An Incredible European Road-Trip: Part One

So far the road trip across Europe has been wildly success. We’ve visited 13 countries so far and accumulated over 2,500 miles on my brand new car (never before used before this trip). I’m writing this post from an apartment which we are renting in Albania, where four of us are staying, but the journey started with only myself and my brother as we set off from our hometown of Newcastle.

Our first port of call was Brighton, where we went for a snoop around with my friend Emilija. We had several hours to kill before my bro and I caught a ferry to France at 1am that same night. I’d never been to Brighton and I was excited to see what all the buzz within the city was about. I didn’t feel disappointed as we made our way through the vibrant streets and reveled in just how happy every seemed. My brother went off for a few hours and met a friend of his and when he returned to meet us at the car later that evening it was safe to say he was rather hammered.

I then had the absolute pleasure of driving to Dover with a drunken jabbering chimp in the passenger seat.

I really thought we were about to miss our ferry given the RIDICULOUSLY complicated diversions that were all over the town and leading to the ferry terminal – but alas, we made it with 5 minutes to spare and just as my tiredness really started to kick in we were on our way across to the continent.

I managed to catch an hours sleep on the ferry, laying across two seats with a huge gap between them. It wasn’t the best, but it helped. It was then a four and half hour drive to Hagen, where my friend Olivia was waiting for

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us at 8am. I owe Olivia a massive thank-you. Not only did she prepare a delicious breakfast for my brother and I but she also allowed us both to have a much nap in her bed.

After forcing myself to wake up at 2pm (3 hours after closing my eyes), we set about making our way across Germany and into the Czech Republic. Thank God for the distinct lack of speed limits on the German Autobahns as this at least made this particular leg of the journey a really fun drive. I must admit though, I was flashed three times by speed camera’s (during the rare stretches of road that do have a limit) but I’m resting relatively safe in the knowledge that from previous experience, the fines never make their way back to the UK.

We arrived at my friend’s house in Krasnice, which is an hour past Prague, shortly after 9pm – he was waiting for us and welcomed us into his home for an hour or so and fed us. Peter’s parents had instructed him to book us into a nearby hotel so I’m extremely grateful for their generosity. I’ve never slept so well in my life. Almost 1,500 miles in just under 24 hours… not bad when you factor in the trip to Brighton and the nap at Olivia’s!

The next morning after breakfast we packed up our things, bundled the tent into the car and the three of us (Peter joined us) set off south to Austria. We needed to make our way to Graz where we would be meeting a girl called Safaa who I’d spoken to for a few days over Facebook. Safaa responded to a status I wrote in a Nomad group where I was looking for people who might want to join us on our planned route. Before we made it to Graz we stopped off in Vienna and had a good look around the Austrian capital.

 

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The architecture in Vienna was out of this world and just like many other cities, such as Paris or Brussels, it seemed that beauty lay on at every turn. It was also an awesome opportunity to snap a travel picture with my brother… something I’ve wanted to do for quite some time!

I was really impressed with Vienna and would have loved to have spent a little longer there, but you will notice there the common theme from this road trip is that everywhere we visit is pretty much just a brief stop off on our whistle stop tour.

Once back on the road we made our way to Graz which was another two hour journey. We checked into a hotel for the night and were met with one of the most complex self-service check-in systems I’ve ever seen. We then had a couple of beers and hit the sack ready for the next days journey into Slovenia.

When we woke we swung by where Safaa had been staying and made our introductions. Once all the formalities were out the way we headed on down to Piran where we’d be spending the night. This coastal town was so picturesque and the marina looked really impressive in the baking mid-afternoon sun. We stopped for some lunch in the town square after what felt like an eternity spent searching for a parking space.

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We then headed over to a nearby campsite and pitched up for the night. It was a little cozy in our rather small tent, but it was comfortable nonetheless. Thankfully I’d purchased a roll mat that can also be slightly inflated – bliss.

After pitching up we drove for half an hour and crossed the border into north Italy to have some pizza in Trieste. As we were wondering through the streets trying to find a place to eat we approached a girl and asked if she knew any good local eateries. Her name was Luna and not only did she have a good suggestion but she opted to join us and we spent several hours chatting away and enjoying great food. The pizza in Italy really is awesome – who knew?!

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The next day we planned to travel a great chunk of distance and make it all the way from Slovenia down to Montenegro. Seeing as this was going to be a ten hour stint, we opted to stop off in Split, Croatia and spend a while soaking up the sun by the beach. Unfortunately we ended up picking a spot which was massively touristy, which wasn’t really my scene, but it was still enjoyable to some extent. Croatia itself has so much beauty though and I have plans to return there next month so I wasn’t too concerned about not spending enough time there.

We split from Split at around 5pm and headed south into Bosnia and Herzegovina. We were stopped on the border and instructed to pay for a green card, which is used for insurance in each most of the Balkan countries. After some persuasion we managed to persuade the policewoman to let us go through without the insurance after explained that we were only passing through. Once through the border we quickly discovered that there highway was closed and we proceeded to drive through some pretty epic countryside, heading south all the time. As night set in, finding our way became way more challenging, especially given that there was no GPS signal. Thankfully a random hotel at the side of a country lane (equipped with a full pig on a spit roast) offered us a beacon of hope as their staff members pointed us in the direction of Montenegro.

We crossed the border through the back door – a run down rickety shack where officials marched around looking stern (as always). Again we were ordered to pay for a green card, but this time we weren’t so successful with convincing them to let us off. Once through the border we somehow managed to find our way to our airbnb which we’d booked for the night. We felt terrible about arriving at 1am, but after an extremely full day we were all pretty glad to be able to rest our weary heads – although for some reason we decided to stay awake until 4am playing yes/no games and solving creepy mysteries!

When we woke (which was this morning) we made our way into Albania, crossing yet another border and being ordered to pay for another green card yet again. This time we argued more as the fee was €50 and really didn’t want to have to pay so much. For the first time in my life I was part of a bribe… after several strong hints from the man leaning into my driver side window – all of which I seemed completely oblivious to, he finally put it into words that we should give him some money and he would ‘make a phone call’ so that we could pass through the border without buying a green card. We slipped the official the €10 and he then told us to pull away ‘slowly’ – at least, that’s what I was told he said after Peter translated it from Italian to English (no idea why he was speaking Italian to us when we were in Albania?!). The whole situation was both exhilarating and nerve-wracking but totally worth it when considering the saving we made. What we didn’t know, however, was that Albania is swarming with police officers and we were incredibly lucky not to be pulled over. In fact, at one stage, the car behind us was flagged over for a document check, and we narrowly avoided having to go about bribing an official a second time.

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Now we’re at our apartment for the night and I must say I’m glad to say we’re not heading out early in the morning again and will instead spend two nights at this place. Next is Macedonia and then onto Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia – all before making our way back across Europe to Amsterdam where we’ll meet Eugene and start another road-trip! God I love summer!

 

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