…….And just like that I was on the road. Asking myself: Are we there – yet..?! Took the long way ‘round.
Guess what …?!? I drove down to Greece (!); all the way through Macedonia, Serbia, Kosovo….Greece, Nafpaktos, Drepano, Paros & Naxos….Venice, Lago di Resia, Lago di Garda and this is how it went:
A journey of in total covered 3750 miles (around 6000km), 6 boat trips, one 33 hours boat ride, mountains, lakes, beaches, crazy roads, mountain passes, incredible views & adventures, new friends met, old friends reunited…. Took the long way ‘round: My longest road trip sofar with the VAN– topped off with an European Championship kitefoil racing, Nafpaktos Greece & World cup/ European Championship Wingfoil racing, Lake Garda – on the way home!
“Travel is never a matter of money.. but of courage!”
Are we there – yet..?! We took the long way round, yes we! Alone I would not have made it all this way. I can only say that I am incredibly proud on this brave basterd of a van. Look at him enjoying his first Greece sunset.. at a front row beach spot watching all the kite action. He didn`t complain, one big smile all along. He loves the taste of drinks from another country. And the touch of tarmac of different roads, never ending miles, chilln` on the beach and the sand & salt around. First class views. Explorer the unknown, take side roads and just go. “Always seeking – never lost”. He might be a bit moody at the times we had to cross the borders and the police was tickling him. Wondering what we all needed for that one trip… and that sport so called kitesurfing or wingfoiling. But he stayed patient waiting, made it and together WE drove down…….. all the way down to Greece.
A journey begins with one single step, the road is there, it will always be there, you just have to decide when to take it. Easy. And just like that I was on the road to…everywhere!
Well, not exactly everywhere, I mapped out the plan a little bit – with a thin pencil though. There was an important end-point before making the round trip back home. The Europeans of kitefoiling in Nafpaktos, Greece. I know the road ahead is long as I was going to make it. Read; without toll – roads. So what else than make it worth the trip. So that’s what I did.
“it doesn’t matter how old you get, buying snacks for a road trip should always look like an unsupervised 9-year – old was given 100 euros” : The main reason I love road trips.
Probably my longest road trip so far with the bus (the van). I took all the d- tours and scientific roads there were on my way, cause I took the not paid roads. I doubted a bit safety wise. Read: googling in the country itself “is it save to drive through ….alone..?”
They always say; Take the road less travelled. Sometimes the road less travelled, is less travelled for a reason.
But if I had the choice I would do it again without any hesitation – no regrets . I have seen some amazing scenery’s, new cultures and countries along the way. No regrets. It surprised me, in the positive way. The countries that are so close but – yet so far away and so different than the Netherlands.
Castricum – Germany – Austria – Hungary – Serbia – Kosovo – North Macedonia – Greece – Italy – the road back Home.
It all started in Castricum – which is no surprise. The Van came back from his yearly trip to the resort of mechanics, with some extra care. After a long weekend of rest and recharging he was more than ready to fill up with all kite, foil, wing, surf, skate, cycle & camp gear – a last Dutch drink at the gas station: Ready for our longest road trip together – sofar.
Driving down to Germany van told me he might needed a new cooler for the mountains in Greece. So that’s what we did passing by the mechanic for a new cooler. We slept in front of the office and rolled out to the door in the morning – perfect. Without doubt this wasn`t a quick DIY fix for the #frontseat stories. This was something for the more professional equipped mechanics. Straight they started to fix the van in the morning and I got a complete breakfast in the office.. after an introduction about me and the kitesurfing, my goals, some youtube-ing on the big screen in the middle of the office, some rides in brand new cars and a well guided walk through the mountains we were good to go again. Saying goodbye to the nice mechanics and off we go for the rest of the 3000 km. In the end no one travels on the road without a puncture of two… is it..?
This is something I am always aware of, take care of the van and it will take care of you. But sometimes especially with loooong trips there is a slight change of a breakdown. Or something that can last, but I always fix it to be sure. (Especially when I know I will cross non- European countries). Along the way are always mechanics in every country. (otherwise the insurance can help out – check if it is valuable in the countries you drive through! before you depart….).
Next country we passed was Austria. A fun country to drive I always find. The mountains, incredible views, pretty villages and amazing lakes, it makes me thinking about hitting the slopes again. We made a quick stop at Silvaplana – the most beautiful lake for kiting, winging and in winter snowkiting. Well, and a great place to spend the night and make a little SUP tour before driving on the next morning.
Next up Hungary. Hungary had good quality roads with clear markings, well-regulated traffic lights and numerous road signs. I was surprised, I am sure you will find it really simple to drive on the country’s roads. Traffic regulations in Hungary tends to be quit the same with standard European traffic regulations. Although Hungarian roads are distinguished by high quality, it is almost impossible to call them simple. Even in large cities, there are many narrow and winding streets, and historic parts of old towns resemble mazes that can be a bit complicated to drive and to find the right street. But it will be worth it to drive through and just enjoy! Accept the many one-way streets in old parts of cities. Until the road through the fields, which is the end of Hungary and led us to the border of Serbia.
Entering Serbia: even though Serbia is not in the European Union, you don’t need any extra visa or passport requirements. The insurance I use is covering Serbia as well, but be sure you check that beforehand. From the passport control on the end of Hungary to the passport control of Serbia a few meters further. The guy is relaxed sitting in his little booth. He scurs the passport before placing a stamp and gives “the nod” to drive on. Next stop, two officials – casually dressed raise their hand and beckon me to the side. One asks for the passport and flicks through the pages a few times, meanwhile picking up my old boarding passes dropping out. “you travel al lot I see” ..The other guy enters the vehicle registration on his handheld device. After several questions about what I am going to do and where I am going and if I have any valuables on board (no they don`t mean kites), a test ride on my surfskate, I am free to enter Serbia. And…two fans richer.
Here I got introduced by the most hectic road ever driven, beeping everywhere, cars all around(- I thought that was only in Vietnam), I choose just to go with the flow and enjoy it (apart from beeping myself). Turns out that this is only at a little piece of the main road. A few minutes later the road is empty and peaceful again. At the stations people were super nice and friendly. I was just looking at the toilet gate, and the employee came to me and opened the gate for me after he found out the yellow plate is from the Netherlands ( I didn’t even needed to go – and it was a paid toilet) . They were really friendly and helpful. The bottle of water was free too, after listing to the history of the gas station which was family owned – I got invited for family dinner, but decided to drive on.
On the side roads I took there are a lot of shops along the road; selling some kind of vehicle salvage; from exhaust to seats to wipers to number plates (!?) well, I guess you never know…… taking the turn off the hectic main road; a view of long corn and sunflower fields along the road continues, into the country side. Novi sad is a great village to visit along the way, a bit hectic though, but with friendly people. The outskirt of Serbia is a mix of people living in the slums and wealthy living, a big contrast with the inside. Where the best is to walk around the tiny alleys. A few miles out the city is Sremski Karlovci a historic village almost like a film set.
While camping is not that common in Serbia, some of the so called campsites are actually just the homes of villagers. They have a lot of property and it seems they figured out that camping is popular with those “weird” tourists and decided to call their yards a campsite.
Most of the Locals will be confused seeing you sleeping in your van and may invite you home. Since no one in Serbia goes camping ( they go on hikes), the moment they see the van, they get confused. Assuming that you must be too poor to pay for accommodation. That’s when they invite you home. When you are a woman camping alone, they get particularly confused and come back to bring you food and water! It can be quit hard to tell them that you are intentionally sleeping in your van. – I gave up on that one.
By this way you get to know nice facts and have a good google translate workout. The Serbians of the village we slept in told us of another village somewhere close by where only two inhabitants remained, but ironically they hated each other and refused to talk, such was the stubbornness of the elderly mountain folk. So we went with them and visit the “village” -read two houses – before heading off again to the next country.
From Serbia to Kosovo: The border guards in Kosovo were so welcoming and friendly that they encourages us to visit their country and we were easily persuaded! … They asked us:
“Do you want to apply for asylum in Kosovo?” The custom officer looks at my Dutch passport. And smiles. I told him; “no thanks, I’m not on the run”. And there we go again, What is kitesurfing? Can you show me? The border guards told me I had to visit four paws bear rescue sanctuary and the city of Prizren. They also told me that travelling to Kosovo to Serbia, you will have to make a detour, for example via Macedonia. Some old habits and the wars deep down. Some nationalities are not even allowed to go in apparently…
After the conversation of at least half an hour I could head down to the city of Prizren The medieval center fills with ice cream parlors and nut bars during the day. Prizren has many old churches and mosques. When I peek around the corner of the old Sinan Pasha Mosque I am invited to enter. I wrap my sweater around my head and slip inside. A number of women are praying next to me. I just stare at the colored sealing.
The Old Stone Bridge is a beautiful arched bridge that was probably built in the fifteenth century. The bridge with its three arches plays an important role in trade and social life in the city.
After this highlights and another night sleeping at a beautiful location it is time to move on again. A little bit of a hectic road with lots of bumps and cracks – but what’s new…?
Roads were made for journeys not destinations isn`t it..? It is about the wild stuff that happens along the road, that is the greatest part of a road trip.
From Kosovo we crossed the border to North Macedonia.
First leaving Kosovo with a quick passport control. The passport control to North Macedonia is quick to. The next stop is the Douane. Seeing them unpacking a car completely next to me. Taking the off toll road means also that you end up at less international passport controls and more suspicious controllers. Luckily I am quite used to this by now, travelling with foil gear seen as weapons, kite lines and bars see as murder ropes… and the kites .. I still don’t know what they think of that. You don’t have internet access with European membership and cell phone provider, at least not until you pay a lot of money. So be prepared to have google translate offline. (the border on the toll roads is more international and easier). Because off course the Dutch number plate they have to check the van. Is it not the yellow, is it the connection with the Netherlands and drugs. I also always make sure I have documents of where I am going (even when staying in a van), and have videos on my phone of me kitesurfing so I can show them what I do. It makes it easier to pass and not to have unpack your whole car. Macedonia will check first the passport and then the car insurance, if your green card is valid.
After pulled out of the line – I expected nothing else – a quick look of the police. They question if I have drinks, drugs ..? and in between the lines: if you have weed you can give it to me now than there is no problem… I smile and say no, I am an athlete. And that he had to admit looking in the car, seeing the skateboards etc.. Within a few seconds I could jump in and drive through.
The first gas station I saw along the road, I really thought I made a mistake driving all this way into this country. If I haven’t locked the doors already – like I always do. I would have done that first thing. Seeing all people walking along the road to and from the border. Sitting next to the highway. People under cardboards……with their whole live in a plastic back. On one side sad, on the other not understandable for us as Europeans. It is so close, yet so far away. Anyway, I decide to drive one. In the end you can`t judge a book by its cover. And I got the proof, because a little further down the road it was the opposite: the scenery was amazing. Lots of churches and monasteries, not touristic yet so the inhabitants are super friendly. The lakes are clear and the forest is super green, just litter is a huge problem.
Still impressed by the amount of Turkish tea houses and beautiful mosques around Skopje and the river Vardar. The highlight is the Mustafa Pasha mosque. And then they told me one of the most famous historical structures is the 214-meter-long bridge that connects the Old Bazaar with the new part of the city.
According to the Macedonian we had to visit a national park: At the foot of Bitola lies Pelister National Park, a mountainous area that is ideally suited for cycling and walking. You have to pay attention, because wolves, bears and lynxes live in the park! We safely stayed down in the village after a quick drive around the park. I don’t want to get eaten before even arriving in Greece.
Greece – Drepano – Nafpaktos – Naxos – Paros
Next up: crossing the border of Greece.
That was an easy one, a look in my passport and again the question; where are you going..? and than he started to list out al the kiting spots for me. Which ones I could skip and where I have to go. He was my fan number one already! .. leaving my signature on his cap… after asking 10 times; “are you sure?”
The roads in Greece are mainly pretty good, easy to drive, nothing special. The European championships will be held in Nafpaktos, I expected something like a beach.. but I never found it… just a place with some dust , rocks, behind some green. And a big tarmac place, it looked like a helicopter landing spot or something. Within seconds I saw kites on the other side… Drepano. Drepano is one of the populair kitespots in Greece. You can take the expensive bridge (if you take it once, otherwise you can make a membership deal) or.. the cheaper version to come to the other side the ferry (takes a few minutes more – still a quick ride). I took the bridge, but it wasn`t worth it I would say. The way back I took the ferry.
Drepano, is a small kitespot. Because of the event and the weekend even smaller. The first week I stayed on the spot, the wind was perfect, just the launching of a foil kite a bit sketchy. Camping wasn`t allowed according to a small sign next to the entrance, but we stayed several nights without any problems, just like other campers.
The week after the wind decided to turn, and after one session with this crazy wind……I thought about the border guard what spots did he tell me about.
Spontaneous I made a plan in the late evening, just before I went to sleep. Checking the ferry tickets to Paros in 7 hours the boat was scheduled to depart to Paros from Athens. It was around a 4/5 hour drive and I decided to go for it. I made it, but because of the bad weather the ship never left the harbour. We had to wait all day in the line before getting refunds or a new ticket – the next day. I stayed a day in the harbour. And that way I could visit Athens and be on time for the boat the next morning. The weather was still not perfect, but good enough to depart.
Whatever happens, think of it as an adventure!
On Paros I stayed right on the beach and the kitespot. Because it was kind of off season for us kiters, it was not busy at all. One day of no wind were I took the SUP for a “little tour”. The rest of the days were perfect! My best decision ever 😊
Before ging back to Nafpaktos for the competitions I visited the island of Naxos– which is only an hour by boat. I will come back for more kiting on this islands for sure!
After Naxos it took 6 hours with the boat back to Athens and from Athens I drove the 5 hours back to Nafpaktos again. Here I could also sleep right on the beach and the spot of the competition.
Read about the European Championship in Greece: here.
Next up: Italy – venice – lago di resia – lago di garda
From Patras there is a boat to Venice. It will take 33 hours, but compared with the price paying it is easy and super cheap compared with driving. And you cannot escape a visit to Venice. After searching some places to stay in Venice, I decided to park the car/van not in Venice or too close, but safe on a campsite a little further down the highway. From there you can easily access Venice with the bus. And like that I didn`t had to worry. And could enjoy my 360 of sightseeing in Venice, walk around for a bit and sleep on the campsite before driving again.
After Venice, I drove back to Lago di Resia, were I spent the night. It’s our favourite snow kiting lake in Italy (-we will be back!). Driving the reschenpass again and again this year. Not the last time , as I had to go back to Lago di Garda for the wingfoil racing competition……… read all about it here!
In the end you only regret the roads you didn`t take…
Not the first countries on many people’s bucket lists, and to be honest, and honestly I also had no idea what to expect! But this countries in the Western Balkans surprised me in many, many ways. 😊 Also Greece, so easy to go to with the van, to move around and to stay. It is that I promised to come back home ….