Kiri and


To toll or not to toll…

November 24th, 2013 (by Steve)

Roads. They’re all the same. They’re all equal. You drive on them to get from A to B. Sometimes on the right. Sometimes on the left (not so much over here on mainland Europe). But maybe all roads aren’t equal… maybe some are “more equal than others”?

The trusty map that’s helping us find our way through Europe has a lovely way of marking toll roads as pink… maybe it’s to try to soften the blow of them? France has plenty of pink roads… as does Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia… basically all of the countries that we’ve been through so far.


What’s interesting is the variety of methods of taking the tolls:

  • Fixed period vignette – these are little stickers that you fix to your windscreen and they last for a certain length of time (in Switzerland it’s a calendar year, in Austria the shortest we could buy was for 10 days and in Slovenia the shortest period was a week)
  • Toll booth with payment – this is the standard one that we’re used to in England; the same kind of thing as the Dartford Bridge or the Severn crossing into Wales. We experienced this with Austrian tunnels… we thought it a bit cheeky to be taxed with both a vignette for general motorway usage, then tolls for specific tunnels!
  • Ticket and resulting toll booth – when you join the motorway, you take a little ticket, then when you leave the motorway, you put your ticket back into a machine (or give it to a person) and you’re charged for the distance travelled. We experienced this in Croatia and Serbia and this seems like the fairest method of them all.

When we set off on this adventure, we were determined to avoid tolls wherever possible, but from our little collection of vignettes, you can see that it hasn’t worked out quite as planned:


Actually, in France, avoiding tolls worked nicely for us; the route nationale roads are well surfaced and aside from taking you through the centre of little villages, they’re pretty fast. Switzerland was more of an issue for us; if we wanted to avoid tolls, we would have had to do lots of ups and downs. Big ups and downs. As it was, even with travelling on the toll roads, we had to do several large ups and downs, struggling to keep above the minimum speed limit on the motorways. Austria was a similar story with either toll routes through mountain tunnels and across the valleys on bridges, or non toll roads with ups and downs. We chose the tolls!

By the time we got to Slovenia, we had seen our first bit of snow and, wishing to avoid further snow, we opted for the fastest route… which involved taking toll roads. Then with Croatia, we had issues finding places to stop overnight that were close to each other, so we had to travel long distances in a relatively short period of time. Best option? Tolls.

So, are these tolls taking their toll? Did I actually make that awful pun? Maybe. Without retracing our route but missing out toll roads, it would be hard to calculate how much fuel we’ve saved by taking the direct route and avoiding long hill climbs. So far tolls have cost us roughly £116 … that’s a good couple of tanks of fuel. Is it worth taking toll roads? We think for now it probably is… but that might change once we’re on flatter ground once again and not running away from something!

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Kje je Bog?

November 16th, 2013 (by Steve)

If we told you that “kje je” means “where is” in Slovenian, you would probably come to the same initial conclusion as us and think that the title of the blog post was asking where the toilet is. Not quite!

When we left you last, we were in Schwaz, Austria. From there we travelled to Salzburg (via an overnight stop in Germany, as that was the most direct route) where we had quite a drizzly wander around the city. The cold weather was beginning to set in and as we travelled south towards Slovenia, the snow on the mountains was creeping closer and closer towards our altitude. Suddenly we were in a winter wonderland in the midst of snow-covered forests and mountains. So much for us trying to avoid snow on this trip!

Snowy view from Bertha

After all of that snow, we descended to a campsite by Lake Millstätter, where we endured an extremely windy night. As the only motorhome (and possibly the only campers!) on the campsite, we were rather exposed and sure that we might be blown away at any minute. When we heard what sounded like an air raid siren in the middle of the night amidst gusts that were rocking the van, we decided to seek safety in the main building until the winds had died down a little!

The wind continued as we travelled towards Slovenia, dying down by the time we reached Ljubljana and met up with our hosts for the week. Whilst in Slovenia, we have been helping the team at ZVEŠ; a society working with universities, encouraging open, creative and critical discussions about the bible. The theme of this week: “Kje je Bog?” – or in English “Where is God?”. During the week there were several events; a talk, a concert and a creative workshop, exploring some of the questions around this. Our task was to help publicise these events. The best way to get attention? Dress up a Danish person as God and wander around Ljubljana!


Kiri and I aren’t really designed for giving out flyers; we don’t have the confidence to strike up a conversation with random strangers, so we watched in admiration as we saw Slovenian students willing to stop and have a chat with those who were handing out flyers. “Where is God in suffering?”. “Where is God in creativity?”. Often the conversations started with the question of “Is there even a God?”. One thing that I’m loving about this trip is that it’s given me brain space to get back to the basics of my faith and do a bit of grappling.

The first event was a talk by (and discussion afterwards with) Stefan Gustavsson; a Swedish philosopher who led us through an examination of the apparent dichotomy of an all powerful and loving God and a world where there’s a lot of suffering. As a result of this talk, I think I’m going to add Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” to my reading list.

The other two events featured Andy Mayo; firstly an acoustic concert in Semafor; a cafe in the heart of Ljubljana. Andy’s a very talented guitarist and his music is raw and from the heart with some pretty thought-provoking lyrics. It was a great night in a student bar… made us both reminisce over our student days!


The second event run by Andy was a creative workshop; exploring what creativity is, what the tensions are within creativity, how to cultivate creativity and lastly where God might be within that creativity. This workshop also featured a couple of local musicians; Urban and Laura.


All in all it was a cracking week and it’s been great to settle in one place for a short time, rather than constantly being on the move. It’s also encouraged us that we might be of some use at the other projects we intend to visit!

Sadly our time in Ljubljana is now over and we’re hitting the road again; once more trying to keep ahead of the snow and cold weather!

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Bertha takes up drinking and smoking

November 11th, 2013 (by Steve)

Following our last blog post, we had lovely warm showers at the campsite near Interlaken the following morning, and as a result, decided to stay an extra night there as well. It might not have just been the showers that convinced us, but they helped. A little investigation (as a result of lots of help from friends in the UK) suggested that oil was probably getting into the carb through a breather pipe. but the clutch was ok. Placated by that news, we proceeded to have a lovely day in Interlaken; loving the stunning snow-capped mountains and appreciating the symphony of cowbells.


After another hot shower the next morning, we bought some engine oil (for our Swiss readers, there’s 20% off Mobil oil at Co-op Bau+Hobby), topped up, then set off to conquer Brunig Pass; the mountain road that would lead us towards Zurich. 2nd gear was required to get to the top, but Bertha climbed well and there were no signs of any smoke… at that stage. However, once past Lucerne we caught a whiff of burning once again, and spied smoke from the exhaust; clearly blue. This got worse and worse and the oil level was dropping, so we decided to take Bertha to a Peugeot garage. They fired her up and asked how long the engine had sounded like that… it didn’t sound any different to normal! Their reaction was that there might be an oil leak inside the engine, but they didn’t want to investigate, so they told us to top up the oil and get on our way. How encouraging… ummm… really?!


At this stage, our plans changed and we decided to head to Germany to see if any German mechanics would be willing to look at Bertha. However after a very long tunnel, which we polluted heavily with thick plumes of oily blue smoke, we conceded defeat, donned the mandatory reflective jackets, put the warning triangle behind us and called breakdown. I think the Swiss may have taken our smoke signals as a sign of invasion, but as they’re such a peaceful people, they just let it happen. I hope it doesn’t mean that we are inadvertently ruling Switzerland… only time will tell!

When the Swiss breakdown arrived, they took one look at the engine, said it looked terminal and asked whether we wanted to be taken to a Peugeot garage (which would probably be the one we went to earlier in the day… no thanks!) or their depot, prior to being sent back to the UK. A quick call to the UK breakdown people led to us being informed that we would spend the night at the depot, then they would decide in the morning whether Bertha would be repatriated or scrapped. Scrapped? Bertha? But she’s part of our family!


We didn’t sleep well that night, but began to adapt to the idea of going home; already planning how we would continue this adventure even if Bertha was condemned. The night brought heavy rain and hail, which dented Bertha a little, but not our resolve to fight against her being scrapped. And then the sun came out… in the form of Paschal the mechanic, who informed us that they would investigate the problem a little further to see if she could be fixed. To cut a long story short, a compression test revealed that all of the cylinders were sound (to everyone’s surprise), but a blocked air filter was leading to the carb sucking oil into the engine rather than air. With a new air filter and 300 Swiss Francs lighter (labour’s expensive in Switzerland!), we were off again; a little dazed and bemused by this turn of events


That afternoon we drove 80 smoke-free miles to Liechtenstein, where we stopped overnight in a stadium car park, overlooked by beautiful mountains. All for the princely sum of 1.50 Swiss Francs! The morning brought sunshine and although we were still a little nervous about Bertha’s health, we were able to enjoy the journey into Austria. We didn’t see much of the sun though, as we were mostly driving in tunnels. Lots of tunnels. And then a toll tunnel. And then more tunnels!


We stopped in Schwaz, just past Innsbruck, where we parked up for the night and had a little wander around the town. One thing we equally love and dislike is that our destinations are basically decided for us in terms of where we can park overnight. Without the limitations of finding somewhere to stay, we would have probably gone to Innsbruck… but then we would have missed the beauty of Schwaz.


So we’re on the road again and back to Plan A (carrying on south east), via Plan B (heading to Germany) and Plan C (being sent back to the UK). Happy times!

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