Post 3 Slovenia is gorgeous… it’s official!

A peaceful night at Camping Bled, and the luxury of excellent showers in very modern, heated washrooms! Then we set off to find the Vintgar Gorge walk. We recommend the circular walk, along the deep cut gorge, climb up through the forst to Katerina, and return along the side of Hom Hill with magnificent alpine views and cows with bells! Gorgeous.

Next we drove for 45 minutes, past local farms which have special racks, used for drying hay.

We went to the neighbouring, but more isolated, Lake Bohinj. Wow. This was stunning too. At the far end of the lake is the cable car to the Vogel ski area. We ascended to find Alpine scenery, and some gorgeous walks. A highlight was watching crossbills feeding in trees right next to us.

Back down in the cable car, we visited a tiny church of St Christopher, and marvelled at the clarity of the lake water, and the relections.

Then to our campsite, with a super pitch by the river, and a walk to town where Chris continued his healthy eating campaign with a very traditional supper of local sausage, sauerkraut and a delicious mashed potato with onion. This was accompanied by 2 very tasty (and strong) local ales! Slovenia likes craft beers!

Next day was an early start to walk the length of the lake, watching the mist rise as the sun burned it off. 4 miles at a brisk pace so that we could catch the ferry back. What a super morning.

The tiny village church was filled with astonishing paintings, some 600 years old!

A picnic lunch surrounded by glorious scenery, before driving to Ljubljana, the capital.

However I had spotted a comment that a village enroute, Radovljica, was worth a look! It was gorgeous, and the highlight was the museum of Apiculture. Beekeeping is a great tradition here, and the old wooden hives are still used. For 200 years, paintings were done on the ends of the hives, depicting religious, historical or comical scenes. They were gorgeous.

Next onto our camperstop near Ljubljana, where our neighbours were some cute piggies, goats and a kitten! A short bus ride into town, and we strolled through the charming streets of this delightful, miniature capital city, and visited the beautiful cathedral. Slovenia gained it’s independence in 1999, and is fiercely proud of it’s heritage. Slightly worried about the baker though!!! We enjoyed a super meal at Atelje before returning to Boris for another peaceful night.

We caught the first bus back into the city on Saturday morning for an excellent walking tour. The city chose a poet as the name of it’s main square, rather than a military leader or politician, as they value their language, and love over military actions. Nice!

The architecture is delightful. Baroque and Art Nouveau styles are much in evidence.

Much of the town was damaged in the 1895 earthquake, so Art nouveau was the style of the time!

Time to leave. But not before lunch in the square at the Beer and Burger Festival.

We timed our visit well!! No alcohol when driving here, but Chris buys a craft ale for later. The burgers were superb. Organic meat! We love this country.

Now a long drive southeast, into Croatia. Slovenian scenery was gorgeous all the way to the border. Croatia quickly became more rugged and wilder, especially as we crossed the mountains and headed towards the coast. We witnessed a gorgeous sunset, and then drove to a tiny campsite in Skradin, where Chris could at last drink his ale!

We are more than halfway to Dubrovnik, our next destination… and that involves a ferry ride for Boris

Post 2 if it is Wednesday it must be Austria…or is it Slovenia?

Our objective on this trip is to travel to Southern Croatia, so Germany and Austria are, on this occasion, serving as interesting stopovers! Our night in Germany was… chilly. So glad I packed the 10.5 tog duvet. It dropped to -2 degrees C in the night, but we were on a site with electric hookup AND an all night electric blanket. Best camping tip I can give anyone!

A gloriously clear day for our drive south east, past Munich towards the Austrian border . The Alps gradually appeared, and the scenery became stunning.

We arrived at Camping Nord Sam, on the outskirts of Salzburg, at 14.30. We had a quick snack, and caught the very convenient bus to the town centre. The Mirabelle gardens around the old palace are beautiful… and where the children in Sound of Music sang Do, Re, Me. (So I am told. I have managed to get this far through life without seeing it!)

We sadly opted to skip the 4 hour Sound of Music city tour (was it a sing a long tour I wonder?), and did our own walk. Crossing the river to the Aldstadt, the whole city centre is stunning 17th and 18th century architecture, with lovely narrow streets, and ornate metal shop signs. No Golden arches here!

The baroque Cathedral was impressive, but we loved the little chapel and cemetery of St Peter, and the hermitage chapels and catacombs in the cliff face.

Mozart was born and lived in Salzburg, and much is made of this. Mozart chocolates, liqueurs, Umbrellas, aprons, rubber ducks…. you get the idea. No music though!

Our final visit was to the Augustinian Brauhaus, a monastery brewery since 1621. A huge, traditional hall has expanded into 4 halls and a terrace holding over 5000 people! You collect your stein, get your beer dispensed…7.2% proof, and then find some yummy, if very meat based, street food at the indoor stalls.

It was a great experience, rounded off with the bus back to Boris and another very chilly night!

Another bright start and we crossed Austria on route 8. We had bought a vignette for 9 euros to allow us to travel on the motorways. Route 8 had tolls as well, for the 2 huge tunnels which meant we did not have to climb high over the Alps. We were in Slovenia in 2 hours, and 45 minutes later had found Camping Bled, on the shores of magical, glacial Lake Bled.

Another quick lunch, then off to walk the 4 miles around the whole lake, plus a long climb up to the impressively perched castle.

Fantastic views and some very interesting historical exhibitions. The castle has never been beseiged in it’s 900 year history. I wonder why.

The lakeshore is dotted with beautiful 19th century villas, one of which was taken over as a summer home by President Tito, the communist ruler of the then Yugoslavia.

An island in the centre has a lovely church of the assumption. Visitors can ring the church bell to ask for a wish to be granted, so our walk was regularly punctuated by slightly discordant chimes!

The only way to reach the island was to row yourselves.. maybe tomorrow…. or go in a traditional Pletna boat, propelled by a gondolier with 2 oars!

Great views at every turn on this walk. I am so glad I have a camera phone. A 12 shot reel of film would have been woefully inadequate!!

What an introduction to Slovenia. Magical, and the most photogenic place I have ever been to.

Tomorrow I am determined to eat the local Bled cake… a very very very unhealthy custard and cream slice!

Post 1 Autumn in Europe

So, our first big Bimble in Boris this year saw us head across to Europe to explore some places completely new to us. After spending a good night on the carpark at the channel tunnel (we know how to live!), we caught the 6.20 shuttle and were on the road at Calais 40 minutes later. Just as well, because our goal was an 8 hour, 477 mile drive to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, on the Romantik strasse in Germany. That dealt with the worst of the driving in one hit.

The Romantik strasse runs from Wurzburg, south to Fussen, and was a concept promoted after WW2 to bring tourism back to Germany. It is so pretty, and Rothenburg is one of its northern gems. A Mediaeval town, perched high above the valley, it entranced us at every turn.

The parish church was interesting and is on one of the pilgrim routes to Compostela.

Another lovely feature was an exquisitely realised, bronze relief map of the town, captioned in braille so that visually impaired visitors could share in it’s beauty.

A big surprise was a huge Christmas museum, and some beautifully presented shop windows.

Spot the people to get an idea of scale!

Great restaurants too! Chris was happy with his beer, and decided to fully embrace the local cuisine.. wildboar sausages, red cabbage and apple and sauteed potatoes.

The walk back to our lovely campsite showed another view of the town.

What a great start to our hols!

PS They seem to have got recycling colourfully organised here!

Post 26 Last days in Japan

To reduce the driving the next day, we drove for an hour at night to a michi-no-eki that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere …what will we find when we wake up!… After a very cold night…around freezing we think, we awoke to find we were on a huge plain and next to a very wide river! Now off to the mountains! We chose a route that climbed up through the Kiso valley, following an ancient Shogun route from Tokyo to the plain. The area is known for its premium quality cypress trees. The cold climate means slow growth. They can take 100 years to reach maturity, but then the tree is tall, with dense, high quality timber. In the ‘olden’ days, this timber was reserved for high ranking persons… anyone else cutting down a tree was beheaded.. or for lopping a branch you lost a hand!

Part way up is a gorgeous village that has been preserved as it was. No TV masts etc!

We had a lovely walk here, and visited the old inn, which is still owned by the 25th generation of the family. A charming guide adopted us and took us from room to room explaining everything. The Emporer once came to visit for 30 minutes. They had a special high table built, with no nails, so that the Emporer would always be above everyone else.

Afterwards, the owner inscribed the table! He also had a toilet built specially for the Emporer… who never used it. So it has never been touched since!

She also explained the family seating positions around the fire. The children had the coldest, smokiest place, so that they could learn to cope with hardship and be ready to face anything in life. Guess who got the best place!!!

Then, we drove on, with tantalising views of the High Alps crowned with snow.

Our destination was Matsumoto and it’s beautiful castle, which would have towered proudly above the plain when it was built in….. The wooden construction of these castles is incredible, using wood like the cypress I mentioned before.

As dusk arrived, we sought out a small restaurant in the town, Kyobashi-soba, which served special soba noodle soup with additions on the side!

Chris hit the sake! Although we did find a brewery but it was closing!

Then 40 minutes drive to our next overnight. Brrrrrr. Really cold tonight. SO glad of the duvet!

Next morning dawned crisp and we headed south to the 5 lakes area. As we drove, gradually Mt Fuji came into view. Wow, it is such an impressive mountain, and we are apparently lucky to have seen it, as it is often shrouded in cloud.

On arrival, our first stop was to be a challenge.

As someone who never gets undressed in front of anyone, has a very modest swimsuit with a skirt, and has spent her whole life avoiding communal changing rooms, this was right out of my comfort zone… but I was determined to do it.

We visited an Onsen. A hot spring bath complex. These are plentiful in Japan, but this one was special. It had a number of different baths, and some of them had a great view of Mt Fuji.

All the baths are between 38 and 42 degrees C. Some are indoors, some outside.

Now here is the rub… Onsen etiquette is strict. Men and women are segregated. Shoes in locker. Then you are given towels. Into the communal changing room where you strip off. Completely! Not a swimsuit or anything allowed. Then you wander into a communal washroom where you sit on a wooden stool and wash yourself thoroughly. Now you are ready to go to the pools. Each one hold between 4 and 8 people. They are landscaped, with rock seats, waterfalls etc. You can wander freely (and did I mention nakedly) between them! It was lovely to see groups of elderly ladies nattering in one pool, two mums and their little daughters in another, 3 teenagers giggling in a third. And I did it. I visited 6 pools. Chatted to several people… mainly in sign language! … and forgot my modesty. Would I do it again? Yes I would! No photos allowed…thankfully!

Next we set off for a walk by Lake Saiko. Did I say ‘by’? I meant UP a big hill onto a high ridge with views of Mt Fuji.

That evening we stayed at a great michi-no-eki beside lake Kawaguchiko. A search for food led us to , a traditional restaurant in a 300 year old building where we sat on the floor and grilled our own food. Beef, duck, boar, whole fish, huge shrimp, quail, squid and veg! Then they appeared with a small vat of veg and noodle soup. Scrumptious.

Next morning Easter Sunday. We did a lovely walk along the lakeside to a shrine, and then drove on to Lake Yamanakako which, despite the haze, looked great with Mt Fuji in the background.

Great use for stepladders!

Another walk here, then onto Hakone. Crossing the mountains we left sunny and hit low cloud. This area is known for parquetry… woodworking to create beautiful multi coloured wooden items, including puzzle boxes.

Supper was in a tiny cafe which served a local version of KFC called Karaage!! Delicious chicken marinaded in soy and herbs, crumbed, cooked, then served with cream cheese, salad and soup! Delicious.

The ferry boats on the lake were rather ornate!

Our night was spent up in the clouds, literally. The Hakone michi-no-eki was at quite high altitude and the clouds came down to meet us!

Next morning…sunny. Our last day, and we needed to sort out our bags, clean and tidy the van, and do a 3 hour drive to return it. We had hit on a cunning plan. We almost passed our airport – Haneda – so we dropped off all our luggage in lockers there, before returning the camper to its base… the opposite side of Tokyo! Then we took the train, with just 1 bag to carry instead of 4… we decided to bring our lovely duvet home! Lightly laden, we were able to stop in central Tokyo, at Ueno park, which we had only seen in the pouring rain! What a difference! The cherry blossom was coming out, and the park was packed with pip up food stalls, and thousands of people picnicking under the cherry trees.

We indulged in Cherry blossom ice cream and explored the park, finding shrines and pagodas.

We also had a strange experience. Our one regret was that we had not been able to visit Hiroshima, and see the peace park. It was just too far south. While in Ueno park, we followed a path that initially didn’t look very interesting. Suddenly we were at a shrine, with a stone dove, enclosing a flame. I will let you read the inscription.

The Origin of the ‘Flame of Hiroshima and Nagasaki’

On August 6, 1945, US forces dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and another on Nagasaki on August 9 the same year, claiming the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in an instant. Even now, many survivors are still suffering from the damage.

Sometime later, Tatsuo Yamamoto went to Hiroshima in search of his uncle, and found a flame of the atomic bomb burning in the ruins of his uncle’s house. He brought it back to Hoshino-mura, his hometown in Fukuoka prefecture. He kept it burning in his house as a memento of his uncle and an expression of his resentment. But years went by, the meaning of the flame turned into a symbol of his desire for abolition of nuclear weapons and for peace. Hosino-mura village build a torch and transferred the flame to it on August 6, 1968. It has been keeping the flame ever since as the flame for peace, with the support of the villagers.

In 1990 it lit the flame here in this memorial and is kept burning.

We were very moved by this.

Leaving the park we caught the train and monorail to the airport. The queuing system was well organised!!

The airport had some interesting shops, and a cool zone with a giant scalectrix racetrack. So Chris and I played…and I won!

All the Mariokart training was worth it!! We found a great restaurant for our last meal in Japan. Turned out it was a Korean Bbq restaurant, which is ironic, because it was better than any meal we had in S Korea, except for the one in the Japanese restaurant!

Emirates don’t have a lounge here, so we could use the Japan Air one until our midnight flight. We were glad we had eaten, as the food choice was poor, but we took advantage of the showers! Shame they don’t have washing machines too! Now for our longest flight.. 11 hours to Dubai. Night night!

Post 24 Bimbling with Benji!

We collected our little Nissan campervan from Japan campers, named it Benji, and set off on our adventures. The first part involved crossing Tokyo! Luckily, once you learn the rules, most drivers here stick to them…except for speed limits, although these are very low at times.

Our plan is to try to see some quieter parts of Japan, as well as ‘must see’ sights.

There aren’t many campsites, but luckily Japan has a system of Michi no eki, roadside service stations which usually have good toilets and shops, and are free to stay overnight. In fact you see many Japanese couples and families doing just that…. sometimes in the back of quite small cars!

The cherry blossom season is much heralded here. Estimated start dates are published and vary massively from the warmer south, to much later in the north. We might just catch the start in Kyoto, our furthest point south.

We started by visiting….Ikea! We wanted a duvet and some little home comforts!

Then off to the Izo peninsula. There are some small tourist towns, but also some great scenery. We recommend the cliff walk and bridge at the Jogasaki coast, and the New York garden at one end of the walk.

Great strawberry ice cream!

Then we did the amazing 7 waterfalls walk inland from Kawazu. This involved driving an amazing double loop road up the mountain!

Find the main carpark by the tourist information, and get the bus to the top of the hill and walk back!

We crossed the peninsula to some small villages with great rock formations – Dogashima, and a lovely sunset.

Tripadvisor led us to a hidden, very local restaurant, where we had a sensational meal for £14 each, on gorgeous tree trunk slice tables!

A night by a small port, then off up the coast to catch a ferry across the bay from Toi to Shimizu. This cut off a big corner, and provided us with our first view of Mt Fuji. It is huge. Jawdropping!

Then a very long drive up into the mountains where we stop at Takayama with a preserved centre, showing wooden townhouses as they would have been in old Japan. Another great local restaurant where we cooked our own food!

It is cold up here. SO glad we bought the duvet.

Next day the sun is out. We visit the fabulous Hida-no-sato museum of authentic old village buildings rescued when a valley was flooded for a reservoir. Each building is set out with different village activities, and shows how the buildings are constructed.

Then onto 2 real villages, in situ. Shirakawa-go and, our favourite, Suganuma. The thatched roofed dwellings, called Gassho-Zukuri houses, are common here. The boards of straw are winter insulation.

Now onto the Noto peninsula at the North of Honshu. Some great walks at Ganmon rock, including tips on what every rocky shore hiker should be wearing.

Also an 8km stretch of drive-along beach (but the tide was in!), and a visit to the pretty fishing port of Wajima. Everything seemed closed! We eventually found a small restaurant but everything he served had gluten based noodles. The owner/chef was so sorry. ‘Wait a moment’ he said. He then phoned several restaurants, before beaming at us, leaving his restaurant(and customers), and walking us to an open restaurant on the next block!! That is so typical of the helpfulness here.

One other treasure here was Kiriko Kaikan, a museum of floats carried in local festivals. The photos do not convey their size and beauty. The largest are 20 metres high and take 150 people to carry them!

Finally we headed to see some terraced rice paddies at Senmaida.

They have been in use for hundreds of years, and enjoyed a late afternoon walk in this peaceful setting, knowing that directly across the sea is North Korea!!

South in 15 days, North in 2!

We left Seville Tuesday morning and headed north, using the excellent, and toll free, route 66 through eastern Spain. We had a stop at the fascinating city of Merida, which was once a hugely important Roman city. This is evident from the extensive buildings which remain interspersed with more modern buildings. We could only visit the amphitheatre, classic theatre, temple of Diana and casa del Mitrio, however  you can buy an inclusive ticket to all the monuments. and the museum.

In addition, the 9th century moorish castle contains a fascinating well. It is housed in a building and reached by a divided descending stairway so that donkeys could be brought down to collect water and go up the other side.

After Merida we pressed on Northwards to a city I have always wanted to visit, Salamanca.

We arrived at 8pm and found the free parking under the bridge. We walked into town because we had heard it was wonderful at night.  We were immediately bowled over by the network of historic syreets and beautiful sandstone buildings, all illuminated. The Plaza Major is a jewel. We ate delicious tapas at the Vegetarian Cafe Atelier and wandered back to Boris.

Salamanca is full of history, and home to one of the oldest universities in the world. The next morning we explored the city again, climbing the Bell Tower and visiting the Old and New Cathedrals, which are woven into one. They contained some of the best mediaeval wall painting and altar paintings that we have ever seen.

Our time was limited so we did not visit inside the Old University buildings or the architectually lovely Art Deco museum ..  we are saving that for next time!

We did find a super restaurant, En La Parra, for a final special lunch… a delicious and creative tasting menu for 37 euros. A great end to the Iberian part of our holiday. Luckily we have done lots of walking so we havent put any weight on! The food has been marvellous everywhere.

LThen a long drive north almost to the Spanish border with France. Another free night opposite Orio before some Spanish supermarket shopping to buy ‘essentials’ like my favourite Salmorejo soup!Crossing into France we stopped at a bird reserve and with the help of a Grey wagtail, a Greylag goose and a humble blue tit took our bird list total over 100 for the trip. 

Finally our drive north continued to Pons for 2 days with friends before sailing home from Cherbourg on Saturday. What a great trip!

We will have driven nearly 3000 miles.. this map shows our route.

All along the Algarve!

From the SW corner we have travelled east through the Algarve. We confess to thinking this would be the least enjoyable part of our trip, with images of endless tourism development. Well we were so wrong. The development is concentrated in the cities of Lagos, Albufeira, Porto Maio and Faro, but in-between are beautiful beaches, stunning coastal scenery, and, amazingly, some superb wetlands with great birdwatching.

We played tourist to visit the glorious rock formations at Ponta da Piedade. Wow!

Then a hot but splendid cliff top walk from Praia de Marinha to Benagil, followed by a wonderful night at Lagoa dos salgados. We were parked at the lakeside and our only companions were the myriad of birds including flamingo, glossy ibis and spoonbill. Sunrise across the lake was enjoyed while still in bed… lazy birdwatching indeed! 

Sunday saw us walking to Praia Salgados, then meandering to the riverside town of Santa Luzia for an Octopus based lunch.. their specialist dish.

 Another walk then onto Camping Rio Formosa to get organised ready for the journey home. Good campsite where we met lots of people who had just arrived and would not go home until March! Standing in shorts, in the warm sun, it seemed like a jolly good idea!

Our last day in Portugal was a cracker. We visited the charming town of Tavira before meeting Luiz, the owner of Pernatur, who runs guided birding walks. He took us for a superb walk around the Rio Formosa wetlands near Faro. The highlights were an Osprey with a huge fish, purple swamp hen, and a Little bittern, which posed briefly before slipping back into the reeds. A great end to our stay in Portugal. Then a quick getaway to drive across the border for a lovely visit with Maria-Luisa in Seville…..   and a real bed for the night.