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Thought you might like to know that we
(Bob and Joy Salt)
have now returned home from our Spring 2003 European Tour in our Motorhome having had an absolutely wonderful, fantastic, super time.
Our trip took us to France, Italy, Croatia and Slovenia and lasted 14 weeks.
We left England via ferry Dover to Calais 26th March and returned by the same route 30th June.
When we left Spring was only just beginning in England and we had spent the previous three weeks frantically working in the garden and greenhouse trying to ensure that at least some of the cherished plants would survive without their normal TLC.
Bob did all the careful pre-trip planning and preparations for the trip itself as I was working up to the end of February - though I have now joined the ranks of the early-retired (and loving it !).
We spent the first night of our holiday on Dover sea front as our motorhome is fully equipped to allow us to be totally self-sufficient for a few days at a time. As it was still only March and potentially still cold we were heading initially for warmer temperatures in Southern Europe.
Our first few days in France, travelling down through the Alsace and then Burgundy regions were, despite the time of year, unseasonably warm and sunny and this set the pattern for the duration of the trip. We had rain but only on half a dozen occasions throughout the entire trip and it never inconvenienced us or lasted long. We may have missed the English springtime but we more than made up for it with glorious sunny spring in four different countries and we were able to see the spring trees burst into flower as we travelled from one lovely place to the next. We did find snow, very unexpectedly, when we chose a campsite on a beautiful sunny blue-skied day, up in the mountains to the West of Grenoble. We were the only ones camping on the site and it snowed that night for the first time in six weeks leaving us stuck on our mountain for two days until we were eventually towed out by tractor. Mountains were then avoided for several weeks and we decided to hotfoot it down to the sun in Italy stopping only briefly on the French Riviera.
We have not really seen much of Italy before, except for weekends in Venice and Rome, so we had decided to explore further. First stop was the North Western Italian coast but we decided we did not like the area too much (one long traffic jam) so travelled down the West coast to several places on our list for a must visit: Florence, . Pisa, Pompeii , Sorrento, Naples and the Amalfi coast. These we explored and enjoyed in turn as well as a few days inland in Tuscany and Umbria. By the time we reached Pompeii the weather had turned wonderfully warm and from this point onwards we were able to dress in summer clothing of shorts and tee shirts. We spent our last few nights in Italy right in the South on the coast before heading for the ferry port of Bari just after Easter on the 23rd April. Leaving Italy was a little bit of a relief at this point as on our last campsite we had been unable to converse in either English or Italian as everyone else was German so questions in well practiced Italian were answered in German (which we dont speak !). We also found the Italians a bit too loud. It seemed that they always go round in large family groups so have to shout to hold conversations with one another.
From Bari we took an overnight ferry to the beautiful city of Dubrovnik in southern Croatia. Had a wonderful morning there as we arrived before the (rest of the) tourists and were able to take photos with no people to spoil the view. From there we travelled up the stunning Dalmatian coast by way of the islands and a few more ferries and then headed North and inland to the capital city Zagreb. The inland route we followed took us the same way as the Bosnian Serbs in the war and the evidence of the devastation was still there, more than 10 years later, plain to see in burned out houses and villages and bullet-holed walls.
We had imagined from the TV coverage we had seen then that the Croatian houses must have been little more than shacks. Not so, many of them are 4 bed luxury detached with en-suite, conservatory etc etc, in fact totally civilised just like ours and yours in England. Just imagine if someone did that to us ! We were very close to the Bosnian border at one point but decided not to bother paying them a visit.
After Zagreb there were no more campsites so we left Croatia and headed west to Slovenia. We did enjoy Croatia very much, the scenery is beautiful, the people very friendly and everything is very civilised, more so perhaps than we had expected. We will return sometime to do the Northern coastal area, which we did not have time to visit.
Slovenia we loved. Its only a small country but it includes so many lovely features within its compact borders and we managed to cover a large part of it. Lakes, Mountains, Rivers, pretty and colourful houses, villages and towns and even a tiny bit of picturesque coastline squashed in between Italy and Croatia. Everything seemed to us to be so very neat, tidy and wonderfully lush and green. Flowers everywhere which compensated for missing our spring garden at home. Though we had enjoyed Croatia it was a relief to find that Slovenia has European style supermarkets full of foods we could recognize at home as we had a little bit of a problem finding fresh produce in Croatia.
Our first few days in Slovenia found us in the middle of a very unseasonal heat wave of 85 degrees so by the first week in May we were sunbathing at 5pm by the campsite pool and acquiring some very good tans. Our second stop was not on a campsite but at the home of some friends we had met in Croatia who had invited us to stay with them in their home in a little village in the foothills of the Alps. For two nights our motorhome sat on their drive while, for the first time in six weeks, we slept in a normal bed in a house without wheels.
Our travels through Slovenia took us over an alpine pass 1700 metres high with 50 hairpin bends. Our valiant motorhome coped admirably - though its brakes did get a bit hot on the way down the other side. Our next trip up a Slovenian mountain was by cable car and we at last achieved an ambition to see alpine spring flowers. Our final stop in Slovenia was on their tiny bit of coast squashed in between Croatia and Italy in the very pretty little town of Piran.
Somewhat with regret we left Slovenia for our return to Italy. We will certainly make a return trip to Slovenia sometime but it will be more expensive in future as they are shortly to join the EU (Poor things). We found both Croatia and Slovenia very cheap as far as food, campsites and fuel were concerned. We also found that everyone was very friendly and pleased to meet English people. No problem communicating a bit of gesticulation and a little pigeon English goes a long way. Fortunate as by the time we left Slovenia we had not met up with more than half a dozen people from England.
On returning to Italy this time, we took the direct route across the North stopping in Venice and Lake Garda on the way. In Venice we had the only disaster of the tour when our motorhome awning got fatally damaged (so we had no shade for the rest of the trip when the weather was hot and we needed it !). We stayed for a very pleasant few days in Sirmione on Lake Garda before returning to France 24th May for our remaining five weeks.
Day by day in France we started to notice that the campsites were getting busier. Up to this point we had generally been able to pick and choose our pitch everywhere we had been as often the campsites were only about ¼ full. We also found more English as the days went by but there were probably more Dutch on the campsites than any other nationality.
The sun was by now at full strength and getting hotter by the day. The days were getting longer and we spent most evenings relaxing outside planning where to go next and downloading and editing the days photos from the digital camera into the laptop. We saved more than 3000 so its good thing we took the digital as we could not possibly have afforded the development costs if we had used the Minolta 35mm ! We kept a detailed diary on the laptop so we would be able to remember everywhere we had been and everything we had done when we got home. We also maintained detailed records of everything we had spent, miles travelled, campsites, recipes created / adapted for motorhome restricted cooking etc so that we can better plan and budget our future trips. It also ensured that we did not do any frivolous spending as now we are both retired income is somewhat restricted.
In order to get round and about without moving the motorhome, once it was set up on a campsite, we had taken our scooter with us attached to the back of the motorhome. We had already used it quite extensively (including a hair-raising ride into Zagreb on the motorway) but in Southern France it really came into its own carrying us to the beach and back, sightseeing and for a couple of days we made round trips of 100 kilometres. This proved an excellent way to ensure a brilliant tan and by this point we were so confident on it we were even able to take a few photos whilst on the move. Also an excellent way of avoiding parking problems. We made a memorable scooter trip the weekend before the Monaco Grandprix when we rode the race circuit there, including through the famous tunnel.
We spent our last two weeks in a somewhat different mode as we had arranged to meet up with our friends, Nigel and Lynne in a gite for a more usual type of holiday. The first week we spent in a house in the Cirque de Navacelles which is a tiny medieval village in the bottom of a very large hole (defunct oxbow lake !). This first gite didnt have a pool but the house was at the bottom of a waterfall so we swam in the icy cold pool at the foot of the cascade. The cold water was a necessity as we were now in the middle of a full heat wave with temperatures 100 or more. For the second week we travelled a bit further North to the Dordogne and this time we had a lovely private pool in which we could cool down day and night.
Somewhat reluctantly we had to pack up and start our journey home on the 28th June. We did the return trip in just two days after a somewhat mammoth drive by Bob on the second day as we decided to catch the ferry that night rather than waiting for the next morning.
So at 2.15am on the 30th June we returned to our house in England in the Forest of Dean. It was not exactly as we had left it someone stole our front gates while we were away. These were the only items which we had not tied / bolted down as who would expect anyone to steal gates ? At least they didnt take the car but they would have found that difficult, as the battery had totally died.
Now working hard at restoring the garden to a summery state. Most plants survived thanks to the joint efforts of our neighbours and friends.
Still have to attack the massive pile of ironing, clean the house, scrub and polish the motorhome etc etc but we have now opened the six foot of mail which awaited us (discarding 90% as junk mail !). Motorhome which did us proud and gave no problems at all is now in for a much needed rest, service and new awning. Hopefully the insurance company will cough up for our replacement front gates.
After a minor technical hitch we are now reconnected to Freeserve and up and running again so I will send this out to our friends and relatives just in case anyone missed us / wondered where we had disappeared to.
Watch this space. We enjoyed ourselves so very much that we will be doing another tour just as soon as we have sorted ourselves and everything out and drawn up our next cunning plan.
Joy and Bob
PS from Joy: Two years ago the idea of leaving work and home and taking off nomad style in a motorhome had never crossed my mind. Now I really can recommend it.
I thought that I might get homesick / might miss my work, my garden, even my well-fed garden birds. No, not for a single minute. Far too busy enjoying the wonderful experience of the places we found ourselves to think of home. The most stress we suffered was deciding whether to swim in the sea or the nearest river !
I thought I might get bored so took lots of things to do (crochet, embroidery etc). No did not even get through all the books I had taken. Just been far too busy relaxing, getting fit and just enjoying life. Now, after lots of exercise, I have lost a stone or more of excess weight (fat !) I can even fit into all the clothes in my wardrobe again which should help with the budget !
PPS just to prove Bob also had a whale of a time (and that he is now as trim and slim as a racing snake) :
PPPS Update September 5th - The garden is now in full glory following the most beautiful summer of 2003
PPPPS Update September 5th - We now have new gates
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