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15 June 2013

Did you know – The Channel Tunnel is an impressive piece of engineering.  Approximately 13,000 engineers, workers and technicians worked on the project.  There are 3 tunnels, 1 smaller service tunnel and 2 running tunnels.  The tunnels are approximately 50 meters under the seabed.  The tunnels are 51km in length, of which 37.5km is under the sea.  The running tunnels have an inner diameter of 7.6 meter and the service tunnel 4.8m inner diameter.  6 Tunnel boring machines were used on the English side and 5 were used on the French side.  The tunnel was open by Queen Elizabeth II and President Mitterrand in May 1994.

We didn’t have a lot of time to get our things into order once we arrived back in England after our 6 week ‘break’ in South Africa.  It was nice to see everyone and sad leaving everyone behind again, especially since we had a new niece in our family.  Mandy’s sister and her husband, Pam and Chris, had their first baby while we were visiting in Cape Town.  A little girl and a little bundle of joy, even with all the sleepless nights to come. 

We managed to get all our things together in about 10 days before we hit the road again.  We spent our first couple of nights back in London camping at a nice campsite on a farm, just on the outskirts of London.  Lidia and Ian very kindly offered their flat to us while they were on holiday with their kids – thanks guys, it was great to be able to stay in your place while you were away.  It was a whirlwind stop in London for us, but we knew we would be back again in no time at all.  We left London on 31 May, and our first day on the road was spent riding up to Norwich to visit Jon and Linda, a great couple we met in Cairo for the first time when we did our first trip.  It had been a while since we last saw them so it was good to catch up and to hear their travel plans for this year.  Thanks for a great evening guys, we really enjoyed the catch-up and the curry!

We booked tickets on the Eurotunnel to cross this time.  It is a lot quicker than the ferry and only about £10 more.  The crossing saves at least an hour on the ferry.  We made it to the check-in by the skin of our teeth.  I think we had about 2 min left before check in closed.  Save to say, I had to make use of a lot of the horsepower available on the KTM on the way to the Tunnel.  Like our other trips, we had to spend the first few days getting used to our new mode of transport and the new routine of travelling by motorbike.  As with the bicycles, everything needs to have its place and has to be packed up every morning and because we are camping this takes a lot longer!  One of our first mornings we only got away from the campsite at 12 noon!  I’m sure (or at least hoping) this will improve for us!

We took a quick route from London through France, Belgium, Holland and then stopped for a few nights in Aachen, Germany.  We needed to get Mandy a summer riding jacket and found a place online based there.  Why not make a trip of it, we thought and decided to spend a few nights in the town where we did our first bit of sightseeing of the trip.  Aachen is a nice little town with a very nice cathedral in the centre.  I suppose to many people a typical German city, but we liked it nevertheless.  Something else we had to get used to was the fact that in some parts of Europe everything is closed on a Sunday which made it difficult to get food (we don’t carry anything with us because of lack of space), it was hard to even find a loaf of bread!

We decided to try and avoid the highways as much as possible for two reasons; they are boring, and a lot of them charge toll fees.  Our routes were mainly on the smaller roads which is much more pleasant.  A few days after we left, Linda sent us a BBC news link about all the flooding in central Europe.  We managed to avoid most of it, but had a few small detours just before we entered the Czech Republic.  We’ve been to the Czech Republic before but completely forgot that they don’t use Euros. We arrived there on a Sunday and were in an area which wasn’t very touristy.  Luckily we came across an ATM in one of the small towns at the lake where we wanted to camp.  At least we could get some money to pay for our campsite and something to eat.  The campsite was right on a beautiful lake although that night we had a massive thunder storm with lots of rain, Mandy was a bit concerned that we were camped so close to the water, especially after riding through a few towns which had been affected by the floods in Germany.  I on the other hand was a bit more concerned about the lighting so close to us, and we were camping under a couple of trees with the metal poles in our tent – probably not the best idea.  Luckily our tent held up and we had a dry (and safe) night.

We spent a few days in Czech visiting some old towns and a couple of museums before heading south towards Vienna.  The riding and scenery was very nice, crossing over lower parts of the Alps (at least I think it was part of the Alps).  It was our first visit to Vienna and what an amazing city!  We spent the day walking around the town and it seemed that at around each corner was another beautiful building to look at.  You can just feel the culture oozing from every corner of the city.  Definitely a place we would like to come back to one day to experience a bit of the culture and go to some of the concerts.  We did however manage to find a little place lacking some of the culture.  The campsite we were staying at was on the outskirts of Vienna.  On our last night we woke up to find 4 VERY BIG guys prowling around the tents and mobile homes in the campsite – very dodgy looking indeed!  I woke up when they were looking around our tent, and looking into the tent.  The obviously saw that there were people inside and moved on to the next tent. They did this for about an hour, doing whatever the pleased.  There was no way I was going to confront these guys just to have my teeth knocked out.  Needless to say we didn’t have a good night’s sleep, and luckily our last night there too!
 
30 June 2013

Did you know – The town of Mostor developed mainly during the Ottoman period, from the 16th century and was named after the town’s most famous landmark, The Old Bridge, the bridge keepers (mostari).  The Bridge was built in 1566.  Between 1992 and 1995 the town and bridge were badly damaged during the Bosnian war. Its excellent reconstruction based on in-dept research has been compared to that of Warsaw. The completely rebuilt bridge opened on July 23, 2004.

The weather has been relatively cool up to now, but it is starting to change slowly but surely.  We seem to have forgotten one of our rules when camping – that is to make sure you know where the sun comes up in the morning.  We were caught out a couple of times, but quickly made sure we knew where east was.  We had a very hot and sweating morning packing up the tent in direct sunlight and vowed not to do that again if we can help it!

We crossed some of the lower Austrian Alps, crossing into Slovenia. It was a very nice ride, with good roads and lots of twisties to enjoy on the bike.  The crossing into Slovenia was via a tunnel of almost 2km through the mountains.  From there it didn’t take us long to get to our destination for the next few days – Lake Bled.  We spent a couple of days in Bled walking around the lake getting different views of the lake and small island church.  We also did a mini hike to a lookout point which had amazing views of the lake.  The road out of Bled took us up into the mountainsagain and we headed for the mountain pass we had heard about.  The ride was fantastic!  At each hairpin turn there was a sign showing the height and the turn number, in total we did 50 hairpin turns!  We stopped at the top to get some photos of the view and were surprised to see snow, even though it was about 25 degrees outside!

We only spent about 4 days in Slovenia before we got to Croatia’s coast. It really is as beautiful as people say – the sea is bright blue and so clear and the landscape it mostly rocky but so striking.  We followed the coast all the way down to Split where we camped right on the beach. They don’t have sand here, just smooth, round white pebbles, I suppose you can compare it to Brighton beach in England, with the only difference being the scenery, clear water and warm weather.  Our last night in Split turned out to be a cold and wet one, there was a massive storm and the poor people next to us got flooded out of their tent, luckily they had a car to sleep in for the rest of the night, so glad it didn’t happen to us!

We also wanted to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), so decided to go east from Split and head straight to Sarajevo.  As we got closer to the border we started climbing into the mountains and the weather changed, it was really quite cold and stayed that way for a few days.  BiH is so different to the rest of Europe – you can easily see the destruction caused by the recent war. Lots of buildings are still riddled with bullet holes and damaged.  In the countryside there are also lots of houses and buildings which just look abandoned and small villages often look like ghost towns…quite sad and depressing actually.  We often wonder how the people in the countryside make a living.  Most of the houses will have sort of cultivated land next to it, but not enough for the people to make money out of it, probably just enough for them to live from.  Yet, they somehow survive on what they have.

We stayed at a campsite about 10km outside of Sarajevo.  It wasn’t too bad for a site close to a big city. Sarajevo city centre had a lot more going for it than the area we stayed in, thank goodness.  The Turkish quarter is thriving with lots of restaurants and shops and the city also has lots of churches and mosques all in the near vicinity of each other.  We spent an afternoon strolling around and tried some of the local coffee and potato pie.   Driving into town from our campsite, we once again saw lots of buildings damaged from the war, lots of bullet holes and abandoned buildings, probably unsafe to live in because of the damage to them.  After Sarajevo we headed towards Mostar (a Unesco site), town badly affected by the war.  It is famous for its 30 meter high bridge which the locals dive from – the bridge was destroyed but has now been fully restored using the same materials and techniques that were used when it was originally built.  It’s a great little town although quite touristy so we decided to stay a bit out of town at a great little campsite on the river.  Our campsite was in the settlement of Blagaj, close to the source of one of the major rivers in the area. 

It wasn’t long before we were heading back to the coast of Croatia again. We still wanted to go and visit Dubrovnik – another Unesco city.  Dubrovnik is well known for the ‘Old Town’ area which dates back hundreds of years. It also well known for the marble stones used to build the streets.  It really is a very pretty old town.  We spent the day walking around the narrow streets of the old town, around the old city walls and long stairways leading down into the main square.  Our last day in Croatia was also a day of celebration for the people of Croatia.  Croatia is officially no part of the European Union.