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In Poland and Hungary 2010 PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

IN POLAND AND HUNGARY: AUTUMN 2010

Margaret and Barry Williamson
October 2010

Following our 8,500-mile winter and early spring journey through Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Malta, Tunisia, Greece, Albania, Montenegro,UK_2010_(13).JPG Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, etc, we left England again on Midsummer's Eve, on our way to the land of the midnight sun.

The Norfolk Lines ferry took us from Dover to Dunkirk and we travelled slowly along the coast of the North Sea, through northern France (briefly), Belgium, Holland, Germany and Denmark, before taking the Stena Lines ferry from Frederikshavn to Gothenburg in Sweden.

We followed Sweden's E45 (Inlandsvagen or Inland Road) north for 1,110 miles (1,770 km) crossing into Norway north of the Arctic Circle. Entering Finland, we hugged its border with Russia all the way south to Helsinki, and the 2-hour Tallink-Silja Line ferry for a smooth crossing to Tallinn, the capital of the first of our three Baltic Republics, Estonia.

Following a journey through Latvia and Lithuania, we exited into Poland and followed its eastern border country south to the border with Hungary. This is the story of the journey through Poland and Hungary via Slovakia.

For the full travel log of this earlier part of the journey, click: Holland & Denmark 2010, In Sweden 2010In Norway 2010In Finland 2010 and In the Baltic Republics 2010. Our recent Newsletter: Life and Death in the Forests of Poland is a highly relevant summary of this part of the journey. 

Images of the Journey:

In Holland 2010    In Germany, Ferry Crossing the Elbe    In Denmark 2010

In Sweden 2010    In Norway 2010    In Finland 2010    In the Baltic Republics 2010

In Poland 2010

Articles

Our Paul Hewitt Touring Bicycles   Our Fleetwood Flair Motorhome

From Flair to Sprinter     Summary of Tour of Southern Europe and Tunisia 2010

From Greece to Tunisia 2010      In Malta 2010      In Tunisia 2010

Lest We Forget     From Greece to the UK 2010 

Images

Pendle Bike Racks From Sprinter back into Flair

1 Dover-Dunkirk Ferry
3Frederikshavn - Gothenburg Ferry
4 The Arctic Circle
5 Nordkapp
6. EU Easternmost Point
7. Helsinki-Tallinn Ferry
8. Sobibor & Belzec
Camps

Scandinavia_Summer_2010_I.jpg
This is the information we give for each stage of the journey:

The start and end point of the day's journey
The country or countries for the day's journey
The name of the campsite or place where we spent the night
The cost of the place we spent the night (if any)
The distance covered that day in miles
The height above sea level (asl) of the place we spent the night

For example:

Nuorgam to Kaamanen, Lapland, Finland (via Norway)     Jokitorma YH & Camping     €20     157 miles       510 ft asl

On days where we don't move on, we simply give the location, country and place where we spent the night. For example: For example:

At Manamansalo, Kainuu, Finland     Martinlahti Camping     

Overall, in the travel log, distances are given in miles; heights in feet; and costs in Euros. 1 mile = 1.6 km; 1 foot = 0.3 metres and, at present, 1 Euro = about 0.85 Pounds Sterling. The current exchange rate for each non-Euro country is given in the log. The daily rate quoted for campsites includes 2 adults and an electrical hook-up (children and dogs are often extra).

OCTOBER 2010

(continued from In The Baltic Republics 2010)

Iecava, Latvia to Suwalki, Poland (via Lithuania)     Swiss Club TIR     €5     215 miles     540 ft asl

Still raining as we continued south on A7/E67, through Iecava. Children walking to school wore woolly hats and little satchels on their backs. What do they learn of their history? We'd left the forest and now saw ploughed fields, apple orchards and stands of woodland. Tractors were at work, with none of the cart-horses seen in earlier years on both land and roads.

After 18 miles, in the Zemgale (Southern Latvian) town of Bauska, we paused by a Rimi supermarket/fuel at a roundabout to consider our route. We could turn west, past Pilsrundale (Rundale Palace), then south into Lithuania for the Hill of Crosses (north of Siauliai) - but we had visited both these places in quieter days (see 16 Oct 1999).

As it was now pouring with rain we decided to skip the diversion and head south on A7, crossing into Lithuania at 29 miles. The Norwegian motorhome entering Latvia was the first we'd seen since Parnu, where there were a few Finns returning home. With no border checks (these took 2 hours in 1999), we continued on A10/E67, a busy truck route with fuel and motels at regular intervals. Lithuanian currency is the Lita, currently 4.1 to the Pound Sterling, and we noticed petrol was exactly 4.1 Litas per litre (diesel and LPG cost less).

At 68 miles we turned right onto A17 to bypass the city of Panevezys, exiting 12 miles later onto E67/A8. Continuing south for Kaunas, through the small town of Ramygala at 90 miles, we crossed flat rainswept agricultural land, the tractors carrying newly lifted beet or turnips, winter wheat starting to sprout. Just past the exit for Kedainiai we finally saw a rare layby to stop for lunch. Meeting the A1 at 126 miles (a real 4-lane motorway which links Lithuania's capital, Vilnius, with its largest port, Klaipeda), we turned left towards Kaunas, the country's second city.

Kaunas developed around a strategically placed 11th C castle (now a ruin) at the confluence of the Nemunas and Neris Rivers and grew to become the capital of Lithuania from 1920-39, while Vilnius was in Polish hands. Not wanting to negotiate the narrow Old Town (nor the pedestrianised New Town beyond), we turned right from A1 onto A5, skirting the west side of the city.

In an extensive area 7 km (nearly 5 miles) north-west of the city centre, just west of the A1/A5 interchange, lies 'IX Fortas' (the Ninth Fort) which we did visit, though it took some finding! Going south on the A5 dual carriageway, we unknowingly passed the very first exit, just before a Statoil garage, that leads along a narrow unsigned lane to the Fort. Reaching the bridge over the Nemunas River, we realised we'd gone too far, so turned back towards Kaunas at the next opportunity. We almost missed the exit on this side, shortly before the A1 junction, with a faded old sign 'IX Fortas'. This road led us under the highway, after which we were left to flounder on narrow lanes until suddenly a stark monumental sculpture of agonised faces and clenched fists appeared on the hillside. Turning towards this landmark, we eventually found the Fort car park, still unsigned.  

The extensive moated 19th C fort, built by Tsarist Russia on its (Nemunas River) border with Prussia, was again used by Russians during the First World War to defend their western frontier against Germany. In World War Two the Germans turned the fort into a death camp and murdered an estimated 50,000 people here, mainly Jewish: 30,000 from Lithuania itself, including the Kaunas ghetto, along with convoys sent from France, Germany, Poland … the list goes on. Returned to Russian hands under Stalin, the building became a Soviet prison and site of execution.

This dark and brutal history is very well presented in two separate museums (open 10 am–6 pm except Monday in summer; 10 am-4 pm except Mon and Tues in winter). The Old Museum, in the fort itself, covers the period up to the end of WW2, with displays of heart-rending photos, artefacts and documents (labelled in English and Lithuanian) in those very cells, from which so few escaped. There was, however, one successful break-out by a group of Body Burners, Their infernal role was to exhume the bodies of victims and burn them, hiding evidence of the atrocities – a task they could no longer endure.

One cell was devoted to Chiune Siguhara, the Japanese consul in Lithuania from 1939-40. With the help of a Dutch diplomat, he saved some 6,000 lives by issuing transit visas (against orders) to Polish Jews who were fleeing the advancing German terror.

The New Museum, a modern structure nearby incorporating a chapel, concentrates on the Soviet era. Photos of Hitler and Stalin, with their henchmen Ribbentrop and Molotov, are shown at their evil duplicitous plans to share out Poland and the Baltic Republics. The long post-war years of Russian occupation, resistance, execution or deportation are well documented. Exhibitions of objects painstakingly made in the Siberian prison camps include meticulous needlework, socks knitted from dog-hair and a skilfully carved chess set.

They reminded us of similar exhibits we've seen in Riga's 'Museum of the Occupation of Latvia', or Tallinn's 'Museum of Occupation & Fight for Freedom': the three Baltic Republics sharing their grim history. In Kaunas there is also a 'Museum of Deportation & Resistance', as well as 'Sugihara House' telling the full story of the 'Japanese Schindler' – these we left unvisited (till the next time).

We must thank the kindness of a member of the New Museum staff for enabling this experience. The old lady in the ticket booth (speaking only Lithuanian) turned us away when we tried to pay the entry fee (2 Lt per person per museum) in Euros. As we left, disappointed, a younger woman called after us in English 'Please, come back, you are welcome'. She issued us with tickets for both museums free of charge - a very touching gesture – and allowed us to take photographs. However, we didn't know that an extra camera fee was payable and Barry was severely reprimanded by a different custodian in the Old Museum.

Outside the Fort, the sculpture that led us there stands on the site of the mass grave. Other notable memorials include that from the friends and relatives in France of a convoy of young Jewish men sent here to their deaths and – incredibly – a plaque from the city of Munich (describing itself as Bavarian, rather than part of Germany). Translated from the German, it reads:

“In sorrow and shame – and appalled by the silence of the (German) bystanders – the provincial capital of Bavaria, Munich (in Germany), commemorates the 1,000 (German) Jewish men and women, who were deported (by Germans) on 20 November 1941 from Munich to Kaunas and were brutally murdered at this site (by Germans) five days later.” (We supplied the missing words in italics).

Back in the motorhome, late on this cold wet afternoon, we needed a pot of tea before finding our way back to the A5/E67 to drive south, crossing the Nemunas River again at 142 miles. The busy 4-lane highway turned south-west 7 miles later towards Marijampole, as drivers flashed warnings of a lurking police speed trap.

We saw nowhere for camping or an overnight stay along our route, apart from a large TIR truck park at 174 miles, short of the exit for Marijampole. We bypassed the town on A5 and continued towards the Polish border, now signed 'Warsaw'. At 200 miles, a mile before the frontier, we stopped to fill our tank at the last Lithuanian fuel station. Some trucks were parked there for the night but it was noisy and we know a better place in Poland.

Entering Poland, our third country today and again with no passport check or queue, we recalled how impossible this would have been a decade ago, with delays of two and more hours at every border. Poland is on Central European Time (1 hour behind Finland and the Baltics), so it was only 5.30 pm as we drove along the immediately narrower and twisting rd 8/E67 in the rain and half-light of dusk. We passed a cluster of cabins offering currency (the Zloty at about 4.4 = £1) and Vignettes (only needed by HGVs). There were also several TIR parking places along the way, advertising WC/showers, internet and bar, though not electric hook-ups.

Just 15 miles into Poland there is a good TIR park on the left, a couple of miles before the town of Suwalki, which we've used twice before. Inside the 'Swiss Bar Club' is a restaurant/bar with a cosy log fire, as well as modern toilets, hot showers (for a small fee), and free WiFi internet accessible inside or out. We were soon enjoying large pork chops smothered in cheese and mushrooms, followed by lemon cheesecake or delicious hot apple pie with ice cream.

We paid by credit card, then sat by the log fire to check emails before returning to the motorhome, to look out an extra blanket and hot water bottle for the bed! The night watchman came by for some money and was happy with a €5 note – in fact he tried to give us a few Zloty in change, though we didn't take it, not envying his job as a cold hard rain swept across the lorry park.

Suwalki to Bialowieza, Poland     Camping U Michala     Normal price 50 zloty (c €12)     140 miles     515 ft asl

The rain had gone as we drove down rd 8/E67 into Suwalki, a busy town with plenty of shops and fuel. This is the transit route from Warsaw to/from the Lithuanian border – that narrow entry point into the Baltics, between the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad to the west and Belarus to the east. Our E67 turned left at a roundabout after 2.5 miles, then we turned off into Lidl on the left, arriving as it opened at 9 am. An empty car park, an empty store – spent a Happy Hour (and lots of Zloty) buying all the things we'd missed since Finland. This Lidl accepted credit cards (as in every country except its native Germany!) and was extremely well stocked, with Christmas goodies already on the shelves. We even found favourites like Advokaat liqueur and 4 varieties of bread mix, not seen in the Scandinavian stores.

Continuing down rd8/E67, a dual carriageway on the east side of town, we passed McDonalds, the bus station and a busy market. It felt much more European, less Soviet, than the Baltics. At 5 miles we passed a sign on the right for Polna 12 Camp, a small private 'Stellplatz' that we'd checked out last year.

Leaving Suwalki, the road is heavily grooved by the continuous lines of trucks in both directions. Through farmland and tiny villages, there are plenty of truck stops and fuel – and road works signed 'Uwaga' = Warning! The leafy lakeside town of Augustow at 20 miles is on the eastern edge of Poland's Great Masurian Lakes District, which we explored a year ago (see 13-18 Oct 2009).  After negotiating the town (follow 'E67 Bialystok'), with hotels, supermarkets, roundabouts and traffic lights, the road became quieter as much of the traffic turned off for Warsaw.

Driving across a landscape of ploughed wheat fields, cattle pasture and woods, the air temperature reached 9.4Ί C at noon. The narrow Polish roads offer very few rest areas and we stopped for lunch at 38 miles in Sztabin, on a car park in front of a closed Disco. On through an area of protected woodland for 20 miles to Suchowola (which puzzlingly claims to be the 'Centre of Europe'), then the village of Korycin, dwarfed by a restored windmill and huge twin-spired Roman Catholic church. Catholic shrines and crucifixes, often decked with ribbons, are a common sight along the roads and in the front gardens. As the calendar approaches All Souls Day (1 November), flowers and red candle lanterns are on sale everywhere to adorn the well-tended graveyards.

At 72 miles our grooved road 8/E67 turned into a 4-lane dual carriageway as it approached Bialystok. A mile later we took an exit for Wasilkow (a village 4 miles north of the city) to find a campsite listed by the Caravan Club as open all year. After 3 miles we turned right at rd 19, crossed a river and saw Hotel/Camping Jard, on the right. Though hotel and restaurant were open, the campsite behind (a boggy field with basic facilities) was definitely closed.

Road 19 took us south through increasingly chaotic traffic into Bialystok itself, until we regained the dual carriageway at 80 miles (a mile before it ended). Road 8/E67 turned south-west for Warsaw, while we stayed on rd 19 south (signed 'Lublin'). We soon began to notice large new Eastern Orthodox churches in the villages on this eastern side of the country, for example at Zabludow at 88 miles. We reached the large town of Bielsi Podlaski at 110 miles, then turned east on a narrow minor rd 689 for 30 miles to our goal: Bialowieza National Park.

The little town of Hajnowka, half way along, has a new Orthodox church and a Russian war cemetery. Then we passed signs with the red & black torch (indicating a place of Nazi atrocity) pointing here and there into the woods. History all around us – but this time we have come to experience the flora and fauna of the unique World Heritage primeval forest, famous as the habitat of the European Bison.

Entering the long village of Bialowieza, we turned into a small campsite on the right, lovingly maintained behind a small guesthouse. We'd phoned this Caravan Club and ACSI-listed camping earlier, speaking in German with the friendly owners. Though officially closed, they welcomed us to stay (at a reduced price, as the toilets and showers are drained and locked). No problem, as we still have the use of electricity, water and waste disposal. Such a peaceful garden surrounded by forest, where they tell us 400 Bison (or Zubra in Polish) roam free and sometimes come to the fence!

At Bialowieza, Poland     Camping U Michala    

With 2 days of absolutely splendid weather – clear sunshine all day, with a few degrees of frost turning our garden white overnight – we explored on foot and bicycle. Directly opposite the campsite stands the 'Soplicowo Spa & Wellness Hotel': in ruins since a serious fire on the last day of April this year, when it was full for the May Day holiday. The roof timbers are charred, the thatch gone, the villagers unsure if it will ever be rebuilt. It had already been renovated after a previous smaller fire.

The 'Puszcza Bialowieza' in eastern Poland and western Belarus is one of the largest surviving areas of primeval mixed forest (pine, beech, oak, alder, and spruce) in Europe, occupying more than 460 square miles (1200 sq km). It is located in the Brest and Hrodna Provinces of Belarus and the Podlaskie Province of eastern Poland, near the headwaters of the Narew and Lesna rivers - tributaries of the Bug. Some of the conifers and hardwoods have attained ages of 350 to 600 or more years, heights in excess of 150 feet (45 metres), and diameters greater than 6 feet (2 metres).

The fauna include European bison, elk, deer, lynx and wild boar from both western and eastern Europe, as well as over 100 species of birds. Once the hunting grounds of kings and tsars, the Bialowieza is the oldest nature preserve in Europe. Both the Polish and Belarusian portions of the forest have become national parks, and both areas were designated as Biosphere Reserves and World Heritage sites (Polish portion in 1979; Belarusian portion in 1992). Royalty still visit – no less than Prince Charles earlier this year.

We walked the mile into Bialowieza village, past a small shop or two, new petrol station and many wooden cottages offering B&B in the summer season. The Zubrowka Hotel (Best Western) in the centre - you can't miss the pair of fibre-glass bison out front – has a useful ATM and internet cafι, though we didn't use the latter. Nearby is the PTTK (Tourist Office) at the main entrance to Palace Park, where you can walk or cycle freely - or negotiate a price with the horse & carriage drivers gathered by the bridge.

The leafy Palace Park/nature reserve, surrounding a small lake, was the location of the Russian Tsars' 19th C Hunting Lodge, though only one gatehouse remains (now a craft shop and gallery). The Bison were actually hunted to extinction in the wild. The new Natural & Forestry Museum in Palace Park was open (6 zl pp), complete with a lookout tower (hardly tall enough to see over the mighty oak trees), though the adjacent hotel and restaurant was closed. Our hosts lent us a well-worn detailed large-scale map of the area, published by PTOP (Poland's Bird Protection Society): excellent for identifying the hiking and cycling paths, as well as birds and trees. It may still be available from the National Park Office in Palace Park.

The European Bison Reserve, accessed from Hajnowka road about 3 miles west of Bialowieza village, is best reached and seen by bicycle. In fact, bikes can be hired from any of the hotels, the PTTK or at our campsite. The European Bison, or Wisent, differs from the American Bison in several respects. It lives in woodlands and is slightly larger and longer-legged than its American cousin, but less heavily built. The European Bison's range originally extended across Europe and eastward to the Volga River and the Caucasus Mountains. It became extinct in the wild after World War I but herds built from zoo-bred animals were subsequently re-established, the largest being here in the Bialowieza Forest of Poland and Belarus. This remains the European Bison's most notable home, though the animals are now also found again in Lithuania, Russia and the Ukraine.

Our 32 km bicycle ride began with the Bison Reserve, entry 6 zl pp plus 3 zl per bike. Visitors by car paid to park, before walking 1 km round the spacious fenced enclosures. How civilised that cycling was allowed! It was a lovely Sunday afternoon, the light perfect for photography. The animals are all native to the region: not only the mighty powerful Bison (bulls with their mates and calves) but also dainty horse-like Tarpan (virtually extinct in the wild), Wild Boar with piglets, Zubron (large hybrid bison-cattle, bred for their meat), a lone female Elk and other Deer. The pens for Wolf and Lynx were ominously empty.

From the Reserve we rode through carpets of leaves along forest tracks, returning to the village via Palace Park Nature Reserve. Continuing east we came to the old railway station, where Tsars once arrived for a spot of hunting. The lovely wooden station building is now an up-market restaurant with a few nicely restored steam trains on the tracks. South through the forest again, we joined the road leading to the Belarus border at Grodek and cycled up to the frontier. Beyond the closed gates, with no guards to be seen, a large modern building blocked our view. No entry here – not even for Poles without a visa – though a Black Woodpecker had no such difficulty.

Riding back to our homely base, just 3 miles from the border, we passed Bialowieza's other campsite – Camping Grudki, a more rudimentary place down a rough lane into the woods, closed and deserted out of season. We strongly recommend motorhomers to opt for 'U Michala', while tents can also be pitched at several of the village guesthouses.

Poles claim that the national drink, vodka, was invented in their country. One of the most popular brands, 'Zubrowka' (Bison Vodka), is actually flavoured with grass from the Bialowieza Forest. We didn't try it!

Bialowieza to Stary Brus, Poland     Karczma Poleska (= Polesie Inn)    20 zloty     188 miles     537 ft asl

The weather changed abruptly from sunny and bright to grey and dark. We retreated from Bialowieza, west along rd 689 past the track to the Bison Reserve and through Hajnowke, to meet rd 19 at 30 miles in Bielski Podlask. There is a Lidl store 1 mile north of this junction, where we bought fresh rolls and donuts before turning south down rd 19. A huge RC church was competing with its Orthodox rival.

At 58 miles we made lunch at a small TIR truck-stop, 4 miles before Siemiatycze. A few miles beyond this town we crossed the infamous River Bug, along which lie 3 German extermination camps: Treblinka to the north-west (visited last year), Sobibor and Belzec ahead of us to the south-east. Another TIR park with fuel and bar at 75 miles, just south of Platerow village, has been improved since we spent a night there in 2006. It's now fully paved, with a new restaurant nearing completion.

We were crossing a cold agricultural plain at about 500 ft (150 m), occasionally delayed by road works and slow tractors towing trailers of logs or red apples. The outside temperature reached 3ΊC at noon, rising to 4.5ΊC by 2 pm, with no sign of the sun, but at least it was dry. In Losice at 82 miles the Roman Catholic cemetery was a welcome splash of colour, every grave aglow with fresh flowers and red candle-lanterns. Continuing south, rd 19 detoured west of Miedzyrzec Podlaski on a new bypass.

At Radzyn Podlaski there was another TIR Park at 112 miles. We might have turned east here (our aim being the town of Wlodawa) but we chose to keep south on rd 19 (a longer route), since we intended to stop at Hotel/Camping Efes at Firlej, as we did last year. Through the village of Kock at 126 miles and on to Firlej, 7 miles later, where the lakeside Efes is signed, hidden in the woods to the left. The hotel and restaurant were open, the gates to the empty campsite unlocked, but no amount of persuasion (or Zloty) would induce the two women in Reception to admit us. 'Camping Closed' they declared. In October 2009 we had been made very welcome, with electricity and the use of hotel toilets and showers. Times change.

Continuing south down rd 19, there were no more TIR Parks. At 147 miles in Kol Lucka we turned left onto minor rd 829, hoping to find somewhere for the night on the way to Wlodawa. The afternoon turned even gloomier as a fine rain began to fall and we saw nothing along the narrow road except muddy turnip fields. After 13 miles of this we met the busier rd 82 (from Lublin) in Leczna. The crowded town had no TIR Park, camping or hotel with suitable parking, so we could only follow rd 82 – for 12 miles east to Glebokie, then north towards Wlodawa –to escape Leczna's road works.

A welcome sight on the right, some 15 miles before Wlodawa near the village of Stary Brus, was a mini-folk-museum. A sylvan collection of huts and barns, a wooden windmill, beehives, tree trunks carved into fairytale faces and – more importantly – plenty of space and a cosy restaurant that was open, with log fire and two charming young waitresses.

After establishing that it was OK to park overnight and plug into an outside socket, we ordered a meal that we named Chicken Surprise - since 'chicken' was the only word we had in common, and they didn't recognise the food illustrated in our 'Picture Dictionary'. This normally useful item in our Travellers' Language Kit, a free gift with the 'The Observer', was kindly passed on by our good friend Peter in Huddersfield. Printed in Germany, it clearly doesn't feature the traditional dishes of Polesie – this historic region of forest and marsh, straddling the borders of Poland, Belarus and the Ukraine. Anyway, the Surprise element (chips, coleslaw and red cabbage) was tasty enough.

We tipped the girls 20 zloty to cover the electricity and slept well, guarded by their black Labrador 'Neros' in exchange for a couple of biscuits.

Stary Brus to Sobibor, Poland     Sobibor Museum Car Park     24 miles     512 ft asl

Heading north-east on rd 82 for 14 miles, we turned right onto rd 812 at a roundabout, a mile before the centre of Wlodawa, and immediately parked at Lidl. We didn't need more shopping - just a safe place to leave the motorhome while we walked round the capital of Western Polesie, lying on the banks of the River Bug where it forms the Polish border with Belarus (and the Ukraine immediately to the south). This city, placed as it was between the German and Russian fronts, has witnessed many tragic events.

There is a military cemetery from the First World War, as well as partisans' graves from WW2, and a monument to the soldiers of the Border Protection Corps who died during a battle with the Red Army. But nothing compares with the mass murder a few miles south, deep in the forest near Sobibor, where 250,000 men, women and children (mainly Polish Jews) were asphyxiated with carbon monoxide at a purpose-built extermination camp between May 1942 and Oct 1943.

Just off Wlodawa's Rynek (main square, with the usual heroic Communist-era concrete statue), we found the Tourist Office very helpful. They gave us an illustrated booklet 'Three Regions of Polesie' and pointed us to Wlodawa Museum, housed in the 18th century Synagogue buildings nearby. This is the main 'Museum of Leczynsko-Wlodawski Lake District'. It also has a branch museum at Sobibor railway station, now closed for winter (open daily 1 May to 14 Oct between 9 am and 2 pm).  

Wlodawa is promoted as the 'City of Three Cultures' (Jewish, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox) and the slender towers of its Baroque RC church stand proud above the river, near the onion domes of the imposing Orthodox temple. The Synagogue, however, no longer has a Kahal (the community that dated back to 1525). In spasmodic bursts, the Germans transported the entire Jewish population of the city, together with its last Rabbi, to the death camps of Sobibor and Belzec, further down the River Bug. Wlodawa was then proudly declared the first city in Poland to be completely Judenrein (cleansed of Jews). The Synagogue buildings (their treasures, furnishings and cemetery destroyed) were then used as German military storehouses. 

We visited the Museum (entry fees plus camera permit total 20 zl) with overwhelming sadness. There are many photographs of the city and its substantial Jewish population in the 1930's. Heart-breaking to realise that all these smiling children and worthy adults were soon to die. The Great Synagogue has been beautifully restored (completed in 1990), with all the cult objects and holy books of this ancient and pious religion on display. Meticulously carved wooden figures inhabit the religious schoolroom. The upper women's prayer rooms contain a display of art, among which the wry wooden figures of Jewish elders, carved by modern local sculptor, Jan Pawloski, are particularly haunting.

The Small Synagogue building has several floors, with exhibitions devoted to the long history of the city and the region. We were the only visitors, shown round by a helpful female attendant who spoke no English, but there were several publications on sale in different languages. We bought a small guide to 'The Complex of Synagogue Buildings in Wlodawa'; the illustrated catalogue to an exhibition in the Sobibor Museum 'From the Ashes of Sobibor'; and the book of the same title by Thomas Toivi Blatt. This memoir of a survivor of Sobibor (where Thomas was taken at age 15, along with his family who perished there), was finally published by the Wlodawa Museum in 2008, with the support of the Chancellery of the President of Poland. Grimly informed reading material. Have a look at: http://www.sobibor.info/

From the Synagogues we walked down to the bank of the River Bug, where there is no longer a bridge, no crossing point to Belarus. Chilled through, Barry bought a warm felt cap at the 'Salon Mody Meskiej' (Men's Fashion Salon) as we returned to the motorhome. Life in Wlodawa continues but no Jews have returned.

To reach the site of Sobibor extermination camp, hidden in the forest alongside the old railway line from Chelm to Wlodawa, we drove south on rd 812 (a better road than the 816, which shadows the Bug and the Ukrainian border). After 5 miles a left turn signed 'Sobibor Museum' led along a narrow but sealed lane, via the tiny settlement of Duzy Slobek, for another 5 miles to the disused Sobibor Station, where a pile of logs awaited trucking.

A memorial wall stands on the right, opposite the siding where prisoners were unloaded from the cattle trucks under the pretence that they were in transit to the Ukraine. There is a parking area in front of the 'Museum of the Former Nazi Death Camp' so, as the place was deserted, we stayed here overnight. Rain began to fall; only a chainsaw cut the silence of the forest. It was 2.5 miles to the present Ukraine border on the line of the River Bug.

In the afternoon we walked the Lane of Remembrance through the woods behind the museum - the route along which tens of thousands of victims were herded, straight from the railway sidings to the gas chambers (disguised as 'disinfection baths'), now marked by a Soviet-era monument. The Germans had named this path Himmelfahrtstrasse (Ascension to Heaven Street). The 'gas' was simply the exhaust from a fixed diesel engine; it took at least 20 minutes to complete its deadly task. Beyond the site of the gas chambers is a huge tumulus, a symbolic mound of ashes. There was no crematorium here; the corpses were buried in mass graves or burnt in the open, the ashes dumped in holes in the forest.

In October 1943 an uprising took place, with a mass escape of up to 300 prisoners, though less than 50 survived the War, including Thomas Toivi Blatt. This incident led to the immediate liquidation of the camp, in an attempt to hide the evidence. On the 60th anniversary of the revolt in 2003 the Dutch Government sponsored renovation work at the Sobibor site, including the Lane of Remembrance. Dutch Jews had formed the second largest contingent brought here to be killed, along with others from Czechoslovakia, Germany, Austria, France, the Soviet Union, Belgium, Romania, Hungary – the whole of occupied Europe. The Lane is lined with boulders, each recalling the names and details of a family murdered here, with a personal inscription from relatives, mainly from Holland. The wife and family of Leon Feldhendler, one of the leaders of the uprising, are commemorated on one such stone: he alone escaped.

At dusk, back inside the motorhome, we saw a coach arrive with a party of teenage students and some men wearing the Jewish skull-cap or Jamulka. They looked around for half an hour, taking away vivid memories enough to disturb their sleep and leaving only a plastic bottle or two on the tidy car park. After that we had a quiet night, trying yet again to come to terms with what took place here in Poland. We have previously visited Auschwitz twice, Treblinka and Majdanek and still find it all beyond imagination, beyond understanding, beyond any notion of forgiveness – and yet beyond doubt.

To end a long day's grieving, here is an excerpt translated from a poem written by Jakob Rozenblat in Tel Aviv in 1945:

“My Little Town Wlodawa rooted by the Bug River …
Serenity disappeared, silence and peace.
Ghetto supported with wires, Signs of agony of last Jews …
Sobibor spread ashes, dust. Elders, mothers and children burned …”

Sobibor to Zamosc, Poland     Duet Camping     42 zloty     66 miles     662 ft asl

Next morning, still rainy, we were away early, driving for 5 miles through tiny Duzy Slobek back to rd 812, where we turned south. The narrow forest road was well surfaced and we spotted a 'State Border' jeep hidden in the woods. At 28 miles we bypassed Chelm and continued, climbing to over 800 ft (250 m) via Rejowiec to Krasnystow, where we joined the busier rd 17 from Lublin at 46 miles.

Mistletoe hangs in the bare trees, as the last few leaves flutter down. The dark fields are bare too, stripped of the turnips that now stand in piles like heaps of skulls awaiting collection. This area of rural eastern Poland remains poor. We saw a man ploughing a lone furrow with his horse, and a horse-drawn cart plodded amidst the traffic in Krasnystow – once common sights in Eastern Europe but much rarer these days.

Once clear of the town, rd 17 to Zamosc was good and wide, though busy with trucks. It felt a bit warmer as we made progress south and a watery sun appeared: 9ΊC at 10 am. We noticed a little market in the village of Izbica and remembered Thomas Toivi Blatt's lines: “I was born in Izbica in 1927 and spent my childhood there … For me it was the centre of the world.” It had been a shtetl or small Jewish town, many of whose population made their last journey to Sobibor. For us, it had been just another 53 miles on our long life's journey.

Entering Zamosc 10 miles later, we turned right onto rd 74. Duet Camping is 3 miles along, on the right of the highway next to a Chinese Restaurant (which is also the campsite Reception!) When we rang yesterday a gruff voice had said 'Camping Closed' and put the phone down, but as it was on our route we came to check. Though the site is old and worn, it is definitely open, with hot water and electricity!

We settled in to read and write, our only neighbours a huge flock of jet black rooks that came to darken the sky before settling in the trees for a frosty night under a full moon.

At Zamosc, Poland     Duet Camping

It's a 15 minute walk from the campsite into the centre of Zamosc, through the park and past the 16thC Zamoyski Palace (converted into a military hospital in the 1830s and now government offices, not open to the public). The town, founded in 1580 by Chancellor Zamoyski, was surrounded by a moat and defensive wall, parts of which survive. One bastion now houses a Judo/Karate Club!

The central square or Rynek (exactly 100 m x 100 m) is flanked by an arcade of imposing Renaissance style burghers' houses in various hues. Zamoyski himself lies entombed in the Cathedral but the square is dominated by the lofty and ornate pink Town Hall, currently undergoing restoration. Even amidst the World Heritage architecture, the Holocaust is ever-present. The city, renamed Himmlerstadt, was designated for German colonial resettlement, its Polish (45% Jewish) population of 12,000 sent into slave labour or to the extermination camp at Belzec. The Synagogue dating from around 1610 is closed, though destined to become a cultural centre.

Apart from enjoying the walk, we failed to appreciate Zamosc. The square was empty of all but pigeons and we found nowhere to buy a coffee – or anything else. The Tourist Information Centre (Town Hall, ground floor) had just one assistant, who spoke Polish or Italian and quickly lost interest in us - no internet, no coffee, no toilet …

We were pointed to the only internet centre: The K@fejka Internetowa on the east side of the Rynek. Another disappointment: a pair of ancient computers with worn out keyboards, no WiFi, no USB port for a memory stick, dim light, no atmosphere, no welcome, no coffee, no toilet … We stayed 30 minutes (costing 2 zl) to check emails.

After sending cards from the Post Office (a stamp to UK was 3 zl) we wandered back to the campsite and fed stale bread to the ducks on the river across the road. It was another clear frosty night after a bright dry day.

Zamosc to Babica, Poland     Elkar TIR/Restaurant     12 zloty     125 miles     688 ft asl

Leaving Zamosc we circled the ring road to join rd 17/E372. At 6 miles there was a shopping mall with McDonalds, Lidl and Carrefour.

Heading south (into bright sunshine), the tall wooden crosses, Marian shrines and statues of the late Polish Pope, John Paul II, along our way were all decorated with fresh flowers and ribbons. To our secular eyes, this seems as absurd (or quaint, depending on your viewpoint) as Hindu figures of Hanuman (the monkey demi-god) or Ganesh (the elephant god) adorned with flower garlands in India, or decorating a totem pole. Flowers and candles also cover the graves in all the cemeteries here: easier to understand, especially as we approach All Souls Day (1 November), when Catholics remember the dead, but should the supermarkets be cashing in on these customs with wreathes and lanterns on sale?

The agricultural plains growing root vegetables and hops gave way to wooded hills, as we climbed to over 1,000 ft (above 300 m). Road widening schemes in the villages always included provision for a cycle/footpath. At 26 miles we met road works in the town of Tomaszow Lubelski, photographing a 1939-45 War Memorial in the park while we waited.

Entering Belzec village 5 miles later, we passed Belzec railway station (still in use, on the line from Lublin). After another 2 miles we parked on the left, outside the huge 'Belzec Extermination Camp Memorial and Museum', which had its own railway siding. So close to the village, with trains passing on their way to the Ukraine (less than 15 miles away), this death factory was not hidden deep in a forest but lay on a hillside above the tracks. Everyone knew what happened here. Trying to escape from Izbica ghetto by train into Hungary - an attempt which ended in his arrest - young Thomas Blatt (author of 'From the Ashes of Sobibor') describes his rail journey:

“Suddenly a kind of subdued anxiety spread among the passengers. They closed the windows; some lit cigarettes … Why did the talk turn to whispers? Despite the closed windows, the odour of rotting corpses seeped through. BELZEC! Of course. I grew numb with shock … I looked out of the window. There were scarce woods, then, in the distance, I saw flames - now fading, now shooting higher into the sky. This was the destiny I was trying to escape. The smell receded as the train raced on but I could still see the reflection of fire in the sky.”

Now we walked across that very railway line and through the gates, to the site of the camp from which only 3 people escaped alive. The entrance plaque gave the stark facts in letters of rusting iron, which (as a Scottish friend, Ian Inglis, observed on seeing our email 'Life and Death in the Forest') appear to weep:

“This is the site of the murder of about 500,000 victims of the Belzec death camp established for the purpose of killing the Jews of Europe, whose lives were brutally taken between February and December 1942 by Nazi Germany.

Earth do not cover my blood: Let there be no resting place for my outcry! Job 16:18.”

Belzec was the prototype of the 3 'Aktion Reinhardt' death camps built near the River Bug, followed by Sobibor and Treblinka: an operation named in honour of Reinhardt Heydrich, the assassinated originator of the 'Final Solution', that is the eradication of the Jewish race in Occupied Europe. These were not Konzentrationslager (slave labour and prison camps) but Sonderkommando der Waffen-SS, functioning exclusively as extermination centres, where Jews were gassed and their possessions plundered. Like the others, Belzec was dismantled and its remaining occupants liquidated, by the Germans, in 1943. The camp garrison comprised no more than 20 German SS, with experience in the 'euthanasia' of the handicapped in Hitler's Third Reich, assisted by a company of 100 specially trained guards. These were mainly Ukrainians, former Soviet army deserters or prisoners, infamous for their brutality.

In June 2004 the long-abandoned site was commemorated with a new monument - and the best museum of its kind we have seen. This was a co-operative project between the American Jewish Committee in Washington and the Council for the Protection of Combat and Martyrdom in Warsaw. The hillside is covered with burnt-out clinker, a symbolic cemetery, sliced through with a passage to a memorial. We walked round the perimeter, edged with the names of the cities from which the victims (Jews and marginalised groups like Roma) were transported - mainly in Poland, particularly the Cracow ghetto, but also Czechoslovakia, Germany and Austria.

The Belzec Museum - a branch of the State Museum at Majdanek (the concentration camp in Lublin) which we visited last year - has an extensive permanent exhibition, presenting the history of the camp and the story of its victims. It includes harrowing details, including photographs and biographies of a pathetically small sample of the half million people murdered here - the few who left some record with friends of their curtailed lives. Large numbers are easy to recite; individual stories much more heartbreaking to repeat. A picture of just one toddler left us both close to tears – a little girl hidden in an orphanage by caring parents before they were transported, only to be betrayed by an informer (perhaps for a bag of sugar) and taken away to her death, alone.  

The Belzec site is open daily (9 am–6 pm April-Oct, 9 am-4 pm in winter) except on Yom Kippur, which falls in September. The Museum is closed on Mondays, and on public and Jewish holidays. Entry is free. The small bookshop has publications in several languages. In addition to a brief guide, we bought the book simply entitled 'Belzec' by Rudolf Reder, the narrative of one of only 3 prisoners to escape.

As we left, we read the reproduction on an outside wall of an unfinished message, written in pencil in a sealed freight car during transit to Belzec:

“Here in this car load
I, Eve,
With my son Abel.
If you see my older boy,
Cain, the son of man, tell him that I …”

After a harrowing hour at Belzec, we walked along the railway line to the station in warm sunshine, trying to picture the unimaginable scene. For a further account of Poland's Concentration and Death Camps we recommend the excellent website of Paul & Sheila Barker, where they describe their visits in the summer of 2010.

Back in the motorhome, parked opposite a small factory where the Ukrainian guards' quarters once stood, we turned south-west from Belzec on rd 865. After the village of Narol, we drove through beautiful woodland, the leaves and forest floor shining golden in the bright sun. Autumn has now arrived with its wonderful colours, 2 months after Ruska overtook us in the far north of Finland! Then we crossed a high agricultural plain (at about 750 ft/230 m) with regular farming villages like Oleszyce at 60 miles, where smartly turned out lads were playing a football match.

In Jaroslaw at 78 miles we crossed the San River on a new bridge, a mile before joining rd 4/E40 and turning west(for Rzeszow and Krakow). This main road was actually much bumpier for the next 10 miles to Przeworsk. Here we passed Hotel & Camping Pastewnik on the right but its narrow entrance, complete with low wooden arch and restrictive barrier, looked inaccessible.

We bypassed the next town, Lancut with its castle and carriage museum, at 102 miles. In another 2 miles, after a Lidl store, rd 4 became a smooth dual carriageway for 10 miles to Rzeszow. Circling the busy city ring road, was like entering another country after sidling down the remote eastern edge of Poland. As we crossed the River Wislok and turned south, we passed foreign hypermarkets like Auchan, Leclerc, Tesco, Praktiker and Makro.

At 115 miles we joined rd 9/E371, which leads to the Slovakian border at Barwinek. After 10 miles, just south of the village of Babica, is an excellent TIR service station on the left, alongside the Wislok. A small overnight parking fee of 10 zl includes WiFi (inside the motorhome) and modern toilets, while showers cost 5 zl each. Euros were not accepted, but credit cards could be used in the absence of Polish currency. We celebrated our last night in Poland with a set meal in the restaurant: good tomato soup followed by pork schnitzel with potatoes and salad, for just 14 zl (about €4) a head!

We shall miss this country - its varied landscape and tragic history prove more fascinating with each visit.

Babica, Poland to Satoraljaujhely, Hungary (via Slovakia)     TIR Parking    €6     134 miles     350 ft asl

After refuelling and spending our last Polish coins on chocolate, we headed south into the sun on rd 9/E371. After 8 miles we passed a new hotel advertising TIR parking but it had very little space, set right against the noisy road. Last night's peaceful site was much better. It was Sunday morning and cars were arriving at every busy village church (one carrying nuns). We climbed through wooded hills, with signs of overdue road-widening in progress. The next TIR/fuel station at 20 miles was up at 1,200 ft/365 m with a wonderful view.

In Mielsce Piastowe 8 miles later, down at 980 ft/300 m, 2 policemen watched the traffic handling the newly installed roundabout! The next TIR stop at 33 miles has an ATM (useful if arriving from Slovakia). Dukla, 2 miles later and at 1,100 ft/333 m, is the last Polish town, from where we climbed 9 miles to the border village of Barwinek. There was a mile-long line of trucks from the fuel station here to the frontier, high on a pass at 1,637 ft/491 m.

Overtaking the queue, we were through the joint border crossing into Slovakia at 45 miles without hindrance and continued downhill. The E371, now subtitled rd 73, was now much rougher and the villages looked poorer, though both Catholic and Orthodox cemeteries were well tended and decked with flowers. It was a shock to see plinths still proudly bearing a Soviet fighter plane, tank and field gun along our route. Despite its Euro currency, Slovakia feels less European and more Russian.

In Svidnik (12 miles from the border and down at 730 ft/220 m) the grim workers' flats contrasted with a brand new Orthodox church. A mile later we parked at Tesco (open and busy on a Sunday) for lunch. At 61 miles, our intended left turn onto rd 15 was signed 'closed beyond Stropkov' so we continued on E371, which zigzagged downhill as it began to rain.

At Giraltovce, 14 miles later down at 550 ft/166 m, we turned left on minor rd 556 for 8 miles to Hanusovce, where it was left onto rd 18 to Vranov. Here, at 96 miles, we took rd 79 continuing south. Serious mountains were now visible on the western skyline (the eastern end of the Tatras). At 109 miles (down on the plain at 350 ft/106 m) in Hriadky we crossed the E50 (running west-east from Kosice to the Ukrainian border), 5 miles before Trebisov.

Beyond Trebisov we were surprised to see a dozen Great White Herons on a small field pond; then at 124 miles we passed a scruffy TIR Park on the left, opposite an Emu farm, followed by a field of Llamas!

Now in the vine-rich Zemplen Hills, we noticed the first small vineyard as we approached Hungary. We entered the country at Satoraljaujhely, without any delay at the joint border post, after driving 130 miles (of which 85 were across Slovakia). We couldn't recognise the remote and forbidding frontier between Iron Curtain countries that we first crossed in the summer of 1989, cycling across Eastern Europe to Istanbul. In those days, the search of our persons and panniers took 2 hours and we were ordered back into Slovakia to spend our small reserve of Slovak money before being allowed into No-Man's-Land!

We parked at the new Tesco store (opposite Lidl) for a break before continuing through Satoraljaujhely on rd 37. As we left the town we spotted a TIR Parking sign, just off the main road on the left. This proved to be a great find – a securely locked yard almost full of vans and lorries, with a drivers' rest room packed with friendly truckers watching football on TV.

The parking fee, payable in Euros or Hungarian Forints, again included WiFi (though the showers were strictly for men!) We were even given 2 large glasses of the local Tokaj ('King of Wines, Wine of Kings'). White, medium-sweet, delicious. Welcome to Hungary!

Satoraljaujhely to Tokaj, Hungary     Tisza Virag Camping     2,500 Fts     29 miles     295 ft asl

After a quiet night we enjoyed an hour or two on-line, updating our website, sending emails, listening to BBC Radio 4 - what bliss! TIR Parks are in some ways better than campsites (less expensive, usually with internet, often with a good restaurant) – if only they had electric hook-ups and waste dumps!

Then we continued south on rd 37, past Sarospatak at 7 miles. We didn't stop at this town on the River Bodrog, with its fine castle and seasonal campsites, as we know it of old. The weather was mild, dry and sunny for the delightful drive along the Bodrog on our left, while vineyards clothed the south-facing slopes of the gentle Zemplen Hills to the right.

At 23 miles we turned left onto rd 38, following the Bodrog for another 5 miles to its confluence with the mighty Tisza at the picturesque little town of Tokaj. Rd 38 runs through the centre, then turns left over a bridge at the junction of the rivers. The large camping ground on the right was long closed and a smaller campsite on the left, on the bank of the Tisza, had officially shut last weekend. Luckily, we found a woman in Reception who welcomed us to stay at a reduced price, with electric hook-up, provided we didn't need water as everything was turned off. The site, which we've used before, is in a super location beneath trees by the broad river, with boat trips to Sarospatak and elsewhere in summertime.

It's a short walk into town, where we obtained Hungarian Forints (c 300=£1 or 275=€1) and bought bread and wine from the Co-op (sounds like we're celebrating Mass). Also found a new gas lighter at the hardware store. The 'Tourinform' was less helpful: their internet was not working and they knew of no other; the Wine Museum is closed today (Monday); they knew absolutely nothing about the need for vehicle vignettes, nor which roads require the special 'Matricia' for those over 3.5 tons; and they charged 100 Fts each to use the toilet!

Strolling back across the bridge to our peaceful campsite in Spring weather, we could hardly believe this is the last week of October! The Tokaj Wine Region claims to have a unique micro-climate which, together the volcanic soil, explains the prestigious vineyards. There is also plenty of water, though the Tisza looks very brown and muddy today, sullying the much clearer Bodrog where they met.

Tokaj to Hajduszoboszlo, Hungary     Thermal Camping     €22     72 miles     333 ft asl

Bright and sunny again after a clear frosty night. Needing to fill and empty our tanks and do some laundry, we rang an ACSI-listed all-year campsite/thermal spa on our route at Hajduszoboszlo and were assured by the German-speaking Receptionist that they were open 'Kein Problem'. Our route took us south-east along rd 38 to Nyiregyhaza, across a flat landscape at around 300 ft/90 m, the fields now gleaned of sunflowers and corn cobs. At 19 miles we turned south on the Nyiregyhaza ring road, meeting rd 4/E573 for Debrecen a mile later.

At 24 miles we crossed the new M3 to Budapest, relieved to see the sign only indicated the need for a 'Matricia' on that motorway and not on our rd 4 (which, like all single-digit roads in Hungary, bans tractors, bicycles and horse-carts). A few miles later a sign on rd 4 said 'Matricia' compulsory (with nowhere to get one), then a little further a similar sign was crossed out. Crazy! And there had been no information or sale of the things at the border yesterday. We drove on, hoping not to meet any check-points.

Roadside stalls in the villages sold pumpkins and apples, reminding us of Halloween next weekend, and the trees shone in tones of copper and gold. We passed a TIR Park at 38 miles, 12 miles before reaching Debrecen. Rd 4/E75 was well signed for the next 2 miles round the east side of Hungary's second city, then it continued south-west, past a TIR Park at 58 miles.

At 62 miles we turned right for Hajduszoboszlo, a spa town now bypassed by the main road. It was 14ΊC at noon as we passed Hajdutourist Camping on the right (open May through Sept), followed by the right turn on Josef Attila St for our Thermal Camping, though the street looked difficult with road works. Uncertain, we continued through the town centre for 2 miles and parked at a new Aldi store, opposite Tesco. Shopping in Aldi was a pleasure (credit cards OK) and we then ate lunch before returning to town.

Left on Josef Attila, then right at the end, we negotiated the narrow and poorly signed route to our chosen campsite, just before a huge Soviet-era indoor pool of Olympic proportions. The price was high (though it included entry to said pool) but we were told there was water at each pitch, a ground level waste dump and 2 washing machines – but no internet or WiFi, the nearest being in the grand Thermal Hotel we'd passed. The site was enormous, with just 2 other motorhomes in residence (one an very friendly German, here for 'the cure').

In the event, we found all outside water taps turned off (including one at the dump, making it impossible to use). When we complained the Receptionist feigned ignorance and promised to ask the groundsman, though nothing happened. The only water was inside the toilet/shower block and inaccessible for motorhome filling, though at least the showers were hot, albeit devoid of privacy.

As for laundry, having paid for 2 washing machines we then found only one working. The groundsman was summoned, took a cursory look and declared it Kaputt. So by the time the second load had finished it was already dark and, with no drier, the clothes froze overnight on our line. 'Sorry' said the Receptionist.

Of course we left next morning, after a futile attempt to have the exorbitant price reduced for lack of the promised facilities. We took the unprecedented step of sending a damning review to ACSI (Link), who actually list this camp on their website as Open All Year.

Hajduszoboszlo to Puspokladany, Hungary     Arnyas Motel & Camping     5,000 Fts (+ metered elec)     19 miles     308 ft asl

On a bright cold morning, we returned to rd 4/E573 (3 miles) and continued south-west. At 16 miles a left turn took us 2 miles (past Lidl) to join rd 42/E60 in Puspokladany. This road runs east to the Romanian border, but we turned west for a mile to check a campsite we'd used before, signed down a lane on the left, next to a motel and thermal pool complex.

Once again, the German-speaking Receptionist explained that outside water was turned off due to frosty nights. However, we had the use of a good shower and toilet inside the motel and there was one tap from which were able to fill our water tank. Free WiFi (or use of a computer) was available and we could have a (metered) hook-up.

The pleasant leafy site next to a small fishing lake was empty, with just one or two motel guests. As we settled in and hung the damp washing to dry in the sun, a dragonfly landed on a towel. There were even butterflies flitting among the falling leaves. We didn't take advantage of a free pass to the adjacent thermal baths but did make good use of the internet, sitting in the empty restaurant watched by a selection of mounted trophies from Namibia.

On leaving, the Receptionist was surprised how little electricity we'd consumed, using our gas heating since LPG is widely available in Eastern Europe (unlike Scandinavia or Greece).

Puspokladany, Hungary to Simeria, Romania     Villa Doerr Guesthouse & Camping     €10     175 miles     685 ft asl

Another day of bright sunshine after a frosty clear night. We drove east towards Romania on rd 42/E60, turning off briefly in Puspokladany to the well stocked Lidl (credit cards OK), where we bought a total of 8 DVD films in original English, with Hungarian subtitles or dubbing. Not recognising some of the titles, there were a few nice surprises later. One turned out to be 'Papillon' with Steve McQueen; another was Brad Pitt in the lovely 'A River Runs Through It' directed by Robert Redford.

In Barand, the next village along rd 42, several houses advertised rooms: Zimmer Frei or Szoba Kiado in Hungarian, one offering Gulasch soup. Between villages the flat plain stretched to the horizon, the fields mostly harvested with just a few pumpkins or corn cobs left. At 18 miles we passed a TIR Park charging 1,600 Fts. By the roundabout at Berettyoujfalou, 5 miles later, there is yet another Lidl and fuel stations. Driving on, all the oncoming traffic flashed a warning of the police car lurking ahead. It's a wonder the Rendorseg ever catch anyone speeding!

There were more hotels, TIR Parks and fuel along this busy route until we reached the frontier at Artand (38 miles). There is still a double check point, despite both now being EU countries). Leaving Hungary, we changed our remaining Forints into Romanian Lei (approx 4.8=£1 4.2=€1) and bought the Romanian Roviniete, compulsory on all roads (15 lei cash, for the minimum 7 day period). No vignette sticker is issued – keep the receipt in case of a check!

Entering Romania at Bors, the officials looked at our passports and checked inside the motorhome before waving us on. It's something of a relief to know we are fully legal on the roads, and the Latin-based language is also much more user-friendly. We didn't bother to put our clocks forward an hour onto Eastern European time, since tonight (30 October) all clocks go back one hour!

Continuing east on rd 1, past a horrendous Soviet-era power station, we reached Oradea after 8 Romanian miles. This Austro-Hungarian city, ceded to Romania in 1920, is supposedly a fine example of Habsburg elegance but we saw none, as we skirted the centre and turned south-east on rd 76/E79 following 'Deva'. At 49 miles we saw a huge shiny shopping mall on the right (Carrefour and Brico) and pulled in for lunch. Nearby an old shepherd was grazing his goats along the railway line, oblivious to the traffic all around him. Leaving Oradea, new housing estates were springing up along the highway – a great improvement on the crumbling concrete apartment blocks on our way in.

Road 76, much rougher now, continued through Baile Felix at 55 miles - a thermal spa resort, with a camping site (closed) on the right and plenty of hotels and guesthouses. Then it made its way through rural villages, the scenery almost making up for the state of the tarmac, which limited us to 30 mph! Plenty of time to watch the men at work hoeing the land, leading their cow home, tending their beehives or sitting on an upturned box enjoying a beer, while women fed the chickens or swept the yard. Girls helped, boys escaped to play ball! Some graves at the little wooden churches were being decorated with flowers for All Souls Day, though with less opulence than those in Poland and Hungary. Romania and Bulgaria remain the poorest members of the EU.

The narrow road climbed through autumnal woods, soon reaching over 1,000 ft/300 m. At 75 miles we passed a new TIR park/hotel/restaurant 'Silver' but it was too early to stop. In Beius at 88 miles we passed the Burger Beer and minerals bottling plant (good water up in these ranges of hills). Men were walking home carrying their pitchforks; hand-scythed haystacks stood in line in the fields. A lovely afternoon: 13ΊC at 3.30 pm.

We climbed to the town of Dr Petru Groza at 100 miles, up at 1,345 ft/408 m, then zigzagged upwards through forest where woodcutters were at work, loading logs onto small trailers. The top of the pass (2,040 ft/615 m) was at 111 miles. 

Apple sellers sat at the roadside as we descended through villages for 9 miles to Virfurile, down at 870 ft/264 m, where we met and then followed the Crisul Alb river, still on the bumpy rd 79. At 145 miles in Brad we made the mistake of following a sign diverting trucks around the town centre, along a couple of miles of jarring cobblestones! Next time, better to ignore it and drive through.

20 miles south of Brad we crossed the long River Mures (flowing west to Arad, then into Hungary as the Maros). Here we turned east for Deva, on the blissfully smooth rd 7/E68 (that shadows the river to Arad and the Hungarian border at Nadlac). Dusk fell as we drove through the busy city of Deva, the light too poor to photograph its dramatic hilltop castle ruins (the gunpowder store exploded in 1849!)

It was another 8 miles along the Mures Valley to the village of Simeria, unremarkable except for a guesthouse & camping we remembered from 4 years ago, less than 2 miles from the highway. It's easy to miss the sign: turn left into Simeria along 1 December Street, cross the railway line, then turn right at the end onto Biscaria Street. The road soon forks, with Villa Doerr guesthouse and restaurant on the right and the campsite below to the left.

We were greeted by owner Paul Doerr, who welcomed us to park (with electric hook-up and water if needed) in the safety of his yard, since the campsite was now closed, its water turned off. An excellent arrangement, with the use of a bathroom (complete with hot bath, towels, soap and shampoo) inside the guesthouse and a WiFi signal that reached the motorhome.

Paul is a big man in every sense, a German-speaking Saxon, who told us his story as we sampled Frau Doerr's cooking in the cosy restaurant. There has been a large minority of Saxons in this part of Transylvania since medieval times. They came as merchants, but left during the Ceausescu years. Paul (whose brother and family remain in Germany) returned to Simeria to spend five years getting his parental home back: five years of bureaucratic struggle. But he has - and turned it into this lovely Pensiune & Camping.

We spent a good evening with him, via Margaret's German, catching up with Romania today. The word 'Krise' (crisis) came up often and the gate was firmly locked at night. In parallel he served us white wine from Iasi, salad, bread, chips, pork schnitzel surprise (stuffed with cheese, mushrooms and liver), then pancakes with chocolate sauce and bananas. There was also a large dish of garlic sauce, which he insisted that we used liberally and widespreadly. Garlic is, of course, a sovereign remedy against Transylvanian Vampires and it worked - we haven't seen hide nor hair of one!

The perfect end to a long day.

(The journey continues at: In Romania and Bulgaria 2010)