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post #1 of 15 (permalink) Old 07-11-2019, 05:11 AM Thread Starter
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GTV18's European Road trip No15: Eastern Europe.

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A little more than a year has passed since my last road trip, so it was time to head out again seeking new adventures.
This time I planned to travel through Eastern Europe. These days I live in Florence - Italy, and therefore I have a considerable 'head start' for such a trip. I would not contemplate Eastern Europe if I was still living in London, - it’s just too far...

I did contact the 'usual suspects' from last year’s trip, but no one was really keen to drive such great distances. I can't say I was surprised...

-------------------------
Previous trip:
https://www.alfabb.com/bb/forums/alf...t-reunion.html

-----------------------------

Some Background:
2019 marks the 30th anniversary of my leaving New Zealand to seek my fortune out in the 'big wide world'. I sold everything I owned & set off with a one way ticket to the unknown. I started touring around Europe and I found myself in Vienna on my 21st birthday. There I met a fellow NZ'er who had just returned from Albania. He told me many interesting stories from his travels around Eastern Europe, so I thought I would check it out for myself. I followed a looping circuit starting with Hungary, then Romania, Bulgaria, (followed by a detour to Istanbul & Thessaloniki), and finally up through Yugoslavia, and back to Vienna. I couldn't arrange a tour in Albania at the time, so I travelled there 1990 instead.

The Plan:
Basically, the plan was to return to many of the places I had previously visited in Eastern Europe and see what has changed in the last 3 decades.

The itinerary looked something like this:

Day 1: Sat 22nd June.
Florence - Tolentino - Bari.
--------------------------------------
Day 2: Sun 23rd June.
Durres - Tirana - Thessaloniki.
--------------------------------------
Day 3: Mon 24th June.
Thessaloniki - Kavala - Kardzali - Stara Zagora.
--------------------------------------
Day 4: Tue 25th June.
Stara Zagora - Mount Buzludzha - Ruse - Pitesti.
--------------------------------------
Day 5: Wed 26th June.
Pitesti - Transfagarasan(DN7C) - Sebes.
--------------------------------------
Day 6: Thu 27th June.
Sebes - Transalpina pass(DN67C) - Arad.
--------------------------------------
Day 7: Fri 28th June.
Arad - Szeged - Osijek - Slavonski Brod - Zagreb.
--------------------------------------
Day 8: Sat 29th June.
Zagreb - Ljubljana - Trieste - Florence.
--------------------------------------

Car Prep:
I didn't really do any specific car prep for this trip, apart from an Oil & Filter change, and giving everything a good check over.

I have had plenty of opportunity over the past year to complete many of the small jobs I've wanted to do for some time, for example, fitting a new radio (Retrosound Santa Barbara), fitting a fuel flap release handle, re-hanging the exhaust, fitting a new windscreen washer bottle and re-positioning the coolant reservoir (so I can fit an airbox & cold air intake), and getting a wheel alignment.

I was confident the car was in good shape...

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Retrosound Santa Barbara, with music loaded onto USB stick.

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Fuel flap release handle.

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Repositioned Coolant Reservoir & New Windscreen Washer Bottle.

..

Nick W.
The problem with modern cars? - Too many computers, not enough carburetors...

Last edited by GTV18; 07-11-2019 at 05:50 AM.
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post #2 of 15 (permalink) Old 07-11-2019, 05:15 AM Thread Starter
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T15D1

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T15D1
Florence - Tolentino - Bari.
https://goo.gl/maps/5fgzNU9QKKPGA1rv9 728km, 7:40hrs

For only the second time on one of these trips, day one didn't start at 4:30am in order to dash to the Eurotunnel. Instead I was able to wake at a much more reasonable hour & I left the house around 8:00. However, as is normal on these trips, day one did involve a lot of long boring motorway miles. Eventually I arrived in the port town of Bari, where I would be catching the ferry to Durres in Albania.

I had read a lot of reviews on TripAdvisor of people’s experiences with the ferry crossing to Albania. Many said the service was poor and the staff were unhelpful, but my experience was quite the opposite.

It turned out that Red & White are the colours of the Bari Football Squad, so the guy directing traffic at the staging area for the ferry bumped me to the front of the queue! I was one of the first to drive onto the boat. This was great because it was very hot sitting in the car waiting for loading which started at 7pm. I was in my (air-conditioned) cabin by 7:30. The ferry was due to sail at 10pm, but loading was still continuing at midnight! I felt sorry for those poor folks stuck in the queue for that length of time...

GNV Ferries
https://www.gnv.it/en


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Washed & Ready to go.

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Loaded onto the Ferry.

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Air conditioned cabin.

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The queue at 9pm. Still 3 hours to wait for some folks...

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The harbour at Bari.

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The problem with modern cars? - Too many computers, not enough carburetors...

Last edited by GTV18; 07-11-2019 at 05:47 AM.
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post #3 of 15 (permalink) Old 07-11-2019, 05:18 AM Thread Starter
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T15D2

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Durres - Tirana - Thessaloniki.
https://goo.gl/maps/zKc6qxHhVt6BwQVs9 463km, 6:35hrs

I don't know what time the ferry departed, but they must sped up the crossing overnight because it arrived exactly on time the next morning in Durres.
I passed through Albanian passport control without a hitch, but I was stopped at customs and my car was put up on a ramp where it received a thorough inspection. This took around 40 minutes, during which time I was obliged to purchase Albanian car insurance, - €50 for the one day I would be in the country!!

After leaving the port I drove to Tirana. Wow! The place was completely un-recognizable to me. The last time I was here, Albania was under communist rule & it was the poorest country in Europe. The main differences I noticed this time round were: There were lots of people walking around, Food & clothing were readily available in the shops, and cars had replaced horse & cart as the regular form of transport. - I'm not kidding, horse & cart was the normal way of getting around 30 years ago, - The concept of private car ownership didn't really exist!.

I had a good wander around the centre of Tirana before heading off towards Lake Ohrid, stopping for lunch in Pogradec. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the roads up as far as Pogradec, but then I decided to explore the southern shore of the lake and I soon discovered the shockingly bad road conditions I had been warned about. For the next 55km to the Greek border, I seemed to be transported back to the 'old' Albania that I remembered. Bumpy roads and people travelling on horse & cart were the order of the day, - It was slow progress...

Once across the border, I settled in for an uneventful drive along the motorway to Thessaloniki. There I stayed at the very nice Athlos hotel & had a superb meal in one of the many restaurants in the Aretsou Marina district.

Athlos Hotel.
https://athlos-hotel.gr/


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Arriving at the harbour in Durres.

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Albanian Insurance Certificate. €50!

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Centre of Tirana.

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Casino in Tirana.

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Looking down at the town of Lin, on Lake Ohrid.

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The problem with modern cars? - Too many computers, not enough carburetors...

Last edited by GTV18; 07-11-2019 at 05:48 AM.
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post #4 of 15 (permalink) Old 07-11-2019, 05:21 AM Thread Starter
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T15D3

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T15D3
Thessaloniki - Kavala - Kardzali - Stara Zagora.
https://goo.gl/maps/B5EcVivyuCrwZob79 449km, 5:25hrs

Day 3 started with repairs to the car. The radiator thermo fan switch seemed to have failed. The car was getting quite hot during the previous afternoon and I realized that the electric fan was not cutting in. The problem was solved by bypassing the switch. This meant that the fan would run continuously, but the weather was so hot that that probably would have done that anyway...

This was going to be another long motorway day & it started badly by being stuck in a huge queue of traffic shortly after leaving the hotel. The reason turned out to be a horrific car crash in which two cars ended up on their roofs! One strange thing I noticed about the Greek motorways was the lack of service areas along the way. It seems if you want fuel, you must exit the motorway and navigate to the nearest petrol station in the next town.?..

I stopped for lunch and then a swim at the beach in Kavala, before making my way to Stara Zagora in Bulgaria. I stayed at the marvellous 5 star Park Hotel.

Park Hotel.
Park Hotel Stara Zagora


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Radiator thermo fan switch - bypassed...

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Marina at Kavala.

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Lunch in Kavala.

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Swim at the beach in Kavala.

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View from my hotel room in Stara Zagora.

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The problem with modern cars? - Too many computers, not enough carburetors...

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post #5 of 15 (permalink) Old 07-11-2019, 05:24 AM Thread Starter
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T15D4
Stara Zagora - Mount Buzludzha - Ruse - Pitesti.
https://goo.gl/maps/Bxw5UXNrzLbdZKL76 424km, 6:20hrs.

Day 4 was set to be an interesting day. First stop was Mount Buzludzha: Bulgaria’s Communist Party Headquarters. An amazing building that has fallen into severe decline since the demise of communism. I left Stara Zagora in beautiful weather for the 55km drive to Mount Buzludzha. I had a good blast up the road on the southern side, but as I reached the summit there was a problem. Thick fog was blowing in from the north and my view of the monument was completely obscured! It was also really cold up there and I was wearing shorts & a tee shirt so I had to change clothes before exiting the car to explore.

Unfortunately it is not possible to go inside, and there is a security guard stationed there to make sure you don't try, so I had a quick look around the exterior before standing around in the carpark waiting for a break in the fog to get a photo. After 10 minutes I left.

Next destination was the Freedom Monument, just 13km down the northern side of the mountain. This proved to be quite a difficult task. The road was in an absolutely dreadful state and it took about 40 minutes to get to the Freedom Monument. Once there, fog was a problem again so I didn't hang around...

Once I was back on the main road conditions improved and I headed towards Pitesti in Romania. Annoyingly my satnav disregarded the route I had planned
and took me onto the ring road around Bucharest. It was heavily congested & added more than half an hour to my journey time.

I eventually made it to Pitesti, where I stayed in the Hotel Victoria.

For more about Mount Buzludzha:
Mount Buzludzha: Bulgaria's Communist Party Headquarters - The Bohemian Blog

Hotel Victoria.
Home | Victoria Hotel


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Mount Buzludzha - What it should look like...

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Mount Buzludzha - What I saw on the day I was there...

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Mount Buzludzha - Interior shot.

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Mount Buzludzha - The road down the north side.

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The Freedom Monument. This was the only break in the fog...

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post #6 of 15 (permalink) Old 07-11-2019, 05:27 AM Thread Starter
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T15D5

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T15D5
Pitesti - Transfagarasan - Brezoi - Transfagarasan - Sebes.
https://goo.gl/maps/sUNxyQMkVoGbbLuC8 530km, 09:40hrs.

Today was 'the big one'. The legendary Transfagarasan pass. My internet research about the Transfagarasan told me that even though the official highway website said that it would not open until the 1st of July, it is often the case that locals unofficially open the road a few days beforehand.
I would be there just 5 days before the official opening so I was willing to take the risk that it may not be open because my research also seemed it say that the closed part was only a few kilometres long so I wouldn't be missing too much if I couldn't drive that section.

So, I got an early start and headed off up the southern side. Sure enough, there were signs saying the road was closed at the 104km mark, but I pressed on anyway. I stopped briefly at the dam at Lake Vidraru for a few photos, then continued to the top. I stopped when I reached the Balea Tunnel where the road was indeed closed by a large steel door that blocks the entrance to the tunnel. I spoke to a local guy who told me that yesterday a group of locals tried to open the door as both sides of the pass were now free from snow. Apparently a highway official arrived with a maintenance crew and rather than concede that the tunnel could now be opened, instead ordered the crew Weld the door shut!!

Talking further with the guy revealed that the tunnel is only 700 metres long and there is a pedestrian entrance for people to pass through to Lake Balea on the other side. If I wanted to visit Lake Balea by car I would have to drive the long way round via Brezoi, & up the other side of the pass.

So that’s what I did... It was quite a long day out, but I can say I've driven up & down both sides of the Transfagarasan pass! (all but 700 meters of it)...

For more about the Transfagarasan:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transf...%C4%83%C8%99an

Hotel Leul de Aur.
https://www.hotelleuldeaur.ro/en/


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Dam at Lake Vidraru.

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Lake Vidraru.

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Transfagarasan pass (south side)

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Transfagarasan pass (south side)

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Balea Tunnel, door WELDED SHUT!

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The problem with modern cars? - Too many computers, not enough carburetors...

Last edited by GTV18; 07-12-2019 at 01:44 AM.
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post #7 of 15 (permalink) Old 07-11-2019, 05:30 AM Thread Starter
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T15D2-Photos

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T15D5 - Photos


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Lake Balea.

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Transfagarasan pass (north side)

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Transfagarasan pass (north side)

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Transfagarasan pass (north side)

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Transfagarasan pass (north side)

ps: I took quite a lot of video on the Transfagarasan, but when it came time to review the footage all the colours were distorted.
It seems that my in-car video camera is not functioning properly...

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The problem with modern cars? - Too many computers, not enough carburetors...

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post #8 of 15 (permalink) Old 07-11-2019, 05:33 AM Thread Starter
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Sebes - Transalpina - Arad.
https://goo.gl/maps/NxHZCFUDo92wsXV77 520km, 9:30hrs.

Day 6 was another alpine pass day: the aptly named Transalpina. This is the lesser known cousin of the Transfagarasan.
After a fabulous breakfast at the Hotel Leul de Aur, I set off heading directly south on the Transalpina road. Annoyingly my satnav disregarded the route I had planned (for the 2nd time on this trip) and tried to take me the long way round via Sibiu! I drove almost 50km with it saying "make a U-turn" before it finally figured out that I was already on the correct road. The first 85km are a twisty route through a forest, before the road starts to climb into more 'alpine' territory with the summit near Ranca. From there it’s all downhill to Novaci, where I stopped for fuel & a bite to eat.

Then I turned around and headed back again. At the end of the 'alpine' section I decided to turn left and check out the 7A road towards Petrosani. This was a big mistake! The road was the worst I’ve encountered in all my travels around Europe. After about 2 miles it became un-driveable (at least in an Alfa). I made a very precarious U-turn and made my way back to Sebes via the 'forest' road.

At Sebes I headed east on the A1 motorway for a while, but at Margina I was forced to take a detour onto the E86 road. The main road was closed for some unknown reason. Once again this confused my satnav and I drove more than 55km with it saying "make a U-turn" before it finally figured out that I was already on the direct road to Arad.

Why Arad? Arad was the first town I stayed in on my original visit to Romania 30 years ago. Back then Romania was suffering under the hard-line communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. There was an all-encompassing atmosphere of oppression about the place. It was frankly horrible. Foreigners were treated with dis-trust but also seen as endless sources of hard currency. At the time I stayed in the Hotel Ardealul, there was one tariff for locals & one that was 10 times higher for foreigners! Luckily I had bought a carton of Marlboro cigarettes with me so I could exchange them for local currency on the 'black market'...

The main differences I noticed this time round were: There were lots of people walking around and they were willing to talk to me (a foreigner), Food & clothing were readily available in the shops, and I wasn't followed by a 'Secret Policeman' everywhere I went. - I'm not kidding, 30 years ago Securitate (state secret police) were assigned to follow foreigners and watch their movements!

For more about the Transalpina:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transalpina_(DN67C)

Hotel Arad. (I wouldn't recommend staying here)
https://www.hotel-arad.com/eng/prezentare.html#


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Lake Oasa.

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Land-slips, a common sight...

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Transalpina.

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Transalpina.

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Ranca.

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post #9 of 15 (permalink) Old 07-11-2019, 05:37 AM Thread Starter
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Arad - Szeged - Osijek - Slavonski Brod - Zagreb.
https://goo.gl/maps/1dvV9nuHyvD52BvB6 575km, 6:40hrs.

I left Arad, stopping for fuel just before the Hungarian border - to use up the last of my Romanian currency. As I crossed the border the Hungarian official checked all my car documents and let me through. I passed by Szeged and continued onto Baja where - for the 3rd time - my annoying satnav decided to direct me south instead of the planned east route to Mohacs. The southern route was 37km of very bumpy road, followed by an unexpected river crossing by car ferry.

The ferry was loading as I drove up, but I didn't have a ticket. The guy directing cars pointed me to the ticket office, so I jumped out of the car, ran to the ticket office & asked for a ticket. The lady said "€1", so I paid & received a ticket. I turned to run back to the car, but I was too late. The ferry was gone... So I waited half an hour for the next sailing. When I attempted to drive on again, the guy said I only had a 'foot passenger' ticket - and not for a car! I would have to buy another ticket for my car. So I rushed back to the ticket office again & asked the same woman for 1 car ticket. She insisted that I couldn't buy 1 'car' ticket without also buying 1 'person' ticket! I didn't have time to argue so I paid €5 for the extra tickets and drove onto the ferry...

From Mohacs it was a short drive to the border at Udvar. When I arrived the young Hungarian border official asked to see my car documents. (This is on the way Out of Hungary). He then declared that as my registration document was a copy rather than an original, I would have to pay a fine of €30! He took all my details - name, address, etc - and then insisted I give him my mother's maiden name as well! This seemed very suspicious to me (i.e.: possible identity fraud) so I gave a false name as I knew he had no method of verifying the information. Finally, when he was finished issuing the fine, he handed my passport & car documents to his opposite number on the Croatian side of the border and suggested to him that he should not let me pass through without an original registration document!! I've met some a55holes in my time, but this guy was on another level.!?..

The older (late 50's?) Croatian Border official took one look at my paperwork and just waved me through... From there it was an uneventful passage to Zagreb.
I stayed in the excellent Hotel Sundial, and had a very nice meal in a fish restaurant just 200 meters down the road.

Hotel Sundial.
https://hotel-sundial.com/en/


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Hotel Ardealul, Arad. Unfortunately it was closed for renovations this time round...

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Cathedral Sfanta Treime, Arad.

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Horse & Cart is still a fairly common sight in rural parts...

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Ferry at Mohacs. Despite jumping out of a car, the lady in the ticket office sold me a foot passenger ticket.?..

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Border at Udvar.

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post #10 of 15 (permalink) Old 07-11-2019, 05:40 AM Thread Starter
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Zagreb - Ljubljana - Trieste - Florence.
https://goo.gl/maps/GNCFjDxFXreDHR6Z8 637km, 6:50hrs.

I had a very difficult time leaving Zagreb - not because I liked it so much - but because of roadworks, and my annoying satnav's apparent inability to work around a problem. Once again I stopped for fuel just before the Slovenian border - to use up the last of my Croatian currency. There were no issues crossing the border and I hit the motorway, passing Ljubljana on my way to Trieste. There I stopped for lunch & a wander around the beautiful marina, before making my along the coastal road where I stopped for a swim.

Finally, it was back onto the Autostrada for the drive to Florence & home....


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Looking down onto Trieste.

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Trieste Marina.

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This is what I found when I returned to my car...

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Stopped for a swim along the coastal road.

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Back home, looking a little worse than when it left...

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post #11 of 15 (permalink) Old 07-11-2019, 05:43 AM Thread Starter
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T15-Sum

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T15Sumary

Distance = 4326km in 8 Days (2700miles)
Longest day = 728km (455miles)
Fuel mileage = 10.5km/l (approx. 30mpg)
Oil consumed = 2 liters (Valvoline VR1 Racing 10W60)

Another great Road trip, Eastern Europe was fantastic!

However it could be a bit difficult & frustrating at times. Having to stop & wait at all the border crossings - the average wait time was around half an hour - as well as the need for different currencies in each country, became a bit tedious!

If you compare that to Western Europe - where you can drive from Sagres in Portugal to Sassnitz in Germany passing through 11 different countries over 4500km - using the same currency the whole way and without even having to take your passport out of your pocket...

On the plus side, it was absolutely amazing to see the changes that have occurred in those countries over the past 30 years!
Albania & Romania in particular are like totally different countries from what I remember...

The Transfagarasan & Transalpina passes were excellent, although the road surfaces were not that great. Personally I preferred the Transalpina pass over it's more famous cousin. I was lucky with the Transfagarasan - even though it was 'closed' - to be able to drive all of it, and with the advantage that this early in the year meant the road was almost deserted. Apparently it becomes very crowded at the height of the season...

So who has the worst roads in Eastern Europe? Well, Albania & Bulgaria both had some very very bad roads, but they were relatively short.
Romania takes the prize, because it has some very bad roads, and they continued for mile after mile...
Having said all that, round here where I live in Italy (Tuscany) there is no shortage of very bad roads too!

Where to next? I have only 1 more year living in Italy before returning to the UK, so I need to make the most of the opportunity to explore new places.
Perhaps a trip through what was previously known as Yugoslavia, or possibly even a trip to the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey!



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Picked up a few 'passengers' along the way.

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It was so hot on the last day this happened!

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My old video camera is not happy! Luckily I have 2nd one...

Video from the lower part of the Transalpina:


'73 Alfa Romeo 105 Series GTV - Transalpina June 2019



.

Nick W.
The problem with modern cars? - Too many computers, not enough carburetors...

Last edited by GTV18; 07-18-2019 at 02:18 AM.
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post #12 of 15 (permalink) Old 07-11-2019, 05:46 AM Thread Starter
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T15 - Satnav

.
T15 - Satnav

As you may have guessed reading this report, I have been somewhat disappointed with my satnav on this trip. On all 14 of my previous trips (plus some other 'trans european' trips that I have not reported) I have used a Tom Tom satnav. It has worked flawlessly & never given me any grief, but last year I received an email from Tom Tom saying that my older model satnav is no longer being supported. No new updates or maps would be made available. I didn't think much of it, after all the satnav still worked & did what it was supposed to do..

However, when I used it recently (on a motorcycle trip), it mysteriously started having problems. The clock refused to work (constantly read 12:00) so I couldn't get arrival times or times to destinations, and it would often take up to an hour to find satellites. Quite a coincidence huh?

Clearly I couldn't continue using such an unreliable satnav, so I purchased a Garmin Nuvi 2595lmt. I have to say that I find it difficult to use compared to the Tom Tom, in particular when planning a complicated road trip. Not least of all because I had to download Garmin 'Basecamp' onto my PC and learn to use this new software. Despite all the effort that went into using Basecamp to carefully plan my routes, there were three occasions were the satnav chose to ignore those specific routes completely and follow conventional routes instead!?

As a result I am now in the market for a new Tom Tom satnav...

.

Nick W.
The problem with modern cars? - Too many computers, not enough carburetors...

Last edited by GTV18; 07-12-2019 at 02:06 AM.
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post #13 of 15 (permalink) Old 07-11-2019, 07:01 AM
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What a great tour, Nick! I really enjoyed reading along, and hats off to you for a very descriptive narrative and lovely photos of the scenery. You were travelling through my grandfather's home country, as he was from a small town called Jezero, south of Jubljana. I traveled through Europe long ago, when I was only 18, nine countries on a concert tour, and even then I was struck by the difference in the communist bloc areas we visited. Our orchestra group was escorted, and our luggage searched in our hotel rooms, in Zagreb. Your comments about horse and cart transport are right on target, during that time. There was no middle class, to speak of.

However-- thank you again for the terrific post! Sharp looking GTV, also!
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post #14 of 15 (permalink) Old 07-11-2019, 07:34 AM
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Great Post! I really enjoyed it.

As for the Sat Nav, have you considered using a phone based App? I have used the "Here We Go" from Nokia. You can download the countries you need, so no data problems. I've used it in Italy and Ireland with no problems!

One of the pluses is one fewer gadget to keep charged, or get stolen!

Mo in NJ

Last edited by mmarvi; 07-11-2019 at 07:37 AM.
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post #15 of 15 (permalink) Old 07-16-2019, 01:56 AM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mmarvi View Post
As for the Sat Nav, have you considered using a phone based App? I have used the "Here We Go" from Nokia....
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Thanks, I'll look into it...


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Nick W.
The problem with modern cars? - Too many computers, not enough carburetors...
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