A drive round Eastern Europe before the wall came down,
|Our route, 5,891 miles (9,425 km) from the UK back to the UK.|
Sunday 4th August. 4:30am, 53,817 miles on the speedometer.
Drove to Dover, caught the ferry then drove to Frankfurt, stopping
only for petrol and cream cakes at a motorway service area.
Mon 5th. Frankfurt, Hotel Splendid. 10:10am, 54,297 miles.
We went to the zoo and shopping in Frankfurt. Ate lots of sausages and
Tues 6th. Frankfurt, 9:15am. 54,297 miles.
Drove to East Germany. Stopped in Eisenach for coffee and cake
and a stroll round, and went up to Wartburg castle. Then on to Gera. East
Germany is like a 'black and white' version of West Germany - looks similar
but very drab.
||A doorway in Gera, East Germany.|
||Martin Luther's house at Eisenach, East Germany.|
||In the grounds of Sanssouci Palace, Potsdam, East Germany.|
Weds 7th. Gera, Hotel Gera. 9:15am, 54,523m.
Had a little stroll round after breakfast then drove to Leipzig. We had
a brief stop but there was not much to see and we couldn't find anywhere
for a cup of coffee. Went on to Potsdam and found the Sanssouci palace
very impressive. We tried to find West Berlin but couldn't find it because
the East Germans don't signpost it. Drove right round Berlin and ended
up going through Checkpoint Charlie.
Thurs 8th. West Berlin, Hotel Central. 10am, 54,729m.
Sightseeing and shopping in Berlin. We had to call out the AA breakdown service three times because the car kept conking out due to the East German petrol we had to put in it. At one point we tried to leave, but the car broke down in 'no-mans-land' at Checkpoint Charlie. The British troops manning the checkpoint came and pushed us back into the Western sector.
||About to break down at Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin.
Fri 9th. West Berlin. 8:40am, 54,754m.
We had an extra day in Berlin sorting out the car and shopping. We had
the car 'de-tuned' to cope with the awful petrol in the eastern bloc.
Sat 10th. West Berlin. 9:25am, 54,774m.
Had an excellent buffet breakfast of salami, ham, cheeses, etc, etc.
Went into the centre for a final dash round the shops, then drove to Poland.
It took 1½ hours to cross from West Berlin into East Germany, then
one hour to cross from East Germany into Poland, so we were a bit
behind schedule. We decided to miss lunch, find somewhere to stay around
Poznan and have a hearty dinner. Unfortunately all the hotels and rest-houses
were full. We carried on until Kolo, by which time it was dark, we had very
little petrol left and nowhere to stay. We asked a taxi driver what to do
(in mime - he did not speak English) and he was very helpful - he took us
to a 'private hotel' which was a private house down an unlit side street
with permission to let rooms. It was very friendly and pleasant. Meanwhile
the taxi driver took me to his house and sold me some petrol out of a can
- he claimed it was 'super' grade but we shall see. There was also an Italian
couple in a Land Rover at the 'hotel' - I wonder how they found it.
Sun 11th. Kolo, Poland, 8:15am. 55,094m.
We had to wake the householders up to pay the bill - obviously not early
risers. The Italians had already gone - maybe they paid last night. Cost
£7.50 for three of us.
We drove on towards Warsaw, and put some petrol in the car to try and
dilute whatever was in the taxi driver's can. No sign of anywhere for breakfast,
Germany was very wooded with rolling hills - Poland is huge and flat and
open, with scattered farming communities. There must have been a lot of
rain because all the little streams are flooded and some of the fields look
like rice paddies.
We arrived in Warsaw which was very pleasant, clean and tidy (Poznan
seemed a bit grimy and closed-in). We had a sausage at a stall in a 'Sunday
market' in the main square in front of the Palace of Culture, an enormous
Empire-State-Building style edifice donated by the Russians. A lorry selling
watermelons arrived and a huge queue formed.
||A queue for tinned fish in the main square, Warsaw.|
We found the accommodation bureau and arranged rooms at the flat of one
of the ladies who worked there. Her husband spoke good English and was
very friendly, he lent us a map, suggested places to visit and eat, etc.
We visited Wilanov Palace, the Chopin Memorial and the old town. Had a nice
meal in the vaults of the Crocodile restaurant, then strolled around the
fortifications at dusk.
||Wilanow Palace, outside Warsaw.|
||In the old market square, Warsaw.|
Mon 12th. Warsaw, 9:15am. 55,220m.
We drove to Krakow. On the way, we read in a brochure that the
trip to the salt mine leaves at 3pm on Mondays, then not till later in the
week. We arrived in Krakow at 2pm and drove to the Orbis travel agent and
booked the salt mine tour. It was very impressive, including an underground
cathedral and underground tennis court!
||Sculptures inside the salt mines near Krakow.|
We found accommodation in a not-quite-finished villa belonging to the
daughter of a lady that an Australian on the salt mine tour was staying with.
The daughter was studying in Vienna and probably not coming back. The villa
had a finished bathroom, kitchen and living room, but the two upstairs floors
weren't complete. There were grounds that could be nice but were very overgrown.
We went into town and had a nice meal at the restaurant in the Hotel Francuski,
an old-fashioned hotel within the city walls.
Tues 13th. Krakow, 8:55am. 55,424m.
In the morning we had a walk round the old town - market square, castle
hill, barbican, etc. In the afternoon we drove up into the mountains
to Debnow wooden church and Niedzica castle, but we were too late for a
boat ride down the rapids.
Weds 14th. Krakow, 8:25am. 55,603m.
We went to Auschwitz concentration camp which was pretty grim. We drove
to Breslau/Wroclaw and on to Prague. We arrived late and had trouble
finding a hotel because they were all full. One taxi driver said we would
have to bribe the desk clerk to get a room, but eventually another one
took us to a hotel with one room free. Too late to eat or drink, so to
Thurs 15th. Prague, Czechoslovakia, Hotel Praha, 9:15am. 55,981m.
We gave the car a rest and got a tram into Prague and walked around the
city. It was very hot and dusty but picturesque. We went to Wenceslas Square,
shops, the Powder Tower, Old Market Square, Charles Bridge, Castle Hill,
the Cathedral and Golden Street - whew!
||They went thataway.... Charles Bridge and Castle Hill, Prague.|
||A doorway in Prague.|
We went for an evening meal at the Praha restaurant at Expo 58. We watched
dusk fall over the city and waited for the lights to come on but they
didn't; Prague disappeared into darkness.
Fri 16th. Prague, 9:25am. 55,981m.
We spent the whole morning trying to get some engine oil. We had to queue
for ages for coupons in a bank, then go to one of the only two shops in
Prague that sell foreign motoring accessories, found that it was closed
for lunch, queued until it opened, to find that they had almost sold out
of oil, the only remaining ones were in the window and the assistant had
to move a huge pile of tyres to get at them, and broke a glass window in
Eventually we got going and went to Karlstein Castle. When we got there
we were booked by the police for going up a road that was no-entry, unless
you happen to live there or have some good reason for being there. Being
a tourist wasn't a good enough reason.
||Karlstein Castle, up the unmarked one-way road.|
We drove a long way round to Jihlava, found a nice hotel and had a super
Sat 17th. Jihlava, Czechoslovakia, 9:30am. 56,140m.
We had a picturesque drive through little villages to Pernstein to see
the castle. It was superb, just what a medieval castle should be like,
with towering battlements, lots of corridors and stairs and odd-shaped
||Approaching Pernstein Castle......|
||... to see the stuffed birds and animals inside!|
We drove on to Brno and stopped for lunch in a hotel by the cathedral.
The whole city, the second largest in Czechoslovakia, seemed deserted.
There was complete silence, no shops open, just a few people sitting quietly
in the main square. This was a bustling Saturday afternoon in Brno! We
had a Nescafé ice cream. We decided it would be a good idea to
book the next hotel, because of all the problems finding somewhere to stay,
so we booked one in Bratislava and drove there. We had a drive round the
town then went to the Hotel Bratislava (which turned out to be miles outside
town) and had a super meal and bottle of Slovak wine.
Sun 18th. Bratislava, 9:25. 56,340m.
We drove under the Iron Curtain and out into Austria - we're free! Drove
to Vienna and found a hotel and a parking space and left the car
for a couple of days. We wandered round Vienna in awe - the food! The cakes!
The beer! The shops! There is such variety and such good quality, it's
like coming up for a breath of air after the last two weeks. Vienna is
also so clean, tidy and well-maintained after the Czech cities, but also
We had lunch in Demel's, wandered around and had dinner at Greichenbeisel's,
one of the oldest buildings in Vienna, which has been an inn since it
was founded and survived sieges by the Turks, etc.
Mon 19th. Vienna, Austria, Hotel Post.
A day of shopping, eating and drinking as yesterday. Very pleasant and
restful, but there are lots of American tourists.
||Street art in Vienna.|
Tues 20th. Vienna, 8:20. 56,385m.
We drove to the Hungarian border and back under the Iron Curtain. Stopped
briefly in Kôszeg, a very picturesque village, to change money,
then on via Heviz to Lake Balaton, the largest and apparently most crowded
thermal lake in Europe. We stopped at Revfûlôp on the lake
and had a swim. We stayed at a 'zimmer' place that seemed to be someone's
Weds 21st. Revfûlôp, Hungary, 9:30. 56,570m.
We drove further along Lake Balaton and found a very nice beach at Sajkod
near Tihany. We sunbathed and swam for a while and bought bread, salami
and marmalade for breakfast and ate it on the beach. Gradually the beach
filled up until every square inch was occupied. There were lots of wind-surfers
and little sailing boats out on the lake. We saw a watersnake. We had a
look at Tihany which had a church on a hill and a nice view of the lake
and small harbour, then drove to Budapest.
We had a bit of a sightseeing tour while trying to find the tourist information
office. We booked private accommodation near the city centre, then had
a couple of very potent black beers and a nice Chinese meal.
Thurs 22nd. Budapest, 10:15. 56,676m.
We spent the morning booking more accommodation because ours was fully
booked tonight, and booking an evening meal at the Fisherman's Bastion.
Had lunch at the Atrium Hyatt.
We went on a city tour and saw the main shopping street, the zoo, funfair,
Heroes' Square with its very impressive monument with the seven chieftains
of the Hungarian tribes, Vajdahunyad Castle, the other main shopping
street, Elizabeth Bridge, the Citadel on Gellert Hill with superb views
of the city but we didn't stop, then up to the castle district to see St
Mattias Church and another walk along Fisherman's Bastion, then back over
Margaret Bridge and past the parliament building.
|Budapest - Heroes' Square (above) and Fisherman's
||Above and below - Two views of the Parliament
We drove back to the Castle district yet again for a drink in a café
and a super meal at the Fisherman's Bastion, while being serenaded by
||Being serenaded in the restaurant at Fisherman's Bastion, Budapest.|
Fri 23rd. Budapest, 11:20. 56,693m.
We drove round the bend - the Danube Bend north of Budapest. We stopped
at Szentendre, an old town, for a look around, then on along the road
parallel with the Danube. Stopped for a very nice lunch at a csarda somewhere
near Visegrad, and drove back via Esztergom.
In the evening we went on a goulash party tour, with nice food and impressive
Hungarian music and dancing, but very touristy.
Sat 24th. Budapest, 8:30. 56,773m.
We drove through Eger to Szilvasverad, but couldn't find any Lippizana
horses. Drove via a mountain road through Lillafured to Miskolc then
Debrecen. We stayed at the Arany Bika (Golden Bull) Hotel, a 'grand hotel'
style place in the centre of the town. We had a superb corner room overlooking
the main square and main street. We lazed around, had a meal, baths, drank
Sun 25th. Debrecen, Hungary, 10:00. 56,982.
We drove to the Romanian border and into Romania. Suddenly we are in southern Europe; it's Ruritania, all romany type people, very rural and old-fashioned. We drove across a continuation of the Hungarian plain to Satu Mare and Baia Mare.
We went down a side road to Surdesti, where the church is the tallest
wooden building in the world. It was lovely and peaceful, with occasional
chickens wandering around. A lady with five kids and another on the way come
and unlocked the church and let us look around. There were lovely carved
woodwork and decorations inside. We drove on route 18 to Sigheta Maomatiei
through a series of very pretty villages with carved wooden gates, pretty
wooden houses and wells with long wooden cross-posts and plastic buckets.
Because it was Sunday everyone was walking about in their Sunday best - the
'national costume', but for their own benefit not for the tourists. Everyone
was very friendly and waved as we went past.
||The wooden church at Surdesti, Romania.|
We looked at both the hotels in Sigheta Maomatiei and found that standards
are not quite what they have been in other places. We were given a whole
separate restaurant to eat in because we couldn't stand the noise of the
band. The only other restaurant in town was closed.
Mon 26th. Sigheta Maomatiei, Romania, 9:30. 57,205m
Outside the hotel was a street full of strange-looking people walking
up and down, who all appeared to be gypsies and vagrants. We drove further
up the road to see the Merry Cemetery, where every wooden gravestone has
a scene from the person's life carved and painted on it, and many have photographs
of the people buried there. We drove back, overlooking the valley that
forms the border with Russia. There were several villages visible on the
other side, but no roads leading that way!
We drove through villages, up and down mountains, through more villages
to Moldovita, to see the painted monastery. The main church (18th
century) is painted inside and out with biblical scenes, all very well
preserved. It was beautifully quiet and peaceful and there was lovely cool
clear water from the well. The only sound was from a strange ceremony when
a nun made a circuit banging a sort of wobble-board with a hammer in quite
an up-beat rhythm. We drove to Sucevita, a similar but larger monastery
with quite a fortified outer wall and more tourists. Still very impressive.
Drove to Suceava and investigated hotels.
In the painted monastery at Moldovita - 'Sounding the Tawaca' to scare away the vampires
| The 'scale of virtues' on the wall of the painted
monastery at Bucevita:
Tues 27th. Suceava, Romania, 8:50. 57,417m.
We drove to Voronet to see another of the painted monasteries but this
one was not still occupied and not so interesting, and also had scaffolding
up as they were renovating the paintings. We drove over the Tihuta pass
to Bistrita and had lunch at the Golden Crown Hotel, where the hero of
the Dracula novel stayed. It was an excellent lunch and good value, the
first really good meal we've had in Romania.
||A farmhouse in the Romanian countryside near Bistrita.|
| Traffic on the road near Suceava....
||A busy Sunday in Transylvania.|
We went on via Tirgu Mures to Sighisoira, a really superb place - very
medieval, with cobbled streets smelling of cider and horse dung, with
old overhanging buildings and the citadel overshadowing it all. We had
another excellent meal with nice Romanian champagne, in the Dracula restaurant
just beyond the arch of the citadel tower. Apparently Vlad Dracula lived
in this house - is this a mixture of the Dracula legend and Vlad the Impaler,
the most famous king of Transylvania?
| Four views of the wonderful medieval town of Sighisoira,
Weds 28th. Sighisoira, Romania, 9:20. 57,634m.
We had another wander along the twisting cobbled streets and around the
citadel, then drove on to Biertan, where there is a fortified church above
the village. It has three lines of defence walls, which the Turks were
not able to break down apparently, and several towers, etc, as well as the
church itself. We saw the door to the church treasury which was built in
1515 and is fitted with the most amazing arrangement of complex locks, covering
the whole inside of the door. This door was sent to various exhibitions
around Europe in the early 1900s. We also went up the bell tower, a detached
wooden building with superb views all around, but weren't allowed to ring
the bells. We met an East German who was hitch-hiking around Romania and
gave him a lift to Medias.
We drove on past the fortified churches of Ax and Arge to Sibiu and had
a quick look around the squares on the top of the hill in the centre of
town. Then we went on to Fagaras (another citadel) to Brasov and past a
record petrol queue of over 2 kilometres. Because it is late in the month
everyone has used up their petrol ration, and so they push their empty cars
into the queue outside the filling station and leave them there until they
get next month's coupons.
||An 'end of the month' petrol queue stretching into the distance near Medias. The cars are abandoned by the filling station until the owners get next month's coupons.|
We had a walk round the main square in Brasov, had some sort of sausages
from a street stall, a beer at another stall with some tables under some
arches, then a meal at a restaurant. For the first time in Romania we
were shown a menu, but it was rather a shame that of the 40-odd dishes
on the menu, including hors d'oeuvres, main courses, specialities and sweets,
only two were currently available. This explains why nobody else has bothered
to show us a menu! We had a very nice meal though, with Romanian champagne
again, then a short walk round and an early night.
Thurs 29th. Brasov, Romania, 7:30. 57,801m.
We drove out to Harman and then to Prejmer, where there are fortified
churches. Both were really impressive - huge outer defence walls, with the
inside of the walls lined with little rooms where the whole village lived
during times of siege, and presumably all their animals were crammed inside
the fortifications too. In the middle was a picturesque church. In Harman
the original wooden benches were still there, huge heavy carved pieces of
wood neatly slotted together. We drove back through Brasov and towards Bran,
passing another fortified church at Cristian.
||In the fortified church at Prejmer, Transylvania.|
Bran is the castle where they film the Dracula movies, although it seems
the real Vlad Dracula did not stay there. Bran Castle guards the way
from Wallachia to Transylvania and looks really impressive towering over
the pass. The inside is impressive too, with lots of staircases, corridors
and rooms with original-looking furniture, and balconies overlooking the
well in the central courtyard. Beside the castle is a nice Village Museum
(skansen) with cottages, a well, a fulling mill, etc.
|Bran Castle, a suitable setting for Dracula films... although Vad Dracula never lived here.||Inside Bran Castle.|
We drove towards Bucharest. On the way we stopped at a roadside well (these
were every few hundred yards in every village) and let down the bucket
to get some water to wash sticky sweets off Jamie's hands. Just as we reached
the Bucharest city limit sign a downpour started - the first daytime
rain since we left Frankfurt. We drove into the city centre and booked
into the Lido Hotel. They have a swimming pool with a wave machine, but
today the pool was empty for cleaning!
We went to try and find a restaurant. We tried the International but it
was too 'internationalised'; tried the Hanul Manuc, which had superb surroundings
and atmosphere, but too crowded and smoky. We trudged back getting soaked
- there are no drains to take away the water and no street lights to show
the puddles - and ate in the restaurant of our own hotel, where we had
rubber steak and red champagne.
Fri 30th. Bucharest, 10am. 57,961m.
We went to the Hanul Manuc for a coffee before leaving Bucharest, and
we liked it so much we decided to stay an extra day. It's like a caravanserai,
with a rectangular building around a large central courtyard. In the
courtyard are tables and chairs amongst the trees, as well as a well,
chicken coop and 'covered wagon' shops, and all around the inside of the
building are wooden balconies, staircases, etc. The top floor is hotel
rooms and the ground and first floors are restaurants, bars, coffee bars,
reception rooms, etc. We got a superb large corner room at the back overlooking
the main vegetable market in Unirii Square, which was very bustling and
oriental. We had a coffee on a balcony in the Hanul Manuc then went for
a walk through the market. Afterwards we went for a ride on the metro then
a walk back through the main streets of Bucharest. There's more in the shops
here than in the provincial towns, but still nothing of quality.
| In the Hanul Manuc, Bucharest - having lunch on the
||... and relaxing in room 113.
|| In the vegetable market in Unirii Square, Bucharest.
Back at the Hanul Manuc we had a beer, then a rest, then dinner on the
balcony. During dinner we kept seeing people who were neither customers
nor staff coming in and going into a door that led to the kitchens and
nether regions, and coming out later with bars of chocolate. There was
no chocolate to be had anywhere in Romania so we went to investigate.
After going down long subterranean corridors past steamy kitchens we arrived
at a queue of people at a small counter, behind which a woman had several
large cartons of chocolate bars from China. People were buying them by
the dozen and word was obviously spreading as more and more people were
joining the queue. We bought one bar and it was very nice, so later when
we had finished our meal we went back to buy another one, but in that short
time they had completely sold out.
Sat 31st. Bucharest, 8:15. 57,962m.
Now seriously behind schedule (we were due home tomorrow), we were up
early and away. We drove into Yugoslavia across a large dam across
the Danube, and along a very picturesque road through gorges beside the Danube,
except for one stretch where we were diverted along a really appalling road
in the mountains. Arrived in Belgrade after dark.
Sun 1st Sept. Belgrade, Yugoslavia, 8:15. 58,341m.
We set off down the main road to Zagreb. It was full of Turkish guest-workers
returning to Germany in their secondhand Mercedes, with the insides crammed
with children and the roof-racks piled with sacks of chilies and peppers
(the ones going back to Turkey were loaded up with stereos and electrical
goods). One Ford Transit-type van even had a baby in a hammock suspended
across the back. Lots of them were stopping on the hard shoulder of the
motorway to spread out rugs and sit and have breakfast.
When the motorway turned into a narrow two-way road and all these interesting
other vehicles turned into one huge crawling traffic jam, we decided
to turn off and try to find a slightly longer but much prettier route.
We finally rejoined all the other traffic near Maribor having had a much
more pleasant and probably just as quick drive. We followed all the other
traffic towards the Austrian border, but about five miles from the border
the police had closed the road and were waving all traffic off a different
way, presumably because the border post was jammed solid with cars. There
was complete confusion with nobody sure which way to go, so we followed
an Austrian who seemed to know what he was doing. He went off confidently
down some tiny lanes and after a while we arrived at a little bridge across
the river that divides Yugoslavia from Austria, and we were across into Austria
within five minutes. We drove past Graz and stopped at a very nice guest
house beyond Bruck.
Mon 2nd. Near Bruck, Austria, 8:10. 58,746m.
We drove to Munich and had a look round.
Tues 3rd. Munich, 8:50. 58,959m.
We drove to Frankfurt and had a sausage and a beer and another look round.
In the evening we had a ricetable at an Indonesian restaurant.
Weds 4th. Frankfurt, 9:30. 59,202m.
We drove to Bonn and had lunch and a look round. Then we drove back to
England, arriving at 11:30pm with 59,708 miles on the clock.
Total: four and a half weeks, eight countries, 5,891 miles (9,425 km).
If you would like to read about our other travels, click here: -