost, if they ever existed, had been removed to help the tourists!

So we wandered around the streets heading in a southerly direction, and the road started getting narrower and narrower, and of course with that we had the surface of the road so that we are running over some of the roughest roads we had seen, and then it is down to one lane, but by keeping on asking the population where the monastery was, again pointed in the correct direction, which was the way we were going, we eventually ended up their and a very large car park where because of the rain we decided to have lunch and when the rain went off we went off in to look at the woman's monastery, as it turned out to be, but of course we were not allowed to take photographs inside the church, but at least we have our memories.

That's all very well to know where you are on the map, yes we were at the monastery! So we drove back down the road we had come on and then turned right on a new road, which led us to a better road, but nowhere were there any signs. Eventually we came to a road that signalled it was a bypass so we followed that as far as we could and again we end up on a road that was one lane and by asking questions again we carried on that road for another 4 km and ended up on one of the main motorways where we were able to move in the direction of Belgrade, but get off at the signpost pointing towards Kriva Palanka and the road that would eventually lead us to Bulgaria.

Then there was a 11th century Orthodox Church of St George, to look at in the village of Nagoricane, again we were led to there, because of the lack of signs, by two guys on motor scooter who took us right to the church, and whilst we were parked outside a guy appeared with the keys to the door and showed us inside to open a magnificent rich view of icons and frescoes.

We carried on the M2 East until we came to a service station with a very large parking area for trucks which is where we are at the moment right beside a large collection of chooks who I'm sure we'll hear of in the morning.

 Wednesday 30th of June

Today we drove towards the Bulgarian border stopping first at Kratovo the city that was believed to have been established by an ancient colony of miners in the sixth century BC. The name suggest that city was built in the crater of an extinguished volcano and it boasts a unique architecture with amphitheatrically positioned houses, with elegant mediaeval bridges connecting the banks of the Tabackka River.

We looked for the city of stone on the way back to the main highway, but were told that the bridge over the River to the location some 5 km away would not hold the motorhome so we thought we would spare the bridge for the day.

The next stop some 17 km from the Bulgarian border was the monastery of St Joachim of Osogovo which was a drive about 5 km up into the mountains on a narrow road of course, and the 12th century monastery complex consisting of two temples and all the appropriate frescoes and icons was well worth the drive.

It's been quite interesting as we wandered across this country to observe the extremes in simple things like cutting the grass on the edge of the road, most time is done by a man with a scythe and you see them carrying the scythe to and from work on a bicycle, on the back of the scooter, holding it out the passenger's window of a car and of course over their shoulder as they walked down the road. Other times occasionally you see the grass on the side of the road being cut by a weed eater.

The extremes are all so obvious in the countryside where the scythe is often used for cutting hay on one farm and mechanised on the farm beside it.

When occasionally you do see road signs on the side of the road sometimes they are in good condition other times they are so faded that it is almost impossible to work out what they are pointing towards.

We are seeing a tremendous amount of old buildings as we drive through the country and a surprising amount of houses built out of adobe (mud brick) which have obviously stood the test of time and only now are some of them collapsing.

We saw an interesting bridge today half finished, spanning a valley with some of the pillars possibly 60 m high, and the bridge has not made it halfway across, and I presume this is the collapse of the union of Yugoslavia, the same applies to a lot of new buildings, sometimes just the concrete framework has been put up, with the bricks to follow, sometimes the bricks have been filled in on two of the three stories, and they are being lived in there in all sorts of conditions we see as we wander through the country.

And then of course there are all of the empty buildings, the old factories that are no longer being used are the most obvious.

Thursday, 1 July

We drove the few kilometres to pass over the border into Serbia, Lula was delighted with the Cyrillic alphabet showing up at the border, whilst she can not understand the spoken Serbian language, she can read the Cyrillic script and understand what the word is, which is a great help when you get right out in the country where they don't expect to see tourists.

There was no problems leaving Macedonia, and any problem going into Serbia was when the customs guy tried to speak to me in German, I said English, he said motor German, I said yes, I am English, so he gave up and waved me through.

I changed some of my Macedonian money into Serb, they weren't interested in the Turkish, I should have changed some euros into it as well as the rest of the afternoon we had our eyes peeled for a bankamat.

We headed on the main road to Belgrade but decided to leave the motorway and get into the countryside so we turned off the motorway at Vladicin Han and drove in the direction of Vucadelce and then did a left-hand turn towards Pirot and when we arrived in that city we found plenty of Bankamat's Of course the biggest problem is tried a work out how much you want with all the zeros on the money. We then found a supermarket and it was back on the road towards Nis, and about Vrgudinac we found a truck stop and have parked up in it for the night, with the railway line right behind us.

Serbia is basically a very hilly country, twice the size of Macedonia, 20% the size of New Zealand, twice the density of population of Macedonia, the very high unemployment levels are very obvious when you go through the villages like we did today, you see the men sitting in the cafe's drinking beer, it appears the sufficient money for that and spite of the people in the villages living below the poverty line, I presume this is in dollar terms because at least in the village you got to grow your own food.

As we drove through the villages there was obviously not a lot of money about, the housing was usually very old, and again I saw a lot of adobe bricks in the construction, often you saw a weave of sticks making up the walls with mud filling in the spaces and of course originally that would have been whitewashed over, but most of that has disappeared.

Again we saw a few new houses at various levels of construction and one we noticed had no windows or doors but people were living in it.

Friday 2nd July

We carried on the E 80 which was the main road through to Sofia, Bulgaria, and probably the fastest way to Turkey. Like yesterday we passed a continual stream of large European cars heading south with Dutch, German, Austrian, Belgium and goodness knows what else numberplates. They were travelling in groups so we might see for German cars and then for Dutch cars. Looking at the occupants they had the appearance of being Turkish, while they weren't the blonde German or Dutch, so I presume it's the immigrants from these countries going back home with their children to see their grandparents.

I certainly would not like to be on the border of Turkey trying to enter Turkey with all of these people doing the same. It was a continual stream and did not let up at all, which gives the writer, who has no real understanding of how many Turkish people there are in these European countries, a little bit of an idea as to, what must be, a vast number.

We carried on the road towards Nis and then did a right-hand turn and headed towards the city of Zajecar, and just after the village of Minievo we saw a sign to an 11th century monastery 5 1/2 km up a one-way road, was heading into the foot Hills which were clouded with black clouds and the occasional bolt of lightning, but we did not get that worry us, nor did we let the large four-wheel drive truck took up the whole roadway worry us, we just edged by it closely, hoping the weed covered edge of the road was as substantial as it looked.

I must say the monastery was one will best signposted monastery is we have found and there was a small car park in which we managed to turn round and left the motorhome there whilst we walked inside to look at the Church. It is quite a large church built very high with beautiful frescoes on the ceiling and of course no photography allowed. A young girl of about 18 unlocked the door to let us in, and whilst all of the signs said monastery, I am personally of the opinion that it was just a large church with the priest's house next door to it, and the young girl was probably the daughter.

Just as we were leaving the church to return to the motorhome the skies opened and fortunately I had a umbrella with me.

So was back down the road with fortunately no trucks blocking the way, and like yesterday we found ourselves driving through these little villages, and sometimes larger towns, none of which had the Western affluence one sees throughout Europe but more of the provincial Russian towns.

We saw slight traces of the army presence and we had the impression that the army was not as large as it once was due to what we took as abandoned army camps.

We are still seeing the casual approach by pedestrians to the traffic with people wandering over the road, standing talking in the middle of the road, sitting on the edge of the road, children lying down on the edge of the road, it is as if they are totally confident that none of the traffic will hit them, this confidence seems to carry on over when they get in behind the steering wheel, has a lot of the drivers come around the bend on the wrong side so it is a matter of "Tourists Beware".

Just before we got to the city of Zajecar we did a left-hand turn towards Gamzigrad which is an old fourth century castle complex that is in the process of being archaeologically investigated, it was really in quite good condition, we did note they had received a donation from Germany, which possibly accounts for the reasonable amount of activity we observed.

Saturday, 3 July

We left the parking site of the Roman fortress and drove in a large circle of 310 km in 10 hours with Parain on one edge and Bor on another, in doing so we drove into the hills and passed through a lot of real Serbian villages.

We saw everything that one expects to see in a country that has been in a time warp for 60 years and again all the villages and towns really could have been this anywhere in the Eastern bloc.

As well as all the interesting villages we saw a new monastery for women, a 11th century monastery that had been rebuilt in the centre of the old ruins, a woman's monastery in the centre of what I would have to describe as a castle, and of course several churches.

In the middle of going through some of the hilliest country we came across some no photography signs and a few hundred metres on we are at a military camp with about 12 impressive looking tanks and lots of trucks, I wondered most of the day, what does a tank cost these days, because I was sure there is looking at a very impressive investment in this one little hillside military camp.

The roads today were just the normal, from motorway down to one lane, from beautiful tar seal to rough shingle, all of the type the roads you would expect when driving through villages in the heart of Serbia.

Again in Serbia our tom-tom is useless as the main roads only and if you get off one of the main roads you are on your own. This is the way it was most of today, and many times we stopped and asked directions, and everybody was extremely helpful. Luda did all of the asking because a lot of the Serbian words are very close to Russian salute was able to understand some of the basic instructions, and I was able to understand her translation of them into English.

Of course a lot of the villages had no signs at the start or at the end, so he had no idea where you were on the map, and often if you asked where does this road go, they'll ask you, where do you want to go? Eventually however everything would be resolved and you find out that you are miles away from where you thought you should be, but it is all new sights so has nothing to get worried about.

Was getting a little bit late when we got back on to the main road but I thought we would carry on to the lake where there was a motor camp. We wound our way down the mountain and right where the map said there should be, then it was a motor camp, not just any old motor camp, but a beautiful Soviet System motor camp, it was full of people walking about, row after row of permanent mounted caravans, one space available for off the Road traffic, and the space was unlevel, but not as bad as the road leading in to the space which had massive erosion, and if left untouched, could become the Serbian Grand Canyon!

We decided we could do better than this so we got back on the road around the lake and a little bit further on there must have been some sort of Saturday night activity, perhaps a rock concert or something to do with motorbikes, because there were hundreds of motorbikes about, one came within millimetres of a serious accident with myself, of course he like most of the others were not wearing crash helmets, and of course the ones not wearing crash helmets were going the fastest, often with the girl on the back, with the wind rushing through their hair, it must be great to be young and invincible!

We carried on around the lake, looking for a spot to stop, but it was continual traffic from the nearby city of Bor, so it must have been a major event happening, so we just carried on to Bor finding nothing that would do for the night, into the city, obtain some more Serbian money from the bankamat, and then we started heading towards our next location, and looking at our AutoRoute computer map, we saw we were about 20 km from last nights camping spot, so we carried on in that direction looking for something else but eventually ended back when we started this morning.

Sunday, 4 June

Today we took the Serbian M 25 N. to the Romanian border and then stayed on the Serbian side following the Danube River run along the border for at least 200 km and we decided to stop for the night on a bit of waste ground just off the road. If we carried on this road we would end up in Belgrade in about 100 km or so.

No interesting villages today, they are not on these main roads, however once we reach the Danube then we started driving through the beautiful gorge has been carved out of solid rock by the river, we seem to be stopping very frequently to get interesting photos of the Romanian side of the border and of the gorge itself.

We found a campground on the edge of the Danube River, it, in actual fact looked more like a lake. It was a French motorhome there when we arrived, of course they could not speak English, and of course the owners of the motor camp, whoever they were could not speak English but were happy for us to stay, and found that some electricity.

For the rest of the afternoon cars were coming and going, children were screaming, and then had about 8 PM we had a knock on the door and a young guy with a little bit of English wanted to collect some money, asked me how many nights, I said one or two, he asked, would I pay for one now he asked, I said yes and it worked out at 750 dinar or about €7.5, so we were happy with that.

The next morning the French departed, and so did everybody else and we were there by ourselves and a guy arrived on a scooter with his bed, chair and tent all packed on the scooter, he was probably in his 60s and had had a stroke so was handicapped a little bit, but that did not stop them from putting the tent up by himself, pulling up his bed and getting himself totally organised for the night.

We had a leisurely day, two others arrived on bicycles but there was no one there to greet them so they moved on, and that no one from management arrived all day, or night.

Was a rather nice little camp, not one from Soviet times but more recent, which of course is a disadvantage because at least the Soviet time motorcamp's at least have a built in clientele with all of their static caravans. I think there is a good opportunity there for a younger person with a little bit of money to move into Eastern Europe, or in this particular case Serbia, and modernise the motor camp and then set about attracting Europeans to the country.

Tuesday 6th July

Well it is a rather good motor camp, you pay for one night and get the second one free, or that's what happened to us, because no body came to collect their money.

We set off again on our northern route and today we crossed over the Danube at Smederevo, the bridge in this location was 2 km long and then we drove on towards the Romanian border to the city of Bela Crkva, the landscape has now flattened out and were in the plains of Serbia where they grow all of their food, even the houses in the villages have moved up several notches in quality and we are now seeing more orthodox churches and the ones we're seeing are more grandiose, which of course makes for better photos.

We probably will not spend a great deal of time on the plains of Serbia, let's face it one wheat field is much the same as the other along with all of the other crops look the same in every situation.

We drove on until about the village of Plandiste we were found a restaurant, a little bit off the road, so we decided to have dinner there tonight to celebrate our first wedding anniversary, and will stay the night in their parking lot, of course in the motorhome ?

Wednesday, 7 July

Today we carried on North passing through Zrenjanin where we replenished our supplies and we have stopped our driving north on Serbia at the village of Backa Topola where we are parked in the parking area of a disused factory.

Today's scenery was a continuation of the plains with crops of wheat, corn, sunflowers with the wheat being a crop that is being currently harvested. We saw many combine harvesters working in the fields and the skyline, today, was one of many grain silos one after the other. A lot of the wheat fields were quite small, and of course on the other hand there was some way you could not see where they started and where they finished.

There were one or two new harvesters but in all the majority of them were I would guess at least 10 years old, perhaps older.

We of course did pass by at least two monastery's and numerous palaces that were marked on the map but of course the map was not of sufficient scale to find the palaces if indeed they still exist. We also crossed over a canal that ran between the Danube and Tisa Rivers the purpose of which one would need to search the Internet to discover if you are so interested.

We saw a lot of old buildings which had the look of being part of a commune which had possibly failed at least 20 years ago.

Thursday, 8 July

Today we pointed the motorhome's nose south and ended up on a very rough concrete road so we were pleased to see a turn off to the Tollway after about 10 km so we cruised down the Tollway that was subject to massive reconstruction, which fortunately did not affect us, and then got off at the city of Novi Sad where we went for a wander through the old city and drove around the fortress which evidently had some sort of rock concert taking place, and then we drove around the outskirts of the city looking at the little villages, their monastery's and palaces.

We then went on to Sremski Karlovcia a town that is the cultural centre of Serbian culture from the early 17th century. There are four churches built in the 1700s, a town hall and the Museum, (formerly the house of the Rajacic family) built in the 1800s and many other family houses and public buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries.

The night were parked in the car park of a woman's monastery in the country.

Friday 9th of July

Today we carried on our travel south driving to the motorway in driving south stopping at the petrol station's on the motorway to check if they had WiFi, on the third station we got a connection and so I sent out last newsletter, we clear our e-mails for the first time in about three weeks, and then we carried on south through Belgrade turning off to the right hand side about 40 km outside Belgrade with the intention of driving down the left-hand side of Serbia through the mountains, a noble thought.

First of all once we got off the motorway we had no GPS, so were back to the maps with the best one being 1 to 400,000 which of course gives you a general indication providing the signposts are good, but of course they are not, so we ended up going in a gigantic circle which let us No- where and in the end I decided to hang with that part of Serbia and will head back to the motorway to travel south to Kosovo.

So we set out site on the town of Topola where their is supposed to be an old monastery, we follow the signposts and found nothing, so we turned around and came back and found a Maxi grocery shop, we have shopped at one of these before and found them good, and in this case they had a large car park which we have dropped out anchors in for the evening.

I decided to buy 12 bottles of Serbian wine, most of the wine in New Zealand originally came from the cellars of people from the old Yugoslavia, a lot of them of course were from Croatia so time will tell if I have made a mistake with the wine.

Our total purchase came to about €57, our last purchase had Maxi was €45 in both cases we were given a present for spending so much money at one time. Back home if we get away from the supermarket under €120 I consider myself extremely fortunate, goodness knows what sort of present I get the spending that much money here in Serbia. It is also a pretty good indication as to the amount of money the average person spends when they go to the supermarket, and another indication was today we bought a kilo of apricots which were at least one third of what they would have cost in New Zealand.

So it definitely looks like the cost of living in this country would be a very attractive.

We saw a couple of monastery's in our wanderings today, a brand-new one built, it would appear, with cost as no object and beside it, a beautiful new large house which one would assume would be for the priest. The other monastery was a 15th century one which had been totally restored, a four-storey building with the church portion totally empty, no icon no nothing, is being reconstructed as money becomes available so I think in five years time it will be well worthwhile looking at. The interesting thing was this very, very large building was occupied solely by two Monks and the Road to the monastery was made from crushed rock which was rather interesting to drive up!

We passed through two villages, let's call them town's with the main industry being a company called Kolubara metals, I looked at the name and wondered whether it was an Australian company, it has a slight Australian ring about, but probably just as Serbian name translated into English.

Serbia was one of the major suppliers of copper for Europe before the Balkan war in driving past this mining company today and looking at all the new machinery there, it looks like it's getting a massive kickstart back into production. We stopped at a railway crossing whilst about 50 ore carriages went past, they looked new and it was a major hub looking at all the railway lines so I would guess the copper will be flowing again.

Saturday, 10 July

We carried on our southerly route towards the border in Kosovo during a right-hand turn at about Kraljevo for a drive into the mountains, these drives through the mountains are extremely interesting because of the beautiful scenery, wonderful forests everywhere, the sheer rock that the road has been carved out of, rock which must be amongst the most unstable that I have seen, there are rockfalls everywhere and it must be a major job keeping these roads open.

We went up to 1200 m today and we passed a couple of old 12th and 13th century monastery's both have had extensive renovation and one has a massive new building programme going on so it looks like the churches of Serbia are prospering even of the population is finding it hard for jobs.

I feel quite at home in Serbia, I see the name Ivan everywhere both with the English spelling and the Russian.

On our drive through the country we have seen one or two locations where they have been oil wells working with quite large storage area is close by, and we also assume that there is massive coal deposits as it seems to be a fuel of choice by the large piles of coal we see outside some houses. Today we saw a large number of charcoal oven's for the production of charcoal, the first time on our travels with seen such ovens.

We spent the night in the car park of the motel attached to the monastery.

Sunday, 11 July

We drove 50 km today towards Novi Pazar which is probably the last major city before we cross over to Kosovo, which we intend to do tomorrow.

Today we saw a small very old ninth century church built on a small hill which gave it a very prominent position, and then there was the new 13th century church a kilometre away that bore the same name that had nothing of the character of the old church.

We camped on a corner underneath some trees opposite the 13th century Sopocani monastery, one of the major attractions around Novi Pazar in the interior is absolutely beautiful.

Monday 12th of July

We carried on south to the Kosovo border, there are no signposts pointing towards it, and when we got there all we could see was a policeman in the middle of the road, but yes that was the exit from Serbia. We got out okay! And we carried on our drive towards the Kosovo border and again there was no hassles crossing over the border, whilst we're waiting a couple of EEC soldiers with serious guns arrived and started chatting with the staff, and then we on our way.

Just over the border there are a couple of armoured cars, and around the corner there was a large white troop helicopter busy being photographed by one of the international police with his small camera.

As most people know Kosovo was an autonomous region of Serbia until 1989 when for the next 12 months the Serbian army occupied the country and even today when you get a map of Serbia Kosovo is included as part of Serbia.

Some statistics for those that are interested, Kosovo has about 2 million people, is half the size of Wales, .04 the size of New Zealand, and has 180 people per square kilometre, compared to 16 for New Zealand.

The people of Kosovo are about 90% Albanian Muslims and there is about 10% of the population that are Serbs, it was these people that the Serbian army felt they were protecting.

Well it may be 90% Muslim but the Albanian Muslims appear to be much more relaxed about the way their women dress because we have seen very few women, so far, dressed in what we consider to be the normal Muslim dress. Today at the supermarket I saw in older woman dressed in traditional Muslim garb and her daughter who was in her 20s, with the child, was dressed just like a normal Western woman.

Driving through Kosovo we see no evidence of any international peacekeepers, except some that pass as occasionally in army vehicles, we have seen no war damage, well of course it has been 10 years, but supposedly 120,000 buildings were damaged, but we may see more as we go north.

Today we drove through Kosovska Mitrovica and then onto Prizren where we are currently parked in a supermarket car park. The supermarket is just like any Western supermarket in the currency for Kosovo is the Euro.

The roadsigns are almost non-existent, however if you get to the right corner, somehow, there's usually a road sign pointing to the destination you are trying to reach. Yes, again, the GPS has no maps for this country, which does not make it very easy for Luda.

Driving through Kosovo, and we had not crossed over the border, we could just as well have been in Serbia.

Passing by cemeteries, there are quite a few substantial monuments to people killed in the Kosovo war, and we see the Albanian flag flying everywhere, including on the monuments.

From the car park we can see the area that the Turkish contingent to Kosovo are storing their motor vehicles.

Tuesday, 13 July

As we left Prizren we became very aware of just how large the military contingent is here in Kosovo, we passed two very large barracks as we left the town and then all the way towards Pristina we had many of the United Nations army vehicles, under flags of different countries, passing us, in addition to this we saw very many police on the road, stopping and checking vehicles, doing speed checks on vehicles going through villages, so the security throughout Kosovo appears to be still very high.

We had intended to drive north through Eastern Kosovo and the turn off for the road was in the middle of the city is somewhere and of course there were no roadsigns so we ended up going straight up the centre in the east will have to wait for another time.

The Fiat motor has a safety device that if you are in a smash the fuel pump switches off, and the hazard lights come on. Last year we were crossing the border into Romania we hit a large pothole with such a force the motor thought it must have been a smash so switched the pump off and the hazard lights on, and of course we didn't have a clue as to what was so we ended up stuck in the middle of the main road from the border to Romania.

We had the excitement of this happening again here in Kosovo but this time we knew what the problem was so we glided into a parking area and were able to fiddle round until we found the button to get us going again which thanks to attack in last year we knew where to look.

Evidently, since the war, they are now teaching the Albanian language in the schools with English as a second language, before the war, I presume the locals spoke Albanian, but they were taught Serbian in the schools with Russian has a second language.

You have to have your wits really about you driving through this country, there is almost no road courtesy, is a car that is coming towards you want to park on your side of the road that would turn straight in front of you and it is your job to brake. Passing on the main road is always done with the assumption that the car coming towards you will always brake.

Whilst Kosovo is labelled as a Muslim country, we have been surprised at the lack of mosques we have seen, some villages we have not been aware of a mosque at all, and have seen several Christian churches along with many Orthodox. We have almost seen none of the normal Muslim dress for the women, with most dressing just like the West.

Today we had been quite aware of the possible war damage to ruined houses have seen on our travels, once you start looking they seem to be almost everywhere.

Many times we had stopped to ask for directions and everybody is very keen to help, with trucks stopping to see if they can help with directions.

We decided not to go into Pristina having been in many of the smaller towns and cities the chaos that will obviously be of Pristina we can probably do without, so we did a left-hand turn before Laplje Selo and drove towards Pec turning right just before we got to the city and heading towards the border to Montenegro.

To cross the border requires going over a hill that had a top elevation of 1.8 km with the Kosovo border check 1,276 metres and the Montenegro border check was at 1,675 metres with about possibly 10 km of wine de hilly roads between the two checkpoints.

Heading down from the border crossing the past through our first city and was surprised at the number of mosques we have seen the population of the country is about 700,000 with 10% of them being Muslim, of course the mosques always stand out because of their very high minaret where is the normal Christian churches often blend in with the buildings.

The size of the country is a fraction larger than Kosovo which makes it just over half the size of Wales. It has 49 people per square kilometre.

We drove on past Ibarac and was stopped outside a winter ski hotel which is currently closed for the summer and hopefully a peaceful night.

Wednesday 14th of July

Today we decided to go south towards Podgorica and we drove through absolutely magnificent gorges with incredible mountains either side, is very much a ski area and of course with all the magnificent mountains one other users can they be put to.

We again had to content with the kamikaze drivers on the road, almost everybody cuts corners and think nothing of passing coming up to bend, one current front of us past a truck and had not been for the car coming the opposite way putting on the brakes there would have been ahead on collision, and I experienced several similar situations myself.

Montenegro has about two main roads and these are on my GPS at the moment we move away from them we are on our own.

Tonight we are in Cetinje which is supposed to have an old town so we pulled into a car park close by the monastery and the town and will promise to end the night in the car park.

Thursday 15th July

Today we decided to go back to the main road and to do so, we selected a road that will take us through the mountains, towards a village called Cevo, it was a great for half of the journey but the last half of 20 km was done at an average speed of 15 to 20 km/h, it was a one lane road and winding in and around the hills I'm sure that was not a straight piece of road for 500 m. A lot of the time the undergrowth from each side of the road was scratching the motorhome, but this happened so many times on the roads we choose we no longer worry about it.

We got back to the main road in one piece and once there found a monastery built in the 17th century into a rock face, to get to the road at the bottom of the cliff meant driving up a one-way road climbing all the time, looking for places for buses to pass you and other traffic, yes rather interesting.

We called into one restaurant that had a camping sign up, and they explained to us it was not the camping with motorhomes but for camping in their cabins of which they had five, they weren't interested in us parking anywhere on their property for money, perhaps money is still a dirty word.

It's interesting to note as we wandered through this country, the monuments to the fallen of the Second World War, you find them in the most unusual places and on today's drive through the mountains we saw several which must have been possibly remembering the partisan activity in the mountains.

It's interesting to note on some of the gravestones a red Star instead of a cross obviously a result of the strong Communist belief that was in this country for some time.

When we got near the village of Rastovac we saw another camping sign, this time we were allowed to park on their lawn and plug in to the power in the house and are quite happy to take money.

We saw one of two Muslim mosques as we crossed into this country, but since then have not seen any, and have not seen any woman in conventional Muslim dress.

We camped at N42° 49 903  E18° 55 207 on the E762/18 between Niksic & Jasenovo Polje

Friday, 16 July

Today we move on to Bosnia so we drive about 60 km north stopping to look at a 15th century monastery on the way, and we very quickly found ourselves up as 1000 m and a lot of the countryside we went through was obviously set up for the skiing season.

Near the border we saw a sign directing us to the right to an ethnic village, we thought this might be interesting and went out there and really found nothing but a few interesting photos on the way.

As we got close to the border we started entering a beautiful gorge area where the solid rock went from ground level straight up, they're obviously was a river originally flowing through the gorge, and many, this is down the road they build a dam so it is now a beautiful lake hemmed in by these solid rock walls, an ideal situation for a hydro dam and its lake.

We drove around the age of this lake for about 30 km and most of the way we are going in an out of tunnels, I guess that must have been 50 tunnels in all, I've never experienced so many tunnels over such a short area, but was obviously the best way of building a road around this lake. One interesting side event that happened in one of the first tunnels we went through we saw two goats on the right-hand side, either they were going through the tunnel to another pasture or perhaps they were just inside the tunnel where it was cool on this hot day of 30°C+.

We went over the River -- Lake twice by Bridge and then once again after the dam where we could see the river flowing hundreds of meters below, of course that was signed up for no photography around the dam, but people were stopping and taking photographs in every direction, so we joined in.

We eventually got to the border of Montenegro, they took one look at our papers, did not open them, and waved us on through, so we have an entry stamp but no exit stamp. We drove on to the Serbia border crossing, but first we had to drive over a one-way bridge, with wooden planks on it, that we had to drive on, looked like they were being set up for an Indiana Jones movie, but we drove on and got safely to the other side.

The Bosnian border official could speak very good English, and told us he could only let Luda in for six days on a Russian passport, and that was reduced to 3 days after he had stamped it, so I told him we would not be up to spend as much money in three days as we could in six, and then we drove on to the first city across the border called Srbinje, it was a one-way road winding in and around the hills and of course the traffic coming towards us are all driving like they were on a motor rally time trial but again we got safely through all the narrow parts. One driver saw us when he was on a wide part of the road and kept on driving and met us on a narrow part of the road expecting to get past, he backed up of course, reluctantly.

As we were driving down this one-way road we all of a sudden saw a fox running across the road with what looked like perhaps a mouse in his mouth, he was of course too fast for us to get a photo.

We set our first destination to Mostar and that took us through the city of Sarajevo and we observed the very high range of mountains from which we guess all of the sniping took place, it was quite a distance away, so they must have been the sort of shooting we associate with Hollywood, and as we drove through we observed a lot of buildings that had been patched up and were being lived in, they have yet to be painted saw all of the patchwork is very obvious.

Bosnia is a little bit larger than Holland and Switzerland, but it has a fraction of the density and population having only 78 people per square kilometre. It is 19% the size of New Zealand.

After the 1995 peace accord, however, the country was formally split into a Muslim-Croat federation controlling 51 per cent of its territory, and a Bosnian-Serb statelet with 49 per cent. Sarajevo is the republic’s capital and largest city.

The night were found a little parking area beside a supermarket which hopefully will be quiet.

Saturday 17th of July

This morning we carried on a drive towards Mostar and on the way deserved quite a large number of houses with bullet holes in and in ruined condition.

Again we were driving through magnificent mountains, at the bottom of the gorge, with a river flowing beside us, forming into a lake several times because of hydro dams. There are very picturesque villages on the sides of mountains, a few mosques, a few Catholic churches and of course some Orthodox churches.

When we got into Mostar we found a spot to park the motorhome at a rate of €5 per hour, and with the temperature at 40°C we figured an hour in that temperature was more than adequate.

The streets of the old town were cobbled, some of the buildings back to the 16th century, and add a river with a magnificent old Bridge into the equation made it a very photogenic town.

However the heat drove us away so we set the GPS to our next location of Banja Luka up near the Croatian border, yes the GPS is working on a major roads through this country, but don't turn off a major road because if you do you are on your own.

Again driving north were driving through mountains, with a picturesque river making the picture complete and of course the delightful villages on the sides of the mountains.

We are climbing most of the afternoon to a height of 1000 m and we found a quiet little parking spot off the main road near the town of Prozor.

Sunday 18th of July

We carried on North today towards the city of Banja Luka a few kilometres from the Croatian border, again we are driving past electrical hydro dams at the bottom of tall gorges, again the mountains were so high we could not give a signal for our GPS, so we just atayed on the road!

Again it was a beautiful drive, we passed lots of car wreckers yards, driving the way they do here in the old Yugoslavia, has a good business to be in because there is plenty of material.

When we start getting close to the border we met a long line of trucks, and all the cars drove past them on a normal road so consequently when tracks were coming across the border from Croatia, they could not get through, so after about 30 minutes a lot shuffling things were sorted out.

I've no idea why the powers to be, do not make the trucks go to the border on a different road, I would guess that 100 cars cross the border for every track, so there was always a very long line of trucks waiting was the cars move through a reasonably high speed.

Once across the border we got onto a tollway and headed towards Slavonski Brod with the intention of taking local roads back towards Zagreb. We pulled into the first petrol station we saw and parked up in their parking area for the night hoping they won't be that much traffic.

Monday 19th July

This morning we carried on the motorway towards Novi Grad where we saw a beautiful large redbrick cathedral and then we turned left towards Szekszárd and then a side trip to Vrpolje where there is an permanent exhibition of the famous Croatian sculpture Ivan Mestrovic, who died in 1962 as this is his town of birth there are 50 beautiful examples of his work on permanent exhibition, costs a fraction over €1 to see the exhibition and photographs are allowed providing you give an undertaking not to place them on the Internet.

We then drove on to Earnestindve which has the reputation of being the most damaged village during the war after the breakup of Yugoslavia, in this village there was some wooden carvings in an outdoor museum in memory of the Second World War and the recent war. The carvings were absolutely beautiful, and fortunately for the residents, we could see very little traces of war damage on the buildings, we've seen worse in other parts of the newly formed republics.

Our next destination took us through the city called Osijek, the capital of this area, we found a very large parking area beside the River, beside a very large swimming pool, with lots of shady trees, and look just right for us for tonight. Within this large parking area there are some large brick arches which were being told are from Turkish times, and have also been told there was a bridge that ran for 8 km over the marsh and so perhaps we should assume that these arches are what is left from that.

Tuesday 20th of July

We woke up this morning and looked behind the motorhome to see what was creating a little bit of a disturbance in the night round midnight and we found a small German registered car with two bicycles leaning against a post, it had a roof rack which I guess they may have used to carry the bicycles, and the two guys that we heard talking last night was sound asleep on the ground in their sleeping bags with the sky as their roof.

Around 8 AM, A large commercial lawnmower started cutting around the trees and went by these two sleeping beauties within a metre, and they carried on sleeping, we moved the motorhome, and they carry on sleeping, the lawnmower came back and work around them for a few minutes, and they carried on sleeping, we left at about 9 AM and they were still sleeping, but when we went back past the area 30 minutes later one was sitting up in his sleeping bag, so I guess whilst lawnmower might have awaken the dead, it could not wake the living.

We drove first towards Virovitica driving through all the small villages and we were impressed by the apparent quality of the houses, and we're slowly getting the opinion that Croatia was the better place to live in the old Yugoslavia, because it certainly looks like that now.

We saw lots of Catholic churches going through the villages, no Muslim mosques whatsoever, of course the Croat population of Muslim represents .9%.

We drove to the city of Darda and saw a beautiful old Palace that looked like it had been abandoned, probably only had 100 rooms so would make a nice summer cottage for somebody.

It was then on again to Donji Miholjac and another very large Palace that had been restored and it had a beautiful large park as part of its grounds, it was only a few metres from the Hungarian border and we almost crossed that border trying to turn around.

We finally ended up at Durdevac parked in a large parking area on what we hope is a quiet road about 100 meters from us is a low-lying fortress from about the 15th century, it suffered many Turkish attacks that was never seized and is now a cultural Museum.

It is an interesting question, obviously the Turks were in Croatia at the same time as they were in Bosnia and other parts of Yugoslavia, Croatia is almost 100% Catholic and it will be an interesting piece of history to find out how this happened because in most other countries that the Turks occupied, they ended up with a large Muslim population. That's a question for me for some other day.

Wednesday 21st July

Today we carried on driving along the Hungarian border visiting towns or villages that happen to have old palaces, fortresses, or castles. This area of the country has an abundance of these old buildings sometimes in quite good repair.

As we drive through the villages the same cannot be said about some of the houses, there's usually one or two in each village that I would guess would be well over 100 years old, some barely standing but still occupied. Occasionally we see one that was built out of mud bricks but they are often at the unoccupied stage and are falling in on themselves.

In most villages throughout Eastern Europe you can always find a Tap with running water, this is usually a communal tap but this has been missing throughout Croatia, which leads me to believe that most houses have water available in some form, and we have noted Fire Brigade standpipes throughout the village which means high pressure water has been piped through the village.

We have stopped tonight in the car park of a factory outlet, mainly clothes for women and children with a few shops for men, and of course many footwear shops, most of it appears to be junk but I guess it does good business because people think they're getting a bargain.

The temperature today has been in the mid to high 30°s, it's well past the time for us to move north.

Thursday, 22 July

We have not had Internet or e-mail for three weeks so today we headed towards Zagreb and the campground was saud to have WiFi over 80% of the ground. We got there and found it was just off the motorway, with lots of motorway noise throughout the campground, all we need is a Railway line with the train every 30 minutes, and of course a rock festival happening on the same ground and will be right!

The WiFi was only inside the hotel but we decided to stay, catch up on the e-mails, get the washing done and tomorrow we'll head off towards Hungary.

Today we went up close to the border of Slovenia to a town called Desinic to have a look at the largest castle, or fortress in Croatia, for at the moment doing it up with scaffolding all the way round it, I'm not sure that I would like the account just for the hire of the scaffolding there was so much of it, but I guess the EEC is for footing the biggest part of the bill.

As I've mentioned before the old Yugoslavia is full of Ivan's, from famous people, to Warriors, to poets and scholars, and of course you must not forget the towns, there Ivan forms part of the name for many towns for example Ivan Dolac, Ivanbegovina, Ivancec,Ivanec, Ivanje, Ivankovo, Ivansks, and the list goes on and on, and that is just for Croatia had in all of the other new countries and one will see why it is well and truly a Slav name.

Friday 23rd of July

Passing through one of the hundreds of villages that we have done this on this trip this morning we came to a stop in the middle of the village because the tractor had stopped in front of us and the driver was having a chat with somebody that was walking past so we waited about four minutes until they had updated each other with world affairs and we drove on.

Today we headed straight towards the Hungarian border via the toll way which was a good fast trip directly north. The Croatian and Hungarian border control were in cubicles side-by-side so you drove to the first one, they stamped your passports, drove 1 m to the next, they examined your passports to see whether they would let you in and then you're on your way. Most of the ones ahead of us more or less drove straight through with the border control just glancing at their documents so they are obviously locals from one of the close by countries.

We drove north towards Budapest, after getting lost when we went off the motorway to try to buy a motorway vignette and we ended up going back the way we had come but we soon sorted that out, it did not help that the tom-tom maps for Hungary were not as complete as one would like them to be, but then that is the choice of travel.

We passed by Lake Balaton, we did not dare stop as the guidebook suggested that half of Budapest will be camped around the lake.

We passed by a large shopping centre and decided to go back and use their car park for the overnight stop so we are near a city called Székesfehérvár which is about 100 km south of Budapest.

I decided to buy a Garmin GPS as they seem to be very strong with maps outside Europe and we will also see how their maps compare to the tom-tom.

Saturday 24th of July

We were moved on from the car park that we thought we may stay at for the night by a security personnel so we drove on to the next petrol station they have a large parking area and part there along with all the trucks etc.

This morning when I stepped out to check over the motorhome I saw behind us and American motorhome with a Russian numberplate, so I collected Luda, and we wandered down there, I shouted out a "hello" through the window, and he replied in English, then Luda greeted him in Russian, and they were yakking away in Russian for the next 10 minutes.

He was from Moscow, they spent about a month on the road, graduated from tents to motorhomes, bought his current American motorhome in US on the Internet, it was quite an old American motorhome so I guess he got it at a good price, of course he had to pay the duties and freight, to get into Russia, but he was pleased with this purchase.

Today we carried on across the width of Hungary covering possibly half of the distance including a large circle around the Budapest taking the transit route which was highway number MO and going the direction we are going we are watching for the Ukraine sign UA.

We were also testing out the new Garmin GPS and the first thing that became very obvious was that you get what you pay for, it was what I would call one for general consumption and so the processor speed and it was quite slow and the options for inputting the address and the other housekeeping requirements were extremely basic so it looks like the upgrading from the nuvi 205W to something more at the top of the line. The maps for Hungary were extremely good when compared to the Tom-Tom.

We stopped about 23 km from the Slovakia border and we chose to stay in the parking area near the railway line so I guess we'll find out just how many trains run through this part of Hungary.

Sunday 25th of July

We had rained most of the night so we woke up to a wet morning with the temperature at about 16°C, I think that is what I wished for, to drive north where the temperature was cooler, however I had not imagined such a drastic drop.

We carried on our dash across Slovakia, stopping for a couple hours in a new major hypermarket -- shopping centre, in my wanders around the shops I found a couple of shops selling GPS units, and found that one had just received in the latest Garmin, it has been out and about two weeks and is the size and thickness of an iPhone. I worked out the only way to find out if the Garmin was better for me than the tom-tom was to use it, and as the maps for the rest of the world are available on Garmin a little bit of a easy decision to make so I now am the proud possessor of the latest Garmin and a consumer model.

About 2 km from the Polish border we saw a lot of the memorials to the Second World War, there was a Russian tank in the process of driving over a German one, several field guns, a Russian world War two fighter plane, a large Russian style memorial and then to add a little bit of colour to the whole proceedings we came across about six Russian Orthodox churches, they in themselves would make an interesting story in a population that is mainly Catholic and were 1000 years under Hungarian domination.

It rained all day and we crossed over into Poland without any problems, naturally, and we are parked in a large TIR parking area.

Monday 26th of July

We carried on driving north towards Bialystok and completed 300 km today on a main road which occasionally turned into a motorway and very often into a one way road with traffic lights to get the traffic past the roadworks.

All the roads we were on today were extremely busy, and this is what we have found every other time we have been in Poland that is almost as if there are not enough roads for the numbers of cars. Certainly if they start building good motorways between the main centres it will make travel much more pleasant than at the moment there are a large number of trucks also wanting their road space and where ever there is off the road parking and is usually full of trucks, even seem to be occupying the bus stops.

If all this is not enough with seeing at least 12, possibly more, cars, with learner drivers, learning how to get one of their cars onto the road and thereby adding to the volume of cars. We even saw a bus with a learner sign on it so Poland is really getting on the road and making up for lost time.

Tuesday 27th July

We carried on driving north towards Bialystok and passed on the outskirts of the city and drove on towards Augustów and the Lithuanian border, a total of 250 km today, again moving with the incredible large fleet of trucks that operate in an out of Poland. As with the rest of the Eastern European countries the principle of the driving is that the other person always gives way, and this is practice mainly with the overtaking in impossible situations so again defensive driving is a must.

We found a very large open space is obviously used for truck parking, it used to have complete facilities with a bar and Grill but that has disappeared, the tyre marks are quite fresh so possibly we all have a little bit of company tonight, only time will tell.

One of the villages we passed through today here in Poland, could have been dropped in place from northern Russia, right down to the Orthodox church, and in a Catholic country. After this village we saw several Orthodox churches, and the thought that occurs to me is that perhaps the occupants of this area are some of those that left Russia at the time of the Revolution and this part of Poland is within easy access of the Russian border.

Wednesday 28th of July

We drove on 190 km towards Vilnius in Lithuania, we met a continual line of trucks coming from Lithuania to Poland, a large percentage of them Polish, at one stage we passed a line of about 20 trucks one after the other, it occurred to me very, often when I see such a line, what an inefficient way of moving goods these large trucks are. They each have a driver and a very large motor and it is the fact that they are on a road that makes them inefficient particularly when you compare it to rail. I wonder how long it will be before we see large quantities of goods being moved by helium balloons!

A little bit after the city of Marijampole we passed through a large forest and found a road leading into the forest had an open space which will suit us for the night.

Thursday 29th of July

Our first destination for today was the island castle of Trakai, who was destroyed during the Cossacks 1655 invasion however the Soviet authorities in 1950 started reconstruction of this monument to Lithuania glorious past and was completed in 1987. There was a beautiful walk all the way all the way round the lake and very many beautiful houses right on the water's edge.

On our way on to the next port of call, the road was slightly elevated and looking down on the right-hand side I saw a man asleep in the grass, I presume the medicine he was taking was just too strong.

We had quite a lot of rain in various parts today, but just enough sunshine or near sunshine to do the photographs we wanted, incidentally July is the wettest month for the Baltic states.

We stopped for lunch in a parking spot called "The Oak Woods of Dukstas", this was a memorial spot for the tremendous oak forests that used to be part of the Lithuanian landscape and that almost all now gone. This had beautiful walks through the forest, on wooden walkways, and they were wooden carvings of people, birds and animals, and really beautiful location.

From here we went on to Suderve and saw the enormous circular church, Catholic of course, completely different to anything else we have seen on our travels.

In the 14th century there was the Polish Lithuanian alliance which lasted for over 200 years, this was followed by 120 years of occupation by Russia during which the Catholic churches were converted to Orthodox churches and they tried to ban the Lithuanian top language replacing it with Russian.

Currently they have a density of 55 people per square kilometre, that 24% the size of New Zealand which makes them larger than Serbia but smaller than Scotland.

Our next destination was Kernave a village with 500 population, but its roots go back as far as 9000 BC and there are five large burial mounds which are interesting to look at and perhaps to walk around but to learn anything he had to venture into their wonderful museum which is full of archaeological finds from this villages long history.

Like most of the other countries would been in this year there are hazards that you encounter while travelling their roads, the latest hazard we saw today was a man asleep on the edge of the road with his feet on the road, fortunately he was on the other side of the road so we were not tested on our driving ability, again I assume he had too much medicine, possibly for the flu!

Driving through the villages we are impressed by the beautiful wooden houses, some quite old and the other factor about Lithuanian that we were not aware it has very many lakes in fact it may rival Finland when size is taken into account.

Driving towards our next destination we came across a road sign which pointed to the supposed location of the centre of Europe, having passed one in Poland we turned off to look at this one and found there was a large parking area which we have settled in for the night and a Hymer has just joined us, like all Germans he could not understand why we could not speak German when we were driving a German registered motorhome.

Friday, 30 July

We woke up to a beautiful fine day which made driving round the country a pleasure, beautiful green forests and landscapes everywhere, no rubbish on the side of the road like was seen in other old Soviets and all of the roads, today, were in very good condition.

We drove up 5 km on a bad shingle road to see a point of interest that looked interesting, we arrived at the bottom of the hill with a beautiful carving showing a ninth century village at the top of the hill. So we started climbing up the stairs, they were wet and a few of the steps had rotted away and others had been replaced. When we got to the top of the second tier with another one as high to go, I decided I'd had enough so went on back down, Luda climbed to the top, looked around could find nothing, kept on walking, found some workmen they could speak English, No, there was no village around here on the top of any hill, so I guess this is where the village was and probably disappeared 2- 300 years ago, and not let everything there in case people are interested.

While I was sitting in the motorhome waiting for Luda, four other vehicles pulled up, and up the stairs they climbed!

We passed through a very interesting town just before the village of Ignalina, and had a beautiful old wooden church and behind that a campground.

We drove around the whole area looking at the lakes and the landmarks and we ended up 5 km from the campground that we had seen, so back there we went, the campground reception was at the village public relations office, so I'd traipse to 500 m to the office, no they couldn't speak English, but they managed to, no they would not take Euros, no they would not take credit cards, and the closest Bankamat was 5 km away! It's interesting how the old socialist thinking takes sometimes several generations to disappear in some countries, I know for sure if there had been an Asian looking after the campground they would have taken any currency!

We decided to move on, so we filled up with water, emptied our toilet, and said a GPS for Birzai some 155 km away and after about 60 km we pulled into a parking spot for the night.

Saturday 31st of July

Today we headed north towards Birzai and after about 15 km we pulled over to the right-hand side of the road to stop for a moment, in hindsight we should have driven another 50 m and stopped on the bus stop, but we didn't, we pulled off onto the side of the road, and the right-hand wheel went onto the grass. Now Lithuania as had a lot of rain lately, so the last thing you should do is put the front wheels, of a front wheel drive motorhome onto wet ground, because when we went to drive out, we were very successful in pushing the right tyre into the ground the depth of the rubber.

It is times like this it is useful to have the levelling jacks because I just lowered the front two jacks and raised both front wheels off the ground, then we put stones and gravel into the hole, and we could see that that was not going to be enough to do the job.

A Fiat panel van stopped, and three Russian guys got out to see what they could do to help, no they did not have a tow rope, either did I, (I have one now), but they stopped a car, with another Russian, we hooked up to the van, and very carefully extracted the motorhome from the wet ground.

They were all very happy to help, looked for no reward, but said when they came to New Zealand, it would be our turn to help, and then started to go on their way.

Its moments like these you need the two bottles of vodka, that you haven't opened, that you carry in the garage, so I presented one to each of the cars, and they drove on their way, happy!

As we've been driving through Lithuania was noticed a tremendous amount of wooden carvings everywhere, they have large wooden crosses on the side of the road with a couple of religious figures carved in front of the cross, often at a church there are religious figures carved out of wood, you see them outside restaurants and almost any other sort of business.

On our way to the first destination we saw a group of old cars and then as we drove on further we passed more going in the same direction so is obviously the local Vintage car club having its Saturday outing, almost all of the cars were Russian, I think we saw one older American car there, I don't think any were older than the 50s, but is interesting that they have sufficient time and money now to start being involved in a pursuit that can become costly.

We kept passing again today many lakes as we drove through the country and when we finally got to Birzai we parked beside the earthen walls that used to run round the castle and just beyond that was a beautiful old church and a very old Bridge. We were told that the town was also known for its traditional breweries but as there were no signposts pointing to these, in English, we had to pass them by.

From the road we saw a very large church, the size of a cathedral, very small town, so we stopped to do some photographs, there was a German motorhome parked in the car park, yes he could speak English, but like most Germans found difficult to grasp the fact that we were speaking English with a German motorhome.

He had a very expensive Hymer, almost one of their best models, and we started talking GPS, he had a simple map on a computer that was mounted up on the dashboard, with no ability to plan routes or to be guided through cities, we spoke about the Garmin, but he felt their maps were too expensive, guess he must have spent all of his money on his motorhome!

Our next destination was Seduva a town known for its quaint little wooden houses and a rather beautiful large Catholic cathedral and then it was time to move on to Siauliai and then drive about 12 km towards Riga where we found the hill of crosses, a hill covered with thousands of crosses crucifixes and rosaries, and is said to be an inside and the significance of Catholicism to Lithuania, crosses strated appearing on the hill in 1831, and they were seen to be an unnecessary religious symbol to the Soviet power and the hill has been cleared four times and each time they start appearing again and finally in the late 1970s the hill was left in peace.

We found a parking lot for the night, outside a factory that is falling down.

Sunday, 1 August

We drove today towards the Zemaitijos Nacionalinis Park and stopped at the village of Plateliai which was on the edge of a beautiful lake and had some very interesting wooden houses painted various colours and a very large wooden church. We drove on through the park coming out at a town called Plunge which is known as the gateway to the park, or in our case the exit.

There we saw another beautiful large wooden church, and heard some loud singing coming from the congregation and just outside the town there was another wooden church in a good spot to be photographed.

I guess by now we possibly have the world's biggest collection of photographs of churches around Europe.

We then headed towards Silute near the Kaliningrad border but stopped 20 km outside the city when we found a rest area in the forest we will spend the night.

Monday, 2 August

We left the camping spot and drove on into Silute looking for the Gulag and had been turned into a museum, I guess we did not have the right papers because we could not find it anywhere, we asked a woman and she said it was on the left but I think she was talking about something else, so we left it at that and drove on to the Neringos Peninsula, they don't have a bridge connecting to the mainland but they do have two ferries working continuously taking traffic across, it wasn't cheap at 112.90Lt (€33) and then once we got onto the island we had to pay a road tax of 70 Lt which was another €20, and then the campground end up costing us €38, the messages Lithuanian is very fast catching up with Europe in charges.

The campground is quite busy with one motorhome tour of about eight vans leaving tomorrow and absolutely dozens of tents.

Tuesday 3rd August

We left the camp site out on the Peninsula and drove back to the ferry and discovered that they only charge for the ferry going one way which of course makes the price much more reasonable.

We then drove north to Palanga town right on the sea and as you come into the town, on the side of the motorway, there must have been about 50 cars, parked, all with placards advertising rooms or apartments to rent. Then as you drove into the main street they must be in another 50 people standing on the side of the road again with placards advertising rooms or apartments so there must be a massive number of people come to these seaside towns in the peak of summer.

We drove down near the beach looking for a point of interest and it was just about getting ready to rain was interesting seeing the vast numbers of people heading away from the beach, it makes you realise that the apartments and room rental are really big business in the town.

We visited another seaside town a few kilometres north and it was a repeat of what we'd just seen both volumes of people with rooms to rent and volumes of people wandering around near the beach.

We drove on North into a cloudburst and before we realised what had happened we were over the border to Latvia, or what used to be the border. We drove on another 9 km to a village called Rucava and in the local cemetery we found the graves of about 700 Russian soldiers killed in 44, 45. Ludas uncle was one of these and we found his grave marker.

We found a nice peaceful spot by the woods where we will spend the night.

Wednesday 4th August

Today we drove up the Latvian coast towards Ventspils and in that city where the opportunity of seeing an outdoor museum, a old building that was called Castle but looked more like just a substantial building, and a couple of Orthodox churches, one in the process of being restored and the other boarded-up whilst they work out what to do with it.

Driving through the countryside and villages one can't help but notice the numbers of empty buildings both in housing and factory or from the Commune period. There is also a fair share of old buildings with their roof falling in, and in Latvia it appears as if there is not as much money as in Lithuanian, or perhaps I should say not as much is spent on the roads, and some of the apartment buildings do look like they are well overdue for a touch of paint or water blasting.

We turned off the main road onto a shingle road and in 100 meters found a little layby where we have stopped for the night.

Thursday, 5th August

Today we drove towards the centre of Latvia after first visiting the old town of Kuldiga where we saw the magnificent old wooden houses, some that were constructed with brick and thatch, are also a couple of magnificent churches three or four Lutheran and one Orthodox, a magnificent waterfall which has the label of being the widest waterfall in Europe and of course wherever the river you are liable to find a beautiful old Bridge which is one of the features of this town.

We drove on towards Jelgava stopping and looking at castles and magnificent churches on the way. Then we drove on to Bauska to look at one of the finest palaces in the Baltic region, it is currently in the last process of a complete restoration.  We stayed on their parking lot for the night.

Latvia is fractionally smaller than Lithuania and has 1 million less people, Lithuania has about 8% of the population listed as Russian where as Latvia has 33%. Both countries have quite large forest areas and both seem to be strongly into growing of wheat.

We passed one very large German cemetery in several Russian cemeteries from the Second World War.

We saw quite a few people walking into the woods and several were walking with bags of mushrooms, Luda became quite excited when she saw this as mushrooming is a favourite past time in Russia and throughout Europe. So we pulled over on a parking area and Lulu was gone for about 40 minutes and came back with a marvellous collection of mushrooms, nothing like what we see in New Zealand. Some of them I thought should have been left in the ground for a natural history photograph, but Luda thought they would look better on the plate!

Friday the 6th August

This morning we set our GPS for Riga and just as we were leaving the vicinity of the palace we stopped at a house that indicated they had a collection of vintage cars, an elderly gentleman greeted us, his collection of cars were those that he had personally restored, from what I understand since he retired, he had a management job at the Palace prior to retirement but claimed he had a total understanding of the automobile.

In his collection were a Steyr 120, Horch 951, two BMW 326, a 1957 Volga and a Zaporozec that looked vaguely similar to a Fiat 650, he had a marvellous collection of old parts, lots of complete motors, even had a mould for a Horch headlight glass.

He had about six more old cars out in his backyard but he had the feeling he would not be able to restore anymore. His workshop was impressive with a full size lathe to manufacture difficult parts. Fortunately he could speak Russian so communication, thanks to Luda, was no problem.

So is back on the road again towards Riga, stopping at Bauska to get good photos of the castle beside the River, and it was on into Riga, to a spot that we thought we could find parking, and in the end we took the coward's way out and drove to Riga City Camping which was a 2 1/2 km walk from the centre of the city.

Once parked up, we strolled into the city, had lunch off a Latvian menu then went from walk round the cobblestone streets of the old city before heading back over the bridge to the campsite.

Saturday, 7 August

We left the campsite and went to the other side of the city to look at the open air Museum, a large area of open natural ground with Forest and old houses from all over Latvia rebuilt or replanted to show what life once was like.

We then decided to head south and got on the A4 and then we realised as far as tourist sites like old castles, palaces and churches and old interesting villages, we were not going to find any, so we turned around and headed towards the A2 driving through a national park and of course passed some ruined castles, old palaces and some interesting landscapes.

At about 5 PM we turned right into an unknown village, and parked at a old railway station without a name.

Sunday 8th August

This morning we drove to Cesis and saw some beautiful old houses, a very smart looking Orthodox Church, an old castle that looked like it was having restoration work done on it, and so we moved on to Valmiera were we parked in the centre of the city that everything was other than the very large roundabout, the ruins of a Livonian Order Castle, a 13th century church are the main points of interest in this 13th century city, its old town had been devastated during the Second World War.

We then headed towards Svetciems on the Baltic coast and drove north to Estonia taking the coastal route. Around Rannametsa we found a large parking area where we pulled in for the night.

Monday 9th August

Our first destination was the city of Pärnu often referred to as Estonia's summer capital, we stopped there and went to a supermarket to replenish our supplies, and I must say I was most impressed by the quality and quantity of the items that were available for sale I think it was the best stocked supermarket in goods and the way the items were displayed that we've seen on this trip.

The houses in the city were quite beautiful and quite new and eventually we drove on to our next destination which was the village of Tõstamaa and on our way towards the village we passed a rather beautiful old Orthodox Church that once we were in the village we could really find nothing there and so moved on past couple lakes we hope to see an always thought was Forest and a shingle road, so we pressed on to our next destination which was the town of Lihula.

There we saw in the main street row of beautiful old wooden houses of many colours, one of two houses that were no longer occupied, and old Orthodox Church whose roof had collapsed, and then there was an old Lutheran church built on the site of the original church in 1241, they say stones from the original building were used in the existing church.

The museum for the town occupied the building that was in the process of some restoration and it looked like what one would associate with a governors mansion or something similar and then we moved on to the port of Virtsu from where you can catch a ferry to the island of Saaremaa. We are parked overnight in a car park near the ferry terminal.

Driving through the countryside today we had the impression that life in Estonia was better than the other countries of the Eastern bloc that we have visited, of course it was the smallest country of the old soviet union being a fraction larger than Holland, with a population of about 1 1/2 million, 17% the size of New Zealand and 31 people per square kilometre. Probably all these things possible we make a difference.

Tuesday, 10 August

We drove down to the ferry, paid the €10 to cross over to the island, drove over the small island, over the causeway that was built in the 1800s by Sweden, onto the large island where we saw some very old churches from the 13th and 14th century, that had been designed as churches and fortresses, so they had good thick walls and openings from which I guess you could shoot an arrow or a spear but most of them were still in very good condition with one that needed substantial renovation.

We drove on to Kuressaare which was the capital of the island, and have a good look at the real old houses in the town, the castle, its grounds, and a beautiful Orthodox Church.

We are most impressed with the landscape that were driving through today very green, very clean and very tidy. Beautiful forests everywhere and lots of places where you can park your car, and go off into the forest on one of the very many trails that there are. Passing by a gap in the forest we found a moose watching us and just kept on eating the grass whilst we photographed her.

We visited another shopping centre today, and I realise that it is the Scandinavian cleanliness in design and their products which impressed me yesterday at the shopping centre we visited, it's not something we've seen in the other two Baltic countries.

We drove on to the end of the island and photographed the lighthouse and had a look at the fortifications that had been left by some of the previous occupants over the last hundred years, then drove back towards Saaremaa we were found a quiet little spot looking out towards the sea to spend the night.

Wednesday, 11 August

This morning we headed back towards Kuressaare and then drove to the other side of the island and Kihelkonna and then headed back towards the ferry stopping at Leisi for the night.

Today we saw the usual collection of churches both Lutheran and Orthodox lots of nice little villages, many cemeteries, including wartime ones, and at a quiet large Russian graveyard/memorial we found a couple of men toasting the memory of obviously one of the soldiers. The tradition is that if there are two of you at the graveyard, you pour three glasses of vodka, drink a toast to the missing person, then leave the glass with a piece of bread on the top at the graveyard. This is of course only a Russian tradition!

Estonia like all of the other old Soviets has a lot of large empty buildings that were possibly built during the collective farming experiment and they are slowly decaying away through lack of attention and neglect. We've come across one of two apartment blocks in various places that also looks like they have been abandoned.

Thursday 12th August

We woke up this morning and realised we had 11 days before we were due back in Frankfurt for Luda to fly to Kiev, this meant we either had to leave immediately and drive leisurely back, or spend three more days in Estonia and drive rapidly back.

We decided for the leisurely drive, so this means we have 90% of Estonia to see again some other time, and of course, as always, the bits we have missed looked like some of the best, but time will tell.

So we set our GPS for Frankfurt and told us we had 2050 km to drive that should take 25 hours. Now knowing some of the roads and the amount of traffic on them in Poland that is a debatable time. This evening we are in Riga at the Riga camping in the centre of the city, catching up with our e-mails in getting this newsletter away.

After Frankfurt I will be visiting a motorhome manufacturer that manufacturers overland motorhomes to see if I can get the ideal motorhome at the ideal price.

Then I go on to Dusseldorf to the motorhome show to look at what is new in motorhomes and equipment that goes with them.

Then it's on to England to attend the English meeting of the Silk Road Club, then on to Ipswich to track down a primary school mate who has spent most of his adult life there, then down to Bath to attend the American motorhome show, then into London to buy a few maps and travel guides for next year and then finally back to Holland for the motorhome into storage and fly home at the end of September.

Friday 13th of August

Opps it's Friday the 13th and I didn't realise!

Just as we were leaving the Riga campground a couple ran up to us with the message " we are from New Zealand"...... " we are from New Zealand", and indeed they were a couple of farmers from Winton wandering around Europe for three months this year and hopefully the same next year.

Yes they are hard to get away from! We had a great yak and that was on the way south and tonight we are a large car park with Internet access which will cost us €5 for the night which we figure is okay.

It was an uneventful day driving south if you ignore all the drivers playing chicken and trucks turning a two lane road into a three lane road, but as long as you realise you are always the chicken you don't get roasted!