Utah, February/March 2024

Utah – don’t know where to start!  We really had to drag ourselves out of the state even after five weeks of touring.  Utah was a favourite of ours after our previous visit in 2016 and it’s still up there.

Utah, we love you.

The weather pretty much decided our route as we were initially stuck between two storm fronts – snow to the east and torrential rain to the west.  The weather in Utah was pretty perfect though.

Free park ups like this on BLM land.

Southern Utah has some of the most stunning landscapes and we spent most of our time in the National and State Parks hiking and drooling over the sandstone formations.  

Delicate Arch with us for scale 

It’s worth noting that some places control visitor numbers by requiring a permit or pre-registration especially during the busier months.  Arches National Park, for example, requires that from 1st April to 31st October you go to their website to get a timed entry slot.  There is no cost above the usual park entry fee for this.

Just beyond here we started to reverse as the snow got deeper.

Just as an aside, The America The Beautiful Pass costs USD80 for a year and gives you free access to a long list of national parks, monuments and other sites.  If you visit more than two parks then you’ll cover the cost of the annual pass so it’s great value for money.

Gooseneck State Park.

Several sights run lotteries for visitor permits.  The Wave allows 64 visitors a day and the application process is online with a cost to enter the lottery as well as the cost to visit the actual sight.  We tried to get permits for the Wave near Kanab in the daily lottery but after five attempts at a cost of $9 per try we gave up!

Stunning slot canyons

Some places are on Navajo land, eg Antelope Canyon and require guides to visit.  We like to explore on our own and whilst we missed the most well  known, we found plenty of other slot canyons which were free to visit.

Nice little hike to the Calf Creek Falls, just off State Route 12.

One road deserves a special mention – State Route 12, designated a Scenic Byway and is the only All American Road in Utah. Along its 123 mile length it runs through part of Bryce Canyon, Grand Escalante National Monument and Capitol Reef National Park.  The Hogback follows a narrow ridge with steep drop off on either side of the road and to the eastern section rises to a height of 9,600ft through pine forests.  We have now driven this road three times and loved it so much the first time, we have a framed geological cross section of the route hanging at home!

From the Dugway Geode Beds you are allowed to take away a certain amount Geodes

We finally dragged ourselves away to begin our journey north.  We’ve done quite a bit of driving on gravel/mud roads in Utah and we did another 50 miles or so in the centre of the state.  We followed part of the old Pony Express Trail to the Dugway Geode beds where we indulged our rock collecting habit and dug for geodes.  We didn’t find any whole ones but did find some good pieces.

Our last real stop in Utah was Wendover and the Bonneville Salt Flats. We had to visit Wendover here as Bob can trace his ancestors in Wendover UK, through his mum, back to the 1600s.  The two towns couldn’t be more different and we were a little disappointed with the US version.

The Bonneville Salt Flats

The Bonneville Salt Flats were, however, well worth a visit.  The flats are known for the land speed records set at the Bonneville Speedway although at the time of our visit much of the area was underwater so there weren’t too many vehicles out there!

There are quite a few Petroglyphs in Utah.

We did make a quick stop in Salt Lake City but mostly for shopping.  It was pouring with rain when we arrived and when we woke up the next morning with a plan to visit the city, it was snowing so we decided to move on.  That decision was also taken due to the amount of construction going on making getting around a little difficult.

Some routes are easier than others.

Just to say that whilst we post a few photos here, our Facebook page, ClewleysOnTour, is the best place to see photos of our travels and we are currently, slowly, posting the Utah photos, place by place.

Motorhoming 

Driving an RV in the southwestern US outside the big cities is so easy.  The roads are wide (even the “narrow” roads are 2 lanes) and the choice of overnight spots is beyond words.  We’re using iOverlander on a daily basis to find park ups, water, dumps and laundromats.  

In Southern Utah we used a lot of the first come first served campgrounds in the parks.  As it was winter, no services other than vault toilets were provided but prices were great value for the locations.  Prices ranged from $15 to $25 per night but from the campgrounds we could walk right out onto the trailheads of some amazing hikes.

We found some of the cheapest diesel here at $3.60 per gallon (around 75p a litre) but also paid $4.50 per gallon although that equates to about 95p a litre so still much cheaper than a the UK! 

LPG, or propane, is easy to get and prices are pretty much as they are at home.

Prince Edward Island – 30 September to 7 October 2023

From Pictou, Nova Scotia we took the 75 minute ferry to Wood Islands, Prince Edward Island on a beautiful sunny day. PEI is Canada’s smallest province and is mostly rural with pretty villages interspersed by extensive agricultural land.

Approaching Prince Edward Island

PEI has three main regions and each has its own clearly marked scenic drive; we drove the eastern and central routes which included the capital of Charlottetown. The tourist information centre just after leaving the ferry was a great source of information and maps.

Just one of the amazing overnight park ups we found using IOverlander.

We had some amazing park ups along the coast all of which were very quiet at this time of year. The main tourist season here is very short, just July and August so a lot of places were closed, although the cruise ships still dock in Charlottetown. The capital is a very pretty town and worth a visit. Whilst there we treated ourselves to two local delicacies – lobster and chocolate covered crisps (not at the same time I should add!).

Charlottetown

We drove along the Green Gables coast (as in Anne of Green Gables – the book was written here by Lucy Maud Montgomery) but found the area to be overly touristy and think it would probably overrun in the summer. 

We were lucky with wildlife too – watching the seals and a bald eagle from one spot. If there had been a water source nearby it would have been much harder to drag ourselves away.

A bald eagle.

The coast is littered with lighthouses which make for great park ups (although not all allow overnight parking) and the beaches of the north coast were stunning. This was a very relaxing week!

Once the high winds had stopped we were allowed to cross the bridge back to the mainland.

Blog: www.bobandjune.com

YouTube: https://youtube.com/user/bobclewley

PolarSteps:https://www.polarsteps.com/ClewleysOnTour/8608383-the-big-one-canada-to-argentina-and-back-again

Nova Scotia, Canada – 9th to 29th September 2023

After almost two weeks apart and sleeping in five beds in nine days, we couldn’t wait to get back into the van. Don’t get us wrong, we loved seeing everyone and people’s hospitality has been endless but as they say, there’s no place like home!

Well we had to visit Bass Pro.

After a couple of days of shopping (still trying to get our heads around prices, taxes and conversions back to GBP), it was time to hit the road again and see as much of this region as we could before the winter set in. Whilst fuel is significantly cheaper, about £1.25 per litre, food seems for an average shop more expensive, and alcohol is definitely more expensive and sold only through government stores.

Our view at Nimrod’s Campground

We spent almost three weeks in Nova Scotia exploring the province via a figure of eight route starting in Halifax, then north to Cape Breton, south to Yarmouth and back to Halifax following the coast. There are a number of well signed routes around the province and roads are in reasonable condition but are not always tarmacked.

A recommended stop off for lunch.

As we left Halifax for the first time we were avidly watching the weather keeping an eye of the severity and route of Hurricane Lee (it’s the middle of the hurricane season) as we headed to a campsite to continue sorting the van. We also wanted to be around people should the storm be particularly bad, but luckily for us we escaped with just a lot of rain.

The Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site

There is so much to see and do here taking in the scenery, the history and wildlife. The indigenous people were the Mi’kmaq Indians but the land has been settled by the French, English, Germans and Scots (Nova Scotia means New Scotland) and many of the town names are familiar to anyone from the UK!

So many opportunities for ‘boondocking’ for the night.

We drove in a clockwise direction around the island of Cape Breton from the relatively flat south to the winding roads of the highlands of the Cabot Trail in the north.  Lots of Scottish influence here; some of the road signs are in Scottish Gaelic and the language is still taught in some schools.  It’s also a licence for the tourist shops to sell anything and everything tartan themed!

The beautiful red rocks of The Bay of Fundy.

The Bay of Fundy is home to the world’s largest tides and watching an incoming tide is apparently a sight to behold (I say apparently as we haven’t yet got our timing right to actually see it!).  The tidal bore can be surfed and a couple of companies offer rib trips out to play in the bore and the local red mud – too cold to do this now.  At low tide it’s possible to go out onto the rocky seabed in places with the knowledge that in a few hours the spot will be underwater by up to 16m!

The iconic Peggy’s Cove lighthouse.

The southern coves are home to many small fishing villages and the coastline is dotted with lighthouses, with the most famous being Peggy’s Cove. Being in the van we were able to stay in the carpark overnight and take photos before the place was overwhelmed with tour coaches.

So many lighthouses.

Nova Scotia was a great place to start our tour; friendly people, good food and plenty to keep us busy.  Next stop will be Canada’s smallest province, Prince Edward Island. 

Campsites used:

Note re campsites! Due to power differences, we will not be hooking up on this trip, relying on our solar/inverter/battery set up to keep everything charged and working. Our travel style means no more than two or three days in any one place so even if there is little solar power coming in we will recharge the leisure batteries via the engine. Having swapped from a cassette toilet to a separating one over the summer this also means that we are not looking for black water disposal. This page explains the changes and improvements we have made to the van.

Porters Lake Provincial Park: small lakeside camping area in the park. Grass pitches with some gravel, BBQ pits and picnic benches. Some pitches have power and water. Walking trails and a small boat launch. Booking was via online system (www.parks.novascotia.ca).

We paid CAD28.85 p/n without services.

Nimrod’s Campground, Sherbrooke: small lakeside camp with a lot of seasonal trailer pitches. We parked on a small lakeside pitch (we are small by local standards) which was supplied with water and EHU. Pitches are grass and some areas were, not surprisingly, very muddy. Lots of activities available in peak season but our reason for visiting was to sit out a storm!

We paid CAD46 p/n over a weekend.

Other overnight spots:

We find our spots via the iOverlander and Park4night apps with the former having more entries in the Americas. These are usually public car parks where overnight parking is permitted and out of season, there is much more choice. Most are free but not always flat. We always review where we’ve stayed – just check out the app to see if we’ve stayed in a particular place.

Cape Breton – Baxter’s Cove, Pleasant Bay, Donkin and Gabarus Bay.

Mainland Nova Scotia – Fundy Tidal Interpretive Centre, Cape Split Provincial Park, Cape Fonchu, Peggy’s Cove (need to be aware of restrictions in the two car parks), Halifax city centre near Pier 21 (daily rate of CAD12) and Salt Springs car pool carpark.

Blog: www.bobandjune.com

YouTube: https://youtube.com/user/bobclewley

PolarSteps:https://www.polarsteps.com/ClewleysOnTour/8608383-the-big-one-canada-to-argentina-and-back-again

Romania – 22 March to 6 April 2023

It’s easy to split the Romania blog into two parts – before and after the mud incident! We’ll start with the former and the latter will follow in a couple of weeks once we’ve moved on to our next country.

The Mud Incident

Before entering Romania we bought an online vignette (www.roviniete.or and there is an option to select the site in English) which cost Lei157.39, just over £28 for 30 days. We then renewed for a further seven days for Lei79.18, about £14 after receiving an email a week before our first vignette expired.

We entered Romania on a grey, wet day and drove through extensive flat agricultural land which in places looked unchanged from centuries ago – we saw so many horse and carts on the road!

Always good to meet up with friends on the road.

We were on a mission to reach Bran where we were meeting up with Ali and Martin (aka The Triggols), fellow travellers and also Hymer owners. The sun had finally come out and we had a couple of glorious days exploring the famous Bran Castle (admission Lei55 each) and the surrounding countryside.

Bran Castle

If visiting the castle, which tenuously has links with Dracula, we would advise avoiding the weekends – even out of season we could see the long queues on the Saturday (we had been the previous day). Whilst some of the rooms display local myths and legends, one floor has been restored to show artefacts from the actual history of the castle and overall is worth a visit.

Just one of the many rooms in Bran Castle

We also had our introduction to the sweet delicacies of langos and kurtos – hate to think of the calorie count but nonetheless, delicious!

Kurtos (top) Langos (bottom). Both very tasty.

With the need for a washing machine starting to nag, we headed to a campsite in Harman, the former Saxon town Honigberg. The campsite is in the vicarage garden of the Harman Fortified Church. Within the walls is the Church of St Nikolaus which dates back to 1240 and houses “women’s benches” in place of pews from 1753 when ladies’ stiff clothing didn’t allow them to lean back!

No leaning back here.
Inside the fortifications at Honigberg Church

After three peaceful days by the church it was back to nature and this time, mud volcanoes…yes they are a thing. The mud mixes with gases and rises from about 3km below the Earth’s surface to erupt and form cones or large burping pools of muddy water. There are two areas of these volcanoes close to the campsite and we visited both. We found the smaller area to be the better of the two – there is more going on there and not so many school parties. Each area cost Lei4 per person to enter.

Mud Volcano

Our next destination was to prove an expensive one! We drove to the Danube Delta, a large area of wetlands with a large migratory bird population. Having walked the dry mud road first, we parked up on the bank of the Danube looking forward to a couple of days watching the comings and goings on the river.

Food from the local fisherman.

We had a visitor in the form of Kate (Overlanding Solo on Instagram) who we had previously met in Turkey and spent a few hours chatting to a couple of local fishermen who shared their food and wine with us. All seemed well in the world but then it began to rain….and it continued to rain.

A cracking park up…or so we thought.

We had been watching the river and the water level was fine but we had come down a steep slope off the road to get here. The weather forecast had changed to show rain for the next few days so we decided to move on after one night. Just had to get back to the road and after 4 hours we did, being towed behind a tractor driven by a local farmer. It was lucky that we’d seen Kate the day before as she’d been on a boat trip so put us in touch with her tour guide who contacted a friend in the area who found us the farmer. No matter the situation, it seems there is always someone who will help. We saw no birds.

Even the tractor struggled.

The whole sorry episode is played out in our “Stuck in the Mud” video on YouTube and the upshot was we needed the clutch looking at so we drove to the closest Mercedes truck shop which was a couple of hours away in Galati.

Park ups aren’t always glamorous. This was perfect for our needs though.

We ended up needing a new clutch, flywheel and bearing and luckily for us, they were able to fit us in within two days. We were in a free car park down by the Danube (couldn’t get away from it!) and had a launderette a short walk away, so a couple of days’ wait was not a problem.

At least we managed to get the washing done too.

With the clutch sorted we headed north only to wake up the next morning with a rapidly deflating rear tyre. Fortunately tyre shops are everywhere in Romania and once we found one with a jack big enough to lift us, it was a 20 minute repair job after removing a piece of metal which was embedded between the treads.

Great service.
Two inches long and no idea where it came from.

Having also broken the toilet flush handle (and in the absence of a Thetford dealer in the immediate vicinity, mended with an improvised spindle cut down from a 9mm knitting needle) during this time, we needed a change of scenery so it was back to the mountains for us. More of that next time when we visit the beautiful painted Bucovina Monasteries.

Back in the mountains. At last.

Campsites used:

Camping Honigberg, Harman: EUR15 p/n for 2 people and a motorhome without EHU (EUR3 extra). The campsite is within the walled garden of an old vicarage and parking is on grass. Standard water and WC facilities are available plus a washing machine at EUR2 per wash. Immaculate shower/toilet block – so much so that we used it rather than our onboard shower, which is a first since COVID. The fortified church is just across the road and there are shops close by. In fact we liked this campsite so much we came back!

Muddy Camping: Lei60 p/n (approx £11) without EHU. Clean water and black dump on site. All grass. Didn’t use any other facilities. Ongoing building work re toilets and showers. Great onsite restaurant offering traditional home cooking. Easy walking distance of two mud volcano sites.

Other overnight parking:

Snagov: free overnight spot next to a small football stadium. Quiet and flat – great for one night. No facilities.

Bran: parking is currently on the land of a house owner just outside the centre of Bran, who is in the process of building a small campsite. Currently just fresh water available and he is only asking for donations to the new facilities. Really friendly owner who can advise on walking in the local area. Short walk to the town and Bran Castle.

Near Garliciu: after a long day driving we tried a few places before settling here for the night. It’s nothing other than a pull off from the road and grassy (potentially muddy) but OK for the night. No facilities.

Danube Delta: one of several grassy areas used by fishermen right on the banks of the Danube and just across from the nature reserve. You are supposed to buy a permit to stay overnight – there are no signs but one of the fishermen gave us the website so we bought one each online for Lei5, less than £1. Access is via a mud track with steep banks down to the parking areas – great when it’s dry but in the wet, the mud turns very quickly to clay making driving out very difficult. In our case, a tractor was required to pull us out of the quagmire, up the slope and back along the track until we hit the tarmac.

Galati: Free riverside car park by the border force building. Flat and hard standing but no facilities. Easy walk into town. The road is busy but does quieten down a little at night.

Bacau: roadside park up next to the old stadium. No facilities but OK for one night to break up a long journey. A busy road which did calm down a little overnight.

Blog: www.bobandjune.com

YouTube: https://youtube.com/user/bobclewley

Polar Steps: https://www.polarsteps.com/ClewleysOnTour/5755379-the-balkans-and-beyond?s=0A28668E-486F-4DEF-

South and south-west Bulgaria – 22 February to 10 March 2023

It was with a heavy heart that we left Turkey and crossed the border into Bulgaria. We had had an amazing three months exploring Turkey and hope to return some day but new adventures lay ahead as we began our slow journey back to the UK.

Bulgaria here we come

The border crossing was fairly straightforward and it’s worth noting that you have to pay €6 (in Euro) to have the van disinfected as you enter Bulgaria.  

Tolls in Bulgaria took a little thought as we are over 3.5T so couldn’t buy a simple vignette and had to use a pay as you go app. We used the Bulgarian Tollpass app which allowed us to input that day’s route and pay the appropriate toll. The tolls were often just pennies and over a four week period, it cost a total of around £10.40.

We had very little idea of what to expect in Bulgaria and had a route which would cover the most popular tourist spots plus see some of the quieter countryside. The weather was variable and in the mountains there was still plenty of snow.

Plovdiv

The old town of Plovdiv was worth seeing and we spent a few days in Sofia, as our daughter flew out at the last minute for a visit. June was treated to an afternoon in a hotel spa (bliss!) and we wandered around the city admiring the buildings and many churches including the Aleksander Nevski Cathedral.

Aleksander Nevski Cathedral
Aleksander Nevski Cathedral
Changing of the guard Sofia style.

We visited several other churches and monasteries in the region including the Rila Monastery which was quite simply stunning. We stayed in the car park right outside the gate so were able to visit early the next morning, having the place almost to ourselves.

Rila Monastery

We met Oxsana and Brad, aka Frenchy Le van, who we had previously spent some time with in Turkey. Oxsana introduced us to the tradition of “Baba Marta” or “Granny March” which marks the beginning of spring on 1st March and is when Bulgarians exchange red and white tassels and bracelets which are then tied to the branches of trees.

The Rila Mountains
The Rila Mountains

Bulgaria has a number of natural thermal springs and we visited a couple, going from one extreme to another! The first was at Repite where there are a number of shallow outdoor pools used by locals (a paid, more landscaped area was also available) and then we visited Thermal Camping Velingrad, a campsite with properly built pools filled with naturally heated water.

Repite
Thermal Camping Velingrad, not our normal park up but nice little treat.

Campsites used:

Kamping Kromidoro: BGN40 p/n (approx £18) which was BGN16 for the van, BGN8 per person and BGN8 for hook up. A small eco-campsite run by a very friendly English couple who kindly opened up the site despite being closed for the winter. Washing machine available at BGN10 per wash – includes powder. Lots of communal space and BBQ area. Free wifi. Lots of walking around surrounding vineyards and fields. The road through the local village is full of potholes but if driven slowly, it’s definitely worth weaving your way around them!

Thermal Camping Velingrad: BGN90.20 (yes, about £40) p/n including EHU. Fully serviced pitches, free wifi, washing machine and tumble dryer. The site has its own thermal pool complex including indoor and outdoor pools, two saunas and a steam room – dressing gowns provided free of charge. BBQ area, bar and restaurant area. Although the per night cost is expensive, taken the facilities in account, it is worth it and if you can arrive on a Sunday or Monday, you can get 4 nights for the price of 3.

Other overnight spots:

Plovdiv Stadium: a large car park next to the sports centre just outside of the town centre. Fairly quiet once everyone had left but the trains across the road ran all night. No facilities.

Devin: the car park at the entrance to the Devinska River Gorge and next to a thermal pool complex. There was a port-a-loo in the carpark but no other facilities. There is a hike into the gorge and up the valley side to a waterfall.

Rupite thermal pools: a large open grassed area close to the pools – some are free and others you pay to enter. There is a walk to some ancient Roman ruins which are still being excavated. There are a couple of port-a-loos in a small car park. Only noise was from a building site close by.

Vitosha, near Sofia: a slightly sloping car park at the base of Mt Vitosha and next to the Dragalevski Monastery. Water is available at the monastery but only for filling small water bottles. No other facilities.

Vasil Levski National Stadium: BGN20 p/n and there didn’t seem to be a limit on how long you could stay. No facilities. Parking is on the road around the stadium – we were asked to get as close to the back as possible and did manage to find a long space although slightly sloping. The stadium is in almost constant use but mostly quiet and we backed on to a large park. Great spot for walking into the city and good value given the location.

Rila Lakes: BGN10 p/n and parking just below the lower cable car station. A large gravel car park. No facilities but cafes nearby (limited opening off-season). Lots of walking and it’s worth taking the cable car up to the lakes (although all covered in snow when we visited). The cable car was BGN25 each for a return ticket – it’s possible to walk down when the snow has melted.

Rila Monastery: small car park outside the monastery costing BGN10 per day and if staying overnight, you have to pay for two days. A must visit if in Bulgaria, the monastery is free to enter and by staying overnight you can wander in before any coaches arrive. Water available but not via a threaded tap. The bakery is also worth a visit for a freshly cooked “mekitsa”, a fried bread/donut pastry and utterly delicious!

Blog: www.bobandjune.com

YouTube: https://youtube.com/user/bobclewley

Polar Steps: https://www.polarsteps.com/ClewleysOnTour/5755379-the-balkans-and-beyond?s=0A28668E-486F-4DEF-80BA-D43AA17F7A87

Our Route: http://www.bobandjune.co.uk/the_balkans_and_turkey_route/

Northern Turkey – 9 to 21 February 2023

To complete our trip to Turkey we had planned to follow the Black Sea coast pretty much as far as the border with Bulgaria but as usual we took a few detours along the way!

Sunset at Silivri

The coastline itself was a never ending series of, well to us anyway, very similar towns spread along one of the main truck routes from Georgia and Azerbaijan and not very inspiring. Maybe it was the weather, or that places were busy so we had problems parking but we just weren’t feeling it. Heading inland a little though, the hills are covered in tea plantations and very quickly you are back in the mountains again, much more our thing.

Sumela Monastery

We did however enjoy our visits to the old towns of Safranbolu and Edirne, our final stop in Turkey.

The streets of Safranbolu

Safranbolu made its name as an isolated source of the precious spice saffron. Nowadays the old cobbled streets cater for tourists but it’s well worth visiting. We loved the workshops of the Metalworker’s Bazaar where Bob was invited to try his hand at forging something.

New occupation for Bob

Most people leave here having bought saffron or local Turkish delight but we came away with a hand forged axe and some handmade cups and saucers from the pottery next door.

Hand crafted axe

We had to stop for the obligatory gözleme and this time we got to see the café owner making the pancakes.

We stopped in Edirne to see the Selimiye Mosque but it is currently undergoing extensive renovations. However there are several other beautiful mosques close to the old town so we visited those – we both love the architecture and the internal decoration of the mosques. We will miss the daily prayer calls, even the dawn ones!

Such Beauty

We have really enjoyed our trip to Turkey and will come back again one day and not just because we were buying fuel at under £1 a litre! Motorhoming was easier than we expected as water and LPG were readily available, although the roads can only be described as variable! Don’t underestimate the size of Turkey (we drove just under 5,000 miles in all) and even after almost three months, there is still so much to see.

Silivri

There is something in Turkey for everyone – beautiful coastline, high mountains, ancient history, modern cities and great food. The people are so friendly and we were welcomed everywhere we went.

We will post a summary of the trip shortly but if you are thinking of visiting Turkey in your motorhome then do it!

Campsites used:

Danzi Camping, near Ardeşen: tl250 per night including EHU. A relatively new riverside campsite close to the Georgian border, run by a very friendly couple. The site is mostly for tents but there are a couple of mostly grass but flat pitches for vans. Newly built block housing showers, toilets and a communal kitchen which has a washing machine and tumble dryer (both cost tl50 a use). Small lounge area in which food and drinks are sold.

Safranbolu Karavan Kamp, Safranbolu: tl250 per night with metered electric extra. Very sloping site although the owner said he intends to level out the pitches, and when we visited, it was very muddy! Pricing was a bit confusing and he didn’t mention metering the EHU until the following morning – not that we had an issue with that but we just like to know upfront! Great site for walking to the old town of Safranbolu.

Other overnight spots:

Sumela Monastery: we would have stayed in one of the payable car parks but because of the snow, they were all closed! We managed to tuck ourselves away for a free night. Toilets close to the monastery but closed when we visited.

Terme: an overnight stop on a beachside track to the east of Terme. A rough track surrounded by lots of rubbish but it had been a long driving day and all the campsites were along the main road. No services.

Vezirkopru Park: tl95 for entry to park. A beautiful country park that allows overnight parking. Toilets and freshwater taps throughout the park. Slightly sloping but hard standing parking spaces.

Horma Kanyon: another park up disrupted by heavy snow! We couldn’t get into the official car park for the canyon so tucked ourselves into a little pull in and spent a night there wondered if we’d get out the next day! No services.

Alapli: large beachside car park and picnic area. Given it was a Saturday night there were a few locals around revving their engines but they quietened down as we went to bed. Toilets nearby but no other services.

Silivri: a large grassed area, a short walk to the town with its restaurants and cafes. Lots of cars coming and going but quiet at night. Close to a supermarket. No services.

Selimiye Otopark, Edirne: tl105 for overnight parking. Large flattish car park close to the Selimiye Mosque, with large spaces for motorhomes and coaches. Be careful of some people trying to steer you to parking in less salubrious areas! We nearly fell for it but gut instinct told us we were not in the right place. No services.

Blog: www.bobandjune.com

YouTube: https://youtube.com/user/bobclewley

Polar Steps: https://www.polarsteps.com/ClewleysOnTour/5755379-the-balkans-and-beyond?s=0A28668E-486F-4DEF-80BA-D43AA17F7A87

Southeastern Turkey – 21January to 5 February 2023

As usual, I’m writing this post a few days after we were in this region and if some of the names seem familiar, it is because this is the region that was struck by the horrendous earthquake in the early hours of Monday 6 February.  As of now the recovery process is still ongoing but it is being hampered by the weather which turned cold and snowy just before the disaster struck.

The people of this region have been some of the most friendly and hospitable people we have ever met and our thoughts go out to them all.

A food market we wandered into in Tarsus

We left the cold of Cappadocia to head back to the coast at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. Our first stop was Tarsus, the birthplace of St Paul, although we have to confess that our primary reason for visiting was the free washing machines at the municipal motorhome aire! With the washing drying we wandered into town and followed a tourist walking route which took us past most of the main historic attractions – well worth a few hours of our day.

The municipal motorhome aire at Tarsus

After Tarsus we drove around lakes close to Yumurtalik but couldn’t find a park up there so we headed to a car park near Yumurtalik Beach. As we were sitting outside the van having a coffee, we were approached by a family who were having a picnic nearby and who asked if they could look inside. No problem, we said, and after all three generations had stuck their heads through the door, we suddenly had an invite back to the grandparent’s house for coffee, so we packed up the van and followed them the 30km or so to Ceyhan. Having settled down for a cup of tea, we were then offered dinner, a shower and a bed for the night! Not wanting to offend anyone, and knowing the Turks are incredibly hospitable, we ate the delicious soup and the kibbeh but very politely turned down the bath and bed.

The family would have been in the region impacted by the earthquake and we just hope Yusuf and the rest of the family are ok.

Fantastic kibbeh

From here we drove further south along the Mediterranean, spending a couple of nights beside the beach at Arsuz, catching up on admin and housework.

The Titus Tunnel

We visited the Titus Tunnel near Samandag, a flood prevention tunnel built by the Romans in the first century and whilst there had a great homemade flatbread stuffed with cheese and spinach – that was worth the entry fee alone!

You won’t get fresher flatbread.

We reached our southernmost point a few kilometres south of here, about 12km north of the Syrian border, when the track became impassable so we turned north again towards Antakya (also known as Hatay).

The most southerly point for us on this tour.

Sadly the city carpark was unable to accommodate us so after a few twists and turns through the busy narrow streets we found a campsite out of town. This meant we missed exploring the town and all that it had to offer.

Esenbahçe Kamp Alani, near Hatay

Our bellies were looking forward to our next stop at Gaziantep, known for its baklava and other foodie treats! The town is in the centre of the pistachio growing region and given our habit of stopping occasionally for coffee, we had to try the local pistachio coffee. Well, what a revelation – we really liked it!

Who knew pistachio coffee was a thing? We both loved it.

We wandered around the old bazaar area where we had all our kitchen knives sharpened in a small workshop and had our first kebab of the day.

The Gaziantep Zeugma Mosaic Museum is definitely worth a visit. The mosaics were unearthed at the Roman site of Belkis-Zeugma and moved when the Birecik Dam flooded the area. The size and detail of the mosaics is phenomenal.

The Gaziantep Zeugma Mosaic Museum

We had taken a taxi from the campsite with another English couple, Rich and Sarah, aka tracey_van_ness on Instagram, and met up with them again later in the day for an early dinner at Kebap ve Baklava (worth a visit and don’t be put off by the queue as it moves really quickly). We don’t eat out much as a rule as we’re on a budget but we knew we’d blow that in Gaziantep! We had different kebabs so we could share and of course had to finish with a couple of pieces of pistachio baklava.

We were now beginning our journey east and spent a couple of nights near Halfeti on the banks of the Euphrates. The old town of Halfeti (Eski Halfeti) was partially submerged following the construction of the Birecik Dam. It’s now a destination for boat tours to view the Rumkale fortress on the opposite bank and the flooded village of Savas, where the minaret of the submerged mosque stands above the water.

The flooded mosque.

We had hoped to visit the famous statues at Nemrut Dagi but knew there was a good chance we wouldn’t get there and indeed, at a height of 5,500ft we found the snowbound and very much closed approach road.

The end of the road for us.

We spent three nights in Mardin but had only one day when we left the van – can’t be helped travelling in this region during the winter! We did have one glorious day when the sun came out so we could explore the old town and look across the plains to Syria.

Looking out from Mardin towards Syria
Mardin old town

Our final stop of this leg was the Mor Gabriel Monastery where we spent a couple of nights in their very snowy car park! The monastery is the oldest surviving Syriac Orthodox monastery in the world having been founded in 397AD and is located near Midyat. Although still home to practising monks and nuns it is possible to take a guided tour of the monastery.

We are there somewhere
Mor Gabriel Monastery
Mor Gabriel Monastery

The snow of the last couple of days was a gentle introduction to what was to come next!

Campsites used:

Tarsus Municipal Campsite, Tarsus: Free, including EHU and limited use of a washing machine. Small individual pitches for 10 vans and any overflow was accommodated in the car park – it’s worth arriving early to secure a pitch. The maximum stay is initially 3 nights and return visits are limited. The washing machine is under lock and key and used under the supervision of the site manager but it’s free so can’t complain! Great restaurant next door and others within short walking distance. The city of Tarsus is about 2km away, a flat, easy walk.

Esenbahçe Kamp Alani, near Hatay: tl150 p/n (£6.50) including EHU. Small, rural, riverside campsite. All grass pitches. All the usual facilities but we only stayed overnight (only because we were on our way to somewhere else) so can’t comment on them.

Gaziantep Karavan Park, Gaziantep: tl150 p/n including EHU. Free use of washing machines and DRYERS – yes, tumble dryers, although it did feel like you had to fight with local caravan owners who had bought their week’s washing from home with them! A fairly new, 24hr guarded, large, tiered site with hard standing pitches next to a lake. Reception building with a communal seating area and terrace. Pitches available for long term rent and lots of caravans seem to be long term. Taxi point just outside the front gate and it cost us tl150 to get to the centre of Gaziantep.

Mardin Karavan Camping, Mardin: tl150 p/n including EHU. A small car park run by a really friendly and helpful family – we drank lots of tea with them! A great location for access to the old town of Mardin and it has all the facilities you need, albeit it’s not a pretty site. Some noise as you are right next to a mosque and the owner’s dog barks at anything and everything passing the front gate day and night.

Other overnight stops:

Buyuk Ataturk Park, Ceyhan: Free overnight spot in the car park. A few cars around in the evening but once they had gone, it was quiet enough.

Arsuz: Free parking on grass close to the beach (no swimming allowed though at this point). Some noise from the construction site behind the parking area but quiet at night. A great place to rest for a couple of days. Short walk into town.

Siverek Picnic Area, Siverek: Free parking overlooking a dammed lake on the Euphrates. Large parking area. Toilets at the entrance. Very quiet night.

Halfeti: Free parking on a track alongside the Euphrates river. They are working on the track so some lorry noise during the day. Short walk to a few shops.

Mor Gabriel Monastery: Free parking in the outer carpark. We arrived during a snow storm and staff from the monastery came out to see if we needed anything. Great views across the countryside.

Blog: www.bobandjune.com

YouTube: https://youtube.com/user/bobclewley

Polar Steps: https://www.polarsteps.com/ClewleysOnTour/5755379-the-balkans-and-beyond?s=0A28668E-486F-4DEF-80BA

Cappadocia – 11th to 21st January 2023

This small area needs its own post – we spent longer in the Cappadocia region than anywhere else so far on our travels!

The Balloons over Cappadocia

Moving towards the east, we first stopped in the Ihlara Valley and began at the north of the valley at Selime Castle, the largest cave complex in the region. The valley was a favourite retreat of Byzantine monks and many of the buildings carved into the rock are monasteries and churches.

June’s favourite cave at Selime Castle
Selime Castle

We spent a couple of hours here exploring the churches and other buildings before driving a little further south to a small hot spring we had read about. We have visited a few hot springs and this was definitely the hottest but also the smallest! Shame about all the rubbish lying around though.

Nice hot spring. Shame about the rubbish just out of shot.
One of the churches in the Ihlara Valley

We then parked at the visitor centre near the town of Ihlara and from where we took the 350+ steps down to the valley floor to walk along the valley and explore the churches here.  There are a dozen or so churches built into the valley walls and some still have amazing frescoes dating from as early as the 9th century.  The total walk was about 10km.

If timed correctly you can probably explore the whole valley in one day and pay only one fee of tl90 but we took our time so paid for two days.

Love Valley

Goreme is the main town of the Cappadocia’s tourist industry and much of the town is geared towards tourists (several Chinese, Korean and Indian restaurants are just one example of this!). Although we stayed on a campsite for a couple of nights, we much preferred being parked up overlooking the valleys from where we could watch the hot air balloons, one of Cappadocia’s biggest tourist draws, and view the strange rock formations. The balloons only fly when the weather allows and we saw them twice in six days.

Park up above Love Valley

Whilst here we visited the Goreme Open Air Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage site of a Byzantine monastic settlement built into the rock. There seemed to be a few churches closed when we visited but it was still worth going and also buying the extra ticket to visit the Dark Church which has the most breathtaking frescoes. The church gets its name from the lack of windows which has gone a long way to preserve the frescoes and their strong colours.

One of the frescoes. Just stunning

There are some fantastic hikes in Rose Valley and we covered a lot of it, from the peak of Aktepe Hill and down a few hundred metres onto the valley floor.  

The Columned Church (Kolonlu Kilise) is well worth hunting out.

Between Ihlara and Goreme we visited Derinkuyu, one of several underground cities in the area.

One of the tunnels in the underground city.
The round stone to the left would be rolled to close off the tunnel.

If on a quick visit to the area it is possible to cover a lot with the Cappadocia Pass which gives access to seven locations for 400tl (just over £17) and is valid for 72 hours. We decided to take our time and paid for each place we visited (3 out of the 7 but we had to pay twice for Ilhara Valley) which cost us a total of tl480 (around £20.50).

We’re not usually ones for big tourist centres but Cappadocia was a must, although we were grateful that it wasn’t overly busy. Saying that on our last morning we think they hit the maximum permitted number of balloons flying, which is 100, and some of those baskets carry 28 passengers!

About the max of 100 balloons that are allowed to fly at any one time.

It has been quite cold here (we’ve been in thermals for the past two weeks!) so time to head south again for some warmth. 

Campsites used:

Panorama Camping: tl450 (£19.50) per night including EHU. Tiered, hard standing campsite, close to the town. Small pitches but plenty of room out of season – upper terrace has the views and lower terrace the best wifi signal! Swimming pool and washing machine were out of service when we visited. Friendly, helpful owner who is very responsive on WhatsApp.

Other overnight spots:

Ilhara Valley Tourist Facility car park: was free when we visited. There was building work going on close to the main car park so we used the overflow area. There are toilets but they were closed when we visited.

Love Valley viewpoint: no pay point on the track we used. Parking is a free for all along the western ridge overlooking Love Valley and which has great views of the balloons, some of which land in this area. Access is via bumpy tracks which could be muddy if there’s any prolonged period of rain. Restaurants and toilets nearby.

Rose Valley viewpoint: tl50 for a motorhome to access the valley (only pay to enter and not a daily fee). Bumpy mud tracks again off the main access road. Great views of the balloons taking off and plenty of local hiking. Restaurants and toilets nearby.

Blog: www.bobandjune.com

YouTube: https://youtube.com/user/bobclewley

Polar Steps: https://www.polarsteps.com/ClewleysOnTour/5755379-the-balkans-and-beyond?s=0A28668E-486F-4DEF-80BA

West and Central Anatolia, lakes and caravanserais – 4 to 10 January 2023

We left the coast and headed inland after a disappointing trip to Decathlon in Antalya with our shopping list barely touched – probably not a bad thing!

Sultanhani kervansaray. One of the many we’ve seen.

On the map, along the route we were following, were a number of caravanserais (also kervansaray, han or hanı), basically lodgings built for travellers on the Silk Road and where they could resupply themselves and their animals. The caravanserais were built 30-40km apart which would have equated to about a day’s travel

Obruk Hani with a huge sink hole behind.

The buildings are in various states of repair and some now house museums, shops and cafes. The largest caravanserai in Anatolia is Sultanhani which was built in 1229 and reconstructed after a fire in 1278. The covered lodging area is now a carpet museum (not as boring as it sounds!).

Of course we came we had to visit some ruins; the Roman city of Sagalassos which are found at an altitude of 1500m in the Taurus Mountains. The site is one of the Mediterranean’s largest archaeological projects with lots of ongoing excavations. Something we were not expecting was to be handed the keys to the Neon Library which houses a 4th century mosaic. We thought this was one of the most stunning sites we have visited so far.

Sagalassos
Sagalassos

The Turkish Lake District is found in the mountains of western Anatolia. We had already visited Lake Salda so this time we stayed on the edge of Lake Egirdir, admiring the sunsets.

A beautiful view from the free park up at Lake Egirdir
Lake Egirdir

We also spent a night close to Lake Tuz, one of the world’s largest salt lakes. It’s often pink but only when it is warm and dry, and is slowly drying up as the water feeding it is diverted for towns or agricultural use.

The Mevlevi worship ceremony of the whirling dervishes.

In between the two lakes we spent a night in Konya. As it was a Saturday this meant we were able to catch the weekly sema, the Mevlevi worship ceremony of the whirling dervishes. You can turn up at the Mevlana Culture Centre about 30 minutes before the show and entry was tl50 (£2.15) each and the ceremony lasts about an hour. If you can time a visit to catch the mesmerising ceremony than we’d highly recommend it.

Mevlana Museum.

The nearby Mevlana and Panoramic Museums are also worth visiting. The former houses the tomb of Celaleddin Rumi, later known as Mevlana and who bought the whirling dervishes to the world. It is an old lodge of the whirling dervishes and one of the biggest pilgrimage centres in Turkey, attracting over 1.5 million visitors a year.

The Panoramic Museum

Campsites used:

Kervansaray Camping, Sultanhani: tl250 p/n including EHU. Small grassy campsite just across the road from Sultanhani Caravanserai. Probably quite cramped in the summer and wifi only really worked in the central building. Washing machine but it was out of order when we visited but the owner took my washing and returned it the following morning (I suspect his wife or mum did it for us!). Very friendly and helpful staff.

Other overnight stops:

Susuz Kervansaray: free parking to the rear of the building. The site is covered in litter and the local children were running around the van but they soon got bored when we ignored them. Bumpy, rock strewn ground but fine for an overnight stay. There was an old toilet block there but there was no water connected.

Egirdir: free parking on the peninsula. We parked on an the site of an old cafe which was flat and quiet. One of the other car parks had a couple of hole in the ground style toilets so we were able to empty the toilet cassette. No other facilities but water is plentiful from roadside public water fountains (we have a filter system on the van so are not unduly worried about where we get water).

Konya: large free car park behind the Panorama Museum and next to the Hilton Hotel. No services and a little noisy – it was Saturday night and locals have a habit of parking next to the van and playing loud music.

Lake Tuz: a track off the main road took us down towards the lake but not too close as the ground became very soft and muddy. Parked next to a farmer’s field so no services but spectacular views!

Blog: www.bobandjune.com

YouTube: https://youtube.com/user/bobclewley

Polar Steps: https://www.polarsteps.com/ClewleysOnTour/5755379-the-balkans-and-beyond?s=0A28668E-486F-4DEF-80BA

The Mediterranean Coast, Fethiye to Antalya – 27 Dec 2022 to 3 January 2023

We spent Christmas with our children, who had flown out from the UK, in an amazing villa up in the mountains just south of Fethiye.

Christmas at the AirBnB

If you are looking for somewhere away from it all and with spectacular views and sunsets then Villa Blueview is the place to be. We found it on AirBnB.

Fethiye
One of the fresh market stalls in Fethiye

After Christmas we headed back to Fethiye to join John and Kellie again to continue travelling along the south coast, exploring various beaches and more ruins. We had the best of everything here – places were quiet because it was out of season and the weather was perfect and warm enough to swim and paddle board in the sea.

New Year’s Eve on the water

We celebrated New Year in Kas joining the locals to watch the fireworks over the harbour as a DJ played in the main square. Earlier we’d had dinner with another couple, Simon and Lorraine of Silo Adventures, who we know via social media. This has been a great trip so far for meeting up with fellow travellers!

New Year’s Eve in Kas

Having given ourselves a day to recover from New Year (anything after 10pm is a late night for us!) we said goodbye, at least for the moment, to John and Kellie and followed the coast a little further towards Antalya.  

The coast road, D400, is a stunning road to drive and the Turquoise Coast lives up to its name.

Just beautiful

As it was on our way we visited the rock tombs and ruins of Myra. The rock graves date back to the 4th century BC and the ancient village has origins in the 5th century BC. The theatre is Roman, built over a smaller Hellenistic one, and was the largest in the region, seating over 10,000 people.

Myra

Our final stop along the coast was the “burning rocks” of Chimaera. Whilst ancient peoples attributed the flames to the breath of a monster, in reality the source of the flames is natural gases seeping through the rocks.

Marshmallows at Chimaera

We came equipped with marshmallows and sticks to toast over the flames!

Campsites used:

Kas Camping: tl450 (£19.50) per night including EHU. Tiered gravel campsite next to the sea and close to the town. Small pitches but plenty of room out of season. Washing machine was included. Relatively expensive for Turkey but paying for the location.

Other overnight spots:

Fethiye public car park: town centre car park right on the harbour and close to the shops and the old town. The car park is open 24 hours, access is through a security barrier and payment is charged by the hour. We paid tl220 (£9.50) for two nights, arriving late afternoon and departing after breakfast. A small amount of noise but to be expected from the location. No services.

Kalkan: free parking in an old quarry just outside the town. Rough ground but no issue with finding a flat area. No services.

Tekirova: Free. Small beachside carpark next to an old bar. No facilities.

Blog: www.bobandjune.com

YouTube: https://youtube.com/user/bobclewley

Polar Steps: https://www.polarsteps.com/ClewleysOnTour/5755379-the-balkans-and-beyond?s=0A28668E-486F-4DEF-80BA

Turkey, south west coast region – 5 to 19 December 2022

Once we had driven past all the lorries queuing to get into Turkey, our border crossing was relatively easy.

We had to stop to buy van insurance at the border – EUR140 for three months, and the office is easy to find. One tip is don’t use the cash machine here as the bank loads a huge handling fee on to the withdrawal!

Once away from the border find a Ziraat Bankasi ATM as they don’t charge at all. Back at customs we were only asked if we were carrying electrical goods. Our cameras, iPads, phones etc were not an issue and we were waved through. The Turkish border makes quite an impression!

Boomerang Bar, Eceabat:

We had a vague route in mind for this first part of Turkey having watched several other travellers on YouTube and a couple of weeks to explore before spending Christmas in Fethiye with our children who were flying out to join us in a house we have rented for the week.

Just one of the Cemeteries at Gallipoli

Our first stop was the Gallipoli (Gelibolu in Turkish) peninsula, the site of several battles in 1915. It’s a site of particular importance to Australians and New Zealanders as well as Turks and the southern end of the peninsula is home to 40 Allied and at least 20 Turkish war cemeteries. The Allied cemeteries are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and their website (www.cwgc.org) can be checked if you are trying to locate a particular grave. The area is now pine covered rolling hills and is well sign posted for the individual cemeteries and memorials. A very thought provoking trip.

Leaving Europe

We left the peninsula and crossed the Dardanelles Straits to Canakkale via a small ferry.  This also took us to a new continent as we left Europe and arrived in Asia.  

As well as changing continents we moved from recent history to ancient and a region, to quote our Lonely Planet guidebook, with an “embarrassment of ruins”!

Our campsite near Troy

We didn’t stop in Canakkale and instead drove to the town of Troy (Troia), a short distance to the south. We parked at the Troia Pension and were able to walk to the museum and the ruins from there. If not using a guide (we didn’t) then buy a joint ticket (tl150 each) and visit the museum before the ruins to get some sense of the history. Compared to other sites the ruins here are exactly that but there are a couple of spots where they have excavated enough that you can see multiple layers of Troy’s history.

Troy
The Layers of Troy

The Pension offered food albeit not from a menu so we ate there one night. Meatballs, rice and salad which although basic was tasty. Watch out for the wine though – it was good but expensive at over £4 a glass!

Bademli Beach near Dikili:

We had a couple of days at the beach before heading to Bergama and the ruins of the ancient city of Pergamum where we drove up the hill to the Acropolis rather than take the cable car. These ruins were UNESCO listed in 2014 and date from at least the 5th century BC. The site is scattered over the hill top and includes a steep 10,000 seat theatre. Well worth the tl100 entry fee (tl50 for an audio guide).

Pergamum
Pergamum

Next was the site at Ephesus, once the 4th largest city of the Roman Empire with over 250,000 inhabitants and was previously located by the sea although over time the harbour silted up and the water is now some distance away. This site is huge and yet they think about only 20% has been excavated. The theatre here seated an impressive 25,000 people although the three Singaporean lads singing a Christmas carol from the stage were playing to no more than 50 people (but I imagine many more on Tik Tok or Instagram!).

Ephesus
Ephesus. This would have lead to the coastal harbour. The inlet has since silted up

We bought the ticket which covered the main site and the terrace houses (tl250 per person). The latter is a live excavation site which is within the main Ephesus city but fenced off and under cover and the buildings are very well preserved.

The Library, Ephesus

Ephesus is Turkey’s most visited ruins and in the summer we can imagine that it is overrun with tour buses so probably best to visit as soon as it opens. One of the positives for travelling out of season is visiting these sites when they are relatively empty.

The terraced houses, Ephesus

Our whistle stop tour continued on to Pamukkale where you can visit the travertine terraces and the ancient spa city of Hierapolis (same ticket – tl200 per person). The white water filled pools of the terraces can be reached by several gates but we used the north one which is located at the top. You can park and walk up from the bottom or from the town but as shoes are not allowed on the terraces themselves it would be quite tough on the feet! We would also suggest following the path away from the main pools area through the ruined fort and on to some more pools there. You can’t access these pools but the area is quieter making photos easier.

Pamukkale

One extra you can do once on the site is swim amongst the ruins in Cleopatra’s Pool, a small geothermal heated pool close to the restaurant and coffee bar. It costs an extra tl130 and the ticket has a 2 hour time limit (probably summer only as nobody was checking during our visit).

Cleopatra’s Pool

The city was a destroyed by a series of earthquakes and the fault line is marked by a couple of signs. We had a wander through some of the ruins and climbed the hill which took us to the top of the Roman theatre which was worth the effort.

Pamukkale

As well as seeing the area on foot, several companies offer sunrise  balloon flights over the terraces but we think the weather had grounded them the morning we were there.

After all the tearing around over the past two weeks and before the children coming out to visit, we decided we needed a few days to relax and catch up with ourselves. We spent a couple of days parked up next to Lake Salda, a beautiful lake but cold at an altitude of over 3,700feet.

Lake Salda

From here, after a visit to Carrefour, we headed out to the coast near Marmaris to a campsite on a cove surrounded by wooded hills.  

Campsites used:

Troia Pension, Troy: tl300 p/n (approx £13.50) including EHU. Small parking area next to the restaurant with toilets, a shower and access to a washing machine.Site is across the road from the Troy Museum and a short walk to the ancient ruins of Troy.

Antique Lodge Campsite, near Kusadasi: tl330 p/n (£14.60). EHU available based on usage – tl6 per unit. Great campsite with all you need including a swimming pool and lots of communal space around the bar/restaurant area.

Catlak Beach & Camping: tl300 p/n including EHU. Small beachside campsite accessed via the small beach road. Bar and restaurant on site. Great place to sit and chill for a few nights.

Other overnight stops:

Boomerang Bar, Eceabat: Free but buy a drink at the bar. Small hard standing, seaside parking area on the edge of the town. Good site from which to explore Gallipoli.

Bademli Beach near Dikili: Free beach side parking – grass and mud and flooded in places. Toilets and restaurants nearby (closed when we visited).

Aliaga: free beach side carpark located between a police and an army base. Lots of locals coming and going (we were there on a Saturday night), a few stray cats and rubbish lying around (lots of bins though). Toilets but they were locked. Fine for an overnight stay.

Atca: Free overnight park up in the Aqualand car park just off the main road. Quiet as the park is closed and fine for an overnight stay.

Pamukkale: Free park up just outside the town on the balloon take off/landing site (sadly no balloon flights during our night there).

Salda Lake: Free parking on the west side of the lake close to a restaurant (currently closed but toilets open). Flat grass parking away from the water’s edge although the ground was a little soft (very soft close to the water). Several local dogs who stayed with us the whole time we were there – very friendly and harmless and just wanted food, although they were fed by a local each day.

Northern Greece – 27 November to 5 December 2022

Greece was never really in our detailed plan as we were just passing through on our way to Turkey. With this in mind, we only had a couple of places marked on the map but they certainly didn’t disappoint.

Vía Natura Voidomatis Rafting Centre:

Like a lot of Brits, our vision of Greece is beaches, blue and white houses and Mamma Mia, not the snow capped mountains that greeted us!

We explored some of the Vikos-Aoos Geopark in the Northern Pindos mountains, walking a small part of the “Hunters of the Ice Age” path through the Voidomatis Valley and then a drive up to view the Vikos Gorge from the viewpoint at Beloi.

Nice walk along the Voidomatis Valley
The stunning Vikos Gorge.

After a laundry day in Ioannina we moved on to Meteora, a spectacular landscape where Byzantine monasteries sit on top of large pillar like rock structures. There are three main roads which take you past all the monasteries (you need to check opening days as they all differ) and we drove them all in both directions and in very different weather conditions.

Meteora
Meteora
Meteora

Our plan had been to then head straight to Alexandroupli, close to the Turkish border but after a couple of hours of motorway driving we noticed a large mountain ahead which turned out to be Mount Olympus, in Greek mythology, the home of the gods. A quick search on Park4night gave us an overnight parking spot next to an old monastery, so up the mountain we headed!

Avios Dionysius Church

Greece does have a network of toll roads linking the main cities and for travelling across country they were worth using.  No vignette was needed and we spent a total of £41 on tolls at manned booths using a no fee credit card.

No issues with the border crossings in and out of the country.

In our short time here, we had no issues getting around in the van although a lot of supermarket carparks are covered so we had to look for the larger shops, and overnight spots were easy to find (albeit we’re pout of season).  We’re looking forward to returning one day and exploring more of the country!

Campsites used:

Vía Natura Voidomatis Rafting Centre: Currently free but donation requested. The campsite here is under construction but there is access to the showers and toilets in the rafting centre, clean water and WC emptying. Grass pitches. Easy access to hiking in the Vikos-Aoos Geopark.

Camping Vrachos Kastraki, near Meteora: EUR25 p/n (cheaper for cash). EHU available. Tightly packed, mixed pitches. Typical holiday park with swimming pool (not open when we visited).

Other overnight spots:

Beloi viewpoint car park, Vikos Gorge: No facilities. Small uneven parking area – mud and grass. Short walk to the viewpoint.

Pamvotida Lake, Ioannina: Free lakeside parking on grass. No services. Opposite side of lake to the town which has a good choice of launderettes.

Meteora: Free parking spot just off of the main road close to the monasteries. Small grassy area with a view over the valley. Quiet despite being next to the road.

Old Dionysos Monastery car park, Mount Olympus national park: Free, flat and quiet! The old monastery is currently under renovation but there are walking routes from the car park.

Alexandroupoli: free beach side parking, handy for the Turkish border and the last Lidl shop. As usual, lots of rubbish around.

Blog: www.bobandjune.com

YouTube: https://youtube.com/user/bobclewley

Polar Steps: https://www.polarsteps.com/ClewleysOnTour/5755379-the-balkans-and-beyond?s=0A28668E-486F-4DEF-80BA

Montenegro – 19 October to 4 November 2022

We entered Montenegro with no expectations and very little knowledge of the country other than we’d been told that it was quite beautiful in places. Well, we can definitely confirm this!

Igalo, quick stop for a SIM card.

The border crossing at Karacsovići was smooth and we were duly stamped out of the EU again.  We were directed to the insurance office where we paid €28 for one month for the van.  

Montenegro is not covered under any of our SIM packages but data is readily available and we paid €15 for a tourist SIM which gives us 500gb of data for 30 days.  The coverage is excellent and we were only without signal for one night but considering we were over 6,000ft up in the mountains, that’s not surprising. The UK could learn a lesson or two here!

Much of Montenegro can be seen via the Panoramic Road network:

Download Guide

We drove a lot of Road 1, bits of 2 and 3, and the complete circuit of 4. We have had no issues with getting places in the van including winding mountain roads where opinions on whether motorhomes were capable of being driven along them, were split. The main problem with driving is the locals who are “adventurous” with their manoeuvres to say the least!

Kotor Bay

The northern coast area is very much like typical European resorts with lots of hotels, beach bars and long esplanades. The small town of Kotor is on the cruise ship route and we can imagine that the tiny streets of the Old Town would be a tad busy when a ship was in port. We picked the right day to visit as when we woke up the following morning there were three ships anchored in the bay!

The narrow streets of Kotor old town

To see the real beauty of Montenegro head away from the coast and up into the Durmitor National Park and Tara Canyon areas. The scenery is simply stunning but there is a lot of construction of hotels and holiday villages going on – the tourist trade is really opening up. Much of it, at least on the surface, appears to be in keeping with the surroundings but only time will tell if there’s too much development.

Stunning park ups.
Great roads with hairpins in tunnels.
Another beautiful overnight park up in Durmitor
The Black Lake
Tara Gorge
So many Gorges
Yes you can fly a drone through there

We finished our time in Montenegro at the largest vineyard in Europe, the Sipcanik Wine Cellar where we booked a tour with wine tasting. Nothing unusual in that we hear you say but what makes it different is that the cellar is in the hangars built into the hillside on an old Yugoslav airbase.

Sipcanik Wine Cellar
Sipcanik Wine Cellar

We absolutely loved our time in Montenegro and if you’re looking for somewhere a little different, still developing but not completely untouched then we’d highly recommend a visit. If we could, we would have just parked up out of the way and stayed longer but we knew we had to move on. Albania next which is going to be something very different.

Montenegro we loved you.

Campsites used:

Autocamp Mlinski Potok, Žabljak: €19 p/n including EHU. All grass pitches. Toilet and shower block plus communal kitchen and inside space. An easy walk into town, to the Black Lake and other hikes. Don’t be put off by the reviews saying the site is inaccessible due the steep approach road – it’s not difficult at all.

The site is undergoing renovation at the moment before the winter sets in so wasn’t at its best, however we received the warmest of welcomes from the owner, Jelena, who kept apologising for all the mess.

Camp Eko Oaza, Tear of Europe: €14 p/n without EHU (is available). Spotless shower and toilet block (brilliant showers!) and the owner’s washing machine is available on request for €2.50 a wash. The site is all grass and situated on the hillside above the Tara River. You can walk down to a small beach area by the river – it’s about 500m each way and the path is steep in places.

Again, a bit of building work going on but the family were friendly and welcoming and spoke good English. As we left the mother gave us some cake for the trip.

Campsite Medjurecje Rajo Radovic, Medjurecje: €15 p/n without EHU. Showers and toilets available and we were offered electric but didn’t see any plug in points. Grass pitches on a small farm.

We didn’t originally plan to stay in but when we couldn’t get onto the site we were originally heading for and after a hairy drive along a very single track road we came here and had a wonderful couple of days. Very hospitable owners and we were invited over for rakija and coffee once we had parked – a few shots later and we headed back to the van, both with a headache! We politely declined the rakija the following day but were still given coffee, biscuits and half a large freshly baked loaf of bread. The owners spoke no English, just the odd word of German but we managed to all make ourselves understood. From the site we walked down to the Mrtvica River and followed the footpath to Kapija Želja, a beautiful little place alongside the river.

Other overnight parking:

Bex d.o.o. Campground, Kotor: €20 p/n. This is a former campground which is now nothing more than a car park and you are paying for the location – it’s a 400m walk to Kotor Old Town and you parked beachside.

Ostrog Monastery: Free. We parked in the large gravel car park just below the entrance monastery for two nights. It was very quiet, the toilets were open and there was a water tap we could use to top up the tank. Probably not possible in the summer. We were joined for one night by a Swiss/American couple and spent a couple of hours talking travel and drinking schnapps with an amazing view.

Mratinje, Lake Piva: Free. We parked on the flattened ruins of something (maybe an old power plant or harbour area for moving stuff along the lake?) at the northern end of Lake Piva. No facilities but surrounded by mountains and overlooking the blue/green waters of the lake.

Durmitor National Park: We paid the €3 each park entry fee the following morning but were not asked for a camping fee which we believe is another $3. Parked just off Road 1 on a gravelled area from where a few hikes were available. Just about flat enough to sleep! There was a group of wild horses nearby who came down to a small pond to drink and splash around.

Kapayna Army Base, Korita: Free. A ruined army base just off Road 4 giving views of Korita and the Albanian Alps. We were that close to the border our phones switched between Albanian and Montenegrin providers.

Sipcanik Wine Cellar, near Tuzi: having paid for the wine tour and tasting, they kindly allowed us to stay near the gatehouse. They are toying with offering accommodation in the future and we did ask if they wanted to add them to any motorhome parking apps but again, they are just looking into it at the moment.

Blog: www.bobandjune.com

YouTube: https://youtube.com/user/bobclewley

Polar Steps: https://www.polarsteps.com/ClewleysOnTour/5755379-the-balkans-and-beyond?s=0A28668E-486F-4DEF-80BA-D43AA17F7A87

Bosnia Herzegovina – 7 to 17 October 2022

Following our visit last year we were really looking forward to returning to Bosnia and spending more time visiting the countryside, away from the major cities of Sarajevo and Mostar.

Camp Buk, Una National Park

We crossed from Croatia near Granični without any problem and our first stop was to buy van insurance. It’s a pain that UK insurance companies are inconsistent with their country coverage so this year we only had third party local insurance. The insurance building is on the right just after the border crossing and we paid KM79 (approx £35) for a month. We had a data SIM left from our last visit but also bought two more 10GB cards at a cost of KM10 (about £4.50) each.

The weather was glorious for the whole time we were in Bosnia and the autumn colours were stunning.

Una National Park runs close to the Croatian border and along the River Una there are fortresses and waterfalls.

Who needs a 4×4 if you have good ground clearance and rear wheel drive.

From there we headed towards Sarajevo to take the track out to Lukomir, the most remote village in the country. It’s a long 16km gravel road to get to the village but it’s a beautiful drive and the views over the Rakitnica Canyon at the end are breathtaking. The village itself is a small collection of ramshackle buildings, some of which are being refurbished to accommodate the growing tourist trade.

We took an interesting route back which in some places was no more than a quad bike track – thankfully the crockery survived in tact!

The route we took from Lukomir. Not much of a track but suffice.

By accident we also found the ski jump centre from the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics.

We spent three nights back at Autocamp Blagaj near Mostar, one of the friendliest and most hospitable sites we have ever visited. It was great to actually use the site this time (it rained incessantly last year) so had coffee by the river watching the kingfishers and eat in the very reasonably priced restaurant. Allen and his family are incredibly generous with homemade cake, fresh fruit and drinks.

After a few days of being spoiled, we moved towards the Montenegro border and the Dinaric Alps. Another adventurous drive along a gravel road, brought us to the base of Mt Maglić, the highest peak in Bosnia Herzegovina at 2,388m (we camped at about 1,700m) and where we spent a couple of nights in the car park.

Not a bad park up for a couple of nights.

It was great to also be able to do our first decent hike of the trip to Lake Trnovačko, a stunning heart shaped lake which is actually in Montenegro – passports were needed!

After another straightforward border crossing we spent a couple of days in Croatia to have a bit of a sort out before continuing south and into new countries.

One of the joys of travel is embracing local cultures and we hate to impose our standards on foreign countries but there were two things that drove us mad in Bosnia:

Litter – rubbish and fly tipping everywhere but lots of bins too.

Smoking – we were chatting to a young couple and she said that Bosnians consider smoking is just a part of life and everyone smokes, everywhere. As we were filling with petrol and LPG a couple of days ago, a woman walked right past the van with a lit cigarette 若. I guess we’ve just got used to no smoking in the UK.

Mt Maglić

These aside, we love the country and tomorrow, after a couple of nights back in Croatia, we move on to Montenegro.

Campsites used:

Camp Buk, Una National Park: €18 p/n including EHU. Grass pitches, some riverside, toilet and shower block (a little “rustic”). Restaurant open during high season.

Autocamp Blagaj, Blagaj: Prices vary – we paid €12.50, possibly a special rate as returning visitors! Gravel/grass pitches with EHU. Plenty of water points, two toilet/shower blocks and washing machine. Bar and restaurant on site.

Camping Kate, Mlini, Croatia: kn139 p/n including EHU. Shower and toilet blocks, multiple water points, washing machines. Pitches are numbered but not marked and parking is a little haphazard!

Other overnight stops:

Grabovača Cave Park: free overnight parking in the visitor centre car park having paid the park/cave tour fee. Toilets and fresh water available.

Visoko: car park on the edge of the town. No facilities and lots of rubbish but quiet enough for a night.

Lukomir: free parking behind the “On Top of the World” (“Na krovu svijeta”) restaurant having had a meal there. Grass/mud parking after 16km of gravel road to get to the village.

Lake Bileća: overnight parking in a closed roadside bar overlooking the lake. Quiet and fine for one night.

Prijevor: free camping in the car park at the base of Mt Maglic. Uneven area at the end of a long gravel road. No facilities.

Croatia – 23 September to 6 October 2022

The journey from the UK to Croatia was uneventful taking us through France, Switzerland, Italy and Slovenia. The most exciting part was spending a night at the top of the Stelvio Pass with stunning views down the pass into northern Italy.

At the top of the Stelvio Pass

Our original plan was to spend a couple of days just over the Croatian border, south of Trieste before moving straight on to Bosnia but having seen that the CRO Race (a pro-cycling event formerly known as The Tour of Croatia) would be in the region in a few days, we decided to hang around and explore a little more.

The Slovenia/Croatia border crossing was quick and easy (no questions, no searches) and we got the necessary stamp showing we’d exited the Schengen zone – oh, the continued joy of Brexit!

Savidrija

We had stayed close to Savidrija previously, albeit a different campsite, and didn’t really do much although we swam and the paddle board did come out briefly before the wind got up.

Savidrija

When we visited Croatia last year we bypassed Rovinj, so this time we made the effort to find a nearby campsite and spent a day wandering around the old town. You can really see the Italian influence here and could quite easily be exploring the backstreets of Venice.

Rovinj
St Euphemia Church Rovinj

We left Rovinj and moved inland. Istria is a region of vineyards, olive groves and hilltop villages reached by steep winding roads. Our first stop was Grožnjan, also known as the “Town of Artists” as a number of the old buildings have been turned into studios and galleries.

Hum

From Grožnjan we moved to Hum, which by the 2011 census was the smallest city in the world! The “city” is really just two main streets surrounded by walls built on top of a hill and the first mention of it in any documents was in 1102.

Of course we had to buy a bottle of local Gin

The few shops very much cater for tourists selling local products including olive oil, wine, brandy and gin, a bottle of which may just have found its way into the van – we do like to do our bit for the local economy!

Possert Fort was a little hidden gem and very much off the regular tourist trail. We were able to park right by the ruins and with no distractions (we saw no-one else all day) we were able to catch up on admin in beautiful surroundings.

Possert Fort

Our last stop in Istria was just outside the old town Labin which was hosting the finish to a stage of the CRO Race. We walked from the campsite to find ourselves a good spot from which to watch the cyclists as they completed a couple of circuits and then crossed the hilltop finish line.

Great position to watch the finish.

We decided to break up the drive to Bosnia Herzegovina with a night on the coast at the harbour town of Senj but we ended up staying 3 nights for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Gregg and Dawn who we had been talking to via Instagram (@gregg.butler.121) and who had visited the countries we are heading for, mentioned they were on their way to Senj so we decided to wait for them and ended up having a great couple of days relaxing and talking all things travel related. Whilst parked up, Bob had noticed a chip and small crack in the windscreen so after a couple of calls to our insurance company, arrangements were in place for the Croatian equivalent of Autoglass to come to us to replace the glass.

Great couple of days with these folk.
Great service from Autoglass.

As often happens when we meet other travellers, plans change so we stopped again on our way to Bosnia – this time at the recommendation of Gregg and Dawn. Grabovača Cave Park is near the town of Perušić and is a small area of protected limestone landscape. We don’t know if it’s a year round arrangement but when paying for our park entrance we were advised that we’d be welcome to stay two or three nights in the car park with water and electric available if we wanted! With a cave to visit, some walks in the park and a total cost of less than £13, it would be rude not to!

Well worth visiting the cave on an escorted tour.
The viewpoint, er view, 😉

If you can drag yourself away from the stunning coastline, there is plenty to see inland and these sites are often quieter.  But now we really are moving on to Bosnia. 

Campsites used:

Autocamp Tramontana, Savudrija: €20 p/n. Small campsite on the edge of the sea. Lots of seasonal pitches but we parked on the lower grass tier giving easy access to the sea. Didn’t use EHU but it’s available. Easy walk into town where there are a couple of bars.

Camping Porton Biondi, Rovinj: kn257.29 (approx £30.50) p/n including EHU. Tiered gravel pitches stretching up the hillside. Large car campsite with all facilities including onsite bakery open in the mornings.

Camping Romantik, Labin: kn165 p/n (approx £20) without EHU. A really well kept little campsite with grass pitches surrounded by fruit trees and vines. Immaculately clean showers and toilets. Washing machine available on request (kn 37.50, £4.40) and site has a small swimming pool. The old town is within walking distance although mostly uphill from the campsite!

Other overnight parking:

Hum car park: kn25 (£3) to visit the village and we were allowed to stay overnight. Large tarmac car park.

Possert Castle: free. Grass area in front of ruined castle. Approach is via a steep, narrow road.

Senj harbour: kn70 (£8) for a day ticket which enables an overnight stay. Large car park with some longer spaces out by the harbour wall where there is a water tap but we’re not sure if it’s always available. Easy walk into town for restaurants and shops.

Grabovača Cave Park: we paid kn55 (£6.50) each for a guided tour of one of the caves and for that they allowed us to park for a couple of nights (could have stayed another night if we’d wanted). The car park had toilets and access to water and electric, although we used neither.

West Norway, Lysefjord to Trondheim – 15 May to 1 June 2022

After leaving southern Norway, we headed north and west into the western fjords surrounding Bergen. We followed Route 13 for most of the way with a couple of side trips.

This has to be one of the most picturesque roads we have ever driven (well until we got to routes 7 and 55…!) taken us alongside fjords, over fjords on ferries, through tunnels under and roads over mountains. To top the physical scenery, the area around Sorfjorden is known for apple production and the trees were in full spring bloom.

Always good to be first on the grid.

May 17th is a national holiday celebrating Constitution Day with most houses flying the Norwegian and we passed through several towns/villages having parades with people in national dress. We were able to stop for one parade and it was great to see what seemed like the whole village taking part.

Celebrating Constitution Day

One of the diversions we took off 13 was to the Folgefonna glacier. After a walk through the forest and a scramble over rocks (using ropes in places) we made it to the viewpoint at the base of the glacier. For the more adventurous it is possible to hire a guide and continue to the glacier but getting to the viewpoint was enough for us!

When it got tough there were ropes and chains to help you to the viewing point for the Folgefonna glacier.
The Folgefonna glacier.

Waterfalls are everywhere and not just little pretty streams – with spring arriving the snow is melting and the force of the water in the falls and rivers is phenomenal.

Voringsfossen

Another road worth a mention is the 7 which we followed on to the Hardangervidda Plateau, Europe’s largest mountain plateau and snow covered when we were there, where we visited Voringsfossen and stayed at the Sysenvatn Dam.

The sunsets are stunning. This was at the park up by the Sysenvatn Dam

We paid a brief visit to Bergen, Norway’s second largest city, taking the tram from our glamorous car park next to an ice hockey rink – NOK300 for 24 hours parking but services and EHU available. The tram was NOK40 per person each way direct into the centre. The city centre was fairly quiet despite several cruise ships being in port but after a walk around the old town and harbour we headed out to the next equally glamorous overnight spot in an IKEA car park!

Bergenhus Fortress, Bergen
Park up next to the hockey stadium Bergen
Well we had to really.

We continued north on the 13 and took another detour to the town of Fjaerland (or Mundal) which is known as Norway’s book town. We parked up on the old fjord side quay surrounded by places selling books; old cow sheds, a telephone box, a former toll booth and some conventional shops! Fjaerland is a small one street town but we found a quirky coffee shop (of course!),there are walks from the town, an outdoor activities centre and you can even rent the town sauna which floats on the fjord.

Fjaerland (or Mundal) which is known as Norway’s book town.
Cafe in Fjaerland (or Mundal)
Sauna on the end of a pontoon in Fjaerland

Our next overnight stay was just outside Lom which we reached after driving another stunning road, the 55. On our way to Lom we had lunch at the highest point, 4,700ft above sea level, surrounded by banks of snow which were higher than the van in places!

The 55 Road.

Lom has a beautiful stave church, built from wood and originally dating back to 1200.

Lom has a beautiful stave church
Lom has a beautiful stave church

We were then hoping to visit Geirangerfjord and drive along the hairpin bends of Trollstigen but the roads hadn’t yet reopened after the winter so we headed towards the coast to see a couple of places in the hope that the situation would change.

Melkevoll Campsite

We headed to the inner Nordfjord and Melkevoll Campsite in Jostedalsbreen National Park at the foot of the Briksdalsbreen Glacier. After a couple of rainy days we took the footpath up to the glacier which is a walking geology lesson, so right up our street! We were also lucky to pick one of the bright, sunny days to walk and spent a while sitting by the lake at the base of the glacier.

The waterfall behind Melkevoll Campsite.
Briksdalsbreen Glacier

Melkevoll Campsite is a mixture of open pitches and lodges surrounded by mountains and waterfalls. The cost was NOK280 p/n with no EHU and laundry an additional NOK20 per wash/dry. Machines are coin operated and reception will give you the change. The site also has a sauna and a small plunge pool in the river, if you’re brave enough!

Norway certainly has some amazing waterfalls

A chance conversation in a car park a few days ago, took us to the island of Maloy to see Norway’s “most photographed stone”! Definitely an interesting piece of geology but we have to confess to being slightly underwhelmed…….

The rock was slightly smaller than we expect

That same conversation also led us to the island of Runde, known as a good bird watching location. We hiked up to the island’s north shore and across the plateau to find the puffins which nest on the cliff side at this time of year. We sat for a while watching the puffins coming and going but also spottted gannets, razorbills, skuas and white tailed eagles.

Puffins, once we had found the correct cliff.
White tailed eagle.

We stopped briefly in Alesund for a wander around the town. It was a Sunday so most places were closed but we did find a fish and chip kiosk open and the familiar smell drew us in!

Alesund

One of the most well known roads in Norway is the Atlantic Highway, a stretch of road linking several small islands north of Alesund. We did miss part of it but drove the 8km section from Vevang which you see in the photographs. There are several pull offs along the road big enough for motorhomes where you can stop to take photographs and one of them has an information centre, a cafe, toilets and a small walk way around one side of the island.

Our final stop in this region was another campsite just south of Trondheim as again it was raining. We stayed a couple of nights at Hogkjolen Fjellcamp (NOK155 p/n no EHU) which has a lot of fixed pitches and some areas for tourers. First impressions were of a site that needed some tidying up but they were deceptive! We camped down by the trees and the services were clean and tidy. Great hosts too, which is how we’ve found all the campsites so far.

From here we head a north, a long way north!

Mad cross country dashes – 22 April to 4 May 2022

After leaving Scotland the next two weeks were filled with seeing friends and van work.

Our first stop was a weekend with the Hymer Owners Club at a campsite near Clitheroe, Lancashire. We’ve been to a couple of these previously and they generally involve sitting around with like minded folk over a glass or two of beer/wine or anything else that takes your fancy, talking all things motorhome and travel related. On this weekend we were also able to meet a couple we’d been chatting to via social media (hello Tom and Nicky!). Luckily the campsite had indoor space for the use of people in tents but as the evenings were cold and there were few tents out, a few of us gathered there out of the wind!

The Hymer Owners Group group meeting. A really great Facebook group. Very supportive. Thanks for the photo Jacky Bindeman 😁

The town of Clitheroe is about a mile away and easily walkable.  There were also walks along the river but we used this weekend to sort the van out and catch up with admin after a couple of months on the road.

From there it was only a short drive to Liverpool to catch up with Helen, Myles and the family who kindly all moved their cars off the front garden to allow us off-street parking. It was good to finally be able to put faces to all the names after so many years of hearing all about the children. Looking forward to a weekend together when they finally get their van!

Formby Beach

Next was a stop for extra locks to be fitted to the cab doors. Some might question the extra security we have on the van but our opinion is that we want a thief to walk on and look for an easier target. After doing some research we used Midlands Van Security, a mobile lock service who came out to Criss Farm campsite near Burton-on-Trent to do the work. Arron did a good, clean job and we’d definitely recommend him.

Cross Farm Campsite, Burton-on-Trent

The campsite had a large camping field next to a CL and we were on one of the hard standing pitches in the large field.  

After a brief overnight stop at Oaklands Farm CL near Peterborough (a really well kept campsite but we seem to use it only when passing through or the van is in for work at a nearby Mercedes garage) we made it to Norwich to see youngest daughter Amy for dinner. We stayed at the Bell Pub in Marlingford again as they allow overnight stays and the car park is fairly quiet.

Elveden Forest

Our next night was also another pub stop, this time the Miller and Carter steakhouse close to home for a boozy night out with friends (nothing new when out with the Woods and the Smyths!).   It was home to collect all the stuff we’d ordered knowing we’d be passing through and drop off more unwanted/unused items we had with us – even after a year on the road we’re still fine tuning what we carry.

When close to home we tend to use the C&MC site, Wyatts Covert in Denham.  It’s handy for popping to the house but with the recent increase in prices in clubsites we will be limiting our nights there.  It’s a typical club site with good facilities but at over £33 a night for this stay, it’s becoming expensive.

Last proper stop on this leg was at Cornish Farm Campsite after a dash down the M4 and M5 motorways and courtesy of VanBitz for the biggest upgrade we’ll do to the van. After much discussion we decided to replace our AGM leisure batteries with lithium ones sooner rather than later which will allow us to be completely off grid power wise. It wasn’t a cheap option but with different and often unstable voltages in the Americas, we no longer have to worry about hooking up and potentially destroying the van’s electrics! We’ve used VanBitz several times previously and continue to recommend their great service.

2 x 150 Ah Lithium Batteries should now see us OK

For the technically minded we now have 2 x 150Ah of lithium batteries (previously 3 x 95Ah AGMs), 240W of solar and a Battery Master allowing charging from the alternator once the engine battery is full. 

With a Eurotunnel crossing booked for early the next morning we hightailed it back up the motorways and the round the M25 and Down the M20 for an over stop at a Canterbury Park and Ride, about 25 mins from the tunnel entrance and with motorhome emptying/filling services.

Campsites used:

Edisford Bridge Farm, Clitheroe: £23 p/n (special meet rate). Hard standing pitches with EHU. Mixed campsite with full facilities.

Cross Farm Campsite, Burton-on-Trent: £15 p/n on main campsite. Large sloping field with a couple of hard standing pitches. Toilet, shower and laundry building.

Oaklands Farm CL, near Peterborough: £17 p/n. Immaculate pitches on a tiered site.

The Bell, Marlingford: Free (£10 if not eating). Pub car park, no facilities

Miller & Carter, Rickmansworth: Free if eating in restaurant. Quiet car park and can back on to a stream.

Wyatts Covert, Denham: £33.65 p/n. Standard C&MC site with all facilities.

Cornish Farm, Taunton: Free as a customer of VanBitz. Small site with hard standing pitches with EHU. Toilet, shower and laundry block.

Canterbury, Old Dover Road P & R: £8 p/n. Large carpark with area sectioned off for motorhomes. Clean water and dumping facilities but no EHU. Overnight cost includes bus fare to Canterbury centre for up to 7 people.

Fort William to Edinburgh

Steall Waterfall

From Skye it was back to the mainland and first stop Fort William where we did our bit for the local economy with a couple of trips to outdoor shops! We had thought about going up Ben Nevis but with the forecast saying that winter equipment, ie crampons and ice axes, should be carried we decided against that and instead walked from the campsite along Glen Nevis.

This was another stunning walk to the Steall Waterfall and included on the return, a rather nervous crossing of the river via a cable bridge! Anything to not go back up the valley side again 

We’re being spoilt for choice on places to visit and after a couple of nights on a campsite, it was back to wild camping, well as wild as you can get in a fully kitted out motorhome!

Today’s drive was along Glencoe and Glen Etive, both of which featured heavily in the film Skyfall although the house used as James Bond’s childhood home was actually purpose built in Surrey! After several miles along a single track road you come to the end next to the northern edge of Loch Etive where there’s a small spot where you can park overnight.

View from the park up at the end of Loch Etive

Forestry and Land Scotland has reopened its scheme for self-contained motorhomes and camper vans allowing overnight parking as part of its Stay the Night initiative. Vans are allowed to stay one night in certain locations – some charge, others not (we used Littlemill near Inverness) Hopefully the scheme won’t be abused and more places will open up.

Littlemill

And then came the Cairngorms, a simply stunning area to visit for walking and just submersing yourself in nature. We had a couple of snowy nights in the ski centre car park where we hit the cafe a couple of times and went for a short walk but were defeated by the weather when a snowstorm blew through. We had originally planned to take the funicular railway up Cairn Gorm mountain but it’s currently undergoing refurbishment. We made the suggested parking donation (which they say is optional if you use the cafe or buy something in the shop) but it looks like barriers are going across the car park for proper paid parking.

Sunset over the Cairngorms
Park Up at the Ski Centre in the Cairngorms
The Cairngorms
A cracking walk near Loch Muick

A lot of the southern area of the Cairngorms makes much of its historical royal connections beginning with Queen Victoria. We visited Ballater, Balmoral and Braemar and found some great walks around the River Dee and up into the mountains where there was still plenty of snow on the ground.

Our last two stays in the mountains were at the Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve from where we followed the well marked path to Corrie Ardair, and then in a small car park at Kinloch Rannoch parked right alongside the loch. There are just so many beautiful free sites in Scotland and hopefully campers in every form will respect and preserve them. We made use of the service point in Kingussie – £5 to empty black and grey tanks and top up with fresh water.

Corrie Ardair
Kinloch Rannoch

The time then came for us to start heading south. We stopped overnight at the Kelpies near Falkirk as for some reason we had missed them on our previous trip. The car park was busy (school holidays and bank holiday weekend) when we arrived so we diverted to the Falkirk Wheel where it is also possible to stay overnight for £15 (or £3.50 for day parking). After a while of watching the wheel, a fascinating piece of engineering, the car parks began to clear so we headed back to the Kelpies.

The Kelpies

Our final destination on this trip was Edinburgh for a little sight-seeing and catching up with friends. The campsite is a little out of town but the buses are reliable despite the sheer amount of roadworks currently underway in the city! The city centre was quite busy so we decided to wander up Arthur’s Seat to view it from a distance – we have definitely come to prefer being away from crowds! Lovely though to catch up with old friends over coffee and dinner and meet Felicity and Ben’s gorgeous baby, Milo.

Arthur’s Seat

Sites used:

Glen Nevis Caravan & Camping Park, Fort William: £31 p/n – hard standing pitch with EHU. Large, modern campsite with all expected amenities a short drive out of Fort William close to the Ben Nevis path.

Glen Etive: Free. Small car park next to Loch Etive at the end of a long single track road. No facilities.

Littlemill Forest, near Inverness: Free. Forestry and Land Scotland car park allowing overnight parking for self-contained motorhomes. A couple of short walks from the carpark.

Culloden Moor Caravan and Motorhome Club Campsite: £28.20 p/n – hard standing pitch with EHU. Typical C&MC site with full amenities. Near to historical sites.

Cairngorm Ski Centre car park: Suggested £2 donation for parking but looks like pay barriers are going in. Bumpy uneven car park but spectacular views and walking including the Cairn Gorm mountain. Funicular railway being refurbished at the time of writing (April 2022). Visitor facilities include cafe and 24 hour toilets.

Ballater Caravan Park: £25 p/n – hard standing pitch with EHU. Independent campsite with all facilities. Free wifi! Easy walk into the town centre and several well signposted walks along the River Dee and around the local area.

Loch Muick visitor centre car park: £10 for 24 hours. No facilities (toilets were closed when we visited). Motorhomes is are asked to use the upper car park which is uneven. Great base for walking around the loch or up to Lochnagar.

Balmoral Castle coach park: £10 for 24 hours. No facilities but local visitor centre has toilets and a water tap (albeit not for parking and filling by hoses given its location). Quieter than expected despite being next to the main road. Easy walk to the castle and the wider Balmoral estate.

Braemar Caravan Park: £30.50 p/n – hard standing pitch with EHU. Independent site with great facilities and really friendly staff – the drying room was a great addition. Easy walk into town for cafes and shops.

Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve: Free but donation requested. Short walk to toilets in an information building but no other facilities. Great walking.

Kinloch Rannoch: small loch side car park just out of the village – free. No facilities other than rubbish bins. Wardens came visiting to remind us to be considerate and preserve the beauty of the location. Stunning views along Loch Rannoch.

Helix Park (the Kelpies), Falkirk: £7.50 overnight parking at in the car park near the play area. Toilets available by the Kelpies.

Edinburgh Caravan and Motorhome Club site: £38.80 p/n – hard standing pitch with EHU. Typical C&MC club site with full facilities and located on the River Forth. Easy bus ride into the city centre

South Dalmatian coast – 15 to 24 Nov

After a couple of strenuous days sightseeing we moved on to a remote cliff side campsite near Omis at the recommendation of @john.n.kellie, another couple of van dwellers who were spending time in Croatia and who we would catch up with in person a few days later.

Autocamp Sirena

Although Omis is only a few kilometres from Split along the coast, we took the long winding road via the Cetina Gorge and over the Dubci Pass to come back around to the campsite.

Cetina Gorge

Autocamp Sirena is a terraced campsite between the main road and the sea. We opted for one of the lower terraces (with just two other vans there we had plenty of choice!) and parked up facing the sea. That didn’t last long as once the wind picked up, as it does frequently along the coast, we were being rocked all over the place. A quick 90 degree turn to get the nose into the wind helped and we managed a decent night’s sleep.

Not a bad view to wake to

Throughout the the campsite there is access to the sea, via either small pebbly beaches or the rocks. Bob couldn’t be persuaded but June went in for a quick dip and it wasn’t so bad.

June having a dip

The campsite has a small shop and will provide bread and croissants of a morning if preordered. We also ate in the restaurant where we were treated to the hospitality of Milan and the food cooked by his wife. We (not just us I should add!) were left with six numbered bottles of schnapps like alcohol and a dice in case we couldn’t decide which one to have next!

So much choice

Having been quite controlled with the free alcohol so hangovers averted, we moved on to Dubrovnik, one of our last stops in this part of Croatia. Our campsite was Autocamp Matkovica in Srebreno, south of and just a short bus ride from Dubrovnik. Hard to tell exactly how many pitches there were but most of the site was hard standing and all have EHU. Showers and toilets available plus use of a washing machine (paid for). Whilst here we met up with @landylifeoverland again as well putting spending a couple of afternoons with John and Kellie who are spending a couple years touring Europe from Australia.

Autocamp Matkovica

The owner gave us a local map and pointed out where the bus stops were and well as giving us the bus timetable. The bus was kn18 each one way and the drivers all seem to speak some English which helped.

Stunning Dubrovnik

We really enjoyed our day in Dubrovnik where we walked around the impressive city walls (not cheap at kn200, £22, each but we thought worth doing), wandered through the alleys and streets of the Old City and took the cable car up to Mount Srd for panoramic views over the city. The cable car was kn170, £19, each but again we thought it had to be done. There is a restaurant at the top and the Homeland War Musuem dedicated to the Croatian War of Independence.

Looking down onto Dubrovnik

Within walking distance from the campsite is Kupari, a favoured beach resort of the former socialist Yugoslav government and army which has now been left to fall into disrepair. The resort consists of several hotels – the colonial looking Grand Hotel and then a few concrete monstrosities, and you are free to wander around what remains there. Maybe not a good idea to go to far into the buildings!

Kupari
Kupari

A little further round the coast is an old villa that belonged to Tito, the former ruler of Yugoslavia. It is sill guarded and you can’t get to it but you can see the ruins of a house he had built for his wife and walk on the rocks from which the elite would have accessed the sea via concrete stepping stones.

A short distance in the opposite direction along the coast is the picturesque fishing village of Mlini. A lot of history here with old mills for olive pressing, a raging stream running through the village (well it had been raining – a lot!) and a couple of churches. If you’re thinking of visiting Dubrovnik, this would be a great place to stay and take the bus into the city.

Mlini

We ended up having two stays in Autocamp Matkovica, albeit the second unplanned! After our first four days we headed about as far south as we could go to stay on a disused former airbase which is now a popular place for vans to overnight. It’s a large site and our plan was to spend the night on the old helipad after watching an amazing sunset. The site also has great views over Montenegro where we had hoped to visit but sadly our insurance won’t cover on this trip. We were that close that the phones kept trying to pick up Montenegro networks but we soon stopped that as it was not covered by our UK packages!

A beautiful setting

After a quiet evening we settled down for the night, knowing that rain was forecast and that it could potentially get a little windy. At this point we were contemplating spending the following day really exploring the base and possibly spending a second night there.

The best view from any helipad that Bobs ever been on.
Watching the sunset

We awoke the following morning to very grey skies, more rain and the continued rumbling of thunder somewhere offshore which had been going on for a few hours. As we were sitting having our breakfast, there was suddenly the loudest clap of thunder and a simultaneous flash of lightning followed by the sound of things hitting the van. We had been parked just a couple of metres from a lightning strike which destroyed a wall and it was pieces of brick and mud that we could hear hitting us.

At first we hadn’t seen the damage to the rear quarter.

In addition to the “blast” damage we also realised there were some electrical issues with the van so we decided to head back to the previous campsite to take stock.

Bit of battle damage

Having seen some photos of the damage to the wall (thanks to @vanstgramage who were staying in the area and went to the helipad after we had left. They were over a km away and heard the strike and a local bar owner compared the destruction to a bomb blast ) we got away quite lightly!

The ruins of a wall that was complete before the strike.

The dents that have potentially pierced the shell of the van are now taped over with clear gaffer tape, a travelling essential, and after changing a few blown fuses we are left with just our electronic key fobs not working properly so the van is booked in with Mercedes when we get back to the UK. Our mifi was also a victim but we don’t know yet if it’s the internal dongle or the external aerial. Having originally thought we had no insurance cover (policy document specifically states that), it turns out we are covered but have a huge excess so once we’re home we’ll get quotes and try to decide if the cost of claiming,including future premium increases, is worth it.

Such a stunning sunset the night before the strike

After a day of running around we were both feeling a little flat the following day so decided to spend one last day at the campsite before moving on to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

We’ve really enjoyed what we’ve seen of Croatia so far. We may explore a little more when we start heading back towards home as we have to cross through the northern part of the country. That will depend on how long we spend in Bosnia and Herzegovina and any changes to the COVID situation. At time of writing Europe is starting to impose restrictions again so we’ll just keep an eye on the news and FCO updates.

Slovenia, a hidden gem – 23 to 27 Oct

Both of us had been to Slovenia previously when part of Yugoslavia, so some years and what seems several lifetimes ago, and we crossed the border with Italy with no issue.

The Beautiful Lake Bled

Our initial plan had been to stop at Kranjska Gora, a ski resort close to the Italian and Austrian borders but we changed our mind on arrival as the motorhome parking was along a service road and we were reluctant to potentially pay €20 for parking along a road with no services. We therefore headed into the Julian Alps and before we realised it, we were climbing up the Vrsic Pass, the highest mountain pass in the eastern Julian Alps which tops out at 1,611m or 5,285 ft and consists of 50 of the tightest, shortest hairpin bends we have ever driven!

50th Hairpin…

Many of the campsites we tried were already closed for the season but we found Kamp Korita, close to the village of Soca open. With just one other van there it was bliss! Having read a recent travel article on the area, the Soca Valley and the wider Triglav National Park, was on our list to explore and the campsite has direct access on the walking path that starts where the Soca River rises and passes through stunning valleys and gorges.

Kamp Korita

We walked the section from the campsite to where the river passes out of the Great Soca Gorge which just a couple of metres wide at this point. The water is the most amazing colour, crystal clear and has carved hollows in the rocks where it swirls around. The river is also renowned for trout and the fish can easily be seen with the naked eye.

The Soca Gorge
The water was so clear
The Soca Gorge

We drove out of Soca and followed the river along through the towns of Bovec and Tolmin before turning back in to the southern side of the National Park heading towards Lake Bohinj. On our way we stopped at the Boka Waterfall, one of Slovenia’s highest waterfalls but on the day of our visit, quite dry – maybe best visited once the winter snow melts!

Lake Bohinj

Lake Bohinj was still quite busy when we arrived so we drove to the western edge of the lake and walking along the southern shoreline for a short distance. Camping directly by the lake or in the town was expensive (can’t imagine what the summer prices are!) so we actually overnighted at a small village a few minutes away. Another very quiet pitch even if we were joined by a large overlanding vehicle and with views over the surrounding countryside.

Lake Bohinj
Not a bad view to wake up to

With our days in Schengen starting to clock up we decided on just one more stop in Slovenia at Lake Bled but we’d take a roundabout route to get there. The road took us over an unnamed pass where we drove more small, tight hairpins right in amongst the autumnal forests to reach the Vintgar Gorge on the way to Bled. Whilst most places we have visited are free, there is a fee to visit Vintgar (€10 each plus another €10 for parking the motorhome) but in our opinion it was worth it. It’s a circular walk through the gorge along a wooden boardwalk and you exit via one of two routes along the top of the gorge, so whilst the walk through the gorge is flat, it’s quite an uphill climb out of it! Again the water is crystal clear, in various shades of blue and green with bridges taking you over the river at the base of the high, tree covered sides of the gorge.

Vintgar Gorge
Vintgar Gorge

Our final stop was in Bled where we spent a couple of nights at the city centre stellplatz. It’s at the back of a building site (no noise issues though when we were there), close to a couple of supermarkets and an easy walk to the edge of the lake where you can pick up the path that encircles the lake. We were blessed with great weather and were able to see the lake at its finest but without the crowds 😊

Lake Bled
Lake Bled

There is still so much of Slovenia that we didn’t see so we will be back!


Sites used:
Kamp Korita Peter Della Blanca, near Soca: €24 p/n including EHU. Hard standing. Showers and toilets on site plus a small restaurant during season


PZA Srednja Vas motorhome park, near Bohinj: €10 but price varies. One EHU post but water and WC disposal available.


Bled Stellplatz, Bled: €20 per 24 hours. Hard standing and depending on ticket bought, limited EHU and water available. WC disposal.