5-6 September: And so back to the UK!

Author: Mr (and Mrs) A

Location: Dieppe to Newhaven ferry, English Channel, Europe

And so after just over 4 months touring Europe (we find ourselves already distinguishing that from the UK!) and we are on our way back to the UK. A time to reflect on our experiences.

We started Europe on a high, with a few days with friends (new and old) Champagne tasting
We feasted in a farmhouse in Provence

110 of those nights were spent camping, in all sorts of places from car parks in the middle of towns, ‘fancy’ (often not) campsites charging more than a hotel, vineyards, oyster farms, beside crumbling castle ruins…and so the list goes on. What those places had in common was a respect for other campers. Even when crowded together a metre apart, not once were we were disturbed by thoughtless noise from our fellow campers or passers by. In Australia, as our camping friends know, you’re lucky to go a couple of nights without some booze ot drug fuelled hoons running your serenity. A very different culture here, both on campsites and on the roads. We’ve loved that.

A vineyard with a view in Barga, Italy
Magical sight of Assisi complete with friendly cats
Seafront views complete with oysters in Brittany
A little bit of history in Normandy

What we’ve missed is the ability to just chat to people easily because we share a language. This morning my trip to the boulangerie went particularly smoothly, even ending up with what I thought I ordered, a rarity I have to say. There was a real sense of achievement in that, given my very sad state of linguistic ability. I spent French lessons at school being mostly slapped with a ruler by a very uninspiring educator. I will though miss being challenged to learn at least the basics to show courtesy to our local country hosts. But our UK friends and family beware, we are incoming with A LOT TO SAY!

Plenty of English spoken with friends in La Marche, Italy
New friends made in Austria
Old connections reestablished in Germany…

We have loved the variety of scenery and culture that Europe offers. You drive a few miles down the road and everything you see changes so fast. The landscape, the architecture, the farming, the signs (despite the EU’s best efforts), it’s a constant assault on the senses and we have loved it. The variety in the food as well, stacked up in supermarkets groaning with options. And please explain why you travel 20km down the road and go from one “country” to another and the food is completely different. How did that come to pass? Well I’m glad it did anyway. For us, Italy was an absolute standout winner on the dining-out front, quality, price, service, ambience…all just brilliantly executed. And on dining in, well we found great fresh produce everywhere, and the very talented Mrs A turned that into awesome lunch and dinners in our little Truffy.

From Italian hilltop villages…
….to fields of poppies….
To Lake Bohinj in Slovenia….
…and Slovenia’s Lake Bled…..
Alpine lakes in northern Italy
Incredible scenic cycleways in Austria

In the driving department (there’s only me working in that one), it was a little stressful to start with getting used to the dimensions of our Fiat truck, with its the manual gear box changed with the right hand (it is left hand drive), plus everything happening on the other side of the road. But…OK…settled into it. A few hairy moments, like driving into a tunnel in Italy having roadworks performed, which clearly didn’t involve fixing the tunnel lights, and seeing massive lorries thundering towards me in the other lane, usually reserved for traffic going the same way!! But I have to say while on the subject of Italy, the drivers there were some of the most courteous we encountered, overtaking in places I wouldn’t, but understanding of my constraints in Truffy. We had one horn honked at us in 4 months, I was a little cautious after the tunnel nightmare of every dark yawning hole that I approached…a little too carefully it would seem.

Finding somewhere to park for the night, even in the middle of the high season, never presented a problem. We didn’t always like the prices or the facilities, but there was always somewhere. France the clear winner here. Their network of places to pull up, refill with water, empty your grey and black water, is just fantastic, and many of these are free. We always tried to make sure we went into the town though wherever they were and spent some money, only fair. Many of these places were no more than scruffy car parks with a bit of kit in the corner that allowed for the emptying and filling, with various degrees of success and cleanliness. Mrs A was also an absolute wiz at researching all of these stopovers, allowing me to focus on getting us there in one piece. What a team!

Diverse scenery in Austria…
Our bikes that took us for literally hundreds of kilometres
Our packrafts allowed us to get away from the crowds and see some wildlife

So what would we have done differently? I asked Catherine this yesterday and we both agreed…very little. Splashed out on an awning for Truffy to keep us cooler, that’s about it. We also knew we had a great team in our dealer’s workshop to talk to if something went wrong with Truffy, which it rarely did. We loved the layout of the van, but more of that in a separate post. Having almost constant internet thanks to our 4G signal booster on the roof and a super plan from Vodafail…connectivity and therefore information was almost always on hand…well except in Germany where they seem to be strangely lagging in the internet department given their usual level of efficiency! Even the amount of time on the road felt right, if we hadn’t have had our stopovers “drive surfing” through France and Italy we think it would have been more challenging. As it was we got to stretch ourselves out every so often and move our elbows while having a shower…luxury.

A bit of drive surfing to celebrate a big birthday in Italy
And another big birthday celebrated in Croatia, island hopping by boat and cycling

So…friends-and-family time next and we are both really excited to be doing that. One thing we have noticed about writing this blog, our friends don’t feel they need to check in and share what they’re up to (or maybe it’s the excuse they’ve been looking for all along!?).) We have so much catching up to do.

Red legged bees in Slovenia

Then at the end October its back to Australia, our fur child and Aussie based friends. That also is something to look forward to. Retirement…the holiday that never ends. Or sorry I should say “career break” for Catherine. She gets a bit touchy if I say “we’re retired”. She’s clearly too young for that, and spends a chunk of her time volunteer-working on her role as admin for the health support group she runs along with research with doctors across the world. Much to admire in my wife…

11 – 12 July: Zagreb and surrounds – a different Croatia to the over touristed Dalmatian coast

Author: Mr A

Location: Samobor and Zagreb, Croatia

Thursday: We took advantage of the cooler, mid twenties weather and leapt on our bikes to explore one of the many rides signposted around the small town of Samobor, to the west of Croatia’s capital Zagreb. The area does a good job of branding itself as a gourmet weekend destination for the weary city dwellers nearby. No evidence of them on a Thursday and it was beautifully quiet.

Market day looks vibrant in colour but is quite empty on this morning
The Gradna river winds its way gently through town
Samobor Castle peeks over the trees above the town. It dates back to 1260

Firstly though it was a visit to the doctor for an annoying blocked ear. This would be the second time I had visited a doctor in Croatia and both times had been seen immediately with no appointment.

The first time I saw a private doctor in an immaculate surgery, and paid the same as I would in Australia, the gap between what the government thinks a doctor should charge and what they actually need to charge. On this second occasion there was no private doctor so I was sent to an “emergency” facility, again top notch, well presented facilities with super friendly staff. I paid the equivalent of £1 (AU$2).

I contrast this not only with my experience at home in Australia but the miserable task of getting to see a doctor in the UK. I was told to turn up the next morning and “expect to wait around 3 hours”, or have an appointment in several weeks’ time! No wonder the UK’s life expectancy rates are declining and the infant mortality rates increasing. The country is bursting at its narrow seams with people and just not coping…in my opinion.

So on with our ride with hearing restored. Bucolic scenes were everywhere, the rich soil and climate enabling small allotments being tended by stooped figures.

Beautiful scenery and comfortable riding temperatures
Riding alongside the Sava River, watching a car ferry cruise across
Sweet corn fields backed by the Žumberak and Samobor Mountains

We took it all in and enjoyed the fresh climate and green space after the stifling heat and endless concrete developments on the coast.

Having cycled 45km (29 miles) we had worked up an appetite and headed for lunch at a family run restaurant recommended by our campsite host.

Wild mushroom soup for one!

Mushroom soup, containing 15 different types of this locally picked delicacy, was followed by shared plates of a delicious mushroom risotto and fresh asparagus with scrambled eggs.

I think this was the best lunch we’ve enjoyed since we have been in Croatia. Immediately you can taste the freshness of local produce, something we have been missing in the tourist spots on the coast.

Friday: The next day we took a bus and tram into Zagreb. I’m sad to say we were completely underwhelmed by this capital city. We just didn’t find much to really get excited about.

Zagreb has a daily market selling fresh fruit and vegetables, cheeses and a few trinkets
The twin towered cathedral looms over the town
A dramatic looking water feature

We walked up to the Upper Town, the old Zagreb. There Catherine wandered into St Marks church.

Its colourful tiled roof, constructed in 1880, has the medieval coat of arms of Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia on the left side, and the emblem of Zagreb on the right.
The 14th century Gothic portal

I have decided to stay out of churches as a silent protest to institutional religion. While I waited, I was told off by a policeman with a gun for sitting on the steps of some official looking building.

Not dissimilar to the man with the gun….

We thought we would try the National Natural History Museum. Disappointingly there was no English signage at all meaning we learnt nothing… apparently it’s due a big makeover in 6 months – at least our ticket donations will go to a good cause, it is in dire need!

A courtyard full of sculptures in the old town
Of course we were met by a couple of feline locals
Catherine looking for a restaurant with good reviews and no smoke…challenging

Then we started the long painful process of finding somewhere to eat where cigarettes weren’t going to be waved in our face and the menu featured some thing a little fresh and interesting. Finally we found a lovely little cafe in the leafy grounds of the Museum of Archaeology.

Resplendent after a huge beef and egg salad
Catherine about to explore some of the old pillars and statues in the grounds
Parasols make fabulous shades in nearby Park Zrinjevac
Park Zrinjevac
Beautiful flowers outside the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts
Headaches at the Bank of Zagreb?

We were ready to leave mid afternoon, the first capital city we have ever run out of motivation to explore that quickly.

The electric tram which took us back to the bus station – keeps fumes out of the city centre

So it’s back to our lovely camp ground in the country and a snooze!

9 – 10 July: Birds of prey lead us to more Roman ruins

Author: Mrs A

Location: Sokorlarski Raptor Centre and Zadar, Croatia

Tuesday: Departing camp in the morning, we headed to the Sokolarski Raptor Centre, just a fifteen minute drive from where we were staying. The centre is completely run by volunteers and funded with donations and visitors like us.

They are the only centre in Croatia which is set up to rescue birds of prey, restore them to health and release them – or in the case where they cannot be released (eg they are with humans too long) then they care for them lifelong. Injuring a bird of prey in Croatia is punishable by imprisonment, so they also are responsible for being the CSI of the bird world, identifying what or who may have killed a bird.

It wasn’t long before a keeper’s talk began. It is clear that everyone working here is passionate about the birds they are caring for, and educating people about them.

The talk was conducted in English – this guy endearingly called as all ‘darlinks’

We were first introduced to the largest owl in the world, the Eurasian Eagle Owl. This female had been hand reared from a chick, so could never be released back into the wild.

Eurasian Eagle Owl – those claws can grip 50kg of pressure per square millimetre – she could easily take down a young deer for example.

A volunteer was sought to demonstrate some particular characteristics…and of course one is found….

I am introduced to our feathery friend
Heads are apparently not threatening compared to hands – her feathers are as soft as silk, helping her fly silently
As a thank you for my time I am allowed an Eagle Owl hat for a few moments!

The Eagle Owl population is now stable throughout all European countries, other than the British Isles where they are making a gradual comeback after being absent for around 200 years.

Fun Eagle Owl Fact

Owls eyes are not light sensitive – so if you shine a light into them the pupils will not change size…instead, when their pupils are large, they are seeing in macro, observing everything right in front of them. When their pupils shrink down, they are seeing things in the distance, like a pair of incredibly powerful binoculars. Eagle Owls can see a mouse move 8km (5 miles) away!

Having done her bit demonstrating the beauty of her species, she is fed a chick, which she sucks up like spaghetti…

Going, going, gone…no place for queasiness in nature…

The Centre also cares for several Harris’ Hawks, all bred in captivity. These are usually native in South America and southwest USA, but did a good job of demonstrating bird flight and the reason they do not fly away when allowed freedom. Again a volunteer was required…

She spots lunch in my hand and flies down to munch
Less than half a kilo of bird here
Wouldn’t want to mess with that beak though
She has an easy life here, food provided and an hour of flight time per day

Just beautiful birds. Did you know that Velcro is modelled on birds feathers? Or that keratin in shampoo (that makes your hair shine) is made from chicken feathers? Or that spoilers on the back of cars are modelled from hawk tails in flight? There are so many inventions direct from birds…

We had a look around some of the other raptors being cared for there, before heading back to Truffy and pointing north.

Our destination for the day was Zadar, a town on the coast about 160km north of Split. Once parked up at a very ordinary campground (basically crammed cheek by jowl in someone’s back garden with water access) we jumped on the bikes and cycled 10km into town.

Mark enters through one of the original gateways

Zadar traces its origins back to the 9th century BCE, with evidence of Stone Age habitation around the area. The Romans settled there in the the year 49 BCE. Today the town has extended from its original walls, but much of the historical centre is still there, with a rich variety of archaeological museums and Roman history visible throughout.

It was not a picturesque cycle, riding through derelict ports and long abandoned industrial areas, but before long we were riding across a bridge over the harbour and into the old town. Like many old towns we have visited, the streets are polished with centuries of feet, and Zadar old town is quite pretty. It was listed by UNESCO in their world heritage list in 2017.

Grand old buildings from the 1500s
A fine combination of old and new

We rode through the town, past old pillars, remnants of ancient Roman palaces combined with modern shops, cafes and ice cream stores. Every corner revealed more layers of history with current day use.

We wound our way to the waterfront with views out to the island of Ugljan, the sky darkening and flashing with an approaching storm. On the waterfront there is a sea organ, chiming out sounds ethereally with each ebb of the water.

Looking out to Ugljan Island – wondering whether the storm is heading our way
People sit on the steps enjoying the organ sounds

From there, we found ourselves at the Forum, a large square full of Roman remains. Among the ruins of temples and colonnades stands one intact Roman column, which in the Middle Ages served as a shame post where wrongdoers were chained and publicly humiliated. Many of the other ruins have been used throughout the centuries as foundations for churches and other grand buildings, historical in their own right.

Mark rides past the shame post
Mr A discovers his name….almost….

Mark decided to find a seat at one of the many cafés surrounding the Forum while I climbed the 12th century St Anastasia bell tower for a birds eye view of Zadar. I felt rather chuffed that at the top of the 180 spiral stairs I was not even out of breath, unlike most of the visitors reaching the top…and just a week post surgery. Breathing is so under rated!

180 steps up to the top of the tower, past green brass bells….
Fabulous views from the top of the tower
I wonder whether these churches were purposely aligned…
Looking into the centre of town and the busy shopping strip
Looking west towards the marina and the newer town

The dark clouds got closer and closer, and before long the first drops of rain fell. We relished the cooler temperature, taking the edge of the 35 degree day, but decided it might be wise to cycle back the 10km to camp before it got worse.

First rain drops falling send us back to camp

Wednesday: The thunder, lightning and torrential rain raged all night, and we awoke to much more comfortable temperatures. We decided we had spent enough time on Croatia’s coast and set off inland.

The morning was cool, showery and windy, so a perfect day for driving as we pointed east and drove towards the hills.

Very new scenery for us, heading into the Dinaric Alps towards Zagreb on the E65

We took our time driving, stopping for lunch and an afternoon nap (still a bit tired from the general anaesthetic last week, and Mr A wasn’t complaining either!), eventually arriving late afternoon at Camp Vugec Plac, just outside the town of Samobor, west of Croatia’s capital, Zagreb.

What a contrast to yesterday’s scruffy parking lot! This is a brand new camp with hotel quality bathrooms and showers, and parking on lush mowed lawns, surrounded by beautiful countryside. There is even a lovely looking pool.

A travelling bedsit with a view…ready for a cooler night’s sleep
The pool, oh so quiet….

We got set up and then sat down with a glass of Italian wine, enjoying the evening sunshine and birdsong. This is more like it, this is exactly why we travel.

7-8 July: Krka National Park – the breathtakingly beautiful heart of Croatia

Author: Mr A

Location: Krka National Park, Croatia

Sitting in New Zealand at Christmas we had read about this National Park that has 17 waterfalls cascading through its limestone country. Now we were here..and loving it. Yes it’s popular with 1 million people visiting last year, but there’s a reason it’s popular – it’s absolutely breathtakingly beautiful.

We had booked a tour from the camp site we stayed at, a 9-5 day visiting the highlights of the park by minibus. There’s no way we would have seen some of these place left to our own devices.

A two hour walk had us deep in the forest on boardwalks, with streams and small cascades flowing all around us.

Water water everywhere, the boardwalk wound across lakes and streams
A Baltic Green Lizard poised ready to fight his opponent
The boardwalk – busy already at 9.15am
Small cascades give us hints of the beauty ahead
The waterfalls increase in size….helped by a huge thunder storm last night, bringing the first rain here for 40 days

Then we came to the first major waterfall, which allowed swimming. Catherine was off as I guarded our bags. It did look quite spectacular.

Skradinski Buk – the longest waterfall on the Krka River . Swimming is allowed here
Mrs A feeling refreshed after her dip
Travertine islands, barriers and lakes help create the falls which send a fine refreshing spray of mist for a hundred metres
Enjoying the spray
Relishing the shade on the the way back to our bus – it was about 34 degrees centigrade
Cloth making and basket weaving was common here historically and here we see where the cloth was washed – right up until the 1970s
The power of the water here has been harnessed for electricity since the late 1800s – the first hydro electric plant in Croatia

A Franciscan monastery sat resplendent on a tiny island in one of the lakes, Roman catacombs beneath another monastery…this park has the lot.

An Eurasian Kestrel soars above us searching for food in the valley
A dry, harsh country – much of the water deep underground
Those monks certainly knew how to isolate themselves
Beautiful pink Oleander grows wild everywhere we go in Croatia

We had lunch in a little tucked away cafe alongside the ever present waterfalls. Simple but lovely food served with Croatian wine….yup still the same verdict…thumbs down in the vino.

Cold meats, cheese, bread, olives and sliced tomato – simple fare but tasty
If you wanted to cool down you could sit at one of the wet tables, with the water rushing past your bare toes
Krka Monastery – built on top of Roman catacombs – mentioned in texts back as far as 1402. The fountain in the foreground is thick in dripping moss
The church painted in richly coloured frescos was renovated in the past decade
A refreshing breeze entices you to this window
Imagine the monks here…
More secret viewing spots visited along the way
Bilusica Buk – at the furthest easterly part of the park, very remote
A Roman military camp and amphitheatre are to be found near here – Bisulica Buk

The park entrance fee was about AU$50 and the trip including the monastery tour and lunch the same. What great value! With a million visitors a year it was disappointing to see little evidence of that money being reinvested in the park, but that seems to be the story across Croatia with the tourist dollar. I wonder whose pocket it goes in?

1 – 6 July: Meanwhile, back in the UK…

Author: Mrs A

Location: London and Brighton, UK

Monday: A taxi collected me from Camping Stobreč early Monday morning and escorted me to Split airport, where I boarded a plane to London, Gatwick. Within half an hour of landing at Gatwick I was on a train heading to London. It was all very smooth – having only 8kg of hand luggage helped!

Split airport – not too busy at 8.30am on Monday morning

Yes, you guessed it, the injections I had flown back for at the end of May had not made any substantial impact on my breathing, and I was on my way back for surgery…very disappointing for us both, but sadly a fact of life we have learned to get used to the past 15 years.

I have to admit that after the heat of Croatia, it was positively refreshing to step out of the airport in to temperatures in the low 20s – like the air conditioning we had been craving all weekend!

I caught a train up to West Kensington in London and checked into the Earls Court Holiday Inn Express near the hospital. I was scheduled to be in at 7.15am, and was keen to get a bit of sleep before the operation.

The view from my hotel room – a far cry from the Roman and medieval buildings of my past few weeks, but not too bad at sunset

Tuesday: I woke early and strolled over to the hospital, meeting junior doctors, an ENT registrar and the anaesthetist, getting weighed, blood pressure and temperature tested. Finally I slipped on a gown and a pair of sexy green DVT stockings and headed to theatre for my airway dilatation.

Both consultants I have been seeing, Mr Guri Sandhu and Mr Chad Al Yaghchi came to visit me in recovery, much to the surprise of the nurse who told me not to expect anyone. All had gone well – my airway had closed by about 60-70%, explaining the challenges with breathing I have been having.

We discussed next steps for my treatment, with both doctors agreeing I should give the steroid injections into my airway another try, but with a higher frequency – every 4-6 weeks rather than 8 weekly. This is what my original doctor had told me, but I had defied him, not wanting to disrupt our travel plans too much…this time, however, I agreed to give it a go. It is going to be hard to keep to our travel plans where I keep having to return to doctors for treatment, but I have to breathe…very frustrating!

Mum travelled up from Hastings to break me out

When I was returned to the next stage of recovery, my mum was there waiting for me, a welcome face amongst all the medical fraternity. Together we left the hospital, taking a taxi the five minute drive to the hotel for the night.

Evidence – 2:10pm I broke out of hospital

We had a relaxing afternoon, catching up on news, a Chinese takeaway and an early night.

Wednesday: Mum and I got to enjoy a final breakfast at the hotel, and we joined by a member of the support group I run, Kelly from Cornwall. She and I had been exchanging messages online for about four years, and she is also a patient of Mr Sandhu. It was amazing to hear Kelly’s story which is quite different from mine, but with some similar symptoms. She’s a passionate and enthusiastic lady – hopefully we can work together and perhaps meet again.

After checking out, I then headed to Brighton to finish my convalescence with my sister and her family.

Thursday: One of my friends from university, Claire, lives near to my sister and also had a hospital visit this week. It was good to catch up with her for an hour to hear how she had gone. Soda water and lime was our choice of beverage as we sat in a sunny pub garden.

Two post op friends – Claire on surgery #1 and me #29!!

Later in the day I joined my sister in collecting my niece and nephew from school, and we took them down to the local park for a play in the fountains down there. Much fun for the children…and ice creams for my sister and I (medicinal reasons of course, soothes a sore throat!)

Yay for vegan ice cream!
Elliot working on stopping the flow….What happened next? Yes the water sprayed me straight in the face!
Isabel enjoying the water
And some park time to help warm up after the water

Friday: It was back up to school with the kids to drop them off for their day, before joining my sister in some shopping, picking up bits and pieces we cannot get in Croatia.

That wiped me out for the afternoon, and I was grateful not to be in 33 degrees as I collapsed into bed for a sleep.

We had a quiet evening at home, sharing a takeaway curry and a glass of wine as the sun went down.

Spectacular skies over Brighton this evening

Saturday: Another bright sunny day with temperatures in the low 20s – making me really appreciate British summertime – I wonder why it never is dull and rainy when I visit? Poor Mark is already sweltering in Split, having started his day with the washing and cleaning out the fridge.

I’m pleased to say my breathing is much better, and sore throat aside, I am feeling good.

Chart showing my peak expiratory flow (PEF) – back on track for now

I will be back on a train to the airport this afternoon, then back to Split this evening. Mark and I have decided tomorrow it will be time to move on and explore more of Croatia…it will all be much easier with a full airway!

29- 30 June: Back at Camping Stobreč near Split

Author: Mr A

Location: Stobreč, Split, Croatia

Saturday: It was time to disembark our cruise and head back our campsite just south of Split. Another load of passengers would be joining the boat in two hours, so no break for this hardworking crew. Youth unemployment in Croatia has run at an average of 33% in the last few years, although thankfully at least dropped this year to 20%. We see a determination to work hard and put in really long hours though to feel secure. We wished them well and also our friends, who would be going seperate directions from here.

Stobreč Harbour

We headed back to our campsite down the coast from Split that had been storing our motorhome. Thankfully all was well. Camping Stobreč have been super helpful to us, keeping an eye on it for us while we were away. Another set of mostly young staff who put in incredibly long, hard hours. I hope Croatia finds industries other than tourism to diversify its economy and provide a year round income for the locals, who have to put up with their infrastructure of roads, ports and airports groaning under the weight of visitors in the high season. I can see why there is a touch of resentment from some that they don’t get to enjoy their own beaches, restaurants or scenic town centres in the good weather.

We unpacked into Truffy our petite motorhome, filling every available nook and cranny, had a cuppa and oh no…the power has gone off from the mains supply. We soon established with from the camp’s ever helpful staff that it wasnt on their side the problem lay. Running out of ideas of what to check after the usual cut out switch check, we sought help from multiple sources; our dealer (but it was a Saturday lunchtime in the UK), the Hymer Owners Group Facebook site and then in desperation I called the local Croatia Camper rental company to see who they might use for repair. Well all three were gold.

Within minutes we were getting suggestions of what to check from the owners group (this site has been our guide and saviour!), then I got though to the camper rental owner, who sent his brother round who was at the local beach and arrived a few minutes later! As he arrived and started eliminating issues the phone rang and it was our dealer’s workshop. Between Dave from Fuller Leisure and Robert from Croatia Campers the problem was tracked to an unplugged wire that I had managed to dislodge when cramming our gear into a wardrobe containing our cut out switch! A big thanks to all. This blog helps us a little bit to be able to return a little value to all those suppliers who have made our travel so relatively easy compared with the challenges we faced in Australia. I wonder why its so different? Is the “Lucky Country” a bit too lucky, with little competition in many areas breeding a “relaxed” customer response?

So powered up once again we lost no time in throwing ourselves in the refreshing waters of the Adriatic 100 metres from our pitch. Ah, its good to be “home”…because thats what we call it, no matter where we park up.

Down to the local beach
A very young cat living wild in the campground has had three adorable kittens…

Sunday: The next day we bussed into Split to explore the Diocletian Palace, one of the best preserved Roman ruins in the world and built as a retirement home for the Roman Emperor of the same name in the 4th century AD.

The emperor himself

It also housed his garrison, so picture more of a large fortified castle. The basement area had gradually filled in with rubble over the centuries, but in the 1950’s was gradually cleared. Now this UNESCO listed site sees throngs of tourists, like us, tramping round.

Roman sewerage pipes

I wonder what they are thinking about when they do? For me, its a reminder that just because our century has seen many technological advancements, very very clever people have always been innovating on this earth and we can/should always learn something from what they did and why they did it. Just touching the stones we tried to imagine what our lives would have been like working in that place.

Incredible scale and pillars
Old pillar bases, showcasing the skilled carving

This was a simply breathtaking site, with soaring roofs and massive rooms, copying exactly the layout of the palace above, most of which has now been built over, but still functions as a thriving hub of the city.

Artists impression of the palace

We knew there was a 3,500 year old Spinx that had been looted from Egypt, so it was quite funny reading the description when we found it of it being “imported”!

Sphinx…’imported’ from Egypt (ah-hem!)…

All ruined out, but feeling satisfied we had added another enriching experience to our visit to Croatia, we wandered around the old town above, had a light lunch (we really need to lighten up the calorie intake over the last few months!) and then headed back to our camp for an early night.

We discovered ‘cat corner’ where locals had provided sleeping quarters, food and water for stray cats
They were all well fed, and we donated a few kuna to their cause
A concerned mum checks out her playful escapee kitten
One happy, full, sleepy cat

Catherine is off in the morning to London for another op on her throat. I’m staying here “guarding” the truck and trying to shake my cough and cold with fresh air, exercise and salads…my only friends the multitude of cats who also call the campsite home and come looking for food pretty regularly.

One of the locals comes to dinner at Truffy – we always carry cat food nowadays in case of hungry visitors

We will miss each other I know, but living 24×7 in about 2 square metres of internal space, its good for both of us (but especially Mrs A poor thing!) to have some “own time”.

28 June: Returning to Split, our final night cruising

Author: Mrs A

Location: Stanići, Omiš and Split, Croatia

We left the island of Brač early and were mored up near Stanići and the bikes unloaded by 8am. Within half an hour we were off on our day’s cycle, relieved at the cooler temperatures (only 27 degrees centigrade) and early morning shade.

Riding along the waterfront in Omiš

Our ride took us along the coast a short way to Omiš and then followed the River Cetina for a way before climbing up into the hills.

“Car back”…”Passing”…the constant call as we ride along the riverside

Unlike our island cycleways which had little shade, many of the roads were treelined and cool, and there was a lovely breeze to help refresh us on the climb up the switchbacks into the mountains.

Oliver takes a second to look at our beautiful surrounds
Appreciating every scrap of shade that comes our way!
A drink break beside the river
Climbing up and up
The hills keep on coming
At 70 years young, Don is our most senior cyclist, but completes the ride with ease and no battery!
The strongest riders making it first up to our next rest stop
Final ride team photo – Mrs A, Mr A, Tim P, Paul, Oliver, Don, Glen, S-J, Dave, Tracie, Michelle and Tim C

Once up at the top we had the reward of a winding descent back down to the river and back along to the boat.

Space and dry mountain tops
The lower reaches of the River Cetina
One of the many butterflies that kept us company on our ride

We finished our 28.5km ride with a swim before lunch was served and the boat upped anchor and headed off to our final destination, Split.

Our boat docked in Split, the seventh boat in a row of cruise boats of different shapes and sizes. We had to jump between boats to reach the shore, and set off to explore.

Split is quite unique in that it combines a literal maze of streets within the fortifications of a former Roman palace built for the Emperor Diocletian. The historical core of Split was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979.

The Silver Gate entrance into the palace
The Peristyle – the palace’s magnificent courtyard is a popular space for relaxation in the shade. Much of the marble for the pillars has been mined from Brač, the island we left this morning.
Look out for the perfectly preserved 3,500 year old black sphinx here, taken from Egypt by Diocletian’s armies.
The temple tower

Split old town was our destination, and we were immediately taken with the combination of new with old, older and very old architecture. Roman pillars integrated with medieval archways, topped with Venetian style balconies and more Roman architecture. The limestone pavements are worn smooth with centuries of feet walking across them. It was Friday afternoon and the streets were bustling with tourists exploring, but it was not hard to escape them.

Everywhere you walk you cannot help but look up to see layers upon layers of architecture
Of course it would not be a Croatian town without cats…
Check out those ice rink polished floors…plenty of quality shops to browse through
Quiet little alleyways host restaurants and stairways to whole new worlds
Many keep looking at ground level at the variety of shops selling shoes, jewellery, knives, bags, food…but look up and you can observe more than 600 years of architecture
A refreshing juice is just the ticket for a late afternoon pick me up

We enjoyed exploring the little lanes, the warm afternoon dictating our route through the maze – if there was shade, we’d head in that direction. I found a gorgeous bracelet from an artist in Studio Naranča – she has glass beads custom made for her on an island just off Venice and shipped over to create bracelets, earrings and necklaces. If you’re in town, check it out! We stopped for a fresh juice in a shady square, taking the opportunity to just sit and people watch for a few minutes.

New bracelet!
The underground shopping area is hosted within part of the ancient palace’s sub structures

We went back to the boat for showers and get ready for a final night’s dinner with our friends. Tomorrow everyone goes their separate ways – some returning to home, others continuing travels throughout Europe or elsewhere in the world. For us, it is back to Truffy the truck and life on the road.

We still have a few days in the area, and definitely plan to come back and explore Split a little more. Meanwhile this was a great finale to a fabulous week exploring the coast and islands between Dubrovnik and Split. In many ways it feels like we just had a taster of several areas, and we definitely have a wish list of places to return to and explore further.

A delicious final meal at Mazzgoon – highly recommended
Courtyard dining at Mazzgoon
Just a young cat watching dinner from an old Roman pillar….

27 June: Brač Island: another gem in this beautiful Dalmatian coastline

Author: Mr A

Location: Brač, Croatia

The more we wander around these Dalmatian islands the more we fall in love. The scenery is just outrageously stunning and the people so lovely. Cycling, as always, we think the best way to see it, and Sailing Croatia, our tour company, has done an excellent job of showcasing it for us.

Brač is largest island in the Adriatic and lies just 14 km offshore from the city of Split, so its pretty easy to access with regular car ferries. We motored off early from Viz and watched the coastline unfold as our ship cut through the glassy blue water. The island of Brač appeared on the horizon and its large harbour at Milna, with over 200 moorings catering for maritime tourism, was soon welcoming us into a berth on the main jetty a short walk from centre of town. Unfortunately during our breakfast briefing one of our friends was taken ill and carted off in an ambulance. All very distressing, but the good news is that he was back with us in the evening.

Pretty Milna harbour

We headed off after lunch for another 23km circuit ride taking in a number of small villages scattered around the coast. We are going to miss the camaraderie of these rides, its a big group to manage on the road, but the Sail Croatia team is so professional and safety conscious, the rides have happened without incident. I think it also helps that we have a number of very experienced riders in the group who understand how to ride safely in a peloton, and are setting an example for the rest of us who don’t.

The heat was pretty intense, with mid 30s temperatures making it tough going for the riders without “pedal assist” powering them up.

Fabulous views along our cycle
Wild scented jasmine along our cycle
The harbour at Sutivan where we have a water break

The evening was the the BBQ night, and once again the Sail Croatia crew did an outstanding job of the cooking, serving and management of the ship. What a great bunch of folk, and we will miss them when we move on. I hope we have been an easy group to manage, they work 7 days a week and would I’m sure get some more difficult customers than us on the “party cruises” from what we have seen.

Lovely Rosa, our chef for the week
BBQ food is out…Mr A tucks in…
Tim, Deb. Paul, Glen, Michelle, Tracie and Lisa
Mrs A was also there!
Sun setting
Mr A reads out a poem to the crew
Sun keeps going down
H, our cycle guide with the unpronouncable name, is invited to sing
Much laughter from Sarah-Jane
A bemused Dave
Tom is performing passionately
Much more laughter ensues
And the sun sets on our second to last night on the cruise

26 June: Blue caves and hills in Vis

Author: Mrs A

Location: Biševo and Vis, Croatia

Another early start for the captain meant we were pulling up at a dock on the island of Biševo to join another boat to tour a cave known as the Blue Cave, or Blue Grotto by 8.30am.

It was first described in 1884, by a baron who had been shown the cave by locals. At that time it was entered only by diving under the cliff, but the baron decided to blow a hole in the cliff to allow boats inside, and therefore tourists like us.

Awaiting our turn on the little boats

The little motor boat left the harbour and whizzed us around to the cliffs. We then ducked as the boat went in through the small hole in the cliff. When we sat back up we were presented with a magical sight.

This natural phenomenon occurs where the edge of the cliff has been worn away, allowing the sunlight to beam down through the water. Coupled with the white limestone of the cave walls the result is a magical blue cave.

Gordy translates what the guide is telling us about the cave
Tim takes a panorama of the spectacle

The edge of the cliff with the sunlight shining through

 

Looking through a natural bridge

 

The next two boats coming in behind us

 

The skipper delivered us back to our boat once the tour was over, and we continued on our way.

The town of Vis on the island of the same name was our next destination.

The island’s two largest settlements are the  Vis on the island’s eastern side (the settlement for which the island was originally named) and Komiža on its western coast. We had time for a look around the town before heading back to the boat for lunch. The island has been inhabited since the Neolithic period, and there is evidence of many of the cultures that followed.

Another day, another beautiful harbour
Elements of Italian architecture shining through on the backstreets
Interesting alleyways to wander down
And of course many cats…most islands have no vet, and it is uncommon to neuter males. Thankfully the local residents tend to leave cat food out for them, particularly when there are kittens involved

After lunch we were off out on the bikes. It was really warm, with temperatures up in the early 30s…and our first 10km of riding was all up hill. It was hard going in the heat, with no shade alongside the road, and out on the road it rose to 42 degrees centigrade (that’s about 108 Fahrenheit for those working in old money!).

Looking down at Komiza from the peak of our climb

Fortunately there were plenty of rewarding views. We rode across the island to Komiza, where we enjoyed the exhilarating ride down the hill before stopping for a refreshing sorbet and some cold water, before climbing up again and heading out, continuing our 32km circuit.

A little chapel high up on the cliff along our route
Komiza – a very pretty little town

Of course the road went up and up as well as we left, with a few water break stops along the way.

Beautiful views down over Komiza as we climb out
Komiza as we climbed out
Magnificent views along the island

Before long we were high up above Vis, looking at our final winding road descending below us.

Tim looking out over Vis
Me photographing Vis
Vis, our home for the night

Mr A and I headed straight off for a swim and probably increased the salt percentage of the already very salty Mediterranean in doing so, before showers and heading out to dinner.

It was just Owen, Tom, Mark and I for the night, and we headed first of all for drinks down by the water, before finding a local restaurant for food. Vis has a lovely atmosphere, particularly after our night in crazy Hvar.

Lovely sunset
Owen, Tom, Mr A and I…yes I even had a local Vis wine!

25 June: Hvar a lovely time in Croatia

Author: Mr A

Location: Hvar, Croatia

Tuesday: A 6am start saw our ship cruising over to the town of Stari Grad on the island of Hvar. A quick explore round this ancient town just whet our appetite.

Gordy briefs cruisers on the history of the town

Entering Tvrdalj Castle, built in the 1500s

This was the summer residence of Croatian poet, Petar Hektorović, which he fortified to create a safe haven for Stari Grad residents from invasions by the Ottomans (Turkish)

Looking across the castle grounds, seen as a haven for people, animals, fish and birds

Rich in history, with evidence of Neolithic people living here from 3,500 BC. The ancient Greeks record a battle fought here with one of the many Illyrian tribes populating the Balkans in the first century BC. Then the Romans came along and Hvar fell to their empire. Every street corner oozed history, what tales these walls could tell.

Sleepy streets holding so many secrets…this street revealed an old Roman mosaic floor when some of the cobbles were replaced in recent times. It is believed to be from a Roman villa once located here

Sleepy cats here too!

Sleepy cat woke up as soon as she realised there might be strokes nearby

Splashes of colour on every street corner

Stari Grad’s peaceful harbour

All too quickly it was time to jump on the bikes for our first ride with a fair bit of climbing to be done in the early afternoon heat. One of the team measured a road temperature of 44 degrees!

Our e-bikes powered us up thank goodness, as it would have not been a pleasant ride for either of us on purely manual bikes. As it was were we able top admire the stone terraces laid out by the ancient Greeks, and pause to smell the lavender. Mrs A even spotted a snake as it slithered across her pathway – later found out to be one of Croatia’s three poisonous varieties (the Poskok or horned viper). Fortunately it was quite young (only about half a metre long) and slithered away to hide in some rocks.

Already climbed up a fair way by our first water stop

Fabulous views

Plenty of butterflies attracted to the lavender

Fluttering colour is everywhere

Owen with a chest infection opted for an electric bike also on this ride

The views keep on coming as we climb up to the highest point

The first manual cyclists, Glen and Paul (not necessarily in that order!) to reach the top

Looking across the other side of the island at the ancient terraces

An old stone lime kiln at the side of the road

Every hill has a fun decent to follow, and this was no exception and were soon back at Hvar town itself, rewarding ourselves with cocktails as we awaited arrival of our boat.

Drinks time

Strawberry daiquiri for Tim P, Margheritas for the Andersons

Hvar town is definitely on the smart set’s cruising circuit, not somewhere we would have any urge to come back to. But as usual it took so little effort to dodge the tourists a block back from the waterfront and its strutting loud crowds.

Exploring Hvar old town

The Fortica – an ancient fortress – built on an Illyrian settlement dating from before 500 BC

Fabulous views from the 15th century Chapel of St Nicholas

Plenty of steps meant our leg muscles didn’t cool down too quickly after our ride

Hydrangeas offer a splash of colour in the laneways

Looking across Hvar harbour from the other side of town

Down below is where we are to spend our night

The castle on the left overlooking the town. Like many fortifications in Croatia it would have saved the lives of many a resident when the Ottomans (Turkish) raiders came to town

A beautiful young cat – we hear from a local shop keeper that she is a stray, but looked after by everyone who works around there

Dinner was a very plush affair, good food, and for us our first bottle of wine we have enjoyed since arriving in Croatia….it was an Argentinian Malbec. Oh Croatia we love you so, the scenery, the people, the clear waters of the Adriatic…but your wine….well…not to our taste I’m afraid.

The town really comes to life at night

At midnight the dance music pounding from the waterfront bars was still going strong

A rather disturbed night was inevitable given we were moored alongside five other boats! Ah well…we are here to explore 🙂