Week 12: What a Week! Estonia to Slovakia.

You will see as you read this post, this week was one to try us! We set off from Estonia, having to change our plans as the weather had started to change in the Baltics. We headed south, going back through Estonia to a campsite in Sigulda, Latvia. On the way we had seen there was a bobsleigh run you could ride (the summer, slower track) and thought that sounded great. We turned up and it was closed. Obviously when we (I)’d checked the information it was Sunday and open but it closed Monday to Friday! Note to self….

The campsite at Sigulda, was so stunningly beautiful – its one you want to keep to yourself but that’s not fair on the owners. Its called Camping “Lakeside” Sigulda, the website is here if you’re interested, http://www.lakeside.lv/home/ and is on the edge of a lake as its name suggests. There are about four or five hard-standing pitches with electric and a lovely view of the lake. We arrived just as the sun had started to shine and it looked beautiful. The owner was so helpful, he gave us a map of the area and a quick guide to what attractions we should see and told us where to find him if needed. We had a quick tour of the facilities, there is a changing room for the lakeside activities and a shower block, with two male and two female toilets as well as a shower, but so well done it was lovely. It, then, started to rain again and it didn’t stop until morning.

We each had a shower and got ready for the journey to Lithuania, which included a fill up with water. Latvia had the equivalent of two and a half weeks rain in two days, so where best to decide to fill up our 70 litre water tank than on a slight incline on wet, wet grass. The lovely Nortia has a maximum payload of 3850 kilogrammes. I’m sure you know what is coming…. We got stuck. We have got tracks to put down to aid in such a situation but it was too much for them too, all we succeeded in doing was getting more stuck! It was a welcome sight to see the owner and his father coming down the track with a tractor. A few minutes later we were free and wet, but thankfully neither of us had managed to slip or fall in the mud, that would have been an even greater disaster. We headed off to Lithuania.

Just before we crossed the border we were stopped by the Immigration Police, who wanted to see our documents and the vehicle documents and also check for stowaways. We had everything except the V5, but luckily with a bit of blagging and the Policeman’s delight that he was the first to pull us over in 11 countries, we were able to pass through the border. We now have a copy of the V5 for future border crossings!

The first campsite in Lithuania was nice, it was again by a lake and in a lovely town with sculptures and a viewing point over the water, but there was a strange feel to Lithuania, neither of us quite knew what it was but we decided to give it a chance and carried on to Vilnius, via the Geographical Centre of Europe, as agreed by the Guinness Book of Records after the fall of the Eastern Bloc.

Vilnius was a different place altogether. There was a lovely feel to the campsite – The Downtown Forest Hostel and Camping https://downtownforest.lt/ It was quite a mission to get to as the road leading up to it was having major building works (as was the road out , which we only found by perseverance and gritted teeth, as well as a few choice words and U-Turns). The campsite is totally secure and right on the edge of the old town and the Independent Republic of Užupis, with its own Constitution on the walls. We found the magic tile, completing our trio of Baltic Chain commemorative plaques. Downtown Forest Hostel and Camping has a very different feel to a lot of campsites but its lovely and quirky with a slight bohemian hippy chic.

Leaving Vilnius, we headed back out through Lithuania. The drivers here are just as nuts as those in Latvia. They don’t like to sit behind you and don’t care about speed limits. We were quite happy to leave. After a quick visit to the Ninth Fort, http://www.9fortomuziejus.lt/?lang=en another spectacular monument to those who were killed by the Nazi Regime. The story is gruesome and it was the site of the largest mass execution in one day. We headed south to Poland.

Our first view of Poland, ticked all our boxes. We headed to a small campsite in Ryn, It’s called Camping Mazury and despite the Campercontact saying it was closed we had a lovely welcome. We were given a field to ourselves and the dog was allowed to roam free.

On our way to Ryn, we passed a massive (in our eyes) military exercise with tanks and vehicles and lots of personnel. It was just taking place by the side of the road! Later, that evening they all trundled past the campsite – the sound was eerie but better to be on the friendly side than the enemy! The next morning as we were getting ready to leave, there was the sounds of more military exercises, the distant sound of shells and explosives. Our host had hoped that the noise hadn’t awoken us, we thought he meant the night before but…

As we left and headed towards Warsaw, we passed the military exercise in another location and then the biggest garrison, we’ve seen. We also passed a Tesco – so we had to stop, hoping it might have English treats. I was able to buy Tetley Tea Bags and good old sliced bread but not much else (and Polish Tetley Tea is horrible – its kept for emergency use only!)

We reached the outskirts of Warsaw and had news that our friends and neighbours form last week Rewind the Gap had a very poorly dog and wouldn’t be posting for a while, until their dog was sorted – check their posts and blogs for up to date information! We’d looked at Campercontact and found a campsite on our route and settled in for the evening, when Rewind the Gap (Karen and Colin), pulled up alongside us! They filled us in with their news and us with ours,

On Saturday, we left after saying goodbye and wishing Colin and Karen well, we headed to Auschwitz. The roads in Poland seem to all be having a major upheaval and the main A1 autoroute was completely closed – it was the longest stretch of roadworks we have seen! By the side of the busy dual carriage way diversion were people just sitting and selling what appeared to be mushrooms! People did stop – literally pulling off on to the hard shoulder!

Auschwitz, is located in the town of Oswiecim, which looks a lovely place with lots of flowers and statues, but it is slightly overshadowed by Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II – Birkenau. We pulled up alongside some other motorhomes and prepared to stay the night. The night passed better than we had thought, but there was a few eerie moments, especially when the trains ran by – reminding you what people incarcerated must have heard and how those new arrivals would have been transported.

The following morning, while taking Albi for a stroll, I noticed a queue for tickets at the Museum, so thought I would go and ask about details. I left with tickets for entry at 09:50 – a quick dash back to the MoHo and get ready! We were sorted and arrived at the Museum at about 09:10! There are security checks before entering – you’ll need ID, passport of photo driving license, then you go through security – like at the airport! All metal, phones and bags go into a tray and you walk through a scanner – as normal I set it off – I had removed my belt, earrings, sunglasses but not my bracelets (the other items I had had to remove one by one in Turkey years ago!) – once removed I was able to pass through! There is also a maximum size for bags – so please check this before you go or you’ll have to leave them in luggage check.

After 10:00 you can not enter the Museum, without a guide. We had bought the guide book and self escorted ourselves around. There were so many tours already in the Museum and it was very busy. It didn’t look too bad when I had got the tickets, so if you are planning a visit and you’re not part of a big group, we would recommend trying as early as possible. Tickets and information are on their website.

The Museum is laid out just as it was – the buildings still stand and the exhibitions are within several of them. There is a shuttle bus to Auschwitz II – Birkenau, but we chose to drive up and look but didn’t go in, the experience at Auschwitz I was poignant enough.

We headed away and drove towards Slovakia. We finally saw hills or mountains – it has been a while (Sweden) since we’d seen anything but flat roads and fields ( a few rises in Lithuania but nothing special!) these were proper hills! We found a campsite by a lake – it’s actually a reservoir but was very beautiful and the sun was shining, so we got out our chairs and chilled.

As always, thank you for reading. We’ll be back next week, with more journey details and tales of our adventure to tell you….

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