Author: Tony Morgan

La Belle France

Within an hour of leaving the UK we were in Calais loading wine stocks into the truck. We were watchful of two young men showing great interest in our vehicle. They didn’t look as if they were sleeping rough, they spoke excellent English and said they were hoping to get to the UK. They were disappointed when we told them we were heading for Morocco. One was from Syria and the other (who didn’t engage us in conversation) could have been Nigerian. We had often seen desperate young men living rough in the Calais area; one even jumped onto the back of our camper van and could easily have been killed had we not been flagged down by a passing motorist. We did feel sorry for them and wondered why they wanted to get to England rather than settle in France. Anyway they refused our offer of money and left with a cheerful wave.

Once the wine was stashed we set off for Le Crotoy, a fishing harbour not far up the coast. There was a popular Aire at one end of the village where camper vans were allowed to park overnight. It was a five minute walk into town where there were plenty of fresh fish stalls as well as restaurants serving the freshest of fish.

We travelled through France avoiding the Toll Roads as we found the motorway services were very poor. We preferred stopping at roadside restaurants used by lorry drivers. The only problem was that the food portions were enormous, bottled water and wine were already on the table and three courses were offered, followed by a strong black coffee. Cost was less than €25 for us both and no further food was required that day. At night we parked up near the HGVs and when we woke in the morning we usually found all the lorries had left and we were alone in the car park.

And We’re Off!

We spent several weeks going through the truck systems to make sure we understood how all the various systems worked. We had a productive day visiting Fischer Panda in the New Forest. Their technician, Leigh Doe, inspected the Mastervolt system and updated the software. We learned a lot from him and he was able to assure us that he could provide support should we have problems whilst we were on the road.

We visited Eberspacher who freed the impeller on the diesel water heating system and the MAN dealer in Southampton who fitted a new sender to the 4wheel drive system. We also paid several visits to a very helpful Paul at OBE metal fabricating company in Chichester who made a clever storage system for our access ladder and brackets to secure the motor bike on the back. He also came to our rescue when, due to substandard Polish welding, the back plate of the exhaust silencer became detached. The leaking exhaust gases damaged the hose supplying air to the brakes, causing the brakes to suddenly fail. It was was extremely alarming and we counted ourselves lucky that we managed to bring the truck to a skidding halt using the service (hand) brake before carrying out emergency roadside repairs in the pouring rain.

Preparations came to an abrupt halt when Tony fell from the top of a six foot ladder, breaking two ribs, damaging a lung and bruising his liver. He spent five days in hospital and it was several more weeks before the pain eased sufficiently to enable him to carry on with his chores.

Finally, in October 2019. we felt we were ready for our inaugural trip. We said goodbye to the family and set off for Eurotunnel, heading across Europe towards Morocco where we planned to put the truck through its paces before heading further afield.

Our New Truck Has Arrived!

By the summer of 2019 we were getting impatient with the slow progress of our truck conversion. We had resisted putting too much pressure on the builders but we felt it was time to be given a firm Handover Date. Finally in July we we able to book our flights to Poznań and by mid afternoon we arrived at the living box builders, Camperspol.

Loading Supplies At Camperspol

We slept in the truck at Camperspol and the next day we were busy shopping for essentials and sorting out the inside whilst Camperspol finished various jobs on the truck, including fitting an intruder alarm. The following day the truck was booked into the Mercedes dealer to investigate a suspected fuel line leak caused when the fuel tanks were resited. The job took longer than envisaged and we ended up spending five nights in a hotel whilst the problem was sorted. This meant the Camperspol completion work was delayed and we felt we were wasting precious time when we should have been out and about, getting to know the truck and its systems.

We suspected we could have been at Camperspol for many more days whilst they finished off various jobs so we took the decision to leave for home at the end of that day and sort any outstanding problems when we got back to the UK.

There were several issues we discovered whilst on the journey home: the electrical circuit breakers kept tripping (needed a software update), the generator was cutting out showing an overload warning, this turned out to be an inappropriate fuse fitted in the line from the battery to the generator starter motor. The hydraulic tail lift, installed by a specialist company, Plandex, did not work and we later discovered that the hydraulic pump was too small. This was replaced in the UK with a larger pump and now worked perfectly.

On our return journey the weather was hot with temperatures up to 40° and, despite having air conditioning in the cab, it was uncomfortably hot. Upon our return we discovered that the cab had not had the specified engine insulation fitted.

We reached the UK without incident and, despite these setbacks, we were delighted with the truck. One of our first jobs was to get the vehicle MOTd and taxed. The tester commented that the vehicle was in remarkable condition for its year (2003) and he hadn’t seen a truck of that age with such a low mileage and so well maintained – thanks to the Dorset Fire Brigade.

Once we had the MOT we were able to apply for road tax and we supplied the DVLA with photographic evidence to prove a change of use from Fire Tender to Motor Caravan. The DVLA replied saying that information held on a vehicle record must describe what a vehicle actually looked like to enable law enforcement agencies to identify a particular vehicle. Therefore, they said, as the vehicle body could not be identified externally as a Motor Caravan, they could not change the body type description. The end result was that the vehicle remained, according to the DVLA, a fire tender and was therefore zero rated for Road Tax. We wondered whether we would be caught up in fire fighting duties on our travels!

Spot the Difference!

Magdeburg

Stellplatz At Magdeburg

Lamb Chops

Magdeburg was our regular overnight stop on our journeys to and from Poland.  Stellplatz was the German equivalent on the French aire and the Magdeburg stellplatz was on the banks of the River Elbe, fifteen minutes walk from the shops and restaurants.  Our favourite restaurant was Hyaku Mizu, an Asian fusion restaurant.  The food seemed  expensive at €30 a head – especially after Polish prices – but everything was of the highest quality.

The Marina At Venlo

The following night we stopped in the Netherlands at a marina near Venlo and, after battling through heavy traffic we arrived in Calais the next afternoon.  We stayed that night at the car park at Cité d’Europe, did some shopping in Carrefours and had a meal.  We took Eurotunnel the following morning.

 

Blog Ends

Szczecin

We left Gdansk and followed the coast west heading towards the German border.  The weather was exceptional for late October and the bright trees around us were resplendent with golden colours, their leaves undisturbed in the quiet autumn air.  

Pierogi (dumplings) these had bacon and vegetable filling

We stopped for lunch at a small roadside restaurant and, for less than £10 each, we had excellent home made soup with bread followed by pierogi and salad – and a beer.

Blue Dot was Szczecin

Our final stop in Poland was a marina at Szczecin (pronounced something like Sshh-ch-shin but, try as I might, I failed miserably to reproduce the correct Polish pronunciation).

A morning mist made photography a problem

There were a lot of people around on that sunny Saturday.  The sailing club was busy with families with their sailing dinghies as well as a dozen or so vans staying on the site so we were disappointed that the site café / restaurant was closed for the season, nor were there any shops or cafés within walking distance – so we had to fall back on self catering mode.

Gdansk

The Harbour At Gdansk

We continued driving north, stopping at the port of Gdansk on the Baltic coast.  For hundreds of years the city had been a wealthy trading centre and merchants from England, Europe and Scandinavia lived behind the fortified city walls in tall houses set around the cobbled main square.

Merchants’ Market Place

A Merchant’s House

In 1945 Gdansk was completely destroyed by the Soviet Army at the end of World War II – beginning forty years of Communist domination.

In 1980 the shipyard workers went on strike in protest against the raising of food prices by the Communist government.  Lech Walęsa was a political activist and worked as an electrician at the Lenin Shipyard.  He became the leader of the strikers and later helped create Poland’s first independent trade union, Solidarity.  For his efforts he was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and in 1990 Lech Walęsa was elected President of Poland.  His presidency was not a complete success and he failed to be re-elected in 1995 and again in 2000, perhaps indicating how much easier it was to criticise those in charge than to be in charge yourself!

Main Street

Since the end of the Communist rule the ruined city had been carefully restored to its former beauty.  Today the city was full of visitors, mainly Germans, Scandinavians and folk off the cruise ships.

The weather was warm and sunny and we parked our camper for two nights in a large car park adjacent to the Academy of Music, ten minutes walk from the centre with its busy waterside cafés, restaurants and high end hotels.

Toruń

Toruń was the blue dot

View of Turoń from our camp site across the river.

This church dated back to 1306

The medieval city of Toruń lay north of Poznań on the road to Gdansk.  The town was a tourist destination because many of its ancient buildings had survived German bombing during World War II.

Our campsite was a twenty minute walk from the city centre, crossing the River Vistula via a huge iron bridge. The weather was good with warm sunny days – warm enough to sit outside enjoying the sunshine.  At night the temperature dropped to 5°.

We walked into town in the late afternoons and ate at restaurants on the main square.  The first night we ate soup and savoury pancakes with a beer which cost £12 for the two of us. The next night we went to a fish restaurant and had lovely fresh fish and a bottle of wine – two courses each, total cost £40 (£20 for the imported wine).

Poland – Again!

We left the UK in early October 2018 with the primary purpose of visiting Posnań, Poland to see how far they were progressing with our new truck and to get an idea of when the project might finally reach completion.

Habitation Box – galley on the left looking aft to “bedroom”

Galley on the right looking towards dinette

We were disappointed – but not necessarily surprised – that progress was almost nonexistent. The vehicle had been languishing at a truck fabrication company for many weeks having a hydraulic rack fitted and the habitation box progress was stalled because they needed the truck to complete the installation of  the various domestic systems.

It was very frustrating but we refused to be downhearted and, having sent a few grumbly emails, we decided to leave Poznań and head north towards Gdansk on the Baltic Coast.

Homeward Bound

We left Poland and headed west towards the UK, stopping overnight beside the River Elbe at Magdeburg, Germany.  The following morning the weather was perfect and we enjoyed the sunny day travelling on smaller roads, slowly making our way across Germany.

Fürstenau, Nr Osnabruck

Stellplatz At Furstenau

We stayed overnight at a stellplatz in a small town near Osnabruck.  Stellplatz were the equivalent of French aires, where the townsfolk allowed campervans to stay one or two nights in the hope that the visitors spend their money in the town, buying produce or eating in the restaurants.  We obliged on all counts.

 

As we travelled we were constantly looking for an  internet connection as our own Wi-fi had run out.  Apart from camp sites, who were now usually quite good at providing internet access, we had to rely on motorway service stations for Wi-fi.  It often happened that, having refuelled and bought our coffee, we would discover that there was no Wi-fi available.  We eventually found that our best bet was Macdonalds who offered uncluttered seating areas and unlimited Wi-fi; the coffee was ok too – so they got our custom every time.  Anyone who knows us would be aware that we wouldn’t normally be seen dead in a Macdonalds, so for us two old fogies to be frantically searching the horizon for the famous Golden Arches was a shameful first!

We felt the German people, kind and helpful as they often were, seemed to resent visitors who couldn’t speak their language.  That is, of course, understandable – but from an English speaker’s viewpoint you would have to be a pretty competent linguist to be familiar with all languages of the European countries we visited.  I reckon on that short trip we must have encountered at least twelve different languages.  In order for the Swedes to communicate with the Poles; the Dutch to converse with Norwegians; the Greeks to understand the Serbians or the Belgians to talk to the Italians, there had to be a common language and, like it or not, that lingua franca was English.  Perhaps when the United States of Europe finally take over they should all agree on one common language, although I guess they would not want it to be English!

The following day we were in Holland and then Belgium.  The next day Calais and Eurotunnel back to the UK.

Accident!

We were cycling into Poznań during a brief lull between violent thunderstorms – and, perhaps, rushing too much to avoid the next deluge – when my front wheel got caught in a gap between two uneven paving slabs on the cycle path and I was abruptly tipped  over the handle bars.  I was very shaken, the bike’s handle bar had crashed into my groin and my ankle had been wrenched as I made my swift descent to the pavement.  It took me several minutes before I was able to get to my feet, aided by three worried looking young men who had stopped to help.

The following day my ankle was extremely sore so we felt it advisable to have it checked out at the local hospital.  I had to produce my EHIC and drivers licence and was then triaged by an English-speaking doctor and sent for an X-ray before returning to the same doctor for diagnosis – fortunately no break, just a sprain.  I was given a prescription for a foot brace and some gel for the pain and crutches too.  Everything had to be collected from a medical supply centre (not a pharmacy).  The doctor wrote down the address but we had no idea how far it was so we (Tony) decided that I didn’t really need crutches, brace or gel for the pain!

A & E Reception

The hospital reminded us of something from the 1950s.  There must have been half a dozen other patients receiving simultaneous treatment and we saw as many staff as we did patients.  Instructions were given to us in a peremptory manner and we got hopelessly lost finding our way to the X-ray department, Tony valiantly pushing me in a pre-war style wheelchair!  The corridors were deserted and there was no one around to offer us any help.  We eventually found X-ray but we, apparently, came through the wrong door and everyone seemed very displeased with us.  One member of staff shouted at us and when we failed to understand she just shouted louder.

XRay Department

No-one took any medical details or asked whether I had other injuries (my groin was a mottled purple colour by then but no way was I going to show them that unattractive part of my anatomy!  My sore ankle was roughly handled by the woman in X-ray and again when they put on a bandage but we were grateful for the assurance that the ankle was not broken.  The whole visit had taken two hours, we were not asked for any payment and we may have spotted indications of kindness and concern if we had had a common language.