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We move out of Croatia and on thro the Baltic States

Friday 23rd of July

Passing through one of the hundreds of villages that we have done this on this trip this morning we came to a stop in the middle of the village because the tractor had stopped in front of us and the driver was having a chat with somebody that was walking past so we waited about four minutes until they had updated each other with world affairs and we drove on.

Today we headed straight towards the Hungarian border via the toll way which was a good fast trip directly north. The Croatian and Hungarian border control were in cubicles side-by-side so you drove to the first one, they stamped your passports, drove 1 m to the next, they examined your passports to see whether they would let you in and then you're on your way. Most of the ones ahead of us more or less drove straight through with the border control just glancing at their documents so they are obviously locals from one of the close by countries.

We drove north towards Budapest, after getting lost when we went off the motorway to try to buy a motorway vignette and we ended up going back the way we had come but we soon sorted that out, it did not help that the tom-tom maps for Hungary were not as complete as one would like them to be, but then that is the choice of travel.

We passed by Lake Balaton, we did not dare stop as the guidebook suggested that half of Budapest will be camped around the lake.

We passed by a large shopping centre and decided to go back and use their car park for the overnight stop so we are near a city called Székesfehérvár which is about 100 km south of Budapest.

I decided to buy a Garmin GPS as they seem to be very strong with maps outside Europe and we will also see how their maps compare to the tom-tom.

Saturday 24th of July

We were moved on from the car park that we thought we may stay at for the night by a security personnel so we drove on to the next petrol station they have a large parking area and part there along with all the trucks etc.

This morning when I stepped out to check over the motorhome I saw behind us and American motorhome with a Russian numberplate, so I collected Luda, and we wandered down there, I shouted out a "hello" through the window, and he replied in English, then Luda greeted him in Russian, and they were yakking away in Russian for the next 10 minutes.

He was from Moscow, they spent about a month on the road, graduated from tents to motorhomes, bought his current American motorhome in US on the Internet, it was quite an old American motorhome so I guess he got it at a good price, of course he had to pay the duties and freight, to get into Russia, but he was pleased with this purchase.

Today we carried on across the width of Hungary covering possibly half of the distance including a large circle around the Budapest taking the transit route which was highway number MO and going the direction we are going we are watching for the Ukraine sign UA.

We were also testing out the new Garmin GPS and the first thing that became very obvious was that you get what you pay for, it was what I would call one for general consumption and so the processor speed and it was quite slow and the options for inputting the address and the other housekeeping requirements were extremely basic so it looks like the upgrading from the nuvi 205W to something more at the top of the line. The maps for Hungary were extremely good when compared to the Tom-Tom.

We stopped about 23 km from the Slovakia border and we chose to stay in the parking area near the railway line so I guess we'll find out just how many trains run through this part of Hungary.

Sunday 25th of July

We had rained most of the night so we woke up to a wet morning with the temperature at about 16°C, I think that is what I wished for, to drive north where the temperature was cooler, however I had not imagined such a drastic drop.

We carried on our dash across Slovakia, stopping for a couple hours in a new major hypermarket -- shopping centre, in my wanders around the shops I found a couple of shops selling GPS units, and found that one had just received in the latest Garmin, it has been out and about two weeks and is the size and thickness of an iPhone. I worked out the only way to find out if the Garmin was better for me than the tom-tom was to use it, and as the maps for the rest of the world are available on Garmin a little bit of a easy decision to make so I now am the proud possessor of the latest Garmin and a consumer model.

About 2 km from the Polish border we saw a lot of the memorials to the Second World War, there was a Russian tank in the process of driving over a German one, several field guns, a Russian world War two fighter plane, a large Russian style memorial and then to add a little bit of colour to the whole proceedings we came across about six Russian Orthodox churches, they in themselves would make an interesting story in a population that is mainly Catholic and were 1000 years under Hungarian domination.

It rained all day and we crossed over into Poland without any problems, naturally, and we are parked in a large TIR parking area.

Monday 26th of July

We carried on driving north towards Bialystok and completed 300 km today on a main road which occasionally turned into a motorway and very often into a one way road with traffic lights to get the traffic past the roadworks.

All the roads we were on today were extremely busy, and this is what we have found every other time we have been in Poland that is almost as if there are not enough roads for the numbers of cars. Certainly if they start building good motorways between the main centres it will make travel much more pleasant than at the moment there are a large number of trucks also wanting their road space and where ever there is off the road parking and is usually full of trucks, even seem to be occupying the bus stops.

If all this is not enough with seeing at least 12, possibly more, cars, with learner drivers, learning how to get one of their cars onto the road and thereby adding to the volume of cars. We even saw a bus with a learner sign on it so Poland is really getting on the road and making up for lost time.

Tuesday 27th July

We carried on driving north towards Bialystok and passed on the outskirts of the city and drove on towards Augustów and the Lithuanian border, a total of 250 km today, again moving with the incredible large fleet of trucks that operate in an out of Poland. As with the rest of the Eastern European countries the principle of the driving is that the other person always gives way, and this is practice mainly with the overtaking in impossible situations so again defensive driving is a must.

We found a very large open space is obviously used for truck parking, it used to have complete facilities with a bar and Grill but that has disappeared, the tyre marks are quite fresh so possibly we all have a little bit of company tonight, only time will tell.

One of the villages we passed through today here in Poland, could have been dropped in place from northern Russia, right down to the Orthodox church, and in a Catholic country. After this village we saw several Orthodox churches, and the thought that occurs to me is that perhaps the occupants of this area are some of those that left Russia at the time of the Revolution and this part of Poland is within easy access of the Russian border.

Wednesday 28th of July

We drove on 190 km towards Vilnius in Lithuania, we met a continual line of trucks coming from Lithuania to Poland, a large percentage of them Polish, at one stage we passed a line of about 20 trucks one after the other, it occurred to me very, often when I see such a line, what an inefficient way of moving goods these large trucks are. They each have a driver and a very large motor and it is the fact that they are on a road that makes them inefficient particularly when you compare it to rail. I wonder how long it will be before we see large quantities of goods being moved by helium balloons!

A little bit after the city of Marijampole we passed through a large forest and found a road leading into the forest had an open space which will suit us for the night.

Thursday 29th of July

Our first destination for today was the island castle of Trakai, who was destroyed during the Cossacks 1655 invasion however the Soviet authorities in 1950 started reconstruction of this monument to Lithuania glorious past and was completed in 1987. There was a beautiful walk all the way all the way round the lake and very many beautiful houses right on the water's edge.

On our way on to the next port of call, the road was slightly elevated and looking down on the right-hand side I saw a man asleep in the grass, I presume the medicine he was taking was just too strong.

We had quite a lot of rain in various parts today, but just enough sunshine or near sunshine to do the photographs we wanted, incidentally July is the wettest month for the Baltic states.

We stopped for lunch in a parking spot called "The Oak Woods of Dukstas", this was a memorial spot for the tremendous oak forests that used to be part of the Lithuanian landscape and that almost all now gone. This had beautiful walks through the forest, on wooden walkways, and they were wooden carvings of people, birds and animals, and really beautiful location.

From here we went on to Suderve and saw the enormous circular church, Catholic of course, completely different to anything else we have seen on our travels.

In the 14th century there was the Polish Lithuanian alliance which lasted for over 200 years, this was followed by 120 years of occupation by Russia during which the Catholic churches were converted to Orthodox churches and they tried to ban the Lithuanian top language replacing it with Russian.

Currently they have a density of 55 people per square kilometre, that 24% the size of New Zealand which makes them larger than Serbia but smaller than Scotland.

Our next destination was Kernave a village with 500 population, but its roots go back as far as 9000 BC and there are five large burial mounds which are interesting to look at and perhaps to walk around but to learn anything he had to venture into their wonderful museum which is full of archaeological finds from this villages long history.

Like most of the other countries would been in this year there are hazards that you encounter while travelling their roads, the latest hazard we saw today was a man asleep on the edge of the road with his feet on the road, fortunately he was on the other side of the road so we were not tested on our driving ability, again I assume he had too much medicine, possibly for the flu!

Driving through the villages we are impressed by the beautiful wooden houses, some quite old and the other factor about Lithuanian that we were not aware it has very many lakes in fact it may rival Finland when size is taken into account.

Driving towards our next destination we came across a road sign which pointed to the supposed location of the centre of Europe, having passed one in Poland we turned off to look at this one and found there was a large parking area which we have settled in for the night and a Hymer has just joined us, like all Germans he could not understand why we could not speak German when we were driving a German registered motorhome.

Friday, 30 July

We woke up to a beautiful fine day which made driving round the country a pleasure, beautiful green forests and landscapes everywhere, no rubbish on the side of the road like was seen in other old Soviets and all of the roads, today, were in very good condition.

We drove up 5 km on a bad shingle road to see a point of interest that looked interesting, we arrived at the bottom of the hill with a beautiful carving showing a ninth century village at the top of the hill. So we started climbing up the stairs, they were wet and a few of the steps had rotted away and others had been replaced. When we got to the top of the second tier with another one as high to go, I decided I'd had enough so went on back down, Luda climbed to the top, looked around could find nothing, kept on walking, found some workmen they could speak English, No, there was no village around here on the top of any hill, so I guess this is where the village was and probably disappeared 2- 300 years ago, and not let everything there in case people are interested.

While I was sitting in the motorhome waiting for Luda, four other vehicles pulled up, and up the stairs they climbed!

We passed through a very interesting town just before the village of Ignalina, and had a beautiful old wooden church and behind that a campground.

We drove around the whole area looking at the lakes and the landmarks and we ended up 5 km from the campground that we had seen, so back there we went, the campground reception was at the village public relations office, so I'd traipse to 500 m to the office, no they couldn't speak English, but they managed to, no they would not take Euros, no they would not take credit cards, and the closest Bankamat was 5 km away! It's interesting how the old socialist thinking takes sometimes several generations to disappear in some countries, I know for sure if there had been an Asian looking after the campground they would have taken any currency!

We decided to move on, so we filled up with water, emptied our toilet, and said a GPS for Birzai some 155 km away and after about 60 km we pulled into a parking spot for the night.

Saturday 31st of July

Today we headed north towards Birzai and after about 15 km we pulled over to the right-hand side of the road to stop for a moment, in hindsight we should have driven another 50 m and stopped on the bus stop, but we didn't, we pulled off onto the side of the road, and the right-hand wheel went onto the grass. Now Lithuania as had a lot of rain lately, so the last thing you should do is put the front wheels, of a front wheel drive motorhome onto wet ground, because when we went to drive out, we were very successful in pushing the right tyre into the ground the depth of the rubber.

It is times like this it is useful to have the levelling jacks because I just lowered the front two jacks and raised both front wheels off the ground, then we put stones and gravel into the hole, and we could see that that was not going to be enough to do the job.

A Fiat panel van stopped, and three Russian guys got out to see what they could do to help, no they did not have a tow rope, either did I, (I have one now), but they stopped a car, with another Russian, we hooked up to the van, and very carefully extracted the motorhome from the wet ground.

They were all very happy to help, looked for no reward, but said when they came to New Zealand, it would be our turn to help, and then started to go on their way.

Its moments like these you need the two bottles of vodka, that you haven't opened, that you carry in the garage, so I presented one to each of the cars, and they drove on their way, happy!

As we've been driving through Lithuania was noticed a tremendous amount of wooden carvings everywhere, they have large wooden crosses on the side of the road with a couple of religious figures carved in front of the cross, often at a church there are religious figures carved out of wood, you see them outside restaurants and almost any other sort of business.

On our way to the first destination we saw a group of old cars and then as we drove on further we passed more going in the same direction so is obviously the local Vintage car club having its Saturday outing, almost all of the cars were Russian, I think we saw one older American car there, I don't think any were older than the 50s, but is interesting that they have sufficient time and money now to start being involved in a pursuit that can become costly.

We kept passing again today many lakes as we drove through the country and when we finally got to Birzai we parked beside the earthen walls that used to run round the castle and just beyond that was a beautiful old church and a very old Bridge. We were told that the town was also known for its traditional breweries but as there were no signposts pointing to these, in English, we had to pass them by.

From the road we saw a very large church, the size of a cathedral, very small town, so we stopped to do some photographs, there was a German motorhome parked in the car park, yes he could speak English, but like most Germans found difficult to grasp the fact that we were speaking English with a German motorhome.

He had a very expensive Hymer, almost one of their best models, and we started talking GPS, he had a simple map on a computer that was mounted up on the dashboard, with no ability to plan routes or to be guided through cities, we spoke about the Garmin, but he felt their maps were too expensive, guess he must have spent all of his money on his motorhome!

Our next destination was Seduva a town known for its quaint little wooden houses and a rather beautiful large Catholic cathedral and then it was time to move on to Siauliai and then drive about 12 km towards Riga where we found the hill of crosses, a hill covered with thousands of crosses crucifixes and rosaries, and is said to be an inside and the significance of Catholicism to Lithuania, crosses strated appearing on the hill in 1831, and they were seen to be an unnecessary religious symbol to the Soviet power and the hill has been cleared four times and each time they start appearing again and finally in the late 1970s the hill was left in peace.

We found a parking lot for the night, outside a factory that is falling down.

Sunday, 1 August

We drove today towards the Zemaitijos Nacionalinis Park and stopped at the village of Plateliai which was on the edge of a beautiful lake and had some very interesting wooden houses painted various colours and a very large wooden church. We drove on through the park coming out at a town called Plunge which is known as the gateway to the park, or in our case the exit.

There we saw another beautiful large wooden church, and heard some loud singing coming from the congregation and just outside the town there was another wooden church in a good spot to be photographed.

I guess by now we possibly have the world's biggest collection of photographs of churches around Europe.

We then headed towards Silute near the Kaliningrad border but stopped 20 km outside the city when we found a rest area in the forest we will spend the night.

Monday, 2 August

We left the camping spot and drove on into Silute looking for the Gulag and had been turned into a museum, I guess we did not have the right papers because we could not find it anywhere, we asked a woman and she said it was on the left but I think she was talking about something else, so we left it at that and drove on to the Neringos Peninsula, they don't have a bridge connecting to the mainland but they do have two ferries working continuously taking traffic across, it wasn't cheap at 112.90Lt (€33) and then once we got onto the island we had to pay a road tax of 70 Lt which was another €20, and then the campground end up costing us €38, the messages Lithuanian is very fast catching up with Europe in charges.

The campground is quite busy with one motorhome tour of about eight vans leaving tomorrow and absolutely dozens of tents.

Tuesday 3rd August

We left the camp site out on the Peninsula and drove back to the ferry and discovered that they only charge for the ferry going one way which of course makes the price much more reasonable.

We then drove north to Palanga town right on the sea and as you come into the town, on the side of the motorway, there must have been about 50 cars, parked, all with placards advertising rooms or apartments to rent. Then as you drove into the main street they must be in another 50 people standing on the side of the road again with placards advertising rooms or apartments so there must be a massive number of people come to these seaside towns in the peak of summer.

We drove down near the beach looking for a point of interest and it was just about getting ready to rain was interesting seeing the vast numbers of people heading away from the beach, it makes you realise that the apartments and room rental are really big business in the town.

We visited another seaside town a few kilometres north and it was a repeat of what we'd just seen both volumes of people with rooms to rent and volumes of people wandering around near the beach.

We drove on North into a cloudburst and before we realised what had happened we were over the border to Latvia, or what used to be the border. We drove on another 9 km to a village called Rucava and in the local cemetery we found the graves of about 700 Russian soldiers killed in 44, 45. Ludas uncle was one of these and we found his grave marker.

We found a nice peaceful spot by the woods where we will spend the night.

Wednesday 4th August

Today we drove up the Latvian coast towards Ventspils and in that city where the opportunity of seeing an outdoor museum, a old building that was called Castle but looked more like just a substantial building, and a couple of Orthodox churches, one in the process of being restored and the other boarded-up whilst they work out what to do with it.

Driving through the countryside and villages one can't help but notice the numbers of empty buildings both in housing and factory or from the Commune period. There is also a fair share of old buildings with their roof falling in, and in Latvia it appears as if there is not as much money as in Lithuanian, or perhaps I should say not as much is spent on the roads, and some of the apartment buildings do look like they are well overdue for a touch of paint or water blasting.

We turned off the main road onto a shingle road and in 100 meters found a little layby where we have stopped for the night.

Thursday, 5th August

Today we drove towards the centre of Latvia after first visiting the old town of Kuldiga where we saw the magnificent old wooden houses, some that were constructed with brick and thatch, are also a couple of magnificent churches three or four Lutheran and one Orthodox, a magnificent waterfall which has the label of being the widest waterfall in Europe and of course wherever the river you are liable to find a beautiful old Bridge which is one of the features of this town.

We drove on towards Jelgava stopping and looking at castles and magnificent churches on the way. Then we drove on to Bauska to look at one of the finest palaces in the Baltic region, it is currently in the last process of a complete restoration.  We stayed on their parking lot for the night.

Latvia is fractionally smaller than Lithuania and has 1 million less people, Lithuania has about 8% of the population listed as Russian where as Latvia has 33%. Both countries have quite large forest areas and both seem to be strongly into growing of wheat.

We passed one very large German cemetery in several Russian cemeteries from the Second World War.

We saw quite a few people walking into the woods and several were walking with bags of mushrooms, Luda became quite excited when she saw this as mushrooming is a favourite past time in Russia and throughout Europe. So we pulled over on a parking area and Lulu was gone for about 40 minutes and came back with a marvellous collection of mushrooms, nothing like what we see in New Zealand. Some of them I thought should have been left in the ground for a natural history photograph, but Luda thought they would look better on the plate!

Friday the 6th August

This morning we set our GPS for Riga and just as we were leaving the vicinity of the palace we stopped at a house that indicated they had a collection of vintage cars, an elderly gentleman greeted us, his collection of cars were those that he had personally restored, from what I understand since he retired, he had a management job at the Palace prior to retirement but claimed he had a total understanding of the automobile.

In his collection were a Steyr 120, Horch 951, two BMW 326, a 1957 Volga and a Zaporozec that looked vaguely similar to a Fiat 650, he had a marvellous collection of old parts, lots of complete motors, even had a mould for a Horch headlight glass.

He had about six more old cars out in his backyard but he had the feeling he would not be able to restore anymore. His workshop was impressive with a full size lathe to manufacture difficult parts. Fortunately he could speak Russian so communication, thanks to Luda, was no problem.

So is back on the road again towards Riga, stopping at Bauska to get good photos of the castle beside the River, and it was on into Riga, to a spot that we thought we could find parking, and in the end we took the coward's way out and drove to Riga City Camping which was a 2 1/2 km walk from the centre of the city.

Once parked up, we strolled into the city, had lunch off a Latvian menu then went from walk round the cobblestone streets of the old city before heading back over the bridge to the campsite.

Saturday, 7 August

We left the campsite and went to the other side of the city to look at the open air Museum, a large area of open natural ground with Forest and old houses from all over Latvia rebuilt or replanted to show what life once was like.

We then decided to head south and got on the A4 and then we realised as far as tourist sites like old castles, palaces and churches and old interesting villages, we were not going to find any, so we turned around and headed towards the A2 driving through a national park and of course passed some ruined castles, old palaces and some interesting landscapes.

At about 5 PM we turned right into an unknown village, and parked at a old railway station without a name.

Sunday 8th August

This morning we drove to Cesis and saw some beautiful old houses, a very smart looking Orthodox Church, an old castle that looked like it was having restoration work done on it, and so we moved on to Valmiera were we parked in the centre of the city that everything was other than the very large roundabout, the ruins of a Livonian Order Castle, a 13th century church are the main points of interest in this 13th century city, its old town had been devastated during the Second World War.

We then headed towards Svetciems on the Baltic coast and drove north to Estonia taking the coastal route. Around Rannametsa we found a large parking area where we pulled in for the night.

Monday 9th August

Our first destination was the city of Pärnu often referred to as Estonia's summer capital, we stopped there and went to a supermarket to replenish our supplies, and I must say I was most impressed by the quality and quantity of the items that were available for sale I think it was the best stocked supermarket in goods and the way the items were displayed that we've seen on this trip.

The houses in the city were quite beautiful and quite new and eventually we drove on to our next destination which was the village of Tõstamaa and on our way towards the village we passed a rather beautiful old Orthodox Church that once we were in the village we could really find nothing there and so moved on past couple lakes we hope to see an always thought was Forest and a shingle road, so we pressed on to our next destination which was the town of Lihula.

There we saw in the main street row of beautiful old wooden houses of many colours, one of two houses that were no longer occupied, and old Orthodox Church whose roof had collapsed, and then there was an old Lutheran church built on the site of the original church in 1241, they say stones from the original building were used in the existing church.

The museum for the town occupied the building that was in the process of some restoration and it looked like what one would associate with a governors mansion or something similar and then we moved on to the port of Virtsu from where you can catch a ferry to the island of Saaremaa. We are parked overnight in a car park near the ferry terminal.

Driving through the countryside today we had the impression that life in Estonia was better than the other countries of the Eastern bloc that we have visited, of course it was the smallest country of the old soviet union being a fraction larger than Holland, with a population of about 1 1/2 million, 17% the size of New Zealand and 31 people per square kilometre. Probably all these things possible we make a difference.

Tuesday, 10 August

We drove down to the ferry, paid the €10 to cross over to the island, drove over the small island, over the causeway that was built in the 1800s by Sweden, onto the large island where we saw some very old churches from the 13th and 14th century, that had been designed as churches and fortresses, so they had good thick walls and openings from which I guess you could shoot an arrow or a spear but most of them were still in very good condition with one that needed substantial renovation.

We drove on to Kuressaare which was the capital of the island, and have a good look at the real old houses in the town, the castle, its grounds, and a beautiful Orthodox Church.

We are most impressed with the landscape that were driving through today very green, very clean and very tidy. Beautiful forests everywhere and lots of places where you can park your car, and go off into the forest on one of the very many trails that there are. Passing by a gap in the forest we found a moose watching us and just kept on eating the grass whilst we photographed her.

We visited another shopping centre today, and I realise that it is the Scandinavian cleanliness in design and their products which impressed me yesterday at the shopping centre we visited, it's not something we've seen in the other two Baltic countries.

We drove on to the end of the island and photographed the lighthouse and had a look at the fortifications that had been left by some of the previous occupants over the last hundred years, then drove back towards Saaremaa we were found a quiet little spot looking out towards the sea to spend the night.

Wednesday, 11 August

This morning we headed back towards Kuressaare and then drove to the other side of the island and Kihelkonna and then headed back towards the ferry stopping at Leisi for the night.

Today we saw the usual collection of churches both Lutheran and Orthodox lots of nice little villages, many cemeteries, including wartime ones, and at a quiet large Russian graveyard/memorial we found a couple of men toasting the memory of obviously one of the soldiers. The tradition is that if there are two of you at the graveyard, you pour three glasses of vodka, drink a toast to the missing person, then leave the glass with a piece of bread on the top at the graveyard. This is of course only a Russian tradition!

Estonia like all of the other old Soviets has a lot of large empty buildings that were possibly built during the collective farming experiment and they are slowly decaying away through lack of attention and neglect. We've come across one of two apartment blocks in various places that also looks like they have been abandoned.

Thursday 12th August

We woke up this morning and realised we had 11 days before we were due back in Frankfurt for Luda to fly to Kiev, this meant we either had to leave immediately and drive leisurely back, or spend three more days in Estonia and drive rapidly back.

We decided for the leisurely drive, so this means we have 90% of Estonia to see again some other time, and of course, as always, the bits we have missed looked like some of the best, but time will tell.

So we set our GPS for Frankfurt and told us we had 2050 km to drive that should take 25 hours. Now knowing some of the roads and the amount of traffic on them in Poland that is a debatable time. This evening we are in Riga at the Riga camping in the centre of the city, catching up with our e-mails in getting this newsletter away.

After Frankfurt I will be visiting a motorhome manufacturer that manufacturers overland motorhomes to see if I can get the ideal motorhome at the ideal price.

Then I go on to Dusseldorf to the motorhome show to look at what is new in motorhomes and equipment that goes with them.

Then it's on to England to attend the English meeting of the Silk Road Club, then on to Ipswich to track down a primary school mate who has spent most of his adult life there, then down to Bath to attend the American motorhome show, then into London to buy a few maps and travel guides for next year and then finally back to Holland for the motorhome into storage and fly home at the end of September.

 

to top right....

Friday 13th of August

Opps it's Friday the 13th and I didn't realise!

Just as we were leaving the Riga campground a couple ran up to us with the message " we are from New Zealand"...... " we are from New Zealand", and indeed they were a couple of farmers from Winton wandering around Europe for three months this year and hopefully the same next year.

Yes they are hard to get away from! We had a great yak and that was on the way south and tonight we are a large car park with Internet access which will cost us €5 for the night which we figure is okay.

It was an uneventful day driving south if you ignore all the drivers playing chicken and trucks turning a two lane road into a three lane road, but as long as you realise you are always the chicken you don't get roasted!

Saturday, 14 August

Well we've set our GPS to the far side of Poland and discover we have to travel 720 km in almost a straight line so that looks like it's going to be about a three-day drive.

We just on the road and we come across a police roadblock controlling the traffic as it goes past an 18 wheeler lying on its side across one lane and into the forest. There are about five police there and as there were no breakdown wagons of any sort we assume it had just recently happened.

That excitement over, we followed the GPS which took us through interesting back country lanes, through farming areas a little bit off the beaten path, it was far enough off the beaten path for us to see a horse and wagon with a load of wood. We were fortunate not that many trucks on the road today which made it a little bit more pleasant driving, and these back roads were quite deserted so the driving was not that stressful.

All good things come to an end and we ended up on a main highway, one of these two lane highways, that all the Polish drivers believe are really three lanes and treated as such, they of course understand the road markings that a solid double line means it's okay to pass because the car coming will give way, and you can actual fact pass a car anywhere as long as you miss the car coming the opposite way by a couple of centimetres, well you missed it didn't you!

In many other fields we passed today they had combine harvesters in them harvesting the wheat, this of course meant that occasionally you would meet a tractor pulling a very large trailer laden with wheat, well after all, it is a country road!

Most of the day were driving parallel within 20 to 40 km off the Kaliningrad border, which one day we must visit.

We thought we could travel across Poland without worrying about Polish currency, but we tried one grocer's shop, and no they did not take any sort of cash cards, so I went to a bankamat and obtained 400 Polish Zlotych.

About 4 PM we found a petrol station with some rather large parking near the village of Samplawo so hopefully the traffic noise will not be too bad.

Sunday, 15 August

This year for communications by telephone, we purchased two Roaming SIM from Australia, with these were supposed to be able to make cheap calls basically anywhere in the world, well they didn't work, we couldn't call anywhere, the only thing we could do was received calls from anywhere and send text messages anywhere. Okay, that another method of communication down the gurgler! I wonder what we will find the next year!

This morning we decided to travel South instead of West and drive past the school in Poland that Luda went to for four years in the city of Legnica and that was about 420 km from our current position.

So again we drove on all sorts of roads from superb to downright atrocious, I must say one thing to Poland, they are certainly making an effort to improve the roads as we see massive roadworks on the tremendous scale almost everywhere we travel. I think the worst roads we travelled on today with those that had two deep ridges from the continual line of trucks that travel over these roads and the sheer weight of them put an indentation in the road which are great if you will base is the same as the trucks but for all others it is very hard driving trying to drive in a straight line.

Just outside Poznan we found a parking place in the forest where we will rest up for the night.

Monday 16th August

We drove down to Legnica through almost every backroad we could find, managed to find the area in which Luda lived and the school that she went to, both still there and both looking very good because of a new paint job.

We then went to a service station, used up all the Polish money that we had on diesel, and then we hightailed it to the border with Germany and were currently in the outskirts of Cottbus sitting in a car park for three home improvement businesses.

 

Tuesday, 17 August

Today we carried on our drive south to Frankfurt, quite a bit of rain today, when we got to Dresden we went to the motor camp we have stayed at before, the motor camp was almost full and probably another 10 arrived after we did so I'm not sure where they were put.

Wednesday 18th of August

From Dresden we drove south to Erfurt another old East German city, we tried to find motorhome parking in the centre of the city, but every road that led to it was either being dug up or was closed. We elected to go out to the age of the city where we parked on a noisy intersection that contains a park and ride.

It was good travel most of the day on what must be almost brand-new motorways, they are still building lanes on this Dresden to Frankfurt motorway and some of the roadworks are absolutely massive, so large that when you look at them the heavy earth moving equipment looks small.

Thursday, 19 August

Today we drove towards Frankfurt stopping at a camping site we have used in the past about 40 km from the airport . Every other time we've been there there's only been as all one other motor home, this time there was six, not quite sure why, with labelled the spot as being a little bit noisy but on this occasion there was no problems.

Friday 20th of August

Today we drove towards Mainz, did some shopping at a large shopping centre, and then on to other camping site reviews before, this time 16 km from the airport, on arrival we were greeted like long lost cousins, there was a meeting of the German Carthago club, they meet occasionally and on this occasion they were at this camping spot, we were invited to join them making 28 Carthago is an all, from ours reasonably small one through to a monstrous Carthago on a MAN chassis, could not quite imagine it going down some of our roads.

They quickly found in English-speaking member of the club, and actual fact she was English woman, married to a German back in 1962, lived all of her married life in Germany, still has relations in England which they use their Carthago to go and visit.

There were having dinner that night at a restaurant beside the Rhine, we were invited to join them, which we did, very enjoyable evening, two other club members are keen musicians so they kept the music flowing to which a lot of the members were up dancing, and are English-speaking host, who is 71 was dancing like an 18-year-old so the German climate must have been kind to her, or perhaps it is the good German beer!

Saturday 21st of August

Today we headed to a motor camp that is the fraction closer to the airport, amongst the rules of the camp was no loud music and everything must be quiet by 11 PM, although having a party at the restaurant, and the noise could be heard right throughout the camp, and the music kept playing until 2 AM, and of course it was on the flight path of the airport, give you one guess where we won't be going back to even though they have WiFi.

Sunday 22nd of August

Today we drove to the Isbis Hotel, which is at the airport, parked in a car park and rented a room, must book it next time by Internet as I think we were charged a walk in price. They do have a free bus to the airport which we took that night to get a luggage strap for Luda suitcase, had lunch at the airport and dinner at the hotel.

Monday 23rd August

It was an early rise this morning at six o'clock to be on the 7:25 AM bus to the airport, no problems checking in, and Luda was on her way to Keiv.

On the way out of the airport I changed all the currencies that I had left over back into euros, it amounts up, head ended up with €260 and some Macedonian money they wouldn't change.

Then back to the hotel, collect the motorhome, get provisions from the Lidal shop, and then drive south to Mannheim to visit Woelcke who build custom made motorhomes, often four-wheel drives, suitable for more interesting places.

With that meeting over, the next meeting I had was the motorhomes show at Dusseldorf so I started heading back in that direction stopping for the night at Friday's parking spot, yes the Carthago's had all gone home, and it was wet and miserable weather most of the day.

On the way to the camping spot as I was going round a corner, the motorhome almost "lost it" on the wet road, so when I stopped I looked at the tread and it only had about 500 km of good life left on it, so tomorrow a couple of new tyres for the front wheels, thank you!

Tuesday 24th of August

I continued on my way towards Dusseldorf and saw a advert for motor accessories from the motorway, and there was an exit just a few hundred metres from that sighting, so I went off, and a plump little girl that served me said it would take about two days to get my tyres in, I said I don't well be in two days, so she gave me the name of another company for kilometres away, and I'm currently sitting in their parking area for the night, and 8 AM in the morning the tyres will be fitted.

I visited a hardware shop and sitting out the front was a ride on lawnmower, you know you're in the snow country when you see a ride on lawnmower fitted with a blade like on a bulldozer, you know it is not to move the grass cuttings around, but at least the lawnmower will not sit in the garage for six months unused.

Wednesday 25th August

I'm in the process of filling in time until the Dusseldorf show so I went and visited a large shopping centre then drove on to a campsite that had WiFi and do some work on the Internet for awhile.

Thursday 26 August

I thought it was time to head to the Dusseldorf show to be in time for the trade show on Friday, as it was my third visit and I had my GPS set and the signposts were everywhere there was no problems finding the grounds where you park beside the trade show.

Just one problem, checking my newsletters I see I normally arrived on Friday for the Saturday show, this means tomorrow Friday which is the trade day I will be sitting round doing nothing, must make a big note somewhere that Friday is the day to arrive.

The car parking costs €15 a night with no electricity or €24 a night with electricity however I do believe to get electricity you have to arrive on the Thursday because all the spaces will be gone by that evening. The car park is certainly a moneymaking item!

Met a couple of New Zealanders, one from Duntroon in Central Otago who has just arrived in Europe to collect as camper that he bought on the Internet in New Zealand for pickup in England and the other from Hastings who sold his Orchard a couple years ago, bought a Hymer in the UK and has been wandering round Europe for the last 18 months and is due to go home at Christmas taking his Hymer with him, the import is being handled by somebody from Tauranga who is somewhat of an expert at vehicle imports.

I now know where a lot of the large motorhomes go to, that is to the Dusseldorf show, there are dozens of them here.

Met a guy from SeaBridge the company we travelled across Russia with in 2006, they specialise in shipping motorhomes to America and gave me some information on this. He also offered me an admission ticket, one of the large number of tickets he gets a given for the show to give to his customers for free, as he is exhibiting at the show, the normal admission price is €10 so he was selling these for €7 yes some of the Germans are as canny as the Scot!

It has been raining on and off all day.

Friday 27th August

Today is a wasted day so I'm just wandering around, when it's not raining, looking at some of the motorhomes, are now starting to arrive for tomorrow, there's just so many enormous motorhomes one wonders where they go and what they do with them, the old Eastern Bloc has a surprising quantity of these super large motorhomes in the car parks, somebody must have got some money pretty fast!

Visited the Kiwi has been in Europe for 18 months in his new Hymer which is taking back to New Zealand in December and looking at the inside it is as if they bought it yesterday and they have lived in it for 18 months! We've lived in a ours for 12 months and it certainly does not look as spec and span as theirs, perhaps if I took my shoes off before I entered each time house might be the same.

Another Kiwi walked past yesterday from Napier and we had a chat, who is originally from England and so has his English accent so I did not recognise him as being from New Zealand, he tells me there's a guy from on the road over in the left field somewhere. He is also taking his English motorhome back to New Zealand.

Saturday 28th of August

At about 9:40 AM I walked over the bus stop and was one of the first on the second bus, the first bus was overflowing. I exchanged my free ticket that cost me €7 for a entry ticket which would cost €12 and then joined the other hundreds waiting on one large mass to go through the door at 10 o'clock. It took about 12 minutes for me to get from the back of the pack into the trade hall and wandered through the second hall I went in to was where the Carthago stand was and the salesman, Han's saw me and with a very large smile came over to greet me, showed me the new 3 1/2 ton Carthago, his comment was that by the time he put everything on it it will be overweight so I moved on looking at the other motorhomes to see if any fitted my specifications.

I would like a motorhome built for two, about 6 1/2 m long, with a pulldown bed so you can utilise all the space in the motorhome, with a storage area in the rear.

It is an impossible situation for a commercially made motorhome. If it has a garage at the rear, he has a bed above it, is designed to carry four people, and usually built to sleep four people. I had good look at everything and really they all had more or less the same specifications at different prices and of course different finishes, so that finished that search.

The German police have a stand at the show and I found a policeman that could speak English, asked him what weight motorhome could I drive on a normal car licence, and after a few false starts we ended up with the conclusion that I could drive up to 7.3 tonnes, 7.5 tonnes needed a heavy duty license. Now go find out what the New Zealand rules are more or less for my own information. (NZ I found out yesterday that with my New Zealand car licence I can drive 4.5 tons with no problems and they have a type 2 license from 4.5 to 7.5 tons)

As usual there was a large variety of accessories and I collected a few brochures for further thinking.

Eion from Duntroon was slightly overwhelmed by the variety and the prices, and he did find, for me a rear air bag which was supposed to be able to raise the back of the motorhome 12 inches, this will solve many problems because of the low overhang at the rear of my motorhome particularly when coming on or off ferries.

By 1:30 PM I realised I had seen everything that I wanted to see so went back to the parking area and rested my sore feet.

Sunday 29th August

I packed up and left the parking area a little bit after 8 AM, found the road to Calais, drove of course through Holland and Belgium to get to France, halfway through Holland I saw a very large glasshouse that had been flattened, then a few metres down the road a small forest beside the motorway, about a third of the trees were either up rooted or snapped in half, there  must have been one real strong wind through that little bit of Holland.

I drove on and arrived at Calais and was on a ferry by 1:55 PM arrived in Dover, kept repeating to myself, steering wheel beside the gutter, and drove on North through the pouring rain, went round the M25 heading off and about parallel with London blue sky appeared in the rest of the day was fine. About 4:30 PM I asked the tom-tom for a campground, and found one 6kms away, which is where I am at the moment. The price is £14 for one person for the night.

Monday to 30 August

Today, I just found out, is a bank holiday, which means in exceptional amount of traffic on the road, and most of the businesses closed.

Spoke to my neighbour at the campground, said I was going up to the Carthago agent to get some spare parts, he says do they know you're coming and what you want, I said no, but I believe they're pretty good with service, he just laughed, his comments were the service was the last thing you should expect in England.

Fortunately grocers shops are open so I stopped and replenished supplies, no it is not cheap for groceries, or anything else, in England.

And that was on North to Lowdhem Leisure Centre, there are agents for Carthago in England, yes the pieces I want are from the spare parts department, which is closed today.

So I asked the lady at the desk is a place to stay overnight, she asked me if I bought my Carthago from them, I answered by saying I was from New Zealand, she said she would look to see if there is any space, it turns out there are six electric points, and probably room for 10 of 12 motorhomes, with one space occupied, so the answer was a doubtful yes, which was confirmed to a positive, so drove on their to their space, parked beside the only other motorhome that was there, a motorhome from the Shetlands, he was down for a service and would like to come to New Zealand for a time if his health is good enough, he is one of the unfortunates that breathed in asbestos 40 years ago and is now having problems with lungs.

However he did manage a short trip to New Zealand for five weeks last year is looking forward to bringing his motorhome for a longer stay.

Tuesday 31st August

I went into Lowdhem spare parts this morning when they opened at nine o'clock, and whilst the spare parts department looked a little bit of a mess they had the parts I wanted which proved my cynic that I camped beside a couple days ago wrong!

I then drove to Tamworth to try and find where some friends lived but with a narrow English roads and nowhere to stop the closest spot I could park near their house was about 4 miles away, the phone wasn't being answered, and already the overpacked, narrow English roads have not endeared themselves to me again, so I decided to head off to the silk Road club meeting ground three days early and have a rest.

The campground was Blackmore No2, I arrived at the correct address and found that there were two campsites on the one entrance, a Caravan Club Site and a Camping and Caravan Site. Being a member of the Caravan Club I checked in to that, asked about Blackmore No2 and was told it was probably next door, evidently they got their names No1 and No2 from Hitler's war when the two pieces of ground were occupied by I assume the Army and are called camp No1 and camp No2 and the names have remained.

They have a good WiFi connection, in fact the aerial is right at the corner of my motorhome, so I'm not sure that I'll ever get a stronger signal, they charge £5 for five hours, used any time on any Caravan club site, over the next six months.

I'm not sure staying in the one spot for three days is terribly healthy for me but I'll keep my fingers crossed!

Friday, 3 September

This morning I drove 100 yards from Camp Number 1 to Camp Number 2, I was the second person to arise, the first being a Dutch couple in one of the very large serious overland motorhomes. During the course of the day four more serious motorhomes arrived plus some conventional motorhomes. In actual fact when one thinks of the silk Road club, I think of these motorhomes, but it is now only for extreme motorhome in the these massive four-wheel-drive vehicles, often Mercedes Uni mog or MAN or the six wheel Volva, but the group that run the perestroika tours plan all of their tours to China India etc so that an ordinary motorhome can accomplish the travel.

A decision was made for the English part of the silk Road club to separate from the French group thereby solving a few problems like the French newsletter and be reasonably high annual fee to handle such a publication.

I again did a group photograph and supplied to the members named in a PDF format.

Monday, 6 September

I drove over to Ipswich to see Reg Drummond a guy I went through primary school with and last saw about 60 years ago, he's been living in England since that time married and had one son that was killed in a accident at the age of 18, is not in extremely good health.

I drove south in the afternoon and this is a campground just off the M25.

Tuesday, 7 September

Working out what to do I decided to go down to Cornwall to visit my English neighbour that used to live next door to me on Scarborough Hill, if you think English roads are bad, visit Cornwall where you will find lanes that are called roads, roads that have a metre high bank on each side topped with a high hedge row, there are little indentations which could loosely be called passing bays, and you just hope you don't meet a large international bus, or truck coming towards you.

When you reach the coast there are a lot of little houses perched on the cliff face that we would call in New Zealand, batches, Paul and Emma had bought one of these batches just back from the cliff, their address is called "field 2" that gives you a little of an idea of the casual nature of the settlement, and these batches on the cliff edge, sell for $NZ500,000 or thereabouts and of course you must expect to do substantial work to bring it up to a reasonable standard.

Thursday 9th September

This morning I went shopping and then at 12 o'clock headed towards the Bath Showgrounds and parked in the Motorhome Facts club area to see what is supposedly the largest RV show in England.

Spent three days at the Bath Showgrounds at the RV show, hundreds of RVs, lots of stalls selling almost everything, I had two things on my shopping list, a small retractable clothesline, which was not available anywhere, and a replacement pair of water tees to carry spares in case we have a repeat of the problem this year, I found those.

Really there was nothing else there that interested me, there are a lot of battery powered bicycles from £400-£900 which were quite interesting if one wanted to carry a bicycle in the motorhome.

I think I've reached the stage, with motorhome shows, having seen most things that are available which will simplify things for the future in not having to attend these functions.

I reached a decision about to new prospective four-wheel-drive motorhome and that was it would be 2013 before I was able to do a long trip in it, with the length of time it would take to be built, and then the shakedown trip to make sure everything was working, and as that year I'll be 78 I felt the current motorhome I have will take me to all the places I want to go with perhaps a slight modification on the rear axle, of having air bags fitted if this gives me the capability of altering the departure angle at the rear when I need to.

With the extensive investigation that I've done and travelling over land to China and around China, it now appears that with today's roads the current motorhome is totally adequate and the old story of needing enough fuel for 1000 Kms and to carry 400 L of water is unnecessary, however I have yet to check out some of the Russian Stans on these matters, China itself will not present a problem for fuel or water.

About 11 o'clock on the third day I noticed that my amp meter said my capacity was down to 205 amps and my limit was 210 and as there was no power on the site was time to go so I set off for Abbey Wood on the outskirts of London but at about 6:30 PM decided to pull in to the campground at Chertsey which I've used before and I carried on to Abbey Wood the following morning.

Monday I headed into London to visit Stanford's Map and book shop and made the decision that would be probably cheaper to buy maps on the Internet at the company http://www.omnimap.com/catalog/digital.htm they evidently sell a wonderful range of digital and paper maps.

Tuesday visited my Polish friend, and on Wednesday I headed back to France, Thursday to a campground just over the Dutch border breaking out the motorhome ready for storage, and on Friday drove back to Hanks house in Capsicum, and we discovered that the truck wash that we have used to clean the motorhome we should be there on a Monday or Tuesday as those days are the best.

I fly to New Zealand on the Sunday the 26th, and will finish this newsletter off at home including my impressions of Christchurch three weeks after the 7.4 earthquake.

Sunday 26th

It was uneventful flight home I went from Amsterdam to Munich to Singapore to Christchurch, I normally goes through Frankfurt which is a much larger airport and I think I prefer that over Munich and will revert back to that next time.

I arrived in Christchurch on a fresh spring morning, collected a taxi with a very large Samoan driver, we spoke a little bit about the earthquake, he said was hard getting run Christchurch after the earthquake and now it is still a little bit difficult because of all the one-way roads.

Our house was built on the edge of an extinct volcano and consequently I would guess on pretty solid ground suffered no damage whatsoever, not even a broken glass.

Neither of those comments or all the photographs that I had seen of the earthquake on the Internet prepared me for the actual sight of some buildings collapsed into a pile of rubble, other buildings with large cracks which will have to be demolished, most of this happened in Manchester Street, a road that runs parallel with Columbo Street, the main street of Christchurch, which has repeatedly the longest street in New Zealand, Columbo Street basically escaped with no damage and was only after across the railway line there was major damage in the older buildings.

It would appear that Columbo Street, in the centre of the city, being the prime retail property has been kept up to earthquake standards where has the buildings in Manchester Street have not had the same attention.

I've done a few photos which are placed at http://www.ivan.co.nz/Quake/index.htm  this should give you a little bit of an insight as to what greeted me as I wandered through the city.

Evidently New Zealand has 14,000 earthquakes a year and I've also included on the website the map of where the earthquakes take place in New Zealand, and looking at it I would guess it is the meeting point of the Pacific and the Tasman plate which is responsible for the major mountains that run through both islands.

Yesterday I saw a newspaper report that 17,000 chimneys will need to be replaced, 50,000 houses were damaged and 1500 have been condemned. Of these six historic buildings that were damaged in appears that four of them will have to be demolished so there goes a little bit of what is recent history by world standards.

They are also expecting about a third of the businesses in Christchurch to be out of business in 12 months, most of this is because of the disruption to the city and the lack of people walking the streets of the central city.

One of the shops that I used to wander in to often, and was the motorhome accessories shop, and it was totally flattened along with all of its stock, they have opened up again in what I would call a slightly more central location so I wish them well.

My photographer friends had a very close escape from death jumping out of their bed just before some large blocks of masonry fell where they had been sleeping, again you will see this on my website, the large blocks in the trailer.

This earthquake was the largest disaster for 80 years and has been experienced in New Zealand, and I assume the disaster they are talking of 80 years ago was the Napier earthquake when Napier was flattened. Christchurch did not suffer that fate.

Talking to a friend who was a town planner for Christchurch, he remarked that any of the buildings that were over engineered had no problems it was only the older buildings, normally built from brick, that were shaken apart.

From TVNZ yesterday - The job to repair Canterbury's earthquake damaged sewerage system will cost up to $200 million and it could take up to two years. The Christchurch City Council said the task seems never ending because the council has been forced to do 25 years of repairs all at once.

"To put that in perspective, normally the city renews four kilometres a year so you can see it's quite a daunting task," he said.

In Christchurch alone, plumbers face 100km of sewer pipes to fix and in Kaiapoi another 30km of pipes.  People of Canterbury will be better off with a more efficient sewerage system once it's all replaced with PVC.

 

 

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