….. from Hungary to Ivalo Finland
Monday 2nd June
Luda wandered off and another village to do some other photos and again was surrounded by gypsies touching her on her arms saying the word help, help, help, but in Slovakian which was close enough to Russian for Luda to recognize what they were saying. Naturally she headed back to the motorhome quickly and we moved on from that area. I noticed in the Encyclopedia that there is a large Hungarian population in Slovakian near the border and I wonder of these people could be from that group.
Eventually we stopped beside a Lake nestled in these mountains in a campground that was an add-on extra to a large hotel. There was beautiful scenery all around and I'm sure we could have spent a week in the area driving up into the mountains over the border to Poland and back again.
Tuesday 3rd June
We decided to stop for the evening and head away from all of the traffic so we saw a sign to Reka skiing village up in the hills and whenever there is a skiing village there is usually a large parking area, which we found and settled down for the night.
Wednesday 4th June
So we left the ski field, waiting for snow, and headed back to the real world of a never ending line of trucks. We have set the GPS for a direct route to Kutná Hora avoiding the motorways, but we got thinking that there must only be one Road here because it kept us on the motorways and when we are in one traffic jam for about 30 minutes I asked the GPS to select another route with the same specifications of avoiding motorways that came up with one that was 4 km longer, which told me it was a different route, and instead of a righthand turn which would have kept us in the row of trucks we did a left-hand turn into more isolation.
So we kept on driving through little Czech villages with their very tidy houses and occasionally we get to a larger city which had the rows of Russian style apartments, but I think they passed a bylaw here stating that they must be painted, because they were in a multitude of colours which were certainly better than the original concrete grey.
Continuing on our route we round the corner and Luda commented that there was something interesting add that was purple, or we reached the fields of purple to discover that they will all purple poppies, with a scattering of real red once amongst them just to let us know that yes they were poppies, some had reached the stage of going to seed and I assume that is what the crop is about, harvesting the seed, which if my memory serves me correct they can be processed to obtain opium! Perhaps there is a more milder acceptable use for these seeds!
As we were driving along, the sky kept on getting blacker and front of us we could see strong lightning flashes, and of course if you keep on driving towards all of this you do drive into the rain. Some of the villagers that we passed through were showing signs of surface flooding, nothing like England of last year, but it did show that had been somewhat of a cloudburst before we arrived.
This part of the Czech Republic has very large extensive forests much of which we have driven through today, but I guess most of the country is still dependent upon agriculture.
We mentioned the kamikaze drivers of Hungary, well I'm pleased to report the Czech Republic has not missed out on this type of driver, we did notice that some of the worst were the very young drove their Skoda's as if they were formula 1 Ferrari's.
Naturally the whole eastern bloc who were kept starved of vehicles had wonderful public transport (buses and rail) which still exists today, but with the moved to a market economy and the ownership of private cars I am not sure how much longer the public transport will last. The eastern bloc is certainly the place to be if you're an entrepreneur, I have seen many large Mercedes, BMWs, and several Bentleys so somebody has certainly learned how to make money fast.
We drove about 10K off the main road to a village called Prosec where we found a car park that was out of the way where we spent the night.
Thursday 5th June
Eventually we reached Kutna Hora and we parked on the edge of the city and the walked into the centre, Luda with her camera at the ready, and when all the superficial sites were seen that city were on our way to Prague. It is very interesting the inroads that the British food giant Tesco have made in all of the Eastern Europe, it large cities they are open 24 hours a day and the smaller cities of which we have only seen one is only open from 7am to 8pm, hardly enough time for most people to shop!
We programmed the GPS to take a motorway to Prague, and then programmed it to avoid a motorway and it was the same route, so it took the only Road to Prague and found the campsite we were looking for beside the river and so we have booked in here the next two or three nights, they speak no English here, the buildings still have the Soviet identification numbers on them, and the door's each have a number on them somewhat similar to what I would expect of a government building in New Zealand.
We had a classic illustration of just how fresh the Soviet system is in the Czech Republic when we boarded a tram to the city. There were no tickets on sale at the station where we boarded the tram, the driver did not sell tickets, so in ignorance we just sat on the tram, until the inspector came along and charged us 14 times the normal fare for travelling without a ticket, and he told me in broken English that I could bought one at the station, from a vending machine, (the station where we boarded looked like a bomb site) or we could have bought one from the hotel we were staying at, (we were at a motor camp where they did not speak English) and of course the driver did not sell tickets, so they had a wonderful system of fleecing the tourists on the simple principle, that everyone must have a ticket, but make it very hard for visitors to get a ticket! It's a wonderful socialistic system that we have not seen work even in New Zealand in the ‘40’s.
It however does not endear the country when one receives this treatment.
The first thing was to buy a ticket for the next three days which was about 50% of the price we paid for our one-way trip. That out of the way we went up for a walk around the city found some of the main locations and will set off in the morning a more in-depth look at this old city.
Friday 6th June
So we did the bus trip, and then we decided to do a tour in a Praga 1939 model, the Praga factory was shut down by the Soviets when they took the country over.
When I think of the automotive industry in 1946 England, France, Germany, Italy, and of course Japan basically had no automotive industry. However they all very quickly resumed production, produced a new models and particularly Germany whose factories had all been flattened have ended up leading the world in automotive technology.
I often wonder what would have happened had the Soviets put as much effort into domestic production as they did in to armaments. The Skoda started out as being a very respectable car, but the brand was turned into somewhat of a joke with the Soviet control. The same thing happened with the photographic industry with them taking over the incredible prewar German factories producing cameras that look like they had been assembled in a tractor factory.
When one looks at what happened to Japan during the 50s when made in Japan was a sort of sick joke to the turn around of maximum quality just think of what could have happened with the Soviet bloc given similar leadership, to me it is opportunities lost and as usual it is the people who pay the price, the leaders were doing very nicely thank you very much!
We took the tram back to the motor camp and of the four trips we did on the tram we only saw the ticket inspector the one-time. I wonder if me asking the driver for a ticket signalled in some manner is money to be made on this tram.
Saturday 7th June
So we found a parking spot and Luda decided to climb the mountain that the Castle was built on, to me the photograph from the bottom looked just as good, but off she went, then I had a meeting with the Czech police force, incidentally we have seen more police on the Road in the Czech Republic than any country outside Russia.
He told me I should not have come down this road, and through a phrasebook that he had explained to me that he was going to find me 1000Skc and told me where I could find a Bankomat to get the money to pay the fine.
I recall the last time we went down a road that we should not have done and this was in Astrakhan and there a high-ranking police officer that stopped us was very sociable, let us off with a warning, and then guided us into the city to a place that he said we could Park and told us that no traffic officer would bother us in this location
Now this is the third year we have had this motorhome, we travelled close to 60,000 km, visited almost every country in Europe and Scandinavia, travelled across Russia and the Ukraine, broken goodness knows how many traffic laws, and have ended up with just the one ticket, touch wood!
Okay given the circumstances I probably deserved the ticket, it did not break the bank, but we will remember the Czech Republic for all the wrong reasons, and we decided not to wait around for the third fine, (things are supposed to run in threes aren't they) so we headed off to Germany so I guess in the long run the government got some money, but the shopkeepers lost out.
Thinking of the two situations with the traffic police, one cannot blame the socialistic training, but more the approach of the people towards tourists. In Astrakhan they were delighted to see us, in the Czech Republic we were a source of money.
So we set the GPS for Dresden and about 50 km out we saw a large parking area, we had enough excitement for the day, so we settled in there for the night with very little road noise.
Sunday 8th June
Last time I was in Dresden it was like a freeze action of an old East German movie, with all of old rundown houses, but none of those were obvious on this trip and the centre of the city had almost been totally rebuilt with all the modern shop you would find in any major city.
Monday, June 09, 2008
The one problem with the GPS is that unless you do a lot of work with it each time you place a destination you don't really have any idea which way you are going, so it ended up taking us through the centre of Berlin city, slap bang through the centre, if anybody is considering driving through Berlin, please allow yourself plenty of time as the traffic is horrendous. (That incidentally was strike three). So we travelled on along a major highway towards Rostock and eventually we left Berlin city behind us, found an interesting little town with a good parking area where we had lunch and did some shopping.
Luda was telling me, during lunch, about the black cat, I said yes we in New Zealand had to keep our fingers crossed until we saw a white horse. Luda had not heard of that one, but about then in the distance was a farmer with a pair of horses pulling a cart loaded with hay, and fortunately one would pass for white!
It's interesting today we saw two horse and carts in different areas, the only other places I have seen these is in rural Poland, Romania and the Ukraine. Whilst Germany has been made one again, not everyone is obviously equal, and the East is still substantially behind the West.
However money is being poured into the old eastern Germany, as we were passing through the motorway system of Berlin there was an extremely modern extension featuring tunnels under the existing infrastructure, all beautifully new with all of the concrete still having that new look.
As we were leaving Berlin we saw a large number of empty apartments on the outskirts of the city with a particular type of fence around them, Luda felt this was probably where the Russians that were concerned with the administration of East Germany were housed, it was normally on the edge of a city and always had a fence around that like this one.
As we travelled on North from Berlin we saw many very old houses and all sorts of disrepair, many empty, and many collapsing in on themselves. The movement of West Germany into East Germany was very obvious with some of the large western companies with factories and warehouses, and in Dresden Voltzwaggen had built a new assembly plant out of concrete and glass, if you stood outside you could see the cars being assembled.
As we are getting close to our destination for today, we came across a railway yard with a collection old engines that were no longer in use, Luda saw about 30 very old Russian engines, carriages, wagons and other railway paraphernalia. All this was at an old railway station that was no longer in use, and so we stopped while she did a series of photos, this particular type of engine had been featured in some of the old Russian films, so it was interesting for Luda to see these, even if she had the feeling she was visiting a railway cemetery.
We wandered round the countryside looking for a particular camp ground, in the end we gave up and join another German motorhome in a car park on the edge of Malchow.
Tuesday 10th June
We elected not to have a cabin having experienced the Cook Strait crossing and the English Channel of course they are not six hour crossings are they?
On board the boat every floor is taken up with cabin's with the sixth floor having a restaurant and some other chairs and tables not designed for a six hour stretch. The restaurant was opened when we boarded and closed again at 5:30 p.m., so at 5 p.m. we dashed to get a meal to find that the restaurant opened again at 8 p.m., I guess that is the disadvantage of probably being the only English-speaking people on the ferry.
We drove off the ferry and about 9:15 p.m. and previously I programmed the GPS for the closest campsite and so we drove straight there to find it was closed for the night, they had so many campers there I guess they weren't terribly worried about the two or three that may turn up from the ferry. So we drove on for a while, turned left, found a small Road that led towards the sea, and parked in the car parking area for the night.
Being so close to the sea and the sea being the Baltic sea we had quite a strong wind all-night which sort of rocked us to sleep, one could say and apart from that totally uneventful.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
We caught up with our washing at this motor camp, and there I learned a new lesson, don't stay in the motor camp in a country where the motor camp is run by somebody who was not born in that country.
The Sjotorpet motor camp was run by a Korean which was no problem until he had to read Swedish. The washing machine had English instructions but the clothes dryer had no instructions just the settings for heat written in Swedish. So I asked for help from the Korean and I could tell by the way he was reading the words he did not totally understand them. Consequently after an hour the clothes were still damp and when I complained to the Korean his answer was a the clothes dryer is German so it must be good, it had no complaints from anybody else so I was unreasonable, of course everybody else could read the language so they had no problems.
While were talking about the wonderful German laundry machines seems that the normal washing machine cycle is just under two hours and somebody once told me that this was to make sure the clothes were clean, and when I asked this person about people washing by their hands in times gone by and nobody seemed to die from dirty clothes they did not really have an answer.
Thursday 12th June
Friday and Saturday
The following day we drove on towards Uppsala again through forests, they must have a massive timber industry had my memory serves me right the largest match manufacturer in the world is located in Sweden and has made his millions from the humble wooden stick. With had some rain each day would have been in Sweden, the weather has been basically jersey weather and cold at night's. Again today we got rain and hail and tonight we are just pulled off the highway have parked in a parking area.
Sunday, June 15th, 2008
It was then time to head towards Grisslehamn one of the departure points for the Aland Islands between Sweden and Finland, we had thought of crossing to these islands and island hopping across to Finland, but on reflection this needs to be done when one does not have a timeframe on having to be in a spot about 2000 km away in 14 days time. We are ever have filed the documents away for next year’s adventure, or perhaps the following year.
Driving through Sweden one gets the overall impression that all of Sweden is one large rock, covered by a little bit of earth, with lots of rocks tossed around on the surface. One looks out on to a Forest as you are passing by and all you see is trees and rocks. Looking at the number of rocks I guess that the Forest industry is about all they can do with the land and they have certainly planted lots of trees. We see large piles of logs waiting to be collected and in the collection centres there is enormous piles of logs, I don't think I've ever seen as many logs on one pile as I see it as I travelled through Sweden.
We then decided that we were going to the top of Finland by the mountain route on Highway 45 which will join up with highway E4 and then E75 when we crossed over into Finland which will take us all the way through to Ivalo in preparation for crossing over into Russia.
We are currently at Alvkarleby in a motor camp beside the river for the next two nights.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
The houses we have seen today have been all most all painted a uniform dark red colour, I would call it a sort of tree colour, and this applies to almost every type of construction, and 99% of them are wood and with a large number made out of logs that I crossed over in the corners. You often see two-storey houses made of this construction and I guess they would be quite warm with the solid wood.
One normally assumes one can buy potatoes anywhere in unlimited quantities. Today we went into a large supermarket in a reasonably sized town and they had or small new potatoes sitting the bottom of the potato bin, and that was it, they had grapes, bananas, kiwifruit, avocados, but yes, they had no potatoes. The last shop had plenty of potatoes but though all new potatoes and all very very small, we pick up the largest amongst them hoping we would have a better selection at the next shop, not imagining for a second that basically have no potatoes.
Tonight we camped in the Forest, a little bit down a side road, in the quietness of the Forest.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
The roads our pretty empty, but are in very good condition, and they don't seemed to be that many houses, but when I look at the statistics I see that Sweden is almost twice the size of New Zealand and has twice the population so I guess it I feel that Sweden is sparsely populated the same must apply to New Zealand.
We stopped at another supermarket today and they had normal potatoes, both the white and the red variety, so we got enough to last us until Russia.
We came across a small settlement of houses, set aside as an open Museum, the first house was built early in the 18th century by a net man named Larsson from Finland and the family lived there for several hundred years and our house we saw were there as a result of the family being successful at trading. The almost all built without nails in the traditional log cabin style and they had split logs on the roof done in such a way that to the writer it looked very effective in weatherproofing the house.
Old churches of the 18th century can be found reasonably easy throughout Sweden and the style of the more modern churches have a solid look about them somewhat similar to their National car the Volvo.
We didn't quite reach our destination, about 30 minutes short of it I felt a little tired so we drove on to a little island in the Lake that the city of Ostersund sits on, were about 15 km by road from our destination and GPS reading are 63.13372° N 14.42677° E with a Alt of 305.90m which is a reasonable height for a large inland lake.
Friday 20th June
As we drive through this country area that we are on being the inland route, we passed through lots of villages and lots of old cars in peoples backyards and front yards. If the Swedish climate does not get to them first there will be wonderful collection of vintage cars in say 50 years time.
Eventually we felt we'd had enough driving for the day and near Asele (64.16511°N) we saw a sign indicating swimming at a Lake so we pulled and there, parked in the car park for the night.
We went thro walk around the edge of this beautiful Lake, we could see many houses around the lake, obviously summerhouses, and the area that we were in had four toilet facilities, available for use, (unlocked), they were dressing sheds for male and female, and to pontoons going out into the Lake, I guess for diving off, or swimming to.
It was a beautiful area, with beautiful golden sand, three swings, a slide, really all set up for family use, We were the only ones there, there were no swimmers, the water was about 15° so I guess by Swedish conditions it was quite warm.
Saturday, June 21, 2008
The cable way was mostly dismantled apart from a 15 km stretch which you can now ride on to view the countryside, providing you can find where it is, the guidebook says it runs from Ortrask to Menstrask and in spite of having 3 electronic maps, GPS and even paper maps we could not find any of these villages, (I assume they are villages) so we relied on there being a sign from the main Road, which there wasn't, so I guess it is a matter of looking at of on the Internet, giving more precise details on location, and put on our list of things to visit when we are next in the area.
We eventually arrived at the coast so drove on North about 30 km when we moved off the motorway and Near Abyn found a beautiful sight in the Forest where we are spending the night. (64.98933° N).
Sunday, June 22nd
We still drove through massive forests, and passed numerous lakes and houses in idyllic settings around the lakes.
As we are coming close to one motorway off ramp, Luda noticed a sign for a church, written in Swedish, and it was a very large sign, so it looked a sort of important so we went off the motorway and drove about 15 kms and discovered we were visiting the church town of Gammelstad, one of 71 original church town's throughout Sweden of which now there are only 16 left and this particular one has been made a world Heritage site.
The people in this remote area were very scattered over a large area in a church was built in a central location in the people came in to the central church for hours of devotion, to attend markets court sessions and parish meetings. It was also a place to meet friends and acquaintances from other villages so was a natural evolution for small houses to be built to accommodate the people on these pilgrimages to attend church. Initially people from the same village at the cottage is next to each other and near the roads leading from different villages to the church and this church town is one of the largest with 408 cottages comprising of 553 rooms.
This was a very interesting part of old Swedish life in this formerly remote part of Sweden, of course with modern transport and the good roads this is not the problem it once was.
So we carried on North and eventually reached the Finnish border with the twin towns, one on each side of the border with different names. Most maps show both towns but with the Finnish town of Tornio in bold letters, however we found the Swedish town of Haparanda to be the one with a larger variety of shops in some very large supermarkets and we assume this is perhaps because of slightly different taxation between the two different countries giving the Swedish town and economic edge.
So we arrived in Finland, and the first thing we saw was a Russian Orthodox Church just across the border, we paused for a moment to consider taking a photograph but then realised we would soon have a selection of hundreds to photograph.
So we started looking for a place for the night, when towards the sea and found a parking area beside a pleasure boat wharf with a beautiful looked out towards the sea so we parked out on the head land and had a peaceful night with the water lapping on the rocks a few metres away.
Monday, June 23rd
Is very interesting these rest spot's here in Finland, they cater extremely well for anybody that visits them, they have toilets, shelter, a place to light a fire, and even the firewood. Unfortunately you have to catch your own fish or polar bear, depend on whether you want white or red meat.
It was a good swing bridge at this particular spot, and on the other side there were several walks through the Forest which could take two hours if you're so inclined, and they had similar facilities along this track and the beautiful thing about it was that there was no apparent damage or Graffiti. In fact graffiti is not something you see a lot of in Scandinavia, that combined with the ability to leave your outboard motor on your boat and not have it stolen makes me wonder why Scandinavia is not a country from which we would welcome immigrants of all varieties.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
We found a very nice motor camp just before the city of Sodankyia and tomorrow we will need to go on North to check that we can actually crossed the border near Ivalo or whether we will have to go North to Kirkness
They have stopped selling the insurance at the border so we have to buy is in the city before we leave so that was easily accomplished, then I discovered when I looked at the Visa that with crossover on the third and not the first as I had thought so we have an extra two days.
We started seeing a lot of reindeer on the Road and beside the Road, some of the males have got wonderful head of antlers and the but like sheep in New Zealand they just wander over the Road as if they own it. We see warnings of Elk everywhere and the only two we have seen on this trip were in a Forest on the edge of the motorway with a high fence between us and them.
We camped for the night on the Road to the border and a beautiful car park right beside a beautiful Lake that was totally surrounded with Finnish mosquitoes, and they are no laughing matter.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
We found a Tom Tom addition for LPG stations throughout Norway which we downloaded and put into our GPS, once in we asked the GPS to locate the closest filling station and it was at Alta Norway some 350 km away from our then location so as we had extra time we decided to go for a drive across the mountains and see if the information we had downloaded was correct.
It of course was a wet day, as it had been the last two or three days, so fortunately that made it a day that you could not do much else, so a drive to Norway was a good substitute were doing nothing.
Was interesting the scenery in Finland is almost all forests but once we crossed over into Norway the forests disappeared and we had lots of little lakes and very, very wet ground, we did not have to cross a high range of mountains and the highest point was at about 340 m and then about 40 km out the Road started going down at 8% incline, and of course the river that was beside the Road had a similar slope so that made for very interesting rapids in amongst the monstrous rocks, and of course with all the rain we were having all the waterfalls were in full display. We saw quite a lot of snow still on the ground which was surprising seen it was raining, but the outside temperature was at 8°C so it is not surprising that the snow was not getting its full opportunity to disappear for the year.
We have camped in a small car park beside a river about 20 km outside Alta and is beginning to look like they may be alone with the of a crowd here tonight as there are currently at least three motorhomes and one caravan. We are currently at 69.82421° N by 23.19883° E.
Friday, June 27th, 2008
Norway is one hour different in time from Finland, so we had an hour to kill before the gas station opened, so we said the GPS to take us to the centre of Alta and took us somewhere but certainly not the centre. I asked the GPS for the closest Bankomat and suggested a site some 34 km the way so we cruise around the city looking for such a machine and finally gave up and went to the police station which by chance we parked opposite and the Lady that answered the window admitted she spoke a little bit of English and was greatly relieved when all I asked for was a Bankomat, because she said with the great smile, just around the corner in this building!
So eventually we were all tank up, 38 L of LPG, probably the most expensive 38 L I've ever bought, but we have experienced being without gas, and without gas you have no hot water, no refrigerator, and no cooking so it is one of these peace of mind things.
So we headed back towards Finland, there was an overcast day but no rain so we were able to photograph the incredible rapids that we passed yesterday, the volume of fresh water we have seen in Scandinavia is absolutely incredible particularly when one sees some of the fast flowing rivers it makes you realise how much rain they get and how much of a water catchment they have with all of the snow on the mountains.
We again admired the snow still remain on the low mountains as we passed them, and we pulled into a small rest area with lots of seating for picnics, beside a fast flowing river that had another river joining it in the form of a waterfall, nothing like Niagara but still quite impressive. Sitting in the car park we looked over to the left and saw what looked like some unmelted snow, and walking back from the waterfall ahead of Luda, I thought I will walk over to that, grab a handful and leave at on the step of the motorhome for when Luda arrives back. About six paces from the snow I thought oh! It is frozen, that is why it has not melted, so I walked up to it, put my foot on it, and then realised it was a piece of stone.
When I told Luda of this, she said she had walked up close and done a photograph of it and still believed it was snow so it is interesting how you can see what you want to see.
Now I wonder of all of the snow we see in the hills is not white stone! If it is, there a tremendous amount of white stone through a lot of the hills in Norway.
We found a very large car park off the road about 160 K. from our destination so we decided to camp there for the night, and whilst I am dictating this, Luda has walked down to the lake, and in my words, catching our meal for tonight, fortunately we have a large deep-freeze full of food if for any reason she is unsuccessful.
Saturday 29th June
Our next newsletter will start with the border crossing, hopefully uneventful.
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