.......from the Ukraine back to Holland

Thursday, August 07, 2008
Today we paid 900 hryvnias (US$180) for a guided tour around Chernobyl.

Now I have watched a lot of documentaries about this atomic power station disaster, I've seen documentaries of people returning to look at their old apartment, I have seen what wreck everything is on the inside, it appears Vandals have either stolen or wrecked everything of value.

What I have not seen and I believe you have to be there to experience it is the way in which the undergrowth is reclaiming the whole area.

But first, getting there….

The drive from Keiv seems to take forever and we met the first checkpoint 30 km is out from the hotspot.  They examined all of the documents and checked our passports and then we were allowed to proceed and the next a stopping point was Chernobyl city where a lot of the workers live that are still working on and around the power station.  It appears there are about 4500 thousand working around and at the power station every day.  We saw the memorial to the fireman who fought the fire and died, it is said that if it was not for their efforts the contaminated zone will be 8000 km instead of the 30 that it currently is.

The next checkpoint we had to go through was the 10 km barrier and they were able to see a lot of the surroundings and a lot of the pavements that was still on the ground but the total housing had been removed.  We went past individual houses that were originally quite nice, but were starting to be covered by the undergrowth in fact in many places we were unable to see the houses for creepers and trees.  These of course would have been well exposed to the Road before the explosion.  This particular city was originally established we were told about the year 1100 and we were shown a building that was originally a Jewish Temple that had been converted into the Soviet administration block.

It was from within this barrier we are able to get to within about 250 m of the explosion site and were allowed to photograph from this particular position the concrete covered remains but we were not allowed to photograph the buildings from any other location.

The next barrier we went through was the 5 km barrier and within this was the city of 50,000 people that was situated downwind from the power station.  This was the city that was evacuated some 36 hours after the explosion and all of the residents were told it was only a temporary measure, of course none of them ever returned.

Many of the footpath's would totally impassable because of trees and bush, we were told wild pigs had moved in to the area and we saw signs of their routing in amongst the bush, trees are starting to grow through the joints in the concrete footpath's and playing area, we climbed to the fifth or sixth floor of one of the apartment buildings and on a patio I counted five trees that had started growing over the last five years and this sort of thing is happening right throughout the city.  I do not think it will be too long before it becomes another Angkor Wat with the big difference, in this case that I believe the trees will easily demolish the Soviet built apartments.

We drove back through the 5 km and 10 km exclusion zones then to the city of Chernobyl, passed through a radiation measuring device, and then were treated to a extensive meal that was obviously included in the price.  From there it was on through the 30 km exclusion zone and a more elaborate radiation measuring device before we were allowed back into civilization

Sunday, August 10, 2008
The last two days we have been driving slowly towards Lviv, in the Ukraine, first we had to leave the campground in Kiev by going towards the city on the divided highway then a rather perilous route underneath a bridge on a roundabout with traffic heading in all directions and finally we are on the Road to Lviv.

We eventually ended up on one of the back roads towards the city passing through interesting villages scattered along the highway.  As we pass through the each village is always interesting to see the very large flocks of geese, chooks, ducks and turkeys, so it be fair to say that there would be no shortage of eggs or poultry for the dinner table.

As I noticed on my last trip to Westen Ukraine the large number of horse and carts in everyday use transporting things as varied as hay and people.  Often there is just the one horse but occasionally we see a long narrow wagon being pulled by two horses. 

We did notice a difference between Russia and the Ukraine in so much that in almost every village in Russia there was a high-pressure standpipe in front of the houses with which the residents could get their water whereas in the Ukraine we have mainly seen Wells scattered amongst the houses, of course they may have high-pressure water inside that we do not know.

With seen quite a few communes still in operation so we must assume that the principle still works even in the capitalist society.  However there have been quite a few abandoned buildings along the road that were once communes and I would guess that not every group of people can work together if they have a freedom of choice.

100 km from Lviv we saw the first of the Greek Catholic churches that this area is known for, this was a result of the Catholic Polish residents of Lviv becoming citizens of the Ukraine in 1945 and was an accommodation for the Ukraine Orthodox people worshipping with the Catholic Polish in one church.  It was accepted by Rome, but has never been accepted by the Orthodox Church.

Almost every second church we have seen on our travels in the last two days has been new so there has been a tremendous resurgent back to the church since it has been permitted.

We have seen large dairy herds throughout the Ukraine which is interesting as beef is extremely expensive here, yet in Russia where we have seen very few dairy herds beef is cheaper.

The roads that we have travelled on have been pretty good and only when we get off the beaten path into a village do we start thinking we need a four-wheel drive.

With have a lot rain last two days which emphasises the news reports of massive floods in the hills of western Ukraine of which we are on the northern boundary.  We have experienced flooded roads, okay water right across the Road, but you can still drive through, has seen much erosion in the fields is not hard to imagine a little further south the results that we see in the news.

Today as we passed through Pochayev we saw this massive monastery with many golden domes in what seemed to be a little larger than a village, but the population must have increased several fold with all of the people attending Sunday service from the surrounding area.

Last night we were near Kustovtsy and drove off the main Road about a kilometre and parked on a driveway between a wheat field and cornfield, tonight we are by the edge of a forest near Lipeboki, on the outskirts of Lviv, parked on a driveway which hopefully leads nowhere as we have taken up most of the entrance.

If anyone is considering travelling through the Ukraine with a TomTom GPS unit and a set of Ukraine maps you better stick to the main cities and have a very good map of the Ukraine with you, the current model for Ukraine is very sparse once you leave Keiv and even then is not as comprehensive as one would like.

Fortunately I bought a Hewlett-Packard iPAQ, one of these do everything telephone, organiser, diary, calculator, GPS unit and camera.

I have on it iGO 2006 series of maps which seems to cover everything West of Russia and the Ukraine and this has been invaluable particularly in the Ukraine even when I'm on a track through a village it seems to be listed as and paved road.  How iGO can do this where are all of the other GPS units have basically nothing would be an interesting question.

LPG is a very popular fuel for buses and cars in the Ukraine, so there appears to be no problems in getting your gas cylinders refilled for your motorhomes.

Monday 12th of August
Today we are on a road round the outskirts of Lviv on towards the border to Poland, we still kept passing new churches, one gets the overall impression that western Ukraine with its Greek Catholic religion is giving a real strong resurgence.

Reached the border without any problems crossed over from the Ukraine side and there was a hold-up on the Polish side, with some Border officers almost pulling some cars to pieces inspecting them, I guess for drugs, be interesting to know if there is now a route for drugs from the Ukraine to the rest of Europe.  We were wondering what we would be put through, the border inspector came in, must have liked my an honest face because he waved us on through.

However moment we got into Poland we started getting into very heavy traffic, this was to mar our travel through Poland as there were strong roadworks in lots of places and slow traffic.  I guess the country is trying to catch up with the rest of Europe and to do that they have to upgrade all of their roads, particularly, I would think, due to the massive increase of private cars.  I made a comment earlier that throughout Europe the most common trucks we see on the Road have Polish numberplates, so Poland does not catch up with the rest of Europe quickly will not be through the want of trying.

As usual we drove down a side road towards a church with the thought that maybe a car park beside it, and there was a very large one so after receiving a friendly nod from one of the neighbours we camped there for the night with the cemetery just over the fence.

Tuesday 12 August
Today we set off for a campground near Krakow and passed through the heavy agriculture countryside that I've always found synonymous with Poland at the same level as France.

There's also a very large surge in the building of new houses, we see them everywhere, some obviously in a state of limbo possibly because of finances, but almost all are four storeys high which makes one wonder of Poland still has very large families.

Again we experienced heavy traffic and observed the aftermath of two accidents, one head on and the other one firmly wedged into a ditch on the side of the road.

We saw a notice for a camping ground so start following that it must have missed some part of their critical signs as we found nothing, but we did find a private road going to the right, and then was what I guess was a potential building site which has obviously been used for many picnics so that became our camping spot for the night, obviously the Road lead to several houses as they were is a good flow of traffic which fortunately stopped when it became dark.

Wednesday the 13th of August
Just out of Krakow at Wieliczka, we stopped at the large salt mine which is famous in the area and we joined many people of every nationality first of all in the queue which probably took the best part of an hour, and then we joined an English group of about 30 people and walked what seemed like hundreds of steps down into the mine were we stayed for the next two hours wandering through a small portion of their tunnels and caves.

When it was time to leave again we had to queue up to get into the elevator, or I should say to walk to the elevator as we were led through a rabbit warren of tunnels up and down steps until we were totally lost the fortunately the guide wasn't because we ended up at a contraption that must have been built in the 18th or 19th century and we were jammed into that somewhat similar to sardines in a can.  This contraption had two levels, one above each other, but it got us safely to the surface and safely out of the salt mine.

It was then on to the camp ground in Krakow, the address of which I had fed into the GPS, and that took us safely to a spot that was not the camp ground, but we spied a sign leading us in a different direction which we followed for the next 15 to 20 minutes as we manoeuvred our way through the streets of the suburbs of Krakow and ended up safely at a campground which was a nice spot, but low on amenities, but I guess like the rest of Poland it is in a state of progress.

The one thing we did notice about Poland was the large number of churches all in good condition, and the housing in the villages was definitely much better than what we saw in the Ukraine, which was better than what we saw in Russia.  Of course in all of these countries the new rich are building houses which would not be out of place in any ritzy neighbourhood anywhere in the world.

Thursday 14th August
We have planned our travel towards Munich, the location of the first German motorhome reseller that I will be visiting, so we decided to leave Krakow, which was easier said than done.  The traffic past the camp ground was solid nose to tail, which we did manage to enter the stream, and that was the way the traffic was until we got to the turn off to the border, there were two crossings and the way we went seemed to be the least popular as we had light traffic.

With the new expanded Europe crossing the border was just driving over and the Road without stopping, so we drove into theTatra mountains of Slovakia finally pulling into a cafe car park were we stayed for the night.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Today we drove on through the High Tatra mountains with ski slopes on both sides of the Road, chairlifts and Road and rope tows an extremely frequent locations.  Ski villages of the expensive sort, and as we moved into the mountains massive hotels designed for all the beautiful people.  It was quite a change later to go through an ordinary village for the ordinary people.

By in far the roads have been good and not very busy except for one part at the end of a motorway with two lanes went into one giving about a 30 minute delay but there are were at least plenty of police to keep the traffic flowing.

The timber industry is extremely busy as we wander through these mountains, with massive piles of logs on the side of the road waiting for collection and later we passed a large papermill which I guess is where most of the trees end up.

With seen a couple of very large commercial buildings that are unoccupied which I guess was the result of Perestroika, no doubt at sometime they may get put to use.

In the expensive hotel area of the Tatra ski resorts we came across a beautiful old solid brick hotel that had been abandoned and was in need of restoration, and I couldn't help thinking of the English couple that had a Chateau to restore, that the been better with this old hotel, at least they would have been in an where they would be able to get some clientele.

Just after lunch we found a rather beautiful spot beside a Lake that we decided to spend the night and hopefully these very small Road that is beside us becomes quieter when it gets dark.

Saturday, August 16th
As we had no Slovakian money, and filled up with diesel in Poland we decided to head straight across Slovakia without stopping, another factor that made us make this decision was a reasonably heavy rain which accompanied us halfway across the country.  We got on to E 75, most of which is a new motorway and until we got close to Bratislava hardly any traffic whatsoever.

Once we were in Austria and we headed towards Melk city beside the Danube and the city's that is famous for its large Benedictine Abbey.  We found a car parking area which was shared with several other cars and three motorhomes for a peaceful night.

Sunday, August 17
We purchased a return trip on a sightseeing boat that travelled from Melk to Krems through the Wachau Valley, according to the brochures probably the most beautiful part of the Danube.  We passed by a large number of hillsides planted in grapes, several old castles on the tops of the hills, many churches and quaint little villages on either side of this famous to river.

One interesting part of a boat cruise was when the boat came to a Bridge that had minimum clearance underneath it, the funnel folded down into the deck, and the captains control cabin was lowered into the deck, giving him I assume, an narrow piece of the window to view his progress on the river.  All the passengers on the top deck and also be seated with the alternative of losing their heads.

When the boat returned to Melk we programmed the GPS for Salzburg and drove for about 60 km before stopping in a commercial car park for the night, near the main Road.

Monday, August 18, 2008
We carried on our drive towards Salzburg driving through the delightful Austrian countryside, with beautiful scenes of rolling hills and farms without a blade of grass out of place, beautiful houses with plenty of flowers decorating their front and whilst we're on what seemed to be a main Road it was not overflowing with traffic.

We were going to stop at Linz, Austria's third city, which also had a post script that was an industrial city, and as we started driving into the city we saw all of these industrial plants each side of the road all belching out smoke, and when we found slight difficulty in breathing because of the sulphur or what ever in the air we decided that perhaps it should be visited on a windy day when the pollution did not have an opportunity to stay around the city.

Apart from our experience at Linz it was one of the most beautiful drives we have done this year and when we were looking at what we could do in Salzburg we saw one that listed a tour through the area where the film “ the Sound of music” was shot and I believe we must have driven through some of that area.

We will stay in the camp ground two nights and do some sightseeing in Salzburg tomorrow.

Tuesday 19th August
Today we went in to do a sightseeing tour of Salzburg and I think a comment is due at the beginning, for the smaller cities sometimes it is not worthwhile doing a sightseeing tour as they are scratching the bottom of the barrel to fill in the time, and a boat trip is only going to be interesting it was a very old city that has built to the banks of the River.  In both of these cases Salzburg fails abysmally, and whilst they have 2 million visitors a year to the city I think a lot of this is built on the fact that Mozart was born here, and Hollywood chose the city to shoot the Sound of music in 1964.  Both of these features are built upon strongly in the tours available.

The other factor is that Salzburg was ruled by bishops of the Catholic Church for 1000 years and each bishop built a new Palace and of course a church, so the city of 150,000 boasts over 40 churches and goodness knows how many palaces most of the latter and now in private hands and can only be viewed from the outside.

It's interesting the power the church had back in those days and certainly the wealth, some our I can't escape the feeling that these bishops were not prepared to wait for the rewards in the next world made sure they got them in this.  Then of course the tour operator has great delight in telling about the bishop that had a mistress and about 12 children from that mistress, so much for their vows of chastity!

Wednesday 20th August
Today we drove to a suburb of Munich called Sulzemoos that is distinguished by having possibly the largest range of motorhomes and caravans in Germany.  We spent the afternoon there and saw the largest variety of motorhomes than we have ever seen outside a massive trade show which of course does not happen every day of the week, or month for that matter only about once or twice a year.

I think we saw every major motorhome name on this site and we quickly found out that a brand called Carthago, not one of the major names certainly had the best quality and the best layout, which of course was reflected in the price, but not exorbitantly as the Gold Edition of the large company Hymer was of equal price but not of equal quality.

We studied all the specifications overnight and we were ready for the morning.

Thursday 21st August
We are at the salesman's office bright and early, with our list of specifications, and he of course was delighted to make up the order, and we were delighted with the trade-in price on our Hymer Tramp of €36,000 which was reduced to €33,000 once he had examined all the dents, cracked back bumpers, hole punched in the back right roof, and scratches on the side from the one lane English lanes.   Of course the new motorhome was more expensive than the old so one might guess there could be a larger margin, but always been told that car dealers make their profit when they trade the vehicle in.

No matter what, we are delighted, it will be ready in February, ready for delivery whenever we need it in April.

Well that is over and done with, much simpler than what I had thought, I was visualising having to go to the Dusseldorf motorhome show, inspect every model that was on their stands, then tried to find a retailer that would deal with a foreigner from outside Europe, someone who would arrange the registration and insurance for a foreigner, and I was not expecting it to be easy.

Now we will go to the motorhome show, just to have a casual look, to have a look at the Perestroika Tours stand to see if we will join them on their China -- Russian tour of next year and then will be on for the motorhome in storage for the next six months.

However before we do that, where heading towards Paris a couple of days, and the city is always interesting.

Tonight we are camped on a large parking lot, at Baden Baden, about 100 km from Frankfurt.

Friday 22nd of August
Today we crossed over the border into France and started driving through the French countryside which can really only be described as one large garden with a few quaint villages in between all the fields.  We settled on Mertz has our destination for the day and found a free campsite on one side of a large parking lot right beside a commercial campground.  I'm not quite sure how the commercial campground stands for a situation like this, there were 10 free car parks for motorhomes, but by the following morning every space in the car park was basically taken up with motorhomes, they had to be about 30 there, many more than the were in the campground.

Saturday 23rd August
On across through France and we now started going through the area that the two major wars of last century were fought, and this was brought home to us by the very large military cemetery's that we kept on passing with row after row of crosses.

We set our destination for the day as Reims, the centre of the Champagne region and again on a GPS we had the location of a free camping site but owing to the large reconstruction that was going on in the area we could not get close to it settled on a large in the car park close to the stadium will we spent a peaceful night.

Sunday 24th of August
Today we had Paris as our destination, so again it was on through the battlefields and the military cemetery's and we headed for the camp ground that we thought was the usual when we stayed at, but of course it wasn't, so with the GPS reprogrammed we went on closer into the city, a location that has a bus stop at the gate which takes us directly to the station with trains running into connections for the Metro.

Monday 25th of August
Today was Luda's day at shopping in Paris, but we got confused by the metro stations and the locations of the wonderful shops we saw on our last trip so fortunately for me we were unable to find none of the fashions that Paris is noted for.

Tuesday 26th August
With an unsuccessful day shopping yesterday we sort of gave up and went sightseeing with the thought that tomorrow would go to a large shopping centre that we passed on our way in and do damage there.

Wednesday 27th of August
We headed out to a suburb called possibly Lognes and after circling round a little bit we managed to find the entrance to this large shopping centre, but every entrance to the car park that we could find had a height restriction of about 2 m on the entrance.  So for about one hour I drove round this very large shopping area with the thought that surely they would make provisions for motorhomes but no, they did not, but obviously assumed that people in motorhomes had no money to spend, so was another successful shopping day for me, an unsuccessful for Luda!

Eventually we gave up on this and headed towards Düsseldorf which was our next major destination and we ended up in the municipal campground at Soissons paying only €12 for one of the better campgrounds we are visited on this trip.

Thursday 28 August
We carried on over the delightful French countryside and soon we crossed the border to Belgium and immediately we started feeling confined with the change from the large countryside of France to Belgium where everything seems to be packed in tighter.

We set off on Mons as our destination for the night and found a large car park in a commercial area that was unoccupied and very suitable for our needs.

Friday 29th of August
Today we drove through Belgium, through all of their tiny towns which seemed to be wall-to-wall houses with the narrow road between them, which just happens to be the main Road.  We struck a lot of roadworks but thanks to the Tom Tom we were able to navigate our way through it, which was particularly difficult with out it has the detour signs were not always on every corner.

Belgium is a very small country and we left Belgian with the impression that almost every square centimetre of land was utilised.

Almost in no time we crossed the border into Holland and then it was onto the large camping store in Schijndel Holland, we are looking for washing machines with a spin drier on it for the new motorhome, but there was nothing there, and we formed the opinion that the camping store that we saw in Munich where we bought the new motorhome was possibly better than today's store.

We went a couple of kilometres down the road and found a five-star motor camp that we checked in to for the night, it had WiFi so we were able to catch up with all of our e-mails and speak to a few people via Skype.

Saturday 30th all of August
This morning we completed our drive to Düsseldorf, easily found the exhibition halls and the massive car parks all around the halls, then we joined the thousands of other motorhomes parked on their enormous car parks where it was a short walk to the shuttle bus.  We spent two days at the show which is the largest in Europe with motorhomes and caravans from very small to humungous.

We saw a large motorhomes mounted on a German MAN truck chassis with drive to all wheels drive and the look that you could drive it absolutely anywhere.  There was another very large motorhome that had a hydraulic lift that would lift the Mercedes sports car to a special garage in the centre of the motorhome, naturally all of your living accommodation etc was above the garage.

There are also many accessories on show so you can see what was the latest in making the motorhome a home away from home.

Sunday evening we set on the road back towards Holland and stopped when we felt tired found a motor camp just over the border in Holland, following morning we cleaned up the motorhome and then drove into Castricum and finished our travels for 2008 with a total mileage of 19454 Kms.

See Map of completed tour