If you had a choice, what will you choose, Dragons or a mundane four wheeled machine?
Of course, Fire breathing dragons 😉 (No, I am not talking about the one beyond the wall) 😉
Now, let me rephrase this question to suit our normal human lives: 3500kms – Fly or Drive?
Any sane person would have thought long and hard about it but not us. We practically had no time after my visa arrived and a couple of days later I landed in Germany. So, a rather quick decision was made to go on a road trip from Munich to Slovenia and all the way to Croatia. And honestly, it turned out to be one of the best drives we’ve ever done!
Here is our itinerary spanning 5 countries in 15 days (Add another 500kms for the day drips and all the detours ;))
This post will mainly cover some of the lessons learnt from our experience so that it can help you when you are planning a road trip in this region.
Renting the car and the first leg of the journey
We chose to rent a car from Europcar in Munich near the train station, expecting a smooth pickup with a BMW-1 series pre-booked and deposit paid online. As luck would have it, my flight from Singapore got delayed and the tall lady at the counter gave me a curt response – “We don’t have your car anymore. I can either choose to give you a basic car or you can walk away”. Futile discussions and an hour later, we were off with a Ford Fiesta cursing our luck, even though we did see the BMW parked in the basement! (That dream will have to wait for now).
It was 6 00 PM when we started our 5 hour drive to Slovenia. We could only afford a stopover for buying vignettes at the gas station (to use the roads of Austria and Slovenia) and another quick one for dinner. Even after all the rush, it was 12 midnight and we were still on the road driving through the curvy mountain roads to find our homestay in the dark! After many frantic calls to the landlord, we finally arrived at around 1 AM. The day ended with a huge sigh of relief and a toast with homemade mountain schnapps (Apparently it is anti-bacterial – Yes, we had it for medicinal reasons 😉 )
So, lessons for you from our experience:
- Choose the right rental company! Start a conversation with them before the actual date. Contact them & send your flight details in advance so that they are flexible.
- Plan your drives not just by the km ahead but also by the terrain & whether you prefer to drive in the day or night. I could hear my heart pounding when I was driving through the narrow dark mountain roads that night!
- Active driving partners are a must! Active doesn’t necessarily mean they must drive but they should be engaging. For me, my partner was an excellent navigator, car DJ and a google monster 😉
Car troubles and how we solved them
Imagine you are driving on a Saturday night in the mountains, with tiny villages spread across every 30kms and nothing in between and out of nowhere, you hear a sudden burst. Guess what? Flat tyres! This happened on Day 2 when we were returning to our homestay after a day of visiting Lake Bled and Bohinj. A quick look into the car boot revealed that we had a spare tyre but no other equipment. It was getting dark by then and there was no point calling the hotline when we were in the middle of nowhere. Just when we were about to start panicking, luckily we caught the attention of a dog which barked loud enough to get the owner to come out & help us. Long live barking dogs 😉
So, always remember to check if you have the right equipment to change tyres and most importantly learn how to change them 😉
Lessons from the rest of our trip
In the remainder of our trip, we had no big troubles with the car but learnt a few lessons which might help if you are road tripping.
- When you use Google maps for navigation across countries (outside Schengen- Croatia and Bosnia), it does its job and finds the fastest route for you. But what it does not know is border crossing! They have separate border controls for EU and non EU and usually the ones on the highway are international whereas the others are not. We wasted a couple of hours trying to take a detour and back.
- Finding parking lots is not very easy but not difficult either – Always have enough coins on you to pay for the parking machines. When in doubt, ask the local people for suggestions and they will guide you to the cheapest option. Yes, they are extremely nice people!
- In Croatia, the tolls for using the highway are quite high compared to Austria, Slovenia or even Switzerland! While budgeting for the trip, do include this. Roughly for every 2km you pay 1 Kuna = 0.13 Euro. It can quickly add up to a lot if you are driving until Dubrovnik.
Finally, let me finish with some of the best things about this spectacular road trip. Hard to limit it to three but I’ll give it a try:
- Driving through the Bavarian blue skies into Adriatic coasts is full of picturesque sceneries. When you drive, you always have the flexibility to stop whenever you want and how much ever time you want!
- Getting the best local food and moving away from crowded touristic places is much easier when you drive around a few extra kms. We chanced upon a beautiful beach while hunting for a restaurant outside of Split.
- Having not so rigid plans lets you tweak your plans and end up in an entirely private waterfall! (thanks to the super kind landlady)
That’s all from me now. Look forward to more details on this trip coming soon and do drop your questions & comment below 🙂
Kannan & Smithy.