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...on to the Ukraine, Poland, Germany & Home

Friday 25th August
Today is going to be a very long day, we head to the Ukraine which means we have to go through Russian customs and security, and then through Ukraine customs and security.

We set off at 6 a.m. before the sun was up, saw a beautiful sunrise on the way to the port but could not stop to photograph it, we of course went through the inevitable police checkpoint, they started off examining the papers for every motorhome, then they must have looked at the line of motorhomes because after about four they waved the rest of us through.

We had two attempts as a group to go to the port, first we went where the group leader lead us, and then we turned back and followed the sign the Luda had seen directing us to the port.

Then it was a matter of waiting, and waiting, and waiting, occasionally we would fill in some paperwork, look at all the border control people walking about and then find it was our turn to go through the gate and no man's land. It was then a simple matter of taking the papers to an officer who gave us another piece of paper in return, driving to the next location where we had our passports stamped, and then we were free to board the ferry, after we waited in a sealed compound for about an hour, in the roasting heat, I think they want to make sure we were well done before were sent to the Ukraine.

We sat in our vehicles during the 30 minute crossing, made the dangerous exit from the ferry, the ramp was designed in such a way that for the unwary they would remove most of the rear of the vehicle. We accomplished that safely and were then directed into our new home for the next three hours whilst again we filled in paperwork, they took meal breaks, but eventually we were through in mass and we drove out of the security area to a large parking area on the outside, where we camped for the night waiting for the five motorhomes they could not fit on the first sailing to arrive.

This morning we moved the motorhome set closer together and I did a panoramic photographs in six sections which thanks to the Canon stitching program made into one photograph 18 inches long. After this we set off on our way to Yalta and the first thing that was noticeable was the lack of police checkpoints in fact I think we only saw about three traffic police anywhere on the almost 300 kilometres that we drove. That evening we took the ancient gondola down to the beach promenade, had a meal and then searched for an an Internet cafe to connect my laptop online.

We found three Internet cafes in all, the first one had a laptop that was working on an assignment and probably would be most of the evening, the second one would not connect laptops, and the third one, no problems! Except of course the tremendous heat in the room. This is the highest temperature that Yalta has had for at least 20 years.

We all took the ancient gondola down to the promenade, again, then walked over to the seaside where there was a boat waiting for us to take us to " The Swallows Nest" this required a walk of about a thousand steps (well that is what seemed like) from Harbour to this miniature Castle that was built in 1916 and now serves as I would assume a upmarket restaurant. From there down a few steps and at up another multitude of steps to a restaurant (not high-class) where we all had lunch.

After lunch we piled on a bus which took us to a vineyard that specialised in desert wines, I had visited this vineyard about three years ago and they have streamlined the tour somewhat since then, the wines still tasted the same, but as it is state owned one would not expect a major change. While I found the wines still tasted exactly the same as they did three years ago and I still was not impressed, some of the Germans found them attractive so I reached the conclusion that I am not a great one for desert wines.

Back home by bus, collected the computer and back to an Internet cafe (whilst we have them), after that dinner and then a taxi home.

This morning we went by bus to a Tartar village that was the starting point for a massive gondola that went straight up into the mountains about 1400 metres. Evidently Khrushchev back in the sixties visited this lookout on the ghastly road up to it and decided on the moment that it needed a gondola and whilst it is looking a little bit frayed around the edges seems to be still working extremely well. The second portion of the gondola better continue to work extremely well because it goes almost vertically up the cliff to the final destination, and if that rope goes, it would be good night to everybody on that trip.

That the usual touristy things with a Tartar influence in after we had lunch and the bus took us down “Khrushchev's Fright” I had a good sleep, waking just before we arrived back at camp.

Then it was a simple matter of packing up and driving to Sevastopol …. the long way around the city, to get to the new campground, and thanks to Luda’s Russian we found it after the third asking for direction.

We are right by the sea by a very popular (with the people from Sevastopol) sandy beach.

Tuesday 29th August
Today the group went into Sevastopol to visit the Panorama (around building featuring a 3-D scene of the Crimean War, bodies and all) and go for a boat trip, we went with them to the city and then we parted way, we had been to the Panorama before and the way the weather was looking we did not have very much interest in the boat trip.

The first met up with our English friend who now owns three apartments in the city and is an agent for 37 other apartments that he rents out via the Internet, the spending less and less time now in England and is now splitting most of this time between Sevastopol and Thailand, he finds the weather delightful in the northern winter's.

Whilst we are talking a storm came through with heavy rain and wind and made is glad we were inside and not considering a boat trip with the rest of the group. When we eventually went outside we found quite a large number of trees had either been blown over all lost substantial branches.

We then telephoned Luda's favourite cousin who is a Captain in the Russian navy, based on Sevastopol, so we spent the rest of the day with him and his family and about 8 p.m. they took us back to the motorhome, had a good look at what we've been living in for the last few months and then we said farewell.

Wednesday 30th August
It was a 7 a.m. departure heading towards our next stop at Cherson, but first we had to drive through Simferopol, which is the capital of the Crimea, and is spread out over a large area, with no straight road leading us through.

When we were about 20 kilometres out of Simferopol I received a phone call from Eugene, my guide from three years ago when he drove me all around the Ukraine, and asked me whether we would like him to guide us through Simferopol, he got a very positive answer to that question. So we stopped at the entrance to the city, and just as we stopped he arrived, with Sacha, a talented artist and photographer that I met on that trip, she loves travel and travelled on a couple of legs of the Ukraine tour, on this occasion she had just returned from the States visiting her mother and about seven of the various states.

We had a nice reunion on the side of the road and then Eugene guided us through the city to a spot he remembered me taking a panorama photo at, and I remember the location once I arrived there, so I complimented him on his memory.

He told me of the jobs he had done in recent times, and has travelled round the old Soviets and part of Europe with other photographers which made me realise that all of the successful photographing journeys I have done, photographing wise, has been with a driver -- guide or driver and guide. All the journeys I had done driving myself I have ended up with a dismal collection of photos so it is rather obvious that for myself I can either drive and take a few photos or be driven and get a marvellous collection of photographs. This is rather disappointing, but the facts speak for themselves.

After this was an uneventful journey to Cherson, there were very many roadside vendors selling watermelons and the purple sweet onions that this particular area is known for.

Our camping location was the car park of the hotel I stayed at in my '03 tour.
We went for a walk through the city and very little has changed in the last three years, we had a delightful meal and local restaurant which was very good value at Ukrainian prices.

Thursday 31 August
Koster announced a departure time of between 9 and 10 a.m., so we were naturally surprised when we heard some leaving at 8 a.m. and by 9 a.m. will the last ones left in the car park. We filled up with water, packed up the other bits and pieces, and we then on our way.

Uneventful drive through to Odessa and again through the computer translation from German to English we drove a little further to find the car park, but we did eventually, but had to manoeuvre through the extensive roadworks twice.

Again our decision to fill up with water before we left was a sound one as water was not available on this site.

On our way driving into the city we passed a line of trucks all with trailers attached loaded to the brim with wheat, the line stretched on almost forever, but in actual fact it was only six kilometres, now that is one hell of a lot of trucks with trailers attached. I assume they were waiting to deliver the wheat to some sort of storage unit or flour mill and we saw more trucks arriving all of the time, yes evidently they do farming on a really big scale here. Looking at the line of trucks and how long some of them had obviously been there we guessed that would take about seven days for somebody at the back of the line to have their turn to dispose of their load.

Friday 1 September
Nine o'clock the bus collected us all for a trip into the city some 40 kilometres distance. They drove around the city describing all the beautiful buildings and how interesting the streets were, now I assume that is what the discussion was all about, in German, but it was all nice to look at any case. The bus stopped and we went for a walking tour through the city again some real interesting buildings and statues and we had the pleasure of looking at them and drawing our own conclusions because you know the language the guide was talking in.

Then we had a two-hour lunch break and back into a smaller bus, with a smaller group, and we went to one of the many catacombs scattered all around Odessa, during the German occupation we were told that there were over 2000 resistance fighters using all these catacombs as operating bases and living quarters. The guide that was looking after these catacombs spoke Russian So Luda understood the story of the various parts of the catacombs, which of course she translated to me, these catacombs had a constant temperature winter and summer of 7 to 8° and humidity of 94%, the humidity was not obvious today although the temperature was.

On our way to the catacombs, on the edge of the city, we passed somebody who had just been killed on the street, they were lying underneath a blanket, and we saw a lot of blood what was possibly brains leading up to the blanket and the body. There was a car parked in the centre the road close to the body and two policeman sort of directing the traffic around this tragedy, which only happened a few minutes before we arrived. The only other time, and all my travels, I've seen a body on the road like this, was in Rajasthan on a very hilly road, on the centre of a tight bend, and on this occasion the traffic was just driving all around it with no police there at all, so perhaps life has slightly more value here in the Ukraine than in Rajasthan!

We passed twice, a smaller line of trucks and trailers loaded with wheat today in a different location in yesterday, and on the second occasion they did not appear to have moved, so being a wheat truck driver obviously has a lot of waiting!

Saturday 2 September
Today we had a drive to Keiv a distance from Odessa of 490 kilometres, the starting time was eight o'clock, so we decided to get up at 6:30 a.m. and someone was leaving at that time, as we washed and had breakfast we heard more leaving, and other time we were ready to go with the last ones there. That did not worry us because the average speed of the majority of the ones on this tour is some 10 to 20 K. P. H. less than us.

It was a motorway all away, travelling across the plains of the Ukraine, with extensive farming as far as the eye could see, some of the fields went to the horizon has viewed from the road. We saw a large number of American farm machinery in the form of tractors and combine harvesters.

As expected we passed all of the motorhomes very simply and went at our speed until about 30 kilometres outside Keiv when at a petrol filling station some caught up to us and we latched onto the end of them and followed them to the camping ground.

The “Roadbook” is written in German and at the beginning of the tour I put it through a computer translation program which translated into very bad English which was no problem until one needed to find a camping ground that sometimes the bad English was a major problem.

The camping ground was an old camping ground from the Soviets, and during that time it was very busy because people could afford the prices that were asked for camping, however since Perestroika the prices have risen far beyond the People's wages so now only the rich or foreign tourists stay in this ground. It is a 15 minute walk from a bus which will take you to the Metro, I note outside the camp ground there was a bus stop which are looking at its condition had not been used since Perestroika. (incidentally Perestroika means in Russian “a new start” and refers to the time basically, when the Berlin Wall came down)

Luda's parents live in Keiv, and one of Luda's daughters came through from Rostov to spend the three days with her grandparents and to meet Luda and I. For the next three days there was a lot of chatter in Russian which for some reason was as hard for me to understand as all the German chatter I've experienced on this tour, however I was kept in touch with events in English from time to time.

Sunday 3 September
Today Luda Olga and I, went in to Keiv for walk around the city, they had closed the main street off to vehicle traffic so there were lots of people walking the road and footpaths, most large shops were open and one main congregation points for teenagers was on the footpath outside McDonald's, there was an exceptionally large crowd there in very close to this was a late model Ferrari convertible which was having many photographs taken of it with digital cameras and cellphones.

We had to dinner and one of the restaurants in the main street, his menu was in Ukrainian and English, most of the clientele seemed to be foreigners and the prices were quite reasonable by Western standards.

Monday 4 September
We were collected reasonably early by Luda's father in his Lada and we spent another pleasant day and their sixth floor apartment. About 11 p.m. we took Olga to the Keiv Central train station by taxi for her trip back to Rostov, and we proceeded to find a taxi to take us back to the camping ground, of course in the Soviets you always ask the price before you get in the car, and the first price we had was a 100 Grevna and eventually we found one that would do the trip for 50 Grevna. We arrived home about midnight so went to bed to get ready for the 6 a.m. start the following morning.

Tuesday 5 September
Today we had a 6 a.m. start to drive to Olesko some 470 kilometres away and about 90 kilometres outside L'viv. As usual we heard a lot leaving before we got up at 5:30 a.m. and by the time we were ready to leave at 6:30 a.m. there was no one left in the camp ground. We got lost trying to find the way out of Keiv on the one way system, but eventually found it after passing about three exits we could have taken in very shortly after that we started passing the rest of the tour until we decided to stop the lunch, and I decided to have a sleep, and other time both of these were completed we were again at the back of the tour, but we only had 60 kilometres to go so we arrived just as the others were going on the tour of the 11th century castle which was just outside the small area we were parked in under police supervision.

Looking at some other photographs in 1950 the castle was somewhat of a ruin with no roof and I received two reasons why this had happened, one the castle was destroyed in 1920 during the Revolution, and the second which is more likely looking at the activity that had occurred in the castle after this date is that the roof was destroyed during the Second World War and perhaps they were being politically sensitive when they credited it to the Revolution. It is one very obvious good thing that happened during the Soviet times was that castle is like this were totally renovated and brought back to new condition, something that would be totally impossible in our capitalist society.

The castle was placed in the hands of the Ukraine Museum society, or something like that, and it now contained old paintings, statues, icons and many other valuable items are usually found in a Museum, it was very interesting to look at and would have been more interesting had we understood German.

Wednesday 6 September
Today was a very short drive to L’viv and we won “the first out of the parking lot” prize, as soon fell to the back of the line when we turned off the main road to photographs some churches. The road was not one of the best we driven over with a very bad surface caused mainly by the heavy trucks and as we filled up at the last service station before the camp ground we decided to follow some of the other motorhomes, that again we had caught up with, which is just as well as the bad English again we have taken us into a different direction.

When we arrived there were already a lot of motorhomes at our L’viv camping site which appears to be a hotel or motels based at the racecourse, we are camped on the edge of the track and just along a little bit is a the group of French motorhomes touring through the Ukraine. This certainly a lot of groups from different countries doing Russia and the Ukraine this year, I wonder if there are any from England?

Today we went in on a bus tour to see L’viv, again (of course) it was a German-speaking guide and a bus went round and round the city, down some roads which looked like bicycle tracks, this is a large 40 seater bus, but he always seem to have at least one millimetre to spare at every corner. I finally reached the end of my patience being guided by a German-speaking guide, and I think I have done rather well lasting 38 days.

We had a good look at the cathedral for the Greek Catholic church in the Ukraine, this is a church that combined the beliefs of the Polish Catholic and the Ukraine Orthodox and formed what became known as the Greek Catholic, is only found in the Ukraine and only in the West Ukraine, it's Bishop is in this city, and from what I can gather neither the Orthodox nor the Catholic hierarchy recognise this hybrid.

Thursday 7 September
Today we went into L'viv for a walking tour around the city, again with a German speaking guide, the route took in some extremely interesting churches, a very old Armenian Church that was built round the 13th or 14th century and of course had been totally neglected and they were now in the process of restoring it back to its original glory.

Wherever we go, in the old Soviets, we see a tremendous number of new churches being built, old churches being restored, and a total resurgence of the religious faith back into the agnostic Soviet thinking.

I finally found a Internet cafe where I could plug my laptop in and get online, clear my Ukrainian e-mail of 1400 spam letters, and get out nine letters I've been waiting to send out.

After this we found a restaurant for lunch, and just as we were were about to step inside, I saw two Mormon boys walking past so I shouted out an English greeting which stopped them in their tracks, and we chatted away for about 10 minutes about life in the Ukraine, and how their two-month learning of the Ukrainian language coped them for their work. Luda noticed that their name tags were written in Russian and not Ukrainian so I wonder a little about their eighth week language school. The Ukraine is certainly getting caught up on the religious front after the long drought, you quite often see large orthodox crosses in the fields which indicates those fields had been blessed by the priest, I'm not sure to what effect.

After this we found a restaurant for lunch, and just as we were were about to step inside, I saw two Mormon boys walking past so I shouted out an English greeting which stopped them in their tracks, and we chatted away for about 10 minutes about life in the Ukraine, and how their two-month learning of the Ukrainian language coped them for their work. Luda noticed that their name tags were written in Russian and not Ukrainian so I wonder a little about their eighth week language school. The Ukraine is certainly getting caught up on the religious front after the long drought, you quite often see large orthodox crosses in the fields which indicates those fields had been blessed by the priest, I'm not sure to what effect.


to top right....


After this we found a restaurant for lunch, and just as we were were about to step inside, I saw two Mormon boys walking past so I shouted out an English greeting which stopped them in their tracks, and we chatted away for about 10 minutes about life in the Ukraine, and how their two-month learning of the Ukrainian language coped them for their work. Luda noticed that their name tags were written in Russian and not Ukrainian so I wonder a little about their eighth week language school. The Ukraine is certainly getting caught up on the religious front after the long drought, you quite often see large orthodox crosses in the fields which indicates those fields had been blessed by the priest, I'm not sure to what effect.

Eventually it was over, and Luda and I chose to go on the first bus, leaving the other half of the group to wait for the second bus, which evidently never arrived and they finally convinced a tired bus driver who had been driving for 20 hours to extend his shift by 30 minutes to get them back to the campsite, we found all this out the following day and sought of breathed a sigh of relief that it was not us.

Saturday 9 September
We gave ourselves a very early wakeup call to get on the road by 6 a.m. to head towards the Polish border. On this occasion Koster had made arrangements with the border that we go through in a group reasonably fast. It was an 80 Kilometre Drive to the border and I looked at my watch when we were on the Polish side and it was 9:50 AM, which certainly beats crossing over from Estonia to Russia which took all-day.

It was then a Drive of about another 200 kilometres to the campsite in Krakow and about 60 kilometres out the early start finally caught up with me, and the beauty of the motorhome is that you can have a snooze for an hour and then get on your way.

We were naturally the last ones there, and we arrived just as they were ordering extra large pizzas, they did not know they were extra large until they arrived, in Poland they measure the pizzas by the radius and not the diameter, which makes a substantial difference, consequently there was a lot left over, and some dutifully carried the leftovers to the motorhome for future eating, goodness knows what that would have tasted like.

Sunday 10 September
Today the 12 people that were left took three taxi's into Krakow for a walking tour around the city paid for by the tour company, this was a three hour walk starting at the 11 a.m. and finishing at 2 p.m., and we were certainly ready to eat the time we had finished. The centre of the city in Europe's largest Market Square was packed with people with all sorts of things on sale in a large type of flea market, a source at interesting camera bits, but fortunately I never got back to them.

The walking tour was very extensive, that covered only a fraction of what there is to see in this very interesting city. This was my second visit and I saw many things that I missed on the first, and it made me realise just how much more there is to see, so it looks like I have added another city to the monstrous list of cities I have yet to visit.

The walking tour took us to Wawel Cathedral, my second visit, and the decorations, carvings, and the sheer immense size of the building with a lot of the decorations being the last resting place for various Kings, Queens, and Bishops all crafted in extremely expensive silver or marble were wonderful to look at but would give an accountant an ongoing nightmare.

We hurried through lunch with the thought would be in plenty of time to catch the English tour through the salt city at Wieliczka, (this is where, apparently, the wealth of Krakow, in the “Old days” originated) we were successful in being there on time, but there was no tour today as the President of Poland was having his tour, I impressed upon the girl that he was my cousin and would not mind me joining him that she was totally unimpressed!

The tour Is Over....
Well that is the guided motorhome tour through Russia and Ukraine over and done with. In all we drove 6700 kilometres, averaged between 9 and 10 KPL, used 690 litres of diesel, at a cost of between $NZ.87 and $NZ1 30. There was a very good group of people on the tour, and Koster the guide was extremely good and did his best to help us, the only non-German speakers, with information we needed. We missed out on all of the group functions and the interaction, we did sit through most of them, but without understanding what was happening, but I knew this before I registered for the tour!

No we would not go on another non-English-speaking guided tour, in fact I'm not sure either of us are necessarily guided tour type people, but we did enjoy this tour and it got us right across Russia, almost, and we saw a lot of the countryside we would not otherwise seen, because to do it by ourselves when I probably would have wanted two the three times the amount of time for the tour and I'm not sure that would have been practical.

We did see several people wandering around Russia and the Ukraine by themselves in motorhome's so it is happening even if facilities are extremely primitive.

We will probably do a small saute into Russia sometime in the next three years travelling from St. Petersburg around the Golden Ring, on then up to Murmansk and out through the top of Finland and probably down through Norway.

The Roads
The roads on the tour, to my mind, were not bad, however if you're used to the German Autobahns, or you are a American and used to the American freeways you would think the roads were ghastly. Some of the roads were as good as you would find anywhere in the West, but they were in the minority, heavy trucks are now using all of the roads, that coupled with the snow and the ice of winter does not allow the roads to be perfect, however compared with the Khartoum Highway that runs from about Lahore in Pakistan to the Chinese border the roads are wonderful.

It's a different story the minute you go all the main road into a village, there are you are liable to find some of the largest potholes you've ever seen in your life, or alternatively 70% of the road is sand so if you stop in the wrong part you won't be moving, and with most of the roads in the villages if you go in and fine weather and it rains whilst you're in there you will be there until the roads dry out. Yes it is very definitely four-wheel-drive scenario once you're off the main roads. Our Motorhome was 6.2 metres and was small enough, and possibly light enough, to cope with the village roads although I did bend the automatic steps right out of alignment twice and had to get them back into working alignment with a large crowbar.

With 18 motorhomes and over 6000 kilometres of Russian roads you would naturally expect some problems with something along the way, the first was worth a older Hymer that had a second diesel tank fitted with that diesel tank leaking diesel from one of the seams, that had a temporary repair done until the tank could be taken off and rewelded. There was one puncture that I was aware of, and the large Winneabago had problems with the parking brake jamming in the on position, then the Ford truck conversion had an air brake problem, all these things had to be fixed up by the two young guy's who were part of the support team. Koster the guide was having repairs done to his caravan he towed behind is motorhome almost every time we stopped, he was lucky to get it back to Germany.

One driver spilled some hot cooking oil over his leg and foot, and he had to leave his motorhome in the Ukraine and fly back to Germany with somebody flying in two weeks later to drive at home, this was at his expense.

The Drivers
The drivers we saw along the way were not quite like you would see in the West with their overtaking. Anywhere was open season to pass the car in front of you, a double yellow line meant you'd have to do it very fast, a no passing sign meant you'd have to do it very fast, 12 cars coming towards you 200 metres away meant you'd have to do it very fast, and if you got past the car and missed the car coming towards you and back in line missing the on coming car by two millimetres you were successful and passed, if you were not successful then you did a different sort of passing and probably your family would put a Orthodox cross on the spot and placed flowers there on a regular basis. Yes driving in the old Soviets is not for the fainthearted.

So on with Our Travels....
So was a taxi back to the camp ground, said our goodbyes to last of the group, made the motorhome ready for the road, and drove by ourselves once again about 320 kilometres to a campsite near Legnica, a city that Luda's parents lived in for a while.

The roads in Poland, on this stretch of the road anyhow, are certainly up to European standards, because we're able to cruise at 110 K. P. H. most of the distance, certainly a change on the roads we've experienced over the last 40 days.

Poland are certainly getting its infrastructure up to European standards, it's a pity such a large number of the young workforce have gone to the UK and other places to experience the higher wages that those countries provide, I certainly think it's a country worth investing in either in property or business because with the casual look it certainly looks good.

We got to the small camp ground reasonably easy, and for 45 Zlotych for the night we were able to park anywhere we liked on a piece of ground that looked like it had heavy trucks over it some months ago with all the bumps and ridges, but we were able to get the motorhome reasonably level and that was all that counted.

There are certainly a lot of churches in this country, even what appeared to be small villages have three very large churches, I'm not sure what the size of their congregations would be.

Monday 10 September
All of this morning we went looking for where Luda lived some 30 years ago when she was a teenager. Her father was part of the occupation force and Legnica which was considered to be the Russian capital in Poland. The apartment block she lived and was old, and the school was old, the area still had the same name but there were so many new houses and no sign of the old school all the old apartment block that about 12 noon we decided enough was enough and we headed off for Warsaw.

Now “big mistake”, with all the signs to Warsaw pointing the opposite direction and totally ignoreing the GPS that was trying to direct us back through one of the cities we had just come through because I consider it to be backtracking, later when we hit the main motorway I see we could have travelled the whole distance and over a 100 kph instead by following the signs we went through English countryside roads (not lanes) with one village starting as the other village finished. Almost every village have at least one church and by this time Luda was becoming very selective as to what she would photograph. Needless to say with the sort of roads our average speed was half (at least) of what I would have been on the motorway so we had to stop Monday evening and we chose a truck parking area beside a motel, all very new and quite reasonable for the night .(No money)

Tuesday 11 September
Today we finished the drive to Warsaw which was very fast once we got to the motorway. On the edge of the city there was a very large shopping centre called "Circuit City" So we stopped off them and did about three hours shopping and wandering through the shops. After this there was on to the camp ground that we found on the campsite directory and it has got the one of the smallest commercial campsite we have seen. I do not have a very large motorhome and it was quite difficult to choose a spot where I could fit, the whole place was full of trees and it was probably ideal for tents or the very small caravans we have seen here in Poland. There were only two camping here when we arrived and they were both small converted vans and the best location I could park was halfway across the drive but the owners did not seem a little bit concerned, perhaps it was because both vans left the following day.

We stayed here three nights and managed to get all of our washing done, found the bus and the tram combination to get into the centre of the city, found the bus that took us to the old town of Warsaw where we finally we found an information office, and finally found that we could have had a tour around the city but by that stage we felt we had seen enough.

It's unlikely we will return to Warsaw except perhaps to pass through, a totally different situation to Krakow where we would go back tomorrow, but tomorrow we have to go on to Gdansk.

Friday 15 September
The 360 kilometres we drove to Gdansk today was very easily done on the wonderful road (most of the way) from Krakow. We arrived there early afternoon and found the camp was out near the sea, with the last tram stop just outside the camp, the camp was very old, but we had a nice level slab of concrete the camp on and plenty of electricity. Then it was into the city via tram, walk around old Gdansk, a city that had been almost totally flattened during the Second World War and had been totally restored to original condition, a wonderful tourist attraction.

Saturday 16 September
Early this morning we set off towards Slupck and paid a short visit to our friends in that city before heading on the road towards Berlin, our next stop. We passed plenty of campsites, but it was too early to stop, so 30 minutes before the sunset we expected to see another campsite but there was nothing, so eventually just as the sunset we pulled into a reasonably large layby and set up there for the night.

Sunday 17 September
On towards Berlin, and seven minutes from our layby that we spent the night we found the motor camp, of course! The border crossing from Poland to Germany was uneventful, we were one of the very few cars that were stopped because most of the numberplates were either German or Polish, both members of the EEC, and it was only the foreigners like New Zealanders and Russians that had their passports scrutinised. However it only took 20 minutes and then we're back on the Microsoft auto route, working with GPS, showing us the way to go, so we ended up at a reasonably modern large campsite, but this was a real German camp, with strict rules, and a two-hour lunch break with no new entry's during that period. So we sat across the road outside a military base/golf course until the prescribed time, entered, agreed to abide by all rules, then found our way out to the bus stop and went into the city to check up on Internet and tours for the following day.

Monday 18 September
We set off early this morning to get into town to go on the walking tour, but it did not work on Mondays, so we chased around and found one of the double-decker buses and went on the multilingual tour around the city with the thought would do the walking tour in the afternoon. However by the end of the city tour the thought of walking around the city for another four hours was not worth contemplating so as off back to the motorhome.

Tuesday 19 September
Today would have been a long drive in Russia, but on the German autobahns 550 kilometres from Berlin to Frankfurt was nothing, and with the auto route working we were able to go straight to the campsite, a small campsite that opened in 1947 right beside a river. Now, it was a process of giving the motorhome at complete clean on the inside, use a washing machine on a camp ground for last time this year, and to get rid of all the small quantity of food that was left over.

Wednesday 19 September
With all the cleaning finished, we headed off to the Ibis hotel at the airport checked in for three nights, settled Luda and all the luggage into the room and then I headed off to Holland to our friend Hanks for the night getting there about 7 p.m.. The following morning I used Hanks water blaster to clear the outside of the motorhome then in the afternoon I followed Hank in his car to the farm where tht motorhome was to live for the next six months, in a glasshouse. Then it was time to go to the airport catch a flight to Frankfurt, join Luda for our last night in Europe before flying to Los Angeles the next day.

Friday 22 September
We were awake early so we got up, closed our suitcases, and after breakfast went to the airport about three hours early. It is just as well we did because with the bombings scare that happened in London a couple weeks earlier the security on all flights to America had been increased to a bottleneck level.

After checking the luggage through, opening one of the suitcases so they could see the wire for my computer, and the small GPS unit we then had to go off to gate one to go through the personal security check. Now it did not matter if you were flying first-class or at the back of the bus you all got in the one line that was 200 to 300 metres long and slowly shuffle your way forward until it was your turn, which happened after about 90 minutes, at that point if you had any liquid or cream of any sort that went into the junk bin and Luda lost some cosmetics not realising just how broad context the word liquid covered.

Then off to the departure gate and we arrived just as they were doing the last boarding call. So we sat on the plane expecting a departure “on time”, but we sat there for about two hours whilst they were obviously waiting for people still in the security line before we finally departed leaving the last few behind, this of course created a further delay whilst their luggage was being removed from the plane. It was obviously a successful flight and on arrival joined hundreds that were lining up to be fingerprinted and photographed before they entered the “land of the free”! Then on to the rental car company in the hotel for a good night's rest before heading off the next day to Las Vegas.

On the way to Las Vegas, we saw a large RV sales yard so we stopped and saw just how the Americans roughed it when they were camping. We finally arrived in Las Vegas and in only 10 to 15 years that it is since I was last there they have reworked all of the roads so that you now have lots of flyovers and semi motorways that you had to content with to get to where you want to go.

Finally after a few problems I passed a apartment complex that were renting apartments for $55 a night. This was a special from April till December, their off season, normally in season it is $200 a night, and it is less than a block from the Stardust Casino on the strip. The next day we explored the city as well as we could with the thousands of people walking the streets. I made sure Luda had some experience in gambling before we left, so I placed a dollar bill into a slot machine and allowed Luda to press the button, in doing so we helped keep the Casino in the black.

The next day we drove to Santa Barbara via L.A., spent the night in Santa Barbara before heading up into the mountains to a old town built by Danish settlers with a Danish theme, on down the highway after the town to a beautiful lake and State Park where we were allowed a 15 minute excursion into the park with the knowledge that if we spent 16 minutes we would be paying the daily fee of six dollars. Then back on the road to L.A. stopping at another RV centre where we saw a 32 foot Winneabago with two slide outs for the bargain price of $168,000 and for some reason when I offered to pay by cheque they told me the unit had been sold!

Back to our L.A. hotel we walked down the street to the Western hotel and had dinner to the music of a jazz band that was performing for the evening.

Thursday 28 September
Today is the day we fly home, but before we do that we want to spend some time with our dear friends in Santa Monica and after we did this, we ignoring our friends comments that we were way to early to leave for the airport, we wisely decided to arrive at the airport at least three hours early after our Frankfurt experience. A very wise decision, as when we were returning the rental car there was a union protest parading down Century Blvd which had the effect a few minutes later of closing that busy thoroughfare down, at perhaps the busiest time of the day. We waited about 90 minutes for the “free courtesy bus” to take us to the airport, and after going through all the back streets around the airport we arrived with time to spare.

It was a cool day in Auckland when we stepped out of the airport, after being told we had to take all of our luggage to the domestic terminal because there was not time for them to do it, so a brisk walk pushing three large suitcases does get you a little bit warm, but we made at the counter in time, and got to the boarding gate about three minutes before boarding.

Our friend Peter picked us up from the airport, we collected some groceries on the way home, found that all of the coins had been downsized during our time overseas and now the $.10 coin is the smallest coin we have and is the size and the material of the old two cents coin, this sort of tells us where our currency is going having just come from the States where they still have a dollar note and a one cents coin.

Some statistics
1.We travelled 28,900 kilometres in the motorhome in 169 days
2.The Russia Ukraine tour accounted for 6700 kilometres
3.We used 2060 litres of diesel
4.We average 9.77 kilometres per litre or about 27 mpg
5.We paid NZ$5,400 for fuel
6.The cheapest fuel was in Russia and NZ$0.87a litre in the most expensive in England at NZ$2.99
7.Luda who has being using a S. L. R. for less than a year took 4900 photographs taking up 39Gig disk space, I on the other hand took 460 photographs using 5 Gig
8.44549 words were written for the Newsletters

However it is good to be home, for a while, even though both car batteries were flat, and one of the cars was sporting a flat tire.

Now it is time to plan for our next trip, so until then good luck with whatever you are doing.

Finish....... till next year


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