Heading Back Through Poland – Eastern European Road Trip

This is part six of a tale about driving from the UK to Estonia, and back again. If you missed earlier segments, and want to start from the beginning, it can be found by clicking this link: Road Trip From the UK to Estonia.

We pick up the tale in the early evening, in the south of Lithuania in Marijampoles, close to the Polish border. We just pulled up at a roadside hotel.

So the hotel is called the Rezidencija Grizulo Ratai – they have a Facebook page here: http://www.facebook.com/grizuloratai.eu

I was surprised to find my room had a big jacuzzi in there. Just what the road weary traveller needs!

Being the FSU, the food was pants, everything was “finished”, the wine warm and the service patchy at best. But not bad enough to be considered bad in this region. The room was respectable, and the bed comfy.

Breakfast however, didn’t start till 9am.

What kind of roadside hotel doesn’t start breakfast until 9am? Most people want to be on the road by 8am – many earlier. These people really haven’t got the grasp of the hotel business. The lack of other guests would seem to support that.

However, time to crack on, we were exactly 1000 miles from Rotterdam now, so two more days at 500 miles a day to go.

We leave the FSU and head back into the land of tractors, trees and trucks: Poland.

The day ahead means crossing all of Poland in one day. I had grown weary of the travel already, and I wanted to be at home with my wife and daughter. My son was also getting fed up by now and missed his Mum somewhat.

Poland was a complete pain in the arse this time.

The moment we crossed the border, we were flagged in for a customs check.

I *really* wasn’t in the mood, I had 500 miles to cover and these guys were holding me up, and a bribe wasn’t on the table.

They asked me all the usual stuff about where I had been and where I was going and took the vehicle documents to check them on a computer in their van.

They opened up the van and it was pretty full of stuff. They asked me if I had any cigarettes (this is the smuggling route from Russia). I said yes, and showed them the ones I had bought in Belgium. Then they tried to be clever, it went kinda like this:

“Ten cartons? Hmm, we will probably have to confiscate these”
“You will be confiscating nothing. They are EU bought, with tax stickers and receipt, and we are still in the EU, unless you forgot”
“Maybe they are from Russia?” says he while glancing through the Russian visas in my passport.
“You can read, yes? Observe the receipt with a Belgian address. Observe the Benelux tax stickers”
“They might be fake”
“What, the receipt too? Big effort that would be for ten cartons don’t you think? This is silly, Can I go now?”
“We are still checking your vehicle”
“How long is that likely to take?”
“As long as it takes”. [Translation: Maybe you will bribe us]


“Probably we should unload your van to check for contraband” [Translation: Maybe you will bribe us]
“Go right ahead. However, do be careful, and I will hold you accountable for breakages and competent reloading”
“It isn’t our job to reload the van”
“Can you show me something official that says that?”

— Silence. —

“Have you checked the van documents yet?”
“We haven’t finished yet.” [Translation: Maybe you will bribe us]
“Do you intend to unload the van?”
“We haven’t decided yet” [Translation: Maybe you will bribe us]

Five more minutes of such nonsense passes. I start to see my arse a bit by now, so I try this……..

“Does that van have an internet connection on all those computers in there?”
“Of course, why?”
“Can you get me the phone number for the British Embassy in Warsaw please? I think I need advice here and this “check” seems to be making no progress and I see no reason to delay a fellow EU citizen in this way. Also write down all your names, numbers and ranks if you would, thanks.”

He walks to his van, they have a swift conversation, he returns with my vehicle documents and says, “You can go”

“Gotcha! No bribe today!” I thought as I was driving off.

Because Poland has this huge motorway crossing most of it, all the people that sell stuff at the side of the road are confined to small areas either end of the motorways and out of the towns now.

This creates an unusual visual situation where the folks selling tomatoes, potatoes and honey are vying for the space with the roadside hookers. Now, these hookers have clearly read ‘Hooker Marketing Strategies 101’ or something, because these don’t look like the usual drugged up skanks you might normally see by the roadside. There were some properly done up, well dressed, seriously attractive looking women out there. So noticeable were they, that the truckers were dramatically slowing down for a better look and this was causing more than the usual traffic congestion.

Progress through Poland was mighty slow. Traffic was very heavy and there were roadworks everywhere.

I sat in one traffic queue over an hour without moving more than twenty feet. Poland will be OK when its finished, but right now its just one huge contraflow.

Even when we were moving, the usual Polish rural stuff gets samey after a while.

But most of it was motorways. For hundreds of miles. That all look the same.

The motorway was punctuated by the odd town, that also all looked the same by now……..

Time came to stop for the night, around 500 miles on the navigation was showing for Rotterdam, and we were at the Polish/German border. I had so had enough of Poland after such a long day, so decided to cross into Germany to seek out a hotel……even though it would be more expensive. At least everything wouldn’t be “finished” like in the FSU, right?

Estonia to England – a Road Trip and a Breakdown

This is part five of a tale about driving from the UK to Estonia, and back again. If you missed earlier segments, and want to start from the beginning, it can be found by clicking this link: Road Trip From the UK to Estonia.

Planning the route home, I decided to make some changes and save myself the awful drive from the south of England, around London and oop north.

This time the plan is to stay one night in Lithuania, near the Polish border, one night in Germany/Poland and last night on the North Sea Ferry from Holland. That means 500 miles a day for three days, and a 100 mile ish hop from the boat home.

We set off back bright and early. Going great guns until the forests in the south of Estonia. Is that my imagination or is the van not feeling as gutsy as it might? Diesel is going down mighty fast too – unless I am imagining that too. The van is quite heavy; maybe its in my mind.

Within minutes, with my foot welded to the floor I couldn’t get past 60mph. Then it was 50mph…….

We were losing power – fast.

I was then overcome with the smell of diesel through the heater vents. Yup, it seems like we have a problem.

I pulled over, got out and the diesel smell was overpowering. It was dripping all over the floor at the front of the van. I pulled the bonnet to take a look, and found that the front stop end on the diesel injector leakoff pipes had lost its stop end. That means diesel pours out when the engine is running.

As the law of sod dictates, I used to carry a spare set of leakoff pipes for years – and never needed them. I recently put them away in my garage at home for some reason.

Time for a smoke and a moment of contemplation. I used to work on Mercedes vans once upon a time, there must be a way to cock that up at the side of the road.

I had very little with me in the way of tools, just a very small tool kit with a few odds and ends of hardware in there.

Looking around the engine bay for something that might make a donor stop end didn’t reveal much. However, the headlight auto dips on Merc Sprinter vans run on vacuum, and those vacuum pipes are held on with rubber coupling pipe.

So off comes one of the couplings…….

And into it gets inserted a small wood screw to make a stop end. The bore of the pipe is a little larger than the screw, and the original leak off pipe, so I found in the van two small zip ties, one to seal the thread of the screw, and
one to secure the pipe on the injector.

The job’s a good un, and pretty soon we are rolling again with full fuel pressure.

The run down through Latvia to the hotel in Lithuania is quite uneventful.

Yes, I bought a vignette at the Lithuanian border – about five quid.

You cant really see it from the pic, but this is the Baltic sea through the trees.

I managed to avoid the cops, which is a miracle because they are literally everywhere!

Raping the motorists pocket is the latest idea in the Baltics – probably imported from the UK.

Traffic police is clearly their biggest budget of late, I never saw so many police cars in my life as I did that day. Added to which, they have also discovered the speed camera. They are also everywhere.

It is complete overkill.

To be honest, it makes driving down these long straight roads way less fun than it used to be now. Now it is cat and mouse with the cops and cameras. Like driving in the UK.

The fun has gone. Those 500 or so miles ticked by real slow……. it was a loooooong day!

When I had had enough, we arrive at a random roadside hotel in the early evening in Lithuania, close to the Polish border. I get inside and nobody speaks a word of English. Only Russian. So, this will test my Russian language skills………

“Adin byeley vino, e adin apelsinovi sok, pazhalsta” – Lets have a drink and a think while I look over this Cyrillic menu………

Driving in the Former Soviet Union – The Baltics

This is part four of a tale about driving from the UK to Estonia. If you missed parts one, two and three, and want to start from the beginning, it can be found by clicking this link: Road Trip From the UK to Estonia.

Day three: Into Lithuania.

We leave Poland very early, as this is to be a fourteen hour day from Poland, through Lithuania, Latvia and into Estonia.

By late morning, we are at the Lithuanian border, the entry point to the FSU.

It looks like a bomb has hit it doesn’t it? It hasn’t really been used since they joined the Schengen zone. There are just a few cops dossing about. Had this have been in the US, they would have been eating doughnuts.

So as we progress through Lithuania, this is where I expect to get hit up by the cops. A right hand drive vehicle with British plates seems too good for them to be able to resist. Sure enough, like fishing with tasty bait, it doesn’t take long.

Yes, as with any of my driving tales, we get stopped by the Rozzers.

We established we were speaking English.

He asked me the gross weight of the van. I told him it was 3500 kilos.

He asked me where my Vignette was. A term with which I was unfamiliar.

He went on to explain that all goods vehicles over 3500 kilos had to buy a Vignette at the border. A road tax. A fee for the pleasure of driving through Lithuania.

I thought he was yanking my tail hoping for a bribe. I said to him, “Not really mate, we are in the EU, I have UK road tax valid throughout the EU.”

We argued a little, and he said, “Wait, I will get you a leaflet from my car – in English”.

And dammit, he was right!

The cop and I are stood by the van. I accepted that he was correct, and waited for his next move.

He said he would need to write me a ticket.

I said that’s fine. [Waiting for the money request]

He goes into the well worn routine about how it takes 20 minutes to write and how I should go trailing to a bank in Vilnius to pay………..

I said that’s fine. [This is the point I might normally bung him and we both get along with our day – but not today – coz I intend to pay £0]

There is a pause. He is figuring out how to turn this into a bribe.

He asked me how long I was going to be in the country. I said I’ll be out of the country within hours.

He asked me when I was coming back. I said a few days. Again, just passing through.

He asked me if I had been stopped by the police in Lithuania before. “Many times” I replied.

There is another long pause. [He can see he is nowhere nearer getting a bung, that I don’t care about getting a ticket, and I can see he clearly cant be bothered writing one out because we both know it wont get paid].

At the point the silence became uncomfortable, he perused my documents – that he was still holding – again, handed them back, and said, “When you come back, you stop at the border, and buy a Vignette”. With this, he walked off, got back in his car and drove off.

Game set and match! No bribe today Rozzer!

The remainder of the day took us into Latvia……….

And then it is a very looooooooong straight run up the Baltic coast road.

As usual, we got into Tallinn late in the evening.

It took me two days to do what I had to do there, so now its time to turn round and head for home.

Click here to go to the next part of this story

Copy Protected by Chetan's WP-Copyprotect.