We’re on the road for a week now. Time to post about our first experiences. We’re still trying to get used to the fact that we’ll be traveling for a year. Although there’s no need to rush we have to check ourselves not wanting to do too much. There’s so much we want to see and do!
But if there’s one thing that we’ve learned from our 7,5 month round-the-world trip four years ago is that we need to pace ourselves. We just wanted to do too much then and just got overloaded with experiences. Soon enough we got tired and had to take moments of rest.
With that knowledge we hope to find a better balance this time. This will be difficult, since we are used to traveling at a pretty fast pace and want to maximize our days, seeing and doing as much as possible.
Agony on the Autobahn
The drive from our hometown in the Netherlands through Germany was horrendous. We remember the days we could blast through Germany, but now we were driving from road works to road works. We lost count very quickly, but we estimate that we passed 25-30 road work sites.
After 13 hours of travel we managed to get to Villach in Austria before it got dark, covering 1.200 kilometers. We hadn’t done any research on where to make our first stop. We were just going to see how far we’d get. Villach unfortunately happens to be an expensive place for overnighting, as we found out, the cheapest room we could find costing 62 euro. Lesson learned!
The next day it was only a short drive to our first country of this trip, Slovenia. We by-passed the most famous tourist spot in the country, Lake Bled, saving this for when we drive back home again. Instead we drove on to the Postojna limestone caves.
We had read raving reviews of these caverns, one of the largest cave systems in the world with 24 kilometers of galleries and tunnels. A train ride took us deep into the caves for a 1,5 kilometers walk through the cave system.
To be honest, we were a little disappointed. Caves that we visited on other trips were smaller but had much more impressive stalagmite and stalactite formations. On top of that the entrance fee was pretty steep and we had to stick to a large guided group, with a guide that was pretty much useless.
Nearby Predjama Castle was much nicer. According to the Guinness Book of Records Predjama is the largest cave castle in the world. The 16th century castle is built impressively against and into a 123 meter high cliff. It made it hard to conquer by enemies.
A system of secret cave tunnels could be used to bring supplies into the castle during a siege or function as a last route of escape. It must have been a hard life, though, with the place being damp and cold even when the sun was shining.
We spent the first three nights on a campsite near Portorož , on the Slovenian coast. The first day here we didn’t do much, just staying near our tent most of the time. We felt mentally and physically drained after the last hectic weeks of work and preparing for the trip – Roel having some health issues as well – and the long drive here. We soaked up some sun, did a short hike and that was it.
Portorož is close to Piran, an ancient Venetian port on the westernmost point of Slovenia, that we visited the next day. The small port had an open air museum feel to it, with a picturesque square, narrow streets, the imposing St George Cathedral overlooking the town and some restored old city walls with great views of Piran.
We really liked Piran, but it was much smaller than we expected. We spent a lot of time just sitting and enjoying the beautiful town and weather. That’s the advantage of having a lot of time on our hands.
From Portorož it was only a short drive to Croatia. At the border we were a little bit taken by surprise that we had to present our passports, Croatia being a member of the European Union as well. On the other hand this official touch gave us more of a feeling of really entering a new country.
On our way to our next campsite we drove inland to visit some of the old hilltop villages that dot the hills of the Istria peninsula – an old fashioned full day of sightseeing. We toured three hilltop villages that are in close proximity to each other: Grožnjan, Završje and Motovun.
Grožnjan was completely depopulated after WWII but got rediscovered by artists who opened galleries here. The village got restored and people come here to shop, admire the restored old architecture of the village and take in the views of the surrounding valleys.
We found tiny Završje the most authentic of the three. Where Grožnjan and Motovun had loads of tourists walking around, we were the only ones in Završje. Only a few dozen people still live here, their homes standing next to buildings that have fallen into ruin. A fascinating sight.
Heavily visited Motovun interested us the least, first impressions being that of a huge open air restaurant. Truffles apparently are a big thing here. Only when we walked down the back side of the fortified hill top town our interest was raised a little. Maybe that’s because there were no other tourists here.
We ended the day in Poreč, one of many old towns along the coast of Croatia influenced by the ancient Romans and Venetian traders. The most interesting sight was the Euphrasian Basalica, a Unesco World Heritage site, that dates back to the fourth century.
Campsite under construction
The past three nights we stayed at Vestar campsite just south of Rovinj. When we arrived we saw a lot of construction work going on, but we were assured that it was only part of the campsite that was being renovated. We picked a spot furthest away, close to the sea and beach, but discovered the next day that the receptionist hadn’t told the entire truth.
We were woken at 7.30 AM by a large tractor creating a new beach and there was a lot of other construction noise from all over the campsite – which is huge – as well. We pitied the people who have to spend their vacation here. We found it very questionable that there was no reference to these construction activities anywhere.
For us it was a minor problem since we used the campsite mainly as a base to visit Rovinj and Pula. Pula is famous for its large well preserved Roman amphitheater that was built between 27 BC and 68 AD. The former gladiator arena now is used as a venue for the Pula Film Festival and concerts. The amphitheater was great and there were some other Roman structures in Pula as well.
Both Poreč and Pula were nice to spent a few hours, but we found Rovinj to be the prettiest and most picturesque of the seaside towns in Istria. Judging by the numbers of visitors this opinion seems to be shared by many others. Even in May it was already very busy with tourists. Just like us they were drawn by the Mediterranean vibe of this old fishing port located on a drop-shaped peninsula.
This is the result of Rovinj (also called Rovigno) was part of Venice from the 13th until the 18th century. Colorful houses, the harbors full of boats and its (sometimes steep) cobblestone streets leading up to the Saint Euphemia Cathedral made for some very pleasant hours of aimless wandering.
Both Poreč and Pula were nice to spent a few hours in, but we found Rovinj the be the prettiest of the three Istrian coastal towns.
The weather has been great, mostly sunny and between 20-25o Celsius. Nights have been surprisingly chilly though – no balmy nights yet – and we’ve had our first thunderstorms two nights ago. We’re happy to report that our old tent is still 99% waterproof!
Next post: week 2