A Drive to the Black Sea
through Poland, Moldova, Transnistria and Ukraine, then back through Czech republic and Germany

June 2007

Sat 26th May. 0 miles. Left home at 2am to catch the Eurotunnel - it's a bank holiday weekend so we couldn't get a later crossing.

345 miles. Bochum - first two petrol stations since Holland.

371 miles. Stopped at another services for hot sausages and mustard for brunch.

768 miles (1228 km). Reached Zgorzelec (Gorlitz) across the Polish border.

We stayed at the rather basic Dom Turysty hotel for 86 Zloty (£17). We walked down by the river to the Piwnica Staromiejska restaurant and sat in the evening sunshine by the river listening to the water going over the weir and looked at the well-restored houses on the German side of the river, drinking a local beer. Then when we were forced indoors by a sudden thunderstorm we had Granny's platter, with lovely smoked ham and bread with lard and a traditional Polish salad with grated cheese.

Sun 27th. Drove to Wroclaw, 870 miles.

We stayed at the really nice Dwor Polski hotel, in a nicely furnished comfortable room, right in the centre of the old town near the main square, for £50 including parking and breakfast.

Wroclaw square
In the main square in Wroclaw old town.
Dwor Polski
The facade of the Dwor Polski restaurant on the main square in Wroclaw.

After a walk round the flower market and the square in the bright sunshine we stopped for a couple of beers in one of the bars on the square, then went to the nearby Gospoda Wroclawska restaurant with heavy beams and dark-wooden decor for a paté and a goulash soup. After a quiet afternoon we set out again and stopped at 'Spitz', a micro-brewery on the square for a piwo ciemne (black beer). Then across the road in the 'Rodeo Drive', a Western-style restaurant we had wonderful steak and spicy beans, and barbecue chicken salad for £20, outside under an umbrella, while just like yesterday, the sudden thunderstorm rained down. As soon as it finished the square filled with fire-dancers, twirling their blazing ropes in time to the drummers.

Mon 28th.

Drove to Krakow, 1038 miles (1660km).

Monday to Thursday - Sheila went sightseeing in Krakow while I was working.

Thurs 31st. Krakow, 1058 miles.

We drove east for a couple of hours and stopped at 'Motel Super 6' in Ropczyce where we had an excellent meal, starting with smoked salmon and caviar!

Friday 1st June.
Ropczyce, 1142 miles. After a nice buffet breakfast we drove to the Ukrainian border at Korsova, 1215 miles.

The big, modern border post was quiet and it did not take long to cross into Ukraine, although the long queue of cars trying to cross in the other direction was ominous for our return.

Navigating through Ukraine was difficult. The country roads were not too bad and there were some signposts, although they were in Cyrillic script so we had to keep stopping to work out what they said. But in towns it was impossible as there were no signposts at all and no obvious 'main' roads through the maze of traffic and trams. We tried to take the ring road round Lviv but we missed it and ended up going round and round in increasingly frustrating circles in the town. After asking the way several times from very helpful passers-by we found our way to Ivano-Frankovsk where we got lost again, and finally managed to go via Chortkov to Kamyanets-Podilsky, a very picturesque old town and castle perched on cliffs over a loop in the river.

Kamyanets Podilsky castle
The picturesque castle in Kamyanets-Podilsky, Ukraine.
Kamyanets Podilsky town hall
The town hall spire in the main square in Kamyanets-Podilsky.

Near the main square we tried the only hotel in the old town, the Hetman, but it cost an unreasonable US$110, so we crossed the bridge to the new town and stayed at the Ukrainia, a sadly run-down 1970s Soviet-style hotel, for the grand sum of 60 Hry (about £8 or $16). We went back to the Kafe Pid Bramoyu which we had noticed by the old bridge, with wonderful views over the river to the fairytale castle, lit up by spotlights as dusk descended. We had a very tasty big barbecued pork steak with potatoes and salad and four big beers, which cost exactly 100 Hry (about £12), including 4 Hry for the music, which was a singer/DJ playing dance tunes by a little dance floor on the upper level of the restaurant.

Sat 2nd.

1472 miles (2355 km). Kamyanets-Podilsky. We drove down traffic-free roads to the Moldovan border near Bricany, only stopping to ask the way two or three times. On one occasion the person we asked called his friend over, who promptly sat in the car and directed us for the next five miles, chatting away at full volume in incomprehensible Ukrainian.

The border, 1530 miles, was very relaxed and although it took a while and cost a 4 euro fee 'for the roads' (for which we got an official receipt stamped three times) it was an easy crossing. It was a great relief to be back in a place where the signs are in Latin script and we can understand them straight away! We had a pleasant drive along poor roads through rolling countryside with vines and orchards to Chisinau.

Glinjeni church
1607 miles (2571 km). We stopped to take pictures of the golden-domed church at Glinjeni, Moldova.

1684 miles (2694 km). Chisinau was a surprisingly big, bustling city with wide, tree-lined boulevards past well-kept parks and large official-looking buildings.

Chisinau cathedral park
Cathedral Park in Chisinau, with the cathedral and 'Arc de Triomphe'.

After driving around the city for a while someone suggested we try the Flowers Hotel which was a very nice, modern hotel where we negotiated a good price (£50) for a huge, comfortable, nicely-furnished room. After settling in we went to a café on the main street, boulevard Stefan cel Mare, and tried a couple of glasses of Moldovan wine, then after a restful afternoon we went to the Beer House restaurant/bar for a plate of hams and cheeses and a glass of locally-produced beer.

Sun 3rd.

We had breakfast in the hotel dining room which was more like an elegantly-furnished room in a country house, then drove to Orheiul Vechi, where there are a series of ruined cave monasteries in the cliffs overlooking a sweep of the river.

Orkeiu Vechi church
One of the monasteries has been restored by Orthodox monks and is a charming little church in a hollowed out cave, with a door out onto a slab of rock high above the river and fields below. It was a lovely spot.
Orheiu Vechi
The view from the ledge outside the cliff monastery is dizzying.

Chisinau Market
1774 miles (2838 km). Back in Chisinau we had a look round the bustling central market.

Then we went to the Green Hills café/bistro and sat at a table out on the main boulevard, where we had soup, salad and a couple of beers for lunch as we watched the world go by. After another quiet afternoon we went back to the Green Hills for a wonderful dinner of Moldovan champagne with an extremely tasty Chateaubriand (spelled Sato Biriean on the menu) with fried potatoes and cabbage salad, for a total of 345 lei (£16).

Mon 4th

We drove towards Tirasopol and began the dreaded crossing of the Transnistrian border (1810 miles) at Bendery. Transnistria is an 'independent' communist republic not recognised by anyone else in the world, and they have their own rules which are not designed to make it easy for anyone trying to visit or cross the country. The standard scam is that when you reach the border the Moldovans won't stamp your passports because technically you are not leaving Moldova, so when you get to the Transnistria side there is a 'problem' which means you would have to drive several hundred kilometres around the country, but of course it emerges that if you would care to pay a large sum of money the officials will look the other way. It was all play-acting and done in a light-hearted way and in the end it cost us $50 each to get in, which is the same as you would pay for a visa to many third-world countries, but this cash goes straight into the customs officer's desk drawer with no receipt issued.

We drove to Tirasopol, the 'capital' of the state, and after driving around the one main street a couple of times we stopped for salad and ice cream at the one and only open-air café, which was very pleasant. It all seemed very friendly and cheerful, not at all like the fearful, hard-line Stalinist state we had been led to expect.
Lenin in Tirasopol
Statue of Lenin outside the President's palace in Tirasopol, capital of Transnistria.

We drove on good, clear roads to the Transnistria-Ukraine border, and here the whole charade was repeated again, a 'problem' with the missing Moldovan stamp. This time though we felt we had paid enough and said we had given all our money to the other border guards to fix the problem and perhaps they should share the money - one of the guards laughed and said maybe they could send over $50 by fax! We turned out our pockets and produced one dollar and a few pennies in Moldovan notes, there was a lot of sighing and shaking of heads, followed by long silences where we stood smiling genially at the guards until finally they let us go through with no additional payment. There was one final hitch where it seemed that we should have paid $11 for road tax at the first border but nobody had told us that and so we couldn't produce a receipt. We seemed to be heading for an impasse until we explained that we had no money left because we had to pay $100 to get in at the other border, and the customs guys seemed genuinely shocked at this and in the end they too let us go, and a few moments later we were at the Ukrainian immigration post where there was no more hassle than filling in a couple of forms.

With a sense of relief and also pleasure that we had negotiated Transnistria and actually quite liked it, we were on our way to Odessa along much busier roads, ending in a big traffic jam as we entered the city itself.

1890 miles (3024 km). Odessa was big and busy, with ornate, elegant 19th-century buildings and wide boulevards with street cafés. We found the 'Passage' hotel at the top end of Derybasivska street, the main pedestrian boulevard, a slightly rundown establishment in a fine old building where we had a large room overlooking the boulevard for £22.

Odessa Steps
We walked around Odessa for a while, going down the famous Potemkin steps to the port and back up in a cable-car, then had a sangria and cheesecake in one of the street cafés.
Odessa museum
The Museum in Odessa.

After a bit more walking we stopped in the Klara Bara where there was a Ukrainian group with guitars, flute, violin, double bass and a singer playing traditional music, and we had a nice meal with a 2-litre jug of Carlsberg beer!

Tues 5th.

After stopping to look round a garden centre we found by accident, we went to have a morning at the seaside at Arkadia Beach, 5 miles south of the centre of Odessa.

Arkadia beach
We parked near the tram stop and walked down an avenue with restaurants and fairground games to the beach itself, where there were plenty more restaurants alongside the sands where people were sunbathing and trying unsuccessfully to swim in the rather rough sea.

We stopped at one of the restaurants and had brunch of kebabs and salad then walked around a bit more before beginning the long drive back. We travelled for about 150 miles across the great open steppes, then turned left and headed west through Vinnitsa. Just after Khmelnitsky we found a roadside motel where we got a nice, new chalet (so new it still smelled of plaster) for 100 Hry (£12) and a very nice dinner of borscht, steak and salad with Ukrainian red wine for Hr 70.

Wed 6th.

2244 miles, motel near Khmelnitsky.

We drove on past Ternopol and stopped for brunch of pork escalopes, chips and salad at a nice roadside café. Continuing on we found the Lviv bypass this time, and found the right exit off it towards Shegyni, the border post. We stopped in Mostiska to spend the last of our Ukrainian money on local wine, then arrived at the border.

2440 miles. At the border we joined a huge, slow-moving queue of people trying to get into Poland. Some soldiers allowed us to bypass the first part of the queue up to the gates of the border post, but then we joined the second queue and sat still there for a long time. It took us 3½ hours to get through the border because the Polish customs were searching the Ukrainians so thoroughly, and it would have taken much longer except that we were waved to the front of the queue in a couple of places, because we were neither Polish nor Ukrainian.

Eventually we got going and drove for an hour and a half before we stopped at the Motel Super 6 again, 2521 miles.

Thurs 7th.

We drove to Krakow, 2610 miles, which was eerily quiet and deserted because, unknown to us, today is a public holiday in Poland. After a brief stop at the office we drove to the Czech border 2844 miles, and to Prague 2939 miles (4702 km).

Prague clock
Prague was just the opposite of Krakow, being very crowded and busy, with pavement cafés overflowing with tourists in the warm sunshine. We walked from the hotel down to the old town square and had a delicious Chateaubriand and potent black beer at a café opposite the famous medieval clock.
Fri 8th

Sheila spent the day walking all around Prague while I was working, then we joined the Friday evening queues out of town. As soon as we were out of the city the traffic was not too bad and we drove to Karlovy Vary / Karlsbad, 3020 miles, where we stayed in a nice pension in a private house and had a meal at a restaurant with an interesting menu including kangaroo and ostrich.

Sat 9th

We drove along part of the Burgstrasse -

3123 miles, Bayreuth - an elegant town, we had coffee and ice cream.

3137 miles, Kulmbach - with a castle on a hill.

3151 miles, Kronach - a lovely old town, we had coffee and a cake on the square.

3174 miles, Coburg - with archways in towers at the entrance to town and original Coburg rostbratwurst from a stall on the square.

Bamburg old town hall
3204 miles (5126 km), Bamburg - with swiftly-flowing rivers, a lovely town ....
Bamburg old town hall
.... but packed with tourists.

Sun 10th.

We watched the religious procession and service outside our hotel, we had no choice because they were blocking our car in. Then we drove along part of the Romantischerstrasse -

3280 miles, Creglingen - with a pretty apothecary shop and a tower house.
3287 miles, Rottingen - a tower and archway.

3292 miles, Weikersheim - another tower and old houses, town square.
Bad Mergentheim
3300 miles, An old house in Bad Mergentheim.

3309 miles, Lauda - a little house with roses and a street fair.

3314 miles, Tauberbischafsheim - with old buildings and a quiet town square.

At 2pm we got onto the motorway towards Hamburg.

3656 miles (5849 km), Hamburg.

Mon 11th.

After working in Hamburg we drove to a motel past Munster, 3835 miles.

Tues 12th.

4175 miles, after stopping at more garden centres we were back at the Eurotunnel.

4265 miles (6824 km), home.

If you would like to read about our other travels, click here ............. Click here