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Saturday 27 August 2011

43. The long way round

Uma the Puma loaded up with our possessions
First, I have a confession to make. We broke down. In France! Well, sort of. We had a major overheating episode after driving off the ferry in Dunkirk. How embarrassing, just one kilometre from the ferry port! I called out the breakdown people and a nice young French mechanic came out. Rather unhelpfully he told us my head gasket was about to go. Big dislike, major problemo! But, after towing us to a garage, his colleagues couldn’t find anything wrong. By this time naughty Uma the Puma had totally cooled down and was acting all normal. So, after much reassurance that the head gasket was in fact fine, we drove off - warily. We never had another problem with the car for the rest of the trip; it was just one of those weird occurrences. We decided Uma’s probably never been on a ferry before and just got a bit seasick.

Us leaving Dover...blissfully unaware of the drama awaiting us in Dunkirk
The Dunkirk Episode set us back a few hours so we arrived in Germany (our first overnight stop) later than expected - but still in time for a hearty dinner and well-earned beer. The next day we set off first thing for Venice. Now, this was the part of the trip I dreaded the most - a nine-hour slog through Germany, Austria and into Italy. Nine hours, my arse. In fact, that leg of the journey took a whopping 14 hours. For some reason, everyone in Germany had taken to the roads and there were major delays, traffic jams and road works everywhere.  It took us eight hours just to get out of Germany. Thank goodness for Bruce (I named our sat nav voice Bruce) who helped us to avoid some of the worst congested areas. It was a total nightmare though. I thought we’d never make it out of Germany. At one point, driving bang through the centre of Munich (another detour!), I was literally sobbing at the wheel. Munich really broke my spirits! We finally crossed the border into Austria four hours later than expected. We’d been on the road eight hours by that point and still had at least five hours of driving ahead. I’m not going to lie; I resorted to Coca Cola, Haribo and cigarettes to get me through those final five hours. And I haven’t had a single cigarette in years. I blame Munich... all those traffic lights, all those cyclists! Austria was beautiful though - if we ever do the drive again we’d totally stop and explore Austria. We arrived in Venice at gone 10pm at night. I was completely exhausted, offensively smelly and had cried all my makeup off somewhere around Munich. Frightful!

Us in Venice, freed from behind the wheel!

We had the whole of Sunday exploring Venice. It’s an amazing place to visit - such a feat to build a beautiful city like that on water. I’d recommend going off-season though because Venice in August is PACKED. Not too smelly mind you, just wall-to-wall rammed with eager tourists. Our hotel was gorgeous too, a real peaceful haven 15 minutes outside Venice.

Our next adventure was 25 hours on a ferry from Venice to Igoumenitsa in Greece. Actually this was good fun and another welcome break from driving. Clearly, the memories of Munich still lingered. We hadn’t booked a cabin (way too expensive in August) and all the good camping spaces on deck had been taken. So we paid an extra 40 Euros to get some ‘aeroplane’ seats on the top deck. These were cool - massive, comfy and with loads of legroom. We were able to blow up our airbed on the floor in front of us and really spread out. Quite comfortable, thank you. And the food on board was surprisingly yummy.

The Europa Palace: It may sound like a dodgy nightclub but it was a jolly nice Greek ferry. 
We were a little nervous driving off the ferry in Greece that Uma would get up to her naughty tricks again, but she was fine. So we entered Greece about 8pm at night and embarked on a lovely cross-mountain drive to Thessaloniki, our base for the night. This mountain drive was the highest point of our journey I think - about 1000 metres above sea level. Poor loaded up Uma struggled a bit at the really high points. We got a little lost driving around Thessaloniki at midnight. Bruce The Sat Nav Man did his best but it’s a really busy city - even at midnight! We finally made it, exhausted again, but unscathed. I love Thessaloniki so we decided to stop for two nights instead of one, giving us a whole day to soak up some lovely Greek sun, food and retsina. This meant we set off for Bulgaria a day later than planned but it was worth it for the deep fried courgette balls and cheese pie! I’m a woman ruled by my stomach.

Our final leg was up from Greece to our home in Bulgaria. This is kind of a slow drive (five hours to do 250 miles) because it’s the only part of the whole trip not on a proper motorway. But it was a lovely drive, and it felt so good to be back in Bulgaria.

So that’s it - the story of our 1200 mile roadtrip. It took seven days in total, including all the rest stops and sightseeing. It cost around £200 in fuel (four tanks of fuel) and £250 for the ferries. Tolls were probably another £40 on top. Definitely not the quickest or cheapest route to Bulgaria, but it made for a fab holiday. Flying seems a bit boring now.

And don’t worry folks, the ciggy packet went in the bin unfinished...