By Steven Roberts….
“You’re going to DRIVE to Cyprus?”
That was the reaction of most of our friends when we announced our plans for moving here. The rest made a weak joke about there being water in the way (two bits actually the Channel and the Mediterranean).
So having decided we wanted to bring our car and a whole bunch of our possessions out here, we thought we might as well make a holiday of it, and explore various places we’d always wanted to see en-route. We planned various itineraries with a road map of Europe, and then checked each stage out against the trusty RAC route planner on the internet to get approximate travel times. Once we knew when we were going to leave the UK we booked a cross-channel ferry online and the first few nights’ accommodation (via the very useful www.Booking.com site).
After a couple of days visiting family on the south coast of England, we headed for the Dover-Dunkirk ferry and our first nights stop in De Panne in Belgium. We have visited De Panne many times, and love its long sandy beach and relaxed feel. We had a comfortable night in the Hotel Cecil in the town square, and indulged ourselves with a visit to our favourite ‘friture’ for a meal of chips with mayonnaise, kaaskrokets, and vegetable burgers, washed down with a Duvel beer. After a quick look around the Saturday morning market, we headed to our next stop – Luxembourg.
As we’re both ‘of a certain age’ we both grew up listening to Radio Luxembourg on our transistor radios in the 1960s. I still remember the opening announcements that referred to the transmitter site being at Marnach in the Grand Duchy, so as we were in the area we had to take a look. Transmitter buildings and Radio aerials are not everyone’s idea of a sightseeing trip, but I’m so glad we saw where the ‘great 208’ that used to carry the German and English services came from. The 208m (1440 kHz) frequency has been used for relays of China Radio in recent years, but closed for good on 31st December. In a few months the site will probably be cleared, so we got to see it just in time. (Marnach village is quite a sleepy hollow, and will be even more so when its main claim to fame is no more). After this detour, we drove on to Luxembourg City, and spent the evening exploring the old town and having a meal and a few drinks.
In the morning we left the Grand Duchy and headed into Germany for a long(ish) drive to Munich for a two night stop. This was our first experience of the Autobahn (and after a while I was told that any further singing of the old Kraftwerk number from me was ‘verboten!’). The Autobahn in this part of Germany seemed to have more road works than the English M4 and M5 combined, so every so often it was a slow down and a contra flow, and made worse by me taking a wrong turn. It took us a while to find our holiday apartment in the dark, but with the aid of a map and satnav we arrived. It was the day the Oktoberfest ended, so there were a few other guests looking a bit the worse for wear in their fake lederhosen!
We had a full day to explore, so headed off on the S-bahn to Marienplatz, and had a good walk around before doing three different sightseeing trips on an open top bus. This gave us the chance to see much more of the city than we could have done on foot. It’s a big city, and one we’d like to re-visit. After getting off the bus we found the market with lots of food stalls, so I rounded off the day with a bratwurst and a couple of steins of bier! (My wife had fish from a branch of ‘Nordsee’). Returning to our apartment we took advantage of the free wifi to book our next three hotel stops.
The next day we remember for picturesque scenery – and tunnels. We left Munich and drove through the hilly terrain of Austria. We had a brief stop at a cafe near the top of a mountain, but kept going into Slovenia where our next stop was the capital Ljublijana. This is a compact city with a lot of history, and somewhere we would like to go back to. Unfortunately heavy rain hindered our evening sightseeing somewhat, but we were there just long enough to have a bit of look round, and decide what we’d like to see if we went back in the summer.
The following day was going to mark the half way point of our journey as we headed out of Slovenia, driving through the north of Croatia and down to Belgrade the Capital of Serbia. We’d booked the Hotel Majestic for its location in the City Centre, this turned out to be a rather historic grand hotel. It was where the Manchester United team (the ‘Busby Babes’) had stayed for their European Cup tie against Red Star in February 1958. The aircraft taking them home crashed after leaving Belgrade, following a re-fuelling stop at Munich. The event is commemorated in the hotel, alongside many other archive photographs. Belgrade is a lively Capital city, and seems to have a reputation as something of a party destination for younger people. However the ‘stag and hen’ element doesn’t dominate and the City gets on with life
We left Belgrade and headed out on good quality motorways expecting an easy run to our next stop, but after an hour or so the good roads suddenly ended, and we were into a winding road through the mountains following a convoy of HGVs. A new road is being built over and through the mountain, as we discovered when the impact of road works led us to spend over 30 minutes in a stationary traffic jam! Eventually we did get onto a better road and headed into Bulgaria, this started well but as we got near Sofia the EU-funded motorway came to an end, and we ended up on minor roads with tarmac almost completely worn – and to cap it all it poured with rain! Eventually the roads did improve again, and after another longish drive we reached Plovdiv where we stayed two days. The city will be the European Capital of Culture in 2019, and is well worth a visit. Its old town is fascinating to walk around, and not completely ruined by tourism (though the cobbles are a bit hard on the knees) and from the top of it you have a great view all over the city. The new town area has an interesting collection of fountains, and also some of the dreary ‘functional’ buildings that typify the Communist era in much of Eastern Europe.
(to be continued in part 2…)