Oh hey there!! It´s been a while… but I´m still here, and after an embarrassingly long break in updates (summer is always crazy and this little blog of mine gets a bit neglected) I am back, as if nothing happened, to continue sharing our campervan journey through southern and eastern Europe.
We were apprehensive about Montenegro and particularly Albania for a few reasons. First of all, was the fact that we were travelling with our dog and by entering these 2 countries, we were exiting the European Union. No big deal there, as he has all his paper work and doggie passport in order. But we had been warned that it could be tricky re-entering the EU with a pet and since we were headed to Greece, this was a concern.
And secondly, because without fail, every single person we told about our plans to drive through Albania told us not to do it. None of these people had ever been in Albania before so in retrospect I´m not sure why we gave their unfounded opinions as much importance as we did, but retrospect is 20/20, as they say. Albania is a poor country, but people are friendly and we really didn´t feel like it deserves the reputation it has. The coastline in particular is beautiful, especially the southern stretch, and as yet undeveloped, but this is already changing and it seems like the inevitable expansions are going to happen unchecked and pretty soon it will be over-developed like the south of Portugal and Spain… generic and nasty. Which would be a pity, as this coastline is gorgeous, and I hope that I´m wrong. Only time will tell.
We almost didn´t go to Croatia, as we´d heard that wild camping is illegal and that the authorities are super strict and take some sort of peverse pleasure in rooting out campers and making life miserable. But then we decided just to go and see how it was, and if it sucked, we´d just keep moving through quickly. And OMG am I glad that we decided to go because since leaving Portugal and her glorious Atlantic coastline, this was the first place that we stopped and looked at each other and declared that “we could live here”. Croatia is incredibly beautiful, in a way that defies description. I am writing this almost a year after our time here and I want to go back so badly that it is actually painful… I look at these photos and feel a knot of longing in my stomach.
We arrived in September so the holiday crowds were thinning out, which I think helped as the beaches weren´t as crowded and although we took pains to hide ourselves at night, we didn´t encounter any horrible authorities who wanted to fine us and on some of the more remote islands, people really didn´t care and we didn´t even bother to hide. We also stayed with our amazing friend Irene in Zagreb, who introduced us to her 2 gorgeous little girls, fed us copious amounts of red wine and took us out for the best (literally, THE BEST) squid ink risotto I´ve ever eaten… and I don´t even really like risotto, so thats really saying something. Irene was also responsible for getting us hooked on Game of Thrones by downloading all of the series onto our computer for us to watch on the road, so all in all Croatia was a life changing experience. I would go back in a heart-beat and cannot imagine that we almost didn´t visit.
Several of these photos were originally published in an article I wrote for Mr Hudson, you can see it HERE.
Romania was so many things… it was beautiful but neglected, exciting but frustrating, so full of potential but with the unmistakable sense that it´s just not quite there… yet. By far the poorest country up until that point, it was quite the stark contrast from Slovenia and the tiny bit of Hungary that we saw while passing through. Infrastructure is lacking and Romania´s public struggles with corruption on every level have resulted in very few improvements since joining the European Union.
The people, however, were wonderful. We had quite a bit of van trouble while in Romania, some of it due to our complete lack of mechanical knowledge (really simple stuff that we just didn’t know) and some more complex things involving GPL gas tanks and potentially dangerous business. On both occasions, we were helped by everyone… friends, perfect strangers, long-suffering mechanics who came home early from fishing trips to rescue the random Portuguese people parked in front of their house. As is typical of countries where people have little, they are more than willing to share the little that they have, in stark comparison to the van troubles we had in richer, more developed countries (ahem, France…) where no-body could be bothered to even offer a hand, never mind go out of their way to help. Highlights of Romania include seeing our friend Dan (who, together with his dog, travelled with us in the van for a few weeks), visiting the Salina Turda, an undeground salt mine converted into a theme park… bizarre, amazing, unlike anything else I´ve ever seen… and driving the Transfagarasan pass, which has been something I´ve wanted to do for years and years.
Luis made a few videos during our trip, and I really like the Romanian one, you can see it HERE.
Murano and Burano are two smaller islands that are part of the Venice archipelago and historically, Morano is where the glass-blowing factories are located and Burano was where the fishermen lived. Because of this, they are both much simpler in terms of architecture, the working class neighourhoods, so to speak, and quite a contrast to the sumptuous regality of Venice proper. Burano in particular is very pretty and colourful and, to our relief, much less crowded. People actually still live here, the fountains have water, the pace is much more laid-back and we spent a blissful afternoon wandering the tiny lanes and sitting with our feet in the water.
Murano and Burano are both easily accessible with the vaporetto public transport system, if you get a 2 or 3 day pass you can then travel as much as you like during the time period, its definitely the cheapest way to do it. Italy is also very dog friendly, like most of Europe (Portugal being a notable exception… 😦 ) and dogs are more than welcome on public transport as long as they are well behaved, so travelling with Zé was no stress.
You guys, I am so stoked… Fathom recently released their annual list of 24 best travel photographers and I made the 2017 selection! I had totally not expected this and stumbled upon it about a week after they announced the list and I am super proud, even more so because some of the photographers I most admire (and secretly wish to be) are also on the list. To be recognised on the same page as Dan Tom, Nicole Franzen and Alex Strohl (!!!!) is just beyond exciting so I just had to share this and brag a little bit. 🙂
Check out the entire selection as there is some really incredible work by photographers from all over the world, definitely worth a browse.
The French Alps was interesting for a variety of reasons… first off, because the entire time we were in France, the Football world cup was on and by the time we got to the final, Portugal against… wait for it… FRANCE, while we were in France, you can imagine that the locals were somewhat ambiguous about us being Portuguese. Before we wiped the floor with them, the French were polite but quite smug in their convictions that their team would beat the Portuguese. But then, they didn´t… and their smug politeness vanished into thin air. So we decided to head to Italy, where people are less polite but at least you know where you stand.
To get to Italy, you either need to pay a fortune to use one of the tunnels that cuts through the mighty Alps, or you travel one of the many steep mountain passes. Since we are not rich and were, at the time, quite unemployed, we went with the mountain pass option, via Mont Cenis, which was beautiful but very cold (even in July, peak of summer). We decided to spend the night on the shores of Lac Cenis surrounded by brown cows and decend into Italy the next morning. Luckily we didn´t choose too remote a spot to spend the night and had the company of a few other camper vans, as it was the coldest night of the entire trip (it snowed on the mountain tops around us) and the next morning, we couldn´t get the van to start. Thank goodness for jumper cables and friendly neighbours!