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Monday, 20 July 2009

Europe trip 2009 - Dubrovnik to Montgenevre

18th June.
Rather than endure a sweaty bus ride, we again choose to visit a major city by boat, walking down the hill from Camping Kate to the waterfront at Mlini.

Mlini's picturesque waterfront includes several restaurants
The Vivado Travel Agency boat to old Dubrovnik was 70 kuna a head (€10) for a return ticket. The company runs two boats, the larger one, an old converted fishing boat complete with mast and bowsprit, arrived on time and easily swallowed up the crowd that had gathered on the Mlini quayside.

The Vivado passenger ferry to Dubrovnik arrives

Initially hugging the coastline, remaining evidence of the war soon appeared in the shape of a bombed out and abandoned holiday complex. Warning signs proclaimed that entry was forbidden, but a few swimmers were on the beach and graffiti had found its way to the upper parts of the buildings.

Part of a shelled and burned out holiday complex south of Dubrovnik

Before entering the old harbour of Dubrovnik the boat dropped a few passengers off at Lokrum island, a nature reserve, and then crossed the bay to bring us in sight of the ancient UNESCO protected walls of an old city that is on every cruise ship’s itinerary.

Dubrovnik's old harbour comes into view

I last saw Dubrovnik in the 80's from the P&O cruise ship Canberra, before the destruction wrought by the Yugoslav army, Serbs and Montenegrins in 1991-92.

One of its key glories was the aged patina of its terracotta roofs - looking down from the surrounding walls (free entry in those days) you could really imagine that an actual medieval city was below - a few people walking about in period costume would have done the trick.
The advent of satellite dishes, velux windows and wall mounted air conditioning units would no doubt have destroyed that illusion by now, but the 2000 shells fired at the city damaged 80% of the roofs, burned out many buildings and broke up the stone pavements.

Then, before the war, with the Canberra anchored in the distance

And now, original tiles can be seen on the far left

Despite the greatest care being taken in replacing the tiles the result is generally a mass of orange rooftops, a world away from the originals. Someone said that the tiles all looked plastic - and unfortunately they do, despite some introduced colour variation. The new tiles are totally symmetrical and evenly finished, whereas the original were handmade, uneven in shape and coarse in texture.
Having said that, looking through my old photos from 1985 it's evident that back then, a number of roofs had already been renewed.

No self-respecting city goes without its Irish Pub

Despite the devastation, the street paving and the masonry have been remarkably well recovered, and if you can visit on a day when the floating hotels are absent, or later in the evening when they have gone, the atmosphere would be completely different. Bear in mind though that access to the ramparts is closed at 1900. Tickets to walk the top of an unbroken 1,940 metres of walls are 50 Kuna (€7). Our stroll around with Rosemary and Andy took over two hours.

19th June
We said goodbye to R&A who were also off to Mostar, their insurers (SAGA) not having any objections to them visiting Bosnia.
Another blisteringly hot day, the coolest place was inside the van with the fabulous fantastic fan going full tilt. Later when it had cooled off a bit we trudged down the steps and along the waterfront to the FKK beach for a spot of skinny dipping. Even then the beach was quite crowded, though quite a few weren’t “playing the game” as it were.

20th June
Another day of relative idleness, waiting for our 10 a.m. Sunday ferry to Rijeka.
In the vacant pitch next to us we watched in amazement as two Latvian families of four parents and six children poured out of a short wheel base Ducato panel van and erected three large tents. They spoke good English and were on an epic three week tour to Greece and back.
The weather broke spectacularly in the evening with one of the most prolonged and violent thunderstorms we have experienced, sheet and forked lightening all around and fierce gusts of wind which brought a few bangs and shrieks from the unprepared.

21st June
Alongside the ferry quay for 0830, there were 5 motorhomes already waiting, all German. We soon found out that we would have to change ships in Split, due to change of scheduling (an engine breakdown we heard), a bit of a nuisance but there you go.

The first vessel on our passage to Rijeka

The Jadrolinija vessel “Dubrovnik” docked a few minutes before its departure time of 1000 and we were soon happily seated (on camping cushions) on a wooden bench on the boat deck. Enjoying the departure we sailed past several large cruise ships, including the Carnival Cruise Line owned, Costa Line “Costa Fortuna” - a particular English joke provided by an American owned Italian company.

The "Costa Fortuna" - oh yeah?

Before long we were docking stern-to directly on the quay in Korcula town, a privilege our inter-island ferry had been denied. Minutes later were off to Stari Grad on Hvar, but the rain started to lash down – time for a modest but welcome lunch of schnitzel, chips and peas in the restaurant. Good quality and plenty of it, washed down with a beer for 180 Kuna (about €25).

Our final docking for the day, and transfer to the ferry “Liburnia” was at 6 p.m. and marked by Split’s equivalent of a tropical storm, the foot passengers got drenched, dashing though the downpour in their shorts and tee shirts.
The Liburnia is a much smaller and older vessel than the Dubrovnik, its low, dark, cave-like car deck painted silver instead of the usual white. A single flight of stairs took us up into the ancient accommodation. It didn’t take long to realise there were no Pullman reclining chairs to while away the night in, only slatted wooden benches in the covered Lido bar or short upright banquettes in the Saloon.

The writing was on the bulkhead, as plain as the night order book - pay for a cabin or endure a murderous 8 hours dossing down with the back-packers. The decision swiftly made, we paid another 434 Kuna (€62) for a two berth bunk cabin with a sink - the loo was a few steps aft down the narrow alleyway.
In comparison to my cabin when serving on an old 1950’s cargo ship, the only things missing were the exposed rivets on the deckhead!

The Liburnia was actually built in Holland in 1964, probably for a service involving longer passages, and the large restaurant is rather quaint with an art-deco appearance, mirrored columns and the like.

The Liburnia's restaurant, the largest public room on the ship

Happy in the knowledge that we had a bed to go to, we tucked into goujons of hake with boiled potatoes and tartare sauce, some rather solid chocolate pancakes and a litre of Malvasia, which came to 206 Kuna (€30).

The cabin in fact was a little haven and I slept well on the crisp starched sheets for a few hours, then awoke, listening to the throb of the engines and the creaking of a bunk next door, straining under its restless occupant. The sea was noisily whistling past, a few feet below the porthole - talk about a trip down memory lane.

22nd June
Rijeka was still asleep as we rolled off the ferry and we moved swiftly into Slovenia, the customs giving us a good eyeing up and asking if we had anything to declare.

Rolling off the Liburnia in Rijeka

We had spent nearly two months in Croatia, far longer than we originally anticipated, but we had thoroughly enjoyed it. The tourist industry that we encountered was very professional, with some of the best produced and written free tourist brochures we have come across. The campsite brochure was particularly useful, with good descriptions and listings that you won't find in the Caravan Club Europe book.
All the campsites we stayed at had modern or refurbished toilet facilities, hot water (and lashings of it) was never a problem, though of course the sites weren’t cheap in comparison to British or French sites. Most of the cities and campsites have good websites which convert to English.

The coastline is Croatia’s crown jewels, the tagline is “the Mediterranean as it once was”, and although some of it is inevitably spoilt by ill considered development, much of it is untainted, and in the many areas of national park, pristine. The water, almost everywhere, was crystal clear and endlessly azure. If you are thinking about a sailing or diving holiday, Croatia must be near the top of your list.

We only strayed inland in Istria and also to visit the Plitvice National Park, but both experiences were well worth it and would bring us back to see more. We were entranced by exposure to some wildlife that we hadn’t seen (or heard) before, and stunning scenery.

The people we spoke to about the war seemed determined the leave the past behind and look forward to EU membership and a growing economy of which tourism is a key part. Occasionally we thought they were milking the golden goose too hard (as in some of the quasi-official surcharges) and in danger of spoiling some of their assets through over development, but some of the more recent architecture and features (like the Sea organ in Zadar) are inspired.

--> We free-camped on several occasions inland with no bother, but back on the coast and on the islands there are so many campsites it really isn't viable. We spoke to some motohomers who thought differently, but heard of others who had been fined - up to -->120 Euros.Though the police were in evidence in a low key way, we never felt threatened and had few discordant dealings with people, those that we did were with the older generation who probably could not break the mould of the communist era.
We will be back!

So, swiftly through Slovenia into Italy on the E61 and we stopped for a quick look at Trieste. The city revealed a busy waterfront, marinas and some fine old buildings – some cared for, some not.

Trieste's grand square on the waterfront

We rolled along the A4 past Venezia, Padova, and Vicenza, then, late afternoon, feeling it was time to find a pitch for the night we saw a magnificent church tower rising above the green vineyard covered hills of the Soave wine area just before Verona.
We exited the motorway and, identifying it as Monteforte d’Alpone, made our way over. According to our guide there was an Area Attrezzata (AA) in the town, but we failed to find it and instead made ourselves comfortable in a large free public car park behind the church. (GPS: 45.4233 N, 11.2856 E)

Monteforte d'Alpone's stunning church tower, visible from the Autostrada

The stunning church tower belies this rather dilapidated and forlorn settlement which has definitely seen better days. When the bulk of the tourist traffic is whizzing by on a toll road, the casual visitor is almost inevitably going to pass it by and I guess that includes most motorhomes.
In the course of a stroll I later found the AA behind the school, fairly tight access and with the water supply shut off , and no vans taking advantage of the amenity so kindly laid on.

23rd June
A quick walk into the town to admire the church, with its equally impressive Roman style portico, was rewarded by an elegant and artistic interior. A junior school was in progress, attached to one side of the nave, some of the children scampering past the altar, genuflecting as they did so.

Plain on the outside, elegant on the inside

We bought some bread and fruit and veg to show our appreciation of a free and untroubled nights sleep, disposed of our waste at the AA and picked our way to the R11.

The R11 motorway bypass for Verona straddles the Autostrada on both sides for a section, creating a 10 lane highway divided by three barriers, the westbound carriageways all alongside each other and closest to the town.

It was a fine sunny morning and I was glad to be breezing past the now familiar urban sprawl, when suddenly there was a lot of dust in the air and as I braked our two lane highway seemed to be partially blocked off by the barrier separating it from the Autostrada. Slowing some more we realised that something had hit the barrier, bending it across our lane. I stopped as we could see the road was littered with broken glass and debris and oddly, a battered kettle and a saucepan.

Looking across to the Autostrada we could see the bare wooden inside floor of what looked like a caravan, sitting vertically in the air. Seconds later we realised that it was in fact an old motorhome, upended, cab down on the tarmac. A dazed looking elderly woman, her grey hair awry, was being led to the roadside like a bewildered child.

Suddenly blue smoke began to eject in a thick, long stream towards us from the now vertical exhaust pipe. Sue yelled: “its going to explode” and I drove across the glass and debris to a layby 100 metres further along. Shaken, we sat for some time going over what we had just seen.

The image of that stunned woman will stay with us for a long time. We don’t know for sure that she was in the van, but somebody’s home was broken and dismembered on the motorway, their possessions shattered and scattered across three carriageways.

I felt guilty for not going back to see if we could help - they might have been Brits - but even though we had passed by only seconds after the event, a string of cars were already parked past the scene and people milling about, some tearing at the broken sides of the van. The consequences for those in the cab doesn’t bear thinking about.

Did they have a tyre blowout, were they nudged by a passing car or lorry? - from our accident in 2006 we know how just a glancing blow from an overtaking vehicle can send you careering off the road. It certainly shook us up, the thought of how easily it could happen and how catastrophic the result.

We stayed on the R11 for a while after that and had a look at the southern shore of Lake Garda, heavily built up and developed as you might expect.

After a break for lunch on the outskirts of Chiari we were stopped by yet another accident, this time a truck had spun a car around on an urban street and shed its load mounting the pavement. Are we safe anywhere? With some resolve we made a detour past the carnage and headed back to the A4 Autostrada.

Bypassing Milan and heading for Turin we plucked an Area Attrezzata out of our guide “Viaggiare in Camper” for Rivoli on the outskirts of Turin. By using the cross street references we managed to pin point the AA on the satnav and found it with little difficulty.
Published by Mondadori, the guide is all in Italian of course, but is a very useful book that contains stopovers that you won’t find in more user friendly guides. Our book is a 2005 version, but I suspect an up to date edition will have GPS coordinates, which should take all the guess work out of it. (ISBN 88-370-2380-4)
www.unilibro.com (mail order to UK)

The carpark behind the sports stadium was deserted, but a full service area was incorporated, with running water. Later a French A class Rapido joined us, giving a friendly wave.
A wander into town soon revealed the "Pizza Food" take away pizza parlour. Mostly a large kitchen but with a small seating area, it was busy, a team of scooter borne delivery drivers picking up and zipping off - wow, this is how it is done, how fast the cooks worked. The Capricciosa pizzas were searingly hot and smothered with ham, mushroom, salami, artichoke and olives, a really satisfying meal for €6 a head.

24th June
After a quiet night’s sleep we set the GPS up to lead us through Rivoli towards Sestriere and the mountain passes to France.
Once clear of Rivoli it was nice to see the mountains again and be away from the endless untidy urban sprawl that is northern Italy.

We followed the R23 to Pinerolo, Perosa Argentina and onto Sestriere, a modern looking ski resort, as you might expect virtually deserted, despite the mountain biking on offer. Some great scenery all the same.

Cesana, near the border was making quite an effort to drum up summer business, bedecked with flowers and with biking, rafting and kayaking on offer. A new AA has been installed about a kilometre out of town. €10 a night including electricity and water. (GPS: 44.9481 N, 6.7948 E)

The new Area Attrezzata at Cesana is on the left, about a km out of town

A set of new tunnels are being built to replace the semi open road up to Claviere as it appears to be in danger of being overrun by landslides, several of the apertures in the open tunnel already covered by debris.

Back into France, Montgenèvre has a long established winter aire for 280 motorhomes and has had a recent makeover with new automatic ticket barriers, new lighting and power points. Sited under a ski-lift it is handy for the slopes, but is a bit of a stretch out of the town. Also €10 a night all in - a good deal in the winter if you have electric heating, but it seemed a bit steep to park up in summer in a virtually closed resort. (GPS: 44.9346 N, 6.7364 E)

The vast aire at Montgenevre

Still it was nice to be back in France, after so many summers, it feels like our second home.

1 comment:

by motorhome said...

hello, reading your journey, I remembered that site also have passed with the motorhome.
bravo for your blog !rinis