31st August & 1 September 2017
Today’s target was Ljublijana, Slovenia. We were so close to Slovenia that we were crossing the border within 1½ hours and being advised by a helpful border officer that we had to pay tolls instead of buying a pass. For some reason we were expecting Slovenia to be as cheap as Hungary and were traumatised by having to pay €19.40 for the M70 motorway to Maribor.
Within 30 minutes of leaving Hungary we were back in the hills and not far after Maribor we came off onto the smaller roads, resetting the satnav to avoid motorways so we could see what Slovenia was like. Most of the country is hills and mountains with lots of rivers and streams, and over half of it is still covered in forest so it’s very pretty to drive through Whilst grabbing lunch in the van at the side of the road we looked at options for the night. The site at Ljubljana was expensive so we found one just 20km north that was 50% cheaper and headed on toward our new destination, Dragočajna .
Since entering Slovenia we had noticed that most Slovenian houses have very attractive terracotta coloured roof-tiles, and there are a lot of traditional wooden barns which are very distinctive, often with tall wooden structures for drying straw and hay alongside.
As well as maize and sunflowers there were extensive areas with apple trees, smaller areas of vines and in the area of the Savinja river around Celje, huge fields of hops. Occasionally the orange of pumpkins stood out and a few strips of cabbage were also in evidence. Unlike Slovakia the countryside appears to be geared towards camping and hiking and we saw a number of campsites signposted along the route.
One thing we have noticed in our travels so far is that whilst the names and brands of petrol stations, DIY stores and most supermarkets change with the country, brands such as Aldi, Lidl, Spar, McDonalds & Burger King seem to be universal, as is C&A. In our ignorance we had thought C&A to be a now-defunct British company only to find out that it is a huge private Dutch company whose owners are the richest Dutch family in the world, now tax exiles in Switzerland. We have also noticed that whilst pizza’s, kebabs, burgers and hot-dogs appear everywhere, good old fish & chips does not.
Dragočajna is a tiny village surrounded by hills on all sides, one of which has a medieval castle reminiscent of Dracula fables. We arrived at the campsite late afternoon and took the van down a steep slope to the grassy pitches amongst trees at the side of the river. Our first, entirely predictable action after hook-up was to head back up to the bar to drink Slovenian beer in Slovenia. Somehow after seeing all those hops we expected it to be good and we took the barman’s recommendation, Lasko, but sadly it was a bit of a disappointment.
Next day we were up a little later than planned owing to a late night watching all 3 episodes of Little Boy Blue from the selection of downloads that touring friends – thank you – had kindly provided us with, but we were still on the road soon after 9am. Within minutes a thunderstorm was underway the torrential rain helping to clean the bug splatters off the windscreen and wash dust off the van although the driver could have lived without it. When it stopped raining the valleys were filled with mist with the green hills rising above and looked almost mystical. No photos as the weather was awful.
On to more practical matters, we knew we would be crossing into more expensive territory when we entered Italy so before leaving Slovenia we located and Aldi and stocked up on some wine then topped up with petrol which is the same price everywhere in Slovenia as it is set by the government (hope it catches on) For the curious, diesel was €1.01/L in Hungary and €1.17/L in Slovenia but is around €1.50/L in many places in Italy.
At midday we re-entered Italy at Gorizia, only a few Km from the coast and the Gulf of Trieste.
The mountains of the Julian Alps were clearly a natural divide for creating the border as we now entered the flat lands of a series of large rivers running down from alpine areas into the Adriatic Sea. In the grey of a cloudy day they and the more urban slightly down-at-heel towns we drove through were a bit depressing, and the fact that in parts the crops had been harvested emphasised the flatness of the land. We skirted Venice, took the ring-road round Padua (Romeo & Juliet), crossed the Po valley again past Ferrara and Bologna and reached the Appenines where we started to enjoy the scenery again – and as if in response the sun came out.
We had originally intended stopping at a sosta/aire between Padua and Florence, but things were going well we now wanted to get to Livorno so we would have done coast to coast in one day. However it was a Friday afternoon and full of Italian drivers so the volume of traffic and number of accidents were both high, slowing us considerably.We ruled out making Livorno and found a closer site on the coast, just above Pisa and about 40km above Livorno – Camping Italia at Torre del Lago Puccini and made it there before 7.30pm. A large, wooded site with very narrow access to pitches for a motorhome our size so we ended up taking the easy option at the end of the site, furthest from the facilities but also quietest.
Too late – too tired – to cook so we ate at the site restaurant which wasn’t great but served a purpose. We drove 372 miles today and had done 3 countries in 2 days – time for an early night.
PS Sorry about the photos but we were in constant motion