SANTORINI TO TIMISAORA
26.07.2012 - 30.07.2012 30 °C
Thanks to the ferry schedule getting us back to Athens late in the evening, and back to our van even later, we needed a sleep in before setting off north, so didn’t get out of Athens till after 2pm. We picked a campsite up in the north of Greece, not too far from the border of Bulgaria. Due to the late start, we chose to take toll roads to save us a fair bit of time (4-5hr drive as opposed to 7 without tolls). Without anywhere around to be able to withdrawal cash for the tolls, we figured we would just use our credit card like we had at all the other toll roads in Greece and across the EU. So of course when we got to the first tollbooth and went to hand them my card and they rejected it, saying cash only. We had to tell them we didn’t have any cash and that we were surprised as the other tolls we’d used had taken them. One non-payment notice later we were through and on our way again… only to be greeted by another toll booth, but no signs before it letting us know so we could turn off and take a non-toll route. A second ‘non-payment notice later’ (first one was quite stressful, second one we could only sit there and laugh, guessing how long it would be before the cars in line behind us started beeping at us) we had to change our course to one that would avoid anymore tolls since we had no idea which ones would take card anymore (and there was still no ATM’s in sight) Grrr!
Nine hours later after one of the hottest, bumpiest, winding, most unpleasant drives on the trip so far we arrived in Litichorro – on the east coast of Greece, but also at the base of Mount Olympus National Park, which we had driven through (that was actually quite a nice part of the drive… except for the crazy steep, hairpin infested, crumbling cliff lined decent where we thought on more than one occasion that it was all over, and we were going over the edge never to be heard from again!) – we arrived at the first campsite after dark, and though they said there was plenty of space for our van, it turned out that it was packed and everyone in the campsite had decided to string up their clothes lines across the driveway. Fine if you are in a car 1.5m off the ground, but no so fine if you are in a 2.6m high camper. Rather than try and take down the 30-or-so clothes lines, we decided to head to another campground that also turned out to be quite full, but thankfully had space for us and we settled in for a well needed sleep, but also with a terrible feeling that heading into Bulgaria the next day we were going to be met with the nightmare road conditions that we left in Albania….
Early the next afternoon we left for the Rila Mountains in Bulgaria, with no issues crossing the border (and another couple of stamps in our passports). The road wasn’t too bad from this point up until the campsite, which we weren’t sure if we were ever going to find – we only had 60% of Bulgaria maps on Tom. We did eventually find a site, which was only EUR7 for the night – quite basic with fairly gross toilets, but a welcome change from the prices we’d been paying in Greece. It was also cooler. We were just starting to relax a bit, and thought for a short time that getting through Bulgaria wasn’t going to be too bad after all.
However, as we left the next morning, the roads got bad again… cracked, rough, with potholes, that looked more like entrances the gates of hell, everywhere. Stress again! We could both feel the van start to go downhill, the “clunk, clunk, clunk” grinding sound from the suspension on my side was getting worse which was making steering a mission for Paul. We eventually got to a town called Montana in the north of the country and came across some young guys at a mechanic, thinking we’d be going through the same deal as Albania – these guys had a look, and virtually told us they weren’t touching it with a 10 foot pole and the best thing to do was to drive slow and careful as the roads in Romania were probably not going to get any better. Fair enough! Paul decided we’d just get through it and maybe when we got to Budapest we’d find somewhere to get the van serviced and the suspension looked at. So, through gritted teeth, we kept heading north until it was too hot and we were too tired and hungry to stop – we were still in Bulgaria though! We found a beautiful little campsite in a rural area called Camping Madona, and parked there for the night. We were both feeling very spent after the last couple of days, so rather than make the effort to cook, we ended up in the restaurant on site, that served traditional Bulgarian and local cuisine. I didn’t have the brainpower to try anything new, so I stuck to grilled chicken and fries. Paul as usual was more adventurous with the ‘meat’ hotpot (see pics – we did check once it was served and the ‘meat’ part turned out to be pork, and it was fantastic!), and we both shared some nice cheesy starters along with ice cream and fried apple with honey for desert. The service was fantastic as well, the guys made us feel so comfortable and welcome.
We slowly and carefully took off for Romania the next morning, the border wasn’t too far away from the campsite we’d stayed at – the crossing consists of a basic ferry that you share with as many other cars and trucks as they can fit on. They are building a bridge as well, but we could clearly see as we went over the Danube that it was still under construction. We had about 3hrs before we were due to reach Timisoara in the northwest of the country – originally I think we were going to do a bit of sightseeing, but time constraints turned it into a stopover instead. We drove along a “coastal” road with the Danube present on our left hand side for quite some time, and Serbia over the other side. The drivers were still a bit crazy, but tame compared to Greece.
(Im)Patiently waiting for the Ferry
Looking from Romania to Serbia across the Danube
As we arrived in Timisoara, we also headed into a windstorm (yay), which soon opened up the heavens and turned into a full on storm (well, rain at least). For the first time since the north of Spain towards the start of our trip, I wished I had a jacket and jeans on. One night in Romania was enough for us for now, as Hungary and Budapest were calling our names.