This is a summary of our journey home after visiting Turkey for the solar eclipse in the Antalya area on the 29th March 06. The complete trip was a 6400 mile, 140 day journey taking in 14 European countries.
I've put together these notes for the benefit of anybody considering venturing into Eastern Europe for the first time. Most of the border scams have now disappeared as most of the countries are part of the EU or are waiting to join.
We chose this particular route so it does not clash with a train journey we are taking from London to Istanbul in September 06.
We crossed into Bulgaria near Malko Tarnovo from Turkey on the 13th April. It took about 20 minutes for the whole procedure. First the vehicle was disinfected which cost 5 Euro. Next the vehicle documents were checked, the customs/immigration control followed and the vehicle was checked out. It then cost us 4Euro for one weeks road tax (9 Euro for 1 month). When the vehicle docs were checked the officer phoned ahead for English speaking customs/immigration personnel. Everything was very polite and efficient.
Our plastic would not work in the Bulgarian ATM we tried. The bank wanted four % commission for currency on a credit card. So we changed some of our stock of Euros. We did not try another bank as we only planned to stay less than a week in the country.
All road signs are in the Cyrillic alphabet, some names of places also appear in English. Care must be taken when following signs for a town as repeat signs may only be in Cyrillic. We found the Fretag & Berndt (1:400000) Bulgaria very useful as all place names were in Cyrillic and English. We also used the Lonely Planet Guide to Eastern Europe which covers all Eastern Europe.
Camp sites in Bulgaria consist of primitive cabins/chalets and space to pitch tents. No way are they equipped to handle motorhomes, usually the only parking space available is around the cabins/chalets.
In the main roads are in a poor state. Some "E" Road through routes are being improved with EU money. Some secondary roads quickly deteriorate into little more than farm tracks.
We filled up with Euro diesel at a shell station using the visa card for £0 63p per litre. We usually use the multi national filling stations i.e. Shell Total, BP etc.
As we were fully stocked on leaving Turkey we had few needs and found small supermarkets plentiful and sufficient.
We spent four nights free camping on small harbours and beaches. Being out of season we had no problems with finding somewhere to stay.
Bulgaria is a very poor country but we never felt threatened in anyway during our visit. Despite language difficulties people were friendly and helpful otherwise they were happy to let you do your own thing. Some guide books state that the Bulgarians shake their head for yes (da) and nod their head for no (ne). In fact for yes they smile and say "da" and tip their heads from side to side (like little dolls). We never had a "ne" so we can't comment.
We crossed into Romania on the Black Sea coast at Vama Veche. It took us 10 minutes to exit Bulgaria and 20 minutes to clear immigration and customs in Romania.
The following costs were incurred:-
Disinfection tax. We had to pay Euro 9 for the privilege of driving through a trough of muddy looking water.
Ecology tax. Euro 5 (Was this a promise not to throw rubbish)
Vignette. Euro 6. Road tax for one month. Make sure you keep the receipt for the vignette because you will have to produce it before you leave the country. The vignette itself does not indicate how long it is valid for, only the receipt shows this.
All personnel involved spoke English and were very efficient.
We had no problems using the "plastic" at the ATM's to get Romanian RON about 5 RON to the £sterling.
There was no problem using the plastic to get fuel. Euro diesel worked out at about £0.68 per litre. LPG was also available.
Romanian main roads have with the help of EU money improved considerably over the last few years. Unless using the motorways don't plan on doing more than 150/200 miles per day. Roads are not well signed.
GREEN CARD INSURANCE.
Green Card (Carte Verde) insurance was available at a number of outlets as you approach the main border crossing points. If you need cover I would suggest you check out the cost before reaching the border. Green Cards are usually also available at the border crossing points.
Carrefour and Jolie Ville are two of the supermarkets we used in Bucharest. Both excepted the plastic. There are many Selgros and Metro Cash & Carry stores through out Romania. They will allow you to shop there and will make you a member for the day on producing your passport. You don't have to buy in bulk small quantities can be bought.
We stayed six nights at Camping Casa Alba (the only site in the city) which is situated five miles north of the city centre on the Ploiesti road. Turn right at the first set of traffic lights after the Carrefour/Metro supermarkets. The site is signed on the left just past the police academy. The site is not really designed for motorhomes it consists of cabins & chalets and you have to share their parking area. There are electric hook ups and the showers/toilets are very good. In July/August the site could be overwhelmed. If you are planning a visit try and arrive on a Saturday or Sunday. If you arrive midweek don't use the city ring road. We took two hours to travel 15 miles on a Monday afternoon, this is the norm. The leaser of the two evils is using the city centre, it's still busy, the wide boulevards and traffic lights help to keep the traffic moving, be it possibly slowly. Buses to the city centre stop outside the site, tickets must be bought in advance, they are available at the site reception. We paid Ron 65 (£13) per night.
We stayed two nights at Camping Dirste (www.campingdirste.ro) which is situated 5 miles south of the town centre on road number 1. The site entrance is on the right (pass in front of the BMW showroom) as you enter the town. The site has small flat serviced pitches, facilities are very good The site has many cabins and there is a restaurant on the site. Buses to the town centre stop outside the site. Brasov is well worth a visit
We stayed one night at Camping Aurel Vlaicu (www.campingaurelvlaicu.lx.ro) which is in the village of the same name on road 7 (E68) between Sebes and Deva. This small site is run by a Dutch family and was conveniently situated on our route to Hungary.
We crossed in Hungary near Gyula, the border post was fairly quiet and we had cleared Romania and entered Hungary in about 20 minutes. The Hungarian customs and immigration officers both checked the van and our back box. I think they must have been keen motorcaravanners.
There is a HF300 (about 82 pence) per person per night tourist tax. The over seventies are exempt (I like Hungary).
We had no problems using the plastic in the ATM's. About HF 362 to £1 sterling.
Diesel (72 pence per litre) and LPG are readily available.
As we only travelled in Eastern (rural) Hungary we can only comment on the roads in that area. There was much resurfacing going on and on the whole roads were in a good condition and well signed. Where the roads had been up rated to dual carriages they were in a very good condition, up to motorway standards. A vignette is required if you use the motorways.
Tescos, Spar and Lidl have many shops throughout Hungary. Metro the cash and carry stores are also about.
We stayed one night at Camping Thermal in Gyula. The site was not fully open and we had to use the facilities in one of the apartments. The site also has more than its fair share of mozzies.
We stayed three nights at Camping Lillafured (www.kovatt.lillacamp.hu) in the village of the same name which is in the Bukki National Park in eastern Hungary near to the city of Miskolc. The small mountain site with excellent facilities is well worth a visit. There are a selection of walks available from the site, maps on request. The site owners are extremely friendly and helpful.
We crossed into Slovakia at the border post near Kosice. The van and passports were checked at the Hungarian side but there was no border post at the Slovakian side.
We paid SKK 150 (about £2.80) for a 7 consecutive day vignette so we could use the motorways and certain other main roads in Slovakia. Information on the vignettes is not displayed at the borders or on the motorways. The vignette comes in two parts, one you stick on the windscreen and on the other part you write the vehicle registration number and keep it in a safe place to be produced if required. The first many people are aware of the need for the vignette is when they are stopped and fined by the police when driving on a motorway. Signs displayed on some major roads (other than motorways) state in English "vehicles over 3500 kg's with payment". Motorhomes over 3500kgs are restricted to 80 kph (50 mph) on main roads and motorways and a 15 consecutive day vignette will cost SKK 750 (about £13.90) there are no extra costs when towing a trailer. We saw have unmarked police cars patrolling the roads.
We shopped at Tescos and used the plastic to pay. Tescos seem have many stores in Slovakia, in fact Tescos seem to have stores in a good many countries in Eastern Europe.
Diesel (72 pence per litre) and LPG (38 pence per litre) widely available.
We had no problems with using our plastic at the ATM's. About SKK 54 to £1 sterling.
We stayed one night at Autocamping Levocska near Levoca. (SKK 410 per night) The site consisted mainly of the hotel and cabins. The camping area was very uneven and difficult to approach. We managed to get stuck in the mud and had to use our tread mats to move off in the morning. Extreme care needed in wet weather, site not suitable for large outfits even in fair weather. The facilities we used in the main hotel block were very good. There is also a restaurant on the site.
We stayed one night at Pension Villa Betula Caravan Club (SKK 500 per night) on Lake Liptovska. An excellent site as good as anything we have ever stayed on. First class facilities and an excellent restaurant.
We stayed one night at Eurocamp FFIC (SKK 400 per night) at Tatranska Lomnica. Very large site facilities very clean but well worn.
We did plan to tour the Tatra Mountains but the weather was unkind to us. We saw some of the high peaks briefly the last day before the rain and low cloud set in again.
We crossed into Poland from Slovakia with just a quick passport check, we were through the border in a matter of minutes.
We used the plastic at the ATM without any problems, about PLN 5.5 to the £ sterling.
Roads are well signed. The speed limits in the built up areas can be confusing at times. If the background of the sign bearing the towns name is white you must reduce your speed to 50km/h (60 between 2300hrs and 0500 hrs) if the background is green there is no need to reduce speed unless road signs indicate otherwise. We also noticed that some place names have a green background and a built up area sign immediately below it. If in doubt stick to 50. On the main through routes many of roads have deep grooves made by the trucks, this makes life difficult at times. On many single carriageway main roads it is custom and practice to move onto the hard shoulder to let other vehicles pass. The practice is not so rigorously used as in Greece. Extra care is needed at roundabouts as the priority is not always as you would expect.
Diesel (some times signed as "ON") at 72 pence per litre and LPG at 36 pence per litre are readily available.
We have come across the follow supermarkets, Tescos, Carrefour, Auchan, Geant, Leclerc and Intermarche most are situated in out of town shopping complexes. The smaller local supermarkets still prevail in the town and city centres.
Krakow is one of Poland's oldest, best preserved cities, dating back to the 7th century. You need two/three days to do the place justice.
No visit to Krakow is complete without a tour of the Wieliczka Salt Mine (www.kopalnia.pl). The two hour two kilometre underground English guided tour cost PLN 60 (about £11).
We stayed at Camping Korona (www.camping-korona.com.pl) which is about 10kms south of the city. An excellent family run site who are very friendly and helpful. Bus to Krakow stops just outside the site. Only one downside, the site is situated on road 7 which is a very fast dual carriageway. It was very exciting crossing the carriageway to enter the site.
I paid a very brief visit to Auschwitz on the way from Krakow to Warsaw. There is a camping site there if one wants a longer stay and/or an overnight stop.
JASNA GORA MONASTERY.
The monastery is situated in the town of Czestochowa. If you are interested in very ornate churches it's well worth a visit. Try to avoid a Sunday visit Camping Olenka which has very good facilities is next door to the parking area for the monastery.
We stayed three nights at Camping Astur (PLN 60 per night), facilities are well worn but clean.
Bus within 500 metres to city centre. Buy tickets before boarding bus, PLN 2 40 for a single journey in the city and PLN 4.80 for a single trip outside the city. The tickets are valid on the buses, trams and metro.
After the devastation of WW11 we had been looking forward to visiting the old town of Warsaw, We were not disappointed. They had rebuilt the bomb sites of 1945 to there former beauty. For us it was one of the highlights of the trip. In the city centre on many main road junctions apparently impromptu markets are set up. A very colourful scene. On many of the city centre pedestrian underpasses there are many small shops and fast food outlets which looked of good quality and reasonably priced.
We stayed two nights at Stadium Camping (PLN 50.30 per night) facilities are very old but clean. Trams from outside the site run to the city centre, tickets and maps available from the very helpful reception.
Unfortunately during our visit part of the city centre looked like war torn Beirut due to the pedestrianisation and road works in many areas. This made visiting many sites very difficult. There was also quite a bit of restoration work going on.
We crossed into the Czech Republic from Poland with a very quick passport check.
We purchased a 15 consecutive day vignette for CZK 200 (about £5) for vehicles up to 3,500kgs so we could use the motorways and express roads. The vignette comes in two parts, one you stick on the windscreen and on the other part you write the vehicle registration number on and keep it in a safe place to be produced if required. If your vehicle is between 3,500kgs and 12,000kgs it will cost SZK 500 (I think that's the right price but I've lost my notes).
Motorhomes over 3500kgs are restricted to 80 km/h (50 mph) on motorways and main roads and 50 km/h (31 mph) in urban areas. For built up areas, speed limits start at the "place name" sign and finish at the end of "place name" sign. Extra care is needed at roundabouts as the priority is not always as you would expect.
ATM's are plentiful and the £1 is worth about CZK 41.
We have seen Tescos, Lidl, Spar
Diesel at CZK 29.6 (about 72 pence) per litre and LPG CZK 15.5 (about 37pence) per litre are both widely available
We stayed for two nights at Autocamp Transit (CZK 315 per night) on the edge of town. It's like a large garden set up for camping on the lawn and the facilities are first class.
The town is well worth a visit just to see the Ossuary (Bone Chapel). Which is decorated entirely with human bones, some of which were assembled into pyramids in 1511 by a half blind monk. Its unique decorative items include chalices, a monstrance and a monumental chandelier. It is estimated that there might be the remains of as many as 40,000 (forty thousand) people here
We decided to stay at Camping Oase (www.campoase.cz) CZK 460 (£11) per night for five nights. The site is situated 10 miles south of the city centre. The facilities are excellent and the security is very good. The pitches are a very good size but the roads leading to them are narrow, trees and lamp posts are situated in the wrong places for manoeuvring on the site. The dump station is situated very close to the children's playground and the site shop, it's also very difficult to position the van over the drain hole the way the dump station is laid out., we struggled with the Timberland. Also there's no water supply there so cleaning up after dumping is almost impossible. The site has an "In" and "Out" barriers, large outfits (over 8 metres) will have to exit the "In" barrier due to the layout.
Buses to Prague stop outside the campsite, tickets CZK24 (from the reception) are valid for two hours after they have been validated. It's 30 minutes on the bus and 20 minutes on the tram to Wenceslas Square which in fact is a long avenue.
You need at least three days to do Prague justice, you can use one day in the castle alone. The city was extremely crowded which made photography very difficult. The city is well worth a visit and is everything it's hyped up to be. It was one of the highlights of the trip.
After Prague we made our way home across Germany using the "Stellplatz" for the night stops. We fuelled up in Luxembourg before heading for Zeebrugge for the overnight ferry to Hull.
We found that facilities for the disabled are extremely poor in eastern Europe. Facilities for wheelchair users are almost non existent.
Many eastern European countries use the "E" road numbers for through routes in some towns and cities. So if you are venturing abroad and plan to visit a few countries make sure you make a note of the "E" road numbers on your route. See http://www.elbruz.org/eroads/AGR_2.htm
Before leaving home check out the FCO website http://tinyurl.com/6bf0 for up to date travel advice in the countries you plan to visit.
If you have to buy "Green Card" insurance cover at a border crossing remember it's only third party cover. Be aware of the problems that can arise if you have no breakdown/recovery insurance in countries outside the EU. In Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey the vehicle details are entered in the drivers passport and under normal circumstances the driver cannot leave the country with out the vehicle. If a vehicle is written off in a road traffic accident there could be some duty to pay. This is normally settled by the vehicle breakdown/recovery insurance (AA/RAC/Red Pennant) when they collect the vehicle. Having no cover could lead to a very stressful situation.
We always carry IDP (International Driving Permits) whilst abroad, we have found over the years that they are more acceptable than the UK license. They cost £5 (I think) from any main Post Office
The AA have a very good website at http://tinyurl.com/kl5x8 that gives European touring tips/regulations on most countries in Europe
For up to date price of fuel in Europe see http://www.iru.org/Services/fuel/Welcome.F.html
For currency conversions see http://www.xe.com/ucc/full.shtml
We found the Lonely Planet Guide to Eastern Europe (19 countries in all) covered most of our needs. www.lonelyplanet.com