England, back to Germany & Holland

Friday, April 28, 2006
Today I went out to be the Photovision trade show, one of a series of " Roadshows" they are doing around England. They incorporate with the trade show a series of lectures on things like Photoshop, Digital workflow, Colour management, Taking pictures for money, and Wedding and Portrait sales.

The trade show was made up from the type of suppliers we have become familiar with at Photographic Trade Shows and that is Photo Album manufacturers, most of these were from Italy, Digital management systems, various colour printing solutions, but no Colour Laboratories, whether that is a sign of the times or they don't consider these worthwhile going to would be interesting to find out.

It was held at the Royal Air Force Museum at Hendon So it was a two hour bus and tube ride to get there, it was too stops away from Edgware so I decided to go out their first to see a photographer friend, but he was closed for the Jewish Easter so just poked a card through the door.

The strongest representation, were of course, photo albums and there were some rather beautiful albums on display as you would expect from a country like Italy. The next strongest representation was for Digital management software, software designed to allow you to store your image and find that quickly. There were several sample disk's been passed out which I added to my collection.

I didn't bother staying for any of the lectures because they were probably in a darkened room with a data projector and I did not feel like going to sleep.

So I walked back to the tube station, started making tube connections to Upton Park where I was to meet up with a young lass I first met in Rajasthan. She is one of the quarter million young Polish people now living and working in London, in fact she says when she goes home to Poland none of her friends are there they are all in London, to me it looks like Poland will have a lost generation of young people with skills, people that a country like Poland cannot afford to lose. Of course the bright side may be that they are a lot like the New Zealanders who do their OE in England but come back to New Zealand to raise their families.

She was telling me that six years ago she arrived in London with $100 and the desire to further her education, today she has a good teaching job, her own apartment that she owns and a saving plan to manage the future investments. This is the type person that any country would be lucky to get.

Upton Park was very interesting, it is almost a totally ethnic community, and as I was walking down the street I realised I was one of the very few white faces, so I started counting white faces and I got up to 10 on both sides of the crowded road before I met my friend.

I caught up with her activities over last six months, had a meal with them and then headed back towards Crystal Palace at about 10:30 p.m.. Was an interesting route back, via underground trains and then an overland train finishing at Crystal Palace at about midnight, I decided to get a taxi back to the camp ground, so went into the Mini Cabs that was at station and as I was pulling away the black taxi driver was telling me how a few minutes earlier, outside station, somebody was beaten up, in fact the ambulance was just pulling away at that time. A wise decision not to be wandering the streets of London at that hour, which of course applies to almost any large city anywhere in the world.

Driving around England like I have the full last week or so, you get constant reminders of just how little space there is in this country, what with the narrow roads which often one-way because of the parking on one side of the road, and if that happens to be a road that one of the large London double-decker buses are going down then you have problems.

Is also very interesting if you miss a turning how far you have to drive before you can find sufficient space to turn around, sometimes you can find yourself arriving at your destination having got there for a different direction.

As it was bank holiday this coming weekend, the bank holiday being Monday, and I've read all about how wonderful the traffic is over a bank holiday weekend I decided to go down to Dover on Friday morning to miss any of the potential traffic later. I asked the guy in the camping office what the traffic would be like this weekend in the just held his head in both hands, which said everything.

It was a simple drive to Dover, with a little a little bit of traffic, about normal for a normal day, at the camp site I flew the New Zealand flag and that pulled in an Aussie, had quite a chat, they had just bought in secondhand, almost new motorhome in Germany, had imported it into England, and were about to set off on a trip around Europe for the next 12 months, I warned them about the bank holiday, they were totally unaware of the traffic problems, and if they do what they said they were going to do I guess they would find all this out.

Before I headed off for Europe I decided to try out the bucket washing machine, an electric washing machine that I bought in Holland for  20 the size of a plastic bucket with the motor that fitted underneath. It was able to wash .6 k using 10 liters of water. Conclusion you cannot wash white shirts in this washing machine with stocks!

While I was in the camp laundry rinsing everything out an English woman came in to dry off her clothes that she evidently washed in the camps upper laundry, it did not have a rotary spin drier which is what she was using.

After being there for about 15 minutes the curiosity got the better of her and she asked me why I was dressed the way I was? (Bow tie, White shirt Black trousers) She couldn't work out whether I was in a band, a professor or what! (better than in the Greek Islands where the waiters said I could work with them) I explained to her that everybody gets up in the morning and with the clothes they put on they control the way people will see them. I said I decided I would be rather sharp (in my away), than a grubby old man.

She then made profound statement that she did not care how people saw her and that did not worry her! I said okay, so if you're out in the garden in your oldest clothes, digging in compost, you don't bother to change before you go into Harrods! She's Oh yes I would change, in fact my husband often says that I stopped wearing blue (jeans that is) he would not be able to find me, I rested my case!

Monday morning it was an 15 Minute Drive on to the ferry terminal, being early has its advantages as I got on an earlier sailing without any questions are asked. We are not many on the sailing and I guess the crowds would be sailing back to England later in the day.

It was then our uneventful Drive on to Düsseldorf calling in the camping store on the way past, I arrived 30 minutes after the closing time of the camping ground, and unlike England they had no late arrivals area, but as there was a large parking area to service those walking and running in the forest around the camping area I just parked in that for the night with no problems.

This morning I went into the tour operator who is running the tour to Russia and Ukraine to see if I could organize my visas, at the moment I'm not holding out much hope as he is making a lot of excuses, but time will tell.

Evidently I am the first English-speaking person he has had on any of the tours he has organized, America is the big destination with over a thousand people going there this year to tour around in motorhome's and they had many other destinations on their list with New Zealand's rating two tours every year.

German nationals do not need a visa now to go to the Ukraine, they still need one for Russia, where as we need both an invitation and a visa to go to these countries.

The camp ground I'm at his 90 pitches for touring vans, and 650 permanent pitches where they have either caravans or old motorhome's permanently on the pitch, with very large awning in which they often have a built in kitchen and lounge with the van being the sleeping area. This is beside a fairly large lake, with the forest all around it, so I guess that is part of the green belt and these vans are an escape from the apartment living in the city. With 250 people per sq km in Germany and 14 in New Zealand, or 6 in the South Island we certainly should count our blessings.

Was a nice warm day-to-day so I placed some opaque film over the toilet window, now it let's in light, and one does not have too pull the blind to go to the loo or have a shower.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The tour operators rang me this morning to tell me that they had organised an invitation for Russia and for the Ukraine, they need me to go down to sign some papers, which I did, they then fax them off to Frankfurt who in turn will send them to Moscow and I should have them back in about two days, after which I can head to the embassies in and around Bohn. So it looks like I am in the camp ground for another two nights.

I was able to plug into their offices network and send and receive some e-mail's for the first time in about seven days, I then asked them how close the nearest shops were, they gave me a map and said it was two to three Kms away, to me that is a nice walk, so I set off and walked and walked and walked, and when I finally got there I thought this is got to be at least five Kms, so I did my shopping and start of the long walk back working on the principle of one step at a time. At some traffic lights it was a rather unusual combination so I stepped out when I should not, and stepped back quickly, and a German leaned out the window and shouted me in German, and I shouted back to him in gibberish, I wonder if he understood!

Back at the camp, finally, I checked up with the Microsoft Auto Route and it told me that distance was 5.1 Kms., each way! It's been a nice hot day, a good day for walking, just as well!

Saturday, May 06, 2006
Well there has been silence for the last two days, so it looks like Monday "is the day" so it was time to head off to Frankfurt airport area to collect Luda on Sunday afternoon from Kiev.

Only got lost once leaving the Düsseldorf area and it is when I was told to turn on to the A3 but that On Ramp was closed. Microsoft Auto Route is rather good as far as seeing the overall area because the screen is good large, but once you don't do a turning that request you to do, it goes away and sulks, repeating to itself every so often, " off Route", where as the normal GPS units that are made for this job, only tell you to do a U-turn for about two kilometres and then they recalculate the Route.

While eventually I got to the Frankfurt airport, and then started driving around in circles looking for a parking area that I could park the motorhome, it took me three circuits to see the area where you could park a car with trailer, or a bus, and driving into the first area there was a height restriction so I had to manoeuvre out of that, and in the bus area uses a special ticket to get into that, so after about three more circuits I decided they do not want me to park anywhere so I went off to the Ibis hotel that was within three kilometres of the airport park the motorhome in their parking area, checked into the hotel, and so I will go to the airport of the courtesy bus tomorrow.

The side effect of staying in the hotel, is that again I can get onto the Internet and clear my e-mail's, this is working out at some sort of Internet access every five to seven days, which in today's technology is rather sparse.

Sunday May 7th

Luda was not due until 3:30 p.m. so after a leisurely breakfast I checked out, went over to the motorhome, got a bucket and made for trips from the tap to the storage tank in the motorhome and so we had water again, little bit of a false start because one of the buttons that dropped the water was in the open position and that was fixed before one bucketful was lost. I ended up with an empty tank because the location they had placed the chain to pull the plug out in the freshwater tank was located so that when the pump swung it hooked up the chain, pulled the plug out, and for the second time on the trip I had no water. A slight modification soon fixed that.

Around 12 o'clock I took the courtesy car to the airport, wandered around, eventually bought an English book and sat down near the Customs exit C and waited for the Luda to emerge.

Eventually was time, so it was off to a taxi, and a very reluctant taxi driver was persuaded to take us to the Isbis hotel, and whilst he was travelling at a very high speed he was telling us in broken English we should have taken the bus to the hotel and eventually when we got there and I pointed out the motorhome he understood a little bit but was still not impressed, collected his money, and took off back towards the airport at a high-speed.

We then made ready and started the 4 Hour Drive to Bielefeld to have a minor modifications down to the motorhome the following morning. This was fine except we headed off down the wrong way down motorways twice which added to the site that of the trip.

Eventually we got there, parked in the crowded parking lot, walked to the only restaurant in the neighborhood a McDonald's, and had an interesting salad, one of the new look meals.

The morning rolled around and at nine o'clock they were open for business, then we had to go through the procedure of booking in even though we had made the appointment via e-mail that counted for nothing. They made the excuse that Julien gets hundreds of e-mail's and must have overlooked it, they were how ever expecting me so must have been some communication, not the most efficient organisation.

The downside was that none of the manuals they had promised me were there, the lock that I wanted fitted was not there, so they sent out and got one, this is supposed to be a special lock made for the Hymer and the when they fitted certainly did not look special!

All the words that have been written about German efficiency must have been written about a different company because it certainly did not apply to this company.

Eventually we were on our way, with a shortstop at a supermarket to replenish our suppliers, and that was onto Düsseldorf to check out the invitation situation, we arrived at the camp ground after it had closed so we spent the night in the car park, that saved some money, and then about 11 o'clock the next day the invitations were ready so we collected those in headed off towards Den Haag, the capital of Holland, and we found a camp ground within about two kilometres of the city ready to do the embassies the following day.

Wednesday 10th May

Off by taxi to the Ukrainian embassy, no problems at all, very helpful, produced photocopies of how to get to the Estonian embassy, and a post office, for double the price we are able to collect the visa at four o'clock that day.

Then onto the Estonian embassy for a visa for Luda, very interesting that detail in which they go to for those countries from whom they require a visa, fortunately New Zealand is on the visa free list, eventually we answered all of the questions and received the promise that it may be ready on Friday. All visas had to go through Estonia, the young lady said, to remove any possible corruption, and knowing the situation in some of the old Soviets had looks like they are determined not to go down that route.

Then we wanted around the town to fill in the time until four o'clock, when we collected a taxi, stopped Ukrainian embassy, collected the visa, and headed back to the motor camp.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Today it was the turn of the Russian embassy, so again a taxi to the embassy, we waited outside because the sign on the door said was not open until 10 o'clock, when the door was eventually opened it was a crowd of people in there so they had been open for some time contrary to what the sign said. Eventually was my time to be served, a woman asked me where is my travel insurance, I passed over, she says we will be keeping this! I said no you can't, she says you'll have to then get a copy, I said where, she says ask her, pointing to a woman whose job it was to obtain visas for other people, no she was not on the staff and it was just the Russian way of dealing with the question.

So was off for a 15 minute walk to the post office following the directions were given, obtain a  .10 copy and walked back to the embassy. But this time there was a longer queue of people and then the woman who was obtaining the visas for other people put my application in amongst her 50 or so which meant I was dealing with a different officer and I got served faster, there was a slight problem when the officer felt I should be a resident of Holland to obtain the visa and Holland, but he decided to accept the application, and as I was wanting it by 12 o'clock only charged me 100% extra.

So was again back to the centre of the town for walk until 12 o'clock the back to the embassy, and after a 15 minute wait received the visa. We were evidently very lucky, it was not a very busy day, sometimes, the woman told me, the line stretched out the door and down the road. Not terribly impressive!

Still no sign of Luda's visa from the Estonian embassy so we have decided to go north for the weekend and watch some dancing competitions that Hanks Daughter Ciska is taking part in at the University, it is interesting the impact that "Dancing with the Stars" has made all around the world.

Heading south again I phoned the Embassy and the Visa had come thro so we set off to Den Haag, drove to the embassy, Luda went in and I drove around the block, collected Luda with the visa and we were on our way again to spend the night at Hanks and possibly the last good internet connect for some considerable time.

I down loaded a German translating program do I could translate the "Road Book" for the tour across Russia, I will get this newsletter away and then we will be on our way north……

Today is the 42nd day since we left NZ, I have driven some 4000kms looking for bits for the motorhome and getting visas……