Learning to Slow Down

Exploring Austria, Slovenia & Croatia- October 2019

Since we’d known each other our lives in general had always been busy, crazy busy. I had always been juggling several jobs at a time: working for myself, running several businesses with my business partner AND working as a nanny for one or more families. Callum was diving into a new career as a digital marketer after leaving his job in the finance industry, which meant putting in extra hours and working late into the night. It also involved studying alongside working for the both of us. We finally decided to get off the treadmill of life about a year- 18 months before we actually left sunny Jersey. We knew that the year leading up to leaving was going to involve a lot of changes but we hadn’t quite expected how much needed to be done. With working harder than ever to save to go travelling we also had to sort all our posessions (to keep, store, take with us or get rid of: bin/donate or sell), we needed to redecorate our flat to get it ready to sell, arrange viewings with estate agents and deal with lawyers, mortgage brokers etc, sell all of our larger posessions (including the businesses, my car & Callum’s motorbike) and prepare the motorhome for full time living. We needed to settle Theodore (our cat) into the van so he knew it was his new home before we could even think about leaving & taking hime with us. The months passed quickly and the time we spent together became less and less.

As we finally boarded the ferry to leave Jersey we waved goodbye to our friends & family and cried our eyes out. We had finally done it, we could start our adventure but could we start to slow down? We thought we’d ease ourselves into the travel life by staying with friends in France and then Belgium. It was so good to see them & the right place for us to start but things had somehow got busier and more stressful as we started moving around. By the time we had a month of travel under our belts we were more worn out and stressed than when we started. Read about it here.

By the second week of October (around day 25 of our travels) we arrived at Lake Chiemsee in southern Germany, near the Austrian border, and started to realise that we didn’t need to see or do everything in one go. We could have a lie in, every day if we wanted to. We could turn off any alarms. We didn’t need to be anywhere by any time. We could make our own rules. The surroundings were just stunning, we had time to ourselves, our campsite was right on the lake side and we started to finally relax.

Not a bad sight to wake up to. Lake Chiemsee, Germany

Next was Austria, beautiful, green Austria. We decided to add a bit more driving to our initial route plans because a storm was heading our way, which meant that we drove east from south eastern Germany to Vienna (to the brilliant Donaupark Camping Vienna) then back west across to the Salzburg lakes at Camping Grabner. It turned out to be the right decision as we had sunshine for all 4 days and bypassed the storm. We cycled a lot. Vienna was so good for cycling, especially through the island alongside Vienna in the Danube. Our e-bikes were certainly coming in handy. Whilst we were at the lakes we swam in Lake Attersee (whilst everyone else laughed at us in the freezing water). We watched the sunsets and lit campfires. This was the travel life we’d read about and we wanted more!

Lake Attersee

Next was Slovenia with even more greenery, lush forests and mountains. We practiced our Slovenian on the drive down thanks to a Youtube video and stayed at Camping Bled for 3 nights right at the end of their season. Another idyllic place and one we’ll return to again, I’m sure. We cycled around it, took a trip on the little tourist train and rowed to the island in the middle of Lake Bled. Well, Callum expertly rowed… I tried rowing and just ended up going round in circles and laughing so hard that I nearly dropped my oars in the lake! I think there’s a video with commentary on our Instagram. We met Shaun & Karen, a British couple, when they knocked on our door to ask for help with their electrics. It was great to meet another english speaking motorhoming couple & swap stories but we were only together on the campsite for one day so we exchanged numbers and said our goodbyes. We’d reached our one month travel-versary (it’s a real thing) and had already been to 7 countries but we were finally discovering what it means slow down and unwind. We had two more stops in Slovenia- Ljubljana first, which was a beautiful city, then a one night stop at the serene Kamp Polje near the Croatian border.

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We had planned to stay in Croatia for a week then one week each for Bosnia, Montenegro & Albania. Little did we know that our plans would be derailed by falling in love with Croatia. Our first stop should have been Zagreb but we found a great spot to park at Lake Jarun, thanks to the park4night app. “South of the city centre is the Jarun lake also called “Zagreb Sea”. With its cycle tracks, lakes for water sports and sports grounds  for team sports, Jarun lake is the largest entertainment centre in Zagreb” and you can park there overnight. 2 nights for just 75kn (Croatian Kuna, around €10)! It’s technically wild camping in a car park, but it’s allowed. The security guards offer some peace of mind and the place is incredible. It’s a manmade lake with beaches, cafes and cycle tracks, although we found out that on Saturday nights there’s a “parade” where the local teenagers slowly drive one lap of the cycle track just after dark, honking their horns and flashing their lights (the whole thing is over in about an hour). It was a little strange, everyone that we spoke to about it knew of the tradition, but no-one seemed to know why! We stayed there for 3 days/2 nights then headed into Zagreb for one night.

Zagreb wasn’t my favourite city, but Callum wanted to watch the football at Buzz Bar so off we went. Parking in Zagreb was difficult, however we eventually found a space in the car park next to the train station and cycled into town on our electric bikes. This was fine whilst the trains weren’t running, but when they restarted at 5am, it was loud enough that not even Callum could stay asleep! By 5:30 we were on the road and headed for a National Park called Risnjak. Lovely scenery on the way but by the time we got there, at lunchtime, the weather had turned and there was nowhere for us to park. We pulled up the weather app on our phone and saw that if we drove another couple of hours west, we could get to Krk Island which would be sunny and warm for the next week or so. What a great decision that turned out to be!

Krk Island is just off the west coast of Croatia, you cross a toll bridge to get there (46kn, about €6 at the time). Our first campsite was a small family run business in an olive grove called ‘Mali Raj’. We were only 1 of two vans there (alongside a German couple) and had the private beach to ourselves, which was just a 5 minute walk away. It was heaven! We explored Krk Island on our bikes. Thank goodness we had chosen electric bikes as it was SO hilly and Google maps sent us up and down some bumpy stone tracks that were only good for us and the local goats!

The stunning Mali Raj campsite

The day after we arrived we had a message from Shaun & Karen. They too had followed the sun and were on Krk Island but were staying at a much more expensive campsite (with their caravan club membership discount, which we didn’t have). They invited us to come and join them at KrK Premium Camping. We did the maths, it totally blew our budget but we decided to stay there for one night. It was a different world! We had already stayed in some extraordinarily beautiful places but more rustic (which is what we prefer) and on a much tighter budget. This was jaw dropping luxury. Even the toilet and shower blocks were pristine. We spent the afternoon lying on the four poster sunbeds(!) and then made our way back to Krk town on the bikes, with Shaun & Karen, for dinner and cocktails. This was the life, at least for one day.

Full on camping Luxury, Krk Island, Croatia

We agreed with Shaun and Karen that we’d meet them at Plitvice Lakes National Park the following evening so we had the next day to get groceries, fuel or whatever else we needed to do. We filled up with Diesel and LPG and headed south towards Plitvice. Once again the dreaded smell of gas appeared. We had not been lucky with refilling our gas system so far, last time we refilled in Munich the canister had had a leak. Taking no chances we finally found a ‘gas man’ after several hours of searching. He took a look at our system and had decided that it would be fine after he’d released the pressure a little “It’s OK” he said “Croatia has bad gas”, which we had to bite our tongues not to laugh at. What he meant was that some garages don’t regulate the pressure or quality of their gas. Typically we’d found one that didn’t shut off at the correct pressure and we’d managed to overfill the bottle. The release valve was doing exactly what it should do (releasing the gas slowly to adjust the pressure), but he was able to release the pressure more quickly. Using the park4night app again we found a guesthouse near Plitvice Lakes where you could park for the night if you just asked the owner. I was excited for the next day. Plitvice looked so beautiful in the photos and it was teaming with nature including wild cats and wolves. We got to the guesthouse just before Shaun and Karen and it was getting dark. I was setting up dinner in the back but the habitation door was locked from the outside so Callum jumped out of the van to open it for me. As he did he walked around the front of the van to be greeted by what looked like a wolf approaching him, glowing eyes included. Thankfully it was just a huge husky that lived at the guesthouse but for a moment our hearts stopped until this big bear of a dog rolled over for cuddles. Of course, we messaged Shaun and Karen to tell them to “look out for the ‘wolf’ ” which they laughed at until they arrived and opened their door to also be greeted by the friendliest ‘wolf’ in Croatia! After a few screams and their door slamming we explained that actually he was a very friendly dog & they could come out of hiding. Well, what are new travel friends for?! The next day we hiked around Plitvice. What an incredible place. Waterfalls, crystal clear water, wooden walkways across the lakes, forests, wild birds, fish and animals everywhere. It was a photographers dream (if you could get in a shot between the other tourists). We were glad, once again, that we were travelling through just at the tail end of the tourist season. Goodness knows how busy it would be during high season! If you are in the area though, it is certainly worth a visit. We have so many photos on our Instagram, it’s difficult to choose the best ones. Here are just a few (including our friendly wolf).
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We said goodbye to Shaun and Karen again, they were taking a slightly different route south. We ended up in Bibinje, just outside of Zadar and stayed at Camping Punta which consisted of a few parking spaces in someone’s back garden. From what we could see it was what many people did along that stretch of coast as their gardens opened up right onto the sea. It was another incredible camping find (thanks to park4night). The owner was really helpful and friendly, it was reasonably priced and close enough to Zadar to cycle, so we thought. All three mornings that we stayed there we had breakfast right next to the sea and took a dip in the crystal clear water (which is just as perfect all along the west coast of Croatia).

Breakfast next to the sea, 100 yards from where we were parked. Bibinje, Croatia

On our second day we decided to cycle into Zadar; we wanted to check out the famous sea organ and the sun salutation. Unfortunately cycle tracks were not yet a popular thing in Croatia and the route that Google sent us on involved crossing train lines and riding through an abandoned factory site. We both ended up with flat tyres & had to get an Uber to take us into Zadar. Thankfully we had foldable e-bikes so they could fit into the car boot. The sea organ and sun salutation were totally worth it though. There are holes in the pier near the sea edge. As the tide comes in, the sea pushes air out through the holes and it ‘plays music’. The sun salutation consists of coloured lights built into the floor of the pier which lights up as the sun goes down and it gets dark. It’s definitely worth a visit, as is the old town of Zadar itself. We were thoroughly enjoying ourselves and were in a totally relaxed mood but we had to get ourselves & our bikes (with the flat tyres) back to the campsite. We found a taxi driver just outside of the old town, the bikes fit in the car boot well and he dropped us back to the campsite. Unfortunately, he saw us coming and added “tourist tax”, massively overcharging us. The owner of the campsite told us that we’d paid 4 times the amount we should have! With the exchange rate, to us it was only an extra £20, to him a lot more. That was a lesson learned.

The Sun Salutation, Zadar

The day before we left Bibinje we opened up our blinds in the morning and who is parked two spaces away? Only Shaun and Karen. They’d been to Pag island and had started heading south themselves. We had one more night with them before we parted ways, this time for good. We headed south and ended up at Camping Stobrec, just outside of Split. Another fab campsite that we’d highly recommend. It’s right on the beach but also has outside swimming pools and an inside hot tub. You get a wrist band for 7 showers a day EACH (we had been lucky to have 1 shower a week!) and they were running a deal for €13 per night if you stayed for 5 nights including wifi and electricity. What a bargain. We booked in, cycled into Split the next day and met a family in a motorhome parked opposite us from Jersey! Over 2.300km from home and we meet another Jersey motorhoming family. After getting to know René, Amanda and their children I decided that as the next day was Halloween we should have a party. I had a box of facepaints with me (as you do when you’ve worked with children for nearly 20 years), a small bag of multi use decorations (“just in case”) and with €20 spent at the supermarket up the road we had ourselves a motorhome Halloween party with masks, fancy dress, face painting, monster biscuit making, decorations, a BBQ and a halloween cartoon projected onto the side of the motorhome. Not bad for 24hrs notice 😉
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Our stay in Split was extended a little as our insurance company was not being helpful at all about our next few days of travel through Bosnia, Montenegro and Albania. Since we would be leaving the EU they decided not only that they wouldn’t cover us outside of the EU (through the next three countries) but also that they were going to stop our insurance altogether, leaving us over 2000km from home with no vehicle insurance! After lots of deliberation and conversations with them (costing us lots in phone calls & roaming charges) we decided to just go through the next 3 countries as quickly as possible buying 3rd party insurance at their respective borders (approximately €20 per country rather than the additional £250 the insurance company had tried to wangle!) We stopped off at Fort Kliss on the way to the Bosnian border. Lots of Game of Thrones scenes were filmed there and we can see why. The views were magnificent, you could see for miles. We could see why it had been the perfect place to build a fort right on top of a hill. It cost the two of us 80kn (about €11) to go in and it was worth every penny. Our planned week in Croatia had turned into 17 wonderful days. We really didn’t want to leave but we had so much more to see. One day we’ll definitely go back to explore more of this beautiful country.

Fort Kliss, Split

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