Welcome to Country No 26 France (again).

It’s a strange feeling when you have to think carefully about what country you are in when you wake up in the morning.

That’s not unusual when you travel fast and to as many countries as I have been to in the last 5 months. It’s even stranger when you don’t know what country you are in. That can happen easily when the borders are seamless. Today I found out that the tunnel du Mont Blanc borders Italy and France. I was convinced it was Italy and Switzerland.

Driving through Europe in the winter has proved to be a challenge, especially without winter tyres or snow chains!!

Rules vary from country to country but psychologically driving without them when it’s cold is a challenge that I don’t recommend. Asking advice, watching the weather forecasts and keeping to main roads made it possible, despite the snow and ice that was about. The road authorities appear to do a great job keeping them open.

Going through the tunnel du Mont Blanc was also an experience. Sunshine in Italy and grey dull snow laden and overcast in France.

We left Brescia in Italy on a lovely sunny but cold morning and had about 3.5 hrs drive to the tunnel in good sun shine. Everything was good, and I was surprised how low in the valleys we were for most of the drive. The number of lorries between Venice and Milan on the road was huge. Again from all over the world. This slacked off after Milan.

The tunnel into France is 11.6km long and is just under 1400metres at it’s highest point. It cost us 46€ one way. ( There have been lots of toll roads on our route and the cost does mount up but they are good roads and are well maintained in the winter). As soon as we emerged into the French side the weather changed immediately to dull grey overcast no sunshine and much colder with snow all around us. We were now much higher up too. There are steep hills and tight bends on the way down. Fortunately we were following a huge Polish lorry that went really slowly. For once I was happy to sit behind him patiently and wait. The dull weather continued for another 100kms and at times it got very white. I couldn’t make out whether it was fine snow or mist but I was happy to stop near Lyon at an Ibis around 5pm when it was becoming much colder and darker.

The good news is I think we are over the worst of the bad weather. Although I suppose we could always get caught out in the UK when we get back.

Finally I can’t believe this but I have decided my wonderful Citroen Saxo deserves to be given a name. I have only topped up the windscreen water since I left. I checked the tyres the other day and the oil, brake fluid, and radiator levels and they are fine. I haven’t touched any of them since I left. I hum along happily between 50 and 75 mph and have never had cause for concernπŸ˜‚ which is just as well because I don’t know much about cars.

So from today after all his hard work he will be called Colin!! πŸ˜‚πŸ€£πŸ˜

Country No 24, Slovenia, for a second time and then No 25, Italy.

We were lucky yesterday getting a cosy night in a hotel. In the morning we had to make a decision to carry on

This was the foot bridge crossing the carriageway

This was the main road. My biggest fear was no winter tyres but after speaking to a few locals decided I could give it a go on the main roads.

I was pleased to see minus 4.9, too cold for snow!

The gritters were out too.

So we had about 140 kms to drive in poor conditions. We were going to Zagreb but as I went there on the way down decided to turn left and head for Venice. Neither Leila or me have been there before!

This is the front of the car when we got into Italy. Number plate and skirt completely frozen over!

Welcome to Croatia/Slovenia border, very relaxed. Border police officer 1 checks passports on Croatian border. Move 10 yards to next hut and police officer 2 on Slovenian border checks us in, thats it done.

Was were in Slovenia for about 30 minutes!! Longer than Bosnia. I’m realising that I’m a T shirt and shorts or kilt guy. It’s much more comfortable😎

The Slovenian/Italian border was one hut but with an Italian flag and no one at home, so drove straight through to Venice. Busy busy motorway with so many lorries from all over the EU and Turkey, Belarus, Russia, Poland, Lithuania and all the Baltic countries. Makes you realise how little impact the UK really has with European countries. Lots of work being do e on the motorway so probably at least 10km of almost stationery lorries crawling along on inside lane.

Managed a lovely mushroom risotto at a family run restaurant last night before exploring Venice today.

It was blooming cold but still full of tourists.

Its a beautiful city, falling into disrepair all over the place though, but still unique. Battling nature is proving a challenge and really expensive.

The famous St Mark’s Basilica and Piazzo San Marco in front of it were flooded with a few inches of water when we arrived. Staging is in place about 2ft high to keep tourists out if the water. I was told high tide was the cause! It’s a massive problem for the city.

St Mark’s Basilica. The city was once the richest in Europe!

Tonight we are in Brescia, Italy and following the weather forecasts closely. I reckon we might make an alps crossing via Switzerland into France. Google maps says ok and the forecast is sunny most of the way.

Country No 23 Bosnia and Herzegovena and then straight back into Croatia.

Spent the morning in Dubronvic before heading north to Bosnia then Croatia again.

Dubronvic is a beautiful place. I imagine it’s heaving with tourists in the summer

Welcome to Bosnia. We didn’t see any officials at all at the border. Only a CroToan policeman who checked our passports. My fears of green card insurance for the 15 minute drive across or worse still. “You need winter tyres” were unfounded

I can see why winter tyres are useful though. Driving in Croatia through the most miserable, dull, grey and wet afternoon suddenly turned to snow!!!

Snowploughs were out very fast as the temperature dropped to minus 5 degrees.

That didn’t stop the snow falling, so for a while we wondered what to do for the best. Great in snow front wheel drive so we ploughed on and miraculously found a hotel at the roadside after about 20 minutes

Country No 22 Croatia (again)

Nice surprise in Dubronvic to find a Celtic bar

Ferry crossing in Kotor towards the border

Just found out Croatia is divided into 2 parts by Bosnia on the coast. It’s only a 11 minute crossing (according to google maps) between the 2 borders but there are issues with car insurance and winter tyres so it might be an interesting and expensive 11 minutes. 😁

On our way to Croatia, still lucky with no snow or ice on the roads

Welcome to Montenegro Country No 21.

Very lucky to have avoided snow so far. Lots on mountain tops but roads and lowlands free so far.

What a fascinating country this is. A long and complicated history it only got independence in 2006 and with a population of only 680,000. 72% are in the service industry, tourism is a big pull. Lots of international investment along the coastal resorts.

None of the roads in Montenegro are up to motorway standards but the main roads aren’t that bad

It’s in NATO and at early stages of joining the EU. It’s currency uses the Euro for its currency and they speak Montenegrin, a Serb Croat derivative, although I met two guys in their 30’s who were taught English and Russian at school. Russia has a favourable place here it seems, despite the EU and NATO roles. Remember Putin was in Serbia 2 days ago and got a huge welcome there. Oh and we need to register with local police within 24 hrs but we are going straight to border with Croatia so will give it a run at the border 😁

View from out guest house overlooking Kotor

Kotor is a beautiful setting

Green card car insurance was a bargain at the border. 15€, for 15 days. When I asked for green card outside EU from my UK insurance company was told they only cover EU. Obviously not insured in Albania then!

Prevlaka, a beautiful setting subject of border disputes for centuries, and a drone paradise, which isn’t a surprise when you see it

Causeway to the island

Picture postcard setting of Prevlaka.

Walking tour of Tirana, Capital of Albania and tomorrow onto Country No 21, Montenegro.

Rinia park, the building in the centre is still signed as a casino but all casinos are now closed other than in 5 star hotels

Another view of Rania park

This office building was started 6 years ago!

The only fast food restaurant in the town

Memorial to the countries miners.

There were 175,000 of these pillboxes around the country for defence. Far short of the 750,000 planned.

The perspex is to show you what was below. Many were linked together by underground tunnels.

A new central mosque and cultural centre. The country is very tolerant towards all religions, although many do not practise.

Should have videos this. Albanian bagpipes.

The only US president to ever visit Albania!

Lots of Mercs here, many old but lots of high spec too. There were only 3000 cars in the country before communism collapsed.

Old statues of Lenin and Stalin that were removed about 20 years ago after Albania fell out with Russia.

Nuclear attack shelter showing many of the religious people, from all religions who were executed when ALL religions were banned during the 60’s for about 20 years.

Nuclear shelter now a museum. There are 24 rooms here!

Old mosque,near main square is being renovated but was only religious building to survive the No religion purge.

Natural history museum with communist frontage

View from the main square

Skenderbej statue stands over the main square. Huge hero from 1400,s

Secret police HQ, for monitoring the population during communist times. Albania was at times just like North Korea, completely cut off from the world!

Double parking is everywhere

Famous pyramid building (you can climb to the top if you get passed the guard) has fallen into disrepair after numerous uses. Planned to open as cultural centre in future.

Lovely drive through snow in the south.

Traditional Rakki before I leave Albania.

Things I will remember about Albania. Great tolerance with religions, lots of Mercedes everywhere, loads of petrol stations too. My guide also told me population is around 3 million but 6 million more live all over the world.

Last night in Albania so a traditional meal

Lamb roast with vegetables, delicious.