A Travellerspoint blog

May 2017

Driving to Sofia & Outer Europe

sunny 28 °C

Day 7 Wednesday, May 31 2017
Belgrade to Sofia / 394 km

  • Fine, sunny and 28 C at 10 a.m. It's becoming hotter by the day. We're getting ever closer to Turkey.
  • Despite initial reservations about Boutique Hotel Townhouse 27 ( shabby street, graffiti on the walls etc ) we actually leave able to recommend it. The staff are friendly & helpful, we have a reasonable night's sleep, there's a small coffee machine in our room and breakfast is good.
  • In fact we are mellowing towards Belgrade. We have not had sufficient opportunity to explore all the old town - the parts with grand government buildings nor its various museums & art galleries. You should stay a bit longer, especially if you come in a few years time when building work in the Old City is complete.
  • As we leave the city, there is heavy traffic heading in. Belgrade may not yet have the class of its Croatian neighbour but it does have size. It is by far the biggest city in Serbia with a population of 1.65 million and has long enjoyed capital city status.
  • We are not sure if May 31 is a significant day in the Serbian calendar but still within the old part of town, police are controlling the traffic and overriding the traffic light system. With the usual chaos that human intervention creates. Maybe some important politician (s) is expected to arrive imminently. We are glad to escape before the possible closure of the road system.
  • it's another motorway day to Sofia the capital of Bulgaria and of course a border to cross. The last one in Europe on our outward journey to Georgia. Thereafter border days will assume greater significance with the possibility of delays.
  • It's wonderful that by luck our mother tongue is the number one universally spoken language in the world. Despite what Monsieur Juncker may think or hope. Serbian is difficult to read, let alone understand. The Serbians we speak to all have an interest and ability to converse with us in English.
  • The motorway SE towards the city of Nis is good, the service restrooms clean & free. Road tolls are payable in euros and you even get change back in euros - notes & coins. It's good this eurozone system!
  • SG uses the 250 km stretch of motorway to read up on the collapse & disintegration of Yugoslavia in the early 1990's. It is complex, but recent European history. It is embarrassing that we know or remember so little: the ethnic fighting in Croatia between Serbs & Croats, the bombing of the UNESCO World Heritage city of Dubrovnic, Slobodan Milosivc, Lord Carrington, the utter failure of the European Community to negotiate a diplomatic solution, the Siege of Sarajevo, the Bosnian War and finally the intervention of UN troops to bring to an end hostilities in former Yugoslavia. SG requires all of 250 km, and more, to understand the regional tensions of this part of the world.
  • At around 250 km the motorway route to Bulgaria ends. The rest is normal single carriage road. But it is evident that new infrastructure is being built and that there will eventually be a fast road connecting the capital cities of Serbia & Bulgaria.
  • We fill up with diesel just before the Bulgarian border and pay nearly 10000 Serbian didgeridoos. Exchange rate?!
  • The Serbian / Bulgarian border means crossing into a new time zone. We are now 2 hours ahead BST, 3 hours ahead of GMT. For the first time in Europe we must also show vehicle documentation. A sensible control, don't you think?
  • We have to buy a vignette for use on the Bulgarian road system. There aren't many motorways. This vignette business - I am sure you are getting the gist of the story by now. And a good idea why SG believes that we should be doing something similar in the UK.
  • With the aid of SatNav and a decisive navigator we successfully find our way to the Sense Hotel in Sofia. It is superbly located, just a few minutes walk from the iconic Alexander Nevsky Cathedral . It also claims to be a 'design hotel'. And it is. Having lived so long in a charming 1920's house with normal fixtures & fittings, we struggle to even function the lifts. Everything requires technical intuition to function. It's a challenge for both of us - one that we have no option but to embrace!
  • We must separate from the truck. The chassis is too tall to park in the hotel underground carpark. AG has to drive it a short distance away to park.
  • The hotel has a fitness centre & swimming pool. The pool is a design feature in itself. It is essentially a 15 m stainless steel tank. SG prioritises and goes for a swim. It is sheer bliss to stretch out and do some exercise.
  • We decide to eat in this evening. We have been on the road now for 7 consecutive days and are very tired.
  • Sofia represents the first rest stop of our trip. We are spending 2 nights here. This also means a washing day. We never do hotel laundry. The beautifully designed modern bathrooms of the Sense Hotel do not lend themselves well to drying wet clothes. Hooks, door frames, shower screens are all lacking. Fortunately SG has brought a laundry kit with washing line and pegs and can improvise. Goodness knows what the cleaning staff will think when they come to clean!
  • After an average fish supper but a glass of fine Bulgarian Chardonnay ( we always drink local ) we head up to the hotel Roofbar for city views at dusk. A highly recommendable venue.

Bulgarian / Serbian Border Control

Bulgarian / Serbian Border Control

The Magnificent Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

The Magnificent Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Posted by sagbucks 13:27 Archived in Bulgaria Comments (0)

Beograd, Former Capital of Yugoslavia & Now 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 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 performances. 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!

Entrance to Our Hotel

Entrance to Our Hotel

Cerebral Exercise Facilities in Fortress Park

Cerebral Exercise Facilities in Fortress Park

Chess Match in Fortress Park

Chess Match in Fortress Park

Old Serbian Man Challenges a Student to Chess Game

Old Serbian Man Challenges a Student to Chess Game

View from Tavern Overlooking River Rhine

View from Tavern Overlooking River Rhine

Fortress Park - A Navigator's Sculpture

Fortress Park - A Navigator's Sculpture

La Belle Époque Influence, City Park Gates

La Belle Époque Influence, City Park Gates

Republic Square Belgrade, the Inevitable Man on a Horse

Republic Square Belgrade, the Inevitable Man on a Horse

Would you think this was a restaurant entrance ?

Would you think this was a restaurant entrance ?

The Interior Door to Radost Fina

The Interior Door to Radost Fina

Shabby Exterior, Wonderful Interior

Shabby Exterior, Wonderful Interior

Kitchen @ Radost Fina

Kitchen @ Radost Fina

Decor in Radost Fina Vegetarian Restaurant

Decor in Radost Fina Vegetarian Restaurant

Basta Jazz Garden  - We Try to Find it.

Basta Jazz Garden - We Try to Find it.

And Behind the Small Gate - a Little Jazz Gem

And Behind the Small Gate - a Little Jazz Gem

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

No Starbucks in Belgrade but this is Local Coffee Shop

No Starbucks in Belgrade but this is Local Coffee Shop

Local Restaurant in Old Town

Local Restaurant in Old Town

Posted by sagbucks 07:59 Archived in Serbia Comments (0)

Austria Slovenia & Croatia in One Day

Moving on down through Central Europe

sunny 26 °C

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 real freshly squeezed orange juice, eggs cooked to your taste & timing 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 spoil 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 tourists.
  • 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 SG is Rip Off Britain that annoys - for ripping off the British tax payer. The Europeans have the right attitude - collect money from all legitimate sources and put in 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

Funicular Railway in Graz up the Schlossberg

Funicular Railway in Graz up the Schlossberg

Graz a Tram City

Graz a Tram City

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

The Russian Steps that Lead Up to Schlossberg & Uhrturm

The Russian Steps that Lead Up to Schlossberg & Uhrturm

Art Work in the Hotel Gardens

Art Work in the Hotel Gardens

Artwork on hotel Walls

Artwork on hotel Walls

Pristine Tarmac on Motorway in Slovenia

Pristine Tarmac on Motorway in Slovenia

Ban Jelacic Square

Ban Jelacic Square

Bronze in Tribute to Nikola Tesla, Croatian Born Electrical Engineer

Bronze in Tribute to Nikola Tesla, Croatian Born Electrical Engineer

Ubiquitous Trailing Geraniums

Ubiquitous Trailing Geraniums

Church of St Mark

Church of St Mark

AG in front of Zagreb Funicularv

AG in front of Zagreb Funicularv

Why Would You?!

Why Would You?!

Give a Girl This Bar of Chocolate & For Sure You'll Soon Be Single

Give a Girl This Bar of Chocolate & For Sure You'll Soon Be Single

The Museum of Broken Relationships Offers Ways of Ending Them

The Museum of Broken Relationships Offers Ways of Ending Them

Gornji Grad near Cathedral

Gornji Grad near Cathedral

Naive Art at Zagreb Museum

Naive Art at Zagreb Museum

More Naive Art

More Naive Art

You Guessed - Naive Art

You Guessed - Naive Art

Posted by sagbucks 06:02 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Driving to Graz in time for Glockenspiel @ 6 p.m.

A scenic motorway day - don't forget to purchase a vignette

sunny 25 °C

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, Lansberg 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 Chiemsee 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.
  • And 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 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 the hotel. 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 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 @ 6 p.m.

Graz Glockenspiel @ 6 p.m.

Graz Glockenspiel in Motion & in Tune

Graz Glockenspiel in Motion & in Tune

Buskers Hope to Complement the Glockenspiel Show

Buskers Hope to Complement the Glockenspiel Show

AG Drinks a Well Earnt Glass of Local Beer

AG Drinks a Well Earnt Glass of Local Beer

Kunst Hotel has a Lovely  Roof Garden w Amazing Views

Kunst Hotel has a Lovely Roof Garden w Amazing Views

Graz Supplies Free Water to Tourists

Graz Supplies Free Water to Tourists

Our Truck is Not Easy to Park

Our Truck is Not Easy to Park

Posted by sagbucks 07:50 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

Route des Vins d'Alsace

One of our favourite forms of sightseeing

sunny 25 °C
View A Truck Trip, Still With No Name, But With Lots of Destinations on sagbucks's travel map.

Day 2 Friday 26 May 2017
Freyming to Xonrupt - Longemer / 230 km

  • Fine, sunny & cloudless blue sky - no really! We are so lucky.
  • Despite earplugs and eye blinds we are woken early by the persistent squawking of a crow or two. There must be a nest or a meeting perch just outside our velux window. Each type of bird has its moment of glory during the dawn chorus - it would seem the crow has its turn first. What a nasty bird, and how ugly its call.
  • Jean Pierre, the B & B owner and as we discover trained masseur, ( he is a big strong man with large hands! ) has already been to the local bakery. We enjoy delicious fresh rolls & croissants at breakfast.
  • It would be music to the ears of many a classic rally navigator - JP kindly allows us to make our picnic lunch direct from his breakfast table. No surreptitious food pilfering is necessary in this establishment. What a star!
  • We leave Freyming around 9. It's evidently white asparagus season - roadside stalls are selling this tasty vegetable along our route.
  • AG has planned today's journey. For the first 70 km we travel along a minor motorway until we reach the start of the Route des Vins d'Alsace. Wine routes - one of our favourite kind of sightseeing. This route des vins meanders some 120 km along the eastern foothills of the Vosges, a range of small mountains or rather big hills.
  • We are not alone - today is the start of the Ascension weekend and France is having a 4 day break. There's a lot of leisure activity going on. The roads are busy with motorcyclists, cyclists and cars alike, but the infrastructure can cope and we experience no traffic jams.
  • We're not driving the whole route, just a short section which leads us through typical Alsacien villages & towns such as Obernai, Mittelbergheim and Dambach la Ville. All offer great examples of half timbered houses, flower boxes full of flowering geraniums and quaint public fountains. And vineyards.
  • The name of tonight's destination, Xonrupt Longemer is obviously of Alsacien origin. Alsatian / elsaessisch is an alemannic dialect of German, similar to that spoken in nearby German regions and Switzerland. But it has no written form & Interpretative spelling on menus etc is a rather ad hoc affair. Apparently pronunciation varies greatly.
  • Language & politics do not necessarily respect the same geographical borders. This is true the world over. Although we are in France, true locals of this area also speak an Alsacien dialect. When SG overhears some local women conversing in the street, she understands not a word despite being pretty conversant in both French and German. Really names are linguistically very interesting in this part of the world. Earlier today for example we stopped for fuel at "Aire de Katzenkopf". The first two words being obviously French and the latter having firm German roots.
  • We pass within 30 km of Strasbourg. It is the capital of Alsace and a fairly significant centre of various European institutions: European Parliament, Council of Europe, & the European Court of Human Rights. Given Alsace's frequent & enforced change of ownership, it is not surprising that after World War 2, it became the symbol of hope for future Franco German relations and of pan European projects.
  • We have booked a table at L'Hors du temps in a nearby town called Gerardmer. We are looking forward to sampling some Alsacien wine with our meal. We have noted that the Sylvaner grape is grown around such wine villages as Mittelbergheim - of grand cru quality. But the region also produces fine Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer wines. We will take advice.
  • We choose a bottle of Pinot Gris, which is a bit sweet for our palate. Not syrupy sweet, fruity sweet. But it goes well with AG's first course of Foie Gras.

If you happen to be in this part of world we recommend both our Chambres d' Hote ( L' Eden de Floridylle ) and the L'hors du temps restaurant. An appropriate name since we always seem to be out of time!

Local Asparagus for Sale by the Roadside

Local Asparagus for Sale by the Roadside

We're Driving This Today

We're Driving This Today

Vineyards as far as the eye can see - glorious

Vineyards as far as the eye can see - glorious

Our Truck stragically parked

Our Truck stragically parked

Some of our favourite scenery - Vineyards

Some of our favourite scenery - Vineyards

A Typical a Half Timbered Building in Alsacien Town

A Typical a Half Timbered Building in Alsacien Town

Alsacien building with Typical Half Timber Construction

Alsacien building with Typical Half Timber Construction

A Typical Public Fountain in Old Town Square

A Typical Public Fountain in Old Town Square

Our Meal for Tonight @ L'Hors du Temps

Our Meal for Tonight @ L'Hors du Temps

out of time!

Posted by sagbucks 09:13 Archived in France Comments (0)

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