You haven't changed a bit.......

Saturday 25 May 2013

This photo of us was taken high up in the hills overlooking Oludeniz beach near Fethiye. We reckon it was probably taken in 1984.

and here we are today in the same spot .....

We had a great laugh trying to recreate it. There are loads of hotels and bars there now and a few extra sun loungers on the beach but the view is still as amazing as it was then. As for us make your own mind up!!

In remembrance

Monday 20 May 2013

Poppies, sunset and warship on the horizon

As we drove down the road approaching the Gallipoli Peninsula we noticed a large number of naval vessels in the bay to the west. This area of North Western Turkey lies very close to Greece so we thought little of it. We carried on our way and parked up in a peaceful spot just north of Kabatepe and close to the ANZAC landing beaches we wanted to visit. In the bay a Turkish naval patrol ship zig-zagged up and down and we watched curiously as it saw off a little fishing boat in the evening.

In bed some time later we were awoken by a very loud dull thud followed by an almighty boom, the van shook and everything inside rattled. Dave jumped up quickly and peered through the curtains but could see nothing as the whole thing repeated again and again. After half an hour it stopped and peace resumed. At about 2.30am it started again for another half hour. Dave’s thoughts were that it was naval warships some way in the distance firing live artillery possibly towards a firing range.  As we lay there in the dead of night listening to the sounds of artillery all around us it really brought home the bitter battles fought in this area in 1915. Checking the internet later we found out it was the first day of the largest annual exercise of the Turkish Navy.


The Allied objectives in the Gallipoli campaign were, to capture Istanbul, forcing Turkey out of the war and securing an ice-free supply route to Russia. This would open another front against Germany and Austria-Hungary. There were 4 phases to the attack in 1915 and after 9 months of bitter fighting the Commonwealth nations had lost more than 36,000 soldiers. 

The peninsula has 31 war cemeteries. 9000 soldiers  remains were identified, 13000 were unidentified and the remains of 14000 were never found. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, with an overall annual budget of £43 million, has provided fitting resting places for these brave men and ensured that families, friends and visitors can pay their respects as well as learn about the history of the area and the battles. It is quite sobering walking around the cemeteries and reading the inscriptions. When we visited there was an abundance of beautiful wild red poppies by many of the gravestones, on the foreshores and in the fields. Many of the British lie in the beautifully located but unromantically named Hill 10.

The Turkish Army. led by a gifted young officer called Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk), also lost many soldiers, estimated at 87,000, and a large memorial to their dead stands high on Bomba Sirti (Bomb Hill). In this area, which the ANZAC troops called Quinns Point, the two sides fought bitterly at very close quarters – so close instead of exchanging fire at times they exchanged drinks, cigarettes and gifts.

Turkish War Memorial at Gallipoli

John McCrae’s famous WW1 poem -
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row
That mark our place and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields....

Inscription on a young British soldiers grave


Monday 20 May 2013
I can get by with very little sleep.....and Dave can sleep through virtually anything. It's just as well really because you never know what is going to keep you awake at night or wake you before dawn.

Number one has to be barking dogs, but we've also had.....listed alphabetically not by decibels or nuisance factor......

Birds on the roof of the van
Boy racers in car parks
Car horns
Chiming church bells - on the hour and if you're really unlucky on the half hour too!
Commuter traffic
Croaking frogs
Learner drivers practising manoeuvres
Level crossing barriers
Lorries on motorways
Rave in a converted lorry
Sirens - police, ambulance....
Snoring...from occupants of other vans and/or each other!
Snow ploughs

and this morning a new noise .....

 Sweet dreams.....

Serbia gets a second chance

Saturday 18 May 2013

We have dipped in and out of Serbia twice on our trip. The first time we entered from Romania and travelled through the low level central and northern section before exiting to visit Bosnia & Herzegovina. A couple of weeks later we were back having crossed from Montenegro into the more mountainous southern section on our way through to Bulgaria.

Completely landlocked and bordering with 8 other countries it is largely overlooked by travellers, remembered mainly for its role in the break up of Yugoslavia and the war crimes inflicted upon so many. Today it seems to be a real mix of cultures and style. Beautiful valleys with traditional farming villages and busy towns with some ugly concrete buildings dating back to the communist era. Mosques in some villages with orthodox churches in others. Fast modern Audi’s sharing the roads with ancient old lorries, horse and carts. Flashy supermarkets and busy produce markets vying for customers.  In total we clocked up 590 miles in 7 days.

Developing tourism does not seem to be high on the countries agenda, hotels and campsites are few and far between, attraction signposting is poor and all the Tourist Information offices we found were shut. We met the Chairman of the Camping Club of Serbia and his lovely wife at one campsite  - even they admitted it is a problem getting people to visit because the campsite network is so sparse. We only saw a couple of other campers in Belgrade and a few bikers whilst we were there.

All alone....

We first hit Serbia at an odd time – they were just beginning their 6 day Orthodox Easter holidays and the temperatures were also unseasonably hot – topping 34 degrees most days. Everyone was heading out of Belgrade and with a population of 1.6 million seemingly all on the move and awful signposting it was quite steamy and stressful trying to find our way across the city. We finally found the campsite at about 7pm, overlooking the Danube the setting was pleasant but the mozzies were out in force.

Danube in flood

Another country – another transport museum. The National Air Museum of Yugoslavia turned out to be one of those delightful but very quirky attractions not quite living up to its glitzy website image. The building was designed in the 60’s, built during the 80’s and finally opened in 1989, a few years before the war began, sadly the building itself is now a crumbling, leaking shell.

Crumbling steps, dirty concrete, leaking glass panes - very sad

Inside though it has an amazing collection including some quite rare and unique aircraft nicely displayed. Coming in just above our attraction budget at 500 Dinars (£3.80) it was certainly worth it. I followed Dave round while he pointed out what was what showing interest at the appropriate times – unlike the two bored wives sat on the stairs doing their nails while their hubbies clicked away taking endless photographs. Suspended from the ceiling is a mannequin attached to a parachute – complete with fashionable 80’s style bright blue eye shadow to match her outfit! She, like everything else, is covered with about 25 years worth of dust.

Now what does this do? - he's just a big kid at heart

Heading north of Belgrade we arrived at Novi Sad which was hit hard during 1999 losing all its bridges. It boasts a fortress, Austro-Hungarian buildings and a pretty, if somewhat deserted, town square. The sign in the Tourist Office window says it is shut for the 6 day holiday. We moved on and headed for the Zasavica Nature Reserve staying in a lovely campsite nearby for 2 days before making our way towards the border with Bosnia.

Novi Sad square
Zasavica Nature Reserve

The towns of Mali-Zvornik and Zvornik which straddle the River Drina used to be a single community divided by a river, now they sit in two separate countries with two border posts, one pedestrian and one vehicular. Its strategically important location resulted in the town being witness to some awful atrocities during the recent war. On the evening we were there an opportunist tried to open the vans driver door unaware we were inside with the curtains shut - that’s the only time so far that we have encountered any trouble. Once we park up we always lock the doors and if we have any concerns we attach bike locks through the handles and round the seats. It’s not high tech but it’s just an extra deterrent should someone decide to smash a window to try and open the door. We left with mixed feelings about the country but knowing we would be back we kept an open mind.

Fast forward 2 weeks and we arrived in the south western corner of the country needing to zig-zag our way across the mountains and valleys to the border with Bulgaria. The landscape is very different here with attractive gorges, rolling hills and a range of colourful geological rocks ranging from bright purple to blue and red - note our total lack of knowledge here on what they are! The roads are all lined with wild flowers and we came across some beautifull lizards.

European Green Lizards

The locals were busy tending the produce in their plots. Some of the towns we drove through were bustling and chaotic including Novi Pazar and Prokuplje, others were more organised, tree-lined and attractive such as Niš and Pirot. After getting lost trying to find our way to a lakeside spot in the hills for our last night we were approached by a group of young lads who helped us get back on track. The Serbs sometimes come across as a bit bullish and loud but these lads were genuinely friendly and helpful. A nice impression to leave with.  
Lake in the hills behind Pirot

Dear diary.....

Writing my personal diary, from which I pick out pieces to update the blog, keeps me busy most evenings - well there's not much else to do after the washing up is done!

Not many people travel to Romania by motorhome (probably due to the dreadful state of the roads) so when I was asked by another blogger if I wanted to write an account of 'Our trip' which might be helpful to others considering it I thought....why not?

So here it is, it took me quite a while and I've noticed a couple of grammatical errors but it sums up our trip through Romania I think.

Twin sister Sue needn't worry - I won't be following in her travel writing footsteps!

Montenegro - must try harder!

Thursday 16 May 2013
Our friend Annie, who we are on our way to see, writes a great blog about her life since moving back to Bodrum in Turkey and how it has changed over the years. She wrote a comment on my last post about Montenegro saying…. “I don't think Montenegro will be asking you to write their brochure next year” .

She is quite right as the abiding memory of our first full day driving along the coast is the mass of huge advertising signs for mile upon mile almost obliterating the beautiful views of the Adriatic, the overfull litter bins with scavenging cats and dogs and the piles of rubbish left in lay-by's that are somehow going to magically disappear. If we had to sum up our 5 days here in an 'end of term school report' format I think we would say “Montenegro - must try harder”.
Excuse the glare from the map - get the picture?
It has the mountains, the gorges, the wooded valleys, the beaches, the ruins, the old towns etc…but so do many of the other countries we have travelled through. It is trying to attract up-market tourism by bigging up its attractions, inflating its prices compared to its former fellow Yugoslavian neighbours and selling itself as an ecological country…… whatever that means!
Montenegro meaning Black Mountains 
(even more so on an overcast day)
We ticked off most of the must-see sights on their official tourism website and have clocked up about 350 miles in our short stay here. That same website describes the Bay of Kotor as ‘one of the most beautiful bays in the world’, between us we have cruised into many bays in our time and believe me it really isn’t!
Kotor Bay with fishing nets in foreground
It also describes Tara River canyon as ‘one of the most beautiful in the world’ and also ‘the second largest in the world after Colorado’ – it isn’t on either count! Having only just driven through Romania and Bosnia & Herzegovina we know they have some beautiful gorges (apparently interchangeable with canyon!) and Wikipedia says Tara is the largest in Europe but there are a whole host of other canyons laying claim to the world titles – it really depends how you measure your canyon!
Head for heights? River Tara - 150m below the bridge
They also seem to have forgotten that tourists have a choice as to whether they visit the country, what they do when they are here and whether they stay or return. One campsite owner wanted €10 for a shabby overgrown pitch with disgusting showers and toilets, we said ‘No thanks’ and left him scratching his head presumably wondering why we were being so fussy! We were asked to pay €3 each and another €3 to park the van for a 10 minute walk down a path to see Black Lake in the Durmitor National Park – we’ve seen plenty of glacial lakes for free so we passed on that one, €9 gives us 50 miles worth of diesel and plenty of passing scenery and sights. A beer and a coke set us back €4 in quite a basic café – we haven’t paid that much since the snazzy seafront bars in Italy. And this afternoon we had high hopes of finding ourselves  a great campsite for our last night in Montenegro having followed those huge advertising boards on our route towards Rozaje, near the Serbian border. Pulling in off the main road we cautiously approached a small green gate and were beckoned in by the owner who asked for €10 to effectively park in his front garden – he appears to have built over the campsite. We shook our heads and started to reverse away when he quickly reduced the price to €5. So having negotiated the very narrow gate, the fruit trees and picnic tables to squeeze the van in we are hoping no-one else arrives!
Look closely - Dave's in the wooden hut by the cartwheel!
All that aside what had the wow factor for us in Montenegro …..

Stari Bar
Against all the odds at this beautiful site, nestled inland beneath huge hills, you can still get a sense of the magnificent town it once was. Partly destroyed by extensive shelling in 1878, by munitions explosions in 1881 and 1912 and then a massive earthquake in 1979 enough of it defiantly stands waiting for the funds and expertise to rebuild it.
Ruins at Stari Bar
Hope for the future - the reconstructed church

Velika Plaza beach
Between two river mouths lies a beautiful 13km stretch of golden sandy beach. On one end is Ada Bojana and on the other the town of Ulcinj, both rivers are lined with fish restaurants and traditional nets suspended by rickety old booms. On our third attempt to find a beach side campsite we struck lucky and stayed 2 nights at the beautifully located Camping Safari Beach listening to the waves lapping the shore.
Fish restaurants at Ada Bojana
Traditional fishing methods at Ulcinj
Sunset at Safari Beach Campsite

Skadar Lake
Leaving the coast behind we headed inland and up into the mountains. Crossing over a ridge on a very narrow road that clung to the hillside we were staggered by the size of this beautiful lake which straddles the border with Albania. With snow-capped mountains in the distance, swampy bays and small islands it is very picturesque. We didn’t see the rare curly pelican associated with the area (named so because of its nape feathers not a strangely shaped bill!!), but we did see lots of snakes and two tortoises!
Skadar Lake
Thankfully we didn't meet any other campers on this road
Islands in the middle of the lake
Managed to snap the tortoise but the snakes were too quick for me!