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Departure Day


View A Truck Trip, Still With No Name, But With Lots of Destinations on sagbucks's travel map.

Day 1 Thursday 25 May 2017 Amersham / Freyming ( Lorraine, France )
517 km in Europe plus Amersham to Dover Mileage

  • Departure day dawns and it is a glorious early summer's morning. We know because we are up with the birds & on the road by 5.30 am heading down to Dover. We manage to catch an earlier ferry than anticipated. That's a bonus - every hour hanging around is wasted time and tiring for the driver.
  • AG is determined to drive all the way. His decision is based on his firm belief that SG's driving ability is dismal. Neither worth the risk nor stress. SG has no say in the matter but benefits from better views as a passenger & so does not complain. She does however take her driving license, just in case.
  • At border control UK, we are asked why we went to Iran in 2014. We have visa stamps in our passport which tell the story. It caused us hassle and extra expense to travel to the USA last year. And now again our visit is flagged up. The British and American authorities really have a thing or two about Iran. And yet SG cannot recall that any recent terrorist attack has been linked directly to an Iranian citizen. Actually more Brits should go and see Iran for themselves and meet with its people. Dialogue between normal folk and not just politicians might be the key to future relationships.
  • The English Channel is like a millpond. Even SG does not bother with seasickness medication.
  • Deck 5, Green stairs, Bay 64 - remember it well. It's where we park the truck on the ferry. Just prior to arrival in Calais, AG heads down below deck while SG goes for a comfort stop ( such a polite American expression ) . But trying to find the truck and AG almost gives SG her first panic attack. Images of AG having to drive off the ferry without his navigator, still hopelessly lost in the bowels of the ferry, spring uncomfortably to mind. AG would not be impressed with his navigator losing the way so soon - albeit her own.
  • As we drive through the ferry exit onto terra firma we get that delicious feeling of an imminent adventure. Our favourite type - a road adventure to far flung places.
  • It's a gorgeous day this side of the channel too.
  • AG has 507 km of French motorway driving today. It is also a long weekend in Europe. Near to Calais, traffic is heavy heading north to the UK. Not sure why. Fortunately we are on an easterly trajectory and it is still only Thursday. As is usually the case, our route in France is empty and clear. Almost a pleasure to drive. It would be difficult to feel the same about our English motorways, especially this Bank Holiday weekend.
  • We drive a familiar route until just after Reims. Familiar because every year we drive it once or twice to head to the French Alps. Skiing is a family passion.
  • After Reims we turn off our 'normal road' to head on the A4 towards Metz and beyond to our destination for the night - Freyming, a little town literally downhill from the German border and close to the city of Saarbrucken. Actually less of a physical border, more imaginary line.
  • There are no stops scheduled today, no sightseeing envisaged. SG is not sure why AG picked this little place to overnight - probably because in mileage terms it represents the end of his driving day. For sure we could never comfortably contemplate such mileage on UK roads.
  • On the motorway we begin to pass by historically notable names. Verdun, for ever associated with brutal trench warfare between the French and Germans during World War 1. It was only with the help of American forces that France was finally able to push back German troops in September 1918. During a 2 year period over 800000 soldiers were killed in and around Verdun.
  • The well marked route amongst the Verdun battlefields must surely be a similar pilgrimage as are the Normandy locations for the Brits. And to think that De Gaulle later withdrew from NATO after World War 2. Ungrateful or what?!
  • The next major city signposted is Metz, annexed by Germany in 1871 and not returned until the end of World War 1. Apparently it is a 'dignified city' with a Gothic Cathedral that was built between 1220 & 1522 ( major projects like cathedrals used to take centuries to finish ) which boasts some of the finest stained glass windows in France. AG obviously did not consider this to be a sufficiently enticing pull factor.
  • Our B & B for the night is owned by Jean Pierre, a man of French / Polish origin. His parents came from Poland after World War 2 to work in the nearby coal mines. He speaks French, German, English & Polish. His massage parlour downstairs is apparently closed Thursdays. Rooms are comfortable and en suite and there are shared kitchen facilities.
  • But we opt to dine out and Jean Pierre recommends us a local pizzeria - with a difference. L'Estaminet as the restaurant is called, specialises not only in pizza but also quiche & savoury tarts. The pastry bases are made in house and are deliciously thin and crispy. It turns out to be a little gem that is evidently well known in town. By the time we leave, it is full. During summer months ( and whoopee that includes end of May) customers eat outside in the covered garden. It is wonderful to be dining outdoors again.
  • Quiche Lorraine now takes on a new significance for SG. The folk of Lorraine may have thought up that most famous combination of cream, cheese onion and bacon, but quiche is actually a French variant of a German recipe dating back to the 16 century. It began as a bread dough crust filled with left over ingredients, the basis of which was eggs and cream.
  • Real men don't eat quiche. But SG does - one that is served with spinach and hard boiled eggs. AG chooses pizza, a very large one, which he manages to polish off.
  • It's been a long day and we retire early. Our room has a velux window which must be left open this warm balmy evening. We both decide to wear eye blinds which must look very attractive! SG also wears ear plugs to escape the inevitable dawn chorus. AG simply has to sleep on his good ear. It is surely the only advantage of being deaf in one ear.

We are sailing.... across the Channel

We are sailing.... across the Channel

AG enjoying a local beer at L'Estaminet

AG enjoying a local beer at L'Estaminet

Quiche Lorraine is speciality of the Lorraine region

Quiche Lorraine is speciality of the Lorraine region

Posted by sagbucks 13:28 Comments (0)

Exploring Vosges

Feeling Guilty About Being in Our Truck

Day 3 Saturday May 27 2017
Xonrupt-Longemer to Landsberg am Lech 517 km

  • What bliss to be woken by an alarm set at a respectable time 7-45 a.m. It means AG and SG have had a long overdue & untinterrupted sleep. With house sale, trip planning and other 'stuff', it's been a while.
  • Its another gorgeous day. We really are being spoilt here in Northern Europe. But within just over a week we'll be in Turkey, so it's good acclimatisation.
  • We continue our meanderings on minor roads through the forested hills of the Vosges in Alsace, heading mainly SE. We climb lots of cols ( high spots).
  • It is only 10 a.m. but there is already a hive of outdoor activity: cyclists, pony trekkers, walkers, motorcyclists are out and about in impressive numbers. This region offers lots of beautiful curves for motorcyclists to navigate and a tough day's riding in the saddle or walking by foot.
  • We follow a scenic detour called Route des Cretes. We soon have the feeling of being at the top of the world, the Alsace world at least. The fine weather means the views are outstanding and the wind non existent.
  • We reach the highest point of our journey - Col du Grand Ballon, altitude 1424m. It is the summit of the Vosges area. Guide books warn of adverse weather and strong winds. They do not however mention the swarms of midges that we encounter as soon as we stop the truck for the obligatory summit photo. The air is thick with them & It's not a pleasant experience.
  • Outside a shop selling local honey ( many different pollen types with presumably unique flavours ) there is a rudimentary collection of apiary tools & equipment. SG momentarily mistakes the clothing on sale for an anti midge suit rather than bee protection gear. Marketed differently they might even sell a few of those netted hats at this time of year.
  • The road' summit is a popular gathering point for those who have just made some substantial effort to get here. The cafe is full of cyclists, hikers and motorcyclists alike. We feel guilty having expended no energy, used no muscle power but rather arrived sat comfortably in our Landcruiser truck.
  • But we would be kidding ourselves not to realise that our truck trip does require a form of both endurance & stamina - to cope with: long & consecutive days of driving in hot climates, a massive agenda of sightseeing, 9 weeks in each other's company and in confined space, a different bed and bathroom almost every night, and lastly but not least, uncertain & unfamiliar nutrition. Yes we need to be fit physically & mentally for our journey ahead.
  • As we descend from the summit towards the pretty vineyard village of Uffholz we pass by the Hartmanswillerkopf War Memorial (HWK). It's sometimes easy to overlook that there was significant World War 1 hostility that involved no British soldiers and which is not therefore a primary point of military pilgrimage for Brits. This site of fierce trench warfare between 1915-6 in particular is also known as Vieil Armand. 30000 French & German soldiers died here, with another 30000 being wounded or taken prisoner.
  • In 1921 it was declared an historic monument. Bodies from other nearby battlefields and temporary war graves were exhumed and brought here. There are 12000 bodies of unknown soldiers also laid to rest in the crypt here. Imagine such a number. There are 3 chapels on site - Catholic, Protestant and Jewish. The HWK is located in an area that back in 1915 had been annexed by Germany since 1871.
  • Not surprisingly HWK has been dedicated to Franco German friendship and there are new (EU sponsored) facilities being built. It is busy with visitors, both French & German. If you are passing it is worth a quick stop.
  • The rest of our journey to Landsberg am Lech is on motorway. Just after Mulhouse, thanks to the Schengen Zone, we pass imperceptibly into Germany and cross the mighty Rhine - Germany's main river artery.
  • Almost counter intuitively we are first heading NE again towards Strasbourg before continuing East from Karlsruhe along the A8 direction Munich. We are impressed with the road infrastructure, both current and being built. We pass by countless zones of light industry & warehousing. But nicely so, interspersed with long stretches of woodland and farms. It is a prosperous part of the world. No wonder Germany is the powerhouse of the EU.
  • Traffic is heavy but flowing. The Germans are escaping for the weekend too. It has been difficult to find accommodation for this evening - most Gasthaüser stipulated a minimum of a 2 night stay. However we are most definitely on the move and do not wish to linger. We have also booked tonight's restaurant, Nonnenbraü - we have been allocated the 8 p.m sitting. No choice was given. They must be busy.
  • We decide to walk to and for our supper. It's important to get some exercise whenever we can. AG navigates the way on maps.me ( a great navigational app for your mobile that uses GPS and is FREE! ). A 40 minute walk is indicated since our hotel is on the outskirts of new suburbs whilst our chosen restaurant is on the other side of the Old Town.
  • Nestled beside the River Lech it is a very attractive place indeed. It's a fine, balmy evening, riverside cafes and bistros are buzzing with people relaxing at the start of the weekend.
  • We find the Nonnenbraü at the top of a steep hill. The garden is full, the nicely decorated interior empty. Fortunately we have reserved a table and we too dine outdoors. Why wouldn't you after so many months of winter.
  • As already mentioned it is asparagus season and in this part of the world they seem to revere the rather insipid looking white variety. There is a special asparagus menu which SG samples - asparagus soup ( creamy white colour) with toasted almonds, followed by grilled fish with more asparagus ( also white ). AG chooses soup as well and then gets stuck into some burger or other. Even he is not sure what kind. We drink a red Austrian wine, recommended by the restaurant owner. He seems to take pride in his wine cellar and nowadays rates Austrian wines. The wine is a mixture of Syrah, Cabernet & Merlot grapes and is very palatable.
  • We opt to walk back to our hotel. Dusk is merging into night. We don't have a torch so we stick to the main roads. In Germany street lights remain switched on and pedestrian crossings are well illuminated. ( SG is having an ongoing 'dialogue' with Bucks County Council - they switch off street lights to save money. And a zebra crossing on the very busy A404 has had a non functioning pedestrian light since before Christmas ).
  • Did SG mention that we have changed hotel rooms? It seems the norm that we are allocated rooms on the noisy side. Maybe it's the booking.com price we pay? Despite specifically requesting a quiet, calm location even at the expense of a view. Frankly we'd rather face a brick wall than be kept awake by traffic. From now on SG must get into routine of first checking rooms before unloading luggage. At Landhotel Erdhart we have to pay an additional 16 euros for peace & quiet.

We have That Top of the World Feeling

We have That Top of the World Feeling

Nearly at the Highest Road Point in the Vosges

Nearly at the Highest Road Point in the Vosges

Some Folk Work Hard to Get Here

Some Folk Work Hard to Get Here

It's Season for Midges & This is the Kit You Need!

It's Season for Midges & This is the Kit You Need!

Posted by sagbucks 13:40 Comments (0)

Driving to Graz in Time for Glockenspiel

Scenic Motorway but Don’t Forget to Purchase a Vignette

Day 4 Sunday, May 28 2017
Landsberg am Lech to Graz 475 km

  • Today we are heading via Munich to Salzburg and then to Graz. There is no sightseeing arranged until we reach Graz where SG takes over the agenda. AG controls the car and driving, SG the accommodation, food and tourism.
  • SG is still getting to grips with the truck systems. Every nook & cranny within the truck interior is filled with something essential. Where have we packed .....? for instance washing liquid, clothes line & pegs? The dirty laundry bag is filling quickly and fine warm evenings permit a small laundry session overnight.
  • As for our daily routine before setting off to a new destination - well a full tank of diesel helps, bottles filled with water & juice, snacks easily accessible and a picnic lunch ready in the truck fridge. German supermarkets are closed Sundays so we stocked up with some basic provisions yesterday evening before checking into our hotel.
  • Then using 2 different satnavs we input the various coordinates of the day's journey ahead. This has been part of AG's preparation. He has verified coordinates of all accommodation booked, of places of interest en route and major junctions where there is a crucial turning to make. We also have, for visual reference and verification, good old paper maps. Our entire intended route across Europe, Turkey and into Georgia Armenia & Georgia has been marked up in highlight pen by AG. Really how can navigator lose her way?!
  • The nature of our road adventures means that we can explore pittoresque, significant and historic routes. Unintentionally we find that we are now at a point on the so called Romantic Route / Romantische Straße. This is a 350 km route that winds its way through the forests and mountains of Baden- Würtemberg and Bavaria. A very lovely part of Germany. Würzburg marks the start and Füssen in the Alps it's end point. It might be a nice road to drive in a small group of classic cars. We make a mental note for a future plan.
  • It's good to have plans - some never happen, some need to be changed and some,like this truck trip to Georgia, only take place because there was a plan in the first place.
  • Landsberg am Lech has some historical significance too. It was an important point on the Via Claudia Augusta, a Roman trade route that connected Italy to Augsburg in Germany. And it's why a bridge was first built here in 12 century to span the River Lech.
  • This town also has a certain 20 century notoriety. After a trial lasting almost a month Adolf Hitler was sentenced to 5 years incarceration in the Landsberg prison for his involvement in the violent Munich Putsch in November 1923. His crime? Treason. For some reason he was released within 9 months ( good behaviour?! ) but he had time to write Mein Kamf whilst in prison here. As the Nazi movement developed and as Hitler's National Socialist party grew in power and influence, Landsberg am Lech was regarded as destination for Nazi pilgrimage & the party faithful. The only concentration camp to be located on German soil was built on the outskirts of Landsberg am Lech towards the end of World War 2.
  • Wow, a seemingly insignificant place but with such history, good & bad. You just never know. And certainly when AG selected it as a stop over he had no idea. Only the knowledge that it sits near the confluence of several major motorways and had a room at an inn.
  • We may be travelling motorway today but it is a very scenic stretch that leads from Munich via Salzburg to Graz. Alpine pastures, stunning villages & churches, and snow capped mountains in the distance. Oh and the beautiful , where there is much sailing activity this fine holiday weekend.
  • Crossing the German Austrian border just before Salzburg is not seamless despite Schengen. There is much traffic queuing to enter Germany - not sure why. Lorries are parked up roadside in a long line. SG suspects that there is a curfew on HGV travel on Sundays in this part of Europe. How sensible to enforce one day when cars have the roads to themselves.
  • There is also a sign announcing the sale of Vignettes for the Austrian road system. Germany has been free but not so Austria. After our experience on our London - Sydney trip when through ignorance & lack of language knowledge we failed to do so in Hungary, we are careful not to infringe national laws. In Hungary we were confronted with first a bribe of 250 euros and later a fine of 100 euros. An expensive mistake.
  • We purchase the cheapest available vignette of 10 euros which allows us travel on Austrian roads for 10 consecutive days. Actually we are only spending one night in Graz, and on our return end July, one night in Innsbruck. But there is no offer for 2 days driving.
  • We discover the vignette is not the end of the charging story. We later pay 5 euros to travel through a series of tunnels - on the motorway! And further on, yet another tunnel toll of 8.50 Euros. Bring lots of euro cash if you come to Austria.
  • Not for the first time SG wonders why on earth we cannot charge foreign vehicles arriving at a British port, a vignette of a certain amount to help fund our roads. It would dispel the very real sense of injustice that we must pay abroad but those coming to Britain by road, drive for free at the British taxpayer's expense.
  • Comfort stops are expensive in Austria too. AG and I have to pay 1 euro each for the pleasure!
  • We end up seeing more of Austria than we intend and drive more km than estimated. We get lost. A joint effort. Satnavs, both of them instruct departure from the A8 but the blue motorway signs for Graz contradict. Mistrusting the satnavs, we follow the signs. And then annoyingly the signage runs out. No more mention of Graz. It is evident we should have listened to satnav. We cannot turn around because of the traffic queues in the other direction. There's nothing for it but to follow an alternative but longer route. The paper map comes in handy in giving us a visual perspective to our mistake. We decide to follow satnav in future dilemmas, especially when both are indicating the same route. Never mind about road signs for goodness sake.
  • We arrive in Graz around 4. The modern outskirts of this city are nothing to write home about. So SG won't! We locate our hotel in the old town area thanks to a very large elevated sign - so prominent we wonder how it was approved by Unesco World Heritage officials.
  • However the Kunsthotel is owned by influential people - Red Bull, as in the energy drink & Formula 1 Racing Team. It's name 'Art Hotel' is self evident as soon as you enter. There are original pieces of art hung on every available bare wall. Apparently the collection is not permanent - the owner(s) rotates the artwork between his numerous houses, offices & hotels.
  • We unload the truck and then entrust it to the parking skills of the concierge. It's expensive to bring a vehicle into the old town - parking for the night is 18 euros. The truck is too high to fit in most underground carparks. The concierge has a compromise solution. But since we're paying 18 euros, we know it's legal.
  • We plan to do a self guided walking tour tomorrow morning before leaving for Zagreb. This evening we wish to watch the 18.00 performance of the Graz Glockenspiel ( other performance times are @ 11 a.m. & 3 p.m). Then we plan an aperitif in a good place to watch the world go by, followed by a steak supper at El Gaucho. Fearing the quality of cuisine further down the road, we figure it a good idea to build up some nutritional reserves now.
  • The Glockenspiel is somewhat underwhelming. At 6 p.m , 2 figures clad in traditional costume dance to 3 different bell melodies. But their scope of movement is limited and the show a little tedious. We have been better examples of Glockenspiel in Munich & Prague.
  • On the other hand our steak experience at El Gaucho is excellent. Argentinian beef is simply the best!
  • Back at the hotel our room is quiet because it does indeed overlook a brick wall. Management have noted our request. Then we realise we can hear church bells chiming on the half hour. There's just no escape from noise in a city environment. We'd better find our ear plugs.

Graz Glockenspiel in Motion & in Tune

Graz Glockenspiel in Motion & in Tune

Posted by sagbucks 13:46 Comments (0)

Austria, Slovenia & Croatia in One Day

Moving on down through Central Europe

Day 5 Monday, May 29 2017
Graz to Zagreb / 185 km

  • it is our youngest daughter's birthday - 29 years old - Happy Birthday Hannah!
  • The Schlossberg Hotel is very comfortable and well located for exploring the Altstadt of Graz. It is also not particularly cheap (nor is Austria generally). The breakfast, if not included in your room rate, costs 18 euros. We are determined to do it justice. It is a very expansive buffet with freshly squeezed orange juice, eggs cooked to your taste and a full range of meats, cheese & patisseries.
  • The hotel has a large roof garden from where the city views are far flung. The art theme continues from the walls into the gardens. There is ample seating to enjoy a morning coffee or a sundowner if you have time.
  • Is Graz worth its UNESCO World Heritage status? We have seen towns & cities both more picturesque and more quaint. Graz is however a fine example of Central European urban grandeur influenced by the patronage of the various rulers of the mighty Hapsburg Empire between the Middle Ages through the Renaissance period & up until the 18 th century. Remnants of fortification up on the Schlossberg at the back of our hotel actually date from the 11th century. The old inner city is full of narrow streets, Italian-style palazzi, impressive public buildings like the Rathaus as well as smaller shady courtyards where you are spoilt for choice by bars, restaurants and lots of ice cream shops.
  • This morning we indulge in an hour or so of city sightseeing before heading to Zagreb in Croatia.

Mindful of the need for exercise we opt to climb the 260 steps that lead up to the famous Graz Clock Tower ( built in 1588 and spared from French destruction in 1809 ) from where there are great views of the Altstadt skyline. This clock chimes 101 strikes at 7, 12 and 19.00 hours - SG now realises what woke her at 7 this morning. The clock tower is more or less directly above the Schlossberg Hotel.

  • The steps were built by Russian prisoners of war between 1914-8 and are colloquially referred to as Russenstiege or Kriegstiege ( Russian / War Steps ) . If you don't fancy the exercise you can ascend the hill either by a funicular or glass lift. The choice is yours. We descend by funicular - since losing his hearing in one ear, AG has also lost some of his balance when on narrow sheer paths.
  • There is a concession fare on the funicular for over 60's so we think we qualify - but it transpires it applies only if you are Austrian and have the necessary proof of age. Our passports count for nothing. SG is annoyed - she reckons that in the UK our concession rates at museums , art galleries etc apply with proof of age, not citizenship. We are so generous to foreign visitors.
  • What a shame that the glorious steep tiled roofs and globe shaped church spires of previous centuries are 'marred' by modern architecture. Maybe this is why the city needs its UNESCO status. To stop more carbuncles being built in and around the Altstadt.
  • We also ensure that we see the old painted house ( Gemaltes Haus ) just up the road from our hotel on Herren Gasse, near to the impressive Landhaus also located on Herrengasse. The facade is completely covered with frescoes created by Johann Mayer in 1742.
  • Austria is back to work. They enjoyed a 4 day Ascension holiday which spanned Thursday Friday and the weekend. That's probably the reason that traffic was so heavy yesterday on certain stretches of the motorway.
  • As we leave Graz heading through Slovenia and on to Croatia. Signage makes us aware that we must also buy a vignette for our 1 hour use of the Slovenian motorway system. The cheapest option is valid for 7 days and costs 15 euros. A bargain for a week but less so for an hour!
  • Mind you the stretch of road we drive is beautiful, smooth, inky black tarmac of the kind we rarely see in the UK. Work is ongoing to widen the carriageway. At least our vignette money is being wisely spent.
  • It's not a question of Rip Off Europe that irritates us, it's the fact that UK authorities seem reluctant to establish or enforce any form of efficient money collecting system, even when it is legally due. No it is Rip Off Britain that annoys SG - for ripping off the British tax payer. The Europeans have the right attitude - collect money from all legitimate sources and establish the necessary infrastructure to do so.
  • There is passport control at the Slovenia / Croatian border. We must show our passports twice. We check whether we need a vignette here too. Yippee, Croatia has free driving or rather it chooses to operate a toll system on certain roads. We later pay 9 euros for about 50 km of usage.
  • We arrive in Zagreb early afternoon. Our hotel the Jaegerhorn lies on the edge of the old town also known as Upper Gornji Grad. There is no parking in this part of town but we have been allocated a space in a vacant building lot some 5 minutes walk away. There are security gates so we are ok with the truck being temporarily out of sight.
  • Zagreb has that Capital city feel to it. It also has an extensive network of trams. Walking around you have to be careful of not only the trams but also the tramlines. You can easily trip.
  • We have been here once before, towards the end of Rally Med 2012. But at that time it was a cold wet November's evening and we had no time for sightseeing. We remember very little. What a contrast to today.
  • We spend a short afternoon doing a whizz stop tour of some of major sights in the old town. The cathedral, a section of the old city wall, St Mark's Square and environs, the Stone Gate and finally Marshal Tito Square which has the reputation of being one of the prettiest Squares in Zagreb. Up by St Mark's Square you will find two museums which get a lot of feedback on Trip Advisor. We decide the Museum of Broken Relationships is not for us but we do pay to visit the Museum of Croatian Naive Art. This charming genre of art at last gained professional recognition in France in the 19 th century and then spread worldwide. SG has seen similar exhibitions in USA, China & Japan and is interested to see the Croatian version. AG is dragged along.
  • The Stone Gate was the Eastern gate of the medieval city of Zagreb. Legend informs that in 1731 a terrible fire destroyed everything around the gate except a 17th century painting of the Virgin & Child. People who believe in its magical powers of survival come here to pray in the wooden pews beside the archway and dedicate candles and flowers. This afternoon the gateway is also busy with tourists for whom the visit has a religious significance.
  • Oh and we also detour to see a bronze tribute to Nikola Tesla (1856 - 1943) who was a very famous electrical engineer and Croatian born. Fortunately he lived a long & productive life, the fruits of which benefit us to this day. There is a technical museum named in Tesla's honour in Zagreb - but SG fears it might be too high brow!
  • AG covets the ownership of a Tesla - the American all electric car which is both incredibly fast and beautiful ( in a car sort of way ). Elon Reeve Musk, the owner and creator of the Tesla brand has chosen to dedicate his iconic & revolutionary car brand to a Croatian born genius.
  • We book a table for supper at Carpaccio, an Italian restaurant near our hotel ( but not a pizzeria). It offers pavement dining in a pedestrianised zone. We are becoming quickly accustomed to outside dining and hope that it may long continue. SG cannot resist sampling a glass of Croatian white wine, AG goes dry. Carpaccio is to be recommended but you should reserve ahead if you do not wish to dine indoors.

The Skyline of Graz- Old & New Roofs

The Skyline of Graz- Old & New Roofs

The German Language Seems to be Getting Easier

The German Language Seems to be Getting Easier

Das Gemaltes Haus, 3,Herren Gasse

Das Gemaltes Haus, 3,Herren Gasse

Naive Art at Zagreb Museum

Naive Art at Zagreb Museum

More Naive Art

More Naive Art

Posted by sagbucks 10:35 Comments (0)

Beograd, Former Capital of Yugoslavia & Now of Serbia

A city of underground gems

Day 6 Tuesday May 30 2017
Zagreb to Belgrade / 393 km ( written as Beograd in Roman script on maps & roadsigns )

  • A fine, if slightly hazy day. It's gradually getting hotter. At breakfast it's already 25 C. Fleeces for chilly evenings can be put away.
  • The Jägerhorn Hotel allocated to us the coolest, quietest, darkest of rooms. No bird, bell nor traffic noise. Which is amazing since the building is located right in the city centre and on the edge of the Upper Old Town. However SG has had a terrible night's sleep - fortunately and more importantly, the driver slept well. That's the very real downside of constantly being on the move and perhaps eating MSG food. Last night's risotto was served an extraordinary vivid green colour - one of the signs of MSG enhancement.
  • An instructive incident also occurred at Carpaccio last night - when the waiter brought the card machine to the table for us to pay, he had already converted the bill into £ sterling. Martin' s Money tips says NO! Don't let this happen. So we didn't. We made him void the transaction and start again in Croatian currency. Our previously jovial waiter suddenly lost his good humour. We suspect that the restaurant has a deal with their bank to encourage 'foreign' transactions. You are inevitably given a very poor exchange rate. It is a good reminder to us of how to play the card transaction game. Thank you Martin!
  • Until we have breakfast on the first floor terrace we do not realise just how convenient our hotel actually is. There appears to be a public right of way up through the lobby that leads directly to gardens at the rear and to a long flight of steps that zig zag up the rock face to the Gornji Grad of Zagreb. We recommend highly.
  • Its another motorway day that takes us SE to Serbia & its capital Beograd. The wooded countryside & pastureland is fairly flat and uninteresting. We are hoping to arrive in Belgrade early enough to do some sightseeing.
  • There is passport control leaving Croatia and entering Serbia. As always we check if we require a vignette. Once bitten twice shied. Serbia operates a toll system. There are long queues of trucks awaiting border control. The Schengen Area ( EU 's borderless zone ) must correlate with those countries within the Eurozone only. Outside the inner circle, travel is more carefully regulated.
  • Some unlucky (suspicious ) passenger vehicles are being searched inside out & upside down. It looks to be a thorough and lengthy affair.
  • Immediately past the Croatian / Serbian border the road surface becomes less pristine, more patchwork.
  • We arrive in Belgrade around 4. It is immediately noticeable from the architecture, transport infrastructure & ubiquitous graffiti that Belgrade is in a differnt league to Zagreb.
  • Our small 'design' led boutique hotel is within short walk of the Stari Grad, the older part of town. Parking of the truck is a challenge for both AG and hotel staff. It has to be parked off site.
  • Unfortunately we are too late to join the start of the free conducted walk around the old city. It happens twice daily @ 11 a.m. & 4 p.m. The meeting place is Rebublic Square behind the statue. Look out for a guide dressed in red. No prepayment or booking is required - but tips are appreciated. From our experience in other European cities - Berlin, Bucharest &. Budapest for example, the free walk offer is a great way to learn a lot about a city within a couple of hours. You then have the option of exploring in depth whatever interests you the most.
  • So from the rudimentary tourist guide map we set off on a self navigated walk up to the old fortress area. Here it is green, traffic free and you get wonderful views of the city skyline and the Rivers Sava and Danube. Belgrade sits at their confluence and this is no doubt why it has also been considered a strategic possession by the various fighting powers of Central Europe down the centuries. Belgrade has had various identities: it has belonged to the Roman, Slav, Ottoman & Habsburg empires. In 1841 it became the capital of Serbia and between 1918-2006 it was the capital of Yugoslavia.
  • Up in the Fortress Park, there are chess tables available for public use. Some are occupied - we watch a couple of matches. one between a young contender & a senior citizen. They attract quite a crowd. What a lovely idea - to offer facilities for cerebral exercise in a public area. It is just a shame that the park has an air of general neglect - rubbish strewn over the lawns and flower beds that grow only weeds.
  • We stop for refreshments at the Kalemegdan Tavern adjacent to the fortress. It is a sophisticated bar & restaurant with great views of the Danube. Sunset here would be glorious - but as usual we have no time to linger.
  • We walk back to our hotel via Republic Square where predictably there is statue of a man on a horse. Why is it that Central European cities have so many statues with an equestrian theme?! The man sitting on this horse is Crown Prince Mihailo who was leader of Serbia 1839-42 and then again between 1860-8.
  • This evening we are eating vegetarian. Trip Advisor and the hotel Mgr both recommend Radost Fina Kuhinjica , Pariska 3 . We have to search very hard to find this little gem. Appearances deceive . It is only because AG smells cooking that we venture through a non descript house door. Take a look at the photos to discover what we find inside! The exterior of the building may be shabby, even grimy, but inside there has been a transformation. There is even a little garden for outdoor dining in the summer. We love discoveries like this. It adds to our sense of adventure.
  • We ask the ( very cute ) restaurant owner about his wish for 'obscurity' which is unusual when running a business. He explains they are part of the Belgrade underground scene, always have been and prefer it that way. What this means exactly we are not sure.
  • After a reasonable meal of vegetables and very drinkable Serbian wine we go on the hunt for some 'underground' live music - Belgrade old town reputedly has quite a few. We are searching for a place called 'Basta' which Trip Advisor warns is difficult to find, giving only approximate directions. We use the GPS system of the Maps Me app to home in. A small Amstel sign advertises a gateway that leads into the gorgeous garden of Basta. Fab jazz music is playing surround sound but sadly it is not live. Come back Thursdays Fridays and the weekend and you will hear a live jazz performance. It's only Tuesday - easy to forget.

*We are recommended an alternative jazz venue in the upper old town, so off we go again. Old Belgrade looks better in the dark. It is undergoing a major renovation project and many streets are construction sites. In 5 years time this part of town (around 2 km square ) should be amazing. But right now the transition has a way to go. You can envisage how it will all turn out by walking through the pedestrianised streets of the areas already completed. It's crowded with local people eating and drinking across a huge spectrum of venues. No international chain is in evidence. No Starbucks, no KFC, no Pizzahut. Just wonderfully idiosyncratic Serbian bistros and bars.

  • We actually find a venue with live music but it is loud ( difficult for AG to cope with ) and not jazz. Instead,mindful of another long motorway drive to Sofia tomorrow, we head back to our hotel.
  • Belgrade obviously has an underworld of emerging sophistication & idiosyncratic style - you have to delve under the surface but it's there and fun to find. Little gems known to insiders, just awaiting your discovery. How we love them!

Chess Match in Fortress Park

Chess Match in Fortress Park

Republic Square Belgrade, the Inevitable Man on a Horse

Republic Square Belgrade, the Inevitable Man on a Horse

Belgrade Looks better at Night

Belgrade Looks better at Night

Many Streets in Old Town Belgrade are Building Sites

Many Streets in Old Town Belgrade are Building Sites

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