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The European adventures commenced when Phil (an Aussie mate) and I flew from London Stansted to Lyon , France . We had heaps of luggage as the first half of our trip involved a lot of camping. We were over the baggage allowance but fortunately didn't get penalized and we even managed to sneak the tent on board the plane without it being weighed … gold. In typical Ryan Air style the airport was hours out of town and the shuttle bus to Lyon cost more than the flight itself.

France

The so called shuttle bus dumped us at some minor stop that wasn't on any maps we had in our possession. I made a phone call to the hostel and it was one of the most confusing conversations I have ever participated it. It went something like this.

Parle vous Anglais?
No
Do you have any free beds?
Oui
Can we book two?
No, You come here …. You come here now!
Ok then.

With the help of numerous extremely friendly French people we eventually found our way to the hostel via tube and tram. There was no sign of the hostility and unfriendliness I had experienced in Paris years before. It started raining so we arrived at the hostel absolutely drenched and had to wait for an hour in our rain soaked clothes while the incompetent hostel staff checked us in. The hostel is set on the edge of a massive cliff with spectacular views of the city. Lyon is a very beautiful city, it is divided in thirds by two large rivers. I loved it! The cobbled streets in the old town were particularly nice as were the French women! That night we did some planning for our trip while the very effeminate bar tender sang French techno Kareo

Our Car affectionately know as "Frenchie"

ke songs whilst wearing a mid-drift top, funny stuff! Only our first night and already we had experienced so much! We wondered what the next two months would have in stall for us? Time would tell!

The airport was where we had organized to pick up our car so we made our way there by tube then bus. There was no sign of life at the Citroen desk but after a phone call and a short wait a tall energetic Frenchman showed up with the paperwork. He took us in a van to a small car park where our Citroen C4 was waiting for us. He wished us luck in his Fanco-American accent and then we were on our own. The car was awesome! It was brand new and fully decked out with all the latest gizmos.

Phil was first at the reigns and after filling the car up with diesel we headed South towards Marseille. Lunch was eaten in Grenoble and consisted of salami, cheese and tomato on a baguette. Little did we know that this was going to be our staple lunch for the next 2 months. We also stumbled upon a camping shop and bought a gas burner and other camping gear.

I took the wheel and after a couple of embarrassing stalls we were on our way. Our drive south took us on some extremely windy roads through the French Alps and in doing so we witnessed some absolutely spectacular scenery. We stopped for a break at a town called Gap which was at the bottom of a valley and was very beautiful indeed. It was clear that we were not going to make it to Marseille so we drove for about another hour then stopped at a tiny little campground in a small village called Voix. There were signs to campgrounds everywhere so finding a place to stay was not a problem. The campsite was great with clean facilities and a swimming pool. It was mainly European families and older retired couples. We were the only native English speakers in sight. We went for a swim and then setup our tent for the first time with the sound of kids playing in the background. Spaghetti was on the menu for dinner and was consumed with a nice bottle of vino. Laughs were exchanged with the French couple next to us and then by 10:30pm we were fast asleep.

We continued our journey south through some more amazing countryside and eventually hit Cannes on the Southern Mediterranean coast. The highway tolls we encountered on the way were astronomical; we paid $50Aus for about 300km of road … crazy! Meandered along the coast East and camped in a town called Antibes which is a dive but only a stones throw away from the city of Nice . That afternoon I had my first swim in the Mediterranean . The beach was rocky and the water salty but refreshing. No waves unfortunately but heaps of topless sunbathers. The French love getting their gear off at the beach.

First night camping

We used Antibes as base camp and explored nearby Nice and Monaco . Nice is a very spectacular city, it's located right on the beach and the views from the East headland are amazing. Got some great photos! From Nice we got the train to Monaco ( Monte Carlo ). I loved Monaco ! It had an aire of excitement about it. We lived it up with the rich and famous and drank cheap vino on a park bench in the +35C sweltering heat. We climbed the headland and ate cheese on a baguette with the refreshing sea breeze blowing through our hair. Again spectacular views!

Italy

The next day we continued the journey East and crossed the border into Italy . We made the mistake of taking the turnoff to Genova for a lunch stop. The traffic was insane! … our first taste of Italian drivers. There were mopeds everywhere!

The scenery along the Italian coast was absolutely breath taking. We followed the coastal road for a while but it was so slow that eventually we turned back on the freeway. Arrived in Pisa by about 4pm, setup camp, then walked into town to check out the tower. It was exactly as I had remembered it from 3 years ago. The lean angle is quite amazing. It's a tourist trap but definitely worth a quick look. Desmond came out and posed for some photos attracting attention from other Aussies as usual.

Back at the campsite we met an Aussie couple in their late 50s who were retracing the route they had backpacked 30 years earlier. They were extremely friendly and interesting and the bloke felt that if it was his duty to give us some fatherly advice. Good times.

The rest of the evening was spent drinking beer with our Dutch neighbors. They were great fun and together we laughed the night away. Could have kicked on much later but an early start was scheduled for the next day.

Continued on down South to Rome . Stopped at a splendid little seaside town called Talamone where we ate delicious fresh pastries whilst overlooking the crystal clear Mediterranean Sea .

leaning tower

The approach into Rome wasn't half as bad as I expected, everything went smoothly and before we knew it we were there. Accommodation was courtesy of Camping Roma - a large, dusty and centrally located camp ground. The next two days were spent exploring the numerous sites that Italy 's capital has to offer. We checked out the Vatican , climbed the 500 stairs to the top of St Paul 's dome and did a tour of the Coliseum in the scorching 40C heat. The Sistine Chapel was definitely a highlight, some amazing artworks in there! Rome was fantastic, so much to see and do!

Our next destination was Naples . It was also time for Frenchie (our car) to have her complimentary 1500km service. We took a random turnoff from the main road and ended up in the ghettos of Naples . It was horrible, the city-scape resembled a third world country. We felt unsafe. There were gypsies and run down apartment blocks everywhere. We drove around for about 30 minutes then by some miracle of God I caught a glimpse of a Citroen sign and we followed it down some seedy back alley until we found a small service station displaying the Citroen logo. The scruffy looking guy at the desk didn't speak any English so he went out the back and returned with another 4 equally scruffy looking guys. The guys spoke and understood about 3 words of English each so together we had 15 words to work with. Through a series of charades and awkward miscommunications they managed to convey the message that this inspection was only a visual one and no “work” had to be done to the car. The mechanic checked the oil and shook the engine and then signed our log book. What a relief. While Phil was sorting out the paperwork I was under strict instructions not to leave the car and got stuck talking to an old guy with a striking God Father resemblance. His English was the best of the group and he told me that women in Naples are very beautiful but they smell bad because they don't wash enough … fascinating. We left that garage with a load off our shoulders.

Italian Sunset

Looking back I feel bad that we were so untrustworthy as the guys at the garage were genuine and had nothing but the best intentions in the world.

Camping Spartacus was our home for the next 2 nights. There were numerous other campgrounds in the area claiming that they were also called Camping Spartacus … hahaha. The campground was literally across the road from the ruins of Pompeii and an hour on the train from both Naples and Sorrento . An afternoon exploring the ruins of Pompeii was enough to appreciate its archeological significance. It was like walking around an ancient city. The exceptionally well preserved amphitheatre was one of the highlights. There were heaps of American Uni students (some bikin clad) spending their summer working on excavating some of the ruins, not my cup of tea especially considering the ridiculously hot temperatures. A few beers back at the campsite and it was time for bed.

The next morning was spent exploring Naples . Naples is not unlike any other Italian city that we have been to. It's very hustle bustle, no one speaks English and there is an extreme mixture of rich and poor. Pickpockets were rife. Although the city was dirty and crowded it did have a lively and exciting feel about it but we were keen to get out of there ASAP.

Sorrento is the complete opposite to Naples in every respect. It is a very beautiful city located on a cliff overlooking the ocean. The buildings are full of character and delicious aromas of fine Italian cuisine waft up and down the narrow streets. We caught a ferry across to the isle of Capri and instantly fell in love with it's labyrinth like streets and the spectacular views. Unfortunately the last ferry was at 6:15pm so our stay on Capri was cut short. Have to go back there someday!

We ate Pizza and Gelati back in Sorrento then headed back to the campsite! The guy who owned the restaurant also owned a nightclub in Kings Cross, Sydney called Sorrento , I suspected Mafia involvement.

Woke up at about 8:30 after a broken sleep due to dogs barking and yanks partying.

Mt Vesuvius

The windy drive up Mt Vesuvius was arduous but the panoramic views from the top made it all worth while. We hiked from the car park up to the top of the crater and around about half way. Hard to believe that it was once a boiling cauldron.

It was lunch time before we knew it so we had to forge on southwards.

The rest of the day was pretty much spent in the car. The sunlight was fading so we hopped off the freeway and attempted to find a campground. This proved to be quite a difficult task as all the little towns were set into cliffs as if they'd been shot into the hill from a cannon. It was looking like sleeping in the car was definitely on the cards but Phil found a second wind and we soldiered on Southwards. We followed a French campervan and as we had hoped were led to a campground in a dirty city called Regio Calebro. We were way off the tourist track and absolutely noone spoke English. We busted out some charades and managed to convey the message that we needed a campsite.

A pasta feast was cooked up and some vino cracked. We talked it up with some Italian girls camped next to us (mucho bella) and a random bloke (mucho tool) dropped in with some more vino. There was some sort of festival going on at the nearby beach so we walked down there and checked it out. Phil and I even went for a midnight dip … awesome night!

Nursing hangovers we drove to the ferry terminal and caught a boat to Sicily . We passed through some extremely picturesque towns with ridiculously narrow and windy streets before finding a campsite near the town of Taormina . It was the most expensive and also one of the dirtiest campsites we stayed at. The afternoon was very quiet indeed and involved reading on the beach and swimming.

The next day we were on the road by 7:45 and back on the mainland not long after. We drove all the way to the East coast of Italy to a port town called Brindisi . We somehow scammed our way on a car ferry to Greece even though it was peak season and we hadn't booked in advance, dodgy if you ask me. It was our first of many overnight ferries. Departure time was 7:30pm with arrival in Greece at 3:30am. Loading the cars on the ferry was like playing a game of Tetris blindfolded and with only one finger, very frustrating and difficult. The cars are packed in so tight that you can hardly open the door. We didn't get much sleep as there were heaps of seedy characters aboard and we were worried about getting our stuff stolen. The people next to us even pitched a tent on the deck which was a good idea.

Greece

The Pantheon

We arrived in Igomenitsa Greece at about 4am after very little sleep. After going through painful process of unloading our car from the ferry we commenced the 350km journey to Athens . The highways were eerie … not a car in sight. The sun rose to reveal that we were amongst some very beautiful country side. Breakfast was bought from a small café and consisted of some sort of pastry with feta cheese. Our tiredness eventually caught up with us and we had to pull over and have a nap in the car.

We continued the drive and made it to Camping Athens by 2pm ….. not a bad effort. The driving etiquette in Greece is quite unique. Everyone drives right over to the right hand side of the lane so that people can pass even on single lane roads. It took a while to get used to but it works quite well!

We spent the next couple of days exploring Athens . It was dirty and smelly, just as my parents had told me. The heat was absolutely excruciating and just sapped the energy from us. We checked out the Acropolis which was very interesting but it was hard to enjoy it with all the loud yanks and Italians around. We also visited the archeological museum. It was interesting but there is only so many pots and sculptures that I can handle in one day.

The Greek Isles

The Islands were calling our name so we left our car at the campground, woke up at the ridiculous hour of 4am and caught a ferry to the isle of Mykonos . I was half expecting the Greek Isles to be palm tree clad tropical islands … how wrong I was. Mykonos was more like a desert island, 40+C and barren. We camped right on a small cliff overlooking Paraga beach, it was awesome. The heat was so intense that even walking around was a major effort. We spent the next few days swimming and partying. Picture this …. numerous small bars lining a rocky beach with the most stunning bluey green water you have ever seen. 4pm came around and DJs started firing up all along the beach, I'm not really into that sort of house/techno music but I couldn't help getting amongst the beat, it was wicked! The first night wasn't that good as Phil and I went for a few beers down on the beach and the snobby Greeks and Italians wouldn't even talk to us. The next day we attempted to hire scooters as you do on the Greek Islands but because it was peak season, they were all booked out. We found the Greeks to be most unfriendly.

"The Kiwi" & "The Sherpa"

The next day we met a few Aussies and Kiwis and things started looking up. The afternoon was spent swimming and lazing around on the beach. One of the guys we met, known only as “the Kiwi” was an absolute classic. He was a pugnacious character whose idea of a good night out involved consuming a full bottle of whiskey and fighting. One of the many stories he told us involved him taking on the Albanian Weightlifting team, ending up in hospital then discharging himself because he didn't have travel insurance. His signature move was a dive/bomb called “the gorilla” which had obviously taken years to perfect. Picture this …. Countless metrosexual Italians tanning their perfectly sculptured pectorals very peacefully around the pool when the kiwi (who was built like a brick shithouse) rocks up and performs his entrance dive - “the Gorilla”. The result….. wet and angry Italians everywhere, it was hilarious. A feast was cooked up and washed down with a few fresh beverages. We had a good group going, myself, 2 Aussie Phils, James (who would become our travel partner), “the Kiwi” - more ape than man and a Spanish bloke who was affectionately know as the Sherpa as he had carried the alcohol comatosed “kiwi” home the night before. The group of us caught a bus into downtown Mykonos and then the fun began. The venue was Scandinavia bar and it was awesome. I talked to people from all over the world. I got separated from the rest of the crew and missed the last bus back to the campsite so ended up sleeping in a nice little village square … good times! Apparently I was lucky not to get robbed while I slept, gold!!

I awoke on a large rock nursing a headache that would have killed a small child, caught the bus back to the campground, packed up the tent, ate a disgusting omelet then Phil and I made our way to the ferry terminal. Phil who had opted for a quieter night than me seemed to gain enormous amounts of pleasure from my suffering … funny stuff. The ferry to Santorini went quick as I was passed out sprawled on the deck most of the way. After a full day on the ferry we eventually arrived at Santorini at about 5pm. It's a spectacular island! Shear cliffs greet the crystal clear Mediterranean with picturesque white Greek cottages dotting the landscape.

Phil and I - Thumbs Up!

The campground that we stayed at was one of the best. It was much more chilled out than Mykonos and had a really nice bar/café and cool pool area. A Greek salad was consumed for dinner and hit the spot nicely. We spend the next 3 days relaxing in island paradise. We hung out with some cool British and German girls and introduced them to the card game asshole, good times!

Phil, I and the British chicks went on a boat tour of some nearby islands which included visiting an active volcano and swimming in some natural hot springs. It was so unbelievably hot, we were in a world of pain! I wouldn't recommend visiting the Greek Islands in August … too hot and crowded! We also caught the bus to the “ Red Beach ” which had … you guessed it, red sand but was nothing special.

The overnight ferry back to Athens was a pure nightmare! The only sleeping spots we could find were right on the top deck next to the exhaust funnels. We snuggled up in our sleeping bags in the +60km/h winds and managed to get a few hours sleep. It was an experience. The sunrise from the deck was quite spectacular.

In a sleep deprived exhausted haze we made our way back to the campground in Athens via public transport and were reunited with our car. That night we had to get another overnight ferry to continue our journey East to Turkey. This time we chose to stay inside the cabin but we still didn't get much sleep. We arrived on the isle of Chios at the ridiculous hour of 3am, parked in a shady backstreet and slept till about 10am. Unfortunately we missed the once a day ferry to Turkey so we had to spend a night on Chios but it turned out to be good times. We stayed in beach-side hotel in a little town called Karfas. It was the first night that we hadn't spent in a tent in about 3 weeks. It was great to have a bed, shower etc. The nearby beach was sandy with small waves, probably the nicest beach we saw on the trip!

Another early start and we were on a ferry and on our way to the port of Cesme in Turkey . The ferry ride was short and the staff extremely friendly. The complimentary apple tea given to us by the deck hand was much appreciated.

Turkey

James, Phil and I in Istanbul

Our introduction to Turkey was a zealous customs officer who went out of his way to make us feel welcome and expedited the clearance of our car through customs. We stopped in Cesme for a quick feed then continued our journey East past Izmir and then North up the coast. We were now out of the EU and instantly everything was dramatically less expensive!

Our destination for the day was Cannukle where we got a room in the ANZAC hostel for $5 each. We thought we had found ourselves a bargain until we discovered that the room was the size of a shoebox and had no windows. It reeked in the morning!

A kebab was eaten for dinner and a few beers consumed at a nearby pub then we returned to our shoebox and slept.

The next morning we ate baklava for breakfast and checked out of the hostel as we would not have survived another night in that joint. We drove South for an hour to Troy . As expected it was a tourist trap but I got some cool photos of Desmond sticking his head out of the giant wooden horse. Phil who had studied Ancient History for his HSC got more out of our visit to Troy then myself but it was still very interesting. We got the car ferry across to Ecebat and checked in to TJs hostel which turned out to be one of the friendliest hostels in the world. We treated ourselves and opted for the luxury room complete with air conditioning and cable TV. Still very affordable.

Guess who we bumped into on the street outside TJs hostel? … James who we had partied with in Mykonos . Small world hey. We had some lunch together and exchanged travel stories. It seems like Phil and I had avoided some interesting encounters by having the car. James had copped a fairly rough time traveling by himself.

ANZAC Cove

The 3 of us hopped in the car and spent the afternoon exploring ANZAC cove. It was a very moving experience. We saw the Neck, the Sphinx where the Aussies had to climb up the hill and read tales of Turkish and ANZAC bravery. The path the ANZACs were meant to take up the hill was just treacherous; it was remarkable that they lasted as long as they did. At the top of the hill you can still see the trenches and at some points apposing trenches are only metres apart. That is how close they got.

James had planned to travel a similar route to us so we invited him to come along with us in the car. A third traveler … good times!

The next day we went snorkeling and diving on a world war I wreck just off ANZAC cove. It was awesome! We saw some aquatic wildlife then went hunting for some souvenirs. I found some bullet shells and also a rifleman's oil canister. After all those years I was still able to open the canister and it amazingly had oil in it.

Another kebab was eaten for lunch then we headed on our way to Istanbul . Phil did the first shift and got pulled over by a cop for overtaking on double white lines but managed to avoid an on the spot fine by pretending that he didn't understand the officer, funny stuff. I took the wheel and somewhere along the way there some traffic delays due to a small gathering of people surrounding something on the road. It turned out to be a person who had just been hit by a car, I fortunately was concentrating on driving so didn't see much but Phil and James cringed at the gruesome sight.

Our arrival in Istanbul could not have been more poorly timed. It was the middle of peak hour and the traffic was an absolute nightmare. At one stage I was driving in 8 lanes of traffic (each way) and there were 10 cars across in each direction with no lane markings. Changing lanes was like playing a game of chicken. Our dreams of parking the car downtown and staying at a hostel quickly faded. We opted for the safe option and headed for the outskirts of the city where the campground was located. It turned out to be the dirtiest campground in the world. The showers were salt water and the staff slimy in personality and appearance.

The next day was spent exploring Istanbul . It's a typical Turkish city – dirty, polluted, crowded and overrun with cars. We visited numerous mosques including the most famed and majestic –Blue Mosque. It was magnificent! I had never been inside a mosque so it was an interesting experience although if I were a Muslim I sure would not be happy about all the tourists passing through my place of worship. We also checked out the Grand Bazaar which was nothing more than a pickpocket haven.

We couldn't get out of that seedy campground fast enough so the next day we crossed the Northern border into Bulgaria . On the Lonely Planet's recommendation we stopped in the town of Sozopol nestled on the Black Sea coast. It's a spectacular little town with some cute little boutiques and pumping summer nightlife. It's a holiday destination for Eastern Europeans and a nice one at that!

Bulgaria and Romania

The beach at Sozopol

There wasn't a lot to do in Sozopol so we just chilled on the beach, drank cheap beers and ate pancakes. We attempted to rent some windsurfers but the guy told us with a smirk on his face there were none left even though there was a stack of them behind him … we weren't happy! He's lucky we didn't unleash the fury!

We continued on up the Black Sea coast and headed into Romania . Stopped for lunch somewhere in the middle of nowhere and ordered a salad only to have a plate full of gherkins placed in front of us. Weird! Stayed the night in a wicked little town called Eforie Nord and managed to score a sweet four star motel right on the beach for $20 a night each.

The next day we hit the road in search of the capital Bucharest . Pretty intense driving as the roads were as narrow as the Romanian drivers are crazy (they pretty much pull out to overtake without looking then deal with the consequences later). Managed to navigate our way to the Elvis Villa hostel in Bucharest using only a Lonely Planet map, which is a miracle in itself. Very fun hostel indeed but unfortunately Elvis had already left the building. The Lonely Planet talked Bucharest up as being more beautiful than Prague , it was nice but not THAT nice. Met some cool people at the hostel and explored the city as a team. We visited the People's Palace which was built during communist times and was rumored to have cost 40% of the annual GDP each year of its construction. It was quite spectacular with marble floors, gigantic staircases and football field sized ballrooms. Also checked out the main street which has fountains running down the middle. Ate and drank well with our new mates. Romania is so cheap … massive feasts with a few beers were costing about $5Aus.

Dracula Country

Armed with silver stakes we headed North to Transylvania in search of Dracula. Stayed in a spectacular little town called Brasov (pronounced Brashov) which was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. We used Brasov as a base and headed out to explore the Transylvania area. A little know secret is that this area is home to the best and most affordable skiing in Europe ! We visited three nearby castles: Sinaia which was more like a palace, with high ceilings, wood carved walls, marble floors and massive mirrors … amazing stuff, Rasov which was nestled in the side of a hill but was in a state of disrepair and finally Bran Castle which is where the fictional character of Dracula supposedly lived but was a tourist trap.

Bucharest

Continued on North to a nice little town called Sigharsoura where we stayed in Nathan's Villa. Wasn't much to do there but the old town was very pleasant indeed. We had heard word of a spectacular drive through the Romanian Alps called the Transfagarasan Highway, so that was on our itinery for the following day. The road was the windiest road I have ever been on, hairpin turn after hairpin turn but the views were truly amazing! It wasn't until we reached the top that we were able to comprehend the engineering feat that had been accomplished here. The road was like a serpent crawling its way up the mountain. There was even some snow up the top - in the middle of summer!

That night we drove utill we were exhausted then stayed in a town called Slatina. Hotel Paradise was our sleeping venue and it sure did have paradise written all over it but we couldn't read it cause it was in Romanian. Noone spoke English at all but we still managed to order a seedy microwaved hamburger and a few sweet sweet Romanian beers.

Bulgaria (again)

The next morning we checked out of Paradise and headed for the Bulgarian border. On arrival at the border we discovered that that it was actually a river crossing and that the next ferry was in 5 hours. It was a long wait so we caught up on our diary writing while James contemplated starting an illegal cigarette importing business as cartons of cigarettes were only $2Aus each, but after much discussion settled on purchasing 6 cartons. Eventually arrived in Bulgaria at about 5pm. Hit the highway (if you could call it that) to Sofia and managed to “navigate” to the Art Hostel by about 10pm, long day, we were buggered. The hostel had a really camp feel to it, but it was a bed so we didn't mind. We hit the local pub and indulged in some divine Bulgarian beers called Karminitsa for $1Aus each.

We were awoken the next morning by a pommie geezer snoring his head off like some sort of tractor and James' hand posed over his head ready to thump him. We hit the city on foot, there's not a lot to see but it has a really vibrant feel to it! Bill Bryson had written so fondly of Sofia and I shared his affection for this city. Our stomachs were craving beef as all you can buy around the East is pork and chicken, so we hit up McDonalds … tasty and refreshing! It was haircut time! We found a “nice little” hairdressers and proceeded with some style cuts. The chick didn't speak any English so Phil and James received army issue short back and sides cuts … when it came to my turn I vetoed the clippers and my haircut didn't turn out bad at all.

Back to Greece

The next day we headed South and stopped at two monasteries on the way. They were both very interesting. We checked the map and realized that we were very close to the Greek border so James suggested that we stay at his Grandparents house which is in the North of Greece just near the border … great idea! The border was crossed without any hassles and we headed to the village of Hrisohorafa . James' Grandparents were awesome, they were so warm and embraced Phil and I like their own grandkids. We went out for dinner that night and ate sausages, sovlaki, gourmet Greek salads and drank Ozo …. Gold! James' Grandparents and their friends moved away from the village in the 60s and 70s to go to Australia , USA , Canada and now they all come back every summer.

We said our goodbyes to the Grandparents and headed North to the Macedonian border. Got horribly lost but eventually made it only to be denied entry as Phil didn't have a visa for Macedonia . The Lonely Planet misled us there! We had to alter our route and head back up through Bulgaria (the way we came) and enter Serbia that way. The Bulgarian border guards gave us some grief as we had been in and out of Bulgaria 3 times in the last 2 weeks. The drive wasn't as bad as we expected and we were home and hosed in Serbia by 10pm. I had two encounters with the Bulgarian cops that day. Just south of the Serbian border I got waved down by the Police. The officer didn't speak any English (only Dirka, Dirka) so I was totally confused but eventually he just waved me on! Then right near the border this car was tailing me closely for about half an hour, I soon discovered it was a cop car (it was dark) when he turned his lights and sirens on and started yelling dirka dirka through his mega phone. It was intense, I didn't know what was going on so pulled over and the cop car sped past. We saw him pulled over ordering fast food and donuts at a café down the road, must have been hungry! .. hahaha. We drove for about an hour in Serbia then stayed at a run down hotel in a run down town called Pirot. Nailed a bottle of cheap Bulgarian wine then went to bed, another long day!

Watch out for Land Mines!

Shopska Salad

Belgrade was next on the agenda so we hit the road early, found a sweet highway (130km/h limit) and arrived there by 3pm. Belgrade is an awesome lively city, very modern with no visible sign of the 1999 war. James' grandpa's friend gave him some money to treat us all out for a nice dinner so we went to a ritzy restaurant and ate and drank well. We discovered one of our favorite dishes in Eastern Europe … Shopska Salad ( http://www.gourmet.gr/mediterranean-recipes/show.asp?gid=1&nodeid=28&arid=643 ). A very simple dish but extremely tasty! The next day we attempted to explore the city but were constantly distracted by the stunning women, it was out of control! Checked out the military museum which comes complete with fragments of a Yank Stealth fighter (including the pilot's dog tag) that was shot down during the war.

Bosnia was calling our name so we said our goodbyes to Belgrade and headed in the vague direction of Sarajevo ! We missed the main border crossing and ended up finding a tiny one on a bridge where we confused the hell out of the border guards as: our car was registered in France , I had a British passport, James had a Greek passport and Phil had an Aussie passport … understandable. It was really weird …. there was deadest not one signpost to Sarajevo on the roads so at every intersection we had to stop and ask directions. We figured that this was so that if the Serbs ever wanted to invade Sarajevo again their tanks wouldn't know which way to go .. hahaha. The roads were shocking and full of slow trucks but we eventually made it to Sarajevo and accidentally found the tourist office. Stayed in a house that was converted into a hostel and the 3 of us had a room to ourselves which was cool. Sarajevo is a very beautiful city, nestled amongst rolling green hills, definitely a highlight! There wasn't that much to see so we just got amongst the action in the old town, ate some shopska salads and other gourmet food. We said goodbye to James here as he had to head back to London to work. It was emotional!

The Adriatic Sea

The Croatian coastline was spectacular!

From Bosnia we headed West to the Croatian coast then South to Dubrovnik ! The views along the Croatian coastline were sensational as was Dubrovnik itself. There isn't many hostels in these parts so the deal is that you stay in people's homes. It's kind of weird but we got used to it. In Dubrovnik , Phil and I stayed at some lady's house with three English blokes that we met on the street. The 5 of us had the whole house to ourselves and the old lady lived above us. All was going well, we cooked up a feast had a few beers, cranked some music on then old lady came down and went psycho. She started yelling at us in Croatian, it was quite hilarious and I was struggling to contain my laughter. She seemed to direct her anger towards one of the English lads, it was gold! She didn't speak English but we got the impression that she didn't like us using her kitchen and our pasta cooking style. From then on she kept coming down every couple of hours and abusing us. Glad to get out of that house.

Dubrovnik was a fantastic town… another highlight! We explored the old town where the streets are paved with white marble and walked around the city walls which was breathtaking! I went for a swim and the water was so crystal clear that I could see fish swimming around my feet. If only I had a snorkel set! Was keen to go scuba diving but it wasn't cheap really. Phil bumped into some Aussie mates on the street (small damn world) so we invited them around for dinner and cooked up a feast!

From Dubrovnik we meandered up the coast to Split , passing more fabulous little fishing villages and spectacular views on the way. We tempted fate and stayed at another little old lady's house. This time we negotiated to use the kitchen from the start. This little old lady spoke a bit of English but turned out to be just as insane as the first one. On arrival in her house she gave us a rundown of the kitchen including giving Phil a practice session on how to light the gas stove, hilarious stuff. We were cooking up some dinner when she busted on in telling us that we were doing it all wrong. She barged us out of the way and poured oil over our meat and pasta and then hung around and criticized our every move. Crazy stuff! Split isn't a bad little city, we were exhausted so just took it really easy and detoxed!

Continued on up the Croatian coastline and stayed in a little seaside village called Selce. It was tiny and very picturesque. We busted out the tent and camped right on the waterfront! Loved it. Went swimming and ate the most deliciously tender calamari I have ever eaten. Gees I wish I was back there now!

Action in Slovenia

Us after Canyoning

Packed up out tent and continued on up North to Slovenia . The border came and went and before we new it the temperature had dropped 10C and we were in the Slovenian alps. We stayed in a stunning little town called Bovec which is nestled amongst the mountains and reminded me a lot of Banff in the Canadian rockies. I reckon Bovec would be a good name for a dog. Bovec is the action sports capital of Slovenia , skiing and boarding in the winter and rafting and mountaineering in summer. We were pumped! Stayed at another old lady's house but this one was nice and non-intrusive. I had some more calamari but this batch left me with the terrible feeling of not wanting to stray too far from a toilet, if you know what I mean! Mental note: don't order seafood in the mountains.

There were so many activities to choose from but we decided to go Canyoning as neither of us had done it before. Our guide picked us up from downtown and after a quick stop to get rigged up with helmets, harnesses and thick full length wetsuits we were on our way. I will employ the use of a dictionary to describe what canyoning is “Canyoning is the sport of negotiating your way down canyons by employing various techniques; abseiling and jumping waterfalls and cliffs, cascading down natural chutes and water slides and swimming through crystal clear water”. Our first task was a 30 minute uphill walk but unfortunately Phil and I left our fitness somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean … we struggled a bit but it actually wasn't too bad. Once we arrived at the top, the fun began. We basically followed the river down to the bottom, only problem there was numerous waterfalls in our way. Our first descent was a small 10m waterfall which we abseiled off. The slippery rocks made it quite challenging. Over the next couple of hours we jumped, slid and abseiled off numerous waterfalls of varying sizes including the climax which involved descending over a 60m waterfall. It was absolutely terrifying; the combination of the shear height and the freezing cold water gushing over my head took my breath away. The rock jumping was pure adrenalin soaked fun. Some of the jumps were 4-6m high with slippery take-offs, narrow chutes to jump through and required landing in 1m deep water (you had to land on your back to avoid hitting the bottom). I was a little worried when Phil cut his finger and our guide didn't even have a band-aid but it all worked out well in the end! The water was absolutely freezing but nothing that a wetty-warmer didn't take care of! My favorite descent was one of the abseils where the rope ended about three quarters down the waterfall so you entered freefall once you hit the end of the rope, pure gold! Our guide was a champ, really nice bloke. I felt a moment of sadness when I asked our guide if he had a family and he replied with a short speech on how some people are destined to get married and have kids and some aren't. Canyoning was truly one of the most amazingly thrilling things I have ever done! We were buzzing for hours afterwards!

Due to poor negotiating skills were not allowed to make use of the kitchen at the old lady's house so we cooked up a feast outside on the lawn and as Murphy would have it, it rained!

Waterfall

The next day we woke up still on a natural high and headed towards Bled via the Vrisic pass. The drive was meant to be extremely spectacular expect it was overcast and rainy so we didn't see much at all.

Bled is an unbelievably picturesque town, it is set on a lake which has an island with a small church on it. It looks like something out of a Disney movie, very surreal! We stayed at an awesome hostel where we met some cool people – a couple of Aussies, a kiwi and a Pom … Good times. We played cards, drank beers and ate at the adjoining restaurant. The kiwi bloke was pure NZ skoda, funny stuff, we gave him a hard time!

Bled is also a hub for action sports so we jumped on the white water rafting bandwagon. Phil and I opted for a “mini raft” which was just big enough for the two of us. After a bit of confusion where they forgot to pick Phil and I up we eventually made it to the river and joined a large group of pommie blokes for some rafting action. We copped a safety speech about what to do “when” your raft gets flipped and how to avoid drowning. I was nervously excited as the other guys had guides in their rafts but Phil and I were on our own … game on! The recent rain meant that the river was very full and the rapids turned out to be pretty lame and we didn't even go close to tipping the raft even though the guides kept talking the danger element up. We stopped halfway down the river and went body surfing down the rapids. Very fun. The funniest moment of the day was when it came to taking off our full length wetsuits. It was freezing cold so earlier on whilst in the raft I employed the warmth of a wetty-warmer to attempt to compensate for the sub zero temperatures. That was all well and good until it came to removing the wetsuit. I assumed that our icy river swim had washed out the wetsuit but NO … my wetsuit was half off when a head turning stench wafted from my direction. Phil and I cracked up! Gold!

Hungary

Budapest

The weather was still overcast and rainy so we indulged in the complimentary breakfast provided by the hostel then hit the road. Budapest was our destination but we had no idea how far we would get. The heavy rain and limited visibility made for some of the most treacherous driving we did on our trip. We finally arrived in the outskirts of Budapest at about 7pm and went through our usual ritual of purchasing a city map and attempting to zig-zag our way to a hostel. Budapest was particularly difficult to navigate in as there were one way streets and overpasses everywhere. We arrived at the Backpackers Hostel and instantly warmed to its friendly atmosphere but unfortunately it was booked out so we headed to the next place on the Lonely Planet's list. Our bed for the next two nights was in a university student accommodation building on the Buda side of the city. The place was dingy as, but it was a bed so we were happy. We hit a local Chinese restaurant for dinner followed by a few beers at some smokey Hungarian pubs then crashed out for the night.

The next day was spent exploring Budapest in the rain. By this stage of our trip, Phil and I were suffering from JAC (just another city) Syndrome so although Budapest is a beautiful city, we did a rushed tour and by 3pm ended up sitting in a pub drinking cheap Hungarian beers. Don't get me wrong we did see most of the sites. We were seasoned site see'ers by this stage!! A bit of trivia … Budapest is split in two halves, Buda and Pest by the Danube river and that's how it got it's name.

A few beers later and we were feeling pretty good so headed back across the bridge to Buda. On arrival back at our accommodation there was some sort of party going on in the student bar. We hopped on board and soon discovered that it was a bloke called Steve's 21 st birthday. We asked if we could join in and he didn't object. A visit to the local supermarket and we were armed with beers and ready to mix it up with the locals. It was awkward at first but we finally met some friendly locals who spoke conversational English. Foozball (table soccer) was the thing to do so we got amongst it and got our asses kicked! They were so damn good and seemed to gain a lot of pleasure out of beating the two Aussie guys! We ended up losing every game except one where we salvaged a messy victory against some girls. We had quite a few shots of this nasty Hungarian liquor called Unicum which tastes like a mixture of Jagermeister and rocket fuel.

The students staying in the building where Phil and I stayed were paying the same amount of money for one full semester's accommodation as Phil and I were paying for one night ie about $20Aus … crazy hey! The cost of living is so low over there, but I imagine wages must be just as low! Some of these students we met had never talked to an Aussie before so we were quite the novelty that night and all the stereotypes came out.

We woke up the next day nursing hangovers as expected. That Unicum stuff was nasty! We packed up our stuff then headed for the car only to discover that it had a flat tyre! The tyre was changed without any hassles and before we knew it we were on our way. Phil thought it was hilarious when I discovered that I had stood in doggie-do whilst changing the tyre but his laughter was cut short when he inspected his own shoes and found they had suffered a similar fate. Not a good start to the morning.

Drinking Vino. Phil, Brett, Jarred, Hans, me

We headed East to a small town in the Hungarian wine country called Eger . Arrived at about 4pm and within minutes the super friendly lady at the tourist info centre (I think she had the hots for Phil) had found us a bed in a nice homestay. We took it really easy and spent the afternoon casually exploring the town. Had a nice meal for dinner with a couple of glasses of really tasty wine then went back to our house and watched some cable TV.

Woke up the next day feeling refreshed and ready to do it all again. No European roadtrip would be complete without a winery tour and there was no time like the present. We had some breakfast then headed up to the wine cellars which are only a short walk from town. It's a pretty cool setup. All the cellars are arranged in a large U shape and you walk from one to the next and can purchase a glass of wine for about $0.50 Aus each. It was a massive day, we started drinking at about 11am and didn't leave until about 10 hours later. We tasted some really good wines. I started off on the sweets but quickly moved on to the drys. We bumped into two American blokes we had met the night before and our group continued to grow as the day progressed. We sure met some interesting characters: Hans the 52 year old German bloke who told us that he was 90% straight but 10% gay and then tried to kiss me, it was hilarious, also met an nice English couple and even bumped into some Aussies. 5pm came and went as did 5 litres of wine. We teamed up with some local Hungarians and followed them to some sort of karaoke bar where things started getting messy. Myself and the two Americans busted out some of the most horrendous Kareoke singing ever. We got asked to leave. What a great day!!

Slovakia was next on the map. A very nice little town called Poprad was our sleeping place for the next two nights. We were still recovering from our wineries tour so took it really easy. The food there was great and very cheap! Poprad has some nearby mountains so we checked them out and were hoping to do some hiking but all the trails seemed to be 2-3 day hikes. This area is home to some sweet skiing in winter I imagine.

Poland

Cycle tour of Krackow

Rested and semi-recovered, our next destination was Poland . Poland was much wealthier than I expected, it is obviously already reaping the benefits of being a member of the EU. Drove through some very beautiful country side on our way to Auswich concentration camp. Visitng Auswich was an intense and emotional experience. Over one million people were killed there. Some of the most disturbing images were the mountains of hats and spectacles and the huge 1000kg pile of human hair that was waiting to be sold to make cloth. We joined a 4 hour tour which also covered nearby Birkenau, an absolutely enormous camp which at full capacity could “house” over 100,000 people. The conditions that the prisoners lived in was absolutely appalling … it was very disturbing. There was heaps of Jewish school kids from Israel but they were laughing and fooling around and didn't seem to understand the situation.

We continued on to Krakow which was half an hour drive away. Again countless one way streets plagued our navigation attempts but eventually we arrived at Nathan's Villa hostel. This hostel had received rave reviews from the Lonely Planet and fellow travelers and it sure didn't disappoint. It is the king of hostels, it is spotlessly clean and the facilities are 5 star, not to mention and awesome bar in the basement. We actually met Nathan himself and congratulated him on such a fine establishment, I think it went along the lines of “I love your work Nathan!”.

A few games on the pool table and we had made some new friends. Tagged along with an Aussie called Stevo the Devo as he was meeting some friends downtown. Krackow is an awesome city, it is very picturesque and has such a lively feel about it. I like! The Polish girls are in a class of their own, absolutely stunning! Turned out to be quite the big night out as I ended up getting back to the hostel at 7am. Phil wasn't impressed when I woke him up to give him the sausage roll I had acquired on the way home. Funny stuff.

Still slightly intoxicated and with only a wink of sleep we went on a cycling tour of Krackow. Definitely one of the highlights of our trip. There were some cool people in our group and our guide although American was very intelligent, humorous and knowledgeable. We learnt of the fierce soccer rivalry in Krackow, rode through the Jewish Ghetto which is still very unsafe and also stopped at Schindler's factory which is the scene of the film Schindler's list … a very fascinating story!

That night back at the hostel we participated in some bar trivia and surprisingly came second winning us 8 free beers … just what I needed in my fragile state. The beers went down surprisingly well and before I knew it I was amongst a large group of intoxicated backpackers walking to downtown Krackow. Carpe Diem was the venue and it was awesome. One of the blokes I was with was from Newcastle (where I'm from) and we knew some people in common, small world hey! We even mustered up some courage and talked to some pulchritudinous Polish girls, it was out of control. Great night!!

Reluctantly we packed up and left Krackow. I was keen to stay longer but us arriving at Oktoberfest on time required that we stick to our plan. We stopped at a local shopping centre on the way out and attempted to buy clothes but I quickly remembered how much I hate shopping and left empty handed. Everyone here is so well dressed and the fashion here is amazing … look out Italy !!

The Road to Oktoberfest

Marty, Nick and I at Hoff Brau Haus

Our plan was to head to back into Slovakia and then onto the capital Bratislava but due to poor road conditions we only made it as far as a town called Zilina. It was an awesome town with a very nice main square, totally off the tourist track and noone spoke a word of English. I love that every European city/town has a lively town square. Australian and North American cities seem to lack that. We stayed at hotel Bratislava which was one of the nicest and most expensive (although still cheap) places we stayed at. Turned on the TV to discover that they had a free porn channel in Slovakian… gold, funny stuff!

The next morning Phil and I both got haircuts for $2Aus each. Not a word of English was spoken during the whole haircutting procedure but there was a lot of pointing going on. Hopped on the freeway and did 130km/h all the way to Bratislava . The highways and lanes here are much narrower than back in Australia so 130km/h is pretty damn fast and requires a fair bit of concentration.

It had been 3 years since I was in Bratislava with Alastair, hard to believe. We stayed at a cool hostel and explored the city in the afternoon. Desmond the kangaroo came out to play and we got some photos with him. Gees he attracts a lot of attention and no matter where in the world I inflate him, there is always a distant voice that yells “Skippy”. No his name is Desmond … hahaha

By this stage we could almost taste the beers at Oktoberfest …. Only 2 days away now. We had mixed feelings as we were both looking forward to Oktoberfest but at the same time it also signifies that our journey was coming to an end.

Our journey West continued and by 2pm the next day we were in Salzburg , Austria . Hard to believe the distance we've covered. Phil's mate Stefan put us up for the night and extended us some warm Austrian hospitality. He's a top bloke and a very well traveled man! Later that night we met up with Phil's Aussie mates Bryce and Mark and we all went to an Austrian beer hall. It was awesome! The beers were served in 1L ceramic mugs and tasted like heaven. Drank more than we should have.

During our trip Phil had been raving about the beers served in the pub below Stefan's apartment. I'll tell you what .. it was probably the smoothest and most tasty beer I have ever drank. You could gulp it .. and we did!

Oktoberfest

Awesome times!

I was very privileged to drive the last segment of our journey from Salzburg to Munich on the Autobahn. After some periods of congestion the Autobahn opened up and I gave Frenchie all I had. The 1.6L turbo diesel dug deep and we hit a top speed of 178km/hour, not bad considering there were 4 of us in the car. It was very fast!

We made our way to Munich airport and returned our beloved Frenchie! We loved that car and it was quite emotional saying Goodbye! We had racked up 11,394 Kms in 63 days.

Due to my error misreading the tube map we wasting about 3 hours trying to find our hotel and ended up ditching our hotel and crashing at the Novatel with Byrce and Mark. It was Friday night, a night I had been looking forward to for a long time. It was the night that we had planned to meet up with my Newcastle mates who were meeting us here in Munich . The meeting place was the Hoff Brau Huas in central Munich , so we rocked up and it wasn't long before Marty, Cesar, Nick, Adam and Serge joined us. It was great to meet up and the humorous travel stories flowed almost as freely as the Bavarian beers. Good times! We didn't go too hard as Saturday was the big day!

I awoke to my alarm at 6:30am feeling fairly fragile but forced myself to Fire Up. Breakfast consisted of a Red Bull and a sandwich and was consumed on the train on the way to Oktoberfest. The sun was only barely rising yet the trains and platforms were already packed! It was out of control! We arrived at the Oktoberfest grounds just as the beer tents were opening so were able to claim 3 tables. I still can't believe that we all managed to meet up, as there were 5 different groups of friends and we all came together in the same tent. There were Phil's mates – Bryce and Mark, my Newcastle mates – Cesar, Marty, Serge, Nick and Adam, Sabine a German girl we met on the Greek Islands and Ralf a German mate I met in Canada years ago. It was my second time at Oktoberfest but the atmosphere still blew me away! The band fired up at about 11am and then the fun started! We danced, laughed and sung the day away. My favorite song was the one that the chorus sounded like “Cesar is a tool”. Our waitress Connie who somehow remembered my name and was a deadest legend looked after us very well. A good Oktoberfest waitress will earn the equivalent of a years income in the 10 days that the beerfest is on … amazing. We bumped into the two American guys Jared and Brett that we had met in Hungary , can you believe it!! By late afternoon everyone was very merry indeed but we kicked on and were still standing when the last song ended! Phil and I were a bit overwhelmed at the end of the day as this moment signified the end of our trip, tomorrow we would all go separate ways! What an awesome day! Meeting up with mates as Oktoberfest is something that I'll never forget.

Back at the hotel I bumped into some yanks that I had met the night before. I joined them in the hotel bar until one of them urinated in a beer glass then vomitted all over the table ..... they wonder why everyone hates Americans!

The North of Germany

Christian and I

The next day I woke up with a hangover you could sell to science. It wasn't a traditional sort of hangover but more of the feeling that I could die at any moment. Phil was in a similar world of pain and Bryce had miraculously managed to wake up at 4am to catch a flight to London to go to “the Church”…. Crazy! Phil and I somehow picked ourselves up and made our way to Central Station. From there we went our separate ways. Phil headed back to Salzburg and I caught a train North to Bremen . There were no 2 nd class tickets left so I had to spend a ridiculous amount of money on a 1 st class ticket which probably saved my life. The 6 hour train ride was pure pain! Arrived in Bremen at about 5pm and Christian, my roommate from when I lived in London met me at the station. It was great to catch up and over a few beers we reminisced about the good times we shared in London .

I had a great time staying with Christian, he made me feel very welcome indeed! We explored the city, ate some German food and played some foozball with Christian's uni mates! Foozball is massive here! People go to pubs just to play it! Bremen is sweet city, it gave me the impression of being a very livable place.

Two nights in Bremen went all too quick and I would have loved to stay longer but Hamburg was calling my name. The 60min train ride to Hamburg was perfect for a mid morning nap then Isabelle met me at the train station. Isabelle had stayed with me in Oz last year so I was looking forward to seeing her part of the world. Hamburg is also a very beautiful city. The port doesn't have that “industrial” look and is very picturesque indeed. We spent the afternoon walking around and exchanging travel stories. That night we partied too hard (I was still recovering from Oktoberfest) with Isa's friends in the town where they go to uni. Very fun night!

Isa and I

The next day we chilled at Isa's parent house and went cycling to a nearby beach which was quite stunning. Isa's mum cooked up a feast of Rabbit which was fabulous and much needed! My trip was coming to an end!

Woke up at some ridiculous hour and Isa drove me to the bus station where I caught a bus to the airport and then flew to London .

The end of my journey was a mirror image of the start … a Ryan Air flight to London .

 

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© 2004 DWL