Thursday, 29 April 2010

Progress Report and an Appeal to any Croatian Electronic Engineers...


Good News:  Thanks to Hrvoje and his paint shop recommendation I have caught up with my daisies!  :)

6months, 10,000 miles and nearly half a van.  Looks good doesn't it!

Bad News:  Whilst I was doing this in a sunny layby on the road above Brela, Will was blowing up bits of his electronics projects. :(

Specifically he needs 2 new PIC 16F876 or 16F873

If we can find somewhere to get those, he also needs:

several 5v Zenner diodes
9 pin male D-sub connector
9 pin female D-sub connector
4 USB A recepticle (could take these out of a cheap USB hub if available)
U.FL pigtail for fitting an external aerial to the laptop

This last is definitely a wish not a real need and is therefore less urgent!

We are currentlyen route to ploce, planning to head to Trpanj tomorrow on the ferry for a day trip to Korcula,  Ston on Saturday then to Dubrovnik.  Current plans have us heading out of Croatia on Tuesday night bound for Greece by way of Bari, but we can stay longer if we can get the bits :)

Does anyone know if there any shops between here and Dubrovnik that might sell these bits??

If anyone can help us find the bits Will needs, please drop us a line

In other news, we had a lovely couple of days in Split, and spent today on the beach and swimming in the sea!  more on that in due course....

Monday, 26 April 2010

significant milestone

I almost forgot, sometime in the last day or so, we reached our 10,000th trip mile!

How exciting is that!!
x x


Written 26th April 

We have been well and truly slap'd!  By which I mean waterfall'd :)

The Krka national park yesterday was stunning.  As with Plitvice, the river crosses karst landscape and unlike the usual errosive action of water, in these places it actually builds the barriers and ledges which form the falls and other features of the landscape.  The water is very heavy with calcium carbonate and the action of the crashing of the waters releases CO2 from the water leaving the calcium to fall out and become deposited on the rock, moss, algae and other plantlife through which the water rushes.  As the build up of calcium encrusted plants increases, barriers of 'living' travertine form, which increase heights of the falls and thus the crashing of the water which releases yet more calcium and CO2 and so the process continues and the landscape is ever changing.  Fascinating stuff!

On Ivan and Teresa's recommendation, from Drnis, we started at the northern end, at Roski Slap, a pleasant and tranquil circular walk across the cascades

or 'necklaces' as they are apparently known,

which culminate in a 23m high waterfall into the Visovac Lake. 

Driving on from there, we found our way to Skradin and, not realising that there is a free (included in the ticket price) boat from Skradin marina, parket by the main road entrance to the park and walked the 3kms along the valley to the Big Slap, Skradinski Buk, and it was amazing.

If Plitvice is about tranquil deep hued pools and a myriad of overflowing lakes, Krka is about the sheer awesome power of a single body of water.  A massive energy rush which overwhelms the senses in a continual roar of noise. 

You come to the main waterfall, Skradinski Buk first and it is amazing, leaping and bounding down over the rocks, seemingly fed from nearly all directions by torrents of foaming water. 

There is a nicely laid out eco-trail around the area - more gravels paths and wooden walkways - which also takes in the various old buildings which use the waters as their source of power. 

Stopping to nibble on the sugared almonds, dried figs and delicious sweet wine offered by the many little stalls along the way, we came first to the old hydroelectric plant, which is possibly, the first working hydro electroplant in the world to supply power to a town, but this is a bit unclear.  It describes itself as the first hydro electric plant in Croatia - fair enough - and then goes on to say  it is the second of its type in the world, being first put into operation in 1895 (from memory) only 2 days after the hydroelectic plant at Niagra which was built according to Tesla's pratents.  The Krka plant started providing electricity to nearby Sibenik almost immediately whereas the people of Buffalo had to wait nearly 6 months for theirs.  as I say, not sure why it isn't really the first in the world...

Onwards and upwards to the remains of much older river fed industry, the watermills.  These have been really nicely done up to house various exhibitions of rural working life, including

a blacksmiths,

a flour mill - with working spinning grindstones -

kitchen with the traditional hooded hearth arrangement,

washing tubs - proper rinse and spin cycle that! -

a film about basket weaving,

and a really lovely weaving lady who told us all about the traditional costumes of the region and showed us how the loom works.  Fascinating

Onwards along the paths to the various view points and cascades and it was all jolly, very lovely. 

And we got back the big waterfall in time to catch the last boat back and the last two seats up top so a pleasant float along the tranquil lake - perfect.

Can't really compare it to Plitvice, neither is better than the other, they are both so different - you will just have to go to both!

We were going to head on to Split yesterday evening but stopped in the Skradin carpark - free at the moment - to cook dinner and got chatting to one of the four sets of motorhome people there - Swiss, they spoke German, no English, I speak english, no German but we handily found a common french ground! - who said that they were staying the night and that out of season they thought it would be ok.

So we decided to stop too, it was ok, and very nice not to have to stealth cook in the dark!

This morning the sun was shining brightly when we woke up.  Will spent a happy morning re-fettling his code and I have started the epic oeuvre that is catching up on my daisies - got to Pula before we packed up, pics when I've finished! - before setting off Split-wards.

We stopped for a break and a wander in Trogir - a tiny mediaeval walled town on an island in the Trogirski channel between the mainland and Ciovo island.  And it was lovely. 

Typical marble streets,


wide open square,

prom with palm trees,

castle, sunshine, just lovely.

And we are now in Split, having found the shop almost immediately thanks to Ivan's map and directions - mercedes garage, blue building, left at the junction, on the right! - they don't have the oil filter in stock but will hopefully get one in for tomorrow, so we are waiting for the rush hour traffic to die down before setting off further into town

All good!

People are just _so_ nice

Written 25th april

Especially those with classic veedubs! (and also most motorhome people, especially those who own small modern auto sleepers, Bill and Brian, but sadly you guys aren't here...)

What with ferries, islands, lakes, and cheese, we had run out of money in this week's budget by late on thursday so the last couple of days have been spent mostly in carparks, laybys and cafes with accessible power sockets, in the expense-less pursuits of fettling and throttle control code re-architecturing (Will), and odessey reading and seat cover finishing (me). Productive and cheap but largely unremarkable, with weather to match.

And as such, they would have been relegated to merely a prologue paragraph of a post about more interesting things except that, we have met the most brilliant, helpful people over the last couple of days that they deserve a special mention all of their own.

We arrived in Zadar in time for a wander in the sun on Thursday and I returned to the van after a foray into town in search of the tourist office, to find Will chatting to a classic veedub owning driving instructor who, on seeing Jules by the side of the road, had instructed his pupil (in some dull modern car) to do an emergency stop and parallel park manoever just so he could hop out and chat. They had gone through the initial greeting and establishing credentials stage - swapping the vital stats of 'buses and beetles I own, have owned or would like to own', which is the accepted conversational pattern of meeting other veedub owners! - and he was busy trying to explain to Will where he could buy the carb cleaner we were looking for (needed to try and revive the lamda sensor which has become sooted up through lack of use - being fuel injected, we don't have carbs, obviously you all knew that...) when I arrived back with the map which made the explanation process much simpler. Turns out he knows Mr Buggy, the blue mustachioed slovenian with the blinging red and black splitty with flames on the doors, and may be going to the veedub meet in Isola in June - it is a small world!

Before wishing us cheerfully on our way and going back to his poor patient pupil, he also told us where we could buy the paint I need to contine the daisy project which is about three weeks behind due to lack of white paint and thinners. Excellent!

So we headed to the free carpark on the edge of the old town which the helpful tourist office lady had directed me to - she was less knowledgeable about places where we might buy things for cars or car paint but she did at least try! - and headed into town.

Zadar is very pleasant. The old walled town sits on a finger of land pointing out to sea and has wide straight marble streets which glow softly in the honey coloured light of the early evening sun and light up the town even on the greyest of dull and uninspiring days.

We walked to the very tip where we found the sea organ and the sun salutation. Both designed by local architect Nikola Basic, the sea organ is an unphotogenic series of buried organ pipes and whistles, built into the steps of the prom, through which the action of the sea produces eerily melodic wailing noises with the gentle lapping of the waves - a bit whale music like - at times harmonious and at others a discordant cacophony, depending which pipes the waves hit when.

The overall effect is lovely and soothing and just right for a relaxing sit and stare out to sea.

The sun salutation is a 22m circlular solar panel, built into the prom which harvests the sun's energy by day

and releases it by night in the form of both the normal seafront lighting and the trippy disco-floor light show that the large glass patio becomes at dusk - very cool.

We wandered and sat and wandered some more,

finishing the evening in a comfy pavement café with the scrummiest hot chocolate - so thick that the spoon just sat on the surface - a definite rival to our swiss hot chocolate!

The next day we wandered some more, treated ourselves to the fanciest ice cream we have so far seen - extremely well presented but not quite as tasty as the gelato in the tiny town north of lake Como - and then set off on our shopping mission.

It turns out that the croatian for 'carb cleaner' is 'carb cleaner' or so it seemed from the exchange between the guy on the till who didn't understand Will and the guy behind him who did

< foreign >"what does this guy want?< /foreign >

"Carb cleaner"

< foreign >"oh carb cleaner obviously, right, its just here by my hand then"< /foreign >

Sadly no oil filter in stock though, which is the other thing we need, as was evident from the thick black puddles on the floor in Isola. To be fair, we have known for a while that an oil change is somewhat overdue and have been asking for filters in the various battery and gasket shops we have visited in the last month but as yet to no avail. But carb cleaner is a result.

And the lady in the paint shop - which sold an unexpectedly broad range of random things besides paint, including varnish, resin and glue for all applications from cars to houses to boats - spoke english so cheap car paint and, more surprisingly, high temperature liquid gasket - otherwise known as 48kn worth of insurance that we will not have any more failed gaskets on this trip! - was successfully purchased and off we set, southwards once more, to Sibenik.

Sibenik was recommended by the people we met in Pazin and sounded nice - harbour, typical mediaeval streets, impressive cathedral (the mostest or bestest of something, I forget what!), castle on a hill etc etc - but sadly, after a night in a backstreet on the very far out edge of town, the tourist office was less than forthcoming on things of interest to us, namely free carparking and somewhere to do laundry so we decided to give it a miss and and spent the whole day engaged in the above described useful activities - although sadly lamda sensor was found to be irrevivably dead :( - in a layby en route to Krka National Park, until a need to find somewhere discrete to park lead us north east to Drnis, and a quiet, anonymous, back street carpark beneath a block of flats.

We went out looking for a quiet café with wifi and a power socket and unwittingly ended up in a mirrored and thumping disco bar (unwittingly = as time passed, the mirroredness stayed the same but the thumpingness increased) where I reminisced over a beer about my lost youth in the defening, smokefilled student guild bar - oh happy days - whilst more prosaically Will poked his programming with only a sensible driver's lemonade for comfort. It is amazing, I am not a smoker, never have been, never will be, hate it normally, especially at close range but there is something I miss about the background ambience of a lightly smoked bar atmosphere - definitely lost youth...

Anyway, this morning, a series of chance happenings - realising too late that Krka NP has two waterfalls, heading the wrong way out of town, stopping in a hilltop layby to have breakfast and turn round and randomly finding wifi we were too far away to connect to, deciding to head back into town, seeing a bar and wifi in the same place, sucumbing to the lure of coffee and facebook until we ran out of battery, and getting blocked in so not being able to get in and drive straight off - resulted in us meeting Ivan and Teresa and their beautiful Plitvice-lake green bug.

Ivan had only come over to give us the web address of their veedub club which has a fantastic mutual assistance section with numbers of people we could call in any area of Croatia if we had problems but a combination of their joint enthusiasm and Teresa's fantastic english led to an invite to join them for coffee and tales of travels in far off lands. Turns out they too know Mr Buggy, and the Zadar driving instructor! The world gets ever smaller.

We asked about oil filters and Ivan tried to ring his mate who has a shop in town but obviously it was closed, being sunday, but not to worry, on hearing we were headed to Split next, he gave us the address and a scribbled map of the second branch there - brilliant. We thought that scrapyards or lamda sensors would be pushing our luck but no, once he had got over the confusion of why we needed one - they are not standard parts on old aircooled veedubs! - and the fact that we didn't mind what car it was from, he got on the phone again and lo and behold, another mate in town was found, who runs a small car breakers on the way out of town towards the waterfall to which we were heading anyway. They even took us out there, and Will ended up with four to choose from and a very reasonable price - fantastic!

So, new budget week and armed with maps, info, directions to all the things we need next, and most unexpectedly a lamda sensor, we are heading on our way to Roski Slap (waterfall) in the Krka national park.

Ivan, Teresa, thank you so much! If you ever make it to the UK, please get in touch :)

[EDIT] since writing this and finding somewhere to post it, the sentiments contained within have been further backed up by a lovely comment on my previous post from Kiri and the VW Kombi Forum veedub club. Thank you so much for writing to us! We are loving Croatia, you have a truly beautiful and welcoming country. We hope not to need your very kind offer of help but it is really good to know it is there if we do!

Friday, 23 April 2010

An island of cheese...

written 22nd April

No really, it is!  Well it says it is anyway... Good enough for me :)

We did find somewhere to stop eventually on Tuesday night after driving much further than we anticipated.  We are not totally sure that small vans are welcome overnight outside of campsites so are very picky about where we stop.  In Slovenia there were at least some spots marked on the map and in other places we tucked ourselves away somewhere quiet and cooked in the dark.  here we tend to  cook in one place then park very very quietly somewhere else, trying to hide ourselves in residents parking and the like where there are plenty of other cars overnight.  Bit of a worry at times but have been ok so far - out of season probably helps, as does being in something small and car sized which isn't the traditional white motorhome shape.  The legal limit for alcohol and driving - which is zero! - is also leading to a change in lifestyle as, because we are not 100% sure we won't get moved on, we can't risk even small beer or glass of something in the evening - would be pretty terrible to get done for illegal camping and then DUI at the same time!  Yes I know we could stop in campsites but we're kinda out of the habit of that now - freeloaders that we are... ;) - and have better things to spend the budget on anyway, like beautiful lakes and the promise of icecream to come.  

Anyhoo, we eventually found a lovely deserted harbour for the night

and awoke bright and early in glorious sunshine and set off to Pag.

Pag is unexpected and gorgeous, in a way which is totally impossible to capture without being a better photographer than I and having a fancy panoramic lens.  

 Baking under a scorching sun, the arid, sepia-toned hills rise out of the cerulean sea.  It is too barren to be pretty, too stony to be paradise but it is wild and rugged enough to beautiful.  And I loved it.

It is connected to a peninsula of mainland by a bridge and the difference is marked as soon as you cross over.  There are bushes and grass on the mainland but nothing but cream rocks as far as the eye can see on the other.  Pag consists of four long, thin, stretched out islands which are loosely connected together round elongated bays, the whole ensemble  extending finger-like into the Adriatic, with .  The main town, also called Pag, is about halfway up, spanning an long inlet, and it was there we headed first.

There are two famous things about Pag, we discovered from the tourist office; lace and cheese.

The lace is made by hand by wizened old ladies, sitting picturesquely in the sun on their doorsteps - but only in tourist season ;) - and apparently it would be a sin, according to the tourist office lady, to leave Pag without seeing (and presumably buying) some.  But the sin was theirs, she said, as the museum was closed but she could tell us where to see some in private windows, just knock if we want to buy some!

So we duly went to looksee and it was amazingly intricate.  Star shaped patterns like gossamer spiders webs, beautiful to look at.  I don't really know who lace is made, I presume it is some sort of pins and knots effort, but some of them were so fine they looked like they would barely hold together - far to delicate for the rough and tumble van dwelling life.

Pag cheese is also pretty special.  It is sheeps cheese, from the sheep which graze free range on what flora the landscape does sustain and the tang of the salt which permeates the ground and the plants is transmitted to the milk they produce.  The cheese is apparently only made from milk collected in May, when the flavour is deemed to be at its peak, and it is left unpasteurised to allow the flavour to develop further during fermentation.  Once it is made, it is rubbed with sea salt and olive oil and left to age for 6-12 months in stone.  And it is yummy.

I was very nearly not allowed to buy any!  Evil husband who spoils all my fun, said I still had montepulciano cheese left, not to mention gran padana so didn't need any more cheese!  Since the horrible spanish cheese incident, I have a new policy on cheese, whereby I will spend more money per kilogram on small amounts of nice or special cheese and make it last, rather than the same amount of money on larger quantities of cheap (but at least of the right country)supermarket cheese which I may not like.  As a plan it is working (and it is definitely better for the quest for fitness) and as I say, I surprisingly still have some yummy montepulciano cheese to nibble on, but still, this is not a valid reason to be denied new special cheese, particularly as I missed out on Slovenian cheese from Bohinj (evil husband wouldn't take me to the alpine dairy museum and cheese shop in the village round the lake) and as I keep telling him, the gran padana/parmesan is an ingredient of dinner, not cheese for pleasure!

Fortunately he is not actually evil and he does pander to my every whim (and fix my van) even after 10yrs together, three years of marriage and six months living in a small campervan - lovely husband - so I did get my delicious cheese, albeit by advice from the tourist office, from a supermarket where you can buy smaller quantities, rather than my romantic notion of haggling on a farm doorstep.  Ho hum, can't have everything. 

Pag town is lovely.  The old town area is a grid pattern  - no twisty typical streets here - with pale marble streets lined with pale stone houses opening out on to a blindingly bright square.  

We wandered around a bit then decided to set off on our bikes for a change to explore some of the 115kms of cycle tracks the islanders have created.


Most of the tracks listed in the leaflet, seemed to start from somewhere random and end somewhere random, were not circular routes as you might expect and did not connect with each other - odd - but we picked a short, 7kms one starting from Pag, over to the small village of Kosljun, along what sounded like a dirt track.

The path profile shown looked a bit alarming at first - very steep - but it soon became apparent that that was the xy scales used - x axis: 1cm = 1km, y axis: 1cm = 10m - which made it steep, not the physical landscape :)  it was actually rather pleasant, if quite stony and jarred my arms a lot going over rocks or into ruts - despite what my bike may proclaim, I am distinctly not serious about mountains, or even slightly bumpy tracks, give me nice smooth tarmac any day!

We cycled along past the salt pans - the main economic activity of the island, sadly, again, museum closed as out of season.  One day we will find an open salt pans museum, it is becoming a quest! - up over the ridge,

past the sheep grazing amongst the agapanthus,

and down to the bay, looking out towards the small islands in the Virsko sea.

And it was all rather pleasant.  Bit of a sit, an orange and a biscuit or too, a paddle

and some lying in the sun later, we decided that it hadn't been as arduous a trip as we had anticipated under the blazing sky,

so we headed back the way we came and then the other way out of Pag, northwards along the inside beach.

This track was tougher, and steeper, and I have to confess to walking some of it, but the view was stunning - deep blues and pale creams and the hazy mountains of the mainland rising up behind, just too beautiful -

and the sweeping downhills made the uphill struggles all worthwhile with my new freewheeling ability - wheeeeeeeeee! -  and we made the 12kms to Sveti Duh beach in good time.

With the roads ahead and inland looking steep in both directions, and the sun beating down still, we stopped at the beach and went in the sea to cool off.

To cold to swim, but we sat in the shallows of the sparkling turquoise waters,

watching the little fishies and shrimps investigating our toes, then stretched out for a bask in the sun.

FKK but deserted and anyway, why not???

try anything once (well twice but that is another story...)

Eventually though, had to force my aching arms and legs back on the bike and head back.  We considered coming back in the van for the night, and stopping undisturbed in the middle of nowhere but then found the municipal wifi - free and fast, perfect! - so stayed put in Pag town, tucked in a discrete corner.  

Today has been usefully spent in a bit of fettling on Will's part and some photo sorting and uploading on mine - flickr is now up to date as far as february and gun emplacements... I have a long way to go... The camera - which is excellent, thanks to Austin for his expert recommendation! - which was bought specially for ths trip as a leaving present from work as the old one stopped focusing with 2 weeks to go... - thanks so much to everyone! - has just clicked round to into the 6,000th picture taken. I am a bit behind...

Having happily passed most of a sunny day thus employed - Will would like to point out at this juncture that this is not a jolly holiday, it is a tale of hard work and facing adversity, he worked through lunch today and yesterday we couldn't get coffee in the morning as the whole town was without power for planned works, it is very hard being us... ;) - we are now heading on out, off the island to Zadar to see what we can find.