Four countries in two weeks. Many campers do this in Europe but normally Mike and I would only see one or two campgrounds in two weeks. I am writing this, or at least starting it, while we are driving to a new campground in a new country. Mike and I have just crossed from Slovenia into Austria and we haven’t even decided what city we are aiming for. We are staying just a few nights in each location enroute to the Czech Republic, which is where we want to spend some time this year on the way to Bavaria.
We did get to tour the upper lakes in Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia. It was delightful. There was water everywhere. The waterfalls weren’t your massive Niagara Falls, but in places you would see 10 streams of water pouring over the cliffs in just one view. The colour of the lakes was lovely and reminded me of some of the lakes in Canada’s Banff National Park. (Note: Mike pointed out that I was wearing my sunglasses that might have helped the colour somewhat. It doesn’t matter, it was still lovely.)
After Plitvice Lakes we headed to Slovenia and stayed near the second largest city of Maribor where we again attracted the attention of all the other campers. Over the three nights that we spent there, this campground had multiple campers from the Netherlands and Germany, which is the norm in this part of the world. The Dutch must really be into camping given their population and their presence in the campgrounds. Mike enjoys using his Dutch language skills which have definitely improved over the last few years. We also saw campers from Belgium, Spain, France, Romania, Ukraine, Austria, Czechia, Croatia and just a very few locals from Slovenia. A large part of our enjoyment in this trip is, when possible, talking to and learning from, many of these people from all over Europe. We visited Maribor on a Sunday in July and it was only slightly busier than it had been last year when we accidentally biked there when the city was a red covid zone under a very tight lockdown. We heard from other campers that the capital Ljubljana, which is a lovely city, was also pretty much deserted. How awful for everyone worldwide involved in tourism.
While we were in the previous campground in Croatia, a tour group from France called the Old Timer’s Rally came and stayed for one night. There must have been about 50 people and about 20 older cars. A few of them had tire problems but they were much easier to fix than the tire problem our RV had in Croatia. Without jacks, four or five people would simply lift one side of the car while another couple worked under it.
The owner of the campground would come around every night and knock on your door and present you with some homemade plum grappa in a shot glass. Grappa is a very strong liquor (generally 35% to 60% alcohol by volume but our host makes it himself and it might well be stronger). The owner was very unhappy when I refused the drink each night. I had tried it when we stayed in the same campground in 2018 and never again! Mike thought that you could fuel a car with it, but he drank his portion every night and it didn’t seem to do any permanent harm.
We are hoping to do two bike rides over the next few days from the Danube in Vienna to Znojmo in the Czech Republic. This will allow our biking in Czech to be joined to our previous bike route. Click here for a link to our main bike trail across Europe so far. Europe has a number of very long distance bike paths called EuroVelo routes. As it turns out, Czechia (aka the Czech Republic) has four of these routes circling around the country which is very unusual. We hope to do a lot of biking here. So far we have ridden our bikes once and it was a very short ride. At least we know the bikes still work.
Typically Mike and I drive the RV about 2 hours between campgrounds. Since the RV has slower speed limits than cars and often takes a longer route this really means that you can drive between camping spots in about 90 minutes in the car. Today we are going further than that. We are either driving 3 ½ hours to a campground in Vienna where we have stayed twice before or we will continue on for an additional hour and stay in Hollabrunn, Austria. Hollabrunn has the great advantage of being able to take a train 35 km in both directions to where we want to bike to and from. This would mean no driving to get to the bike routes or anything. We love Vienna, but we have spent a fair bit of time there over the last two years and I want to continue on. When I write the end of this article, I will let you know where we ended up staying. Mike is voting for Vienna and I am voting for Hollabrunn. Since Mike has to do the driving, he will get the final say. If he is tired we will stop without any question.
OK, the main highway has been closed and all vehicles now have to leave the highway. I am guessing this probably means that we won’t get past Vienna. To be continued in a few days……
I am again writing this as we are leaving Vienna and Austria and heading into Czechia. I am glad that when we were travelling in North America, Mike built me a desk with power at the front of the RV. We don’t use it much now because we typically drive the RV for a much shorter time period. We spent four nights in Vienna and got a few bike rides in. A major nut came off Mike’s front tire which was then ready to fall right off the bike. Luckily this happened in our campground and not out on the road.
We spent yesterday biking around the city of Vienna. We love the architecture in this city. I was a little disappointed that we didn’t see much, summer specific, things happening around the city. There were indoor festivals and a few evening events but I was hoping for live music on the sidewalks and buskers and just fun. The city was lovely but not much different than when we were here last October. You can see a few people in the picture below but there weren’t the crowds that you would normally expect to see.
The RV needed an oil change which Mike has to do himself. The Ford dealers here won’t touch the RV. Wow, is oil ever more expensive in Europe. The RV takes about twice as much oil as the car. In Canada it costs about $100 to have the RV oil changed, including oil, filter and labour. The cost is about $150 if the oil is synthetic which we haven’t been able to find here. In Europe Mike usually changes the oil himself. Mike already had the filter but he needed to buy the oil locally. Neither Bauhaus nor OBI had the required grade of oil (SAE 5W20), so he went to the local Ford Dealer. They did have the oil but it cost €277 (CDN $500) just to purchase 7 liters of regular oil. Mike made a bit of a mess draining the oil because the plastic bin that he used to collect the oil tipped over while he was trying to maneuver it off the front axle. It took him almost 2 hours to change the oil and clean up the mess. There are no “quick lube” outlets in Europe. If you need an oil change, you go to a dealer or auto repair shop and book an appointment. You’re lucky if you can get an appointment within the week, but shops that can accommodate our RV are virtually non-existent. Mike generally takes the car to a shop because the car is so low to the ground that he can’t get under the car to do it himself.
When we toured Central Europe in 2013 in a rented motorhome, Mike decided that Vienna was his favourite city while I loved Prague. Actually both cities were great. It will be interesting to see them both again and see what we think this time.
Where we ever surprised, the first time we sat outside at a café in Austria and where asked about our covid status. We had to produce proof of vaccination, which luckily we could. Austria is under what they call the 3G Rule. According to the internet, to eat inside or outside in Austria, to go to a pub or cultural event, to stay in a hotel etc. you must prove that you meet one of the 3G rules: Doctor’s proof that you have recovered (“Genesen”) from a COVID infection in the last six months, a timely and valid negative COVID test result (“Getestet”) (within 72 hours), or have been vaccinated (“Geimpft”) with an approved vaccine long enough ago to have built immunity but not too long ago, either. Everyone aged six and older must meet the 3G rule.
When we were still in Canada, Mike took our pdf proof of vaccinations and had them laminated. We keep these with our passports in the RV and show them at every border. He also shrunk the pages to twice the size of a credit card and printed our first vaccine proof on one side and our second vaccine proof on the other side. This now folds and fits in your wallet. We have had to show this every time we stop for a coffee or a meal. We are also supposed to fill in a website each time for contact tracing. With all this you don’t need masks in these places. Public indoor places, like grocery stores, still require masks but don’t apply the 3G Rule. We don’t know what the rules in the Czech Republic are, but whatever they are we will abide by them. We are so glad that we are double vaccinated.
We are now one hour from our campground in Czechia. Many Europeans don’t recognize the term Czech or Czech Republic but instantly recognize Czechia so it is probably what I will try and use going forward. We had a four hour wait crossing from Croatia into Slovenia. I almost missed the border, it was so fast, going from Slovenia into Austria. We will see what happens entering Czechia. I will add one more paragraph to this before I post it, just to let you know that we got to Czechia OK and what the roads and campground are like.
Addendum: After a little unneeded panic, Mike and I are camped in Czechia. Stupidly, neither one of us had recently verified the entry requirements into Czechia. Last time we looked, it appeared the same as the rest of Europe. Some countries require entry paperwork to keep on file. Five minutes before the border I got on the internet and had a minor fit. It appears that vaccinations are only good if you received them in specific EU countries. There was an entry zone required for all but green countries. Czechia’s website didn’t mention Canada’s colour. We quickly decided that if they wanted quarantine or anything like that then we would bypass Czechia and head through Austria to Germany, like we had originally planned. Having spent four weeks in quarantine (July 2020 and March 2021) was enough for us. While we were still worrying about all this, Mike suddenly says “I think we are in Czechia, the GPS shows a black line behind us.”. I didn’t believe him but he was correct. All that worry was for nothing. It was very hot here and this is the coolest day predicted for the next week. I might have a few problems. Luckily the electricity in our campground seems to support at least one air conditioner working. From a distance, the town and the rooflines look very interesting. We will bike in this evening when it cools down a little. So far it looks like we will have more language issues here than we have had anywhere else. Oh well, we have Google Translate so we will get by. We will update everyone shortly.