A Journey

Basil & Tracy's Travels Abroad

Friday, August 24, 2007

Onwards and Upwards

The time has come to move on from Ciovo. We spend a few days back at the campsite in Kastela with day trips to Klis castle, and the ancient towns of Split and Trogir.

Kastela Beach

Klis Castle

Split Backstreet

After fond farewells to Sarah, Jonathan, Magic and Lucy (their dogs) we make a bid to leave Kastela. We manage it, but only just! About 25 km up the coast we’re bewitched by a stretch of sparkling coast lying like an emerald and sapphire necklace just north of Primosten.

Jewelled Coast

You can just glimpse the turquoise water twinkling through the emerald green pines that cloak this coastline. The weather is getting hotter and hotter now, shade and swimming are essential and there’s plenty of both here, also sunshine for Basil’s solar farm; the panels, on their long tethers, are like grazing animals, which need tending lovingly to produce maximum output as Tracy has more work to do.

Kamp Tomas

Sarah and Jonathan visit with the ‘girls’ and we resume life pretty much as before! We stay here and nearby at the wonderful Kamp Tomas, a small, shady campsite right on the water’s edge, which has no electricity and therefore attracts mainly Eastern European holidaymakers and is also very peaceful at night because everybody goes to bed soon after dark.

We get a chance here to spend a day diving. The water is not as warm as we expected, due to thermoclines the temperature drops suddenly below 10 metres and Tracy is pleased to have her drysuit. We spend the first dive chasing our guide but are rewarded by an octopus he comes across.


The second dive is more relaxed as we are left to do our own thing on a shallow reef.


Fire Worm

Scorpion Fish

We’re lucky to meet a couple of fantastic young Croatians, Jerry and Ivana, who are at home in Primosten for the summer. They’re making a bit of money as carpark attendants

Ivana and Jerry

and, when we’re dismayed to find that there isn’t an internet café in Primosten, they offer us the use of their connection at home. So begins another chapter, parking for a few days in the front garden of their family house, meeting the family and generally wining, dining and making merry. They are so generous and welcoming, we hope to be able to return the hospitality when they visit the UK.

The heat is mounting now, with this part of Europe in the grips of a ferocious heatwave. Record-breaking temperatures are being reported everywhere and we decide that the time has come for a quick dash to the mountains of Romania. Saying goodbye to Kamp Tomas (42 degrees) we motor inland into the shimmering heat of Bosnia.

Sadly we later hear from Ivana and Jerry that a whole stretch of this coastline has been burnt-out by a forest fire and the lovely Kamp Tomas is no more.

Climbing up into the high pastures of northwest Bosnia

Up into Bosnia

we find beautiful countryside and for the first time mosques in the towns. Bosnia seems to be beginning to prosper after the war, although not as much as Croatia where tourism is booming. At every opportunity we stop by rivers for cooling swims

Cooling Off

and spend the night near Ostrosovac in a limestone gorge next to a wonderful, cool, green river.

Bosnian River Una

Hot air rushes past the van as we motor along the next day but we notice that the air cools considerably when the road passes through a forest, and that is where we spend the night – surrounded by the loud crashing and grunting of wild boar foraging around us!

Overnight in the Forest

After Bosnia, Serbia seems less prosperous, although as we spend less than a day here, and much of that on the motorway, it is difficult to judge exactly. It is definitely too hot, though, and Belgrade has a highest-recorded temperature as we pass through.

Romanian Roads

We enter Romania laden with hitchhikers from various countries who are heading for the railhead at Timisoara and thence on to their different journeys. It is great meeting up with other travellers, hearing of their adventures and plans; they are usually open-minded and thoughtful, and always fascinating! They make you realise what a big, beautiful world there is to be discovered, and especially, of all the people who will enrich your own life.


Back to earth with a bang as we rattle and crash along Romania’s appalling roads. The potholes, which seem to appear in front of you with no warning, are atrocious. This is not a place to try to travel quickly, and the horse-drawn carts set the pace!

Romanian Potholes

A close encounter with Romany gipsy children one evening reveals the underlying poverty and grit of these people, who survive on their wits – they certainly outwitted us, from: “Don’t give them anything, once you start you’ll never get rid of them” to half emptying the cupboards when we realised that the children were slyly pocketing food from the dinner we shared with them to take home.

Romany Gypsy Kid

We’re met in Bran, Transylvania ­– the home of Dracula’s castle – by Duncan, an Englishman who has escaped the rat-race with his family. He and his wife, Penny (originally from Liphook!), have built an international life for themselves and their three kids, Sasha, Claudia and Angus. After loosing everything they had in the tsunami in Sri Lanka, they bounced back and bought a couple of mud/salt houses in Siwa, Egypt (see our "Dunes and Jacuzzis" blog entry). One is their winter home and the other a holiday villa (far away from the traumatic sea). Their summer home is to be in Romania, either here in the Carpathians or in the relatively undiscovered north, and it is with them that we spend the next few weeks exploring these places.

Marcus Sasha Basil Tracy Carla Claudia Duncan Angus Mr Folea

Tracy Penny Sasha

We are amazed and enchanted by Pestera, the village they have found in the mountains above Bran. The weather is cool and fresh, with sudden thunder storms boiling over the peaks. We actually thrive on a prolonged spell of rain, living in the clouds and feeling cold, getting our long-forgotten duvet down from the roof-box and snuggling down!

Cool in the Clouds

Here people live a slow life. There are very few cars and most local travel is on foot or horseback (there are no roads, just tracks). The people live in wooden houses on smallholdings with cows, sheep, some chicken and a vegetable patch.

Pestera View

Pestera Panorama

They cut hay by hand on the near-vertical fields for the long and very cold winter and make it into small haystacks.


Cowherds ride past daily,


up to the high pastures where they tend the animals and make the most fantastic cheese in beech-bark cylinders.

Cheesmakers Hut

Cheese Making

Life in these summer pastures is pretty much as it has always been. The people are tough and enjoy their polenca (a spirit made from plums). Despite their hard life they are always happy to stop and pass the time – they don’t know the meaning of stress – and something about the gentle passing of time, on its age old cycle of seasons, and the people living in harmony with it, is very enticing. We find the most beautiful house, falling into ruin in a village accessible only by foot or horse and are almost lost!

Dream House

The mountains are wild though, and this is brought home to us when, one morning, the farmer on whose land we are staying rides home on his mare without the foal who is usually at her heels – wolves attacked the young horse during the night and there is nothing left but bones. There are bears too, protected by Ceasuescu, who liked to hunt here, and we hear stories of cows being picked off occasionally.

High Pastures

Three wistful weeks pass and we fall into our old pattern of Tracy on the computer (how the roles have reversed!) and Basil accompanying Penny in their off-road vehicle down and down the long track to the town for supplies, including water as there is only a limited amount at the top. Marcus and Carla, an English/Portuguese couple who are also setting up in Romania, come up to visit occasionally and we spend long evenings around the fire wrapped in our fleeces. We walk in the mountains like the Trapp family and feel wholesome!

Mountain View

Duncan and Penny are looking to buy a house in Mara Mures in the north and so we set off in convoy. En route we spend a couple of nights in Brasov, a big town nearby where Marcus and Carla have a flat. Brasov is right under a wooded mountain and black bears come down at night to raid the bins, just as foxes do in Britain. We set off on a bear-watching expedition and are amazed to see some climbing about on the bins right next to a large housing estate! The adults are big and Marcus keeps the engine running just in case!

Brasov Bears

A long, bumpy drive north, which finally destroyed Penny and Duncan’s caravan, sees us limp into Ocna Sugatag, the town near the village where they are looking for a house.There is a salt lake nearby and in the town we float in a pool of this water. It is like the Dead Sea and you can float standing up! We have an hysterical time bobbing and rolling around, giggling like kids (sorry Sasha!).

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