Monday, 27 July 2015

Glossglockner mountain (Nathanial)

Our next stop is the Grossglockner mountain which holds the Pasterze glacier. I never thought I would see an actual glacier, I thought I would only ever see these on the telly, so I'm pretty excited by this one.

We arrive at our next campsite which is in the 'Hohe Tauern' national park. The roads have been breathtaking, and to finish off the scene, the campsite owner was wearing lederhosen!

The next day we drive forty four kilometers over the mountain to a maximum of 2500 meters in altitude, the peak itself is 3800 meters, but can only be done on foot.

The Glossglockner High Alpine Road

As we are passing lots of areas covered in snow, it's all too much for Tom, and he makes us pull in so he can have a play. We stop by a small group of waterfalls and a lake surrounded by what's left of the winter snow. It's surprisingly soft, soft enough infact for Alfie to make snowballs and terrorise us. To Tom's disappointment though, it wasn't quite snowman material.

Five minutes later, one of these were in tears "it was only a snowball"
It might be sunny, but it was getting chilly here

He got over it, Alf didn't


                                          After our frolics in the snow, we reached the car park where the glacier is. The mountains are all still covered in snow on the peaks and are stunning.

Although the glacier is the largest in the east of the Alps, I couldn't help but think it was a bit small. There are comparison pictures in the information centre showing what it looked like over the years, I think I was expecting it to look like it did a hundred years ago. With global warming, it is shrinking at an alarming rate. Nevertheless, it was still extremely impressive and I was well chuffed to see it.

In its day, the valley was filled with the glacier
All we need is a sled now

The magnificent Pasterze glacier
Now for the descent. Instead of just driving down the other side of the mountain, the road went through the whole mountain range. One minute we were driving down steep descents, then up inclines.

Twisty roads were challenging the brakes
But beautiful to look at
As lovely as it was to drive through snowy mountains, the brakes were starting to make some nasty noises, and give off even nastier smells. We decided to pull in and have dinner on the mountain to give the brakes time to cool down. As I inspected them, tremendous heat was being pumped out through the holes in the wheels. I only put the brake pads on two months ago so I was thinking the pads were just over heating and would be alright once they cooled down.

And through the mountains we go
It was now getting early evening so we decided the brakes had long enough to cool down and set off. The grinding noise coming from the brakes sounded like metal on metal, but this was impossible as the brake pads were new. Regardless of what I thought, I definitely recognised the noise. We drove in second gear all the way down, having the equivalent of Snowdon to go in descent (1000 meters).

We got to the bottom of the mountain and thankfully only had about ten kilometers left to drive to the campsite, but at this point the brakes were grinding even without them being used, as if they were sticking on. This was not good! We limped all the way to the campsite with the hazard lights on in third gear. It was now getting dark and the relief of making it to the campsite was great.

Feeling vulnerable limping through these roads to a campsite 
There is a large element of vulnerability carrying not only all your belongings in your home on wheels, but also your family. When something goes wrong with said home on wheels, one is boggered.

The next day the brakes were still no better. I'm not sure why they would be, but I was hoping a rest overnight and they would have miraculously fixed themselves. It wasn't to be.

We called the breakdown people out to inspect. The very nice man took one look at them and not only said he couldn't fix them, but he had never seen brakes in this state before, so off to the garage it was then.

The van needed new discs and pads all round, even needing new calipers on the front as the "boiling" brake fluid had fried them. The actual discs had split with the heat inflicted on them, and the pads were down to metal again after only eight weeks of wear!@>?

Luckily the garage could do the work the following day and let us camp on their premises, so at least we didn't have the hassle of finding somewhere to stay as we did in France when we lost fourth gear.
Twenty four hours and two thousand euros later and we were back on the road. A very expensive day but the brakes sure do feel good.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Malta Dam, Austria (Nathanial)

We're off to see Austria's highest damn at 200 meters high, and 1000 meters above sea level the Malta Dam. To get to the dam, we have to drive up the windiest of mountain roads which in parts of it, is only single lane.

Loving the roads, I sometimes wish I was on two wheels though
We drive by numerous waterfalls in the most beautiful  of landscapes to be greeted by a snow capped peak where the dam is.


Just to add to the beauty, in the car park at the top, there just happens to be a 'super car' meeting, bonus. Alf and Tom both spend half an hour deciding what they will have when they grow up, will it be the Porsche, the Ferrari, or the Lambo. Keep dreaming lads.

Alfie's future car
Tom's decided on this one

We walk across the dam and onto the glass view point, which is very scary for someone who is scared of heights, like me. The visitor centre was up a few steps, not many, but at 2000 meters above sea level, it's easy to get out of breath.  And after a bite to eat in the van, soaking up the scenery, we make our descent back down the mountain.

Amazing scenery all the way
The glass view point is the bit sticking out in the middle

Saturday, 18 July 2015

The Perilous Road (Slovenia) (Nathanial)

Croatia led beautifully into Slovenia, all rolling hills, more hot sunny days and mountain roads any biker would kill for. We are heading off to Lake Bled, another recommendation from fellow travellers, as well as a mate of mine.

We were driving deep in the 'Land of Forests' all saying how gorgeous the scenery was when the tarmac just ran out and turned into a dirt road! After double checking with the sat nav that we hadn't taken a wrong turn, we had a decision to make; can the van make it? Being the eternal optimist I put all faith into the van and we pushed on, although it was a very 'squeaky bum' journey.

This is the main road!
Not looking down

Thankfully we didn't see any of these 
We managed to avoid bumping into any of the bears that the road signs were warning us about and managed not to slide off the road, even when a tractor came screaming round a corner the opposite way (as far as tractors scream that is). The dust thrown up from the road came rushing in through the windows which we had to shut quickly, although not before a fine covering of dust had spread itself throughout the van. After driving what felt like most of the day, the dirt track finaly merged back into tarmac. Amazingly, through all the juddering and jolting and wobbling of the roads, the wall units are still up. There were a few moments I was expecting them to come crashing down with all the food we have crammed in them.

Before we go to Lake Bled, we are stopping off at the 'Postonjska Jama' caves for an explore.

The campsite we arrive at reminds me of a 1970s cold war survival camp site. It has a hexagon shaped central block with the toilets and washing facilities etc, which goes underground for parts of it. There is a small pool next to it (too cold to swim in though whilst we were there, although Alfie tried) and the camping area is spread out over different levels through a forest. I kept expecting James Bond to fly through at any minute and assassinate the camp site owner for being a cold war spy.

The caves were much the same as any other caves - we have been to a few now, the only difference with this one being that we had to catch an underground train to see the best parts as it is twenty kilometers in length and we were only seeing five.

It's funny how memories work; being on the underground train immediately transported me back in time to when I used to work down the coal mines, the cool damp smell helped too.

We had our 'grand tour' with interesting facts about Russian prisoners of war building bridges down there, and caught our train back to the surface.

Since the Nineties, the caves still receive around two hundred thousand less visitors a year due to the Yugoslav wars.

This sign was near the exit of the caves, please use your imagination re what the orange man is doing???

After our visit to the caves, the weird camp site, and surviving the 'Land of Forests' we still had a lot of miles to do and more mountainous roads to travel. Interestingly enough, as we drove through Croatia, we still saw evidence of battles in certain towns in the shape of buildings with bullet holes in them.

As we were on our way to Lake Bled, the heavens decided to open up. This turned out to be quite a challenge as the van is far too overloaded and these roads are incredibly steep. We have regularly been driving up and down 12% inclines, even going as steep as 16%! But when they go on for miles the van does suffer, in particular the brakes, even with the new brake pads I put on it in Italy.

The van didn't like these signs

As we drove through the mountains the front wheels were struggling to get a grip and they ended up spinning all over the place. This is no fun when you can see a hundred feet down the mountain side which has no barrier, and a passenger who needs to take medication to stay calm on normal mountain roads.

The van wheels were constantly spinning out going up hills and the rain combined with the weight of the van meant the brakes were locking up going down hills. Nothing much gets me particularly worried, but I have to say, I was now. I wasn't going to show my fear to Beth and the kids, I felt I had to be the face of confidence and calmness, but  definitely had the 'paddling duck syndrome' thing going off.

It rained all the way to Lake Bled, but we made it in one piece. After the last couple of days driving over dirt tracks and skid courses, I was looking forward to exploring on foot again.

Lake Bled
And from another angle

Lake Bled is lovely, we had a couple of days riding round the actual lake, but our exploring was broken up with showers. The campsite is surrounded by mountains which are covered in trees, it reminded me of the film 'The L
ast of the Mohicans'.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Plitvice Lakes (Nathanial)

After our spell at Zaton (Bultins on steroids) we set off to another National Park which we had read about called 'Plitvice Lakes'. I would say this was bigger than Krka with around twenty lakes, all of which had waterfalls leading into each other. There were various timed walks to choose from and we chose the 6 - 8 hour walk. Alfie was not happy.

The lakes all had boardwalks either over them or beside them or next to the falls themselves and the ticket price included a land train ride and another boat ride, not as nice a boat as Krka mind.

The place is a must for any visit to Croatia and is as breathtaking as it comes. The lakes are a fantastic colour and we even saw a snake swimming along!

The only thing with seeing so much amazing scenery as we have done on this trip, is we are going to be hard pushed to find as much dramatic surroundings on our  future holidays. I guess we are just going to have to 'up the ante' each time.

We managed to complete the walk well under eight hours, I think we even did it just under six. After such a long day we decided to treat ourselves to a meal out back at the camp site, and the odd cheeky pint.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Zaton and Zadar (Nathanial)

Whilst at Nevio one of our neighbours mentioned a campsite called Zaton near Zadar and said it was worth a visit. As we were going this way we thought we would pop in and take a look. This was the camp site we arrived in late at night after our visit to Krka so it wasn't until the following morning that we got to have a look around.

The campsite turned out to be as big as a village with various restaurants, private beaches, a number of shops, evening entertainment and even its own crazy golf. To top it all off though, it had it's own 'Total Wipeout' style assault course in the sea. The lads loved this and spent three days on it! Being the responsible parent, I thought it wise to try it out myself, just for health & safety reasons. I wouldn't want to let them play in an unsafe environment now would I?

This is how you do it Tom
Actually, I'm good thanks Alf

Nearly there

                                                                                                                                                                    The aqua assault course was great fun, but for those that are only teenagers at heart, and not in body, there was a limit to how many times one could climb, jump, fall, swim and crawl through a floating gym.

It was whilst exploring the site that Tom found the crazy golf and insisted we had a game. This was the king of all crazy golf courses, and over the years we have gained a vast amount of knowledge on crazy golf courses. This one beat them all. It even had it's own bridge thingy that we had to cross by pulling ropes from one side to the other.
It's all in the wrist

I never realised I looked so camp

Before leaving we drove into Zadar to visit the 'Sea Organ', another recommendation by our old neighbours. If you have never heard of Zadar's Sea Organ, as we hadn't, it's worth looking at on YouTube. It seems to be the only one of it's kind and is exactly what it says it is. Some kind of organ thing has been built into the promenade and the waves push air through the pipes and play musical notes.  The notes are very random and I wouldn't say it could play the Cha Cha Cha.

It felt like Titanic moment, but really it was just a bit windy
All in all though, a great idea, and we had a great day out. Every sea side town should have one.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Mopeds and Waterfalls(Beth)

You might recall us meeting the Cantlay family in Italy, who we shared the ferry crossing to Greece with. They, among others had recommended Croatia to us, and the Krka National Park and it's waterfalls in particular. You can read their blog about it here.

Laptop purchased, we were keen to split from Split. We didn't actually visit the town but the campsite we stayed on was very large and not a patch on Nevio. Ask me sometime and I'll tell you an amusing anecdote about the seven minute showers, involving a walk of shame through the site and a soap assault from a mouthy Italian, but suffice to say, we weren't keen to prolong our stay.

On the drive to Krka, Nathanial was driving in his usual style; overtaking anything not doing at least ten k's an hour above the speed limit. Imagine his joy when we rounded a bend to be greeted with a queue of cars stuck behind a dozen or so mopeds. I tried very hard to keep a straight face while an angry tirade flowed from his mouth against both the riders who seemed quite happy to take up the whole lane and the unfortunate motorist immediately behind the group who was no doubt feeling the pressure from the traffic at his rear, all impatient to overtake.

The guy on the left didn't think he was taking up enough room

After a lengthy wait anticipating every opportunity to pass the mopeds, we finally came to a junction where Nathanial was determined that we would overtake, even if it meant taking three cars and the whole group at once. We pulled up in an outer lane, poised to accelerate away from the lights at speed (in our 3.5+ tonne home) and as soon as the lights changed, we were away.

We managed to get past all the remaining cars of the tail, and with a little bit of gentle persuasion the mopeds were nudged aside. Yes, I did have to close my eyes for most of the proceedings; you will have to rely on Nathanial's assurances that no moped riders were harmed in the undertaking of this manouevre.

Arriving at Krka some twenty minutes later, guess what we saw in the car park? Yep, more mopeds, shortly to be joined by the group we had aggressively passed on the road. We decided to stop in the van for lunch just in case any of them felt like taking out their frustrations on our paintwork, but luckily none did. Phew.

So, after lunch we bought our tickets and proceeded on 'a ten minute walk' down to the first of the waterfalls. Tom skipped off ahead with Alfie strolling behind while Nathanial ambled and I inched my way down a forty-five degree slope of loose rocks and gravel. Several sweaty people making the return journey indicated that the route was a bit longer than we had been led to believe, but we (I) eventually made it to the bottom.

After a few minutes deliberation, we made the decision to take a boat trip up river to the falls at Roski Slap. This proved to be a wise move as we got to sit down and admire the fabulous views.

After a quick stop and mini-tour of Visovac Island, home to a monastery, we headed up to the falls at Roski Slap.

Visovac Island

Roski Slap

We had a little longer here, which gave us time to have a wander across some boardwalks and see the river higher up.

After speeding back to Slapovi, we waved goodbye to our boat and had another long-ish walk along another boardwalk, which was beautiful, before finally arriving at the falls which I recognised from the Cantlay's blog.

I'm sure he was really sorry to see the back of us

Must work on Alf's picture framing

Still not amused

We had a brilliant time at Krka but it was pretty exhausting in the heat so we decided to treat ourselves to dinner at the park restaurant. Luckily the van was still in one piece when we got back to it (I sometimes wonder if we will ever be able to leave it without worrying again?) and we had already picked out an aire from the camperstop book which should have been nearby. Unfortunately something had gone wrong, with the book or the sat-nav we weren't entirely sure, but the aire wasn't where it was meant to be!

It was getting dark at this stage, so we reverted to the ACSI book and found a camp site an hour away. When we arrived reception was closed and nobody could help us at the bar. We decided to find a pitch and sort it out in the morning but the electric hook up point was locked and we weren't keen on paying for electricity we couldn't use, especially as we would have liked to use our new fan in the 35 degree heat.

Reluctantly, we made the decision to push on to our next destination rather than waste a night and have to travel further the next day. The site was an hour away and the boys both fell asleep before we arrived, exhausted as they were from the days exertions. We arrived at Zaton Campsite to quite a different reception than the previous site. Reception was still open (it was nearly midnight by now) and we were given all the usual information before being directed to a pitch, complete with electric! We turned on the fan, settled the boys, made up the bed and thankfully crashed out into a well-deserved slumber.