Tuesday 8 September 2015

Goodbye Hungary, Hello Croatia

Hungary and Croatia, 31st August – 6th September 2015

We’ve now moved on to another country, Croatia, which was one I was looking forward to, expecting nice scenery and sandy beaches, but so far have been unimpressed. Maybe it’s just the areas we’ve seen this far, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot here, mainly a series of villages geared up for tourists with a few shops/restaurants and lots of rooms and apartments to let, along a rocky coastline, or it could be because it had a lot to live up to after Greece. Plus there’s the disadvantage of freecamping not being allowed so we’re forced to stay on campsites every night which is restrictive and not good for the budget. There are lots of campsites along the coast here, of which normal ones are huge with 400-1200 pitches, and mini-camps are the size of regular ones that we’re used to. Time’s gone quickly and it seems I’ve got a week to cover in this entry since last time.

Camping Haller in Budapest was a basic site with motorhomes parked wherever they fitted on ground that had more weeds than grass left, and a dodgy electric setup with hookup cables running all over to reach the limited connection points, some of which had adapters splitting the power to more cables. On the other hand the location was good for easy access to the city centre and the information given to us at check-in from reception was very helpful, including a city map and the “Official Budapest Guide” which we found extremely useful as our main source of planning what to see and for the public transport map in it. I’d highly recommend getting hold of a copy if you visit and haven’t already planned what you’ll be doing.

Lake Balaton

View from the van at Tihany
We left Budapest calling at a Tesco on the outskirts as we’d not visited one here yet and needed some shopping. Here we managed to get some Robinsons squash; squash is the main thing which we’ve not been able to get hold of anywhere since leaving the UK so this was a great discovery. They didn’t have orange though, just apple & blackcurrant or lemon, so we got a bottle of each to keep us going a while. From here we steadily cruised down the M7 to Lake Balaton which you can’t see much of from the road that runs around it as it is set back from the lake with buildings etc in-between so you just get the occasional glance when at a high point in the road. We turned onto a headland into Tihany to a free spot we had noted down from Our Tour overlooking a small separate lake on this headland (GPS: 46.90827 17.88799). We stayed here for the night and found there was a school behind us after hearing a lot of cars arriving in the morning from about 7:30 onwards. We had a walk around the lake spotting and watching loads of frogs in one area jumping into the water and swimming about.

Continuing driving around the lake to Keszthely we found a place to park up at the edge of the town at the side of a quiet road near the railway line just outside of the chargeable parking zone. After some lunch we got the bikes out and cycled into and around the town. We went up the attractive cobbled main street to a grand building known as Festetics Palace before heading along the waterfront to get back, doing about 5 miles in total. We moved on from here to check out another spot from Our Tour for overnighting at Balatonberry overlooking Lake Balaton. There was a no motorhomes and tents sign up so we went a short way along the road and found it opened out with a grassy area behind a sports ground still overlooking the lake (GPS: 46.71522 17.32443), where we parked up.

Our overnight spot at Balatonbereny with the lake to the right

Into Croatia

We had one day left on our vignette so if we wanted to stay longer than this we’d have to buy another or figure out a route that avoids vignette roads. Lake Balaton didn’t make us want to stay longer so we left calling at a Lidl, a Shell garage and a Tesco to use up our remaining Hungarian forints and stock up on some cheap food items before heading to the Croatian border. We had our passports checked and a “Control” check inside which involved the border police lady just sticking her head through the habitation door.

Jo's Reaction: "What?  But the coast is hundreds of miles!
 How will I cope?"
No need to panic!  There's a Lidl just down the road from
the sign.
We decided having only just being in a city to bypass Zagreb and visit it on our way back up the country. There’s very little tourist trade so few places to stay inland in Croatia but there was one camping site in our ACSI book near Duga Resa. The roads there were flat with 50-80 km/h limits which led to a record high of 35.7mpg showing over the 140mi journey since filling up in the morning (maybe helped by being a full tank of Shell FuelSave diesel), which I didn’t think was obtainable in this size and weight of vehicle until now. When we arrived at Kamp Slapic near Belavici (GPS: 45.42128 15.48529, 120kn + 5kn p.p tourist tax (€17.20 total) with ACSI discount) the receptionist was excited at my name on my passport, explaining that we shared a name with his being the Croatian equivalent Matijas (mat-ias). It was very busy on the site but we found a place to park in a quieter area at the edge of the site that seemed like an overflow area, then got the chairs out and relaxed with a beer before dinner.

Someone's collection of old cars including some upside down!
After finding in the morning that the check-out time was an early one at 11am I didn’t have time to have my planned shower as we had a late start, but the toilet and shower blocks were large and very smart and clean which was a big change from the basic dated facilities we’ve become accustomed to over the last few months in Greece and Eastern Europe. When we left there was hardly anyone left on the site compared to when we arrived when it was close to full, it seems that it’s popular as a stopover location en-route to the coast. The roads got hilly as we travelled over the mountains to the coast at Senj, with our plan from here to travel south down the coast then turn around at the bottom and come back up to Zagreb and the northern coastline.

Lunch stop when we got to the coast
We’ve spent the last few days travelling along the coast road through a national park region stopping at a few places for the night and walked around the local areas when the weather’s been clear. We’ve been restricted with the weather though, although warm in the mid 30’s at times, it’s been variable with rain on and off which has been heavy at times. We stayed for one night in the car park of Hotel Zagreb in Karlobag (GPS: 44.52896 15.06982) for €10/24hr which we saw advertised at the roadside. It was late-ish in the day so wouldn’t have got any benefit from paying more for a campsite when we would be moving again in the morning. In Nin we initially looked at Ninska Laguna from the ACSI book which was only €11 but with WiFi a rip-off 50kn (€6.60) per day and coin-operated showers we gave it a miss and found a nicer little site, Autocamp Dispet (GPS: 44.24658 15.18990, 129kn (€17) inc WiFi, electric +15kn). Although we got here before lunch we had some rain so had to stay in and watched some Breaking Bad and browsed the internet until it cleared late in the afternoon. We’ve found we’re under attack from mosquitoes again here in Croatia after a break since Greece, Jo’s got it worse counting 47 bites on her today.

The small St Nicholas Church just outside Nin
Our tucked away pitch at Autocamp Dispet (with someone else's sail drying)
Near the campsite at Nin
Near the campsite at Nin
A view from the coast road
Yesterday after a trip into Zadar to do some shopping at Kaufland we drove back onto the island Vir but didn’t find much there, just more of the same villages and rocky fields. We were going to go onto and maybe camp on the long headland Pag that runs parallel with the mainland but didn’t bother assuming it would be similar so we wouldn’t be missing much. Instead we continued making progress south and arrived at Drage. We looked at one potential campsite then Oaza Mira which was a large site with 192 pitches and is the most commercialised we’ve been to so far with a large reception building and huge toilet blocks with fountains and water features in and around them. The pitches were nice marked out individual terraced areas that were massive, you could comfortably fit two or maybe even three vans on one. With tourist tax and registration fees (most campsites here add a ridiculous extra charge to register you at check-in) it would’ve been €22, more than we’ve paid anywhere so far (except Vassiliki in peak season), although substantially less than the standard price without our ACSI discount card which would be an unbelievable €58!

It's a shame we didn't have a burgundy cab too!
As it was the evening again so not much point paying for an expensive site we decided to check other options nearby and had a look at a tiny site just down the road that we’d driven past. Auto Camping Delphin which only has space on a terraced area for about 6 motorhomes and turned out to be a bargain €10 including electric (although we didn’t use it) so we stayed here (GPS: 43.88700 15.53510). The only other vans here were two Dethleffs’, making us the third, the Austrian man from one of them commented on this novelty when he walked by while I was sat out having a glass of wine, saying “Dethleffs” and holding up three fingers, followed by “super!”. It was a nice spot with a view of the small port and was quiet; I’d say actually a nicer place to be than the big site.

Today we travelled inland to visit the Krka National Park which surrounds a stretch of the River Krka where there are several waterfalls. We had two campsite options in the ACSI book so had a  look at them both, which there wasn’t much difference in, and decided on Auto Camp Krka (GPS: 43.80046 15.94138, 90kn +5kn pp tourist tax (€13.25 total) inc electric and WiFi) which we thought looked a slightly nicer site area. The weather had turned sunny and warm again so after having some lunch we cycled to the entrance to the national park intending to visit. Finding that it’s a big park that requires travelling by car to get to other areas and parking is free (a rarity here, they seem to charge everywhere) we decided to leave it until tomorrow when we have a full day to do this to make good use of the pricey 110kn (€14.50) each entry tickets.

- Matt

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