Kiri and


Back to school

December 8th, 2013 (by Steve)

Our plan was never to stay in Serbia for that long… but we’re learning that having flexible plans is the best way of life when you’ve got a motorhome. We’d found that we could be useful in Ruma… so we stayed there for a few days longer than planned. We found that we could be useful in our next destination (Belgrade Bible School), so we stayed there for a few days longer than planned too!

With our move from Ruma came the first illness of the trip; I had a spectacular bout of man flu, with lack of energy, blocked nose, hacking cough… yet still we were welcomed with open arms at the Belgrade Bible School. It soon transpired though that we weren’t the only guests there; Howel Jones, a visiting teacher from Wales arrived soon after us, bringing wisdom, gentleness and welsh cakes! He was followed shortly by rather more unwelcome guests though… snow and ice!


When it came to clearing 4 inches of snow from the roof of Bertha, we realised our attempt to out-run the cold weather had been in vain. After the one day of snowfall, the temperature remained low and whilst we could warm Bertha during the day, at night the mercury plummeted. I think -7 degrees was the coldest it got outside, which corresponded to an internal temperature of -2 when we woke one morning. Inside our sleeping bag, with a duvet on top, we’ve actually been really quite snug, but you realise that you’re living life on the edge slightly when you’re scraping ice off the inside of the windows in the morning! However, it has been really beautiful in the wintery conditions too!

View from the school gate in perfect morning light

Once we had arrived and greeted people at the Bible School, we had a bit of a skills audit session with Sladjan, who runs the school with his wife, Jaroslava. We’d said when we set off from England that when we arrived at a project, we would serve in any way we could. At the Bible School, this took the form of me working to re-platform their website from Joomla to WordPress (a fun task for a multi-lingual site!). Meanwhile, Kiri set to work on multiple projects, including designing the Christmas card for the school, creating illustrations of Ezekiel 1 to help in teaching sessions, moving half the library and designing their latest newsletter. Note to self: when taking pictures of students in the snow, it might seem like a good idea to get them to throw snowballs at you… it’s not!

"...and on the count of 3, throw it at me...hang on....NO....!"

We’ve once again been overwhelmed by the Serbian hospitality here; everyone is so willing to give and we have eaten so well, that we might take Bertha over her GVW rating! Whilst we’ve been sleeping in Bertha, we’ve been joining the students for their daily morning prayer meetings and eating all of our meals with them. This has been a great chance to get to know some of them; they’re such a fantastic group of people. We can’t quite keep up with them when it comes to consuming bread though; it seems to be eaten at every meal in vast quantities… maybe we need to go into training!

A close subject to bread… beard (well, nearly!). One positive about being at the bible school was that it had mains electricity, so I was finally able to shave my beard, having got to the stage where I looked like Fagin!

After just under 2 weeks, we got to the stage where we had offered nearly all we had to offer; the graphic design and website work was complete, so we offered a cup of tea in Bertha to the staff. They had gone out of their way so many times for us during our stay and we really felt part of the team, so wanted to offer them something in return.

Staff team visit Bertha

Sadly, that signalled the end of our stay at the Bible School; much as we didn’t want to leave, the weather was beginning to force our hand. So, on a cold and icy Thursday morning, we started Bertha up (first time!) and off we headed in search of warmer climes.

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Ruma has it

November 30th, 2013 (by Steve)

Croatia quickly. Serbia slowly. It’s not that we’ve planned it that way, but it’s kind of happened like that. As with all of this trip, there’s only so much planning you can do, then the rest just happens!

After a night outside a motel close to the Serbian border, we drove to the town of Ruma, where we met our hosts; Drago and Jaroslava. Drago welcomed us into his home with the words “this is my wife” (gesturing to Jaroslava) “and this is my other wife” (gesturing to another young lady), before saying “of course I’m joking”. This set the tone for the warm welcome and hospitality that we received from their family (and Eldina, who was the other lady referenced). In fact, so warm was their hospitality, that they insisted on giving up their bed on the first night, saying that they said they would feel uncomfortable knowing that we were their guests, yet asleep outside their house. Once they saw Bertha the following day though, they were able to see that actually she’s really quite comfortable, so accepted our offer to sleep in her for the rest of our time with them.

Classic Serbia

Drago and Jaroslava lead a church in Ruma, where their particular focus is on helping people with drug addictions, as Drago used to be an addict himself and has an amazing story of recovery from that. Whilst we were there though, the church (who also help to distribute Operation Christian Child shoeboxes in Ruma) were setting up a temporary second hand clothes store with donated clothes from a church in Germany. Neither of us are clothing experts, but we were able to help with putting up posters around the town (where there appears to be a massive flyering culture!) and sorting clothes before the shop opened. The rush of customers on the first day confirmed to us the need that there obviously is for cheap clothes… we take second hand shops for granted in the UK.


Back to the hospitality – absolutely second to none. The moment we walked through the door we were offered a cup of kafa (the Serbian version of a Turkish coffee) and the sustenance just kept flowing from there! From tasty stews, to breads, to burek and Steve’s favourite, pljeskavica we were fed incredibly well. Our offering of a cup of tea in Bertha for Drago + Jaroslava seemed tiny in comparison to what they offered us, but at least we were able to offer something. This is the first time that we’ve entertained people in Bertha since we’ve left the UK, but hopefully it will have started a trend.


One of the things that we liked the most in Ruma was the culture of family; Drago + Jaroslava have 4 lovely kids under the age of 7 who were fascinated by these strange adults who only knew a few words in Serbian. We had great fun entertaining them (it’s amazing how many games still work without language) and they entertained us too. But it wasn’t just their family that we hung out with; several times in the few days we were in Ruma we either went around to someone else’s house where there were loads of kids, or people came round to Drago + Jaroslava’s house. I think the record was 11 kids in one place; absolute chaos, but what a great way to live. Kiri’s broodiness picked up a pace!

Superb people!

Sadly all good things come to an end and after all, whilst visiting and helping people is part of this trip, we must travel too. So we hit the road again… hoping to keep moving to avoid the imminent snow!

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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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Balkans out of season in a motorhome

November 20th, 2013 (by Steve)

Who would choose to travel around Europe in a motorhome in the autumn / winter? This is a question that we guess the countries in the Balkans have considered, choosing the answer to be “no-one”. Instead, I think they’ll find the correct answer is “mad dogs and Englishmen”… well, with a good heap of Welsh heritage thrown in!

Our plan, following a lovely time in Ljubljana, Slovenia, was to head south along the Croatian coastline; landscape that we have heard great things about. With wild camping strictly prohibited in Croatia (we found horror stories on the internet of wild campers being woken at 3am by armed police), we started scanning for campsites to stay at. There are plenty of them along the coastline… only they’re pretty much all seasonal… and closed by the middle of November! As we scoured the remainder of our planned route down through Croatia and Montenegro, then up through Bosnia + Herzegovina towards Belgrade in Serbia, we were struck by the scarcity of campsites or even overnight stopping points for motorhomes. Hmmm. Issue. We found this out the night before leaving Ljubljana!

This is the map showing camp sites in central Croatia:
Screenshot from 2013-11-20 15:46:27
(Map courtesy of; one of our main sources for places to stop, along with and

A bit nervous about the coming few days, we chatted with our hosts about our plans (or lack thereof!) for the next few days. With a bit of local knowledge, we were given the details of a hotel on the Croatia/Serbia border which is friendly towards motorhomes, so we contacted them and they gave us permission to stay overnight in their car park. That’s a long way from Ljubljana though! With Kiri’s birthday wish being to stay on a campsite for a couple of days, we realised the nearest open one in reach would be in Ptuj, Slovenia, so we headed for a campsite there which is attached to a spa.

On the way we filled up with LPG for the first time since leaving the UK; Slovenia uses the Italian “dish” LPG adapter. It was pretty intuitive to use (screw the adapter in, put the pump in place, pull the trigger to lock it, then press the button on the pump to operate) which is a good thing, as all of the instructions were in Slovenian!

We had a lovely couple of days in Ptuj, including half a day soaking in the pools and steaming in the sauna, before the long push through Croatia – 366km in total. Now in a car, that doesn’t seem like a massive distance, but when your top speed is around 90kph, you realise that’s at least a 4 hour drive. We sometimes forget that actually the base vehicle of Bertha (a Talbot Express / Peugeot J5 / Citroen C25 van) was built to drive long distances each day. However, on the other hand, there is a “block of flats” built on the back (to use our friendly mechanic’s words!). She’s doing well though, and was happy to cruise at between 80 and 85 kph for the duration of the long trip.

This is the route we took through Croatia; driven in 1 day:

It’s a shame that we haven’t been able to experience the true beauty of Croatia this time; instead speeding(?!) through it on the motorway – we’ll have to come back in the summer at some point.

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