Category: Poland

Lithuania

The spell of very hot weather was an inopportune time for our main fridge to start behaving erratically; we were concerned that it would finally fail so we changed our travel plans to seek professional help. We had installed Dometic fridges – a “top of the range” Swedish brand that specialised in compressor operated refrigeration for use in recreational vehicles (boats, trucks, vans). Mr Google informed us that there was a Dometic dealer in Warsaw, two hours drive away and so on Friday afternoon we turned up at Skylark Polska on the outskirts of Warsaw and met the man in charge, Kamil. He couldn’t have been more helpful and immediately came out to the truck to look at the problem. In less than an hour we had a new unit installed and our old unit destined for recycling – and he gave us a generous 20% discount. Outside Kamil’s premises was a huge American RV. Kamil told us they were having a jacuzzi installed. Now there’s a thought!

Our travel plans were to head north through Poland to Lithuania and on to Latvia then Estonia. We would take a ferry from Estonia to Finland, a ferry from Finland to Sweden, then Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, France and home. We had hoped to get up to the Arctic circle but our extended stay in Poland meant we would not have enough time to get so far north.

Blue dot was our camp site in Kaunas

The drive through Poland was a joy in the warm sunny weather. The area was mainly agricultural, the undulating terrain was dotted with farmsteads set in fields of bright ripening corn and green fields of tall maize. Occasionally we drove through timber forests whose dark shade provided a welcome respite from the hot sunshine. We had our COVID papers ready for scrutiny at the border into Lithuania but the border buildings were unmanned and we were able to drive straight through. We bought a vignette for €39 which allowed us to travel Lithuania’s roads for seven days.

We stopped at a camp site by a lake in Kaunas. We received an effusive welcome from the family who ran the site (Mum, Dad and two daughters aged 14 and 10). They told us that we were the first British people they had seen in a more than a year! Everyone spoke in excellent English; I noticed that a German couple sitting next to us at the beach café had to communicate with the waitress in English. When we travelled in eastern Germany we detected a reluctance for Germans to use the English language. At German camp sites there were always lots of notices pinned up around the sites – but written only in German. Many campers were non-German (Finnish, Danish, Swedish . . . rest of the world . . as well as English) and we would never know we were not allowed to “feed the ducks” or had to “remove our shoes before entering the shower block”.

Rotuses Square in Kaunas, Lithuania

Lake Jeziorsko

The day finally dawned when the truck was ready for collection and by midday we had said goodbye to everyone at Camperspol and we drove the truck out of Poznań, heading south east.

Lake Jeziorsko
Fallen Tree by Truck

We stopped for two nights at a family camp site by the lake. There was a slipway leading down to a sandy beach and a small harbour with a little tourist boat offering trips round the lake. The afternoon temperature was over 30° and we had planned to have a cooling swim in the lake but, when we passed the tavern at the top of the slipway, we chose to cool down with a pint of chilled lager whilst watching our fellow campers enjoying their water sports.

It was hot and thundery and we found welcome shade for the truck under some tall willow trees. That night there was a huge thunderstorm. We heard several ominous bangs during the night but we were still surprised in the morning to see we were surrounded by a thick carpet of leaves, twigs and branches. Fortunately there was no major damage although one large branch had missed our truck by inches. Another sizeable branch had snapped off but had been caught up in the branches and was hanging precariously over a small tent where a couple of canoeists had been sleeping. They hurriedly moved their tent to another area before an army of workers appeared with rakes and a chain saw to start clearing.

The Beach

We heard there had been severe weather in central Europe causing flooding and loss of life. As we left the lake area a day or so later it was apparent that the road through the forest had been blocked by dozens of fallen trees, branches had been dragged to the roadside and tree trunks had been chain sawed and cleared to the edge of the road.

Poznań… and More Poznań

Cobbled Street, Poznań


We spent three long weeks in Poznań waiting for Camperspol to complete the remedial work on our habitation box. They had to remove the windows and door and re-attach the corner sections of the box where the original adhesive had failed. We were impatient to be on the road again and it was sheer torture being stuck in the city, especially when the temperature soared to above 35° dropping by only a few degrees at night.

We stayed at the same Airbnb we had used previously – it was spacious, comfortable and situated in the historic centre of town. At the end of our street was a small open air market where we bought fruit and vegetables and every street had a corner shop selling groceries, bread, fresh milk. Our street also had a pretty little park, two hairdressers, a cake shop and a butcher. The area was full of bars, cafés and restaurants and each day we wandered along the narrow cobbled streets to find something to eat. Most restaurants opened at midday and stayed open until late at night so there was plenty of capacity to grab a meal whenever the mood took us – usually we had a late lunch or early supper. Poznań was a prosperous university city and the restaurants were of excellent quality and good value by UK standards. As it was so hot we preferred to eat inside and discovered, if you booked on line, you would be allocated a table inside where it was marginally cooler. If you blew in off the street you sat outside with the hoy polloi and the pigeons.

Northern Europe

By June 2021 we were legally allowed to leave the country. The continuation of Covid restrictions, in spite of everyone over 50 having been double vaccinated, moved the UK into pandemic limbo. We wanted to return the truck to the manufacturers, Camperspol in Poland so they could remedy a few problems we were having with the habitation box. French travel restrictions meant we had to take a lateral flow test en route to Eurotunnel and we also had to download a UK to France control exit check list and sign “on our honour” that we would comply with the Covid rules for entering France. As we were double vaccinated it turned out that we were not subject to any restrictions driving through Europe – apart from the wearing of face masks in shops and on public transport. We travelled through France, Belgium and Germany to Poland without any further Covid checks. The weather was extremely hot, well over 30° but the air conditioning in the cab kept us comfortable whilst driving.

We had two overnight stops before we reached Magdeburg in east Germany. There we parked alongside the River Elbe and walked into town to our favourite Asian fusion restaurant. It was extremely hot, even after the sun went down so we spent a happy half hour watching the children play in one Magdeburg’s lovely squares, enjoying the intoxicating scent from the linden trees lining the square.

The following evening we reached Poland where we parked overnight by lake Niepruszewo. We were warmly greeted by the proprietor of a chicken and burger stall. Our new friend and his mate wanted to look around the truck, he then returned with two more friends and, some time later, brought his daughters for a viewing. The adults could speak little English but the girls’ language skills were excellent. We dined magnificently on a whole rotisserie chicken with a selection of home pickled dill cucumbers at a cost of less than £4 and later we walked down to the water’s edge to dabble our hot feet in the lake, enjoying the splashy antics of the youngsters playing in the evening sunshine.

Poznań

It was frustrating having to wait in Poland for remedial work to be carried out on the truck to ensure the habitation box and the hydraulic tail lift were properly attached. Two companies in Poznań were responsible for this work, Camperspol and Plandex. Their premises were 30 minutes apart and we had to drive the truck from one to the other. Apart from this all we could do was sit and wait.

We had a comfortable apartment on the third floor of a five storey block in Dluga, the old part of the city. The block looked dingy at the front door but our apartment was light and airy and furnished in an IKEA style and was equipped with everything we needed for a comfortable stay. Our street had a butcher, a baker, two hairdressers and a corner shop. There was a small park opposite our entrance and an open air market at the end of our road.


The city was served by an electric tram system which was very popular, although we always chose to walk as we needed the exercise. Within ten minutes walk of our apartment there were several shopping malls – essential in a harsh Polish winter – although, whilst we were there in February the weather was quite mild.

The folk in Poznań were friendly and helpful. English was the common language for non-Polish speaking visitors and so we were easily understood in shops and restaurants. The older people were harder to communicate with. A taxi driver (mid 40s) told us he had worked as a bus driver in Birmingham for five years although he could barely speak English. He said his generation were taught Russian at school.

Two other things struck us – there was far more cigarette smoking than we were used to, although smoking was not allowed in public buildings. We regularly found ourselves downwind of groups of young smokers huddling in the doorway. We also noticed that Polish drivers were extremely law abiding and would always stop their cars if you were waiting at a pedestrian crossing. Even if you were crossing in a place you shouldn’t, drivers would still stop and politely wait until you reached the pavement. On crossings controlled by traffic lights pedestrians would wait for the green man before they put a foot on the road, even if the carriageway was empty. I think the traffic police must have been heavily armed!

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!

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.