A Lot has happened since the last post!

Simon Styles
Simon Styles

Traveller, whistle maker and foodie

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At the end of the fortnight in Krk we were able to try and get the final control x-ray Lizzie needed tone discharged but unfortunately when we went to the local Tourist Clinic it was Friday afternoon and all the radiographers had gone home! We were sent to the next nearest town on the mainland, Rijeka, to their regional hospital. It was a challenge!

It was very difficult to get them to understand what exactly it was we needed. When they looked on their system, of course, Lizzie was not there, because the surgery had been carried out in Slovenia: on instruction from the Croatian doctors: but there was still no record of her being treated. Eventually a young doctor with the ability to think outside the box, decided that the only way to do this would be to send Lizzie to the Emergency department or A&E. Well, their A&E is no different from anyone else’s and 4hrs later we managed to get away!

Anyway, 2 days later we got packed up ready to set off on the next leg of the journey. As Lizzie was not going to be able to cope well with the likes of Split and Dubrovnic and I was not comfortable with what looked to be some pretty mountainous roads in Southern Croatia/Montenegro/Albania, coupled wit the fact that putting up and dismantling Camp Styles is really a 2-person job, we decided to abandon the tent and camping idea and take a truncated road-trip through Serbia and Bulgaria into Turkey using B&B or Motel accommodation along the way.

We had already decided to take the inland route to Serbia via Vukovar, staying in a recommended motel along the way in a own Called Slavonski Brod.

This hotel is the strangest place. On the one Hand a sort of Wellness Retreat and on the other a random conglomeration of ideas and style. Crammed full of old antiques and bric-a-brac it is fascinating.

This is the Dining room and bar!

We could both remember watching the destruction of Vukovar by the invading Yugoslav army, dominated by Serbian troops after Croatia declared independence 1991. The largely volunteer civilian defenders with limited weapons held out for 87 days against a well equipped professional army but finally fell amid wholesale destruction and ethnic pogrom unseen since he second World War. It has risen again from the almost total destruction of the town after an average of 12,000 shells, bombs and rockets EVERY DAY of the 87 day siege were rained down on the Croatian defenders.

The one symbol of defiance was the old Water Tower from the top of which was flown the Croatian Flag and consequently targeted for destruction by the Serbian invaders. It was never destroyed but but badly damaged and has been maintained exactly as it was at the end of the war and turned into a museum visitor centre.

It is a profoundly moving place.

This is the remains of a shell still embedded in the street where it fell. You can still see the fins. This is a small and understated reminder of there horrors of war under a simple glass plate in the pavement.

By the time we had arrived in Vukovar, Lizzie’s foot was increasingly painful and we took the decision; as were still in Croatia and all her treatment and recovery was in Croatia, that before entering yet another country where the language was different again, it might be best to just get it checked out.

It was just as well we did! Lizzie had developed a nasty internal infection at the site of the operation and her blood indicators or CRP Levels that show infection, were up to 272. (the normal level is less than 5!) It was just a small jump away from full sepsis!

The hospital in Vukovar wanted admit Lizzie for more surgery to remove the infection but as their PCR Test machine was not working, and to avoid any further delay, it was decided to refer her to the main regional hospital 35km away in a large town called Osijek.

The doctors there were very reluctant to admit Lizzie because the surgery had been carried out in Slovenia. We said that to return to Slovenia as they were wanting her to do was dangerous as time was very limited before the infection developed into something more serious. They finally relented and admitted Lizzie for treatment. It was a bit of a shock when they told us that she would be there for at least 10 days to a fortnight! Lizzie need the big guns of IV antibiotics , a treatment that needed 4 doses every day for 10 days, The doctor wanted to see if the antibiotics were sufficient to kill the infection before submitting to more surgery.

Due to COVID restrictions I was not allowed to visit so Lizzie was confined to hospital, with little or no English with the nurses and appalling hospital food; frequently unidentifiable! I had to take food supplies in every other day. The hospital had set up a back door room where people could leave bags of supplies for the patients.

For a few days, Lizzie shared a ward room with a young Croatian who was having some knee surgery. Andre spoke excellent English and had a lovely sense of humour. Lizzie says that his devotion to his Country and their discussions about the history and culture of his country gave a unique insight into this amazing country.

About to enter Osijek Hospital
Sucking out the goo!

I had an extra couple weeks in the tent and found an amazing site out in the sticks outside Osijek in a village called Kopacevo. It was on the Danube flood plain which is a National Park called The Kopacik Rit. Internationally important migratory bird area and full of mosquitos!

Having Lizzie in hospital and being on my own, it gave me plenty of time to explore this fascinating part of the world. Once part of Hungary and owned by the Hapsburg Dynasty, the area is steeped in history. Nearby is the home of the famous Lippizaner Horse stud and just up the road is the ‘castle’ built by the Prince Eugen Francis of Savoy to whom all this land was given as a gift for being a Very Good Chap.

The Prince’s Castle

I was able to get in quite a lot of cycling as the area is completely flat! Osijek is a strange place, like many towns in this area, badly damaged by the Homeland War but contained some outstanding features. This magnificent church in the centre is one of the biggest brick built examples I have ever seen.

The Danube floodplain

The River Drive which is a tributary of the Danube has some wonderful public spaces and cycle routes all along the banks and the Danube itself in this area is part of the 2,300 mile cycle route from the Atlantic in Spain to the Black Sea.

The traditional rural architecture of the area has plenty of different influences but it is based on strip farming where the property is built end-on to the road around a small court. One fide is the homestead, the end is where the animals were kept and the opposite side was a store where the corn used for winter cattle feed was kept and milled. Most also sport a well. This example has been stunningly renovated into holiday accommodation and whilst I was cheekily taking a photo, the owner came out and offered to give me a guided tour!

This region is extremely environmentally conscious, the wetlands are a haven for all sorts of wildlife and information boards showing what habitats exist and the animals that inhabit these environments are placed all along the roads. One day I was strolling in the village where the camp site was and ==d I noticed some stalls being set up and directions for parking. curious, I figured that something would be happening at the coming weekend. sure enough, there was a charity cycle event that was coming through time at raising money for and awareness off the environmental projects of the area. Thought it has to be said, I never expected to see a sign advertising Hereford cows!

Whilst Lizzie was imprisoned in the hospital, I was able to get out and see a bit of the country. having spent 6 weeks here, I have fallen in love with this amazing country and it’s genuine, fiercely patriotic and friendly people. Most visitors will only ever see the Hollywood or HBO cliches of Dubrovnik and Split, Plitovice Park and Zagreb. But there is a huge country inside of all that and I feel privileged to have been given the unexpected chance to see and experience the real Croatia.

So anyway, it finally came to the point where Lizzie had received as much can=re and treatment that was possible and she was finally given parole. The care; notwithstanding the difficulties with language; has been exceptional, and the treatment exemplary. Hats off them.

We had already decided to throw in the towel as far as the road trip was concerned and a soon as we were able, to pack up and head a quickly as possible to our new home.

We had heard some horror stories about the borders; Serbia, Bulgaria and Turkey. Delays and queues sometimes lasting over 12 hours and people having to completely empty their cars out for inspections and so on so we set off with a great deal of trepidation towards Serbia.

I had noticed several crossing points between Croatia and Serbia from looking on Google Maps and there was a road that went into Serbia a few miles past Vukovar. This was a small rural road with a border point so figured that this might be much quieter than the main roads but on the other hand, being quieter, might have border guards who would thing it was good sport to annoy the English tourist!

Anyway, we found it easily enough and being the only car, took a deep breath and went for it. The young guard; who had probably never seen anything like our rig-up before, looked a little bemused as she asked for the passports, asked us where we were going, shrugged her shoulders, gave the passports back and said, “you may go”

Lizzie and I looked at each other, wide eyed, and before she could change her mind, we legged it into Serbia!

It was like entering another world! The difference between Croatia and Serbia was huge. Whilst the architecture was similar: this part of the world was for hundreds of years part of Hungary, or at least the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but the poverty and degradation was immediately obvious. This part of the world is not very stable and both Serbia and Croatia have suffered difficult economic times but Serbia was desperate. We had decided to look for somewhere to overnight in or around Belgrade but by the rime we had managed to get into the city and saw how dismal it was, we figured that the likelihood of finding anywhere nice or anywhere that we would be able to park the car and trailer safely was low, pressed on out on the way to Nis; the next major town. It was getting a bit late so using the Satnav, invited it to list hotels/motels close by. Most showed that they were already behind us but there was one, 3.5km ahead which we decided to look at and frankly, it had been a long day sop would probably have stayed there even if it was a byre!

Arriving at the location, we saw a huge empty car park behind ornate gates but no sign of any building. We pulled in and saw an apparently empty, even derelict building hiding behind the trees. Lizzie was convinced it was closed up but with nothing to lose, I went for a shufty. At the top of the steps, I noticed some lights on and was then met at the door by a gentleman in a crisp white shirt and bowtie with a demeanour not unlike Lurch from the Addams Family at the door to the most magnificent hotel! It was like stepping back in time 100 years. Beautiful antiques, magnificent panelling and an atmosphere of genteel magnificence.

https://www.radmilovac.com I recommend one to have a look at this. Its history and the vision of the owners is fascinating.

No contest!

Booked in and we were shown to our room, which had the biggest bed I have ever seen! It must have been the size of two doubles! It was , as I said, getting late and their restaurant was – surprisingly given how quiet it was – open for service.

What we received was one of the finest meals I have eaten in a very long time. The room, an astonishing 3-course meal with aperitif and wine, and breakfast the next morning came to a little under £100.

So it was with some reluctance that we had to move on the next day. We could have stayed there a week! But anyway, we had to move on so set off for Bulgaria. Once again, with a little trepidation about the Border Control but like the one before, we had no problems at all. Well, not exactly. We just happened to arrive at the barrier at exactly the moment the shift was changing. We had just handed over the passports when the Guard told us to wait and walked off with them! It was a few minutes of worry before we noticed all the guards leaving their booths and figured it was changeover time.

Once again, straight through with no issue at all. Then we hit the roadworks! Serbia had built a new motorway right up to the Bulgarian border. Bulgaria hadn’t! The crossing was clearly at a small village that had; since independence; developed into a major transport artery for goods. The motorway link the Bulgarian side was in the early stages of its construction and all traffic was being diverted through tis little village whose cobbled road was not up to the hammering it was getting from all the trucks. It was like trying to drive on the moon! We, as a car and trailer, were fine, but the trucks clearly had a much harder time of it. Once we joined up with the motorway on the other side of the roadworks, we passed a 4 mile line of trucks, all waiting for their turn to enter Serbia.

We had pre-booked a hotel just past Sofia, Hotel Jasmine which was very new and on 3 sites; a restaurant, the accommodairton block and the admin block. It was along the lines of a Campanile or Novatel but very clean. The only downside was a large number of steps to go down to get into the accommodation and as Lizzies foot was still very sore and getting up and down steps was a challenge, we relied on the room service from the adjacent restaurant. It was actually very good. Bulgaria was very different again from Serbia. The economy was clearly in better shape, visible in both environment and in the demeanour, bearing and attitude of the people.

The morning saw us on the last leg to Turkey. It wasn’t far to the border on the motorway and it was here, that, if we were finally going to have a problem, we would have one.

We managed to pretty much get straight through the first of the hurdles, Passport Control but the first hiccup came when we had to prove insurance. We had previously arranged Green Card Insurance with our Policy but this is time limited. As we had only been able to guess at the time we would be entering Turkey, it was set to expire at the end of September. As we had been significantly delayed in Croatia this date would had expired by the time we arrived at the Turkish border so I had called up to have this extended for another month. The car and the trailer have to have separate Green Cards and oddly, these are dealt with by separate departments at Liverpool Victoria. The Car document was emailed over straight away but the trailer one didn’t arrive before we got the the border. There was a bit of a delay whilst I had to try and explain all this to the guards and they went onto the international insurance database to check. Fortunately, it was all there and we then had to pass through baggage control. It was all very confusing and I managed to drive all the way across to the final barrier thing kin that this was where we had to go, only to be turned back! I had no idea where we had to go for ‘Baggage Control’ so spent a confused few minutes driving backwards and forwards until I finally saw a drive-through warehouse and a tiny window where the Controller was hiding.

She told me to pull in and open up my trailer and empty the car! I tried to explain that this was a very time consuming thing and that it was only a tent but no, it had to be unloaded.

Keeping a smile painted on my seething face, I unloaded. Fortunately, I had just unfolded the tent when the lady came back in and seeing exactly what I was trailing, smiled, took a look in the car and asked me to open a couple of boxes to check, and clearly realising that we were really only carrying personal stuff, said ‘OK” and said I could go.

So it all had to be put back. There was an increasingly impatient queue of other cars behind me as I did all this but shrugging, suggesting that it wasn’t my fault I just had to make sure we were all properly secured before carrying on our way. We had made it. It had been a journey that was completely different from the one we had envisaged. It was an interesting, unexpected, distressing, uplifting, poignant educational, frightening, exciting, joyful, and ultimately life affirming trip. And we had made it.

It was an emotional moment.

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