At the end of 2011 we decided to take a winter holiday. We discussed a few different directions to head in but finally settled on heading down through Europe, but not the obvious Spain or Portugal.
After chatting with Jed and a few others about their experience of traveling in Slovenia and Croatia it was decided that we would follow suit and spend our winter as far down as we could get in the time allowed.
We had about 5 weeks to complete the mission (it would’ve been longer if i hadn’t discovered that my passport was missing before we left….but that’s another story). We planned ourselves a vague route starting from Dunkerque taking in some of Germany with our first stop in Innsbruck, Austria to visit some friends. From there we planned to drive into the Dolomite mountains in the North of Italy and across to Slovenia, then down into Croatia before heading back up into Slovenia, across the top of Italy into the French Alps for Christmas.
We pretty much stuck to our vague plan, with a few little detours which we hadn’t factored in, all in all an awe inspiring trip. There were a few complications, a few lessons learn’t and some brilliant happy accidents along the way (some of which that could have ended rather unhappily…..but all’s well that ends well…..more on that later…).
Upon arrival at Dover we got pulled into Customs for a quick check of the van contents, surprise surprise. After having a look around the van the guard asked us if we could open the front for him….snigger….slightly confused looks when i said i couldn’t, but he was happy enough when i said i’d open the back for him. after a quick rummage he ask’s “have you got any weapons on board…..other than this one – holding an axe in his hand, he he. I replied no of course and we were on the ferry quick smart.
So to start proceedings here’s a few pics of the journey down to Austria for our first proper stop in Innsbruck.
First stop over for the night, an Aire de Camping on the banks of the Rhien river, barges majestically cruising up and down. Very nice!
We had to take a ferry across the river to get the Aire de camping and the chap on the ferry suggested that we visit an xmas market that was a few villages away, so the next morning we headed there to see what was happening. The Market was great, a proper traditional german affair with lots of pretty craft stuff on sale and of course the obligatory Gluwhien :ok
The next night we just dropped off the side of the motorway into the countryside and found ourselves a spot to camp for the night, turned out to be rather nice in the morning
Next stop Austria, after a few hours we started to see mountains…..at last….the journey through Germany is certainly quick, but its seriously dull in terms of views!
Dropping down towards Innsbruck spotted this groovy little punimog (or Mini Mog if you prefer) gotta love em!
Finally arrived to see friends Christina and Thom, this is the view from their veranda……..nice or what! Albeit somewhat lacking in snow for the time of year…..
Christina was unfortunately involved in a very bad mountain bike crash a few years ago which left her paralyzed from the waist down, on the day of the accident Thom vowed never to ride a mountain bike again until Christina could ride with him. So he set about being trained in engineering so that he could build her bikes to ride. The Quad in these pics is the latest incarnation (mk2) and is amazingly fast, hats off to Christina she really has got balls….or a big clit….or something,… i dont know. All i know is they are both amazing!
Here’s a few other pics from around Innsbruck…
So after a few great days in Innsbruck, it was time to move on and head for the Dolomite National park, through which we took a meandering route taking in as many wiggly mountain passes as we could which led us to some quite spectacular sights along the way.
After a fairly long haul through the mountains we decided to stay at an Aire de Camping we found in a place called Auronzo. Even though there clearly had not been a single flake of snow, there were signs of the place gearing up for the ski season with snow cannons running through the night and Piste bashers in place ready and waiting.
Sunrise was quite spectacular the next morning.
After finding that using your handbrake anywhere above 1500m is a bad idea. (if there is the slightest bit of water in the cables – quite common on a syncro that does some offroading – then they will be frozen solid in the morning. (I had to get some tools out and wrench them off manually!) we moved on down the road a little way and encountered this interesting phenomenon..
Nice cloud around the top of the mountain peak too.
From the dolomite mountains we chose to drive into Slovenia via the most interesting route available. Thanks to Jed for pointing this one out, its an awesome winding singletrack road that makes its way up across a pass before dropping down an equally wiggly singletrack road down to the Slovenian border, west of the Triglav national park. Its here in case your interested: https://maps.google.com/maps?q=Slovenia&hl=en&ll=46.324527,13.369074&spn=0.045521,0.121365&sll=44.982649,15.403004&sspn=0.046625,0.121365&vpsrc=6&geocode=FUk2wAIdB9DkAA&hnear=Slovenia&t=m&z=14
Its an awesome drive, considering its an actual road which many must drive in totally normal cars its challenging to say the least. Oil temps were reaching +90ºc by the time we were at the top and that’s with an external oil cooler and ambient temperature at around 0ºc. Once we reached the top we stayed nearby for the night so we could make the descent in daylight.
Our first port of call in Slovenia was Bovec, which has a really nice feel to the little town and the most brilliant tourist information center i think i’ve ever visited. After a coffee and brief chat with some locals we headed off to find some natural wonder.
Coffee stop in Bovec
Copper roofed church of Dreznica
The day we arrived in Slovenia the friendly girl in the tourist office advised us that we had arrived during the first day of rain in about a month….typical! Unfortunately it wasn’t just rain but seriously thick fog in most places so the views were very limited. Due to this we decided to go straight to Lake Bled where we knew there was some civilisation that might offer some refuge and maybe, just maybe a campsite might be open….
We arrived at Lake Bled to find that the campsite was shut and almost everything was closed as the winter season didnt start for another week or so. Darn… So we free camped in a car park next to the campsite for the night. In the morning the fog had lifted a little so i grabbed a couple of pics before we set off.
Overnight we had decided to bomb it down to Croatia in search of better weather and open campsites which we promptly did that morning.
So we got on the motorway heading for Zagreb, after a while we started approaching a toll booth, so as you do we started slowing down to take the obligatory ticket, which never materialised……strange we thought….then observed all the other vehicles just driving straight through…..even more strange…..so we made the decision to play idiot tourists and press on.
Then we got to the next toll booth and thought…bugger….now we’re in the sh1t…..but same as before…everyone just kept on driving……weird….
So we concluded that the tolls appear to be free on a sunday! Brilliant! Either that or they only have them running when its tourist season….
So we pressed on….
Then a while later, a blue Seat ibiza pulled in front of us and an LED sign in the rear window flashed up saying “follow me” ………Oh shit…..
Thoughts ran from, was i speeding?, is it the tolls?, are they just suspicious as we seem to be the only foreign vehicle in the whole country or what…?
Turns out the two plain clothes coppers were just doing routine pull a foreigner type checks, wanted to see driving license, passports etc. But the best bit was that once again, we got asked if we could open the front please……er …..no i cant..sorry. (confused look from the plod) then i heard some murmer of “boxxer” in amongst the slovenian, so at least one of them seemed to have some idea. I gladly opened the back up for them.
They were very pleasant as it happens and quite jovial. They were happy with everything they saw and sent us on our way. So off we went to towards the Croatian Border.
We decided to take in a bit of countryside rather than head over the border by Zagreb, so took a right off the Motorway through Novo Mesto and headed for the border at a place called ‘Metlika’.
Here’s our lunch stop from along the way:
After some lunch we got on our way towards the border, which would prove to be an interesting experience to say the least……more on that in the next installment……