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  • Polaris Overland

A Lesson From History And A Mad Dash North


Having spent so long in Croatia it was bittersweet to be moving on again. We had loved our time but we were itching to get moving and Dave was wanting to get to Nordkapp in the far north of Norway before the colder weather arrived and so it was we headed off.

Going through the border from Croatia to Slovenia was very easy just having to show passports and drive on and our first impression of Slovenia was very good. The houses and gardens neat, tidy and well kept and the countryside was very pretty too it reminding us of the time we visited Austria. Goran Dave’s friend in Croatia had described Slovenia as “little Austria” and he was absolutely right.

The drive was about 5-6 hours long heading towards Maribor where we were camping at Kekec Camping. It was a nice little campsite, just at the bottom of the hills and costing only €15 a night.

We got ourselves set up and cooked tea when a Dutch guy we met in Trogir, Croatia came over and said hello asking how we were getting on. It’s always nice to chat to people and they remember us. Later we enjoyed a couple of drinks and chilled for the evening.

Today we were off to Hungary another 5 hour drive and involving nipping in and out of Austria as we went. At one of the border crossings into Austria the soldier could not get out fast enough to check our documents and speak to us. Probably its not the most exciting border crossing for the guy so an Overland rigged Land Rover and Trailer was too good a chance to break up his day. Either way he was friendly and inquisitive about our trip and waved us on our way. Arriving in Hungary finally we were a bit disappointed with the landscape that was mostly flat, a bit boring and mostly uninspiring. Definitely think we prefer mountain areas.

We stayed just outside Budapest at a campsite called Blue Flamingo Campsite. This was a small campsite but very busy with a swimming pool that was very refreshing after a hot day driving. Angela cooked chili for dinner this night.

We both think we need to get a sign saying “please speak to us we don’t bite”! Throughout the trip we have seen people come by look, smile and then walk away as though they are too afraid to speak to us until that is just when we start packing up or leaving.

Moving on again today and another long 6-hour drive to Slovakia and crossing the border involved driving over a bridge with no passport control and in the middle was a sign saying Welcome to Slovakia.

We were unexpectedly surprised as neither of us really knew what to expect of Slovakia but had a feeling it would be run down and tatty however it proved to be much prettier than we thought and a lot more picturesque than Hungary.

We passed fields and fields of sunflowers that were very colourful so we stopped and took some photos. Sadly a lot of the sunflowers were past their best but we could imagine them all blooming tall and yellow at their prime.

We arrived at the campsite Rijo Camping late afternoon in Stara Lesna, at town sitting below the Tatry Mountains. It was nice to see the campsite had a small bar to chill with a cold beer and snack food including chips so Dave was happy.

The site was quite busy and we had camped fairly close to the bar / covered area and late at night a few guys got a little drunk so noise coming from them kept us awake until Dave got up and asked them to keep the noise down. They apologised and a short while later went off to their tents.

After a few long days driving we decided to stay another day in Slovakia and give Wilson a rest.

In the morning we planned routes and campsites into Poland, Lithuania and Latvia and later we decided to have a wander into the next big village, which is a train journey away. We had to walk to the next village to us to get train as tickets weren’t sold at the station we were close too.

Whilst we were there we took the ski lift up to the top of the mountain, Lomnike Sedlo, 2190m. This was a big achievement for Angela as she is scared of heights but is slowly over coming the fear. The views at the top of the mountain were amazing and even though the clouds were low they would keep opening to reveal amazing views of the rest of the Tatry Mountains above and sometimes the views below. We wandered around exploring the top of the mountain, taking lots of photos and just enjoying the views.

After we came down we got the train to Stary Smokevic where we had lunch and wondered around the walking shops a favourite of Dave’s. Later we headed back to camp where we caught up with the journal and sorted the photos taken earlier in the day. Evening was a few beers and dinner in the snack bar. Bed early as cold and watched a movie.

Moving on again today and we woke up to miserable rainy weather, so we packed up everything wet and damp which as always is never nice.

We headed off about 10 am towards Poland. Going over these borders here, no passport control just a sign to say you are in that country. Its easy to see how once you arrive in the EU you can travel unhindered throughout. Makes life easy for people like ourselves but not so sure it would make me feel quite so secure as living on an island in either the UK or Cyprus!

With it being a miserable day as we arrived in Poland it probably gave us not the best feeling especially in comparison to Slovakia just the other side of the mountains we had driven through but we hoped when the sun came out we would change our minds.

The roads were very busy considering it was a Sunday and we were often in tailbacks. Dave said it must be that everyone with a car in Poland goes out driving on a Sunday.

However after only a few hours drive we were at Camping Smok just outside Krakow. The campsite was very quiet and very clean and ideally situated to visit Krakow with bus and tram connections within 5-minute walk.

We got set up and had lunch before we decided we needed to get some shopping. We also needed an ATM as we had booked to go on a tour of Auschwitz on the Tuesday. This was the earliest we could get so we decided we would visit Krakow tomorrow (Monday).

Whilst out shopping we bought 2 x local SIM cards for under €2 each, bargain! We headed back to the campsite to catch up with journal and relax. Whilst shopping we had found English bacon at a Tesco so it was the English classic of good old bacon, egg and beans for tea what a treat.

We had a quiet morning with Dave trying to sort his ipad and install some ebooks but it was not going well and Dave was getting more frustrated with it.

Later we headed into Krakow to see the city and the views. We caught the bus just outside the campsite and then transferred to a tram that was very cheap and easy enough to sort out. We ended in the old town, which had lovely big squares, lots of cafes, churches, entertainment and shopping, we wandered around and explored.

Krakow had some beautiful buildings, architecture and very cosmopolitan. We treated ourselves to lunch in the Hard Rock Café overlooking the big Grand Square and watched from the window noticing how at a certain time every hour crowds of people stand to watch a guy play the trumpet from St Mary’s church tower. Later found out it is a tradition played every hour on the hour, four times in succession at each of the four cardinal directions, by a trumpeter on the highest tower of the city's Saint Mary's Church.

We did it too later in the afternoon and waited for him to wave to us all!

Whilst walking around we were offered a trip around the city in a small electric buggy with a guide. We visited different parts of the city, Jewish ghetto, and Jewish parts of the city, castle, Schindler’s Factory and lots more places. We listened to the often-dark history of these areas. This proved to be a good way to see the sights and get around the city if you only have one day. It was a bit expensive but we enjoyed it.

We had found it quite moving seeing the parts of the city and being told of the plights and sadness the people had to endure. We think everyone should visit here so hopefully this will never happen again and history will not be repeated. The cruelty some people inflicted is quite unimaginable until you see it for yourself.

Back at the campsite and since we had eaten out at lunchtime we made do with crackers, cheese and fruit for tea and read our books to chill.

An early start today as we were visiting Auschwitz. Neither of us really knew how we would feel about this trip but you cannot visit Poland and in particular Krakow without visiting and so we were picked up at 8 am and taken to Auschwitz.

We had a guide to take us around and explain what the buildings were used for and how the prisoners were treated, how they organised and separated families and seeing the rooms full of hair or personal possessions from prisoners that were just a fraction of the true scale so it was quite a sobering day to realise how lucky we are.

After Auschwitz we were taken to Birkenau an even bigger camp where the trains actually drove into the camp and sorted the families into groups often being split to the left or the right. One meant straight to the huge industrial scale gas chambers and crematoriums and the other meant being worked to death. Often the children were sent with the mothers just to stop them getting hysterical not knowing they were walking to their deaths.

There were many long wooden and later stone buildings, all in columns where the thousands of prisoners were kept while working in horrendous conditions. Each shed had pen like cubicles, three story’s high and could fit up to 10 people in one pen in horrendously cramped conditions. Toilets were stone holes and troughs were for washing in.

Both Auschwitz and Birkenau are all well kept and maintained, coupled with the sunny day we didn’t get the true feeling of the conditions that they lived in.

We both appreciated our day in Auschwitz and Birkenau. but somehow to say we enjoyed it doesn’t seem right. It was very informative and gave a little bit of understanding to what these people had to endure.

Once back at the campsite we chilled for the rest of the day.

Moving day again and we were headed north to Camping Tramp No 33 at Torun. It was a long drive, approximately 6 ½ hours, and all motorways that we hate, a boring drive and not much to see.

We arrived in Torun and it started to rain so it was a bit miserable, as we set up the tent as quick as possible.

While we were under a shelter making dinner a lovely Polish couple, Lukas, Anna, their boys and a dog joined us and we sat chatting throughout the evening. It was very enjoyable. They said they are hoping to come to Scotland next year and we said we would like to meet up with them again and give them some of our hospitality like they gave to us.

Moving further up north of Poland to Agrotouristik Camping near Elk today. So we said our goodbyes to Lukas and Anna and took a photo of them for our blog before we headed off.

The weather improved the more north we travelled and so did the scenery. Elk seemed very nice where there are lots of lakes all very green. The campsite was a very pleasant surprise with lovely big grassy area with lots of trees. The owner provided us with fire pits and wood and we were offered the use of canoes or paddleboard for a few euros.

In the evening he came round and lit candles all over the site that made for a very magical feel.

The campsite was very clean and well kept clearly with a lot of love and care on behalf of the owner who was very friendly and we would definitely recommend here and wished we could have stayed longer.

It had taken us about 4 hours to drive here and tonight would be our first BBQ in a while due to fire restrictions so we were looking forward to it and a couple of vodkas. Later in the evening we met a Dutch couple that invited us to join them around their fire where we exchanged information on our trips and places to go, and they also invited us to contact them when we got to Netherlands to meet up for diner. It was another very enjoyable evening.

Today we were heading to Lithuania, country number 13. So we left the camp reasonably early. The campsite, when we arrived was more of a car park near some bunkhouses and slightly away from the hotel. We were okay with this as it was only a stop over and it meant we had our own private wood cabin for shower and toilet and also a seating area if it got cold.

We set up the tent and headed in restaurant for a beer and decided to have diner there too as it was very reasonable prices. The rest of the evening was spent sitting in the cabin reading books and and downloading Game of Thrones for Angela. Later it started raining for a little while.

Next morning whilst doing his daily checks Dave noticed the transfer gearbox leak had got a lot worse. Since Turkey almost at the start of the trip we have had a small leak from the transfer gearbox that Dave had been keeping an eye on and topping up when required.

Using IOverlander Dave had found a garage in Riga Latvia which had good reviews so we headed there to see if they could fix the problem and incase things got worse while in Nordic countries which would cost a lot of money to fix there.

We packed up and headed in the direction of Riga in Latvia to find the garage. After a search we found it but it had a note on the door saying on holiday and back on 20th August, hence the reason for no response from the emails Dave had sent but it had a what’s app number so Dave sent a message hoping the guy would be able to look at it on Monday (20th) morning. This meant we would need to stay in Latvia a few extra days but it was worth it to get the gearbox sorted, or so we thought.

We headed to a campsite in Bauska called Nameji campsite. It was a bit like a field with electric spots no character and very basic. The girl who we spoke to was not very inviting but it would do for one night.

The rain came later in afternoon so we headed to a Motor Museum we had seen just down the road after buying some spare oil for the leaky gearbox. Later Angela chilled and watched a few series of Game of Thrones and Dave had a snooze due to the cold. Beer and bolognaise for tea.

Next day we decided to head nearer to Riga so we could go to the garage first thing Monday morning and also so we were on the north side of Riga better for crossing the border to Estonia.

So we headed to a campsite called Leiputrija near Garkalne. It was a rough road to get there with a military camp nearby but when you got there it was a very pleasant campsite and the people very friendly.

So once again we got set up and the Wi-Fi was good so updated maps, downloaded some TV Series and got some washing done too. It rained in the evening so we headed into the tent early watched a movie.

We had been trying to get hold of the garage from first thing this morning hoping they would be in as the sign said they would be open again on the 20/8/17 but we couldn’t get an answer so decided to head into Riga and go to the garage direct. It was a rainy day again, a bit miserable but we hoped by the time we got back to the tent it would be dryer for putting away.

We arrived at the garage and it was closed! Disaster! We asked the next office and they said they wouldn’t be open till 20/9/16 they had put wrong date on the sheet of paper, to say Dave was pissed off was an understatement but there was nothing we could do so we headed back to campsite packed up and headed to Estonia.

This took us approximately 4 hours and we found a campsite near to Tallinn for us catching the ferry to Finland. The campsite was called Vanamoisa, a nice campsite, quite new so trees not matured yet leaving it a bit open to the wind but the facilities were new, very good, very clean and easy access for train to take you to Tallinn.

When we arrived Dave received a message from a garage in Estonia he had contacted about the gearbox leak saying they could help so after we set up Dave drove in to see the guy hoping he would be able to fix it next day as we were on the ferry Tuesday. Sadly he couldn’t fit Wilson in until Friday so we agreed to wait and get the leak fixed. We changed the ferry to the Saturday. This would prove to be a costly error and a lesson learned.

It was raining so while Dave went to the garage Angela chilled back at the campsite and we had a BBQ in the evening and early bed.

Next day, with nothing for it we decided to head off to Tallinn and explore the city. The train is only a 10 minute walk with frequent trains into Tallinn, very cheap, very quick and no worries about parking. We visited the old city with its lovely buildings, lots of character and the great old city walls walking around enjoying these sites and the crafts in the shops. Some of the craft stores were very good and very different but alas no room in the landy (Dave keeps telling Angela).

It wasn’t the best day regarding the weather, wet and blowy so later in the afternoon found an Irish bar and relaxed with a couple of Guinness’ and mojito’s before we caught the train back to camp.

As the weather had changed and as we were heading north it was going to get colder and maybe wetter we decided to find a shop where we could buy some spray to reproof the outer layer of the tent. Condensation inside the tent had been getting worse too so we bought a mat for under the mattress and trying silica-gel packs for absorbing water to see if it would help. We wandered around the mall and had some lunch then did some food shopping.

We drove to Lemusadam Seaplane Harbour Museum today. We weren’t sure what to expect and were pleasantly surprised to find a submarine and lots of other war and sea objects - guns, mines, boats and ships plus many other things connected to the sea over history. We enjoyed a few hours there and had a photo taken of us both dressed up in naval uniforms.

Again we headed back to campsite and on the way popped in a BBQ type store where Dave picked up a few things he required. BBQ again tonight and a roaring fire afterward to keep us warm.

It was another windy chilly night in the tent so Dave checked out the price for one of the wooden cabins as the forecast for the next couple of days was not too good. We decided to pay the extra and have a comfortable couple of days in the cabins so packed up when the tent dried off and moved over to the wooden hut, which was very comfortable and warm.

Dave had been following and messaging to a Brazilian couple for a while on instagram etc and they were arriving into Estonia from Helsinki today, they were called Colorindompa (Bruno, Geisa and there little girl Bia).

We had planned to go into Tallinn today to have an Indian meal as we both fancied it and it had been a while. Just as we were going to leave the family arrived at the campsite, we stayed and had a coffee and a bit of a chat before we left to go into Tallinn. We went for a couple of Guinness’ and Mojito’s then headed for our Indian dinner. It was very nice and as is usual we ate more than we should leaving us both have very full and uncomfortable.

We got back to the campsite where we had another chat with Bruno and Geisa, Dave and Bruno exchanged information on land Rovers going over each others and discussing upgrades, problems encountered and the trips whilst Geisa and Angela chatted about normal things whatever that is.

Another cold evening.

Once again we woke up to rain, so were glad we were in the cabin. We had coffee with Bruno and Geisma before they left in the morning, their Schengen visa runs out next week and they needed to be in Croatia before it runs out. We said our goodbyes and wished them well and safe journey, very nice couple who we will continue to follow.

Dave had to take Wilson to the garage to get the transfer gearbox leak sorted and also the shock absorbers replaced. This would take about 4 or so hours so Angela decided stay at the cabin as it was miserable weather whilst Dave had to hang about at the garage as it was too far to come back to campsite. Eventually Dave got back about 6.45pm and the cost of the repairs was 490 euros so lets hope that’s it for a while.

In the evening Dave set route for Finland and looked at some campsites we both relaxed watching UK TV online.

Again we woke up to rain but at least we didn’t have to pack up the tent today. So we got ourselves sorted and headed to the supermarket to stock up before we headed to Finland where prices would be more expensive, fresh food, beer, vodka and wine all stocked up for a while.

We filled up the fuel tanks and headed to the ferry terminal for our trip to Finland which would take just under 4 hours. Easy ferry entrance for Dave, drive on and drive off no reversing on for Dave, which is always a worry.

The ferry crossing was pleasant, the ship was a lot bigger than any of the others we had been on and had duty free shopping so we picked up a few things and chilled out the rest of the journey.

Next stop is Helsinki, Finland and country number 16.

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