3.000km roadtrip from Greece to the Netherlands in 7 days across 7 borders
February 7, 2016
Friday morning 10 o'clock on the 29th of January, we were ready to leave. First a stop at Coffee Island to fill up some good coffee because we knew we wouldn't find good ones for some time. We left Ioannina and crossed the mountains towards Thessaloniki. On the other side of the mountains, the weather was great. Blue sky, sun was shining and it wasn't cold at all. I was already feeling like summer!
We knew there where strikes on the road by farmers and we run into them just before Thessaloniki. A road block by tractors. We got of the high way and go around with a delay of 10 minutes. No problemo! Up to the borders of FYROM (Macedonie). About 10 km before we reached the borders, we crossed a gasstation. It was flooded with refugees taking a break. Waiting for transport it looked like. Kids were playing in the grass and parents where sunbathing. It looked peaceful and very confronting at the same time...
When we reached the borders we hit another strike. Tractors were parked in front of the borders so we had to wait. Stretching the legs, walking the dog and taking a picture. Little bit less than an hour later, we could pass. Our target was Leskovac, Serbia, a little over 650km in total. This time we crossed FYROM with sunlight. This made the country look a lot more appealing. But still, it can not really catch us... When we wanted to cross the borders towards Serbia, FYROM wanted a full check of our van. Great... Out of the line and opening up the doors. The guy goes through all your stuff; opens up your bags, cupboards, looks between the sheets etc. Most of the guys who work at the borders are trained in being bullies to intimidate you. Luckily we had a kind one that searched the van. I must admit, it feels really intimate when this happens. Someone searching between your underwear, feels like being naked. Weird experience...
In Serbia we stayed in the 4 start ABC hotel in Leskovac. A town / city with a lot of smog. You can see Serbia is a very poor country and it is still damaged by the war. As soon as you leave the main street, you find streets without pavement. The streets are dirty, a lot of houses are damaged or were never finished. The hotel was great though, the people super friendly and the beers in the restaurant tasted good. In the morning I took a walk with the dog towards the park. I was alone because Dimitri went running and I felt far outside my comfort zone. I was alert, not because I was scared I think, but because it was so different from what I am used to. It is good to feel this, to feel another culture and see a country that is so different than your own.
After Serbia again Hungary. The border this time took ages. I guess on this trip we weren't lucky with the borders... But we did find a solution to 'lighten up' those intimidating-border-bullies: get Kalí on your lap and let her greet them! They all 'melt down' and start smiling immediately :). Makes the crossing a lot more fun...
Unfortunately Hungary was again so boring to travel through... I am sorry but it is not my country. Luckily it started to become interesting as soon as we turned towards Slovakia! The landscape changed and we crossed the (free!) borders to Slovakia in the hills. On our way to the Tatra mountains, we crossed other mountains and ski areas. It looked all very nice although it was really cold. The past weeks it hadn't snowed, so I guess the resort were not so successful at the moment. We just felt really lucky about this fact because we didn't want to actually drive in the snow with our van.
We arrived in Nova Lesna, nearby Poprad at the foot of the Tatra mountains. A big flat valley and then the rough mountains with some snow on the tops. We wanted to go for a hike in the mountains but not go to 2.000 meters regarding the snow. So we choose a 'light' hike of 16km and tops 1.700m high (starting at 800). The hike was nice but a big part of the nature was extremely touched by humans. The slopes on the side of the valley, we half cut. Half of the trees were cut down so a big part of the forrest was dead. We made some really nice pictures but it was a strange place to be during the winter. In the end the hike was not that light, due to snow and ice on the paths. You had to constantly watch were you where stepping not to slip. Kalí had of course no problems and was running back and fort happily. Sometimes I am so jealous of her four legs... Check out some of the pictures of the hike:
Our next stop was Prague! On our previous trips, we stopped twice in Budapest and we had to admit that it wasn't our place. Prague was somehow different. Although it has more citizens than Budapest, it felt more relaxed and less crowded. We stayed at a nice studio in the old centre, including a parking spot. This one was perfect because we don't fit into the parking garages... We took an evening walk to the Old Town Square, the Astronomical Clock, Charles Bridge and back home. Prague is pretty as of a city. It is clean, well maintained (also the other areas outside the touristic Prague 1) and I did not get the feeling of being overwhelmed by the city. No huge packs of people, crazy tax drivers or beeping scooters. It was somehow quiet and I hadn't expected that. I was very surprised about this fact, in a good way of course. An old classmate of Dimitri lives in Prague, so we decided to meet him and his girlfriend for beers. We ended up in Prague 2, at cafe Deminka. Of course we drunk the great Pilsner Urquell and tried a fantastic beef tartare. See the pictures...
The last part of our trip was to cross Germany. I was happy to drive over Hanover this time. The roads are a lot more relaxed than when you enter from Austria. After the 'lonely highways' in all the other countries, it is always shock to be back in Germany. You have to constantly watch your mirrors intensely to pass the slow trucks without hitting the cars on high speed. In the evening we went of the highway and went to a nice, typical German restaurant in 'Bunde'. Very kind people and good food. Afterwards we drove another 50km and stopped at a 'Raststation' next to the highway. Closed the curtains, got into bed and slept. The following morning we only had 250km left to Amsterdam!
I always like it to have a short drive left for the last part. We arrived not that tired and we had time left to go for a bike ride around the city and get Kalí for a run.