The first weeks in Europe

06/01/2023

On March 3rd, the Swiss flight from Johannesburg landed in Zurich early in the morning and brought us back home safely. After 10 months of travel, we were back on European soil. Time had rushed – no other terms describe the feeling. The first action was to put our Land Cruiser Manni back into operation. Our Land Cruiser in Switzerland would now house us for the entire duration of our stay in Europe. Within half a day Manni was redeemed, cleaned and equipped ready to travel and live in. We spent the first four weeks visiting our families and some friends in Germany and Switzerland, celebrating the baptism of our granddaughter Lyv, attending long arranged appointments and more. Guido was busy shopping for all the necessary items for Africa. New slides for the drawers were just as much a part of it as various kitchen accessories and tools.

family time

Our first trip took us to France just before Easter. We combined the Easter visit to Sonja’s sister Carole and her parents at Lake Geneva with a subsequent side trip to Provence, to the region around Avignon. A small campground (Camping de l’aube) caught our attention. The description corresponded to our ideas and so we stayed there for almost a week, finally enjoying warmth, sunshine, good cheese with baguette and tasting French wines in the immediate vicinity. In short: we enjoyed ourselves like «God in France». Afterwards, we returned to rainy Switzerland and attended various appointments before finally setting off on May 10 to explore southern Europe.

Venice rain

Our goal was to visit Sonja cousin in Crete. We drove via Ticino in the direction of Italy. Since it was raining heavily in Ticino, we quickly crossed the border into Italy and stayed overnight in Como, on Lake Como. Unfortunately, the weather there was no better and we left Como the next morning for Venice. Both of us had never been to Venice before and now we wanted to take this opportunity to pay a visit (in low season) to this special city. To cut a long story short, unfortunately the weather gods did not mean well and it rained continuously in and around Venice as well. We decided to continue after a night at the largest campsite in Europe – Marina di Venezia – (to stay there was Guido’s idea haha) and cross the national border into Slovenia after Trieste.

Sun in Croatia – Is this the turn of the weather?

We reached Croatia without incident and border crossings were, as expected, easy and quick. After briefly studying the options, we decided to visit the Krk peninsula. We had identified a fantastic little campsite there, located directly on a bay and with its own beach bar and small restaurant. Unfortunately, we were disappointed, because this campsite was fully booked and took – surprise! – for the whole year 2023 no more reservation accepted. Things were going well for us! We chose another site nearby and spent the sunny afternoon on the beach licking our wounds. The next morning we were greeted by classic weather – a cloudy sky with drizzle – and made sure we decided to continue south.

We reached Dubrovnik in the afternoon. We don’t need to mention that it was raining cats and dogs – that went without saying. The outlook was unchanged, so that even a visit to the city literally fell into the water. Europe really did not mean well with us. After an incredibly wet night – it poured incessantly from buckets – we set off.

Daan und Stephanie from the Netherlands

The night before, we had written to our friends Daan and Stephanie from the Netherlands which we had originally met in Namibia at a supermarket parking lot. Later we spent three days with them in Mana Pools and subsequently missed them by one day each in Zambia and in Botswana. We were very congenial and had a good time together and stayed in touch. After travelling six months in Africa, we knew that they wanted to travel for another six months in Europe. Stephanie had upgraded a van that was waiting for them in Europe. To our amazement, the two were in Albania and were on their way to the Albanian coast. After checking the GPS and possible routes in detail, we agreed to join them the next afternoon!

Off to Albania

We left Croatia faster than we thought and drove through Bosnia and Montenegro to Albania. The weather only got better in Albania and as we approached the coast, it slowly cleared up and the sun showed itself. Daan sent us the coordination of a headland near Vlorë and our GPS guided us accurately there. When we reached the place on a beach at about 4:00 p.m. after a drive of about eight hours, Daan and Stephanie were nowhere to be seen. Instead, there were about 10 motorhomes, travel trucks and a Volkswagen Bulli there.

Thirty minutes later, a red van with Dutch license plates drove up and the reunion was great. It was completely surreal to see the two of them again after their time in Europe. We spent a nice evening and received the great news that Stephanie was pregnant. Sonja and Stephanie talked at length in Mana Pools and after a short analysis Sonja gave her tips to increase the chances of pregnancy. Shortly after her return from Africa it worked out and we were all very happy! Life is a grab bag – isn’t that great?

The night was insane. Since we travel with rooftop tent (2018/19) or with elevating roof (2020), we have never experienced such a storm. The weather was so violent that we felt compelled to close our roof at 3:00 in the night. Sonja slept the rest of the night on the bench seat in the extension and Guido sitting on the passenger seat. In the morning we decided to move on and the four of us drove to Orikum to a nice campsite by the sea. Daan and Stephanie left us the next day and we stayed another day enjoying the sun and the sea.

Greece is calling

After we had already traveled so quickly to the border of Greece, we decided to now travel quickly to Crete and leave the island again before the big rush. We booked our ferry from Piraeus to Heraklion and decided to return at the end of June and then explore Albania at our leisure – on our way home. The trip to Piraeus took two days and passed without any significant incidents. The ferry brought us in a quiet crossing to Crete and what we experienced there, we tell in the next article.

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