0Ford GT on the Autobahn, GermanyEuro RoadTrip 2013

Every sum­mer I go on Hol­i­day to the beau­ti­ful Greek island of Crete.  I’m yet to go alone and this year as well as my part­ner I was joined by 2 mates, both of whom have been before.  How­ever, this year, we decided to do things a little dif­fer­ently — rather than fly over most of Europe we decided to drive and see some of Europe on the jour­neys.  We had a great time and the total cost was about the same as fly­ing and rent­ing a car, so we’ll def­in­itely be doing it again.

Journey summary

We came up with a plan to go 2 dif­fer­ent routes to max­im­ise the num­ber of places we could vis­it.  This res­ul­ted in an over­all trip of around 4,300 miles.  By the time we’d made vari­ous detours to vis­it places, and taken a few more scen­ic routes we actu­ally racked up a total of 5,159 miles in 16 days.  This was­n’t as intense as it sounds, but in future I think we’d spread a sim­il­ar jour­ney over 3 weeks rather than 2.

We decided to get the Eur­o­Tun­nel from Folke­stone to Cal­ais.  From there we went East through France, Bel­gi­um and Ger­many to Prague in the Czech Repub­lic.  From Prague we drove South-East via Slov­akia to Bud­apest in Hun­gary and then South through Ser­bia and The Former Yugoslav Repub­lic of Mace­do­nia (which I will refer to as Skopje) to Thes­saloniki in North­ern Greece.  Finally we went from Thes­saloniki down the East coast of Greece to Athens and got the car ferry from Pir­aeus to Herak­lion on Crete where we spent a week relaxing.

For the return jour­ney we took the Ferry back to Pir­aeus and then drove along the South coast of the Gulf of Cor­inth and then turned north towards Ioan­nina in North-West Greece.  From Ioan­nina we drove North West along the Adri­at­ic coast though Albania and Montenegro to Dubrovnik in Croa­tia.  The fol­low­ing day we con­tin­ued up to the Adri­at­ic coast passing briefly though Bos­nia and Herzegov­ina and even­tu­ally cross­ing through Slov­e­nia before arriv­ing in Venice, Italy.  On the pen­ul­tim­ate day we wound our way across the Alps through Aus­tria and down to Munich.  Our final mam­moth day found us driv­ing all the way back to York­shire via Ger­many, France and the Eurotunnel.

I have pro­duced a detailed Google map of our route

Driving (1): Sheffield — Prague

EuroTunnel Le Shuttle, Folkestone

Le Shuttle, Folkestone

This really was the mam­moth jour­ney that it sounds at 936 miles which took a door-to-door total of 17½ hours +1 hour of time change.  For­tu­nately as all the coun­tries involved are mem­bers of the EU we were able to cross all bor­ders without stop­ping (except of course our own UK bor­der which is a shame­fully tedi­ous pro­cess thanks to our “little Englander” 1‑foot-in 1‑foot-out policy on Europe).  The bor­ders are so low-key we missed the sign wel­com­ing us to Holland!

We set off from Shef­field at 6.30am, col­lec­ted one of our party from South Mimms ser­vices on the M25 at 9.00am and arrived at the Eur­o­Tun­nel just before 11.00am.  After a slight delay to the Eur­o­Tun­nel ser­vice we set off from Cal­ais around 1.30pm UK time (2.30pm European time).  We then pretty much remained on sched­ule, cross­ing the bor­der into Czech Repub­lic at around 11.30pm European time after 2 short stops at Motor­way ser­vices in The Neth­er­lands and Germany.

Just before cross­ing the bor­der we were stopped by Ger­man police who checked our pass­ports, drivers license and car regis­tra­tion doc­u­ment.  They were very help­ful and friendly and dir­ec­ted us to where we could buy a tax vign­ette for the Czech roads.  The cheapest vign­ette cost 310CZK (~£10) for a 10 day pass.  We finally arrived at our Hotel in Prague at around 1.30am loc­al time.

All of the roads had remark­ably light traffic, if there had been sig­ni­fic­ant delays we would have arrived very late.  In future I would recom­mend doing a short­er jour­ney, or get­ting one of the Flexiplus tick­ets for the Eur­o­tun­nel.  This would have cost us around £200 more (doub­ling the cost) but if we had bought a flex­ible tick­et we would have arrived at least 1½ hours earli­er (or more likely would have set off a bit later).




Prague was a very attract­ive city.  We did­n’t see quite as much as we would have liked as there was a heat wave with the tem­per­at­ure around 40°C which quite lit­er­ally sent us scur­ry­ing back to the air-con of the car!

We stayed at a place called Pen­sion Karel which cost us around £63 in total for 4 people for 1 night.  This included free secure park­ing and free break­fast at a time to suit us!  The own­er was very friendly and did­n’t mind that we had arrived so late.  He also provided a very lovely break­fast in the morn­ing — toast, tea, boiled eggs, ham and a few oth­er things I’ve for­got­ten.  The rooms were clean and com­fort­able and the shower was good.  Our only “com­plaint” would have been the lack of air con­di­tion­ing — but I had known this when I had booked.  We just had­n’t anti­cip­ated such an intense heat­wave.  The web­site for the accom­mod­a­tion was­n’t work­ing when I booked, but thanks to Google-cache I was able to get an e‑mail address to con­tact them dir­ectly on info@pension-karel.com (the reply came from avrora@volny.cz so you could try that too).  There was­n’t an option to pay with card, only cash, but both the loc­al Koruna and Euros were accepted.

After break­fast we walked about 10 minutes to Lužiny metro sta­tion and caught a yel­low line (line 2) train to Můstek sta­tion.  Fol­low­ing the advice of the own­er of our accom­mod­a­tion we then changed onto the green line (line 1) and went to Hradčanská which is at the top of the hill where sev­er­al of the main sites of Prague are found.

We did­n’t entirely fol­low the map I had made but it was a use­ful guide to the loc­a­tions of some of the monu­ments.  We strolled across the tram lines, through some beau­ti­ful gar­dens and past St. Vit­us Cathed­ral and then headed down the hill and across the Charles Bridge (Karluv Most) into the old town.  We then headed back to Můstek sta­tion and onto a Metro back to our accommodation.

I would recom­mend a vis­it to Prague — we would have liked longer to see some more of the sites.  Every­one was friendly, and whilst there were a lot of tour­ists it was­n’t as over­crowded as I’d expec­ted.  I would also stay at Pen­sion Karel again, although I would prob­ably check the weath­er fore­cast first and con­sider look­ing for some­where with air con­di­tion­ing if it was likely to be so hot again.

Driving (2): Prague — Tatabanya

A Eurobus

A Euro­bus

This drive was a mere 4½ hour 300 mile jour­ney via Slov­akia.  There were no bor­der con­trols to nav­ig­ate as all coun­tries were prop­er EU mem­bers and the roads were all decent.  We needed anoth­er vign­ette for the roads in Hun­gary, but I had already bought this in advance from tolltickets.com.  The cheapest vign­ette is a 1‑week vign­ette which costs 2,975 Ft (~£10).  The Hun­gari­an sys­tem is fully elec­tron­ic and uses ANPR so we did­n’t even have to dis­play a sticker.


Gerecsei Landscape Protection Area, Tatabanya, Hungary

Gerec­sei Land­scape Pro­tec­tion Area, Tataban­ya, Hungary

One of our party has exten­ded fam­ily liv­ing near Tataban­ya and we had been invited to stay with them.  As a res­ult we did­n’t vis­it Bud­apest on this trip (even though I had made a map just in case) but we did enjoy some beau­ti­ful scenery and some won­der­ful food.  The tem­per­at­ure was still really hot so we did­n’t do much oth­er than relax, eat, and drink.  And drink.  And drink!  It turns out that our hosts had about 20 vari­et­ies of grapes and pro­duce their own wine and liquor and we were invited to try sev­er­al dif­fer­ent vari­et­ies, all of which were excel­lent.  For­tu­nately my part­ner excused her­self from any more than a single glass of wine and was able to do the driv­ing the next day!

Driving (3): Tatabanya — Thessaloniki

This was our first poten­tially chal­len­ging jour­ney.  Things star­ted off omin­ously when we took a slip road onto a new (and unfin­ished) stretch of motor­way that was­n’t prop­erly coned off and thanks to fol­low­ing the sat-nav (great work TomTom!) we took the exit and had to reverse back when we real­ised the road was­n’t yet built!

Passing an old car on the way through Serbia

Passing an old car on the way through Serbia

We had 3 bor­ders to cross — Hun­gary into Ser­bia, Ser­bia into Skopje, and from Skopje into Greece.  We also knew we needed a green card for both Ser­bia and Skopje, but our insur­ance com­pany (along with most oth­er west­ern European insur­ance com­pan­ies) declined to provide one for Skopje.  They did how­ever provide one for Ser­bia.  The offi­cials at the Ser­bia bor­der were of the stand­ard humour­less type, but they were sat­is­fied with our green card, car regis­tra­tion doc­u­ment and pass­ports and we passed through after about 20 minutes without any issue.

The offi­cials at the Skopje bor­der were inef­fi­cient, miser­able and offi­cious — they were in fact only beaten in the “most unpleas­ant bor­der cross­ing exper­i­ence” by our very own UK bor­der con­trol who must be Olympic cham­pi­ons at “provid­ing an unne­ces­sar­ily long and tedi­ous bor­der cross­ing”.  So, after an hour of wait­ing (in a queue of about 10 cars) we were sent to obtain some 3rd party insur­ance to cov­er us whilst we were in the coun­try.  We had known about this in advance but had hoped to get lucky and get waved through as some people have been in the past.  Sadly it was not to be and we had to part with €50 (at least they took Euros) for the insur­ance cov­er, des­pite plan­ning to cross the coun­try in only 2 hours.

Thank­fully our final bor­der cross­ing (back into civil­isa­tion) was a rel­at­ive joy — tak­ing about 5 minutes, and included being wel­comed by a friendly Greek offi­cial (although in fair­ness it prob­ably helped that we greeted him in Greek).


Castle of Platamonas, Greece

Castle of Plata­mo­nas, Greece

We were stay­ing on the West side of Thes­saloniki and the things we might have gone to see were all to the East which would have required a time con­sum­ing jour­ney through the city so we elec­ted to set off in the morn­ing to give ourselves more time in Athens before our ferry.

We stayed in a very nice hotel called Hotel Gala which cost a total of €60 for 2 twin rooms.  The rooms were clean, the beds were com­fort­able, the showers were good, the air con­di­tion­ing worked, and in the morn­ing we were offered some unex­pec­ted free cof­fee by the friendly own­er.  I was relieved as this was the only accom­mod­a­tion that had­n’t replied to my e‑mail pri­or to our depar­ture.  The hotel was dif­fi­cult to find with TomTom, so I resor­ted to turn­ing on roam­ing data (50Meg for £10 — thanks for the awful value EE) and using Google Maps (please get prop­er off­line maps sor­ted out Google!) which got us near enough that we could see the bright neon sign at the front of the hotel.  I would def­in­itely stay at Hotel Gala again.

Driving (4): Thessaloniki — Athens

E75 Motorway, Eastern Greece

E75 Motor­way, East­ern Greece

This was one of the easi­est drives at only 320 miles in 5 hours.  Whilst the Greek motor­ways aren’t West­ern European stand­ard they are a lot bet­ter than every­where else we drove though out­side of West­ern Europe.  There were annoy­ingly fre­quent tolls for small amounts (come on Greece — get a sys­tem imple­men­ted where we can pay it all in 1 go when we exit the motor­way!) which totalled to just under €25.  These prob­ably added 30 minutes or so to the journey.

We could have taken a detour to vis­it Mt Olym­pus but decided we’d rather have a little time in Athens and not have to rush to get the ferry.


The Parthenon, atop the Acropolis in Athens

The Parthen­on, atop the Acro­pol­is in Athens

Athens was fant­ast­ic.  We vis­ited it briefly before get­ting the ferry from Pir­aeus to Herak­lion, and then we had a much longer vis­it in the morn­ing when we arrived back on the return ferry.

We did­n’t see any evid­ence of any trouble at all and every­one was as friendly and wel­com­ing as I’ve always found the Greek people to be.  I highly recom­mend tak­ing all the “riots” on the TV news with a truck load of salt and vis­it­ing Athens if you have a chance.

The metro ser­vice was quick and ran on time (which did sur­prise me a bit), the only down side was the tin­nit­us-indu­cing level of noise.  I would advise get­ting ear plugs if you plan to use the Athens metro!

On our first vis­it to Athens we arrived in the late after­noon and most sites were closed so we just had a little wander around and then had a beer in a nice bar over­looked by the acropolis.

We were lucky to see Athens in the morn­ing on our second vis­it.  After get­ting the ferry back from Crete we arrived at 6.30am and used the map I had made and got the green line (line 1) metro dir­ectly from Pir­aeus to Mon­a­st­iraki.  We were in the centre of Athens for 7.30am before any oth­er tour­ists arrived.   We opted to see the Parthen­on first so we could get the uphill walk done before the day star­ted to get really hot.  We walked through the ancient Agora and arrived at the entrance to the Acro­pol­is site just as it opened.  We then man­aged to out-pace the coach load of Amer­ic­an “campers” who had also just arrived and were the first people at the top.  As you can see from the pic­ture I’ve included we were able to get pho­tos of all 3 major monu­ments on the acro­pol­is without any­one else in sight — an almost unique exper­i­ence!  We then walked back down and walked to the temple of Zeus via the Roman Agora.  Once we’d seen the temple of Zeus we’d had enough walk­ing, and it was get­ting hot, so we grabbed a quick drink and then headed back to the metro.

We will def­in­itely go back to Athens, the soon­er the better.

Greek Ferries

Festos Palace Ferry, Greece

Fes­tos Palace Ferry, Greece

The Ferry to and from Crete was really good.  It is pos­sible to travel through the day or the night.  We elec­ted for a night cross­ing with a 4‑bunk cab­in, as whilst this was quite a bit more expens­ive, it meant we did­n’t lose a anoth­er day to travel.  It also meant that myself and my part­ner, who both suf­fer from sea sick­ness, could get to bed in a cab­in (which in both our cases pre­vents us get­ting sea sick).

We all had some food and a couple of beers before the ferry left which pre­dict­ably set us back nearly €100 — not great value, but not as bad as sim­il­ar “cap­tive mar­ket” situ­ations in the UK.  Both fer­ries left slightly late and arrived slightly late (~30 mins) but oth­er­wise ran well and as expected.

The only piece of advice I would give is not to book too far in advance.  I was reg­u­larly check­ing the price for 6 months before we depar­ted, and then when I even­tu­ally came to book 6 weeks before depar­ture the total return price had sud­denly dropped from €577 to €400!  I also found “inboard” cab­ins were cheap­er than “out­board” cab­ins, and that the slightly earli­er ship was a little cheap­er than the later ship (there are 2 ships each night).  It was worth book­ing these cheap­er options as in real­ity we ended up with an out­board cab­in and the two ships depar­ted and arrived only 10–15 minutes apart.


Vai beach in North-East Crete

Vai beach in North-East Crete

Crete was lovely as always.  We had great com­pany, great food and a nice relax­ing time.  Prices since last year have fallen dra­mat­ic­ally (which is for­tu­nate giv­en how much wages have been cut there).  A 500ml bottle of Myth­os was down from ~€2 last year to €0.95 this year.  Alpha beer was down to €0.85 for a 500ml bottle.  Our main super­mar­ket shop­ping trip was only ~€50 (I’d anti­cip­ated €80 based on pre­vi­ous experience).

We took a trip to Vai beach on the North-East of the island and also went to the Aquar­i­um near Herak­lion.  We had planned to vis­it the Water­City water park but they have stopped doing the “half day” price they used to offer, so it is now a full €25 full day or noth­ing.  A full day is too long really and €25 for ~3 hours is just far too expens­ive.  Per­son­ally I think this is a really short-sighted move, espe­cially giv­en the tough eco­nom­ic cli­mate in Greece at the moment.  Three of us also found and explored the Sarak­ina Gorge which I have writ­ten about in anoth­er article.

There are loads more things to do on Crete, but we had done most before and just wanted to have a few days of “down time”.  If you want to know more about things to do in Crete take a look at the Google map I made a few years ago.

It goes without say­ing we’ll be going back to Crete again next year.

Driving (5): Athens — Ioannina

Rio-Antirrio bridge, Greece

Rio-Antir­rio bridge, Greece

This was anoth­er easy drive at only 260 miles in 5 hours.  There were no bor­ders to cross but there were a few tolls and the spe­cial toll paid to cross the 1.8mile long Rio-Antir­rio sea bridge which is a mag­ni­fi­cent con­struc­tion across the entrance to the gulf of Cor­inth.  In total we paid about €25 in tolls, of which €13.20 was for the bridge.  The South side of the gulf of Cor­inth was espe­cially attract­ive and we had the oppor­tun­ity to vis­it ancient Cor­inth.  We decided not to vis­it on this occa­sion as we wanted as much time in Athens as pos­sible and had­n’t set off until 2pm.  The rest of the jour­ney was easy.  As we got fur­ther North the land got green­er and more moun­tain­ous, but oth­er than that North-West Greece was like the rest of the coun­try — rugged and some­times scruffy, but always easy on the eye.


Vikos Gorge, Greece

Vikos Gorge, Greece

We actu­ally stayed 15 miles North of Ioan­nina in a vil­lage called Ano Ped­ina.  This was only a few minutes in the car from the little-known Vikos Gorge which we vis­ited.  This gorge holds the Guin­ness World Record for “Deep­est Gorge” in the world as oth­er, deep­er gorges are much wider.  The Vikos Gorge is almost as deep as it is wide and was con­sequently pretty spec­tac­u­lar.  We viewed the Gorge from the West­ern side just past the vil­lage of Mono­dendri as this was a quick jour­ney and we arrived not long before sun­set.  If we vis­it again I plan to try view­ing from the East­ern side near Vradeto.  We did­n’t do any hikes into the gorge or see any of the fam­ous hump-backed bridges, but I would def­in­itely vis­it them in future as the wild­life at the bot­tom of the gorge is appar­ently spectacular.

We stayed in won­der­ful accom­mod­a­tion called Hotel Ame­liko.  There were 2 men run­ning the busi­ness who were very friendly and help­ful.  We were invited to join them for an even­ing meal which we gladly accep­ted.  They don’t offer a menu but said what they were plan­ning to make — roas­ted veget­ables and Greek salad for a starter, and giouvet­si for a main course.  I actu­ally have a giouvet­si recipe myself so knew how good it can be and was delighted when they men­tioned it.  One of our party is a veget­ari­an but our hosts said this was no prob­lem, they’d make him some­thing spe­cial — this turned out to be stuffed pep­pers which he really enjoyed.  Almost all the food came from the hotel garden and the food was in the top 5 most deli­cious meals I’ve ever eaten.  The bill was an almost com­ic­al €8!  We did also drink plenty of beer and wine how­ever, for which the bill was a slightly expens­ive €57.  Over­all though €65 for food and drink com­bined was excel­lent value.

The room itself was clean, the beds com­fort­able and the shower excel­lent.  There was also free park­ing on the street, which in such a small rur­al vil­lage in Greece required no secur­ity.  We paid a total of €98 and will def­in­itely vis­it again.

Driving (6): Ioannina — Dubrovnik

Donkey and cart on the Albanian roads

Don­key and cart on the Albani­an roads

This was the jour­ney I had been most con­cerned about.  When I was plan­ning the trip I really wanted to see the Adri­at­ic coast, and Croa­tia in par­tic­u­lar, but could­n’t find any way to avoid driv­ing through Albania.  I have noth­ing against Albania itself (in fact I under­stand it is quite an up-and-com­ing tour­ist des­tin­a­tion) but I had heard first hand stor­ies (and read even more accounts online) of the dangers of Albani­an roads and Albani­an drivers!  After some delib­er­a­tion I decided that I had man­aged to sur­vived the Cretan roads in the 1990’s and seen the roads of Rome and Boston, which soun­ded com­par­at­ively bad and thought that we should go for it.  It did mean that I felt obliged to volun­teer to drive the entirety of this leg of the jour­ney — 360 miles in 8½ hours!

The first hurdle was that we required a green card for Albania, which our insur­ance com­pany did­n’t provide.  This meant we would prob­ably need 3rd party cov­er bought at the bor­der for €27.  I had read many cases online of people just being waved through the bor­der without an insur­ance check so we hoped we might get lucky.  The bor­der was reas­on­ably quick and we were waved through without requir­ing insur­ance — a pos­it­ive start!

The roads were imme­di­ately some­what worse than the Greek roads we had left, but they were still a good width and smoothly tar­ma­ced so we were able to make decent pro­gress.  How­ever after about an hour the sur­face of the road sud­denly ended and we found ourselves driv­ing on a 4 lane gravel track, along with oth­er (very slow) tour­ists, loc­al (very fast) Albani­ans, and a large num­ber of huge lor­ries.  This las­ted about 30 miles, which takes a long time at 20 miles per hour!  After this excite­ment the roads remained sur­faced for the rest of the jour­ney with most being new and good qual­ity.  The only remain­ing excit­ing parts of the jour­ney were the lack of bypasses for urb­an areas, mean­ing we had to drive through sev­er­al towns.  We delib­er­ately took the most West­ern route which avoided Tir­ana and instead passed by Dur­rës.  We saw quite a few very dan­ger­ous over-takes and at least 1 horse-drawn cart, con­firm­ing our ste­reo­types of Albani­an roads.  Hope­fully the con­struc­tion of all the new roads cur­rently under­way will be fin­ished in the next 3–4 years and things will improve con­sid­er­ably as they have done else­where (e.g. Crete)

Adriatic coastline, Montenegro

Adri­at­ic coast­line, Montenegro

Fol­low­ing Albania we crossed into Montenegro on the Shkodra — Bar road.  The bor­der was reas­on­ably quick (around 10 minutes) and this time we had the required green card and were able to pass without sig­ni­fic­ant delay.  The roads in Montenegro were ini­tially the second worst roads we encountered (beaten only by the Albani­an gravel) — sim­il­ar to a nar­row coun­try lane in the UK.  When a lorry came the oth­er way we had to slow almost to a stop and bump off the tar­mac onto the gravel at the side of the road so it could get past.  The roads improved after a few miles and remained accept­able for the rest of the drive through Montenegro.  The speed of the drivers also decreased back to safe levels and the num­ber of “excit­ing” over-takes was almost neg­li­gible com­pared to Albania.

The coast­line of Montenegro was espe­cially beau­ti­ful, but sadly over-pop­u­lated with tour­ists.  Some of the best look­ing beaches were so covered by sun loun­gers and umbrel­las that we could­n’t see any of the sand.  I would con­sider a stay in Montenegro if we could find some­where without so many tour­ists, but with such a short coast­line I think it may already be too late.

Finally, we crossed the bor­der into Croa­tia near the coast and got through without prob­lem.  This bor­der took around 30 minutes which was a little irrit­at­ing as we did­n’t want to miss the sun­set on the coast.  We could under­stand the import­ance of the check how­ever as this is now an EU bor­der.  In the event we man­aged to see 3 sun­sets and get lots of photos.


Clock-tower, Dubrovnik old town

Clock-tower, Dubrovnik old town

Dubrovnik was stun­ning.  It is the place all 4 of us most want to go back to.  Things did­n’t start off all that well — find­ing our hotel and some­where to park took nearly an hour of driv­ing round 1 way sys­tems dur­ing which time I swore quite a lot.  Even­tu­ally we man­aged to get the car into the car park and found our way to the Kus­alo Gues­t­house.  The Gues­t­house was nice enough, with reas­on­able beds, func­tion­al air con­di­tion­ing and a reas­on­able shower, but although I can­’t find any­thing par­tic­u­larly bad to say I think next time I vis­it Dubrovnik I would look for some­where else to stay.  The fairest way to put it was that there was noth­ing par­tic­u­larly wrong, but com­pared to the oth­er places we had stayed on the hol­i­day it just was­n’t as nice.  The shower in the morn­ing was also cold which did­n’t go down well with a couple of our party.

Fol­low­ing the map I’d made we walked from the guest-house south-west towards the old town.  Before explor­ing the old town itself we looked for some­where to eat.  Ini­tially we decided to try a res­taur­ant on the right-hand side of the little square, but after wait­ing for 15 minutes for any ser­vice we left and decided to try the pizzer­ia at the oppos­ite side of the square.  Ser­vice here was much bet­ter and the food was also good.

After eat­ing we walked into the old town which was stun­ning.  My part­ner imme­di­ately swiped my cam­era and star­ted snap­ping away.  We made our way slowly through the old town and even­tu­ally I steered us towards a bar I wanted to vis­it called Buza I.  This is a bar which is accessed through a pas­sage­way cut into the city wall and over­looks the sea.  It was stun­ning and well worth find­ing but it was also a place best to have only 1 drink as our 4 cock­tails cost nearly €30.

After our drinks we headed back to the gues­t­house to get some much needed sleep.  We did­n’t have time to walk the city walls or see the Lovrjen­ac, we did­n’t vis­it any oth­er parts of the city (e.g. the har­bour) and we did­n’t even fully explore the old town.  These are all things we want to go back and do.

Driving (7): Dubrovnik — Venice

Adriatic coastline, Croatia

Adri­at­ic coast­line, Croatia

This was the most scen­ic drive that we did.  There is a new road that goes all the way up through Croa­tia, but we wanted to see the coast­line so we took the older slower road along the coast.  This did add about 2 hours to the jour­ney but was worth it for the 485 miles of views over 10 hours.  We had to pass briefly through Bos­nia and Herzegov­ina as Croa­tia is split in half.  These bor­der cross­ings were fairly swift and straight-for­ward and there was no issue about our lack of green­card.  The drive through Bos­nia is only 5½ miles, which takes less than 10 minutes.

We would have liked to vis­it the beaches on the island of Rab, but there was­n’t enough time.  We did drive past in the hope that there may also be a nice beach on the main­land near the island, but sadly this was not to be.  On a future trip I would def­in­itely want to find time to try the beaches on the island.


Grand Canal, Venice

Grand Canal, Venice

Venice was our first real dis­ap­point­ment of the hol­i­day.  It was basic­ally a huge tour­ist trap, noth­ing felt very real.  There was some stun­ning archi­tec­ture and per­haps if the sun had come out soon­er or we had been less tired we might have enjoyed it more, but we all felt that it was an over-hyped rip-off.  Now I can say I’ve “been there and done it” I don’t think I’m very likely to vis­it again, at least not when there are so many tour­ists (i.e. in August).  The only pos­it­ive thing I can say is that it did­n’t smell like we were warned it often does in summer.

We again fol­lowed a map I’d made and after spend­ing about 30 minutes fig­ur­ing out how to get tick­ets, and where to catch it (get some prop­er multi-lan­guage signs put up please Vene­tians!) we took the #1 vapor­etto (water bus) for €7 each to St. Mark’s square.  From there we walked back, via the Rialto bridge.  On the way back we stopped for food at a res­taur­ant which was dis­tinctly aver­age and very expens­ive (4 large cokes, 2 piz­zas and 2 pas­tas came to nearly €80)

We stayed on the out­skirts of Maestre on the main­land at a place called Hotel Villa Dori.  The hotel was OK, although the bunk beds provided wer­en’t par­tic­u­larly com­fort­able and everything the hotel offered cost extra (a map of Venice was €2!)  If I ever did return to Venice I would look for some­where else to stay.

The hotel was in an area which did­n’t look par­tic­u­larly friendly at night (although it looks nice on Google earth!).  We were recom­men­ded a res­taur­ant in the area which we were rather dubi­ous about, but it was actu­ally a very good meal.  I don’t know the name of the res­taur­ant, but it was on Via Ven­iz­ia near the junc­tion with Via Ven­eto.  I would eat there again.

One final thing to note about Venice is that every bill we received con­tained a “tour­ist tax” of around €2-€3 per per­son.  We found it hard to believe and very objec­tion­able that an eco­nomy so depend­ent upon tour­ists so overtly rips them off for a little bit extra each time they pay for any­thing.  Between the 4 of us we ended up pay­ing over €30 extra whilst in Venice as a res­ult of this tax.  We would­n’t have found the price so objec­tion­able but for the fact that everything in Venice is already a huge rip off — it was by far and away the most expens­ive place we visited.

Driving (8): Venice — Munich

Italian Alps

Itali­an Alps

We drove from Venice to Munich dir­ectly over the Alps.  It had been the plan to take the Gross­glock­ner High Alpine Road, but sadly the sat-nav took us a slightly incor­rect route and by the time we real­ised it would have added an hour to our jour­ney to cor­rect the route.  We did how­ever see some stun­ning scenery, and hav­ing missed the Gross­glock­ner we now have an excuse to repeat the jour­ney.  The jour­ney itself was about 350 miles and took around 6 hours.  We used far less fuel than we had expec­ted — hardly any more for the dis­tance than we used on most of the motor­ways.  I guess all the down­hill engine brak­ing saved a lot and made up for the fuel used going up.

There were tolls on the Itali­an roads, which was espe­cially annoy­ing as we spent most of our time on the toll road stuck in stop-start traffic and lost over an hour.  We could­n’t see any reas­on for the delays (i.e. there were no acci­dents we could see).  I would recom­mend avoid­ing Itali­an roads if pos­sible — the drivers are often dan­ger­ous, the prices are a rip-off and pro­gress (in my exper­i­ence) is usu­ally pretty slow — a dis­ap­point­ing combination.

A vign­ette is required for Aus­tri­an roads.  It costs about €9 and can be bought in advance from tolltickets.com.  Some of the Alpine roads are private or have tun­nels with tolls.  If you take the motor­way there are no addi­tion­al tolls but the views are far less spectacular.

The Austrian Alps

Austrian Alps

Aus­tri­an Alps

Aus­tria and the Alps were beau­ti­ful and are one of the places we most want to go back to.  The scenery is stun­ning, the archi­tec­ture very attract­ive, and the over­all exper­i­ence really peace­ful and pleas­ant.  The roads are well main­tained and no prob­lem to drive in a mod­ern car as long as you are pre­pared to use first gear reg­u­larly for each hair­pin bend.  We hope to go back and drive the Gross­glock­ner, vis­it Hall­statt and hope­fully see at least 1 gla­ci­er.  I’d also like to sample some Aus­tri­an food as we did­n’t stop on our jour­ney to eat.  The Aus­tri­an Alps were the most peace­ful and relax­ing place we passed through — they looked to be an ideal loc­a­tion for a week or 2 of gentle walks, eat­ing, read­ing and relax­ing.  I believe it is pos­sible to get quite cheap deals in sum­mer as most of the Alpine tour­ist industry is geared up for winter sports so there is lots of empty capa­city in summer.


Rathaus-Glockenspiel, Munich

Rathaus-Glock­en­spiel, Munich

Munich was bril­liant — the friend­li­est most wel­com­ing place we vis­ited on the entire hol­i­day.  Everything was ste­reo­typ­ic­ally Ger­man — it all worked as it should!  We stayed at Gues­t­house Sid­diqi Pen­sion which was only 5 minutes drive from the over­ground rail sta­tion Karls­feld.  Trains from here run reg­u­larly all night to and from Munich city centre and take only 18 minutes.  24 hour park­ing at the rail sta­tion was just €1 and when we nearly missed our train the driver saw us out of his win­dow and instead of set­ting off like a bus or train in UK would have done, he waited and reopened the doors so that we could board.

The gues­t­house was clean and com­fort­able.  There were only shared bath­rooms avail­able (which I had known when I booked) but we did­n’t have to wait long in the morn­ing to get into the bath­room, and the showers were good and hot.  We paid €98 in total for our own room with 4 bunks.

We were quite late get­ting to Munich and did­n’t arrive in the city centre until around 11pm.  The first thing we were greeted with after exit­ing the sta­tion was a group of mildly-drunk­en Ger­man young people sur­round­ing a busk­er and singing Yel­low Sub­mar­ine loudly which was an amus­ing and uplift­ing arrival.  We used anoth­er of my maps and headed for the Hof­bräuhaus hop­ing to get a beer there but it was clos­ing by the time we arrived so we quickly made our way to anoth­er pub nearby.  The wait­ress there told us we could only have 1 drink if we were quick as they had to close in 20 minutes.  We agreed and had some excel­lent Ger­man lager.  We were imme­di­ately greeted by the group of Ger­mans (we pre­sumed loc­als) sat at the table next to us.  They spoke very good Eng­lish (of course) and wel­comed us to Munich, telling us we had been very lucky to get a drink so late!  After our drink we headed back to the train, stop­ping off at a deli­cious kebab shop which also sold bottled beers and cham­pagne!  We got some kebabs and a bottle of beer and con­sumed them on the walk back to the cent­ral station.

We will def­in­itely go back to Munich, and stay longer.  We are very keen to have a prop­er night out there as well as vis­it some of the sites (e.g. the BMW museum, Munich Zoo, the Olympic park, etc)

Driving (9): Munich — Sheffield

Ford GT on the Autobahn, Germany

Ford GT on the Auto­bahn, Germany

This was our second longest drive of the hol­i­day.  We fol­lowed the route chosen by the sat nav which took us in an almost dir­ect line back through Ger­many and France to Cal­ais.  This was a mis­take, as we spent around 23 of the jour­ney in France.  I per­son­ally felt really irrit­able with the French road net­work after our exper­i­ences else­where in Europe, so much so that I think we should charge French drivers to use the roads in the UK.  France basic­ally sits between the UK (free roads), Hol­land (free roads) and Ger­many (free roads) in West­ern Europe.  The French roads are not free; they are in fact a con­sid­er­able rip-off.  We paid around €60 for our 5 hours on the French roads — more than any­where else on our trip — and more than we pay for the tax on the car in the UK (£30) for a whole year.  This annoy­ance was com­poun­ded as we had got used to the qual­ity (and speeds) of the Ger­man Auto­bahn and were then con­fron­ted with lower qual­ity, slower roads, peppered with hid­den cam­er­as.  To rub salt in the wound the French have banned all cam­era alert sys­tems so there wer­en’t even any good data­bases of cam­er­as to help us avoid them.  In future I will go to con­sid­er­able lengths to use the Ger­man roads and avoid the French ones — shame on you France.

That said, we did­n’t hit any sig­ni­fic­ant traffic and com­pleted the 595 miles to Cal­ais in around 8 hours.  We then had to endure 3 hours of queues, delays and bor­der con­trol before our Eur­o­Tun­nel train even­tu­ally depar­ted at 7pm.  This was by far and away the biggest delay of any kind on the entire jour­ney and it can be cred­ited to just what Bri­tain and France can achieve when they work togeth­er — well done chaps.  Next time we build a tun­nel to the con­tin­ent I sug­gest we tun­nel right under France and go dir­ect to Ger­many as this will cut travel times by at least 2 hours (and even more if we just let the Ger­mans run the entire operation).

In all we drove 845 miles home from Munich and arrived home 17 hours later at 11.00pm UK time.  We would have been a little quick­er but we had to stop on the M20 on the way home to top up the coolant level in the car.  We know the radi­at­or was the source of the leak as it had to be replaced (for £220!) but we don’t know what dam­aged it.  I’d guess it was either the Albani­an gravel road or that a com­bin­a­tion of 40C heat, Alpine driv­ing, 120mph on the auto­bahn, con­stant air con­di­tion­ing, and 5000miles in 16 days just gave the car a workout it would­n’t nor­mally experience!

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