Driving across Europe- Lovran

After an incredible time in Italy, it was now time to move onto our next destination. This time it was not only driving to another city but another country. Beautiful Croatia. It took approximately 5 hours from Venice but we drove right through Slovenia which was wonderful.

Ideally, we would have loved to visit Dubrovnik as we know it the prominent tourist place to visit in tourist. However, it would have meant a large amount of driving onto our next destination Hungary. We decided the best thing to do is to write a list of the places in Croatia that did not detour to much away from our route. We came across Lovran which has relatively good reviews which is situated on the eastern coast of Istria Peninsula. Lovran and its near vicinity, makes a part of Opatija Riviera which is becoming an extremely popular place to visit in Croatia.  

We decided that our trip to Croatia was going to focus purely on relaxing on the beautiful local beaches instead of walking miles to visit every attraction possible. So that’s exactly what we did. We stayed in a Villa not far from the main beach in Lovran called Beach Kvarner. We didn’t spend too much browsing photographs of the beach because we just thought no matter what as long as we have sand and sea, that will be relaxing enough.

We somehow managed to skip the part that Beach Kvarner was in fact a concrete beach. However, you would be surprised at how many people were down the beach sunbathing on their towels as if it was a normal beach. Maybe an unpopular opinion: but is a beach really a beach without sand?

Anyway, we did try to blend in with the rest of the crazy people sunbathing- on a concrete beach but it just wasn’t for us. People that don’t like sand- this is the beach for you!

So we did what we do best and explored what else Lovran had to offer.

Firstly, we hopped on a Pedalo which was beautiful but actually quite terrifying with a toddler- never again! Although, we had a fantastic driver (our 3yo), I was very nervous he was going to just suddenly jump in the sea or something- we all know how predictable toddlers can be. So we stayed on the pedalo probably about 20 minutes and then pedalled back to shore.

Lovran’s old town city centre is beautiful. This is where you will find the Romanesque bell tower which is surrounded by walls from the Middle Ages and intersected with cobbled streets and a series of baroque houses.

The Romanesque Bell Tower:

Lovran has the wonderful Lungomare promenade, approximately 12 km long. It took us roughly about an hour to walk to Opatija from Kvarner beach in Lovran. And I would highly recommend this walk if you love beautiful views and of course enjoy walking.

Driving across Europe- Venice

I feel like a sponge with every bit of information I’ve taken in from the wonderful places we’ve visited over these few days already. This time we were heading on over to somewhere I have always dreamt of visiting- Venice, Italy.

Just WOW. I couldn’t believe how magical it was. Such a surreal place to visit, honestly looks like something you would see on a painting.

This is a city made up of 450 bridges and 120 islands so be prepared for plenty of walking because there’s no getting away from it. Expect to get lost at least 100 times because it is just a maze full of narrow and twisted streets. But, it is a place you are not going to want to miss!

For parents, I would recommend exploring Venice without a pushchair if you can. We spent a large amount of time lifting and yanking our pushchair up the millions of steps and bridges that make Venice so beautiful.

Our Top 5 Must See Places in Venice:

The Grand Canal is a two-mile ribbon of water plied by hundreds of water-traffic sweeping in an S shape through Venice. There are many points through Venice for people to hop on a gondola but there is an access point right at the Grand Canal that has an easily assessible ramp meaning that everyone can join the fun- we just took our pushchair on with us!

Rialto Bridge is the oldest bridge spanning the canal in Venice. The bridge consists primarily of steps, making it a challenge for tourists with pushchairs and wheelchairs.

Piazza San Marco (Saint Mark’s Square) is known as the tourist heart of Venice. This is where you can visit the Basilica San Marco (Cathedral) and the Campanile di San Marco (bell tower).

Basilica San Marco is a stunningly beautiful Cathedral with a unique and detailed design.

Campanile di San Marco is the bell tower of Saint Mark’s Basilica. The tower rises 323 feet above the Square containing five bells, topped by lion faces and Venice’s version of Lady Justice.

Driving across Europe- Pisa

Florence, was an incredible place with so many tourist attractions to see. But our next destination was Venice with a slight detour to Pisa beforehand. Pisa is only about an hour away from Florence so what a great opportunity it was to visit it while we were somewhere near.

It would be obvious to jump straight in and tell you about how amazing the Leaning Tower of Pisa was. But first you need to know there are many other impressive places to see in Piazzo dei Miracoli (the square of miracles) as well.

The Duomo Cathedral was the first building to be constructed in the Piazzo dei Miracoli. It is in fact one of the most ornate and impressive amongst all the other Cathedrals you will come across in Italy.

The Baptistery is the second building to be constructed in the Piazzo dei Miracoli and is the largest baptistery in Italy. The structure is almost 55 meters high, which is actually slightly higher than the leaning tower.

But of course, the fascinating Leaning Tower of Pisa. Just wow. With its impressive structure and uniqueness there’s no shock that people are so amazed! It’s ability to still be standing  after all this time is beyond me. The atmosphere around the spacious grounds of Pisa square is insane. You’ll see people jumping, back flipping, head standing, all sorts of crazy things just to get a good photograph with the tower – and of course we just had to join in!

Driving across Europe- Florence

Geneva, Switzerland was incredible. Beautiful scenery with beautiful people. But it was time to move to our next destination Florence,Italy. As soon as we had our breakfast – we were out of that hotel. The quicker the better. No time for tantrums, no time to think about more food and most importantly no time to break anything else. We were out of that hotel before they had chance to charge us for the wonky lamp, wobbly toilet and disconnected telephone, no thanks to our toddler.

Everything was going so well. I was enjoying listening to the same 10 Spotify songs play on repeat for 3 hours; my husband was concentrating on winding in and out of the crazy ass drivers in Italy; and our son was sound asleep, like butter wouldn’t melt. What could possibly go wrong?

Well we were 22 hours and approximately 1,853km away from our home in the North East, UK and the car engine warning light has come on. So what do we do? We did exactly what all normal panicked families would do in that situation. We blamed each other. “You’ve brought us on a road trip around Europe and you have a broken car?” “Did you not think about the risks?”  “Why did you even suggest coming on this flipping road trip in the first place, are you trying to get us killed?”.

We soon came to the realisation that we needed to think logically- and fast! Oh and by this point our toddler decided to have the 386,539th meltdown because he hadn’t eaten in about 10 minutes. Real life problems. But, luckily we located a Land Rover dealership in Milan, Italy not far from the city centre which was approximately 50 minutes away.

We didn’t have enough time to venture right into Milan but we found a cute little café for a quick coffee and toilet break which was all cute until I walked into the toilets.

I remember walking into the women’s toilets and just gazing at the floor for about 5 minutes. I thought I walked into the men’s by accident at first but no I was right the first time. I even debated telling the manager that I thought the toilets needed fixing. But no the toilet was working just as it should be.

I did what all travellers would’ve have done in that moment. I just went with it. Embracing the Italian culture, after all isn’t that what travelling is all about. Guys I present to you- The Squat Toilet.

We picked up our ‘temporary’ mended car – we still to this day will not understand exactly what they meant by ‘temporary’ but our main focus at that time was just getting to Florence. It took approximately 4 hours in total from Milan. Like everywhere, the drive was flowing nicely until we hit city centres.

But we were finally in Florence. A friendly and stunning place. Our hotel was located on the outskirts of Florence but it was only a bus ride or 35 minute walk away from the city centre. We had a beautiful time exploring Florence, it is definitely somewhere I would recommend.

Our Top 5 Must See Places in Florence:

The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is a 1200’s Medieval cathedral with an iconic red dome:

The Ponte Vecchio is a fascinating medieval stone bridge with jewellery and souvenir shops:

Palazzo Vecchio is a 13th century palace housing lavishly with decorated chambers and ornate courtyards:

Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence which is a Franciscan church known for its Giotto frescoes:

Piazza della Signoria, also referred to as the city heart, is an L-shaped square in front of the Palazzo Vecchio

Driving across Europe- Switzerland

26 days, 4,050 miles and 8 countries. All with our toddler in the back seats.

It’s not something we ever really thought about before, travelling in our own car I mean. But I must say it definitely was a cheaper way of seeing so many incredible places – all at once!

It took a lot less planning than we initially thought. We knew the places we wanted to go and the order that we wanted to visit them in but, apart from that we were real travellers just booking our next stay the night before. Risky but so much fun!

We started our family road trip from our home town Stockton-on-Tees and drove straight down to Folkstone where we were catching the Euro Tunnel to Calais, France the next day. We knew we would need a break after the 6 hour drive as we could not possibly handle another 12 and a half hours on top of that without any sleep. The Euro tunnel takes 1 hour and then it takes 11 hours 30 from Calais to Geneva, Switzerland. So we did, we stopped in Folkstone for the night in a standard Premier Inn. Decent price, clean and friendly! Just what we needed at the beginning of our road trip. 

We had some lovely grub at the beefeater not far from the hotel but apart from that we had an early night because we knew we had a long journey ahead of us the next day. Arriving at the Euro tunnel nice and early the next day was a good idea, it meant that we could grab a nice hot drink which by the way is a needs must before getting on that Euro tunnel. We were slightly delayed so we were sat in our cars a little longer than we should have been.

The Euro tunnel in total roughly took about 1 and a half hours but I was so thankful to finally get of the bloody thing, not good for any one that feels claustrophobic by the way! But we arrived safely in Calais ready for our spontaneous family adventure although not looking forward to 11 and a half hours worth of driving ahead.

We drove through the South of France which had so many beautiful villages and towns that I would love to go back to and visit properly someday! We stayed in Saint-Genis-Pouilly which was a nice enough place to stay. Not somewhere I would particularly recommend if you were staying for a few days as there is very little to do there. But luckily we were only there for the one night using it as a bit of a pit stop really. However, it meant that we got to drive through The Jura Mountains before heading onto Florence, Italy the following day. We even got the see the Mont Blanc- the highest mountain in the Alps.

I can’t go on without mentioning how insanely beautiful it all was. I couldn’t stop taking photographs. Every corner we drove round and every hill we went up, there was me snapping away.

Remembering that we did of course have a toddler with us, we did have to make what felt like 153,049 nappy changes a long the way. I cant remember exactly what we ate during this 12 hours but it was probably every mcdonalds and pizza shop we came across. Our son was very suprisingly well behaved for most of the journey considering it was for what felt like a never ending journey.

But then again, what children don’t love endless amounts of paw patrol and peppa pig. And lets be honest, my son is a mummy’s boy. And that can only mean one thing. He loves sleep. Like really really loves sleep. I didn’t think it was possible for someone to love sleep more than me. So lets be honest and not go on about how easy it was to distract him for 12 hours because luckily for us he found the best distractor of all… sleep.

Back to beautiful Switzerland, I could go on forever about how incredible it was. But, i’ll let you make your own judgements through the photographs we captured along the way.