Welcome back to the second part of our road trip across Europe to Greece. In my last post, I covered brushing teeth in French car parks and avoiding paying for the toilet. In this concluding part, we’ll look at our ongoing road trip through Eastern Europe (via Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and mainland Greece) Mr SN’s obsession with cleaning the car windscreen, and the importance of keeping free wet-wipes…you know…the ones from Chinese restaurants and the like. Fear not, I’ll also give you an update on our two rhubarb plants, which we managed to keep alive whilst on the road. Without further a du, let’s dive in.
Heading further East…
Having quickly and efficiently passed through the more familiar European countries of France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Austria, we were excited for the second part of our road trip through eastern Europe. We’ve never visited this side of Europe, and as the Hungarian border neared, we cranked up Shania Twain – which we found to be the middle ground of our musical tastes. We gave Mr SN’s playlist a chance, but after a succession of Eric Clapton songs, interspersed with ‘Ernie the milkman’ and ‘I’ve got a brand-new combine harvester’ we opted for something we could all sing along to.
As we passed from Germany into Hungary, we took in the vast flat landscape. Fields were full of freshly ploughed, rich, dark soil that any gardener would be envious of. In the distance, deer stood as still as statues, and the ratio of foreign number-plates lessened as we drove deeper into the depths of the country. Trees stood sparse, but for the pom-poms of mistletoe decorating the branches.
Hungarian road side toilets…
As we cruised on further into Hungary, the plush well-maintained service-station toilets of Germany (that you have to pay for) were replaced by free rundown buildings in need of a clean. Our initial jubilation at free roadside lavatories, dwindled upon closer inspection. Peeling paint, dirty floors and a strong smell (of the bad variety) was enough to persuade us of finding an alternative.
It was around this time that I felt very grateful for a rouge wet-wipe sachet that I had stashed away from our small propeller driven aeroplane (do you drive an aeroplane? Is that the right word?) flight from Crete to Athens. Every passenger had been gifted a free drink, chocolate biscuit and a wet wipe (pretty generous as far as on-board complimentary refreshments go these days) and seeing as Mr SN had eaten my biscuit (with permission) I stashed away my wet-wipe. It had lingered at the bottom of my bag until this very moment, where it fulfilled it’s complete and beautiful destiny.
That important wet-wipe…
You see, we had opted to take it in turns to discreetly squat behind the decaying toilet block instead of going inside. It was at this point that I found myself in an unfortunate situation. Talking from personal experience… I would strongly advise against using an outstretched hand to steady oneself when precariously squatting…on account of unknown substances left behind by other motorists with full bladders. A fleeting hope that it was a puddle of rainwater dissipated upon sniffing. We live and learn. Enter wet wipe.
As the light began to fade we trundled down rural country roads, in search of our arranged Air BnB. Our food had dwindled down to a few mince pies and half a packet of pretzels and on account of it being Sunday, everything seemed to be shut. Faced with the reality that we would have to forego food that evening, we squealed with excitement as we spied a petrol station open. Excitement turned to disappointment when we realised that a) they only seemed to sell big bags of onions, home-made pickles and broccoli. b) we weren’t in possession of any Hungarian currency and c) we can’t speak Hungarian.
Undeterred, my sister and I approached the men in the little shop. In the meantime, Mr SN tended to our dirty windscreen again – coincidental timing? I think not. We hoped to exchange some euros into Hungarian forint, but our request was lost in translation and we couldn’t understand their response. They seemed like nice enough men, and after some smiling, halting conversation and expressive gestures they still had absolutely no idea what we were after. Luckily my sisters Hungarian friend was at the end of the phone to translate for us. Within minutes we had exchanged euros, received some Hungarian currency and bought a broccoli, all at a rate competitive with any bureau d’exchange.
Our Air B&B was beautifully traditional and rustic. Dogs barked for our attention, kittens scurried away and the old man and women spoke no English. We spent the evening cobbling together a meal we like to call À la broccoli whilst sat around an old tiled wood stove. If you took the tiled fireplace away, we were effectively all huddled around a blank wall. It was cosy.
We spent the evening rosy cheek-ed, drinking herbal tea, avoiding leaving the only warm room. The adventures of the day lulled us into an easy sleep tucked up with wollen blankets and the sounds of farm animals. It was like little house on the prairie.
Hungary taught us the following: a) you can make a very nice meal from a broccoli. b) if you need a big bag of onions then try the petrol station in Hungary – just message me for directions c) It’s handy to have a sister who has a Hungarian friend to translate.
Satisfied that we’d had the ‘real’ Hungarian experience, we motored on towards Romania. Agricultural land continued to sprawl in all directions and as we entered into Romania, there was an evident shift. The standard of living fell, and shanty-like towns perched precariously along litter strewn rivers. A layer of snow peppered the landscape, If it wasn’t for the chimneys sending out wisps of smoke, we would’ve dismissed these towns as altogether uninhabited. Broken windows, peeling paint, cracked concrete, patched together repairs and stray dogs wizzed past as we drove through a steady stream of similar towns and villages. The smell of smoke hung in the air, and horse-drawn carts passed by, carrying people wrapped in clothes devoid of colour. Jars of home-made produce sat on wonky tables outside rundown houses. A man sat on plastic chair selling brooms.
We never expected to see such scenes so close to home. It was thought-provoking and made us feel grateful for everything we have. We stood out like sore thumbs and felt a little nervous of this unfamiliar land.
We sporadically checked our rhubarb along the way, and thankfully no border officials confiscated it. It’s the best travelled rhubarb around!
Romanian city accommodation…
Our Romanian Air B&B accommodation was a stark contrast to the dilapidated smoggy towns we’d spent the day driving through. Our beautifully decorated top floor apartment of a period building was luxuriously unexpected. The balconies looked out onto stunning city views lit up with Christmas lights. It was the kind of cosmopolitan pad that made you want to light up a cigarette and drink a fancy coffee. The trouble is that we don’t smoke, and Mr SN gets a bit heady from caffeine. All in all it was safer to opt for mugs of chamomile tea instead.
In the morning we all sat eating stewed apples Little-women-style whilst planning the day ahead. After a quick exploration of the surrounding city, where we observed people wearing big furry Russian-like hats, a dog wearing boots and Christmas markets still in operation on January 7th, we set off again.
Crossing the Danube…
Another morning of meandering through Romanian villages was suddenly interrupted by an unexpected ferry across the Danube and a grumpy passport official who almost denied us passage to Bulgaria for being too happy. We stifled our giggles and tried to look serious.
The upside of the two hour wait for the ferry across the Danube were the beautiful stray dogs that vied for our affection and food. We fussed them and took photos whilst a lory driver threw them sausage rolls – which they favoured over stale pretzels. Next we boarded the ferry, admired the calm waters and found a flea in the car.
By the time we reached the other side, the light was fading and our first glimpse of Bulgaria was reminiscent of a war zone. I imagine that it’s moments like this that Mr SN thinks of a terraced house complete with white picket fence in his home town, instead of being lost somewhere in Bulgaria. Unfortunately, Bulgaria passed by in relative darkness, but I can report that we gave a mince pie to a man who kindly cleaned our windscreen – Mr SN was thrilled.
Before long we were exiting Bulgaria and entering Greece. Within a few miles we spotted olive groves, mountains and the familiarity of the Greek alphabet. Driving through Greece felt like coming home. In contrast to the previous week spent circumnavigating foreign lands, it was comforting.
Back home in Crete…
So we’re back in Crete. I’m sat here reminiscing on our whirlwind tour of Europe, whilst struggling to type on a broken keyboard. I’m happy to report that the rhubarb made it safe and sound. There were a few wilted leaves by the time we arrived in Crete, but it’s now flourishing in the garden.
I hope you enjoyed our road trip through Eastern Europe as much as us. If you’re planning a similar trip, my words of advice would be: leave out the rhubarb – it’s an unnecessary worry, don’t laugh at border crossings – you’re supposed to look sad, and don’t bother trying to lure stray dogs with pretzels – they don’t like them.
How much it cost us…
We kept a log of our expenses along the way, here is the cost of our European road trip from the UK to Greece:
Day 1: €80 – ferry from Newhaven
€55 – fuel
€4.60 – coffee
€3.00 – service station
€95.00 hotel first night (Germany)
Day 2: €96.00 hotel (Austria)
€40.80 dinner. (Panda wok, where I mastered chopsticks)
€8.77 coffee stop
€9.40 (vignette) toll for Austria.
Day 3: €45 fuel
€14 (vignette) toll for Hungary
€46.00 accommodation in Hungary
Day 4: €35.00 fuel
€3.12 toll for Romania
€60 accommodation in Romania
Day 5: €7.00 border exiting Romania
£6.00 border entering Bulgaria
€29.07 accommodation in Bulgaria
Day 6: €60.00 accommodation in Greece
€5.27 shopping €31.95 road tolls €148.03 ferry from Athens to Crete
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