We waited patiently with great concern for the health of our loved ones at home. As in the previous year, we actually wanted to escape the cold winter again this year and be travelling south by mid-November at the latest. The original plan was to discover Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia and possibly Armenia with a detour to Cyprus in the coldest and darkest part of winter and an intensive journey through Greece in search of the piece of earth that would bring us bliss.
So now we've been travelling only since the end of December, around seven weeks "late". The decision to travel now was one of the hardest decisions we have had to make in the recent past. But now we are looking ahead and looking forward to the new adventures, to trip number four with FRAME Adventure!
Georgia was to be the fourth and final terrain test for our expedition vehicle: The test on snow and ice. However, as we will probably not be able to complete the eastern loop to Georgia due to our late departure, we want to take the opportunity to test the snow and ice in Switzerland and practise ourselves - man and machine - on one of the high Alpine roads that are sometimes open even in winter. The weather conditions are almost perfect and we set off towards the Lukmanier Pass. At just under 2'000 metres above sea level, we cross the Alps on this sparsely used route towards Ticino, the sunniest part of Switzerland. Unfortunately, there is no sign of the sun, but we do find the promised snow- and ice-covered passages on which we can test the skid resistance of our studded tyres. It's bitterly cold outside and the conditions up here are those of high winter. We carefully roll over the critical sections in four-wheel drive mode. The accelerator pedal is treated like a soft egg. The brake pedal is avoided wherever possible and the engine brake or a lower gear is used instead. Everything works perfectly, the only thing missing is a challenging deep snow passage. Maybe we'll have to go to Georgia after all ;-)
To spend the night, we drive down quite a way on the south side and find a brilliant, quiet spot at around 1'100 metres above sea level just a few hundred metres from the serpentines of the Lukmanier Pass road. The first night is the ultimate fulfilment we've been waiting for months. Sleeping in nature, without noise, without light, without radiation, simply heavenly.
The second day takes us through Lombardy, the industrial and economic powerhouse of Italy. It is only now that we really realise the impact of the commercial activities in this region: old run-down factories, abandoned houses, rubbish dumps and dirt everywhere. In addition, the air is stifling. We are almost a little shocked, we didn't expect it to be this bad in tourist-friendly Italy. After getting two different SIM cards with EU roaming, we make it to Veneto just before dark. The air is still heavy, but at least we can spend a cosy night among the vines and olive trees on an organic winegrower's estate. A small tasting of their Frizzanti and red wines ends with the stocking up of our mobile wine cellar.
The next stop is Venice. We approach the lagoon city from the south and are greeted by the now very different landscape. But there is still no sun or warmth here either. Instead, there is fog and the first rain at night. But that doesn't dampen our spirits at all on this New Year's Eve. We travel from Fusina, where we once again mingle with the yoghurt cups at a campsite, to romantic Venice by vaporetto. Not surprisingly, the narrow streets are full of people. All hell is supposed to break loose on St Mark's Square tonight. We see lots of tourists, mainly Italians, who have already got themselves in the mood for the New Year's Eve spectacle during the day. Another boat trip to Murano is on the programme for us. My purchasing manager needs two pretty glasses, a perfect souvenir from this artistic city. Venice has to fight mass tourism just as much as Barcelona or Machu Picchu. When I was in business, we couldn't attract enough guests to the hotels and tourists to our regions. Today, there are more and more hotspots that can no longer defend themselves against tourists. That's crazy! This is the result of social media and the insatiable human desire for imitation. My God, are we glad that mainstream tourism doesn't appeal to us. We are and remain big fans of solitude and the undiscovered places of this earth. Nevertheless, we are here today, more by chance than anything else, at the turn of the year. Incidentally, the fireworks over Venice at midnight are very modest and just as disappointing as the five euro entrance fee for day tourists, the only city in the world to charge this from tomorrow 1 January. Soon you will probably be able to choose whether you want to walk through the Venetian alleyways for three, six or nine hours and pay your entrance fee accordingly. Whether this will deter the crowds from Venice? I have my doubts.
above: Venice as it lives and breathes
below: A detour to the glass-blowing island of Murano
New year, new luck! We remember the New Year a year ago. We were standing all alone in a Moroccan stone desert in the Anti-Atlas. After successfully crossing the High Atlas in winter, this was a promising place to ring in an adventurous 2023. What does our current pitch in the midst of cosy campers at the gates of Venice promise? After all, we are on the road again and our destination is not the place, but the journey.
Travelling on the roads on the first day of the year is extremely relaxing. No traffic, no traffic lights, no nothing that could slow us down on our journey south. It is foggy and the sun is literally fighting against the humidity that lies over the fields in eastern Veneto. We are clearly on the side of the sun and hope that it will win this battle against the fog, which starts to lift in places. However, our optimism is not really rewarded today. So we chug comfortably along numerous tree-lined roads across the wide fields towards Trieste. In the distance, we finally see the snow-covered Julian Alps and their peaks lit up golden yellow by the sun. We leave the harbour town to the right and are already at the Slovenian border. Here our thirsty monster once again gets its favourite drink: Diesel. And at a very acceptable €1,418. At least we'll fill up the larger of our two tanks. Cheers FRAME!
As is so often the case, we think about whether we should look for a place to spend the night in a beautiful area early on or perhaps make some more distance. This is also the case here in Slovenia. The area is noticeably less populated than shortly before on the Italian side. But the days are already so short anyway, so we decide to cover a little more distance today. So that means we head for Rijeka today, one of Croatia's major cities in the north-west of the country. On this first day of the year, we are therefore travelling through three countries. For us, this means country number 17 and 18 after less than two years on the road. That's quite something....
Big cities aren't usually our cup of tea, but Rijeka is an obvious choice as we can stand right by the sea next to the local football stadium. However, the journey down still harbours a few challenges. Railway subways with height restrictions and steeply sloping roads that end in cul-de-sacs and so on. What I normally only do in difficult, tricky off-road terrain, I now do in the middle of the city: I leave the car at the side of the road and walk down the steep, narrow alleyways to make sure we get through without any problems. We are relieved when we finally reach the sea at the bottom. During the course of the evening, we get to "enjoy" a number of fireworks left over from last night's New Year's Eve. However, we are denied a romantic sunset in the sea due to the low-hanging clouds.
As always, we quickly strike up a conversation with the locals thanks to our conspicuous vehicle. Dog owners in particular are drawn to this beach. Wild camping is not allowed anywhere in the country, but on the first day of the new year nobody will probably really care.
The next day shows us why so many people rave about Croatia. We finally have some really sunny weather and the panoramic road along the Croatian coast is truly first class. Hardly a minute goes by without us being amazed by the breathtaking views. Again and again we say to ourselves: Luckily we're here in winter. In summer, this place must be a real buzz. One campsite after the other and holiday villages everywhere where the original boulders don't still stand out. There are always signs along the route reminding us that the route is very demanding. In particular, motorcyclists are urged to ride defensively. It feels like we're taking ten thousand bends today and my gear stick is almost glowing. The cool waters of the Adriatic are all the more inviting when we finally set up camp for the night right on the beach at Seline.
above: The entire Croatian coast is a fantastic panoramic road with countless bends
below: Well-deserved refreshment in the still somewhat cool Adriatic Sea
Day three of our quick trip through Croatia finally takes us into the hinterland. Where Winnetou and Old Shatterhand buried the treasure at Silver Lake. But the weather doesn't invite us to go treasure hunting today. We prefer to spend our short breaks in the car and thus in the dry. Winnie was quite a character, not only did he always defy the wind and rain, but he also travelled on a single horsepower, whereas we have almost 300 under our bums.
above: Probably well frequented in summer, deserted in winter
below: Morning atmosphere at Perućko Lake
Once we reach the south of Croatia, we enjoy the perfectly developed bypass around the Bosnian seafront at Neum. Geographically, this is probably unique. Here, Bosnia and Herzegovina are being granted a tiny twelve-kilometre extension of their national border to the seafront, which otherwise runs for hundreds of kilometres behind Croatia. As this would separate the south of Croatia from the north, a huge bridge is simply being built to the offshore islands to keep the road links intact. A real masterpiece of road construction (by the Chinese) and what amazes us the most is that it is toll-free!
Our last overnight stop in Croatia gets ten out of ten points hands down. At the end of the bypass around the Bosnian town of Neum, we head back to the mainland and up to Doli towards direction of the Bosnian border. Here we find an undisturbed spot with a view of all the offshore islands and the Adriatic Sea, including a romantic sunset.
above & below: A 5-star pitch at Doli
Our goal of getting south to the warmth as quickly as possible is driving us almost like maniacs every day, sometimes up to 300 kilometres. In view of the fact that the days are still extremely short at the beginning of January, the distance travelled and, above all, the hours behind the wheel are quite substantial for our way of travelling. And that's why we're travelling through four countries today! We set off shortly after nine in the morning and find it hard to say goodbye to the view of the Doli Mountains. After just a few kilometres, we reach the lonely border crossing to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The customs officers seem to have been literally just waiting for us, so it's okay to have a look inside our FRAME for once. The first thing that surprises us is the relatively good cleanliness that we find here, even though we are no longer travelling in tourist regions. Of course, we are well aware that the judgement of a country cannot be reduced to its public cleanliness alone. However, in the 20th country we have travelled to with FRAME, we have become accustomed to letting our first impressions sink in, because the first impression is the most important. From that moment on, the person making the judgement is already programmed. If the first impression is not right, it will be difficult to change the way we feel. This applies to people, hotels and even countries. This is human psychology and, in my opinion, is neglected far too often these days.
The stone houses in the small villages somehow remind us of Ticino. We can't always tell straight away what is grown there in winter. But maize, cereals and potatoes are certainly among them. Due to the rainy weather today, everything looks very pale. The dark brown of the leaves and trees mixes with the evergreen and the grey of the houses and rocks. Barely an hour later, we reach the border with Montenegro. Once again, we climb up a small pass and find ourselves standing all alone in front of the border post. When asked where we were travelling to, I answered "Cyprus". The border guard's brain rattles, he's either thinking "where is Cyprus?" or "why is this guy driving through here?" Either way, we are registered and politely asked to continue.
The Klobuk border crossing lies at over 1,000 metres above sea level and is probably one of the most panoramic borders we have ever driven across. What comes next, however, is rather shocking. The rubbish level rises rapidly and our enthusiasm for the first impression soon plummets. But even worse was to come, because what we saw over the next few hours in Montenegro was ultimately topped in Albania. Romania was already a shock, as was Morocco in the inhabited areas, but what we see here reminds us more of India. It's just a shame and so incomprehensible why the governments can't manage this. Waste management doesn't seem nearly as difficult and complex to me as the electricity or water supply. But who knows, maybe it's just as bad. However, our contacts with the local population during the short breaks put our picture back into perspective: the people here are extremely friendly and courteous. To a degree that we can't even imagine in Switzerland. Polite, warm and so helpful. These people definitely don't deserve to live in this kind of rubbish. And yet it is what it is.
After an overnight stay at the idyllic Shkodra Lake and another with a gigantic view of Lake Ohrid, we leave Albania after a rainy night in the direction of North Macedonia. Here we take advantage of the 1.18 euro diesel price. This is probably one of the lowest diesel prices on the European continent. We fill up with petrol and increase our fighting weight by another 400 kilos. The litter remains similar, but what strikes us is the quality and modernity of the houses here in North Macedonia. For a country that is considered one of Europe's laggards, we are truly amazed at what we see here.
Just like in Slovenia, Bosnia and Montenegro, we don't plan to spend the night in North Macedonia and leave it again after a few hours. But before we approach the Greek border, winter catches up with us once again. In heavy snowfall, we climb the Bukovo Pass at 1,200 metres above sea level, presumably just before it was closed. This was the last elevation where we had to reckon with snow. Or so we think, because we still have no idea what to expect in Turkey.
As soon as we arrive in Greek Macedonia, the weather brightens up again. Large signs warn of the danger of crossing bears and wild boars. How we would love to see one of these animals in the wild. Of course, it doesn't have to be on our street. We cross huge fields with fruit trees and sometimes even vines. Everything is in hibernation.
The snow-covered border mountains between Greek Macedonia and North Macedonia loom majestically in the distance. Once again we find a place to spend the night with a view of a lake called Verogitida, which could not be more beautiful. Many lakes in Greece are artificial reservoirs. Not so the Limni Verogitida. Despite its modest size, it is one of the largest natural lakes in the country. A hotel room with this view would certainly have cost a few euros more. We are so grateful that we are allowed to go to places like this again and again without finding another prohibition sign. It's Sunday and incredibly quiet in this area. We fall asleep cosily and relaxed in our Hüsler Nest.
Next blog: 4.2 Wake-up Call in Thessaloniki