Friday 20th July To Tallinn, Estonia, with a ‘maxibum’ ending 127 miles
We left at 8.45 and drove past some very nice houses, and after a few minutes we were in Estonia. We very soon passed a large cemetery full of flowers, and looking like a garden.
We drove through a forested area, and were pleasantly surprised to find a free camping area amongst the trees. It wasn’t really suitable for motorhomes, but we did see some parked there. We walked through the trees to the sandy beach, and thought what a pleasant area it was. It was so quiet and peaceful on the beach.
A bit further on we stopped at a large car park, and again walked to the sandy beach. It was only marred by a line of smelly seaweed at the water’s edge.
We now had to join the main road north, and I found this rather monotonous without a map to follow. We stopped at a petrol station to see if we could buy a map, but they didn’t have any of Estonia. We stopped several times after this, but never with any luck.
Having stopped to have coffee at the first service station, we now found ourselves on the new bypass, and so didn’t drive into Parnu, the apparently busy and popular seaside town. They were re-doing the road, so driving was often unpleasant. We saw several storks in a field.
We drove on towards Tallinn, stopping on a waste piece of ground to have lunch. We had wondered whether to divert to see some of the coast before Tallinn, but made the decision to head straight there. It was a long drag into the town, but we headed for the car park which Adrian had made note of from the ‘boondockers’, arriving just after 2 o’clock.
It was lovely and sunny as we wandered into the old town of Tallinn, just across the road from us. Tallinn is supposed to be ‘fairylike’, and certainly the streets and buildings are very attractive. What made it even lovelier was the lime trees everywhere, which are still in bloom here, so their fragrance permeated the air. We were still in need of our map of Estonia. We located the tourist information, where we were able to pick up a map of the town, but no map of Estonia. However, just across the street was a book shop – selling mostly old books, and here we could finally buy our map.
Views of Tallinn
We started following though the walking tour in ‘Lonely Planet’, starting at the main square, and then ascending a hummock which had some 250 year old lime (linden) trees surrounding a statue of ‘Linda’, widow of the first leader of Estonia - Kalev.
In the ornate Russian Orthodox cathedral a wedding was taking place. We were able to stand at the back of the church and watch, and found it quite moving. It was strange though that there didn’t appear to be any congregation apart from the wedding couple and one or two others.
Spires of all sorts abounded, and we had a good view of them from two viewpoints before finding a quite little place to have a cup of tea.
We had been looking at all the many eating places with a view to coming back tonight for a meal. Destiny decreed otherwise though.
As we crossed our car park just after 6 o’clock, Adrian noticed that something wasn’t right with the door lock. We went inside, and our worst thoughts were realized. Somebody had broken in.
We rapidly tried to assess what had been taken. We saw that my computer; the voice recorder (new & hardly used); the scanner (which Adrian had just got to work, but hadn’t used); and worst of all, his disk with all our cine/video films on had gone. We were so pleased that Adrian’s computer, the invaluable sat nav, the reversing mirror and many other things including our passports & money, were still here. Even so, we of course had a really sick feeling. It had tainted everything. Adrian didn’t want to stay here any longer, so having assessed the situation, we decided to head for the town campsite.
This entailed driving right past the town, but we found our way to the very bleak ‘campsite’ – lots of motorhomes parked around a tarmacked area, with a few tents on the grass - and began to lick our wounds. We were both very philosophical about it – greatly saddened of course, but glad that more hadn’t been taken. Only then did we realize that my handbag – a new one from Ed & Liz last year - had also gone. Of course I had my bank cards in there, so Adrian had the task of cancelling them, after he had got an internet connection. I was most upset that my little ‘viewer’ (magnifier) had also gone.
We ate the pizza, which we had kept in the freezer compartment of the fridge, while we drowned our sorrows – consoling ourselves that after some 3000 nights in motorhomes, this was the first time we had been broken into.
Saturday 21st July Peace after that Melbourne feeling 65 miles
We spent all morning sorting ourselves out after our disaster. Both of us had been awake in the night, hearing the unpleasant bass boom of some distant music.
Adrian set about changing his password on various things – a difficult job as the connection was erratic and slow, and meant him walking over to the so-called reception.
We realized that another motorhome here was the one that had parked next to us yesterday where the break-in occurred. They were German, and didn’t speak English, so I had a go at telling him what had happened to us. He was visibly shocked – they had left the car park at 3.30, so we can only presume that the break-in was after that.
We both had showers, in the ‘all women/men in together’ showers (not in the same showers!), and Adrian emptied the loo and also filled the water tank, but despite our best efforts, we never did find the waste water dump. There was a heavy shower late morning, which didn’t add anything to this so-called campsite, which we had a very low opinion of. It was most ugly, although only a short distance from the pleasant seashore.
It was midday by the time we left to make our way to the Police Station. This we found with difficulty, and was situated in a bleak building. Just one police receptionist was on duty behind the enclosed high counter. He spoke a little English, and took our details, but he was much more interested in telling us about his daughter, who is in her last year at University in Helsinki. He also asked for our Skype address so that he could communicate with us. He was 64, he told us, and had copied our passport details, but really for his own interest, because we were English.
A second, younger policeman came to speak to us. He spoke good English, but said that we would have to go to the Main Police station, so that forms could be filled in by an interpreter. This meant driving 5 miles back through Tallinn. This proved a difficult journey, as there were diversions, and at one time we had to drive on a traffic lane over arrows pointing in the opposite direction.
We ate a quick lunch before going in to this second police station. The policewoman receptionist here, in a similar set up to the last one, was in sharp contrast to our first man. She looked like a very morose Cher, without a glimmer of spark. She didn’t speak English, so after phoning her superior, handed the phone to Adrian to converse. It appeared that the interpreting policeman was out on another job, and wouldn’t be back for some time. Not wanting to hang around any longer, it was left that we email the details of our robbery, and he could then translate them onto the form.
It was now 1.30, and we were annoyed at having wasted so much time getting nowhere. Adrian just wanted to get out of Tallinn (like he had in Melbourne when the engine of our motorhome had broken)
The journey out was not fun, with the various road closures etc, and Adrian had had enough! It was a long and slow drag out, with every traffic light turning red as we got to it. Finally we found the motorway east, and then after a while turned off towards Lahemaa National Park.
We soon saw a sight to make us smile – in the middle of a field scattered with hay bales, a wedding couple were having their photos taken! The groom was even wearing a kilt!
A surprise sight!
We began to enjoy the peace of the forested roads, and soon came to a lovely sandy beach, where just a few people were enjoying themselves. One couple were swishing their two little children in the sea, which brought back memories! I had a quick paddle in the warmish, shallow water.
The thing to interest us here, and as we drove along in this park, was the number of erratics (boulders transported far from their original place during the ice age). We continued on this first peninsula – there were free camping places throughout the park, but all entailed driving along sandy roads, not suitable for our van.
At about 5 o’clock, we pulled into a parking area in the forest by an information board, and hoped that it would be a suitable place for tonight.
We now drove south to Vihasoo, and by clever deduction, we found our way to the Tammispea Boulder, a very large erratic, now broken into two or three huge pieces. It was a lovely walk through a bit of the forest to see it.
Sunday 22nd July Enjoying lovely Lahemaa National Park 64 miles
It was a fine morning, and a beautiful day followed. After breakfast we went for a little walk in the woods behind us. The map showed a circular walk, but we weren’t sure how long it was, still it was lovely being out in the forest. We came to a large erratic boulder – only later did we see that this walk led to the largest erratic in the park, but this was much further on. Not knowing how far the circular walk might be, we returned after a while, partly because we were being wary of mozzies.
It was 10.15 when we set off, driving to Loksa, on the next peninsula. We found a nice sandy beach just south of the town, but there was no parking anywhere!
As we continued north up the peninsula, a tiny mouse like creature scuttled across the road.
We were pleasantly surprised to find that more roads were tarmacked than our various maps (some new) showed. At Parispea, at the north of the peninsula, we had coffee by a former jetty. One or two people were already sunbathing. We managed to park by another beach north of the village, and decided that this was the most northerly point in Estonia, so the most northerly point for us. It was lovely, with wild flowers fringing the beach – purple scabious and fireweed and yellow flowers. There were some derelict works of some kind here. The beach was of coarse grit, but it had an isolated beauty.
Rosie and roses
Lots of wagtails swooped in front of us as we drove to the eastern side of the peninsula. We stopped at Vinistu and pulled in by what turned out to be an art museum, showing the collection ofJaan Manitsi, a man born in this village, although he’d moved away as a baby. He became manager of Abba, and is reputedly one of the richest men in Estonia The museum was a former fish factory. We ate our lunch in the van. Adrian had found that we had an internet connection, so he was able to send o.ur report to the Estonian police.
Adrian on the giant erratic Tammispea boulder
Kasmu, on the next peninsula, was too busy for us (not really busy, just a few cars, but nowhere much for them to go). Vosu, near the next peninsula, was even busier, but we were able to park and walk down to a sandy beach where lots of people were enjoying this sunny Sunday afternoon, although it was quite breezy here. We had stopped by some little roadside stalls and bought some goodies – carrots, strawberries, blueberries and strange mushrooms. The stall holders conversed with us by signs, or a mixture of different languages, including German.
We drove around the last peninsula, stopping at Vergi. This so-called ‘port’ sported two or three sailing craft, a café and a lighthouse. There was an atmospheric old boat at the water’s edge. We sat there for our cup of tea. I really liked this remote place. A lot of the houses in this area are wooden, painted yellow or white or other pastel colours.
Just along from here we came to Altja, where we thought of staying in the car park. We walked around, and came to a low-key campsite. We knew that there was a lot of free camping in the park, but this one cost 3 Euros. We talked to a chap who was lying on his back, reading Lonely Planet. He was from Greece, where he said that it was very hot, and he loved walking here in the park.
We didn’t stay, as I’d wanted to walk a nearby ‘beaver trail’, but with lack of adequate signs, we found ourselves way past that, so headed now forVainupea, at the eastern extremity of the park. As we drove down the little road, we were amazed at the twenty or so cars coming the other way, until we realized that there was a church at the end, and the service had just ended! We parked in the car park, then Adrian noticed that the road went on a bit further. We started walking, but then drove down to an absolute top spot – right beside the sea, which we could look out to on three sides. We were surrounded by fireweed (rosebay willow herb), which contrasted beautifully with the deep blue sea, pale blue sky and green vegetation.
Lovely overnighter at Vainupea
We ate supper, including our recent purchases, and were then amazed as a large wedding party came down briefly to have fun on the beach!
We were hoping to see the sun set over the sea, but although there was a lovely sky, the sun went into cloud before setting. We have been enjoying the very long hours of daylight – it is still light at 11.00 pm, and light again before 4.00 am, but we realize that this will change as we now travel south.
Monday 23rd July We reach the border with Russia before heading south 153 miles
We were disappointed that the morning was overcast and windy, so we were not seeing this beautiful location in its best light, and were glad that we had enjoyed it so much last night.
Before leaving, just after 9.00, we had a short walk along by the forest and back along the beach. It was hard going on the soft sand.
The beach at Vainupea
We drove along the coast to Kunda, where there were large cement works. Although we were near the sea, we couldn’t really see anything.
We soon turned off to Ontika Landscape Reserve, not really knowing what to expect. In fact it was a limestone escarpment, meaning that there were cliffs high above the sea, but difficult to get a view of. We pulled in where we thought that the cliff was, and stopped high above the beach, with a lot of wild flowers around us.
A bit further on, at Valaste, we stopped by the supposed highest waterfall in Estonia (30 metres!). At a rather run down site, we walked to view the falls, right by the beach. An elaborate ironwork walkway and bridge from which one is supposed to view the falls, was suddenly stopped off, as a great chunk was missing. We were able to look back to the waterfall from a rather precarious position, but this supposed tourist attraction is now a no-go! We walked around a bit – opposite was a restaurant with nice flowers outside.
The waterfall at Valaste – and the missing viewing section
We drove back to the fast road, stopping at Sillamae, a town with a really Russian feel to it still. It had been built to house the workers for the uranium plant here. We were very much in need of a shop, so stopped at Maxima here, where all the writing was in Russian, and we felt very much stared at! We ate our lunch here afterwards, including delicious warm rolls.
We now drove the few miles to the town of Narva, on the border with Russia. The grey day had become wet, which seemed appropriate to visit this bleak place. We stopped by the castle, where a similar one occupied the Russian side across the Narva River. We were in a nice park area, but the rain seemed fitting for my feelings!
The twin castles in Estonia and Russia at Narva A nearby hotel
We drove on to the actual border, where people were waiting to cross, all looking very normal really. I noticed the beds of pastel petunias planted here. We then drove up beside the Narva River to NarvaJoesuu, stopping to look at a monument of a tank, commemorating Russian soldiers killed whilst attacking the town in February 1944.
We had thought that Narva Joesuu was the port, being on the Baltic, where the river meets the sea, but in fact it was an area of smart houses and nice parks, with tall trees. It turned out that it is a holiday retreat, mostly for Russians.
We drove back to the main road via the coast, although forest hid this most of the time. We stopped high up on the limestone escarpment before joining the main road for a short distance and then heading south to Lake Peipsi.
When we reached this, we stopped to walk through a bit of forest to the water’s edge. The waves were rougher than at the coast, and it looked as though we were at the sea, with a lovely sandy beach.
It was now nearly 6 o’clock, and just after looking at the lake, we came to a large parking area at Kauksi and pulled in for the night.
Later in the evening, we walked the long way through the forest to the edge of the lake. It was a beautiful sandy beach, and the obvious reason for the large car park being here.
Tuesday 24th July Some days are diamonds 130 miles (accurately guessed)
The morning started grey, but better was to come! We left soon after 8.30, driving along near, but never close to, the lake as far as Mustvee. Here we pulled in by a parking area beside the beach, where the river came out. A couple of motorhomes had obviously overnighted here, and we saw our missed opportunity. We walked onto the coarse sandy beach and back by the river. A few boats were anchored here – Adrian thought that they were patrol boats, as Russia is at the other side of the lake. As there was a water tap here, he couldn’t resist filling up the tank.
We now headed westwards, to Poltsamaa, to visit some rose gardens that Adrian had read about. We had a bit of trouble in locating the gardens, but arrived at 10.45.
It seemed strange to be visiting a rose garden in Estonia, but judging by some colourful gardens nearby, the soil here is good. The gardens were not large, but contained a huge number of different roses (supposedly nearly 1,000). We enjoyed walking around – each rose was clearly labelled. A couple of gardeners were busy weeding, and certainly the gardens looked in need of some attention. It was a pleasant and different diversion on our travels.
Just two of the lovely roses at Poltsamaa
Now we headed for Tartu, the university town of Estonia. Adrian had hoped that this would be the place where we could get my blood test done before I start my next lot of chemotherapy. It was a long shot, which we knew could be riddled with difficulties.
There were no places to pull off on the way, so we turned off in desperation onto a small road, where, near the hamlet of Sinikulo we were able to pull off the road to have lunch.
We now arrived at Tartu, and drove to one of the many hospitals marked on the map. We paid the car park charge, then entered the hospital to find (just like in England) a whole lot of sullen people waiting, and a desk with two nurses busy with their work. Nobody spoke, and nothing was in English, so we didn’t know what to do. I saw a number lit up, and thought that perhaps it was a number system. We found a machine, with two buttons – one for ‘trauma’ and another. We didn’t know which to press. We asked, with not much luck, but a stout gentleman pointed to ‘trauma’. We pressed that, and got the next number to come up.
After a wait, we went to the desk, where the nurses spoke only a little English, but when we showed them our form, one said ’no, she didn’t know where we could get a blood test done’. ‘Wait’. After a while, our saviour came – a lovely young, dark haired and pretty nurse/doctor who spoke good English. After looking at our form, and asking many questions, she said ‘I will take your blood now’. ‘The results may take one or two hours’. After doing the formalities, we took the opportunity to drive down into Tartu, where we were able to park in a car park right next to the river. It was a bit like the River Thames.
The river at Tartu
This university town is likened to Oxford or Cambridge, and certainly had a pleasant feel. We only had 50 cents left in change, so had half an hour to dash around and see the main square, with the adjacent town hall. In front of this was a statue of a kissing couple under an umbrella – we only saw it on our return. It had become really warm now, and the icecream stalls looked inviting, but we hadn’t time to stop, We found our way up to the enormous brick built cathedral before dashing back to the van to drive back to the hospital.
Once there, the waiting room looked as busy as ever, so we refreshed ourselves with a cup of tea, and nice bun bought in the town, before Adrian went back in and found our lovely nurse lady, who now had the results of the test. We had to pay – the grand sum of 1.60 euros!
Better still, we had an internet connection in the car park, so were able to send the results to our nurse in Oxford, and even had a reply to say that she had got them before we left! We couldn’t possibly have hoped for more.
Now it was time to leave this town, which had served us so well, and was really pleasant and green, with lots of trees, including the lovely lime trees.
We headed south from Tartu through rolling countryside, turning off the first road, as it seemed too busy to have anywhere to stop, and then turning off the second road for the same reason. On the third road, we pulled into a gravel area beside the road, when Adrian said ‘I’ll just look at this side road here’, when just behind us was the place of our dreams – a place to stop right beside a picnic area with a covered wooden picnic table, fireplace, and log cabin. The sign said RMK, which we think must be like our forestry commission. They were the signs by the free camping places by the coast.
The evening was beautiful as we set to – Adrian collected firewood, lit the fire and we cooked our remaining corn on the cob, and some unknown but tasty fish and enjoyed our best night yet.
Cheers to our best night
We stayed out until 10 o’clock, when it was still light, and we came in reluctantly. It had been a wonderful ending to a great day.
We started the day with an energetic walk on the ‘nature trail’ opposite, after eating breakfast at the covered picnic table. It was a lovely morning, and the walk wasn’t very long, but the signs were only in Estonian, and it didn’t say anything about the steepness – there were ropes to help you on the ups and downs! Also the mozzies were a nuisance, so we had to keep going! We’d enjoyed the wild flowers beside us, particularly what appeared to be salvias, which were yellow, with purple tops.
We didn’t get going until 10.00, continuing south, At Puskaru we stopped by a large map of the area – it appeared that we were following the old Postivee (postal road), a bit like following the Butterfield Trail, or Route 66 in America – and we’d come across it just by chance. This made a nice coffee stop, as we sat on benches in the warm sunshine.
The ‘postal road’ at Puskara
We carried on to Voru, situated on a lake. There was a developed beach here with volley ball nets and with people bikini or cozzie clad sunbathing. There had been a sandcastle competition, but the exhibits now looked a bit windswept. Two men were clearing up the beach.
The beach at Voru
A group of young lads walked up the road past the attractive wooden houses after leaping into the water from a little wooden jetty. We tried to ignore the ugly soviet buildings in the town as we left.
We continued into Haanja Nature Park, stopping for lunch beside Suur Muriamagi, the tallest peak in the Baltic (318 m)! We had lunch here, sitting on a bench, but could see nothing of the peak, and weren’t enticed to ascend the many steps to the summit. In fact we found the park disappointing, as there was nowhere to pull off the road, although the scenery was pretty, and the countryside undulating, with a lot of little ponds.
As we left Estonia, a stork was right by the roadside to say goodbye – or maybe welcome us back to Latvia. We’d enjoyed Estonia, despite our unfortunate experience at Tallinn, and thought it the ‘Costa Rica’ of the Baltic, seeming to be more affluent than the other countries.
We immediately noticed the inferior road conditions as we entered Latvia, but initially there were parking places with benches. We came to road works and were startled at the lack of any signs or control.
We came to the town of Aluksne, which seemed to be ‘evolving’. By the lake was a display of pretty but OTT hanging baskets making archways. There were pleasant green parks and from here a narrow gauge railway runs to the town of Gulbene. We could see no sign of activity, which was probably just as well, as we hadn’t time to stop!
We continued south, but by now stopping places were difficult. At the small and proud little village of Rugaliwe found a parking place to stop for our cup of tea. The name of the village was boldly depicted in red begonias.
We carried on to the run-down town of Resekne, where we tried unsuccessfully to get an internet connection (our previous paid Latvian one had just run out, annoyingly). We needed to get a connection as we had received a message from one of the Oxford nurses on the phone, but it had come through as gobbledygook – frustrating, as we wanted to know if it was OK to start my next lot of chemo.
We had to give up on this, and continue through the area of lakes, which the road never really came close to. Feeling a bit despondent, we continued looking for somewhere to pull off for the night, when, just as we were leaving Lake Razna we found a large parking area. This seemed just fine. We walked across to the lake and came back to enjoy the evening and the lovely colours as the sun went down over the water.
Thursday 26th July And back into Lithuania 152 miles
It was a fine morning. We left at 9.20 and headed south to Dagda, a town which was rubbishy on the outskirts, but had parks and flowers in the centre. We shopped in a small and not much cop Maxima, then tried to get an internet connection, driving all around the town, and eventually getting success, so were able to receive our emails. This included the one from Oxford, so we know that we can start my next lot (15th) of chemo. We also could read the message from Simon, telling of one or two problems with his motorhome in Canada, and one from Emma, telling of their visit to the Olympic football match in Cardiff. We had coffee while this was happening. A nice lady came to the van and tried to speak to us, but when we said that we only spoke English, she just smiled.
We now travelled west to Aglona, on a mostly well surfaced road, stopping to walk to a tranquil lake, but Adrian was more concerned about the mozzies!
At Aglona, it had become quite hot. This small village has a huge basilica – a place of pilgrimage after reputed healing qualities from a spring here. We parked opposite the enormous church, and walked across, going first into the crypt, where a service was taking place. The low ceilinged crypt had very colourful arches. Above it was the vast church, very light and tall. It is all set in a huge park area which Pope John Paul had visited in 1993.
The church at Aglona
According to Lonely Planet, there was also a bread factory here, where one could buy very fresh bread. After our third circuit of the town, we found it, but the museum wasn’t open, and the loaf we bought was no better than one from a supermarket!
We ate our lunch in the car park opposite the church and the lake, finding nowhere right by the lake to stop.
As we drove on, we passed a couple of horses and carts, as we had done yesterday.
We now made our way to Daugavpils, described as ‘the pits’, but there were some restored nice buildings. The problem to us was that the roads in the centre were closed for road works, and we had to follow a diversion. This entailed frustrations for Adrian, and meant that as we drove out south towards Lithuania, we didn’t pass a petrol station as we had hoped. We wanted one so that we could spend the last of our Latvian money.
Soon we were in Lithuania, and so stopped at the first petrol station, in the town of Zarazai. Adrian paid by card here, but was able to change the Latvian money. We stopped to have a cup of tea while we discussed our onward route. It was now 4 o’clock.
Walkway at Zarazai, Lithuania
We stopped by the lake here, where there was parking with flower beds and an elaborate walkway down to the unspoilt lake, with a few little boats on it.
We passed more lakes with boats for hire, and people sunbathing as we drove south to the pleasant town of Ignalina and on toKaltanai.
We were now in Aukstaitijos National Park, with its tall forests and many lakes. We were looking for somewhere to stop for the night, and near Labanoraswe at last found a lovely picnic spot in the woods just after 6 o’clock.
It was really warm as we sat at a picnic table with our aperitif (vodka and orange) and then Adrian cooked Latvian sausages outside, and we enjoyed our meal in this lovely quiet setting, coming in reluctantly after 9 o’clock to write the diary.
This is the life!
Friday 27th July To the centre of Europe and Vilnius 58 miles
It was a lovely morning as we sat at the picnic table with our breakfast, surrounded by the tall fir trees and listening to bird song. We were surprised at how many large lorries used this country route, but it was really peaceful when they’d passed. I’d started my 15th lot of chemo.
We drove through the village of Labanores with its little painted wooden houses with gardens brimming with flowers. We were travelling towards the capital of Lithuania, Vilnius, but stopped a few miles beforehand at what is reputed to be the ‘Centre of Europe’. Having visited the ‘Centre of the World’ in Ecuador, we thought that we ought to come here! Apart from the fact that it is set amidst a golf course, it was very pleasant. We walked up to a square surrounded by flags of all the countries of the EU.
Rosie at ‘the centre of Europe’, Lithuania
There was a large boulder with the shape of an intricate star made out of loose coins! Also there was a tall obelisk. At the tiny information centre we picked up a map of Vilnius. It was really hot, so we sat in the shade on the grassy slope by the van to have coffee, overlooking a small lake.
Now we headed for Vilnius, arriving at about 11.45 at the car park Adrian had located. We had hoped that this was a guarded car park, after our unfortunate experience in Tallinn, but although it had been once, it no longer was. We still decided to stop here – it was a long thin car park with only one gate, but we still spent a very long time hiding things away.
When Adrian went to buy our parking ticket he found that it didn’t take notes, only cash. It cost 3 Lits an hour, or 20 Lits (£5) for 24 hours. We decided to go for the overnight, but could only tot up 17 lits. Adrian went off in search of change, asking lots of different people, and walking out to two nearby museums all with the same ‘no change’. We’d decided to go for just 3 hours parking, when we found that we had several 1 lit coins, so had enough change anyway!!
Having eaten our lunch, we set off to explore some of the Old Town. It was extremely hot, and I found it quite trying. Unlike the other old towns we have visited, this one has wide streets, but far too many cars. What it does have though, is a plethora of grand churches. Everywhere we looked, there were spires and towers. We went inside lots of the churches – we found an excellent use for them – they were lovely and cool, and we could sit for a few minutes and recover from the heat! We found young people quite reverent, bowing low and crossing themselves when entering or leaving a church. We were amused in one church, having watched several young people enter reverently, when an elderly gent wobbled up the aisle, bent down low - and took a photo!
Images of Vilnius, capital of Lithuania
At the ‘Gates of Dawn’ mass was being sung, and the voices singing from the open chapel of St Mary was delightful.
Apart from churches, the town seemed to be full of trendy boutiques and art galleries. There were lots of pavement cafes too. We just wanted somewhere to buy an icecream, but icecream stalls seemed non-existent. Adrian had just said ‘all we want is an ice cream parlour’, when, in following a sign which we thought was an icecream, but wasn’t at all, found that there was an actual ice cream ‘parlour’ next door, with plush seats where we could enjoy our icecreams in the cool! I had kiwi flavour, and Adrian had caramel.
It just remained then for us to visit the enormous cathedral with its huge white pillars and pretty ceiling. Pope John Paul had visited here too in 1993.
The beautiful ceiling in Vilnius cathedral
We walked back to our parking place around the castle atop a hill, arriving back at 3.30. We both felt anxious walking across the car park to the van, after our Tallinn experience, but all was well – just the van was VERY hot, despite us having closed all the blinds.
As we refreshed ourselves with a cup of tea, we deliberated about whether to stay overnight, or move on. We moved across into the shade, but having decided to move on, thought that if we moved to the far end of the car park, it was quite pleasant, with the River Vilnia below us.
‘Dark mullein’ in our overnighter carpark, Vilnius
It was lovely here, and we sat out in our seclusion, eating a quickly made supper, and coming in just before 10.00, when the temperature was still 74° F.
Saturday 28th July A stunning castle, a delicious swim, and back into Poland 141 miles
After an extremely warm night, we left at 7.30 on a beautiful morning. We drove along through part of Vilnius beside the green banks of the Neris River, which we had seen first at Kaunas. It was lovely and quiet at this time of day, and we enjoyed seeing more churches and fine buildings, and flower displays on the lamp posts.
We stopped to have breakfast at a neglected picnic site, where there was a strange statue, and a lot of wild flowers. We hadn’t had breakfast before we left Vilnius because it was too early after taking my chemo.
We left here at 9 o’clock and made for Trakei. This is the site of a stunning castle of red brick, set on an island reachable by a causeway. This was a perfect time to visit, as it was still quiet, but showed signs of getting packed with tourists later on this beautiful July Saturday. We were able to park at the roadside by some evocative painted wooden houses and walk past the stall holders who were just setting up for the day. The castle was the one depicted on the front of ‘Lonely Planet’, but they had omitted to say where it was.
Top spot Trakei, Lithuania
We walked all around the outside, taking in the image of the red against the deep blue sky, with the green trees and grass, and water all around. Certainly a treat for the eye, and work for the camera! There were all sorts of boats for hire on the lake – this was the most touristy place we’ve seen but still pleasant.
We walked on to view a second castle, known as the peninsula castle, as if one castle were not enough!
It was now 10.30, and we were really hot. We drove on beside the lake for a short way, when I suggested stopping for a swim. We pulled in by a little wooden jetty, and had the most delicious swim – the first swim of this type that I have had for years. The difficult part was getting into and out of the deep water from the jetty, but greatly refreshed, we came back to the van for tea/coffee. By now people were arriving at all the little jetties. A group of 4 young people walked past, and one young lad came to the van and gave us some Lithuanian beer, which tasted pretty awful, but we thanked him!
After a delicious swim, Trakei
A bit further on we stopped to shop in a crowded ‘Iki’ supermarket, as we still had Lithuanian Litas to get rid of. The shop was no more inspiring than any of the others we have been into in the Baltic States.
We stopped soon afterwards to have lunch above a small lake which had a lot of grungy weed in it. Adrian had put out the awning, but it was cooler to sit inside.
We came to the ‘nothing town’ of Alytus, on the Nemunas River. There were a few nice old wooden houses. We stopped at a ‘Statoil’ petrol station for Adrian to spend more of our Lithuanian money on diesel, and also for him to fill the tank with water, as he had read that we could do this here. We managed it after a struggle!
Now we came to Lazdijai, a crummy little town for our last impression of Lithuania. Adrian tried in vain to get an internet connection, as we’d hoped to phone Paul & Nicky, as we knew that Emma would also be there this weekend.
At the border with Poland, there was a little shop/cafe where we both had a cup of tea and a strange doughnut type cake to share, using up some of our coins. This saved heating the kettle in the van on this scorching day. It was now 4.30, but back to 3.30 Polish time.
Refreshing cup of tea at the Lithuanian/Polish border
At the first little town Ogrodnki, lots of people were enjoying a ‘beach’ area.
We tried again unsuccessfully at Sejny to get an internet connection before continuing towards Suwalki through a bit of Wigry National Park. We were hoping to find somewhere to stop for the night, but being a peak Saturday, any possible places were too busy. We turned on to smaller roads, and eventually had success. We’d passed a larger dirt road into the forest, but in turning in there, investigated the opposite side of the road, which had a small parking area beside the sandy track.
The most notable thing here was the vast army of ants everywhere! Also, as we made a short trek into the woods, there were a lot of colourful butterflies, some large ones unknown to us.
We’d arrived at 5.15 (6.15), and sat out until gone 8.00 (9.00), when the temperature was still well in the eighties! We’d eaten some rather stodgy filled pancakes for supper, cooking on the stove outside. It really was hot!!
Sunday 29th July Swim and Storm 72 miles
The night was unbearably hot, with odd rumbles of thunder. We’d had all the roof lights open and the fan on.
We ate breakfast, including grapefruit, sitting outside and I even washed up outside, but the large ants were a bit troublesome!
Breakfast in the warmth
We left and soon drove through the hamlet of Tobolowo on our way to Plaska, where we came to the Augustow canal. We stopped to have a look, and walked around in the heat. One or two people were already enjoying the simple pleasures of the water. We likened ‘tourism’ here to being rather like it was when we were children – you just made your way to a spot to swim by bike or walking. Hence there were few places for cars to stop.
The Augustow canal
We’d hoped to have coffee sitting on the grassy slope near the van, but the prolific number of ants put paid to that, and we resorted to sitting in the cab with a view down to the lake by the canal. After that it was time to cool off ourselves with a swim in the lake, which refreshed us beautifully. We enjoyed here, as almost everywhere, the amount of wild flowers. I photographed what seemed to be Cheddar pinks here.
Now it was on to Augustow, a pleasant but quite big and very busy town – obviously the place to come! We pulled in to try to get an internet connection, and were aware of a young chap wanting to talk to us. He was called Robert, and actually lives in Carterton, Oxon, but is on holiday in Poland with his family. He and his wife are both from Poland – she from Warsaw – and he works as a chef in a school in Burford (which we know from HCC events!) His 6 year old son Scott was with him – they also have a 3½ year old girl called Jenny. They had travelled from Carterton to Warsaw in 22 hours, taking turns at driving. It was lovely to have a chat to him, as he, like us, had experience of both countries.
It was now lunchtime, but with all the crowds of people flocking to the river, there was no chance of us finding anywhere to stop. We headed south, but there was nowhere on the main road to pull off, so we turned onto a side road. This was no better, as we just went through one habitation after another.
At one point, as we tried to turn round to investigate somewhere to stop, a car reversed, and a youngish chap with little goaty beard came to ask if we needed help. When we said that we were just looking for somewhere to stop for lunch, he could only suggest that maybe we could find a restaurant in the village!
We found ourselves back by the main road at Barglow, and, opposite a tall twin towered church found a huge recently made bricked parking area (EEC). In the far corner, a neat sitting area had one seat in the shade – vital today! There was nobody else around at all, so we had a pleasant lunchtime in the end – if a little late (1.20, but 2.20 to our stomachs!).
Now we continued south towards Warsaw, coming to the town of Grajewo, where we drove round the houses a bit, but eventually came to a large Tesco store. As we were in great need of drinking water, and one or two other things, like beer and tonic, we did a shop. It was certainly better stocked than other supermarkets we have been into on this trip. It was as we got to the checkout, that we looked outside and saw that an almighty storm had come in, and it was raining torrentially! The temperature had dropped nearly 10°C while we had been in there! We managed to get to the van, so enjoyed a cup of tea while we waited for the worst of the storm with its crashing and bashing to go over.
Strange church at Grajewo
When we thought it had, we set off again, but soon drove back into it, so had to stop for a while beside the road.
We were travelling to Biebrza National Park, and drove through miles of forest, making us think of the Natchez Trace in USA. Just before 6 o’clock, we came to a parking area rather like last night’s. Unlike last night though, we stayed inside tonight.
Monday 30th July A lovely name hides horrors of the past 124 miles
The morning was damp, after a little more rain in the night. We ate breakfast inside, and left at 9 o’clock. We drove through more forest, and some ‘Louisiana swamp’. We stopped to climb a steep wooden lookout tower, and looked out over the forest and the plains, but saw no wildlife at all. In fact, we haven’t seen any wildlife in any of the National Parks we have been through, which has been rather disappointing. One thing we still continue to see a lot of is storks, and they always cause a bit of excitement, however many we have seen, particularly when they are in their nests on the top of poles.
The road surface was variable, but mostly bad. That was true for the whole of today. We took the main road towards Warsaw, but there was nowhere to pull off. When we saw a ‘P’ sign ‘1.4 km’ on a side road, we followed the signs – but never found the parking area! We found ourselves back at the main road – and soon passed the one pull off which we had seen too late first time round! The unpleasant amount of rubbish dumped here was offset by the pretty blue chicory flowers which have brightened the roadside today, especially when mixed with yellow flowers.
It was still raining as we came to the ugly town of Zambrow, which had a strange church, and some colourful flower displays.
We now took a rural (and very wet) route to Treblinka, site of the second largest extermination camp after Auschwitz. Nothing remains of the camp now, but there are symbolic signs representing it. The rain stopped as we pulled in to have our lunch, and the afternoon became warm and humid.
The camp is set deep amongst the forest, and it was a very sobering visit. We crossed the disused railway line, where the Jews from the Warsaw ghetto would have arrived. At the actual site, large ‘sleepers’ represented the railway line. It was quite a walk to ‘Treblinka 2’ along a cobbled walkway. Tall pillars marked the boundary of the camp and hundreds of boulders marked the various towns and villages which the people had come from. There was a huge stone monument in the centre, and a symbolic cremation site. It was all very moving. I felt as I had after watching the film ‘The boy in the striped pyjamas’ (about Auschwitz) - stunned. 800,000 Jews had been killed here – more than the total British and Americans lost in the war. We didn’t walk on to the labour camp (Treblinka 1) or visit the museum.
We now continued towards Warsaw on small and unexciting roads, mostly with a bad surface, and never with anywhere to pull off. At Wegrow we stopped for a cup of tea in a bus stop look-alike, while we discussed our route. We decided to head towards Warsaw, with hopes of a visit tomorrow, but weren’t very confident about finding anywhere to stop for tonight. We drove via Dobre on larger roads now, but the road was being resurfaced, so we had to endure endless sections of road works with traffic lights (and some obstructions without warnings). Our health & safety would have had a fit! The newly surfaced sections were fine, but the rest was a very bumpy ride!
At 5.30 we pulled on to a sandy track into the forest, and Adrian did a bit of ‘tree surgery’ so that we could fit under the trees.
We were intrigued at the number of vehicles entering and leaving the small road opposite. We had driven the half km to a junction with an unpaved road when we were looking for somewhere to stop. We only saw one or two houses, but the tracks must have gone further. Later we heard sirens and a fire engine rushed off down the track! We never found out why.
On reading more of our 1999 diary of Czech & Hungary after supper, we found many similarities with this trip – particularly lack of places to stop, and difficulties in getting the washing done.
Tuesday 31st July We visit Warsaw 60 miles
It was a fine morning, and we enjoyed seeing the sun filtering through the trees as we had breakfast, leaving at about 9.00.
We were surprised to find that it was forested almost all the way to Warsaw. Adrian bravely drove through the large city, following his sat-nav. This included us driving across the bridge over the wide Vistula River, aware that no other vehicles except buses and taxis were doing so! The vigilant police didn’t pull us in!
Adrian had been heading for a car park, but we actually parked beside the road for about 75p an hour, close to the old town. We really enjoyed our walk around Warsaw. We had been led to believe that there wasn’t much to see, particularly as the town had been almost completely flattened during the war. We, however found it really pleasant, with lots of attractive buildings. The beautiful day helped – it wouldn’t have been much fun in yesterday morning’s rain, or the extreme heat of the day before.
We looked in at several churches, including one with colourful stain glass windows, and St Anne’s, which had mostly survived the war, with its ornate baroque organ. Like Vilnius, there were too many cars in the town, but Warsaw had a nicer feel to us – not so ‘posey’ and more down to earth. Pavement cafés abounded, as did ice cream vendors – we had one sitting on the wall of a statue of a young boy, near the city walls. The inscription was only in Polish, but it must have been something important, as a whole party of school children (all with fluorescent orange caps) were brought to hear a spiel about it from their leader.
Near the Old Town Square stood the huge brick-built Royal Palace – a copy of the one destroyed by the Germans in the war. In the square was an 1855 statue of a mermaid.
Images of Warsaw
At the cathedral of the Polish Army, a funeral was taking place. Opposite, the police were sealing off the area by the Monument to the Warsaw Uprising, which we had driven past earlier, as there was going to be a re-enactment there tonight.
Monument to the Warsaw uprising
We walked through a pleasant park to the Ghetto Heroes monument, before coming back to the van. I had wanted to see ‘Umschlagsplatz’ – the railway terminus where the Jews had been loaded onto trucks to be taken to Treblinka, but we weren’t sure of its actual location. On setting off in the van, we found it to be just around the corner. We were able to see and photograph it as we stopped in the traffic. It was an evocative symbolization of a ‘cattle truck’ and the railway lines.
We were pleased to have had a glimpse of Warsaw, but didn’t enjoy the long drag out of the city, particularly as we needed somewhere to stop for lunch, and this was nonexistent.
We had travelled many miles and experienced many trials of Adrian’s patience, when we came to a shady parking area beside some woodland – just what we wanted. We had turned off the main road in desperation. It was 1.30, so I hurriedly prepared lunch, including fresh rolls bought from a little shop in Warsaw. Another bonus was that there were litter bins here – we hadn’t been able to get rid of our rubbish for two days. We had a short walk into the broad-leaved woods, but footpaths were rather an imagination, and the woods had sadly been used as a loo, and a place to dispose of fast food containers.
We left here at 3 o’clock, heading for a place called Lesznowola, where there was supposedly a free motorhome overnighting place. Well, there was, but not what we might have expected! On driving to the location – a rural road with small houses – we saw the ‘motorhome’ sign where we expected, but no access to any site. As we drove on a bit and turned round, an elderly gent waved to us, and directed us to the sign, where ‘two old biddies’ were rushing to open a gate into a back garden! We literally parked on the grass behind their house, surrounded by cosmos, and with chickens and ducks at close hand!
Overnighting amongst the cosmos
According to the leaflet we were given, it was free to camp, but there was water, dump, electricity, internet, washing machine – all for a price. It seemed to be just what we wanted. I rushed around to get all the washing together, and Adrian went to ask the lady (from the leaflet, we think that she is ‘grandma’.) She doesn’t speak English, and when Adrian eventually made her understand, she said ‘Nie’ – ‘no!
We sat behind the van refreshing with a cup of tea, while we wondered if any of the other things would happen either. The description had said room for 20 vans – which was obviously in the meadow behind, but this was blocked off. We think that the camping was an idea set up by a couple, but it hadn’t taken off, and they are no longer here, so ‘grandma’ is running what is left.
We sat out for supper, then afterwards read through the end of our trip to Europe in 1999. We had forgotten how much we had relived of our past while travelling through Austria, Germany and France then.
Wednesday 1st August A strange castle on our way towards Krakow 129 miles
It was a warm and sunny morning. We left at 9.15, after Adrian had filled the tank with water.
Leaving our back garden campsite
We waved goodbye to ‘grandma’, and drove through rural country with a lot of fruit trees, as we had seen yesterday, to Grojec.
We followed a good motorway south for a way, towards Krakow, but after this ran out we took the ‘normal’ road, stopping to have coffee by a reconstructed windmill and farm cart.
We continued to Radom, where we drove on through the large town, and out the other side were able to stop in a forest car park badly signed, to have lunch. Litter prevented us from sitting outside.
We continued on our route – atIlze we passed castle ruins on a hill, and at Opatow we saw a huge church with an archway in the town walls, and lots of lorry traffic – the first of several large churches we saw.
Soon we reached the castle ruins at Ujazd which Adrian had thought would be fun to visit. It certainly was something different! The huge castle ruins were in the process of being restored. The castle had been built between 1631-44. It was enormous – it apparently had been built as a ‘calendar’, with 4 towers representing the four seasons, 12 halls, 52 rooms and 365 windows! We were amazed that you could walk anywhere – including broaching the scaffolding! Our ‘health and safety’ wouldn’t have coped! Families were walking around, some with small toddlers – I certainly wouldn’t have been happy.
One man’s home !
We left here at 5.15 and continued on our rural route towards Krakow, through rolling countryside where people were busy in the fields harvesting their hay and corn. Finding a place to overnight was difficult as usual, but in a little bit of ‘forest’, we pulled off by a ‘meadow’ between short fir trees. We were near Strzelce.
The end of the day
We sat out (once Adrian had removed the worst of the rubbish), and ate outside, coming in just before it got dark at 8.40.
Thursday 2nd August Krakow takes the biscuit! 85 miles
It was a beautiful morning. We left at 8.30 and headed for Krakow across rolling agricultural country with an endless string of villages.
Krakow was of course busy, but we were heading for a car park on the map. When we reached it, we found that it was an underground one, so no good for us! What to do now? Adrian had opted to head for the other carpark shown (why only two? – there must be lots), and was getting in a bit of a tizz, when we spied an on-road parking space just by us! It was shady, and opposite the taxi rank, so seemed a good bet!
We took a while organizing ourselves before setting off to explore some of Krakow.
Almost immediately we could see that it is a very happy town, with a tremendous atmosphere. Lovely views abound, with vistas and skylines which are magical. Churches and towers are everywhere you look. The first church we went into was St Francis of Assisi – a huge dark church with a very dark coloured altar window, and beautifully painted walls and ceiling.
The centre of everything is Rynek Glowny, the main square, and probably the most splendid town square of any we’ve seen. The centrepiece is the Cloth Hall, dating from the 14th century. The inside was lined with stalls selling trinkets and souvenirs (it had originated as two lines of stalls, with a roof added). The atmosphere was vibrant, and was added to by a group of costumed musicians playing lustily!
The square was edged with magnificent buildings, the most revered being St Mary’s Church, dating from the 13th century. At noon, a bugler played, and we were there to hear it.
The delights of Krakow
As we wandered on, we bought a large pretzel (an obwarzanek) from a street stall – THE thing of Krakow. It wasn’t very exciting, but kept us going until lunch!
The pretzel lady
We made our way now to Wawel – the huge castle on a walled hill, which we’d driven past earlier. On the way we passed a couple more churches – St Peter and Paul, with statues of the 12 apostles on columns outside, and next to it 11th century St Andrews church, which was very small, but had a convent for the ‘Poor Clare’ nuns adjacent to it. A man was evocatively playing the violin outside, one of several musicians to add atmosphere today.
It was a hot climb up to Wawel, and very busy with people when we got there. It is like a world of its own, and we could only get a taster in the time we had. The castle is now a vast museum. There is also a cathedral which it would have been good to visit, as it appears to be revered like Westminster Abbey or St Paul’s.
Being now lunchtime, and with our parking time fast running out, we stopped to eat at an open air restaurant here. We had marvellous views down to the fantastic skyline with its myriad of turrets. I had borsch – beetroot soup which came with a meat-filled potato croquette, and Adrian had feta salad – it was too hot to eat more, even if we’d had time!
Then it was a quick dash back to the van. We’d like to have seen more, but anyway, with the extreme heat (33.6C I saw on a board) it was enough for one day.
We had toyed with the idea of visiting Schindler’s factory, and made a rather tortuous journey by there in the van, crossing the Vistula (Wisla) River several times, but decided against going in. The factory itself had been ‘done up’, and has been made into a museum telling the story of Krakow during the war. A nearby desolate factory looked much more like one’s image of what it must have looked like.
We now headed for the ‘freebie’ in Adrian’s book. It was close to Krakow, but the route took us right around Krakow on the motorway. When we arrived at the ‘spot’, we found a vast bricked carpark behind a sports complex, with virtually no shade! No sign of the ‘motorhome’ place, like the picture in the book. We wondered what to do, & I suggested having a cup of tea to revive us, and then think about it. At this point another motorhome arrived and parked by the one shade-giving tree! Adrian went to speak to them (German of course). They said that they had stayed 4 km away behind a store, but thought that you could stay here. They’d come to walk the dog by the river, and weren’t staying the night. We went to investigate, and discovered that we were in fact adjacent to the Vistula River, so having glimpsed this, it was back to get cozzies for a ‘quick dip’ to cool down. This was wonderful, and did the job!
Adrian still wasn’t happy until the Germans left, and we could move to their shady spot at the edge of the car park.
It was still so hot in the van, that we sat outside, and cooked scrambled egg with bacon and mushrooms, eating outside, but dashing in at dusk to beat the mozzies!