Our trip is finally over

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17th,18th,19th/06/2018 Berlin, Germany

Just before we left we managed to get up the castle tower in Lagow and it was worth it for the pictures I could take up there.

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On the way, we pulled into a fuel station to fill the tank using all the zlotys we had left. The old chap who filled the tank was bemused when I filled his hand with all the small change we had over. We just had to laugh. To speed the journey, we jumped on the Polish toll road. After the short run on the toll part of the motorway, Elaine handed over a 5 euro note, and the nice toll lady gave Elaine some change in zloties.

I am really excited about our visit to the city of Berlin. My memory takes me back to the exciting spy books I have read based on Berlin, like John Le Carre’s, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and Smiley’s People. Who could forget the role matt Damon played in the film Bourne Identity and Michael Caine, who played Palmer in Funeral in Berlin. Well, tomorrow we will be in that city. I know the Berlin Wall is not there anymore, but I gather there is still a massive difference between East and West Berlin. So, it is going to be interesting to find out.

Elaine’s nephew and his wife, Lee and Angela, are flying out to see us so we have had to find a campsite attached to a hotel. We are at Hotel and Camping Sud, and we are parked right by the river bank and close to the bar and the hotel. They won’t arrive until late, so we are relaxing, sitting watching the many small and large boats pass by.

 

From here we will just have a short bus and then a train ride to get into the capital and the journey shouldn’t take more than half an hour. The nice, quiet, reserved couple(lol) arrived about 11.30 that evening and I shouldn’t think anyone else got any sleep in that hotel until I insisted that it was time for Elaine and me to go back to our motorhome.

Day 2, Berlin

The four of us had breakfast outside our motorhome and then we went off to go into Berlin. Once we had a map of the capital it became clear that all the things we wanted to see were spread all over the city. Although we had bought a 24-hour travel ticket, we were better off going on a hop-on, hop-off bus so we could listen to the commentary about what we passed, to know where we wanted to get off the bus to look at anything a little closer.

We soon got off the first bus. The lady who was giving the live commentary was not very good. She spent most of her time talking in German and holding private conversations with the two ladies of her own age, sitting on the seats opposite to her. I interrupted her flow of German and said that we were English, and we wanted to know what she was talking about. It improved slightly but we still got off that bus and waited for the next one. This lady was brilliant, so now we were all pleased that we had spent our money on this form of sightseeing. We hopped off and on at different places and one place we all wanted to see closer was the Brandenburg Gate.

P1030684The bus, anyway, could not take its usual route because of the World Cup. The gate was cordoned off and huge screens had been set up, so the German matches could be screened for the public.

 

 

Of course, the bus took us to Check Point Charley and the bit of the Berlin Wall that has been retained for prosperity. We had a great day of sightseeing and as usual, I will put some of the photos I took on the blog.

 

We took the train back Wannsee, the closest stop to the campsite and sat in the front garden of bar/hotel and the laughter and the conversation between the four of us never stopped. Later back at the campsite, we had a great meal Elaine had prepared, whilst watching the Germans at the bar watching the German team’s defeat against Mexico. I have never known Germans being so quiet when in a gathering of their country people.

Day 3 Berlin

Before going off for the day, I booked a Channel Tunnel crossing for Sunday the 24th of June. This year’s tour is nearly over. All good things have to come to an end at some time and we have left ourselves a nice easy four-day drive, to cross from Berlin to Calais.

For a total change from the hustle and bustle of big city sightseeing, the four of us took the bus back to Wannsee and then took a ferry ride across the large lake there to the small town of Alt Kladow.

 

We had a look around the town and then had a wander beside the lake before catching the ferry for the return trip. We had a barbeque in the evening. Whilst chatting it came up about the hour difference between where we are now and the time in the UK.

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Angie said, “if it is an hour earlier back home, why can’t some one phone up and tell you the result of the football match before you have seen it here”. I never thought of that! We will still be this side of the channel on Saturday evening. The draw for the lottery is at 7-30 pm, so if some can text me the lottery draw numbers, I will have plenty of time to buy a ticket on line.

After another great night with the pair of them, Lee and Angela went off to their hotel room we had an early night because of the early flight back to Manchester for Lee and Angela. It would also be an early start for us as I had promised that I would drop them off at the airport in time for their flight.

20th/06/2018 Dortmund, Germany

We said our goodbyes after a memorable few days and we got on our way. Elaine had divided the drive into four easily managed drives. I felt really good, so I drove on passed the first stop and stayed on the motorway until we got to Dortmond. We pulled into a camper stop, just outside a marina having driven 329 miles on the very busy Autobahn. The boss of the site came over to introduce himself and said he saw very few English using his camp. There was a lot to look at there, and of course photograph.

 

In one corner of the marina, I counted fifteen carp, all swimming on the surface on this very hot day.

21st/06/2018 Antwerp, Belgium

We woke up to rain. We were soon on our way. I was really pleased that we had driven so far yesterday. Although the rain soon stopped, the wind started to blow very strongly. The cross winds were horrendous every time we went passed open land. A lot of the time it was safer to just get in the first lane and stick to the same speed as the countless lorries going the same way as us. Our route took us towards Eindhoven and we were crossing yet another border into the Netherlands. With all the flat lands around, the cross winds were difficult to deal with, but we soldiered on. We crossed yet another Schengen border into Belgium. The 187 miles we did today took longer than our drive from Berlin to Dortmund, so I was pleased to pull into the little site for our stop for the night. I just cannot believe how cold it is here. The high wind and the grey sky are about as cheery as the frosty countenance of the receptionist here. Just as well we can keep smiling.

22nd /06/2018 Nieuwpoort, Belgium.

Today, the sun is out but the wind hasn’t abated. We have only 81miles to do today so we took a nice easy drive to this small town which lies right on the North Sea coast, and close to the French border. Our drive tomorrow will be only 48miles all down the coast road to get us to the Eurotunnel, Calais. We took a walk to the sea front and looking at the roughness of the sea I was very pleased that we had chosen to use the tunnel and not one of the ferry routes to get back home.

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The beach here is amazing but you would have to be a hardy soul to sit on the beach today. We did watch a few groups trying to launch some rubber dinghies into the surf, but the incoming waves were much too strong.

23rd /06/2018 Calais, France

We arrived at Carrefour’s car park to wait for our train ride under the English Channel. We parked in an area set aside for motorhomes and there was a constant flow of vans, in and out, all day and night. The whole area around all the channel tunnel complex is surrounded by high, very secure looking, fencing topped with razor wire. We saw no sign anybody trying to find their way into Britain by breaking into vehicles. It all appeared very safe and secure.

We spent quite a few hours wandering around the huge, two level shopping complex and saw people with large trollies, laden mainly with alcohol, going back to their vehicles. We found that we could buy a good quality, French Merlot wine for the equivalent of £1 a bottle so we went to get a trolley of our own.

We would have an early start, so we settled down for an early night. No such luck! A group started playing very close to where we were parked, and they were just the opening performers at a full on, rock concert. If that wasn’t bad enough an accompanying firework display started just before midnight and that went on for a full 20 minutes. So much for our early night.

Our time for boarding was 08.50 and we were amazed just how easy it all was. We were waved through the French border control and the English customs officer just looked at our passports and asked “are there just the two of you?” Above us, machines scanned our vehicle to make sure we weren’t bringing in any extra passengers. As we were early we were sent to a holding carpark until it was time for our train. Of course, we had to wait right by Eurotunnel’s own “duty free shop” but it was nowhere near as cheap in the Carrefour store. Even the coffee was over-priced.

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Our crossing was called and in no time we were driving up the train carriage to stop right behind the vehicle in front of us. 35 minutes later, we were driving off the train and because of the time difference, we effectively arrived in England before we left France. The road off the train took us straight onto the M20 without any delays and we were home, here in Amesbury, at 10.45 am. A great trip over for another year.

A summary of our 2017-2018 tour.

By the time you read this we will be home in Amesbury. We left home on the 3rd October last year and have added, in total, 8137 to the mileage on the van. We have been in 14 different countries and have crossed 18 borders. The new countries we have visited are Greece, Bulgaria,  Romania, Slovakia and Poland and we will definitely be returning to these countries. They have been a revelation and there is so much more to see there.

We have driven on motorways and on roads so narrow, we just drive hoping no one is coming the other way. I will laugh when someone complains about potholes on English roads. We have driven on roads so bad that that I am surprised that our teeth haven’t shaken loose. I have driven through many large cities without any problems until now. The new satnav we bought especially for the trip decided it didn’t know where it was whenever we went under the over-head wires on tramways and whenever it wanted a rest, it would just turn itself off. How that particular machine hasn’t been thrown out of the window, I will never know.

We have met some amazing people from all different nationalities. We have met up with our Australian friends, Brian and Wendy, and have travelled with them for many miles, and have hired cars together to travel to places not suitable for our motorhomes. We have helped each other overcome small problems with our motorhomes when they occurred. How great was it when we met this pair in Croatia on our last trip?

We have eaten out a lot more this tour and Elaine has added some new recipes and food ideas to her food preparation repertoire. For instance. for breakfast, Elaine will now do fruit in a bowl, covered in plain yoghurt with a good layer of runny honey. We were first given this after a Greek meal and now it has become a regular treat.

I just love doing the blog which I started on our initial European tour, just to let the family know what we were doing and where we were. This trip in the 18 blogs I have written just over 35,000 words and WordPress tells me that it has been read in the following countries this year UK, USA, Greece, Norway, Poland, Morocco, Spain, Romania, Portugal, France, Bulgaria, Ireland, Saudi Arabia, Philippines, Australia, Thailand, South Africa, Vietnam, United Arab Emirates, Germany, Russia, Netherlands, Italy, Japan, Croatia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, Sweden and Indonesia. I just wish my old junior school English teacher was still alive. I would have sent her the blogs and a copy of my school report that she wrote at the time.

Travelling like this wouldn’t be possible for us without the technology that enables us to keep in to keep in touch with those important in our lives. My first thank you I have to give, is to Elaine. Her organizational skills have been amazing. I tell everyone, I am just the driver, and the Toilet Wallah and Elaine has plotted our course throughout this journey and is the perfect quartermaster. She is the brains of the outfit. My second thank you goes to the family. None of you have made us feel guilty about being away so much and doing our own thing and thank you Lynsey for handling our post so expertly. Special thanks go to Steve, our next-door neighbour. How you have looked after our house etc. is greatly appreciated and Elaine and I, both know that you have taken neighbourliness to another level. Thank you, Steve. Finally, I want to thank anyone who has read my blogs, especially to anyone that has read all 18. For you I say thank you for your perseverance and your endurance.

Our short visit to Poland is nearly over

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11th/06/2018 Wroclaw, Poland (2nd day)

We were up very early this morning, we wanted to catch the tram into Wroclaw, in time, to join the 10 am walking group for a tour around the city. Once I had managed to buy some tram tickets from the machine we got on the tram and had to get off after 10 stops. We managed to find the particular statue in the main square and we were in time. While we waited we noticed a sign on a shop advertising dwarf maps and just behind the statue were three brass dwarfs.P1030462.JPG

Lucas, our guide for the morning, started by giving a brief history of Wroclaw. After, he explained about the dwarfs. Around Wroclaw, there are around 500. In communist times it was illegal to collect in groups of more than three people. So, the students started collecting together as a protest. The people thought that was a good thing, so they started to do the same. Where the first public meeting was held and subsequent meetings, small model, dwarfs were erected. Now the big companies have jumped on the band wagon and they erect them depicting what the company does. As he spoke, a school group of little children came past all dressed as little red, dwarfs.

P1030467.JPGThey looked so cute.

One of the things he did say which will come as a surprise. The economy in Wroclaw, for instance, is booming and the unemployment rate is as low as 2%. We all know of the Poles that flocked to Britain. It is little wonder that they are returning to their, now very prosperous, home country. He also told us that the people here are very religious and are mainly catholic. He also said that the Poles have a very popular King and Queen. An Act of Parliament has made Jesus and Mary, King and Queen of Poland. Probably another reason why the economy is doing so well. I do not think their Royal Family cost a fraction of what our Royalty cost us or the President costs America.

Because different rivers meet at Wroclaw, then there are 128 river bridges in the city. To get to Church Island, Lucas the guide took us over the “Lovers Bridge”.P1030485.JPGEach side of the foot bridge is covered in padlocks. Lovers proclaim their everlasting love by writing on the padlock and then it is locked onto the bridge and the key is thrown into the river. Looking at this bridge, the enterprising Pole with his stall selling padlocks nearby, should be quite wealthy by now.

A lot of the city was badly damaged during Second World War when Poland was trying to defend itself from the Russians, but the rebuilding has been done so well that it is hard to see what is old and what has been built to look old.  We went past a wall covered in bullet holes.P1030478.JPG Lucas said it was one of the walls used by the Russians for executing captured Polish army officers.P1030521.JPGFurther on we saw a memorial for the 22,000 Polish army officers, policemen and other prisoners, who in 1940, by the order of Stalin were all shot in the head. Nice man that Stalin

In the massive main square there is a beautiful building that looks as though it should be a church although it is in fact the town hall. On the side wall, I spotted these two delightful statues either side of each other.

He, obviously, has had too much to drink and his wife has her shoe off ready to punish his for his drunkenness.

This is a beautiful city and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit and I will let the pictures show just a few of the places and things we saw as we walked around.

12th, 13th /06/2017 Poznan

After a night of heavy rain, it never seemed possible, but today has turned into another gloriously sunny day. We drove northward to get to Poznan. There are two reasons for choosing this city. The first is that the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide tells us that there is a lot to see here and secondly it is due east from Berlin. We will do one more two-day stop in Poland, somewhere in the countryside and then we will have a bit of a break in Berlin.

We have parked in the grounds of Hotel Malta and it was a very short walk to get to an amazing lake.

I presume this is a man-made because of the shape. It is long and narrow and is used for rowing races, canoe racing and dragon boat racing There is seating for spectators and the World Junior Rowing Championship will be held here in a few weeks’ time. On one side of the lake is an artificial ski slope with a luge track and on the other bank there is a very large thermal bath / swimming pool complex. By the time we had walked to the far end of the lake near the fountain, we were parallel to the cathedral and very close to the old town centre. We decided to walk back to relax in the afternoon and leave the visit until the next day.

Day 2, Poznan

We caught the tram to go to the city. Poznan is a city on the Warta River situated in western Poland and is known for its university and the old town, with its Renaissance- style buildings in the old market square.P1030531.JPG

It is Poland’s fifth largest city. Similar to our Christmas markets, there was a flourishing Summer Market going on all around the large square.P1030530

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A lot of the buildings around the old centre are beautifully decorated especially the Poznan Town Hall House. As it is near the end of the school year there are lots of school parties everywhere. A lot of the younger boys, from the school groups, were all wearing plastic war helmets and carried shields and swords that they had bought at some of the stalls.

Unfortunately, there was not a walking tour today, so we did our best to find all the interesting things to see. We found the palace which is now a museum and went into a very ornate church where a service was going on.

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For a change, we actually went to the main shopping area of the city and there saw this magnificent water feature which if you want to, you can walk through the middle of all the running water.

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On the way to the cathedral island we had to cross a large road with two tram tracks running through the centre. We got a green light to cross the first section. We had to wait in the middle for a tram to cross. We got a green light and started to cross when Elaine caught her foot on the brickwork surrounding one of the rails. Down she went. One side of her face and her lip are badly cut and bruised as well as her knee which is painful for her to walk on. Always perfectly dressed, she was dirty all over from the dirt on the tram rails. A Polish lady and myself got Elaine to the other side of the road. We were very close to the cathedral so Elaine went down to the public conveniences to clean her wounds and to stop the bleeding. The resolute side of Elaine came to the fore. Despite looking like she had just done 14 rounds with a champion boxer she still insisted on visiting the cathedral and then walking back to the motor home.

As bad as it was, the good thing is that Elaine could easily have broken a bone or sustained a more serious injury. She had landed heavily on the left side of her face and body and her knee is swollen and she has pain in her arm. Already, she jokes that she doesn’t need collagen injections in her top lip. It is such a pity that our lasting memory of Poznan will be of the tramway crossing.

14th, 15th, 16th /06/2018 Lagow, Poland

It is very opportune that our last few days in Poland will be spent in the small town of Lagow (population 1630) and not in another big city. It is a great opportunity for Elaine to rest up and get over the shock of her fall. We are parked in somebody’s back garden which they have turned into a small camper stop which is right in the centre of the town. Lagow is a two-hour drive from Berlin and is due east from the German city.

Poland is a country of lakes and forests. Forest covers almost one third of the country and there are around 10,000 Polish lakes in Poland. Most of the lakes are concentrated in two areas: Mazury, in the north-east corner of the country, close to the Lithuanian border; and in Lubuskie (the district), in the far west of Poland, close to the German border and this is where we are now. Lagow is in the centre of the Lubuskie Lake District which consists of several hundred lakes and the information leaflet says it is one of the major tourist attractions of the region.

Tourists visit the lakes, not just for the wonderful scenery, but also for the water sports and to spend their holidays on clean sandy beaches by crystal clear water. Apparently, it is also a very popular destination in the winter for, when the lakes freeze, the smooth ice that is formed makes it perfect for ice skating.

Lagow is on an isthmus (a narrow strip of land which connects two larger land masses and separates two bodies of water). The two very deep lakes either side of the town are Trzesniowskie and Lagowskie.

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The castle has now been turned into an hotel, and in the woods around the town, on top of a hill, lies the remains of the original settlement. We have already been on one walk and there are other paths we will explore.

This is so nice to be in this beautiful countryside. It is so different from all the city visiting we have done and it has given us another view of this wonderful country.

Tomorrow we will drive into Germany, en route to home. One thing worth noting. We very rarely see British vehicles and in the last four countries we have visited, we have seen less than ten British motorhomes and caravans and one of those was Brian and Wendys’, the Aussies. It is the first time we have visited this side of Europe and we will be back. All we have had is a taster of the countries since Greece, as time was getting on, and we do have a home to go back to and our family and friends to catch up with; we have been away a long time.

 

Our last day in Slovakia, and now in Poland

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04/06/2018 Zilina, Slovakia

For our last stop in Slovakia, we travelled 125 miles northward towards the Polish border and pulled into the most beautiful campsite (as you will see from the pictures) near the town of Zilina.

The owner was very friendly and said that he would be barbequing that evening if we wanted to join him. There was a corral that had goats and a sheep and a large cage full of songbirds and the nature noticeboard showed bears and boar amongst the animals that can be found roaming around the local countryside.

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Google picture                                      My Picture                                          We saw a hedge hog and then an animal that we couldn’t recognise. It turned out to be a wild hamster. The hamster shot off as soon as I approached so I will show my picture and one I got off the internet to identify what it was.

Suddenly the heavens opened. The storm that ensued meant we couldn’t go on a hike in the wilderness around the camping field, so we sat under our sun canopy and played RummiKub. I think it is unfair that I was accused of cheating just because I won the afternoon competition. We collected the rain that poured off the canopy and it almost filled our water tank in the van.

In the evening we went to the bar and enjoyed an amazing barbeque. The fish the owner cooked was cooked to perfection. It was fascinating to hear his views on living in Slovakia.

05/06/2018 Wieliczka, Poland

We crossed the border and stopped at the first town we came to, so we could get some zloty (the polish currency).  Some of the countries in Europe that do not have Euros as their currency are still happy to take Euros, but we have been told that is not the case in Poland. The route we chose, unbeknown to us, was on the route of a new motorway that is under construction. There was hold up after holdup and then we would just get going when a tractor, driven by one of the construction workers would pull in front of us. Finally, we pulled into the car park of the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Luckily for us we were still in time to get to the 5 pm English tour of this amazing visitor attraction.

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The mine opened 700 years ago, and they have only, in the last 20 years, stopped mining salt although they still produce salt but by a different process, which is less hazardous to the workers lives. The place now is a goldmine but for a different reason. Coaches bring visitors from 8 am to the evening. The car parks around are always full of vehicles. This is a massive visitor attraction. Our guide came out to collect us and we were provided with an ear piece and a device, so he could show us around whilst listening to him talking about the mine and its workers. There were 10 in our group and first we had to descend 364 steps down to the first level.

The temperature remained a constant 13-14 degrees and there was a nice breeze pumped around from fans on the surface. Every so often we would have to go through doors that were necessary to keep the atmosphere at a constant level. All along we were being told aboutut the life of the miners and their 10 hour a day, six days a week spent underground. Mock ups of workers going about the business of extracting salt were cleverly arranged to explain what was done.

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In one area, three models were arranged to show how they dealt with the hazardous explosive gases. In the early days, a gang would go around with long sticks with lighted tapers at the end. They would reach up to the ceilings to set light to the gas. The guide then set off a demonstration flash, bang effect.

As we got down further we then went into different areas to see what has made the mine world famous and why the site has been listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site. There are statues, all carved by the miners from solid salt.

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There are chapels where everything is made from salt and the huge chandeliers have been constructed using hundreds of salt crystals.

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I will show some of the many photographs I took, and I think you will understand why it was such an amazing experience. The lowest level we got down to was 130 metres and down there, there is a restaurant, and lots of other ways you can spend your money. Luckily, we didn’t have to climb stairs to get back to the surface as a lift brought us from that level in just 30 seconds.

We stayed in the car park for the night and the four of us agreed that our first day in Poland had been very pleasurable and we couldn’t wait to see what else the country had to offer during what will be an all too short visit of this very large country.

6th7th 8th /06/2018 Cracow

Cracow is known for being one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. We drove just 12 miles to get from our parking place at the salt mines to get parked by the river. We had left early so we were soon ready for the 3 km walk into the centre. Most of the way took us along the wide river Wisla and soon the first of many magnificent buildings came into view. P1030233.JPG

Cracow was the capital city of the country until 1596, when the capital was moved to Warsaw. The city escaped significant damage during two World Wars and in 1978 UNESCO declared it a World Heritage site.

If you do not feel like walking than there are lots of alternatives. There is a great tram system and of course there are the city buses. In the huge square there are beautifully decorated horse and carriages, lots with smartly dressed ladies all vying with one another to get a fare.P1030263.JPG

Open air electric vehicles are everywhere and on every corner around the centre are sales persons advertising for people who want one tour or another. One company has 1930’s style, modern vehicles doing the tours and when you get near the river there are small and large boats to chose from for your cruise. We walked everywhere and by the end of our first day Wendy’s Fit Watch showed that we had walked over 11,000 steps.

The city is as beautiful as it is known for. I compare all the cities we have visited by the number of photographs I take as we walk around, and I took an awful lot in Cracow. In the main market square there was a girl, dancing troupe performing and that added to the colour and the excited hub-bub of the countless people in the huge square.

As we have done in other cities, we went to join an English speaking, free walking tour. Unfortunately. The girl’s voice was so quiet that we couldn’t hear what she had to say so we just took ourselves around the city.

 

Later on, we went off to the Jewish quarter and had quite a walk to get to Oskar Schindler’s enamel factory. He, I am sure you will know, saved many Jews from being taken to the concentration camps.

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After all the steps around the salt mine and the around this city we took a taxi back to the campsite and had a great barbeque. There is so much we still haven’t seen that we will walk back into the centre for a second day.

Day 2 in Cracow

Before we went off for a second day in the city we arranged to stay here another day and that we would be picked up here the following day for a day trip with a guide to go to the sites of one of history’s most horrific crimes, Auschwitz and Birkenau. It will not be a fun day out, but it is something we all feel we must do.

The weather was much warmer in the morning and we walked the other side of the river to get into the city.

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We wandered around so we could see more of this wonderful place. When we got to the main square, a huge track had been formed all around the square and a large stage had been erected overnight. There was to be a bike race held there in the afternoon, so we made sure we would be back in time for the start. We had a great “meal of the day” in a fabulous restaurant decorated in a medieval style.

Back at the main square, we set ourselves up at just past the fourth corner. Cyclist of all ages warmed up going around and around the cobbled track. Then the racing started in earnest.

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P1030340.JPGThe children raced in different age groups and we felt for the lad who didn’t make it around the corner. His tyres skidded on the cobbles and he was lucky not to be run over by the young competitor just behind him. After medical treatment he got up and hobbled away.

Then came the proper race. These were professional teams. There easily must have been 60-70 riders all in teams. Finally, off they went and the last riders each lap were sent off the field.

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As the race continued the field dwindled down to about 20 riders and they were left to battle it out. One rider built up such a lead he wasn’t far off lapping some of the others. I have, without success, tried to find who the winner was and what team he belonged to. It was exciting to watch as each circuit, the riders got so close to the metal barriers we were standing behind. On the way back, we called into a bar which is on top of a hotel and gives great views over the river.

 

Day 3 in Cracow

The very modern mini-bus arrived prompt at 8 am. We were pleased that the bus was mostly full, and we didn’t have to go from hotel to hotel picking people up before going to Auschwitz and Birkenau. During the hour journey the guide played a video that was used at the Nuremberg War Trials. The film was awful to watch but gave a lot of information about what happened just over 70 years ago.

Different to any other blog I have done I will give no details of what we saw. The only pictures I will show are of the gates of the two camps.

The rest of what we saw and heard today will remain with us. What we have seen and heard today will never be forgotten. I am glad we went, but I wish we hadn’t learnt what we have learnt today. My only comment is that today we learnt more about the horrible depths of man’s inhumanity to man.

9th/06/2018 In a forest near the small village of Hutki

75 miles north- west of Cracow is our next stop for the night. Brian and Wendy have gone off in a different direction. They have headed north as they intend, amongst other things, to fit in a visit to some relatives of Wendy who live in Copenhagen. It is very quiet here. The only noises are the gentle breeze, the bird song, and my stomach rumbling as I wait for my lunch. There is one other noise that I will tell you about, as long as no-one tells Elaine. It is the croaking of the little green frog that I spotted by the lily pads in the pond beside us.

I will not put the picture I took of the frog, in consideration of the people I know that suffer from ranidaphobia (the fear of frogs).

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Hope you like the picture of the dragon fly; the little fella is such a gorgeous colour. As I typed that last sentence, Google underlined the word fella, telling me I should consider using gender-neutral language. I humbly apologise to anyone is offended but I know it is a male dragonfly as the females are a totally different colour. You would have thought Google would have known that as well.

After the mental bashing of yesterday It is so nice to be on this quirky little site. Once again, we are the only campers here and I must say, the tranquillity here is bliss. The blue skies disappeared, covered by a blanket of high cloud and it certainly cooled it down to a nice comfortable temperature

10th, 11th/06/2018 Wroclaw

Our chosen destination today is Wroclaw. The sat nav kept trying to turn us onto a motorway that is just at the start of being built. Every time we didn’t turn when we were told, for the next umpteen miles we were given detailed instructions of where to turn around. Just to demonstrate my patience, I have to tell you that the wretched thing didn’t get thrown out of the window. It, I mean the sat nav, showed its impatience with us for not following its instructions: it just turned itself off and wouldn’t be started again.

So, Elaine’s map reading came into play and after 142 miles, we arrived at our stop for the night. Tomorrow we will take ourselves into the City as our book says that there are lots to be seen there. We met a German woman in Greece. When we told her about going into Poland, she said “What do you want to go to Poland for? It will be like stepping back into the 1950s” She is just the proof that you shouldn’t make wild statements when you do not know what you are talking about. So far, and I know it is early days in our travels here but there is nothing old fashioned or dated in anything we have seen so far. We do not see British motorhomes travelling the Eastern European countries. All I can say is that they do not know what they are missing.

 

Goodbye Romania, Hello Slovakia

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28/05/2018 Culj Napoce

Our short tour of Romania is nearly over. We have loved it and will definitely return when we have the chance. Although it is true that some of the campsites are not what you would call first class, but none have been that bad that we have driven away from them. Our aim today is to eat up some of the miles towards the Hungarian border. When we came into Romania we bought a vignette for 7 days and unless we buy another then we must leave the country by tomorrow. The other reason is that time is moving on.  Our great odyssey must come to an end as the middle of July is fast approaching, and we still have some of Poland we want to see before we head for home.

So, we drove to Culj Napoce. The campsite is up a steep, stony, rough road. We got nearly to the top and the van came to a shuddering stop. Just a little tip here. If you ever want to go off roading, do not have a fully laden motorhome as your choice of vehicle. We had stopped because the tyres couldn’t grip on the loose stones. I rolled back and tried again. Five times, we came to a stop. The sixth time I rolled back much further and tried zig zagging up to the top. We made it, but only just. An archery club field, in a clearing in the forest, has within the last year been turned into a campsite. There were five caravans dotted around the field. At the end there is a sort of bar area with archery targets on the wall for decoration. Five toilets and a shower have been quite amateurishly constructed in a line. The doors and the back are made if thin tongue and groove wood with all the knot holes left to allow a peeping tom a wonderful opportunity to follow, his or her, past-time. Not the best facilities for those that are shy and retiring.

Almost as soon as I got out of the van, the young German, from one of the caravans, came over to ask how on earth had we had managed to get that (pointing at Harriet) up the hill. He said the only way, for him, was to get his wife and his two very young children out of the car for their safety and then he took an almighty rush up the slope and just made it over the brow of the steepest part of the road.

We relaxed for the rest of the day in the beautiful sunshine spoilt only by the phantom bugler. Somewhere, in the forest above us, someone was practicing (and practicing, and practicing) the same piece over and over again. Whoever it was must have a fine set of lungs because it never stopped. Obviously, he was getting the hang of it with all this practice, so we hoped that he would stop. Whoever it was, made a hash of the next repeat so the bugling continued. The annoying thing was that the noise stopped, and I found myself humming the tune. It had got inside my head.

29th,30th /05/2018 Hajduboszormeny, Hungary (try saying that if you need to ask for directions)

A long drive today of 142 miles through the beautiful farmlands of Romania to get to the border. It did take quite a long time because we went through countless long villages and towns and it seemed as if, no sooner out of one and you were back down to 50 km an hour to go through the next one.

Elaine passed the time taking lots of pictures of the beautiful countryside, some of the nice building and churches we passed and the odd-looking hay piles that we saw everywhere. It appears that lots of houses in the villages all have plots of land to grow their own crops.

Finally, we reached the border. The Romanian guard was very chatty as he took our passports and asked if we had enjoyed his country and where had we been? The Hungarian was a little more serious but very helpful. He had a look inside our van, presumably for stowaways. He said we could pull up just passed the checkpoint to get a vignette and park there to use the canteen Elaine had spotted there. We went in and one look at the clock told us we would have a 25-hour day today. In an instance of 12 metres it had gone from 2 pm to 1 pm, my ideal lunch time. It is good to be an honest citizen, the whole place was filled with police from both countries and at another table sat the customs and excise crew, all with their guns in their holsters. It would have been very hard to remain looking innocent if we had had something to hide.

I do try, as much as possible, to avoid talking about the mundane things in our lives like keeping up with the washing and shopping for food. However, there always has to be an exception. Just across a roundabout on the way to the campsite we spotted a Lidl supermarket. When we got to the till I imparted with more cash than I have ever paid out for our shopping. The bill came to 11,867 Ft. Mind you as £1 is approximately 365 Hungarian Forints, so our bill actually came to a miserly £32.51.

We then arrived at Camping Termal, (Thermal) and chose a pitch with some sun and some shade as the temperature was again a scorching 34°C. The reason for choosing this site is to enjoy the free armband we both received when we booked in, which gives us free use of the very large thermal baths set up on the grounds. The facilities are first class.

There is an Olympic sized swimming pool, with a constant 25° temperature. There are outdoor thermal pools each allowed to heat to different marked temperatures. These have a discolouration due to the sulphur and other chemicals that have been bought to the surface. There are also outdoor pools for the little ones and a pool with a slide for the kids to play in. The indoor facilities are even more special. As you can see from the picture, the oval building contains varying pools all at different temperatures. Under the water in each pool are places to sit or lay so you can soak up the goodness. The pool I like the best is the smaller pool that constantly remains at 40°, just like being in a huge bath. The only thing lacking was the bar of my favourite soap.

Elaine stayed mostly in one of the larger pool areas. She either stood under the strong jets of water coming from overhead pipes getting a great massage or stood over the jets coming up from the bottom of the pool. Around the edge of the pools are steam rooms and saunas and in front is one small pool that is kept very cold indeed, so you have that instant cooling off to close the pores after a session in one of the heat rooms. The cost of the campsite is about 19 Euros per night, so it must be quite understandable why we chose to stay another night.

Day 2 and we went into the centre of the town with a long name, Hajduboszormeny. What a beautiful town. Although traffic was allowed, we couldn’t get over how quiet the town was as most people seemed to come into the centre by bicycle or by walking. We had a look around and then wandered back.

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I know I have covered lots of odd subjects in the blogs I have done over the last few years. Well now I do have to talk about guttering. An important subject I am sure. We call the pipe that carries the rainwater off the roof a down-pipe. Presumably, because it carries the water down.P1020999.JPGSo, having a curious mind, what do they call the pipes that carry the water off the roof to a dry ditch running each side of the roads we walked up in this town? Maybe a “sticking out sideways” pipe.

The thermal baths were waiting so we went back to the camp. We spent quite a few hours swimming lengths and the luxuriating in the outdoor and then the indoor thermal pools.

We aim to leave Hungary tomorrow as we visited this lovely country mid-June 2016, but we will always remember our visit here. Tomorrow is Elaine’s birthday and we will celebrate it by crossing over yet another border to visit Slovakia, another country we have never been to before. We have been messaging our Australian friends Brian and Wendy and it looks like we will meet up again very soon. We will have lots to chat about when we do meet up.

31/05/2018 Kosice, Slovakia

We are in the Schengen Zone now so crossing the border is done without stopping. We saw some lorries had parked just over the border. So, I pulled up amongst them to buy a vignette so that I could drive on the motorways. It cost just 10 Euros for ten days which I think is really good value. We pulled into the campsite and got ready to get into town. It is Elaine’s birthday today, so we would be looking for a nice restaurant to have a celebratory meal. We asked at reception and they called a taxi for us as we were too far out to walk on this very hot day.

The driver dropped us directly opposite the old city centre and what a nice surprise we got, when we turned the corner, to see what a nice place had come to. We entered a small park area because we could see that there was a beautiful church in the centre. In front of it there was an area with all different fountains that went higher or lower as if dancing to music. When we found the tourist office, we read that it was called the Singing Fountains because sometimes music is played and at night they are lit by many coloured lights.

We went into the cathedral and noticed that for a small fee one can climb the tower. 160 steps later and I was up another tower overlooking another cities’ roof tops.

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Going down was the worst part as the stone steps were quite uneven so I had to look down the whole way. Round and round the circular steps; I felt a little bit giddy by the time I got to the bottom. Once again, Elaine had found a nice, shady spot and had waited on my return.

As we wandered around the city we looked at all the menus of the many restaurants trying to decide which one we would eat at later on. We did see a couple of beggars but everywhere was pristine. Elaine was quite taken with the well to do look of most of the people we passed. I know it is too early to form an opinion, but our first impressions of Slovakia are very positive.

The restaurant we chose was directly across the road from the Singing Fountains, so we had a great view as we sat down at the table outside. Elaine chose the chicken supreme on green beans with potato pancakes and I chose the goulash. The older chap who kept grabbing hold of the hand of the young girl sitting opposite him looked over with a “why didn’t I think of that” look on his face. After our great meals, a waitress came out with a piece of cake with a lighted candle and popped it in front of Elaine.

P1030064.JPG I had arranged the little surprise earlier with lots of miming of someone blowing out a birthday cake and then singing a few bars of the birthday song.

We flagged down a taxi for the return journey and Elaine was delighted that she had had a great birthday and she enjoyed all the birthday messages she received from all here friends and family.

1st,2nd,3rd/06/2018 Bratislava

We never intended driving all the way across Slovakia to get to the countries capital city in the one day. We left only intending to drive about half the distance to give us a good place to meet up with Wendy and Brian. Our intended stopping place was to be beside a lake / water sport centre which was situated about half way between Kosice and Bratislava. We arrived, and the lake looked perfect. We could see people fishing, further on there were people swimming and across the lake we saw paddle boarders, canoeists, and small sailing craft.  There was the campsite, but the field was empty. There was a car parked in the entrance. I pulled up behind it, so Elaine could go and book in. A woman came out and said the campsite is closed. Now what?

We drove off and then parked to decide what we should do. It was a hot day and now we had come out of our way to get here. We knew that the Aussies were on a campsite in Bratislava, so we decided to drive on to surprise them. Finally, after a total mileage of 292 miles, we arrived in the capital of Slovakia. As the country is landlocked, the lakes here are used as the nations’ sea side resorts.P1030066.JPG

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This campsite has every water sport facility you could imagine and when we arrived, the shores around the lake were packed with people enjoying the summer sun and the cooling lake water. We had only been separated just over 3 weeks, but we had lots to catch up on. Brian and Wendy had been in the capital that day, but they were more than willing to return on the Saturday to be our tour guides.

We bought our tickets from reception, €1.60 return per person. A very up to date tram took us into the centre and our tour guides for the day took us to all the things they had seen the day before.

There are lots of statues but the one I liked the best is the one of Cumil Rubberneck looking out from a manhole. Elaine just had to queue to pose with the brass Napoleonic soldier leaning over a bench in the main city square. The city has a very picturesque backdrop by way of the Bratislava castle which is now a museum of history. The main square is very impressive and the Old Town Hall, St Martins Cathedral and the Primates Palace all surround the huge main square and there are impressive, beautifully decorated buildings everywhere we walked.

It was another very hot, sunny day and the Japanese were out in force. For a nation of camera wielding tourists, they have no notion of looking and waiting when someone is taking a picture.

P1030085.JPGWe had a pub lunch and then I suggested we walk down to see the Danube in all its glory as it passes through the city. This mighty river runs through so many countries and we were not disappointed with the views we got. One of the many bridges has a unique design.

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There is a 95 metre high observation deck on the pylons of the SNP bridge. The structure looks like a huge “War of the Worlds” out of space, fighting machine and is called the Vyhliadka UFO. Having walked down to the river, walking back took us past the opera house with its many stone carvings.

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We had a great day so back at the campsite we walked down to one of the many bars. We were joined by a very garrulous German and his wife. Later we returned to our motorhome and the party really started. Then we were joined by a Swiss couple and we were encouraged to sample different alcoholic beverages and a good time was had by all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bulgaria and now Romania, it just gets better and better,

P1020677.JPG22/05/2018 Sozopol

We left the camp and headed towards the Black Sea; it so so-called because the ancient Greeks called it the “Inhospitable Sea” because it was difficult to navigate, and hostile tribes inhabited its shores. One interesting fact is the Black Sea is not very salty. The upper flow carries the fresh water off the land into the Black Sea and carries the flow into the Mediterranean. Meanwhile, the bottom flow brings in salty water from the Med and mixes with the water in the basin and that results in a comparatively low salinity at the surface of around 17.5%- 18%. I suppose that is only interesting if you go swimming and get a mouth full. It won’t taste so salty as it would in other seas.

If you ever come to Bulgaria and want to find a Lidl supermarket do not go to Yambol. We came off the motorway as we needed to shop. We got into this city and started to follow the signs. We went around and around the city following the arrows on the signs for the store. Every sign had an arrow and 2.5km on them. I now think the signs were put up by a rival supermarket chain just to wind us up. We lost almost an hour on a fruitless search and headed back to the motorway. On the way out of Yambol we had to drive through a shanty town area full of Turks who have become residents of Bulgaria. Poverty, squalor, and trash are on show throughout the area and we passed quite a few horse drawn carts full of scrap. There was a supermarket on the way through, but we were not brave enough (or foolhardy enough) to stop.

P1020613.JPGFinally, after 124 miles we pulled into the Marina at Sozopol. What a great place to stop, just around the corner from the town. We had come here to be by the black sea and to see the traditional stone and wooden houses that it is famed for. We were not disappointed. I think our van looks just as posh as the bit of a boat that was moored in front of us.P1020614 Mind you, when our motorhome gets dirty and covered in fly swats then it is down to me to clean it. Whilst we were there, two chaps spent the whole time, cleaning and polishing an already gleaming craft. Just in case you wondered, literally yards off the route we took to get into the town, we found a Lidl, open on a Sunday. It is good to shop.

23/05/2018 Nessebur, old town

We had to drive all around the bay to get further up the coast. As we drove on a fairly smooth road towards Nessebur we came across a diversion. We went miles on the detour on the most broken roads we had driven on in Bulgaria. By the time we arrived we were like a James Bond martini, shaken and not stirred. Our pots and pans had rattled about so much that we were surprised that nothing had broken. We looked at a place to stop by the marina but instead drove over the bridge to get to a car park on this World’s Heritage Site at Nessebur old town which is where we will spend the night.

This rocky peninsula on the Black Sea, settlement here goes back at least until the 6th century BC. There are remains here dating from that time. We saw the walls of the fort, from Byzantine times, when this was one of the most important ancient towns on the west coast of the Black Sea and is another UNESCO World Heritage Site,P1020689 There are lots of examples of the stone/wooden houses of the 19th century which are a typical build of the architecture of the period.  There are churches of every era, some as ruins but others that have been rebuilt over the ages.

 

Now, everywhere, there are tourist shops selling touristy type merchandise. It does upset me to see these same shops selling flick-knives, death stars, knuckle dusters and the like along side old lady’s rose petal perfume. Virtually every other building has been taken over by the selling of food in one way or another. There are restaurants everywhere. Outside is the man or lady who’s job it is to try to lure you into their establishment. Down by the bridge, on the way onto the peninsula is a bunch of women all carrying a small armful of cheap necklaces, I had to be positively rude to one of them that had Elaine by the arm trying to force her to buy the cheap merchandise.

The whole town became a lot more pleasant to walk around once the shops had closed and the place wasn’t over-run with tourists. It was nice to walk around without being accosted by over eager shop keepers. We had already chosen the restaurant we would eat at and returned later for a great meal and a couple of glasses of the local wine. We had already been warned that the Black Sea coast was very touristy. It is great to see another side of Bulgaria. We have spoken to a few Brits that have come over for package holidays they all said they were loving their holidays here.

24/05/2018 Just north of Varna

We drove through Varna and stopped just north of the city on an awful little campsite. We were charged far more than the stop is worth considering the poor quality of the facilities. We decided to stop here anyway because the campsite we called in on was deserted and looked closed and the car park attendant at the main car park said we would be charged 50 euros to stop there for the night.

The one good thing is that it is our last stop in Bulgaria and we are only 87 km (about 52 miles from the Romanian border. We have spent the afternoon going through the maps and the guidebooks and have a little plan of our route through yet another new country for us. As always, I have reminded myself about the driving rules and driving habits of the Romanians. It does sound as though it is going to be fun. Apparently, it is a national past time of the Romanian drivers to honk their horns impatiently, to intimidate any driver they consider to be driving too slowly, so they will get out of their way. In which case, I expect to get lots of that, especially if the roads are as bad as we expect them to be.  We have had lots of practice coping with the impatient, suicidal drivers as we have travelled around Greece. How can it be any worse in Romania? The other warning is about the number of horse and carts on the road, especially at night, when they can be on the road with no lights.

Lastly at our last shopping trip, Elaine has stocked up on lots of garlic. Elaine and I are now wearing small wooden crosses on chains around our necks, in preparation, and I have a small supply of wooden stakes just in case. Why? On our way out of Romania, we will definitely be having a good look around Transylvania.

25/05/2018 Eforie Nord, just south of Constanta, Romania

P1020724.JPGWe followed the coast road up to the border. Previously I had collected all our Bulgarian coins and notes it came to 66.44 BGN. I pulled into a garage, on the way, and handed it to the attendant who put fuel in to that exact mount. For fun, I showed him my now empty wallet.

Those that know everything gave us dire warnings about crossing the border between Bulgaria and Romania. The last “expert” told us that we would be ripped off by the Romanian guards as they insisted in washing the undersides of every vehicle and charging excessively for the service. He also said that the roads are so bad that it is almost impossible to drive on them without doing serious damage to our motorhome.

When we got to the very quiet border the Bulgarian guard simply came and asked for our passports and our log book for our van. OK he didn’t smile, just took them and disappeared back into his office. Five minutes later, a Romanian guard came out, smiled and returned our documents.  That was it! No van washing, no strip search and we were cleared to go. I asked him where we could pay for the road tax for our stay and he cheerfully walked us up to a window in the next building, so we could pay 6 Euros for a week of driving on their roads or 12 euros for a month.

The next 17 km of roads were perfectly smooth and pot hole free. On the way to our first night in Romania we pulled into Mangalia to get some Romanian currency. We were delighted to see that this looked like a thriving up market town. We only saw one horse and cart in the distance and Elaine remarked positively on the nice dress sense of lots of the ladies we passed. It is very early on to form any opinion about Romania but, so far so good.

We pulled into Camping Eforie and got a very cheery welcome and were told it would be 20 Lei a night with electric and park wherever we like. 20 Lei is less than £4. OK, they only have squat toilets and tiny shower cubicles, but we have perfect facilities in our van. We walked into the town and found a restaurant and had a great meal and drinks; total bill there 40 Lei (less than £8). We sampled the Romanian wine in a nice bar and that cost £3. So, £15 more than covered the lot (see kids, at least while we are in Romania, we will have a job spending your inheritance). If it was an email I would put LOL after a comment like that because I am only joking.

As you can see by the pictures, the beach here is amazing. The summer tourist season doesn’t start her until the 1st of June but everywhere you can see frantic efforts to get the place ready. We passed lots of Hotels but know this is going to be a massive tourist centre, here on the Black Sea in Romania. There are huge hotels being constructed and predict that you will be able to book your package holidays here soon and the temperature in the shade is now a warm 29 degrees centigrade.

26/05/2017 Bucharest, the capital of Romania

For us, we were up and ready to leave very early in the morning. Almost for the first time this holiday, Elaine got up and made me tea in the morning. Before driving into Bucharest, we decided to pop into Constanta just to have a quick look.P1020734.JPGWe saw the old casino, a sign of a different era. Like a lot of things built in the communist era, a lot of the buildings were very grandiose whilst the general population were on the poverty line. We walked back to the van and set off for Bucharest. We took the motorway to save time. The scenery we passed was nothing like what we expected. There was not a mountain in sight. In fact, it was just like driving through Lincolnshire on a motorway. Far into the distance, neat fields of differing crops were to be seen with only the occasional field of livestock to break up the view.

It is going to be a warm one today. After a total drive of 156 miles we drove into a very hot, sultry Bucharest. My route planner (Elaine), gives me lots of driving challenges but, negotiating Harriet right to the very centre of this bustling city has been one of the toughest. The car park for our visit to the city and for our overnight stop is within 350 metres from the second largest parliament in the world, but more of that later. The last part of the drive was the worst. The narrow street with cars parked everywhere and if the van had had an extra layer of paint, we would never have got through.

P1020744.JPGThe temperature was 33 degrees as we left the van to walk to the parliament building. We had been told that if we wanted to visit the second largest parliament building in the world, then we had to have our passports with us to gain entry. Probably, the most appropriate phrase to use about our visit is “wow”! Vast fortunes were spent on this obscene, palace of decadence by Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena, when he was the communist leader of the country. Meanwhile the people of the country were starving and down trodden. 1989 brought the uprising and him and his wife were executed by a court of the people. So, he never got to see the finish of what he wanted to be his finest legacy.

We had to wait until the 3 pm English tour and after an airport style security check and an extra payment because I wanted to take photographs with my camera, we went upstairs (there is no end to the expense we go to bring this blog to you). The guide had a flat, dead pan, tone of voice, but occasionally you got to hear his droll sense of humour coming out.

Amongst all the superlatives about the things we saw, the 5-ton light fitting in the theatre styled room he gave as the reason why people were not keen to sit in the seats below it.

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As I have done before, I will sum up our visit by just showing some of the thigs we saw there, and I am sure that you will be able to see the opulence of the build by a poor country needing emergency loans just to keep its economy afloat. After the I hour visit that was only spoilt because the views of the whole of the City from the Terrace was not allowed because the terrace was being used for a function.

From the parliament we went off over the river bridge to go to the old city. Our tour of Romania will only be a short one just like our visit to the city here. Our view of Romania so far is that we have liked what we have seen and oh yes, the only honking of horns we have heard so far was me desperately trying to warn the driver of a black Range Rover that was coming much too close as we drove through the city.

27/05/2018 Bran, Transylvania, Romania

Having seen the traffic coming into the capital, we decided to make an extra early start to our day. We were on the road at 6 am and were out of the city and on the motorway with no hold up at all. However, our wretched sat nav, that is very lucky that it hasn’t been thrown out of the window so many times suddenly decided that it didn’t know where we were at all. The map jumped from one page after another, one moment telling us to turn left on a road that wasn’t there and almost immediately after was telling me to turn around. We were going under the trolley bus overhead cables at the time so maybe that had something to do with it. We just kept going straight and ended up on the motorway anyway.

P1020802.JPGAfter that early start we were at Peles castle just after 9 am even after stopping for a bacon sandwich breakfast. We paid our money and went for a tour and although photography of inside the castle is not allowed, to make people buy the guide books, my finger accidentally kept pressing the button whilst just aiming the camera held at waist level and hoping that I was pointing it in generally the right direction. So please forgive the fact that some of the pictures are on the wonk.

By now, you probably think that about the general standard of my photography already.

On the way again and the whole panorama had changed completely. At first, we just saw the vague shapes of mountains in the distance.  Then we left the flat lands, the houses and the wooded covered mountain sides made us think of Austria or Switzerland. We aimed to stop at Brasov on the way as the guide book had shown it as a place of interest. We had a specific car park in mind as we entered this huge city. When we got there the car park was full and our road was barred, I followed a sign for another car park and got to the entrance. It was for cars only and I had to go through a No Entry sign to turn around. In the end we just had to give up as the city was so full of parked cars it was impossible to find a place for Harriet.

P1020853.JPGWe drove on to Bran and Elaine took some great photos of the mountains as we went along. Perhaps she should take all the photos from now on. We arrived at Camping Vampire and parked up. I noticed that flies were going from one to another of their dead brethren stuck all over the front of the van. They were perhaps seeing if they knew or were related to any of the hundreds we had killed today on our way here. Out came the wash bucket again.

After washing the van, we went off to walk the short distance to go to see Castle Bran. The whole town is taken up by the tourist trade. There are stalls everywhere, each one selling almost exactly the same as their neighbour. The castle is as spectacular as we expected it to be. You have to walk around a bit to get shots of the different aspects of the castle because of the many trees that surround the rocks on which the castle stands.

P1020913.JPGWe paid our entrance fees and went up the ramp to enter Dracula’s castle.

P1020910.JPGThe castle was built in the 13th century and was first used as a defence against the Ottomans. More recently it became the favourite summer residence of Queen Marie who was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria of England. She refurbished the entire building and had electricity installed. It is now a museum dedicated to the history of the Romanian Royal Family.

However, it is the Dracula connection that brings most visitors to the castle.P1020894.JPGApparently, there are secret tunnels all over the castle. We were allowed to climb one of those to climb from one level to another.

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The truth is that some features are not part of the original structure. The high tower was added in the 20th century just to make the castle look good and the silly reconstruction of a torture chamber has only been added because they thought tourists would like it. On the other hand, the well in the courtyard is interesting. Under the false bottom of the well is a shaft which was converted into an elevator in 1921 which led to a tunnel that opens out into the park in the valley. Although there is no water in the well the bottom was littered with coins and paper money.

28th, 29th /05/2018 Saliste

Our aim today is to drive to Sibiu and to try to park somewhere near the centre. After our failed attempt to find anywhere to park in Brasov, the other day, we just hoped we wouldn’t have the same problem here. We drove about a hundred miles and the car park we drove into was heaving with traffic and there was no way I would be able to get through, let alone park our 7-metre motorhome. All of a sudden, I was just in the right place, a car pulled out of a spot that was long enough for me to park. Job done! Off we went to visit Sibiu.

The temperature was 34 degrees and it was wall to wall blue sky weather. What a day to run in a marathon. As we approached the main square we saw that it was being used as the finishing post for the 2018 Sibiu Marathon. We saw some pretty tired, late finishers stagger over the line and they certainly deserved the applause they received, I wouldn’t want to run 26 yards in this temperature, let alone 26 miles. We watched one chap being immediately stretchered into an ambulance. Hope he is OK.

This is a beautiful, well to do city and most of the buildings are painted and decorated.

Whilst Elaine, quite sensibly, sat in a nearby café drinking iced fresh orange, I climbed the 250 steps of the church tower, so I could get a view out over the city.

When I was near the top, I was pleased that it wasn’t time to ring the bells.P1020935.JPG

Pictures taken, it was time to climb back down. We walked down to the bridge and bought some cherries in the market we found just before the river. We walked back to the centre to find the unusual Orthodox cathedral, with two towers as well as the usual domes.

When we went in a wedding was taking place but still managed to get some discreet photos. We spent three hours wandering around the city before getting back to the van. Harriet was so hot inside that we could have cooked a roast without using the oven.

We continued on our way and after another 12 miles we pulled into the small, but perfect campsite in the centre of the village of Saliste. Just an hour after we arrived we heard the first clap of thunder. As I complete the 14th blog I have done on this journey, the rain is hammering down on the roof and the temperature has dropped and it is now quite comfortable. This week we have driven 637 miles. It doesn’t sound so much but total concentration is required because of the road conditions so the planning officer (Elaine) has said I can have a day free from driving so we will stay here tomorrow as well. Shame, she didn’t also say I would have a day free from all the other jobs as well!

 

 

 

 

Second week touring Bulgaria

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14/05/2018 Klisura

It has been quite a day today. We left Sofia and headed for Plovdiv. This City is situated in southern Bulgaria and is surrounded by hills. Its biggest claim to fame is the ancient Roman theatre which is among the best preserved ancient theatres in the world. It once could accommodate 5,000 spectators and was only discovered by the archaeologists during a survey carried out in 1968-1979. Another claim to fame is that in 2019, Plovdiv will become the European City of Culture.

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The traffic was pretty busy on the way out of Sofia and we had to do a stop to get some fuel. My wallet was extra pleased because the diesel worked out to the equivalent of £1.02 per litre. After a couple of hours driving we parked up in a Billa supermarket car park and walked into the centre. As soon as we arrived we came across a group of dancers in national costume performing in front of a large crowd.

As they danced children brought around delicious bread along with a bowl of honey as a dip. What a great start to our visit. Just across the road was the visitor centre so we got a map of the city.

Just behind the mosque we saw another Roman part excavation of what would have been a huge stadium.

 

P1020457.JPG The rest of it is still buried under the city. Up one of the hills we came to the Roman Theatre and you can see where the new parts have been added to make it a usable open-air theatre.

P1020480.JPGWe came across some typical Bulgarian style houses and then we came across a monument to remember the atrocities that the people from the city had had to endure from the Russians.

P1020466.JPGThe whole city demonstrates a prosperity that we do not see in many of the villages that we see and pass through. Just as we saw in Sofia, the capital; it appears that money is spent in the urban areas whilst the rural villages go begging.

We left Plovdiv and we still had quite a journey to get to our stopping place for the night. We are not sure why but the weather here seems to do exactly the opposite to the weather that is forecast. Today was hot and sunny and the stormy day only materialised on our way to Klisura.

Behind the motorhome you can see a row of field guns, so we felt we could have defended ourselves against marauding Bulgarians if my ex-army mate, Tom, was back travelling with us again. We enjoyed a quiet night playing RummiKub and skyping with friends.

15,16,17,18/05/2018 Vileko Turnovo

The reason we had stopped at Klisura is because we then only had 18 km to get to Koprivshtitsa. If you ever consider coming to Bulgaria, then this town is a “must see” place to visit. It lies 62 miles east of Sofia and is 3000 feet above sea level and is considered to be one of Bulgaria’s most attractive towns due to its many National Revival Houses. Bandits plundered the town in the early 19th century and set many of the houses alight. It was at the time of the re-building that the colourful wood and stone houses were built.

So, we left our stopping place for the night and first drove down to look at the statue we had spotted from our van.P1020501.JPG

We then started our drive to Koprivshtitsa. It soon took us along a beautiful, narrow forest lined road with a bubbling brook running the whole length to the village. In places the sun overhead managed to get through the canopy of trees and this is driving at its best. As we drove along we saw large, attractive signs with the date of 1876 on them? This was the year of the April Rising. Bulgaria had been ruled by the Turks for 500 years. The revolution was planned in Koprivshtitsa and many of the revolutionaries lived there. The ensuing massacre after the failed attempt encouraged the West and Russia to come in and throw the Turks out.

We spent a couple of hours visiting this beautiful town and as you can see from the sample of the many photographs I took, the description that this is an attractive town is quite apt.

 

We left and of course that meant driving back down the narrow, meandering road. We set a course for Veliko Tarnovo which is the on the north side of the range of Balkan mountain range that run from the east to the west of the country. We chose to cross the Beklemoto (Troyan) mountain pass. As we climbed, the road zig-zagged back and forth up the side of the mountain. The first picture shows the view down at 4,700 ft up

P1020541and the second fairly hazy shot down shows the same view from just under 5,700 ft.

P1020543.JPGAs we approached the peak of the pass, we could see at the top a large Archway.

P1020544.JPGWhilst we were getting closer to it, Elaine went on her phone and found that it was the Arch of Liberty. It was built to commemorate the time in 1944 when Bulgaria quit the German Axis and pronounced neutrality to stop the threat of the Russian Red army and is dedicated to the liberation struggle of the Bulgarians.

Overall, our journey was 156 miles for the day. We finally pulled into the very pretty campsite Camping Veliko Tarnovo, built and owned by an English couple Nick and Nicky. What a luxury campsite and once we had set up, we sat chatting with them and learnt all sorts about Bulgaria, and about their life here. The campsite has an off season offer; stay four nights and only pay for three of them. We have been tearing about since we have been in Bulgaria, so we decided to take up the offer. On the second day, again the threatened thunderstorm didn’t happen until during the night and the sun shone all day.  We just walked into local village and chilled for the rest of the day. We arranged for a taxi to pick us up in the morning for the ten-minute journey into Veliko Tarnovo.  To take us to what the guide book tells us is one of Bulgaria’s most beautiful cities.

In the morning we shared the taxi ride in with a German couple. We were all going to join the free walking tour of the city which would start at 11am. We were joined by a few others, and the guide, Ptsami (I think that is how it is spelt), took us over the road for the start of the tour. Her English was perfect, and she had a nice way with her, and she was very keen for us all to understand the politics and the history of the country. To try to cram in everything she wanted to say in the 2 ½ hours meant she spoke, remarkably, quickly for someone speaking a foreign language. She took us to places where we could see all the places that were mentioned in our guide book.P1020569.JPGThe view over the huge castle was fantastic and explained that that was, when Bulgaria was a monarchy, the king’s palace.

Veliko Turnova has a particularly strong history because until recently was the capital city of the country. The communists, when they took over power, after the Balkan War, thought they would get Macedonia back as part of their territory. So, they made Sofia the capital because it would then be in the middle of the enlarged country. The only thing is, their land grab didn’t happen. Ptsami obviously had no love for the communists but said that in the country this love or hate split families. She spoke proudly about the country’s history and about other things that made her proud. We learnt that Bulgaria, when it was part of the German Axis, during the Second World War, was one of the few countries that didn’t hand over its Jews to be sent into concentration camps.

Another thing we learnt is that Bulgarians nod their heads when they say no and shake their heads to say yes. Throughout the tour she kept asking questions and the confusion that caused in the little group was very funny. Maybe it shows what a contrary nation they are.

I will let the photographs show some of the things we saw. However, an explanation of the geography of the city will explain some of the pictures. The whole city is built between large hills and each one of those are named. For instance, the hill with the castle is called Royal Hill because of the palace. The mighty River Yancey meanders between the different hills. As the city expanded over the years, then then many of the houses have been built, almost clinging to the sides of the hills. You will see from the pictures, this backdrop to the city is a wonderful panorama.P1020594.JPGAfter the tour had ended, we stopped in a small inn and had a wonderful meal, with Bulgarian wine. My mixed grill was one of the best I have ever had, and the bill came to the equivalent of £15. Yet another reason why we are loving Bulgaria so much.

Friday, before moving on, we had a right clear out of the van. The staff at the campsite are all delighted. From the start of our tour, we always promised each other that if we buy something new, then we would give away what we now find surplus to our needs. The last time we saw a charity shop was in Spain. Our storage was full to the brim. We asked Nick and Nicky if it was appropriate if we donated to the staff our hand downs. The lady cleaner was close to tears with her thanks and we were shown photos of her wearing Elaine’s puffer jacket and then her red cardigan. She wanted to go home that night and bake us a big friendship cake, but we were going to leave early in the morning.

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Whilst a lot of you were preparing for a day in front of the television watching first the Royal Wedding and then the cup final, we moved on just a bit further, before driving to the sea side resorts on the Black sea. We crossed down over the mountains again to come to Nova Zagora and are now parked in front of a huge lake.

P1020610.JPG The whole area, with its many lakes, looks just like the Lake District at home, but without the rain. On the way through we saw field after field of rosebushes with Romany people in the fields picking the petals. We are now in the Valley of the Roses. It may surprise you to know that this region produces 17,000 tons of rose petals a year and most are exported all around the world, mainly to the cosmetic industries. We passed large lorries being loaded with bag after bag of petals.

The reason this region is perfect for rose growing is because of the very sandy soil. I found out that to my cost. When we arrived at the campsite I wanted to turn around, so we had the door facing the beautiful lake. My front wheel just went off the stony roadway and sank. It took half an hour, and the help from the German, parked in his van close by, to get us on hard ground again. I always say that if I had been born a cormorant, I would have starved to death long ago. I got my fishing rods from the top of the van, but I have to report another blank score sheet. However, I was highly entertained by the small birds washing themselves in the shallows, close by.P1020605.JPG

I know I am going to get in trouble for this but I do know I have to add just a couple of the recent photos to show the true nature of Elaine, my wife.

So far it is only wooden and bronze guys that get her attention, Anybody out there think I should keep an eye on her?

We have already moved to Sozopol, on the black sea and it is from here that I am sending this blog. Don’t miss the next thrilling adventure as we move up the coast to get into Romania. I think I will stop here as it is becoming like an intro to an American comic adventure.

 

 

 

Our first days in Bulgaria

P1020296.JPG09/05/2018 Kromidovo, Bulgaria

We drove 151 miles to get to our first stop, here in Bulgaria. Brian and Wendy, our travelling partners and our friends, have decided to make their way back to Italy to continue their route back into Germany and beyond.

Just over the border we stopped at an office to buy a vignette to allow us onto the main roads and motorways in Bulgaria. The chap was a Liverpool supporter and was obviously very passionate about his football. He then came out to our van to place the vignette himself in exactly the correct place on our windscreen. The roads were nottoo bad on our way up to Kromidovo until we came to the village itself. One mph was too fast to drive along the main street; the potholes being more like bomb craters. Mind you, I have just read an article about the appalling potholes in the UK and the problems they are causing.

Our first campsite cost us the equivalent to £9 and was so friendly and we were introduced to everyone else on the site by the English lady who was the stand in for an English couple who own the site. What a great idea, in no time we were chatting with everyone and a young German couple turned up and spent the time in our van chatting about our and their travels and their fantastic photography. Steffi also told us where we should visit on our travels through Germany en route to England and our way home.

10/05/2018 The car park of the Rila Monastery.

We left the campsite and headed for Melnik which is the local town. The information we had from the campsite said there was an ATM there.  What a fascinating place.

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We visited the 250 year old Kordopoulov house and saw the wine museum and the pyramids which are the peaks of the sandstone hills that surround the town.P1020321.JPGBulgaria is known for its fine wines and every shop sold bottles at ridiculously low prices. Unfortunately, the spa baths are not open yet and, and here I do have to be honest, the weather here is not good even though we have not started climbing the mountains yet. We are not enjoying the same temperatures we were getting in Greece.

We left Melnik and at first headed for Bansko. Bansko is a Bulgaria’s biggest ski centre and we were supposed to be stopping at a camperstop just by the ski lift.

When we got there, the site was closed. We had a look around and managed to find the old town that the book said was a good place to see. The most noticeable things we saw were, the stork with its massive nest on top of the church tower and the huge statue of a monk.

The rain had started falling so we headed back to the van and headed for a camp site just passed the Rila Monastery, way up on the Rila mountain. By that time, I had already driven quite a bit, so I was pleased to arrive at Camping Bor.

It was deserted, run down and then we saw an old man who looked more like a tramp than a campsite owner. We decided not to stay so we went back to the car park of the monastery. We asked the security guard and he said it was OK for us to stay on the car park for the night. It was so remote there that there was not even passing traffic but we had pour own private guard for the night.  All we could hear were the owls and the roaring of the raging river that passed nearby. The only thing was that we were over 6,000 ft above sea level in the middle of a remote forest and I had to put the heating on. After the warmth we had been used to in Greece, it came as a bit of a shock.

11/05/2018 Sapareva Banya

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In the morning, the rain had stopped so we walked over to enter the monastery. From the outside, the mighty walls make it look as though it would make a good castle. It is impressive enough outside but as soon as you get through the western gate you then see the several floors of highly painted wooden balconies that run all the way around the interior.

P1020353.JPG However, your eyes are immediately drawn to the courtyard’s dominant feature; the Church of the Nativity.P1020351.JPG

I will let the pictures be the description. We went inside and just wondered at the riches on show in such a poor country.

Photography was not allowed in the church itself, so we went to the “religious icons shop”, just over from the church to get a booklet that would show what the inside of the church looked like. The man charged me 4 BGN (about £1.70) for the only book or booklet they had in English. When I took it over to Elaine she noticed that it had a price on it of 3 BGN. I couldn’t stop laughing. Of all the places to be ripped off, it shouldn’t happen in a monastery.

Our next stop was at the foot of this mountain range, but over the other side. It took us 56 miles to take us to get around to Sapareva Banya which as a crow flies, is only about 5 mile away. At first we followed a narrow road across farmland and through sleepy villages where the sight of our motorhome drew lots of attention. Sometimes when we got smiles, we would wave and smile back.

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We pulled up at the small campsite and went off to visit the town. It’s main claim to fame is the “Geyser Fountain”. It is the record holder of the hottest mineral water in Bulgaria and Continental Europe with a water temperature of 103 degrees centigrade which erupts naturally. We walked up close and the water is hot but despite being clear and colourless, has a smell of hydrogen sulphide.

We tried a couple of bars on the way back and a large glass of great Bulgarian wine, red or white, cost under a £1. That evening we had a meal at the campsite and cannot believe how far your money goes here. The young German couple we met when we came into Bulgaria turned up as we were eating; we had a chat, then they went off to pitch their tent.

12th & 13th/05/2018 Sofia (the Bulgarian capital city)

After just 36 miles we pulled into Ivan’s garden which he has turned into a camper stop. His cottage is in one corner and here we can get all the services we need and there is a very strong Wi-Fi signal. In a metal shed there is a very quaint toilet and shower arrangement (the hot water hasn’t been connected up yet) but it is safe, and Ivan is very friendly and helpful. You can see the nearest underground station from his garden. Once set up, we walked the short distance to the station of the very modern underground system and paid the equivalent of £0.72 each to get into the centre.

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There were Roman ruins as soon as we got out of the station and unlike most places, you can walk inside the ancient walls. Throughout the city we found information boards are mostly in Bulgarian and English, so it was easy to find our way around and to know what we were looking at.

Sofia is a small capital city with a population of around a 1,000,000 people. The buildings have completely diverse influences to their design and structure. The monumental buildings from the communist era in downtown Sofia and the huge sports stadium contrast completely to the Orthodox churches, to what is described as an Art Nouveau Synagogue while Roman, medieval and Ottoman era structures. Downtown Sofia also has large parks and were full of people and families enjoying their Saturday there

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P1020379.JPGThis is Sofia, she replaced a statue of Lenin. much prettier, I am sure.

Despite the dire weather prediction, the weather was great. We walked around and around every corner was another reason for me to get my camera out again. We had a great late, lunch and enjoyed talking to the young Bulgarian waiter about living in this city. We continued our walking tour and are left to wonder how many steps we took around the capital. I am going to leave the pictures to show just a few places and things we saw.

One very nice thing happened near the station. A group of people dressed in Roman garb had a small tent and were aiming to set up a peace wall. A slab of clay was on offer so a message, in your own words, can be written on it. Once fired, these bricks with messages from Bulgarians and tourists would be put together to make the wall. The picture shows our contribution.

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Later-on, we were told that they were going to put on a play-let whilst dressed in Roman Garb. We went back but unfortunately the words were all in Bulgarian so after taking a few pictures we left to continue our walk around the city.

Finally, the promised rain started so we headed back to the station to catch the train back. We had a magnificent day and a very tiring one. To use the words of the great Bruce Forsythe, whilst compering Strictly Come Dancing, Sofia is now my “favourite” capital city. We are loving Bulgaria and our only sadness is that Brian and Wendy didn’t come with us when we crossed the border.