Islands And Bridges

When you are driving around a country, staying a night here and a couple of nights there, you end up doing a lot of loading, and unloading, of luggage.

In our case DH does a lot of the loading and unloading. DD1 is old enough to help him. I can pull a wheelie suitcase while wearing a backpack and carrying a couple of extra bags with the best of them, but my sore knee make it very difficult for me to carry stuff down stairs, so I’m usually on child care duty.

Both DH and I have remarked that we don’t think we have as much luggage as we have had before. Two big suitcases, one medium and a couple of decent sized soft sided wheelie bags. Plus a back pack each, and a few carrier bags full of car activities and screens for easy access.

Most of the places we’ve stayed at have had parking right outside the rooms but the hotel we were staying in on Tuesday night was on an island and we had to park about 15 minutes away. That’s a whole lot of ferrying luggage back and forth in temperatures in the high 30s (C).

We stayed the night on Trogir, a small island between the Croatian mainland and the island of Čiovo, about 27km West of Split. Our hotel looked old from the outside, but had been totally renovated internally in 2006. It had comfortable beds, good showers, air conditioning and room for three people per room. We all slept well as the previous couple of nights had been spent in much less luxurious surroundings.

Trigor itself was full of cobbled streets, restaurants and tourists. Tourism is a very important part of the economy and you can see why; it’s a gorgeous place with a medieval core of a preserved castle and tower and a series of dwellings and palaces, all surrounded by walls. We wandered around in a bit of a daze, admiring the old structures as well as the fantastic luxury boats and street entertainers on the water front.

Trigor looking back from waterfront

There was also plenty of choice of restaurants for somewhere to eat. And plenty of icecream stands for dessert…

But the next morning we had to pack everything up again and drag it halfway across the island to the car. We stopped to buy more cheap sunglasses on the way, but we were all gasping by the time we got back to the car.

From Trogir, we drove down to one of the major borders and drove into Bosnia. Our car insurance doesn’t cover non EU countries, so we had to purchase some 3rd party insurance in the no mans land between the borders.

To be honest, it seemed the bloke checking the paperwork couldn’t have cared less.

Now we are in Mostar, where we will stay for two nights. We are staying in a very comfortable Pansion with three rooms, of which we have two.

It’s very hot here at the moment, almost 40C during the day, so we have only gone out in the morning and in the evening. The rest of the time we have spent in our A/C rooms trying not to overheat.

Mostar is another city with a past. Between 1992 and 1993, after Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia, the town was subject to an 18 month siege.  During the conflict, the Old Bridge was destroyed but has since been restored, along with the surrounding structures and historic neighbourhoods. This rebuilding project was initiated in 1999 and mostly completed by Spring 2004.

The restored Old Bridge in Mostar, Bosnia

We have not over exerted ourselves in Mostar. Time has been spent time watching the divers- young men who leap from the bridge, but only after enough tourist Euros have been collected, wandering the slippery cobble stoned streets in search of fridge magnets and postcards, watching busloads of tourists wander around in untidy groups and stopping frequently for cold drinks, and ice cream.

shopping in Mostar

When the heat has proved too much, we’ve retreated to our rooms, 50m from the Old Bridge, and read or watched TV until it cooled down again.

We’d liked to have explored a little more and perhaps gathered a little more information about the now not so recent conflicts that tore this city apart. You can see the scars and old wounds everywhere in the form of ruined buildings and bullet holes. When we explained what we knew to the kids, they were a little bit scared, but also excited by being able to see the evidence of what went on for themselves.

Tomorrow we leave for a week in Montenegro, but we’d like to revisit Mostar and Trogir sometime, touristy as they are.

Maybe we could come back sometime when it’s not so hot?

 

Lies and Waterfalls

On Monday we spent a long hot day traipsing through Plitvice National Park.

It’s full of lakes and we spent a lot of time walking over rather uneven, rickety board walks that took us past and over waterfalls, crystal clear pools containing ducks and fish, and fast moving streams.

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It’s all very beautiful, and I’ve never seen anything quite like it before, but it was hot and, as per usual for our family,  things didnt go exactly to plan.

The information board at the entrance advised us that the shortest walk we could do would take ‘2-3’ hours.

This made me nervous. My dodgy knee can just about 3 hours of walking if everything is on the level. Add stairs and/or slopes to the walk and it’s much less.

And DD2 and DS are both hypermoble, so they struggle with walking more than a couple of hours too.

It was a recipe for disaster really, especially when we realised that we had to walk 20 minutes just to catch the bus-train that would take us up into the mountains.

The girls kept asking how long the walk would take and I’m afraid we were not entirely honest with them about the expected time scale. Once they’d  finished grilling us, they were rather under the impression that we’d be walking for oh, around 30-40 minutes.

All went ok for the first 2 hours. We strolled between the trees on the wide, well-marked paths. We enjoyed the exquisite scenery and the way the light struck the water at different angles.

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The kids loved watching the fish and we sat beside a couple of inquisitive ducks to eat our sandwiches.

There were lots of little waterfalls and a handful of big, very impressive ones. I can only imagine what they are like in  the spring time.

There was also a no swimming rule, which was understandable, but the water looked so, so inviting sometimes. Remarkably we didn’t see anyone flouting this rule; from what we’ve seen, people in this area of Europe do not seem to be that hot on following rules.

But there were rather a lot of stairs and slopes, and after two hours, my knee was not happy. I took an ibuprofen and asked DH if he thought it would be another hour or longer.

There were some signs pointing the way you should go if you wanted to take a particular route but there was no indication of times. Just as well, as DD2 heard my question and she was not impressed at the prospect of walking for another hour or so.

In fact she threw a pretty impressive tantrum at the thought of having to walk perhaps another hour.

Despite the very warm weather, it seemed that everyone in Croatia was up for a wander around the Lakes. The path was crowded with people who obviously found the sight of a tweenager throwing a strop quite entertaining.

Finally we got DD moving again, but it was too late. My knee decided enough was enough, DS’s legs got sore and DD3 fell down a bank while looking for a ‘walking’ stick. DD2 discovered she had blisters and became hysterical again.

DD1 helpfully started talking about the wolves and bears in the park, then stabbed my foot while holding my walking pole for me. I swore profusely and DH, quite understandably, suffered a complete sense of humour failure.

There were tears. We found a vacant bench, sat down and had something to drink, applied plasters and psyched ourselves up for the final push.

Finally, we could see something promising through the trees. It didn’t look that far, as the crow flew, but the path seemed to curve away from what we could see, so DH volunteered to go ahead.

He was back less than 10 minutes later  with good news. The boat that would take us across the lower lake, so we could make our way up to the car park, was within touching distance.

Unfortunately for me, there were steps involved but I hobbled down them and soon we were on the boat, crossing the lake.

I spoke to the man who was in charge of loading and unloading the boat and asked him how far to the car park from where the boat let us off.

He assured me it was very close; ‘no more than 10 minutes.’

Maybe 10 minutes would be the case if you were a mountain goat, but it took us at least half an hour.

We had an ice cream break first and childishly amused ourselves but urging each other to try unfortunately named products.

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Then we resumed the whining and complaining while we staggered up more stairs and slopes and uneven board walks, back to our car.

4 hours after we set out, we sunk down into our seats and switched on the A/C.

We were glad we’d done the Plitvice National Park, but it had been a bit much for some of us.

A Little Bit Of Paradise

We’ve spent the last 4 nights in Bohinj in Slovenia, and we’ve had a really lovely relaxing time.

We were lucky enough to get rooms in the wonderful Hotel Gasperin, a family run hotel who welcomes families with open arms. We have a room of 4 and a room of 2 here, and nothing has been too much trouble. The owners both speak English, there is free WiFi in all the rooms, the breakfast selection is filling and the hotel is 5 minutes walk from the town, lake and restaurants.

I really had no idea what to expect of Slovenia when it came to catering for families. In fact I knew very little about the Country before we came here. All I had was a faint inkling that there would be mountains and lakes.

I worried that the roads and signposts wouldn’t be very good, that we’d have trouble finding our way around, that we might struggle to find people who speak English and that it might be a bit, well… boring.

I was right about the mountains and lakes but totally wrong about everything else. Our satnav is behaving beautifully, everything is well signposted, most people speak English better than I do ( they learn it in school from the age of 8) and we’ve found plenty to do.

Leaping off the pier, lake bohinj

In Bohinj we have done a lot of swimming in lakes, going up ski lifts, admiring views, messing about with boats, jumping off piers, walking and eating.

But if you felt like being more active, there is also cycling, yachting, horse riding, fishing, mini golf, white water rafting, paragliding, kayaking and rock climbing on offer.

We also drove to Bled, about 20 minutes away, and took a tourist boat across to the only natural island in Slovenia and  the little pilgrimage church built there. The church has a 52 m tall tower and there is a stairway with 99 steps leading up to the building. Weddings are held there regularly. Traditionally it is considered good luck for the groom to carry his bride up the 99 steps on the day of their wedding before ringing the bell and making a wish inside the church.

There was indeed a wedding occurring when we visited and we thought we were going to see a fine Slovenian tradition reenacted before our eyes, so imagine our disappointment when we realised that the parties involved were Welsh!

Lake bled island

 

Lake Bled is smaller than Lake Bohinj but is a lot busier and more touristy. After our 90 min trip out to the island and back, we found our way to the local Funbob track, where DH and the kids spent a happy couple of hours taking the chair lift up to the top of the slope and hurtling down on the specially built sled on rails.

funbob, bled, slovenia

But one of the downsides to Slovenia is that you are required to drive with your lights on at all times, and turning them off when you get out of the car takes some getting used to. When we’d finished sledding, we returned to the car to find that we had left our lights on and so had another flat battery to deal with.

Luckily a couple parked nearby gave us a jump start so we didn’t have to use up an RAC call out, but I have now instructed everyone to remind me to turn off the lights every time we get out of the car. Not all of us will remember of course, but there are six of us, so surely someone should.

We have loved our short time in Slovenia and it now sits high on our ‘must return to’ list.

If you are looking for fresh air, fabulous scenery, lots of activity but also plenty of opportunity for relaxation then take a good hard look at Slovenia if you fancy somewhere a little ‘different’.

Lake Bohinj

Well, we made it to Slovenia.

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We are staying in the lovely Hotel Gasperin near Lake Bohinj, which seems to be the inland equivalent of a seaside town.

We’ve taken the cable car up to a mountain top ski station for a bird’s eye view of the town and lake.  The ride down was especially exciting.

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We’ve eaten far too much icecream and swum in the beautiful lake. It’s lovely and warm and is full of little fish that dart around you as you swim.

Dh hired a canoe yesterday and everyone spent a lovely couple of hours ‘messing about in boats’.

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We are having a nice relaxing time before we get back on the road again.

We arrived here on Wednesday after days of pootling along motorways and though tunnels.

The kids’ game of ‘hold your breath through the tunnel’ was thwarted by a couple of seemingly never ending ones; one was 6 kms long!

We finished listening to the first Harry Potter book, read superbly by Stephen Fry, visited as few public toilets as possible and ignored our misbehaving car alarm.

That’s right, we’ve had yet another issue with our car. The car that we went through so much to take on holiday with
us.

On Tuesday night, we stayed in Berchtesgaden and went up to take a look at Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest first thing in the morning. The kids weren’t that impressed by the idea at first but they enjoyed the bus ride followed by the cake and hot chocolate at the top.

It all went pretty smoothly and we were making good time, until we got back to the car and discovered that neither DH’s nor my key fob would open the car.

Instead we had to open it manually, which set off the alarm every time we opened a door.

We rang the RAC as we had taken out European breakdown cover, but they were going to be hours. So we rang Toyota,  who said that if we just left the alarm it would eventually stop.

So we did. We drove across Germany,  through Austria,  then into Slovenia with the car alarm going off every time we stopped the car or opened a door.

We got a lot of attention but no one called the police. Well, not that we know about. Our plan was to call out someone when we got to our accommodation in Bohinj as we are here for 4 nights.

But as soon as we pulled in to our accommodation in Slovenia near Lake Bohinj, the car decided to behave, and went back to allowing us to use the key fobs again. We’ve not had a problem since.

Perhaps our car likes Slovenia as much as we do?

Summer Holiday Plans

After last year’s road trip around Namibia, there was always the danger that this year’s trip might be seen as a bit of an anti climax.

First of all, we don’t have the funds available that we did last year. Secondly, a lot of places aren’t at their best during the UK summer. Most of the countries we’d like to visit are best seen around Easter time.

We considered staying in the UK and doing a road trip. We  really like road trips, in case you haven’t noticed. You get to see a lot more of the world if you have a vehicle to get yourself around in, and don’t have to do organised tours.

But DH  likes a bit of adventure during his holiday, so was eyeing destinations further afield. I think the planing stage is one of his favourite parts of our holidays!

Finally we settled on the Western Balkans.

where are the Balkans?

The Balkans is a region that includes countries on the Balkan Peninsula in the southeast of Europe, including most of the former Yugoslavia.  We planned to drive around Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro and take a day trip into Albania. Slovenia is sometimes included in this region, so we decided we would go there too.

There is lots to see in this part of the world; ancient cities with fortified walls, lakes and waterfalls, national parks ( there are wolves, lynxes and bears), churches, mountains and beaches.

That’s quite an adventure right? We were going to fly into Zagreb, head north and do a 3 week long anti-clockwise oval loop. DH spent hours on Trip Advisor and got as far as making an itinerary, booking the flights and accommodation.

Then we started to look at car hire and hit a snag. It’s always tricky trying to hire a car that will seat 6 people and also take all our luggage. If we are lucky, we end up with a nice MPV like the one we had in Namibia. If we are unlucky, we end up driving a Fort Transit van around. This happened in Norway. I hated that vehicle.

Car hire in the Balkans is also proving to be horrendously expensive, and we have a perfectly good car here, in the UK. We started to think about driving to the Balkans.

First we looked at driving to Düsseldorf and taking the car train. But we need the roof box on to fit all our luggage into our car and it would be too tall to fit in the train. We also thought about getting a tow bar put on and getting a tow bar box, but this would make our vehicle too long for the train.

Sooo, we’ve decided we will probably just drive. It’s over 1000 miles to Lake Plitvice, our most Northerly destination in Slovenia, so will take about 3 days to get there. The kids don’t seem to be too worried; we have tablets and in car DVDs.

DH is planning the routes we are going to take and pouring over Tripadvisor to book more accommodation. I am booking the car in for a service and MOT. We have sent away for International Driver’s Licences  and are investigation car insurances.

Only 5 weeks to go until we are off on our Summer Holiday.

Road Trip through France