Driving Through Germany and Holland – Germany is an Odd Place!

This is part seven 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 as we enter Germany from Poland in search of a hotel for the night.

We crossed into Germany, I checked my navigation and drove to the first three hotels on it.

One was wasteland (demolished maybe), one was a small guest house where nobody answered the door, and the third one looked promising: A small guest house run by a widow type woman. She showed me a room and it must have been the smallest one I had ever seen. No breakfast or bar going on either…….. so I declined.

I stopped and asked a local for the biggest hotel in the area, they said it was the City Hotel: http://www.citypark-hotel.de/

So tonight was to be at the City Hotel in Frankfurt an Oder in Germany. The room was pretty small and grim. But hey, its only for a night. It had been another long day and I was past caring.

I generally get my lad the room next door to me, as he is old enough to start to want his privacy. They said this wasn’t allowed in this part of Germany; he was too young. Well, Germany likes a rule.

After I paid, the woman on the desk started reeling off other rules: No externally bought drink in the room, no smoking anywhere, no visitors, breakfast is extra, wifi is extra, parking the van is extra; a huge list of things that are extra.

Then she tried to bill me in £ Sterling at an usurious exchange rate. No thanks love, I have a card denominated in Euros already; local rates please.

We dumped our stuff in the shoebox and went back downstairs. I asked where the restaurant was, “closed” she told me. What, at 8pm? OK, I’ll have a drink instead while I find out where we can eat. A bottle of German wine maybe (which is all they seem to have in Germany). Nope – not allowed! Only by the glass. “Why is that?” I asked. “Hotel rule” she said. I was getting fed up of rules by now and wishing I had stopped twenty miles back in Poland. In Poland you could ask for three hookers, a gram of coke and a crate of booze, and nobody would bat an eyelid. This is one regulated place!

I decided, as we were in the city, a stroll to find a restaurant was in order. The receptionist directed me to the ‘main part of town’ a few minutes straight up the road. “Its full of restaurants” she declared. She wasn’t wrong, but most of them were closed. I found one that looked kind of open. We sat down outside, we were the only clients. I ordered some food and a bottle of wine. “A bottle?” the waitress asked as if I had asked for Polonium. She went on to explain that serving a bottle wasn’t encouraged because of city drinking laws. I made a face like this and she brought the bottle. The wine was average, the food forgettable. As was breakfast the next morning – I don’t even remember what it was.

8.30pm in a town with 60,000 people in it and the streets were deserted. Shops were lit as if they were open, but they were closed. The only traffic was an ambulance every few minutes and the odd taxi. I probably saw ten pedestrians in an hour. It was like they had heard the four minute warning. The one restaurant that was open was empty. I decided to ask the waitress. She said it was normal it was like this every night of the week.

Germany: An unusual country that we admire from afar. The home of VW, Mercedes, Audi, Porsche, Bosch, Hugo Boss, Siemens, Blaupunkt, Lufthansa and Grundig. The powerhouse economy of Europe. Asleep at 8.30pm. Maybe there is a rule for that too………..

Actually, from previous visits to Germany I recall, they are all out of bed at dawn and are cycling to work whistling at 5am with a packed lunch on the pannier. Reminiscent of a Soviet Tractor factory actually.

Next morning I a took a run down the main street looking for a sausage shop. No sausage shop in Frankfurt (albeit an Oder and not am Main) but, OK. I wanted to go. Was it this town or this country? I couldn’t decide, but we were 500 miles from the ferry at Rotterdam in Holland and that means the autobahn beckons.

I was still musing on Germany as I was driving, and what a bloody odd place. Yes, the autobahns – with no speed limits – work just fine. Way faster than Poland. No roadworks to speak of, few accidents. Teutonic efficiency everywhere. German cars as far as the eye can see. Patriotic they are too. That explains the economy: Buy a Merc and keep the money in Germany. I cant argue with that, but I was driving a Merc too.

So I pulled in for coffee and fuel. Right there near the gents toilets was a vending machine. Not just condoms as you might expect, but vaginal lubricant, love balls, cock rings and all manner of sexual toys were available. For three Euros. Next service station I saw the same; but this time blokes were queuing buying them.

Now I don’t know about you, dear reader. I am sure many of us might have taken a car journey with a lady from time to time, and gotten a little frisky along the way. That seems pretty healthy.

But I never felt the urge to seek out vaginal lubricant, love balls and nipple clamps at the roadside; as an impulse purchase. What is with Germans? Anyone who watched the UK show Eurotrash will likely be nodding now. It was a show that looked at Europe and almost always seemed to focus on naked bearded Germans in forests doing something bizarre with a tin of automotive grease, a long stick and a woman in leather shorts with a cap at a jaunty angle. The car park revealed many way over-the-hill rotund German women dressed in skin-tight leather skirts and blokes with handlebar moustaches and yellow tinted aviator-style spectacles. I felt like I was on the set of a bad 70’s porn movie. The mind boggles. Eurotrash was true after all.

So what are to make of the Germans if we take all this evidence together? The price of an innovative, economically healthy nation is no speed limits, to go to bed at 8pm, get up at 5am, eat cold meat for breakfast, and cycle to Soviet Tractor Factory Number Five in leather shorts. Drinking more than one glass of something alcoholic is discouraged, but roadside shenanigans with nipple clamps and vaseline is not. As long as its before 8pm. And whatever happens after 8pm, in Lindenstraße at least, ends up with many ambulances being called; (screaming fifty-shades-style subs in cellars most likely). Oh, and unlike most of Europe, they sell two grades of diesel, and the expensive one is like rocket fuel! And you cant cut your lawn on a Sunday. Maybe it disturbs the blokes crawling on them at 5am in leather caps and nipple clamps?

An odd place indeed – when you scratch the surface – is Germany. So we hit the road heading the last 500 miles towards Holland………..
As I mentioned before, German traffic is generally quite efficient and I had to be checked in in Rotterdam by 7.30pm. The navigation said I would land at 6.30, so that doesn’t leave much time for traffic delay.

Ahh, now we are getting closer to Holland………

At last, by late afternoon, we are in Holland……..

Then rush hour hits, Holland is also notorious for traffic jams, but logic told me that people would be heading away from Rotterdam rather than towards it. Turns out that was correct.

At long last, one hour early, I saw what I had been waiting days to see……….

Yup, the Rotterdam to Hull ferry!

The boat is an overnight boat, and after a full English breakfast on board the next morning, and being waved straight through customs, it was only two hours or so within the UK to get home. Ahh, the correct side of the road once again!

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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

Driving in Poland: Trucks, Trees and Tractors.

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

Day Two: We leave Berlin bright and early, we are heading for the border of Poland. That doesn’t take too long and pretty soon we are in Poland.

Poland: Trucks, Tractors and Trees.

This route through Poland is the main pass through route for road freight to the rest of Poland, Belarus, Kaliningrad, Ukraine and the Baltics. As you can imagine, it gets very busy and is trucks, trucks and more trucks.

The EU paid for a new motorway that is now several hundred miles long.

It is a pay road, and you now pay five times along its length, which varies between 14 and 37 Zloty at each point.

Bringing damaged cars up to Poland and Lithuania from other parts of Europe is still big business.

You see scenes like this every few minutes. And the empty transporters coming back on the other side of the carriageway to collect more. It has always been this way. Almost every used car in this part of the world arrived as a damaged one from western Europe.

When driving through the towns and villages, there are these religious thingies in front of many of the fields of crops.

I can only assume they are hoping god will bless the crop? I dunno. Some are little crosses with a few flowers. Some are more extravagant affairs like this. Some are huge monstrosities with floodlights and Madonnas – looking more like graves than shrines. This is a Catholic thing, not an Orthodox thing.

Starting in East Germany, and right through Poland, there is a lot of graffiti.

Its under every motorway bridge, on garages, public areas – everywhere.

Some are intricate cartoons, some is very artistic, and I half wonder if some of it might have been paid for to brighten up the dull concrete.

The usual roadside sellers can still be found.

Don’t ask me how this got here………..

It made me chuckle so I put it here.

It took around 12 hours for me to get where I was heading for the night: The Kamiza Hotel. The hotel is nice, it is very, very cheap, and as one might expect, service is almost non existent. Well, this is Eastern Europe. They haven’t grasped service yet.

Tomorrow is still about three hours driving in Poland before the border of Lithuania; the entrance to the former Soviet Union.

A Drive to Estonia – Part Two.

This is part two of a tale about driving from the UK to Estonia. If you missed part one, 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 Belgium, just after a scheduled stop at the famous Tobacco Road.

So off we go through Belgium towards Holland.

Through the corner of Holland and then we hit Germany. You can see the blue sign on the right that is the German border.

Germany is where road travellers from all across Europe start to be seen.

The driving standard from Germans is generally very good. The roads are good and I love the no speed limits on many of the autobahns.

Of course, not everyone driving there meets the German standard. I stopped off for a coffee, and on may way out of the service station, a truck made me do an emergency stop as he totally disregarded my right of way. And my horn.

The further east you get, size of vehicle dictates right of way more so than road markings.

As he pulled ahead, I looked to see where this truck was from, betting myself it was an FSU truck. No German driver would have done that. Sure enough, it was a Russian truck.

As I passed him, predictably, he was on his mobile phone.

Progress through Germany is quite quick. It can be an interesting place to drive through.

Germany is an odd place in many ways (as I will explain on the way back), but the road system is pretty good if you can avoid the horrendous traffic jams that can happen.

Berlin, where I am heading today, has a ring road that is notorious for rush hour traffic jams. The object of this day is to get to the edge of Berlin avoiding the rush hour car park.

So far so good, and eighteen hours after leaving Manchester, I arrive at my first stop for the night. The Fire Station Hotel in Brandenburg. They have a site here: Feuerwehrhotel.

A very long first day; eighteen hours is a lot of driving. But that’s the longest day behind me.

Road Trip From the UK to Estonia and Back.

I recently had some business to do in Estonia. Flying there wasn’t really an option as I had some bulky stuff to transport. Additionally, I wanted to buy something there that is commonplace there but overpriced in the UK: A sauna.

So, I decided to drive there from Manchester to Tallinn.

I have done this drive many times since 1998, and much has changed in this time. On this journey, I decided to take my eight year old lad with me and plan to grab a few pics along the way.

This is the route.

The vehicle of choice is a 1998 Mercedes Sprinter van with 155000 miles on the clock.

My first choice this trip was taking the less miles route through Scandinavia. However, the Newcastle – Scandinavia ferries seem to all be cancelled.

I wanted to take my lad over the Øresund Bridge, and in doing so, getting to Estonia takes only 400m miles driving and two boats. I spent two days Googling and researching. The only other boat that offers anything is the one from Northern Germany to Riga. But that is €785 and takes 26 hours. By road takes 24 hours and costs half that including hotel.

After some research, it seemed that by the longer road route, it was cheaper and saves time.

The van does 90mph at a push (and that is a push). That is 145 kph. Many limits are 90 kph. Yup, I expect to meet the cops………….

OK, now back home, so I can gather my thoughts a little.

Left Wednesday night about midnight. Its about five hours with no traffic, over the Pennines and down the M1 from the North, around London, and off towards the white cliffs of Dover to Folkstone where the Channel Tunnel is.

We hit Folkstone about 5.30 am and I started imbibing coffee there as I knew I had a much longer day to come.

Around 7am French time, we emerged in Calais (France) and headed north for Adinkerke in Belgium.

Why Adinkerke? Why, thats where Tobacco Road is.

I’ll quote from Wiki to explain what Tobacco Road is for those who don’t know:

Belgium has lower taxes on tobacco than France or the UK; as Adinkerke is the closest Belgian town accessible to the French ferry ports, it attracts many French smokers and British booze cruisers every day to make the trip across the border to buy cheaper tobacco. Adinkerke has the unusual claim to fame of having the greatest number of tobacconists per capita of any area in Europe.

Many shops opened around the clock, which provided the advantage of offering other shops and fuel services that would not normally be found in a town of such a small size. While this may have proved beneficial to travellers, local people were inconvenienced by the constant traffic, so the local Mayor has recently ordered the tobacco stores to close during the night.

Due to the smuggling associated with reduced tobacco duty, it is not uncommon for the E40 to be closed at night at junction 1 and French and Belgian police question drivers and passengers of vehicles on the N34 road over the motorway. Many of the tobacco shops have closed now due to declining trade as a result of the imposition of quantitative limits on tobacco purchases being brought into France and Britain from Belgium, regular tobacco shoppers travelling to and from Britain have had their purchases seized by UK customs and been warned about future travel to purchase excise goods.

Duly refreshed by eggs, bacon and coffee, availing myself of a tankful of cheap Belgian diesel, and buying some bargain cartons of smokes, it was time to hit the road again heading through Belgium and Holland with the navigation programmed for Brandenburg on the outskirts of Berlin in East Germany.

A Drive from UK to Estonia via Poland, Lithuania & Latvia

I will have a pal of mine in tow who likes the idea of Eastern European women, who wants to see some in their natural habitat en route.

After our side of Europe, this little sojourn will be taking us through Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and the whole length of Estonia. (Going around Kaliningrad as you cant go through there without a transit visa)

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