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Mini Family Vacation in Montenegro

Ever since we started our journey we have been looking forward to when Stefan’s mum and sister could come and join us for a mini vacation somewhere along the Balkan coast.

Our first idea was to meet up in Croatia, but somehow the plan evolved into meeting up in Montenegro a country none of us have been to before!

We entered Montenegro from the Serbian border while Stefan’s mum and sister (Alice and Jolanda) flew from Rotterdam to Dubrovnik, Croatia.

From our town in Montenegro it took about 1.5 hours to cross the Montenegro/Croatian border to pick them up with our rented Fiat Panda.

In the small space that is Montenegro..they have it all! The cool mountains, the lush forests and the magnificent blue beaches. ***Check out our photo gallery at the top

We stayed in a small town called Kumbor close to the beautiful, and more famous, Herceg Novi township.

Even though Montenegro is small, due to the mountainous terrain and the narrow roads, it still takes 1-2 hours to travel to the next town which might be only 50km away.

For this reason we stayed mainly around Herceg Novi and Kotor.

Visiting Old Towns has become a bit of a hobby for us especially since being in the Balkan area. The history of each old town, with their preserved ancient churches and magnificent buildings and forts seem to deny the ravages of time. Despite being centuries to millennia old; they have also somehow managed to integrate our into our “modern” culture.

Some for better (quaint and true to their culture and history) and some for worse (too touristic and full of  merchandise that have nothing to do with history or their culture)– but despite some negatives–I for one am glad that we can see and walk through these time capsules.

The walled city of Kotor is a prime example. The ancient walls still stand and the roads are still paved with rocks made smooth and slippery with the countless number of footsteps– but inside is a bustling modern city enjoying the touristic spotlight.

We visited towards the end of September so the crowds have dwindled down quite a bit. But during the height of summer, this town overflows with tourists, to the extent that they have to close the gates, and refuse entrance, to manage the crowds. We were thankful that we missed all that chaos.

Herceg Novi is a small picturesque coastal town that has it own small Stari grad and 3 surrounding fortresses. During the Ottoman invasion the main coastal fort in Herceg Novi (formerly called Castelnuovo) stood strong and withstood occupation despite being vastly outnumbered.

It is said that the fort in Herceg Novi had only 3,500 defenders, and they were able to withstand the Ottoman fleet/army of more 50,000 for over 2 months.

You can read all about it here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Castelnuovo

Besides wandering around old towns, forts and castles we also explored Montenegro’s beautiful countryside.

We found this amazing hiking trail on mount Subra. The views were amazing but what impressed us the most was how well maintained the hiking marks/paths were. Every 20-50 meters we saw a well positioned mark and there hiking trail info signs at every cross roads showing how far to the next destination etc.

Here’s a short video of our hike:

So if you enjoy hiking, Montenegro should be on your map!

But let’s not forget the beaches…

We chose Montenegro because of it’s beautiful coastline. While they do have beautiful crystal clear water beaches, we found that most of them are not “sand” beaches so be prepared to bring a thick blanket or yoga mat to relax and tan on.

Also the water is a bit cold by the end of September so be prepared to swim and move around otherwise you will feel too cold.

I’ll end this blog post about Montenegro with a general price comparison observation.

Montenegro is cheaper than it’s neighbour Croatia but is a bit more expensive than the other Balkan countries.

All in all we thoroughly enjoyed our family vacation in Montenegro and would go back.

***Stay tuned for our video about our Montenegro Adventures***

Border Hopping in the Balkans…

It’s been almost a month since we left the coast of Italy for the Balkan states (Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia & Montenegro) and we’ve been enjoying every minute of it.

Watch our adventures here:

Staying longer in one location has been a welcome change.  I have 90 days to chill out in non-Schengen countries, so this means we can stay in one place for a week or two…whooohooo!

The Balkan states made up former Yugoslavia and I think I had the impression that perhaps they would be pretty much the same because they were once the same country… but I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they are not…

They speak the same language and eat very similar food but that’s about where the similarities end.

Each time we crossed a border it actually “felt” like we were in a different country. The terrain changed, the houses looked different and locals responded to us differently.

For example, Croatia is overflowing with tourists so we just felt like one of the crowd and prices were also not nearly as cheap it used to be. It’s still cheaper than in western Europe, but compared to the prices in Bosnia and Serbia, Croatian prices seem inflated…

Crowds of tourist in Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Croatia

We stayed in two towns in Bosnia and they were about as polar opposite as they could be. The first was in a wooden cabin on a fish farm off the beaten path in Sipovo. The second was in a modern hotel in bustling Sarajevo. Both places accepted us with open arms! It was really wonderful to feel that the locals appreciated us visiting their country. Prices for food varies from place to place. Obviously on the fish farm it was ridiculously cheap. They charged us only 1.50 euros for a fresh 300gr. trout which they cooked for us. We also found a delicious semi-sweet red wine for only 2 euros in a local grocery store. In Sarajevo our meals out, for 2 people, ranged from 6 euros to 20 euros. That’s 3-10 euros per person including drinks…

At the Fish Farm Cabin in Sipovo

Our cozy room in Logavina8 hotel in Sarajevo, Bosnia

I think Bosnia is the first place we’ve visited that is cheaper than Thailand for dining out!!!

We only got to stay a few days in Zlabitor, Serbia on our way to Montengro, but again we were surprised with how different the country looked. The mountains got larger and the weather got remarkably colder. Autumn is not the best time of year to visit Serbia, as it is wet and cold and rainy, but we were glad we were able to be able to pass through. We didn’t eat out in Serbia, but our grocery bill was the cheapest we’ve ever gotten. I made a veg Italian meal for dinner and after buying all the ingredients and a local bottle of wine our bill was less than 5 euros…I couldn’t quite believe it!

We’ve only been in Montenegro for 1 day so we’ll post more about Montenegro later.


Here are some facts we learned when crossing the different borders:

  1. Slovenia is the only Balkan state to be accepted into the EU and Schengen agreement. When passing through Slovenia it was easy to forget that it was part of former Yugoslavia Currency: Euros
  2. Croatia is part of the EU but has not been accepted into the Schengen zone. This means you must observe border crossings and I was stamped out of the Schengen area once entering Croatia. Croatia is predominately Roman Catholic and seems to have recovered well from their past civil unrest. Tourism is flourishing in Croatia. Currency: Croatian Kuna
  3. Bosnia & Herzegovina is not part of the EU or Schengen. Recommended to cross at the larger borders as some of the smaller borders ask more questions (insurance etc) It is a bit confusing as to what the standard regulations for crossing into Bosnia are. We traveled in and out of Bosnia about 6 times and each time the border crossing was different so be prepared to roll with the flow. I was also stamped into Bosnia a few times and when leaving I was not regularly stamped out. So I have a few stamps in my passport that doesn’t have a “match” I’m not sure how this will work out in the long run, but each time I left Bosnia, I was entering Croatia, and they were fairly regular with their stamps, so I hope that will help all the other random stamps make sense.  Currency: Bosnian Marks
  4. Serbia is not part of the EU or Schengen zone but border crossings are smooth and simple. Currency: Serbian Dinar
  5. Montenegro is not part of the EU or Schengen zone and they are more thorough at the borders. They requested us to remove our helmets and present our motorbike registration…strangely this was not requested at any of the other border crossings…

New Vlog…finally uploaded!!

Whoop Whoop our latest Vlog is finally uploaded and ready!!  Uploading our videos have been our greatest challenge recently…

Well, besides navigating Bosnia without our Garmin. And if you have traveled for a long distance or in “unknown” country… Google maps on our phones only can take us so far…

FYI: Bosnia and Herzegovina is not included in the Europe Garmin package. AND Google maps have only mapped out a percentage of the small city roads. Many a time we ended up driving a road only to have it end up leading to stairs!! Our next challenge was doing a 180 degree turn in a road that was about as wide as our bike…hopefully we’ll share a video of this later…

This video will be about our adventures when visiting:

>>>Mt. Vesuvius in Pompeii…

>>>Chilling in Agerola and the Amalfi Coast, Italy

>>>Separated Bari due to passport misfortunes (Stefan’s lone adventure to Matera because Marie went ahead to Dubrovnik)

>>>Reunited in Dubrovnik, Croatia

And oh yes…

We just had to do the Games of Thrones tour in Dubrovnik…

Yes, that is rather geeky of us…but we are shameless Games of Thrones fans so watch our next video to see Dubrovnik through a Games of Thrones fan 😀

Massive Grins! We’re too happy to be sitting on the Iron Throne 😛

 

 

 

 

 

 

BMW GSA1200 20,000km service in Croatia…

We have been trying to post a video update about our travels…but the internet has NOT been our friend so we’ll post about how our 20,000km service went yesterday…

First off, finding a place and getting our precious BMW GSA serviced while traveling is a bit hard.

1…it’s tough getting an appointment because we are in one place for only a short mount of time…

2…we are never 100% sure which city we will be at any given time so making an appointment beforehand (like 2-3 weeks in advance which is common practice) is almost impossible…

Thank God for email! We shoot out an email to the BMW service centers that on our way and we let them know we will be in the area soon and that our motorbike needs servicing.

Whoever answers us back gets our business and we make sure we are there when there is a spot available… 😁

Our first 1,000km service was in Funen, Denmark.

Our second 10,000km service in Den Haag, Netherlands.

Our latest 20,000km service in Slavonski Brod, Croatia.

We have only praise for the AC Vuko team. They were quick, efficient and very professional.

Our bike was in and out in less than 2 hours and it was a BIG service. Besides the regular first class BMW service they:

  • Replaced all our Spark plugs
  • Replaced our rear Brake pads (this doesn’t have to done at a 20,000km service, but ours needed replacing)
  • Changed our Engine oil
  • Replaced our Air filters
  • Checked our Valve clearance etc.

Our bike came back like new and they gave us a bottle of wine to celebrate!

THANK YOU AC VUKO TEAM for taking care of our baby…

Amazing Amalfi and Separated in Bari

After leaving Rome we had thought we were going to head on off to Dubrovnik, Croatia, but since we were still waiting for the passport, we decided to take a little detour to visit Mt. Vesuvius in Pompeii. and then a little town called San Lazarro in Agerola nearby the Amalfi coast.

Here are a couple of pictures we got on Mt. Vesuvius. It was pretty fun to visit a place I never thought I was going to visit and watched movies about as a child. ***If you haven’t watched “The Last Days of Pompeii” go and do it now…it’s a classic!

Mt. Vesuvius is an active volcano and is the only active volcano on the Europe main land. But it is “sleeping” for now so it’s apparently safe to visit. It is closely monitored though, because when (not if) it erupts again around 700,000 local residents will need to be evacuated!!

Mt. Vesuvius from a distance

Pompeii ruins well preserved by the volcanic lava and ash

Bizarre bronze statue we met outside of Pompeii

More Pompeii ruins

Local sweet called Baba

After Pompeii we were invited to stay at this quaint camping spot in exchange for making a promo video about their facilities. So for 5 days we felt at home in Camping Beata Solitudo. Thank you Paulo and Anna Marie for the relaxing stay.

We also got to see some live helicopter fire fighting action on the mountain side cliffs. We’ll post a a video of it soon…

Gorgeous Amalfi coast views!!

Eating “real” Italian pizza, pasta and tomato and fresh mozzarella salad 

The restaurant was on a cliff overlooking the magnificent Mediterranean ocean

Cozy local grocery store

Our cozy cabin which we stayed in for the first few days 

Then we moved into the cutest camper ever..

with a little shed outside for our kitchen

I spent my time relaxing and chilling at the camp, while Stefan went hiking on the Path of the gods which was basically hiking down the mountain to the Amalfi coast. You can read more about this hike here: https://www.amalficoast.com/p/campania-4/amalfi-coast-1/the-path-of-the-gods-from-positano-to-agerola-1824

Alas my time was up, I needed to leave the Schengen zone by the 25th of Aug and Stefan’s passport had still not arrived.

I booked my ferry ticket from Bari, Italy to Dubrovnik, Croatia and headed off on my own. This was the first time I traveled such a far distance on my own since we became a couple…

I got to experience being a back packer for 1 day and stayed in my first ever hostel!

Sleeping in a room with 8 other strangers for the same price as a decent hotel room in Bangkok was an experience for me.

But I think I understand why solo travelers do it. It is safer and if your hostel is of a high standard it is quite comfortable and you can make new friends easily. But you do have to sacrifice your privacy and with most hostelers being young my bedroom light stayed on till 3am in the morning so I got precious little amount of sleep.

10am the next morning I checked out and got a friendly Uber driver to take me to our pre-booked apartment in the nearby town of Orasac.

Being a back packer for 1 day was more than enough for me 😛

Carrying all my motorbike gear, helmet and stuff without the help of the motorbike and Stefan 😛

My friendly Uber driver 🙂

 

 

All Roads Lead to Rome…

We haven’t posted about our fitness workouts recently. Yes, shame on us…

But honestly traveling is almost a fitness workout in itself…yes…really!

Carrying our gear up, down and around (20kgs per box and about 10kgs per bag) pitching and dismantling our tent and walking around all the hilly towns (easily around 10-20kms per day) gives us a good workout. Check out the beginning of our video below to see what me mean 😛

But I guess our upper body and core needs some working out too, and that’s where our trusty TRX comes in. If you want a refresher of some moves you can do with your TRX here’s a old TRX workout video we did in our Sukhumvit Soi 31 Location.

I think we’ve come a long way in our video making skill no??? 😛

Ok, let’s get back to our travel stories…

After leaving beautiful but extremely hot Toledo we rode pretty much directly to Andorra.

We had a pit-stop in Zaragoza, where we saw loads of bikers. I’m not sure why, we tried to Google to see if we were missing out on some Big Bike convention or motorbike rally or something, but nada, we found no info as to why Zaragoza was full of big bikes…(you can see a short clip of them in our video)

We almost jumped our our bike to follow them and see what it was all about, but we were quite hungry so our growling stomachs won the fight and we stopped to have a healthy salad and some fruits and of course coffee…

Andorra la Vella

Andorra is a landlocked sovereign state bordering Spain and France. It is also the 18th country we have been to. Below is the list of countries we’ve visited, so far, during this trip.

  1. Netherlands
  2. Denmark
  3. Norway
  4. Sweden
  5. Finland
  6. Estonia
  7. Latvia
  8. Lithuania
  9. Poland
  10. Slovakia
  11. Czechia
  12. Belgium
  13. France
  14. Germany
  15. Switzerland
  16. Portugal
  17. Spain
  18. Andorra
  19. Monaco
  20. Italy
  21. Vatican
  22. Croatia (which is where I am writing this post from)

This view is very distracting… Orasac, Croatia

We stayed a few days in almost all of them, and we wish we could have stayed longer in some, but my Schengen clock keeps on ticking so we had to ride through Belgium, Lithuania, Slovakia, Monaco and of course the Vatican. We took time to see the sights in those countries, but we didn’t stay overnight.

Andorra is an interesting country. It’s tiny, but there’s so much packed into it that you can stay a week or 2 and not get bored. We stayed 3 days and in hindsight perhaps we should have stayed longer.

FYI for those who are on a Schengen visa, Andorra is OUT of the Schengen zone. So I was able to add 3 extra days on my 90 days because I was technically out when we were in Andorra.

But IMPORTANT NOTE to all those who want to use Andorra as a country to “extend” your 90 days in the Schengen Zone:

  1. You need a multiple entry Schengen visa to enter Andorra
  2. You have to make an effort to get your passport stamped.

This means stopping at the border and requesting to get stamped out. They have a nominal border and they do stop those who don’t look like EU citizens, but usually, they just wave folks through.

So even though Andorra is out of the Schengen zone, they don’t really check you or stamp your passport unless you ask them to.

And I was the only one to request this, so they seemed rather confused, but they did stamp me out of the Schengen zone. And then when we were riding back into Schengen (direction France) I again had to explain to the border officials that I needed to get stamped in.

The highlight of our stay in Andorra was our very successful fishing expedition. I’ll let our pictures tell the story…

Beginners Luck? Caught this big one in less than 5 mins…we threw him back into the water because he was too big to fit in our bucket and we didn’t have the heart to kill him with small kids watching…

Nope, still not fitting in our small bucket, next time we will bring a bigger one. Honestly, didn’t think we would catch this size with our little fishing rod and only bread as bait…

We caught two more fish and these fit in our bucket

Stefan caught them so I had to de-gut and prep them with garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil. Would have been awesome if we could have found some spices, but sadly the camping shop nearby had none..

 

Our trout fit perfectly on our BBQ…

The finished product was awesome! Those who know me know that I’m not a big fish eater, but it was so fresh I actually enjoyed them.

France Again…

After Andorra we had to pass through France again. We learned our lesson about trying to drive through the night and stopped in Nimes just to sleep. Early the next morning we were off to Monaco to cross off another country on our list…

Quick drive through Monaco… 

First off, if you can, try to visit Monaco during “off” season. It’s currently high season for the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea so traffic into Monaco was terrible.

Due to this, and the unusually prices, we decided not to stay overnight.

Italy and Passport Drama…again 🙁

Ever since we started dreaming about this journey, one of the countries we wanted to spend a bit extra time in was Italy. So we were quite excited when we crossed the border.

We found this campsite right near the coast called Camping Vallecrosia and we were checking in when we found out STEFAN’S PASSPORT WAS MISSING!!!

To our horror we realized Stefan’s passport was left in Nimes, France.

We had left our passports and important documents at our hotel once before in Latvia…and we just couldn’t believe it happened again!

Arrrrrrggggh, I take all the blame as I was the one to check us in, but the clerk had taken our passports and gave mine back saying he only needed 1 passport to check us in.

After the registration and payment, I guess he forgot the passport in the copy machine, and I totally forgot he hadn’t given 1 passport back…

There was no way we were driving all the way back to Nimes, France so we asked the hotel in Nimes to FedEx it to us. We specifically asked that they use FedEx’s 24 hour express service.

Sadly the hotel in Nimes was completely unhelpful. They did not apologize that their staff forgot to return our passport and they didn’t offer any solution as to how they were going to help us get the passport back. About the only thing they did was confirm that they did indeed have Stefan’s passport.

We spent 3 hours trying to call confirm if they were going to post it to us but around 8pm we decided to call it quits and try again the next day.

Fortunately, the staff at Camp Vallecrosia was super kind and helpful. They even volunteered to email the Nimes hotel their address so that they could post the passport, they called numerous times to try to confirm if the passport was indeed going to be posted and they really went out of their way to help.

The next morning after about 5 failed phone calls we finally got to talk to a person from the Nimes hotel (instead of a machine or getting put on hold) and they said they already posted the passport.

We were overjoyed and asked them to send us the tracking number and we happily booked a second night at Camping Vallecrosia.

We were confident that we were going to receive the passport in 24-48 hours…

Picnic by the beach in Vallecrosia…

Healthy Roast Chicken and Tomato with Fresh Mozzarella Salad

This was not to be…

We waited and waited and we received nothing from Nimes…no tracking number…no communication…zip…silence…

The next morning we called Nimes again. After about 3 tries we got someone who knew about our situation and when we asked for the tracking number of our passport he acted surprised that we didn’t have it and promised to send it.

This whole time we assumed the passport was going to be delivered at any minute..it was already 48 hours after they said they posted it.

When we finally got the email with the tracking number (2 hours later) we realized they DIDN’T use FedEx…they used the regular French Post and there was no indication of when it would arrive.

Now we were worried, we had already checked out of Camping Vallecrosia and booked our apartment in Rome because we thought our passport was going to be FedEx delivered any minute. We also couldn’t stay in Vallecrosia because I needed to be out of Schengen by the 25 August.

To make a long and terrible story short..it took 12 days for Stefan’s passport to be delivered to Camping Vallecrosia and then they had to post it to us in Bari, which took another 3 days and Stefan only got it yesterday the 26th of August.

This lost passport debacle almost ruined our entire stay in Italy, but we survived it and we had a great time despite having this nagging worry in back of our minds the whole time.

We’re so happy that we finally got the passport back, it’s such a load off.

Here’s to hoping that this will be the last time we lose something this important.

LESSON LEARNT: Always triple check that we have all important documents when checking out of a hotel or apartment! Double checking doesn’t seem to be enough…for us at least…

The Splendor of Rome…

I’ve always been fascinated with the history of Rome, the Roman Empire and birth of Roman Catholic Empire.

Rome!!!

No matter how you look at it, it’s pretty amazing how an empire that was determined to stamp out this rebellious little religious sect (Christianity) ended up converting to it instead.

Our first stop in Rome was the Vatican City. We were a bit discouraged when rode up to the first entrance. There was a que almost going around the entire walled city of the Vatican waiting to get in and there were tons of these tour guides trying to hustle and convince you to buy a “Skip The Line” ticket for 60-80 euros.

We almost succumbed to the insistent cajoling of the tour operators, but our perseverance and Googling paid off when we realized the entrance into Saint Peter’s Basilica was free.

We did have to que up for about 30mins in the heat of the sun to get inside (they have a security check when entering the Vatican) but it was totally worth it!

Walking into the largest Christian church in the world is breathtaking. It truly is immense and beautiful.

Inside Saint Peter’s Basilica

It’s hard to “see” how huge everything in the Basilica is. This brown structure is actually over 5 floors high!

The Dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica. Note: All the art you see are mosaics there is only one fresco in the entire building!

Those Latin letters are over 2 meters tall!

The Holy Door that is only opened during The Jubilee every 35 years

Michelangelo’s “Pieta” sculpture secure behind thick glass after a crazy man attacked it with a hammer

We spent about an hour exploring Saint Peter’s Basilica by ourselves, but when we discovered we had so many questions, we decided to go for one of the live tours they offered. Basically entrance into the Basilica is free but you pay to join one of the live tours or to get one of audio guides.

We wholeheartedly recommend getting the live tour. You can get the audio tour which you can do on your own (they give you an audio set with a map to follow) but during a live tour you can interact with your guide and they give you a lot of extra info that is not included in the audio guides.

Also the price difference between the live tour and the audio guides is not much so if you do visit Saint Peter’s Basilica–definitely opt for a live tour.

View of Saint Peter’s Square from the top of the Dome

Notice the Papal seal in flowers?

An obelisk from Egypt stands in the center of Saint Peter’s Square..

After visiting the Vatican we roamed the streets of Rome and saw one amazing preserved ruin after another.

Just imagine, these Roman structures survived over 2000years.

Because we truly enjoyed our live tour of Saint Peter’s Basilica, we decided to do a Free Walking Tour with http://venividivisit.org/free-rome-walking-tour/ The tour was only 3 hours long but in those 3 hours we learned so much and we were able to understand and appreciate Rome’s art and architecture so much better. ***The tour is technically free but it is understood that you give a little something 5-10euros per person if you enjoyed the tour 😉

Rome is a city with history pouring from its pores. We learned that almost every time they build something or dig somewhere there are ancient ruins found. Where a church is now, if you dig under, it is very likely you will find a pagan temple or old Roman villa.

The wall of a medieval Roman castle

Ancient Rome below and medieval Rome built on top (of course the window panes have been added more recently)

These pillars are over 2000 years old and the temples they stood in probably would have survived till today if it weren’t the fashion to “recycle” marble to build a new temple, church or building…

Visiting Rome made me want to study ancient history again and refresh my memory.

Traveling and seeing these amazing places and learning about the rich history of each new city or country is an experience I am most grateful for.

The Pantheon is an architectural marvel to this very day.

You can see how massive the Pantheon truly is with little me as a comparison…

The Pantheon’s massive doors take 3-4 grown men to open them! Stefan couldn’t budge it!

The Colosseum of Rome where they martyred the Early Christians

 

 

 

 

Fitness Riderz Journey–Overview of Our first Ride (Holland to Czech)

This was our first picture with our New Bike…

Today’s post will be a bit different.

This blog is also a personal digital journal so every once in awhile I’m going to post some stuff that maybe only we’ll appreciate–like a summary of our journey so far…

But I think some of you are new to our space, so maybe…you’ll enjoy it too.

Here’s an overview and some numbers of the first part of our trip…

  • Visited 13 countries
  • Traveled 35 days
  • Rode ??? kilometers (Stefan is out so I’ll update this when he gets back)

You can see our journey in a nutshell here:

https://www.polarsteps.com/FitnessRiderz/165173-trial-run?s=3cce59b7-07e8-46c6-9662-4b3ce7705e76 

It’s a new app I’m using. You should be able to view it without downloading the app so let me know if it doesn’t work. Feedback is always awesome 🙂

And for those who enjoy our videos here’s a compilation of our videos so far:

In another post we’ll share an overview of our current journey…

Thanks from the bottom of our hearts for reading…

Written in Agerola, Italy (just 1km above the Amalfi coastline)

You can see where we are camped out in the video below:

Vineyard Camping, Forest Fires and then Off to Spain

Vineyard camping & a Forest Fire

After Porto and tasting the many types of delicious ports, we just had to visit a proper vineyard and if possible a real Port cellar.

As mentioned before, the grapes for Port is not actually grown in Porto but along a specific area beside the Douro River.

Endless Vineyards and the Douro River behind us

We found a camping spot online where you can actually pitch your tent in a vineyard terrace! And when we discovered that the property was owned by a Dutch couple we decided that was a sign and that we had to spend the night there!

Our vineyard camping was in a small sleepy town called Regua. We were met by the kind Dutch couple and they showed us our own vineyard terrace where we could pitch our tent.

Sadly, “our vineyard” kind of blends in with the scenery…we also didn’t choose the best place for the shot 🙁

The view was beautiful! But during the day it is far too hot to be directly under the sun, so we left our exposed tent in search for a mini-cruise along the Duroro River to view the vineyard terraces that grace the hillsides beside the river banks.

Tip for those visiting Regua:

If you’d like to do a short cruise just to view the vineyards from the Douro river, like we did, there’s an hourly local boat that charges only 10euros per person. The trip will take an hour and you will travel only 5-10km along the river.

view of the beautiful vineyards terraces along the Duoro River..

If you’d like to do a lengthier cruise, you can jump on the many lunch cruises but this can cost 60 euros per person or more and will leave at 11.30am.

If you’d like a luxury cruise there quite a few that have cabins, dining options and pools with sundecks but these will travel along the river and will pick you up at one city and drop you off in another. Some are overnight and some are just day cruises. Obviously, these will cost more than the other options mentioned above.

Everything looks better during sunset 😛

It was rather later in the evening when we arrived back at our vineyard camping. The sun was down and the 35-40 degree heat had dropped to around 20 degrees which is perfect for camping.

We pulled out our BBQ for a quick meal of roast vegetables and kebabs. But we were very careful as earlier on that day they warned us about cooking with open flames due to the ongoing drought and the dry bush.

This looked quite a bit larger and bigger in real life…the flash brightened it up

We saw first hand how fast a forest fire can travel. While relaxing and munching on our dinner, we saw a pin-prick of light a few hills away. At first, we wondered if there was another camper having a BBQ. Within a few minutes we decided it was bonfire of sorts. And within half an hour it was obviously a large wild fire and sirens could be heard.

We were a little bit worried that it could reach our mountain as it was very bright and large against the dark sky, but our Dutch hosts explained that it was actually several mountains away and that it would have to reach another small town before it would endanger us.

This was quite reassuring, but still, we watched it for about an hour as it was our first time seeing a live forest fire and in the dark, it really seemed awfully close…

We finally got tired of the excitement of watching the fire and trying to guess if the fire department got it under control and drifted off to sleep in our cozy tent in our own vineyard terrace.

Hit and Miss with the Big Cities…

After Regua we thought to swing by Lisbon as we figured we probably should make an effort to visit the capital city of each country we visit, so long as it isn’t too far out of our planned route.

Lisbon was a definite “miss” for us. Perhaps, after visiting small towns with so much character and history, Lisbon just seemed too “modern” and too crowded. We hit traffic as soon as we entered the city and getting to “old town” took forever. After struggling with traffic for almost an hour it was clear that we needed to shed our luggage as it was hot and miserable trying to navigate strange roads with almost 60 kilos of extra weight and large boxes on our bike.

Since it was dry and we were only passing through, we decided to try out one of the many campsites by the coast near Lisbon and perhaps enjoy a bit of beach time.

Wrong decision! Campsites near Lisbon are like concentration camps. The campsite security seems so high that we were wondering if there was a large amount of theft and crime. The campsite was also walled in with barbed wire on top and there was a curfew as to when you couldn’t get in the campsite (at all) with your magnetic keycard.

We had to bring 3 separate IDs with us when exiting the campsite. One each for us and another for our motorbike. We appreciated the security, but with THAT much hoopla, we started to wonder about WHY so much security was needed.

The tent area was also organized like a refugee camp. You had a specific allotted square mapped out with wire that was your area. The “tent” folks also seemed to be the bottom of campsite totem pole. We were the furthest from the toilets, showers and running water and the closest to the loud communal areas such as the shops, the playground, the garbage area and the beach exits.

I suppose this was our first taste of “urban” camping and we can honestly say that we didn’t enjoy it and wouldn’t recommend it. Perhaps if you have your own fully-equipped campervan it would have been alright, but when camping with a tent, you want a view and feel like you are in nature.

We saw 3 campsites and they were all were this style and cost 30 euros or more (1,200thb) so we just had to bite the bullet and set up camp. We figured we could do it for one night and for the experience.

***Sorry we were too depressed to take pictures. But next time, we take pics of the good and the bad***

One plus, was that the beach near our campsite was beautiful. The water was a bit too cold to enjoy, but tanning on the white sand was relaxing. Do invest in some shade and wind barricades though, as the wind is fairly strong and there are no cute beach side deck chairs or restaurants like we always took for granted in Thailand.

Sea Caves…

And oh yes, let’s not forget the sea caves of Lagos! After literally fleeing the madness of Lisbon we headed to the famous Benagil Sea Caves in Lagos…

Benagil Sea Cave we swam to

They are just as awesome as they look in pictures! We didn’t stay overnight in Lagos but we spent an afternoon there before we crossed the border into Spain.

It is high season so almost every square inch of the Benagil beach is taken and you must carefully navigate around folks sleeping and tanning in the sun lest you unintentionally kick sand on them.

BRING YOUR OWN SHADE and wear sunblock is the number one tip we must give when visiting Benagil beach. The sun is exceptionally bright and whatever little shade there is to be found will be occupied. The sand is also full of sharp shells, so if possible, wear closed water or dive shoes.

The water will be quite cold in comparison to the scorching sun, so be prepared to dive in and start swimming to warm up.

It is also possible to swim to the first and second sea cave, so no need to pay for the boats that charge 20 euros per person unless you want to see ALL 20 or so sea caves and interesting rock formations.

It’s recommended that you take a boat as the tides and the currents are unpredictable and quite strong so there have been accidents. But for us, we took the plunge and swam to the biggest and most impressive Benagil Sea Cave.

It is the closest to the beach so if you’re confident you can make the swim, go for it, as the swim is half the experience.

Some might prefer the boats as the water is quite cold but they don’t let you get off and stay and explore the cave, they just sail in…let you snap a few pics from the boat and then speed off.

In our opinion, it was more worth it to swim the 200 meters or so, rest and sun a bit in the cave and then go back to the beach.  There were other caves to see, so if you want to see more than the 2 sea caves directly beside the beach, you will have take the boats.

Swimmers, beware of the boats especially at the mouth of the caves. I think they are a bit resentful that you didn’t bother to use their service so they aren’t very considerate if you are swimming.

The second cave is a bit further away, and more “boat” crazy, and quite a bit harder to swim to. So if you’re not a strong swimmer, I’d only recommend the first cave to the left of the beach.

Definitely a spot I’d visit again.


Hello Spain!

I love Spain! Spain has the comforts of a first world nation with the charm and price of a third world nation.

We found and enjoyed many things that would have cost double the price in Thailand or other “cheap” SEA countries.

But since we had both been in Spain before (about 6 years ago we took a holiday in Barcelona) we decided to check off a new country—Gibraltar…

Turned Back at the Border…

This was a bit of disappointment for me as I was turned back at the border due to not having a proper visa.

I can say I stepped into Gibraltar as I officially crossed the border before they decided to check us out and I got turned back…but I suppose that doesn’t quite count 😛

Rock of Gibraltar…sadly I didn’t get to step foot :'(

FYI: We learned that non-EU countries still need a visa despite having a multiple-entry Schengen visa. They will fast-track your visa if you have a multiple-entry Schengen visa, but you still need an actual visa stamped in your passport at the Gibraltar embassy or consulate before allowed entry.

This was very unclear when we researched about it. Most of the info said you can get in with a multiple entry Schengen visa, and we assumed this meant a visa upon entry, as there was no info about how you still have to go through with applying for a visa and then the visa is granted based on whether you have a multiple entry Schengen visa or not.

The only way you can freely enter Gibraltar, without a visa, is if you are an EU or UK citizen and/or if you have UK residency.

Basically, Gibraltar is part of the UK and follows their visa requirements.

Fortunately, I wasn’t put out too much, as there is an awesome beach just 100 meters from the Gibraltar border. I rented a beach chair, had a cold mug of beer and dug into my book and made a few lady friends while Stefan visited and climbed around the Rock of Gibraltar.

Check out our video footage here:

Spain Continued…

Back to Spain, our first stop in Spain was a gorgeous town in the mountains called Ronda.

It has its own massive bull fighting arena and fabulous views everywhere we looked. Sadly, we weren’t able to go in the arena because it was getting renovated in prep for the proper bull fighting season which is in September.

It was like we were thrown into a fairy tale. There was an old castle ruin, rustic cafes, bakeries and butchers from times past and all the surrounding towns are full of quaint white washed houses to protect against the bright heat of the sun.

Iberian Ham…cost only 200euros a leg here, elsewhere much more $$$$$

The sun was very bright and hot (we needed to wear our Polaroid sunglasses almost the whole time) but the wind was cool so it was a pleasure exploring the town and riding the small winding country roads to visit the neighboring White Pueblos (White Villages)

Drone view of the White Pueblos around Ronda..

The weather was so perfect we decided to camp again instead of checking into a hotel or apartment as we had originally planned after the disaster in Lisbon.

Hiking around Ronda

This time our campsite was owned by a friendly French woman and for the same price of 30 euros (this is the average “high season” price) we had a comfortable spot for our tent with some shade from the trees and free access to the campsite pool and sun deck.

It was so nice, we decided one night was not enough and stayed an extra night so that we could explore the surrounding towns a bit more.

This ain’t the way to launch your drone..but it looks cool 😛

Spanish Alps…

We were enjoying being in the mountains so much that we decided that we would visit Sierra Nevada—also known as the  Alps of Spain.

Stone Pile on Top of one of the Sierra Nevada peaks…

The terrain in Sierra Nevada is breathtaking and completely different to what we’ve seen in our travels so far. In the winter, it’s covered in snow and perfect for skiing and in the summer it’s like a dessert with rock cliff faces and mountains and it’s hard to imagine that it could even possibly snow!

Summer heat makes it look like a dessert

Military Training center…so sadly no drone footage…

The roads are downright awesome to ride on and we were happy to have chosen this out-of-the-way camp spot on one of the highest points of Sierra Nevada. The first time we drove up, we were a bit wary of all the blind and sharp turns but by the third time, we felt like locals and could enjoy the ride.

Our camp host was the friendliest guy you’d ever meet. He spoke like 10 words of English but he was so expressive we communicated just fine.

We had planned to pitch our tent but since his camp ground wasn’t full (we suppose winter is the high season) he let us stay in one of his wooden winter cabins for the same price as a tent pitch.

We stayed only 2 nights but we felt completely at home. There wasn’t a soul in site host for miles around besides our friendly host and from our cabin you could see the tallest peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Check out our video for an idea of where our cabin was:

We were sad to say goodbye to our mountain cabin but we wanted to see the Old City of Toledo and my time in the Schengen Zone is fast finishing so off we went.

Toledo Time Capsule…

Toledo is a city that seems like it got stopped in time. It is so beautifully preserved it’s easy to imagine that it looked the same thousands of years ago.

It also holds a unique history as one of the only cities the three major religions co-inhabited peacefully.

You can see Christianity, Judaism and Islam merge beautifully in the old preserved architecture and even now, in the modern-day residents and culture.

Toledo Cathedral…part of it was a Mosque at one time…

“Christian” and “Muslim” culture evidenced by architecture or arty side by side

Always in search of shade in Toledo

Alcazar building in Toledo

Our first dinner was in an authentic Arabic restaurant. The portions were small, but delicious, and the ambiance was on-point.

We checked in an old apartment built directly above the maze of Roman bath tunnels just recently discovered in 1986. Our rooms were on the third floor (which meant climbing 6 flights of stairs!!) and never did our gear seem so heavy! But at least we got in our workout everyday 😉

The challenge of Toledo is the excruciating heat (40-45 degrees) throughout the day and the steep and narrow roads. It is also easy to get lost in the maze of small streets and hidden paths.

I have no idea how folks in the olden days got around without GPS.

After a while the cobbled streets and endless stairs going up or down started looking the same. And not all roads meet up and they certainly aren’t “straight” so if you think you are going the direction of home by a different path or “following gut instinct” you will most likely NOT end up where you wanted—we learned that the hard way on many occasions and again got a workout in 😉

Toledo is built on a hill, or perhaps a few hills to be exact, and it has a moat around it and gives the impression that it is still “fortified” with large gated arches adorning its different entrances.

It is certainly a must visit if you are planning a trip to Spain.

Riding 2000km in one shot was a WRONG MOVE…

MEETING FRIENDS…

Part of the advantages of our journey around the world is that we can re-connect with friends that used to be “so far away.”

In Switzerland, we were able to meet Claire and her family and they kindly let us stay for a night at their beautiful home in a small town, called Weitzekon, just outside Zurich.

Claire was a spectacular host despite hubby, Silas, being away for business and the kids home due to the summer holidays.

We had a delicious veg dinner on their balcony with a gorgeous view. I was so impressed with how Claire whipped up this healthy delicious dinner in only an hour or so. With a couple of beers and a few glasses of sparkling to celebrate seeing each other after 7 years we called it a night.

Silas, sorry we dropped by while you were away…we hope to see you on our trip back or perhaps somewhere else 😉

Somehow we forgot to take pictures but we got some video footage..

Check it out here: https://youtu.be/SXzl-37w4Cs

CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF MOUNTAIN ROADS…

After a short day trip to the cool viewpoint on top of the Bachtel tower we said goodbye to Claire and the kids and  headed straight to Furka Pass. Basically, Furka Pass is THE road to ride if you are on a motorbike.

Furka Pass, Switzerland

Our riding started out with a beautiful warm sunny day, but sadly, it started raining so our ride was slower than we would have wanted, but it was still exhilarating and the view was beautiful.

After completing the famed Furka Pass we headed to Kandersteg, a small town tucked in the mountains which the weather forecast said was going to be dry and sunny.

We had visions of camping on the mountain side with the cool air and the sun shining.

But this was not to be so…

Shows you can’t always count on the weather forecast to be accurate. It was grey, gloomy and rainy and foggy when we drove into Kandersteg. Our camping plans went out the window but we found a cozy hostel with really kind Portuguese staff that let us have an 8 bed-room for the price of a private double room.

WRONG MOVE

We decided that we were going to ride straight from Kandersteg, Switzerland all the way to the border of Portugal…

This meant riding overnight through France and the north of Spain (about 2000km)

We did have a lovely pit-stop to see the Chillon Castle where a kind soul returned our bike keys to us. We have no idea where we lost them, perhaps they fell out of Stefan’s pocket, but we were so thankful the guy took the time to find us and return them.

The view of Lake Geneva from the Chillon Castle

Medieval Banquets could last days. This recipe book lists the amounts needed:
100 oxen, 130 sheep, 120 pigs etc…

Our intended ride from Switzerland to Portugal didn’t work out so well. Theride started out ok, but after 11pm the wind got stronger and colder. From a comfortable temperature of around 26 degrees when the sun was out, it dropped to below 12 degrees. We survived the verrrrrry cold night drive (dropped to around 10degrees and we didn’t have our winter gear on) but had to stop in Burgos, Spain after completing 1400km.

Watch our video to see Stefan sleeping on the grass with an emergency blanket at a gas stop… https://youtu.be/SXzl-37w4Cs

100euros of French and Spanish tolls and too many coffee stops later, we crawled into a hotel in Burgos, Spain.

Spain

Burgos was a pleasant surprise. It was quaint small town with a lot to see. It has its own magnificent cathedral, called the Burgos Cathedral and an old walking street with many cozy and cheap restaurants to get a bite to eat at.

Burgos Cathedral

For 12euros we were able to get a delicious meal, complete with a bread basket and salad for a starter, half roast chicken for the main course, a dessert and a half a litre of beer or large glass of wine.

After recharging and having a good night sleep we were back on the road determined to reach Portugal this time around.

We learned our lesson. No more overnight rides. It isn’t safe and it isn’t worth the discomfort.

Around 415km later (which seem really short after our 1400km journey) we crossed the Portuguese border, into Chaves, and had the cheapest and best camping spot we have had so far…only 11 euros! No coins needed for the warm showers and there was even a pool we could use for 3 euros.

BBQ at our campsite in Chaves, Portugal

We didn’t have time to take a dip in the pool as we already had booked our appointment to get the keys for our apartment in Porto, Portugal.

It seems that the best experiences happen spontaneously. We didn’t plan to stop in Chaves, or even in Burgos, but we are glad we did because we got to see 2 beautiful towns that weren’t on our itinerary.

PORTO, THE LAND OF PORT

If you plan to visit Portugal, Porto is a must see.

Famous Bolhao Market in Porto

We are glad we decided to stay in Porto for 4 days and 3 nights.

There was so much to see and do, we could have easily stayed a week.

Riding in Porto is a challenge. The whole city is on a hill (or mountain) and there are basically NO STRAIGHT ROADS IN PORTO! You really need to be alert and know how to start and stop on inclined roads.

Great day to be driving around Porto, Portugal

The Porto locals also drive a bit crazy. They drive faster than you would expect on the cobbled stone roads and some of the intersections in the old town can have 5-6 different roads meeting and sometimes there isn’t a traffic light or sign to let you know if you can go, need to give way, turn left or right or anything! You just need to know where you are going and take your chance…

We were so surprised not to witness any accidents while we were there.

It is also a great city to stay fit. Just walking along the streets for a couple of hours will give you a wonderful workout.

One memorable experience was getting in the #1 rated restaurant in Trip Advisor for dinner.

We arrived in Porto a bit late in the afternoon and after getting our keys for our apartment and settling in, we didn’t have time to make a reservation.

But we went ahead and gave it a shot. Tapabento is exactly what they say it is. It is THE BEST tapa restaurant we have been to—EVER!

The portions were huge. The flavor was exquisite and the owner was a wonderful lady.

We rocked up without a reservation, and found out the place was fully booked. But after hearing about our arduous journey of the last few days she squeezed us in between bookings. There was an hour before the next reservation and she said we could take the spot if we were quick diners. It was a quick and delicious affair, but I am glad Stefan persevered to get us in.

Porto is the land of Port and wine-tasting. Seriously, every other shop is a wine shop and offers a wine tasting.

We learned a bit about Port and about how it is the “youngest” aged wine and that is why it is still so sweet. The “Port” grapes such as the Touriga Nacional is not actually grown or brewed in Porto but because Porto was the city that first started exporting Port internationally, it was named Porto and is internationally acclaimed as the capital of the Port brewing empire.

Classic river boat they used to transport the Port throughout Portugal and then transferred to bigger ships to the rest of Europe

 

The demarcation for the official Port producing area is mainly along the Douro River.

We took a short cruise along the Douro river and got to marvel at the amazing vineyard terraces covering all the hills along side which we’ll talk about more in our next post.

Read our next post about our vineyard camping and a forest fire 😉