Good-bye to 2020, Hello to 2021

Grožnjan, walled hilltop village in Istria

Mike and I left Canada on June 25, 2020.  Exactly four months later, on October 25 we arrived in Croatia and took our RV to the campground where it was going to spend the winter while we returned home to Canada after our shortest European leg.  Because of the lockdown in Canada our trip home was postponed and has again been postponed.  Our shortest leg quickly got longer. Due to the coronavirus, we still can’t leave Croatia but we have finally left the campsite where we spent the last 125 nights.  We decided that this was a good point in time to define as the end of our 2020 season and we would start our 2021 leg as we arrived on the Island of Krk.  Normally our annual leg ends when we go back to Canada for a few months and then return for the next season.  This year our trip home will come in the middle of this leg.  Of course, that is assuming that we get home before this leg ends, which isn’t a given.

Top 3 highlights of 2020:

There was NO waiting or line-ups at any tourist destinations including places like the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna. The longest we lined up for anything on our entire trip, was waiting outside for 15 minutes to get new SIM cards for our phones.

No line-ups, no crowds, lovely Vienna (Gloriette at Schönbrunn Palace)

Visiting the village of Mirna in Slovenia was great.  We were greeted by the Mayor with a bottle of champagne.  We were invited to a private winery, a horse ranch and a castle that was closed to the public for reconstruction.  What a super week. 

Marko’s very, very steep vineyard near Mirna in Slovenia

Visiting mountains in the NE of Slovakia called the High Tatras was great fun.  One day we took a very small train about 6 km.  We then took two cable car rides up into the mountains.  Next we hiked 6 km across the mountains.  Eventually we ended up at the summit of a funicular railway that we took back down the mountain to the parking lot where we had left our car at the beginning of the day.  What a fantastic time. 

Hiking along the “Tatranská magistrála” or the “Tatra Highway”

Top Thumbs Down Issues: 

Canadian government and health officials saying that people shouldn’t travel and Toronto going into lockdown, just as Mike and I were due home in November.

Coronavirus chasing us out of countries that we wanted to visit and basically dictating our route.

We rode over 1,500 km in Istria County in Croatia which would have taken us right down to the south of Croatia and back.  This would have looked much more impressive on our maps that just having the county look like a solid block of cycling trips.  We really like trying to draw a cycling line across Europe and were doing really well until the coronavirus got in the way. 

Because the government asked all travellers, including us, not to return to Canada in November, our Ontario Health Insurance (OHIP) coverage lapsed in January.  We have had to purchase a Health Insurance Policy from “Regency for Expats” just in case something unforeseen happens.  It really annoys Mike that if we don’t get any relief from paying our taxes in Canada then, given that OHIP is funded by our taxes, our health insurance should continue to be covered.  He thinks that the need to be in Ontario for 5 months every year in order to retain OHIP coverage is rather arbitrary and wrong.         

Extra issue was MY COMPUTER DIED and it took forever to replace it with a computer with an International English keyboard as opposed to a German one. Major, major hassles.

2020 Travel Overview:

Here a summary of our four months of travelling through three countries while outrunning covid and our next four months in lockdown in one campground in Croatia which went much better than it sounds.  The original thoughts for 2020 were obviously quite different but we don’t regret any of it. 

Dinner delivered in quarantine
Mike cleaning pine sap with a razor blade

We almost didn’t get out of Toronto because of major issues with Air Canada personnel.  Despite arriving at the airport terminal 3 hours before our scheduled departure, we finally got properly checked in with literally less than two minutes to spare.  Before we arrived in Slovenia we had received an email saying that we wouldn’t need to quarantine.  We did get our two negative covid tests in Canada just in case they were needed.  None of that mattered.  The Slovenian police said that we were from Canada and we had to quarantine for 14 days.  We had an email from the campground storing our camper for the winter saying that we could quarantine in their campground and they would look after any meals required etc.  The police accepted and recorded this.  The only problem was that the email was sent to us assuming that we would arrive in April or May.  We arrived at the end of June on Slovenia’s Statehood Day which is equivalent to Canada’s July 1 or the US July 4 holiday.  To help out the tourist industry during the pandemic, the Slovenian government had given every adult $300 Cdn to spend on tourist activities within Slovenia.  I think the whole country was jammed into the one campground where we were supposed to isolate and quarantine.  This obviously wasn’t working.  After a lot of work, the campground manager found a hotel 30 minutes away, where we could park our RV in their parking lot and they would bring us meals and assure the police daily that we were still in isolation.  After a few issues, such as not being able to drive the car as it was absolutely covered in thick pine sap and then having the police say that we couldn’t quarantine in our RV but we had to stay in the hotel, things went fine.  Four days after we started quarantining, Slovenia declared that Canadians entering Slovenia didn’t need to quarantine.  However, because Mike and I had already started our two weeks of quarantine, we had to continue to isolate for the remaining 10 days.  Luckily quarantining in the RV wasn’t too bad.  We had been away for 8 months and had quite a bit to keep us busy. 

Ljubljana Castle overlooking the city and the its river

After we left our quarantine hotel, we visited Ljubljana the capital, where we thoroughly enjoyed an outdoor concert in a park while socially distancing properly. After leaving Ljubljana we visited the village of Mirna where we had a phenomenal welcome (see our highlights above).  We then stayed in a lovely park right in the city of Celje. We walked into the town for nightly cappuccinos and biked up to the castle overlooking the park.    Mike and I very much enjoyed ourselves traveling through Slovenia to get to Austria. We had left Austria earlier than expected in 2019 due to some family concerns and wanted to continue our trip and our bike ride along the Danube.  It was a good choice. Vienna, with no crowds, was absolutely great. 

Gorge near Celje, Slovenia
Had coffee in Vienna’s gorgeous Supreme Court

We left Austria at Vienna and went into Slovakia.  The two capital cities, Vienna and Bratislava, are about 70 km apart.  We continued our ride along the Danube to Bratislava and then wanted to continue right into Budapest in Hungary.  This would have meant riding along the Danube through three capital cities in only a couple of weeks.  This didn’t work as Hungary was locked down tighter than any other country due to coronavirus.  We continued north in Slovakia and had a great time in the High Tatra mountains.  We were about to leave to for the Czech Republic when we found out that Prague was a red coronavirus zone.  This was off-putting, so we decided to go back to Austria and continue exploring parts of the country that we hadn’t yet seen.  At this point in time, Vienna also turned red and if we stayed in Austria, we would have to quarantine again when we returned to Slovenia or Croatia.  We were due to return to Canada in November and we couldn’t stay in Austria as we would need to have chains on our RV tires and Austria’s weather isn’t great for camping in early March which was our planned Europe return date. In fact we planned to store our RV on the Istrian peninsula on the Adriatic (Slovenia and Croatia) which is a great place to store the RV for the winter.  It isn’t expensive and typically it doesn’t snow and the temperature is fine for us when we return in the spring.  Most of the time, in Europe during the pandemic, you are allowed to transit a country, even if it is in the red zone.  You have a specific time limit to make your transit in.  Any longer and you are considered to have visited the country and may be required to quarantine. 

We transited Austria and stopped at a casino parking lot in Slovenia, just inside the Austrian border.  They were fine with us “camping” there for a few days.  We decided that we would continue our biking and we would bike across Slovenia, through the lovely cities of Maribor and Celje back to Koper on the coast where we wanted to store our RV.  On our first day in Slovenia, we took a train into Maribor with our bikes so that we could cycle back about 40 km to our RV at the casino.  At the train station we “talked” with a man who didn’t speak English but, thanks to Google translate, managed to tell us that Maribor and the entire middle of Slovenia was a red zone in full lockdown.  The coast of Slovenia near Koper was still clear.  Since we had already purchased our train ticket we continued to Maribor.  It was completely deserted which was an awful look for a lovely city.  We cycled back to our RV, gave up on our plan to bike across Slovenia and decided to head straight to Koper on the Adriatic.  We visited the campground that stored our RV the previous winter, and they reconfirmed that we could leave it there again.  Two days later we received an email from them saying that they were closing down for the winter and wouldn’t be able to take our RV in November. 

With Slovenia getting worse and worse with the coronavirus we headed into Croatia.  We found a campground, 1 km from the sea, that was open for the winter which very few are.  They had a great winter rate.  We had one month left before we were flying home to Canada for Christmas and the winter.  We decided to stay in the campground for a month, leave the RV there, plugged in, for 3 ½ months and then return in March for about a month. All this time was included in their winter package.

Next to our campground on the night before cafés closed for months

Shortly before we were due to fly home, the area we live in went into lockdown and all the officials were saying not to travel.  We weren’t excited about returning home for the winter and not being able to see any of Mike’s family or our friends.  We listened to the government and health officials and decided to stay put until the lockdown was lifted in Mississauga (Toronto area).  Thanks to the coronavirus, things just kept getting worse at home.  We missed Christmas, Mike’s 70th birthday and my birthday at home.  It is now March and we are still in Croatia.  125 days after arriving at our winter campground we decided to leave and go slightly south in Croatia.  The restrictions prohibiting moving about internally were lifted after Croatia had an earthquake, not near us, and aid needed to be able to travel easily.  Our RV is absolutely great for touring in.  A house or apartment is certainly preferable if you are staying in one spot and not moving for many months at a time.

Short cycle ride to Vrsar during lockdown
Great help and fun passing the time

I don’t want to say too much about our time in Istria as I very recently posted a couple of articles on our winter stay. I will say that if you had to be locked down somewhere in this part of the world, Istrian County is a great choice.   It is amazing how much difference it made having a small bubble of English speaking campers to help pass the time even if we didn’t have visitors inside the RV very often.  Celebrating Christmas and birthdays became fun.  The two children, ages 4 and 7, really helped pass the time.  They liked being in our camper and we enjoyed their company.  I have never lived in a small village but this is what I think it would be like.  I must say that it is a little uncomfortable at times.  Everyone knew when a person was out walking, going grocery shopping, going to the masseuse, the doctor or just sleeping in after a night of celebration. There are definite advantages and disadvantages to living this close.  We didn’t realize how important talking to our new friends for a few minutes most days was until nearly all of them left just before us.  They made the lockdown a lot of fun at times. We will miss them.

THANKS so much to our camping bubble – they made all the difference.

Obviously our 2020 leg was quite different from our previous years in Europe.  We only travelled through three countries.  More than half of our entire trip was spent in one campground, not travelling.  Even so, we are really pleased that we came over.  We had some great highlights and we continued to enjoy our cycling.

Our website will reflect the move from our 2020 leg to our 2021 leg slowly over the next few weeks.

Statistics:

For those who are interested, below are some of the statistics from this year and previous years.

2020:

In Europe:  June 26 – Feb 26 (Left winter campground, didn’t actually return to Canada, started our 2021 leg)

Camping: Total Nights – 244 (119 touring + 125 winter lockdown) No charge nights – 17 (For 13 of these nights we paid for electricity and water used but no camping fee.) Campground Cost – $4,169 ($3,169 + $1,000 winter package)

Kilometres: RV – 2,393 Car – 12,648 Total – 15,041 Total Fuel Cost – $2,754

Notes: New battery for engine on RV. New battery and 4 new tires for Lincoln.  Vast majority of mileage on the Lincoln as RV didn’t move for 4 months.

2019:

In Europe:  Feb 11 – Oct 29

Camping: Total Nights – 248   No charge nights – 16  Campground Cost – $6,303

Kilometres:  RV – 3,182   Car – 14,482  Total – 17,644  Fuel – $4,827

2018:

In Europe: Mar 3 – Dec 1

Camping:   Total Nights- 270   No charge nights – 23  Campground Cost – $6,265

Kilometres:  RV – 4,555   Car – 13,300   Total – 17,885   Fuel – $5,200

2017:

In Europe: Apr 17 – Nov 20

Camping:  Total Nights- 189   No charge nights – 63  Campground Cost – $4,070

Kilometres:  RV – 8,485  Car – 6,708  Total – 15,193  Fuel – $10,000

———————————————————————————————————-

2020 nights camping

Austria:  31

Croatia:  125 – one campsite

Slovakia: 42 

Slovenia:  46 – including quarantine

Total 2020 nights: 244

2017 – 2020 Total Nights

Austria:  80

Croatia:  272

Slovakia: 44

Slovenia:  114

Belgium/Netherlands:  10

Czech:  3

Bosnia & Herzegovina: 26

Denmark: 40

Estonia/Latvia/Lithuania: 12

Finland and Russia:  15

Germany:  18

Hungary:  64

Iceland (no RV):  2

Italy:  36

Montenegro:  35

Norway (2019 no RV): 61

Poland: 12

Romania: 77

Sweden: 27

Total nights in Europe: 948

2020 Driving Route
Major Cycling Route 2019-2020
Cycling saved our sanity in 2020!

Typical village in the hills in Istria – Hum, Croatia
View of the town of “Kostolna Ves” from our campground in Slovakia

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