Finding the way
The RAC Routeplanner was very useful to get some idea of distances even though we rarely kept exactly to the routes it suggested. We used a 4-year old detailed road atlas of France and a less detailed 6-year old road atlas of Europe which we already had.
We also had maps of some of the other countries, but bought a new one of the Benelux countries in the first hypermarket we went to in France – they always have plenty of maps at a good price. We bought a map of Puglia before we left, then bought some other detailed maps of parts of Greece and of Bulgaria (with Cyrillic script) on the way.
We have a rather old Tomtom satnav which we still use because it has so many maps (for Europe and North America), but it doesn’t have Greece and eastern Europe. At the time of the trip we didn’t have a phone with good GPS. It might have been helpful.
Getting tourist information
Before we left we bought the latest edition of the Rough Guide to Italy and the new Bradt Guide to Bulgaria. Otherwise we just used the guide books we already had, mostly left from our trip to Romania in 2009. We used the Internet a lot to find out about opening hours, parking information etc for places we wanted to see, for example the caves in Italy.
English was spoken very widely, mostly by the younger people. We had hardly any language problems except in the cave tours in Bulgaria where most of the time we had no clue what the guide was saying.
We didn’t have any trouble getting euros out of the ATM and also got cash this way in Bulgaria (leva), Hungary (forints), and the Czech Republic (crowns). In any case we found that we could use euros everywhere we went.
We used a credit card which doesn’t make a charge for foreign currency wherever we could. We mostly needed cash for entry fees to museums, caves etc. We tried to avoid bringing home any spare leva, crowns or forints as some of the ones left from the last trip were no longer usable. We just used them up on diesel or a bit of food.
This trip would have been possible in an ordinary car – years ago we went to Morocco and to Eastern Europe in a mini – but we were glad to have a 4×4. It misbehaved only once (see the trip blog part 1), and we didn’t have any trouble getting it fixed.
We filled up with diesel only at reputable petrol stations (BP, Shell, OMV). We always have some spare oil in the car, although it barely needed any.
Mostly we reserved accommodation a day or two in advance. We found booking.com to be the best site. The reviews were quite helpful, provided you don’t believe everything they say.
We stayed mainly in small hotels or B&Bs. We had a bit of trouble finding some of them until we started to leave their booking.com map open on our iPad when we left the previous place.
We didn’t have any problem finding anywhere to stay on the few days we hadn’t booked accommodation. Perhaps this was because we took our tent and airbed as a precaution. This tent has still never been used.
Almost everywhere we stayed had free wifi for guests. It tended to be better in the smaller places but it worked well enough for our needs almost all the time.
Most of the places we stayed at included breakfast, which was a change from our previous road trips when breakfast was often an extra. The breakfasts were very good. They were usually a buffet with ham, cheese, eggs, lots of different breads and very often juice and cereal as well.
If they were serving meals in the hotel, we ate dinner there. Otherwise we just went to a local restaurant.
When we are travelling we usually have picnic food for lunch. We have a coolbox which plugs into an electric socket in the car. Many of the places we stayed in had a fridge and so we could put our perishable food there for the night. We also have an adapter to connect the coolbox to the mains, but it does tend to get very hot if it’s left on all night and so we didn’t use it much.
Having our own lunch food in the car meant that we could eat it anywhere, usually out in the country in the middle of nowhere (our preferred choice). We found plenty of picnic tables with shade over them, and also had our own chairs as well. A small picnic table might have been useful, but when we’ve taken one before we’ve never found a good place for it in the car. We ate lunch in a restaurant when we were in some towns.
There are Lidl stores all over Europe and we mostly shopped there for cheese, ham, fruit, salad and bread. In Greece they all had origano crisps which we like a lot – 4 large packets came home with us. The Lidl stores are all almost the same, with just some local food. We saw signs to Tesco in the Czech Republic. We didn’t go there, although it might have been interesting to see. In Greece we couldn’t miss having some tiropites for lunch and we did once succumb to the zaharoplasteio (cake shop).
Most hotels on mainland Europe do not provide an electric kettle and tea as in Britain. We took an electric kettle with a European plug which we bought in Greece on a road trip 10 years ago. With our own kettle we could make a hot drink when we arrived somewhere. We also make sure we make a flask of strong coffee each day in case we get tired when we are in the middle of nowhere a long way away from a café.
We took too many clothes but this was partly because we when we set off we weren’t sure where we were going and it might have been cold in the Alps. As we have done before, we took one large suitcase which we left in the car and a small bag of clothes to take into the hotel. We swapped the clothes round between the suitcase and the small bag every 5 days or so. It was lucky that we could wash everything in Coreggia as I don’t remember seeing a single laundry or laundromat anywhere after that.