The next leg of our travels was just some 30 miles to the rail head at Düsseldorf where the cars were to be loaded for the overnight onward journey to Villach in southern Austria. En-route the handbook recommended a visit to the Meilenwerk some 4 miles from the station. The Meilenwerk is a facility that offers owners of classic and exotic cars storage facilities in ideal conditions in either private glass ‘garages’ or displayed in an exhibition hall. It also provides maintenance and sales facilities. This particular facility, there are others in Berlin and Stuttgart, is housed within a semicircular structure that was once used to maintain steam locomotives. The circular exhibition area, previously open to the elements, accommodated a huge turntable in front of engine sheds. An hour or so passed admiring the exhibits on display before completing the short hop to the station.
Having booked in, eventually the vehicles where loaded firstly onto the lower decks of the transporters that would be attached to the end of the train, motorcycles first, soft tops and convertibles next, then cars with webasto sun roofs. Those sans roof openings, including our GT, found themselves on the top deck. Once safely loaded on the train we, the drivers, rejoined our fellow passengers complete with overnight bags to find our sleeper, cabin with wc and shower. To say it was bijou would be an understatement. With just the two of us, undertaking the usual evening and morning activities was akin to playing Twister, only there was not enough room to throw a dice, and it had accommodation for three!
We spent much of the evening in the restaurant car, eating, drinking, chatting to a group of German motorcyclists riding their Harley Davidsons to a gathering in Trieste where 8500 Harleys were expected, and watching barges navigating the river Rhine that followed a similar course to the train before returning to our sleeper for a fitful night’s sleep. It seems many others also suffered similar sleep patterns disturbed by thoughts of stepping into the unknown the following day.
On arriving in Villach in southern Austria the first task was to retrieve the cars but first we had to wait for the transporters to be shunted from the rear of the train. We were pleased to find the GT had not suffered the overnight high speed exposure. Once on terra-firma the overnight things were repacked and we left the station on the last 170 mile leg of the outward journey.
In both Austria and Slovenia vignettes are required, a sort of short term road tax. A fine of €125 is instantly levied at the roadside if you are caught without one. Allegedly they can be bought from garages and local shops. But although we looked we found ourselves on the motorway before achieving this objective. It was less than 30 miles to the border and luckily we crossed into Slovenia without being challenged. Two of our company were not quite so fortunate. We managed to obtain the necessary document for Slovenia and a top up with petrol at the first service station we encountered. We pressed on.
We left Austria in mists that unfortunately obscured the passing scenery. Luckily the mists were replaced with blue skies and sunshine as we approached the Adriatic and our destination. The direct route crossed the bridge onto the island of Krk at Rijika. However the prescribed route proposed leaving the motorway at Opatja to follow the coast to Brestova, cross by ferry to the island of Cres, drive down the spine of the island to Merag and take a further ferry onto the island of Krk.
We chose the prescribed route and found ourselves passing through small towns, villages and scenery similar to the Italian Riviera only bluer. Having fended off locals who wanted to clean our windscreen, those trying to entice us into playing shuffle, placing bets to predict which of three cups a ball had been placed and students selling Croatian travel books we boarded the ferry.
On Cres we climbed the heights of the island with spectacular views of the Adriatic on both sides, passing terraced small fields enclosed by ancient dry stone walls and long abandoned stone built homes before descending to Merag and taking a further ferry onto the island of Krk. From the ferry it was just a short hop to our final destination, the four star Hotel Blue Water that was to be our home for the next seven nights.
Hotel Blue Water proved to be a modern facility built into a steep hillside. Consequently a 3D imagination was required to navigate between reception at the highest level, rooms on all levels and the restaurant at beach level. Our room, after some negotiation, had a sea view. We chose to garage the GT in the cool of the underground car park on the basis the weather would be as hot as the day of our arrival. Only it wasn’t but at least it kept dry.
The following morning dawned bright and sunny. Having packed a picnic lunch we left the car in the garage and spent the day following the coastline on foot to Malinska and beyond.
Unfortunately the following day, the day we proposed to visit the Plitvice Lakes National Park, the weather wasn’t quite so clement or at least it wasn’t at our destination. We dressed appropriately, i.e. shorts sandals, etc. for the warmth of the coast only to find fog, showers and a bitterly cold wind at the park. Thoroughly chilled we set out on a two and a half hour walk.
The beauty of the National Park lies in its sixteen lakes, inter-connected by a series of waterfalls, set in deep woodland populated by deer, bears, wolves, boars and rare bird species. Luckily we didn’t encounter any of the former!
The National Park covers a total area of 300 square kilometres, whilst the lakes over a distance of eight kilometres. There's also quite an altitude difference - the highest point is at 1,280m, the lowest at 380m - although the total height difference between the lakes themselves is only 135m (Veliki Slap, the largest waterfall, is 70m tall). Much of the walk took place along timber walkways set just above the crystal clear waters of the lakes that were the home to hundreds of trout.
Unfortunately the chill and a dodgy burger laid me low for the next two days, but it didn’t stop Sharon taking a couple of dips in the sea and us taking a walk along the coastline in the opposite direction to our previous walk.
The next three days we spent exploring the town of Krk and other coastal villages including Baska where we took a wrong turn and found ourselves at a dead end in the small hamlet of St Baska. Still the spectacular scenery encountered along the way made the abortive journey worthwhile. On the outskirts of Vrbnik, amongst acres of vineyards, we found a wine outlet where we bought 6 bottles of the local brew, 3 white, 3 rose’.
On the final day we visited the Biserjika caves or Pearl caves in English where pirates, according to legend concealed pearls, and marvelled at the stalagmites and stalactites. That evening the hotel treated us to a five course meal of Croatian dishes and an eight piece group who sang traditional songs arpeggio.
The dry and warm weather returned for our return journey. Since there is only one motor rail train between Villach and Düsseldorf each week we decided to concentrate on the motorways for the 170 mile drive to the station. Miss it and we would be faced with an additional 600 mile drive. However now travelling in brilliant sunshine we could admire the scenery that had been obscured by the mists on our outward journey. The tree covered rolling hills of Slovenia were reminiscent of those in Wales on steroids.
This time we managed to purchase a vignette for the short hop from the Austrian border to Villach. We arrived at the station in plenty of time and spent the time before boarding the train eating our picnic lunch and in the beer garden of the nearby bar.
Knowing what was to come the following day we spent a much more restful night in our tiny sleeper. In a way it was comforting to find that the German railways suffer the same weekend disruptions due to engineering works as we do. Consequently the train was running two and a half hours late by the time we arrived back in Düsseldorf. In an effort to make up time it must have been travelling at its maximum speed of 160Km per hour if the Motor Rail website is correct. Having retrieved the car I was pleased to note that the magnetic GB plate was still attached as the packaging that enclosed it noted the it was only certified to stay on at up to 130Km per hour.
We left Düsseldorf in rain that only got worse until we approached the French border. By that time we reached the ferry in Calais the weather had improved to the extent the sun had come out from behind the clouds sufficiently to dry things out. Due to the lateness of the train we missed the ferry on which we were booked but were fortunate to be allocated a place on the next ferry to leave the port.
With just a stop for yet another top up of fuel we left the port at Dover for the final 107 miles of our journey. And so ended another well organised value for money MGOC adventure. Where next?