Going south; following the sun…

>Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator
(>Pictures at the bottom!)

…..at last we’re on our way!
On November 26th the time had finally come; the last official entry for our jeep was finally granted for all our impossible attachments, after a few adjustments nobody could stop us anymore.
The goodbyes at the next family members were kept short, but the wet eyes could not be avoided completely. Once again we had experienced a very intensive time together.

Our mobile home was loaded with all the necessary things, paired with the North American experiences, we finally started the engine to continue our journey. The mood at the departure was a bit ambivalent, but nevertheless we were overjoyed to be on the road again; the nailing of our diesel engine calmed us down the longer we drove out into the dark night.

Before we finally crossed the main ridge of the Alps, we headed for Opfertshofen in the hinterland of Schaffhausen, followed by Ludenhausen and Munich, where we visited some great friends and relatives.

On Monday morning, the winter definitely hit us in the city center of Munich; our jeep was lightly powdered and the temperatures were around freezing point. Our thoughts were with the continuation of the journey and the pass or passes to the south. How does it look like further up in the Alps?

Quickly the route was adapted to the conditions and “the passes” were cancelled in favour of a single and not so high Alpine crossing. We should still make it over the Brenner, especially since this crossing soon leads to lower altitudes.
From Innsbruck on it was not as wintry as we had feared and the road – not the motorway – to the Brenner was a special experience for us Swiss despite the low clouds. The Italian village “Brenner” welcomed us with clouds and countless outlets, all of which vie for the favour of the wealthy travellers and Euros. The extended valley to Bozen did not offer us a single overnight stay, everything was closed and barred, as well as the tourist region around Kaltern. Only a hotel high up in the mountains offered us a night’s lodging at an affordable price.

Outside, a cold north wind whizzed over the wide high valley around Cavareno, while inside, in the warmth, we enjoyed the breakfast buffet.
In a warm vehicle – yes, even a jeep has a heater – we drived through the fresh alpine landscape steadily downhill into the narrow Non-valley and towards Trento.
The wonderful weather and the sunshine tempted us to leave the valley again and take the direct way to Treviso through the mountains.

What we strongly underestimated was that at four o’clock the sun was already very low and at half past four it was already dark night. The search for a suitable sleeping place is a special challenge in the dark and we fell into this trap several times. But sometimes necessity is the mother of invention and even a parking place near a cemetery gave us a peaceful night.

As soon as we had crossed Trieste, we were already in Slovenia and were astonished that almost everything is built up near the coast. Koper, a pulsating port city, where the traffic comes to a standstill itself, would have a lot more to offer in the center than just a fast passage. Unfortunately, time was pressing us and already we were standing outside in the darkness looking for a place where we could stay for the next hours. From far away, a casino lured us and illuminated the way through the darkness. Before diving into the glittering world the Croatian customs officers wanted to check our papers before we went out into the darkness again. We definitely left the glittering world behind and rather looked for a quiet place for the coming night.

Istria is a mixture of the Italian past, paired with the Croatian way of life. Often you feel more in Italy than in Croatia and when the nursery school teacher explains to the little ones in Italian how to cross a road, you look twice at the license plates to make sure that you are here in Croatia after all.
Away from the coast you almost drive in a different time, where even small fields are cultivated with a lot of manual work. The closer you get to the coast, the more you get back to modern times and tourism has to provide for brisk activity and ringing tills during the high season. Nowhere else we saw so many stars at the hotel entrances as here and even the closed camping sites compete for the favour of the holiday guests with a lot of luxury.

We circumnavigated Rijeka in a large arc through the interior of the country and in search of paths that were not so heavily used. We just didn’t feel like driving through this port city and even when it rained we enjoyed the somewhat remote places in the greater Rijeka area.  In Crikvenica we reached the sea again and followed the coastal road in southern direction. The rain and the heavy clouds kept us from any side trips to the mountains near the coast.

In the Paklenica National Park even the shooting locations of Winnetou couldn’t lure us out of the protecting car and the corresponding museum was unfortunately closed on this rainy December day.  We caught up on the missed culture and history in the old town of Zadar and dived into the pre-Christmas time. St. Nicholas plays a minor role here, but young and old are looking forward to seeing Santa Claus soon.

Our way led us further in southeast direction. The 1778 kilometres of Croatian coast, the 1185 islands and the thousand and one curves have it in itself; the way to the south to the warmth is very long. And, as soon as the weather conditions were a little better, we turned off the coastal road several times; after all, there is much to admire and marvel at in the back country.
But also the differences between the coastal region and the interior were at times very striking: at the coast, a lot of luxury, expensive hotels and everything put in order, a few kilometres in the mountains and isolated valleys one rather finds modest conditions.
For us travellers it is also very noticeable again and again: in the proximity of the coast one pays attention to cleanliness and orderliness, in the interior there is enough nature, one simply dumps the building rubble behind the next bush and the garbage collection probably does not come regularly either.

In Ploče we ventured once into island hopping and already our ferry headed for an offshore island. The following night we experienced that in direct coastal proximity to the Adriatic Sea some things can be more violent than in the interior; besides heavy and continuous rain the nightly thunderstorm didn’t want to end and made us flinch again and again.
In the morning, everything was slightly humid, partly water penetrated into the interior of the vehicle and slightly affected the mood; who wants to have breakfast standing in a puddle?

It would have been only a few kilometres to Dubrovnik. As the rain was delayed, we headed for the countryside again. We already knew from other surprises that not all road closures are written here everywhere and understandable for everybody, but today we had to drive very far from a valley back to the coast. The responsible persons of the construction site did not want to let us drive over the freshly levelled road under any circumstances.

In Dubrovnik we parked our jeep in front of a simple accommodation in the immediate vicinity of the historical centre; here at the “Pearl of the Adriatic” there is a lot to marvel at and admire. The Madame of the house also convinced us that we should stay a little longer in order to really experience this “pearl”. She also told us about the terrible time of the civil war, the senseless attack on the old town and the time after. She also sent us on our first discovery tour and immediately followed up with her thoughtful words that “hopefully something like this will never happen again”. Meanwhile, she washed and dried all our dirty clothes – and all for free, a special service.
On the second day of our city tour we were surprisingly approached by the host of the accommodation and from the short conversation followed a detailed tour through the many alleys and squares. We could not have wished for a better guide and besides many details, our burning questions were explained very competently.

These two days in Dubrovnik were very relaxed after the 2 weeks of travelling, without pressure of looking for a place to sleep, without cold, with shower and toilet – simply a pleasure!

From Dubrovnik it was only a short distance to Montenegro, already we were subjected to a strict inspection and the officials present took it very thoroughly. Although EU and Schengen are probably still many things are led over these borders, which perhaps should not. And a jeep, as we drive, probably doesn’t drive through here every day; in any case, the vehicle papers were studied very carefully and the first time we had to show the green insurance card.

Our passage through Montenegro was very short and we wished to be further south – too cold and rainy. And yet; after Koter the clouds cleared and the route was changed in favour of a mountain road.
Immediately after Kotor we turned off the main road and took a steep mountain road far up into the mountains and soon we were at over 1200 meters above sea level. Our way was further than expected and the narrow road, or was it more of a bumpy road (?), allowed only a slow pace. Behind every bend you had to expect some things and the local people are usually very fast on the road. We missed our goal for the day and even before reaching the Albanian border we capitulated in the night. Maybe it was just as well; crossing the border into a new country in the dark is not recommended!

The departure from Montenegro was not so dramatic and after checking the vehicle papers we went a few meters further to the Albanian border officials. Now the procedure of the entry with all papers and questions began again; “where to, how long and much more! Actually a procedure that we knew until a few decades ago also in Central Europe and country crossings were not part of the everyday life.

The customs officers soon wished us a good onward journey and the journey to this country, long shielded from all tourism, could begin.
The excitement was also great and many true and untrue stories were given to us along the way.
Who will be right; the slander or the real Albania?

>Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)